Devotion: Ruth 1:15-18Pain can lead us down dangerous paths. Pain can take a person who has been getting along just fine in life and turn them to the demon of addiction. Pain can turn a person against friend and family and even God. Pain can lead us away from the life that God desires for us in community and lead us to isolation and self-destruction. That's the kind of pain that Naomi has.
"And she said, 'See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.' But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.' And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. " -Ruth 1:15-18 ESVPain can close us off to the desire and ability of others to come along side us in our pain and offer the deep, healing balm of the love of God. Pain can lead to cursing our circumstance (and maybe even God) and the bitterness that follows that feeling of helplessness. Pain hems us in and dims the redemptive imagination even as it turns the heart and the mind from the powerful and fierce love of God. As a pastor, I see this all too often. I have reflected much on pastoral ministry in prayer with God over the last few months. I am tired of the idea that the pastor is to be a visionary leader, a strategic change-agent, a program-pusher or a mission-minded salesman. These concepts sound good, but they fail to actually help people in pain. Each of these identities creates anxiety and pain, and I am convinced that this is not God's will. Surely the Lord can call us to endure suffering for His glory, but He always goes with us through the pain. And in the comfort we receive we are to be a comfort to others. I am weary of the idea that people are to be used for a vision, a mission, a strategy or a program. People bear the image of God, even when distorted by pain. It is the call of the pastor and all who call on the name of Jesus, the innocent sufferer and bearer of our sin and pain on the cross, to meet people in that pain and walk alongside them in the presence of God. We are to practice the determined love of God on display in Ruth in our passage today.
I understand my role as a call to be a Ruth in the lives of the flock that God has placed in my care. I am to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to recognize pain and walk into it alongside the sufferer and not run from it. We have so much pain surrounding us--pain of alienation from God, pain of hopelessness, pain of lovelessness, pain of faithlessness, pain of isolation from true, life-giving community found in Christ's church. We try to fix the pain on our own, utilizing the good gifts of God in an improper way. Yet, in the end, God's covenant promise to be with us and through this promise, our promise to each other to be with each other through thick and thin, is really what we need.
Ruth walks into Naomi's pain. She does so at great personal risk, but she does so under the watchful eye of God. Ruth not only claims Naomi as her kin, but in doing so she claims YHWH as her God. I may be pushing the text too far, but Ruth can claim YHWH because He has already claimed her. Ruth's determined love of Naomi flows out of the Lord's determined love for her. It is this same determined love that Christ Jesus has for you and commands us to give to one another. You do not have to be a pastor to do this. We need only see the pain in those around us and determine, through faith in the Lord, to meet that pain in love in some pretty practical ways. More than anything else, I think that is the mission of the Church, to bring the love of God in Christ Jesus to bear on the suffering, pain and anguish of the world. It will not lead to flashy conversions all of the time (Naomi merely falls silent at Ruth's determination), but it does lead us to the deep love of God over and again and away from the destruction of isolation.
News for You:
- Sign up now for our Fall small groups. We are studying "Your Church Experiencing God Together." You can find dates and locations at the Welcome Center at CPC or just call and we will help you out.
- We are hosting a Women's Paint & Pie event on Saturday, September 30 at 6:30 p.m. Come enjoy an evening of pie, painting and fellowship and find out about the new Women's Ministry Program at CPC. Please RSVP by September 24!
- We are raising funds to help build the Okanogan Community Homeless Shelter. You can find out more at their website, okshelter.org!
- Are you interested in getting to know CPC better? Try the New Membership Class on October 1st following the Fellowship Hour. Lunch will be provided if you let us know you are coming.
- Our next community outreach event will be our annual Trunk-or-Treat. Decorate the trunk of your rig and help provide a fun, festive and safe experience for parents and kids on October 31. More details to come!