Hitting the target with your words

1 Samuel 3:19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 

When I was a teenager, I made the trek up to an Indian Reservation in Northern Canada to be a camp counselor.  The first time, I went with my youth pastor and some other teens.  The second time, I went with a friend of mine.  I’m sure I could have found a closer camp to be a counselor at, but it was worth the drive to have the experience with these kids.  We had so much fun those summers.  I remember how different the worship music was and how fun those kids were.  In fact, I believe this is where I led my first person to the Lord.  I was so nervous to lead someone in a prayer of salvation.

I also remember the bow and arrow contests we had.  As counselors, we were supposed to teach the kids to shoot an arrow.  The only problem: I wasn’t very good at it.  In fact, many of those kids put me to shame.  Maybe you remember the first time you tried to shoot at arrow from a bow.  You put the arrow in and get that string on there… you pull back and BAM!  The arrow falls to the ground at your feet.  At this point you are embarrassed and the target across the way seems to be laughing at you.  And there lies your poor arrow: far from the target, on the ground, waiting to be shot by an expert.

In 1 Samuel, it tells us that none of Samuel’s words fell to the ground. This picture of words falling to the ground is a picture of a rookie archer, an unskilled marksman.  It is like trying to shoot an arrow and having it land at your feet.  But this never happened to Samuel; his words always hit the target.  I wonder what it would be like to never have wasted words. Imagine not regretting what you just said.  That was the life of Samuel.  He was effective with his speech at all times.

I want to strive for the same thing.  I want my words to hit the mark, not fall to the ground.  So I guess there are two things I can do to give me a better success rate.  The first is kind of obvious, but not always realistic – think before I speak.  Is what I am saying life giving?  Will it hit the mark or be a bunch of babble?  Second and probably way more important – listen to the Lord.  If I just got His perspective before talking, I would probably have fewer words fall to the ground.  So are you with me?  Let’s give it a try and see what happens.

Guys, stop trying to fix her

1 Samuel 1:8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

The scenario is somewhat familiar.  The wife is hurting, frustrated, hopeless, and downhearted.  She can’t take it anymore.  Then the husband comes in and assesses the situation.  “Okay, we’ve got a sad wife here. Time to problem solve.”  He treats her like something broken that needs to be fixed. He tries to get her to stop crying.  He offers her something to eat.  He asks her a question about their relationship.  But he just can’t seem to fix this problem.

Okay, husbands – you all know you have done the same thing.  Your wife presents you with a problem and you move into problem solving mode.  Surely she wants you to fix it.  Unfortunately, you are probably wrong.  What she probably wants is for you to listen.  And what she definitely needs is for you to take her burdens to the Lord.  So guys, stop trying to fix her.  Instead go to the Lord.

You see Hannah had a problem and Elkanah couldn’t fix it.  There is nothing in his power he could do.  He couldn’t think of a solution; he couldn’t come up with an answer.  The only solution to Hannah’s distress was the Lord.  Whether it be her desire to have children or her identity, it could only be found in the Lord.  But we so often try to fix things that only God can do.  We rack our brains and throw out worthless ideas because that’s all we’ve got.  God, however, has all the answers.  Better yet, He has the power to deliver those answers.  So let God be God.  Let Him be the one we run to with our deepest needs the way Hannah did.  If we do, we will surely find all that we need is in Him.

The fruit of redemption

Ruth 4:13-18   13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.  18 This, then, is the family line of Perez…

Wow. As I read this last chapter this morning, I must admit that I got a little emotional. Here we have the story of two widowed women whose family lines are on the brink of extinction – the ultimate blow to the people of Israel.  God said “be fruitful and multiply” and this is exactly what they did.  There was great pride in a family line, even greater than our pride today.  This picture then is more than just redemption; it is a picture of the fruit of redemption.

This section starts off beautifully: so Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.  As we have seen the last few days, it is the story of a foreigner who was taken in and treated as family.  It is a picture of us and Christ.  Here in Ruth 4 we have the wedding.  It is the picture of Christ and His bride.  Man, I love redemption stories!  But the part that really got me wasn’t poetic or profound.  Rather it was the last little section where the genealogy is listed.  It starts with these words: This, then, is the family line of Perez.

This is the family line!  Do you get that?  Redemption happened for Ruth, but it carried on for generations to come.  In fact, she became the great-grandmother of David.  David, people.  This is the same David who became the king of Israel, the same David whose lineage eventually led to Jesus, Himself.  And God used Ruth.  He used a foreigner to spark the ancestry of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.  Her redemption had great fruit!

I marvel at the character and plans of God today.  I am in amazement that he would use a foreigner as part of His plan to redeem all who were far away.  The fruit of her redemption was Jesus.  I know I am getting repetitive here, but this is such an incredible thing. And it leads me to think about the fruit of my redemption.  God has embraced me, too.  He has forgiven me and accepted me and calls me His son.  I want to have fruit to my redemption too.  (I don’t want to get pregnant, however.)  I want His mighty work in me to bear something.  I want it to mean something not just to me, but to those who come after me.

So God, I pray, let the fruit of Your redemption work in me be sweet.  Let it be lasting and let it be pleasing to You.  Thank you for redeeming my life.  Now I give it back to You.  Here I am, Lord, all of me.  I am wholly yours to bear the fruit that will be life to world.

A Working Man

Ruth 3:1-2 1 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her [Ruth], “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? 2 Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

In today’s passage, we have quite the unique marriage proposal.  When I proposed to my wife, I knelt down on one knee and asked her to marry me.  Ruth uncovered Boaz’ feet.  Does this seem strange to anyone but me?  Apparently it wasn’t strange in those times.  In fact, uncovering a man’s feet while he was sleeping was a customary way to ask him to marry you.  Okay, then. So Ruth proposes to Boaz.  As fascinating as this is, I was struck today not by what she asked him, but by what he was doing and where he was at.

First let me tell you a little story from my past.  I used to work in retail management.  I had lots of people that worked for me.  In fact, I was second in charge at the stores I worked at.  So when a dirty job needed to be done, I had plenty of people to ask.   One evening, it was reported to me that someone had thrown up in the men’s restroom. (Note to self: don’t blog while eating breakfast).  There was a young lady, a high school student, on duty that night and I asked her to clean up the mess in the men’s restroom.  That instruction alone freaked her out so she timidly approached the scene.  When she arrived, it was her worst nightmare – vomit.  She had a very sensitive gag reflex and just about added to the mess on the floor.  She came to me with all due respect and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”  She said she understood if I had to ask her to quit her job for not following instructions, but she just couldn’t do it.  Now what?  Well, I decided to just clean it up myself.

That story came to mind today as I was reading this passage.  I didn’t do anything special or extraordinary.  I just did what a leader should do, which is be willing to participate in the hard work.  And this is what struck me about Boaz today.  He had lots of people working for him.  He had workers and he had servants.  Yet he was out winnowing the barley with his own hands.  He was there not just to give instructions, but he was there to work.  He was there to serve.

It’s the same thing that Jesus did.  He came not just to give instructions; he came to work.  He came to get a job done.  He came to serve.  And He did all that He came to do.  He ministered to the most unlovable – he healed the sick and served the poor.  He washed His disciples stinky feet.  He labored on the cross and defeated the powers of darkness, all  with His own two hands.  Yes, Jesus was a working man.  He still is a working man.  And I am ever thankful that He is still working on me.

The Kinsman Redeemer

Ruth 2:10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

This is one of the most exciting passages of scripture in the Old Testament.  Well, I am sure that is up for debate but the significance of this statement IS huge.  It points to the kinsman redeemer; the one who redeems the lost and the broken.  That man for Ruth and Naomi was Boaz.  The man for you and me is Jesus.  Therefore, Boaz is a picture of Jesus.  He has compassion on this foreigner and as we will find out – makes her his bride.  And it all begins with this simply line in Ruth 2:10. “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?”

I ask the same question of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  “Jesus, why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?”  Because that is what I was.  I was a foreigner and He brought me in.   Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that he has brought peace to those who were near and peace to those who were far away.  That is what we were – far away.  We were foreigners; we were the bad guys in the Old Testament.  But He had compassion on us and loved us.  In fact, He loved us so much that He died for us.

And our response should be the same as Ruth’s.  This kind of revelation should bring us to our knees and we should bow before Him and worship Him.  I, for one, don’t want to take for granted what He has done for me.  I don’t want to cheapen this great gift with my religion.  I want to fully embrace my adoption.  For He adopted me and loved me as family.  He redeemed my life.  He is my kinsman redeemer!

That’s Dedication

Ruth 1:15-18   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 anything but death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

I wonder if we really know what true dedication is? We are so conditioned in our culture to stick with something until we are not feelin’ it anymore.  That’s not dedication.  Dedication is Ruth sticking with Naomi.  She had no obligation to stand by her mother-in-law.  It was simply out of conviction.  And as we will soon find out, it was worth it.

The thing I admire about Ruth is that she didn’t waffle in her decision.  She didn’t give a conditional promise.  Rather she said, “I will go where you go, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”  That’s a big thing to sign up for.  It required denying herself and having a complete change in identity.  It required leaving behind everything she ever knew, all for a woman who was not her mother.  It was a choice she would have to live with for the rest of her life.  Yet, she was willing to make the choice.

The Bible tells us that our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no.  Yet we often commit to things and don’t follow through.  Sometimes we have good intentions and we just don’t put the work into the commitment.  Other times we never had any intention of doing what we said we would do.  As for me, I want to learn from Ruth.  I want to be dedicated to things worth dedicating my life toward.  And I want to stick with them.  I want to be a finisher.  To me, that’s what dedication is all about: finishing what you started. 

Neanderthals

Judges 21:23-25   23 So that is what the Benjamites did. While the girls were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.  24 At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance.  25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. 

In the last chapter of Judges, the Israelites come to the conclusion that they have made the mistake of almost wiping out one of the tribes of Israel.  I guess you would call this “killer’s remorse.”  They are stuck now trying to figure out how to repopulate the tribe of Benjamin.  The problem is: they swore to God that they would not give their daughters in marriage to this tribe who did these evil things.  Now what?

Apparently the best solution was to think and act like a bunch of neanderthals.  Seriously, these guys make the Geico cavemen look like geniuses.  Their first bright idea is to figure out who didn’t show up for the mandatory assembly and kill all the people in that town except for the virgin women.  Then they forced those 400 women to marry the Benjamite men.  Oh, but there weren’t enough women to go around.  Now what?

I’ll tell you now what – more stupidity. It went something like this: “Alright guys, hide in those them fields over there.  When you see some dancing girls, snatch one up and take ‘er for yer wife.  Just smile at her real big with ‘yer toothless grin and she’ll surely fall in love.  Trust us, it will work.”  Isn’t this a bit meat-headed?  Is this the best they could come up with?  Neanderthals, I tell you.

Which leads to the “aha” statement of the entire book of Judges.  It is a statement that has been repeated many times over and is so appropriate to follow this last story.  The statement: In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.  Which reminds me why leadership is so important.  When everyone does as they see fit, we end up with all kinds of crazy stories like the ones found in Judges.  We find ourselves doing bone-headed things like these guys.  I, for one, am thankful for Godly leadership.  I am thankful for the Holy Spirit to lead me and convict me.  Many people think that ultimate freedom is complete unrestraint and independence.  However, the ultimate freedom comes when one is safely being led.  It comes with the right authority.  When we are safely being led, we are free to be.  And I am thankful for this leadership in my life.  Because the last thing I want to do is act like a neanderthal.