So, here's the text that I tried to preach from, and the audio player is below, or you could play it directly here. I fumbled in the introduction so the message does not even start until the 1:30 mark, but feel free to give me some feedback. I'd appreciate it.
Hi, I'm Lee Jones, and thank you for allowing me to participate today in such a significant way to me. I do have a text I'd like to expand on today, but first, please allow me to pray for us briefly.
Father, thanks for this day, and for the freedom that we enjoy now, and that we could gather today in Your Name. Please guide our conversation today, and speak to us, and use me to the best of my abilities, and that You may exceed my limitations and speak to us anyway. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
I cannot say for you, but if you are like me, these last few years have not been easy. A few years ago, my wife and I became landlords nearby and found a good church to join. I was about to graduate from the seminary, and we were doing well enough to support Cathy's mom, who had to move in with us. I loved my situation, my job, my church, and we were pretty well-off. The future was bright.
Then, things changed for us. Cathy became sick with Hepatits C, and we were told she might have 10 years to live. A series of property issues, and a tenant who stopped paying rent got us behind the eight ball on the mortgage. Cathy lost her job, and I started working second and third jobs to try to keep up. Then, my father died suddenly and left no will, and I found myself supporting my mother financially. We lost the apartment and had to move out, and Cathy's mom had to leave, too. It was a very tough time for us.
Transition to Text
It is not an unusual story. I don't know what your story might be. But we've all heard about rising unemployment, foreclosures, the economic downturn, a global war on terror, and people losing their retirement investments. Just when we think we've made it through one thing, it seems another one happens. Now what? What do we do now?
I imaging that might be how Naomi felt. Her story is found in the book of Ruth. I hope you are familiar with the story (look for nods). We won't have time to go through the whole book today so I'll be quoting a text here or there as we go along. (Maybe ask if everybody is familiar with RUTH if there are faces I don't recognize).
But think about it. The book of Ruth was set during the time of the Judges (1:1), which is a time of many wars. Naomi's husband and family moved to Moab during a famine, and for an agrarian society a family would be like a severe economic downturn, impacting everybody for the worse. Naomi lived through a tough time, and she lost everything.
Naomi lost her husband (1:3). For Naomi, this is devastating, not just emotionally but economically, for she has no good way to support herself. In today's terms, Naomi had no marketable job skills, so now she is dependent upon her children. But then she looses both of her sons (1:5), a double blow to her, as she lost all her family, and her means of support, and Naomi has no male grandchildren to carry on the family name and inherit the property. She returns emptyhanded to Israel, except for Ruth (1:22), and Naomi is so bad off that she mortgages her land and leases it out (4:3), with no hope to redeem it.
And in all of this, Naomi know that God is aware of her situation, her plight. Naomi says that God has testified against her 1:20). Naomi has lost everything, and she knows that God knows about her problems, and that has to be a troubling thought.
Transition to Us
God know about our problems, and yet we still have problems. Does that ever bother anybody else than me? Doesn't God know that my wife is, quite possibly, terminally ill? Doesn't He know that I can't afford another plumbing problem, another cut in hours, another reduction in my government benefits, another increase in my cost of this and cost of that? Doesn't God know I can't keep this up forever? Doesn't. God. Know?
[pause] And, more troubling than that, doesn't He care?
[pause] Of course He knows. And of course He cares.
[use the hands, gesture] But sometimes it is one thing for us to know something is true, and it is another thing for us to believe in it and live it. Of course we know that God knows. And of course we know that God cares. But things can be so hard that we know He knows, but we forget to believe it. Or, we believe He cares, but we forget to live like it.
Transition to Text
But we can remember, or we can learn, to live what we believe and know. Now Ruth illustrates how God knows and cares, and we can learn to live what we believe and know to be true. To steal a page from Pastor Mike's playbook, there are four things that God gave to His people in this story that I want us to see.
The point: God will provide
First, I'd like to point out that God provided Naomi with Ruth. Before all the trouble came around, God brought Ruth into Naomi's life. When things got tough, Ruth stuck with Naomi (1:18). When they got back to Bethlehem and had to eat, Ruth went and cleaned in the fields (2:2). God provided Naomi with Ruth. Before the trouble struck her, God had already provided both people and support.
[slowly] Like Ruth for Naomi, God may have already provide people to you, in your life, to encourage you and support you. God does know about your situation, and He may have already provided someone. So think about the people that are already in your life whom God has provided. Give thanks for them and encourage them as they encourage you.
So God provide someone ahead of time. Not only did He provide Naomi with Ruth, second, God provided Ruth and Naomi with Boaz. When Ruth and Naomi had to eat and needed to work and glean for their grain (2:2), God brought Ruth into Boaz's field. "It just so happened" that Ruth came across Boaz's field (2:3) and Boaz happened to be there (2:4) and Boaz happened to notice Ruth (2:5) and give her protection (2:8-9). Did it just happen? No, God provided for Naomi and Ruth with Boaz. God had already prepared and provided for someone new to come into their lives.
Like Ruth for Naomi, God may provide new people and opportunities and bring them into your life to help you and support you. God does know about your situation, and He may be arranging for someone to help you, right now! It will probably not be charity, and effort will be required on your part, but God has. already. provided. So look out for the people that God might bring into your life who can help you get on your feet or encourage you. Give thanks for them and encourage them as they encourage you. God had prepared someone to be a blessing for Naomi and Ruth when their need arose. God provided.
Not only did God provide Ruth to Naomi ahead of time, and Boaz to them both when they returned, and next, God provided Boaz with Ruth. Now, follow me on this. We already know that Boaz is a close relative and a redeemer (2:20). Though God had bless Boaz in many ways (2:1), Boaz was apparently still in need of a virtuous woman (3:11). There's no way to know for sure, but it seems to me that the story assumes that Boaz had no wife (3:10-13). Though Boaz had to wait many years, God not only blessed Ruth and Naomi, He blessed Boaz as well. God had prepared a virtuous woman for Boaz, and prepared Boaz to be a blessing and to be blessed as well.
It is very likely that God has already provide people in your life for you to bless them, perhaps just as much as they bless you, or perhaps more so. God will provide not only for you, but through you as well. So look for those chances to be a blessing to others, even as God is blessing you.
God provided for Naomi with Ruth ahead of time, God provided Naomi and Ruth with Boaz just in time, and God provided Boaz with Ruth as well. And, finally, through them, God provided the nation with a future king. God didn't juts provide for the people in the story, He provided through the people in the story for all the people of God. Remember, in those days when Israel had no king (Judges 21:25, Ruth 1:1), God brought two families together in unlikely circumstances to bless them, and through them, to bless the nation with a king, a king after God's own heart. The Davidic line also led to Jesus, whom God provided for our forgiveness of sin. So remember that God provides not only for you, but we cannot know what good-and-future blessing God is providing through what we do and what He is doing through us.
And now we know the ending of Naomi's story, and how God provided in her life. Naomi no support and no heir, and God provided. Ruth had no husband, and Boaz no wife, and God provided. Israel had no king, and God provided. God knows, God cares, God provides. Even in hard times, especially in hard times, God has already provided for you. He will provide for you and you will want to be ready for God to provide through you. God knows. God cares. God provides.
And how did my story end? Thankfully, our story is still being told, but I can tell you that, in spite of Cathy's normally fatal disease, her treatment was successful; against the odds 25-to-1, she has survived. I believe God provided healing. Cathy's mom is finally receiving social security and can afford her rent. We still help her on occasion, but things are looking up for her. God provided for Cathy's mom. Although my mother receives less than 1/2 of what she needs from VA survivor benefits to get by, every month God has provided extra work for me to support her. In this economy, I know God provides, and he provides for my mother every month. Although Cathy and I had to sell the property and our credit is shot, we were able to avoid a foreclosure. [insert story of RV purchase here, or if there is not enough time cut the to end] We managed to do a shortsale, and although we had to move out, God had provided pre-approved financing for an RV, and we found that we actually enjoy the lifestyle now.
Yes, times are tough, and sometimes we might wonder what God is doing. But you can know that God will provide. He has already been working in your life, He is working in your life, and He will work through your life. He will bless you and bless others through you, especially in these hard times.
YouWhat about you? What is your story? I don't know what chapter of Ruth you are in. Perhaps you are the blessing, or perhaps you're still looking for a Boaz. But through it all, remember that even in hard times, especially in hard times, God has already provided for you. He will provide for you and you will want to be ready for God to provide through you. God knows. God cares. God provides.