Friday, April 29, 2011

I'm Going Where You Go (Part 4)

Note: I want to thank God and each of you for sharing insights and thoughts on chapter one of Ruth. Reading many of the comments, I realize how challenging it is to understand scripture. I wish I could say, "I've learned so much in my studies", but the truth is I realize how little I understand. I have admiration for those who have invested years of their lives in the daily study of God's word.



Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem

Each of us who’ve trusted in Christ as our savior made a commitment much like Ruth. Naomi heard Ruth’s confession, but she wasn’t the only one:

God Himself bore witness to Ruth’s commitment; He also bears witness to our commitment.

Everything I think, say and do in my life reflects my commitment to Christ. My life is clearly visible to God in all aspects; nothing is hidden from Him.

God was not only a witness to the life of Ruth, He witnessed Naomi’s life as well.

So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival.Is it really Naomi?the women asked.1

Two women traveling between Moab and Bethlehem; this could not have been an easy journey. Each step reaffirmed Ruth’s commitment, while each step seemed to cause Naomi to reflect on what she no longer had.

…in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.2

How simple it is to appreciate the blessings of God, giving Him the thanks and the praise when His blessings flow in my life. But God wants me to appreciate Him when I go through the desert and wilderness as well. I can choose to focus on Him rather than my circumstances or I can choose to magnify my circumstance so that the presence of the Lord appears miniscule.

Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem and the women of that city cannot believe this is the same woman who left years earlier. She left with a husband and two sons; her cup was full. Years later, she returns and time has not only passed, it has aged Naomi with adversity.

“’Don’t call me Naomi,she responded.Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?’”3

It seems strange to me when I read these words of Naomi. Is she is blaming God for the adversities she has faced, or indicating that the Lord has allowed these events to occur in her life? Certainly God is sovereign, He can choose to intervene in my life and He can choose to abstain. In each instance, He is holy, right, and just. Naomi looks over the span of her life and sees a life that has transformed from pleasant to bitter.

Does Naomi recognize God bearing witness to her words?

Naomi talks as if God isn’t present in the circumstances of her life. She gives a personal assessment of her life to the women of Bethlehem, but Naomi talks as if God is someone still in Moab, or a far distant galaxy. For many of us, life can seem like this at times. We ask ourselves:

Where is God when I need Him most urgently?

Why does God seem so far from me?

"Why is God silent in my struggle?"

In spite of Naomi’s circumstances, God was with her, bearing witness to her life and her words. It’s only now that I recognize how God strives with me.

God bears witness to my life because God is at work in my life.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.4

I believe Paul is saying that God not only bears witness to my life, He’s invested and involved in my life. Through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, God has invested a new covenant in the life of each believer. God is involved in ways which my human eyes cannot see; my human understanding cannot fathom the things God is doing on my behalf. Even though I cannot truly grasp what God is doing for me, He tells me to thank Him just the same.

My thanksgiving is the method by which God bears witness that I recognize His presence in me.

When God sees that I am thankful and grateful to Him despite the circumstances in my life, He goes to work on my behalf; causing all things to work together for good. We can see God at work in both Naomi and Ruth in totally different ways. Ruth is grateful and obedient, Naomi is bitter and hurt; yet God is at work in both their lives. Looking back, it’s easy to see this now, but when one looks ahead, things are not always visibly clear. One might say, “It takes faith”, but where is Naomi’s faith?

I do not question Naomi’s faith; she believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Despite this knowledge, Naomi was unable to exercise her faith to move her from the place of bitterness to that pleasant place where she once was.

We all have a tendency to want to go back to the place where things were once so good, but there is no going back in the life of a believer.

Despite my words, despite my thoughts, despite my actions, God has a purpose for me; and He will bear witness to me and my purpose by causing all things to work together for good.

Father God,

You overwhelm me with Your steadfast love and kindness. You watch over our lives with tender care. You genuinely care about us even when our thoughts are clouded with doubt. How I must seem to You when I question Your love for me, when I ask, "Why are you silent to my prayers Lord?"

But You are here! Living, completely in me. Your Spirit breathes with my every breath. You are in my thoughts, my words, and my ways; I cannot escape Your presence. I don't want to escape You Father. I run to You that I may be in Your presence; sheltered by Your holy grace and mercy. I cannot escape Your love for me. It is a love that sets no boundaries. It is infinitely beyond my unerstanding. I cannot measure the height, depth, breath, and width of Your tremendous love.

You are causing all things to work together for good; You are totally invested in me. Why do You value me Father? I do not understand it. I have decided to not trouble my feeble thoughts with grasping things beyond me; I will just keep thanking You for everything You do on my behalf. Thank You for Jesus and The Holy Spirit. Thank You for grace and salvation. Thank You for blessing my life above all I could ask or think. I praise You with my whole heart in the name of Jesus, by whom we have a covenant with You. Amen.


Note: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).Spiritual Sundays

Footnotes:
  1. Ruth 1:19, NLTB
  2. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NASB
  3. Ruth 1:20-21, NLTB
  4. Romans 8:28, NASB
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  3. King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
  4. The Message Bible, by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, CO, ISBN-13: 978-1600060250
  5. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA
  6. The New Living Translation Bible, by Tyndale Charitable Trust, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, ISBN-13: 978-0842384896
  7. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6


Friday, April 22, 2011

I'm Going Where You Go (Part 3)

Ruth and Naomi, image courtesy of lavistachurchofchrist.org
Ruth commits to follow Naomi

Last week I stated that:

Discovering God’s purpose for my life and living out that purpose are the result of choice and commitment.

“’Look,Naomi said to her, 'your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.'

But Ruth replied, 'Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!' When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.1

Naomi has advised Orpah and Ruth to return to Moab, to their kinsmen and the false gods the Moabites worshipped; she’d also given them both her blessings. It is here that Orpah reluctantly decides to return home, but Ruth saw no life back in Moab. Although she’s never traveled to the promised land of Israel, she embraces it, the people of Israel, and their God; just as she embraced Naomi.

One must be committed to following, to the extent that you will not allow anything to separate you from the one you follow.

May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!2

Commitment to Christ is all-encompassing.

Ruth understood that Naomi was poor in Moab, and that there would likely be no future husband for Naomi in Judah. I don’t know if Ruth considered whether she would ever find love again, or what kind of life awaited her in Judah, but she was committed to the God of Israel and Naomi her mother.

Relationship with God requires commitment.

This is something which I realize is also important in our relationships with others as well; our spouse, our children, our parents, siblings, relatives and friends. It is easy to go the way of Orpah, I know. I’ve amputated relationships in my life, simply because it was the easiest thing to do, but I’ve learned that I did so because I thought it was the "path of least resistance"; I chose the way of Orpah. Many of us, like Peter say,

Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!3

But how far will you go for Christ? How much can you really tolerate to be a follower?

You’ll go as far with Christ as you’ll go with anyone you personally know and no further.

That’s where I draw the line.

That’s how I was. I don’t believe I'm any different than the next guy. I allowed myself to think I loved the Lord, but then He began to ask me questions that I didn’t want to answer, showed me memories which I didn’t want to view.

Salvation cuts both ways. I can’t have His love, and not love. I can’t have His forgiveness, and not forgive. I can’t have His grace, and not give grace. People have disappointed me and hurt me, and even rejected me, but how have I responded? I chose to disappoint, hurt, and reject them and others; but I was really doing this to Christ. That’s why I was so intimidated by the words,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.4

But the truth is that Paul isn’t confident in himself, he’s confident in Christ. It doesn’t mean that Paul led a perfect life; he didn’t. He was flawed just like all of us are. He got extremely upset with John Mark and amputated their relationship. Were it not for Barnabas, the fractured relationship between Paul and Mark may have never gotten repaired. I believe the Lord taught Paul the value and importance of mending damaged relationships.

Many of us reach that place in our life when I finally say, “I’ve decided to follow Jesus… No Turning back, No Turning back.” This is where Ruth found herself. Salvation in front of her, the world she knew behind her.

Naomi was going back to Judah, but for what purpose?

For Naomi, life was now a "bitter pill" to swallow each day she lived; death of loved ones can make a person bitter. Perhaps in her mind, Naomi was going back home to die. Perhaps she saw no purpose in living. Perhaps she didn't understand that God had a plan for her.

But while Naomi may have been going back to her old home to die, Ruth was going to her new home to live.

It was here that Naomi received a glimpse of something which she had possibly never seen before:

When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her…5

Naomi saw determination.

She saw in the eyes of Ruth a woman who could not be persuaded to change her mind. Ruth embraced the spirit of faith that says,

…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.6

Naomi had not asked any questions, but Ruth willingly supplied the answers:
  1. Her commitment secured her willingness to go with Naomi.
  2. Her acceptance expressed her willingness to live with Naomi.
  3. Her conversion revealed her willingness to become a follower of the Living God.
  4. Her faith identified her willingness to become a servant of the Most High God.
  5. Her hope established her willingness to die as a follower of Jehovah.
I thought of these two women, bound together by love and tragedy. Women acquainted with the pain of grief. Women who through the sadness of tears had both come to the same decision; I’m going to seek the blessings of Almighty God. I’m not a woman, but I could identify with their grief, I could feel what loss meant to them. In the midst of my tears, I thought of the words of Ruth. Scripture doesn’t say it, but perhaps Ruth was responding to every reason Naomi gave for her to return to Moab.

You need to go back to Moab Ruth!

Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back.7

Ruth, where I’m going, life will be harder than you’ve ever experienced.

Wherever you go, I will go8

I have no idea where I’m going to live Ruth.

wherever you live, I will live.9

My people have customs and lifestyles far different than those of the Moabites.

Your people will be my people10

We Jews believe in the One true God; Him alone do we worship and serve.

your God will be my God.11

I don’t even know how long I have left to live in this world. Perhaps I will follow my husband and sons.

Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.12

Ruth gave an answer to rebut every possible reason Naomi could think of. But what convinced Naomi of Ruth’s seriousness was her vow:

May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!13

Ruth called upon the name of the Living God to not only hear her words, but to bear witness and honor her words spoken with conviction.

God Himself bears witness to our comittment.

I will talk more on this next week.

Heavenly Father,

Your face I seek. Morning and night I cry unto You, knowing You hear my voice. Where can I go and whom could I seek to hear me but You? You are my Light, more brilliant than the morning sun. Your holiness glows brighter than the moon. You are my refuge and my strength. In You I have peace and salvation through Jesus Christ, Your holy Son. You are teaching me that following Christ meets with resistance, but I know now that I am committed to following Jesus, for me now, there is no turning back. I want to thank You Father for hearing and answering our prayers. You are not like other gods that sit idly by, unable to observe because they have no eyes to see, unable to speak because they have no mouth or words to utter, unable to hear because they have no ears, unable to comfort because they have no arms or hands to hold us.

You are the Living God, strong and mighty! You are Jehovah Jireh, The Lord who provides. Today, I will praise You with my whole heart, and declare Your righteousness. You bear witness to the life I live. Forgive me of my sins, and direct my steps that I may walk in a manner pleasing to You. In Jesus name. Amen.


Spiritual SundaysNote: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).

Footnotes:
  1. Ruth 1:15-18, NLTB
  2. Ruth 1:17, NLTB
  3. Mark 14:31, NASB
  4. 1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV
  5. Ruth 1:18, NLTB
  6. Hebrews 11:1, NASB
  7. Ruth 1:16, NLTB
  8. Ruth 1:16, NLTB
  9. Ruth 1:16, NLTB
  10. Ruth 1:16, NLTB
  11. Ruth 1:16, NLTB
  12. Ruth 1:17, NLTB
  13. Ruth 1:17, NLTB

References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. Unger's Bible Dictionary, By Merrill F. Unger, Moody Press, Chicago
  3. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  4. The Amplified Bible, by The Lockman Foundation, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, ISBN-13: 978-0310951414
  5. King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
  6. The Message Bible, by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, CO, ISBN-13: 978-1600060250
  7. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA
  8. The New Living Translation Bible, by Tyndale Charitable Trust, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, ISBN-13: 978-0842384896
  9. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6


Friday, April 15, 2011

I'm Going Where You Go (Part 2)

Naomi and Ruth, image courtesy of Stephen Bautista Art Ministry, stephenbautista.com
Naomi and Ruth, image courtesy of stephenbautista.com


Last week I shared my thoughts that Naomi’s grief left her feeling empty because:
  1. She had no husband.
  2. She had no sons.
  3. She had no life.
Naomi didn’t understand her purpose.

So many of us get entangled, and mired in life to the extent that we lose sight of God’s purpose for us. I fail to understand that every situation or event that occurs in my life does not come as a shock and surprise to Almighty God; He uses these occurrences to establish and define purpose in me. If I become too focused on the situations and events that occur in my life, I cannot discern His divine purpose for me.

I asked myself,

How was it that these two women (Orpah and Ruth) bonded so closely with Naomi?

What was it about Naomi that these two women looked to her for support rather than from their own kinsmen?

I wondered if Naomi had unknowingly become a mentor to Orpah and Ruth; teaching them about the God of Israel. It’s nothing but speculation on my part, but perhaps Naomi never forgot about the land of promise and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Perhaps she taught these young wives of the unsurpassing love of God for Israel. Perhaps during the course of each day, they watched and listened as Naomi prayed, sang and lived the life of a devout Jew. Perhaps for them, no one had ever treated them with such dignity, love, and respect.

Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.1

Verse 7 here, clearly emphasizes that Orpah and Ruth were not biological relatives of Naomi; they were Naomi’s daughters-in-law. There was no blood tie between these women, yet there was a bond; both Orpah and Ruth loved Naomi. They had come to love her as if she were their biological mother. Naomi had gone beyond being pleasant (as her name indicates) to these two young widows, they looked to Naomi for direction, encouragement, and understanding.

Initially, Naomi welcomed both Orpah and Ruth to accompany her to Bethlehem, but something changed along the journey. Perhaps she began to ponder the hardship she would face of not only being a poor widow, but an Israelite who brought foreigners into the land of promise. She then advised them to return to Moab, to their own people, and their own gods.

"But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law,Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept."2

Why would Naomi advise these women who looked to her as their mother to go back to Moab?

Some theologians and scholars believe that God used Naomi to test these two women. These three women walked together along the road between Moab and Judah; a journey that could not be easy for women travelling alone. I thought about where Orpah and Ruth came from and it took my mind back to hundreds of years before them when Lot and Abraham waked in unison until they came to Bethel, a place Abraham called, The House of God. Quarreling between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot erupted and Abraham (a man of peace), said to Lot:

"Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me…"2

And now, hundreds of years later, two women who descended from the incestuous relationship of Lot and his oldest daughter are walking along with a descendant of Abraham and Sarah; they do not quarrel, there is genuine love and affection. As an African American, I have no history to reflect upon; there is both sadness and shame when I reflect on that thought. I think there would also be a sense of sadness and shame for anyone who knew they descended from a father and daughter. Yet God chose to use the sadness and shame of Lot’s sin in His plan of salvation. This tells me that no sin, no matter how shameful is too great that God won’t forgive. Perhaps God wants to test their resolve and commitment to become true followers.

Will you keep the commandments?

Jesus was asked by a man what he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus revealed obedience to the Law of God was the first step, the man answered that he obeyed the commandments from his youth. Jesus then told the man,

"'One thing you lack,' he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'"3

Discovering God’s purpose for my life and living out that purpose are the result of choice and commitment.

I will talk more on this topic next week.

Almighty God and Father,

I bless Your holy name. Your mercy endures forever Lord. I am learning that following You requires my comittment, faith and determination. Even though it makes no sense, it is so easy to turn away from Your grace and love; deluding myself to think that life without You would somehow be better. I've been there and done that Lord; I now see the futility of my efforts. I'm at the place of dependence now and I'm so thankful that I can depend on You. As I follow You, I pray that my life reflect Your Son, Jesus Christ, so that others may have the opportunity to know and experience Your love, grace, and salvation. I give You glory and praise, You are worthy of so much more. Look on the needs of those who cry out and those who in the silence of their lives, You still hear their voice. Whatever the situation calls for my Lord, direction, encouragement, blessing, healing, or opening a closed door, we ask that Your will be done in our lives; this day in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Note: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).Spiritual Sundays

Footnotes:
  1. Ruth 1:6-7, NLTB
  2. Ruth 1:8-9, NLTB
  3. Mark 10:21, NIV
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  3. The Amplified Bible, by The Lockman Foundation, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, ISBN-13: 978-0310951414
  4. King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
  5. The Message Bible, by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, CO, ISBN-13: 978-1600060250
  6. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA
  7. The New Living Translation Bible, by Tyndale Charitable Trust, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, ISBN-13: 978-0842384896
  8. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6

Friday, April 8, 2011

I'm Going Where You Go (Part 1)

Naomi stands on the road to Judah as her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, beg to accompany her to her native land, watercolor painting by Salvador Dali, image courtesy of Biblical Archaeology Review
Salvador Dali watercolor of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah

I began reading the Book of Ruth on Monday and had to stop several times because I couldn’t stop crying. I debated with myself whether I could swallow my pride and admit that I, all one hundred percent man through and through, cried reading a chick passage of scripture. At first, I tried to stop, regain my male composure and read on; but I simply couldn’t.

What was the cause of this emotional response from me?

I’m not the kind of guy that cries about anything!

I reminded myself that I grew up in one of the toughest areas of Chicago; a place where it was all about the survival of the fittest. You don’t survive gangs, drugs, shootings, and crime by crying. Back there, crying was definitely a sign of weakness. I learned not to show emotions about anything except one; anger.

People may not understand many things in life, but everyone understands anger. You may not be an angry person, but you know an angry person when you see one. You may not understand why a person is angry, but the brain cells in your head tell you to avoid a confrontation with an angry person. I learned how human anger is intimidating, unyielding, and insensitive. I look back and I realize now that I really didn’t want to be angry, it’s just something I learned to be in order to protect myself. If someone pushed, I pushed back harder; I was never afraid to escalate a situation because I didn’t care about the outcome.

I’m beginning to realize that the Lord has me actually feeling raw emotions now and it is a little unsettling. Actually, it’s a lot more than a little unsettling.

So this is the day that the Lord has made?

What are you saying to me Lord in Your word?

What is it about this story that touches my spirit and my soul so deeply and profoundly?

Last week I wrote about following Christ, and it never occurred to me that I would continue my examination of that subject, but the Lord knew better and chose to surprise me.

I’m certain that most of you know this passage of scripture about Ruth and Naomi, so what I have to say may not be anything new, but I need to share with you my thoughts. Here are my observations of this narrative:
  1. The family lived in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread. However, there was a famine in Judah.
  2. The name Elimelech means, God of (the) king.
  3. The name Naomi means, pleasant.
  4. The name Mahlon means, sick.
  5. The name Chilion means, pining, destruction:--consumption, failing.
  6. The name Orpah means, mane.
  7. The name Ruth means, friend.
  8. The name Moab means, from (her [the mother’s]) father.
  9. Boaz was the son of Rahab the harlot. His name has no known meaning.
The time frame of this narrative was during the time of Judges. It is believed to have been documented in chapter 6 of Judges.

Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.1

For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them. So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it.2

The famine occurred because of Israel’s disobedience to God and the result was the invocation of the curses which Moses and Joshua warned them would occur as a result of disobedience. On the surface, it appears that leaving Judah for Moab was a wise decision by Elimelech, but his family lived in the land of promise (Canaan); yet he chose to leave it. Each tribe was given an inheritance of land by God, yet Elimelech chose to forsake his divine inheritance from God.

Was Elimelech following the will of God?

I thought about how many times when things weren’t going my way, I chose to do something which seemed like the right thing to do at the time; but was so opposite of God’s will for me. I remember wanting a diesel engine car because in my mind it would save on fuel cost. Everything was saying, “Don’t do it”, but I wouldn’t listen. God was trying to get my attention, but all I could see was what I wanted. God told me, my wife told me, even the car told me, but I wouldn’t listen. Even after I purchased the car and it quickly began having all kinds of mechanical problems, my pride wouldn’t let me acknowledge I was wrong.

I wonder if Elimelech ever wondered if he should have left Bethlehem for Moab.

Instead of running away from the just punishment of God, what if Elimelech chose instead to repent and stay?

After his death, both sons married Moabite women rather than women from the tribe of Judah. I have to ask myself if Elimelech sons understood the commandment God gave to Moses and Joshua concerning intermarriage with the people from other nations:

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.3

Did this family, like many in Israel during that time become disconnected from their relationship with God and His commandments?

His sons were given names which possibly identified their health condition at birth. The bible doesn’t identify the cause of their death, but I wonder if they suffered from deteriorating health during their short life span.

It is here that I began to read that marvelous exchange between three women; all three experiencing tremendous grief.

To know grief is to know loss.

Naomi followed her husband (Elimelech) to Moab with optimism and hope for a better life. She left Moab without her husband and her two sons. Life in Moab had not been as easy as Naomi anticipated.

I wondered if Naomi’s identity was placed solely in her role of wife and mother to the exclusion of God.

It is here that I see three changes in Naomi:
  1. Her view of life changed.
  2. Her view of herself changed.
  3. Her view of God changed.
Sometimes in our grief, we become bitter about life. Grief may cause us to become bitter towards others. Grief may even cause me to become bitter towards God. These two young grieving widows (Orpah and Ruth) sought support and understanding from their mother-in-law (Naomi), but Naomi’s grief left her feeling empty.
  1. She had no husband.
  2. She had no sons.
  3. She had no life.
Naomi didn’t understand her purpose.

I'll talk more on this next week.

Almighty God and Father,

I've read of the loss of these three women, and I cried along with them because I understand the pain of loss. I may not understand it fully, but I understand that loss is painful, that grief is encompassing, and that sorrow leaves a wound that only You can truly heal. Like Ruth, I have no life in the past, I only know what lies ahead is what I seek; I will cling to You Lord. I know that not even death itself can separate me from You; I have put my life in Your hands; do what seems right my Lord and my God. You are holy, righteous, and just. I exalt You as the Lord of all. Your mercy endures forever. Look upon those crying out of their need, they seek Your blessings. Open the door of employment opportunity. Extend Your grace to those whose home may be perilously perched on forclosure. Send forth Your word as a balm of healing to those whose body waits to hear from You. One word from You Lord, is more than ten thousand words from a doctor. The doctor may have already said, "We've done all we could do", but I know You can do so much more Lord. Send forth Your Spirit and heal that man, that woman, that child whose body is failing. Speak life and health into their body, strengthen them, and extend their days. When You answer our prayers and petitions Lord, we won't forget that it was You. We will praise You even more, because You are the God who lives within us. Thank You Father for all Your many blessings in the name of Jesus, who has established an eternal covenant between You and us who believe in His salvation. Amen.


Spiritual SundaysNote: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).

Footnotes:
  1. Judges 6:1, NASB
  2. Judges 6: 3-5, NASB
  3. Deuteronomy 7:3-4, NIV
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. Unger's Bible Dictionary, By Merrill F. Unger, Moody Press, Chicago
  3. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  4. King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
  5. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA
  6. The New Living Translation Bible, by Tyndale Charitable Trust, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, ISBN-13: 978-0842384896
  7. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6

Friday, April 1, 2011

Follow Me, Following Christ

LeapFEST '95 Military Parachute Competition, image courtesy of combatreform.org

PATTERN YOURSELVES after me [follow my example], as I imitate and follow Christ (the Messiah).1

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.2

I’ve been meditating on this verse throughout the week and as I thought on it, I began to realize how confident a statement it was to proclaim the words, Follow me. I began 2010 with a sincere desire to re-dedicate my life to Christ after years of living only for myself. It was my hope that I could fit nicely into the muted background and quietly go about my life as if nothing had ever happened.

The words, My thoughts are not your thoughts, still echo in my mind.

God knows I don’t want attention. It’s funny when I think about it, but all my life that’s exactly what I’ve wanted. I pleaded with God, offering reasons why I wasn’t adequate to write about faith in Christ, but He ignored my every protest.

Did you ask Me to forgive you?

Yes Lord.

Did you say,My life is in Your hands

Yes Lord…but…I can’t do this

Why?

I’m ashamed of the life I’ve lived.

Do you believe in the covenant of Christ?

Yes Lord.

Do you believe in the forgiveness of your sins?

Yes Lord.

Do you appreciate the grace I’ve extended to you?

Yes Lord.

Will you obey me?

I want to both answer and remain silent. If I say, “Yes”, I commit myself to do what He says. If I say, “No”, then, why have I asked for His forgiveness? I cannot turn back, but I’m afraid to step forward.

He waits for my answer.

Yes Lord, I will obey You.

This is how I began My Thought-filled Journey a year ago. I hoped he wouldn’t require much, but He’s only asked for my obedience. Still, there are moments in each day when I find myself overwhelmed that He forgave me, that He loves me, and that He gives me grace; when it is so undeserved.

In the past year, when I read or hear what He has imparted to other believers in Christ, I tell myself that I’ve learned so little about the measure of His love, and forgiveness.

Of the little I have learned, I’ve come to understand that He commands me to love and forgive others. While the phrase "He commands me", sounds so oppressive to the natural mind, it is a joy to those who choose to obey God.

I find it difficult to think that I would ever have the courage to say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Taking ownership of that kind of responsibility and saying to someone else, “Trust me, I know where I’m going.

It’s easy to follow, it far more difficult to lead.

As a follower:
  1. I can always complain about the direction I’m headed in
  2. I can question whether the leader knows where he or she is going
  3. When things aren’t going the way I planned, I can always just quit
I’m not a fisherman, but I’ve cut bait in my life enough times to know that I was never bothered by doing it (quitting). I never liked following anyone, never wanted instruction, and I never accepted correction.

I’m learning that humility goes hand-in-hand with following Christ, taking instruction, and accepting correction. I may not feel confident in telling someone to, “Follow me”, but I realize that every moment of my life is a demonstration of my willingness to follow Christ; whether I say follow me with confidence or not, my life is speaking for me. Others will see whom I follow.

The scriptures say,
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.3

And yet, I know there were times, I wished He didn’t. The Lord weighs my motives against the depth of my words.

What does it take to say the words, Follow me?

It takes a heart that seeks to please Him with my life. It takes a mind that has learned the importance of running to Him, rather than running away. It takes a realization that in this life, I walk by faith rather than sight. It takes believing that The Lord, He is God. It takes appreciating that His grace really is sufficient for me, even when my mind says that I need something more tangible. It takes me knowing that although I cannot undo my history, Christ empowers me to change my today, which will help shape my tomorrow.

Whether I say follow me with confidence or not, my life reveals whom I follow.

To be called a follower of Christ, or a Christian means I’m demonstrating the love, forgiveness, compassion, humility, and obedience of Christ in every aspect of my life. I haven't reached the end of my journey, nor have I reached the apex of my spiritual ascent...but I press on to grab hold of He who has taken hold of me.

Father God,

I praise You for Your goodness, mercy and grace. I cannot truly understand the depth of You love, but how I appreciate Your love for me! Who is like You? What is there to span the height, depth, length and breath of You? There is none like You Lord. You are teaching me to cast aside every weight and sin that brings me down to the depths of despair, replacing it with by focusing my eyes on Jesus Christ; the author of faith, even my faith. Order my steps Lord that I may come to know You better. Teach me the lessons of humility. I pray that I not forget Your deeds concerning my life. How You delivered me from sin and blessed me beyond measure. My life is revealed to You as an open book. I pray that my life help others discover You; that others learn of Your mercy, love and grace. When I fall Lord, and I will fall, not because I want to, but because I am weak, help me to stand up again and declare Your goodness.

Look on those seeking healing for their body, or the life of a loved one. Open the door of opportunity for that one who seeks employment. Touch the life of a child who needs love and encouragement. Pour out Your grace on that mother and father concerned about their child. You are The God of Possibility!. We know with You are things are possible, and we believe this. We trust You with our life. May You be please by the life we've chosen to live in honor of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Bless us today in Jesus name. Amen.


Note: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).Spiritual Sundays

Footnotes:
  1. 1 Corinthians 11:1, Amplified Bible
  2. 1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV
  3. Psalm 139:23, NIV
References:
  1. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  2. The Amplified Bible, by The Lockman Foundation, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, ISBN-13: 978-0310951414
  3. King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
  4. The Message Bible, by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, CO, ISBN-13: 978-1600060250
  5. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA
  6. The New Living Translation Bible, by Tyndale Charitable Trust, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, ISBN-13: 978-0842384896