The Power of Encouragement…and God

The Bible is full of examples of God’s command for us to encourage each other, especially those who are weak, needy or afflicted (Thessalonians 5:11,14, Isaiah 35:3, Proverbs 12:25 et al). I think, at least for me and I suspect this is true of many, that difficulty arises from our expectations. In their great book The Love Dare, Stephen and Alex Kendrick note, (in referring to our spouse but can be applied to any human relationship), that when we live by our expectations of how someone should act, we are doomed to fail; we should instead “choose to live by encouragement rather than expectations.” They add that we should let our loving encouragement and God’s intervention work on the other person and that we should focus on improving ourselves*.

Too often, we look at the needy and say, ‘why don’t they just get a job? I would.’ Or ‘why don’t they just go to rehab? That’s what I would do.’ We must not forget that their backgrounds, examples and circumstances are different than ours and doing those simple things may not be that easy for them.

The good news is that Christ came for all of us and there are millions of stories, including my own, where God intervened and transformed someone. We must have faith that He will do that for the needy. We must encourage them to have faith too.

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*Kendrick, Stephen and Alex, The Love Dare, 2008, 2012, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, Pages 130, 131

I Am Probably the Most Humble Person Ever!

Humility is described both in the Bible and in the dictionary as the lack of pride. God makes it very clear in dozens of verses in His Word that He favors the humble over the proud and that pride is indeed sinful (Proverbs 11:2, Isaiah 4:12, James 4:6 and many others); in fact, in Proverbs 11:2, God tells us that humility leads to wisdom.

So where does that leave us? Many of you may be able to relate to this – I am involved in a charity that helps the neediest people in my community. Since I have been doing this and people have become aware of it, I hear all the time how wonderful what I’m doing is and that more people should be like me, which I really appreciate and I don’t want to seem ungrateful for those kind words – it does feel very good to hear those things. The thing that I struggle daily with is whether I am doing this out of gratitude for what God has done for me and out of obedience to His commands or am I really doing it because people think better of me for it. Is it because it feeds my ego (pride)? Most of the time, I feel like it is.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, true humility will come only through our conversations with God (prayer and the reading of His Word) and unblemished obedience to His command to serve Him by serving others. As for me, I’m still working on that. What about you?

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I Got This!

One of the hardest things to do is to give up control and to trust someone else and it gets harder as we get older. In one of the many counter intuitive (counter cultural) aspects of Christian teaching, we are told throughout the Bible to trust in God and not in ourselves (see Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 6:25, et al). What makes this difficult is that we are conditioned to be our own person, to be self-sufficient and to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, none of which are bad things but if we are being honest, none of us can do those things successfully all the time.

If you believe in God and that He spoke the universe into existence and placed humanity at the pinnacle of His creation (which is reasonable), it should not be too difficult to believe that He knows what’s best for us and wants for us to prosper (see Romans 8:28, Psalm 37:4, et al). The problem for most of us is surrendering our will to His. This requires that we surrender to the fact that though we may be amazing in many ways, we are not as amazing as the Creator of the Universe – He made us – He knows us and He loves us. So talk to Him through prayer and really listen to Him through His Word (the Bible); you will discover that there is no better Master than Him (Matthew16:26-27, Romans 12:2).

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I Don’t Have To Help Them!

The Bible references the poor about 2,000 times1, most often in the form of God’s command for us to help them. Indeed, Jesus said in the synagogue upon the inauguration of his earthly ministry that he has been anointed by God to proclaim the good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). I would say this is a pretty strong mandate. We could argue what constitutes “help”, but the point is that all of us are so commanded, which means we should all have this mandate at the top of our list of priorities as we go about our day.

I have heard some refer to the non-biblical quote that “God helps those who help themselves”2, to argue against compliance to this command, but I would counter that Christ came specifically for the helpless (see Romans 5:6, Proverbs 31:8-9, et al), and we, according to C.S. Lewis, are to be “little Christs”.

Whether it be volunteering or donating at a soup kitchen, food pantry or to assist in vocational or life skills training, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to serve – and don’t underestimate the power of offering encouragement. Try asking yourself daily, “How can I help someone less fortunate than me today?”

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No, You First.

In many ways the message of Jesus is radical and counter-cultural. One of the central tenets of Christianity is selfless, indeed self-sacrificial love. In contemporary western culture (and maybe in most of the world), there is an emphasis on individual achievement, notoriety/fame, material wealth, etc. Movies, TV shows, many books, magazines and much of what we consume on social media, is rife with the glorification of personal accomplishment and how a person’s identity can be found in achievement and the admiration of others.

There is nothing wrong with goals, personal achievement or even material wealth, but Christ teaches that the love and sole pursuit of such things is upside down (see 1 Timothy 6:10, Matthew 19:24 et al) and instead that we are to put others’ needs ahead of our own – this starts with considering the other person. It is at this time of year when we are reminded of the ultimate act of self-sacrificial love as Christ gave his life in the most painful way possible solely out of love for us – so that our sins would be forgiven and we would be granted eternal life.  

Certainly Christians, but I think even the secular world and people of other faiths would be well served to keep this in mind as we go about our day. Imagine a world where we all consider the other person first and put their needs ahead of our own, even in small ways – it starts with each of us. Thanks for reading! Please comment below.

I’m Glad I’m Not Like That Guy!

(Full disclosure: I (the author) am guilty of and struggle daily with all of the below.)

If we counted on a given day of how often we say something, either to ourselves or out loud, like, “I would never do, think, say, eat, drink, etc. that! It’s so irresponsible, rude, lazy, mean, stupid (insert your own adjective here)”, the number might surprise us. Though it’s difficult to hang too many statements on an absolute, like “always” or “never”, there might still be some truth to such proclamations; the question is, what our motivation for making them is. Often times, particularly with Christians though certainly not exclusively so, we are putting ourselves in the position of judge over someone else with the goal of elevating ourselves and tearing down the other party. It feels good to be right, to live right, to eat right, to be married right, to parent right, but who are we really serving by saying or thinking such things?

Throughout the Bible, we are commanded to put God first, anything else is idolatry, the worst and most common form of idolatry is self-worship. Further, God loves us with perfect, self-sacrificing love; He puts us first – we are to emulate His love in the world by putting others ahead of ourselves both in our thoughts and our deeds.

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No Fair!

In one of Jesus’ most paradoxical parables (Mat. 20:1-16), he tells of a vineyard owner who hired laborers early one morning to work for the day at a wage that both parties agreed was fair. As the day wore on, the owner went out to get more workers at different times and agreed to pay the “whatever is right”. At the end of the day, the owner paid his workers in order of who arrived latest; all of the workers, regardless of how long they worked, were paid the amount the owner agreed to pay the workers who came first. At this, those who arrived first complained that they were not being treated fairly to which the owner responded that he paid them what they agreed upon and that he was free to be generous to the others as he saw fit. There is a lot packed into this parable that deserves to be discussed, but in the interest of brevity, I will discuss the aspect that most applies to the mission of BBNF.

At first blush, it seems that the early workers have a valid complaint. However, one of Jesus’ points is that God delivers on His promises and for that we should be grateful and further, all of humanity can receive His blessing, even if, to the world (to us), some seem more deserving than others. This is a little tough to swallow in today’s merit-based society, but we must remember that it’s not our job to question how God blesses others, only to be grateful for how He has blessed us and to serve out of such gratitude. Thanks for reading, please comment below.