Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Sunday, 29 Apr 18:
1. Ruth 3:11 — “My fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” Ruth’s reputation of honor was well known despite her poverty. Boaz spoke of her integrity above her beauty — “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character (NIV)”. “…for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman (KJV).”
– Though not wealthy, famous, or equipped with any particular skill or talent, Ruth had a reputation of possessing noble character. God cares about our character. The Bible says that noble character is worth more than great riches (Pro 31:10). Luke 2:52 points out that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” But the world honors talents, skills, and appearance over character. Those lifted up by society are those who are good at something (or just good looking), regardless of whether or not they are good people. In fact, the world is quite willing to overlook major character flaws of those who have enough talent or beauty. However, God calls His people to have character and competence — character first. So how does a Christian develop character? The character development process is a perpetual cycle – your thoughts turn into decisions; your decisions turn into actions; your actions become habits, which solidify into your character (who you are); and the cycle continues as your character guides your thoughts. To develop a Christ-like character, the Bible will instruct you to target all areas of the character development cycle through a changed heart, changed mind, changed thoughts, changed decisions, changed habits, and a changed character (be the new you that you already are). In other words, the perpetual cycle of change is not linear (one step to another), it is interdependent, mutually supportive, synergistic, and continuous. The secular world sees character development as a wholly human endeavor, a product of the human will. Many religions hold the same viewpoint. However, though the Christian understands the importance of willpower in the process of sanctification, the Christian realizes their total dependence of the power of the Holy Spirit for both salvation and for sanctification (Christ-like character development – oneness with Christ). Without Christ, character development is a house built on a foundation of sand. Without Christ, one can obtain the appearance of character without the true power of character; a person can act out character (hypocrite is the Greek word for stage actor), and become a whitewashed tomb – outwardly impressive but dead inside. The worldly version of character can produce results in life, but not eternal results. It is easy for Christians to be deceived by the many popular secular teachings on character development, placing their faith in the inherent goodness of people, which only needs to be unleashed through proper education and practice, but the Bible teaches that “self-control” is a fruit of the Spirit, not a fruit of human willpower (Galatians 5:23). “Let no one deceive you with empty words (Ephesians 5:6).” Christian character development is not building up a better you but rather sacrificing you for Him – being crucified with Christ and no longer living for self but for Christ alone. As stated above, the Bible gives many instructions on how to personally develop Christ-like character, instructions which demand daily discipline (disciples require discipline) and long-term perseverance, but we must recognize these as disciplines as acts of denying self rather than self-denial. Jesus said the first step was to “deny self” (Matthew 16:24), while the secularist says the key to success is self-denial. Self-denial has been described as giving up something you want now in order to get something you want more later – making daily sacrifices to achieve long-term goals. For example, you don’t eat that cheese cake so you can look good at the beach this summer, and you motivate yourself by saying things like, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” Ultimately though, the focus is on self, self-control for self-glorification. Denying self is putting an end to self-seeking, self-serving, self-justifying, self-glorifying, self-centred and self-confident living. It is no longer living, but Christ living in us. Instead of resisting what you want now for sake of what you want later, it is no longer wanting what you wanted but rather wanting Him, appreciating that you have Him, walking in fellowship with Him, and sharing Him with others. It is an end to chasing after the worries of this world. Ask yourself this question: “Why do I what you do?” What is your true motivation behind your actions? What is the foundation of your character? Jesus said that eternal life was knowing Him (John 17:3). Are you experiencing eternal life today to the fullness of joy? What might be standing in the way?
2. Ruth 4:17 — “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” God used the humblest of people and foreigners to raise the lineage of Jesus. Naomi and Ruth certainly could never imagine that God would use them in such an important way just as we cannot possibly imagine how God is using us for eternal purposes.
3. Proverbs 29:26 — “Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice.” If only we sought the favor of God the way we week seek the favor of influential people.
4. Psalm 50:7-9. 16, 17, 23 — “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds…. What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you…. The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” You cannot remain in right fellowship with God while sin remains, and you cannot expect God to honor your prayers and worship while you continue to dishonor Him. I read this story about Norman Vincent Peale: “When Peale was a boy, he found a big, black cigar, slipped into an alley, and lit it up. When he saw his father approaching, he quickly put the cigar behind his back and tried to act casual. Desperate to divert his father’s attention, Norman pointed to a billboard advertising the circus.”Can I go, Dad? Please, let’s go when it comes to town.” His father’s reply taught Norman a lesson he never forgot. “Son,” he answered quietly but firmly, “I learned long ago never to approach my Father with a petition while at the same time trying to hide a smoldering disobedience.” In today’s readings, Psalm 50 gives God’s perspective on the disobedience of His people. In Psalm 51, David gives us a model of repentance as he pleads with God to “restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:12).” David understood God’s perspective: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:16, 17).” While through Christ we have eternal fellowship with God (Romans 8:38, 39), our sins hinder our temporal fellowship with Him (1 Corinthians 3:3). Daily we must practice 1 John 1:9:
– 1 John 1:9 — If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
5. Psalm 50:14 — “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High.” Your daily attitude and actions are your worship to God more than your religious activities.
6. Psalm 50:16-18 — “But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers’.” Studying, memorizing and reciting the Bible is pointless if you aren’t intent on living the words of God with the desire of unifying with God in love. A true Christian will walk the talk. Some false Christians can be very deceptive in their religious speech, perhaps even deceiving themselves. Beyond our words, our attitudes, choices, and deeds often reveal the truth of what is in our hearts. But “good deeds” are nothing but “filthy rags” if not done from a heart of selfless, genuine love for God. Sometimes people will use religious activity, charitable activity, and Bible knowledge to conceal or attempt to compensate for a wicked, self-centered heart. Sometimes people will justify to themselves their self-centered behavior by claiming it to be acts of “service.” But virtue only comes from a truly virtuous, selfless heart. Everything else is a façade. God always knows the difference between genuine selflessness and disguised selfishness, and usually other people figure it out over time. Watch out for the Christian that frequently uses the words “I” and “me.” Check yourself too. Why do you do what you do? Honestly, is it for you or only for Him? In honesty, we can all say that our motives are mixed – there is always a bit of selfishness in there, but recognizing, acknowledging, and addressing that with the Lord is key – it is humility. None of us are perfected in love, but we must genuine love our endeavor.
7. Psalm 50:18 — “If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.” Contrary to popular misinterpretations of the Bible, Jesus did not ‘hang out’ with unrepentant sinners, and He doesn’t want you to either. He certainly engaged and challenged the unrepentant sinner (in love), but He fellowshipped with those who sought Him. Jesus ate with the repentant sinners and tax collectors, those sinners who sought a right relationship with Him, though very imperfectly. Who do you prefer to hang out with? How often do you talk about Jesus, in regular conversation, with your good friends? What you discuss with your close friends says much about the foundation of your friendship.
8. Psalm 50:21 — “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.” God’s apparent silence before your sin does not signal His indifference or acceptance. He will hold you accountable. God will not be mocked.
9. Psalm 50:22 — “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!” When you choose to sin, you have forgotten or disregarded God in that moment. You have defied the KING. You have committed cosmic treason. Fortunately, God’s fidelity does not depend on our fidelity, and His love is not limited by the limits of our love, but in our reliance on and confidence in grace, we must not lose perspective on the seriousness of sin; we must not take grieving the Spirit lightly. Our love and appreciation for Christ should make sin horrific to us.
10. Psalm 50:23 — “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Are you living out thanksgiving? A thankful heart is an obedient heart. Obedience is a demonstration of gratitude, love, and an act of worship.
11. Psalm 51:1-9 – When we understand the difference between who God is and who we aren’t, when we have a glimpse of the gravity of our sin in defiance of the Almighty, we approach God in complete humility, acknowledge our complete reliance on His mercy and grace, and respond to other sinners accordingly.
12. Psalm 51:10 — “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” When your goal in life is to be right with God and close to Him, you are on the right path, and He will not deny you your desires. Considering the comments above on character development, notice that the psalmist recognizes that he cannot fix his own heart, only God can create a clean heart and renew a right spirit.
13. Psalm 51:13 — “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” A person who truly has been saved has a natural passion for telling others how to be saved too. It is not a hard thing to get people to talk about what they care most about.
14. Psalm 51:17 — “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” God seeks genuine, humble love. Unlike our human relationships, you can’t mask your true feelings with God. He knows the truth of you, your motives, desires, and emotions. Walk with the Spirit as He searches your heart.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 29 April: “My fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” (Ruth 3:11) Today, consider what the people in town would say about you. Would you primarily be described as a faithful follower of Jesus or just a ‘good’ person? Next, consider what God knows about you that others don’t. If others knew about you what God knows, would your reputation change? Strive to be a genuine person with no secret self. Seek the truth of you to be nothing but Christ in you. Be honest with God, yourself, and with others, and be transparent. The grace of God eliminates guilt, shame, and fear and brings freedom. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:16).”