Sunday Sermon Notes: July 18, 2021

The Old Testament book of Ruth is often used as a women’s Bible study, and I can see why when it shows the amazing faith of a young widow named Ruth. Yet, I think it is even better as a study for men, since the male lead is a real man’s man: Boaz. Both characters show what faith is in action, both main characters demonstrate godly humility, devotion and service, and as I see it, the take away from the story is one that each one of us can learn from. What does a godly woman look like? Take a look at Ruth.  What does a godly man look like? Take a look at Boaz… and guess what guys; Boaz didn’t have to turn in his “man card” to faithfully follow God.

Ruth 1:1-5

The story begins in the days of the Judges, when God was the only King in Israel. While the text doesn’t say which one of the judges was in office at the time, scholars tend to think that it must have been early in that period, since our text does not say “when there was no king” (Ruth 1:1). In any case, it seems that there was a famine in the land that should have been flowing with milk and honey.

It is important for us to bear in mind that famines were not supposed to happen, and that if one did occur, there were more problems in the land than just a famine. In the Law, God linked His statutes with blessings and curses; there would be blessings when the people obeyed the Law, curses when they did not, and one of those curses was famine (Lev. 26:19). That there was a famine in the land is indicative of disobedience afoot. It would seem that the situation became so bad that people were leaving Bethlehem, headed for more favorable areas where they could find food.

In our story, we find a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Kilion. As most of you know, it is always a good idea to find out what Bible names mean, and this is especially true in the Old Testament, so let’s see…  Elimelech means my God a King, Naomi means amiable or pleasant, and their sons’ names mean sickness and consumption. Perhaps the boys were sickly children, unlikely to live long lives; certainly, if I wanted to go “old school” with you, I’d say that the lesson is that out of an amiable and pleasant life comes sickness and consumption (the old name for tuberculosis) but when do I ever go “old school” here?

Off they go to Moab, the land of the Moabites just across the Jordan River, which isn’t really very far from Bethlehem, at least in terms of highway miles. Even so, it must have been night and day when it comes to the availability of food. Understand that for a Jew to leave the Promised Land to live among the gentile Moabites was a very big deal, and this family must have been very desperate to do this.

The family lived in Moab for 10 years. During this time, Elimelech died, and then the two sons married local Moabite women, and in turn each of the sons died leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters in law. No reasons are given for the deaths of the men, but one thing is very clear: These events were disastrous.  For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble as our passage draws to a close. What will they do?

Ruth 1:6-22

We pick up the story in the midst of calamity for Naomi and her two daughters in law. All of their husbands have died and they have no way to earn a living in Moab without them and something must be done− and done quickly. Naomi resolves to return to Bethlehem, since she has heard that the famine has passed and the fields are once again producing in abundance. She announces to Orpah and Ruth that she intends to return home, and urges them to return to their families, in the hope that they will be taken in, but they protest. The text does not tell us exactly why they protested so much; what Naomi has urged upon them makes all the sense in the world; their only chance is to be reunited with their extended families… but will they have them back? Maybe Orpah and Ruth have just become so attached to Naomi that they can’t bear to part and would prefer to take their chances back in Bethlehem, where there are certainly no guarantees that they will be accepted, since they are not Israelites.

Naomi’s thinking is pretty simple; she is too old to marry again, and even if she did she may be past childbearing. Even so, if she could bear more sons, and found a man who would take her as a wife in his old age, Orpah and Ruth can’t wait around for years on end while the sons grew up. No, their only hope would be to return to their families and hope for another chance. Orpah finally sees reason and heads back to her clan, but Ruth, well that is another matter.

For whatever reason, Ruth declares her unyielding intention to stick by Naomi, to worship the God of Israel and to go where ever Naomi goes and to share her fate. Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi gives in and lets her travel with Naomi to Bethlehem and an uncertain fate.

What will happen to them when they return? Will the family take Naomi in after all these years of living among the Moabites? Without a doubt, many families would turn their backs on her at this point, particularly with a gentile in tow. When they arrive, the people in Bethlehem are amazed to see them.  Naomi tells the women (for men did not normally speak to unattached women) that they should call her Mara from now on, which means bitter, for God had turned against her.

Interesting isn’t it? From Naomi, which means amiable or pleasant, to Mara which means bitter because of all the family calamity she had suffered. The chapter ends with the notice that they had arrived just as the barley harvest was beginning.

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Tranquil, but with a past

Picture 253

A few years ago I visited this little town in the mountains of West Virginia.  The surrounding scenery is beautiful, everywhere I went I could hear birds singing happily.  There were few cars, little modern-day clutter, and clear blue skies.  As I was walking around, I saw this particular scene and had to get a picture; such apparent tranquility.

The whole place is tranquil now, but you can clearly see that these buildings have been there for quite some time as has the entire town.  It has not always been so tranquil…

I took this picture only yards away from a place made famous by Thomas Jefferson who visited the area two centuries  ago and wrote about it in a famous book, drawing visitors from as far away as Europe to see the magnificent view.  Later the U.S. government built an arsenal here.  In 1859 a man named John Brown led an assault on this town seeking to capture over 10,000 muskets to arm slaves to revolt against their masters, an attack which though it failed, so provoked passions that Civil War would soon follow. During that war, this town, Harper’s Ferry, was captured eight times with many thousands being killed in the process. Today it is a National Park.

It is certainly true that the town of Harper’s Ferry has a past, but then isn’t the same true for all of us?

Each of us also has a past, some of it is good, some of it may not be so good.  The question is not what our past has been, but rather what the present and future look like.  For any person in Christ, the past is forgiven and over with; it has been buried with Christ as the Bible says. Sadly, some of us still cling to the past; maybe it’s time for us to arise in newness of life as Harper’s Ferry has done. No matter how turbulent our lives have been in the past, we can, in Christ, arise to a new life filled with His glory, purpose and peace.  We must learn from the past, and follow our Lord into the future each and every day of our lives, and if we do this then we too canl spend the rest of our earthly days in His peace.

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A lot of people I know only think of the summer time as hot and muggy; I think they might be missing something…

I’ve always thought of summer as a glorious time, but I must admit that early on that was just because I didn’t have to go to school.

I took a drive the other day, and summer’s story was all around.  You could see it in the backyard BBQ’s where friends and family were gathered together.  You could see it in the small town festivals where communities are gathered.  You can see it in the church VBS  announcements where little kids will hear all about Jesus, and their parents and other adults will experience godly service for others.

You can see summer’s stories driving through farm country and seeing growing green fields as far as the horizon in every direction.  No, don’t say that is a boring sight!  This is where men and God work together to feed the nations and I daresay we’d all notice if it wasn’t going on.  Summer is a time when many have a chance to relax and recharge, to vacation with family and to just slow down a bit.  You can sit outside in the evening and hear the symphony of the land, the late calls of birds and the rustle of leaves in the trees, and you can enjoy the sight of the tiger lilies bright orange all around.

Yes, I’d say summer has a lot to tell if anybody cares to notice.

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Everywhere we look God is glorified; everywhere we look God is busy.

Every day we live we give glory to Him; every day we sing His praise.

In all that we do we serve Him; all that we are we give to Him.

The heavens declare the glory of God; 
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they display knowledge. 

 There is no speech or language
    where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4

What a wonderful and awesome God we have! May each of us give Him the thanks and praise that He deserves, and may each one of us serve Him to our dying day!

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Why I DON’T Use King James- Redux

Here’s another one that I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I may as well share this as well, from March of 2014…

Long ago I grew accustomed to receiving “hate” emails from KJV fans.  I should have kept them, because I’m sure you would be greatly amused if I posted a list of the names I’ve been called because I use the NIV in this blog most of the time. The first few times I received these emails, I thought that maybe I should reconsider, then I began to find them amusing and even hilarious, but now I’m just bored.

Dear reader, I do not use the KJV because it is written in a language that nobody speaks; it’s just that simple.  In that sense, it has much in common with things that are written in Latin, it’s a dead language that isn’t spoken anywhere, with the possible exception of Ivory Tower professors somewhere.

With that out of the way, I will agree with those who would say that the King James English is beautiful and poetic.  Why should that surprise anyone? After all, it is the language of Shakespeare, yet ask any freshman student about studying Shakespeare: they have to translate it into modern English before they can follow it. Many of my detractors claim that the KJV is the only accurate translation of the Bible.  While it is my view that the KJV is a fine translation, it is very far from perfect!  The other day, I saw a post that consisted of a list of words and the number of times they were used in the KJV and the NIV.  They were words like “hell” “damnation” and so on, all dealing with judgment and punishment.  The KJV had these word more than the NIV, and judging from the fact that the same blog had another post attacking the NIV for being “politically correct” I’m going to assume that the blogger was trying to show that the NIV is soft of judgment and condemnation.  (I apologize for not having the links here for you to verify this, but this morning I couldn’t find the post again…)

To be honest and fair, however, the KJV would have the word “hell” more often than the NIV because the KJV renders five different words “hell” even though the five different words mean five different things- this is an example of a KJV weakness, not a KJV strength.  Of course, the NIV doesn’t have the word “damnation” a single time, it is a word that is no longer in use in the English language, but it means “condemnation, judgment, punishment” and those are the words the NIV uses, depending on context. Here’s a KJV weakness that you might not even want to know about:  The Greek word baptiso is a verb which means “to immerse.” King James was translated in a rough time in history, during the time of the English Reformation.  Those poor translators couldn’t be sure who was going to win out, and the way they handled this word could spell either life or death, so they transliterated it rather than translating it, thus creating a new English word: Baptize.  Now you figure out what it means: Can you translate “immerse” into “sprinkle”?  We still can’t all agree on that question, can we?

The KJV has its problems, the NIV has its problems; they all have their problems! That’s why many of us study in Greek and Hebrew and then look at the English; KJV fans, the original language is the best, not the KJV.  Still, I like the KJV, I learned this stuff in KJV, I can even speak King James English, but I don’t teach in it because few can fully understand it today.

Over 20 years ago, I was teaching in a church where several of the older members complained about the NIV, saying that they prefer the KJV. “If it isn’t King James, it isn’t the Bible” was the rallying cry.  So being young and eager to please, I announced one Sunday in church that I would be starting a new class that would be all King James.  We would use the KJV exclusively, all teaching would be in King James English, and all questions and comments by participants would be in King James English. ” There is a sign-up sheet on the table outside, so be sure and sign up so I will know how many class handouts we will need; and they too will be written in King James English!”

Well of course nobody signed up!  They wanted to hear King James, but they wanted it explained in language they would understand…

In conclusion, if you prefer the King James, by all means use it.  As I have said, it is a fine translation.  But if another person uses a different translation, it really isn’t your place to order them to switch!  It really doesn’t mean they are the “devil’s blogger”!

Yes, that is by far the most hilarious thing I’ve been called for using NIV! 🙂

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Why I don’t debate any more- Redux

I’ve mentioned this post recently and thought I’d share it today for those who weren’t here back in October 2013 when it originally ran…

Before you read this be warned! This is a story of a doctrinal debate that happened in a denominational setting where I had the side that the denomination in question did not agree with.  You may well disagree with me on the question, and if that is the case, please understand that I have no intention of causing any offense to you whatsoever, nor do I wish to demean any point of view that differs from mine; this is a story about an incident that I very much regret and in many ways I am the villain of the story!

Twenty years ago, I found myself in a conversation with my boss about Baptism. He is the “Big Guy” in my recent post “Attitudes are powerful.” Mr. Big did not believe that baptism is necessary for a person to be saved into Christ.  I believe that it is the means by which we enter our covenant relationship with Christ.  With most people, you can exchange views, discuss them, bat them around a bit and all is well; an interesting discussion.  With Mr. Big, however, there was never a view other than his own. “My way or the highway” was one his favorite sayings in fact.

Well, he couldn’t handle my arguments, so he challenged me to debate his pastor.  Being young and foolish, I accepted.  Of course I knew that if I didn’t, I’d never hear the end of it.  His pastor was excited about the opportunity and arranged a big event at his church that even included a Saturday night potluck.  He wanted all of his congregation to see how stupid it was to insist that baptism was in any way essential for salvation.  Of course, it was essential to join his congregation!

I knew exactly what his points would be, for I had carefully studied both sides of the question in Seminary, and even written a term paper on the subject; I was ready.  Any time you go into a debate on a doctrinal issue, you are ill-advised to argue about the conclusions, for when you do so, you will not change anyone’s mind, so I prepared to go after the presuppositions that back up those conclusions.  Pastor Larry was not prepared for that, I’m afraid.

We debated for the first hour in a very polite and kindly manner, and it went just as I had expected; he made his points and I made mine very politely, but I had a trap to set for the very end.  As I had expected, Pastor Larry kept reminding me that “the Bible means what it says and it says what it means” and that “the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.” I saved a verse for the end of the debate, which was supposed to be 90 minutes.

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Mark 16:16

Pastor Larry did exactly what I expected him to do: He declared that I could not use that text because that final passage in Mark is not found in all of the early texts… I was ready.  For that night, I was using an old Bible that was beat up and about to fall apart.  I calmly stood up, ripped out the page from the Bible, wadded it up and tossed it over my shoulder and politely asked Pastor Larry if there were any more pages that I should rip out of the Bible so that he could win the debate.

There was literally a gasp in the room; Pastor Larry was mortified that I had treated the Word of God with such disrespect:


If it is the Word of God, then how can you ignore it to make a point?  If it isn’t the Word of God, then surely you have removed it from your own Bible.  That was my “kill shot” and it worked… Pastor Larry could only stammer; he hadn’t expected that tactic.

In the aftermath, several families changed churches, and Pastor Larry was fired. Mr. Big’s son and daughter in law found another church as well…

Unintended consequences, and I felt absolutely terrible, I had never intended for anything like that to happen, I was simply trying to make the point that I had been asked to make.  I will never do that again, and when you see the way I respond to certain comments here, you will note that there are times when I am challenged and let it go.

Now you know why that is.

When the issue of baptism comes up, I usually suggest that since all of the Christian brotherhoods agree that we should be baptized, let’s not argue about the why, let’s just get it done.  When it comes to sprinkling or immersion, rather than argue, I just say that since everyone accepts immersion and not all accept sprinkling, why not just be immersed?  It covers all of the bases and we don’t divide ourselves with arguments.  Yes, I see this as very important, but I don’t wish to divide God’s people to win an argument.  There will be ample opportunity to teach God’s Word as we go from there…

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Grace and Peace
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Hurry Up!

Hurry up!  Time is of the essence!  Let’s go, go, go!  Get things done!  Time to run! I’m late!  Rush, rush, rush! Urgent! Move it! Get the lead out!

Welcome to another week.

Everybody’s always in a big rush, have you noticed that?  I remember when fax machines came along… weren’t they going to make things easier?  Well maybe they did in a way, but as I recall they also made me everyone’s slave.  Instead of opening a letter that came in the mail that made a request and asked for a prompt response (when you have a minute), now I was getting faxes that said the sender was waiting for a response immediately…

Fax machines are kind of obsolete now that we have scanners and email, and the demands are even greater… and you can never get away because you have a smart phone and you can get email even when you are out… and the people still expect an immediate reply.  In fact, with all of the modern time-saving technology that we have, we’ve never been more at the beck and call of others; the insanity just increases.

Being a bit of a rebel myself, I tend to investigate new electronic devices when I get them to discover if they have a very old-fashioned feature: an off button.  I have demonstrated this feature to countless young people over the years who had no idea that their cell phones even had such a thing!  My kids thought that they only had vibrate buttons; imagine their surprise!

Well, as I was saying I’m a bit of a rebel, so I tend to turn these devices on only when I want to use them, to the consternation of some− oh well.  It seems to me that we need to have some time to relax, to think and to spend with family, loved ones and the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is another old-fashioned notion: we need to devote time to our important relationships. I know, people everywhere are falling over in shock, right?

Take a few minutes today for those important relationships in your life, especially the one with our Lord, your sanity level will be healthier and your life will be enriched.

Now: I’d love to say more, but sorry, I’ve gotta run!

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Something to Mark the Day

As most of you know, today is the 4th of July, Independence Day. If you aren’t American, this is a big deal over here, marked by parades, picnics, family and community get-togethers, BBQ’s, baseball games, fireworks… well, you get the idea. This year in particular it’s a big day because after the COVID restrictions and lockdowns that marred the day last year, people are happy to do something normal again, as I’m sure they are all over the world.

Of course, it just isn’t the Fourth without our National March, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by JP Souza…


Have a great Fourth everyone!

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