An Encouraging Word

Words of encouragement I believe are underused. Even as Christians, we tend to look at God’s instruction to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as only a call to correct improper behavior. Though this is true, it’s also true that we are called to build others up.

The Bible is full of verses that are not only encouraging, but speak specifically to the need to encourage others; “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” (Romans 15:2), and “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” (Romans 15:5), are just a couple, but there are a lot more.

This is not to say that we should shower undeserved praise on everyone for the sake of doing it. When God says, “speak the truth”, He means the truth. It is our nature to notice faults in people and some of us are more comfortable pointing those out than others are, and there is value in that if done right. On the other side of the coin, God also commands that we pick someone up by letting them know we believe in them, are proud of them, that with God’s help they will overcome or to praise them for a specific talent or accomplishment. God knows we are never too old, stoic or jaded to hear sincere words of encouragement, which can change someone’s day and perhaps even their life!

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Remember God’s Blessings

It’s difficult to believe that the year is almost over and we are still dealing with the pandemic that first came to light at the start of 2020.

It has become a multi-fasceted issue that is now part of the ideological divide we continue to experience in this country and in many other parts of the world. One thing I think we can all agree on is that the pandemic and it’s effects have led to an increase in the need for food and other items to help people make ends meet. No matter where we stand on the ideological spectrum, we must always be conscious of God’s command to help others in need. Why should we take from our own store of resources and give to those who have less? Because of what God did and continues to do for us. He sacrificed His only Son so that our sins can be forgiven, He assured us eternal life and provides for us simply out of His love for us and not because we deserve or earned it. Remembering these things fills us with gratitude which fuels our obedience to Him.

These are big things! Most of us will never be asked to sacrifice our children, but small things matter too. Things like donating food to your local food pantry or volunteering there or carrying basic items like socks, underwear, sanitizing wipes, packaged snacks, etc in you car to hand out as you encounter people in need, are all small gestures that matter greatly to those who you serve and Honor God.

It all starts with remembering what God did and does for us.

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I Love a Redemption Story

One of the most important things that God commanded of us as Christians is to evangelize, that is to spread the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). The Gospel is Good News, indeed the word “gospel” translated in Greek means “good news”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is simply that He came to save sinners. He paid the price for our sins so that we can be forgiven, made holy and given eternal life – all because God chose to – because of His love for us.

That said, not everyone will be granted these free gifts. In reformed theology, it is believed that God knows for eternity who will be saved and who will not; which makes sense as He is omnipotent and omniscient – why wouldn’t He know? However, we as mortal Christians, no matter how mature we are in our faith, can never know for sure who will or will not be saved. We must ourselves carry on as if we are saved and our assurance will strengthen as we advance in our walk with Christ. We must also never assume we know that an individual cannot be saved, no matter how dark their circumstances are or how evil they appear to be. God will save who He chooses for His own reasons. Our job is to love them (even if tough love is necessary), encourage them and to speak and live God’s word – God will do the rest – but we should never assume anyone is beyond salvation.

The Bible is full of redemption stories; we need only to remember the Apostle Paul, who once persecuted and killed Christians, only to be hand-picked by Jesus to spread His Gospel to the gentiles.

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The Great Divide

It’s almost a cliché to say that our country, and probably most of the world, has become hopelessly polarized. There is seemingly no issue or event where we don’t come down firmly on one side or the other; the current pandemic is a good example of that. Amazingly, this is also prevalent in the Christian Church.

Something all we Christians do to some extent, myself included, is to bring our political and social ideologies into our Christian faith. We tend to shape Scripture to fit what we personally believe politically and socially which is an emotional tendency that exists independent of Scripture.

Since the Reformation, the masses have had the Word of God placed in their hands which has been an overwhelmingly positive catalyst for the spread of Christianity and for changed lives. It has also, perhaps to its detriment, spawned thousands of different opinions on ways to interpret Scripture and hundreds of different denominations. This can be confusing and does lead to divisions, but the essential message of Scripture remains clear, that is that Jesus, God incarnate, came to save sinners (including you and I) and when asked which of the commandments were the greatest, He responded, ”’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

So everything we believe, say and do must be filtered through these tenets, not personal ideology. Love and serve God and others and remember, we all need Jesus.

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Lest We Forget

These are such trying times for all of us. For those in the upper economic brackets, it’s about trying to educate their kids while still trying to earn a living; both from the same house. Many others have lost their jobs and are scrambling to secure unemployment benefits from an overtaxed system so they can continue to pay their bills and put food on the table.

However, we must step back and be grateful for what we have been given. Certainly, this is not a normal time and there are things we have to get used to doing differently, things we have to get used to doing without and dealing with uncertainty which leads to fear and stress about the future. None of us are alone in dealing with such feelings, though as Christians we are blessed to have a heavenly Father in whom we have the assurance of provision which is a great source of comfort.

There is another category of people – those who occupy the lower economic brackets in our society. Imagine the level of anxiety they must be feeling. Many of these folks work in low wage “off grid” jobs and don’t qualify for much public assistance. Many have children, elderly relatives, and/or people with special needs who depend on them. These folks struggle mightily under normal circumstances, let alone what the world is experiencing now.

The Bible commands us to do whatever we can to help those less fortunate than us to make ends meet. Almost all of us are in a position to help, even now. Please consider giving to your local food bank or sustenance-based charity today.   

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Pandemic

It seems appropriate to address the current pandemic that is sweeping across the world in the context of our Christian worldview. I must emphasize that this is not a political blog and as such, the following post is not intended to be a political commentary.

There are many ways that the situation that we find ourselves in has been couched, some of it on the extreme side of outright panic and doomsday forecasts and on the other side of the spectrum, conspiracy theories and defiant non-compliance to precautionary guidance. As Christians, we all must have unwavering trust in God and in His sovereignty over this and every situation. That said, God has blessed us with the gifts of medical science and discernment. God has placed people with knowledge and wisdom of previously unknown infectious diseases to help us deal with this very real pandemic and those individuals make recommendations based on historical data and known science that, if followed, will likely minimize what could be a catastrophic outcome.

So let’s pray for God’s mercy, for comfort and for healing in the midst of this potentially very dangerous pandemic. Let’s continue to pray for friends and family who have been directly impacted by the virus. Let’s also follow God’s command to put others ahead of ourselves and not put them at risk by ignoring the guidelines for our social behavior as disseminated to us by the experts.

Thanks for reading.

I would love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.    

Hard Times

Like everyone, Christians go through good times and bad – sometimes very bad. The good times are easy and, for me anyway, it’s easy to be grateful when times are good. When we face difficulties, we often find ourselves moving away from God. We may feel that He has let us down, he did not provide something we prayed for, we may have experienced personal loss – in all these cases, we often become angry with God and even start to question our faith. Sometimes it’s hard to go to church, read the Bible or even pray because we may feel there is no point to it.

It’s at these times that we need God the most. It’s at these times when He reaches out to us the most. We must remember that though God does answer our prayers, the result is not always made to order – His blessings often come in unexpected packages. An additional danger is attaching our faith completely to a major, even miraculous blessing that He might have bestowed upon us, whether it be related to our health or that of a loved one, our finances, our marriage, etc. because He does not guarantee smooth sailing in those areas.

God is faithful; He will see us through our struggles, but that does not mean that we will not have struggles. When times are hard, it’s important to remember our spirit of gratitude toward our faithful and loving God that we felt when things were better. He blessed us then, and ultimately he will lead us through whatever we might be going through now.

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The Real Deal, Part Two

Sorry for the long hiatus…

In my last post, I talked about authenticity as a Christian. This is difficult for both the Christian and the non-believer. As I alluded to before, Christians have an advantage because our identity is in Christ. What this means is immense; it means that God’s power to rule over all is our power. We have been raised up to Him with Christ and are seated with Him.

Yet most of us don’t usually feel that way. We don’t view ourselves as the agents of Heaven that we are. As a result of this, it becomes easy for us to sin and hard to not sin because we give ourselves to sin, it gives us what we think we like, what the world tells us we like. This is really where all of our deep longings reside most of the time. We long to be viewed as financially successful, competent, smart, attractive, loved, etc. If we examine our motivations most of the time, they are actually selfish.

This is not how God created us. Sin is an introduction to the human race by destructive and deceitful forces and God is in the process of removing sin from us. So the only way for us to proceed is to love God and to love our neighbor with God-like, self-sacrificial love. The only way for us to avoid sin is to be so captivated by God that all else seems absurd.  

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Note: As a reminder, the content of this and the last post are derived from a presentation by Dr. Brad Matthews at a recent men’s conference that I attended.   

The Real Deal

This week, I would like to share some teaching that I received at a great men’s conference at our church this past weekend. The theme was authenticity and was focused on men, but I think it applies to all of us.

Authenticity, or as it’s called more often, “being real” is difficult for most of us because we are not certain of our identity. We often, either consciously or not, try to project an image that we desire in ourselves – others then make up their own minds about who they think we are. Christians have a remedy for this; it’s about finding your identity in Christ. Realizing that we were created because God wanted us here. He not only loves us, but he admires us – we were created to be admired by others – to be dignified. That said, at the same time, we are sinners, we have flaws. Being one hundred percent honest about ourselves to ourselves and other, trusted peers is how we grow as Christians and as people. This is easier said than done. It’s hard to think of yourself as lacking in some way. We are afraid to be vulnerable lest we get burned. To some of us, it’s hard to think of yourself as excellent at certain things. We are conditioned not to be boastful. In both cases, we must train ourselves to be honest with ourselves first, then to find a few people who you can be vulnerable with, safe people.

There is much more to be said on this topic, so we will revisit it in future posts.

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A Brief Word on MLK

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day and in honor of Dr. King and his great legacy, I would like to share some thoughts.

Dr. King was a lot of things; a great orator, leader, organizer, reverend and theologian, but most of all, he was a great Christian. He led a movement for the civil rights of people of color at a time when racism and segregation were the order of the day, in this country and elsewhere, and he did it by means of the spoken word and non-violent protest. King’s speeches were based firmly in Scripture, which was perhaps overlooked by the heavily churched Southern United States. It would have been easy for King and his followers to blame the flawed faith of those who persecuted African Americans, but instead his appeal to them was for unity. Though a large number of the oppressors were Christians, like King and most of his followers, they focused hate-filled impulses embedded in them by generations of conditioning. The focus, King repeatedly and rightly insisted, must be on the gospel.

The essential message of the gospel is the same for all Christians; that is that God gave everything to save His undeserving flock – it is the quintessential message of self-sacrificial love, which were are to emulate to all of our neighbors, regardless of their skin color. As Tim Keller writes, “The greatest champion of justice in our era (King) knew the antidote to racism is was not less Christianity, but a deeper and truer Christianity1.

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  1. Keller, Dr. Timothy, The Reason For God, pp 66-67