Monday, September 1, 2014

Fields of Love

Some books of the Bible are easier for me to read than others.  Despite its length, I could read the entire book of Psalms in one sitting.  I love it!  Books that are action-packed or full of romance like Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Joshua, the Gospels, and the like draw the reader in.  Books of prophecy tend to give me a headache, but I do my best to follow along.  Then they are some of the minor prophets that are quite difficult to wrap my brain around.  To be honest, Jeremiah and Lamentations tend to depress me.  And Ecclesiastes, well, it's just different.

In one verse, it's as if Solomon is saying, "It's all in vain, so why work?  Everything you do is just going to be left to someone else, so why bother?"  But in the very next verse, he's saying, "It's good for man to labor with his hands and to eat the fruits of his labor."  Well, which is it?  Can it be both good and in vain?  And it's not like this contrast occurs only once.  It happens over and over again throughout the book.  Please understand, I am not saying that they is a contradiction or any type of error in the Scripture.  Any error is on my part, I assure you.

What I am saying is that sometimes Scripture can be confusing, and it's easy to become baffled by its meaning.  During these times, the best thing we can do is to compare Scripture with Scripture.  We know and understand that it is the perfect Word of God, so it cannot contradict itself.  So, when dealing with an unclear passage, it's best to compare it with a clear one.  In this case, my mind is drawn back to the book of Ruth, probably because that's where I've been meditating for the past few days.

Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab: And she said, I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house. Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: - Ruth 2:5-8

In this passage, Ruth is begging for permission to gather up the leftovers after the reapers had finished in Boaz's field.  Boaz answers her with a plea of his own, "Stay and work in my field."  He goes on to say that she will be protected and provided for and even orders his servants to leave some of  "the good stuff" behind for her to gather.  It's a beautiful picture of God's provision for us, but I want to focus on Boaz's plea, "Don't leave my field."

Our question with Ecclesiastes is whether it's good to labor or whether it's all in vain.  According to this passage in Ruth, it's good to labor.  Just as Boaz pleaded with Ruth, so is God pleading with us, "Stay and work in my field."  I don't think Solomon was saying that the work was in vain.  I believe it's more the motive behind the work.  For a man to work to build up a good life for himself, to have riches, to be successful--that is in vain.  This life is a vapor, and all that work will be for naught when the man passes away.  

To labor in God's field, on the other hand, is never in vain.  To work hard to win souls, to encourage the hopeless, to lift up the fallen--this is good, very good.  God has given each of us a task to do (actually, many tasks).  He has placed us in a field and opened up the opportunities for service.  He has provided "the good stuff" for us to glean, but it can only be found in His field.  When we leave His field and His service, we're destined for a life that is meaningless.  On the other hand, when we allow ourselves to be used of God and continue our labor in His field, we discover those "handfuls of purpose" like Ruth discovered.

There are so many blessings to be had in serving God, but it all boils down to our motive.  Are we trying to make a name for ourselves or to lift up the name of the Most High?  Are we striving to be successful or faithful?  In what field are you serving?

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Tapestry In Progress

In yesterday's post, we discussed how Naomi's bitterness turned her heart against the Lord, and how she chose to view her circumstances as the Lord's mistreatment of her rather than choosing to believe that God was working all things for her good, as He had promised.  Today we'll examine the details of God's plan and the intricacies that were involved to bring it about.

 And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech. - Ruth 2:1-3

The Bible tells us that Naomi had a good connection--a family member that was a mighty man of wealth.  Too bad she didn't seem interested in being around her family.  And poor Ruth probably didn't know anything about the man.  All she knew was that they were going to go hungry if she didn't get out in the field and try to find some food, even if it was the few pieces that were left behind.  Notice what verse 3 says:  and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.  In other words, of all the places she could have gone to gather food, she just "happened" to pick Boaz's field.  I love it!

As I've told you many times before, I don't believe in coincidences.  Ruth didn't happen upon the field.  She was led there by God, whether she realized it at the time or not.  At this point, for the sake of time, I'll skip ahead in the story, but I urge you to read through the entire book of Ruth.  It's very short, but quite intriguing and worth the time.  Anyway, Ruth meets Boaz.  Boaz agrees to be Ruth's kinsman-redeemer and to take care of her and Naomi.  And in the end, Ruth and Boaz get married.  Then look what happens:  So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son. . . And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

If you flip over to Matthew 1, you'll find the lineage of Christ, and guess what?  You'll find Ruth and her son, Obed and his son, Jesse and his son, David.  Do you see what God did?  Not only did He save Ruth by bringing her back to His people where she could know and serve the one true God, but He used her to bring about the Savior of the world.  If her husband and father-in-law hadn't died, none of this would have happened.  There would have been no marriage to Boaz and therefore, no children of their union.  Who knows what would have happened if God had allowed Elimelech and his sons to live.  What we do know, however, is that God worked something beautiful out of something that seemed so horrible and tragic.  He had a plan, and He was working it out all along.  I don't know if Naomi ever realized that.  The Bible doesn't tell us.

We can know, however, whether we will accept that truth or not.  God has assured us that He has a great plan for our lives.  Some days, it's easy to see that and accept it.  Other days, not so much.  But it is on those days that we can look back to this precious story of Ruth and say, "You know, Ruth didn't know what was going on either.  She didn't understand how God was working in her life.  In fact, to her, things seemed pretty bad.  But she hung in there and followed the Lord's leading, and in the end, she recognized the masterpiece that God had been weaving all along.  I can learn from that."  

Your tapestry may not look like much right now.  In fact, it may seem like a tangled mess of frayed threads and dark patches, but it's not finished yet.  The design has been fashioned and is currently a work in progress.  But I can guarantee you it will be beautiful and definitely worth the wait.  So, in the meantime, be like Ruth.  Do what you know to do, and leave the rest in God's hands.  He took care of her.  Don't you think He'll do the same for you?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

When Grief Gives Way to Bitterness

And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. - Ruth 1:14-15

To catch you up on what's happening, Naomi, after leaving Israel because of famine and moving to Moab, lost her husband and both her sons.  Now, left alone with her two daughters-in-law, she decides to travel back to Israel, but she is determined that her daughters-in-law not follow her.  She compels them to stay with "their people."

Grief and disappointment can really throw a person for a loop.  They can turn a sane, rational individual into an illogical, weak-minded person.  They can bring out emotions that one never even realized he/she had.  But most importantly, they can pull us away from God.  I believe this is what happened in Naomi's case.

First off, she tries to send off the only family she has.  Why would she do that?  Did she want to be alone?  Didn't she love her daughters-in law?  While suffering from grief and disappointment, the last thing we should do is to distance ourselves from others.  We need to be around family and friends.  We need to be around God's people.

What's even worse about this whole situation is that Naomi not only distanced herself from her daughter-in-law, but she drove a wedge between Orpah and God.  Notice what it says in verse 15:
Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods:  In her hour of confusion and desperation, Naomi turned her own family away from God.  She sent her back to her people and their false gods.  Not only that, but she tried to get Ruth to do the same.  Thankfully, Ruth refused.  Still, it makes me wonder what ever happened to Orpah.  Did she ever get saved?  Is she in Heaven today or in Hell?  Naomi had a chance to teach those young women about the one, true God, but instead she allowed her own circumstances to make her selfish.  She thought more about her temporal existence than about her daughter-in-law's eternal one.  What a shame!

Once she and Ruth arrive back in Israel, the evidence of Naomi's attitude toward God continues. 
 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? (vs.20-21)

The name Naomi means "pleasantness, joy, bliss," but Mara means "bitter."  Naomi decided to change her name.  She was no longer pleasant or joyful.  She was bitter, and she blamed God for it.  "God dealt bitterly with me.  God did this to me.  God is against me and has afflicted me."  Wow, she really was bitter.  You see, Naomi had a made a choice--the same choice we often make when dealing with grief, frustration or disappointment.  Naomi decided to view her circumstances from her own perspective, without even taking into consideration that maybe God had a plan.  Things looked bad, so she decided to take them as such.  Instead of allowing God to work in her and through her during this difficult time, she chose to grow bitter and withdraw.  How often do we do the same?

Grief and disappointment are serious matters and are difficult to deal with.  I understand that, really, I do.  But we must be careful to not allow those things to cause even greater harm in our lives.  We must guard against growing selfish in the midst of difficult circumstances.  We must be steadfast to maintain our connections with friends and family that can help us through our trials.  And above all, we must not allow our own storms to deter others from the path to Christ.  We should be an example and a guiding light, not a stumbling block. 

As we'll see in tomorrow's post (Lord willing), God did, indeed, have a plan--a marvelous plan. He has a plan for you too, and your current circumstances are simply a part of that plan.  I know it's tough.  I know it's dark, and the way seems long.  But hang in there.  Don't grow bitter.  Grow better!  The best is yet to come.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You Can't Go Wrong With Worship

And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth. And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive? And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance. - Genesis 43:26-29

I encourage you to read through the entire story of Joseph, for it holds many golden nuggets, but for now, allow me to set the scene.  Joseph's brothers have returned to Egypt to buy food, this time bringing their youngest brother, Benjamin, as Joseph had commanded them.  Upon arriving, they are sent not to the court but to Joseph's house.  Fearing they are about to be enslaved because of the money that had been in their sacks after they had come to buy food the first time, they strive to explain their predicament to the steward, who assures them that all is well.  When Joseph arrives, they present him with a basket of the finest fruits and spices that they could muster up during the famine (which I imagine was a pretty pitiful offering) and bow themselves.  After he asks of their welfare and that of their father, they answer his question and then bow again and worship him.

These men had been through it when they visited Joseph the first time.  They knew him to be a hard man (or so they thought).  At this point in time, they are each wrestling with a sea of emotions.  They are afraid.  Why are they being brought to his home?  They are confused.  Why had the steward placed their money back in their sacks?  They are dealing with guilty consciences because they had already attested that all their troubles were due to their poor treatment of Joseph.  But when Joseph appears before them, they don't protest.  They don't argue.  They don't question.  They don't beg or plead their case.  They answer his questions and then do the only thing they can think to do--they bow down and worship.

Oh, what a powerful lesson for us today.  How many times do we wander through life tossed about by many questions and uncertainties?  How will we make ends meet this month?  How can I juggle everything I need to do and still have time for the things that are the most important?  Why is this happening to me?  What is God doing?  Like the brothers, we are afraid, confused and plagued by doubt.  So when we appear before God, what do we do?  I don't know about you, but typically I whine, cry, pout, question and accuse.  But what should I do?  The same thing the brothers did.  I should bow down and worship.  

When I don't have a clue what's going on, that's okay.  I can worship the One who does.  When I don't have the answers, that's not a problem.  I can praise the One who does.  When I can't seem to find the way, I needn't be afraid.  I can lift up the name of the One who is the Way.  No matter how hard the trial, God is always worthy of my praise.  Always!  In fact, I believe it is through this worship that we find true peace and joy in the midst of our troubles.

James 1:2 says, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.  Joy?  Seriously?  How can I possibly be glad to being going through this dark valley?  By worshiping God anyway.  By giving Him praise and honor.  By taking my eyes off of myself and my circumstances and placing them on Him.  By remembering that He is working something good in me and through me.  How many times have I missed the joy that was waiting just on the other side of worship because I failed to give God the glory He deserves?  How many times have you?

My dear friend, in the midst of the trials, when you don't know which way to turn or what else to do, worship God.  Praise His name, even if it feels a bit insincere at the time.  Don't let that stop you.  Just keep praising, keeping in mind that He is worthy.  There's no need to whine, cry, pout or explain.  Let's learn this valuable lesson from Joseph's brothers.  We simply can't go wrong with worship!