Saturday, September 29, 2018

“Baba” and Ruth: Handfuls of Purpose

Photo by Forest & Kim Starr 2008

Have you ever noticed how God provides exactly what you need, exactly when you need it? As I have described previously, my grandmother Baba endured many hardships and trials, but God was faithful in caring for His daughter, giving Baba blessings and opportunities she could not have begun to imagine.

Just as in the example of Ruth, for whom God provided through His servant Boaz, near-kinsman of Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi, God arranged for handfuls of blessings to fall across Baba’s path. These would serve to work everything out according to His purpose (Ephesians 2:10; Romans 8:28), which had been foreordained since the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:4).

These “handfuls of purpose” (Ruth 2:16) represent the visible, tangible clues of His working in our lives, even though most of His master plan is invisible to us (Isaiah 55:9) until long after we have gratefully accepted these blessings along the way, and may not even be fully manifest until we see Him face to face in glory (1 Corinthians 13:12).

For Baba, these blessings included God’s leading her to a Russian-Ukrainian community in Manhattan’s lower East Side where she could feel more at home with people of her nationality, language and culture; support from a loving church family; employment where through hard work she could support herself and my mother; and the friendship of an older man who offered her a second job and entrance into the Social Security system.

For Ruth, these “handfuls of purpose” were literally handfuls of barley that Boaz instructed his men to leave for her as they harvested, without shooing her away, so that she could glean behind them and not go home empty-handed. But God does not give us blessings for us to hoard them, but rather so that we can be a channel through whom blessings flow (Luke 6:38). As our former (late) pastor used to say, “God will give much more through you than He will to you.”

Through the opportunities God provided for Baba, she was able not only to support herself and my mother on her very modest income, but also to give sacrificially to her church, even donating money for the large oil painting of Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz that adorned the church wall. And Ruth did not work hard just to fill her own belly, but also to feed her aging mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 2:17-18).

But this was just the beginning of God’s marvelous provision. He had led Ruth specifically to the fields of Boaz, an honorable, God-fearing man who recognized and admired her faithfulness to God and to provide for her mother-in-law. Like her sister Orpah, Ruth could have been freed from any responsibility to Naomi once her husband had died. But in contrast to Orpah, who returned home to her birth family and their pagan worship, Ruth left behind the false gods of her youth and dedicated herself to Naomi and their one, true Jehovah God.

When Ruth told Naomi of Boaz’ hospitality to her, Naomi may have glimpsed the grand plan God was unveiling (Jeremiah 29:11). She praised Boaz for his kindness to them, and by extension, to his honoring their dead husbands, and she informed Ruth that Boaz was actually a close relative of hers (Ruth 2:19-20). She counseled Ruth to glean only in the fields of Boaz, so that he would realize her loyalty to and dependence on Him (Ruth 2:21-23).

As Boaz is an Old Testament foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, this is a good reminder for His children, who have been saved by our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), to do the same. We should realize that He is the only Source of all blessings (James 1:17), and look only to Him to provide; we should be faithful to Him alone; and we should realize that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

© 2018 Laurie Collett


Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Cornfield: Death to Newness of Life

Photo by Gabriel Vanslette 2014
As you may have gathered, I sometimes have detailed and complex dreams. Recently, however, I awoke remembering not an intricate plot, but a single image.

I stood in a cornfield at sunrise, the warmth of the morning sun offset by a refreshing breeze rustling through the cornstalks. The air was perfumed with the cleansing scent after a light shower, enriched by the fertile soil and the earthy aroma of fresh corn.

I stood before a single corn plant and was struck by its beauty and majesty as it grew purposefully toward Heaven. Its emerald leaves were lined with countless tiny grooves, sparkling with dew like multifaceted crystals, reflecting prisms of light. Pearly white, and pale and bright gold, kernels peeked through the parted husks sheathing the pristine ear of corn. At the top of the ear, flaxen strands of cornsilk shone in the sun like a maiden’s blonde tresses.

This vision was hardly extraordinary – one that would be commonplace in the lives of many farmers – yet a miracle nonetheless. Such a lovely, vigorous, and nourishing plant could not have grown had it not been for death and rebirth. What began as a kernel of corn, dying and decaying in the earth to expose a single seed, had grown in the rich loam to become a tender shoot, then a young plant daring to emerge from its dark grave and face the sun. As it absorbed nutrients from the soil, life-giving rain water, and energy from the sun itself, it matured into a plant that was a delight to the senses, food for the body, and a reminder of spiritual truth.

Corn is not only a basic food commodity (Genesis 42:25) but a symbol of God’s provision. The perfect food of manna that God miraculously showered on the earth to feed the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert was described as “the corn of heaven (Psalm 78:24).

Corn is the first mentioned in a list of dietary blessings from God, even before wine, olive oil, bread, vineyards, and honey (Deuteronomy 7: 12; 18:4; Hosea 2:8; Joel 2:19;  2 Kings 18:32). Isaac’s blessing for his son is that “God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine (Genesis 27:26), and God Himself promised a similar blessing for the nation of Israel if they kept His commandments (Deuteronomy 33:28).

Because of the value of corn, it was fitting that God commanded His people to bring Him firstfruit offerings and tithes of corn from their harvest (Leviticus 2:14; Deuteronomy 18:4; Nehemiah 13:12).

In the book of Job, the man who joyfully accepts correction by and trials from God as a path to healing (Job 5:18-19) will “come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season (Job 5:26).

Throughout the Bible, giving corn is a way to feed others. For example, Joseph, who was a type or foreshadowing of Christ, provided for his once estranged brothers by loading their sacks with corn (Genesis 42:25).  Pharaoh’s dream, interpreted by Joseph, was of seven ears of corn symbolizing the wealth and productivity of Egypt: seven abundant years during which Joseph would supervise storage of corn and other staples to feed the people during the seven years of famine to follow (Genesis 41:5-7;49).

The tender story of Ruth and Boaz, which foreshadows Christ as our Redeemer and Sustainer, shows Boaz allowing Ruth to glean ears of corn from his field to feed herself and her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 2:2). Jesus Himself fed His disciples by allowing them to pick and eat corn from a field, even though it was the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1)

One of the Mosaic laws also reminds us that laborers in the harvest should be blessed themselves by taking part in the fruits of that harvest: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn (Deuteronomy 25:4). Paul explains the spiritual applications of this principle, namely, that laborers seeking to harvest souls for God’s kingdom will be rewarded (1 Timothy 5:18), and that He will bless those who spread the Gospel with the hope embodied in that Good News (1 Corinthians 9:9-11).

In the parable of the sower, Jesus illustrates how the seed of God’s Word only results in salvation when it is sown into the fertile soil of a heart receptive to Him and not entangled in worldly preoccupations. In that situation, however, the seed brings forth fruit, multiplied thirty to one hundred-fold (Mark 4:1-25).

Jesus explains that we can’t see or understand how a kernel of corn dies in the soil to transform into a fully ripe ear of corn on the stalk, each kernel capable of repeating the whole process (Mark 4:26-29). Similarly, we can’t understand the mystery of how His death resulted in the eternal life of all who repent of their sins and trust in His death, burial and resurrection as the only way to Heaven. Part of that mystery, however, is that we must die to our sin nature and to worldly cares (1 Corinthians 15:31) so that we can live forever as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), indwelled by the Holy Spirit to reach many other souls for Him.

John 12: 23 The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. 24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. 25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

Paul takes this analogy even further, explaining that when Christ calls believers to Himself at the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), our dead bodies will be raised as glorified, immortal bodies like those of the resurrected Christ Himself:

1 Corinthians 15: 36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: 37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain.… 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Praise God that while this dream of the cornfield was beautifully simple, it provided ample food for thought and reflection on His bounteous provision of physical sustenance, spiritual blessings, and everlasting life! May we plant the good seed of His Word in our heart and sow it to others, that we may all be transformed from the defeat of death to the victory of eternal life in Christ!

© 2012 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives