Turning Your Bitterness to Beauty

Well good morning Saylorville. Wow, that was tremendous worship was it not amen. I don’t often say this but give a round of applause as unto the Lord. And that’s a taste of what we’re going to have this evening as well in our special praise and testimony service hopefully you’ll come back to that. But for the moment I’d like you to turn to the gospel of Ruth in the Old Testament, the gospel of Ruth. It is good news, but before we get to the good news, we have tackle the bad. And sometimes the bad news comes in the form of bitterness. The Bible speaks about bitterness and some of you are living in it, or it’s hovering over you even as we speak. Bitterness even the word is something we detest and we should detest. Scripture tells us in the New Testament that we should beware lest the root of bitterness spring up in us and it become ruinous, it can cause trouble and calamity and defile many. So this is, this is how we approach even after this great time of worship we have to get serious about the word of God, amen? So we tackle everything within scripture and now we are tackling the subject of bitterness. So far there’s been death and separation and heartache for Naomi, and the only one left when the smoke clears that is Ruth. But it’s time to go home.

And so that’s where we leave off just the last part of chapter 1. We’ll put the words up for you. But here we go. Beginning in verse 19. So the two, that would be Naomi and Ruth, of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. What a statement. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty, the Shaddai the covenant name of God, has brought calamity upon me?” So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

So if you are familiar with the Bible then you know we actually had a series not all that long ago in the book of Exodus, you’ll remember that the children of Israel four hundred plus years in Egypt were now lead by Moses out across the Red Sea into the desert of Shur and they came to a body of water they were very thirsty, but the water was brackish, it was undrinkable, it was bitter, so they called it Mara. Moses cries out to God who says there’s a tree, throw the tree into the water and it became sweet, or drinkable. It is that very story that Naomi when she gets to Bethlehem through the hum and the buzz and she gives a different name, it is that story she has in mind of four hundred years earlier so, give or take. She’s thinking of that time at the bitter waters of Mara and she inverts the story, she reverses it. She says call me, me, Naomi whose name means pleasant, it means beautiful, don’t call me beautiful call me bitter. Her sweet life with the husband and two strapping boys, is now bitter she’s returned a decade later with no husband, no boys, no grandkids, just two pagan daughter-in-laws, and one of them has already bugged out. The only ones left are Naomi and Ruth.

But wait! Ruth makes one of the greatest professions of faith found anywhere in the Bible, you saw it. Pastor Curt just alluded to it last week in chapter 1 verse 17. Where you know Naomi is saying go back, go back with your sister. Remember that? No! Where you go I will go. Where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, your God will be my God. What a profession of faith! How cool is that? And Naomi’s reply is, when Naomi saw that Ruth had determined to go with her she said no more. Jeez. Not, my daughter-in-law has come to know God! Rather it’s more like, whatever. And she doesn’t even say that. Bitterness. When you’re bitter from life’s circumstances, listen to this, when you’re bitter, are you listening, when you’re bitter from life’s circumstances even good news is hard to receive. Back to the Exodus. If you recall even before they left. While they were in Egypt and while Pharoah was putting a smackdown on them, remember he got so frustrated with Moses he said, “Yeah keep making bricks you don’t get any straw.” So they are literally rummaging around the entire country for bits of straw to make bricks, remember that? In the midst of it God gives Moses not one, not two, not four, seven unconditional promises, wonderful promises to the nation of Israel to bless with promises they’ll be free. And Moses turns around and gives them those promises. But notice the intriguing response. Here it is. We are told instead when Moses reported this to the Israelites they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor. That’s what I mean. When you’re bitter and it has got its tentacles into you, to the circumstances that you’re going through even good news, is really hard to receive. Ruth has given a virtual profession of faith. But poor Naomi she’s bitter she couldn’t see beyond the prospect of a life of perpetual hardship.

And when they arrive in Bethlehem the whole place is a buzz, is this Naomi? Memories of her and her husband Elimelech and her boys, they’re all gone it’s only Naomi and a Moabite pagan woman. By the way, speaking of the question, is this Naomi? Did you notice who was asking the question? It was the women. I bet you are wondering what is gonna come out of my mouth next aren’t you? Just this, these same women at the end of the story, are going to be rejoicing over the glory of God, and the blessing in Naomi’s life. But not yet. Not yet. Right now they are just staring and wondering, how could this happen? Naomi says call me Mara, call me bitter. Why? Because Shaddai, the covenant name of God, has caused me, verse 21, calamity. The Hebrew literally says He’s done evil to me. And this is what when you become bitter. A man ruins his own ways, Solomon wrote, yet his heart rages against the Lord.

Now, some expositors see Naomi and her response as a sort of clinging to faith and God. Since she’s invoking his covenant name. They claim that Naomi is exercising faith by seeing God behind the scenes, in spite of her circumstances, and I disagree. I don’t disagree that Naomi sees God behind the circumstances, that much is pretty clear. I disagree that she’s demonstrating faith. She is bitter by her very own self-description she is bitter. She’s not in a good place. And if you recall a few weeks ago John Nemmers taught, gave that illustration he has poor eyesight he was in driver’s ed without glasses. He was slamming on the brakes at every stop sign and stoplight. Because he could only see about ten feet in front of him. And his instructor said, “Lift up your, you’ve got to lift up your eyes.” When he shared that it reminded me of the Psalmist that said, maybe you can help me out with quoting this. He says I lift my eyes to the hills from once cometh my help, my help comes from the Lord who made the Heavens and the Earth. Very good. And if you’re like me you’d probably thought the Psalmist is equating the hills with where God is. I’m looking to the hills! From which comes my help! My help comes from the Lord who made the Heavens and the Earth. That’s not what he’s talking about. In Bible times, the idolaters would put their idols in the highest place. On the hill. On the mountain. So they could look up to their god. So when the Psalmist says I look to the hills, from whence cometh my help, he’s saying it’s gotta be higher than the hills. My help comes from the Lord, who made the Heavens and the Earth. So don’t be thinking that.

And that’s where some of you are right now. You’re where Naomi is. You can’t see beyond the hills, you can’t see beyond your own idols. You’ve been wronged. You have been hurt. Your whole life has been rearranged and your plans have gone into an upheaval. And the spirit of bitterness is hovering over you right now. And for some of you it’s not hovering over you as I mentioned it’s in you, that root is there. And it’s destroying you, it’s eating you up like decay. So what I want to do, through this passage this morning to help you, I want to help you to turn your bitterness to beauty. God’s into the great exchange program isn’t he? He makes beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness amen? That we may be called trees of righteousness the planting of the Lord that he may be glorified. That’s how Isaiah put it.

So here’s how you are going to bitterness to beauty according to the text. Number one, by knowing you’re not forgotten by God or His people. When you become bitter or start to go that way, you can think that you’re living on an island, nobody cares, nobody thinks about me, nobody wishes, nobody wonders. That’s so not true. Not if you have already been in the family of God. These two, well not Ruth she’s never been there, but Naomi’s been gone for a decade. Ten years had not erased the memories. Is this Naomi? By the way did she look different? Probably. I mean ten years, lot of people change in ten years. Did she sound different? She might’ve, she’s been living amongst the Moabites for ten years, she probably sounded different. My brother Steve who ironically is ten years older than me. Fought in Vietnam got out and moved to South Carolina and lived there for a few years. And when he came back, holy smokes, is this Steve? He looked different and he had the strongest southern twang, what is going on here? But back home, with family, in just a matter weeks he lost his twang. And he was back to Steve the one we knew before. Why? Because the south wasn’t his home, that’s why. He didn’t find his roots there. His roots where back in Iowa. Some of you right now because of bitterness, you’re outside of your home. You look like the place you’re in. You sound like the place you’re in. And it’s a bad place. And you know it. It’s time to come home. Christian, bitterness is not your home. And your home is where you’re remembered, both by God and His people.

Here’s a second thing, and I really want to bear down on this one it might be the only thing some of you need to remember today. One way that you can convert you bitterness to beauty is by seeing God, watch this, in and beyond your circumstances. Naomi saw God in the circumstance, that much is true. She was not seeing him beyond them. Listen, you don’t have to see your future to know that God is in it. You don’t have to see your future to know that God is in it. Remember that. If you don’t, you’ll struggle rejoicing when blessings occur in the midst of your hardship. Think about it, Ruth has just been converted! But the bitterness in Naomi’s heart was winning over in the moment. Naomi was so caught up with her losses, that she was unwilling to look beyond the hills to see God, who had taken away, listen to this, who had taken away what was good in preparation for giving her something far greater. I mean think about this, when she comes back Ruth is right next to Naomi she’s right next to her, almost completely unnoticed. The very person who would soon provide Naomi with inexpressible joy. Was looked at as little more than another mouth to feed. You gotta see God, not just in your circumstance but beyond it. If you want to turn your bitterness to beauty.

Just the other day, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine, I mentor several pastors but I have friends who are just peers to me, we’re good friends, we share each other’s joys, we share one another’s burdens and I was doing this with one of my friends just the other day from another state, and he has had a fabulous ministry, and he’s in a fabulous place but he’s in a place where he really has to exercise faith right now. I am praying for him, that he will prevail in this situation that he’s in. And we were sharing joys and sorrows and I shared some of mine and I said this to him, do you know, as I look back in my life in ministry, whether my first wife’s sudden and unexpected death, my boy’s rebellion, our son Noah’s near death, false accusations that from time to time have come my way, our harsh treatment we received when we changed our philosophy of music and then changed the name of our church even. Or even a more recent trial that I’ve endured. I said to him, some of the brightest days in my life in ministry have occurred during some of the darkest days of my life. You know when my wife died, I couldn’t see Marilyn. I could only see what was right in front of me. I couldn’t see my wife Marilyn. When my son was in jail I couldn’t see his conversion much less his call to ministry. When we went through those philosophical changes, I couldn’t see the glorious gospel impact it would make, and five churches and thousands, and thousands of people converted to Christ! Literally. I could never have seen that. Any more than I could see what will emerge out of my current heartache. But know this, and you must believe this no matter where you’re at in your walk with God. God rules and overrules!

You know the ancient Chinese had, I just learned this the other day I don’t want you to think I read Chinese literature okay. But the ancient Chinese would do plays. Dramas. Public displays where they had a big audience. And from time to time they would do a two level play. And so on the first level there would be the know, what’s happening know, currently in the history of the play. And on the other level, listen, going simultaneously, the audience can see them both at the same time, was level two which was the future of level one. It sounds kinda weird. But the point is they could see both at the same time, in fact the Chinese tell us that during these dramas the audience would yell at the actors on level one because they weren’t acting properly in accordance with the future. I was thinking about that, and I thought listen you need to know, no matter where you’re at in your walk with God, no matter what’s happening, no matter what hardness or bitterness has come into your life, God is working in you’re level one, with level two in his mind. It reminded me as I read that recently, it reminded me of what the writer of Hebrew said, he said seeing that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every way in the sin that so easily besets us, and run with endurance the race which is set before us. Looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised its shame, and is sat down at the right hand of God. But at the beginning of that it says, seeing that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses and Bible expositors have had quite a day with that one. Because those witnesses are those who’ve gone before us, they are the heroes of the faith and otherwise. Everyone who’s known Jesus, they’re pictured as being in the stands, so to speak, and we are the athletes on the field. And they’re watching us. Look, I can’t prove to you that those who’ve gone to heaven can watch us, but what if they can? Now I don’t think God is necessarily showing them the second stage of your life, but if he does I can guarantee this; they’re not yelling at you, they’re cheering you on! And that’s why, if you want to turn your bitterness into beauty, you gotta see God, you gotta see him not only in your circumstance, but beyond it.

Thirdly, thirdly if you want to turn this bitterness to beauty then you’ve got to empty your hands, so that God can fill them. You saw that Naomi said, I left full, God made me come back empty. Almost two months after my wife died, I finally went to bed in our bed. And it was a hard thing. I wasn’t bitter, but I was broken. And I went into the room, and I got into the bed on my side and I was reading the famous account of Job and his wife dialoging, remember that? I like to tell people that after Satan had at Job the first time the only thing he had left was his life and his wife, and he wasn’t excited about either one of them. And his wife said, remember, curse God and die, remember that? And Job then said, and I was reading in my bed this, Job said in Job 2:10, and he said to his wife, shall we except good things from God, and shall we not also accept adversity? And that word accept literally jumped off the page to me. And I sensed the spirit of God leading me to get on my knees next to my bed and put my hands in a cupped position and say, God I don’t know what you have for me but I come to you with empty hands for you to fill with whatever you deem necessary for me. As I rededicated my life to Jesus, and unbeknownst to me, twenty-five miles away and possibly at the exact same time, heaven knows, there was a widow praying the same thing. Naomi had nothing to bring home, but the clothes on her back and a foreigner at her side. She did not realize this was a good thing. Think about it, if Naomi had come back with Ruth, even half full she would never have sent Ruth into the field, to find food and a redeemer. The Prodigal Son returned the same way, with nothing. I want you to look at it again, I’ve got it up on the screen for you, notice the emphasis, she says, Naomi says, I went away full and the Lord had brought me back empty.

I’m indebted to a couple in our church, Loren and Brenda Long, who have not gotten covid but they had stayed away this entire year because they have serious, serious health issues they long to be, no pun intended, they long to be with us and they will be with us Lord willing soon enough. But Loren came in the other day and gave me a book, the last copy of Brenda’s grandfather’s commentary on Ruth. And it is such a blessing. This commentary such a blessing, and her grandfather, Edward Boone referring to this line here, I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty, he wrote, she got the I in the proper place. Some of you have left your spiritual home. For whatever reason, you’re dissatisfied, whatever, that’s where you were full you just didn’t know it. And today you’re empty, by your own doings, by your own sinful choices. You’re not gonna get anywhere until you admit it, first and foremost. And some of you are empty, not of your own doing, not of your own choice, not of your own sinful choices, but God in his sovereignty, in his providence, has allowed you to be empty. Whether you’re one or the other, if you’re humble, empty is good. If you’re humble, empty is good. In 1776 the same year we declared our freedom from England Augustus Toplady wrote the famous hymn, rock of ages cleft for me let me hide myself in thee, right? And then there is that line which is famous and many of you have memorized it and it’s worth looking at again. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling. That’s how we come to God. If you bring your bitter empty to God, He will turn your bitter to sweetness. You have to believe that.

One more thing, before we celebrate the Lord’s table, you want to turn your bitterness to beauty, you do so by turning and returning to your true home. Turning and returning. It’s not enough to turn, you’ve gotta go! Some of you are like revolving doors, you know, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. God wants you to turn and return, to walk with Him again. Naomi for all her hurt knew where to turn and return, and that was home. By the way did you see that in verse 22 worth looking at again, it says, so Naomi returned and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, and returned from the country of Moab. That’s the eleventh and twelfth time the word returned is in the first chapter. You think we’ve got a theme going here? The Prodigal Son did. Like Naomi wasted His life, He left home, but home had never left Him, it was still there waiting, and so is yours, those of you who know Jesus. In the first installment of this study of Ruth I made the comment that the quickest way back is to what? Turn around. And that’s true. The quickest way back is to turn around. But it can’t stop there, you’re not a revolving door. You gotta return. So wanderer, bitter one, turn back, come back. Where you’re at is not your language, that’s not your dialect, and they’re not your people. So come home. And if you have never been home, the true home, the eternal home, the place of salvation, where your sins are forgiven, and you have eternal life, and you’re a bitter person because of the heavies and hardships of your life, then you need to take a different tree and put it in your bitter waters. The cross of Jesus, where he died for your sins and rose again, applied to your bitterness will make your life, and your eternity, sweet and forever.

Will you pray with me? God we thank you. Right now as we pray, as the band comes and as we get ready for communion, I want you to close your eyes and I want you to put your hands in front of you in a cupped position. Just do that right now if you would. Don’t do it to humor me, do it because I’m asking you to. And I know it’s symbolic, but I’m asking you to do that right now and would you just pray this with me. Would you be willing to say, God there are things in my life I would rather cling to, but I know that’s not helping me. I give them all to you. I empty my hands to you and I offer my life to you, to put in my hands and in my life whatever you deem best. Lord, whatever bitterness hovering over me or has gotten into me, I confess and ask your forgiveness. Forgive me, restore me, and make me sweet again. And then for those of you with your hands like this and you’re empty because your heart is empty. You have religion but you don’t have relationship. Would you just invision the cross of Jesus coming into your bitter waters and making them sweet again. Would you place your heart’s faith in Jesus right now? Would you say Lord Jesus I’m a sinner, I’m lost, I need You, I ask You to forgive me and come into my life, as only You can, and turn my bitterness to beauty. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

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