Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Well Lived Life


Our study of God’s Word today will come from the Old Testament Book of Ruth. Ruth lived during the time between Joshua’s leadership and that of the first king, King Saul. This was sometime during the 400 year period known as the period of the Judges. Most likely Ruth lived around the time of Gideon. While some of you turn in your Bibles to the Book of Ruth, allow me to share some American history to go along with our study this morning.

91 years ago a noted scholar and historian named Carter G. Woodson publically recognized the disparity in the American experience between the historical accounts of Blacks and Whites. Since Blacks had been greatly disadvantaged they were not in any position historically to share in the accounts which shaped the education system and thereby studies in American history.

It was well documented that certain facets of our American history received great attention while other facts were all but buried and forgotten. Woodson began publicizing an annual observance of a Negro History Week in the year 1926. 50 years later, in 1976 during America’s bicentennial celebration, the US government under then President Gerald Ford joined in and set aside the month of February each year as Black History month in efforts to highlight the often neglected historical contributions made by Black Americans.

Today however, 91 years later, we continue to see disparities championed in select areas of our American experience. For example there is a concerted push to all but destroy the primary and vitally important roll which Christianity played in the founding and in the continuing preservation of our nation.

As well, the valuable contributions made by women have always been marginalized; the growth, strength and leadership provided by Black Americans is still minimized; and the dependence of our nation on Almighty God continues to be viciously maligned every day. Women, Black Americans and Christians … Prejudices have made it more difficult than it need have been and even today it takes greater strength and more stamina from these vital segments of our society for many of them to keep showing up each day for that day’s tasks let alone trying to do your best, be appreciated in your field or excel even when gifted in some area of life. This has not been every individual’s experience but it has been the common American experience for many. If you are Black you’ve had to work harder to prove yourself; if you are a Christian you’ve had to be better, kinder and less opinionated; and if you are a woman you might as well get used to the jokes and being left out of the conversations and just go make some coffee.

Women; Black Americans; Christians … What if you were all three in a burgeoning new nation dominated by old white men! Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for a young woman in early America who was Black and had the dream to become a great preacher of the Christian faith? Such was the case in the historical life account of:

Jarena Lee

Jarena Lee was a Black woman born on February 11, 1783 in Cape May, New Jersey. Jarena was born the same year the American Revolutionary War ended, two years before George Washington accepted his first presidency and six years before the Constitution of the United States along with the Bill of Rights was ratified. What a pivotal moment in history.

Prior to the early 1800’s the American Colonies were mostly populated by slaves, convicts from Great Britain and indentured servants from India, Africa and all across Europe. In 1700 fully half of the total population of America was Black. The census of 1790 revealed that 75% of the population of Kentucky were indentured to a company or in some way owned by another person. As I said, these were people who had come to America either as slaves, convict laborers or indentured servants. Jarena Lee was none of these … Jarena was born free.

Jarena Lee was raised by parents who were not God conscious people and therefore she was taught nothing about Him. However, in her early twenties Jarena came under the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit while attending the African Episcopal Methodist Church in Philadelphia. During one meeting she fell under such conviction of sin and she gave her life to Jesus and, moved by His Spirit, began testifying and exhorting others to repentance and salvation.

Some time after her conversion Jarena heard a voice speak to her and say, “Preach the Gospel”. She considered that it might be the devil speaking to her since she saw no way in which this could ever happen. She finally petitioned her pastor who told her that he just did not know if this was even a possibility within their denomination or within scripture for that matter. Soon afterwards Jarena married Joseph Lee, Pastor of a small congregation on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

Somewhere near 1815, Jarena’s husband died leaving her with two small children. She was 32 years old at this time. It had been 8 years since she had first heard the call to preach. During those 8 years Jarena continued to petition the Reverend Richard Allen, who had now become the Bishop of his denomination, to license her and release her to the ministry.

One Sunday during the morning service Jarena was so moved by the Holy Spirit that she interrupted a visiting minister and began to exhort the congregation with power and conviction. Bishop Allen stood and made a public confession that after eight years of constant petitioning, he believed that she was truly called by God to preach the Gospel. He therefore sanctioned her and released her to minister. Jarena’s persistence had paid off!

Over the next many years Jarena Lee became known far and wide for her powerful preaching and missionary work which she traveled great distances to accomplish. She was indeed hindered both by her color and her gender and encountered great prejudices. Nonetheless, empowered by the Holy Ghost, she preached and the conviction of God fell on all those who heard saints and sinners alike.

There was no where she would not go and no one she would not speak to. In 1827, for instance, she traveled 2,325 miles and delivered a total of 178 sermons calling sinners to repentance and a new nation to righteousness. Jarena Lee stands tall as one of the founding mothers of Christianity in American History.

When I recount the founding fathers and mothers of our nation I look at Jarena Lee and see qualities which can only be understood in light of the Gospel of Christ. She didn’t fight for her country and she didn’t’ die for her country but she certainly lived for her King. I’ve come to realize that at times when:
·        Fighting won’t fix it …
·        Dying won’t change it …
·        Victory demands a well lived life.

Now let’s get to our Bible character for this morning, Ruth the Moabitess.

I don’t know how many of us have taken into account how Ruth looked so let me show you a couple of perspectives. The first one is Hollywood’s depiction of Ruth.

Next we can take a look at early American Bible pictures inserted by publishers to help shape our minds around the Bible stories.

Now perhaps you would like to see a more accurate depiction of a woman of Moab.

There’s just a little difference in the images depending on who presents them and why. Often it is perhaps from ignorance and innocence while at other times we are fed something we can identify with in order to sell tickets and still at its worst there are sinister plots to color the truth and minimize the impact of the facts that might not agree with the current agenda of those in charge.

At any rate, Ruth was also a young woman of color but what of it. Everyone she knew was a person of color. The prejudices in those days were not drawn along the lines of color but rather along the lines of wealth, power and religion. So, fast forward 3500 years to 2017 and it seems not much has changed for the better. Life is still filled with prejudices which make it hard on various groups of people. And – according to the Bible in Acts 10, it is still a sin to prejudge people.

For one reason or another, Black, White, Asian, Latino, Man, Woman, Teenager, Republican, Democrat, young, old, blonde headed or red necked, you may at some point find people unfavorably judging you before they know you. You may never erase some hatred or educate some of the ignorant however a life well lived is not about all the injustices, it’s about you. What are you going to do in the face of other people’s problems?

Jarena Lee could not change what others thought of her but she could decide how she would see herself and live accordingly.

Ruth 1
15  “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”
16  But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
17  Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”
18  When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.

Ruth 3:11  Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman.

Ruth was from Moab and as such would not be respected or well received among the Jews. The people of Moab were not the best kinds of people or good neighbors to Israel. On top of that Ruth was a widowed woman who remained barren after 10 years of marriage. However, Boaz and all the people living in and around Bethlehem observed the way Ruth lived her life. Everyone knew that she was a virtuous woman who exhibited kindness, patience and persistence. She was a prize catch for any man.

If the lessons from Black History in America teach nothing else it is a solid and continuing testimony to what kindness, patience and persistence can accomplish through a well lived life.

I assure you that you can make it without the approval on anyone else except One – His name if Jesus!

Success in this life, true peace and joy and life eternal awaits those who will put their faith in Jesus and live right. There is nothing a person cannot outlive, out last or out distance if they will only put their trust in God and live each day to please Him. When:
·        Fighting won’t fix it …
·        Dying won’t change it …
·        Victory demands a well lived life.

We cannot determine what we go through in life but we can decide how we are going to go through it. I pray you have decided to follow Jesus. He knows what you are going through and He has the victory waiting for you.

Turn your life, your prejudices and problems over to Jesus!