people

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)


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

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

The Fickle Factor

Showing partiality is not good,

because some people will turn on you even for a piece of bread.

Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool.

Whoever walks in wisdom will survive.

Whoever gives to the poor lacks nothing.

Whoever ignores the poor receives many curses. (Proverbs 28:21, 26-27 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 28:17-28 GW)


People are fickle. This includes you and me. Driven by emotion or in reaction to changing situations, we change our minds. We make commitments and decisions but don’t follow through with them. We change because life changes around us.

We set ourselves up with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. When we’re let down—even when we fail to keep our own expectations—we tend to blame others. We’re fickle but there’s often good reason for it. Of course, we can also be capricious and unreliable—just like everyone else.

How can we avoid or overcome this fickle factor in life? Great question but there’s no easy answer—only a difficult one.

A prevailing thought is to focus on what you can control not what is beyond your control. This can be a good starting point but it leaves us with another question—what is really in our control? Our self? Self-control alone is a big challenge.

Every day is full of variables way beyond any person’s control—the weather, world events, the progression of time, people—those involved in our life and billions of others in the world, the universe, and so many other things.

So, the only possible domain of control is our own life. But we are impacted by the people and events surrounding our life every day. If we try to escape all of it, we isolate ourselves and whatever flaws and challenges within us are heightened by our isolation.

Isolation is not a viable option. We need others. None of us are self-sufficient enough to live on our own, independent of others. Self-sufficiency is a fantasy. We are far more dependent on others than we like to admit.

Can you imagine what it would be like if all 7.7 billion people on earth tried to live independent of each other? It would be chaos. No, it would be worse than chaos.

Self-sufficiency is a fantasy

What is in our control?

So, what’s the point of all this? We’re back to the question—what is in our control? The answer is difficult only because we are more prone to being self-absorbed than self-controlled. Delving into our selected verses from Proverbs 28 will give us some insights.

Looking at verse 21 first—Why is showing partiality not so good? It speaks to the inconsistent and unreliable impact of moral relativism—fickleness when determining what’s right or wrong.

Moral relativism is fickleness about what is right or wrong

What happens to other people and how they respond to their life situations is beyond our control. Whatever we hope to gain or avoid when showing favoritism or partiality sets us up for unrealistic expectations of others.

As made clear throughout Proverbs, trusting in anyone other than the Lord is unwise, or as it says here in verse 26—Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool. Wisdom is gained by trusting in the Lord.

When we trust in the Lord and live according to the wisdom He gives us, we can be confident of a more consistent and reliable outcome with others. Why? Because we choose to trust the Lord and His direction rather than the fickle whims of people and the world around us.

When life is more stable than when we trust in our own limited judgments and perceptions, we can be confident of God’s provision for our everyday life. This leads to contentment and frees us to be generous with others.

Generosity and contentment enable us to give freely without expectations. When I give to others without expecting anything of them, I’m less likely to be judgmental of them.

I have no expectations of them—why they’re in need, what they will do with what I give them, or how they will make it further without my help. All of that is beyond my control.

Contentment frees us to be generous with others

My trust in the Lord frees me from the fickle factor of my expectations of others and their expectations of me.

Reflection—

Trusting in the Lord frees us from the fickle factor of our expectations of others and their expectations of us. It also frees us from the fickleness of moral relativism and frees us to be generous with others.

Prayer Focus—

If you struggle with what seems to be fickleness in life with people, the world around you, or within yourself—seek to grow in trusting the Lord in all things and all ways in your life. He alone is not fickle!

©Word-Strong_2019


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People—Simple but Complicated

A motive in the human heart is like deep water,

and a person who has understanding draws it out.

Who can say, “I’ve made my heart pure. I’m cleansed from my sin”?

Even a child makes himself known by his actions,

whether his deeds are pure or right. (Proverbs 20:5, 9, 11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 20:1-13 GW)


People are people

Across cultures and geography, the basic needs and wants of people are the same. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for the most part, are true any place among the peoples of the world.

And so, at a basic level, people are simple to understand. If we lack basic physiological needs, we’ll be motivated to fill those needs. Of course, this is in a general sense and there are always exceptions to the rule. But, as a general rule—people are people.

Beyond basic needs people get a bit complicated. The motives of a person’s heart aren’t always easy to discern, especially when the mind and heart of a person is in conflict.

Sociopaths and psychopaths are examples of people whose values and judgment are in conflict or turned upside down. Somewhere along the line, the development of their moral conscience was short-circuited..

What’s all of this got to do with these verses in Proverbs? Plenty!

Discernment and wisdom needed

Discernment and wisdom are required to know and understand a person’s motives. Psychology can help us with clinical observations but to discern at a deeper level we need help.

This is where the wisdom of God and God’s Spirit are valuable.

God—our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer—knows everyone inside and out—our deepest thoughts, motives, and feelings. We need His help and guidance to understand others, as well as ourselves.

As a leader and in counseling others, I learned how valuable it was to listen well.

I learned how valuable it is to listen well

Listening well includes hearing what is spoken, what is not said, and what is held back. Not just reading between the lines but listening at a deeper, spiritual level.

Self-deception

On the subject of motives, we often don’t discern our own motives. We fool ourselves into thinking our heart is pure and without sin.

For some of us, self-deception becomes our shield from reality. Self-deception can even become somewhat of an art form but not in a good way.

While counseling people and even while teaching or preaching, I often sensed the Lord asking me, “Are you hearing what you’re saying to them?” More often than I’d liked to admit, I needed to hear and heed my own counsel for others.

Sooner or later, who we are and what our motives are is revealed through our actions and attitudes. Others tend to know things about us before we’re aware of them—especially our parents, spouses, close friends, and children.

Even sociopaths and psychopaths are seen for who they are at some point though they don’t realize it themselves.

People are people. We’re all the same for the most part. Only God knows us and others at the deepest level of our being.

It takes patience and help to draw water from a deep well, as it does to discern motives and values in the heart of a person including ourselves.

Want to know your own or someone else’s motives?

Be patient. Be a good listener. Be humble.

And ask God for discernment and wisdom.

Reflection—

God alone knows us in the deepest sense. If we want to understand our own motives or the motives of others, we need His help. We also need to be patient, humble, and learn to listen well—to God and others.

Prayer Focus—

As you go through your day, ask God to give you discernment and wisdom in your dealings with others and for how you live and interact with others.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Combatting Compassion Fatigue

Whoever has pity on the poor lends to the Lord,

and he will repay him for his good deed. (Proverbs 19:17 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 19:15-29 GW)


“Bad news travels fast” is an old saying and the internet enables bad news to travel faster than the speed of thought. The converse of this is good news is under-reported or ignored. A simple example is how quick gossip and rumors spread that subdue or suppress the truth.

Hearing bad or disturbing news over and over can wear a person out and numb us to the needs of others. The effect of hearing of relief efforts and needs following disasters can bring what’s called compassion fatigue.

Here’s a hard reality—poverty and neediness is a human condition not just an economic problem. That’s not to say those living in poverty brought it upon themselves. That’s just not true. But it’s not possible to solve the problem of poverty and need with money. It’s deeper than that.

Photo by  Fancycrave  on  Unsplash

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

As Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you….” (Mark 14:7 GW) Jesus wasn’t being cold-hearted about the issue of poverty but realistic.

As Mother Teresa once said about the overwhelming needs of the poor—If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.

Thousands and thousands of missionaries and relief workers understand this. They know the task is to do what needs to be done the best you can—one day at a time.

It’s not about solving a global problem but caring for and engaging with people.

I have a few personal heroes—everyday heroes who are living testimonies of doing the best they can with the needs in front of them every day. They do what they do because of compassion fueled by the love of God in their hearts.

A good friend of mine goes into parts of the world the US State Department says are too dangerous for travel. He and his organization go into war-torn and disaster devastated regions after the big non-profit agencies have come and gone.

They focus on education and community development. It’s difficult and time-consuming work. It’s the long view of relief work and is restorative and preventative.

A young woman I know, through a long-time friend, goes into war-torn areas like the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Brazil and Ukraine to work with women who’ve endured loss, rape, and violence. With the help of her church, she established a ministry of empowerment and restoration.

She teaches them basic self-defense combined with the hope of the Gospel. I’m amazed with her heart and boldness and life-giving vision.

Another long-time friend and pastor developed an international ministry for those impacted by HIV–AIDS. It’s a ministry that extends mercy and grace in tangible and sustainable ways with the hope of the Gospel. It grew out of a response to needs of people in his church in the US.

Each one of my personal heroes aren’t just showing compassion to the poor, they are in a partnership with the Lord. They are confident in the Lord and His call on their lives. Confident in God’s faithfulness and grace, as He honors their hearts and ministry.

And if you want to help any of them and their ministries, just click on the links above. I can personally and highly recommend each of them and their ministries!

Reflection—

Do you see giving to the poor as “lending to the Lord,” as a partnership with Him by caring for others? When we have a heart to see people as the Lord sees them, we’ll be moved to care for them as He would.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for God to open your eyes to the needs of people in your life and sphere of influence. Ask God to help you see beyond yourself to enter into partnership with Him in reaching out to others with His mercy and grace.

©Word-Strong_2018


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