Books to Teach in Jr. High Youth Ministry: Ruth
Why teach the Book of Ruth to junior highers?
- Junior high students should be taught the Bible.
- Ruth is in the Bible.
- Therefore, junior high students should be taught Ruth.
All kidding aside, of all the books of the Bible, why Ruth? Why this particular, puny, obscure bit of history and narrative in the Old Testament? Surely there are more important principles to teach, bigger themes to pick up or far more major characters to focus on. Seriously now, why Ruth?
Ruth is a story. To me, it belongs on a list of Top 10 Short Stories Ever Written. It is a story of life and death, struggle and survival, men and women, poverty and wealth, famine and provision, foreigners and natives, singles and marriage, and of God and God’s people. Ruth is a story of love: our love, God’s love, and whether they meet up. Ruth is a tightly-woven narrative that picks up the threads of our lives, our world, God’s love, and God’s purposes and weaves them into a gorgeous whole.
Ruth’s four short chapters are tucked in between the despair of Judges and the hope of 1 Samuel. They tell a concise, symmetrical story of ordinary life in the ancient world. Here’s your 16-word summary: Ruth is an immigrant widow who ends up marrying a local man and has a son. It’s about as basic as you can get. But in Ruth, that ordinary story of love is inseparably linked with God’s work in the world. Ruth shows in memorable form that our loving actions write not only our own stories, but also God’s great story of redemption.
Ruth’s story shows us that to act with love is to keep the story going. In Ruth, love is attitude and action, not feeling. The more Ruth acts with love, the more the story grows: love creates more love and kindness breeds kindness in a sweet spiral of human action and divine blessing. The characters who act with love toward God and toward one another enjoy God’s blessing. But the ones who fail to love drop out of the story. In a world where it is too easy to remove regard for others and make choices solely in my own self-interest, junior highers need the hopeful vision that choosing to love isn’t a waste of time. When junior high kids are going through a physical/mental/social “reboot,” give them a vision for life that is less about “me” and more about “you.” Loving others in concrete ways actually opens up the world and may just be the way God is at work in the lives of those around us. (Have a look at John 3:16-17 and then 1 John 3:16-18 to back that up).
Ruth shows us the mysterious mix of God’s love in our love. Just where is God in Ruth? God’s name gets used all the time, but it’s really hard to pin down what God actually does. And that strikes me as pretty true for us. What we get in Ruth are very real, very ordinary struggles of these ordinary characters. But their human actions are both models of God’s own love and evidence that God’s hand is at work in their world. In the end, the genealogy (King David!) shows that God’s hand has been at work the whole time. Let those junior high students — budding philosophers and deep question-askers — puzzle through the details of where they see God at work in their own lives and the relationships around them. The characters in Ruth live at the very real, yet very muddy intersection of God’s love and our own loving. That’s where we live, too.
Junior highers need the truth that God is in the ordinary details of their lives: the words to a friend, the interaction with family, the hopes/fears for the future, etc. God is not reserved for the shiny, super-big mountain moments — God walks in the everyday realities. Eugene Peterson warns us in “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” of the danger of using God just for the “glorious Sunday gospel” and of “relying on cheap religion, spiritual Band-Aids, for everyday stuff because we can’t believe that he condescends to watch the soap opera of our daily trials and tribulations.” Blow that myth out of the water. Be honest that life can be bitter and hard; Ruth tells that truth. Point junior highers to the reality that we love and serve a God who delights in the ordinary details: what Ruth said, what Boaz did, how Naomi encouraged her. It’s theirstory, but it points to our stories. Teach them that Jesus lived our life in every way, sympathizes with us, and both goes ahead of us and walks with us on Monday mornings and Friday nights. It is powerful stuff.
Don’t miss the reality that the redemption in Ruth is a signpost of the redemption we have in Jesus Christ. See the marvelous portrait of Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer. It hints and glimmers with the glory that Jesus Christ –- our brother, captain and king –- is a Redeemer like no other. But then, you have to get into the details of the story to see that. And I don’t want to spell it out for you. Go discover it. Watch their eyes light up as they realize that God has redeemed us and brought us into His own family.