attitude

A Reversal of Fortune or God's Providence?

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Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May the Lord bless him. The Lord hasn’t stopped being kind to people—living or dead.” Then Naomi told her, “That man is a relative of ours. He is a close relative, one of those responsible for taking care of us.” Ruth 2:20 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

When we’ve lost hope—the darkness and isolation seem overwhelming. When faced with failure—it can bring a sense of hopelessness. But when hope returns and blessing is in our grasp—the foreboding sense of hopelessness becomes a distant memory.

This segment of the story of Ruth brings a reversal of attitude on the part of Naomi. She sees it as a reversal of fortune but at God’s hand. But it’s far more than that for two reasons.

God’s providence

First off, fortune or luck and God’s providence are not the same. Naomi and her family left their home to escape a great famine but things didn’t go well. She returns to her homeland “empty” but blames God for her troubles (Ruth 1:21)—even though she returned at a time of harvest and provision in Bethlehem.

God’s providence is simply God’s provision with His guidance and care. It is neither destiny or fate nor is it luck. The Lord—as a shepherd—leads and provides for those who trust in Him.

A second reason for Naomi’s change of heart is her realization of who owns the field Ruth gleans in and how much favor is shown to her.

On her return from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi tells her friends the Lord afflicted her and brought her misfortune. In other words—her bad luck was God’s fault.

But now she says—”He [The Lord] has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” (Ruth 2:20–see text below). Notice she says—to the living and the dead. This is in reference to her husband and two sons who passed away.

Gleanings from Ruth’s gleaning

What prompts Naomi’s new found hope in the Lord? A quick review of this segment of the story will help us see why.

At the end of the day—a long day from sunup to sundown—Ruth threshes the barley she gleaned and brings it home to Naomi, along with her leftovers from lunch. When she shows it all to Naomi, her mother-in-law realizes someone has shown her great favor.

When asked where she gleaned, Ruth tells Naomi the man she worked with was named Boaz. Ruth is unaware of who this man is but not Naomi!

“That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers [kinsman-redeemers].” (Ruth 2:20)

Ruth has no understanding of why this is significant but this renews Naomi’s faith in God and her hope for the future.

The idea of a kinsman-redeemer is foreign to Ruth and perhaps for many of us. It’s a provision in the Law of Moses to protect a family’s legacy in property. We’ll look at this more closely in chapter 3. If you want a reference point of understanding, read Leviticus 25:25.

Naomi affirms Boaz’ encouragement and invitation to Ruth to continue working with his young women harvesters. Not just for her safety and the provision of food but for the potential of a much greater blessing. This greater blessing will be revealed in the final two chapters.

So, Ruth continues to glean in Boaz's field with the other young women through the barley and wheat harvests. This would include at least two months of time, approximately our April and May, possibly into early June.

Redemptive review

The end of chapter two is an important milestone in the story of Ruth. Consider how things have turned around for Naomi from the beginning of the story.

  • Naomi leaves her home because of a famine but returns after ten years as the barley harvest is beginning (chapter 1).

  • She goes out “full” (in her words) and comes back “empty” until Ruth begins to glean in the field of her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, which renews her hope for the future and seems to restore her trust in God.

  • She loses her husband and two sons but gains a loyal and industrious daugher-in-law who becomes a catalyst for a much greater provision to come.

There are several redemptive points in the first two chapters of Ruth but even more are to be revealed in the final two chapters. The author of Ruth uses a telescoping timeframe to help us focus on the most important point of redemption in the book.

Chapter one covers about ten years from the family going out from Bethlehem to Naomi’s return with Ruth the Moabitess. Chapter two covers one harvest time—a period of about two or more months towards the beginning of the Jewish calendar year. Stay tuned for the next episode in the redemptive stories of Ruth.

How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life?

Reflection—

God’s providence is simply God’s provision with His guidance and care. It is neither destiny or fate nor is it luck. The Lord—as a shepherd—leads and provides for those who trust in Him—especially those who genuinely rely on Him as a first option.

Prayer Focus—

As you begin each day, lay it before the Lord—whatever you might have planned or are concerned about. Ask God for His guidance throughout the day. Ask Him for discernment and wisdom and trust Him for His provision. And thank Him through it all!


Devo Scripture Text

So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”

Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’ ” Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2:17-23 NIV)


Click this link if you’d like more background on the Book of RuthRuth Background

Here are some Study Questions for a more in-depth study of RuthRuth Study Q’s

Self-Development and Self-Expression

⌊As⌋ iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens the wits of another.

As a face is reflected in water,

so a person is reflected by his heart.

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but a person ⌊is tested⌋ by the praise given to him. (Proverbs 27:17, 19, 21 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:17-27 GW)


The self—our individual sense of identity and personhood—is a favorite topic in American culture. There are books and courses on self-development, self-improvement, and self-expression among many other self oriented focuses.

This fits well with our ingrained sense of individualism. The term expressive individualism captures the obsessive yet elusive search for the true self.

This is nothing new. It’s just a new spin on it all. It may appear new the past couple of centuries but Solomon reminds us there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

The classic figurative language used in these three verses describe what defines and shapes us. Each verse flies in the face of what our surrounding culture says about self. Perhaps these few thoughts are keys to discovering the elusive but genuine self.

Benefits of honesty in relationships

Iron sharpens iron…that sounds harsh. What happens when iron strikes iron? Sparks fly with the clanging thud of metal against metal! And don’t get your fingers caught in between because that would hurt! Makes me cringe to think about it.

Who wants to be on the wrong side of conflict or confrontation? No one! Most all of us tend to avoid or resist such experiences—unless we’re searching for punishment or derive some strange satisfaction from it.

But the focus of iron sharpening iron is a beneficial and positive one. It is when we value honesty in our relationships. The benefit of honest conflict, correction, and counsel from someone we know and trust brings accountability, balance, and perspective in our life.

If we want real self-improvement in a way that benefits others and ourselves, we need people in our life whom we trust and appreciate because they’ll be honest with us—even when it makes us uncomfortable.

As our personhood develops in the way God intended—through healthy and honest relationships—our true identity will be evident to those who know us. When a person experiences inner transformation others will see it in their attitude and actions.

Who we are on the inside is seen by others on the outside—whether it’s good or bad. Other people notice whether or not our words and actions agree. They notice if the attitude of our heart doesn’t match the expression on our face and the words of our mouth.

The real test of a person is not how we handle criticism but praise from others. A person can ignore criticism and avoid conflict. But no one is indifferent to praise from others. How we handle it reveals our true self.

If we, as the saying goes, believe our own press releases—thinking everyone else says the same about us when we think well of ourselves—we set our self up for a fall.

Do we allow the praise of others to over inflate us with pride or resist and reject compliments and praise? Neither reaction is healthy for us. Both produce a false sense of identity.

If we are able to accept and appreciate the compliments of others, then set them aside to keep a good sense of perspective, we’ll be a healthier version of our self.

I need people in my life who care enough about me to be honest with me. People who will tell me how things are not how I want them to be.

I have had and now have people who keep me grounded in reality and I’m better for it. When I was pastoring on the west coast, I met regularly with two other friends. We knew each other well and called one another out when needed. We helped keep each other grounded in reality.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who sharpen you and help you see yourself in perspective with things as they really are?

Reflection—

Our personhood will develop the way God intended through healthy and honest relationships and our true identity will be evident to those who know us. We all need people in our life who care enough about us to be honest and keep us grounded.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself avoiding honesty in relationships, ask the Lord to show you why and how to benefit from those who care about you in a healthy way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Gateways of the Heart and Mind

A conceited look and an arrogant attitude,

which are the lamps of wicked people, are sins.

Whoever shuts his ear to the cry of the poor

will call and not be answered.

Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue

keeps himself out of trouble. (Proverbs 21:4, 13, 23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 21:1-31 GW)


Your can observe a lot just by watching. (Yogi Berra)

Yogi Berra—a great baseball player, coach, and a humble man—was famous for some of his sayings, sometimes known as “yogi-isms.” They might sound funny the way they’re expressed but they made sense within their context.

It’s not hard to get what he meant from his point of view as a veteran all-star baseball player. If you know anything about baseball (I’m a lifelong baseball fan), there are many subtle elements and strategies to the game. As Yogi would say, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Observation is watching with the intent to learn something. It isn’t a passive gaze. When we observe something we take in all that our eyes see. We may focus on certain things but even what’s in our peripheral vision is processed by our mind.

These three verses give some insight to how the eyes, ears, and mouth are gateways of a person’s heart and mind. What goes in and out of each gateway has consequences and benefits that impact the heart and mind.

The eyes

The eyes perceive and take in what they look at but are also an outlet of what’s inside a person. It’s pretty easy to distinguish eyes filled with joy from those flushed with anger.

The nature of a person, as well as emotions, are seen through the eyes. The attitude of the heart is conveyed through the physical eyes, especially when accompanied with emotion.

As Jesus said—

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

A conceited look and arrogant attitude reveal a darkness within a person and that darkness is destructive. It isn’t beneficial for anyone which is why it is sinful.

The ears

When I’m focused on what I’m doing, I tune out the noise and activity around me. This makes it easy to not hear someone telling me something, especially if I don’t want to hear it.

Children have very selective hearing when parents ask them to do or not do something. Husbands develop a similar form of selective hearing but tend to justify it. “Honey, can you take out the trash? It stinks! (wife) “I can’t right now, I’m in the middle of something” (husband while watching a sports event).

But when we shut our ear to the cry of the poor it points to a deeper issue within us. We’re not hard of hearing—our hearts are hardened. And yet, when we cry out in a time of need we expect God to attend to us. We need to be careful what we shut out—what we don’t hear or see.

The mouth

We’ve all said things we wished we hadn’t. Even when we know it would be best kept unsaid, we say it anyway. We say something in the heat of the moment then regret it. If we’re willing to humble ourselves, apologize, and make amends as needed, we might rectify the situation.

But with social media—what’s out there stays out there. Once the internet captures it, it gains a life of its own. Many people have found this out the hard way.

It’s far better to guard our mouth from saying regrettable things. But this is easier said than done. As it says in Scripture, no one can tame the tongue… (James 3:8 GW).

Why can’t the tongue be tamed? Because the words of our mouth go deeper that’s what is spoken and heard—they reveal what’s in our hearts. Jesus clarifies this for us—

Your mouth says what comes from inside you. (Matt 12:34c GW)

I’m reminded of a simple child’s song using repetition and rhyming to make the point of these three verses—O be careful little eyes…ears…mouth…. It’s important for all of us to remember we’re responsible for what goes in and out of these gateways of the heart and mind!

Reflection—

It’s beneficial to us as a whole to guard our hearts from arrogance and callousness, and to use discretion when we speak. We are all accountable for these three gateways of the heart and mind—the eyes, ears, and mouth.

Prayer Focus—

Which of these three gateways give you the most difficulty in life? Even if it’s all three—ask God daily, even throughout the day, to give you discretion in your interactions with others along with humility and tenderness of heart.

©Word-Strong_2019


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The Lingering Toll of Laziness

Photo by  Alfonso Ninguno  on  Unsplash

Like vinegar to the teeth, like smoke to the eyes,

so is the lazy person to those who send him ⌊on a mission⌋. (Proverbs 10:26 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 10:22-32 GW)


Laziness is not a virtue. But the thought of being lazy is appealing when faced with the daily grind of life. In the midst of time demands and the tyranny of the urgent, we may daydream of taking a day to just do nothing.

But laziness as a lifestyle or a lazy approach to life—with no ambition or motivation—has an accumulative effect. Laziness becomes its own treadmill of dread with no jumping off point.

Childhood play is not laziness nor is recreation or vacation for adults. There is a creative and restorative purpose in playing and having fun or taking time for rest. Much is written on this.

But laziness is neither play nor rest. At its best, it's apathy and slothfulness. At its worst, it is destructive and disruptive—for the lazy person and for those impacted by their laziness.

This proverb is quite descriptive—

Like vinegar to the teeth, like smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy person to those who send him ⌊on a mission⌋. (Prov 10:26 GW)

If you've been around a campfire when the wind shifts and smoke blows in your eyes, you know how much it burns and how this lingers after you get out of the path of the smoke.

Vinegar has a distinct and lasting taste. If you've tasted bad wine, certain home remedies, or an oil and vinegar dressing with too much vinegar, you know the taste. Drinking water doesn't wash it all away—something sweet is needed to counter the acrid, bitter, and sour taste left in your mouth.

How is this proverb of any value to our daily life?

Depending on someone who is lazy or does their work in a lazy manner is more than futile or frustrating. It leaves a bitter taste in our mouths that lingers. The burn of being let down by someone has a ripple effect.

It's easy to see this with others but how about ourselves? We only fool ourselves when we make excuses or blame others for our own slackness in carrying out a task.

I've heard complaints from people who work with Christian believers who don't do their jobs well and excuse their poor work performance because they are "witnessing for the Lord." The trouble is, they are a poor example of Christianity and this leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of those who work with them.

Those of us who are people of faith—people who have chosen to follow Jesus—need to show excellence in the workplace, as well as with any task or service we're engaged in at church.

We also need to do whatever we do with a cheerful and gracious attitude. This honors the Lord and won't leave a bitter taste in anyone's mouth or heart.

Reflection—

If you are a person of faith and follower of Jesus, you are to be an honorable example in your workplace or any other place you serve others. Do so with a cheerful and gracious attitude so the Lord is honored and others are blessed by your presence.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God to show you where you might need to improve your effort at work or while serving in some ministry or church role. If the Lord shows you things that could be done better, ask Him to show you how to do make those necessary changes.

©Word-Strong_2018


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More Than a Holiday

Thanksgiving holiday is an American tradition. It's been set aside as a national holiday by a few presidents as a time of reflection and gratitude. 

Of course, as with other things, the significance of Thanksgiving is lost for many.

Many times it's referred to as "Turkey Day," and for some, it's an excuse to eat and drink excessively while sitting in front of a TV.

It's also become a great marketing season that changes the focus of giving thanks to getting things.