Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 12 March 2014

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a homefor you, where you will be well provided for.”  Ruth 3, verse 1.

I must make a confession:  I’m harboring some resentment.   Right now, I’m in the middle of cleaning out my parents’ house.  This isn’t unusual; millions of people do it every year.   Dad is gone and Mom is now living in an assisted living home.  Their house sits full of possessions that someone has to get rid of.  Being ‘that someone’ has logically fallen to me because there’s really nobody else who can at the moment.  

That’s not the part I resent.   What I resent is that there is so much of it and so little time.  Mom is a collector, and has spent 70 years collecting all kinds of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it not.  All of it needs to be sorted and either given away or trashed.   I resent having, for years, implored my mom to rid herself of the clutter.   On the other end of those years, the clutter is still here so someone has to unload all of it.  It’s a big order, and I find myself talking more with God and others about it, venting my frustrations and hoping for guidance.

Notice how Naomi didn’t do any of that?

She didn’t fart around whining about all the work she had to do.   She didn’t fuss about details that didn’t matter.   She didn’t build up resentment over what she had to do, or about her responsibilities, or about how it was so unreasonable to expect one person to do all this stuff.   Naomi simply got down to business, namely the business of survival.

Naomi realized that her she needed to find a new home for Ruth.   Ruth was her daughter in law and Naomi saw how it wasn’t fitting for a beautiful young single woman to be constrained by an unwed future with a middle aged widow who would likely not remarry.  Ruth could have a family of her own; Ruth could have children, and a home, and a husband, and a life beyond what Naomi could provide.

More than that, Naomi reflected her duty to God, understanding how she must entrust Ruth’s future to Him AND that she,

I need to focus on that.   We’re working to put the house up for sale by May, and to make that happen there is much work.   I’ve already spent days getting rid of trash and there are more days of that ahead.   It’s going to take lots of faith, but I know that God provides what I’ll need to get the work done.   Now I need to do a better job expressing that faith and letting go of the resentment that doesn’t really matter.

Father, forgive my failures and accept my apology.   I believe in You and that You will provide all I need.

 

Read Ruth 2.

 

Are you holding on to any resentment?

What kinds of things are clouding your heart?

What can you let go of to grow your faith?

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Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 20 February 2014

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.  Ruth 2, verse 1

February 20 is an important day in my family.  My son’s girlfriend, Kelli, turns 18 today.   My Aunt Sally, Dad’s sister, turns 78 today, and she’s one of the neatest folks you’ll ever meet.   And today is also my mother’s birthday.

I think it’s fitting on this day that the verse which hit my calendar was verse 1 of Ruth chapter 2.   In it, we learn about Naomi’s family.  Elimelek, Naomi’s deceased husband, had a relative named Boaz, and Boaz was a man of standing.   He had done something, likely agricultural, to achieve wealth and position in Israel.  

All three of the women who I mentioned above are wise and worldly, but (naturally) it’s my mom I’d like to talk about. Today is her 85th birthday.   She’s not just the woman who gave me life:   she’s a living link to a world that no longer exists.   Like Naomi, she is a widow and living in a new place.   Grace Terry is also a woman of standing, and she’d probably be the first to tell you that.  Born when Calvin Coolidge was still president, she has seen World War II, lived in seven states as well as both Germany and Japan, and raised two successful children (as well as presiding beside six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren).   She has always insisted on being treated as an intelligent equal.   Long before it was common, she earned bachelors and masters degrees, and succeeded outside the home.

I look at Mom’s life, however, and consider that her greatest achievement is knowing Jesus.   Both of my parents were diligent church-goers yet it has only been in the last 15 years or so that she has dug deeper into what it means to believe in Christ.  What’s more, she’s done it in plain view of us all.   Mom’s morals and tastes seem to be leftover from that bygone era, and she perseveres because of them.   Indeed, she lives by showing that the reason for those morals is because of Jesus. 

Now in advanced age, like Naomi, Mom is learning to rely on family.  We are the ones who will disassemble the room-choking collections with which filled every inch of her house.   And we are also the ones who get to regularly include her now in family events, and call her to ask “do you want to go out for ice cream,” and we get to drop by for visits.  It’s work to be in a family; for Naomi it was hard to learn to rely on others.   It was hard for my mom to do the same, yet Jesus is glorified because of it.   Happy birthday to all the women I’m celebrating here today, but especially to my Mom.

Lord, bless these good people and grant them love, health, and prosperity in their next year just begun

Read Ruth 2.

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 19 February 2014

So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.  Ruth 1, verse 22.

When we return home, we rarely do so empty-handed.  Yes, there are many times when folks move into back into our lives, or our homes, seemingly with nothing in hand.   Have you ever had one of your children move out, only to move back into your house later?  My wife and I have; it has happened several times in fact.   On the surface, you could say the person who returns comes back with less than they left, but that simply wouldn’t be true.   Even if the only thing they return with is memories and knowledge, they return with more than they left.

That’s an important concept to remember for several reasons.   Most obviously, it was true with Naomi.   Yes, she returned home without her husband and sons, but she did have Ruth.   As we are learning, that means she returned with a treasure.  Yet the larger picture, I believe, is that we always return with God.  It is God who provides us with experience, knowledge, wisdom, mistakes, memories, hopes, wishes, challenges, and all that we return with even when we return without physical possessions.

In one sense, we can never ‘go home.’  The first time you return to your birth-home, or the place from where you departed when you started life on your own, you realize that things have changed while you’re gone.   That’s the nature of things, and it’s a blessing of living in a world of God’s motion.  Yet in the larger sense, wherever we are, when we journey with Jesus, we are always home.   When we return to where we started, we’re bringing back the richness of all He has taught us in the intervening time.  And Him.

This week, I spent a day with my father-in-law at my parents’ home in Oklahoma.   We were getting things out of the house because my mom has moved into assisted living; we’re readying the house for sale.   As I was walking through the place, in-between asking myself “how am I ever going to get this ready” I realized again that, once we leave, we can never really go home because home is wherever we make it.   Home is wherever Jesus is because that’s where love is.   The longer I live, the more I see that home is anywhere we share that love, especially when it is with family.    That God provides for us at the proper time wherever we are and wherever we go.  In the verses to come, this is a truism that Naomi is about to learn.

Jesus of home, You are my home.   Wherever You are is where I am at home.   Thank you for providing me with family, a place to live, and memories.   Guide us now in these days up ahead.

Read Ruth 1, the whole chapter one last time.

 

How did you feel the first time you returned home after moving out?

Have you ever returned home feeling bitter?

What do you bring with you when you go back home?

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 17 February 2014

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”  “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almightyhas made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflictedme; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”  Ruth 1, verses 19-22.

Confession:  when I read these verses, my first reaction is, “Naomi, get a grip.”  How quickly we forget.  After all, she didn’t go away full:  she left Bethlehem starving.  The Lord did indeed allow bitterness in her life, but He provided a way home for her AND the unexpected love of a daughter.  The Lord did indeed bring misfortune into her life, but He did so because He was painting a bigger picture than just the scene in which Naomi found herself.

Now is a good time to look in the mirror.   Friend Reader, look there and see Naomi.  I did.   It’s unavoidable.  You and I, we often find ourselves weeping at our own pity party just like Naomi did.  We think the world is ending around us; perhaps it is.   Yet in the middle of every problem, other things are in motion; other work is being done.   It becomes so easy for us to forget that we play checkers while the Lord plays chess.   We live our lives one move at a time while God already has the end of the game in motion.

Yes, misfortune happens to us as well.   Let’s also be fair and admit that, sometimes, God deliberately brings it into our lives.   I like to think that God only allows bad things to happen to us, but sometimes He causes them, too.   Usually, I can’t see the difference when I’m in the middle of my crises, but it’s there.  The really tough part comes in realizing that God’s overall plan is bigger than our single misfortunes.   That He’s working through them.  That is NOT to say that those misfortunes don’t matter because they do.   They matter because we matter, especially to God.

But what God teaches us through them is the same thing He was teaching Naomi.   “Rely on me.”   “Come to me for all your rest.”  “I am always here with you.”   “My grace is sufficient for you.”  My heart goes out to Naomi for the bitterness that was indeed part of her life, yet at the same time I also think she needs to get a grip, stop, and back up a few steps.   Look around and see the bigger picture of what might just be happening in front of the eyes that she refuses to see with.  So it is with us.

God, forgive me when I’m short-sighted and don’t see how You are providing for me and teaching me.   Praise be to You.

 

Read Ruth 1, 18-22.

 

What misfortune plagues you?

How is God working through that?

Do you need to get a grip?

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 5 February 2014

 Now Elimelek, 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 Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.  Ruth 1, verses 3 through 5.

The Lord’s ancestors moved to a new land where the inhabitants didn’t love them, and then several of them died.  What kind of cruel god allows that to happen?   Answer:  our God.   He tolerates terrible things to occur in our lives that we might draw closer to Him, lean on Him, love Him, and grow in Him.  Does not this same tragedy play itself out in our lives as well?  Good people die every day and our media fawns, instead, about twerking celebrities, the latest political scandal, and how badly global warming isn’t happening.   Don’t you think that, if there were mass media in Ruth’s time, the same thing would have happened?  I do.

I know a young man, not even forty, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease:  a death sentence.  I’m sure you’ve heard about young mothers whose husbands never came home from war; you may even know someone.  In Africa, today, thousands of young men will die of disease, starvation, and war, leaving behind young widows.  In all of this, God stands by, watching it happen, yet providing comfort to us in the face of a world of murderous sin.  We don’t have to put up with sin, but we do.   We allow it.   Through it, we can grow in God.

So it was with Naomi as well.   Through no fault of her own, her husband died.   We don’t know how old she was when this happened, simply that she was a mother.   At some later time, her sons grew up and married foreigners.   Perhaps this caused grief for Naomi; perhaps it would for you or I because it means a difference in cultures.   Perhaps it didn’t; it’s another thing we don’t know. 

What we do know is that, in days of old, sons provided for their widowed mothers.   There was no Social Security survivor benefit, no Salvation Army.  Naomi couldn’t rely on extended family, or the members of her congregation, or even on an Israelite patriarch.  All she had were her sons, who started families of their own, and this must have been a feeling of security for Naomi…until, that is, her sons both died.   Now, without means of support and with new widows of her own, Naomi was left with few good choices on her hands.   The men who would provide for her were dead and gone, and Naomi found herself, even more, as a stranger in a strange and unfriendly land.

She had no idea she was never alone, that the Lord would soon provide for her, starting in the most unlikely person.

Jesus, thank You for my family.   Thank You for providing people to love me.

Once again, read Ruth 1, verses 1 through 5.

 

Who provides for you?

Who do you provide for?

Have you ever lost a spouse or a child?

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 4 February 2014

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.  Ruth 1, verses 1 and 2.

Have you ever moved to a new place?  Because they might die, Jesus’ ancestral family did and it made all the difference in the world.

The days when Ruth lived were before the time of King David.   This was the time in the centuries after God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.   Back then, Canaan/Israel was a savage place, a land where the conquest of a hostile people by powerful invaders was fresh in the memory of all.   And Moab wasn’t some ski area in Utah:   it was populated by people who hated the Israelites who had come to live there.  People actively hated each other over a piece of land; isn’t it ironic how that hasn’t changed, especially over that same piece of ground?

Elimelek and Naomi were the great great grandparents of King David.  They were most likely commoners, shepherds or farmers or people familiar with gleaning their living from a harsh land.  And they were starving.   The ancestors of the kings of Israel, of the King of Kings Himself, were starving to death.  Not unlike the famines in sub-Saharan Africa in our time, there was a famine in Israel and the people who lived there had no food.   When you get hungry, you eat; if you’re in America, Europe, or developed Asia, food is usually plentiful.   Not so in most of the world, though.   Most of today’s world still lives like Naomi and Elimelek lived.   Their next meal may or may not happen, and ditto the dozen meals after it.

What did Naomi and Elimelek do?   They moved.   Now, I’ve moved 27 times in my life.   Just this past weekend, I moved my mom out of her house into an assisted living facility near my Texas home.   It isn’t easy to pick up and move, cutting your ties with your home.   When Elimelek and Naomi decided to move, they took all they could with them, including their family, and moved to a different country, one that openly hated them, their God, and their way of life.   It was no easy decision, but they had no other choice.   If they didn’t move, they would die.  

So they moved to Moab and made their life there.   There, they remained faithful to God, but they constantly lived as strangers in a strange land.  This is the setting for the story.

Lord, thank You for providing so much.   Please provide even more than You do for me for those in hunger and starvation.  Teach me how I can help.

 

Once again, read Ruth 1, verses 1 through 5.

 

If you’ve ever moved, how did it feel to live in a place strange to you?

Have you ever been hungry, or starving?

What can you do to help those who are hungry in our world today?

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 3 February 2014

In the days when the judges ruled,there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.  Ruth 1, verses 1 and 2.

Welcome back, friend reader, and let’s go at this a bit differently.   We’re going to walk through the book of Ruth this time.  I have a number of reasons for selecting Ruth, but the biggest one is simply that it’s where God led me.  Now that we’re here, I’d like to ask you to look at it through a few different prisms.

First, look at it as a time capsule.   This is how people lived centuries ago.   In the days of ancient Israel – in the Bronze Age years of the most advanced civilization on earth at that time – this is how people lived.   The book of Ruth captures their habits, their social mores, and their common practices.   People really did observe the kinsman-redeemer relationship.   People really did thresh grain by hand.   People really did die of famine.  Yet there are still places in our world today where Ruth seems timely, even contemporary.

Once you’ve done that, look at it as a family history.   For some, Ruth is simply a fable, and a saga, and a morality story.   It’s also history.  It’s the ancestral history of Jesus Christ, whose earthly ancestors were Ruth and Boaz; you’ll meet them in the days to come. 

Then, look at it as a love story.   It’s the story of a family’s love.   And the love of strangers.   And it’s the story of a man and woman falling in love.   More than that, maybe think of it as a picture of how God selflessly loves us.

Finally, read the book as relevant to today.  A four thousand year old morality play may not seem very applicable to us in this oh-so-modern twenty first century.   If you stopped reading there, however, you’d be both wrong and short-sighted.   Even today, when outsiders come into our fold, aren’t we still skeptical?   If a person of a different nationality or race marries into our family, don’t even the most inclusive and loving of us still feel twitches of hesitancy?  Don’t we still need to know that a loving God provides for all of us, and that some of the most important lessons He teaches us come from the most unexpected places?   All that happened to Ruth and in the book that bears her name.

This is one of my favorite books in the Bible, and I hope and pray that you enjoy reading through it as much as I hope to enjoy unfolding it with you.

Lord, open our eyes to the story of your servant and ancestress Ruth.

 

Read Ruth 1, verses 1 through 5.

 

Have you heard the story of Ruth before?

What do you know of ancient Canaan and Israel?

What is God telling you today?