Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ruth: Trusting in the Lord with all her heart

How do you react to unsolicited advice?

Not good? Me too! I struggle to even listen, especially if it is given to me in a harsh or dogmatic manner. And it is particularly hard to listen to if it is coming from my mother, even today, when she is 85 and I am 59. You think I would have outgrown this by now. Ok, so I no longer roll my eyes, curse her out or hang up on her. Now I merely smile, nod, and change the subject.

So I am very impressed with Ruth who graciously heard her mother-in-law's advice:

One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking. Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”

Boaz's feet would never be as cute
as my Gio's feet
I can envision this conversation and immediately start thinking of excuses and reasons to smile, nod and change the subject. Ruth is to get all prettied up to uncover this older man's feet and sleep next to him. Boaz is probably 20 years older than Ruth.  He would have been working all day in the hot sun and then partying all evening. Uncovering his work-worn and smelly feet while he sleeps off a long day and wine-filled night hardly seems romantic. And it was also risky. What would he tell her to do? Naomi is purposefully vague about what would happen next.

Despite these concerns and the risk, Ruth replies:

“I will do everything you say,” So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law.   

Boaz awakes and finds Ruth and commends her for her loyalty to Naomi because because she could have sought out a younger man. Boaz tells her he is willing to fulfill the obligation of family redeemer and marry her, but there is a catch. Another man in the village is more closely related to Naomi than Boaz and God's law demands he be offered Ruth first. Even though Ruth does as she has been instructed, she returns to Naomi in the morning with the matter unsettled.

Proverbs 3:4-5 tells us: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. 

Faith is easy when it doesn't cost you anything. It is one thing to say you believe in God, quite another to take a risk, or to be obedient to Him if it costs you something. But that is what Ruth does here.

I think Ruth obeys her mother-in-law because she trusted her. From years of living together, Ruth knew Naomi was wise in the ways of God and loved her as her own daughter. Ruth and Naomi's relationship with built over time. Trust is earned as trustworthiness is demonstrated. The same is true of our relationship with God. It doesn't happen all at once. It is not perfected in one incident. Over time, as we get to know God, we learn He is good, He is faithful, He is merciful, He is wise. God does not rush us in this process, He is patience.

Thank You, Beloved, that You are patient with me as I learn each day to trust You more with each detail of my life. As Naomi only told Ruth the first part of what needed to be done, You also only give me the next step to take and wait for my obedience. Over time, I have learned to trust You with the step You tell me to take and the step that I cannot yet see. You have shown me You are faithful and true. Continue to help me to trust You with all of my heart, as Ruth did. When it doesn't work out perfectly at first, help me to still wait in faith.

Read this part of Ruth's story in Ruth 3.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Naomi and Ruth: The Bitter and the Sweet

What is your reaction to difficult situations?

“Don’t call me Naomi ["pleasant"], she told them. “Call me Mara ["bitter"], because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Naomi's reaction was to get bitter. It was hard to blame her. She had buried her husband and both her sons, so it is no wonder she was disheartened and felt stricken by God.

Ruth, however, had a different reaction. Ruth steadfastly clung to her mother-in-law, making the difficult journey to a strange land. When they arrived, she volunteered to follow the harvesters in the fields of local farmers who she hoped would take pity on her. She proved herself to be hard-working and courageous, since the harvest fields was a dangerous place for a young foreign woman.

When Boaz, the wealthy land-owner, noticed Ruth in his field, he commended her faithfulness to her mother-in-law and her trust in God. When he offered his protection and provision to Ruth, she responded with gratitude and obedience.

Like Naomi, Ruth had suffered a great loss. Not only did Ruth lose her husband, but she left her family and country behind to follow Naomi. Their reactions were different: Naomi was bitter, but Ruth was sweet.

Anger is contagious. When we live with a bitter person, we too can become bitter. Or we can make the choice, like Ruth did, to trust God, serve others, and be thankful.  

Women greatly influence the atmosphere of the home. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, our attitude is our choice, and that choice affects everyone we live with. We don't have to allow the mood and demeanor of others to dictate our actions. And when we choose to be calm, to have faith, to be thankful for the good in the situation, our home has peace.

It is hard to do this in our own strength! But God is faithful and His Spirit gives us power. In our study group this week, one of the women shared a story of an uproar in her home, but instead of reacting with anger, she looked up to God who gave her the power to stay calm. God helped her control her attitude and eliminate the turmoil.

Difficult situations reveal our character. I know I often don't like what is revealed in mine! But thanks be to God, we have the choice, and God is willing to help us to be sweet and not bitter, influencing those around us for good.  

So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah [about 30 pounds]. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough. Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Father, make me like Ruth, grateful, hardworking, and full of faith in You. Help me to influence others for good!

Read the rest of the story in Ruth 1:19-2:23

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Orpah's Choice

How do you make difficult choices?

Do you spend nights looking at the ceiling filled with worry? Do you poll your best girl friends? Do you search the internet? Do you call mom? Do you jump into a decision quickly, or wait until the last possible minute?

Naomi and her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth were in a tough spot and Orpah was faced with a difficult choice.

Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both [sons] also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. 

When the path gets dark up ahead, I wonder:
should I keep going or turn back to the familiar and the safe?
I imagine how they felt, filled with sorrow for their loss and concern for their future. Naomi is going to her homeland, Judah. But for Orpah and Ruth this would mean not only losing their husbands but also their families and homeland. That seems too much to bear. It is like traveling down the road into a dark turn. What is ahead? Is it even worse than this grief I am feeling?

But Naomi who loves them, gives them a generous out. Concerned for their futures, she urges them to go home to their families:

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." 

... they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye...

Orpah loved Naomi but returned home. It was the logical thing to be sure. Not only was Judah a strange country to Orpah, but Naomi could not be sure if she had any family left there. She had no way of supporting herself, let alone her daughters-in-law. Orpah was young and could depend on her family for provision and to eventually secure another husband for her in her homeland.

But there was a another factor, hidden, imperceivable, but absolutely most important. It can be seen in the next verse:

Ruth clung to her. "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."

Ruth replied, "Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God..."

 Ruth understood what Orpah did not.  Orpah's decision was not merely between staying in familiar places or moving on to a distant foreign land. It was not even a choice between her mother or her mother-in-law. Her choice was ultimately a choice of faith. Would she have faith in her gods of Moab? Or would she have faith in the God of Naomi, the God of Israel? Orpah did not make a bad choice. She made a reasonable choice, a prudent one based on everything she could see. What she could not see was that her choice would take her away from the one true God. While Ruth's choice seemed like a greater risk, it was actually the safest.

Truth be told, I often are more like Orpah than Ruth. I look around, consider the options, get advice from friends and the internet and jump to my conclusions, often to regret it later. Only recently am I becoming wise enough to pray, ask others to pray, and wait for the Lord to reveal His best way. Not all the time, but I am getting better.

When we choose based on faith, even when the path ahead seems dark and dangerous, it is the safest way to go.

Father, help me to look to You more often before I take a step. Help me seek You and wait for You, trusting You love me and Your ways are always best.

Orpah's story ends here. But Ruth's story goes on. Because following God is always the best path.

Orpah's story starts and ends in Ruth 1.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Rahab: The seamless unity of believing and doing

Rahab had a house in a great stone wall. Into this house she brought her family. And they waited. They waited while the enemy crossed the Jordan river. They waited while the enemy marched around the wall, again and again and again. They waited as the enemy shouted the name of their God, and then as the terrible shaking came and crushed the city wall. They waited as the enemy stormed the city. And finally the enemy came for them and brought them to safety.

Rahab trusted enemy spies more than her countrymen. She trusted the God of foreigners more than she trusted her own gods. Not just a little trust either--no, she trusted them with her life and the life of all her family members. So big was her faith in the God of Israel that she was able to convince her family to sit in her house in the great stone wall and wait for deliverance.

All around them, people of the city went on with their lives as usual, believing they were safe behind their great stone wall. They trusted their strength would save them, their wall would save them. And by all of the facts that could be seen, it was very reasonable to believe that.

What was different about Rahab? Why did she pick the Lord of Israel over her country and her gods? What did she see that the others did not?

We who believe in Jesus are like Rahab. Our faith in Him is a house in a stone wall. We sit and wait and know with a certainty that we are safe, that everyone and everything outside the house will be destroyed but deliverance will come to us. We try to tell our family and friends to join us inside the house in a way that is not weird -- but dang! -- it IS weird! It is crazy and illogical given all that is going on outside the house. But it's TRUE.

I am like Rahab. I sit in my room and read my Bible and write. I meet with other believers and discuss the scriptures. I live my life in a way that is different from others because I have seen what others have not. And I cannot un-see it. It is there, as plain as my hand in front of me. I don't know why God has chosen to show me. I am like Rahab the harlot after all, unpure and unworthy.

But I know Jesus is real and He is alive and that makes a difference in my life. And truth be told, I hate salesmen, but I am like them too, trying to convince even you, dear reader, that Jesus is real and He is alive, and you can trust Him to save you. Jesus loves you, and in the seamless unity of loving and doing, He gave His life for you. It may look weird, illogical, and crazy even. But it's TRUE...

Come into the stone wall house with me. Let us wait for His salvation together.

Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works? The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? (James 2:24-25)

Read about Rahab in Joshua, chapters 2 and 6