Listening for Encouragement

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Bible passages. Many people hear it in church, but it’s also often shared at funerals or with those who are going through a challenging time in their lives. In some ways it reminds me of the Serenity Prayer which is used by countless self-help programs and groups. One of the things I love about Psalm 23 is that it brings us through the journey of our lives in just 6 short verses, talking about both high points and low points that we go through.

As I was thinking about this chapter and about our topic of the month I was reminded that sometimes what we need is to hear something as simple as Psalm 23 to find the peace, hope, encouragement, strength and perseverance to make it through another day. It’s not about having all the answers, having tons of money, having lots of friends, being well-known, or not having any issues or challenge or problems in life. That’s not the story of Faith or the Bible, despite what some people may say.

Throughout the Bible we’re reminded that there will be challenges we face and there is no guarantee of a great life on earth. However, we are assured if we’re people of faith that God will go with us through all challenges we face and that we’ve got the hope of heaven to look forward to because Jesus died for our sins and rose again. Earth is a chance for us to learn from the challenges we face, to
explore our individuality, to develop the gifts God has given each of us, to encourage each other, and to pave a better way for the next generation. Perfection isn’t expected or the goal on earth, instead it’s to live a life worthy of the God you believe in.

If you’re going through a challenging time in your life, I encourage you to print out copies of Psalm 23 and maybe even the Serenity Prayer to post in locations around your home, workplace, and car and anywhere else you go frequently. Don’t give up because it seems like the darkness is lasting for so long or the mountain seems too high. Rely on God to bring you through, and don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. After all, Jesus didn’t do His years of ministry on earth alone, He had men who worked closely with Him and women that He taught and trusted too.

Choosing Compassion

I always find it interesting that the Bible is so full of topics that challenge us if we take any amount of time to really study them. From love and war to relationships and faith, the Bible is filled from cover to cover with unique situations, emotions and unique people who lived real lives and faced real challenges; many of those challenges, emotions and situations are things we face in our lives today. While most of us don’t have to walk to a well or river to get water and buy bread or flour at the food store, we still have to navigate relationships, governments, war, love, hate, jealousy, death and birth just like they did.

One of the things that comes through really clearly in the Bible is how people worked through the challenges in their lives. It’s something we study in history books as we look at historic presidents and leaders and famous inventors, but we read about more of the “normal” people in the Bible. We see how they navigate through potentially thorny relationships (think about Mary being pregnant with Jesus and Joseph initially planning to divorce her in the New Testament), we learn how they deal with bad news (Eli learned that his sons weren’t good and that God was going to judge them in 1 Samuel 3 and accepted it as God’s will), and we learn how they work hard because they love their families (Ruth worked hard in the fields to care for her mother-in-law Naomi).

The question is that we’ll all face challenges, but how will we choose to work through them? Will we work through them with frustration and anger, bashing things around, shoving others and pushing just because we’re unhappy with how things are going? Or will we choose to be compassionate to yourself and the people in your life? Because even if you’re facing a challenge and you didn’t ask for that challenge or put yourself in a position to receive that challenge you’ve still got a choice with how you’re going to deal with it. Will you choose compassion and patience like Jesus so often did or will you get angry at the world for what they’ve forced on you?

“The clearest and prevailing reason why Jesus did what he did and said what he said was because of his compassion for others, his tender loving mercy. Pray for the people whom you could be glad you are not like. Pray for them until you are ready to receive them knocking at the door of your heart.” Br. Curtis Almquist

Don’t Fear Love

Love is one of the greatest challenges of all times and has provided countless headaches over the centuries. This little word has created such a stir that I’m sure entire countries would split if someone tried to put the word in any type of legal or political documents. It’s a word we’ve become wary of, one that holds too many meanings (aka traps) and has been exhaustively over analyzed. It’s been used where it doesn’t belong, and as an inappropriate scapegoat. So we’ve run from it.

But what I realized today was that as we’ve run from our definition and application of love, we’ve run from Love. We’ve backed away from the one who can teach us what love really is, what it really means to love and be loved. We’ve put Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit in every other corner we can think of while throwing, maybe even catapulting, Love out of the ring. It’s no wonder that we’re so confused as to what love is and if we’re loved.

2 Timothy 1:7 says: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us afraid. His Spirit is a source of power and love and self-control.” Paul is reassuring Timothy here, as well as all of us that we have no reason to be afraid of what love truly is, specifically and especially when we are looking for the truth about love from Love itself.

Let’s be honest: it will be scary when you first open your heart, open your mind to love again. True love is all consuming, never ending and more patient than any of us deserve. But there are countless examples and verses of reassurance throughout the Bible that tell us that when we love God and are open to His Love we’ll get it and be glad we have it. He promises to be there for us, to support us, to affirm our beauty and value, to celebrate the great moments and comfort us in the bad ones. Feeling a little funny about all that attention, all that, dare I say it, love? It’s not easy to get used to what love really is, maybe that’s why so many of us have shied away from it.

Remember that old song you sang as a child, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…?” Life may have seemed a lot more simple back then, but the reality is that we’ve let other things get in the way of accepting that some things are just that simple. Love can be very complicated, but when you really take a look at it, it all boils down to the fact that Jesus loves us, has provided the best example, and always will be the best example of what love is for us.

This week I encourage you to take lots of deep breaths and open your heart to what God wants to tell you about love, and what it really is. He won’t rip your heart out and stomp all over it, He may have a strong dose of reality for you though. And no matter what the truth will always remain that God loves you and wants you to love Him.

Standing Up for What You Believe

A big part of the Bible are the people who stood up for what they believed. As we look at our topic of freedom this month, that’s one of the biggest keys to having freedom: standing up for what you want and going after it. We’ve got people of all ages who stood up for a family member, their people, or God; some lived because of it and some died because of it. But because of their bravery and willingness to be honest about who they were, what mattered to them and what they believed was right, we’ve got some amazing stories and people we can look up to as we navigate our own life journeys.

We could look at many examples but the one that came to mind today was the story of Solomon and the two women who both claimed to be the mother to a child. The story goes that both women had sons but one of them died during the night and the women were both claiming that the living child was theirs. Solomon, using the wisdom that God gave him, said that he would cut the child in half because both women refused to back down, so they would each get half. He knew of course, as the story tells us, that the real mother would say that the child should live and be given to the other lady so that her son would not die. Solomon quickly hands the child over to the real mother and everyone was amazed.

Of course, there are tons of ways that story could have gone, but we know that Solomon had God’s wisdom and true parents want their children to live and thrive even if it can’t be with them, but it still took bravery on both Solomon and the true mother’s part to even go down that path.

We don’t usually end up in a situation nearly as serious as Solomon and these mothers did, but we still have choices to make each day about whether we stand up for what we believe or if we let ourselves and others down. We all have moments of weakness and doubt, but when we remember that God has a plan for our lives that will ultimately end up being good for us, we can be strong and make the choices that we need to. How will you stand up today?

Do You Hear God?

Today I’ve been thinking about one of the earlier references to Samuel that we know of in the Bible. It’s when he’s bedded down for the night at the temple and he hears a voice (you can read the whole story in 1 Samuel 3). The voice calls to him, he thinks it’s the priest but it’s not. The third time this happens the priest realizes God is calling Samuel and tells him to say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Of course what goes on to happen is God calls to Samuel again, tells him some important information and then continues to talk with Samuel for the rest of his life and ministry. I encourage you to explore the story for yourself, but I want to highlight a few things that stand out to me today.

First, God’s persistence. I find it interesting that God didn’t give up on the first or second try, He really wanted to speak with Samuel, and He was willing to be patient enough to make it happen. In some ways I think God was patient because of Samuel’s young age, but in other ways I think He would be equally patient for us if we showed active willingness to listen.

Second, the message. The message, given to this young boy (some research estimates he was about 12 at the time), wasn’t all roses and sunshine. I think what amazes me most is that God knew the plan He had for Samuel, knew he could handle a message like this and didn’t sugar coat it just because he was young. I know I’m more inclined to protect the young and not share the horrors and reality of the world with them, but at the same time I know it’s important that they don’t grow up with rose colored glasses and have a jarring reality check when they become adults.

Finally, Samuel was honest about the message. As we’ve discussed it wasn’t a fantastic message, but when he was asked about it by the priest, he was honest about it, even though there was some not great news for the priest in it. I don’t like delivering bad news as an adult, so I can’t imagine how difficult it was to deliver that news as a pre-teen. But again, God knew what He was doing and Samuel passed along the message.

As you go about your life this week I encourage you to be persistent and honest, work on trusting others, communicating with others and listening both for God and to what others have to say.

Creating a Habit of Love

This month as we talk about the topic of freedom I thought we would start with a great verse from Galatians. Galatians 5:13 says “Use your freedom to serve one another in love.”

We’ve got a lot of choices that we have to make as we navigate through each day of our lives. Sometimes we make choices because we’re tired or frustrated or annoyed or we don’t like someone or someone was mean to us. In those cases we are known to make some snap judgments and say things that we may not necessarily mean. Yes, there are things we can do to reduce those issues and increase our freedoms, and we’ll talk about that in another post. But the question is if there’s one thing, one habit, that we can take on that will make our lives and choices better what would it be? Galatians reminds us that it’s love.

Love is a persistent theme throughout the Bible. It’s not something that the Bible is shy about or paints as one dimensional. In fact the Bible can be pretty graphic about it, certainly so for a book that’s read by kids and adults alike. And while the Bible may not offer specific advice about certain situations we find ourselves in some 2000+ years after it was written, I can confidently say that there are a few things that haven’t and won’t change, including Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection which forever changed the futures of all who believe, and the importance of love in our lives.

If you’re looking for a little freedom in your life, for your life to start improving, for your relationships to get better, or even for a way to serve God more, I would encourage you to work on creating a habit of love in your life. It’s not something you’re able to get overnight like you can get a t-shirt or other special delivery, it’s something that you have to work on developing through changes and commitments in your attitude, heart, and mind. Not only will you benefit from choosing love in your life, so will the others you interact with. Will you choose love this week?

Anointed By God

If you’ve read through the Bible or attended church after the celebration of Easter, you’ve probably heard about the event called Pentecost. It’s written about in the book of Acts in the New Testament (along with a bunch of other really culture-shifting events). During Pentecost “all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:1b-4a). The whole event was pretty fantastic and hard to believe by those who didn’t witness it, except those who were anointed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost were, in this specific situation, able to speak in different languages, languages they didn’t previously speak, as evidence of the anointing.

As I mentioned the Book of Acts is filled with stories like this one. From real life interactions with Jesus after He ascended to being brought back to life to shipwrecks and snake bites the book of Acts has lots of crazy stories that line up very well with seeing tongues of fire land on people’s heads. But it’s also got some great insight into what the early church was all about: faith, community, and sharing the Good News. The good news is that there are many churches alive and well today who have taken on those core aspects and continued them today.

Pentecost was an important and amazing event, but what about the rest of us? We aren’t exactly anticipating a Pentecost in 2017, and I haven’t heard of anyone experiencing exactly what the Early Church did back on that first Pentecost since then. First, it’s not necessarily something we should be looking to have happen. Second, as important as the first Pentecost was, there rest of Acts 2 tells us that they (the Early Church) added to their numbers daily. Those people weren’t experiencing tongues of fire, they were just interacting with people who believed in community and the Good News. We don’t need tongues of fire to make us believers or give us any special abilities. The only thing we need is belief in Jesus and the willingness to do His work on Earth and share about Him with others (using words when necessary). You don’t need tongues of fire to know that God has a plan for your life, or to have a calling and mission for Him.  So as you finish up this week I encourage you to look for ways that God is showing up in your life (they may be seemingly ordinary), how He may be leading you to build community and who in your life needs to hear about Him. What will God show you?