Encourage!

“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

The main goal of a cheerleading organization is to raise the spirits of the fans and team members of the sport they are supporting.  As I look at this life, I realize there are others around you and me every day that could use some encouragement.  People who need their spirits raised.  Some whose lives need to be touched with a little something that will help see them through this day.

The old saying is true that you cannot judge a book by its cover.  People are like that also.  Day by day we walk through our normal routines.  Sometimes we come across different people.  Sometimes we see the same people each and every time.  In meeting people there’s one thing I have come to realize, you don’t have a clue of what one may be facing on the other side of that facade.

The face that is smiling at you may be at the point of giving up.  The one who is engaging you in polite conversation may have just suffered a hard blow financially.  Or, any others we may see or come across on a daily basis.  All we can do is look at what they show us.  Sometimes, what they don’t show is there are deeper issues they are dealing with.  While in the middle of those deep issues, what if they receive a word that renews, that makes them feel that everything is going to be okay in spite of what they are facing?  What if one act of kindness done for them helps to ensure them they are important too, no matter what the situation is telling them, and raises their spirits?

How would we order our day, our regular routines, if we treated everyone as if they were a mission field to receive kindness?  You could be the one that will help somebody else to make the decision that they will not throw in the towel.  They will not give up.  You and I can be that deciding factor!  You can be that spiritual cheerleader that brightens the heart and lift the spirits of those who may be having a hard time in life right now.

Oh, what joy!  We don’t have to know the total story of another.  All we have to do is try to treat everyone who crosses our path with respect and a willingness to radiate the goodness of God onto them.  Perhaps all we have to have is a kind word ready on the tongue to bless the life of another.  After all, the Bible does tell us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .” (Pro. 18:21).  There is power in the words we speak to others and in any encouragement we can give.

1 Thessalonians commands us to “edify one another.”  That word “edify” means to build up.  Or, as I like to say, to cheer on!  The things we do and say in life should make people feel encouraged.  It should inspire them to go on and not give up.  It should show them to Whom we belong.  “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another,” (Rom. 14:19).  It’s looking for ways to touch the life of another through encouragement.

Lift someone else today.  Send out a ray of sunshine from you to them.  Let them feel the warmth of the love of God in you.  Let them know that there is something special in them.  And, yes, make them feel that they matter.  Be an encourager today!  Be a spirit lifter!

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Open Your Heart . . .

Open your heart, dear Friend, open your heart.  There is a God in heaven and He is waiting for the doors to swing wide open that He may gain access.  “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

He is a gentleman.  He will not force Himself upon you.  But with love, He beckons you to let Him in.  “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Draw near, dear Friend, draw near.  Do not let this moment pass you by.  He’s waiting on you, but as with any opportunity, the days are fleeting and time continues to move ahead.  “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Will you welcome Him, dear Friend, will you welcome Him.  “Behold, I stand at the door,” He says, “and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

The Bible says that restoration is waiting for those who are truly repentant.  “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Open your heart to God and let Him rain on you.  He will cause you to grow with new life.  “I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon” (Hosea 14:5).  “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

The precious gift awaits.  Open your heart, and receive Him for yourself.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

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“God Made Your Life Beautiful!”

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No matter what you have going on in your life today.
No matter how you feel.
No matter the lies that try to convince you otherwise.
No matter the tauntings to get you to give up.
No matter the adversity that speaks against your dreams.
No matter what this says . . .
And, no matter about that . . .
No matter what! God made your life BEAUTIFUL!

” . . . For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” – Psalm 139:14

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;” – 1 Peter 2:9

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What Am I Giving?

Certain stories in the Bible humble me.  The story of the widow and her two mites being deposited in the offering is one of them.  While the affluent and the better-off gave a portion of what they had, this widow, she gave all.

Examining our lives, can we truly say that we have given God our all?  And I am not necessarily talking about money.  Our life, in general, is this huge opportunity to do something wonderful with our time on this earth.  Every day we have the chance to make something beautiful out of our days – to impact this generation and those around us with the love of God.  If we were to take an inventory of her mites and our portions, what would be the sum of what we have offered to our God?  As I read the words “she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:4), I couldn’t help but to stop and take a closer look at my life.

While the reference is clearly related to money, I still asked myself, what of my living?  What am I giving to God?

Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  As recipients of God’s grace, in our “reasonable service”, what are we happily rendering back to God?  What is our daily offering we bring to Him?

No, we are not saved by our works, but “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  No, we are not trying to work our way up the ladder of success of heaven, but we are in good company when our focus is on wanting to express our appreciation for all that God has done for us.  Even the psalmist once asked, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116:12).

Like the woman pouring out at the feet of Jesus, when we have received so much, it seems our natural inclination is to want to show much love and appreciation for all the Lord has done for us (Luke 7:47).

So, the psalmist continues: “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.” (Psalm 116:13-14).

No, and with that, no, I mean, NEVER, can we repay God for this great work of salvation He has done in our lives.  But like the widow and the giving of all her two mites, I can show my love and joy to my heavenly Father in the daily offering of my life by how I choose to live and what I choose to give.

So, I ponder, what am I giving?

“I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O Lord; for it is good.” Psalm 54:6

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Your Amazing IF

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IF has been around since the beginning of humanity.  IF usually comes with choice, consequence, and question.  But, what if the word IF can be a statement of faith?  What if the word IF can be a declaration of what you believe God can do in your life.

One of my favorite IF questions in the Bible led to a miracle occurring and the constraints of what is normally not possible being removed.  IF unlocks something amazing in one man’s life, never to be repeated by another human being except for Jesus Christ.  Tossed about in the waves of contrary winds, Jesus’ disciples are struggling in a boat in the middle of the sea when Jesus came to them walking on the water (see Matthew 14:22-33).  After Jesus greeted the men in the boat and calmed them, Peter asked, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water,” (Matthew 14:28; italics added mine).

I believe Peter knew wholeheartedly it was Jesus since some Bible studies use the word IF as SINCE.  Thus, I believe Peter’s IF is a statement of faith, even if it appeared to be an immature faith at the onset.  He believed in Jesus.  He believed if Jesus allowed him to, he would be able to do what is naturally impossible.  He, under the direction of the Lord, could do the amazing, and walk on water.

Now, many of us are very familiar with how Peter’s story here ends.  Seeing the waves his faith falters and Jesus is there to pull him up from his sinking condition and bring him back to the boat.  Yet, that isn’t the part I want to focus on here.  I want to focus on the power of the IF that drew him out of the boat in the first place.  Where other men stayed hidden, he literally threw it all to the wind, and with the chance of a lifetime, stepped out to experience the amazing.

We can laugh at Peter and put him down, but how many of us can honestly answer that we would have gotten out of the boat also?  You see, IF can be a hindrance that causes over questioning and actually act as a stumbling block for not moving forward into something wonderful.  But, IF can also be the catalyst to open a door of opportunity if it is approached with the idea that something amazing can come out of taking a chance with Jesus; to move on to the waters of the unknown with my eyes on Him.

The phrase “What if?” has birthed a lot of good quotes and with good reason.  In that two-worded question, we are daring to ask ourselves the question: “Do I stay in the boat or do I choose to walk on water?”  We are daring to see potential in ourselves to do more than the ordinary, to do something amazing with my IF.

Where is your “IF” calling you today or even this week?  What extraordinary thing may unlock for you if you take a chance with your amazing IF?  I believe God gives us dreams to pursue, but it’s our faith in active pursuit of that IF that will allow the amazing to happen for us, just like it did for Peter.  Jesus most certainly could have gotten to the boat without walking on water, but then Peter or any one of the other disciples would have never had the opportunity to ask and pursue something more.

Is Jesus calling you to walk on water?  Is He calling you to take steps of faith in pursuit of a particular IF?  If He is, keep your eyes on Him and allow Him to lead you to your amazing IF.

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Returning to the Familiar

Returning to the familiar can be like a warm hug.  Its embrace is comfortable and welcoming and can give you a sense of belonging.

But what if you don’t belong in the familiar?  What if the place you are trying to return to is not the best for you?  What if you are trading the comfort of familiarity for the hard choice to move on to something new?

This time of year, many people seek to add new routines to their lives, new regimens to their health, and pursue fresh ideas about what they want out of life.  At the same time, many resolutions fall through because going after the new is not always the easiest thing to do.  The steps forward can be uncomfortable rather than exciting, and truthfully, it can be downright overwhelming.

In the Bible, God knew what was best for His people, but how often did we see that the children of Israel wanted to go back what was not best, back to the familiar (Numbers 14:4)?  In Egypt, although it was hard, they knew what to expect.  Their routines were predictable, and they knew which course of action would produce which results.

God wanted better for them.  He desired to take them on a life-changing expedition.

But when God wanted them to journey through the wilderness toward their Promised Land, many became apprehensive and disillusioned with the many challenges they faced in order to reach that goal.  And even though Egypt wasn’t good for them and caused them great pain, when times got hard in going toward their place of promise, they wanted to return to the familiar.

With rose-colored glasses on, they talked themselves into believing that the old place where they had come from was not that bad (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5).  They convinced themselves that things were okay with the way they were and to be content with a life that was less than ideal because the prospect of the new brought too many challenges.

In pursuing change, we too must be careful not to romanticize where we have come from or where we are going.  We must remind ourselves there was a reason for wanting change in the first place.  To continually look back and want to throw oneself into that familiar embrace can sabotage where you are trying to go and what you are trying to do (Proverbs 4:25-27; Luke 9:62). 

At the same time, to look ahead as if everything is going to be peaches and cream, as if moving forward is going to produce automatic results without hurdles to overcome, is setting oneself up for a fairy-tale ending without experiencing the tragedy of the plot in the middle.  It just does not happen that way.

Although this is just the beginning of the year, as it progresses, there will be a few times, if not many, when the pull to the familiar will seek to lure you back (Isaiah 43:18-19).

The familiar, when used correctly, can be an incredibly beautiful thing.  But, if you are after real change this year, and the familiar place is not what was producing it, challenge yourself to stay the course, to keep looking ahead (Philippians 3:12-14).

Prayerfully, seek God’s wisdom and guidance, and as with the children of Israel, He will gladly show you the way (Exodus 13:21; Psalm 25:4-5).    

Yes, this year, the new may have its challenging moments, but when you reach your place of promise, think of the beauty there to behold.

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“Be Empowered!”

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And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

Oh, that thorn in the flesh syndrome. That persistent thing that seems like it will never be gone from your life. I would venture to say that most people have dealt with or are currently dealing with that one nagging thing that keeps – well, nagging you! That one thing that causes us to say, “Lord, if You would just move this one thing from my life, I would be alright.” Thorns are hurtful. They are irritating. And yes, they can get in the way of the one who wants to enjoy the blossom. There may be a beautiful rose on the end of the stem, but the thorns can hinder the full enjoyment of holding on to it.

There are times when one may be trying to enjoy the beauty of God’s promises that hurtful things may arise. As one tries to draw nearer and nearer to Him, particular thorns may make it hard to hold on. Thorns can “spring up and choke them,” Matthew 13:7. Nevertheless, despite what our outside circumstances may be telling us, we are taught that we can still live an empowered life. Though we have “infirmities” (and we all do), “grace” is still at work. Grace – that unmerited favor makes room when obstacles get in the way. And God says His grace is “sufficient.” It is enough.

There is only one man who lived in this world perfectly, and that’s our Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of us are surviving off God’s grace. We depend on it every single day though we are undeserving of it. He has empowered us through our Lord Jesus Christ to progress on this journey despite all our shortcomings. Every obstacle that we face in life is not going to go away. Oh, how I wish it would. But, what the apostle Paul is teaching us is that we can still succeed in Christ. We can still have a blessed Christian life through His power that “rest upon” us.

Have you ever played tag as a kid? Somebody tried to tag you and get you out, but you gave them the slip and got away. Have you ever, in a victorious romp, stuck your thumbs in your ears as a kid while waving your fingers and chanting, “Nana nana, boo, boo?” Paul had a victorious romp of his own. After he prayed, he realized despite all he was going through, the grace of God was still at work in his life and that it was God’s strength that was being made perfect in Paul’s weakness.  Therefore, Paul confidently declared, “Most gladly… will I rather glory in my infirmities.” 

Don’t you love that? Despite it all, God is still at work in us and through us. He is perfecting some stuff in us and for us, and we can rejoice with Paul.  We are not rejoicing because of the trouble or hurt we experience or encounter. We are rejoicing because we believe in God’s grace, and that allows the power of Christ to rest upon us because we have yielded to Him.

The empowered life is one that yields to Him and recognizes it is His strength being perfected in us. The empowered person can still push forth knowing that God is still at work: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31. The hurt may not be over or gone but it’s as if God is reminding us: “I have all you need to make through.”

Please note: Talking about empowerment can easily cause one to divert and take a humanistic view. But, I have strived to keep this God-centered. Everything we need is in Him, and when we can grab hold of that, we become truly empowered.

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Beginning Anew in 2022

Friends, countless of us use the passing of the old year into the new as a marker for beginning again in many areas of our lives. 

And, I believe that’s okay.

As time goes by, we can sometimes get into a rut or feel stale in our routines, life, etc.  Using this time as a point of evaluation can wake up our perspective and challenge our resolve to do better, to do more.  This time of year is also used by some to reinvent oneself or to redirect one’s path, relationships, work, ministry, health, life, and so on.

So, what do we look for in the new?

Truthfully, that is a question only you can answer for yourself.  I can only speak of what I am looking for.  When pursuing the new for myself, I look for increased awareness of distractions to my goals which can help me navigate each as they come in a befitting manner.

Knowing that distractions will come since we live this thing called life, I am also trying to be more aware of my priorities.  In order to get the most out of the gifts and life that God has given me, how do I best use my time each day?   Am I spending my time developing those things that I say are “priorities,”  or am I just talking about them?

There is a measure of accountability with oneself that comes with those questions.  Am I happy with what I see?  If not, what can I do to improve those areas?  Where and how can I inspire and challenge change?

Beginning anew is not supposed to put a sour taste in your mouth as you grit out words of resolve through your teeth.  To me, it is a breath of fresh air, bringing with it new inspiration to work or improve in areas of my own life where I desire to see positive adjustments made.

There are countless stories in the Bible where people had the chance to start over, to begin again, but two of my favorites are Ruth and Abraham.  I find their experiences encouraging for all who are pressing for the new. 

Ruth, especially, in the natural, lost everything.  And when she was willing to walk away from everything familiar, comfortable, and reliable – she found what she was walking toward to be so much more fulfilling (more on returning to the familiar in an upcoming article).

Her story, like Abraham’s, stretched them to go forward into an unknown future, and holding on to faith in God, they went. Neither one of them knew exactly where each step would lead, but they walked forward and were greatly rewarded for their press, for their diligence, for their continued faith in God.

As I said before, beginning anew can look like so many things to so many people.  The example of Ruth and Abraham can teach us all a little something about letting go of an unprofitable past and moving forward in faith (take time to read their stories in the Bible).

These last two years have been something special, to say the least.  I can’t predict what’s in store for us this year.  As with Ruth and Abraham, we may not have all the answers about the future we are currently going into, but through it all, may we be found moving in the forward press of our faith in God.  As we are beginning anew in 2022, be confident that He has us, and may we continue holding on to Him as we trust in God’s guiding hand, for He is the “same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

“For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.” Psalm 48:14

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8

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