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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Worship and Suffering Pt 1; Naomi (Ruth 1)


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Naomi: From Fullness to Barrenness to Abundance; the Painful Story of Naomi Becomes the Powerful Story of God.
Ruth 1

Intro: We love stories don’t we? I can sit for hours & listen to Jerry Clower or Johnny Cash weave out their funny stories, as I’m sure many of you can sit & listen to your parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles spin some good yarns. Why is that? Because the stories we hear & tell become little fantasies, where we can transpose our own selves onto them, & think through the actions & consequences & ask ‘What would I have done there, in this or that situation?’ & we can dream of those circumstances & not be forced to take the painful risks of living thru them. Here, in the book of Ruth, there are three main stories, which are woven into the bigger story.

1. She Gets Into the Powerful Story of God by her Impoverishment.1:3-5, 21. From fullness to bareness. The road became immediately dark. The light at the end of the tunnel looked to be an oncoming train! Yet Naomi didn’t realize that her impoverishment would become the very vehicle thru which God brings Life.

2. She Gets Into the Powerful Story of God by Her Complaining. 1:11-13, 20-21. On the one hand, we don’t like ‘Complaining.’ It rakes our nerves & makes us pucker up in revulsion, ‘Can’t he quit whining?’ On the other hand, we love to complain & whine, because it makes people feel sorry for us, or we use it as a powerful tool of manipulation. But when someone complains about God, something within us is repulsed, & we immediately jerk into action to try & get God off of the hook. We think it’s unspiritual to complain about God & His providence. But the Bible is full of authentic complainers (who are not after manipulation): David, Kohath, Asaph & other Psalm writers; Job; Jeremiah; & here, Naomi. It’s almost as if God encourages real, authentic, genuine complaining (that’s why He made sure there was plenty of it recorded in the Scriptures - esp. in the Psalms!). Why is that? Because, in all truth, the genuine complainer - like Naomi - is one who takes God seriously! Naomi complains because she believes (v.8-9)! She believes that God Almighty acts, normally, with fairness, tenderness, sustaining His people & caring for them. & yet, here she is splattered with the mud of mortality, poverty, & barrenness. It none of it makes any sense. ‘How could THIS God, who rules & directs all happenings & events, DO THIS?! He acts as if He’s my enemy (v. 13b, 20b, 21b)! It’s just not normal!’ [this is in contrast to Israel’s whining which was because they despised God: Numbers 11.20] Therefore, because she takes God so seriously, her complaints get her into God’s powerful story.

3. Ultimately, She Gets Into God’s Powerful Story Because God Weaves her Pain & Bitterness into His Grand Plan & Story. Because she takes God seriously, & He takes her seriously (!), God uses the emptiness of her life, the barrenness, the brokenness & pain, & weaves it all into the plot of His grander story - using her situation as an occasion for demonstrating His own loving care for her (4:13-17). The darkness of her life becomes the shadowy backdrop & bleak canvass onto which the Lord radiantly and brilliantly paints His loving picture - that He’s still in the business of leading, loving, caring for His people.  // Just like with Job, Naomi never gets an explanation of ‘Why?’ In fact, she had long passed from the scene before the offspring of her old age brings forth a king (4:17-22). Through her barrenness, emptiness - just as thru Sarah’s, Rebekah’s, Hannah’s & in Luke 1, Elizabeth’s barrenness - God does the most shocking, startling, surprising thing ever -> He brings forth life & legacy. Thru Naomi’s barrenness, God brings forth the family that will be God’s chosen vessel, for over a thousand years, thru whom will come the Promised Son - Jesus Christ, the Salvation, Life & Door into God’s family (Romans 1:3-4)! Helmut Thieckle tells how after Stuttgart was bombed in WWII, he & his family had to relocate to a nearby village…all possessions loaded…drawer containing all their china fell out, crashing…stopping to look & clean it up. At that moment a bomb exploded a few hundred yards up the road – right where they would have been – & left a devastating crater. “China smashed, life preserved. That is typical of divine chemistry” (Ralph Davis).

4. What is it God is wanting to teach us here?
1. He has never promised us a perpetual rose garden.
2. God is on the scene, even if the darkness of your situation suffocates your vision & life. God is the Hero of the story. The tension of Naomi’s life in chapter one is contrasted with the deliverance & joy of chapter four. The one she thought was her enemy showed Himself to be her greatest lover - but it took her darkest moments to bring her into the light of His loving splendor for her & us to see it. Thus, God is the Hero of our little stories as well. That is where we must turn. Gal. 3.26-29 & 2.20
3. Sometimes we must become barren before God will produce abundance. This is what it looks like to follow Jesus: Q27 Wherein did Christ's humiliation consist? Christ's humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time. Q28 Wherein consisteth Christ's exaltation? Christ's exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day. Through the cross to the crown; through the gore to the glory!

4. We too must come to take God seriously through the bleak & the blessed moments. We dishonor Him when we strive to sugar coat every pain, every bruise & every bleeding wound! Face it, there will be (& have been) times when we feel as if God has become our enemy. We need to grab a hold of the Psalms with all the gusto & grief we can muster, & pour ourselves out to the very God who seems, at the moment, to be our enemy. Only then can we find hope - hope that this very One, whom we know cares for & loves His children - will finally act in our behalf, and fill up our barrenness with the fullness of His tenderest love & mercy – Psalm 30.5; 1 Peter 5:6-7! 

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