A Dozen Things That Encourage Me (Plus One)

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Here’s a random post that came to me this morning. I was thinking about some of the things that encourage me in life.

 

 

 

Things such as:

  • The reminder of God’s love
  • Cheryl’s smile
  • Time with my boys
  • A baby’s giggle
  • A Bible verse
  • A big dream
  • A kind word from a friend
  • A special memory
  • A thank you email
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • An answered prayer
  • The awareness of God’s presence
  • The love/innocence of a child

What would you add to this list?  What encourages you?

3 Questions To Help Answer Difficult Issues

I received a call recently from someone trying to make a difficult decision. I seem to get those kinds of questions frequently. Usually the dilemma a person is facing has no direct, easy answer and the exact answer is not always clearly spelled out in the Bible.

  • The one who has to decide whether to risk losing a friendship to do the right thing…
  • The girl who knows she is in the wrong relationship, but can’t decide whether to let it go…
  • The person who is ready to give up on their marriage…
  • The person working for a boss he or she knows is being dishonest…
  • The person who did something wrong, did not get caught, but wonders if they should confess…

You know the type….
In fact you’ve probably been there…

Usually I do not give the person an answer; either because I do not know the right answer or because I have learned that even if I did he or she might resent the answer I give them. (I wrote a post about that principle HERE) Even though they have asked for my opinion, the person needs to own the decision they make, based on what is in their heart and their personal inclination. I can and will share truth with them, but the reality is that I cannot effectively lead people where they do not want to go.

Through years of counseling I have landed on the following three questions that have proven helpful to give people as a framework to use when working with these type decisions. Often these questions will guide an individual towards the best decision personally without pressure from me. They are more likely to follow a decision they reached on their own.

What can you do?

God’s grace is amazing. Even when we make a wrong decision, God works all things for good. (Proverbs 16:9) When a person understands this truth they actually are more open to making the wisest decision. The kindness of God does lead to repentance.

What should you do?

This is obviously a more difficult question. With this question the person is forced to consider the issue of right and wrong. They should think through this concerning what God would have them to do and what would be best in the short-term and long-term for all parties involved. The separation between the first two questions often helps people work through the correct answer for their situation.

What will you do?

This is the biggest question, because it forces the person to consider making the best decision as opposed to the popular, comfortable or easy decision. When a person answers this question it helps them develop a resolve in their heart to carry through on their commitment.

I give these questions to people and usually let them work through them on their own, at least at first. If they need to talk through them I will do that after they have wrestled to answer them personally at first.

Have you had times when you had to make a difficult decision and could not decide what to do? How did you solve your dilemma?

Great Things Often Come In Small Packages

1187603_98883611Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.  Psalm 117

The shortest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 117. I have often wondered what was going through the Psalmist’s mind when he recorded his thoughts for this Psalm.  Was he finished?  Did he get interrupted?  Was there something else he wanted to say?  Was he satisfied with his work?  (Obviously God was.)  This shortest chapter has huge meaning.  If we were to memorize just these two verses and implement them in our life, I think it may make a difference in our perspective on the world and the situations in which we find ourselves.

We often think that for something to be grand it must be huge, but that is not the complete definition of the word grand. (For a definition look HERE.)  Shortest or smallest does not always indicate lack of importance.  Many times it is the smallest detail that determines success or failure with a project.  The shortest moments of time can often cause the greatest and the most horrific life changes.  In my life the shortest words of encouragement have often had the biggest impact.

Are you concerning yourself with the small things that matter most?

Worship: Nothing Else Matters

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:41 NIV

That word “terrified” here is probably better translated “fear”. It doesn’t mean fear like to be afraid of something.  It literally means of those startled by strange sights or occurrences; or of those struck with amazement; or to treat with reverential obedience.

It really means a reverent awe.  Its like we may say to someone who has done something remarkable, “Wow, I’m scared of you!” It is more of a worship reaction than a reaction of terror.

The disciples, when faced with the incredible truth of Christ and His power, had no choice but to worship Him.  That is what worship is: ascribing worth. They had no choice but to ask, “Who is this guy?”

At that point, perhaps more than any other time, they realized with everything in them that This WAS Jesus.  Did they understand Him completely?  NO. Would they question Him again?  YES. Would there be other storms?  Of course!

For this one moment in time, however, nothing else in all the world mattered.

I had a time like that recently.  I was praying for different people in our church, reflecting on some of the amazing things happening there, when I simply became overwhelmed at Jesus. I started to tear up and soon my eyes were flooded with tears.  It was a great time of worship, in awe of who Christ is and what He is doing.  Honestly it gave me a different perspective on the day.

Could the solution to your current problems be a time of worship?  Do you need to get alone, separate yourself from every other distraction, and fall on your knees and worship?  Is that the missing piece in your life right now?

Worship, like nothing else we do, takes us to the other side with Jesus and builds in us the full reality of His love.  Find a moment this week to worship the Living Christ!

Do You Still Have “NO” Faith?

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:40 NIV

I always find that verse interesting.  These were the disciples.  These guys had left everything to follow Him.  Jesus gave them authority to cast out demons.  I don’t have that authority.  These guys had a front row seat to all the best of Jesus’ teachings.  Some of them wrote books of the Bible.

Yet Jesus asked them if they have “no faith”?  What’s up with that?
I think it was because Jesus really does not feel our faith is complete until we are removed of any doubts.  I am not suggesting we will ever get there on earth.  I am certainly not there yet, but I do think that should be our goal.  We should strive daily to continue to grow in our faith and trust in Christ.

We will have days where our faith is so clear we feel we could move mountains and other days where we are barely hanging on to our beliefs, but over time, through a consistent and persistent walk with Christ He molds us into the person He wants us to be.

What would have to occur in your life today for you to take the next step of faith in Christ?   Is He calling you to a deeper level of trust?  Would He be more likely to say to you today, “Do you still have no faith?” or “Well done my good and faithful servant.”?  I realize that can change daily, but we should consider our lives in seasons and examine whether over time we are growing to trust Him more. Are you?

Walking The Talk of Authentic Christianity

I love this teaching Jesus did for the disciples, especially in the Message Version.

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. Matthew 23:1-3 The Message Version

I do not know about others, but I want to see authentic Christianity lived out in the lives of others. I do not want to follow someone who teaches God’s Word, but does not live it out in his or her personal life. Jesus seems to say here that some people talk a good talk, but they do not really “get it” in their hearts. They know all the right verbiage, but their actions do not mirror what they say.

One example is how we may teach a Gospel of love, but then we spew so much hate out in the way we treat others. It is okay to denounce sin, in fact we should, but when the sinners who practice the sin we are denouncing do not believe that we love them, then I am not sure people hear our message, because they cannot get past what they see as condemnation.

Jesus had a way of building a relationship with sinners, without condemning them, giving them an example of holiness, but fully convincing them that He loved and cared for them as individuals. He is the guy I want to follow as my example.

How about you?  Do you long to see authentic Christianity?

Quiet! Be Still! (Words of Jesus We Need To Hear)

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Mark 4:39 NIV

Just like that…storm over!

How many times have I underestimated the power and majesty of my Creator?  How many times have I tried to do something in my own strength only to realize that His touch is really all I needed?  How often do I struggle alone while He is waiting for me to allow Him to take over the situation?

Regardless of your struggle, no matter how hard things may seem for you right now, in spite of your perspective that things are impossible, the solution to your problem may be as simple as a “Quiet, be still.”  One word from Jesus and it could all be over.  One touch of the Master and your troubles could be solved.

Consider this question: What if your biggest problems are really just an easy fix for Him, but you have never trusted Him enough to work His will? Sometimes we underestimate His power and His love.  Sometimes He has the solution, but we are too busy trying to find it without Him that we never get to His solution for us.  James wrote in the Bible, “You don’t have because you don’t ask…”.  Could that be your problem today?

What are you facing today that is bigger than you?  Is it time for a conversation with the One who holds the answers?

Dealing With Negativity In the Church

One of the most frustrating things I know about being a pastor is the number of people who are negative about everything.  Thankfully I am in a great church and most of our negativity comes from outside our church, but I talk with pastors every week who tell me that groups of people are always negative about something they are doing.

Jesus taught His disciples how to build the church. The chief goal would be to love people no one else loved, even when they were not very lovely.  We have tried to plant a church with that philosophy.  Along the way we have discovered what Jesus experienced in working with religious leaders in His day. (See Matthew 16:5-12)  When a church reaches genuinely hurting people or when people in the church lead messy lives, the complainers will rise up, mostly among the most religious of people, and when these type people talk, their negative energy (yeast) spreads fast.

I have often told our staff that our ultimate goal is the same as every Bible-believing church in town. We are trying to help people grow to know Jesus and be more like Him.  Churches tend to try different methods, some work and some don’t, and sometimes churches can get more passionate about those methods than about the work the church is called to do, but the goal of the heart of any believer should be the same.  With that in mind, how do we respond to those who choose to complain and remain negative towards our own methods of trying to build Christ followers?

What do you do with negativity towards the mission God has called you to?

  • Be on guard against negative talk. Ask yourself if what they are saying line up with truth. Is it true?  If not, dismiss it.
  • Learn when necessary.  We should not refuse to listen to any criticism. There is an element of truth in most criticism, even among things you need to ultimately dismiss.
  • Surround yourself with the right people.  Some people are negative about everything and never encourage. Find people who can encourage you to walk closer to Christ.
  • Remember negative people spread things about others too.  It often helps me reconcile what a negative person says about me when I realize they are always spreading something negative.  If it were not me being criticized, it would be their next victim.  Do not give as much attention to the consistently negative person. Sometimes we tend to give them the most attention.  The only way you will ever shut down the person who is always negative is to refuse to give them an audience for their negativity.  The fact is that if they are given a continued voice they will bring people into their negativity.  If the same attention is placed on people who are a positive influence then they will bring people along into positivity.
  • Remind yourself of truth.  Ultimately you are looking for truth, not one person’s opinion on truth.
  • Confront untruth. You do not have to go on a witch-hunt for untruth, but you should try to stop the spread of falsities if you hear them being repeated or told to you.
  • Be truthful and positive around others. Decide that you will always be a positive influence. Don’t repeat untruths and avoid being a hypercritical person.   Look for the good in situations. A positive attitude is equally contagious.

What ways do you have to deal with negative people?

Getting Honest With Jesus

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Mark 4:38 NIV

I have been told that the stern is the strongest part of the boat.  The Creator of the universe was asleep there.  The One who was there when the waters were parted and Moses led the people through on dry ground had His head on a cushion.  The One who walked with three guys in the fiery furnace, in all of His current humanity had decided He needed some rest.  The disciples apparently lost sight of the fact that, Jesus was not only human, and He was also fully God.

I am reminded that I forget the same thing at times.  Have you ever felt like the disciples felt?  Have you ever wondered if Jesus cared?  Has the thought crossed your mind that Jesus may not even be aware of your current situation?  Have you thought, “Jesus, I see my problems, don’t you?”  Or maybe, if you are honest, have felt something like, “Jesus, don’t you care?”

Of course, our spiritual piety would never allow us to admit our weakness in this area fully.  Could I as a pastor really admit that I doubted His love?  Could you?  Yet if I am honest, sometimes from my perspective, it appears that Jesus is nowhere to be found and I am left all alone to wallow in my sorrows.  Just saying….

I think the best thing we can possibly do in those situations is to be like the disciples and admit our frailty to God. When we get gut honest with Him about our insufficiencies, perhaps He will be willing to do what only He can do.

Do you need to have an honest conversation with Jesus today?

Storms Of Life Come Quickly

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Mark 4:37 NIV

Is that not the way normal life happens?  One day you can be doing everything you know to do right, smooth sailing seems to be the forecast of the day, and then out of nowhere comes a furious squall. Has that ever happened to you?  On days like this in my life it always seems that one problem never gets lonely, because trouble seems to follow trouble.  When one thing goes wrong there will most often be other troubles come as well.

My advice is not to be surprised when troubles come.  They are a part of everyday living in a fallen world, even for the most dedicated believers.  In fact, the strongest people of faith I know are those who have experienced tremendous heartache and pain, which has shaped who they are today.  From very personal experience I can say that I would not be half the leader, Christian, pastor, father, husband or friend that I am without the times of excruciating torment I have experienced in life.  (If you want more of my story read previous posts on my BLOG, but there are some stories of heartache too personal to share. You have your stories too.)

The question for me at this stage of my life is not why the storms come, but how am I going to allow God to use them to make me into who He wants me to be?  Are you asking that question?

How has God used storms in your life to mold your character, your faith and your life?