freedom

A Flawed and Failed Attempt to Escape

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In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. Ruth 1:1 NIV [see full devo text in NIV below]

The people of Israel were ruled by judges—rescuers sent by God—for about 340 years. The nation was in a time of moral and spiritual darkness brought on by idolatry, oppression, and slavery.

God would send these judges—leaders who would deliver the people from their oppressors—to restore freedom and stability. But this freedom only lasted for a season. On and on this cycle of slavery and freedom continued for more than 300 years.

Typically, other nations or tribal groups would subdue the people of Israel into servitude to plunder their crops and livestock. This was one way God dealt with Israel’s rebellion towards Him since it created economic hardship and oppression.

When a severe famine came, one family chose to escape the hardship by moving to a neighboring country—Moab (now part of present-day Jordan).

The escape

A father and mother—Elimelek and Naomi—set out from the region of Judah with their two sons—Mahlon and Kilion—to establish a home in this foreign land.

But things did not go well for them in Moab. Naomi’s husband died leaving her widowed with two sons. The sons married Moabite women but they both died as well.

Now, Naomi was stuck in a foreign land as a widow saddled with responsibility for her son’s widows. In those days, women had little to no status or resources for support on their own—especially a widow with two dependent women in a country far from her homeland.

And then, things began to change for the better. After ten years away, Naomi heard of the Lord’s plentiful provision in her homeland of Judah and decided to return home with her two daughters-in-law.

A problem with trust

At the beginning of the story of the Book of Ruth, we can see their move to Moab as a flawed and failed attempt to escape God’s judgment on Israel.

Why would Elimelek leave his homeland during the famine? He feared what might happen to his family if they stayed—hunger and possible death from starvation or worse.

But Israel’s real problem was one of trust.

They chose not to trust the Lord who had made them to be a people different from other nations. A people who trusted in a living God (Deut 7:6) rather than many gods.

As a nation, Israel chose not to trust the Lord and the Covenant Law between He and them. Instead, they looked to other gods. Lesser gods formed into images they could see and touch. The gods of a foreign people who didn’t know or trust in the Lord—the Living God, Yahweh.

This is our problem too.

We all struggle to trust in God who is invisible and spirit (John 4:24), even though He made Himself known in human form through His Son, Jesus.

It’s easier to trust in what we can see, feel, and relate to as individual humans. Our gods or idols—though we don’t see them as such—are in the form of people, possessions, wealth, status, and whatever else we might put confidence in and value.

But our trust in such things or in our own efforts to please God are futile. It’s a misplaced trust. This simple illustration and life application can be drawn from this introduction to the Book of Ruth.

The family set out to Moab to escape the famine and its consequences but the man and his two sons died. Their escape was short lived. And this left the man’s widow and extended family in a worse situation than when they left their homeland.

A choice

Naomi’s options were to stay where she was with little to no hope for the future or return to her homeland, her people, and her God. The home she left ten years before was where the promised provision was now.

In a sense, she went back to square one as we say now but without the husband and sons she went out with. Even in this we can see God’s mercy.

She went out from her home and her people to seek better provision for a better life instead of trusting in God. Although she and her husband made their choice, God remembered her and had a much greater plan to unfold in her life.

There’s far more to this story in the Book of Ruth, as we shall see later. But for now, ask yourself—

Who or what do you trust in?

Reflection—

If whatever or whoever you put trust in aren’t as reliable and trustworthy as the One True and Living God—why would you place your trust in it or them? Faith in God requires trust—a personal and childlike trust in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself trusting in other things or someone else, including yourself, remember there is One who is ever-faithful and trustworthy. Even when you can’t see how it will help—seek the Lord’s guidance and wisdom and trust in His grace—His goodness.


devo Scripture Text

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. (Ruth 1:1-6 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

Things and People Who Are Never Satisfied

The bloodsucking leech has two daughters—“Give!” and “Give!”

Three things are never satisfied. Four never say, “Enough!”:

the grave, a barren womb,

a land that never gets enough water,

a fire that does not say, “Enough!” (Proverbs 30:15-16 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:1-16 GW)


Have you ever wanted something so much you’d do most anything to get it? And when you got whatever it was you wanted, you realized it wasn’t enough? It didn’t satisfy the want inside you.

This is the reality of greed and lust—not just sexual lust—but a deep longing that never seems to be satisfied. It’s the unrestrained self—like a bottomless pit of want.

This sense of dissatisfaction is not because of a lack of something but abundance. This abundance is the entrance to the bottomless pit of want. It sets a person up to want more but it never brings satisfaction.

As mentioned in a previous devotional, the use of numbers and lists in the book of Proverbs provides helpful ways to remember various truths. In these two verses, our list moves in a progression from two to four but with one theme—never satisfied.

2 daughters—Give and Give more

It begins with the descriptive picture of a bloodsucking leech. Those worm-like, slimy creatures whose flat undersides attach to a person’s skin with their other side rounded which grows more round as blood is sucked from their host victim.

Not a flattering description of someone who attaches themselves to another for provision and sustenance! But it makes the point in a graphic way.

Not everyone who begs is a leech. But some people only seem to know how to take and never give. The more given to them, the more they want and take. One Bible version says this—

A leech has twin daughters named “Gimme” and “Gimme more.” (Prov 30:15 MSG)

When a person develops a dependency on another or others, it becomes more and more difficult for them to let go of their dependency. It doesn’t matter what form the dependency takes—they will always want more. In some ways it’s like an addiction.

Isn’t it interesting how lottery winners are sought after by friends and family, and others who have all sorts of advice on how to handle the winnings. Some are more subtle than others but a lot of hands are extended in expectation of the lottery winner sharing their wealth.

Wealthy people always seem to have at least one if not a few family members who feel entitled to the family wealth. This is a universal reality down through the ages.

Government assistance is essential for many people to survive. No question. But it can be taken advantage of and milked in many ways. This type of dependency becomes a way of life and livelihood and the system often discourages efforts to be weaned from this dependency.

Never enough

It’s not all about leeches though. Four other examples are given of this unsatisfied state.

The grave

The grave is a reminder of the universal reality of death. As many have said before—no one gets out of this life alive. None of us escapes the grasp of death. Even cryogenics happens after death, well…unless someone volunteers to be frozen alive.

Although the grave—death—isn’t just for the old. I’ve presided over too many funerals and memorials of people who died too soon. But as we age, the finality and reality of death claiming life presses into our psyche more and more.

A barren womb

A woman who longs for a child of her own bears a heavy weight. There are no easy answers. Only well-meaning platitudes that fall flat and increase the harsh longing of a mother-to-be.

There are stories in the Bible that illustrate this, such as Sarah—Abraham’s wife who was to bear the son of a man called the father of many nations (Gen 17:1-8; 15-20). Hannah’s story, the mother of Samuel the prophet, illustrates the heaviness of a barren womb even more so (1 Sam 1:1-18).

Land and water

Farmers, gardeners, even firefighters know how thirsty the ground is for water. Water either soaks in too fast or not at all, or runs off before it can soak in and satisfy the needs of plant and tree growth.

Keep in mind this is a picture. It illustrates something of life from nature. Think of the different situations it might represent—flooding or drought, the cycle of seasons in relation to farming. Now, consider how this relates to your own life. Need a start? How about—you don’t miss the water till the well runs dry.

Fire

Fire brings us full circle. A close friend and firefighter told me this about fire years ago—as long as there is fuel and oxygen, the fire stays alive and consumes whatever is in its path. It’s never satisfied. It never says enough!

Anyone who has experienced a powerful fire firsthand—whether in a building or a forest—can attest to the fierce consuming power of fire. My wife and I have. It is hard to put the experience into words except to say—it’s fierce and powerful and indiscriminate in its destructive power.

The sense of not being satisfied only stops when we surrender it to God and ask for Him to rescue us. We may be able to dull it or try to avoid or ignore it but it doesn’t just go away because it’s embedded in us.

King Solomon understood this personally, as seen in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

This is why Jesus made so many personal invitations to come to Him. And He showed us the way of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42) so we could be set free of this unsatisfied sense and be fulfilled in Him.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38 NIV)

Reflection—

Whatever dissatisfaction we might have will only be quelled when we surrender it to God and ask Him to rescue us. For the Lord desires to rescue and free us, and to fill us with contentment and life.

Prayer Focus—

Are there ways you find yourself longing for something or someone that hasn’t been satisfied and leaves you wanting? Bring these desires, longings, and wants to the Lord and surrender them in prayer. Give them to Him in your heart and ask for His help.

©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

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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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Not Afraid

Fear can paralyze or energize us. It's called the flight or fight effect. But the fear of fear—of sudden terror—is a bottomless pit. There's no end to it. It doesn't paralyze, it puts a person in a comatose emotional and mental state.

A fear of sudden terror is understandable for war-torn regions of the world and for people living under an oppressive government. In those situations, a general fear for one's life is realistic, but it's not for those of us who live in nations with some form of democracy or representative government.

Hallelujah!

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Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament!

Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! [vss 1-2]

Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp!

Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!

Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! [vss 3-6]

(Psalms 150:1-6 GW)


Hallelujah is universally known as an expression of praise. It literally means—Praise the LORD! The LORD—the Self-Existent and Eternal One. Our human desire and need for praise in some form are also universal. It's connected to the basic need of every soul who cries out for acceptance and approval— pure love.

Our pets demonstrate a similar need for attention and affection. Studies even show people with pets are usually happier because of the mutual care between the pet and their master.

However, an unintended but common consequence of the attention and affection shown to pets is the lack of showing the same to people, especially significant others.

The reason for this is complicated because relationships with people are complicated. Why? Because of the expectations we put on relationships and the inevitable disappointments and hurts resulting from unmet expectations.

Another inherent need is expressing praise not just receiving it. Something comes alive in us when we express genuine and heartfelt praise. It fills us with joy and contentment. As a parent and grandparent, I receive joy and love when I show my joy and love for my children and grandchildren.

Likewise, when I express my love and affection to my wife I enjoy a connection and fulfillment I miss out on when I keep my thoughts and words of love and affection inside, unexpressed.

Psalm 150, the final expression of praise in this collection of prayers and songs is a reminder we are all created for a greater purpose than what typically fills our life.

God breathed life into us. He sustains our life. He provided a means of knowing Him intimately and personally. When we praise Him in a genuine way, we experience a fulfillment and freedom not found anywhere else with anyone else on earth.

Only one word is adequate to express that sense of true fulfillment and freedom—Hallelujah!

Do you know or desire to know true fulfillment and freedom deep within your soul?

God—the Creator and Sustainer of all life—calls us into a universal chorus of praise with all creation to be expressed in many ways. Join in with your own Hallelujah!

©Word-Strong_2017


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I won't cover all 150 Psalms, but do selective devotionals through the rest of Psalms.

So if I skip one that you like... let me know and I'll try to cover it!