Sermon: Ruth

Sermon: Ruth 1, 4

Ruth 1:1-17; 4:13-17 NAS

1    Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the LORD had visited His people in bgiving them food. 7 So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.”

11 But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that athey may be your husbands? 12 Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for athe hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.” 14 And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.Ruth1

15 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”


13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.


Slavery or Adoption

Sermon preached on July 12, 2015

Romans 8:12-17

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:12–17 NAS)

Questions for Reflection

What difference does it make to live according to the flesh or by the Spirit of God?

What is the biggest struggle I face in the war going on inside me?

Is freedom reflected in my life in the Spirit or is it reflected in just another avenue of slavery?


Loss and Loneliness

Loss and Loneliness in the Church

Loss is part of life, in some cases a significant part of life. But how does the Church play into this life of loss?

I think a fair assumption is that most pastors and most Christians recognize when someone experiences loss; and they offer help. Death, unemployment, job transfers, family separations, divorce, etc. Many times our fellow Christians come to our side, walk with us in the stages of loss. But how long does that last?

This is where loneliness follows on the heels of loss, and may not even be recognized by the Church as an added burden. This kind of loneliness is subtle, creeping into a person’s life slowly, silently.

Consider the death of a spouse. The shock and grief begin, usually mapped out in five stages. Of course, the stages can be mixed up and not in order. But the issue of loneliness is not even addressed in the stages of grief, often because no one thinks it’s an issue.


After the visits, hot dishes for the family, after family leaves, then a loneliness settles in as an unexpected and uninvited guest. The room feels empty, the bed stark, the morning conversations are only an echo of past times. Sometimes the phone call is a distant memory.

Obviously no one else can fill that void left by someone. The shared knowing moments, the slight smile, the hand slowly caressing the hand, never to be no more. And loneliness becomes more real.

What can the Church do?

We in the church can recognize the loneliness. Take a moment to speak with the person who has experienced loss. Share some thoughts, that may only apply to you, but you want to share with someone. Expand the circle of friends.

Obviously there is so much that can be done. If this is all new to you, then take halting steps in one way to be with the lonely person. The more you know this person, the more you will be able to tell what is helpful and what is not. Even if you “make a mistake” you can still care for someone. A mistake is that, not the end, but a turning point as the other person experiences your willingness to each out.

And don’t forget pastors. They, too, can be lonely, experiencing not only the the same losses as the rest of the congregation but their losses accumulate. They may not open up, but they need your love and support as well.

Personal loss and Loneliness

In the past six months four significant people in my life have died. The birth mother of our sons died two years ago, but we just found out at the end of April. Although we had never met her (being in Korea), she was very much part of our lives through our sons. My wife’s younger brother died in June. My mother died in August. And one of the most influential guitar players in my life died in October. Each played a major factor in my life (and my wife’s), and each was cumulative in understanding loss and loneliness.

For me my mother’s death was especially hard. She is the last of her generation. We were very close over the years, sharing memories and stories, many from her early life. I was so glad we spent time with her in June of this year celebrating her 88th birthday.Mother’s 88h birthday

But now the loneliness is setting in. I reach for the phone 2-3 times each week to call her, to remember a detail of some event or story. And that is now gone. The loneliness has begun in real. So many questions to ask, and now of my father who died in 1991.

This also changed the dynamics of my role in the story. Now I am in the older generation with the family stories. My younger brother was sorting through my mother’s photo albums recently. He described one photo and commented that it must be [name], who he knew through fishing trips. I realized that the man in the photo was not alive when he was describing the photo. The man in the photo was actually the father of the man he identified. And so I passed along another bit of family history.

Thus, I find these odd memories, photos, conversations are the things that increase the loneliness, and yet change the loneliness and my perspective. At the same time I am helping carry on memories, photos, and conversations to my brother, my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

My mother began hand-writing a partial biography in the late 1990s. Her purpose was pass on to her descendants elements of her life. I began putting that into the computer (writing, editing, page layout, etc.) in the early 2000s. Ultimately we published it in 2006, with enough copies for her family/descendants and her brother’s family/descendants (her brother died in 1974). We eventually published two more runs as people in the area (northern Minnesota) became aware of it and wanted their own copy.Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.32.45

Am I still lonely? Yep, and I suspect for a while. But I also realize that her stories in person and the selected glimpses in her book will be part of my life from now on.

And I am a little less lonely. But I still want to pick up the phone one more time…

When God’s Approval Isn’t

Background on GW

I have written before about the God’s Word (GW) translation. This includes my background as serving pastor of three different congregations that were test congregations for checking readability, oral comprehension, etc. For the most part it is a very good translation, especially as it was being published from 1988 to 1992.

The interim published translation was called New Evangelical Translation (NET) first in 1988 and then 1992); it covered only the New Testament. From 1992 to 1995, when the entire Bible was published under the name God’s Word, the translation team shifted emphasis. The biggest change in the translation was to translate δικαιοσύνη as “God’s approval” instead of the previous “righteousness.” I protested that change during the testing phase (1992-1995), and I repeatedly have sent letters/emails since 1995. All to no avail.

The reason for the change was defended by the translators, noting that in contemporary usage “righteous” and “righteousness” had lost any semblance to its usage in the New Testament, so an alternative had to be found, and they chose “God’s approval.”

My objection to such a change was two-fold. 1) It is better to teach the concept of “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη). Since teaching would be involved in understanding “God’s approval” why not teach regarding the use of “righteousness.”

2) The GW translators retained “righteousness” in the Old Testament for the Hebrew,  צְדָקָֽה , LXX (Greek OT) using δικαιοσύνη. So the supposed advantage of “God’s approval” fails in this inconsistency. Notice how this is problematic when looking at NT usage of an OT passage.

Romans 1:17 God’s approval is revealed in this Good News. This approval begins and ends with faith as Scripture says, “The person who has God’s approval will live by faith.” (GW)

Notice that it quotes from the prophet:

Habakkuk 2:4 But the righteous person (וְצַדִּ֖יק) will live because of his faithfulness. (GW)

So, how does a learning student of the Bible make the connection with how GW handles “righteousness” in Habakkuk vs. “God’s approval” in Romans? It actually leads to more confusion rather than clarity, because it makes a distinction between “righteousness” and “God’s approval.” Now, notice that when translating δικαιοσύνη as righteousness in Romans 1:17 the translation removes the additional layer of confusion, actually aiding the student in understanding.

Here is the NET (1992) translation of Romans 1:17

For it reveals the righteousness which comes from God by faith to bring people to faith, as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Thus, my theological and translational concerns about God’s Word choices still stand, and why the 1992 NET was far better. But now I have come across a practical reason to not use “God’s approval” as a translation for δικαιοσύνη.

Practical Implications

In Bible class recently this confusion caused by the use of “God’s approval” came to bear in a very personal way. One person has been caring for an elderly loved one for more than a decade. For many years the care was demanding but the elderly family member was her usual considerate loving self.

But in recent months the demeanor changed, and the burden on the caregiver with little sleep over the past few months (up every 1-2 hours). This meant the caregiver was working on the thin edge of care, and occasionally began to respond with less than kind words and attitude. The caregiver felt a heavy burden, because God was obviously not pleased (God did not approve of the attitude displayed).

The caregiver then was reading the usual GW translation Bible for comfort but kept running into “God’s approval.” The more the phrase appeared the more demanding it became, the more condemning it felt. The caregiver had come to the conclusion that God was not approving of the words and actions of the caregiver, leading to serious questions about God’s lack of approval. The person knew about righteousness but could never connect it to God’s approval. Other problematic texts in GW: Romans 3:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9.

Notice that in the process, the supposedly more helpful translation “God’s approval” was no longer speaking God’s approval, but the very opposite; “God’s approval” was not “God’s approval” for this person. The Good News of righteousness was replaced by the demands of a righteousness, earning God’s approval through performance that was flawed. And that was overwhelming. Thankfully this person asked the right question about that in Bible class. After the explanation of what righteousness is and what it means in many contexts, the tears of joy and relief flooded this person, the fear of not meeting “God’s approval” was gone.

For this person, “God’s approval” could only be understood in light of righteousness that is a gift from God. Thus the person is righteous by faith, not by performance. Others in the class began to understand the challenge and problem with GW’s use of “God’s approval.” Thus, the title, “When God’s Approval Isn’t.”

So I had to teach the concept of δικαιοσύνη, righteousness for the good news to sink in. How much longer it took than if the person had read “righteousness” in the translation GW?

What Next?

Of course, I realize that changing GW is impossible now. Twenty-three years have passed since I first opposed the use of “God’s approval” and I have repeatedly done so for 23 years. And still no acknowledgment that there is even a problem with the translation choice, “God’s approval.”

Sadly all the good points of GW (oral comprehension, Old Testament translations, etc.) cannot compensate for this translation problem. For that I am sad.

For the new realization and relief for this caregiver, that the person is righteous before God, not having to worry about God’s approval any more. In Jesus Christ, His righteousness has been accredited to the person’s account. And for that everything the person does is pleasing in God’s sight because of Christ’s work. God’s approval is not earned and no longer the cause of fear, discouragement, despair.

Nothing but joy and celebration when the good news truly becomes  good news.


God’s wonderful deeds

Stability in unstable times or God’s wonderful deeds. The past few months have been unstable times. An emotional roller coaster of both good and bad. And yet, God…

This Psalm is an appropriate reflection on this time for me.

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;

I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

(Psalm 9:1-2 ESV)

My brother-in-law had been away from the Lord for more than 40 years. Early this year, the Lord reached him and brought him back to faith in Christ and the Church. He confessed Christ, and the last few months of his life, he regularly received the Lord’s Supper. We saw him on our visit to Minnesota in June. What a delight to be able to read the Bible with him and pray with him each time we saw him. He died (June 21) eight days after we left Minnesota; he was 62. Through his faith in Christ he received the crown of

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

At the same visit, we were with my mother. She had been faithfully living in the Lord the past 24 years. We also knew that she was declining in health. We knew it would probably be one of the last times we would see her. She died August 23, after being in hospice less than 24 hours. Through her faith in Christ she received the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

As I have recounted on this blog, the past 37 years of our life with and without our older son have been challenging, defeating, discouraging. But in late July we received a letter from him. He is in prison, which we expected, even though we had not heard from him or heard anything about him in seven years (and 10 years before that). But the letter was life from death. He confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, and he has been reading the Bible, praying daily.

Then this last week we received another letter from him. He is still reading and praying, but he is admitting the spiritual struggles he has. In a way this is a huge step forward for him. His life in Christ, like for all Christians, is not an emotional high, but a “now and not yet” existence. The best part—he is finding stability in unstable times. Through faith in Christ, he, too, will receive the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

Prior to my breakdown in 1998, each of these events would have mounted into crisis for me. I would have stuffed the emotions, tried to care for others, and carry on is if I were okay. But not so, now. I am so thankful for what God has worked in me (and there is so much to work through!) the past 17 years.

Thus, this summer has been a time of lost, grief, loneliness, sadness. But the summer has allowed me to grieve in my own way (we didn’t go to either funeral this summer). And that was best for me and my wife. We each grieved, but not with a heavy weight upon us. This allowed me something I had never experienced. I had nothing to give to others in their time of need, and so I didn’t. Prior to 1998 I would have felt guilty, given into expectations.

But in my grief I needed to be comforted by God, not trying to give something I did not have, felt. And I was comforted by God’s promises. Thus, as I reflected on the deaths and what was lost, I was able to reflect on what God had worked, in rather unexpected ways—grace, as always, from God. And I am comforted. Through faith in Christ I, too, will receive the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

So in this unstable time, God’s promises sustained me, us. And so another Psalm reflects my heart at this time:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

my God, my irock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

(Psalm 18:1-2 ESV)

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.


*Note: The crown of life of Revelation 2:10 is στέφανος (stephanos), not diadem. So also the crown of righteousness used in 2 Timothy 4:8.  Hence the image I used is one of Christ’s victory, namely the crown of thorns.