Tag Archives: Church

Finding Home: Ruth 4

As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.

Video: Ruth 4 – Finding Home

Growing up one of my favourite films was Toy Story. I loved the idea that my toys lived in a world of their own every time I left the room.

In the first film, Buzz is a new toy who enters Andy’s toybox community as an outsider. Buzz believes he is a real space ranger, not a toy, and believes he can fly. Throughout the film Buzz is on a journey of discovering who he really is, while the rest of the toys are on their own journey of learning to welcome difference  into their community.

In Ruth 3, we found Ruth visiting Boaz at night, hoping he would give her a home, long term security and survival for her and Naomi.

Naomi and Ruth had lost much, their husbands, their security, safety. They were grieving. They were struggling for hope. The nature of the culture of the day meant they were vulnerable to the nth degree.

But Boaz is not the immediate next-of-kin. There is someone else who is a closer kinsman, and in keeping with the culture, has first rights to act as next-of-kin to Naomi and Ruth. 

At the start of Ruth 4, Boaz takes centre stage. It’s his turn to take action. He speaks to the closer next-of-kin who does have first rights to act.

Now Boaz, perhaps, pulls a bit of a sly move here. I think as readers of the story we’re encouraged to see Boaz in a positive light, but it could also be said he’s possibly a bit manipulative here, or self-seeking.

Maybe he really did like Ruth and wanted her to be his wife, and twisted things in his favour. Or maybe he saw an opportunity to obtain land and so did what he had to do to get it.

So Boaz meets this closer next-of-kin, at the city gates, in public, with 10 of the city elders with them. He says to this man, – “hey, you know Naomi, she’s back, and she’s selling the land that belonging to our kinsman, Elimelech. So, I thought I’d tell you about it here and now in front of all these witnesses. If you will redeem it, do, but if not, tell me and I will redeem it.

The unexpected discovery that Naomi own’s some land is a surprise, it was Elimelech’s, perhaps left during the famine and never returned to. The fact she’s selling the land is probably a sign that Naomi has lost all other hope, and selling the land, that would, one would think, offer long-term fruitfulness,  is the only way for her to survive in the short term.

The man says to Boaz “yes – I will redeem it”. Then Boaz goes on, and claims that by taking the land, he must also take Ruth, the Moabite, and maintain the dead man’s name. This would mean any children they had would be named for Ruth’s dead husband… and that they would, in the end, inherit the land.

The man says – “I can’t redeem, it will; damage my own inheritance. You redeem it.” Does Boaz use Ruth’s foreigner status to his advantage? Or does he use this to overcome the fact that there was a prohibition against marrying a foreigner – because by becoming next-of-kin he can legal marry Ruth despite that.

They have a son, Obed, who Naomi cares for – in some ways he becomes a son to Ruth, Boaz and Naomi – Obed becomes symbol of the restoration of hope – because there can now be descendants.

No longer is Ruth an outsider, she’s found hope. She’s found home.
And not just with Boaz, but with the community.

Ruth and Boaz marry, all the people and elders are at the marriage, and bless Ruth – ‘may she build up the house of Israel’ they say (Ruth 4:11). Ruth is now seen as a member of the Israelite community.

And that’s where Buzz and Toy Story come in.
In life we often encounter people who are strangers to us.
People different from ourselves.

As Churches – Christian communities, I believe God call us to be a community that reaches out in love to all.
To welcome in the name of Christ those we perceive to be, and not be, like us.
Cowboys or Space Rangers.
Slinky Dogs or Potato heads.
Barbie dolls or dinosaurs.

To help each other discover who we are – made in the image of God – to work out if we are real or just a toy, if we can fly, or fall with style (if you don’t understand the references – do watch the film).

To make space for all people to find hope, through faith in the God who is a God for all.

To discover that the community of faith is the place in which all people, no matter background or belief or race or gender or sexuality or ethnicity or self-confidence – can find home and belong.

Church – God’s challenge to us, regardless of lockdown, regardless of what gathered community is going to look like in the coming weeks and months, is to make sure that this call from God is the reality found among us.
A community of hope.
A community that points to the home that can be found when we discover we belong to God.
A community that reaches in love to all.

God works through the unexpected.
God works through the stranger.
We are never without Hope.
In God, we find home.

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Join the Conversation

How does Ruth 4 speak to you?
What is on your heart today?

How have you benefitted from Bible Month 2020?

You can share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sunday Reflections: Barriers Overcome

In this week’s reflections (available in audio and text), I look at how Acts 15 might help us overcome some of the barriers physical distancing is forcing us to face.

Barriers Overcome

Barriers.
Barriers can stop us from getting from one place to another.
Some barriers keep us safe.
Some barriers get in our way.

Barriers can separate.
Barriers can block and divide.

Some of us will have begun to get used to barriers at supermarkets, guiding us in or around the store, with markings on the floor to constantly remind us to keep 2m apart. Barriers to keep us safe that also keep us physically apart.

In 2020 we’re dealing with barriers in way’s many of us have never seen before. Due to coronavirus we’re blocked from being able to physically gather together. Christians can’t go to worship or prayer in church buildings, we can’t meet for coffee or children’s, youth and families ministry. Communities can’t gather for coffee mornings. We are physically distanced from one another.

But we are not socially distant. Over the last few weeks I’ve said many a time in conversations that I don’t find the term social distancing helpful, that I think it would be more helpful to have called it physical distancing.  

Why? Because even while 2m or more apart,  I think we can still be social. We may be physically distanced, but that doesn’t stop us being the social beings we are, made in the image of God to live in relationship. While not the same as physical meeting, the barriers of physical distancing can to some extent be overcome.

We can still have a conversation with the stranger who is walking on the other side of the road. We can still thank our posties and delivery drivers. From this week can sit in our gardens or in the park with a friend (still 2m apart of course).

In every phone call, every physically distanced catch up, every WhatsApp message, every video call, we have been gathering. Sharing fellowship. Seeking to encourage one another and build each other up.

I’ve been so deeply encouraged by just how ready so many in the churches I have been called to serve have been to phone, write, email, text and more to continue in fellowship together, encouraging and building each other up. And beyond that, reaching out to neighbours and friends, offering to pray for them, encouraging them, caring from them. This is mission, this is outreach, this is overcoming the barriers of coronavirus and building relationships.

For the moment we no longer have doors to open, so we are forced to use all that we have left, and we open lives, arms (metaphorically!) and hearts to others. And I wonder if in doing so we discover that it is in open hearted relationships in the streets in which we live, that we see the missio dei – mission of God – at work.

In Acts 15, at the council at Jerusalem Peter has his own barriers to deal with. Gentile believers were being told that unless they were circumcised there were not saved (15:1). The insider-outside separation that 21st Century human society seems so addicted to creating is no new phenomenon. Gentiles were not Jews, Gentiles were not circumcised. Gentiles were not the same as ‘us’ – so how can they be saved?

What does Peter say?  

‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’

Acts 15:7b-11, NRSV

Cast our minds back to Acts 10, and we remember that Peter has already had is time to learn that God is bigger than the barriers of human society:

‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’

Acts 10:15b, NRSV

Peter had already been learning that God does not look for our outward actions, but at our heart. And that brings us in equality with our fellow human beings, not barriers between us.

Peter says:

“we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Acts 15:11

So what may God be saying to us today through Acts 15? That’s for each of us to ponder for ourselves. For me, I think God is reminding me that I’m saved not by my actions but by God’s grace.

That I can let go of some of what I thought was most important. That for a time at least, my calling to this vocation will look very different. And while that feels to me very different, unfamiliar and uncertain, it’s going to be ok. God knows my heart finds the barriers of physical distancing tough. God knows that some days are harder than others. And despite it all, God’s grace is always overflowing, and God’s love always unconditional, he knows my heart. With God, barriers are overcome.

God knows your heart too. However you feel today, wherever you read this, whoever you are. God knows how you feel, your struggles, your anxieties, your joys. And God is seeing you right now, with a heart that is overflowing with love and grace for you.

With God, barriers are overcome.


Join the conversation

if you’ve got thoughts or something to share you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.

Downloadable Version

Acts: Day 1

Today some of us begin a journey through the book of Acts. Visit the Worship Resources page and you’ll find the guide and info under prayer and devotion. Anyone is welcome to join!

Studying together, while physically distanced will be new for many of us, but as we continue to navigate these unchartered waters of lockdown, I’ve been minded to ‘just go for it’ and learn along the way. We’ll see where God takes!

As part of the daily rhythm I’ve suggested some pointers for daily reflection:

Some Pointers to help Daily Reflection

  • What verse stands out to you?
    • Read it again, chew on the words…
    • What message might you be hearing today?
  • What is God saying to you through today’s chapter?
    • Write it down. Pray about it. Come back to it later.
  • Where may God be speaking to the church today through the passage?
    • Make a note of it. Share it with someone else from church.

I won’t post on here every day, but for day 1 I thought I would share briefly my reflections.

What verse stands out?
For me, it was 1:7 ‘It is not for you to know the time or period’.
A lot of life at the moment feels like waiting, waiting for lockdown to ease, waiting for the next change to come, waiting for an idea of how much longer we’ll be physically distanced from one another. I don’t know the time or period.

What is God saying to me?
I feel God saying “Don’t worry about tomorrow, I’ve got you”. Be patient and embrace TODAY – don’t worry about tomorrow for now, by my Spirit I will provide the strength and resource you need for each day. Trust me.

Where may God be speaking to the church today
As they wait for the time God has promised will one day come, the believers pray (1:14, 24). In uncertain waiting, it was to the act of prayer that the disciples turned. Perhaps that’s the greatest and power powerful action God’s people can make right now.

Share your reflections

Why not read Acts 1 and reflect for yourself, and share your thoughts in the comments below. How is God speaking to you today?

Testimony Thursday: Turned Soil

Turned Soil: Where has God been in your week?

Many in my churches will know that this year is a ‘Year of Testimony’ across the Methodist Connexion and we’ve been sharing stories of God at work among us in recent weeks.

I want to encourage us to continue to see and speak about where God is speaking and working among us now, during this time of distance and isolation, because even though we may be distant from each other, God is not distant from us.

Many in my churches will know that a sermon illustration from my garden is often not far away, and on Sunday afternoon, I took the plunge to dig the veggie patch. It was covered in weeds and very much not ready to do any planting! But I turned it, fork by fork, pulled the weeds out, moved any stones I found, and broken down the chunks of soil so that it is now ready for me to start some planting.

For me – God spoke to me through that process, about how church and ministry might look now.

For me, much that was familiar and growing has sadly gone, almost all the weekly routine I took for granted has been turned on it’s head. Yet I’ve had a really strong feeling that God has been saying there’s now potential for new ground to be tilled, new planting to be done and new growth to be seen.

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19

This week God has been saying to me, reminding me, that while life and ministry feels like it has been turned on it’s head, while I miss seeing people and already long to be able to communicate without using phone, email or other technology, God has not turned on his head.

God is still as present as ever, and even in the chaos and uncertainty, is able to do new things, and will do new things in me, and I pray, in us as we journey through this together.

God is with us, and will make a way through the wilderness – do you perceive it?

Where has God been in your week? Comment below and share your stories of God with us, in us and among us.