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.

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