In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. —Ruth 1:1-2
…there was a famine…they went to Moab and lived there.
A crisis can cause us to do things we thought we would never do. I am sure this is what happened to Elimelek and his family. They lived in a country that was experiencing economic uncertainty along with political turmoil, social unrest, and spiritual apathy. Every person was doing what was right in their own eyes because there was no moral compass or common ground guiding society.
Elimelek believed in God, and by all accounts, he appears to be a decent man doing his best to take care of his family. His name meant “God is my king” but the famine caused him to feel God was no where near. That’s exactly what a crisis will do. It will cause us to doubt what we held to be true when there was no crisis. Elimelek could trust God when there was no problem, but the famine revealed his trust was only as strong as the comforts God provided.
On a clear day standing on the hills in Bethlehem, Elimelek could see the green pastures of Moab. Moab was to Israel what Nazi Germany was to America during World War II. You could not find two more opposite people groups with opposing values. The Moabite culture was so morally bankrupt that even Hollywood would blush…or vomit. Yet, Elimelek was willing to move and raise his young family there. Why? Because a crisis can make “wrong” look “okay.” I can hear Elimelek’s reasoning, “Yes, the values of that place are horrible, but I can get a job there and we can have food to eat.”
Elimelek had been raised to follow and trust God. Up until this point he has, but the fear and uncertainty of his crisis, caused him to compromise his convictions. When he moved to Moab he was intentionally ignoring what had always guided him. The tone of the verses indicate that he never intended to stay in Moab. He was just going there until things got better in Bethlehem. It was intended to be a temporary fix.
When we encounter a crisis, we have three options:
We are in a crisis. In fact, we have more than one crisis in our country. The COVID pandemic…bad politics…social unrest…spiritual apathy…I could go on. What has been your response? A recently released survey revealed that 1 in 3 Christians (33%) have quit attending in person and online worship services since March of this year. In the midst of crisis, one-third of Christians have quit worshipping God with others. It appears many are following Elimelek. In this time of upheaval and uncertainty, I plead with you to trust the Lord. If that is a struggle, read this.
Don’t look for green pastures somewhere else. Embrace our new world and trust it is part of God’s good plan for you. I know this is not easy, but discomfort is an opportunity to trust God. Keep trusting!
Here is a song that encourages me. I hope it does the same for you: Amadeo (Still My God) by Ryan Stevenson
Share this with a friend if it has encouraged you.
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. —Psalm 146:1
Today’s headlines are not pretty…bad politics…inequality…riots…injustice…police brutality…school closings…white privilege…conspiracy theories…crimes against police…COVID-19…defaming monuments…stay at home orders…Black Lives Matters…All Lives Matter…school openings…unemployment… It is easy to be discouraged.
Just one of those issues has potential to create a dark cloud, but all of them together form an emotional black hole that has the potential to suck the joy out of any day. What am I supposed to do? Ranting on social media may create a moment of satisfaction, but ultimately it just contributes to the problems. Sticking my head in the sand and ignoring the issues is a good way to get my butt kicked. Joining a cause pulls me into the fray. Remaining silent gives the appearance I am indifferent. My options to respond to today’s problems don’t seem very good. Except for one…
Praise the Lord, my soul.
The writer of this psalm reminds me that I always have the choice to praise the Lord no matter what is taking place in the world. Literally, the phrase “Praise the Lord, my soul” is the psalmist telling himself to praise God. Another way of saying it would be: “I will tell myself to praise the Lord.”
To live a life of praise is too acknowledge the goodness of God in spite of my problems. It doesn’t mean I ignore the things that frustrate me. It means I choose to acknowledge God is present in the issues. Praising God keeps me from having a critical spirit toward myself and others. It empowers me to cancel my negative thoughts, keep my mouth shut from complaining, and ultimately become a voice of hope and promise. It reminds me of the foolishness that happens when I strive to keep life fair. It balances me so that I will stop comparing myself to other people. Praising God allows me to be grateful for something in everything.
I do not know what problems the writer of this psalm was facing when he penned this praise, but he lists 11 reasons to praise the Lord in his psalm. Praise the Lord because…
When problems are overwhelming and answers are hard to find, it is a perfect time to praise. I get it. It sounds like a waste of time. It sounds like a pie-in-the-sky theology, but if you think God has become irrelevant, read this.
God is not distant when we find ourselves neck deep in problems. Praise him and see what begins to unfold in your heart and mind. See how it gives you a new perspective in spite of problems.
This Could Change Everything by Francesca Battistelli is a great song. I hope it encourages you.
Please share this blog with a family member or friend. You never know, God might be wanting to use you to encourage them.
Pairs of…animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground,male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark… —Genesis 7:8-9
…animals…came to Noah and entered the ark…
Have you ever wondered how this happened? Wild animals, from chipmunks to elephants, filed into the ark side by side. Lions walked by lambs. Snakes slithered beside rats. Hawks flew in over the rabbits. The animal kingdom, full of natural enemies and deeply imbedded habits to eat one another, peacefully entered a confined space and lived together.
Not only were these animals ignoring their survival instincts, they were also submitting to the commands of Noah—a human, also prone to not get along with wild animals. Why did the chaos of the animal kingdom calm down for Noah?
The answer: It was a benefit of obeying the Lord. The Bible says, “Noah did everything the Lord commanded him to do.” I think there is more to that than just building a large boat. Noah lived for the Lord in a community where selfishness was the value and violence was the norm. God called Noah’s world corrupt. It means it is used to be good, but it had turned bad.
Noah could not change his world and he had a difficult time influencing it. While living among his neighbors, I’m sure he shared his values and priorities. I bet he was generous and helped the needy. I think he had friends, was honest in business, loved his enemies and defended the weak. I believe he talked about God whenever the opportunity presented itself and I’m certain the people who knew him knew that he worshipped God. Do you know how many people outside of Noah’s family wanted to be like Noah? Zero.
Yet, the entire animal kingdom with all of its untamed members calmed down and cooperated with Noah. Would this have happened if Noah only partially obeyed the Lord? How much more difficult would it have been if Noah were not totally committed to everything God commanded?
Any person of faith knows it was God that calmed the animals, but what if God’s display of power was made possible by Noah’s devotion to God? God calls all of us to live for him, but the level of chaos we endure answering his call may be reduced when we strive “to do everything” the Lord instructs us to do.
Noah obeyed the Lord. That means, he made good choices—and what should have been chaotic, was peaceful. I wonder if the same principle applies to me and you? What chaos in our lives might be calmed if we would just make the good choice and obey the Lord?
There is an art to making to good choices. It doesn’t happen just because we want it to. You can discover that process here.
Wanderer, a song by Colton Dixon, encourages me. I hope it does the same for you as you pursue the good choices that will allow God to calm your chaos.
If these words of encouragement have strengthened you, please share them with a family member or friend. We all need encouragement.
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.” —Psalm 32:8-9
Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle…
Last year our family added a dog to the household. Her name is Dixie. She is a smart, beautiful, and playful creature. She listens to my commands about 80% of the time. Come. Stay. Sit. Down. Shake. Speak. She does them all—most of the time.
My most common command is “Come.” Almost anything can grab her attention and distract her from me; but if I say the word, she will return—most of the time. Because it is only most of the time and not all of the time, I have to keep a leash. Sometimes chasing a squirrel, no matter the surrounding danger, is just too tempting. When her dog urges take over, I have to use the leash to keep her by my side.
Do you see the analogy? The Almighty made humans the crown of creation. We are way more important to Him than a pet. He loves us immensely. He longs for us to walk with him, but sometimes we require a leash because we just can’t keep from chasing the squirrels.
I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
We can listen to the commands of our Heavenly Father, and willingly follow, or He may have to pull out the leash, but either way his direction is the best path for us. If we pay attention to Scripture there are some common commands He lovingly offers.
Go. He may commands us to go where we would not choose without his leading—like when Joseph was told to go to Egypt with Mary and the toddler Jesus. At other times, He points us to go exactly where our heart desires. When David was a young adult God directed him to go live in King Saul’s palace. How exciting! Jesus’ final command was “Go and make disciples.” The command to go is frequent. Let’s not be surprised when we hear it.
Be still. God speaking through the Psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God.” He told Elijah to be still under the Broom Tree and be refreshed. He told Paul and Silas to be still in prison and see the power of God. Being still can be the hardest command. Our world is full of stimuli that beckons us to do something. It tricks us into thinking that being still to know God is a waste of time.
Come. God told Noah to come into the ark and be spared from the flood. He also told him when to come out and get on with life. It was Philip who asked Nathaniel to come meet Jesus and it was the angel who told the ladies to come and inspect the empty tomb. When God calls us to come, hang on. He is getting ready to show us something important. He promised if we come to him, He will come to us.
Follow. It is no mistake that those who walk with Jesus are called Followers. Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” In another place he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” The command to follow is the call to obey. It is the mandate to put into action what we have learned from our Savior.
What command is God giving you? Are you listening? If you are having a hard time hearing God’s voice, read this. Hopefully it can help.
Listening and obeying the Lord. It is not always easy, but it is the best path for our lives.
Here is song to bring encouragement. Enjoy. —How He Loves by David Crowder
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. —Psalm 32:5
…trying to hide my guilt.
When I refuse to confess my sins, guilt gnaws at me. Guilt is a spiritual warning sign. When I ignore it, I force myself to try and hide my remorse. Honestly, I’m not trying to hide it from others. I’m trying to hide it from myself.
Here are some of the faulty mental excuses I’ve used to camouflage my guilt.
Hopefully, you are not trying any of these camouflaging techniques. If you are, learn from me. They do not work. Your guilt will not go away. Instead, take the advice of the Psalmist…
“I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”…all my guilt is gone…
Guess what? I have tried this too. It works! Stop trying to hide your guilt. Embrace it. Own it. Confess it. If you don’t know how to confess your sins, read this.
Here is a song that encourages me. May it do the same for you. Light Up the Sky by The Afters
If you found these words encouraging, please share them someone. It is an easy way to encourage someone in your world.
When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. (Psalm 32:3-4)
When I refused to confess my sin…
Have you ever done that? I have. It is emotionally and mentally exhausting to the point that physical energy can be lost. That is what writer is explaining. Could it be that the mental and emotional fatigue many of us face each day comes from our refusal to confess our sins?
“Confess” is a religious word. It is the action we are expected to take when we sin against God and others. We don’t always have to confess our sins to others, but we should always confess our sins to the Creator.
When we confess sin we are agreeing with the Almighty that the attitude or action under question is wrong—not because we feel it is wrong or because society tells us it is bad or because the behavior created uncomfortable consequences—but because we are consciously aware the deed offended God. Confession is saying, “God, You are right about this, and I am wrong.”
Confessing wrong is challenging because we have to acknowledge God as our moral authority. It is an act of humility and being humble does not come easy. What comes easy is pointing out those who behave worse than we do. What comes easy is blaming someone else for our behavior. What comes easy is justifying our bad behavior with really good excuses.
…your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
God loves us too much to let us be comfortable with sin. Mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically, He intervenes. We call it guilt or regret or “I wish I had not done that.” Sometimes He allows our bad behavior to set into motion a series of consequences that we simply cannot undo. His hand can be heavy, but love is always His motivation.
When we don’t recognize His discipline (or if we just flat out ignore it), the pressure He applies does not go away. It remains, and if we are not careful, we will make things worse. We are not trying to make it worse. We are trying to ease the discomfort of our guilt, but we are not very good at forgiving ourselves. Instead, we will invite a harmful attitude or habit into an already bad situation. Emotionally we might become bitter or angry or embrace a victim mentality. Habitually, we might seek escape on Netflix, or drink a little more, or depend on an unhealthy relationship, or even begin some type of substance abuse. All because we simply would not confess the original sin. We stubbornly compound our sins and the interest on that kind of spiritual debt makes life exhausting.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s agree with God about our sins. Go to Him. Confess. The Hand that is pressing heavy on you will also carry you.
Enjoy this song. I hope it encourages you: The Strength to Let Go by Switchfoot
If you found these encouraging words helpful, please share them with a friend. It is an easy way to share some good news.
Peter was a large, muscular man who served in the Vietnam War. His appearance was intimidating; yet, he was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He faithfully attended church. He served others and was generous with his time, skills, and finances. He was the ideal Christian man except for one thing: he never really appeared to be happy. He wasn’t grumpy or mean. He was soft spoken and displayed a servant’s heart. He just didn’t smile very much. He gave no hint of joy. He was the strong, silent type who gave the impression of “I’ll help you, but don’t mess with me.” He was an anomaly.
I was a little anxious about meeting with him. He had scheduled an appointment over the phone and gave no hint about what he wanted to discuss. Shortly after entering my office, he melted into a chair and began to cry. I said very little as he shared his story with me.
While in Vietnam, Peter was a successful soldier. He was so good at his particular set of combat skills that he was chosen to be a part of a special CIA team that performed secret ops all over southeast Asia. He did not give orders. He took them and performed them. I will never forget him looking at me with tears streaming down his face, and saying, “God can never love me…I’ve done bad things.” Until this moment, I would have never guessed he was struggling with the truth that God loved him.
Seeking clarification I asked him, “Why do you think God does not love you?” He gruffly replied, “Because of the things I’ve done.”
I then asked, “Have you asked God to forgive you?” “Of course!” His gaze giving a hint of frustration. “So, you don’t believe God has forgiven you and that’s why you question His ability to love you?” I was intentionally pressing him. “Exactly,” he said, with a little fire in his eyes.
We spent the next several minutes talking about war, the evil man is capable of, and the blood he felt was on his hands. As we talked, I shared God’s Word and watched God’s Spirit chip away at the lies he had come to believe about the Heavenly Father. The truth began to set him free. It came full circle when he read the first two verses of Psalm 32.
Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
Instantly, something happened. It is hard to describe, but he changed in front of me. It was not a physical miracle. It was an emotional one that could be seen on his face. I did not know what the change was in that moment, but the next time I saw him I immediately recognized it. He had joy.
All of us have sinned and carry the guilt of our actions. Fortunately, most of us do not have the regrets Peter had, but we do have the same joyless, religious life. It doesn’t have to be that way. When we turn to Christ and accept the grace He offers from the Cross, four things happen:
God’s love for the repentant sinner is truly great and amazing! Let the joy of forgiveness fill your heart. It all starts with being honest about your sin. Tell God all about it.
Here is a song I’ve found encouraging. I pray it encourages you.
As an athlete in high school I would sometimes wear a weighted vest as part of my strength training regiment. Weighted vests vary in weight. I remember them being anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds.
Weighted vests do not hinder movement in any capacity. You can walk, jog, or sprint with one. Pushups, pull-ups, lunges, squatting, and dips are all good exercises one can do while wearing the vest. The purpose of the vest is to create resistance in movement to build strength.
Recently, my father left this world and went to be with Christ. Caring friends, co-workers, and neighbors have consistently asked me, “How are you doing?” The question is lovingly simply, but each time I answer it I am reminded of a weighted vest. The sadness I feel fits over me like one of those vests. I can still do everything that I normally do, but the movement of life feels heavier.
No one wears a weighted vest all of the time. The athlete wears it while training, but not throughout the whole day. Sadness is like that. It wraps itself around us for moments in the days and weeks after a loss. It can be really heavy, but for the most part we keep moving. Some days are better than others, but sadness is unpredictable. The athlete gets to choose when they wear the vest. The one suffering loss does not get to choose when they feel sad.
As I bear the weight of sadness, two verses from the Bible have become anchors:
Psalm 30:5 – Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.
Jeremiah 31:13 – I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.
They comfort me with 2 truths:
We can wear the weight of sadness for many reasons, but the causes do not cancel out the promises of God. If we take our sadness to God, if we trust Him with the losses we endure in life; He will take our sorrow and replace it with joy.
Here is a song that has encouraged me through my recent loss. I hope it encourages you.
For the first time in my life there is a legitimate risk attending church. The risk is not political, legal, or social. It is medical. This is new territory. We have never had to consider going to church a medical threat. In the past we may have chosen to stay home during flu season, but never have we been warned about the danger of being in a crowd like we have over the last two months.
However, people are beginning to leave their living rooms. Stores are open for customers. Restaurant dining rooms will be open in a few days. Employers are calling people back to work and elective surgeries are being scheduled. Little by little, we are beginning to take risks even though the threat has not been completely removed.
Along with these openings comes the opportunity to worship at church. I realize this opening might be scary for some of God’s people. Who would have ever thought someone in the United States who genuinely loves God might have reservations about going to their local church?
For centuries people have chosen whether they will publicly worship God or not. Some have had the privilege of making this choice safely with no threat of harm. Others have had to make the choice under tremendous pressure with the risk of prison, loss of property, or life. One day each person will stand before God and give an account. What makes it strange for us is that we have always been able to choose to worship without any threat. Today—it is different. Today—many who love God may have doubts about worshipping Him at church.
Doubt about returning to church is not a sin. It is a reality of the time in which we find ourselves living. Some people should not come back to church just yet. Others should. Each person must make their own decision. Here are some Biblical guidelines as you make your choice:
Here is a song I’ve been enjoying. May it encourage you.
Over the last several weeks we have all lost something. High school seniors lost all the traditions of a senior year. Grandparents lost hugs from their grandkids. Those in nursing homes lost visits from family and friends. Families lost vacations. Parents lost jobs. Children lost sleepovers and birthday parties. Hospital patients lost visitors. Those who saw a loved one pass away lost having a funeral. On and on I could go. It is all sad.
The hardest part of COVID-19 is not knowing what we are still going to lose. Everyone is aware the world is going to look different moving forward, but how different? The answer to that question eludes us all.
Yesterday I was having a pity party. I’m sure that doesn’t happen to any of you, but it was happening to me. While internally bemoaning my losses, I received a story in a text from a friend. It was exactly what I needed in that moment. Let me share it with you:
A story is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule “braying”—or whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the old mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving.
Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the mule in the well and put him out of his misery.
Initially, the mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and dirt kept hitting him the back, a thought struck him. Every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, he would shake it off and step up!
This he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up!” He repeated this to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows or distressing the situation seemed, the mule fought “panic” and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up.
As you may have guessed, it wasn’t long before the mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like would bury him was actually a blessing because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.
Each loss in our lives is another shovel load of dirt. In the face of so much loss, we are tempted to give in to panic, bitterness, and self-pity. But, if we can trust God and keep a good attitude, the losses that we feel may bury us, have within them the potential to be our way to step up.
The Bible says it this way…
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4)
My pity party is over. It’s time to step up.
Here is a song that encourages me. I hope it encourages you.