The following is a written transcript of the first sermon I preached in Telluride, Colorado as the new Senior Pastor of The Alpine Chapel. It is also the beginning of a trek through the Old Testament Book of Ruth.
As you can imagine, today is a very special day for me. It is my first Sunday where I’ve been given the opportunity to share God’s Word with Alpine Chapel, as the Senior Pastor. The past month has been a rough one… to say the least. I’ve said goodbye to family and friends, and accepted the ‘call’ to move here. I know that the pastoral search committee, and the leadership council, have spent countless hours in prayer and researching who exactly should be the next Senior Pastor here… but please know, that I too, have spent countless hours. I stand before you today, absolutely certain, that I am supposed to be here. But that didn’t necessarily make it an easy thing. So… in the midst of moving, and leaving one place to come here… I’ve also been considering exactly HOW I should begin my teaching. You might think it’s funny that I’d choose to title my first message, “Stay At Home”… I sorta did. “Michael… isn’t a pastor supposed to try and talk people into comingto church? Staying at home seems to be the opposite of what you’d want people to do!” Well… stick with me, and you’ll see why I choose that title.
If you would, turn with me to the Old Testament Book of Ruth. It is the 8thBook of the Bible… Joshua, Judges, Ruth (not very nice of Joshua, huh?).
I’m what is called an ‘Expository Preacher’, which is just a fancy way of saying that I love to teach verse-by-verse, through the Bible. Wikipediadeclares that EXPOSITORY preaching differs from TOPICAL preaching in that the former concentrates on a specific text and discusses topics covered therein; whereas, the latter concentrates on a specific topic the speaker chooses and then references texts covering that topic. So… after much prayer on exactly HOW I should begin my ministry here in Telluride, I felt the Lord leading me to choose the Book of Ruth.
The Book of Ruth is a short, little book and has been called “The Mighty Midget With A Meaningful Message”. It’s basically a love story…
The story is told that, when Benjamin Franklin was Ambassador to France, he spoke to a group of intellectuals who continually scoffed at his belief in the Bible. Unconvinced that these men were familiar with the Book they mocked, Franklin said, “By the way, gentlemen, I have come across a most intriguing love story that I would like to read for you tonight. I think you’ll find it interesting.”He then proceeded to read a handwritten copy of the Book of Ruth.
After he finished the four short chapters, his audience was ecstatic. “That is the greatest love story we have ever heard,”they exclaimed. “You must publish it at once.”
Franklin answered, “It has already been published. It’s in the Bible.”
And the scoffers were silenced.
Let me give you a bit of background:
The theme of this Book is threefold: Redemption, Revival, and Restoration. These themes are the reason I was drawn to begin my ministry here with this particular Book.
The main characteris, of course, Ruth, who happens to be the great-grandmother of King David. She is a picture, or representative of you and me… the Bride of Jesus Christ.
The hero in the story is a guy named Boaz, who is a picture of our great Hero, our Redeemer… Jesus.
This little story shows us how the Lord can breathe life into a situation that appears lifeless. Our Lord is a Restorer; He is a Rebuilder; He is a Reviver – and the Book of Ruth ministers the message of hope to any who feel wiped-out, hurting, or hopeless.
The time this story is taking place is during a period of Israel’s history when life was not easy. There was no king in Israel, as a matter of fact, to get a proper understanding of the times, we must read the last verse of Judges, the Book preceding Ruth: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Israel, during these days, is at one of its lowest points in history – there is massive amounts of division, cruelty, civil war, national disgrace, and even apostasy (that’s a big word that simply means ‘the abandonment or renunciation of a religious belief).
Sounds kinda familiar doesn’t it? Spiritually, our culture is much the same. There is no King… and there won’t be until Jesus returns. Like Israel in the past, many of God’s people today are living in unbelief and disobedience and are not enjoying the blessings of God. It seems crazy to me that this beautiful love story takes place at such a horrible time in Israel’s history… but then I remember that today, we live in pretty dark times too; We’re experiencing national and international horrors, moral decay, and difficulties of every kind, and yet God loves this lost world and is seeking for a bride. In spite of alarms in the headlines and dangers on the streets, we can be sure that God still loves the world and wants to save lost sinners. When you know Jesus, as Savior and Lord, no matter how tough the times may be, you are a part of a beautiful love story.
So, there’s a bit of background… Now let’s read, starting at Chapter 1, verse 1…
Text: “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah…” (Ruth 1:1-2a)
So, at the beginning of this story, we’re introduced to this happy, Hebrew family living in the country of Judah, in the city of Bethlehem. I know they’re happy, because check out their names… names always meant something back then:
Elimelech = “God is my King”
Naomi = “Pleasant”
Mahlon = “Song”
Chilion = “Satisfaction”
(according to Our Nearest Kinsmanby Roy Hession)
This was a family where God was King and there was pleasantness, song, and satisfaction. Why? Because they were living in Bethlehem, which means, “The House of Bread”. I believe the same is true for you and I. We will always be happy, blessed, satisfied people if we will dwell in the House of Bread… which is the Word of God. When we’re eating Heavenly manna, we’ll be experiencing Earthly happiness. How do I know this?
Psalm 1:2-3 “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His lawhe meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”
The ‘law of the Lord’ is speaking of God’s Word… and the one who reads it, devours it, meditates on it… chews on it day and night… is like a tree. Picture a strong oak tree. What is an oak tree? An oak tree is simply a little nut that refused to give up. I love that! Because that’s what we’re supposed to be. We’re all little nuts, and maybe all ‘a little nuts’ too. But if we refuse to give up and we plant our roots deep in the Word of God – if we’ll study it, devour it, and make it a top priority in our lives – we’ll find ourselves growing in strength and stability. We will find ourselves experiencing God’s blessing.
Also… notice that Elimelech’s family not only lived in the city of Bethlehem, but in the area of Judah. All throughout the Book of Ruth, Bethlehem is always hyphenated with Judah, which is cool, because ‘Judah’ means, “Praise”.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence! There is an intimate connection between the House of Bread, which is the Word of God, and Praise, which ascends toward God. David said, in Psalm 119:171, “My lips shall utter praise, for You teach me Your statutes.”
A person who is learning about the ways of God and the character of God through the Word of God cannot help but overflow in praise to God.
If you or I are having a difficult time praising and worshipping God, if you feel far removed from Judah, the Place of Praise… it could be because we’re not dwelling in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the Word of God. Once we’re dwelling in the Word, we can’t help but become worshippers.
(Ruth 1:2b)“…And they went to the country of Moab and remained there…”
Elimelech and his happy family left Bethlehem-Judah when famine came to the land. “Wait a second! How could famine come to the House of Bread, the Place of Praise?”
In 2 Chronicles 7, God told His people that if they turned from Him and began to serve other gods, He would send famine to their land. Evidently that is what happened here. It can start off slow and subtle, but when people turn away from the Lord… dry times.
The prophet Amos wrote about a famine… not of food, but of hearing the Word of the Lord (Amos 8:11– “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”). Maybe you relate to that? Perhaps you no longer feel like you’re hearing from God or in communion with God. There was a time when every time you opened the Bible, God seemed to speak to you. There was a time when coming to Church and studying the Bible was the most exciting thing for you. But not now. There is famine in your land. The days are dry, dreary, and difficult.
Gang, it doesn’t matter who you are, or how long you have called yourself a Christian, or even how close to God you might be now… you can count on the fact that there will come into your walk with God seasons of dryness and times of difficulty. The question is not whether times of famine will come. The question is: “Where will you go when they do?”
2 Chronicles 7goes on to teach that the curefor famine is to remainwhere you are and call upon God. But Elimelech and his family went to Moabinstead. This is a fundamental mistake that we often make. Isaiah 43:2tells us that the Lord will go with us throughthe fire. But we want to change our circumstances. We want to run from the difficulties. And God is saying, “Michael, stay at home! Call on Me! I want to walk through these difficulties WITH you… not have you run from them!”
So, when famine came, Elimelech, upon the prodding of his wife Naomi, decided that instead of praying it through and remaining in the land until God graciously blessed again, they would make a move to Moab, where they heard there was plenty of food and water. It seemed to be the chance of a lifetime. In reality, however, it was a death march toward the grave.
Do you know where Moab came from?
There’s a yucky story in the Book of Genesis, chapter 19, where a guy named Lot and his family had left a city called, Sodom, just as God’s judgement was being poured out. Lot’s wife, famously, turned around and looked at the judgement when she wasn’t supposed to, and turned into a pillar of salt. Lot and his two daughters took refuge in a cave overlooking the city, and while living in this cave, Lot’s two daughters got their father drunk and seduced him. The children born from that sinful and incestuous relationship were Moab and Benammi. These two boys were the fathers of the Moabites and the Ammonites – two people groups that would continually haunt the children of Israel.
In Zephaniah 2:8-11we read that God was gonna wipe out Moab, like He did Sodom… and in Psalm 108:9, God refers to Moab as His “washpot”. A more correct and literal translation would be, “Moab is My toilet bowl.”
So, in taking a trip to Moab, Elimelech and Naomi were saying, “It’s getting tough here in the House of Bread, the Place of Praise. Let’s go swim in the toilet for a while.”
Isn’t that just like you and me?“Where’s God? I’m going through some pretty tough stuff, and He’s nowhere to be found! Things are dry spiritually… my devotions are lame… I’m bored with worship. I wonder what I can find on the internet to swim around in for a while,”as we head to Moab. “Don’t worry, Lord, I’m not moving out permanently. I’m just taking a little break from the intensity of the House or Bread and the Place of Praise. I’ll be back… someday.”
Man, don’t be fooled. Moab is like a black hole – easy to get sucked into, but extremely hard to get back out of. Ask Naomi.She’ll spend ten years there.
(Ruth 1:3)“Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons.”
In Moab, Elimelech died. “God is King” always dies in Moab. If I’m swimming in the toilet bowl of the world, I can no longer say, “God is my King.” Once I leaveBethlehem-Judah, the House of Bread and the Place of Praise, the rule and reign of God in my life will dissipate and die.
(Ruth 1:4)“…Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years.”
Following Elimelech’s death, and totally against the Lord’s command in Old Testament Law, these boys took Moabite wives. Quick little lesson for those of us who are parents, or grandparents: When we choose notto STAY AT HOME, in intimate relationship with Jesus, in the House of Bread and Place of Praise… when we kick back and relax spiritually… and choose to pursue worldly things – our kids (and our spiritualkids) pay the price. Kids can often choose Moabiteish women (friends) when parents choose Moab over Bethlehem.
Orpah’sname means “Youthful” or “Immature”. We’ll see her exhibit those qualities later in the story. Ruth’sname means “Friendship”.
I’ll wrap things up today with verse 5…
(Ruth 1:5)“Then both Mahlonand Chilionalso died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.”
When God is no longer my King, it is only a matter of time before the song on my lips ceases to exist. Whereas at one time, there was a beautiful flow of praise and adoration to the Lord – there is now skepticism and dryness, grumbling and criticizing, because Mahlon(song) is dead.
Chilion(satisfaction) was the next to die. Have you ever thought, “What’s wrong with me? Why has the satisfaction,which was once so sweet to me, departed?” Could it be that you left the House of Bread and the Place of Praise?
You see, Naomi’s experience is a perfect pictureof exactly what takes place when we leave the House of Bread and the Place of Praise:
First, God is no longer our King;
then the song departs from our heart;
finally, satisfaction leaves our soul.
This is the order that it always seems to take place in… and if we’re honest…
we have all experienced it to some degree.
Where are you today?
May you and I “Stay At Home”…
[*I use The New King James Version, and most quotes from the Bible will be from NKJV, unless otherwise noted. Also, I use various books and commentaries when preparing a message. I have NOT given credit in each instance, but will say that I do not use on-line commentaries such as Blue-Letter Bible, or other on-line sources. I use the following on a pretty regular basis, because I own them: The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Jewish New Testament Commentary, The Complete Biblical Library (NIV), Skip Heitzig’s ‘The Bible From 30,000 Feet’, William MacDonald’s ‘Believer’s Bible Commentary’, Matthew Henry’s ‘A Commentary On The Whole Bible’, Jon Courson’s ‘Application Commentary’, Holman’s Study Bible, The Archeological Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, William Barclay’s Commentaries ‘The Daily Bible Series’. I think that’s about it.]