Steven Furtick - Ruthless Relationships
In Christianity, the book of Ruth is usually identified by chapter 1, verse 16, and it's always in the King James at a wedding. This is the famous verse of Ruth. You're going to know it when I say it. You're like, "Huh? What's he talking about"? You'll know it when you see it. This is the King James, where it says, "Whither thou goest, I will go". You have to get the whither in there for the marriage vows. Doesn't that sound like a wedding? "Whither thou goest…" You've never said whither in your life, but now you're about to commit your whole self to somebody, and you're breaking out words you never use. "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God". I'm not making fun of that verse. That verse in itself is a sermon. That one verse shows you that when you decide who, you decide where.
Now, this is not how we think. We think, "I need to decide where I'm going to college". No, no, no. That's not as important as who you hang out with when you get to college, wherever you go to college. I teach that all the time, because who will ultimately identify not only where you end up physically… Holly wouldn't be in Charlotte if she hadn't married me, because she wouldn't have been a pastor's wife, or if she had, maybe the guy JJ she was talking to ends up somewhere else. When you say yes to someone, you say yes to something you don't know about at the time. The same with God. When you say yes to God, he'll take you places you never thought you would go…when you say yes to him. Who you say yes to, who you say no to, is very important. Ruth wasn't looking for Boaz. She was just looking for barley. Any field will do. "Oh, that's easy for them to say". No, it's not.
You can always find fruit in somebody else's field that you can't see in your own. That's why the foreigners could see stuff that the people who were there every day couldn't see. That's why sometimes people who come to this church from somewhere else in the world will cry through the whole service: because they don't get it all the time. So, they're walking through the field going, "My God! Look at this beautiful expression of Christ in the church". The one who seeks finds. But somebody else said, "This parking lot… If I were the pastor of this church, I would have the parking figured out by now". No, you wouldn't! You're just picking in somebody else's field now. "Oh, if that were my kid…" It's not your kid. Are y'all mad at me now? You could go through my field and find stuff I'm grumbling about, and you'd be like, "Are you serious? You're annoyed about that with Holly? Holly is amazing to you, you dummy". I'd be like, "That's Pastor Dummy to you. Who do you think you're talking to"?
I could do the same with yours. When you put your mind on a mission to find misery, the Devil will help you look. The Devil is rubbing his hands. "Ooh. You want to feel bad. Oh, I'll help you harvest that. Oh, you want your feelings hurt. I will help you harvest hurt feelings. Oh, you want to be pissed off. I'll help you pick". Some of y'all got pissed off because I said pissed off. The one who seeks finds. Somebody else said, "Thank God he said it like that. That's real. I can relate to that. That's real. That's real"! Your mind is magnetic. That's why the Bible says, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind". When you have the sensitivity level set… Do you ever go through the airport, and the thing has the sensitivity level set, so when you go through the detector, and they start putting their hands all over you, because I guess they have to… See what I'm saying? I'm a complainer. You're going through the metal detector, and it goes off in one airport and not in another. You're like, "I was just in Charlotte, and I wore all this through the thing, and nothing happened.
Now I'm in Cincinnati, and it's beeping and buzzing and flashing and all of that. What's going on? There are strobe lights, and there are people coming out of the ceiling with handcuffs. What happened between Charlotte and Cincinnati"? They had the detector on a different setting. I didn't change anything. It's not what you go through that defines you. She went through the same field they had just picked over and found enough to live on and (I give you this) bumped into someone she wasn't even looking for. Here's the real beauty in the passage…not that she found a grape here and an olive there and the grain that the bozo dropped. Boaz finds her.
Isn't that awesome? She was just doing her responsibility, taking care of her mother-in-law, no less, making sure they had enough to eat, just gleaning for a purpose that was not only hers. She had to eat too, but she didn't only think of herself. Because she didn't only think of herself, and because she didn't sit in what she just went through, because she went out and remained in a field that she didn't even know who it belonged to… Here comes Boaz, and Boaz noticed Ruth before Ruth ever noticed Boaz. Do you ever wonder if we seek the wrong things? Especially in this culture. I just wonder. Are we so busy trying to get somebody to notice us…? Are we so busy trying to get somebody to "like" something we posted that we miss something God has given? They'll ask Holly, "How did you know that Pastor Steven…"? I remember one time at intern teaching they said, "How did you know that he was the one"? I was irritated that day about something, so I said, "She didn't! She didn't know. She hoped".
In a moment of candor. Probably the interns couldn't handle that. That was probably malpractice on these young hearts, just thinking it's going to be this total Jerry Maguire moment, if y'all remember that movie. I'm just imagining Holly going, "I think, I think, I think he's probably the one. I think, I think…" How did she know? You don't know. She hoped, and then she held herself to a standard that she would be the kind of woman who would find the man she wanted God to bring in her life. That's very important. "How did you know"? You don't know. "Ruth, how did you know when you got up that morning that you were going to be in the field of Boaz? Did you just sense it? Did you wake up that morning, Ruth, and say, 'I have a good feeling that today I am going to bump into my Boaz'"? Ruth said, "No. I was just hungry. It was do or die. I had no husband. My mother-in-law was depressed. My mother-in-law was so depressed she started saying, 'Call me Mara.'"
She changed her name to reflect her situation. She has a conflated identity that is informed now by her experiences. I've been thinking a lot lately about how our experiences affect our identity. I've been thinking about the entanglement that happens when you can no longer know the difference between who you are and what you've been through or who you are and where you come from. Ruth, the Moabite, was a part of the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah. That makes no sense. Ruth knew none of it.
"Why are you slowing down to tell us all this instead of just preaching the verses"? Because I want you to realize that you've been reading the book of Ruth wrong, as if she had some great faith, and as if you have to have some great faith that knows, "I'm exactly where God wants me to be, doing exactly what God has called me to do, and this is going to turn out okay for his glory". No. You don't know. "But you just had to know. Right"? No. I hoped. I worked, but I didn't know. If you love popularity more than you love God, when people leave you, you will think that's not good. But if you love the Lord's purpose more than you love popularity, sometimes you will praise God not for who stays with you, but for who leaves you, because you believe the Lord is leading your life.
Wow! It will come together. We make the mistake of thinking everyone who starts with us will stay with us. It doesn't happen that way. This is not a sermon about abandonment or divorce, but I do want to talk about those issues. In the book of Ruth, you have this woman named Naomi who goes to a place called Moab where there is something to eat for her family, and through no fault of her own, she watches her husband and her sons, 10 years later, die in front of her eyes. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, are committed to stay with her. There is a reason this is not called the "book of Orpah". She left. There is a reason I said, "Turn in your Bible to the book of Ruth". Ruth stayed.
Put this in your heart: whoever left you in your life, whoever walked away from you in your life, was not part of God's purpose for your current season. It doesn't mean they're bad. It doesn't mean they're evil. It doesn't mean you need to make a voodoo doll and stick a pin in their left ear, trying to get them to have an earache. It doesn't mean any of that. It doesn't mean you need to talk crap about them. It doesn't mean you have to want them to fail. It doesn't mean you have to go out and buy a new car to show them you made it, and drive by their house, and they're not even home. It doesn't mean any of that. It just means… Can I preach? God doesn't build my life on people who left. I think we have to walk through our field and glean. "Lord, I'm thanking you for this. Lord, I am thanking you for that. Lord, I'm thanking you for the thing that I don't like right now, trusting that you are going to use it in my future".
That's the beauty of this text. You can walk through your own field. This is my challenge to you. What would it look like for you to walk through your own life like a foreigner in the field? What would it look like for you to go back through the things God has done for you and the things he is doing? Because here's the trick: it is easy to see what God did after you're on the other side of it. That's when we say things like, "It was the best thing in the world that they broke my heart. It was the best thing in the world that I had to move. It was the best thing in the world. If I hadn't have gone through that, I wouldn't have this". The trick is not recognizing God's guidance later. The trick is…Can you recognize God's guidance in real time? To say like Jacob, "The Lord was in this place, and I was not aware of it". To say, "Oh, God must be here too. Oh, God must be using this too. Oh, God has a plan for this too. Oh, I can't wait to see how God works this in. Oh, I can't believe God let me be in this field at this time".
She gleaned and gathered and gleaned and gathered and gleaned and gathered, not knowing that Boaz was going to end up being her husband, not knowing that Naomi knew who he was, not knowing that God would put her in a position to be a part of the lineage. Can you stand there in the field, surrounded by dirt, or are you going to say, "God, I don't want the dirt; I want the treasure. God, I don't want the pain; I want the progress"? I used to always say, "God, I don't want the V-ups; I want the six-pack". You know what I'm saying? "I don't want the discipline, but, God, I do want the benefits of commitment". You have to glean and gather in those moments when you don't even know why you're here or how this is going to turn out. A covenant is a concept we would do well to understand in our current contemporary society.
We don't understand it at all. We don't understand commitment at all. We just understand convenience. Even when we say marriage vows, we don't really mean half of what we're saying. We're saying, "As long as you make me happy, I'll be with you". We don't really mean what we're saying. I'm not saying that to shame anybody. I'm just saying sometimes we would do well to understand these verses in their context. People won't come to Jesus, because you don't understand the power of his covenant with you. You think Jesus is like other people and that there will come a point where he'll be ashamed of you and go, "Oh, that's too far there. I was going to use you, but really? You did that"?
You don't understand the power of a covenant, but Ruth did, because when Naomi said, "Leave me. I've lost my husbands. I've lost my boys. I've heard there's bread in Bethlehem. We've been here 10 years…" Ruth said, "I'm not leaving. I'll make a covenant with you. Whither thou goest, I go. Your God becomes my God". Your god will often become the same god as your friends. If you are around people who worship status and stuff, it won't be long until you're shackled to the same things they are. Touch somebody next to you and say, "You ought to hang out with me a little while. If you hang out with me, you're going to have strong faith. If you hang out with me…" Come on, Def Leppard. "If you hang out with me…"
So, they go back together, and Naomi, in this honest moment, says, "Call me Bitter. I still have the taste in my mouth. I'm going back to Bethlehem," which means house of bread, which makes it that much more depressing when there's a famine in Bethlehem, when there's a famine in the place that is named after bread. When the joy of the Lord is supposed to be your strength, and you are a Christian, and you're depressed. You are a Christian and you can't sleep. You are a Christian and you have addictions. You are a Christian… "I am a C, I am a C-H, I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N, but I have ADD, ADHD, A-D-D-I-C-T-I-O-N. I'm in the house of bread, but I'm hungry". "Call me Mara," she said.
Ruth said, "I was with you when I wanted your son. Now you don't have a son to give me, but I'm still with you". I wonder who the Lord is saying that to. "I'm still with you". "I don't sell low and buy high". God is not Warren Buffett. God doesn't trade like that. God said, "I'm still with you, because I made a covenant with you. It's not the kind of covenant I made with Noah. That was limited. It's not the kind of covenant I made with Abraham. That was limited. It's not the covenant I made with Moses. That was limited. It's not the covenant I made with David. That was limited. This is the covenant of my blood made with the life of my Son, and I am with you". In your bitterness, in your brokenness, God said, "I'm with you". "But I'm bitter". "But I'm with you".