Safety and Encouragement in God’s Word and Blessings

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; NKJV)

1God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  2 Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the  sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah…7 The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.  (Psalm 46: 1-3, 7; NKJV)

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’  (Isaiah 41:10; NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7; NKJV)

I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.  (Psalm 16: 8; NKJV)

Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22; NKJV)

He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. (Psalm 62:6; NKJV)

…casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:7; NKJV)

The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. (Nahum 1:7; NKJV)

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3; NKJV)

I hope you find these verses encouraging today and invite you to work them into your prayers and for the prayers of your brethren.

There have been times when I have sent a text, an email or left a voicemail just trying to encourage a brother or sister and they have either texted me back or called me a few days later apologizing that they didn’t acknowledge it or thank me or some other closure to the gesture.   The last time this happened I told my brother that it was not necessary at all…that I look at encouragement as a “heat seeking missile”…something that you target on what you want to hit and then “fire and forget” knowing that it will hit its mark and have the effect you were hoping for.

That is how I see encouragement…as the encourager we can take heart our effort will have a positive effect and if we are the one being encouraged we might just let it…and leave it at that.  Either way, I am “firing” these verses your way and am confident they will bring you comfort and encouragement…that is God’s blessing and work in your life.

Live blessed today and be a blessing to others!

Don’t Be Afraid to Share

1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5; NKJV)

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  (James 5:13-16; NKJV)

These two passages came to mind as I thought about fear and how it affects our ability to come to one another with our burdens and with our sins.  I was thinking about how hard Satan works to convince us we are supposed to be perfect and how often we fall into that snare.  Our Heavenly Father, however, through His inspired and eternally true word tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short.  He tells us that it is this very thing that He purposed to remedy through sending His Son so that He could offer Himself as payment for our sins.  God does not expect us to be perfect…so if we are feeling like that we are called to perfection then we need to turn to Satan and tell him to get lost.

Because if we think we have to be perfect, then we are going to be afraid to go to the very people who we need the most in this world with our imperfection…our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Have you been afraid to confess your sins to a brother because you were certain they couldn’t possibly forgive you or somehow your relationship with them would be forever changed?  I have.  And how unfair is that to my brother…because if I am afraid to be honest, open and vulnerable with him…how hard is going to be for him to do the same with me or am I causing him to question his worthiness as a brother.  There are a lot of scenarios that could play you but the bottom line is that the one scenario that should play out is very clearly described above.  God’s word says go to your brother.  God says bear another’s burden.  God says pray!  God assures us that we will be forgive, healed, and that the fervent prayers of a righteous man avails much.

We so very much need each other, and we cannot be afraid to share the hard stuff.  There are no secrets.  God sees it all.  He wants us to share it not so that we can be open with Him but with one another.  That we can be encouraged when we are down and when we are the encourager we can know there will be someone for us when we find ourselves in need of a brother to lean on.

I believe Satan works to confuse us with what is expected and drives a wedge between us.  A lot of time he uses fear as that tool.  Don’t be afraid.  Trust God…He will be with you when you trust a brother and share.

Ready for Every Good Deed

“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” Titus 3:1-2

“This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed in God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.” Titus 3:8

The letter to Titus has a lot to say about good deeds. At the beginning of chapter three Paul tells him “to be ready for every good deed” and a few verses later says that believers “will be careful to engage in good deeds.” I’ve been meditating on these ideas lately and wondering what actions do I need to take to “be ready” and “be careful” to engage in good deeds?

Like most of us, my schedule is packed pretty full. Some of that is by necessity and some of that is because I don’t sit still very well and have a bad habit of spreading myself too thin. I find it very easy to get so caught up in my “to do” list that I fail to take notice of those around me. How many opportunities for good deeds am I missing?

A couple weeks ago I was in the Med Center in Houston. I was leaving the pharmacy on the first floor and heading up a few floors for a customer appointment. As I headed towards the escalator I saw a man out of the corner of my eye that seemed a little too animated. He appeared to be in his mid-fifties and was dressed in some shabby looking clothes. He was waving a hand in the air, making noises (not words), and was trying to get the attention of an older couple walking by. As the older couple sped up and walked away, I continued up the escalator thinking he was probably a homeless man asking for money.

I’m not sure why, but I turned around and paid closer attention. He was holding a phone up in the air and frantically looking to get someone else’s attention. I got to the top of the escalator and turned around and headed back down. I approached him and asked, “Can I help?” He handed me the phone and said “stroke.” I put the phone to my ear to find his mother on the other end of the line. She said, “He’s my son and he had a stroke a while back. What building is he in? He needs to get to his doctor’s appointment.” I was able to get him on the right elevator and get him to his doctor’s office and it took a total of ten minutes out of my day.

Why do I tell this story? Please believe me; I am not trying to brag. I wonder how many times I’ve walked by a similar opportunity, too absorbed in my own agenda to even notice. I wonder how many people have looked at me, needing help, just to see me staring at my phone or laser focused on my next destination. I wonder how many times I’ve gotten to the top of the escalator, realizing someone could use a hand, and continued on my way thinking, “Someone else will help.”

I don’t know why I turned around that day but I’m glad I did. That experience has made me more conscience of looking for opportunities to do good deeds. It has helped me step away from my own existence and take note of those around me. And since that day God has blessed me with numerous occasions to do good deeds.

“Being ready” and “being careful” to engage in good deeds starts with being aware of those around us. So as we head out the door today, ready to tackle our agenda, let’s take a look around. Where can God use us to brighten someone’s day? What good deed is out there waiting to be recognized? And in this, God will be glorified.

Energized

“…that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.”  (Philemon 6)

Paul prays that the fellowship (partnership, communion, sharing) of Philemon’s faith may become “effective.”  The Greek word for effective is “energes”.  Literally it means “energized” or “full-of-energy”.  The idea is that Paul is praying that their partnership of faith will be energized in order to produce results.  As we consider our fellowship in our local churches, isn’t that what we want…results?

How, according to Paul, is this going to be accomplished?  He says, “through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you”.  It seems that Paul wants Philemon to recognize every good thing that is in him, to be aware of who he is and what he has in Christ.  The knowledge of what is in us will produce an effective fellowship, it will get results.

I don’t know exactly what Paul was thinking when he wrote this but it immediately made me think of Ephesians chapter one, where Paul discusses all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ.

1:4 – “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless”

1:5 – “He predestined us to adoption as sons”

1:7 – “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses”

1:9 – “He made known to us the mystery of His will”

1:11 – “also we have obtained an inheritance”

1:13 – “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise”

How do I look at myself?  Maybe I feel unworthy and full of shame, thinking I can’t possibly be useful in His kingdom.  Maybe I’m focused on all of my failures and I feel weak and beyond help.  Maybe I look at all my accomplishments and feel a sense of pride, putting myself above those around me.  Maybe I look down on those brothers that seem to struggle with the same sin over and over and over.

Paul says I’m chosen.  He says I’ve been adopted as a son of God.  I have been redeemed, I have been forgiven, and I have an inheritance.  And as I look around at my brothers, I should see men just like me.  Men who have been chosen and adopted and redeemed and forgiven.  These are the good things that are in us.  Meditate on these things, dwell on these things, and internalize these things.  As we begin to view ourselves and our brothers in this light, this knowledge will cause our fellowship to be energized, to produce results, for Christ’s sake.

Encourage and Strengthen

Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, 3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.  (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3; NKJV)

In this text, Paul is writing to the Brethren because he is not able to be with them and wants to encourage them. A not so subtle point from the verses prior to these that I think is important is that Paul and the Thessalonians WANTED to be together and work together. That starting point allows them to then care for each other, desire to encourage one another, and puts them in a position to be able to build up the other.

The first thing I see in this text is Paul’s self-sacrifice for them. Timothy meant a great deal to Paul and was a tremendous helper and teammate…so for Paul to be left alone in Athens was not going to be easy…but to encourage and strengthen others it was worth it to him.

Secondly, there were no private or hidden agendas. Paul and Timothy wanted to help Christians and their work. The gospel is what mattered and what set the agenda and they wanted to ensure those who had heard and obeyed stayed faithful while sharing the good news with others so that they might also be saved.

Thirdly, this is about strengthening (to make firm, solid, stable) and encouraging (urge someone to take ethical action). Timothy was being sent and coming alongside the Thessalonians to help them no matter what they were facing individually or as a collective. Just like we do for one another when we are strengthening and encouraging, Timothy was urging them not to panic when things got tough. Providing stability knowing that instability and discouragement often results from a weak faith or a faith out of focus. Timothy could be their strength and he could help get them/keep them focused.

God wants and intends for all of us who believe in Him and His Son to have a strong faith. He knows we will be tried and challenged and knows we will be “disturbed” at times…or shaken/unsettled in our beliefs. Jesus prayed for us (John 17) because he knew we would face afflictions just as the Apostles and first disciples did.

Paul wanted to deepen the faith of the Thessalonians, not disturb it. We should want the same, it should be our motivation, and we should be willing to sacrifice to accomplish it. We should also recognize the troubles have a purpose. Those troubles of another might hurt us but if we are strong in our own faith than that pain, trouble, or difficulty might be just what God intended to use to cause growth. So we stand strong, we encourage, and we strengthen…knowing that another will do the same for us when the time comes.

There won’t always be good times. I heard it said “All sunshine makes a desert.” It has to rain sometimes…the sun goes away and the storm clouds come. But just like the grass of the field in August…it might just be what we needed…especially when we are in it together.

Pressing On Through the Pain

In II Corinthians eleven Paul is dealing with false prophets and to make his point he starts listing all the evidence that supports him being a servant of Christ (verse 23). It reads like a summary of suffering and hardship and when he gets to the end of the list he punctuates everything in verse 28.
“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:28)

Daily pressure? You cannot read through any of Paul’s letters without seeing his deep love and concern for all those Christians he has worked with. He completely invested himself in the spiritual well-being of others.

There is no better example of this than I Thessalonians.

“For this reason, when I could endure no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 3:5-8)

Knowing what the Christians were facing, his concern is palpable. I can almost picture Paul waiting by the window, watching for Timothy, praying for a favorable report. His response to the good news says everything, “now we LIVE, if you stand firm in the Lord.”

The thought of carrying that kind of sincere concern for other Christians frightens me. It exhausts me. To my shame I don’t know if I have ever truly felt that away about someone else’s faith.

This week I was able to visit with a couple that I dearly love. They are humble and godly and are constantly thinking of ways to serve others. Their most recent act of service was taking in and taking care of a six year old little girl who had to be removed from her mother. They embraced her like she was their own, showing her love and affection and providing her safety and stability. They introduced her to the gospel and involved her in bible studies and worshiping with the saints. They established routines for her and starting laying a foundation to provide this little girl an eternal future. The little girl bounces around, smiling, full of energy. She is thriving in the environment they have created.

Earlier this week they were informed that she will be returning to live with her mother. Friday will be her last day in their home. My heart breaks for many reasons. It breaks because this little girl is being taken from warmth and love and stability and being put back into an uncertain situation at best. It breaks because she is being removed from a home filled with the love and knowledge of God and returning to a home saturated with the world. It breaks because I know my dear friends have received just as much from this little girl as they have given. My heart breaks because their hearts are broken. I have no doubt that their concern for her is exactly the same as Paul’s concern for those Christians in Thessalonica.

So I’m left here wondering what to do? How would I handle such a situation? I’m a little angry and I’m a lot sad. There are so many instances in life when we open ourselves up and expose our hearts just to have them broken. It is easy to shut down and say, “Why bother?” and close ourselves off to others. I believe this is what many of us do in order to protect ourselves from such heartbreak. So how did Paul handle it?

“Brethren, I do not regard myself of having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

In Philippians chapter three Paul is expressing the overwhelming value of knowing Christ Jesus. He is expressing how utterly useless all of his accomplishments are in comparison to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection. He has completely sold out so that he might gain Christ. Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind…I press on toward the goal.”

So how does this apply to my dear friends? They will hurt and there will be pain. The pain might lessen over time but it probably won’t go away completely. But they will press on. They will continue to serve. They will embrace the opportunity to open themselves up again and will, most likely, be hurt again. Why would they do this? Because it is what Jesus did and their goal is to know Christ.

Did Jesus know that He would be rejected? Did he know that the very people He came to save would stand in front of Pilot and shout, “Crucify! Crucify!”? Did Jesus know that His dearest friends on this earth, friends He had poured Himself into, would abandon Him and even deny Him at His darkest hour? Yet He opened Himself up, He embraced those around Him and He pressed on.

The reality is that we never reflect the character of our Lord more fully than when we have been hurt and we have been rejected and we decide to open up our hearts and continue to love and serve those around us.

Me First

I sometimes can get caught in the trap of looking at the world or other people in my life and thinking “there is so much going on that is wrong that there is no hope” or “this person is so wrong that there is no way I can have anything to do with them” or “it’s their fault” or “why bother, it doesn’t make a difference anyways”.  Notice I said I fall into a trap here because that is exactly what it is.  It is a trap or snare set by the devil to keep me from fulfilling the roles and responsibilities God has given me or to shine the Light that He has placed in my heart.  It is a trap and if we fall into looking outside of ourselves for positive change, or to fix others, or locate the source of the problems in our lives as we “lead” or “shepherd”; then we will be wrong, disappointed, and ineffective.

If positive change is going to happen in my relationships…my workplace…my home…my church…that change has to happen in my life.  It is easy to see the flaws, faults, and failures of others but God calls me to see mine first.  The word of God is likened to a mirror in James 1:23-25.  As I look into the Word, I see myself as I truly am…I see my true self in God’s mirror.

The Word of God exposes me and I am naked and open before Him (Hebrews 4:12-13).  Along with Peter I can say “I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8) and the heart and the words of the Prodigal Son will be my own “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Luke 15:18).

The Word shows me my flaws, faults, and failures but it also shows the forgiveness available in Christ Jesus!  My Savior offers me refreshing spiritually through His blood.  Through God’s Word I see a different way…His way…and I repent or change my mind and how I live and in that, God changes my heart:  “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

I am then in a position to lead if I am quick to deal with my own sins before I seek to correct another (Matthew 7:1-5).  But if I think myself to be something, when I am nothing, I deceive myself (Galatians 6:3).   If I want to be in a position to influence another and before I ever think about it, I must honestly examine myself (Galatians 6:4).

Think about Peter in John 21.  Jesus is restoring him, giving him purpose and though Peter is hearing Jesus…he is in part thinking about John.  Jesus tells him to forget about John for now…focus on Me and what I have for you to do and I will take care of your brother.  Like Peter, we must respond to Jesus call to “follow Me”.  That is our part.  That is our job.

In that, I must be honest about what I see (James 1:24).  I must trust in GOD to mold me and make me into the image of Christ (Jeremiah 18:4; Romans 8:29).  I then can be the change that will result in the glorification of GOD, the edification of the body, and the growth of the family of GOD.

With this mindset, together, we can “excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1), if individually we proclaim, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  Each of us committed to being the change that we want to see in the world and we will then be in a position to lead and make a difference…and let God work from the inside out.

One Body

Today, I would like to give some ideas and verses about our place in the Body of Christ and invite you to pray and meditate on how your role as a leader and servant within the roles you are given.

A body is a living organism and is made up of many parts.  This is true of the Church.  We are the body of Christ on earth:

22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:22-23)

Christ is the head of the body.  “…He is the head of the body, the church…” (Colossians 1:18)

There is one body.  “…you were called in one body…” (Colossians 3:15)

This one body is composed of many members.  “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” (Ephesians 5:30)

The people of God are individually members of one another.  “…for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25)

As you consider this, I invite you to read John 15 and consider the imagery Jesus gives us of the Living Vine, the Good Gardner, and the branches.  The imagery is very similar and as where with the Vine the braches (that’s us) are to abide…what are we to do in the Body?

Hold fast to the Head!  “…holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments…” (Colossians 2:18).  Therefore, let our prayer be “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and build up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Be Holy!  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…For God did not call us to uncleanness but in holiness…”  (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).  Therefore let our prayer be that God would help us to “…cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”    (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Grow!  “…but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  (Ephesians 4:15-16).  Therefore, let our prayer be that God help us to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  (2 Peter 3:18)

My hope is you will join me today in reading, thinking about, and praying about the Body of Christ, what it is, what our role is and how we might grow so that the whole Body benefits.

It is finished

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
(Luke 12:50)

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
(John 17:4)

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
(John 19:28-30)

One of the last words Jesus spoke on the cross was a Greek word which means “it is finished or accomplished.” He used that word several times in His ministry, one of note is the passage above in Luke 12. Jesus was “distressed” until this work was accomplished. I just feel a sigh of relief coming from the soul of Jesus as He said that word on the cross. It is finished, I accomplished the work God gave Me to do. He could now go on to the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2).

Even though we cannot come close to understanding the level of “distress” Jesus felt, we can understand that there are sacrifices we make and crosses we bear as Christians today. And what Jesus said there at the cross is what every Christian should be able to say at the end of his or her own life. Take the apostle Paul for example:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished (same word Jesus used) the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Jesus was “distressed,” Paul was “burdened beyond measure” at times, and the same is for the Christian today. But we also have joy in our hearts knowing that God is always with us through those trials, and we know that one day we will lay down that cross and receive a crown. We will then be able to say, “It is finished.”

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
(Revelation 14:12-13)