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.

Mother’s Day Blessings

Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day we stop to appreciate and remember those women who have had an impact on our lives.  A word that I think really sums up this celebration is blessing.  It’s a word I’ve been sharing about quite a bit with you lately, because it’s an important word, one that often gets buried in our lives underneath “challenge” and “problem”.  This Mother’s Day think about these different blessings:

Bunches of Blessings:
One of the easiest and most popular gifts for Mother’s Day is flowers.  Personally, I prefer the potted kind instead of the cut kind because they last longer.  Whatever your flower preference is, don’t forget that what you’re giving isn’t as important as remembering to truly celebrate the one you’re giving them to.  Think of not only what you’re gifting, but also the gift of having a mother this Mother’s Day.

Bountiful Blessings:
In this world of abundance, abundant gas prices, abundant unemployment, and abundant opportunities for growth, change and development, one thing we don’t stop to think about is having abundant blessings.  Psalm 23:6 sheds some light on where we get those abundant blessings: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  More so than anyone, mothers should be dwelling with God.  If they’re to be amazing mothers, they need a lot of strength, wisdom and many blessings from God.

Boxes of Blessings:
Sometimes our blessings come in disguise.  I’ve been meditating a lot on a song by Laura Story, Blessings, (on YouTube).  Her song reminded me that sometimes our blessings are like items that we get in boxes in the mail.  We don’t really know what’s in the box, but we hope it’s what we want.  Sometimes, the box doesn’t contain what we want, or what we did want is in the box but it’s not in good condition.  It’s the boxes of blessings that most often bring us to our knees asking for guidance.

Bundles of Blessings:
Mother’s Day is a celebration of the gift of life. Psalm 139 contains David’s thoughts on how God begins our lives with us.  God’s special plan for each of our lives includes our mothers.  If you are blessed with the opportunity to be a mother, remember to thank God for it, because not everyone is blessed with that calling.

This Mother’s Day, in all of the hustle and bustle, don’t forget to say a prayer for all of the mothers around the world, and those who have a desire to be mothers.   Also, consider the bunches, bounty, boxes and bundles in your life.  These aren’t just lessons for Mom, they’re lessons that everyone needs to gather in their life.

Psalm 16:5 says “Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.  You guard all that is mine.”  I hope that blessings overflow in your life (and your mom’s life) this weekend, and I encourage you to take the time to celebrate and recognize all the blessings God sends your way.

A Little Love for Everyone?

As we think about this month’s topic of love and the celebration of Earth Day later this week I wanted to share a verse that will challenge us on both topics: Psalm 24:1 says:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

First this verse reminds us that if we really care about God and are following Him, we’ll take care of what He has given us.  That means being a little more aware of what you’re buying and doing and how you’re interacting with nature and the impact you have on it.  We all have an impact, but we can make smarter choices to minimize that impact and protect the gift God has given us.

Second this verse reminds us that God created everything in the world, all of the plants, animals, creepy crawlers, and people.  I know it’s hard to imagine the God that created you and me also creating things like scorpions.  It’s also hard to imagine the God that created Billy Graham created Hitler too, but according to this verse, He did.

Which brings us to our challenge.  It can be really easy to be sloppy and lazy and not take care of the earth, after all there’s a really good chance that it will last through our lifetimes regardless of the damage we do.  It can also be really easy to just focus on the nice and good people and ignore those who display their faults and imperfections more than the rest of us do.  But this verse challenges us to remember that God has called us to care for that which is His; all of it.  That means attempting to remove our judgements, preconceived notions, prejudices and opinions and trying to see things from God’s perspective, which can be easier said than done.

But just like with caring for the earth and making earth-friendly decisions, treating all others with respect and courtesy, and maybe even love, is something you can get into the habit of doing.  God didn’t say it would be easy, but He called us to set the example for our fellow man.  So as we move away from Easter and toward Earth Day, I encourage you to consider how you can be more considerate of “everything” that the Lord has created.  What ways will you choose to show love today?

A Love for Justice?

This month the topic we’ll be talking about a lot is the topic of love.  It may not be February, but with Passover, Good Friday and Easter this month, I think there are plenty of reasons to talk about the topic of love from a spiritual perspective.  And you just have to turn on the TV to a news station for a few minutes and see reasons why it’s always a good idea to talk about love from a life perspective. As I was looking for a verse to write about today I came across one that isn’t really what you think of when you think of love.  Psalm 37:28 reads:

“The Lord loves justice, and he won’t ever desert his faithful people. He always protects them, but destroys the children of the wicked.”

In truth most of us do love justice.  We love when the good guys win and the bad guys lose and go to jail (or worse).  It’s why fairy tales are so loved and shared, and what countless TV shows and episodes and written stories each year are based on.  Then there are the stories of people who overcome the challenges in their past, having left the past and those situations.  In those stories we’re not reflecting on the past or getting justice for the past, but celebrating the life that this person has chosen to make regardless of the past.  In some ways I think that’s justice too because there’s always a portion of “right” involved in justice.

As long as there’s evil in the world I think it’s important that we do love justice.  We should want good to prevail, victories to be achieved and happiness to flourish.  I think the biggest struggle we have is the violence that’s often attached to justice.  Sometimes justice is violent, there were many examples throughout the Bible of God’s justice being violent.  I think one of the best ways we can look at justice is not from the point of how ‘justice was served’ or the loss the bad guys experienced, but rather to celebrate the new potential that is now unleashed for the future.  I have a feeling that the tales of conquering heroes will continue, but rather than go over again how the victory was achieved, I’m going to encourage that we focus more on the happily ever after and start a new chapter to the story.

The Lord is my Strength

I saw another advertising sign this week reminding people that there’s no guarantee that life is easy.  Just because we have faith or beliefs in God, that doesn’t change for us either.  We too are challenged by daily life.  The figureheads of the Bible (Paul/Saul, Abraham, David, Moses, Jesus) didn’t have it easy just because they were who they were.  They were each met with challenges, discouragement, frustrations and, with the exception of Jesus, failures too.  As I was considering this all, the Bible passage that popped into mind was a familiar one, Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.”

We’re not guaranteed smooth sailing to heaven but we are given the gift of God’s open arms and presence with us as we meet our daily challenges and stretch to meet the opportunities.  This week when you’re confronted by situations out of your control read Psalm 23, or another Bible passage that helps encourage you, and take a few deep breaths.  Just because we don’t live an easy life it doesn’t mean we have to make things harder on ourselves.  Take a time out when you need one, send your kids on a play date, make a family outing this weekend for a hike in nature, tell someone you need to think things over before giving an answer you may regret later, choose to make the most of this life and not get sucked into the negativity and pettiness that can be part of our lives. When you take the time to be centered and relaxed and choose to think things through rather than just react, you’ll find you had more strength and courage than you believed.

Dimensions of Love

As we get closer and closer to Valentine’s Day the topic that most people are talking about is love.  It’s true that many people take this whole month to really focus on love and romance and I think that can be a very good thing.  It’s not a good thing when this month or these 14 days are the only time that you focus on your relationships, but sometimes it’s good to really dedicate extra time and effort to something that should be very important to you.

In thinking about the topic of love and romance it got me thinking about one of the biggest topics around love for people of faith, God’s love.  There’s a lot we can learn from His love and how He loves, so as I was working on my devotion this week I ran across a few verses that I wanted to share with you here today because they share a really important reminder about love. Take a look:

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5

“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8

“…may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.”  Ephesians 3:18-19a

The interesting thing about all of these verses is that they talk about love in multiple dimensions, using multiple senses and in experiencing it beyond the obvious.  The challenge many of us face in experiencing or living love is that it’s not instant.  It’s not something we can throw a bunch of money at and get what we want.  Love takes work.  It’s something that is best experienced when you fully immerse yourself in it.  It’s like many wines that it often gets better with time, but unlike wine you can’t just leave it alone and expect it to get better.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as a child loving their pet, or loving how your partner holds your hand.  But in other ways it is complicated because many of the best loves do have multiple layers and depth to them.

So this week as you think about your Valentine plans or you think about the person that God has planned for you in the future, I encourage you to try to see love outside of the box that you may have stuck it in.  What have you missed about love?

The New Year Before Us

Today I thought the best way to start our year off was with some words of hope, wisdom and encouragement from the Bible and wise spiritual leaders.

“None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed.  Everything was fulfilled.”  Joshua 21:45

“Be still and know that I am God. Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find rest and refreshment from this busy world.”  Loyola Press

“He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.”  Acts 9:18-19

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Let’s live like we believe God is for us.”  Melinda Mattson

“Let them all praise the name of the Eternal! For His name stands alone above all others. His glory shines greater than anything above or below.”  Psalm 148:13

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“When we take delight we gain the very thing that was our goal all along.”  Stephanie Bryant

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  Genesis 18:14

As we start this new year and reflect on the one that has just ended I’m reminded by these words and thoughts that not every year is a great one, not every year is one of forward progress, and not every year is one that produces tangible results.   Some years are years of personal reflection, tearing down, and rebuilding.  These tend to be years that you feel really beat up by at the end and even though some really good things may have been started, you’re still a long way from seeing results yet.  But regardless of what type of year last year was or this year will be for you, we can depend on God to be there with us and guide us through it.

I encourage you to choose to look at the year ahead with a positive attitude and confidence that it will be a good year in one way or another.  Don’t let your doubts, failures or fears rule your life.  Instead trust that God will go with you through it and you will find reasons to celebrate in 2017.