Don’t Be Surprised By the Weeds. When You Believe in God, But Everything Falls Apart Anyway.

When I was young I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong near Peterborough, Ontario. In addition to the the joy of friendship, my sailboat was just large enough that a second person could help keep it from capsizing in a good breeze. Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming since there were many slimy, gross weeds all along the shoreline. Therefore we would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake.

On one particular day I took a young lady sailing. No, this was not the young lady who would become my wife, that is another story! As we were sailing this one day, I had the feeling this friend of mine thought we were on a date. I did not have the heart to tell her that she was not my date, she was my ballast!

Being a gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried. I tried to help. But, no. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What now? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in.

Remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I mentioned earlier? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds. She was horrified. What has this story to do with us in our day when face a scary meltdown of our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t be surprised by the weeds.

In Christ, we look forward to a rescue, yes. We look forward to getting through anything life will throw at us. We have been thrown a line. We will get to the shore. Consider these words from Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 3:1-5

We have been thrown a line. We will get safely to the shore. Our future is certain. However, don’t be surprised by the weeds:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, . . . 1 Peter 3:6

There are those who assume that since God loves us and is rescuing us, there should be no more trouble in this life. God does love us, and He is rescuing us, but He has never promised that we will not face trouble. In fact, we are told that we will, and we do, face troubling times. Peter goes on:

. . . so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Troubles do test our faith. In Christ, God has reached out and taken hold of us. But how good a grip do we have as we hold on to the hope we have in God? If we are unsure, troubles will tell us. Do we really trust God? It is easy enough to say ‘yes’ when times are good. However, when we experience the weeds, reality sinks in. Thankfully, it has been my experience that even when my grip is not tight, God has never wavered in His. Still, it is better to face the weeds of life knowing that the rescue is underway, that we will get through the weeds, and that the Rescuer is trustworthy and able. It is also better to face the weeds of life knowing there is a line that can be thrown to the people around us who are floundering in the water.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8,9 (NRSV)

Don’t be surprised by the weeds. But don’t be surprised by the rescue either!

May God bless you as we face these weeds in our day.This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions.. This worship expression can be seen here. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon – Video Version.

God’s Got This? When There is a Pandemic and Jesus Says “Do Not Worry.”

Is anyone worried yet? If you are not, are you living under a rock? The COVID-19 virus is a big deal, and while cases were once reported in someone else’s backyard, they are now being reported in ours.

So along comes Jesus and says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). We might want to ask;
“Jesus, are you living under a rock?”

Those who first heard Jesus may have asked that also. Many of them would have been living day to day in a society where you were paid daily. Some may have been living meal to meal. Just plain survival was a big deal for many people. Along comes Jesus who says “do not worry . . . ”

We have been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, realizing that Jesus was not giving news rules for us to follow slavishly, but rather was teaching us what kind of people we should become. This line of thinking continues here:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

We are to be the kind of people who know that God is a good Father. We are to be the kind of people who seek His goodness in our lives. We are to be the kind of people who know, without doubt, that God loves us. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Don’t worry, God’s got it.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we should never have a concern in the world? The very first Christ followers who were aware they should not worry about food and clothing did not quit working! The apostle Paul did not live as someone who expected money to miraculously fall from the sky. He continued his work as a tentmaker. He encouraged people to work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. There was never the idea that since God loves us, and since we need not worry, that we need not have concern for the things of life and take initiative. Yes, God loves us, so therefore we should not worry, but we still need to take initiative, to show proper concern.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we will never face trouble? Jesus went on to say,

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Do not worry, but know there will still be trouble! Being a Christian does not make us immune from trouble. God loves us. That is the way things are. But we will face trouble. That is the way things work.

There is a difference between the way things are and the way things work. The way things are: we live in relationship with a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. The way things work: we live in a broken world where we need to take initiative and where bad things happen. We need, therefore, to make wise decisions, to take proper initiative for the sake of our health and the health of society.

Theologians study the way things are. Scientists study how things work. Theologians and scientists can sometimes say too much about matters in each other’s area of expertise. A theologian can study history, especially with regard to Jesus and point to the reality of God’s love. God has spoken into our world, as we learn in the Old Testament, but ultimately has revealed Himself in Jesus, revealing His love at the cross. Theologians can help us understand that. However, if a religious leader says don’t worry about COVID-19, that God will give you immunity if you just trust Him enough, change the channel. That’s not how things work. Listen to the scientist, who learns through observation how things work. However, if a scientist says there is no God, change the channel. That is not the way things are, and the scientist, with all his or her observation, cannot know that. They cannot observe everything.

We walk by faith and with wisdom. It is not an either/or thing. To show wisdom is not to show a lack of faith. To show faith is not to show a lack of wisdom. It would be foolish to say that God will take care of us, so therefore we do not need to concern ourselves with the evidence with regard to COVID-19. It would also be foolish to say we have evidence on how to deal with the virus, so we don’t need to think of God.

I didn’t plan on this being the week we would land on “don’t worry” in our sermon series. I also didn’t realize how appropriate my one-minute Easter message would be on the radio. It begins,

This is a special time of year for many of us. It is time to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Being a Baptist pastor, I have often been asked if I feel close to God while riding my motorcycle. That sometimes depends on who is pulling out in front of me. Sometimes I have felt a little too close to God.

In life there are many reminders of our mortality. Whether it’s an accident, or the threat of a pandemic, there are many reminders that “dust we are, and to dust we will return.”

That is how things work in this broken world. That is the focus of Lent, a time we remember our mortality. Bad things happen; cars cut in front of motorcycles, people get addicted, a plane falls out of the sky, cancer strikes, infections spread, an innocent man is arrested, beaten and crucified. That is Lent, that is the recognition that death is part of the way things work. But after Lent comes Easter Sunday!

Death is a result of our separation from God. God has dealt with that separation through His grace, His love, His mercy. He is a good and heavenly Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be reconciled to His children. That is the way things are.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

So a pandemic looms ominously. Don’t worry, God’s got this? Actually, our Heavenly Father has us. But we’ve got this. We can see how this virus works, we can take appropriate steps. We do not worry, knowing that come what may, God loves us and someday we will stand before Him in glory. He’s got us. We do not worry. We do take care, however, and we will want to take care of each other through this difficult time.

(For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

In a Precarious Position

Have you ever felt a sense of desperation? Like you are having, not just a bad day, but a bad year, or even a rotten season of life? You will be able to relate to Ruth and Naomi, who at the beginning of Ruth, chapter two, are in a precarious position.

Naomi is a widow, who not only lost her husband and sons, but therefore also lost the rights to the family land. Ruth is a foreigner, and a Moabite at that! The Moabites did not a great reputation among the Israelites. Neither Naomi nor Ruth had a livelihood. These were desperate times for them.

Despite their precarious position, Ruth chapter two is all about hope. Let us learn where we can find hope when we are in a precarious position.

1 Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. Ruth 2:1 (NLT)

This book is full of hints, and chapter two begins with one; though Naomi and Ruth are destitute, there is a rich man in the family! Now, back to poverty:

2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.”Ruth 2:2 (NLT) 

Poverty was the reality for Naomi and Ruth. Picking up the leftovers from the harvesting was what the poor did in ancient Israel. In fact the Old Testament law instructed that leftovers ought to always be left over for the relief of the poor. We should also note the danger that Ruth is in. She planned on sticking close enough to the women labourers for the sake of safety.

3 So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. Ruth 2:3 (NLT) 

The keys words here are “as it happened.” Remember the well-off family member from verse 1? Ruth unknowingly just happened to pick his field.

4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you! ”
“The Lord bless you! ” they answered. Ruth 2:4 (NIV) 

Remember that well-off family member from verse 1? He just happened to be drop by. Talk about Ruth being in the right place at the right time! But what kind of man is he? Is he kind, or blind to the needs of the poor? We will soon find out.

5 Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”
6 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”
 Ruth 2:5-9 (NLT) 

As it turns out, Boaz is a kind man, a godly man. Talk about Ruth being in the right place, a the right time, with the right kind of person! Coincidence? No, the reader is to clue in that God is working unseen in the background on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. Despite their precarious position, there is hope!

God is working, unseen, in the background of your life in surprising ways. God is caring for you, even when you are not aware. 

Let us take a moment to see things from the perspective of Boaz. First, consider the blessing Boaz speaks over Ruth:

12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:12 (NLT emphasis added) 

Keep that in mind as we continue on with the story.

Ruth heads back to Naomi at the end of the day with a good haul of food, and the happy news that the owner of the field was a very kind man. Naomi asks for his name and upon hearing the name, Boaz, says,

20 “The Lord bless him! ” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. ” Ruth 2:20 (NIV) 

Here is another hint. Help will come! Boaz is not just a kind man, he is a ‘guardian-redeemer’ to Naomi, and therefore, Ruth. An NIV footnote describes the Hebrew word behind ‘guardian-redeemer’ as “a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty.”

Talk about Ruth being in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of man, with the right kind of relationship to her. He is one who has a potential obligation to help. In fact, he may have an obligation to marry Ruth in order to restore the land to the family. Let us skip ahead to the next chapter where Ruth carries out instructions from Naomi on how to approach Boaz with a marriage request.

7 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
9 “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” Ruth 3:7-9 (NIV) 

Most translations focus in on a request to be covered by Boaz’s cloak. However, there is something profound about the Hebrew word that gets lost in translation. The English Standard Version brings out well that a word we have seen earlier is used again:

9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Ruth 3:9 (ESV emphasis added) 

Boaz spoke in verse 12 of Ruth seeking refuge under the wing of God, not knowing that Boaz himself would be asked to take Naomi and Ruth under his wing. God was working through Boaz on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. God may care for someone through us. You may be the person God uses to bring hope to someone in a desperate situation, you may become the answer to someone’s prayer for refuge.

There is something bigger hinted at here in Ruth, chapter 2. This is the first we hear of Boaz being a ‘guardian-redeemer,’ the one who can help family members in desperate situations. There is a desperate situation that we all face. We experience separation from God, an incredible loss of relationship with God due to sin. As Naomi had lost the rights to the land, land that was originally a gift from God, so we have lost our right to eternal life, life that was originally a gift from God. We need a redeemer, to restore what has been lost. There is a story of redemption in the Book of Ruth that hints at a bigger story of redemption. In the Book of Ruth we learn how God cared for Naomi and Ruth through Boaz. In the Bible, in its entirety, we learn how God cares for us through Christ. There is a redeemer, and his name is Jesus.

God cared for Ruth and Naomi. God cares for us. God cared for Ruth and Naomi through Boaz. God cares for others through us. God is our refuge when we find ourselves in a desperate and precarious situation. He is our redeemer.