On Ruth: Our blessings

So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

Ruth 2:11

Haven’t we all asked this question- in some manner- at various points in our lives? Haven’t we regarded our circumstances with unease and skepticism? Who am I Lord? What have I done? Even, is this a trick? How about, what’s the catch? Human beings tear themselves and each other down. Accepting God’s blessings is not always easy.

Let’s look at some scripture about blessings:

  • Proverbs 10:22 – The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it
  • Exodus 23:25 – And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water, and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.
  • Luke 6:22 – Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the son of man’s sake.

As children, we are taught that what we have is what we earn. We earn good grades by studying and investing energy in our education. We earn paychecks by showing up and completing the job we were hired to do. We earn extra credit or bonuses. But can we earn God’s blessings? The answer we came up with depends on our understandings of God.

Point 1: We do not deserve God’s blessings.

In Ruth 3:10-11, Boaz told Ruth, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.” Ruth toiled in the fields to help feed Naomi and herself. Now, if you’ll remember, Ruth was a widow from Moab who really did not have any perceived value. Even her mother-in-law had wanted Ruth to return home. Quite plainly, there was no way she could have earned the blessings she received through her own merits.

God does not create a value system for us to earn His grace. Rather, it is absolute submission and obedience to Him or we are set apart from Him (i.e. the separation of the Nonbeliever). God does not bless us because we have proven faithful. He does not reward us because we go through the Son to get to Him. Those are expectations placed on us. If we are to follow Him, the only reward- if you will- that we can expect is that our sins are no longer weighed against us because we have turned the bill over to Jesus. We do not deserve this, but have been given it all the same.

All things are meant for the glory of God. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28‬). We are called to love Him, to accept what He sends us, whether they be- to our estimation- trials or benefits.

Point 2: We must change our perceptions of glory.

Since we cannot earn the Lord’s blessings, why do we receive them? Surely not because of our service to Him. Surely, not because we have gifts intrinsic to ourselves. God takes care of His flock. His blessings are sometimes hard to bear. His blessings are meant to forge us into what best serves His glory. We are on this earth to make disciples, to bring more souls to His flock.

When we look at our blessings, we must alter our perception. When we think about it, we envision happy things: a raise, an unexpected bonus, a book deal… so much. These are happy things. What about the times we lose? What about the times we lose our jobs? Where we go through the suffering? When events just do not go according to how we are expecting? All things to the glory of God.

God’s blessings are more than good or bad. Let’s look back at Ruth. She toiled in the fields, going behind the reapers to pick over the leftovers. Bare scraps. She tried to take care of Naomi. She struggled to take care of a woman who would have abandoned her. But God blessed her. Ruth’s is the bloodline that lead to David. Remember whose bloodline involves David? Jesus. God blessed her. He blesses us too.

By accepting our circumstances, whether good or bad, we start to see that God works through everything. He guides our circumstances to work towards His own designs. So, it does not matter. It is not a trick. There is no catch.

On Ruth: Suffering

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lover for ever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Our Father in heaven never promised an easy life. Time and time again, his flock are reminded that to seek Christ, to go through the Son to get to the Father, is a demanding, often overwhelming path. Quite honestly, it is meant to forge Christian men and women into that which can best serve God’s glory. And you know what? That’s not even close to being an easy Crucible to run through.

Snapshot: Single parent juggles multiple part or full time jobs to make ends meet, put food in their children’s bellies, and weigh out which bill can be paid late.

Snapshot: Man loses his wife, children, and house in an accidental fire. Insurance says. “Sorry, but there just isn’t enough coverage.” He’ll have to find a bed to lay his head as he struggles to understand why he didn’t perish with everyone else.

Snapshot: Young man sits in an otherwise empty cell because he lost control for just a moment. Now, he’s potentially facing a lifetime behind bars or, at the very least, one full of guilt because of a mistake he can’t take back.

Every single person, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ, finds themselves walking a fine line between joy and suffering. As we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” I get it. Life can- and often does- suck. We’ve all heard the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear.” If we are being honest, most of us don’t agree. Hey, we’re human. Life is tough. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 4:16). Life is hard, but God is bigger than any burden. So it isn’t that he gives more than we can handle because He is much bigger than ALL our troubles.

A lot of times we, as Christians, look towards scripture for examples of suffering and God’s grace. There is Jesus, of course, and Peter, Joseph, David… pretty much everyone of note in the Bible is riddled with times of suffering. Reflect on this: Pointless suffering does not exist; rather, there is only suffering that should- if we allow it- draw us closer to God. Let’s take at Ruth for now.

A little context: the story of Ruth takes place during a volatile time for God’s children, the age of the Judges. Here are three important people to remember as we discuss the Story of Ruth.

  1. Naomi – the Israelite, Ruth’s mother-in-law, widowed, lost her children
  2. Ruth – Moabitess, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, dutiful. Faithful, pagan
  3. Boaz – family redeemer, good man, Israelite

Though not as important, we should also note the other daughter-in-law, Orpah.

At this time, there was a great famine in the land. Now, “when Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had came to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there” (Ruth 1:6).

Point 1: God is master over our calamity.

Naomi wanted Ruth and Orpah to return to their families, so she would not be responsible for them anymore. Orpah, the second daughter-in-law initially came with them until Naomi commanded the women to turn back. We will get into Ruth’s response a little later, but for now, it’s important to note that Orpah obeyed.

Think of it this way. Moab can represent the world, which is complete with the things we know and are familiar with, regardless of if they are good or bad for us. At the time, Moab was afflicted by famine. And yet, there are familiarities to latch onto: families, the land Orpah had grown up in, even the known hardships. Naomi commanded the younger women to “Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?…” (Ruth 1:11). It is important to note what Naomi said later in the passage when they tried to follow her. It is also important to note that Orpah did not initially want to leave. Naomi said, “No my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:!3). Even though she was determined to go home, she felt the Lord wasn’t on her side. This is a common thought Christians have when life isn’t going our way.

It’s easy to retreat back towards what we know, especially when we think God is against us. Remember the snapshots? Each scenario displays circumstances where the person could, as Naomi did, believe the Lord had set His might against them. A commonplace thing among humans is the propensity to wallow in the hurt. Oh sure, most people are absolutely justified in their hurt, but God commands us to turn it over to Him. 1 Peter 5:7 commands us to go about “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Likewise, Psalm 55:22 states, “Turn your burdens over to the Lord, and he will take care of you…”

We must remember God holds dominion over all things. That includes the times when it feels life has stacked all the cards against us. Understand, because we are given free will, we can make the decision to separate ourselves from God. He lets us destroy ourselves (this does not mean He does not love us). Sometimes, the fall seems hopeless. Sometimes, where we fall is into a pit whose only escape is into a position we might not like or want.

Point 2: God pushes us forward on His terms.

Let’s go back to our snapshots really quick. The first is a woman struggling to survive in a life where she must choose between necessities. The second is a man who must start over after the most devastating events one can imagine, all with the compelling desire to surrender. The third… well, I think that’s pretty obvious. But going biblical, imagine the first as Naomi, the second as Job, and the third as Peter (remember when he cut the soldier’s ear off). God had purpose for their struggles. God did not abandon them to their hurts.

God cannot control our circumstances if He isn’t the supreme God. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but He’ll let us arrive at this conclusion if we want. But, we can also accept He is a benevolent father, guiding us through our troubles. We’re human and don’t always want our circumstances. Sure, they aren’t always ideal; we can choose, then, to handle them gracelessly- as Naomi did- or with class, as Ruth did, which we see in her entreaty at the end of the section. Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). She had every reason to turn back, as her fellow daughter-in-law did, to the world she knew. So many of us are like Orpah; we consciously accept trouble when it comes from waters we’re familiar with, instead of risking greater reward and maintaining faith. Ruth made the harder choice. She followed Naomi, despite the older woman’s desire for her to leave, to a future of unknowns, where there were not obvious outcomes. She did it and next time, we’ll look into what happened when the two women reached Judah.

For now, let me ask you this. Does your fear of present circumstances outweigh the trust you have in God’s plan for your life? Does your suffering foster a need for Him? Or, do you share Naomi’s sentiment that the Lord has gone out against you? Do you mirror Orpah’s actions and retreat to the world you knew? Leave it at the cross friends. Leave your cares to the Father. Life is hard, but God is so much bigger than anything you carry.

The Word and Glory

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness, he called Night. And the evening and the morning was the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5).

There is a beginning. We are provided the story in Genesis, starting with the very first verse. There is a beginning to the world, when God spoke His creations into existence. He spoke the light into existence. He spoke plant and animal life into existence. God spoke and, suddenly, humans existed. Genesis 1:27 tells us “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he Him, male and female created he them.” Fast-forward a few thousand years to the point mankind, whom the Lord formed in His image, needed Jesus to die on the cross as payment for the terrible price of our sins. We sinful creatures that we are, murdered His son to become the greatest gift we have never- and will never- deserved. And yet, he did it willingly.

Two thousand years have passed since the death and resurrection. The Christian faith has flourished, but has it kept the Lord and His son at the forefront of our hearts and minds? As much as I’d love to say yes, I’m not so sure the modern church has. To the average nonbeliever, the larger issue seems to be that many Christians exude hypocrisy as if it were an expensive cologne. Churches preach a sanitized faith and have transformed into a comfortable social organization where people can come to get their feel-goods and hallelujahs before returning to their regular weekly programming. But didn’t Jesus die for us? And didn’t He command us to get off our butts and make disciples of all nations?

Point 1: God’s word is power.

See, John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Have we stopped listening so completely that we think it’s okay to dilute what we, as members of His flock, are called to do? Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Where is the passive God who thinks His word a whimsical thing to ignore? The Lord is all-powerful. So when we are commanded to obey, why do we modify Him to suit our needs?

Because human nature is inherently sinful, natural inclination is to use our God-given gifts for our own purposes. A writer, without God at His rightful place, will often seek the elevation of his own personal status. Same for the musician. Same for the politician. Same for everyone and everything. God didn’t say we can’t- or won’t- do great things. Psalm 37:3 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” Matthew 6:1 cautions “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Point 2: Our glory is not God’s glory.

It’s easy to focus on what we contribute to the situation. We want to believe what we are good at is seen and given value by those in the world. The nonbeliever has heard Satan’s offer on the mount and foolishly taken what was offered. We build ourselves up, seeking higher station in life. Personal glory is not God’s glory. Nor is it lasting glory.

Our Lord allows for free will. We can choose to use our gifts and abilities to progress our own place. To be sure, God wants us to take care of our obligations. But we are commanded to “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Proverbs 3:9). “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). So, using our God-given free will. Who do we serve? It began with the Word, which came from and is God. Does it not make sense that it ends with Him too? Our gifts- who we are when everything falls into place- are meant to exalt his glory. We pale in the face of His majesty.

Point 3: God’s word commands obedience.

Obedience is commanded of us. There is no justifiable excuse for not serving God’s kingdom. We can do great works- we should do them!- as long as we do them in His name. Not only that, but for His name. Human beings fall horribly short of deserving God’s grace. We do. And yet, has He not offered it anyway? Has the Father not granted us forgiveness as long as we come to Him through His son Jesus Christ? How could our own choices matter in the face of that kind of love? Serving ourselves only serves to separate us from the gift that is the suffering we endure because we follow Jesus.

If God deigned to place His perfect son on a cross, how can we justify anything less than absolute faith? How can we condone anything short of total submission? How can we believe He requires less than all we have to give? How can we believe He won’t hold us accountable for seeking our own fame? We can’t. I’ll say again. We cannot.

On burdens and testimony

Do you wake up each day, only to feel the weight of yesterday pressing down on you? Do you feel alone? No one can possibly understand how you feel? Do you wish you could go back to sleep or never wake at all? Do you cry, scream, or maybe just linger in unmoving catatonia? Do your burdens make you older? Do they steal vitality from your body and vibrancy from your being? Are they your shield against God and the rest of the world?

Thomas Watson once said, “The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles: the heavier the saints’ cross is, the heavier will be their crown.” At no time has God promised us an easy life without burdens. In fact, life pursuing Christ is- and should be- rife with suffering. Romans 5:3-4 tells us, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” The world hates Christ and, if we are truly afflicted with the desire to follow them, it hates us too. A Christ-follower endures great suffering in His name. Romans 8:17 says, “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

It is easy to get lost in our burdens, to think we suffer for no reason. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, everything happens for God’s reasons. It’s far easier to get lost in drink and drugs, television, or any number of distractions to avoid the growth desired of us. Yet these hardships are necessary.

Point 1: Our burdens are necessary parts of our testimony

Our testimonies are important. Understand though, they pale in importance to the Gospel. The Gospel is the point and the message we absolutely must share with everyone. For the longest time, I only saw the testimony as our story. Nothing more significant than that. Yet, what if I posited that our testimonies are tools to forge perspective to the Gospel? Scripture is a wonderful pathway to the heart and mind of God. For many people, they are just words. The nonbeliever struggles to see the gravity in those words. Sure, they can tell the Christian believes- or should be able to see- but it isn’t the same. It’s knowing of without really knowing. 2 Timothy 1:8 tells, “Therefore never be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, by God’s power, join me in suffering for the sake of the gospel.” The perspective comes when we realize our scars show the depth of our commitment. It is easy to claim faith, to profess love, when life seems so much smoother. But when there are more reasons to give p and run from God, but you still cling to Him… the testimony becomes sharper, the image clears. The testimony is not just backstory, it is the living, the doubts, the joy- all things- that push you from and pull you to God. It is a living thing. And in that way, we may connect to the Gospel as the Living Word. Our testimony is not lessened by the doubt and hurt. No, it is strengthened by us intentionally turning to the Father. Our pain is necessary. It make sour need that much greater.

Point 2: All to the Glory of God

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Philippians 1:12 tells us, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” When things go wrong, people watch how you respond. It serves God when we lay our burdens at His feet. We show our trust. We show our surrender. We show our love. There is more power in belief when we don’t feel reason to have it. Matthew 5:14-16 reminds us “You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Christ-followers must take hold of their hurt, lay it at His feet, and adorn the armor so they- so we- can take His word into the dark and set a beacon. We cannot flourish in the shadows; its easy to wallow in our burdens and let the shadows flourish. Nay, we must take the Gospel and let God’s glory batter the shadows into submission.

So, I’m going to end this a little differently. I started writing this with the need for catharsis. My own burdens threatened to overwhelm me. At first, being a sinful human, I wanted to wallow in my own anger. I wanted to wrap myself in the hurt and deal with things on my own. God will let us try, but He has the strength to help us deal. My testimony, my life, my hurt… it’s not for me. I had to acknowledge this before I could really start writing. Turning it over to God isn’t always easy. It’s not second- nature. It runs against our sinful, self-important natures. Life is meant for God’s glory and we never have to carry the burdens alone. So I started writing. And I’m ending with this. We can carry our hurts for as long as we choose to and, in some respects, we will always carry them with us. But, if we are to follow Him, we must stop hiding in our suffering.  

Choosing the Extraordinary: Intentional Faith

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” Across hundreds- perhaps thousands- of years, human beings have struggled to accept God’s purpose in their lives. Comfortable faith has become the new norm. Jeremiah 10:21 states, “For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the Lord: therefore the have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.” A common problem facing the modern Christian is the tendency to gravitate towards watered down faith. It isn’t cool to believe in Jesus, but if we’re going to, let’s not offend anybody. Here’s the thing, Jesus came to earth for a purpose.

Point 1: Jesus is the ONLY doorway.

John 10:9 says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” 1 John 2:23 tells us, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” To put it bluntly, if you believe as these verses indicate, it means all other belief systems are wrong. By its nature, this will offend people. It must. If all can go their own way and enter heaven on their own merits, then Jesus is not the door. There is no point to His death if that’s the case. If Christianity’s claim that Jesus is God’s son, who was sent to earth to pay the debt we owe for our sins, and conquer death is simply untrue, then it is a pointless reason to cause offense. Conversely, if its claim is true then the reason to offend is infinitely more important. Important and an unavoidable necessity.

As easy as it would be to do so, Christ followers cannot remain unobtrusive. We cannot linger in the shadows, where it is safer to pretend ignorance. When the world overwhelms us with bills, sensory stimulation, carnal intrigue, and any number of reasons to obey, it is easy to forget that it is horrible to gain the world at the cost of eternal separation. Yes, the world gives many reasons to believe in it. Some things are worth putting your belief in; however, none are equal to God. Jesus is the only doorway. John 14:6 reminds us that Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Acts 4:12 also says, “And there is salvation no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There is no compromise. Jesus isn’t the doorway for some, but other people may circumvent . No, since Jesus is the ONLY door, ALL who deny Him are turned away

Point 2: Choosing Jesus is a transformative decision

Charles Spurgeon once said, “From the Word of God I gather that damnation is all of man, from top to bottom, and salvation is all of grace, from first to last. He that perishes chooses to perish, but he that is saved is saved because God has chosen to save him.” Spurgeon also said, “I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him.” When we choose to allow the extraordinary in our lives it is a conscious decision. There is nothing accidental about choosing to believe Jesus is God’s son and holds the way to our salvation. Proverbs 3:5-6 states “5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding: 6in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” We must not remain stationary. To believe completely in Jesus is to move. Isaiah 55: 6-7 says, “6 Seek ye the Lord whole he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” You cannot choose this extraordinary gift and not accept the wonderful transformations in store. His love is the seed, that sprouts roots which lend infinite strength. We hold to our sins because we are flawed creatures, but his grace wipes the board clean each time we honestly seek to repent. We all start where the cards are stacked against us. We are repugnant with a lifetime of sins. There are sins we, as flawed humans who want to feel less dirty than others, find more deserving of God’s wrath. However, the Father abhors all sin. He sent the most blessed gift to us. We must choose to accept if we are to touch glory. We must choose, intentionally and without hesitation, to permit God’s love to transform us.

Point 3: Extraordinary is the ONLY way. And we must move!

As Rich Mullins sang, “Our God is an awesome God” so, too, should we cry out His wondrous existence. He is not a mediocre god. He isn’t an impersonal God who watches from some sky bound throne. He is in every blade of grass and every babe’s loveable grin. He blows on the fire within our souls, fanning the righteous flame. There is the Great Commission, where we are required to carry Him to every tribe. This world is His. We are His. Everything required of us- Christian men and women- is extraordinary. Mark 16:15 says, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and peach the gospel to every creature.” Additionally Roman’s 10:15 states “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.”  We are not called to stand still. We are called to share the gospel with the rest of the world. Wouldn’t you say that’s extraordinary?

A new beginning

I have been thinking. A lot and often. Recently, I transcribed my entries to a notebook with the intention of deleting them and closing the site. Someone pointed out to me that, as things are, this is just a blog from two guys. She is right. Well, she was right. I started this process of transcribing so I could soothe my conscience when I shut it down.

Something happened as I did.

I started talking to God again. I started listening again. And the transformation started to occur. Torchlight is necessary, but it cannot just exist as a blog. I’m going to strip down my old posts to bare bones and revitalize them with the Word of God. I’m going to add the depth they were missing. God has called me into ministry and mine starts here.

So I’m asking you for something. Let’s connect. Let’s start something this world desperately needs. Let’s bring the torch of Jesus to our communities. Let’s be the mouthpiece of the holy spirit. Let’s give each other the encouragement we absolutely need.

This is not about me. We are His church. We are His children. No more hiding in the shadows. Let’s do this.

Over the next year, I’m going to transform the page to something new. We will no longer be Operation Torchlight. We will be Torchlight. I will explain in a later post. We will try for some new material and types of media. I need prayers.

I love you guys and I’m praying for you.