Saturday, August 25, 2018

“Baba” and Ruth: Following God

Whenever  I consider the book of Ruth, I am always reminded of my grandmother, “Baba,” who helped raise me from the time I was born until she went home to be with the Lord when I was 14 years old.

The first reason the book of Ruth reminds me of Baba is that she donated to her Russian Orthodox church in New York City a large oil painting of Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:2-9), which occupied a prominent place on a side wall in the main sanctuary. This was no small accomplishment and sacrifice considering her very modest means!

But more importantly, Ruth’s character and life have many parallels to that of my grandmother. Ruth left her home country to follow her mother-in-law to a new land and a new life. She left behind her family, customs, and pagan gods for a new country that worshipped the true God, Jehovah (Ruth 1:6-19).

At 16 years of age, my grandmother left her small village outside the city of Kiev, Ukraine, to follow her husband to a new world in Nova Scotia, Canada, with an entirely different society, form of government, climate and customs. The Ukraine was known as the bread basket of Russia because of its abundance of wheat fields, and farming these fields was the main occupation of her village. So it is not a stretch to imagine Baba as a young girl, gleaning wheat from the fields much as Ruth later was allowed to glean in the fields of Boaz!

In contrast, Nova Scotia was a harsh, unforgiving land, with bitterly cold winters leading to frequent illness, including pneumonia that claimed the lives of Baba’s nine children, leaving only my mother who survived past infancy. Baba’s husband Ivan, who worked as a mining engineer, was at risk for mining accidents and other occupational hazards that had led to the death of several of his coworkers.

One evening, Baba’s joy and relief to see Ivan return safely home from work quickly abated as he told her of an unusual experience he had while in the mine.

“I’ve seen Jesus, and I’ll be going home soon to be with Him,” he said.

Two weeks later, at the age of 35, Baba's husband collapsed and died, apparently from a fatal heart attack or stroke.

Ruth met her husband in her home country of Moab (Ruth 1:1-4), a pagan nation that worshipped Chemosh, also known as the fish-god, god of stone, or god of Baal. Chemosh may have been the same false god as Molech, whom the Ammonites worshipped with infant sacrifices (1 Kings 11:7,33; 2 Kings 3:27).

Ruth’s husband, his brother, and his parents had come to Moab from the Hebrew nation of Bethlehemjudah, which had been struck by a famine (Ruth 1:1:2). Rather than trusting God to provide for them at home, they ventured to where the grass seemed greener, even though it could not have been God’s will for them to assimilate into such an evil culture (Ezra 10:11; Nehemiah 9:2; 2 Corinthians 6:17).

Soon tragedy overcame them, as Ruth’s husband, her father-in-law and her brother-in-law died in Moab (Ruth 1:3-5), yet God had a plan that would work all things together for good (Romans 8:28), as we shall see in later posts. Only Naomi, her mother-in-law, and Orpah, her sister-in-law, remained of her new family.

After Ruth and Orpah were widowed, Naomi encouraged them to return to their family and old way of life, and Orpah eventually agreed. But Ruth dearly loved her mother-in-law, and she loved their true Jehovah God even more (Ruth 1:6-15). 

Ruth 1:16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

Ruth vowed never to depart from Naomi nor from her faith, and she followed Naomi back to her home town of Bethlehem (Ruth 1:17-19), which (like the Ukraine!) means “bread basket.” Bethlehem, in God’s chosen nation of Israel was the birthplace of Jesus, Who is the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48. 51), so the name is fitting.

Like Ruth, Baba was then faced with an important decision – go home to the Ukraine and her old way of life, or remain in the new world that seemed to have treated her so cruelly. She and my mother chose the latter, although they moved from Nova Scotia to Manhattan’s lower East Side, which had a growing Russian and Ukrainian community.

Praise the Lord that we are not chained to the evil ways or false beliefs of the society in which we were raised! God offers each of us a choice to be made of our own free will – to accept His Son Jesus Christ and His freely given gift of salvation (Romans 6:23), or to reject Him and be condemned to eternal separation from Him and everlasting punishment in hell (John 3:18; Mark 9:43-49). We cannot be saved simply because we were born into a Godly home, nor can we be judged for the sins of our fathers (Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6).

Once we become God’s children by trusting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we can have faith that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), that He will always provide for us (Psalm 37:25), and that He will answer our prayers exceeding abundantly beyond what we could ever imagine or think (Ephesians 3:20). Both Baba and Ruth are a testimony to this, as we shall explore next time!

© 2018 Laurie Collett


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tres Leches

Photo by AndonicO 2006

Although our physically demanding dance ministry demands that I pursue a healthy lifestyle overall, and particularly a healthy diet, I must confess that I love sweets. As my husband and dance partner likes to point out, “She never met a dessert she didn’t like.”

To which I often reply, “Just hand over my ‘medicinal’ chocolate, and no one will get hurt!”

One of my favorite desserts is Tres Leches, a delectable Mexican concoction so named because its recipe calls for three milks, namely evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. The end result is a sponge cake layered in custard, drenched in sauce redolent of caramel, and topped with whipped cream.
This unique confection got me thinking about symbolism involving milk in Scripture, and I realized that it can involve God’s creation, God’s provision, and God’s Word, consistent with the pattern of threes echoing the Trinity reflected throughout the Bible.

In the midst of his suffering, Job imagines a conversation he would like to have with God, and he asks for God’s mercy on His own creation. He poetically compares God’s creation of man to sculpting a masterpiece from clay, curdling cheese from milk, and clothing him in flesh and skin supported by bones and sinews (Job 10:8-11).

The process of curdling cheese from milk may symbolize seminal fluid entering the womb, and, at conception, beginning a process in which the developing embryo and fetus become progressively solidified, albeit containing fluid within blood vessels, brain ventricles, and lymph vessels. It is unlikely that Job understood this completely, yet by inspiration of the Holy Spirit he wrote a beautiful metaphor describing prenatal development, a process totally governed by God (Psalm 139:13-16).

Milk as a symbol of God’s provision is abundant in references to the Promised Land He offered to His children as a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5, 33:3, etc.). God promises that if we work diligently, He will bless us with goat’s milk, referring generally to the food He provides, to meet our own needs and those of our family and employees (Proverbs 27:27).

In the Song of Solomon, the love between a man and his wife, which is also a symbol of the love Jesus Christ the Bridegroom has for His bride, the church, is portrayed three times using milk as a symbol of delight, purity and beauty. He praises His beloved, for her lips “drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon (4:11).”

He further describes his delight in their union as “I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk“(5:1). In return, the beloved spouse praises her Bridegroom, for "His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set (5:12).”

Jesus Christ, Who is the Living Water, promised us that once we know Him, we will never thirst again (John 4:10-14). The prophet Isaiah foretold this and promised that God offers not only water to all who thirst, but also milk and wine offered freely at no cost (Isaiah 55:1), for we cannot buy or earn our own salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Rather, it is only by trusting in Christ’s completed work on the cross to pay for our sins, in His burial and in His resurrection proving that He is God, that we can be saved and have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Isaiah also prophesied that God would bless Israel so richly that her breasts would nourish not only her own people, but also all nations and even Gentiles (Isaiah 66:10-13). This has been fulfilled in part through the birth of Jesus in Israel (Luke 2) and will be fulfilled completely when Christ returns and rules in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12; 21:2). The prophet Joel describes the blessings of the New Jerusalem as “the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters” (Joel 3:18).

God is honored when we give a portion of His blessings back to Him as an offering, so it is appropriate that Abraham offered a feast of milk and butter, and a calf representing their earthly source, to God and two angels who visited him in human form (Genesis 18:8).

Just as God created us and provides for all our physical needs, He also satisfies our soul with spiritual blessings. He communicates with us, leads us, and nourishes us primarily through His Word. Newborn infants receive nourishment exclusively from the perfect food of their mother’s milk, or from infant formula, whereas babes in Christ grow spiritually from the sincere milk of the Word, meaning fundamental passages explaining salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

But as we grow physically, our diet becomes more varied and comprehensive, including meat once we are able to digest it. Similarly, as Christians growing in our walk with Christ, we need to supplement our spiritual diet with all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), including the “strong meat” that is more difficult to assimilate (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12-13) yet is essential to our strength and vitality as Christ’s ministers (1 Corinthians 4:1), fellow-laborers (1 Corinthians 3:9) and ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) doing His work in this lost, sinful and dying world (John 17).

Still, we should never lose our taste for the milk of the Word, and we should never tire of hearing the Gospel message. Even after a hearty steak dinner, I can always find room for the sweet, rich, satisfying experience of Tres Leches. May we always taste and see that the Lord is good!  (Psalm 34:8)

© 2018 Laurie Collett