“FROM DEADEND TO DOORWAY” By Pastor YAU
Text: Ruth 1:15-22 March 4, 2012
1) A drama: Part 1: The first five verses of Ruth 1 is a story of tragedy after tragedy because of a wrong choice made by a man. The next 12 verses, 1:6-17, was a story of love between 3 widows trying to make the best out of the worst. If Naomi had dreamed about returning to her former hometown for prosperity and success, entering Bethlehem would have been a nightmare. While living in a foreign land, she had lost her husband and two sons and returned home with only a daughter-in-law Ruth and a heart full of sorrow. She told her former neighbors, “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” (1:20)
2) A drama: Part 2: But this wasn’t the end of the story. When the discouraged Naomi saw God’s hand in Ruth’s life, she said, “The Lord has not forsaken his kindness to the living and the dead!” (2:20)What appeared to be a dead-end had become a doorway for these two widows who had lost so much. The book of Ruth is a wonderful story. The brief narrative is infused with an amazing sweetness and grace as “the Lord” is mentioned time and again. Through Naomi and Ruth, we are reminded that God works in surprising ways to make his love known and to accomplish his purposes in our lives even during difficult times.
GETTING INTO A DEADEND: (Ruth 1:1-5)
1) No bread in the bread house: “During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land.” (1:1)The family of Elimelech used to live in Bethlehem, house of bread. But there wasn’t any bread in the land and Bethlehem was not exempted. Too often, we expect God to give us special favor because we are his children. Don’t forget the Lord Jesus told us: “You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous for Christ has conquered the world” (John 16:33) Being children of God doesn’t exempt us from pain and suffering of the world. But we have God and his love with us to go through those difficult days.
2) Follow the instinct of man: “A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to live in the land of Moab for a while.” (1:1b) Elimelech was not the first one to leave the Promised Land in time of famine. Centuries ago, Abraham did the same thing when there was a famine in the land and he moved to Egypt where he almost lost his wife to Pharaoh if it were not the interference of the Lord. (Genesis 12:10-20) This is a serious pitfall many Christians had fallen into when life get tough: They will follow the instinct of man to find greener grass knowing that they are departing from their faith in God. Both Egypt and Moab were lands of people who did not worship God Jehovah. Choosing means of survival over faith in the Almighty God is a certain step of fallout.
3) Things didn’t happen as expect: “Naomi’s husband died and she was left with her two sons.” (1:3)Just as people at the time of James who had planned their life so well that they wanted to move to certain city for a year or two, do business and make money. (James 4:3) Elimelech (my God is king) must have similar mindset for a better life in a foreign land when he planned to move away from the land of his God and king. We can imagine he must have done all the research and believed that it was a good move for the family. But things didn’t happen the way he had expected: he died in a foreign land and left a family without a father. King Solomon had some good words to say in this: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
4) The bottom is falling apart: “Both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and without her husband.” (1:5)Often times, we hear these words “things will get worse before they get better” and we don’t like that. But in practical life, things often happen that way. Losing a husband was not the only loss Naomi had suffered; she had also lost both of her sons and left with two more widows, her daughters-in law. I am sure none of them, the family of four, had expected things would fall apart when they charted their plans of move. This is why we ought to be serious in seeking God’s will and leadership about the steps of life when we plan to make changes. Prophet Isaiah gives us some stern words: “Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21) Never try to outsmart God.
THEN THERE IS A DOORWAY:
1) Nightmare won’t last forever: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) These are words of the beloved King David, which may have comforted millions of grieving souls in the darkness of night. Sometimes, God allows us to go through nightmares for discipline like he did to the Israelis in the wilderness. Other times, he did it to purify us for even more blessing like he did to Job. Whatever the reason, God is always in control. When his purpose is achieved and lessons learned, we will see the daylight with joy.
2) God will turn things around: “When she heard in Moab that the Lord has come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.” (Ruth 1:6) Natural disaster may strike without any warning and all will suffer from it including children of God. But God is in control of all things and he can and will turn things around so his people will be spared. To acknowledge God and his power in providing our needs is one of the ways we pay tribute to God for his blessings. When things are going well we should never claim credit but honor God. (Deut. 8:11-18)
3) Never too late to call on God: In the aftermath of the total loss, Naomi and Ruth never shunned their faith in God. From 1: 6-22, the names “the Lord” and “the Almighty” were mentioned eight times in the conversation between Naomi and Ruth. This is very important in the way God’s people react to God in bad times. Our faith in God should not change just because things around us had changed. He is God of nights and days, never changes.
4) God works through human agents: “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped show-ing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added. “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (2:20)God always acts through human agents to accomplish his plans to meet the needs of his people. It is a blessing when God puts in the path of our life someone in need, so we can be His agents to meet their needs. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27) The Bible says again, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus said: It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
SILVER LINING IN THE STORM: Just as Rick Warren said that life is like a railroad track: you always have 2 rails go side by side. When one side of life is in the ditch, you always can count on the other side to bring you hope and strength. The lives of Naomi and Ruth were of no exception. Here are some silver linings:
1) A gold medal mother-in-law: “Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law: Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (1:8-9) Haven’t we heard enough sad stories of conflicts between the mothers and daughters-in-laws that many families and marriages were torn apart because of conflict of interest? But that is not in this case between Naomi and her two daughters-in-laws. Naomi deserves a gold medal to be the best mother-in-law today and much more so in the traditional ancient time.
2) A diamond medal daughter-in-law: “But Ruth replied: Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (1:16-17) My eyes are wet in copying these words because I seldom see anyone would commit his/her life to another person the way Ruth did to Naomi. No wonder these words have been used in countless weddings to encourage couples to make commitments to each other the same way.
3) Good news travels fast and far: “Boaz replied: I have been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband----how you left your father and mother and your homeland and come to live with a people you did not know before.” (2:11)We all know the saying: Bad news travels fast and far and sadly it is mostly true. But in this story, good news also traveled fast and far and it is very encouraging. Most people are thirst for bad news, as proven in our daily newscast on TV, radio, paper and gossiping hotlines. How nice it is to see someone who would focus on the good things others did and pass on to others to serve as encouragement and joy.
4) What a nice happy ending: “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her and the Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son...Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son” and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (4:13, 16) Who could imagine that Ruth, a Moab woman, would become the great-grandmother of King David, the most honored king of the Israelis. God can bring something very good from something seemingly very bad. No doubt about that.
1) Seek God when you are on the go: I believe that if Elimelech would have sought God’s guidance, he probably won’t leave Bethlehem like all others who had stayed, and his family would not have to go through the traumatic experience as they did. If we take things into our own hands and make a wrong turn, many others will get hurt and suffer terrible consequences with. So, be serious and sincere to seek God when a major decision is being made.
2) Seek God when you are in the pit: God is specialized in rescue those who are in the pit. He can stretch his arms to the deepest dungeon to save you if you would reach up to him. Our God is a God of miracle. If we keep our faith alive and strong, holding the right attitude, do our best under the circumstance and trust the good will of the Lord, He will eventually bring out the best from what seems to be the worst. “Trust and obey, there’s no other way.” Give God a chance to show that he really is God.