Redemption and Reward

My dad taught me how to play Crazy Eights when I was a kid (think early double digits, not child prodigy). I learned later that the version I know, which my dad learned when he was out in California, is vastly different than the version North Carolinians know and play.

Anyway, I’m actually pretty good at it. I could even beat my dad about half the time. I can’t beat my brother at a lot of things, but I beat him pretty consistently at Crazy Eights. And at the risk of him reading this post and using this information to somehow remove me from my Crazy Eights throne, I’ll tell you my secret.

My secret is that I play crazy. I keep the game twisting and turning as often as my hand will allow me. For example, let’s say we’ve been playing spades and a competitor lays down a three of spades. Let’s also say I have a seven of spades in my hand and a three of hearts. I’ll play the three and change the suit. (Note: this may also depend on whether I have any special spade cards that could skip the next person or make the person draw cards. It also depends on whether someone’s getting ready to run out of cards.)

Relatively seldom does this affect me negatively. I can usually manage to keep manipulating the game in my favor. There’s a lot of other variables – I could play into my competitor’s hand or have to draw several cards, both of which have happened plenty of times – but it mostly helps me control the game by making it seem like I have very little control.

I like to think it was a mentality similar to this that Boaz had when he met with Ruth’s kinsman redeemer at the beginning of chapter four.

The two met at the town gates amongst the town leaders. Boaz mentions the land of Elimelech’s that Naomi is selling first and asks if the man is interested in buying it.

Of course he would be, and Boaz knew that. Who would turn down land when it could earn them money? Not a very helpful card in Boaz’s hand. Boaz was an honest man, so he would’ve played this awful card even if he didn’t have to. However, he did have to since he had to be completely transparent in front of the town leaders. He had to be rid of all his cards at the end of the game and wouldn’t want to get caught cheating.

Boaz played his bad cards first so that when he played his best card, the game would be over.

“Then Boaz told him, ‘Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family'” (Ruth 4:5, NLT).

This is so brilliant and coy of Boaz because all he’s doing is stating facts, but he’s doing it in a way that will deter the potential redeemer. First, he includes the fact that Ruth is a Moabite. Boaz isn’t holding this against her nor is he using it against her. But the fact remains that we don’t know how the other relative felt about foreigners, and we don’t know if Boaz knows either. It’s possible he includes this detail simply in the spirit of honesty, but it’s also possible that he included it to make the man not want to marry Ruth so that Boaz could.

The second reason is one that I had never realized until Sunday. Boaz gives the scenario of Ruth having kids with this man, kids who would inherit Elimelech’s land, taking land from this guy’s other kids. In doing this, Boaz plays on the man’s desire for the land. However, this scenario seems unlikely as Ruth was barren. She’d been married for ten years and not had a single child. Now, this guy didn’t know this, otherwise he would’ve called Boaz’s bluff. He would’ve countered his card and could’ve married Ruth and won.

But he didn’t know. “Then I can’t redeem it,’ the family redeemer replied, ‘because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it'” (Ruth 4:6, NLT).

Boaz married Ruth and redeems the land. The story could end there, and we could talk about how blessed Ruth was. She went from being a foreign widow gathering grain to the wife of the man who owns the land. She endured.

God didn’t want Ruth’s story to end there, though. Ruth had a child, Obed, who was David’s grandfather and part of Jesus’ lineage. God redeemed Ruth and through her was a path to our own redemption.

We do not earn our redemption with God. It does not come to us in degrees and levels. It’s something God offers to all of us, and all we have to do is tell Him we want it. Because through redemption, we receive God’s grace, mercy, peace, joy, and hope. We are benefitted by Him, but He is our grand reward.

By Carrie Prevette

Great Risk

I had a writing professor who told my class that when she started getting rejection letters from publishing companies for her writing, she used the letters to decorate her bathroom walls.

Because being rejected isn’t fun. Being vulnerable isn’t fun.

Being vulnerable is a part of being a writer. We spend time with the words and characters and images, and when we present the stories they make, we present part of ourselves. Criticism isn’t fun either, but it’s welcomed because it lets us know there’s potential, that there’s at least a good start. Rejection, however, just makes us feel like what we’ve done isn’t good enough.

Even if you’re not a writer, you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been vulnerable before. We all dread rejection.

This is the position Ruth finds herself in when we meet up with her in chapter three. Naomi tells her to wash up and put on perfume and her finest clothes. Then she tells Ruth to go to Boaz when he’s asleep, pull the covers off of his feet, and lay there at his feet until he wakes up.

In Ruth’s position, I would’ve remained single because there’s no way I would’ve done this. This sounds creepy and risky and unlikely to woo anyone.

Thankfully, Ruth’s not like me. She does exactly as Naomi tells her. And when Boaz wakes up surprised and asks who she is, Ruth replies, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer” (Ruth 3:9, NLT). As our guest speaker, Alicia, explained on Sunday, this is a reference to the blessing Boaz prayed/spoke over Ruth in chapter two and sort of a proposal, not an allusion to sexual activities.

This is it. This is the intense moment we’ve been building up to. Imagine what Ruth’s heart rate was probably like as she laid there. She is probably the most vulnerable she ever was or would be. Depending on how Boaz responds, she could be embarrassed, have her reputation ruined, lose her job, maybe even be blacklisted from surrounding fields as well. In addition, a woman proposing to a man would’ve been abnormal. Boaz could’ve felt emasculated and gotten mad at her. Ruth put it all on the line.

Boaz responds with, “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” (Ruth 3:10, NLT). This is not the response I would give (plus, I’d probably kick the person at my feet when I woke up), and I don’t think it’s the response most would give then or now. But Boaz is touched by Ruth’s loyalty to her family, and he knows how virtuous she is. He said there was one man of closer relation to her, that he would talk to him to see if he was interested in marrying Ruth. When Ruth went home in the morning, he sent her home with six scoops of barley.

I’ve yet to meet someone who’s won every risk they’ve taken. Failure and rejection happen. It can keep us from taking more risks.

Risks taken in faith seldom yield no reward or benefit. And if you’re led by God to your risk – seeing as how God knows everything – it’s almost a guarantee. Just as Naomi knew what to do and directed Ruth, our all-knowing, omnipotent God directs us.

Being unsure isn’t fun. Taking steps when you don’t know where your foot will land isn’t easy. The good thing is that we don’t face it alone. If our step misses, if we’re rejected, if there’s no reward, we’ll still fall in the love and grace of God. He’ll never leave us, especially at our most vulnerable or confused, especially when we need Him most.

By Carrie Prevette

Let the Story Unfold

I originally wasn’t even going to apply to Western Carolina; I’d barely even heard of it at the time. Then they sent me an application in the mail. I filled it out because I thought it’d be a good back-up school. I ranked it fourth out of the five schools I applied to. I was rejected from my first two and decided against my number three.

If Western hadn’t sent me an application, I wouldn’t have applied. If I had been accepted to a school I preferred, I wouldn’t have attended Western. And if Western didn’t break the record for the number of accepted first-year students, I would’ve been placed in one of the dorms reserved just for freshman.

But I was put in Buchanan, an all-girls dorm at the time. I was placed on the ground floor, two doors down and on the other side of the hall from a girl called Becca. Becca’s older sister went to Western as well and lived on our hall. She was part of an organization on campus, members of which Becca had met before. So when Becca got accepted into WCU, she asked to room with one of the girls she’d met, putting her on the ground floor of Buchanan as well. That’s how I met one of my best friends.

Becca and I spent our first semester in the organization of our hallmates. A couple of weeks in, another freshman invited her roommate, Ayana, to join us. And Ayana clicked with Becca and me immediately. We hung out together outside of the group and would gravitate towards each other when in it. And when one of us decided to leave the organization, the other two did as well for the exact same reasons. That’s how I met another one of my best friends.

It’s been almost seven years since all of this, and the three of us are still every bit as close as we were then. None of us can imagine our lives without the others nor do we want to. No part of our meeting was a coincidence. God knew we would need each other. Much like Frodo and Sam, Carrie wouldn’t have got far without Becca and Ayana.

Ruth finds herself on a path full of blessing instead of coincidence in chapter two.

Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem after leaving Moab, and since it’s just the two of them without any sort of male spouse or relative, Ruth says she’ll go find a job picking up leftover grains in a field. Very Rosie the Riveter, right? No guys around to provide so she’ll do it herself. And Naomi tells her to do it because she knows it’s the only path to provision.

Ruth finds a job working in a field owned by a man named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s late husband and evidently a great man to work for. His employees like him, and it’s easy to see why. After getting Ruth’s story from the foreman, Boaz goes to Ruth and tells her where to glean from, that he told the young men to leave her alone, and that she can drink from the young men’s water supply (which would be opposite of how it usually worked and make her more of an equal to them).

Ruth is overwhelmed. She says she’s just a foreigner, which Boaz tells her he knows. He says he also knows what she’s done for Naomi and prays God would bless her.

Boaz tells her to dip her bread in wine at lunch and gives her so much roasted grain to eat that she can’t finish it all. Then he tells the young men to let her pick right from the sheaves without stopping her and to drop some barley on purpose. Ruth went home with a full basket, the leftover grain, and an invitation to come back until the harvest was over.

As we discussed in last week’s post, Matthew 1:5 tells us how the story of Ruth and Boaz ends: with a branch on Jesus’ family tree.

We can see the blessings because we know the ending. But I’m sure being a Moabite woman providing for two people didn’t seem like such a blessing at first. But then the story unfolded, and Ruth discovered that God was blessing her through Boaz and his kindness.

Boaz didn’t focus on Ruth being a Moabite. He focused on what she had done, how she was different, her redemption. And he blessed her.

That’s exactly how God is. The things that we think disqualify us from grace aren’t what God focuses on. He focuses on our redemption, whether we already have it or want to accept it from Him. Your past isn’t bigger than God’s love. What you’ve done, what you’re capable of doesn’t even compare to what God and His grace are capable of.

Ruth let her story unfold. She didn’t sit by and wait for things to change. She lived her life, did what she had to, and let God’s will happen.

Are you letting your story unfold? Are you waiting or are you doing? Are you letting God’s will happen to make your life better, to take you where He wants you to be? To get from the bad to the good or from good to better, we have to trust in God and keep going just like Ruth did.

By Carrie Prevette

Ruth’s Redemption

It’s interesting to think about redemption on God’s terms instead of our own. We often think of redemption as something we earn. We work towards forgiveness from others for our wrongs. If we mess something up, we strive and do what we must to do better the next time.

Thankfully, that’s not how God does redemption. We don’t have to do anything to redeem ourselves with God other than admit we need His love and forgiveness and ask for it. When we fail, we don’t find ourselves back at the beginning to avoid our past mistakes; we look up where we are to see a scarred hand reaching down to lift us up. With God’s version of redemption, we never move backward, always forward.

When I think of Ruth, I don’t think of redemption, although I suppose I should.

At some point, we’re all weighed down by our own history, even if it’s something we can’t help. Whether it’s a decision you regret or if you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks or you can’t believe you ever treated someone in such a way, it’s familiar territory for all of us. And I imagine that’s how Ruth felt in the presence of her in-laws. Even though they were the foreigners in her land, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ruth was ashamed (at times) of being a Moabite.

Moabites weren’t friends to the Israelites, historically speaking. There was a lot of blood and betrayal, even far after Ruth’s time. The book of Ruth takes place during a time of peace between the two nations. Still, the famine must have been bad to drive Naomi and her family there, where her two sons married two Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth.

And after the death of Naomi’s husband and sons, when she said she was going back home, when Ruth truly wanted to go with her, Ruth was many things– brave, desperate, loyal, and hopeful.

It’s clear to us that Ruth did not fit the stereotype of a Moabite– heartless and unfaithful– but the people where she was going might not give her the chance to prove herself, to redeem herself from her people’s heritage and mistakes.

But God had such big plans for Ruth.

Look at Matthew 1 with me. At first this looks like the most boring read ever, but if you look closer, you’ll be fascinated. Verses 1 and 5 (NLT) say, “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah… Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).”

Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Matthew’s Gospel is very steeped in Jewish tradition and alludes to a lot of Jewish history and scripture, and his audience would have raised their eyebrows at this. One, the society was very patriarchal, so it was daring of Matthew to include four women in this genealogy, including Ruth. Two, they would have recognized Ruth as a Moabite and found it interesting to list a member of such a troubled and disliked people when Matthew could’ve just listed her Jewish husband.

God placed a Moabite woman in the middle of the Messiah’s genealogy and led someone to shout her out in scripture. Talk about redemption.

Yes, Ruth clung to Naomi, but she also clung to God by refusing to go back and serve her old god. She held on to love, faith, and most of all, God. And God blessed her beyond measure.

Regardless of where you’re from or who you’ve been, God extends love and redemption to you. But for you to grab that gift, you have to release whatever you’re holding. Stop clinging to your past, your failures, other people’s perceptions of you, and take hold of God. And I hope you do so with the boldness of Ruth.

By Carrie Prevette

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