Puzzles. They stir up a lot of emotions.
Some people love them. Some people don’t.
I am in the “Not love them” camp myself. They are hard. There are so many pieces. And they don’t even come pre-assembled! I mean, what’s up with that?!
I know people who really enjoy puzzles. They love to look at the mess, take the time to sit there and work one piece at a time, all to build a one big picture out of 1000 random pieces.
My thing to look at in detail is the Bible. I know I am not nearly at the level of a scholar or a history theologian, but to me, the Bible is a puzzle. That means from beginning to end it all fits together and connects.
Each story has its part. Each detail has its place. All fitting together to make the big picture.
One story through which we can see this is the story of Ruth.
Now, you may be thinking, “Ruth? How does a short story like Ruth fit into the rest of the details?”
I used to think that too, until I began to see the puzzle pieces.
Ruth is a common story many of us have heard many times. It is only four chapters long, and is a great love story of the budding relationship between Ruth, a widow from Moab (not Israel) and Boaz, a man of standing among the Jewish people.
It’s a perfect love story.
A young widow taking care of her elderly mother in law, works hard all day with her hands, scrapping together what she can to support the two of them. A single, well respected, rich land owner sees her and is awestruck at first sight. He begins to woo her and provide for her. But then a crisis: There may be another caller for her name. What will Boaz do? Will he give in to the system and allow another man to scoop up this woman of noble character? Or will he rise up, stand in front of his own people, and declare that this outsider is the woman of his dreams?
I mean, who wouldn’t want to read that right?
But is that all there is to Ruth’s story? Four chapters and a happily ever after, or is that just one piece of the puzzle?
To read the Bible in a connecting sort of way, one has to do a few things.
First, you actually have to read it. All of it.
You never see a dedicated puzzler stop before they have placed every piece. In fact, if a piece is missing, they will scour the room, the kids’ rooms, and even open the vacuum to find it. They need to see the complete picture.
It’s kind of like that with the Bible. We need the whole picture. Every piece. That means we need to read the whole thing. Ruth, Psalms, the Gospels, and everything else.
Second, you have to interact with it.
As you watch a puzzler, they may put a piece or two off to the side when they can’t see where it goes yet. But then as they begin to put other parts together they realize that those side pieces now begin to make more sense. As their brains begin to gather the information from each piece, they can see how the colors blend, how the objects take shape, and how the pieces are even cut. It’s like they begin to see it from the inside.
Reading the Bible takes time, it’s a large book, and like a puzzle, some pieces make more sense as you put other details together. It’s important to allow yourself the grace and the time to see the bigger picture. It’s a building process. As you get more into it, you begin to see the details from an inside perspective.
Third, you have to connect the pieces.
A puzzler always keeps in mind what they are looking for. That way, when they see an area of the puzzle develop, they will know what else to connect into it. As they put each piece in place, they begin to see the big picture.
As you read the Bible and interact with it, you will begin to see how one verse will remind you of another verse. Sometimes this will happen in the same chapter or book, and sometimes in a completely different book. By connecting these pieces, you begin to develop a cross reference (this is a fancy term for how one verse reminds you of another verse and you see they are connected). As these connections add up, you begin to see the bigger picture.
Now let’s take this back to the book of Ruth and see how it connects to other areas of the Bible.
So what about you? What are you reading right now in your Bible? Does any of it remind you of other Scriptures?
Interact with it.
Connect the pieces from beginning to end.
It may be hard, and it will take time, but as the puzzle grows, so will THE BIG PICTURE.
I have a secret for you.
I have had to learn to be a reader.
There have been a few books that have captured my attention from the beginning to the end. It’s these books where I want to sit in each chapter, engage in the tension, feel the emotions, and can’t wait to see what happens in the end. After all, isn’t that the way a good book should be read?
Too often when we come to the Bible, we tend to read it differently. We see the title of the book and we assume we know the story and where it is going, so we jump to the end. Even if we go on to read the whole thing, our minds have already made that leap.
The book of Ruth is one story where the reader generally jumps to the end too quickly. We hear that name and we know she left her homeland, met Boaz, got married, and lived happily ever after.
But by jumping to the end, we miss something significant in the beginning. We forget the pain.
Even though we know it as the Book of Ruth, it actually starts with story of Naomi and Elimelech.
They are married. This is good.
They have two sons. This is good.
There is a famine. This is sad.
In the time of the famine, Elimelech decides to move their family away from their home, away from their people, to find food in Moab.
I can’t imagine having to leave my homeland for anything other than my own choice. I have met a few people who have lived through this challenge, and it was hard for them. They left not only their home, but their family and all they had ever known too. All to go to a new land they had never seen in hopes of finding something better.
While in Moab, Elimelech dies. This is sad.
Now Naomi and her boys are left without the head of their family: the one who was leading them there in the first place. People who have lost a spouse feel a tremendous amount of loss and grief. Their sadness is one that only they can comprehend, and it may never be truly healed.
Naomi is now in grief. Everything up to this point had been new and challenging but they had faced it together, and now he is gone. What would she do?
That’s when the boys get married. This is good.
Life is going better again. There is a family now.
But not long later, both boys die. This is sad.
Why? Why would God move them from their homeland, take her husband, and then take her sons too? Not only that, as Naomi once grieved the loss of her husband, now she had two other women grieving the loss of theirs, too. What was she going to do?
Then, finally some good news: There was food in Israel.
It was time to go home.
As the three head out, Naomi realizes there is nothing she could do for these young ladies. So she encourages them to go home. After some nudging, Orpah does turn around, but not Ruth. She is determined to go with Naomi no matter what. It is in this exchange where we get the famous verse:
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16, NIV)
What a powerful statement. Here Ruth is saying that she will move away from her homeland, leave her people, and go to a place she had never seen before all because she wanted to follow Naomi.
Why would she do that?
I believe that she saw something in Naomi that captivated her. Even in Naomi’s questions and grief, somehow she showed something that Ruth desperately wanted. Somehow Naomi’s faith spoke to her.
Knowing that she wouldn’t convince Ruth to turn back, Naomi agreed, and the two women stepped into the unknown together.
I believe that God is the same from the beginning to the end. That means that when God told David that He was in the “valley of the shadow of death,” (Ps 23:4) He was already in there with Naomi. That means that when Jesus said “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” (Matt 5:4) He had already comforted Naomi. That means that when God said He was “close to the broken hearted,” (Ps 34:18) He was close to Naomi.
What’s really interesting about this is that Ruth saw what Naomi couldn’t. In her grief, Naomi described her own life as one of bitterness. In fact, she even changed her name to reflect that belief. But Ruth saw someone she wanted to follow. She saw someone whose life she wanted to be a part of. She saw a God Who she wanted more of in her life.
That’s the power of Naomi’s testimony. That even when she couldn’t see it, God was working through her story to not only bring an outsider to faith in Him, but to bring that outsider in and place her in the genealogy of the coming Messiah (Matt 1:5).
That’s power. That’s grace. That’s healing.
I know grief is hard. There are more questions than answers, and more tears than smiles. But that doesn’t mean that God is not there and that He is not working in the midst of it.
As parents, when we try to raise our kids for Jesus, we need to show them the whole picture. We need to laugh and enjoy life with them and show them how Jesus is in the good times.
But we also need to cry and sit in the struggles of life with them, too, and show them how Jesus is in the hard times, too.
By giving them the whole picture we don’t jump to the end, but we realize that Jesus is in the whole story.
I remember the day we got the news that we would be first time parents.
We were in the hospital room when the doctor casually strolled in with the results. Our hearts were racing as we were expecting balloons or confetti. But instead, he didn’t even look up from the chart as he plainly said something to the effect of, “Yep. You are going to have a baby.”
He said it so quietly I had to actually ask him to repeat it. My heart jumped into my throat. This was huge news! He looked up and started to chuckle.
“I guess I do this a lot,” he said smiling.
All I could respond with was, “I don’t.”
Nine months later, our lives would change forever.
If you have had kids, you have a story to tell too. One that is your own.
Samson’s parents had a story too. A unique one. But it is not just a crazy story of their son. It is also a story that speaks to each of us as parents.
Manoah and his wife could not have children. This is a painful way to start. Many couples in the world have faced this reality. Sometimes there are reasons, sometimes there are not. Whatever your story is, this couple can relate.
Then the man of God shows up and tells them they were about to have a son. This is crazy good news. There were excited.
But their story teaches us more than the miracle of them having a child.
They were given a dream
With the reality of not being able to have children, this was a dream come true for them. To not have a child to carry on your family line was sad. This would no longer be their story.
As parents, we have dreams for our kids. These dreams include aspects of their character, their futures, their jobs, and so on. Dreams for our kids are good. They give us hope that our kids will do something amazing in the world around them. No parent starts out by having dreams of their child staying at home and playing video games on the couch until he is 35 years old.
We want our kids to live life. We want them to be awesome.
Their dreams would have been very similar.
They were given a calling
The dreams quickly got real as the messenger told them exactly what their son would do.
He would free his people from their enemies.
That’s a big calling. That’s an important calling.
Just think of what it would feel like to be told that your bun in the oven would one day go on to be a leader within your nation.
How huge is that?!
In reality, very few of us are ever told exactly what our kids will become. And maybe that’s a good thing. I wonder how many of us as parents would just get in the way of God’s call in their lives.
These parents had to try to do their best to raise a future leader.
They were given the instruction manual
The best thing these two newbies did was ask God to tell them how to raise this child.
As a parent, I have come to realize how little I actually know about parenting. It often feels like I am an amateur expected to play in a professional sport.
How many times have I wished that God would have sent an instruction manual with each kid?
These two got one.
It was simple.
Follow those and all will be good, right?
In truth, we have been given an instruction manual. The Bible is filled with Godly advice on how to raise our kids.
Verses on how to be patient, loving, forgiving, self-sacrificing and more. If ever there was a manual for raising our kids, it’s the Bible.
It may have a few more than three rules to it, but it is worth the read.
Then they got Samson
Just like us, Manoah and his wife had at least nine months to prepare.
I can just imagine what it looked like as they got their tent ready. Manoah building a crib. His wife preparing blankets and clothing.
Then it happened. Their dream became reality. They were holding their son.
I can see the smiles on their faces being fueled by the calling and joy in their hearts.
Then Samson grew up, and the little heart stealer became a pain in the neck. In fact, it seems as though everything that Samson does is in direct contrast to the calling he was supposed to fulfill.
Imagine Manoah now. All the angst. All the frustration. All the questions.
His hair receding as Samson’s was growing.
“This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! Right?”
As a parent, he did the only thing he could do: He let God take care of his son.
This is a hard part of the journey, and I am in no way suggesting that parents not be involved in the adult lives of their children. But how involved is the question.
That little spark of joy we heard about all those years ago in that hospital room just turned 13. That means that as her father, I have only about 5-7 more years of her being under my roof. From then on, even though she will always be my Sunshine, she will enter into a life of her own.
I am sure that I will have a lot of questions then.
Will she be ready?
Have I done enough?
Did I teach her how to do this or that?
How will I know she will be safe?
The truth is I can only do so much.
But there is One Who can and will do so much more than all we ask or imagine. He is our Heavenly Father, which means He is their Heavenly Father too.
I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if Samson’s parents ever wondered if he would figure it out. God knew where He wanted Samson to be physically and spiritually so that He could do the work that only He, as his Heavenly Father, could do.
That was a place that his earthly father would have never taken him. But it was in that place where Samson found his true calling.
If your kids have moved on from your home, it’s not too late to ask them what God is doing in their lives. Share the journey with them.
And if you are like me, you have a few more years and a few more kids to invest in.
Don’t waste your time.
God has a calling for your kids. And He gave them to you. That means He trusts you with a very special gift.
Ask God and imagine with Him who He wants them to be. Read His instruction manual, and see where He will take your family physically and spiritually.
You might lose some hair along the way, but in the end the journey will be worth it.
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From Fear Filled to Feared – 3 Ways Gideon Can Help Our Kids See the Warrior in Themselves
So many times we want to see ourselves as the hero.
I remember growing up my dad and I would watch wrestling, a lot. I loved it. Not only did I love it, I wanted to be like them, especially like one of my favorites.
You know the one who came out with arm bands, long hair, and face paint. The one who would shake the ropes like he was breaking chains.
He was ultimate. He was a warrior.
The Bible is filled with the stories of many “heroes.” Some we want to be like more than others. But how do we as parents approach these stories with our kids so that they get a better understanding of not only who the character is, but Who God is?
Lately I’ve been thinking about the story of Gideon. His is a pretty famous story filled with heroism, right?
Let’s take a closer look and try to understand better what Gideon saw, and what God saw.
Gideon saw a might army. God saw a mighty warrior.
When we first meet Gideon, he is grinding grain in a winepress so that the Midianites wouldn’t find him. When the messenger from God comes to him, he is disgruntled about all that has happened to them as a people and wondered where the God of the stories he had grown up hearing about was. All he could see was his problem, and it had no solution.
What does the messenger tell him?
“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12, NIV)
What? Mighty warrior?
Gideon wasn’t leading an army. He was hiding.
He didn’t have arm bands. He had a winepress.
He didn’t have face paint. He had doubt.
The whole time Gideon was looking at the Midianites, God was looking at him. And what God saw overpowered what Gideon saw.
Gideon saw his own fear. God saw His own faithfulness.
Once Gideon understood that God was truly calling him to do the impossible, his fear kicked in. He needed reassurance that he wasn’t crazy.
So what did he do? He asked for it. Multiple times.
You would think that God would get to the point and, like any humanly rational parent, say, “Enough already. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times.”
But He doesn’t. Instead God answers Gideon’s doubts. Each and every one of them.
Too often all we see is our fears. They are numerous and overwhelming. But so are God’s graces.
We need to dare to ask God to help us overcome our fears and see what He answers with.
Gideon saw a battle plan. God saw His plan.
When Gideon finally grasps the truth that God is calling him to free his people, Gideon does the next logical thing: He forms an army.
He gathered together a force of 32,000 of what he thought was Israel’s bravest men. Now he was set to battle the Midianites, right?
God had a plan.
All He did was ask those who were afraid to leave, and 22,000 of them left immediately.
Two thirds of Gideon’s army gone.
Okay. Plan B, right?
God had a plan.
He used a simple test to show who He truly wanted, and Gideon was left with only 300. Now that may make a great title for a green screened and scripted Hollywood movie, but it is hardly a force strong enough to defeat an entire army, right?
The whole time Gideon was working on his plans, God was working on one of His own.
When Gideon trusted God’s plan, victory came.
Heroes are important, especially for our children. But we as parents need to make sure that we give them a way to see what a true hero looks like.
That he or she is one who hears God speak.
That he or she is one who obeys when God calls.
And that he or she is one who trusts God in His plans, even when they are not understood.
If we can help them do that, our kids may just be a Gideon in their generation.
As you talk with your kids about this story, ask them who their heroes are and why. You may just find a way in to their world where you can show them more about God’s world.