When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. —Ruth 1:19-20
…call me Mara…
In ancient Israel, names were not labels. They were descriptions of inner character traits that parents would speak into the life of their child. As an infant, Naomi’s parents gave her the name pleasant. Upon her arrival in Bethlehem, her old neighbors and relatives called her by that name. She quickly informed them, “Don’t call me that. Call me Mara.” She declared that she is no longer pleasant. She is now bitter.
The pain life can bring has a way of robbing the very best away from us. It happened to Naomi. It happens to us. Loved ones die, careers crash, dreams morph into nightmares, friends turn into enemies, good days fade into social distancing and masks. No one is exempt from the strange turn of events that turn a pleasant life into a bitter one.
When it happens, it is not uncommon for us to look for a reason or a culprit. Naomi views her past decisions as the reason, and she sees God as the culprit. She tells everyone that will listen: “God has made my life bitter. He has emptied all that was good out of my days. He is holding my sins against me and punishing me. He has broken my world and I see no recovery.”
Not everyone blames God when things go sour. Some people don’t point to God because they don’t even think of him enough to blame him, but for those of us who believe he is sovereign, pain can cause us to ask, “Is God really good?” Just as COVID exposed all that is wrong with government and society, bitterness exposes all of our flawed ideas about God.
Bitterness also blinds us. When we grow bitter there are three things we cannot see:
When we are suffering, we tend to magnify what we don’t have and minimize what we do. We tend to forget what God has done when we’re convinced there’s something he should be doing. Bitterness blinds us. Fortunately, it does not disqualify us. God has a good plan for bitter people. Naomi will discover this.
If we will give God some space, we will discover it too.
Here is a song that helps me when I get frustrated with God: Hurry Up and Wait by Mercy Me.
“Look,” Naomi said to Ruth, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”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.” —Ruth 1:15-16
…your God will be my God.
Ruth’s declaration of faith in God is one of the strongest in all of the Bible.
Ruth married into a family that believed in Yahweh, then her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all died. I have to think she had some serious questions about the love of God. Not to mention, to go with Naomi, Ruth would be turning her back on her citizenship, her family, her culture, and any means of security that might be available to her. Ruth has no logical reason to say to Naomi “Your God will be my God.”
God spoke to Abraham, was in the burning bush for Moses, wrestled with Jacob, gave strength to Samson, and sent an angel to Gideon. All of these men experienced something that would bolster their faith. Ruth had no dream, no experience, no voice and no angel. Why would she claim Naomi’s God as her own? What incentive did she have?
Most who place their faith in God are like Ruth. Few people today hear God’s audible voice, see a burning bush, receive a supernatural ability, or rub shoulders with an angelic visitor (and if they claim to have experienced any of these things…we have serious reservations). Ruth was able to place her faith in God without any of these experiences. She has endured pain, listened to Naomi’s inaccurate rants about God’s character, and received no special messages convincing her God has some special plan for her life. Where did Ruth find faith?
I don’t know the answer to the question. All I know is that somewhere along the way, Ruth heard some truth about God and she believed it. She trusted what had been revealed to her and it became an opportunity for her to trust Him more. It is a divine mystery, but all faith in God is. If all elements of faith can be understood, it is no longer a faith in the Almighty.
The Bible tells us faith in God comes from hearing the word of God. Even though I cannot pinpoint where Ruth heard about the true, living God; we can be certain this is where her faith was birthed. The same is true for you and I today. Our faith springs forth when we hear, accept, and trust real truth about the living God.
Many of us have endured the obstacles Ruth faced. We have experienced the pain of our broken world. We have waded through all the comments about God that do not even come close to explaining who he really is. We have had no “aha” moments or special visions. We, like Ruth, get tidbits of truth that nudge at our hearts. It is in those moments we must decide to follow the truth or lean on logic. Ruth chose the truth.
When we follow truth and let faith blossom, we also gain wisdom. By the end of Ruth’s story you are going to think she was really wise when she chose to follow God. But wisdom is a by-product of accepting truth and living by faith. She doesn’t look wise right now, but heavenly wisdom rarely looks wise in our world. To learn more about wisdom read this.
Don’t neglect the nudges of truth God sends your way. Accept them. Trust them. Each time you do, you are telling God you want more of him. He never disappoints.
Here is a song to encourage you in the journey: Word of God Speak by Mercy Me.
But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes…Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept. “No,” they said. “We want to go with you…But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me?…Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.” And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. —Ruth 1:8-14
Why would Naomi encourage two young women who love her as their mother to return to Moab? Why would she tell them to leave her side and go back to a people who worship a false god? Why would she ask them to consider finding men to marry who do not know the Lord? Why would she advise them to raise children in a society that sacrificed children in cult worship? This is Naomi’s worst moment.
Why would anyone discourage another person from trusting the Lord? It happens frequently. We may not say it the way Naomi said it, but we are capable of advising someone near us to go back to a life away from God. Why would we do that?
…the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.
Like a footnote at the bottom of a page, this comment reveals some background information about Naomi’s strange advice to her daughter-in-laws. Naomi believes in God, but she believes God is against her. She believes God is angry with her. She believes God is out to crush her, ruin her, or teach her a lesson.
I am always shocked when I encounter someone who feels this way. They believe in God, but they also believe God is against them. Two things feed this faulty thinking and we find them in Naomi: pain and shame.
Naomi has endured much pain. Three trips to the cemetery has convinced her God is angry at her. She also has shame. She allowed her sons to marry godless women from a godless place. In ancient times, there was no greater sin than allowing your children to marry outside of the faith. Naomi let it happen twice. No wonder she believes God is angry with her.
Bad things happen to us everyday. Believing in God is not umbrella of protection from pain nor a guarantee that we will not make decisions we deeply regret. Sin has broken our world. It has broken us. We will feel pain. We will have shame. But, don’t ever think God is not for you. He is in your corner. He desires for you to see him as he really is, not as how you think he is. That’s why Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. God was in that hug. Naomi just doesn’t know it yet.
There is a way to remain happy even when life hurts. If you would like to know how, read this.
I’ve shared this song before, but it has become a “go to” song when my life is hurting. I hope you enjoy it: There was Jesus by Zach Williams & Dolly Parton
If this has encouraged you, please share it. Someone in your world is feeling pain and shame.
Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland.With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah. —Ruth 1:6-7
Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah…they took the road that would lead them back…
It is easy to get separated from God’s aid. Separation from his blessings is not being separated from his love. We can never be separated from his love, but we can be in a place where he chooses to no longer provide help. I’m not talking about a geographical location. I’m talking about a spiritual settling down that leaves faithfulness to God out of the picture.
Naomi went to Moab because there was no food in Bethlehem. Ten years and 3 funerals later, she finds herself a destitute widow with two widowed daughter-in-laws. Without a husband and without any sons, her future looks bleak. It is here that God begins reach out to her.
Naomi heard…We don’t know how she heard. God in his grace has a way of dropping hints to us when we are far from him. He is not obligated to do this. He does it because he loves us. He wants us to be near him. If you have a hard time believing God’s wants you to be close to him, read this.
Where have you spiritually decided to settle down? If your place does not include being faithful to God (especially if you have been faithful in the past), God will remove his aid from you. However, do not interpret that as God not loving you, not wanting you, or not desiring you to come back. Look around. Listen. I bet he is dropping hints right now.
…they took the road that would lead them back…Naomi heard and she responded. She had to tell her daughter-in-laws and friends in Moab, “I can’t stay here anymore.” I’m sure there were questions. A decade is a long time. Would it not have been interesting to hear her explanation as to why she could no longer stay where she was?
I’m sure the tone and logic of her answers left those people wanting, but that is case when we start to move in faith. Those around us, those who helped us in our journey away from God, will never understand why we would return to him. Nevertheless, Naomi packed what was needed and left everything else behind.
The road leading back to God requires a steady dose of humility. But why must we be humble? Because of the sinful choices that took us down the wrong path. The way back to Bethlehem was the same road Naomi took to get too Moab, but the journey back was paved with regret and brokenness. She realized she should have never gone down that road in the first place.
Sin is like that. When we start down the road of sin it rarely feels evil. It usually feels fun or justified or logical or right. But after we have spent some time away from where we are supposed to be, we realize we have messed up. Sin can be hard to recognize, but it is God’s grace that always shows us the way back. If you’re having a hard time seeing your sin, read this.
Occasionally, we find ourselves in a place where God will not bless. If that is you, and you are reading this, then take it as a hint. God is calling you back.
Here is a song for the journey. On My Own by Ashes Remain
Please share this with a friend. Who knows? Maybe God wants to drop them a hint.
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.