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Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “There is a son born to Naomi.”  And they called his name Obed.  He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Ruth 4:17

We just finished the Book of Ruth in our Friday morning study.  I love this book.  It is a story of suffering, good fortune, blessing, risk taking, resourcefulness and redemption and of course, love – there is a wedding and a baby after all.

In a nutshell, this man, Elimelech, takes his wife, Naomi, and two sons and leaves his home, Bethlehem, to go to another country, Moab, a country that doesn’t follow God. There is a famine in Bethlehem, so he thinks he can do better for himself, in Moab.  It doesn’t happen; he dies as does his two sons.  Naomi is heartbroken and left with two foreign daughter-in-laws.  She decides to go back home to Bethlehem, one of her daughter-in-laws, Ruth, decides to go with her.  She wants to take care of Naomi and follow God. Once there, Ruth goes to work, trying to earn a living for her and Naomi.  She happens to be working in the field of the wealthy, bachelor, Boaz, who just happens to be a close relative of Elimelech.  In that culture, relatives were responsible to redeem (buy back or purchase) the land of those who were struggling with debt or poverty.   The next of kin could step in and pay off the debt, marry the widow and carry on the family name.  And that is what happens, Boaz agrees to pay off the debt (or buy back the land) of Naomi, marry Ruth and carry on the family name.  They have a baby and Naomi goes from heartbroken to lovesick over her new grandson and life becomes rich and full again.  The End.

But the end is never the end with God.  There is always more to the story.  See, Ruth had grown up in a very sinful place.  Moab was sin city, a sexually perverse country, actually founded by a fellow conceived through incest by Lot and his daughter, not a good place to be from.   And low and behold, we find out down the road that Boaz was the son of Rahab, the harlot, who helped the spies that Joshua had sent out to the city of Jericho.  Remember they marched around it for seven days and on the seventh day, seven times, and then the walls fell down.  Now that is an interesting plan of attack.  See what I mean about always more to the story, with God?

So Ruth from Moab (sin city) marries Boaz (son of a prostitute) and they have a son who is the grandfather of King David, who is the great- great- great to the 28th time, (or thereabouts) grandfather of JESUS!  Whoa … how wild is that?  God used two women of ill repute, and I’m sure there were many more we don’t know about, to be part of the heritage of his son’s life here on earth.

Many times we find ourselves thinking that God can’t use us because of our past.  I want to encourage you today.  Don’t let your past dictate your future.  God has a plan for you.  Twenty years ago, I was Ruth and Rahab rolled into one.  I was not living a Godly life.  I was gutter girl.  Drugs, alcohol and men were pretty much my day to day life.  But God picked me up, cleaned me up and set me on his path.  He brought Bobby into my life and he gave me a home and a family, and then he drew me close to him and showed me such love and I’ve not been the same since.  God changed my heart and my life… and he wants to change yours too!

Food for Thought:  Which side of the suffering are you on, still living in the pain of the past or embracing the redemption of his future?

Father, thank you for this story of real life redemption – that you give us examples of people just like us and how we all fit into your perfect plan.   Thank you for never giving up on us, even when we are slow to recognize our redeemer. And Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us first.

I love you Jesus.
   In Your Name I Pray,
   Amen

God’s Blessings To You!

Love,
Joyce
My newest book is out now!

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones
But Words Can Kill My Spirit.
The Lies That Get Stuck Inside.
Now Available!
http://www.sticksandstones.cc

Carrying a handful of papers, my son races into the living room. “Mom, I need some help with my homework.”

Gingerly, I pull myself up from my usual position on the sofa. However, any movement, no matter how gentle or slight, sparks a raging fire in every joint in my body. Ankylosing Spondylitis, an autoimmune disease which hardens the spine, joints and major organs, had transformed my healthy, vibrant body to diseased mess. Pain and immobility kept me land-locked on the couch or bed most days.

Fighting back tears—not wanting him to see my pain—I pick up the papers he dropped on my lap. I stare blankly at the words on the page. My medicated and pain-filled mind can’t quite process the assignment.

“What are you studying?”

“It’s science, mom.” He tries to hide his impatience.

Another long pause as I try to make sense of fourth grade science. This should be simple. I have a Master of SCIENCE degree for goodness sakes! Why can’t I figure this out? What is wrong with me? Deep in my heart I know the medication has tempered my thought process; enduring constant excruciating pain doesn’t help either.

Screaming on the inside, I somehow manage a quiet, “Maybe Grandmother can help you this time.”

My mom, who’s been cooking dinner in the kitchen, walks around the breakfast bar.

“I can help. Show me what you have.”

My son picks up his homework and hands it to my mom. Watching them work, I slink back down into a prone position. Although I was thankful that my mom was able to step in and help my family, thoughts of doubt and insecurity crept up in my heart.

God, this is getting worse. I can’t even help my children with their schoolwork anymore. I’m supposed to be the one cooking dinner, and I can’t do that either. Lord, what is going on? If I can’t be the wife and mom you made me, then who am I?

That question rung in my ears for weeks, even months. I had a lot of time to mull it over and think deeply about my identity.

*Is your life defined by what you DO each day?
*Do you rest on your JOB TITLE to give you purpose and meaning?
*Do you find secret pleasure that you’re indispensable at church, work, or home because you’re the go-to girl?
*Does your husband complain that you have energy and time for everyone else except him?
*Are you so busy multi-tasking that you’ve lost sight of simplicity and peace?
*Do you take pride that you provide your family with gourmet meals, homemade bread, hand-crafted outfits and hair bows, and a flourishing vegetable garden in the back yard?

None of those things are wrong in and of themselves, but we’re misled if we think our personal identity, value, and worth are tied to our accomplishments.
 

What if every single activity and responsibility you have were removed from your life? How would you find value, purpose, and meaning?

For the Christian, the answer is in Jesus Christ. 

It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who has become for us wisdom from God—
that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:30

filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ—
to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:11

From the fullness of His grace
we have all received one blessing after another.
John 1:16

The moment your life was surrendered to the Savior, God FILLED you with His fullness—wisdom, righteousness, holiness, purity, blamelessness, and countless other blessings. None of those things are actually true of you, apart from Christ. But because you are FILLED by His Son, with His Spirit, God counts you as holy.

You are more valuable than a job title. Your life has greater purpose than a To Do list. You are wrapped in Christ!

With Christ’s Comfort,

Carrie Cooper

RUNNING FROM TROUBLE

My thoughts troubled me. If I were in heaven, I wouldn’t be in pain anymore. Lord, I just want to be with You. Please stop the hurt. I am begging you for mercy on my body. Just one day of relief—no, just one minute, Lord. I’ll take anything from you. I can’t go on living like this. It’s just too much.

Two years had passed since I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a crippling autoimmune disease which causes painful hardening of the spine, joints, and major organs. My life prior to disease was a faint memory, hardly recognizable after living with the burden of chronic illness. Once an active, vibrant, energetic wife and mom, I was now completely dependent upon the care of others.

Thinking it might be helpful to hear how other AS patients managed their illness, I sought out internet support groups; however, my depression only deepened when I heard their sad stories. My current problems were discouraging enough; I couldn’t bear to hear what might happen to me in the future.

I sheltered my husband, Travis, from the depths of my despair. I knew he worried about me and I hated to complain about one more thing. Most of the time I put on a happy face, but deep inside my mind was reeling. I’m getting worse, Lord. I can hardly walk in my own home. Please hear my prayer. Take me to heaven with you. I can’t take the pain anymore.

Somehow, in a moment of clarity, the Lord convicted me of my thoughts. I thought they were innocent enough, but He knew better. I argued anyway. What’s wrong with a Christian wanting to go to heaven?

I didn’t hear a booming voice, just a gentle, familiar whisper. If nothing’s wrong, then why don’t you tell Travis?

It was like a light bulb switched on in my head. I should tell him. I can’t keep these notions about dying secret any longer. Shuffling into the home office, I confided my deep, dark thoughts to my best friend.

*  *  *  *  *  *

If you’re like me, you’ll do anything to escape pain. It wasn’t as though I was deeply suicidal; I just wanted the hurting to end. Have you ever felt that way?

Has life ever been so hard, and so horrible that you dread getting up in the morning because it only means more heartache and suffering?

I’ve been there and it’s not pretty. It’s agony. It’s loneliness. It’s raw emotion. It’s brokenness.

But the amazing thing about that place is that Jesus Christ has been there:

I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
My bones suffer mortal agony
As my foes taunt me,
Saying to me all day long,
Where is your God?”
Psalm 42:9-10
 
He was despised and rejected by men,
A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
And carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God,
Smitten by him, and afflicted.
Isaiah 53:3-4

The Bible isn’t just a book of nice, sweet stories that teach a moral lesson. No! The Bible richly depicts the heartache of humanity, the sufferings of the One Savior, and the compassion of the Father who reaches down into our misery and pulls us up to Him. When your life is shattered, it’s at that moment you join with Christ in His sufferings.

Then, in your brokenness, you can affirm the sentiments of the Apostle Paul:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness
Of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things.
I consider them rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in him. . .
I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection
And the fellowship of sharing in His suffering,
becoming like Him in His death,
and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:8-11

It’s not in the avoidance of pain that God draws us near; it’s in the complete surrender that life apart from Christ is worthless and empty. Our lives only have true meaning and value when we set aside “self” and embrace the suffering that cements our fellowship with Jesus.

How does this translate into real life?
What does this mean to YOU?
1. EMBRACE God’s will for your life, even if hardship is part of it. Accept that the Lord knows what is best for you.

2. STOP looking for the next big thing that will “free” you of your troubles. It won’t work. Only God is in control of your life. He has allowed trials in your life for your ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

3. ASK the Lord to use your troubles for His glory. Don’t let suffering go to waste.

4. PRAISE God that He is doing an amazing work in your life! Be quick to tell others all the Jesus has done for you.

Please share your comments. What amazing work is Christ doing in your life?

 
With Christ’s Comfort,
Carrie Cooper

It was a memorable conversation. I was interviewing the owner of a housekeeping company, and although we were supposed to be talking about cleaning services, he felt inclined to share juicy bits of business gossip. For twenty minutes he rattled on about noteworthy news—an eccentric pastor’s wife, quirky old ladies who liked things just so, and peculiar behavior of his customers. Clearly this businessman did not abide by the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality.

Finally, I was able to distract his attention long enough to get back on topic: cleaning. He rudely wondered out loud why I wasn’t able to clean my own home. I’m usually very open about my illness and faith, but after getting an earful of gossip I was afraid he would publish my story in the next company newsletter. So, in response to his not-so-subtle query, I replied, “I have a chronic illness. I used to be able to do all of my own housework, but I can’t anymore. I rely on other people to help me now. God has used this illness to really humble me.”

He couldn’t hide the shock on his face and blurted out, “But, who wants to be humbled?”

Exactly.

No one, that’s who. But then, isn’t that the point?

Who among us CHOOSES brokenness, submission, or dependency? God doesn’t ask our permission to inject a dose of humility in our lives. Our prideful hearts resist surrender, because in the end, meekness means the end of Self.

However, if you consider it,
God’s humbling discipline
is actually the best place to be.
  • When my shattered ego has finally surrendered to Christ, it’s at that point I’m willing to admit that I don’t have all the answers.
  • Pride takes a backseat, while brokenness stays the course to trust God for the next step in life.
  • A humbled heart contrasts God’s complete control with my absolute powerlessness.
  • Self-reliance once dulled my mind, but a meek spirit sharpens my hearing of Biblical truth. 
This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word.
Isaiah 66:2
    
Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.
Proverbs 16:19

Have you ever considered that the struggles in your life have been allowed by God, at least in part, to humble you and ultimately draw you closer to Him?

With Christ’s Comfort,

Carrie Cooper

I am so weak that I can hardly write,
I cannot read my Bible,
I cannot even pray,
I can only lie still in God’s arms like a little child, and trust.
Hudson Taylor

Lying on the couch, every joint in my body rigid and on fire, I learned what it meant to lie still in God’s arms. I couldn’t move without igniting vicious flames deep inside my bones. Bible study was out; pain numbed my brain and prevented me from making sense of words. My prayers, once integral to a beautiful relationship, were reduced to “God, help me.” My spiritual life was reduced to bare bones, replete with cries of anguish and requests for His mercy.

Sometimes life is downright hard,
with no escape in sight.
But, maturity isn’t found in the escape, is it? Trusting God is a skill cultivated on the battlefield.

Adversity presents the child of God a unique opportunity: abandon self-effort and learn to depend on God for every single aspect of life. Trust becomes more than a word—it becomes survival. The Christian, confident in her Lord, realizes that He carefully tends to her every need.

. . . I provide water in the desert
And streams in the wasteland,
To give drink to my people, my chosen,
The people I formed for myself
That they may proclaim my praise.
Isaiah 43:20-21

Friend, are you walking in a wasteland today?

Will you lie still in His arms and TRUST?

With Christ’s Comfort,

Carrie Cooper

A THORN PRIED

Those were the dark days. After I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), I desperately researched the internet seeking answers and solace. I visited several online support groups, only to leave miserably discouraged and afraid. Every website and discussion group revealed one thing: a grim future. I couldn’t bear to read people’s heart-wrenching stories, because it was my reality at home too.

But, sometime in those early days, the Lord grabbed hold of my heart and instilled a glimmer of hope. No, I wasn’t miraculously healed, nor could I walk. Constant pain filled my days. Nothing changed–except my soul.

Through prayer and Bible study, God opened my eyes to His perspective: He was carefully shaping me to be more Christ-like.

For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

That was the secret.

That’s what it is in your life, too. Absolutely nothing escapes the Lord’s sovereign will. If you’re experiencing hardship, then you may have absolute assurance it’s for your good:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:2

With the veil of pain removed, we see clearly. The eternal goal is holiness, and that comes through God’s pruning. He isn’t haphazard, but tender and careful, gently imparting Jesus’ righteousness.

Of course, it doesn’t seem gentle when our world has been turned upside down. But, like prying a thorn out of a child’s finger, so the Lord removes sin from our hearts. It hurts. We fight it. We stomp our feet and scream at the top of our lungs. Thankfully, He isn’t deterred by tantrums. He presses on, making us ever more like His Son.

HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO GOD’S PRUNING?

PRAY: Complaining and worrying accomplishes nothing, however, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

THINK: Focus thoughts on eternity, not on today. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above,” Colossians 3:1

TRUST: God loves you and promises to take care of you. “This is what the Lord says—He who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid…” Isaiah 44:2

HOPE: Our hope isn’t in the problem disappearing, but in the power of the Lord to safely deliver us in it. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” 2 Timothy 4:17

As the Lord pries thorns from our sinful hearts, we can take comfort that He is the master gardener. Perfect love guides His pruning shears.

With Christ’s Comfort,

Carrie Cooper

WHERE DO YOU TURN?

Bad news. Whether it’s from a doctor, your spouse, or your good friend, we all hear words that take our breath away. No matter how well someone tempers the blow, bad news is like a sledgehammer bearing down on our temporarily perfect world.

What do you do when you receive an ominous report?  Tell your husband? Call a friend? Post on Facebook?

How different our lives would be if we came to the Lord FIRST rather than last?

As we turn to God, the Comforter of our souls, we pray with the psalmist:

I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

He alone is our help. Without Jesus we have nothing. With Christ we have forgiveness and eternal life.

When trouble strikes our natural inclination is to run away from God and sulk in bitterness. But, what if we paused just long enough to recognize our situation for what it is–a personal invitation by God to lean on Him?

I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me. Psalm 120:1

He is waiting to listen. He is waiting to help.

Will you call on the Lord today?

With Christ’s Comfort, Carrie