Ruth 1-2

This reading is Ruth 1-2.

There are many things at work in this seemingly simple story, so I’ll just pick out a few to comment on.

Naomi was obviously quite bitter about losing her husband and sons. In hindsight we can see how splendidly things worked out for her, but it is hard for us to understand the fear and pain she would have felt in that society. Widows often had no one to care for them.

Naomi had great relationships with her daughters-in-law, who had been married to her sons for over 10 years. Ruth had seen enough about the one true God that she had no desire to leave Naomi’s family.

The gleaning process was an Old Testament version of welfare, where landowners were instructed to leave some grain at the edges of the field so poor people could come pick it up. It was entirely legal to go on someone else’s property and do this.

I like how Boaz interacted with his employees. In our politically correct times, living out your faith at work is a constant challenge.

Ruth 2:4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” “The LORD bless you!” they called back.

It isn’t like you can walk down the hall at work passing out Gospel tracts. That would be ineffective and would shorten your career dramatically. There are many ways to encourage other Christians at work and to see where you can get involved where God is working in people’s lives, but you have to be intentional about it. I’ll write more on that on the 4Simpsons blog some other day.

Note how God in his sovereign will takes the free will decisions of humans and works them together to accomplish his mighty plans!

Feel free to comment on what stood out to you about the story.

The next reading is Ruth 3-4.

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Ruth overview

This reading is the book of Ruth. We’ll do an overview of the whole book today, then take a little closer look at it the rest of the week.

I heard a great sermon on Ruth when I was in Singapore a few years ago. It was humorous when the preacher kept saying, “Ruth 3,” only it sounded like, “root tree.” That was one of my all-time favorite worship experiences. The facilities would not have looked out of place in the U.S. It was a fairly large church. It was 95% Asian, of course, so it was nice to be the minority for once. There was an intensity about the worship that is hard to describe. Many people stayed afterwards praying in their pews. Singapore has religious freedom, but I imagine that many of those worshiping came from countries where they had been persecuted.

Synopsis: Ruth’s husband and father-in-law die, and she elects to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi. She eventually meets and marries Boaz, a distant relative. Boaz is attracted by Ruth’s purity and devotion. Ruth was very loyal to Naomi and sought after the one true God she saw in Naomi’s life. Throughout the book you’ll see how God does great things through the least likely people.

As you read it, try to think about which character(s) you are like. It may be a different character at different times.

Ruth trivia facts:

  • Along with Esther, one of the two books of the Bible named after a woman.
  • Ruth was from Moab, not Israel, yet God did amazing things in her life.
  • She was the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus.
  • Boaz was a descendant of Rahab, the former prostitute from Jericho.

Famous verse: Ruth 1:16 “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The next reading is Ruth 1-2.

James 5

This reading is James 5.

The opening passage should challenge almost anyone living in the U.S. Even if you don’t consider yourself “rich,” you are probably in the top 1-2% of the wealthiest people on the planet, and certainly in the top 1-2% of people who ever lived. Just glance back out how touch life was 100 years ago for most Americans. This isn’t to say that money is all bad. The thrust of the passage is about justice and fairness. While saving for retirement, emergencies and such is prudent, have we hoarded wealth, or shared it?

As an aside, note how Job is referred to in verse 11. I find it interesting that many people assume that Adam & Eve, Noah, Job, Jonah and other Old Testament figures were fictional, but when they are referred to by Jesus, James and others it is always in the context of them being real people.

Verse 16 commands us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for each other. Note that we don’t necessarily have to confess to a priest, but we are to confess to others in addition to God. There is something spiritually healing about it.

I thought the closing of James was interesting. No long good-byes, just an encouragement to point people to the truth:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Thanks for reading along with the study of James!

The next reading is the book of Ruth. It is a short book – only 4 chapters. I recommend reading the whole book in one sitting, then going back through in a little more detail. I think I’ll break this into three lessons – an overview, chapters 1-2 and chapters 3-4. Ruth is a great love story with a lot of lessons for us all.

I’m not sure where we’ll go after Ruth, but I’m open to suggestions. My family started doing a weekly study a couple months ago and I have been following what we’ve been reading together.

James 4

This reading is James 4.

This short chapter is chock-full of important teachings. Some of the verses are so short it is easy to gloss over them.

We fight and quarrel because of our wrong desires. Verse 3 helps explain why some prayers are not answered: We ask with the wrong motives.

“Friendship with the world is hatred towards God” speaks volumes. The Bible uses “world” in three senses – the planet, the people in the world (as in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world . . .”) and the system and practices of the world. This verse uses the last meaning. This is a strong call for us to be different from the world. How tragic that according to many surveys, the average “Christian” doesn’t give much more than non-Christians, the divorce rate isn’t much different, etc. We aren’t supposed to be “holier than thou” different, but authentically different.

“God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble” (v. 6) is a quote from Proverbs 3:34 and is also quoted in 1 Peter 5:5. Every verse matters, of course, but if something is repeated three times perhaps we should heed it!

Verse 8 contains a great promise – “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” As Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Verse 10 promises that if we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up. Humility is often mentioned in the Bible, but it is nearly always in the context of humbling ourselves. It doesn’t say, “Be humble.” It is not our natural state, so it takes effort to be humble.

Verses 13-16 remind us that we should thank God for every day and every breath. We may live fifty more minutes or fifty more years – it is all up to Him.

We tend to think of sins as things we do that we shouldn’t have done (the sin of commission), but James closes this section by teaching that not doing the good we know we should do is also a sin (the sin of omission).

The next reading is James 5.

James 3

This reading is James 3.

I find it interesting that James warns people about teaching, because those who teach “will be judged more strictly.” Those of us who teach must choose our words very carefully so we don’t distort the Word of God.

James revisits his theme about the power of the tongue. He uses the strongest possible words to warn of the evil our words can contain and the damage they can cause.

James then shifts to wisdom, which always reminds me of Proverbs, which addresses at length the importance of wisdom. He connects wisdom with good deeds and humility. He emphasizes how envy and selfish ambition are of the devil and are associated with disorder and “every evil practice.” When you examine the evil in the world this correlation makes sense to me.

The next reading is James 4.

James 2

This reading is James 2.

Greetings! Here are a few thoughts on James 2. Please read along and comment if you like.

The first passage is about not showing favoritism toward the wealthy. I realize that churches are sometimes homogeneous because they simply reflect the economic situation of the surrounding community. But I really appreciate diversity within the church. After all, what we truly have in common is that we are sinners in need of a savior and that we are followers of Christ. The rest of the differences – skin color, age, economic status, clothes, etc. – seem to matter now but won’t in eternity. How can we ensure that we send a truly welcoming message to everyone who walks through our doors – executives, bikers, rich, poor, etc.? I love my church, but I wish we were more diverse.

James says that showing favoritism is a serious sin and reminds us that breaking one of God’s laws is like breaking the whole law. Then he reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment. That is the good news for the day.

The next section is the faith versus works debate, which has generated tons of discussion over the years. At one point in his life, Martin Luther didn’t think the Book of James should even be in the Bible because he thought it said we are saved by works (He later changed his mind). At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, I approach the debate this way: We are saved by grace, through faith, and real faith will produce real works. If we just say we have faith and have no sustained works to back it up, our faith is not real. If I really believe that Jesus is God and I am putting my trust in Him as my savior, then it follows that I would attempt to obey Him. If I am doing good deeds without faith in Jesus, then my motive is probably to make myself look good. Those deeds won’t save anyone; in fact, they expose the sin of pride.

The next reading is James 3.

James 1


The reading for this week is James chapter 1 (Right-click the link and select “Open in New Window” to keep this window open).

Tip: Start by praying that God will reveal Himself through His Word as you read it.

Background: This “James” was not one of the twelve Apostles, he was Jesus’ brother. He did not become a believer until after the resurrection. This relatively short book is chock full of guidance, challenges and promises to believers.

I must admit that when verse 2 says, “”Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .” that I am tempted to put the book down and say, “I’m outta here!”
Pure joy? When facing trials? I tend to just think of enduring trials. But I can’t deny that persevering eventually does great things in my life. Nothing happens to us that God doesn’t make happen or let happen, so we can trust that it will be for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

Verse 5 (If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him) contains a major-league promise. We should all meditate on that verse to remind ourselves that God will give us wisdom during trials. All we have to do is ask. No strings attached. Wisdom is different than intelligence. There are intelligent people who make lots of bad decisions, and less educated people that make mostly wise decisions.

Verses 19-20 have timeless guidance: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Everything works out better when I follow this command.

Verse 26 always convicts me: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” Ouch. It is easy to keep a tight rein on my tongue most of the time, but not always.

Please add your thoughts or questions. If you aren’t sure how posting works or aren’t comfortable posting online, just email me a neil@4simpsons.com.

P.S. My good friend Travis memorized all of James! I have about 3 verses down. Only 105 to go!

The reading for next week is James chapter 2-3.