Ruth 2:14-23

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”

When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain.She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. 18 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.

19 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.

20 “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 guardian-redeemers.”

21 Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”

22 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.”

23 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 2:14-23 NIV)

As we pick up the story of Ruth and Naomi from last time, we see Ruth stepping up to help provide for herself and Naomi.  Ruth volunteered to glean in the fields after the harvesters, picking up the stray stalks of grain for food.  Ruth was willing to endure the ridicule, scorn, and even potential racist treatment in order to provide for herself and Naomi.

In our last session, we also met Boaz, the owner of the field where Ruth was gleaning.  When Boaz inquired about Ruth, his workers filled him in.  He extended his kindness and generosity toward her both verbally and materially, telling her to stay with his harvesters for protection and provision.

Today we see Boaz continue to extend his kindness, directly to Ruth and indirectly to Naomi.  Boaz offers Ruth food at mealtime, and instructs his harvesters to treat Ruth with respect (no harassment or ridicule) and generosity (telling his workers to leave some extra stalks behind for her to gather).

At the end of the day, verse 17 tells us Ruth gathered about 30 pounds of grain.  This was far more than she had ever expected to gather in an entire week or longer.

When Ruth returned home, imagine Naomi’s shock and surprise!  Verse 19 gives us insight into Naomi’s response.  In typical motherly fashion, Naomi begins the rapid-fire questioning:  “where did you go?  who did you meet?  how did you get all this grain? who did all this for you/us?”

Ruth proceeds to tell the events of the day and informs Naomi that Boaz owned the field where she was gleaning.  Ruth told Naomi about all the kindnesses Boaz had done for her and Naomi.

Naomi then told Ruth about their family relationship to Boaz, through her deceased husband.  In verse 20, Naomi recounts to Ruth that Boaz is a guardian-redeemer for them.  The term “guardian-redeemer” was a legal term given by the Lord (Leviticus 25:25-55) to provide for widows and the poor in Israel.  The Lord set up a system of family care so that no one would starve to death or go without food or shelter.  There would be poor people in Israel, but no one was to be totally destitute and without hope.  Boaz knew his relationship to Naomi and Ruth and willingly stepped up to help.  Notice that Boaz did not hold this guardian-redeemer role over Ruth’s head nor did he provide grudgingly.  He did so with genuine kindness and care for them.

May we treat others around us with similar care and concern as Boaz cared for Naomi and Ruth.  And when others offer us help in our time of need, may we see it as God’s provision and give thanks to the Lord and the one helping.  May our pride not interfere with what God is doing in both the heart of the giver and the one being blessed.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ruth 2:1-13

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.”

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”
(Ruth 2:1-13 NIV)

As we begin chapter 2, we see Ruth’s willingness to pitch in and find some food for her and Naomi.  Ruth could have held a spirit of entitlement, demanding Naomi to meet her needs.  Instead, even as a foreigner, she took the initiative and went out to glean in the fields.  Verse 7 show us Ruth’s work ethic, toiling constantly in the hot sun, other than a short break under a shelter (and probably at the insistence of others to rest before she collapsed).

Verses 1 and 3 introduce us to Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelek.  Once again, God in his divine providence sets up situations to provide for His own.  In this case, the Lord guides Ruth to find favor with the people harvesting Boaz’ fields.

Notice the kindness shown by Ruth (verse 2), as she asks Naomi’s permission and blessing before going out to glean in the fields.

Notice the great relationship Boaz had with his harvesting crew (verse 4), as he greeted them in the Lord, and they offered their blessing in response.  Working for Boaz was still back-breaking manual labor, but the kindness and care Boaz showed to his crew made all the difference to the workers.

Verses 8 through 13 show us the first interaction between Ruth and Boaz.  When Boaz discovers who Ruth is, he immediately shows her kindness and an extra measure of assistance with access to water and protection by his harvesting crew.

Verse 12 shows Boaz knows of Ruth’s conversion from idol worship to worshipping the Lord and offers her kind words of blessing and encouragement in addition to letting her gather in his fields.

Ruth is humbled and blessed by Boaz, and let him know of her gratitude.  She fully recognizes that she is lower in standing than Boaz’ servants, but yet he shows her grace and allows her to gather as if she is one of his own.

May we have the same humble attitudes as Ruth and Boaz, showing kindness to those who cross our paths.  May we pay attention to those who are in need and show them respect and offer to do what we can to help.  And when we are in need, may we not claim entitlement, but rather have a willingness to jump in and help, no matter how humble or grueling the task.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ruth 1:19-22

19 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?”

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almightyhas made my life very bitter. 21 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.”

22 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)

Previously, Naomi learned that the famine in Israel was over.  She decides to leave Moab and go back to her hometown of Bethlehem.  Her two daughters-in-law decide to go with her.  Naomi tries to dissuade them – Orpah decides to stay in Moab, and Ruth will not be talked out of her decision to follow Naomi back to Bethlehem.

So the two ladies begin their journey from Moab back to Bethlehem.  There was no public transportation in those days, and as widows, they had no money for horses or donkeys, so they walked.  Whatever little possessions they had, they carried with them.

Scholars estimate that the journey was about 40 to 60 miles, depending on available roads and terrain in their day.  This would take about 7 to 10 days on foot.  Needless to say, it was an arduous journey for anyone.

When Naomi and Ruth arrived back in Bethlehem, they quickly became the talk of the town.  All the women were wondering, “Is this Naomi?”

Put yourself in Naomi’s place for a moment.  You left Bethlehem with your husband and two boys, seeking refuge from the famine.  Now ten years later you are coming back with no husband, no sons, a foreign daughter-in-law and no grandchildren.  In a culture that equated material possessions with God’s blessings, it is obvious that something has gone terribly wrong, and you are under God’s judgment.

Naomi had known that this return to Bethlehem would be hard; she knew the cultural norms and thoughts about material possessions and God’s supposed blessings.  What she likely had not expected was the pain of having to recount her story over and over as she encountered old friends, neighbors, relatives, and acquaintances back in Bethlehem.  All the old memories and joy with her husband and two boys were swallowed up in the pain of their deaths and her current situation.  And with each encounter, the inevitable question of “what happened?” would have to be retold.  At each retelling, there would be a certain implied cultural pronouncement of shame and judgment on the part of the hearer.

The pain was too much for Naomi to bear.  Naomi’s name meant “pleasant”.   She was so afflicted by her situation that she told the Hebrew women to call her by a new name – “Mara”, which means “bitter”.  She fully embraced the cultural norm and accepted the heavy weight of what appeared to be (by cultural standards) God’s judgment upon her.

All the while this was happening, Ruth was right by Naomi’s side, both a blessing to her as a faithful companion, as well as a constant visible and living reminder of her past ten years and the bitterness of her life.

The author closes chapter one by providing an anecdotal note about the season of their return to Bethlehem – just as the barley harvest was beginning.

As we look at life from Naomi’s point of view and the cultural lens through which she interpreted her situation, life is really hard.  Naomi fully embraced the belief that God’s hand of judgment was upon her.  She even changed her name to reflect this supposed reality.

When hard times come in our life, what measure do we use to understand and process our situation?  Do we use cultural norms, our own feelings, or God’s Word?  Do we try to ignore or gloss over our situation, like it never happened?  Do we fully embrace our situation and let it define us like Naomi did?  Or do we agree that hard times have come, but lean on God and His Word for help through the difficulties?

Thankfully the story does not end here.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ruth 1:6-19

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. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-lawgoodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
(Ruth 1:6-19 NIV)

As we pick up Naomi’s story where we left off yesterday, we see Naomi ten years later as a widow and two widowed daughters-in-law, and no grandchildren.  Nothing but shattered dreams and a broken heart to show for her time in a foreign land that is hostile to her and her people.

Naomi gets word that God has come to the aid of the Israelites and provided food.  She decides that life can’t be any harder there than here in Moab, so she decides to go back to her home in Bethlehem.  She tries to talk her daughters-in-law into staying in Moab among their own people.  At first, both girls oppose her, telling her they will go with her and be with “her people” (the Israelites).

Naomi tries a second time to get them to stay in Moab.  This time, Orpah decides to stay, but Ruth is determined to go with Naomi.  Ruth tells Naomi that she will even change her “religion” to the God of Israel.  Naomi sees the determination in Ruth’s eyes and does not try to dissuade her any longer.

Do others see the Lord in our life like Ruth saw God in Naomi’s life?  Are they willing to follow Jesus because of what they see in our lives?  May God have the freedom to show Himself to others through us – may we get out of the way so others can see Him shining in us.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ruth 1:1-5

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.
(Ruth 1:1-5 NIV)

Today we begin the study of the book of Ruth.

The author does not identify himself but provides a context for understanding a bit more of the story.  Chronologically, verse 1 tells us the story of Ruth occurred during the days of the Judges of Israel.  This was the time period after Joshua had led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, and before the Israelites had asked God for a king (Saul).

Verse 1 also tells us that there was a famine in the land of Israel.  We don’t have another Biblical cross-reference to the famine that was taking place.  We only know that famine in an arid land like Israel is severe and life-threatening.

We do know that Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, the land dripping with milk and honey, and now there was a nation-wide famine.  God had warned Moses and Joshua that the Israelites would disobey God and there would be consequences, including but not limited to famine (Deuteronomy 31 and 32).  We can only surmise that the Israelites had abandoned God and were suffering His wrath for their disobedience.

One of the Israelites, a man named Elimelek, decided to move his family (himself, his wife Naomi, and their two sons) from their home in Bethlehem to a place east of the Dead Sea.  This new temporary location was a land called Moab, part of what we know today as the country of Jordan.

From subsequent records in the book of Ruth, we know that Elimelek and his family did not abandon their faith and worship of the true God of Israel, as some had done.  But a famine made life extremely difficult and Elimelek decided that temporarily enduring the disdain and persecution of the Moabites would be better than starving to death in Israel.

Some scholars are pretty tough on Elimelek, saying he should have stuck out living in Israel instead of abandoning ship and moving to the cursed land of Moab.  I don’t know that we can make that judgment based on the Scriptural text at hand – it does not say either way.  We do know that God has cursed Moab because of its unwillingness to follow the God of Israel and that the Moabites were hostile toward the Israelites.

The text says in the course of ten years Elimelek died, their two boys married Moabite women, and the both boys died before having any children.  Naomi was now a widow with two daughters-in-law and no means of support, living in a foreign land hostile to her faith and to her as a person.

What Elimelek intended to be a temporary respite from the famine in Israel turned out to be Naomi’s worst nightmare.  All she had left were shattered dreams, a broken heart, and ten years’ of a seemingly wasted life.

What seems like the end is only the beginning.  Let’s pick up the story the next time and see what God is up to.

Blessings,
~kevin

Colossians 4:7-18

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
(Colossians 4:7-18 NIV)

Paul wraps up his letter to the Colossian church by extending some comments to individuals within the church, and from those who are with Paul.

Paul chose Tychicus to carry the letter to the Colossian church.  Tychicus was a traveling companion and fellow minister with Paul (Acts 20:4).  Paul also sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12, Ephesians 6:21).  Rather than record his specific situation on paper, Paul chose to let Tychicus tell the Colossian believers what was going on and how he was doing as a political prisoner in Rome.

Also accompanying Paul was Onesimus, the runaway slave from Colossae that ended up in Rome and whom Paul had led to the Lord (Philemon 1:10).  Paul also wrote and sent a letter with Tychicus to Philemon (Philemon), as Onesimus’ slave owner, pleading with him to take back Onesimus not only as a slave but now as a brother in Christ.

Paul next mentions Aristarchus, another one of Paul’s traveling companions and fellow ministers of the Gospel (Acts 19:29, Acts 20:4, Acts 27:2).

Paul also extends greetings on behalf of John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin  (verse 10).  This is significant, because Paul and Barnabas had taken John Mark on a previous journey and John Mark had left them and returned home.  This was a major point of contention between Paul and Barnabas, to the point of casuing them to break friendship and part ways for a while (Acts 15:36-38).  Thankfully we have this passage as well as 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 1:24 to show us that Paul had reconciled with John Mark and Paul had included him in his ministry again.

Staying behind with Paul was Epaphras, the pastor of the Colossian church.  Epaphras was likely headed out to the two other local city churches in Hieropolis and Laodicea before returning home to Colossae.

Paul also mentions Doctor Luke (the writer of the Gospel of Luke as well as the Book of Acts) who is with Paul, and Demas, another one of Paul’s traveling companions (verse 14).  Demas would later desert Paul and leave the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:10).

Paul’s closure in mentioning all those associated with him here is a great reminder that we must minister in community.  None of us is a “lone cowboy” to take on a ministry or work on our own.

May we serve the Lord in community, encouraging one another and carrying the Gospel message together to those around us, demonstrating God’s grace to all we encounter.

Blessings,
~kevin

Colossians 4:2-6

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace,seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
(Colossians 4:2-6 NIV)

Paul provides final instructions to the Colossian church (and to us) before offering a few personal closing remarks to end his letter.

Paul covers two topics as he wraps up his notes:  prayer and proclamation of the Gospel.

Note that Paul starts with prayer, then talks about the proclamation of the Gospel.  We must focus on “being” before we can engage in “doing”.  We must be “Mary” before we can be “Martha” (Luke 10:38-42). Devotion to the Lord must always precede our duty for the Lord.

So what does Paul say about prayer?  First of all, Paul tells us to devote ourselves to prayer.  The word Paul uses for “devote” means to put our strength, our power into our prayers, to persevere when we pray.  Prayer is not a reciting of words, but a pouring out of our heart before God.  When we pray, we are coming before the Lord and asking His help with life.  We are admitting our helplessness and inviting Him to have His way in our life, knowing that His way is better than our way.

As we learn to pray with devotion, we develop a deeper desire for the Lord.  Our longing is for Him and Him alone.  The desires of this world fade into the background as we seek His face and companionship.

David gives us a tremendous word picture of what it means to have a deep desire for the Lord:

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1 NIV)

Paul also tells us to be watchful and thankful as we pray.

What does Paul mean by being “watchful”?  It means to be awake and engaged as we pray.  Have you ever fallen asleep during your prayer time?  The disciples did (Matthew 26:41) even after Jesus instructed them otherwise.

Paul adds the repeating theme of thankfulness during prayer time to all the other reminders he gave previously.  Without thankfulness, our prayer life gravitates toward selfish wish-fulfillment rather than gratitude for all God has done in us and for us.

Paul then moves on to request prayer for himself and his companions.  Notice that Paul does not pray for release from captivity.  Instead, he prays for opportunities to minister where he is, regardless of his circumstances – even if his circumstances include being a political prisoner in chains.

Paul believed in blooming wherever God planted him.  Do we have that same resolve and spirit for the Lord?  What is holding us back from doing the same?

In verses 5 and 6, Paul moves on to remind us about our proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Paul focuses on our conduct and our conversations as the key factors in engaging others with the Gospel.

Paul reminds us to be wise in our conduct before others, as the Lord provides us many opportunities to interact with those who don’t know the Lord.  May our conduct never be a deterrent to someone seeing Christ in us and desiring what the Lord has done in our lives in theirs also.

Paul assumes that our conduct provides opportunities to have conversations with others.  He then proceeds to remind us that our words, as well as our conduct, must reflect Christ.  How do we do this?  Paul says our words must always be full of grace, as if seasoned by salt, to bring out the full flavor of Christ.  We are not to beat others over the head with our Bibles; instead, we must use God’s Word for healing, for comfort, for gentle transformation to be more Christ-like.  This begins with using Scripture as our own mirror to see our brokenness and His perfect healing and reconciliation that we can humbly share with others.

Lord, may we live out Paul’s final reminders to us to pray, and to proclaim what You have done for us as we walk with You the rest of our days.

Blessings,
~kevin