Harvesting a Life of Hope • Message 1 • Crisis
Joshua J. Masters
May 17, 2019
INTRODUCTION: SETTING THE STAGE
This has been a long and difficult season, hasn’t it?
But we are still here, and we want to continue to encourage you.
During this pandemic, have you been filled with hope or worry?
Today we’re starting a new series called Harvesting a Life of Hope and we’ll be focusing on how we can find that hope regardless of our circumstances.
Now, this series was planned long before the pandemic took hold, but I don’t think it’s a mistake that this first week is about finding hope in times of crisis.
God’s hand is always working in what seems like ordinary events of our everyday lives.
And that’s exactly what the Book of Ruth is all about.
So, we’re going to look at finding hope in our own lives through the lens of Ruth’s story.
Ruth is very different from other Old Testament books.
There are no kings or warriors—no angels,
no burning bushes, no overt miracles.
In fact, God doesn’t even SEEM to speak in this book—not at first glance.
On its surface, it’s the story of everyday people—facing everyday struggles just like you and me.
But it’s actually the story of how God’s hand is quietly working all the time.
You know, we talk a lot about hearing God, because we know (and have experienced) that God still speaks.
But can you see the evidence of His work even when you don’t hear Him?
God may not speak noticeably in this book, but His fingerprints are all over it.
In the heartbreaking struggles of an average family, we’re going to see how God is silently working to restore their lives and foreshadowing the Gospel in our own lives.
So, as we walk through this series, the question we should ask ourselves is this:
--Can we see Christ working even when we don’t see wonders?
Because that’s how we harvest a life of hope.
Let’s jump into the text.
BODY OF MESSAGE
--For those who have your Bible in front of you, we’re in Ruth, Chapter 1.
--If you’re watching in our Online Campus, you can follow along by clicking the Bible tab above your chat window.
--And if you’re watching on another platform, you can either follow along in the Brookwood App, or just kick back and we’ll put the verses up on the screen.
Starting in verse 1:
In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.
Ruth 1:1–2 (NLT)
We see from the first line that this takes place during the time of the judges.
And if you’ve read the book of Judges, you know it was a time of spiritual and moral chaos.
Judges 17:6 says:
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 17:6 (NLT)
It was the time between Joshua’s conquest of Israel and the rise of David as king, a period when the nation is divided, and the people of God repeatedly turned away and betray Him.
But we’re going to focus in on this one family.
There’s a severe famine in the land and family of Elimelech is in crisis.
And as you’ll see, they’re not experiencing a lot of hope.
So as we continue in their story, we’re going to look at four ways we can Harvest a Life of Hope in Crisis.
(read the cross references in your message guide)
Here’s the first one.
We harvest a life of hope in crisis by…
- Evaluating our DIRECTION.
When this family faced crisis, they immediately responded in panic.
They didn’t seek God; they didn’t rely on God.
Now, the name Elimelech means “My God is King,” but when he faces a crisis, he doesn’t live up to that name.
They were IN the Promised Land—but rather than trusting God, he decides to come up with his own solution…
He does “what’s right in his own eyes” and chooses to move in a direction AWAY from God’s promises and protection.
Our nation is in a crisis right now.
It may not be a famine, but people are dying, and some food has been hard to get.
So, what direction are you going?
Are you leaning into the promises of God or are you trying to make your own path?
In times of stress or crisis, everyone either runs to or from something.
Who or what are you running to right now?
Netflix? Food? Alcohol? Fear? Control? Distractions?
In a crisis, we can run toward God or we can run toward idols.
Elimelech and his family choose the latter.
The shortest route from Bethlehem to Moab was about 50 miles. To give you some perspective, that’s almost the exact same distance as it is from the Brookwood parking lot to Clemson University. Except they didn’t have a Honda with a Tiger flag to get them there.
This was the EASY path that most scholars agree they took.
The journey would have taken them 7-10 days on foot over difficult, rocky terrain.
The path we take away from God is always more difficult than we imagined.
When I walked away from God, I thought it was going to be smooth sailing, that I could do what I wanted how I wanted.
But I fell into a valley so deep, I didn’t think I could make it back.
Are you in a valley today?
This is the route they likely took.
After they went north to avoid the Dead Sea, the crossed the Jordan River.
I think that’s very significant.
Here’s why: That’s a very important boundary, because that’s where Joshua led the people of God into the provision and protection, God had promised them. It’s represents the fulfillment of a 500-year-old promise.
But it’s also the boundary where Moses and all the adult Israelites who rejected that promise were forbidden to cross.
So it’s not a small thing that Elimelech is crossing back over the Jordan, leaving those promises and protection behind, to go live with Israel’s enemies.
Josh, why are you telling me all this Jewish History?
Because I think there might be a Jordan River in your life right now.
I think there are reminders of God’s promises to you that you’re ignoring or leaving behind because you don’t trust Him.
What direction are you going?
Don’t act out of panic.
When you’re in crisis, evaluate who you’re following and what direction you’re going in.
So Elimelech arrives in Moab, following their own path.
Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.
Ruth 1:3–5 (NLT)
And of course, we feel for Naomi, but taking control and moving away from the promises of God led to greater tragedy.
Now, we have no idea how or why they all died. All we know is that they settled in Moab (verse 2), which means they didn’t just go to find food… they were dedicated to the land of their enemies.
And we know that after Elimelech dies, his two sons married Moabites who worshipped idols. Then the two sons both died.
So, in addition to incredible grief—the loss of her husband and then the death of her two sons (which is unimaginable), this left Naomi alone, with no way to care for herself or even get food in a land where she was probably shunned.
To add to that grief, her daughters-in-law never had children, so not only are they likely to die, but the family line will die as well.
Naomi is overwhelmed with grief and she only has two people left in her life—Orpah and Ruth.
As you face crisis, and even as we lose people in our lives…
We harvest a life of hope in crisis by…
- Evaluating our RELATIONSHIPS.
Let’s continue in verse 6:
Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed His people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.
Ruth 1:6–7 (NLT)
So, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth have started the journey to Bethlehem.
But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.
“No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.”
But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! (But then she says:) Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord Himself has raised His fist against me.”
Ruth 1:8–13 (NLT)
We’ll come back to that statement in a minute, but let’s see what happens with the daughters. Verse 14:
And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”
Ruth 1:14–15 (NLT)
So Orpah leaves and starts a hugely successful television empire (You’ve all been thinking it the whole time). No, Orpah goes back to Moab and to her gods. And that’s the last we ever hear of Orpah.
But don’t miss this: Orpah started the journey toward the promises of God, but she turned back.
Naomi convinces her to go back.
How many people start their journey toward God with deep emotion and a sense of dedication, only to turn back to their old way of life when they realized the path would be difficult?
I’ll ask a harder question… How many people have started a journey toward God and were convinced to turn away by the words or actions of someone who was supposed to be a believer?
But what about Ruth?
When verse 15 says “Ruth clung tightly to Naomi,” it’s the same word that’s used to describe the loyalty between a husband and wife in Genesis. This is a covenant word.
And that brings us to the highlight of chapter one.
Ruth’s response to Naomi is regarded as one of the most beautiful statements of loyalty, not just in the Bible but in all of literature—even outside the church.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
Ruth 1:16–18 (NLT)
Why does Naomi say nothing? I think it’s because Ruth’s faith is greater than Naomi’s doubt.
Because her dedication to Naomi is beautiful, yes, but this proclamation goes far beyond that.
Make no mistake, this is a declaration of faith… she’s had an encounter with the God of Israel.
“Your God will be my God.”
“Wherever you die, I will die, and there I’ll be buried”
Not, “I’ll stay with you until you die and then go back to my people. No, I’m forever dedicating myself to you and to the God of Israel.”
And when she says, “May the LORD Punish me” She uses the personal name of God. She calls Him by name, YHWH.
The Holy Spirit has transformed Ruth, and as we continue through these chapters, He’ll use Ruth to transform Naomi.
So as you go through crisis, are you surrounding yourself with people who will push you into a deeper faith?
Are you surrounding yourselves with Orpahs or Ruths?
Evaluate the relationships in your life.
Now let’s talk about Naomi for a second (this one’s hard).
We harvest a life of hope in crisis by…
- Evaluating our ATTITUDE.
Why does Naomi try to send the last two people who love her away?
It’s because she views herself as their source of hope and provision rather than God.
She tells Ruth and Orpah, “I can’t provide a husband for you… I can’t give you security.”
And since she views herself as the only source, and she’s hopeless, she has nothing to offer.
And even though Naomi is heading back to Bethlehem, she’s still trying to forge her own path.
When you first read the words of Naomi to Ruth and Orpah, it can seem selfless…
She says, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Ruth 1:8b (NLT)
That sounds noble, right? It’s sounds like she’s sacrificing for the good of her daughters-in-law.
And I think Naomi herself thinks she’s doing what’s best for them. She loves these girls.
But make sure you hear this… you will run into believers who say they’re doing what’s best for you—but are operating from a place of their own brokenness. And that can send you down a terrible path.
She tells them to go back to their families and back to their gods… (Think about what that means) The primary god of Moab was Chemosh (K’mosh) who demanded human sacrifices. One Moab king had to sacrifice his oldest son by burning him alive.
That’s what Naomi’s despair and bitterness is sending them back to.
Remember verse 13. Naomi says… Go back because…
“Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord Himself has raised His fist against me.”
Ruth 1:13b (NLT)
So, what she’s really saying is, “Go back to your idols because I can’t help you and neither can my God.”
A lot of people have walked away from the church or never met Christ at all because they met people who called themselves believers, but the subtext of their lives said, “My God can’t help you.”
What’s the subtext people are reading in how you’re responding to the crisis we’re facing right now?
Continuing in verse 19:
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
Ruth 1:19 (NLT)
They made it! They’re safe… but how does Naomi respond?
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. (Naomi means pleasant) “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. (Mara means Bitterness) I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”
Ruth 1:20–21 (NLT)
She’s so weighed down by grief, she can’t see anything but bitterness and blame.
There’s no sense of personal responsibility here.
There’s no repentance for her own actions or regret for leaving the Promised Land.
Everything is God’s fault.
How do we respond in Crisis?
We have to evaluate our hurt, our motives, and our attitude.
Are we responding from a place of trust in God or are we responding from our woundedness?
In my small group we say, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”
And maybe when you do that, it won’t be bitterness you find.
Maybe your past hurts cause you to respond in despair, or anger, or hopelessness, or codependency and control.
May you have an attitude of pride or arrogance.
What’s preventing you from walking the path God has designed for you?
What’s keeping you from trusting the God of impossible rescues?
Naomi hasn’t found that trust, so she can only respond out of bitterness.
Now, I want to say this…
If that’s where you are today, if you’re in a place where you’re angry and bitter toward God—that’s okay.
God can handle your anger, He can handle your questions, He can handle your doubts.
But as long as you hold on to that bitterness, you will not be able to heal.
God would rather have an honest conversation with someone who expresses their hurt than a Christian wearing an emotional mask.
If you need someone to help you walk through that, please reach out to us.
Our Care Ministries contact information is on your screen.
God will not reject your questions, and neither will we.
[email protected], 864-688-8355
Naomi is not the villain here. She’s hurting.
But God has not abandoned her.
And He hasn’t abandoned you.
Naomi’s hope is coming.
She doesn’t see it in this chapter, but God is already working to restore her.
His fingerprints are all over this story.
And He’s preparing your next chapter too.
And that leads us to the last way we harvest a life of hope in crisis.
If we evaluate our direction, and our relationships, and our attitude—and we realize any of those are off-course…
We harvest a life of hope in crisis by…
- Looking for GOD’S WORK in the crisis.
Final verse of the chapter:
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Ruth 1:22 (NLT)
They arrive just as there’s about to be a surplus of food. Do you think that’s a coincidence?
No. God is working, and despite the fact that Naomi is bitter, and Ruth is a foreigner, God is preparing a path of hope through them that is still changing lives today.
Their looking to survive, but He wants them to thrive.
God’s been working the whole time.
Look back through the chapter.
Verse 4: Of all the woman in Moab, was it by chance that Mahlon marries Ruth? Or was God working to draw Ruth to Him all along?
Verse 16: Ruth’s proclamation. She doesn’t just decide to completely change her life and risk everything. This only happens in an encounter with God. The Holy Spirit is transforming her right in front Naomi’s eyes.
Verse 19: Two women traveling alone through the wilderness arrive safely in Bethlehem after a week’s journey? That’s not a safe journey for soldiers. God had a plan for their lives and He protected them.
And then they just happen to arrive just as the Barley Harvest begins.
And this is just the beginning.
The way God navigates the events in their lives is miraculous, quiet but miraculous.
It’s throughout the entire book.
In fact, I want to challenge you to look for it.
Read the entire book aloud in one sitting this week—either to yourself or as a family.
It only takes about 20 minutes to read all four chapters and you’ll begin to see how God is everywhere in this story.
My favorite from Chapter 1 is actually back in verse 6:
Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed His people in Judah by giving them good crops again.
Ruth 1:6 (NLT)
How did Naomi hear the Lord had blessed Judah with food?
Remember, she’s a good 7-10 day journey away from Bethlehem.
She’s a foreigner in a land that doesn’t really care for Israelites.
The only way she hears about this food is if God puts someone in her path.
Why is that so special?
Because even though she can’t see it…
Very quietly, God was calling Naomi home.
That’s exactly what He did for me in the midst of a crisis.
And He may very well be calling you home today too.
Because He’s not just everywhere in Ruth’s story. He’s everywhere in yours.
Are you willing to look for where God is working in the crisis you’ve been facing?
Can you see His fingerprints in your life—His silent hand guiding you, or bringing just the right person in your path, or orchestrating events in just the right way for your rescue?
Ask God to show you where He’s working.
And we want you to share that with us.
There’s a post on our Facebook page right now (and we’ll put one up every week).
We want you to go there and share where you see God working in your life in the comments of that post so we can all see them with text, pictures, videos... Be creative.
Let’s start looking for God’s fingerprints in our lives.
But maybe you can’t see them yet. Maybe your hurt seems bigger than God right now. That’s okay.
Facing crisis is part of this broken world, but you don’t have to face it alone and you don’t have to face it without hope.
Let us walk with you.
God wants you to see where He’s working.
And He’s calling you back to Him.