Winter holidays in Mackay are a great time to be outdoors and thankfully, over the last few weeks I’ve had the chance to make the most of that with family and friends. With a fishing mad child, that’s meant a decent amount of fishing, which to be honest, has been fun. It’s interesting when there are a few budding fisherman lined up, how FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) sets in. One person gets a bite in a certain spot, others don’t want to miss out, so their bait goes in close by. Then when someone finally catches a fish, all lines are in the water very quickly. I guess it’s one of those times when FOMO actually works in your favour.
But of course there are many other times when it doesn’t. At MAKE church as we turn up the book of Ruth over the next few weeks, we’re confronted with a family whose FOMO led them to places they should never have gone. There was famine in Israel, during the period of the judges, Naomi’s family looked across the border at the land of Moab, believed that the grass was greener, and so left the land of the LORD and his people, in fear of missing out. How to do we avoid making a similar mistake?
The Challenge of Perseverance
The obsession with fish in our household sadly does not stop with the ocean. Three bedrooms hold fish tanks, one of them too many to bother counting. We’ve got cleaning down to a fine art in terms of the ‘minimum effective dose’, but that still means filters need to be cleaned out every few weeks and water levels topped up. It’s just one of many examples, where there is a challenge to be endured, to be able to enjoy the benefits of something good. In this case, the benefit of seeing fish, grow and multiply, and swim around their tanks.
Last week we considered that in a life lived with faith in our heavenly Father, and in our high priest Jesus, who brings us to God’s presence, there are likewise challenges to be endured (see Hebrews 12). Sometimes, the challenges will come so that we might turn away from sin and back to God in a deeper way. That’s exactly what God’s people in the book of Ruth were being called to do. ‘There was famine in the land’ (Ruth 1:1), and they’d been instructed by Moses, ‘if you do not obey they LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees… you will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country… the sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder’ (Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 23-24a). The solution was simple: ‘when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you' (Deuteronomy 30:2-3). Sadly in the case of Naomi and her family, that was not the path they initially chose to take. How do we persevere in choosing the right path in the face of challenges coming our way?
The Challenge Of Living Counter Culture
Part of the challenge of choosing the right path is that it can be the exact opposite of what the world around us says is the way forward. Later this term we will consider what the Bible has to say on gender and sexuality - topics where the Bible and our world are poles apart. Yet many of us may have a strong sense that the way of the world around us is not the best way to go. How do we keep pushing ahead on the right path, when there seems to be so little encouragement to do so?
The Challenge of Turning Back
For some of us, we may find ourselves a long way down a path that - if we’re honest - we don’t want to be walking on. We might believe that it’s too late to turn back. That’s a lie that Satan would love you to believe. So where do we find hope?
Getting Some Things Straight For Our FOMO Brains
Right up front, we have to reckon with the fact that there is no life found in running away from God. Naomi (who’s name meant ‘pleasant’) went with her husband Elimelek (who’s name meant ‘My God is King’) and her two sons, away from God, to the land of Moab. For the record, the names of the two sons that their life had produced, where Mahlon (sickness) and Killion (wasting away). Not only do they leave God, his land and his people, but their sons marry Moabite women, something that the LORD had specifically had prohibited (Deuteronomy 7:1-6; 23:3-6). Immediately in the book of Ruth, we are confronted with the consequences of these decisions:
‘Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.’ (Ruth 1:3-5)
Naomi is left fatherless, childless and destitute in a foreign land - away from all family and away from her God. As our society runs headlong in the opposite direction from God and his ways, it is not surprising that we likewise are finding our society increasingly fatherless, childless and without the blessing God intends. Instead of fear of missing out, we should have great fear of offending our mighty God. What do we need to do?
From Fear To Faith In Our Faithful God
Well despite her running away, Naomi heard that the LORD ‘had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them’, it stirs faith within her to return home to Father God. Yet even in her turning, she has little hope. She says to her daughters-in-law that ‘the LORD’s hand has turned against her' (Ruth 1:13). Maybe more striking is the language she uses with her kinsfolk, ‘I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty' (Ruth 1:21a). Though she was the one who left the LORD, thinking herself empty. The way of the world around her has left her beyond destitute, yet she is still blaming things on God. In his mercy, the book unfolds his loving-kindness to Naomi. The same will be true for us - if we would just turn to him, we would find the loving-kindness of God.
Abundance From Unexpected Places
As the story progresses, we will see an example of how God can work to bring blessing, even despite us. On some levels it must have been embarrassing for Naomi to return to the nation of Israel, with a Moabite daughter-in-law. Rather than urging her to serve the LORD, Naomi in her discomfort, had urged Ruth to return to 'her people and her gods' (Ruth 1:15). Yet Ruth clung to her. From this unexpected source, blessing would come to Naomi. She returns with Ruth, just as the barley harvest is beginning (Ruth 1:22).
Jesus in so many ways was unexpected. He comes from an unlikely place, Nazareth. Born in unlikely circumstances (to a virgin?!?). He does not rise from the religious establishment. Then, as it becomes evident, that he is God in the flesh, we put this same Jesus to death. We have all run, just as hard as Naomi, away from our God. Yet, in the death of Jesus, our sins have been paid for. We are redeemed, rescued out of the future we deserve. Instead, we look forward to blessing, under Jesus hand.
Praise God, that though we deserve to ‘miss out’, we get counted in. All he requires is that we reach out by faith to our redeemer - Jesus.
About the Author
Jai Wright is a Christian Minister, who founded and leads MAKE Church in Mackay, Qld. He recently published the book, Life Plugged In: Connecting with the Source of Peace, Power and Purpose.
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