How to Prepare for 2021

It has happened! 2020 is officially over. I can’t remember people ever anticipating the start of new year with so much excitement. I get it. I’m glad too.

As 2020 was ending I would hear people speak of 2021 as if all would go back to normal, but 6 days into the new year, after the violence in Washington D.C., we all discovered that “normal” is still on vacation.

One of the biggest emotional setbacks and spiritual pitfalls we can experience is when our expectations and reality are not on the same page. It happens all the time. When we get married, we imagine marital bliss, but what actually happens is morning breath. At work we believe we will find success and promotions, but what really unfolds is…well…work. When stuff like that happens, it can feel like getting punched in the gut.

Now, what is going to happen if our hopes for 2021, and what actually happens in 2021, are nowhere close to each other? What are we going to think about the purpose of it all? What feelings will we have about God being in control? Will we remain hopeful or will we become hardened and cynical?

How can our hope in God, his purposes, and his plan remain vibrant even if what we long for just doesn’t happen? Here are some things I’ve learned to help keep my expectations in check.

1. Let Biblical wisdom be your guide. Don’t let expectations for life be unrealistic. Instead, filter your expectations through what Scripture reveals about a life devoted to Christ. For instance, the Bible clearly teaches that God uses suffering to develop character (Romans 5:3-5). It also alerts us that if we are lovers of the Gospel we will eventually suffer for its causes (2 Timothy 1:8). When is the last time you left room for the possibility of suffering for good character and the causes of Christ?

If hardships come for those two noble causes can’t we fully expect some trouble in 2021 for lesser reasons? If we don’t lower our expectations and make space for letdowns, disappointments, struggles, and problems; then when they come, we will lose heart. We can prepare ourselves by realistically surveying the world we live in and declare: In this life we will have trouble, but it’s okay, because Jesus has overcome this world.

2. Learn to be content with what God has given. This doesn’t mean we don’t have goals or seek improvements. It means we learn to enjoy where we are as we pursue the objectives God has called us to chase.

Contentment is not just accepting your position and possessions. It is making sure you are in pursuit of the right things in life.

Some days life rocks. Others, it will suck. But contentment is not found in circumstances, it is discovered in pursing the good deeds God has planned for you. When the purpose of your life is on target then you are much more prone to emotionally and spiritualy survive the bumps in the road.

3. Seek to experience God’s presence in the limitations and frustrations of life. Don’t believe the lie that God only shows up in comfort, prosperity or victory. God’s presence, offered through Christ and experienced through the Holy Spirit, is available in every situation. He is there to high-five us on the mountaintop, hold us in the valley, and encourage us in the daily grind.

His presence is more of an awareness than a feeling. The awareness is fueled by knowing the promises in the Bible and living as if they are so. It is what we call faith. As we “faith” God he produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our attitudes and actions.

Just as an orange tree does not have to grunt and sweat to produce an orange; we don’t have to work to obtain these attributes. We just live in his presence and they show up. All we do is cooperate with his leading; one day at a time.

It is not easy to have realistic, God inspired expectations. We live in a world that constantly tells us we deserve more with less problems. It is just not true.

There was Jesus by Zach Williams and Dolly Parton gives me a fresh perspective when life lets me down. I pray it will encourage you.

What the Heart Can’t do in 2021

We live in a world that can be depressing. 2020 has been a constant reminder of what can go wrong. The good news–2020 is coming to an end!

2021 is just around the corner, but something tells me plenty will still go wrong. I don’t mean to be a “downer,” but our world is just messed up. I don’t think a new year is going to extinguish all the dumpster fires of 2020.

It stinks being a realist sometimes, but I’ve learned that my realistic heart can be rejuvenated with hope if I will monitor the amount of news, social media, and headlines I consume. Bad news, social media rants, and alarming headlines will choke God’s hope from my heart. How do I know this? Look at what the Bible says: “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8)

Wearisome! That is a good word to describe what happens to the heart when it becomes addicted to (or just goes along with) a 24/7 news cycle.

If you want to keep God’s hope for our world fresh in your heart, here are 3 things you can do:

1. Don’t start or end the day watching or listening to the news. Don’t ignore what is going on in the world, but don’t let the pain, rage, and injustice of it be the first thing you swallow in the morning or the last thing you absorb before going to sleep. To keep your heart from becoming desensitized or frustrated, use one of those times (morning or evening) to read or listen to God’s Word. Use the other to do anything that does not involve hearing or watching the news.

2. Read the news more than watching or listening to it. News media outlets are designed to give the most information in the least amount of time. The brain can handle the information, but the heart can’t keep up. The heart is not designed to carry the burdens of the world so it either gets overwhelmed or gives up. Both are unhealthy. When you read the news, your brain has time to take in the facts and the heart has time to feel. No one wants a disengaged, cold, or cynical heart. Slow the chaotic information down and give your heart time to hear the voice of God in the events of our world.

3. Think globally but act locally. Keep up with the world, but don’t become so globally aware that you are no good to your local community. God knows you can’t end poverty, but you can serve the underprivileged in your neck of the woods. He knows you can’t end wars, but you can love your enemy across the street. He knows you can’t stop racial injustice, but you can become the friend of someone who has a different skin color than yours. Don’t be so burdened with the wrongs of the world that you have no energy to battle the wrongs in your neighborhood. It is in doing good where you live that you will find the hope God provides for the heart.

The human heart was not made to literally care for the whole world. Only the heart of God can do that. Don’t try to be God. Be you. The Living God created your heart, and he has given it the ability to love and care in amazing ways. Find them and your heart will be filled with the hope that only an Almighty God can give.

Good Morning by Mandisa is a song that reminds me of the hope that is available each day. I pray it puts a pep in your step and a smile on your face as we start a new year.

5 Ways to Reconnect With God

2020 has been a crazy, chaotic year! How has the madness of the last 9 months impacted your connection to God? If you are feeling it is a little strained, you are not alone. However, the promise and joy of Christmas is a great time of year to reconnect with God.

God makes it clear: If you start moving towards Him, He will move towards you (James 4:8). Here are 5 things you can do to move towards God.

1. Do something to make God proud of you.

  • The Bible calls this glorifying God. I know it sounds mystical, but it’s not. Glorifying God is keeping an attitude or doing a deed for no other reason than to please God. The Bible explains attitudes and activities that honor God. God will always loves you, but for him to be proud of you, you must practice a Biblical attitude or engage in a Biblical activity for God’s pleasure alone. It is your Christmas gift to Him expressing your desire to be closer to Him. God always receives your gifts…and beams with joy.
  • Here are some ideas to get you started: Be humble, Be grateful, Be generous, Forgive someone, Be kind/loving expecting nothing in return, Be patient

2. Build relationships with people who are committed to following Christ.

  • God dwells in people who have received the grace offered through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christian friendship is more than a social network. It is a spiritual connectedness that allows God’s people to give and receive God’s presence to one another in the daily routines of life. If you want to be closer to God, do life with some of His people.
  • Here are some ideas to get you started: Attend a small group, Go on a mission trip, Volunteer to be a part of a ministry team, Volunteer with other believers to meet a specific need in the community

3. Read and practice God’s Word when He speaks to you.

  • Don’t just read the Bible. Read it and then practice what you read. It is completely okay to read a good devotional publication when reading the Bible (just don’t skip reading the actual Bible verses). If you are not familiar with the Bible, I actually encourage you to use a devotional. Reading a devotional with the Bible is a great way to understanding what God is saying to you. Just don’t act like He didn’t say something. Act on it. God hugs the obedient not the stagnant.
  • Here are some good devotional publications: Our Daily Bread (odb.org), The Bible App (bible.com), navigators.org, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For by Rick Warren, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge by Tony Dungy

4. Develop a habit of serving others into your life routine.

  • Basically, this means too intentionally and habitually serve others for the purpose of expressing God’s love to them. If you have received God’s grace, God’s love resides in you. The best way for you to experience more of His love is to sacrificially and unconditionally share it with someone else. Fortunately, there are literally thousands of ways to serve someone else, and those opportunities pop up like crazy during the Christmas season. Feel free to be creative, but remember—it must be sacrificial, unconditional, and for the purpose of sharing God’s love.
  • Here are some ideas to get started: host a small group in your home, volunteer to serve children or students at a local church, serve the homeless, help refugees in your area, use a skill or talent you possess to help the local church

5. Expand God’s Influence by sharing your faith in Jesus

  • If God is moving your life, tell someone. If God has answered a prayer, tell someone. If someone in your circle is afraid, discouraged, or feeling hopeless; tell them how your relationship with God through Jesus helped you when you felt that way. Don’t have reservations about telling others how the living God is encouraging you, empowering you, or directing your life. God shows up when we sincerely share with others our encounters with Him.
  • Here are some ideas to get started: Pray with someone after listening to them share their trouble, Share your favorite faith based song with a friend and explain to them why the lyrics encourage you, Explain to someone the real meaning of Jesus’ birth, Tell someone how you came know Jesus, Financially support and pray for a ministry or missionary who is telling others about Jesus

Here is the most important piece of advice I can give you as you move to reconnect with God: Don’t try to do all 5 of these activities at the same time. Pick one and move towards God.

Let me know what happens.

Little Drummer Boy by King & Country has become one of my favorite Christmas songs. May it give you some joy in the journey.

Merry Christmas!

Finding Peace in The Vote

As a follower of Christ, I am not completely comfortable with either political party or the candidates they have nominated to be president of the United States. When I think of voting in 2020, my mind goes to this ancient text:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance…If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt…[the doubter] should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. 

“IN ALL THEY DO”—I think this includes voting.

WHY DO WE NEED GOD’S WISDOM TO VOTE?

We need God’s wisdom because that which is morally wrong cannot be politically correct. Voting in 2020 requires Believers to support a candidate and political platform that is promoting ideas and behaviors that are morally wrong. Neither mainstream candidate, or the platforms they represent, are 100% morally correct. Both parties have policies that are morally wrong; and, they have nominated candidates that have very public moral failures, character deficits, and evil ideas cloaked in stumping points that are communicated as “good for the majority of people.”

We need God’s wisdom when voting because all sin is equally wrong, but the consequences for specific sins are not equal. The consequence for cowardice is different than the consequence for arrogance. The consequence for sexual immorality is different than the consequence for a deceptive heart that has wicked schemes. The consequence for sowing discord is different than the consequence for shedding innocent blood. The consequence for speaking lies is different than the consequence for purposely lying about someone to deceive people. I could go on, but I think you get the point. 

We need God’s wisdom when voting for 2020’s presidential candidates because we are not just choosing between personalities, platforms, and promised policies. We are choosing between the consequences of what is morally wrong that they have made politically correct. When Jesus followers begin to justify what is morally wrong in any candidate claiming that it is for the better good of everyone, we become the double-minded, unstable person. 

We need God’s wisdom when voting because by-and-large, God’s people are terrified of offending someone by talking about Christ in an election year. However, it does not seem to bother us to offend someone with our political views, and in the process, destroy our credibility to share the hope of the Gospel with them. 

Believers need God’s wisdom when voting because in America when we choose a candidate, we must be committed to opposing the evil that candidate will promote as good. This is not hypocrisy. It is voting with our eyes wide open because our loyalty is to the King of Kings.

Finding Peace

Naaman, the leading general in the Aram Empire, had  defeated and enslaved God’s people. He had leprosy. A Jewish slave girl he had acquired to serve his wife, told him the God of Israel could heal him. She advised him to go to the prophet Elisha and seek his help. To keep the story short, God healed Naaman because he humbled himself and obeyed the Lord’s instructions given through Elisha. As a result, he wanted to pay the prophet and Elisha would have known of that.

Look closely at Naaman’s words and request to Elisha as he prepares to go back to Aram:

“I will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive me for this one thing: When my king enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down…I have to bow there also—when I bow down…may the Lord forgive me for this.”

Naaman knows who is God. He has just declared his loyalty to him, but he also knows that he lives in a culture and a system that asks him to kneel before idols. He wants to know if God will forgive him for this. Doesn’t this feel like voting?

Elisha responds with 3 words: “Go in peace.” He does not scratch where Naaman is itching. He neither condones or condemns what Naaman confesses.

What does this say to me? No matter who I vote for, they will bow to idols that I do not kneel to.  Does this make me a hypocrite? Does this mean it is okay for me to vote for someone knowing this will happen?

Elisha’s response reveals this is a valid concern, but not something that needed to be answered in that moment. It as if God is saying, “Go in peace knowing that if you are going to follow Christ there will be conflict.”

The impending conflict will be dealt with at the appropriate time. Until then, go in peace.

It is with this in mind, I will go vote. I encourage you to do the same. 

Can You See It?

When I dream of the International Welcome Center (IWC), I see an organization where the love of God is brought to life through people who have been empowered to love their neighbor. I see people who love God acting most like God would act. I see Americans being the very best America can be. 

I see a place where persons of different origins and cultures, different languages and colors,  different customs and religions, are accepted. They are not accepted out of pity, but because of their value and diversity and knowledge. I see a place a where those who serve the foreigner find their own worth not in what they have to offer, but in their capacity to bear the burden of another. To give to a stranger until that stranger becomes a friend.

I see a place where xenophobia is not allowed to exist because faith in the Almighty has pushed it out. I see American citizens coming alongside someone who has fled from death and disease, genocide and political tyranny, ethnic cleansing and civil war to find the healing of a caring nation. A nation willing to give them a new start, build a new home, and walk them down the path of citizenship. 

I see a place where selfishness takes a back seat to advocacy. A place where vulnerable foreigners are seen as valuable people. A place where the advocate takes up the cause of another to empower them and in the process discovers their own humanity.

I see a place where racism is overcome with affection motivated by love. A place where a different color of skin is an invitation—not a reservation. A place where diversity is the new normal building a stronger community instead of it being a wall that builds segregated clusters of people.

I see the IWC as part of a modern day fulfillment to an ancient prophecy. At the end of time when humanity has run its course, Jesus explained he would divide the human race into two groups: those who loved him and those who did not.

How will he know who loved him from those who cared nothing for him? He explained: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Those to whom Jesus will be speaking will respond: “When did we see you hungry or thirsty? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in? When did we see you needing clothes? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

Then Jesus explains, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one fo the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

I imagine in that great moment Jesus pointing to the strangers who came from all over the world to live in our neighborhoods. I imagine the family that escaped religious purging in Afghanistan and the single mom with fatherless children who survived the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I imagine the survivors of ethnic cleansing in Nepal who carry the guilt of surviving and those who live with PTSD because they endured unspeakable violence in Iraq. I imagine in that moment those of us who never endured such tragedy will see in full the losses they lived through and our hearts will finally understand.

In that great moment, I imagine the pride and joy of the Almighty for his people. Those humans, motivated by a love for Jesus, who embraced those strangers even though they had no way to fully understand them. I imagine laughter at the misunderstanding different cultures and languages produced. I imagine big tears and huge smiles as those who helped the stranger begin to understand just how much they helped. I believe those who funded the work, gave themselves, or donated time, energy, skills, or items will finally understand the full impact of their generosity.

You and I have an opportunity to be a part of that moment. We can fulfill a prophecy today few on earth will notice. Even fewer will care, but it will not go unnoticed in eternity. It will not be overlooked by the Great Lover of Souls.

I realize people who have visions can be crazy. Honestly, as God placed this dream in my heart, I wondered if I was crazy; but I began to share the idea. First, I shared it with the Elders of GBC. They didn’t think it was crazy. I then shared it with other Godly men and women. They didn’t think it was crazy. I have now shared the idea with hundreds of people. No one has said it is crazy. Ultimately, I have shared it with you.

Will you support the IWC? Will you help the stranger today? Will you embrace this opportunity?

Here are 3 ways to learn how you can support the stranger that has become your neighbor:

  • Discover how the IWC is helping the foreigner by visiting the IWC website
  • Consider volunteering to help a refugee or immigrant
  • Register for “Home for the Holidays” – a virtual fundraiser with Joe Theismann on Dec. 9

Clarity in Chaos

When COVID hit the scene, I began writing a Word of Encouragement. It was a way for me to stay connected and encourage the partners, guests, and friends of Grace Bible Church while in lockdown. When GBC opened back up, I continued to write weekly emails and posts.

I enjoy writing. I also enjoy the feedback from those who have gained something from my efforts. I will continue to write, but I am postponing the weekly Word of Encouragement until January so I can put more energy into pursuing the development of the International Welcome Center.

God has given me a burden and placed a passion in my heart to see the IWC become a light for our Lord and a force for good in our community. I cannot carry this burden or flesh out this passion and continue to write a Word of Encouragement. Time simply will not permit it, but it is more than just a time issue.

I started writing a Word of Encouragement to strengthen people during a difficult season. I pray that happened. I will continue to build up the body of Christ through my preaching, writing, attitude, and lifestyle; but part of what God has called me to do through the IWC is to motivate people to respond to a great need.

As I think about the purpose of the IWC, I am reminded of all the evils it pushes against: racism, inequality, xenophobia, illegal immigration, poverty, selfishness and ignorance. Many of these evils are the monsters taking swipes at our nation’s moral compass.

The IWC provides an opportunity for local people (me and you) to confront national evils. It gives us the chance to be a part of the solution instead of just being frustrated about all the problems. It opens doors for individuals to impact their neighbors and overcome darkness with the love, compassion, and courage of Christ. It builds bridges so the hope of the Gospel can be shared.

Few organizations provide you with an opportunity to impact society on an individual, local, and national level; but the IWC does. Few organizations will allow you to build God’s kingdom, make your city a better place, help a wounded family start over, and personally follow Christ; but the IWC does. When you and I support the IWC,…

  • It allows us to put to flesh the ancient command to “not mistreat the foreigner who resides among you” and “to love them as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
  • It provides a relevant opportunity to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
  • We fulfill Jesus’ words when he said, “I was stranger and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25:35)

You and I have before us the opportunity to live out the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments in a world that is embracing the idea that God is distant. That He is not speaking. That He does not care. We can prove them wrong. We can show them the relevancy and power of following the teachings of the Bible. Who knows what would happen locally and nationally if a group of Christ followers said, 

  • “I will push back against racism with kindness to someone whose skin color is not my own.”
  • “I will take steps to close the inequality gap by advocating for those looking for an opportunity to pursue more.”
  • “I will prove I am not xenophobic by becoming the friend of a foreigner.”
  • “I will become a part of the solution in immigration issue by helping someone become a citizen.”
  • “I will stand against poverty by being generous.”
  • “I will starve my own selfishness by taking an interest in others.”
  • “I will listen, learn and love so ignorance does not lead me.”

We don’t have to be swept away by the chaos and confusion of our times. We don’t have to be be suspicious, confused, or frustrated with the foreigners, neighbors, and strangers among us. We can be a part of something God is doing.

The IWC needs $425,000 to build an office and classrooms. For the next 3 months I will be using the time and energy I spent writing a Word of Encouragement to follow God in meeting this need. My hope is that you will support me and join me in this effort.

Here are 2 things you can do right now:

  • Pray for God to provide donors for the IWC.
  • Register to watch “Home for the Holidays” – a virtual fundraising event for the IWC

I will be sharing more with you as the weeks unfold. Native Tongue by Switchfoot helps me remember the importance of the IWC.

Exhausted & Satisfied

So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket.She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal. —Ruth 2:17-18

The relationship between Boaz and Ruth is picture of the relationship we can have with God through Christ. This fact can never leave our mind as we consider the implications of what is recorded in this part of Scripture. Ruth received the opportunities Boaz’s grace provided, but then she did something that proved her uncommon humility:

Ruth gathered barley…beat out the grain…carried it back to town…gave her [mother-in-law] roasted grain…

After encountering and receiving Boaz’s unworldly kindness and extreme generosity, Ruth went to work. She did not have an arrogant, privileged, or entitled attitude. She did not think or behave like…I knew my good looks would get his attention…I knew my loyalty to Naomi would pay off…He is wealthy so he should help me…I am poor and underprivileged and deserve some pity. 

Ruth sweated. All day. Even though she was noticed by the wealthy landowner, she did not expect any special treatment. She worked the field and was grateful for the opportunity to labor. How do we know this?

She gathered grain all day without complaining. She did not ask anyone to beat out her grain. She did not batt her eyes and use female charm to sucker some poor fellow into carrying her bags back to town. She freely shared with Naomi what had been offered to her. 

From a horizontal view, divine grace looks like an undeserved handout with no strings attached. For all practical purposes many religious people treat God’s grace this way. We would never say it that way, but we behave that way. We begin to think, feel, and act as though we deserve grace because God is gracious. When this happens, grace becomes a privilege we flaunt or a license we use to sin. 

From a vertical view, God’s grace is undeserved kindness motivated by unconditional love. Few people ever grasp the magnitude of grace, but the ones who do are easy to find. After receiving divine grace, they work. Not out of obligation or hope for an easier life, but out of deep gratitude for the One who noticed them when they had nothing worth noticing. 

Ruth, after receiving Boaz’s attention and generosity, went home exhausted and satisfied willing to share with others what she had freely received. I know many religious people who are exhausted, but they are not satisfied. I know many who are fatigued with their good works, but they are selfish with their blessings. Why is this? Because it is possible to work and never experience grace. When it happens, it leaves us worn out and self-centered. 

I’ve noticed those who have truly received grace work hard on their character, their Godly lifestyle, and their generous attitude. I would dare say, most who have truly received God’s grace need a spiritual nap, but they are reluctant to do so because they have been so overwhelmed by God’s kindness motivated by his unconditional love that was offered to them. 

What about you? Has God’s grace changed your work ethic (and I’m not talking about your career or chores)? Has the miracle of grace made it next to impossible for you to stop working the opportunities offered to you? Can you find yourself in Ruth?

The Goodness of God by Bethel Music and Jenn Johnson is a great song for the journey. Check it out.

God Sees You First

Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there?…the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi…Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields.—Ruth 2:5-8

People have a difficult time relating to God. I realize some have grown so disenchanted with the idea of God that they are no longer even trying, but most people have a God-sized emptiness in their life they are trying to fill, even if they don’t know it. 

Two common misconceptions about God misguide us in our efforts to relate to him. 

  1. We believe if we behave well and do good God will meet us and bless us. This misguided idea is built on a performance based relationship. It is true—we can have euphoric feelings and chest-bumping pride when we behave better than what is expected, follow a religious rule, or display better-than-average morality; but God’s love and favors are not based on our performance as a human. 
  2. Unfortunately, many religious people are convinced, if they posses the right belief system, God is obligated to relate to them. This comes from a sense of entitlement. I believe therefore God must relate to me and bless me. The underlying thought is, “God owes it to me because I believe the right stuff about him.” God cares what we believe, but he does not need our beliefs to relate to us. He is God. He can show up or remain hidden. He does not answer to his creation. 

Boaz went over and said to Ruth…

This is a picture of how God approaches people. 

Boaz approached Ruth. She did not introduce herself to Boaz. The rich land owner was not obligated to meet her. The needy immigrant had no right to converse with Boaz. Why did the introduction take place?

God, the Creator, owes us nothing. As needy, fallen creatures we have nothing to offer him that he needs. Why would he come to us?

Here is a secret to the inner life: We don’t find God—he moves towards us. It is called grace. The Holy One, the Almighty, the Lover of Souls—he comes to us first. We don’t approach him. 

It was Boaz who noticed Ruth. It was Boaz who took the initiative to speak to Ruth. It was Boaz who freely offered Ruth what she needed. She needed grace. She needed someone to see her and care. Someone to not hold her past against her. To give her a voice. To offer her a future she did not deserve. To extend an opportunity she could not earn. God’s grace does all of that and more for us. 

One of our human struggles is assuming that we deserve opportunity because we exist. Another is believing that we are entitled to blessings because we prop God up with our beliefs and morality. Ruth was doing the best she could with the strength she had. It was here that Boaz approached her.

God is still in the business of approaching people, but it is the humble, broken person who is extended grace first. God will not waste the opportunities grace offers on those looking to make bargains. He does not extend the future grace provides to those who feel entitled to it. God gives proud skeptics a cold shoulder, but if we are down on our luck, he is right there to help.*

Quit trying to bargain with God. Stop attempting to believe him into blessing you. Be you. Work with what you have. Humble yourself. Wait. He will approach you and extend grace

I Need a Miracle by Third Day is a song that reminds me I need God’s grace. May it do the same for you.

* Proverbs 3:34 from The Message

Defeating Tribalism

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing…, whose name was Boaz…So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. —Ruth 2:1, 8

Our world is tribal. We like to think we are global, accepting one another, and moving towards a common unity, but watch the news. Our world is broken and we can find many of the fractures around the tribes vying for our allegiance. Political parties, the issue of racial inequality, educational groups, financial status’, ethnic heritages, and generational descriptions are just some of the tribes promoting fear, hate, and mistrust. These tribes point out what makes us different and rarely highlight what we have in common. Instead of using diversity to strengthen society, they use differences to stir discontent and create targets. As long as there are humans, there will be tribes.

One of the things I love about Ruth’s story is that it shows us how to defeat tribalism.

…a man of standing…whose name was Boaz

Ruth did not know that she was harvesting grain in Boaz’s field. She also did not know that he was a “man of standing.” It is a difficult phrase. It means three things:

  1. Boaz had courage.
  2. Boaz used his influence to help others.
  3. Boaz had integrity.

Here is how he met Ruth. He comes to check on his employees to discover an immigrant—one he did not hire—gathering grain from from his field. She was working alongside his hired employees as if she belonged there. She had asked permission and it had been granted by the field manager, but Boaz is just discovering it. To Ruth’s credit, she was not looking for pity. She was engaged in hard labor to feed herself and her mother-in-law. 

Boaz could have shamed her, shooed her away, mistreated her or even assaulted her. No one would have cared because she was a female immigrant without legal status or protection working in his field, digging into his profits, without his permission. But because he was a man of standing who loved the Lord, he pushed back against the normal tendencies of tribalism, fear, mistrust, and indignation over perceived wrongs. Instead, he extended equality and generosity to someone who was different and uninvited. 

“Don’t go glean in another field and don’t go away from here.”

He did not do this blindly. He had heard of Ruth’s sacrifices to care for Naomi. He had seen with his own eyes her work ethic and disdain for pity. He combined his heart to follow God with the information he had about Ruth and he let his tribal walls fall down. 

The same must happen today if we are going to see violence, racism, prejudice, inequality, and fear of differences dissipate in our communities. Boaz lived in an era of dysfunctional political leadership and poor morals. It is said that during his time everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Each had their own tribe. Their own set of values. Their own preferences. Their own filters. It was a tumultuous, dark season in ancient Israel’s history. Yet, we find this man of standing being different. 

We can be different in our tumultuous time. We can combine our desire to follow God with intelligent, non-biased information and extend grace to someone we might initially mistrust or fear. And in the process, our own tribal walls will fall. To not do this would mean we value our fears over our hopes. That we value self-preservation over loving-kindness. That we value the darkness of our world over the Light that has entered our world. 

Here is a song for your journey. It has helped me much in my own: Fear Is A Liar by Zach Williams.

The Faith Zone

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.” Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, —Ruth 2:2-3

“Let me go…pick up…grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”

Ruth and Naomi are destitute widows. They have no source of income, no property, and no one to advocate for them. Widowhood has created holes in their financial stability, social standing, and opportunities for the future. Ancient Israel provided no social safety nets for poor widows. They were solely dependent upon the kindness of others to have their basic needs met. 

COVID has taken things from our lives and left holes. Each person has been impacted by it differently, but the one thing we all have in common is the knowledge of being powerless to make the world the way we want it to be or the way it used to be. Just as Ruth could not change her poverty, we cannot change our powerlessness. 

Ruth, in spite of her desperate situation, decided she would do what she could. By begging to work for grain, she was communicating her willingness to work where she could work and act where she could move. Here is a secret to the inner life: God seems to be most active in our lives when we are willing to work where we can. Moses was tending sheep when he had his burning bush moment. Gideon was harvesting grain when the Angel of the Lord showed up. David was doing chores when the prophet came to find the next king. Peter, James, and John were on the clock when Jesus showed up and said, “Come, follow me.” Ruth will meet Boaz, her God-send, because she was willing to work wherever the door was open. 

If God has gone silent in your COVID world, I suggest you get busy doing what you can with what you have where you are. Stop mourning. Stop complaining. Stop being afraid. Stop distracting yourself. Stop having a pity party. Stop giving up. Do something. Work. Serve. Share. Give. Don’t just be busy. Start adulting. Care for yourself and someone else at the same time. We greatly increase our chances of encountering God when we are responsibly caring, working, moving, and doing. This kind of living is proof that we are trusting God to provide and move on our behalf.

As it happened…

From Ruth’s perspective, she just happened to start working in Boaz’s field. To her, it was a random wheat field where no one chased her away. But when one is moving in faith, nothing happens by chance. It is all part of a Divine plan. Ruth had no idea she had just started moving towards God’s grace for her. 

When you and I actively “faith” God, nothing happens by chance. We enter the Faith Zone. The Faith Zone rarely feels comfortable. We feel dependent and vulnerable. We usually feel humble and needy and small. We bring nothing to the table but the meager resources of a willing attitude and a weak hope—but that’s enough. God seems to notice our limitations more than our abilities.

I can’t prove it, but I bet Ruth felt pretty small that day working in a stranger’s backyard. It is how I feel some days when I come into the office or get ready to share God’s Word on a Sunday morning. I bet it is how you feel sometimes in this world right now.

If this is you—if you are responsibly moving forward the best you can with the little faith you have—you are in good company. You have entered the Faith Zone and are racing toward the grace God has for you. Press on. The Almighty God will meet you there. I know it doesn’t make sense, but God’s ways are just different from ours

Only You, by Young Oceans featuring Evan Wickham, is a good song for the journey. Enjoy.

%d bloggers like this: