Since New Testament times, the kingdom of God has presented a paradox for believers. Although it’s both here and at hand, it’s also not quite here in all its fullness. That’s where we come in. In Kingdom Building, Grace Biskie offers insight into how Christians can collaborate with the Creator of the universe and bring this Kingdom into the here and now. We do this in community with other believers; and we start with the poor, our enemies, and those we despise. Building the kingdom of God isn’t easy. Sometimes it happens inch by inch. Sometimes it makes us uncomfortable. But few things are more satisfying for a Christian than being involved in God’s plan for changing the world, and it starts in our world. Because whether we know it or not, we’re all longing for God’s kingdom to be here entirely. And when that happens, God will make all things new.
Converge Bible Studies is a series of topical Bible studies. Each title in the series consists of four studies on a common topic or theme. Converge can be used by small groups, classes, or individuals. Primary Scripture passages from the Common English Bible are included for ease of study, as are questions designed to encourage both personal reflection and group conversation. The topics and Scriptures in Converge come together to transform readers’ relationships with others, themselves, and God.
About the Author
Grace Sandra is a lioness-hearted, big-dreaming, Jesus-following, abuse-surviving boy-Mama. Grace blogs, writes and serves as a community activist, speaker & advocate. She's the author of two Converge Bible Studies: Kingdom Building & The Cries of the Poor. Grace is working on a full-length memoir, Detroit's Daughter. You can find her at www.GraceSandra.com, tweeting at: @Grace_Sandra_ & posting natural hair selfies aplenty on Instagram: @Grace_Sandra_ under her favorite hashtag: #BigHairDontCare
Read an Excerpt
Converge Bible Studies Kingdom Building
By Grace Biskie
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
AMONG THE POOR
SACRIFICE, COMMUNITY, AND REDEMPTION
RUTH 1:1-22; 4:13-17
1 During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. 2 The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.
3 But Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. 4 They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.
5 But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.
6 Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the LORD had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. 7 She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.
8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, "Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband." Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
10 But they replied to her, "No, instead we will return with you, to your people."
11 Naomi replied, "Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? 12 Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the Lord's will has come out against me."
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. 15 Naomi said, "Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law."
16 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you." 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
19 So both of them went along until they arrived at Bethlehem. When they arrived at Bethlehem, the whole town was excited on account of them, and the women of the town asked, "Can this be Naomi?"
20 She replied to them, "Don't call me Naomi, but call me Mara, for the Almighty has made me very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has returned me empty. Why would you call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has deemed me guilty?"
22 Thus Naomi returned. And Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, returned with her from the territory of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife.
He was intimate with her, the LORD let her become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi, "May the LORD be blessed, who today hasn't left you without a redeemer. May his name be proclaimed in Israel. 15 He will restore your life and sustain you in your old age. Your daughter-in-law who loves you has given birth to him. She's better for you than seven sons." 16 Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. 17 The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi." They called his name Obed. He became Jesse's father and David's grandfather.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
Is Ruth chapter 1:16-18 not the most overused passage for weddings ever? Because I'm so classy, I used to judge people for taking the passage completely out of context. Don't these silly newlyweds know that this passage is not about romantic love? Geez, buy a commentary already!
I repent in sackcloth, ashes, all of that. Upon closer inspection of this passage, Ruth's love is the exact kind of love married folks need. Ruth's level of commitment is something married folks need too. And as I take a bite of my delicious humble pie, know that I now believe that this passage to be the perfect passage for a wedding. As my husband and I approach our thirteenth wedding anniversary, I can truthfully say that it's this Ruth kind of love that has kept us together.
And it's this Ruth kind of love that got Ruth a whole book named after her. Within the story, Ruth's particular breed of love is what wins her the heart of her kinsman redeemer and future husband, Boaz. Even more than that, Ruth's love is what inspires her mother-in-law to carry on and to hope. Every sacrificial act comes at a cost, and Ruth's experience is no exception. Let's explore Ruth's great love.
RUTH AND NAOMI
Because of a famine, Naomi's family has packed up and left their hometown, language, culture, and way of life. This is not a happy move from a dangerous urban center to a sprawling suburban, white-picket fence existence. The family leaves under duress and continues on in what could only be a perpetual state of PTSD as Naomi loses her husband, her firstborn son, and finally, her last remaining child. As a woman with a husband and two sons, I'll give it to you straight: If I lose all three in a short time, put me on around-the-clock suicide watch. Stat!
Naomi is understandably distraught—so much so, that when she eventually returns to her hometown, she tells her friends to call her Mara, a name that means "the Almighty has made me very bitter." She believes that God has found her guilty. She believes that God has testified against her. Thankfully, her girlfriends don't adhere to this name change because we see in chapter 4 that they go right back to calling her Naomi.
It is in this bedraggled state that Naomi is set to return to her homeland of Judah, because she has heard that food is now available. Ruth could have stayed back in Moab. She should've stayed. Ruth was home. She may even have had family and resources to turn to. It makes sense that Naomi tried to send her two daughters-in-law away.
But then, what do I know? Because the irritatingly by-the-book side of me would have probably counseled Ruth to sit her butt down and just let Naomi go home. And that would have been a devastating loss for Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. Poor little Obed would've never seen the light of day.
But she doesn't stay. Ruth's sentiment is Kingdom-like. Even with nothing Naomi can offer Ruth, Ruth still pledges to be with her, to re-identify socially, and to take on Naomi's God as her own. She even pledges to be buried next to her, for crying out loud. What more could Ruth have done to become a reflection of the love God intends for two people standing in front of one another making a covenant of marriage?
Ruth's choice is a noble one. It reminds me a great deal of God's choice to hitch wagons with us. It is a reflection of Jesus' most sacrificial choice for our fallen selves. Just like Naomi, we have nothing to offer and our state is about as bedraggled as it gets.
Maybe you've experienced love like that. Maybe you've seen love so surprisingly sacrificial that it inspired you to action. If you haven't, I pray that you will. What a gift!
For Naomi, this gift is the difference between life and death. Sure, God could have redeemed Naomi's life in many other ways. This is God we're talking about, after all. But God chose to do so through Ruth's sacrificial behavior. When Naomi and Ruth arrive back home in Judah, Naomi mentions coming home empty-handed, without her beloved husband and sons. She's still in shock.
I don't blame her, but she has yet to see that she is anything but empty-handed. Congratulations, Naomi! It's a girl. She doesn't realize it just yet, but she has a new daughter.
Through Ruth, God brings Naomi the daughter she never knew she always wanted and the grandson she has long ruled out. The redemption in this story practically oozes out of the pages and onto everyone else.
RUTH AND BOAZ
Another one Ruth oozes right up to is Boaz. What I love about this story is how Ruth rubs off on both Naomi and Boaz, her future husband and baby daddy. In Ruth 2:11, Boaz takes note of her sacrifice and repays her kindness like the boss he is. Boaz creates a Kingdom environment. He ensures that she won't be raped, he ensures she'll have enough to drink, he gives food to provide for both her and Naomi. He even takes note to be sure she is not emotionally humiliated.
One might deduce that all this favor was because he had the hots for Ruth. But let the record show, Boaz set up these provisions long before he knew that she was available to him.
And even if he did know, there was no assurance he could marry Ruth until the rightful redeemer stepped forward to agree to agree to step aside. With zero assurances, Boaz still goes out of his way to bless Ruth and Naomi.
Boaz was a smooth type of brother—a Kingdom-minded one at that. Herein lies the question of the day: Does it matter whether Boaz had the hots for Ruth? The fact is she was neither raped nor demeaned; and Boaz brought home extra food for two single, struggling women in a famine recovery period. That's an image of where the Kingdom kisses the earth. That's a glimpse of the here-yet-not-here Kingdom we live in. And it's a small glimpse of where we are headed. Imagine that: No women are demeaned. No women are raped—like, never ever. All of the poverty-stricken are provided for.
REDEMPTION AND THE KINGDOM
Here's the hard truth underlying this great redemption story: Ruth was bought. She was purchased along with a piece of land by Boaz. The kinsman redeemer should have been Ruth's husband's brother, but he had also died. Sweet Boaz takes note to ask Ruth's official kinsman redeemer whether he can purchase the land and "Ruth the Moabite." They seal the deal in a unique sandal exchanging ritual. For someone being bought alongside a piece of property in a deal sealed in sandal, this goes very, very well.
Let's put this all together, shall we? Ruth has lost her father-in-law, her husband, her brother-in-law; pledged undying love to her mother-in-law; left her people; joined up with a very depressed person; gotten a job; snagged a hubby; given birth to a male child; and become great-grandmother to King David.
Sista was busy!
Where can we see elements of the kingdom of God in this story? First off, the kingdom of God is nothing else but community. If God is and has been in loving community for all eternity, what makes us think that Kingdom living is anything else besides living and residing in loving community? Pursuing community comes at a cost to Ruth in all she leaves behind when she pledges to go with Naomi. We may never know why, but the fact that she does this speaks volumes for her character. The end result speaks volumes to God's idea.
The community that is formed with Naomi and Ruth ends up branching out to include Boaz, Obed, and others. Our actions to love and include others will often have a ripple effect like that one drop of water sprawling out as tiny waves for miles on end. There is great redemption to be had when we act out of a Kingdom mind-set like that of Ruth.
Don't ever believe that you can't usher in miraculous, sweeping redemption through your own pursuit of sacrificial community. We know that this type of love is possible for us, indeed expected if we mean what we say when we pray, "Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is heaven." May we live with honor, sacrifice, and love as Ruth has so eloquently modeled for us.
1. Why does Naomi want to return to the land of Judah?
2. What, do you think, motivates Ruth to leave everything she knows in her own country to go back to Naomi's homeland with her?
3. What role might religion have played in Ruth's decision? What does this say about the influence Naomi has had over Ruth?
4. How do common struggles and a common faith bring people together? How do they equip families and close friends to offer one another mutual support? What challenges might shared experiences present to close relationships?
5. Most people living in Western culture don't have a firsthand understanding of famines or of having to move to a foreign land to find work or food more easily. How does this affect our reading of passages that deal with these issues?
6. Why, do you think, does this account mention Orpah? Compare and contrast her actions with those of Ruth. Who might Orpah and Ruth represent in the bigger story of redemption?
7. What might Ruth's devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, suggest to us about Ruth's commitment to her husband and about her understanding of the bonds of marriage?
8. Ruth is a Gentile, but she's a major figure in the Old Testament and becomes the great-grandmother of David. How does this foreshadow future understandings of the accessibility and inclusiveness of the kingdom of God?
9. Boaz is called a "kinsman redeemer." In what ways does his act of redemption in the Book of Ruth foreshadow God's redemption of humankind through Christ?
10. What are practical ways that we as modern-day believers can follow the examples of Ruth and Boaz as we interact with other Christians and with nonbelievers?CHAPTER 2
WITH MY ENEMY
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to gain eternal life?"
26 Jesus replied, "What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?"
27 He responded, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
28 Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live."
29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30 Jesus replied, "A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days' worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, 'Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.' 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?"
37 Then the legal expert said, "The one who demonstrated mercy toward him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
Several years ago, I was serving as a staff member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Each year, I was tasked to teach a week of racial reconciliation to various student chapters in our region. The track was called "Kingdom Come," and I usually taught it alongside other staff as part of a team. The third time I staffed this particular track was with a large group of white students from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. The previous two years I'd been able to staff the track with students from Western Michigan University, where I'd been serving for many years. As we explored the pains many different cultures have faced and ways to address the pain in between communities, it pretty much sucked. Even with the best intentions, it's downright maddening to rehash sordid American history with people whose eyes have only now opened enough to see the effects of racism and injustice on those who are different from them.
Even so, those first two years provided a safe space with mostly safe people. But this third week presented a whole new level of discomfort and agitation. I was out of my comfort zone, at a new camp, working alongside an all-white staff team that I'd never met, and biggest of all, I was the only minority—staff or students—in the room. I cried at least once a day.
When one of the students came up and asked me why it was OK for African Americans to use the N-word but not for her, while explaining to me that it was all just reverse racism, I nearly lost it. As a child of the '80s growing up in Midwest America, I experienced a great deal of blatant racism from some of my white step-family, from white students at my Christian school, and even from a church that refused to baptizeme because they hadn't yet voted to allow black members. I've come up in this world a broken reed when it comes to race relations between African Americans and white Americans.
Excerpted from Converge Bible Studies Kingdom Building by Grace Biskie. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Series 7
1 Among the Poor 13
2 With My Enemy 27
3 With Those I Despise 39
4 Through Community 51