She Just Happened To Go There And Just Happened To Meet Him…

So she (Ruth) set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. Ruth 2:3

Ruth had recently come with Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law, from the land of Moab. She was an impoverished stranger in a strange land, just hoping to eke out an existence. God had told Israel that they shouldn’t pick their fields clean in the harvest but leave the droppings and the edges for the poor to glean. That’s what Ruth was hoping to do – to find a field, any field, where she could get permission to glean enough for her and Naomi to survive a few days.

She found a field and she “happened” to come to a part of the field owned by a man named Boaz. She just “happened” to come there. At least that would have been how Ruth saw it. Little did she know, but someday, this “random” happening would lead to her becoming the wife of Boaz, and an ancestor of king David, and Jesus himself.

We can see that this is God’s providence. God was directing her every step. Years earlier, Naomi and her husband “happened” to decide to move to Moab, where they “happened” to meet Ruth, who “happened” to marry their son. Years later, forced by poverty, Naomi and Ruth “happened” to return to Israel, and now Ruth “happened” to come to a particular field.

How many times in our lives do we just “happen” to go somewhere or meet someone and later find out it was God’s wonderful providence? Yesterday as I preached, I saw a family sitting there who years ago, just “happened” to move next door to another family in our church, who invited them to a dinner where they heard the gospel and eventually got saved.

You didn’t just “happen” to meet your husband or wife. You didn’t just “happen” to wind up living where you live. You didn’t just “happen” to join your church. God has been directing your every step.

And life isn’t just “happening” to you. You may work under a miserable boss. You may be going through tough times. You may have just been told you need a hip replacement or have a serious sickness. That unexpected tax bill, that transfer to another job, that tree that fell on your garage…you get the idea. Nothing just “happens” to us. God may have transferred you so you’d meet someone you will share the good news of Jesus with. That tree that crushed your garage? The tree service foreman may someday lead the Children’s Ministry in your church.

The next time you ask, “Why is this happening to me?” remember God’s loving providence. He has you right where he wants you, for your good and his glory. Nothing just happens to us. Not a sparrow falls apart from God’s will. He hand crafts every snowflake and lightning bolt. Our blessings and our afflictions are tailor-made by the loving hand of God.

Keep an eye out for God’s providences in your life. Someday you will say, “Oh, so THAT’S why that happened.” It didn’t seem so good at the time, but if THAT hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be enjoying THIS blessing right now.

And heaven will be the grand review of all God’s providences in our lives. Seeing how God orchestrated events and lives to bring you into the world, and bring you to Jesus and transform and use you for his glory. What an incredible day that will be.

Don’t Rent That Clown Suit Just Yet…

We’re funny creatures, us humans.  We ask our heavenly Father to provide for us then we try to figure out how he’s going to do it.

We pray, then our wheels begin to turn.  Let’s see, I could get a second job.  I could sell my signed Justin Bieber poster on eBay.  I could rent a clown suit and do kids’ parties…

And when we can’t see how he will be able to answer our prayers, we worry.  Our fertile imaginations construct all kinds of “what if’s” in our mind.  What if I don’t have the money to pay my tuition?  Then what if I can’t get a loan?  And I have to get a job flipping burgers?  And what if I don’t make enough doing that and I have to start living under a bridge and turn to a life of crime?  And then get caught and put in prison next to an axe murderer?

Worry is essentially us trying to figure out the future.  Or how God will work in the future.  And when we don’t see how God can do it, we get fearful.  If we can’t see exactly how he’ll provide, or deliver or heal us, we worry.

But God’s not dependent on means.  He’s not dependent on our company or the economy to provide for us. He doesn’t need doctors, medicine or technology.  He often uses means, but doesn’t need them.  He can heal with a word.  Or put a gold coin in the mouth of a fish.  Or multiply a few loaves and fishes.

“We never consider that God can open the eyes of the blind with clay and spittle, he can work above, beyond, and even contrary to means… “Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain, yet the valley shall be filled with water” (2 Kings 3:17).  God would have us to depend on him though we do not see how the thing may be brought about.” Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Did you catch that last sentence?

“God would have us to depend on him though we do not see how the thing may be brought about.”

Someday in heaven we’ll get to trace all God’s providences.  Won’t that be fun?  We’ll say see, here’s the day I offered that prayer.  On that same day, God gave a man in South Africa a new idea and he did this….that changed the way people did this…which created a market for this.  Which caused my boss to transfer me across the country….which led to me meeting my wife…

Part of the joy of heaven will be following all God’s providences and worshiping him for his infinite wisdom and goodness.

Our job is to depend.  To trust.  To pray and thank God for his faithfulness.  To rest.  God’s job is to run the universe and care for his children.  He’s pretty good at it.  And he’s got ways of answering our prayers we don’t even know about.  So don’t rent that clown suit just yet…

Why Is This Happening To Me?

Have you ever asked, “Why is this happening to me?”

Paul could have asked that question after being beaten by an angry mob in Jerusalem, arrested by a Roman tribune and thrown in jail.

But the tribune hears about a plot to kill Paul, and gives him a full military escort and sends him on his way to Rome to stand before Caesar.  If Paul had come to Rome as a missionary, he never would have made it past Caesar’s front gate.  But God’s plan was to use the Romans themselves to deliver Paul to Caesar’s court.

“It is one of the mysteries of God and his plan that many times we cannot see why things are happening as they are.  Yet God is surely at work in ways we could not have planned for ourselves.” – Darrell Bock

Remember, God has plans higher and better than anything we could ever imagine.  If we keep trusting him someday we’ll see the wisdom of his providence.

photo by xerezh

Please Fence Me In

I’ve been rereading The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, and this morning he reminded me that we should be grateful for God’s providence in delivering us from sin and temptation.

Sometimes God gives us an affliction to prevent us from sinning.  He gave Paul an excruciating “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from pride.

Sometimes he sends a brother or sister to rescue us from doing something foolish, like when he sent Abigail to stop David from rashly killing her idiot husband Nabal.

Sometimes the Spirit himself speaks to us to avert us from derailing.  When I was single, an attractive unbeliever invited me to go horseback riding and hang out with her at her home.  But the Spirit spoke the verse “Do not go near the door of her house” (PR 5.8) to my heart, and mercifully, I declined.  God spared me from potential disaster.

Sometimes God withholds wealth or success because of the many temptations they can bring.  Nothing like a rebellious child to keep us from congratulating ourselves on our parenting.  Nothing like being needy to keep us from self-sufficiency.

We have no idea of the thousands of times God has spared us from falling into the devil’s snares.  Let’s spend a few minutes today thanking Jesus for his providence that hems and hedges us in and keeps us from the pit of destruction.

photo by code poet

Walking The Streets Of Philly Again

This past week I found myself walking the streets of South Philly.  Looking around at basement window bars of the row houses reminded me of the bars on my windows when I lived in West Philly 35 years ago.

I was 23, without God and without hope in the world, working in an art gallery and living in a cockroach-infested apartment in the dingy basement of a large, old building.  Next door, in the other apartment in that end of the basement, lived a guy who said he worked for the Mafia.  He bolted his doors with massive bars, like a medieval prison, and was planning to embed his walls with chicken wire to prevent the police from busting through.

He once asked me if I needed anything, like a new TV or radio.  I asked if it was stolen and he said, “What?  Are you religious or something?”  Another time, he asked me if I’d keep his gun for a few days in case the police popped in on him (but I was too scared to).

I’d walk the streets to the bar, or the store for my staples of macaroni and cheese and chicken noodle soup, which I’d eat straight from the can.  I’d walk the streets, trying to avoid people asking for money or groups of tough looking teens.  I was often depressed and miserable.

But then the One who chose me in eternity and sent his Son to take on flesh and be slain for my sins, saved me and gave me new life.

35 years ago, I never could have imagined God would redeem me and put a new song in my mouth.  Or that he’d give me a wonderful wife, kids and granddaughter.  That he’d give me Christian brothers and sisters to care for my soul.  That he’d call me to pastor and preach and know my Creator and experience his steadfast love morning after morning.

We can’t conceive the plans God has for us for good, joy and blessing.  We have no idea what God will do for us or with us tomorrow or 10 years from now.

As I walked the streets this week, head down and collar pulled up against the cold, everywhere I looked I could see God’s glory.  Sewer caps glistened, reflecting the sun.  A tangle of confetti and colored ribbon next to the curb was beautiful.  The Bambi Cleaners sign made me grin.  I was walking the streets of Philly again.