Naomi and the Names We Call Ourselves

Despite our best intentions to resist, our circumstances inevitably affect our outlook on life. I’m stuck in this job. I’ll never get married. I must be a lousy father.

This isn’t new.

The Story of Naomi

Naomi is a central figure in the book of Ruth. After a famine-prompted move from Bethlehem to Moab, her husband and two sons died. Naomi was left with only her daughters-in-law.

Hearing that the famine had ended, Naomi headed back to Bethlehem. She freed her daughters-in-law from any obligation to go with her, but in a heart-warming statement of love and loyalty, Ruth stayed by Naomi’s side (Ruth 1:16–17).

Though she had a steadfast companion, Naomi’s life had fallen apart. Without a husband and with no other men in her family, she re-entered Bethlehem in low spirits.

The Story of Mara

Naomi already admitted her anguish (Ruth 1:13), but her bitterness boiled over when she met the women of Bethlehem.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 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 has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20–21)

Naomi felt so crushed by God she rejected her given name (“Naomi” means pleasant) for another (“Mara” means bitter). How could she remain “Naomi” when life seemed anything but pleasant?

She was empty and God was to blame. From that moment on, her new name would announce her deep bitterness to everyone.

What Happened to Mara?

With this background, it’s surprising to reach the end of Ruth without another mention of the name “Mara.” Everyone uses “Naomi” without a second thought.

In Ruth 2:6, one of Boaz’s servants refers to Naomi. Boaz himself refers to Naomi in Ruth 4:34:5, and 4:9. The women of Bethlehem, whom Naomi had urged to call her Mara, use her original name in Ruth 4:17. Finally, the author of Ruth doesn’t use the name Mara again.

What do we make of this?

Our Names

Like Naomi, sometimes we name ourselves based on God’s difficult providences or our feelings.

Sometimes we adopt new names out of self pity, sometimes out of outright defiance. We think these new names define us, that they tell a complete, set-in-stone story from now on and forever.

Victim. Fearful. Outcast. Impatient. Guilty. Angry.

These descriptions might be accurate. They might describe you. But if you are a Christian, they do not define you. You don’t have the authority to name yourself.

Christians are given new names by God Almighty. These names define us. His authority is greater than ours, so his names for us stick. What are some of those names?

Child.
Redeemed.
Free.
Heir.
Saint.
New Creation.
Righteous.
Chosen.
Holy.
Forgiven.
Alive.
Citizen of heaven.
Loved.

Whose Voice?

There’s a great quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones about self-talk for the Christian. It contains this gem.

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Lloyd-Jones goes on to say that we must speak essential truths to our souls: “…remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

Search the Bible. Embrace all that God has done for you in Jesus. Instead of the names spit out by your flesh, wear the names God gives you with thanksgiving.

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The Bible is for Everyone

There are more Bibles in print today than ever. We have dozens of English Bible translations and scores of Bible apps. The number of ways to listen, stream, and download the Bible would amaze our parents in the faith.

And yet, some think the Bible is exclusive and elite. That it is aimed at a narrow strip of humanity.

Brethren, this should not be. The Bible is for everyone.

It is not just for pastors and ministers, not just for the ordained. It is not just for missionaries or evangelists or worship leaders. It is not just for elders, deacons, or Bible study leaders. It is not just for those in vocational ministry.

The Bible is not just for independent adults. It is not just for the employed or the wealthy or the powerful. It is not just for those who speak loudly into the world and influence others. It is not just for the educated.

The Bible is not only for those who already know it. It is not a private club with a secret handshake. It is not only for church members, not only for the theologically astute, not only for people who can turn to Amos without consulting the table of contents.

The Bible is not for a select, respectable few, because Jesus did not come for a select, respectable few.

With the drama and force of a thousand neon arrows, the Bible points to Jesus. And since Jesus invites everyone to come to him, the Bible is for everyone.

The Bible is for those who don’t know Chronicles from Corinthians. It’s for those who have never been to church, who don’t what “theology” means.

The Bible is for babies, children, teens, and the elderly. It is for the jobless and the retired. It is for the poor and helpless, the weak and the overlooked. The Bible is for grade-school dropouts and those with mental challenges.

The Bible is for regular, normal Christians. And it is also for the curious, the doubting, and the disenchanted.

The Bible is for you. And the Bible is for your neighbor.

Regardless of your achievements, bank account, or any status in anyone’s eyes—good or bad—the Bible is for you. And God invites you to read, listen to, study, and memorize the Bible so that you might know him through his son Jesus.

So grab a Bible, grab a neighbor, and take up this remarkable, unique book that is written for all people. Let’s dig in.

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Links for the Weekend (11/29/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Beauty and Burden of Nostalgia

If you’re only going to read one of these articles, make it this one; it’s really good. Jared Wilson writes about the nostalgia that surrounds holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Unlike other pieces I’ve read, Wilson doesn’t look down on nostalgia. He writes that it’s a nice place to visit but a bad place to live. He beautifully connects our longings with the future heaven promises. Read it!

It’s okay to long for the Garden. But we cannot go back. We must go forward. And we must see that our longing for the Garden is really a longing for the Garden to come. We can see our Savior in his Gospels teaching and doing great things. But we miss the point of it all if we don’t see that what he inaugurated is yet to be consummated. And indeed, he is coming, and coming quickly.

3 Ways to Teach Scripture to Children

Peter Leithart reflects on many years as a father—and now some years as a grandfather—teaching the Bible to children. His three modes of teaching are time-tested and accompanied by specific examples.

It’s not an accident that the biblical history of maturation starts with a long book of stories. It’s where we begin. Before we learn to talk or walk or do abstract reasoning, we learned stories. Yahweh is the best parent. Before Israel received Torah, the tabernacle, the complexities of the sacrificial system, a land or a monarchy, they got stories, dramatic family stories.

Not Just Me and My Bible

One of the pillars of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura. What’s the difference between this and Solo Scriptura? This article does a good job explaining how we can avoid two opposite errors when reading and interpreting the Bible. (And the article begins with a gripping story of unwashed vegetables!)

Perhaps most significantly, “solo Scriptura” misses out on the inestimable riches God has graciously provided in the body of Christ, his church. It is tempting for Christians to see themselves only as individual members of the church and so to focus exclusively on personal spiritual practices like biblical meditation, prayer, fasting, and the like. While personal spirituality is very much at the heart of the Christian life, it is incomplete if it fails to grasp what membership in his body entails.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

How God Rebukes Us

From eating vegetables to visiting the dentist, there are many things in life we need but do not want. To stay healthy, we endure needles, checkups, and the occasional cabbage, though we’d rather ignore them all.

As Christians, we don’t usually want God’s discipline. It’s painful, but we need it. Our disobedience is both offensive to God and bad for us. But God corrects us out of love; in fact, God proves we are his children through his discipline (Hebrews 12:7–8).

Fine. But how exactly does God rebuke us?

Providence or Revelation?

Many will point to circumstances. They cite the “difficult providences of God” (illness, loss of a job, natural disasters, etc.) as the way God shows his displeasure.

But outward suffering is no more evidence of sin than material blessing is a sign of obedience. (See Psalm 37Psalm 73, or Luke 13:1–5.) We rarely learn the reasons behind God’s providence.

However, the Bible provides direct revelation of God’s will. Even in difficult circumstances, God rebukes his children through his word. This happens in three main ways.

1. God’s Rebuke Through Preaching

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he included these words about the Bible.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

Since the phrase “man of God” recalls a common Old Testament term for a prophet, Paul probably had a pastor’s preaching in mind. This is consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere that pastors/elders should rebuke those in error. (See especially 1 Tim 5:202 Tim 4:2Titus 1:91:132:15.)

Therefore, one of the purposes of a preacher’s message is to rebuke Christians.

Don’t get the wrong idea. You might dislike the idea of rebuke because you picture angry, fire-and-brimstone preachers heaping guilt on the congregation and bringing everyone to tears.

But rebuke is simply correction. God corrects us because it is better to obey than to disobey. Our blindness to sin (coupled with our forgetfulness) means we need a lot of correction.

Rebuke from the pulpit is the explanation and specific application of a Biblical text. This is what happened in Nehemiah 8, when the reading (verses 3–6) and explanation (verses 7 and 8) of the law prompted tears (verse 9) and extensive confession of sin (chapter 9).

2. God’s Rebuke Through Private Bible Reading

Though the words rebuke and reprove are often associated with preaching, the Holy Spirit can correct us in private. (See John 14:26 and John 16:13–15.) This usually happens during personal Bible reading.

We have a few Biblical examples. In Acts 8:26–40, we read that God prepared the Ethopian eunuch for Philip’s visit through private meditation on Isaiah 53. In 2 Kings 22:11–13, Josiah was convicted by a private reading of the law.

The Spirit convicts us as we read and study the Bible. To learn how to study the Bible, I recommend the book Knowable Word or this series of blog posts.

3. God’s Rebuke Through Other Christians

God also rebukes us through others. As examples, consider Priscilla and Aquila correcting Apollos in Acts 18:26 or Paul confronting Peter in Galatians 2:11–14. Jesus went beyond an example and commanded his disciples to rebuke brothers in sin (Luke 17:3–4).

Further, the language of reproof is all over Proverbs. Solomon assumes those seeking wisdom will give and receive correction.

Wise men love reproof (Prov 9:8), and there is honor for those who heed it (Prov 13:18). Rebuke goes deep into a man of understanding (Prov 17:10), and the wise reprover is like gold to those who will listen (Prov 25:12). In summary, fools resist instruction, but the wise seek it and grow.

This sort of rebuke happens when a friend applies Biblical truth to your life in a corrective way. By God’s grace, you see the need to change your thinking, your desires, or your behavior and you move forward in repentance.

Cultivate Humility

If God disciplines us in these ways, what does it mean for us?

In short, we should invite the Lord’s rebuke. That may sound scary, but encountering the Bible is a serious matter. Sometimes God’s correction is exactly what we need.

Before listening to the Bible taught or preached, before reading it privately or with your small group, pray that God would rebuke you as needed. Ask God to prepare you to receive correction from your friends.

This requires humility. We must acknowledge our weakness and sin; we should thank God for his wisdom and love in correcting us.

Any reproof we receive points us back to the gospel. The only correction Jesus justly received was the divine rebuke for our sin on the cross. His rebuke ensures that we are rebuked as forgiven children, not as exiled criminals. Further, Jesus’s perfect obedience secures the privilege we have of God’s fatherly correction.

And, thank God, it’s Jesus’s power that makes change possible.

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Links for the Weekend (2/22/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Don’t Waste Your Weaknesses

I don’t know about you, but I am reluctant to dwell too much on my weaknesses. But, in this post by John Piper, I’m reminded that my weaknesses are not an accident or a surprise to God! Piper encourages us to consider how to glorify God in our weaknesses, and he uses one of his own weaknesses as an example.

We can sum up the purpose of Paul’s weakness like this: securing Paul’s humility and showing Christ’s power. That’s why God made sure Paul had weaknesses: to keep him “from becoming conceited” and to give him a more obvious experience of the power of Christ resting on him.

How to Be a Friend at All Times (Even When You Don’t Have Time)

Winfree Brisley writes for The Gospel Coalition about being a good friend. I appreciate this article because she acknowledges how hard this is with a busy life, but she gives practical suggestions.

In this season of having three kids between the ages of 5 months and 5 years, so many wonderful things get pushed aside for the tyranny of the urgent. It’s tempting to hunker down at home and pretend that outside relationships and responsibilities don’t exist. If I’m honest, friendships with other women can seem like those magazine cover photos—a beautiful idea that I don’t have the capacity to realize amid the demands of my chaotic life.

How to Soak the Next Generation in God’s Word

After encouraging moms to cherish their own Bibles and share it with their children, Jani Ortlund writes about the benefits of passing along God’s word. It’s a great vision to catch and spread!

How do we help children revere and feast on the most influential book of all time? No book has sold more copies, in more languages—ever. No book has affected the world more deeply. How can we raise Bible soaked and saturated children, teenagers, and young adults?


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.