culture

It's All a Matter of Perspective

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They happened to enter Bethlehem just when the barley harvest began. Ruth 1:22 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Basically, there are three ways to see things in life—our own outlook, the viewpoint of others, and the way things are in an objective sense. Only one person sees all three perspectives—the Lord.

When we or others view people, life events, or whatever else, we see things subjectively. Each of us have our own biases. How we see the world and all that’s in it—including ourselves and others—is viewed through our beliefs, emotions, experiences, and values.

We can claim a sense of objectivity but that’s all it is—a sense. Only the Lord sees things in the truest objective way because He is eternal. When God reveals His perspective, as in the Scriptures, we still tend to see it through our own biased lens.

3 Perspectives

This final vignette of this first chapter of Ruth gives us a glimpse of all three perspectives—Naomi’s, the viewpoint of other people, and the actual situation.

The arrival

After Ruth’s declaration of commitment to stay with Naomi, they traveled from Moab to Bethlehem in Judah—a journey of at least 2-3 days by foot.

As they enter Naomi’s hometown, everyone is excited to see her and the women wonder at Naomi’s presence with a young Moabite widow and no husband—Can this be Naomi?

Naomi’s response is telling. It reveals how she sees her situation and why it happened. Not only is it subjective, it’s somewhat typical for most of us.

Naomi’s outlook

Let’s consider each of Naomi’s three statements.

  1. Don’t call me Naomi…Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.— Naomi’s name can mean both pleasant or sweet and Mara means bitter. It’s a play on words to describe both her inner state and her outlook on life. And she holds the God responsible for her situation.

  2. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.— Do you see how she puts the blame for her situation on the Lord? Naomi sees her life’s misfortunes as God’s hand against her and uses a play on words to make her point. Her statement about going out full but coming back empty is her view now but it will change by the end of the whole story of Ruth.

  3. The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.— It’s pretty clear Naomi is playing on the sympathy of others as a victim of circumstances though it was her husband and her choice to leave Judah ten years before. She only returns because things have reversed—they left because of a famine and she returns because of God’s provision for Israel. Her answer may be posed as a question but it’s rhetorical—the answer is clear—the Lord is the cause of her problems.

When things go wrong, most if not all of us are quick to find some reason it happened and someone else to blame. Many people blame God for all the problems in the world. Somehow He’s responsible for everyone’s choices and all the bad and evil things that happen.

Here’s our conundrum—we want God to intervene when and where we think He should but don’t want Him to interfere with our own choices and pursuits. It’s as if we want to be in control of God. This is one of the many consequences of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.

A full circle

Ancient writings followed the common literary structures of their time. Some of the literary devices are more obvious than others. The use of contrasting words and concepts is one of the most common.

Chapter one of Ruth begins with a famine but ends …as the barley harvest was beginning. The scope of the book starts out with a timeframe of ten years but telescopes down to one day and a pivotal meeting in the last chapter.

The heart of the story begins in the next chapter where Ruth becomes the main character in this story of redemption. Even this first chapter ends with a redemptive focus—going from famine to harvest and coming from a far country to home.

Naomi can’t see this for now but she will in the end.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Reflection—

When things go wrong, we tend to blame something or someone else rather than ourselves. We’ll even blame God because of our own expectations in life. We don’t see things from a clear and objective perspective.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself shifting blame to someone other than yourself and not facing your own responsibilities, ask the Lord to show you His perspective of your situation. Ask Him to help you learn a better way to handle things.


devo Scripture Text

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (Ruth 1:19-22 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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Crossing the Invisible Line

Who has trouble? Who has misery? Who has quarrels?

Who has a complaint? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has bloodshot eyes?

Those who drink glass after glass of wine

and mix it with everything. (Proverbs 23:29-30 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 23:26-35 GW)


Our American culture is framed around self-determination. This runs the gamut from becoming successful entrepreneurs to tackling poverty and global warming.

Early on we’re told, “You can do anything you put your mind to… If you can think or imagine it, you can do it.” If only this were true. But it’s not reality.

We are a nation plagued with opiate addiction across many ages and backgrounds, and alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse are as rampant as ever.

What’s crazy to me is the continuing push to legalize pot—marijuana, Mary Jane, weed, cannabis—beginning with medical marijuana—as one way to reduce societal problems and incarcerations. Say what?!

Back to school

While raising a young family and pastoring a church, I went back to school in the 80’s to get certified as a substance abuse counselor. It wasn’t to add to my educational attainment nor because I was bored or wanted a second career. It developed in response to a need.

One of the families in our church was impacted by an inequitable school district policy but the the superintendent and school board wouldn’t listen to my concerns without credentials. In order to challenge their policy, I needed credibility they respected—education.

I took night courses and went to reputable training workshops. I learned of the scientific elements and dynamics of basic chemistry and substance abuse, and gained important insight and practical training.

A few things stand out to me even now and still hold true, which brings me to these verses in Proverbs about wine and alcoholic drinks in general—

  1. Alcohol is a drug—just as opiates and cannabis are drugs. It’s a depressant not a stimulant.

  2. All drugs—yes, even the prescribed and legal ones—cause physical and psychological damage at some level in every person. Verifiable scientific data backs this up contrary to popular opinion.

  3. A person doesn’t need to become addicted to have a drinking or drug problem. If a person’s use—whatever the amount—causes problems for them at work, home, in relationships, or their life in any way—they have a problem and it will only get worse with time if left unchecked.

  4. Once a person becomes addicted—regardless if you accept addiction as a disease or not—they cannot free themselves from its power over them on their own. They’ve crossed the invisible line—a line only evident once it is crossed. It’s different for every person.

I’m not advocating total abstinence. Even the Bible says, “…use a little wine for the sake of your stomach….” (1 Timothy 5:23) and Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).

Perhaps an old proverb gives the sense of these verses in Proverbs and what I’m saying—

A man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, the drink takes the man.

Seduction and self-deception

Photo by  Marcel Gross  on  Unsplash

These verses in Proverbs 23 (vss 29-35) speak to the seductive and self-deceptive power of wine. But it’s relevant for any form of drug whether legal or prescribed. Of course, in certain medical cases prescribed drugs are needed for the health of an individual but even those can be abused.

The problem comes when we think we can control this power. This is a lie. Self-deception. Foolishness. It’s power is seductive and subtle as the proverb says—the drink takes a drink…[then] …takes the man (person).

So, what’s the take away from all of this? Go down the list of questions and statements in Proverbs 23:29-35. If any of this is somewhat true for you, then you’ve got a problem.

If so, it’s only a matter of time till you cross the invisible line unless you address your problem in an honest way.

I accept and believe the truth of these verses because of real life experience—personal experience with drugs and alcohol, family history, as a pastor and counselor, and my education and training.

If you’ve got a problem—whether small or large—get help. The first place to turn is to God. It’s also what the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous declare, whose origin is based in Scripture.

Reflection—

God calls us to Himself to set us free not imprison us with legalism. But when we find ourselves seduced and self-deceived, we need to call out to Him to set us free. Only He knows where the invisible line is for each person and He is the one who can set us free.

Prayer Focus—

If you find yourself heading toward the invisible line of addiction or have crossed it, humble yourself and cry out to the Lord for help. Then ask His guidance to help you find others who will support you in getting free from addiction or problems related to alcohol or drugs.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Consider What You Eat

When you sit down to eat with a ruler, pay close attention to what is in front of you,

and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite.

Do not eat the food of one who is stingy,

and do not crave his delicacies. (Proverbs 23:1-2, 6 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 23:1-11 GW)


Current American culture is obsessed with food—among other things. We’re absorbed with what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, and the way we eat.

Our preoccupation with food fills a broad spectrum of concerns—health, cost, quantity, quality, variety, and availability are some of those concerns. But many people in the world are just concerned with having something to eat for themselves and their family.

I understand these concerns. Having lived in a nation where nearly half the population struggles at a subsistence level of poverty—a day to day concern for survival. That kind of obsession makes sense.

When I faced a health crisis, I developed a much stricter diet than in previous years. I still prefer to eat healthier foods, especially avoiding processed foods and excessive sugar. So, I relate to the focus many have on healthy eating.

Different concerns and situations

But these verses speak to another concern. They point out other reasons to consider what you eat—who we’re eating with and who’s paying for it.

These become practical concerns when eating out for business, or in my case, related to ministry work. This could apply when eating at someone’s home or a community-style meal like a block party, potluck, or progressive dinner.

I’ve eaten in many homes and a lot of restaurants over the years, and we’ve hosted many people in our home for meals. Here’s an observation—people notice what you order and what you do or don’t eat. It’s human nature to do so and it reveals something about us.

put a knife to your throat…

In the first situation—eating at a ruler’s table—it says, put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite.

Most of us don’t have rulers so think of this as someone picking up the bill. This could apply to a meal with a boss, a friend, or your in-laws.

The simple principle here is—don’t be greedy nor be a glutton. On one hand, it’s a matter of consideration for others. But it also reveals something about us to others.

When someone else is paying, I don’t go for the most expensive item on the menu. That’s just being greedy. So, show some self-restraint and don’t take advantage of people’s generosity. They’re more likely to invite you again.

…do not crave his delicacies

The second situation requires us to consider who’s paying but in a different way. I’ve eaten with stingy people and know how uncomfortable it is. This requires sizing up people before just digging in to the food.

Consider who you’re eating with and what they value. Here’s why we are not to crave his delicacies

“Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. (Prov 23:7 NKJV)

Again, with potlucks or other community-style meals, be considerate of those who eat last. As a pastor, my family and I would wait to eat last at church potlucks and often wished Jesus was there to multiply the food.

Interestingly, each meal setting includes the admonition not to crave their delicacies.

This speaks to the need to be content. Don’t be envious nor greedy nor gluttonous. And don’t worry about what you’re going to eat—as Jesus reminds us—stop worrying about what you will eat (Matt 6:25 GW).

Perhaps, if we all learned to be more content with what we do have—what God blesses us with—we’d be a lot less obsessive about food. We’d also be the kind of people others like to have at their tables when they share a meal.

Reflection—

When we are content with what we have—with what God provides—it frees us from envy, worry, and even gluttony or any other obsession with food. Regardless of what’s on the table, we’ll be free to engage with and enjoy the company around the table.

Prayer Focus—

If you are concerned about what you eat—whether it’s worry or an obsession—ask the Lord to help you be thankful and content. Ask the Lord to help you be considerate and thoughtful towards those whom you join at the table for any meal.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Extreme Opposites

Whoever approves of wicked people

and whoever condemns righteous people is disgusting to the Lord.

To punish an innocent person is not good.

To strike down noble people is not right. (Proverbs 17:15, 26 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:15-28 GW)


Polarization is the current buzzword used to describe the toxic political and social environment of America. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground based on the loud rhetoric that shouts down any differing opinions.

Even a sense of what is right and wrong is in question. Truth and justice have become relative terms dependent on personal persuasions and feelings.

This is how it appears on the surface but I don’t believe it’s accurate. The north and south poles are at opposite ends of the earth but small in comparison to the world in between.

When the focus on a certain issue or concern emphasizes an extreme perspective, it comes at the cost of the truth. Focus on two opposite extremes obscures the truth which exists somewhere in between the extreme positions.

If this becomes the norm rather than the exception to the rule, truth and justice are set aside and replaced with a distortion of what’s true and just.

Then, those who are guilty and corrupt are tolerated while those who are innocent and righteous are ignored or crushed and oppressed.

This disgusts the Lord and it ought to do the same for those of us who trust in Him.

Cultural shifts take place frequently. A wind of new wisdom and insight blows in and people get swept up and away with whatever the popular current may be. This is not new. History reminds us of this if we pay attention to it.

But, when the cultural current flips our moral standards upside down and ethics are mocked—the people of God must take action.

“What can we do about it,” you might ask?

We need to stand firm in what we know to be right and true and good. This is a continuing message in Proverbs (Prov 1:1-7). This is what the Lord expects of those who trust in Him.

Photo by  Adi Goldstein  on  Unsplash

Does it sound too simplistic, even weak? It isn’t.

Try standing in a swift-moving stream while standing on a rocky and sandy riverbed. You’ll find it’s not so easy.

How about standing in the ocean in knee-deep water where the waves break near the shore with the back and forth movement of the tide? If you’re not careful, it will knock you down and pull you out into deeper water and stronger waves.

Stand firm!

Stand firm in what is right and true and just. Stand up for the innocent and oppressed. Move beyond ideology and rhetoric when confronted with a distortion of truth and justice.

As it says in the book of Romans—

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (Rom 12:21 GW)

This is difficult to do in many real-life circumstances but God will honor it. The more you and I stand firm, the stronger we become.

Reflection—

We need to stand firm in what we know to be right and true and good. The Lord expects all people who trust in Him to do this. Let’s move beyond ideology and rhetoric when confronted with a distortion of truth and justice.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for God to make the truth of His written word more clear to you, especially when He speaks of how we are to live and act as His living representatives in this world. Ask for discernment, discretion, and wisdom for how to stand firm for what is good, true, right, and just.

©Word-Strong_2018


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