Culture

When Happenstance Is No Accident

Ruth-devo-header-stories of redemption-2.png

So Ruth went. She entered a field and gathered the grain left behind by the reapers. Now it happened that she ended up in the part of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family. Ruth 2:3 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Does anything just happen? When something unexpected happens it’s often seen as chance or happenstance. This is more or less the oversimplified view of evolution.

But many people throughout the world are convinced everything takes place according to a grand choreographed cosmic plan. Whatever happens was meant to be or destiny or fate.

But I wonder, why do we have to categorize the events of life as either one or the other?

Could both be true without being in conflict? Yes, I believe so. God is sovereign but He created us with a free will. The history of Israel as recorded in Scripture confirms and reveals this. It’s a paradox but the one is not mutually exclusive of the other.

An agrarian life

The short story at the beginning of chapter two sets the stage for the central theme of redemption in Ruth. We’re told Naomi had a relative in Bethlehem named Boaz who was a man of integrity and status. As chapter two unfolds, he becomes a central character in this redemption story.

The ancient world was based on an agrarian economy. Their calendar revolved around planting and harvests, and of course, the weather. Laborers were needed to plant and reap and manage the fields. This was the world Ruth knew.

Built into the Mosaic Law was a provision for the poor as well as foreigners to gather or glean what was left behind by the paid harvesters (Lev 19:9-10). Ruth, knowing their economic plight as widows without a source of income, sought Naomi’s permission to glean in someone’s field. She hoped to find favor in the eyes of a landowner or foreman who might hire her as a laborer.

This was Ruth’s plan but God had a much greater plan.

Now it happened that [Ruth] ended up in the part of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family.

Did Ruth just happen to find the field of Boaz or is there more to the story? Ruth chose to go out to glean and her choice led her to glean in the field of Boaz. But God had a greater plan and it included Ruth with her initiative and choices.

A pastoral scene

Ruth goes out to follow the paid harvesters and glean behind them. After their mid-morning break, Boaz—the owner of the field—came out to check on his workers and the harvest. And he notices Ruth.

The way Boaz greets his workers and takes note of Ruth’s presence begins to reveal the character of Boaz. He greets all of them with a blessing and they respond to him with a blessing. It shows how Boaz treated those reaping the harvest with respect and appreciation.

Boaz knows them and they know him, and he realizes there’s a new face among them he doesn’t know. When Boaz asks the foreman about her, he speaks well of her and identifies her as the young Moabite woman who came with Naomi from Moab.

The foreman testifies to Ruth’s hard work, as well as asking for permission to glean. Everyone seems to be aware of the goodness of Ruth’s character and her commitment to Naomi and the God of Israel. This is significant since she’s a foreigner, a Gentile by birth.

This short introduction of the story of Ruth and Boaz begins with further insight into Ruth’s character and some insight into the integrity of Boaz, which will continue to be revealed and later be tested.

We will also see how human free will is woven together with God’s sovereign will in the tapestry of God’s story of redemption.

This is how the story happens but it’s not an accident, nor by chance, and it isn’t fate.

Reflection—

We tend to categorize events in life as either chance or fate. God is sovereign but He created us with a free will. The history of Israel, and of humanity, confirms and reveals this. It’s a paradox but the one is not mutually exclusive of the other.

Prayer Focus—

When faced with decisions and opportunities in life, choose to trust in the Lord. Ask Him for wisdom and guidance. Step out in faith. God honors our free will and guides us according to His will.


Devo Scripture Text

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”

So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered. Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:1-7 NIV)


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How Concerned Are You About Fairness and the Needy?

Speak out for the one who cannot speak,

for the rights of those who are doomed.

Speak out, judge fairly,

and defend the rights of oppressed and needy people.” (Proverbs 31:8-9 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 31:1-9 GW)


It’s easy to demand fairness and tolerance coming from an ideological stance, a personal view, or even a philosophic approach. But real life isn’t ideal. Ideology and philosophy don’t fit within the harsh lines of reality.

Reality and objective truth will never conform to anyone’s ideological, philosophical, or religious viewpoint. And yes, absolute and objective truth exists no matter how relativistic culture and morality become and the personal challenges of others to the truth.

Relativism meets reality

Personal opinions are just that—personal. They aren’t objective but subjective. They’re captive to emotions and the influence of others. And personal opinions are fickle.

Culture changes. It’s not objective nor absolute. A simple review of modern history reveals how culture doesn’t just waver—it swings from one extreme to another.

Personal opinions, politics, and philosophy—including ideologies and religious views—drive the currents of culture change. This should be self-evident but I realize our present culture is characterized and driven by relativism.

And it isn’t just moral relativism, it seems as if everything can be questioned as to its veracity—even physical and scientific realities. Just because you can think or imagine it doesn’t make it a reality.

Speaking out or speaking for?

As I read and think on what is expressed in these two verses in Proverbs 31 (above), I hear the polarized arguments and opinions of our present American culture in the background.

People are speaking out for those who seem to have no voice and appear defenseless. I’m thinking of those concerned with refugees and illegal immigrants. But is anyone really listening to them? Are these voices speaking on behalf of those they’re concerned about or for them?

There is a difference. We can speak for someone yet not express what they think and feel. I’ve seen this when one spouse answers a question for another in their presence. When we speak on behalf of another, we should speak what’s in their heart and mind not ours.

One segment of our population—worldwide—who are doomed and defenseless and have no voice of their own are pushed aside and ignored for the sake of another large segment of the population. I’m referring to the unborn whose life is cutoff before it begins outside the womb.

Life begins at conception. This is a biological reality. This may not be the existing interpretation of the law in the USA but it’s true.

America’s Declaration of Independence and the 14th Amendment to the constitution speak of equal rights. The 14th Amendment is the basis of civil rights for all humanity and recognized former slaves as humans with equal rights.

Before this, slaves—any gender or age—were considered chattel—they were mere possessions of their “masters.” The Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision (1973) did the opposite for the unborn and some states have already extended this beyond actual birth.

The rights of the unborn are denied by a legal interpretation based on opinion not scientific fact. This was and is a slippery slope as prophetically expressed in the book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race.

Concern or cause?

Causes, whether secular or religious, usually begin with a concern but at some point develop a life of their own. How does this happen? Emotions, opinions, and personal views take over.

My wife and I worked with abandoned and abused children and young women for many years. Prior to developing our ministry in the Philippines for the abandoned and abused, we were foster parents for several years in the US.

We have real-life, firsthand experience as advocates of those in dire need and who need protection and restoration. But we were never protesters. We still aren’t. We’re doers along with thousands of others engaged in similar work throughout the world.

We’ve heard and seen many people show concern, even speak out on behalf of those who are oppressed and at risk. But talk is cheap. Causes and opinions come and go. Real advocacy has no agenda but to do what is needed to help those in need.

If you have a genuine concern for the defenseless, needy, and oppressed, then consider these three specific admonitions—

Speak out, judge fairly, and defend the rights of oppressed and needy people.

Speak out It’s good to speak out for those who have no voice but be sure you do so for their benefit not just your view of them and their situation.

Judge fairly Be objective not subjective. Don’t be driven by emotions and opinions. Ask genuine questions and listen to those you want to defend. Put yourself in their place and see things from their point of view.

Defend the rights… Throughout history and in every nation, there are those who are guilty but get set free and those who are innocent yet are condemned. The Lord knows about this firsthand—He was betrayed and put to death as the only truly innocent Man (Matt 27:19-26).

Ultimately, we will all come before the only One who is able to judge justly—God. Here are some final thoughts from the Scriptures—

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psalms 10:14 NIV)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalms 68:5 NIV)

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you—But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NKJV)

Reflection—

If you have a genuine concern for the defenseless, needy, and oppressed, then consider these three specific admonitions—Speak out, judge fairly, and defend their rights as their advocates, not for your own cause.

Prayer Focus—

If any of what’s written above challenges your own convictions or points of view—be willing to set those aside. Ask the Lord to help you see them first from His point of view.

©Word-Strong_2019


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These 4 Things Are Inside-Out and Upside-Down

Three things cause the earth to tremble,

even four it cannot bear up under:

a slave when he becomes king,

a godless fool when he is filled with food,

a woman who is unloved when she gets married,

a maid when she replaces her mistress. (Proverbs 30:21-23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:20-33 GW)


Benjamin Franklin is credited for several proverbial sayings typifying early America. Many of his sayings ascribed a sense of order important for a new nation birthed through a revolution. Here’s one of them—

A place for everything, everything in its place.

This isn’t just an American sentiment. It’s universal. It’s innate in our humanness. We like and want order. Something inside us wants to bring the chaos or disorganization around us into some form of order.

Out of order

When things are out of order, it’s unsettling. When a different or new form or order comes, it’s more than unsettling. It’s as if things are turned inside-out and upside-down.

This happens in many ways in daily life and across generations and centuries. A basic knowledge of history makes this clear.

Revolutions and wars have a way of resetting the previous order of things—new governments and far-reaching societal upheavals. Modern examples are the American and French revolutions. But political and social change reaches around the globe and back through many centuries.

Most of us aren’t students of world history and sociology. We’re more concerned with disruptive changes impacting our lives in a personal way.

These three verses give us four life situations where things are not how we’d expect or want them to be. Each of them can be found throughout history and also in the Scriptures.

When a slave becomes king

In one of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, it speaks of a vile or contemptible person who would become a king but not recognized with royal honor. Later, he does terrible things to the people of God—slaughtering many.

He was an infamous king who desecrated the temple of God in Jerusalem when he sacrificed a pig on the altar (Dan 11:21, 29-36).

This illustrates what happens with a person who does not know or understand how to handle authority. They abuse their power at the expense of others and themselves.

The full fool

Here’s another story of a king from the book of Daniel. Daniel was known as trustworthy and faithful. He became a great statesman and advisor to the great emperor, Nebuchadnezzar—even in the emperor’s worst times (Dan 2:27-34).

Much later in Daniel’s life, when Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar reigned, Daniel was forgotten and Belshazzar was foolish and impudent. During a great feast, when he was full of food and wine and himself, he had the sacred articles of Jewish worship brought in to worship his gods (Dan 5:1-7).

His foolishness cost him the empire and his life. That same night after being warned by a miraculous sign of a finger writing on the wall, Darius the Mede invaded, conquered the empire, and put him to death.

When a fool is full, he becomes full of himself and a danger to himself and others.

An unloved woman

The story of the patriarch Jacob’s first wife, Leah, is an example of the impact of neglect, jealousy, and favoritism. Each of these has a harmful ripple effect for obvious reasons.

Sadly, the repercussions of Jacob and Leah’s troubled marriage and the children born by her and her handmaidens rippled on for generations. It didn’t just impact their family but the nation of Israel for generations (Gen 29:30-32).

One way we see God’s favor upon Leah, almost as compensation for being unloved by Jacob (Gen ), is how she was blessed to give birth to six sons—three times those of Rachel, the loved wife. Even when we disrupt God’s order, He moves to bring restoration.

The replaced mistress

Sometimes ideas and plans don’t bring their expected results. When it comes to our own efforts to circumvent God’s direction and provision for our lives, it never brings the results we expect.

God promised a son to Abraham but it took much longer than expected. In fact, he and his wife had grown old past the age of bearing children. Sarah, his wife decided to make God’s promise come to pass by having Abraham lay with her servant, Hagar (Gen 16:1-5).

After Hagar gets pregnant she despises her mistress, Sarah, thinking she was better and preferred over her. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with Sarah and Abraham is caught in the middle. The story gets worse as it goes on except for one thing—God’s faithfulness.

So many lessons could be drawn from this saga but the connection to this proverb is simple. When we try to reorder things our way from what God intends, we turned things inside-out and upside-down and wonder why.

There will always be exceptions to the rule but the exceptions don’t become the rule. When a person is not equipped or prepared for a certain role, they aren’t able to handle it well. When their expectations aren’t met or are unrealistic—there will be unintended consequences.

Reflection—

We always have the choice to trust God when faced with various life situations. Trusting Him means having the long view of things—willing to wait upon the Lord’s direction and provision. When we try to reorder things our way, we’re likely to turn things inside-out and upside-down.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself struggling to trust God in any life situation, reflect on these life lessons and others like them in the Bible. Consciously choose to trust the Lord rather than figure it out your own way. Express this choice to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for the wisdom and grace to leave it in His hands.

©Word-Strong_2019


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A Remedy for Running Wild

Without prophetic vision people run wild,

but blessed are those who follow ⌊God’s⌋ teachings. (Proverbs 29:18 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 29:17-28 GW)


Great emphasis is made on casting vision and vision statements in both business and ministry. The basic idea is that people need a sense of direction and purpose or they’ll wander. This is true.

But vision for business or ministry is specific to the individual mission. It’s only valuable when it’s followed to accomplish whatever the specific mission is. Otherwise it’s just a nice thought.

This requires continued communication of the vision, which also includes clarifications and confirmations of the intended vision and mission.

One can relate this proverb to this popular trend of vision casting and vision connected to a primary mission but this proverb addresses something else more vital for all people.

Relating this proverb to vision casting and vision statements is to make an application without a full understanding of what it’s declaring. To be more specific—the first phrase can’t be understood without the second phrase.

Running wild

People run wild when there’s no prophetic vision because prophetic vision is grounded in and driven by the truth of God—God’s teachings.

During King Solomon’s time, God’s teachings were connected to the Law of Moses. Although it’s primarily summarized in the 10 Commandments (Exod 20:1-17), the Mosaic Law governed all aspects of life—moral, spiritual, civil, and health.

The context of this verse provides a better understanding of what is meant by prophetic vision. It is a divine revelation of truth. In Solomon’s time under the Old Covenant, divine revelation was always tethered to the Mosaic Law.

Prophetic vision is a divine revelation of truth

In our present time—under the New Covenant where the Law was fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4; Gal 5:23-25)—God’s teachings include the Gospels and the other New Testament books.

The remedy

The truth of God—as revealed by God in the Scriptures—is a tether to keep us from running wild—it is the foundation for prophetic vision. It keeps us from running wild—it is our remedy.

A simple illustration is like the string attached to a kite. Without the string attached and guidance by the person flying the kite, it will drift off by itself or dance wildly in the sky till it crashes on the ground.

A boat in a violent storm without an anchor or sail will be tossed to and fro then driven to destruction by the wind and waves.

These two illustrations are like you and me without the anchor of God’s teachings. If we’re not grounded in the truth of God, we are prone to be tossed to and fro by the prevailing winds of popular culture (Eph 4:14).

If it seems the world around you is running wild—it is.

If we don’t want to be caught up with those who are running wild, we need the anchor of God’s truth.

Reflection—

People run wild when there’s no prophetic vision because they’re not grounded in the truth of God—God’s teachings. The Scriptures are a tether to keep us from running wild in the world around us—it is our remedy.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself caught up with everyone else and running wild with no clear direction for your life—it’s time to stop and seek the Lord. Pray with an open Bible in hand and ask the Lord to ground you in the truth and guide you in a personal way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Feeding Your Enemy

If your enemy is hungry, give him some food to eat,

and if he is thirsty, give him some water to drink.

⌊In this way⌋ you will make him feel guilty and ashamed,

and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 25:1-22 GW)


Polarized. This is the common and current description of American society. Where various groups of people are pitted against each other as archenemies. But the sense of polarization among people or within a culture is nothing new.

Perhaps the news media, the internet, and social media heighten our awareness of it. Even contribute to it. And, some of the reactionary rhetoric fans the flames higher than needed.

But enemies—perceived or real— have existed since the beginning.

The serpent in the garden of Paradise was no friend to God or the first humans (Gen 3:14-15). It appears Cain viewed is brother Abel as an enemy of sorts. Cain perceived God honored his brother over him, so he killed him.

And so it continues

Some people become our enemies because of nationalism, jealousy, economics, politics, religion, ambitions, and a variety of other reasons. These enemies can be real. They want to harm us, even destroy us.

Other people we perceive as enemies. Perhaps for one of the previous reasons given but more often it’s because of personal slights, insecurities on our part, or a difference of opinion.

Photo by  Bradford West  on  Unsplash

During the anti-war, anti-nuke protests and love-ins of the sixties, a popular slogan was—Make love, not war!

Maybe in our polarized times we can start a new slogan to depolarize things—Make friends, not enemies!

Both slogans may seem idealistic and naive but they echo similar conduct esteemed in preschool and kindergarten. Not only were we encouraged to share toys and such, but when some conflict erupted we were challenged to “say you’re sorry” and shake hands or hug.

Again, maybe this seems too naive and idealistic but this is the intent of these verses in Proverbs. The idea is to turn an enemy into a friend or at least defuse or deflect the animosity of an enemy.

Another Bible version phrases verse 22 this way—

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Prov 25:22 NIV)

Taken literally, this doesn’t seem to be an effective way to make a friend of your enemy. But there’s at least a couple of thoughts on this.

Taken literally, the inference is one person lending their “enemy” burning coals to start a cooking fire with much less effort. They would place the burning coals in a pot carried on the head of the other person.

But figuratively and most likely, it refers to the effect of a person’s kindness to an enemy. It brings a sense of conviction, perhaps shame for the enemy’s spiteful attitude.

Becoming peacemakers

Jesus referred to this in His sermons on the mount in Matthew (Matt 5:43-48) and on the plain in Luke (Luke 6:27-31). This is tied to the Golden Rule to—do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and to the merciful nature of God.

I’ve learned the effectiveness of this approach first hand from my wife. She’s done this many times with me when I’m in one of my antagonistic moods.

I’ve watched her successful use of this same strategy with feuding children, disgruntled staff, and quarrelsome people in our ministry in the US and abroad.

This is a simple way to turn enemies into friends or at least defuse their combative attitude.

But, it’s also difficult. What makes it difficult is our part. It requires us to be peacemakers—to humble ourselves, choose reconciliation instead of revenge, and trust in the Lord to honor our effort.

So, feed your enemy when he or she is hungry. It they’re thirsty, give them some refreshing water.

Be a peacemaker. It’s one of the ways we show ourselves to be true children of God (Matt 5:9).

Who knows, we just might bring some depolarization to the world around us.

Reflection—

God’s people are called to be peacemakers—to do our best to defuse and deflect antagonism from others. It requires humility and choosing to trust in God.

Prayer Focus—

Are there people who have slighted or wronged you? People you dislike because of their opinions, or what they stand for or who they are? Then, ask the Lord to help you see them with His eyes and to help change your heart to become a peacemaker.

©Word-Strong_2019


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