The Last Dance: What Will Yours Look Like?

Text: Ruth 2:1-23

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” — Romans 8:18

Like millions out there today, I was inspired by “Air Jordan” in the 80s and 90s, and often dreamed I could “be like Mike.” I loved to come home from school and play hoops for endless hours. When Cindy and I were newlyweds, some of our date nights involved going to the local park where I would practice “fade-aways” for an hour and she would grab my rebounds. Yep, that girl is pretty amazing!

Though I never was able to dunk a basketball—I don’t think I drank enough Gatorade!—the sport has been a meaningful part of my life. Basketball was one of our first sports ministries to at-risk youth in Florida juvenile detention centers during the late 90s, and it’s a big component of our summer camps for prisoners’ kids and disadvantaged children in East Tennessee. It’s also been a touch of heaven bringing mission teams to the Dominican Republic to do sports ministry with the kids on a basketball court we built for an orphanage a few years ago.

Because so much of my basketball passion was fueled by Michael Jordan, the hype surrounding ESPN’s new documentary The Last Dance has stirred many hoop memories for me. In 1995, When MJ returned to the NBA after a brief retirement, I mused along with the rest of the world: Can he still compete at the same level? Can he still win? Could he silence all the critics who doubted the possibilities? Well, not only did he win, his team dominated the league while showcasing one of the greatest basketball teams to ever take the court. The “Last Dance” revealed that the best was still to come, despite all the tension coming from the skeptics and doubters.

Are my best days behind me, or in front of me?

This internal question is something many of us ponder as the drama of our lives continues to unfold. In this devotional series, we’ve been looking at the book of Ruth the last couple of weeks. During a time of famine, Naomi and her family had left the Promised Land and went to Moab, where she would face unimaginable tragedy—losing her husband and her two sons. It was a season, surely, when the widow must’ve questioned whether her best days were now behind her. She even renamed herself “Mara” (meaning “bitter”), describing what her life now felt like. Her homecoming is one of sorrow and grief. What she didn’t know was that God was orchestrating a “last dance” that would give rise to a redemption story for the ages.

Naomi and Ruth faced agonizing hardship, but with God, hardship never spells hopelessness. As widows, they benefited from an ancient tradition that helped those affected by poverty (Leviticus 19:9-10). The law commanded farmers in Israel to “cut corners” in harvesting, for the purpose of leaving behind some bundles of grain for the less fortunate in the land. It was a win-win social assistance program intended to help farmers have a generous heart while giving the poor an opportunity to actively work for their food in a way that restored their dignity.

Ruth, demonstrating a hard-working spirit, set out to glean in the fields to support Noami and herself. Whether directly from God himself (Ruth 2:12), or through a human channel “in whose sight I shall find favor (Ruth 2:2),” her faith expected to see God show up (Hebrews 11:6). Despite being a Moabite and a foreigner, she was wiser than many in Israel when it came to recognizing the Lord’s hand in her labor (Colossians 3:23-24, Galatians 6:9, Psalm 128:2, Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 14:23). Her faith is seen in the way she works. James would be proud! (James 2:14-26)

The beauty in Naomi and Ruth’s last dance is seen where faith and hard work intersect with divine intervention. Their story—as does the story of your life—has a redeemer. As Ruth’s faith is thrust into action in the barley fields, she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Elimelech was Naomi’s deceased husband). The odd construction of this sentence in the original text is deliberate. In colloquial English, we would say, “As her luck would have it…” But the statement is ironic. The storyteller intentionally uses an expression that forces the reader to sit up and muse how Ruth just “happens” to land in the field of a man who was not only gracious (Ruth 2:2) but also a kinsman who had the right to marry Ruth after the death of her husband (according to Jewish law). As the story plays out, we see that Ruth’s arrival at Boaz’ field has nothing to do with sheer coincidence or happenstance, but indisputable fingerprints of God’s providential hand.

Suddenly, the future is looking much different for these two women who have suffered agonizing misfortune. Why? Because a redeemer is now in the picture, and this changes everything, as we will conclude next week.

Tragedy. Loss. Unemployment. Financial hardship. Sorrow. Grief. Depression. Addiction. Anxiety. Sickness. Pandemic. These stories are all told differently when a redeemer is present. Your Redeemer lives, beloved. No matter what kind of hardship or setbacks you have experienced, be assured that your best days are still to come. Your next dance—last dance, or whatever you want to call it—will be full of favor and beauty, but not due to luck, coincidence, or human sufficiency; it will be brilliant because of the fact that The Almighty is the Choreographer and HE upholds you. He will never leave you nor forsake you in this dance. You can trust His next steps!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, what a picture of hope for the battered and weary soul. You always have a plan and a process. It’s a process that we can trust because we know Your heart. Remind us this week that the best is still to come. Our redemption draws nigh because You purpose for the world to see Your glory—not just in some abstract way, but very directly and specifically on the canvas of our lives. Increase our faith. Stretch our hope. Ignite our prayers. Kindle us with a passion to serve you in this hour with great expectancy of the redemption to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever faced danger in doing what you thought was right? When has your faith put you in a vulnerable situation?
  2. How did Boaz’s foreman describe Ruth (Ruth 2:6-7)? What character traits of Ruth stand out to you?
  3. What specific instructions did Boaz give to Ruth, and how did she respond to him (Ruth 2:8-11)? In what ways is faith different from optimism or mere wishful thinking?
  4. Judging from the events in this story, what character traits does God honor in His people? What is a step you can take this week toward developing your character?
  5. How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life? How could you demonstrate your thankfulness to the Lord for His provision for you?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

Are You Stuck in a “Shame” Narrative?

Text: John 8:1-11, Mark 7:1-9

“Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” —Isaiah 2:22

After the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, analysts have been in constant debate about LeBron James’ legacy. The sports gurus love to argue over who is the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Former NBA player Kobe Bryant had some advice for LeBron, whose team lost in the Finals for the third time in four years:

“You got to figure out a way to win. It’s not about narrative. You want to win championships, you just gotta figure it out.”

While winning championships assuredly includes a lot more factors than just figuring out a way to win, Kobe is on to something about the subject of narrative. Though the narrative is what analysts, commentators, and sports fans thrive on from the television studio to the water cooler, it will always be subjective. It’s never the final word.

In the realm of politics, pundits try to control the narrative to advance their own agenda. This was no different with the party of the Pharisees back in the first century. In their self-righteous sanctity, they brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. The narrative is about shame and condemnation. But Jesus silences the morality analysts by saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After they all walk away and the woman is left alone, Jesus tells her to leave the shame narrative behind, saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:1-11).

In another chance encounter with those pesky scribes and finger-pointing Pharisees, Jesus’ disciples are scathed for eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-9). The tradition analysts go crazy. These legalists shape the narrative to smear and degrade the disciples. But Jesus rebukes them, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The disciples learn a valuable lesson—it’s not about the outward “appearances” narrative so often propagated by the religious elite; it’s about the inward condition of the heart.

It’s not about narrative. The narrative might be the stuff people love to talk about, but it’s typically biased and superficial. It fuels preconceived notions, the misreading of others, false judgments, and gossip; it leads to divisiveness, strife, and contentions. It also leads to the fear of man, especially when we long for the narrative about our personhood to be esteemed, or liked.

Whether it’s been one of defeat, disappointment, failure, embarrassment, shame, or smear, Isaiah has a firm admonishment for those stuck in the narrative: “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22)

Jesus doesn’t want us worrying about the human narrative. He doesn’t want us consumed with what others are saying or thinking about us. He wants the unfettered devotion of our heart focused on Him. Craving human praise is a cistern that can never hold water. So we don’t play to the applause or chagrin of others. We don’t play to be liked, celebrated, or applauded at the human level. We play for the pleasure of One—the glory of our coming King. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him,” says Paul (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, your word tells us that the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. Teach us to focus less on the narrative of man, and more on the glory of our Creator. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Help us to live and serve for Your pleasure above all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Why do we like to debate who is the greatest this or that?
  2. What kind of narratives have you found yourself stuck in at times?
  3. Why do you think Jesus freely associated with so many people of scandalous reputations, knowing it didn’t fit the Pharisees’ narrative?
  4. In what ways does the fear of man lay a snare? (Proverbs 29:25)
  5. What can you do this week to help someone else break free from a “shame” narrative in his or her life?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.