Friday, February 26, 2016

Ruth Filled Reflections

I'm not talking about yours truly Ruth, but the amazing woman in the Bible whose story is in the book of Ruth. We recently studied this in our Community Bible Study class. There are so many good things that are sticking with me; I just wanted to share the highlights.

The Providence of God:
One definition of providence is to "see ahead".  The story of Ruth happens during a time Israel is without united leadership, called the time of the judges; a time when everyone did what they thought was best by their own standards.  Yet God is still directing his story, casting people in roles to accomplish his purposes and to be participants in the family line of Jesus. No faulty government (I think we can relate!) or out-to-please-myself-only-ers (another familiar attitude) will stop his plans from moving forward. Isn't that good to know?

Before Ruth comes on the scene, Naomi tries to escape famine in Israel by taking her family to Ruth's country, Moab.  Naomi found food there, but she traded one godless culture for an even more perverted one in Moab.  Ruth marries one of her sons and 10 years later Ruth's husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law have all died. Now marked by grief, Naomi decides to go back to her homeland.  Just maybe God uses our losses and pain to get us back on the right path where he is waiting to restore us and give us a future of hope and joy.  He is working good for us behind the scenes when we can't see the end of the story.

God's Care and Honor of Women:
Ruth and Esther are two books of the Bible with women as the main characters.  Ruth especially illustrates God's position on women's importance as she goes back to Naomi's people, converts to Judaism and becomes one of only three women mentioned in Jesus' genealogy. (the other two are Rahab, who was also heathen in origin, and Tamar who becomes pregnant by prostitution with Judah)
It's almost like God is highlighting his mercy and love for all peoples.  There is even a blessing pronounced on Ruth's baby boy that he would be fruitful like Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah! There are no ghosts in God's family closet; the scandals have been forgiven and redeemed. Can I ever doubt that God will treat me, a woman, with respect and honor?

Faithful People in Difficult Times:
Naomi was a bitter, sad woman when she returned with Ruth to Judea, but she had influenced a heathen daughter-in-law to embrace her God and to love and respect her way of life so that Ruth doesn't want to leave her. Naomi's witness was enough, even though she lived in an idolatrous culture.  Is our faith showing?  Who are we influencing for God's ways?  If you want to read a book that will inspire you to share truth and love with those around you, I suggest, In the Land of Blue Burqas.  The author chooses to leave a good job in the States, to work in Afghanistan.  Her experiences and opportunities to share Jesus in a Muslim setting are inspiring.  I've written a review on the book here.

Ruth faithfully serves Naomi, takes her advice on working for their food, on remarriage to Boaz and she then allows Grandma Naomi to have primary care of their baby. The community soon recognizes the treasure Ruth is to Naomi and they declare her to be better than 10 sons to Naomi.

Boaz, also, represents a man faithful to God, not stained by the culture around him. He willing takes up responsibility to marry Ruth and follows God's methods to accomplish it.  It is possible to remain faithful to our God, though what we once took for granted to be in our favor becomes hostile and threatening.  He is always looking for those who will continue to speak their parts and take their places on the stage, believing the story ends well.

Commitment to family:
Naomi returns to family, Ruth commits herself completely to a new family, Boaz honors family by becoming kinsman redeemer for Ruth and Naomi,  and the story ends with a wonderful celebration of a baby born and the future of family established.  Let's also honor family in our time when culture would try and redefine and distort what God designed family to be. Let's commit to resolving family conflicts, extending grace and practicing forgiveness.  What God has created let not man put asunder.

Faithfulness will be rewarded:
Boaz says a blessing over Ruth in chapter 2 verse 12, asking God to repay her for what she has done for Naomi. Ruth does receive a prosperous husband, a child and a place among God's people.  I can think of Joseph, Mordecai, Daniel and other Bible characters who were rewarded for a life well lived.  Can I expect reward?  I was taught not to work for reward; a job well done issues its own reward.  Yet God has said he rewards those who seek him, that the meek will inherit the earth, the kind receive kindness, and that he gives his children good gifts without partiality or begrudgingly.

I think the key is where our hearts are dwelling. If our treasure is in heaven and we are seeking his kingdom first then we can receive the blessings of this life as his delight in us.  It's not about doing something and expecting something in return because we deserve it-that's entitlement.  But as our intimacy with God grows we'll recognize when that unexpected gift fulfilled a secret longing that only He knew about, or that extra we received wasn't meant just for us, but to share with others.

Rewards come in God's time and his way, but I can expect that he has rewards for me.  I can also expect that following him won't always be easy or look like I'm being rewarded for living a faithful life.  But what I live for and where I find joy is in getting to know him better. My prayer is that he will become my greatest reward. I want to receive his blessings and favor without guilt and to receive the difficult times as opportunities to know him better and grow in dependency on him. 

Let's watch for his gifts and keep our eyes on Jesus.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

In The Land of Blue Burqas--a Book Review

 Kate McCord, a protected pseudonym, takes us inside Afghanistan and inside Afghan's hearts and culture as she shares stories of her five years living and working there for a non-governmental organization.  She was passionate about befriending and helping the women, taking the time to learn their language, fitting in to their way of life as best she could and becoming acquainted with their Muslim beliefs.

Kate neither writes a memoir or diary of her time there, but captures us with her storytelling of the people she learned to love and share mutual respect with.  Her writing style is very engaging and paints a narrative that is informative and thought-provoking.  I read and took notes, finished the book and now find a haunting desire to reread sections in order to digest and dissect the Christian truth she illustrates and interprets so well.  Kate boldly, yet discreetly and respectfully, shared Biblical concepts and traded religious differences with Afghans with amazing wisdom. I would like to emulate her commitment to and desire to share Jesus with those who don't know him; with the love and tenderness she demonstrates.

The Koran acknowledges Jesus as a prophet and the Torah as worthy writings. The author uses these connections to make comparisons between the teachings of  the prophet Mohamed and the Honorable Prophet Jesus.  The differences are strikingly obvious.  The book shares many examples. The Bible teaches God is love; there are 99 names for Allah but none of them is love.  Allah can't love because that would be expressing a need, and having need is never true of him.  Allah is merciful only to those who obey his teachings and those who rejected the teachings of Mohamed were killed; to obey Jesus is a choice and he teaches Christians to love their enemies.  God's desire is for good; Allah's desire is not defined by goodness but by laws.  Jesus teaches forgiveness for all; forgiveness is revolutionary and a hard concept for Muslims.  "It was easy to recognize our Teachers in one another's  lives.  After all, a student will become like his or her teacher."  p. 62.

The author was not always received warmly and she had to be careful how she approached conversations about beliefs. When pointedly asked why she hadn't become Muslim or embraced Muslim prayers, she simply stated that she was a follower of the Honorable Prophet Jesus and lived according to his teachings.

Kate believes good seeds were scattered in Afghans who heard God's truth and love. She came to understand the teachings of Jesus more completely as she saw through the eyes of a culture more similar to Jesus' day than our Western culture.  Her own faith grew as she sought Bible answers for the questions she encountered.  She gained awe for Jesus who is revolutionary and "amazingly beautiful".

I was challenged to appreciate anew the loving God I serve, Jesus, and His truth that endures and penetrates human hearts wherever it is shared.  You will discover this beauty in the book as well as an idea of what it looks like to relate to practicing Muslims.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Raising Greatful Kids...A Book Review

As I watch my adult kids make parenting choices in the midst of technology mine fields and as I realize what the current culture would like to feed to my grand kids, this book was a very timely and relevant read. 

Entitlement: the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something.(Meriam-Webster online).

Author Kristen Welch, shares her family’s journey away from entitlement to new perspectives of serving others, working hard and making gratitude the goal. It’s a counter-cultural journey against a society that pursues happiness at all costs and allows child-centered homes in the process.  For Kristen, the biggest goal in life is to love God and love others more than ourselves.  She warns us that pursuing this goal isn’t “normal” and opposition is certain.

It starts with parents dealing with their own entitlement, and modeling gratitude. Absolute truth based on the Bible’s principles and making good personal choices are essential ingredients in growing this kind of family. Kristen discovered that training up a child in “the way he should go” (Prov. 3:6 )could mean that it's not how righteously a parent sows good into their children, but how a parent neglects training them in godliness and lets the child go his OWN way. In that case, a child may never turn from his own human natural sinfulness.

Because many parents are in the position of being able to give their kids more than they need, it’s hard not to pamper children.  When a parent feels guilt because of busyness or divorce, or doesn’t want their kids to feel left out or unhappy, they may overindulge.  Parents long for their kids to be their friends. Kristen says, "Kid's aren't meant to be our friends until they are independent of us." p. 53.

The section on making smart choices about technology devices and usage is very helpful.  Parents need to stay current on what is trending and set not only usage boundaries but teach kids what is good and what is bad about social media and internet access. Technology access has to involve active parenting so the parent can lead with purpose rather than letting the culture lead with what is popular. 

The last two sections of the book lay out a plan for establishing a God-centered home that is other-focused, balanced in grace and discipline, and filled with gratitude. Kristen has started a non-profit called, Mercy House, which ministers to women around the globe. Her emphasis on service as a means to bring perspective to children and a larger worldview is a reoccurring theme in the book.

In the last chapter, Kristen, warns parents that intentionally training children to be grateful in our self-centered culture will be difficult and kids will feel different than many of their peers. A discussion guide and several appendices are found at the back of the book, including a cell phone contract between parent and child. For any parent who wants to take on the challenge of overcoming entitlement attitudes, let this excellent, current resource start you on your journey!
This book was given from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.