Scorning the Shame; Discovering the Promise

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

If you have ever been the subject of gossip you know the pain and the shame which accompanies that revelation.  The above verse underscores that Jesus also knew this misunderstanding and shame.

Yet while we often chose to wallow in humiliation, Jesus simply chose to scorn it, not accept it.  We too, should realize we do not need to accept anything the world places upon us.  We can choose to scorn the shame, and keep ourselves right with God, even when the world does not understand.

While we are mentally fighting back defending ourselves, our heavenly Father is reaching out to us, to ease the hurt and comfort us.  Sometimes, in screaming our defense, we miss His soothing whispers of comfort.

A dear friend was once praying fervently, asking God to keep her from becoming prideful.  She was at a crossroads in her life.  A career dream she had pursued for more than a decade was just in reach.  One desire she shared with her close friends was that her dream was for God and God alone.  Although her work was bringing her into the limelight, she desperately wanted it all to be about God – not her.   Over the weeks that followed her closest friends prayed for her to remain humble: to give all glory to God.

She confided that someone in her life seemed to have an uncanny ability to denounce and demean her efforts, no matter what she did.  Unkind words were spoken to her face about her abilities, her appearance, and her shortcomings the other person perceived.  Amazingly, at least to her prayer partners, she was not ready to whack her offender, as we all thought might well be deserved!  Instead she humbled us all, by reminding us of her prayer request the past several months: her prayer to remain humble.

You see, she realized that the gift in those hate-filled words was that she did remain humble.  And while she would have rather spent more time in prayer or  had God use some other method, she allowed God to answer her prayer through words intended to scorn, to hurt, to intimidate.  Instead of paralyzing her, halting her work, or causing an emotional breakdown, she allowed God to use those painful words to help her in her quest to combat pride.

All of us in her prayer group were stunned, and deeply humbled ourselves.  Her story was yet another testimony of seeing Romans 8:28 in action. (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28)  God does use everything in our lives to bring about good!  We need only to open our eyes to look for it.

Reflection:

1) Do I block out the many voicing vying for my attention, and listen solely to God, focused on His opinion of who I am?

2) Do I really believe the promise in Romans 8:28?  Do I look for evidence of that promise in my daily life?

3) Am I ready for God to use anything to fulfill that promise?

Thank you all for reading, for “liking” this blog, and for forwarding it on to others. Please return on Monday, March 19, for the next post.

Taming the Tongue, Turning the Heart

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.” James 1:19-20

I was angry.  I was deeply hurt.  Someone who did not know me said something hurtful and completely untrue about my character.  Not once.  But twice, at least I heard.  I prayed.  I lost sleep.  I kept telling myself ‘It does not matter, God knows.  We are not to live to please man, or woman.’

That was all true.  But, it still hurt, deeply.  I prayed, asking God to take away the pain, and to help me forgive.

Part of me was in such shock.  It was worse to me that the offender had been confronted before, professed to be a Christian, and yet, did it again.  It was made further worse that someone very close to me was also deeply hurt due to those comments, and hurt from the lack of amiability between myself and the offender.

I had read the book of James recently.  I kept reminding myself, ‘We need to slander no one.’  I finally turned to James, hoping to read those words, and find some semblance of peace.

I read the first chapter.  Verses 19-20 jumped out at me.  “Everyone should be… slow to anger.”  OK.  I realize that, but how?  After all, I am human.  I cried out to God at the perceived injustice of it all.

Then I learned a few things.  First, whenever I rehashed those hateful words, I would become angrier.  God tells us to control our thoughts:  “Whatever is true, whatever is nobel, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8

Second, when it is hard to obey that command, I need to cling to the promise in  Philippians 1:13: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”

I cannot do it on my own.  I am human, that is right.  But, God is divine.  I can trust He will work a miracle on my heart, and allow me to follow Him.  Allow me to act accordingly, according to how He wants me to behave, not what my “justified” angry attitude wants.

Furthermore, James 1:26, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself, and his religion is worthless,” encouraged me to continue doing what I had been doing.  I had been careful not share the details of who said what with anyone.  I kept reminding myself not to slander anyone.  I kept telling myself, this is God’s child, too.

James 3:9 “With our tongues we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness.”  Although it was difficult for me to imagine Christians hurting one another in such a manner, I know no one is perfect, and gossiping would just perpetuate the cycle.

My eyes fell on James 1:2 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

OK.  Here I had a problem. I completely understood, and yet a part of me wanted to rebel.  (Ever been there?  Not a pretty sight!) I wanted to call attention to all the other trials I had faced in life and shout “Was that not enough?!?”

Well, life is not like that.  You might get a rest after one trial, but another will surely follow, sooner or later.  But no matter what type of trial, I can choose to be victorious.  Because I know God will carry me through.

That was when I really began to feel peace.  God knows my heart.  God knows my desire for peace.  And He knows all the efforts I have made in attempt to let peace rein.  He also knows when my heart is not right.  I am not perfect.  And I am learning that when pride rears its ugly head, I must fall to my knees and ask God to empty me of me, and fill me with His Holy Spirit; and to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to Him.

Reflections:

1) When I learn that I have been the subject of gossip, how should I handle myself?

2) Is there anyone I need to forgive for that offense?  (And quite possibly, be prepared to forgive in the future?)

3) Is there anyone I need to seek forgiveness from, as I have spoken about them wrongly?

Note: This post was actually written about one year ago, stemming from real circumstances.  As much as we as Christians desire peace to rein, I am learning that sometimes all you can do is attempt to live peaceably with some people.  You can treat them how God wants you to treat them, but that kindness does not necessarily equate with trust.  The important piece is to forgive, even when no apology is made, and the offense is repeated again and again.

Without sharing details of you circumstances, I would love to hear how you have dealt with others gossiping about you, how God was able to bring something positive from that situation.  Because He can!

Please return on Monday, March 12, for the next post.

Taming the Tongue, Part II

I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.” Psalm 39:1

Last week we studied a bit about gossip, and how a Christian should handle gossip from others.  This week, let’s consider how we should handle our own tongues, (a decidedly more difficult task at times!).

In Proverbs we read that holding our tongue is prudent.

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 10:19

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Proverbs 21:23

Holding the tongue is easier said than done.  And while there are moments we need to speak swiftly, it is often better when we can step back and separate our tongues from our emotions.  We need some space to pray, and think logically.  We also need to enlist self-control!

James reminds us “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” James 1:26

“We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” Proverbs 3:2

“But no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8

Obviously, we need God’s help to tame the tongue.  We should take it to Him in prayer.  And when those circumstances hit us and our tongues are tempted to talk, we need to first speak to Him, asking Him to guide our words.

The consequences of our words should never be underestimated: “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” James 3:5   Or, on a positive note, “Through patience a man can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Proverbs 25:15 “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” Proverbs 15:2

Words obviously can be used for good, or for bad.  The words we choose give others insight into our hearts. “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.” Proverbs 16:23

Let us set our minds on God and His word, and not only on the things of this earth.  When we choose to focus on God, it is amazing how others things can lose their draw.  Allow your heart to be consumed with what God has for you, not the latest word around the neighborhood.

If you are someone who is enticed by gossip, and are sometimes surprised by the things you say, maybe taking a look at the self-control level is a good idea. Many times, people do not want to say hurtful things, and yet they somehow are said.  If you are one to discuss the inappropriate, pray for more self-control.

What are the steps to take for taming the tongue?

1) Pray. This is two-fold.  If we spend time with God, He will fill our spirit with His love.  We will not need others affirmation nearly as much.  Not needing that may help us to make wiser decisions about our speech. Just being in His presence and enjoying who He is can lead to a day with inner spiritual peace. We often mistake this need for something we can get from this world, and sometimes, look to fill that gap through gossip.

Our first response should be to enlist help from God.  He knows us better than we know ourselves and He will let us know what we need to do: through Bible study, a word from a friend, a sermon that hits us just a certain way, the possibilities are endless! Pray first!

2) Stop the flow of information. What is our first response when someone gets burned?  Stop the burn.  Immediately cool with cold water (if the skin is not broken).  The point is, stop the transfer of heat to the affected area.  Likewise, if someone wants to confide in you and you know keeping it in is a difficulty, ask them to find another confidante. Suggest they find someone who may offer more assistance or bring more spiritual maturity to the situation.

3) Silence is golden.  “Let my words be few…” Commit this to memory and keep in mind that anything which comes from our mouths needs to glorify God and uplift others.  If our words can not do neither, they should not pass from our lips.

4) Disengage through distance.  The longer you sit and hear information being passed, the higher the chance you will cave in.  If gossip starts, remove yourself from the room, or at the very least, the conversation.  (See post Taming the Tongue Part I).

Our words can be a gift to others and to God.  We are His one creation who can eloquently speak words of wisdom, phrases of encouragement, and speech of kindness.  We are also the one creation who can tear each another down with just a tongue.

Words are so important to each of us in some way.  “Words of Affirmation” is one of the Five Love Languages.  We can obviously feel loved by others, through their words. We can also feel discouraged and even unloved through a choice of negative words.

As Christians, we should never miss an opportunity to encourage one another, sincerely compliment one another, and to say “thank you” for a job well done.

Reflections:

1) Pray God will author your speech.

2) Consider your conversations this past week: Did they each glorify God and build others up?

3) What situations or circumstances do you find lend yourself to falling into gossip?  How can you change that?

Please return on Monday March 5 for the next post “Gossip: When YOU are the topic”

Taming the Tongue, Part I

“Brothers, do not slander one another.  Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.  When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it.” James 4:11

I recently had an experience to which I bet you can relate : I was seated with other Christians when out of nowhere gossip arose and took root in the conversation.

As I listened to the conversation for a moment, I felt very sad.  I had always been so impressed that this group of Christians had never exhibited this behavior.  I moved and engaged others in conversation who were nearby.

But, later, I was berating myself left and right.  I knew that the fact I had not participated in the conversation was not enough.  I was in a room full of Christians- why did I not speak up?

Turning to the Bible, I reviewed a few points of truth and verses I knew:

1.  Gossip is wrong.  “With our tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praises and cursing.  My brothers this should not be! ” James 3:9-10

2. As Christians we are called to set the record straight : “Speak up and judge fairly , defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” Proverbs 31:9

Sharing my thoughts with my husband he offered a piece of wisdom: call a more mature Christian woman who was also present.  I would not be repeating the conversation or telling her anything she did not already know.  Learn her take on the situation.

His advice was priceless, because her advice was brilliant.

Whenever you hear gossip taking root in a conversation, politely interrupt, and say “it sounds like they really can use prayer.”  And start a prayer right then and there. “Take it back to God, which is directly where it needs to go”.  Her wonderful quote, not mine.

What words of wisdom!  I did not need to necessarily confront anyone.  I could interrupt the conversation and halt the misconduct, and then encourage all of us to turn it over to God, which is the best thing we could do for anyone.

After that conversation, my spirit was flooded with peace.

I know that Christians are not infallible.  But it is hard when people you admire and hold in very high respect exhibit their humanness.  We are to hold each other accountable, in a way which is humble and glorifying to God. Should this behavior continue in the future, there would be a need to confront on a one on one basis, after much prayer!

As I reflected on our conversation the following verse came to mind: “She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26 That verse adequately described this mentor.  It also provides Christian women everywhere with a great goal.  For Christians everywhere, male and female, may our words always encourage and lift up one another.

Reflections:

1.) Do I keep a tight rein on my tongue, and abstain from sharing information about others which is not edifying?

2.) How will I handle myself the next time gossip rears its ugly head?

3.) How can I encourage others to think about their words without preaching at them?

Please return Feb 27 for the next post: Taming the Tongue, Part II.

Go out and do good!

Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do but does not do it, sins.” James 4:17

Earlier this week, a memory from early college came to mind.  I was walking into a classroom building and found another student kneeling on the floor of the hall.  She was stuffing things into a bookbag with tears streaming down her cheeks.  I paused, taking in the scene.

Classes had just let out and many students were crowding the halls, going in and out of the building.  Yet, here was this girl, in obvious distress, all alone.

Ashamedly, I was also one who just continued on by.

Almost fifteen years later I still recall the incident, down to the smallest detail.  And everytime I recall it, oh,  how I wish I had stopped!

Back then I did not know the above verse.  I did not realize that by not stopping, I was sinning.

What hinders us from doing good?

Are we afraid of the consequences?  That if we stop at  a car along the road, someone might hurt us?  Do we think we really need to be somewhere else and can not make the time? Do we assign value to certain people and make our decisions based on our own value assessments?

Jesus said that what we do for the least of these, we do for him. (Matthew 25:40)

Someone once asked Mother Theresa how she could continue working with the poorest of the poor every single day.  Her reply: “I see Jesus in each one!” We all need her 20/20 vision!

I so desperately wish I could rewrite the events of that day back in college.  I would stop.  But all I can do is learn from that day.  And, when I recall the incident, I pray for that unknown girl.  I also pray that I may never repeat my inaction.  Could I have let Christ use me to influence her so many years ago?  I would love to have tried.

A few years ago, I received an email from a student I knew back in elementary school.  I was astonished to hear from him as I had not really ever known him.  But what he wrote greatly encouraged me.  He wrote to tell me that he wanted to thank me.  Back in the sixth grade, our class had a sixth grade dance. He recalled a teacher approaching me and a group of my friends, and then our little group went over to his group and invited them out on the dance floor.  He wrote that he has always appreciated that kindness, as those years had been difficult for him.

I was astonished on many levels.  First, I did not (and still do not!) recall those events.  Second, it had happened over twenty years prior.  Had that small gesture really impacted someone so much?  And if so, how important that I do not write off the “little things” I could do for someone else each day.

Most Christians are ready to do the right thing when the big issues arise.  But sometimes, the smaller things seem well, so small, so insignificant.  They are not so insignificant to God.  Remember the parable about the master doling out the talents?  His response was “Well done good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with few things.  I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25:21)   Would it not be wonderful to hear God say those words to us one day?

We never know what work God may have for us each day. Let us not be so consumed in our own worlds that we overlook the opportunity to help someone else. Because those little things truly do have an impact!

Reflection: What obstacles need to be removed from my field of vision for me to see what God has for me today?

Lord willing, the next post will be available on Monday, February 19.

Encouragement Encounters: Presence, Part II

Have you ever been in a really difficult situation, and worse, you were there alone?

The day after I was diagnosed with cancer, I awoke, wondering what I was going to do with myself all that day.

At nine that morning, the doorbell rang.  A neighbor who lived down the street, and attended our church, dropped by with her contact information on a card.  Five minutes later, the doorbell rang again.  I opened to a new friend I was just getting to know.  She too, had read the church email (the power of the internet!) and there she was, with three children in tow, here to help me laugh and keep me positive, and above all, keep me company.

Over the following months and years, I would often recount that day to my dear friend. She always said it was nothing, but I knew better!  Her presence that day was the best gift, the greatest comfort, I could possible have had from another human.

There are times when we need encouragement from each other.  Like the little boy who called his mother into his room one night, saying he was scared.  She told him “Son, you do not need to be afraid: Jesus is with you!”

His reply, “Mom, I know, but I need someone with skin on!”

At times, don’t we all?

In Mark 14: 32-41, we find Jesus in need of human encouragement.

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James, and John along with him and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little further he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him, “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.  Yet, not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep?  Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  They did not know what to say to him.

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look! The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go, here comes my betrayer!”

When Jesus says his ‘soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’ and then asks the disciples to ‘stay here and keep watch’, he is asking them for their physical presence, for their encouragement.  Jesus needed them. He needed their presence.  He was not asking for great words of wisdom, sometimes words are not necessary! He needed the encouragement only his dear friends could provide.

In this passage, Jesus is demonstrating his humanity.  He is also showing us that we need each other.

Sometimes, someone may ask to spend time with us, and it may not easily fit into our schedules.  What he may really desire is to spend time in our presence, to not be alone.

Jesus knew what was coming.  His disciples had yet to connect the dots, and they were bone tired. We have all been there.  You are up so many hours, and your eyes just can not stay open any longer.  The human body can only go so long without rest.  Humanity took over, and they fell asleep.

I would imagine after the crucifixion, those disciples replayed the events of those days.  They probably relived the conversation in the garden many, many times.  Each probably felt a deep sorrow at the inability to stay awake that night.

We need to really listen to what others are asking of us.  Sometimes, (many times in our culture!) people do not ask for what they really want.  They try to water down their vocalized needs.  There is something about being straight forward which makes us uncomfortably vulnerable.  So we often will not and do not do it.

We need to:

1) Try to be sensitive to what others are asking.  We need to pray that God will show us what He has for us each day. His list might include spending a little time encouraging someone else.

2) Be honest with ourselves, and each other.  When we need a little encouragement, and a little prayer support, we need to simply ask. We should not feel shy about asking a brother or sister in the faith for spiritual support.

Reflections:

1) How can I encourage others?

2) How can I be more honest with myself and with others, when I need encouragement?

 

Please return Monday, February 13, Lord willing, for the next post.

Encouragement Encounters: Presence, Part 1

Are you feeling closer to God this week?  In a few moments you will know why I am asking!

Let’s begin with a familiar story, Luke 10: 38-40. “As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Let’s look at Martha for a moment.  If I were he,r I would be almost beside myself knowing Jesus was in my house.  Are the rooms freshened?  What do I have to serve?  How long will it take to get food ready?  Do I look alright?  Are the guests enjoying themselves? The flurry of frantic questions would certainly circle through my mind.

In a moment of overwhelming exhaustion, her gaze falls upon her sister.  Why is she not helping me? Thinks  Martha, even asking the Lord. (Can’t He see she is doing all this for him?)  “Tell her to help me!”,  she says!

If you have ever tried to complete a seemingly never-ending to-do list before company arrives, you must certainly relate!

Now, let’s look at Mary.  She sees Jesus come in.   She wants to hear what he has to say.  She plants herself at his feet, close enough to catch every word.  She wants to see him, know him, learn from him.  She is so absorbed in who is there and what he is saying, she completely forgets the tasks at hand.

Jesus does not rebuke her.  He rebukes Martha, who is complaining.  But He does it ever so gently, acknowledging her perception of the situation, and the stress she feels.  He tells her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”   Luke 10:41-42

In the midst of all the preparations, it is better that she sits at his feet and listens.

If we allow ourselves precious moments to spend with God, we will encounter His presence.  During those moments, God can speak directly into our hearts and encourage us.  But, we need to make those moments possible.  We need to turn off the compelling cable TV, the interesting internet, the buzzing Blackberry, and all the other general disturbers of the peace, our peace(!), and quietly spend sufficient time with God.

I have a wall plaque in my closet.  It is a small, simple sign which has Psalm 46:10 written on it “Be still and know I am God.” I keep it there, as I have shared before, because that is where I go to pray.  Anywhere else in the house, I am bound to be distracted.  Beautiful children’s voices interrupting my thoughts.  The washing machine telling me it is finished with the current load.  Like you in your days, the interruptions are endless.

Most of us would agree, it is not a good idea for your marriage if you never spend any quality time together.  If you are dating, and your special someone does not call for three weeks, you might assume the whole thing is off!

Why do we think it is acceptable to go for days, weeks,or even months at a time without spending quality time with God?  We might say we are too busy with all the things God has given us to do, but is that the real truth?  I have learned for myself that yes, God does call us to be productive and to do many things for Him.  But, would He really call us to be too busy to spend time with Him?

Or maybe, sometimes, we think we are doing alright on our own.  We do not need any encouragement, things are going along just fine, thank you very much!  Beware: pride goes before a fall.  And, God wants to be so much more to us than the being in the sky we turn to in times of trouble.  He wants a relationship with us, He wants us to know Him just as He knows us.

People ask how much time does it take?  It all depends.  How much time until I am not distracted today?

I met a woman who works for a Christian publisher.  She told me, that each employee was permitted to take off one day a month, with pay, to simply spend time with God.  She told me she had actually used a few days over various months.  She reported that there really were some days, when it seemed to take her hours to empty her mind of distractions so she could just spend time in His presence.

That conversation really challenged me.  How easy it is to tell myself “this is just a stage of life”.  After all, I am home most of the time, caring for three children God gave to me.  I spend my days serving my family, and teaching my children about God and His word.  He knows that.  Yet, that is not the sole reason He put me here.

I am here to honor and glorify God, and I can not very well do that if I am caught up in other things to the point where I eclipse Him out.

I do not think we need to wallow in self-condemnation; God does not want that either!  He just wants to be with us: His creation.  He loves us immensely and He desires for us to want to spend time with Him.

When we do, we learn more about Him, about His plans and purpose for our lives, and we often leave feeling very  refreshed and encouraged.

That does not mean we should be so spiritually focused that we are no earthly good.  We still need to go to work, clean the house, and pay the bills.  But we need our time with God, too.

Please glance back at the first line in this post.  Are you feeling closer to God this week?

When you spend time in His word and in His presence, you will be drawing closer to Him.

Reflection:

What tasks or “disturbers of the peace”  rob me of my time with the Lord?

How can I carve out time to spend with Him?

If you are unsure about what needs to go from your schedule, pray about it, God will show you! If maybe a bit of pride is the issue, pray that God will show you what you need to see, and how to overcome an inaccurate perception.

Please return Monday, February 6, Lord willing, for Part II.

Encounter: Encouragement

A few weeks ago we began with a look at II Timothy 4: 2 “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season: correct, rebuke, and encourage- with great patience and careful instruction”

As we continue on our journey to draw closer to God, let’s examine the word “Encourage”.  Webster defines encourage as:”To inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence. 2. To stimulate by guidance, approval, etc 3.To promote or foster.

Applying Webster’s definitions to our faith, we realize what encouragement in faith looks like:

We are called to encourage or inspire with courage one another in our faith. This may mean dropping a note to someone whom you know is struggling.  Maybe it is a simple “thank you” for a job well done- especially a job no one else wants. Maybe it is living out your faith through hardships, a definitive time for others to see what you really believe!

We are to help each other grow in our faith. We need to share with one another.  Share in bible study and discussion, share in prayer, share in the daily grind of living for Christ.  Most of us have fairly simple lives.  (And it is a blessing!)   We need to help those who are struggling or just offer encouragement to keep on keeping on- never give up doing what is right!

We are called to foster Christ-like characteristics in one another. As others seek counsel we need to pray with them, and offer sound advice as to what Christ would do.  That is not always easy, the words not always heard.  Yet if we are to help each other become more Christ-like, Christian, we must.

Let’s look at Biblical encouragement in action. In Acts 9 we find Saul (later to be called Paul), a righteous Jewish man, well versed in Jewish law, bound and determined to go find those  “Followers of the Way” and persecute them. He was a passionate man, convinced those followers are disruptive and just plain wrong in their beliefs. While on the road to Damascus, he personally met Jesus.   Saul realized that Christ truly is the Son of God, and underwent a transformation.  His heart was softened.  His resolve and passion ignited for Christ.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, on fire for teaching about Jesus, he had a problem: his reputation.  The apostles were not ready to accept him.  They still feared him, wondering if he was somehow scheming to identify and persecute them.

Our encourager entered: Barnabas.  In Acts 11:24 Barnabas is described as  “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith”. In Acts 9:27, when Saul was not accepted, “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.  He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”

Not only did Barnabas encourage Saul, he risked the tide of holy opinions turning against him as he defended Saul against their assumptions.  Barnabas encouraged Saul just as Webster defined. Barnabas showed he believed in Saul, had confidence in Saul, that Saul’s conversion was sincere and his motives legitimate. His approval of Saul helped lead the apostles to accept him as one of them, a huge and necessary step for the ministry. Finally, Barnabas wanted to promote Jesus, and through his actions he did.

We often forget about encouraging others.  We might think of something we should do: a note, a thank you, an invitation.  But, if you are like me, you might become queen of the great intentions.  Life gets in the way and we become consumed in our own lives.

We are all called to have the passion for Christ which Saul possessed.  We are also each called to be a Barnabas, an encourager. An encourager is often behind the scenes, someone unseen, forgotten.  Yet if you have ever been on the receiving end of encouragement, you never forget your cheerleaders!

Reflection:  Who is someone close to me who needs my encouragement?

Who is someone I know in the community who could use  a “Thank you” for some service he performs?

How can I make encouraging others a way of life?

Please return on Monday, January 30, Lord willing, for the next post.

God’s Word is… God’s Word

“All scripture is God- breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  II Timothy 3:16-17

If we are to draw closer to God, we need to spend time in His word.  What are your thoughts regarding the Bible?  Do you believe the above scripture?  Or do you tend to ‘pick and choose’ which reading fits what you are looking for?

Do you know what the scriptures say?  Have your read the Bible through? I am not trying to throw you on a guilt trip here- just think we all need to be real with ourselves.  How can we discount something if we do not know what it says?

Brought up in the church most of my childhood, I knew that Jesus loves, Jesus saves.  When I got to a Christian college, I needed to take a Bible class.  Someone had the audacity to say Jesus got angry and threw a tantrum outside the temple.  I was horrified someone would say such a thing!

Until I read it myself. (Matthew 21:12-13) How horrified was I to realize I had a lot to learn!  Yes, Jesus loves!  Yes, Jesus save!  Yes, Jesus had righteous anger, and demonstrated it!

When I got really serious about reading the Bible, which unfortunately was not until a few years later, I decided it was high time to read it the whole way through.  I love Bible studies and classes at church- I always get so much from others comments, and others are so kind to listen to me and answer questions.  But, I did not realize many things until I read the Bible through for myself.

What sparked my decision?  I began homeschooling our oldest (only school-age child at the time!) daughter.  I was determined my children would grow up knowing the word of God.  I had always told them about God, taken them to church, read the Bible stories, and prayed with them.

But when we began homeschooling, and I needed to teach Bible as a subject, I realized this teacher better know her subject!  Thankfully, I started out with first grade!  We used a text in addition to our Bible, the text was Leading Little Ones to God.  I must say, at times I thought this book was misnamed. It can lead big ones to God too! It is a fantastic book to simplify all the tenements of faith, and explain in real, understandable terms what the Bible says.  (And by the way, if you have never read the Bible through, you may be truly surprised!  Anything that happens under the sun, is covered in the Bible.  Anything.  So if you are reading it to your kids, be prepared to define words like prostitution, concubine, and adultery, to name a few.)

I read the Bible through in less than a year the first time.  I had notebooks filled with quotes from scripture, (revelations to me!).  And I first realized God promises many things!  I began listing those promises, relying on a few.  Praying a few.  Trusting in God much more than I had before.

This time frame coincided with our family moving to yet another new city, but my reading it was no coincidence.   My husband traveled four days a week for work.  We had no family there.  But I had God.  Most importantly, I learned what God said.  And, I can testify, since I read through His Word in 2004, I have seen for myself that God does not break His promises.

I have asked what I thought was impossible (yet not ungodly!), and He delivered.  When my heart has been broken, time and time again, I know He is there, holding my tears in His hands.  When I truly did not think I possessed any more strength, He carried me.  When I cried out asking Him to help me believe, faith was in my heart.

I never would have made it through cancer treatment had I not read the Bible through.  In chemo I could not always remember exact quotes (chemo brain, the medical profession calls it!), yet the meaning was in my heart.

One of the more difficult moments I had in chemo, I cried out, “God, I do not even know where to begin in prayer!” I had my Bible in my hands, and turned to Romans 8.  I was thinking of reading Romans 8:28 again to remind myself God would use even this for good.  But my eyes happened to settle a few verses above “In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Romans 8:26  It was exactly what I needed at that moment.  And God was delivering once again, giving me a verse when I had forgotten it existed.  But since that moment, I have never forgotten Romans 8:26!

I did not memorize the Bible the first time I read it, (or any subsequent time thereafter).  But each time I read it, something new stands out.  I memorize more scripture, I learn where I can find more stories, things stick in my mind.  In short, time in God’s word is never wasted!

I have learned that the more Scripture you know, the closer you are to God, the more you can draw from Him, and help someone else.

Thinking about this post for the past week, I contemplated giving you reasons why we should believe the Bible is God breathed.  My husband and I taught a Bible class last spring quarter, examining this very topic.  We came up with all kinds of archeological evidence, historical evidence, and scriptural evidence.  At some future point, I think I will post it. But I really felt I should explain beyond academics here.  This is personal.  I know He is real.  I know His word is real.  I honestly do not believe you could talk me out of it.  I have seen too much, lived through too much.  I really believe God is who He says He is.  And if you are not there at this moment, I encourage you to investigate it.  Read the Bible through.  Ask God to reveal Himself to you.  You will not be disappointed.

I have asked, and been asked myself, where do you start when you read the Bible through?  I personally usually begin in the New Testament.  Why? For me, it is about hearing what Jesus said, and trying to learn from His teaching.  What an incredible teacher! He knew his time on earth was brief, so what was recorded has true significance. And, here is a great place to begin discovering how much God loves you!  After the New Testament, I read the Old Testament.  My mother-in-law summed it up perfectly once, when she said, ‘you need to read the Old Testament in order to understand the why? of the New Testament’.  The Old Testament clarifies the reason Jesus needed to give His life to save us.

But, the order is not nearly as important as just reading it, in any order. Thanks for reading, this l-o-n-g post!

Reflection questions: What do I know about the Bible? What would I like to learn?

Action:  1) Pray for God to show you Himself!

2) Determine a time, most days of the week, where I can read the Bible.

3) Determine where to start.  You do not need an entire reading plan, just a starting place. Once you get going, you will find where to go when you complete the starting book.

4) Read!

5) You may want to find an “accountability” partner, someone who will ask how your reading is going.  Maybe, someone will read with you!

Please return next Monday, January 23, Lord willing, for a look at encouragement.

Am I correctable?

Yesterday we asked the question: Am I teachable?

Today, we want to ask: Am I correctable?

Being teachable implies a willingness and ability to learn. Often it used in the idea of learning something new.

Being correctable implies a humility wherein I can acknowledge I am completing a task in a wrong manner, and I am willing to change.

In order to draw closer to God through reading His word, we each need to be teachable and correctable.  If you are reading this blog, you have the ability to learn.  Only you can answer if you are correctable are you willing to let the Holy Spirit work in you to show you where you may have had false ideas about Scripture, or salvation, or God?

How humbling to realize when something you have done for years, is wrong.  How humbling when you learn something you believed for years is wrong.  God wants us humbled.  When we are truly humbled, we are ready to listen to His voice, and ready to make the necessary changes. When we are humbled, we can finally get ourselves out of the way and let God work through us.

Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”   Because of relocating many times in our first decade of marriage, my husband and I have attended several churches over the years.  What drew us most to any church wherever we landed, was the church whose body said “We do not know everything.  We turn to Scripture and we ask questions!”  They were not burdened by human traditions.  They were willing to change if  Scripture told them something they followed was false, or simply not there.

Am I that way?  Am I willing to put my beliefs to the Scripture test?  I certainly believe so, certainly hope so.

We are all human, we have all sinned and fall short fo the glory of God, yet He still loves us.  He is still offering forgiveness.

Because He chose me, I want to give His word an in-depth study.  I want to be teachable and be correctable.

How about you?

As you reflect on today’s post, pray that we each embark on a quest for truth.

Please return on Monday, when, Lord willing, we will begin our examination of the Scriptures.