Encourage Me!

Everyone wants encouragement, right?  And yet, far too often we fail to build others up in quality ways.

Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus taught what it means to love others. He told them, “love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

When we as disciples of Christ truly love and encourage those around us, we then can be genuine conduits of God’s mercy and grace. Encouragement, Christlike saturated encouragement, is an avenue in which those seeking to be faithful disciples of Jesus can separate ourselves from lukewarm or even hypocritical Christians that are tainting the mission of Christ and who are making living for God more about their agenda and preferences. Most of the world that is apart from Christ has a view of Christians that doesn’t reflect God’s love – they have a view that Christians are judgmental, or even hypocritical. After all, they see churches “competing” with one another and see those in church gossiping about one another or putting down other churches!

Scripture gives us a pattern of encouragement to follow. Hebrews 3:13 says, “encourage one another day after day…” In 1 Thessalonians 4:18 we are told to “comfort one another” with words, and in the next chapter, in chapter five, verse 11 it says to comfort or “encourage one another and build up one another…”!

God’s heart for encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s haircut or telling them how good their homemade lasagna tastes. That kind of encouragement is nice, but Christ saturated encouragement is rooted in the love of God and in seeking to build His kingdom through this work. Christ saturated encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will point others to the Lord. It points out evidences of God’s grace in another’s life to help them see that He is at work. It points a person to God’s promises that assures them that all they face is under His control.

Thought the book of Acts, we see encouragement at work in places like Acts 13:15, or 16:40, or 20:1-2. What they did was they share Christ statured words of encouragement with one others in order to push people towards God, to inspire one another on in faith, hope, unity, joy, strength, fruitfulness, faithfulness, perseverance, and to the truth that God is coming again. Encouragement was and is an essential way of extending grace to one another. God doesn’t just say: “encourage someone else if you feel like it or if it easy to do so.” Encouraging others is a command of God for those who call themselves His disciples.

So what should you do? Start by praying, asking God to make you an encourager. Then take to study people in the Word of God who had true hearts of encouragement. This will help you to make encouraging others a daily discipline in your life and it will allow you to be in tune with the Holy Spirit so that as He reveals to you needs, you will be able to hear and respond with Christ-saturated encouragement. After all, we should be praying regularly, asking God to show us who we can love and how we can encourage them and how we can point them to Him.

If you need something to encourage people with then run to God’s Word. Nothing encourages us like promises from God’s Word. Make a list of Scriptures that God has used in your life so you are ready with that list of promises to share with others. And when you encourage, be specific in what you say, and be honest and real. Don’t blow smoke. Don’t just look for something to “celebrate” and try to be nice. Love doesn’t lie. Love is honest and real. Regularly look for ways you can encourage your family, your friends, people at your job, even your pastor and church leadership. Take your eyes off of yourself and let God transform your heart for reflecting His love and heart for encouragement.

So go get started! Who can you encourage right now? Who has encouraged you recently that you can thank? How might God use this action to speak His message of love and hope and redemption?

May we seek God and to reflect His love for others and His heart to seek and save the lost and hurting of our community. And may God create a culture of encouragement in your life, in your church and in our community.

(Originally Published in the “Nevada Appeal” – May 2016)

Finding Contentment

While at the store, I watched a parent respond to their child’s request. The child said, “I want it, and I want it now.” To which their parent said, “not right now, be content with what you have.” In one way or another, most of us can relate to this desire. Contentment is an illusive commodity today. In fact, there is this deliberate effort in our culture today that tries to make us feel dissatisfied with life by making us believe that we are not significant if we do not posse the best or the newest. Yet wanting something more, isn’t always a bad thing. The problem comes when our desires are never satisfied, and we are no longer are able to fully enjoy life because we always feel like we are lacking something.

The Word of God sets the standard for contentment. Godly contentment is a state of satisfaction that is anchored in our confidence that is found in the Lord, one that produces a joyful celebration of life every day. When Paul wrote to the church in Philipi in Philippians 4:11-12 he said: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” His contentment was anchored not in circumstances or in having something. His contentment was anchored in personally knowing God was for him and with him in all that he faced.

I believe each person wants to have a content life. Contentment is something we learn, it doesn’t come naturally. Contentment is not about possessions or circumstances. Contentment comes in our lives when we grow spiritually and learn to appreciate all that we have in Christ.  It begins to grow when we come to understand that our greatest treasure is our relationship with the Savior. Discontentment comes from feeling that we have been deprived. But when we understand what we truly “deserve” and compare it to what we have received in Christ, then we will be able to say that nothing else matters other than having Chris30-March_Learning-Contentment-fc36036f49a1ccb99bbc82869d59dd3ct. Our contentment is anchored in relationship. We are encouraged by Paul to know that we can face and know joy in any and every circumstance because of the strength we find in Christ, so we must purpose to abide in Him.

I have also learned that we can find contentment in the grace of God, in the providence of God, and in the promises of God. It is only when I have realized the value of God’s grace in my life that I began to also find contentment. We draw our sense of satisfaction from the providence of God. Our comfort comes from the truth that God is in charge. He is overseeing the events of our
life and using them to deepen and develop us. We can have contentment in the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the enjoyable and the painful times of life because we trust the one who guides the of circumstances in our life. Paul believed that God was using and building him in the hard times and putting him in a position to bless others in the good times. We find contentment in the fact that God has promised that He would take care of us. No matter what the circumstances of life, the promises hold. He will protect. He will defend. He will guide, and He will strengthen all who follow Him.

Do you want to know contentment? Then be present, in the present moments of life. Don’t focus on what might have been or what could be. Enjoy today. And understand that material things are just tools to help, not an end in themselves. Contentment comes as we grow in our love for God each day. Do you really want to know contentment? Then run straight into the arms of Jesus. Receive His grace, believe His promises and trust His providence in your life. And as you turn your eyes upon Jesus, you will find “that the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” And, when that happens you will begin to enjoy all the moments of your life. Leave the worries about tomorrow with the Lord and accept every situation as God’s wise classroom for your growth and transformation. When this happens you will find that in good times or bad, pleasant or painful, you will find contentment.

Prayer: Father, we thank you for Your love – for Your faithfulness – for all that You provide us with for living a life of truth and purpose. May we not loose sight of the greatness of Your love. We look to you for true joy and fulfillment. Forgive us of us the things we have said or done that make contentment about what we can do apart from You and lead us afresh into trusting in You, abiding in You and pursuing You every day of our lives. May we exalt You in all we say and do, we pray, in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen. 

(Originally written for the  Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – February 2016)

legacy

At a retreat, the gathering was asked to break into groups and discuss: “what will your legacy be?” The gathering broke into various, mixed groups. I walked through the groups and heard a variety of people respond. And yet, the majority of the responses were very similar. From males and females, from young and old, the responses to this question were very similar. The majority of the answers answered the question by looking into the future of ones life, at what they saw as the end of their life.

Scripture tells us in 1 Peter 2:9 & 10: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”bigstock-legacy-dictionary-definition-17668370

When we talk about “leaving a legacy” for others, then looking far into the future or close to the end of our lives, that makes sense, but perhaps we are missing some valuable opportunities in the here and now. This truth in First Peter reminds us of what matters right now.

The job you currently have, well it may not be your job in another 5, 10 or 15 years. The home you live in, the neighbors and friends you have now – you might move, they might move – things will probably chan
ge. And things like jobs and relationships, our neighborhoods and communities we live in currently, they all have huge and far-reaching impacts on our lives right and we need to see to it that we have an impact and legacy in those arenas
we are in, right now.

Even if you only serve at one job for a few years, or live in a certain place for a short period of time – you will leave a legacy, so what will it be? You don’t have to be in one place for a multitude of years to make a forever impact. I’ve heard this to be true with kids in foster care. They had this brief encounter with a volunteer, a foster parent, a coach, a teacher, that perhaps didn’t last long, but in the midst of a long season of personal turmoil, that one person in that short moment made that forever impact on their lives.

As disciples of Christ, we are called to live in such a way that we make a forever impact on the world in which we live, but for the glory of God. The dynamics in your home, in your marriage, or with your famil
y may be very difficult – but don’t loose sight of how you are to live for Christ in the midst of personal chaos and even pain. In the midst of hurt and pain, shine all the brighter now for Christ. Live a life worth following, no matter what season of life you are in now, so that you can build a legacy that is going to point people to God, right now. Our legacy is important. Living a life worth following, that honors and glorifies the Lord, is highly important. It is our responsibility in the here and now to “proclaim the praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

We exist so that people can look at us and say, “What a great God they serve, right now!” We exist to know God and to make Him known, right now. Yes, we are building a legacy for the future, but don’t loose sight of the fact that a change might come your way and your legacy in this season, with this group, in that arena, will be done. Will you have lived in such a way, a life worth following, that no matter how short the season, that people when they have encountered you will have been pointed to Jesus Christ in meaningful, genuine and Christ-honoring ways?

(Originally written for: Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – November 2015)

America, the Church & Abortion

Recently, the world mourned the loss of Cecil the Lion. This majestic and famous lion was tragically killed when it appears he was lured off of a protective park in Zimbabwe. The international attention to this killing has sparked outrage among animal conservationists, politicians and celebrities. Good, or bad. Right, or wrong. Everywhere I turned and everything I tuned into, it was talking about this tragic loss of Cecil the Lion.

As tragic as the killing of this animal was to so many people, an even greater tragedy is facing us: abortion. Many, especially in the church, are confused on this issue and have remained silent or have tried to make this about politics or cultural changes. Abortion is a spiritual problem that has huge political and social ramifications. The death of one lion, an animal, should not emotionally outweigh the deaths of millions of human lifes in America.

The church must rise up and speak to this issue with love and truth. For far too long the church and its leaders and its members have mistaken abortion as something political, and thus say or do nothing because of a belief that politics and the church should notlife-hc-pic go side-by-side. But because abortion is a spiritual issue first, the church must rise up as conduits of God’s love, His grace and His mercy when it comes to the issue of abortion in America.

The majority of babies being aborted are not from vicious rape situations or due to critical health concerns for the mother – the majority of babies aborted in America come from the choice a woman makes, and this might sound harsh, but that choice has less to do with the life she is carrying and more to do with her life circumstances and conveniences. Now is the time that we must take a stand, and help those in tough places get the right information about the sanctity of all life, even the life of an unborn child.

Many within the church have experienced abortion first-hand or are weighing their options regarding abortion. To those women and men, please know this: I do not condemn you nor wish to shame you. I do, however, long for those considering abortion to become informed before they make their choice, and for those who may be hurting from a past abortion to find true healing through Jesus Christ.

In my community, we have a wonderful resource to help you where you’ll be treated with compassion and without judgement and it is called Life Choices Community Pregnancy Clinic, located at 1201 N. Stewart St. #110 in Carson City. Go there, please, or call them (775-241-8161) and let them share with you about the options you have, the hope for your circumstances, and the restoration from your past choices. For those in other communities, I encourage you to find a pregnancy care clinic where you can get informed and helped. Visit www.care-net.org for more information on a clinic close to you.

Esther, a queen, was reminded of her divine purpose: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Disciples of Jesus Christ, the world is reminding us, the church, of the challenge, and we must rise to the occasion before us and boldly, courageously and compassionately declare the whole truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – which includes the sanctity of human life. We must be the leaders in seeing the end to the legalization of abortion. And, we must rally around support networks like Life Choices and help those who have been hurt or who are wrestling with an unforeseen pregnancy. We must compassionately help them understand their options and how important their choice for life truly is.

As followers of Christ today, we must be a voice that declares, without shame or fear, that all lives matter and that abortion is tearing apart the very fabric of our society. Let us then, without fear or shame, be voices of God’s truth. for life and may we be active demonstrations of His love as we take a bold stand for life.

America needs to know that the abortion industry destroys and devalues human life. The church must address this spiritual issue for what it is and the church must demonstrate the power of God’s grace and redemption for all those touched by abortion. Let us join together to be champions of God’s love as we confront this issue that is affecting so many people. And may the church be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, being obedient to God first and foremost as we move beyond our personal beliefs and represent God’s truth for all life.

(Adapted for my blog. Originally written for the 8/29/15 Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – August 2015)

Cupcake Earrings

I had a very cool dad moment yesterday. This past year, my oldest daughter wanted me to take her, on her birthday, to get her ears pierced. Yesterday, while at the play area of the mall, we realized she had lost one of the earrings we originally had bought for her. So, I rushed down to the store and bought her a new pair of earrings.

I brought back gem-packed, sparkly, cupcake earrings. I knew she’d love them – the gems, the colors, and the cupcake shape…I hit all of her favorites. Now, I had to buy the more expensive ones. Not because she is some diva-in-the-making, but because she needed the better quality ones, the right type of medal, to help from infection, etc. And, she needed something right away, or that piercing could possibly close up.

I brought back these little gems…

pZALEPAG1-19057305t400

She hugged and thanked me. She was so happy.

Then it happened. Then, that cool dad moment happened…

I watched her go around to all of her “friends” in the play area, pointing out her new earrings, and telling others – even those young boys who could care less – telling everyone: “look at my beautiful new cupcake earrings, with gems, that my daddy bought – my daddy loves me.”

After she did this to about 4 or 5 other kids, our eyes met and the smile on my face must have been as big as the sun because she came over and asked: “why are you so happy daddy?” I told her, that her joy is contagious and it makes me happy to see how she wants everyone around her to know her joy. We hugged for a few moments and she ran off to play again.

As I was reflecting on that great moment I had with my daughter, the Holy Spirit impressed this verse on my heart: “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.” (Exodus 19:5)

In a day and age when everyone fights to be an individual, to make a way for themselves, to be their own person – we forget the tremendous value we have in knowing that we belong to God, and that He delights in us.

In our longing to be an individual and unique, we’ve rejected our true identity in Christ. 

No wonder so many today suffer from feelings of rejection, self- hatred, insecurity, great fear, being a people-pleaser, loneliness, and various unfulfilled cravings for approval, etc. No wonder so many people have lost sight of who they are in Christ: His beloved, a treasured and highly possession, one that can declare His goodness to all those they encounter.

When we are consumed with doubt, hurt, or selfishness, we cannot clearly reflect our belonging to God. We reflect then, that we belong to that doubt, or fear, or hurt – rather than our Redeemer and Restorer.

Many of us need an intervention from the Lord. What we need is for the Lord to breakthrough our wish-washy “feelings” and birth in us a hope and peace that only He can provide. But are we actually wanting this type of experience with God? Are we willing to let go of our desires to be known for what we can do and to be known for who we truly are in Christ alone? 

We have tremendous value, not because of what we can do, but because of who we are. We seek to add value to our lives through the things we do. And although experiences in life add much to our lives, they do not make us greater – our life richer perhaps, but they do make us more valuable.

My daughter has no idea the quality, nor the cost – the value – of those cupcake earrings. What she does know is that her daddy hand picked them for her, and they were the best, not because of the quality of medal, or the cost, but because I gave them to her. The value of those earrings to her, that produced great joy – joy that she shared with everyone – the value came from me giving them to her, something that demonstrated my heart to provide for her and her needs.

Run to your Heavenly Father today. Allow Him to speak to the deepest needs in your life. Do not let any other relationship, a promotion, success in the gym, or any other accolades in life to fill you with true value. That is fake value, temporary stuff that fuels that emotional tug-of-war in your mind and heart – and it is only temporary.

We have tremendous value, apart from what we can do on our own, in our own strength. We have value because of who we are in Christ and what He has done, and given, and poured into our lives.

So for those suffering from feelings of rejection, self- hatred, insecurity, fear, people-pleasing tendencies, loneliness and unfulfilled cravings for approval – run to your Heavenly Father. Feast on His Holy Word for your life. Let Him define for you, your value. Let Him replace your sorrow with His Hope. Let Him take away your pain and put on you His peace. Let Him provide for your needs by trusting in His provision and timing.

Run to your Heavenly Father. Abide in Him. Trust in Him. Obey Him. Deuteronomy 26:17-29 says: “You have today declared the Lord to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice. The Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken.”

God has spoken. Let your Heavenly Father fill your mind and heart with the truth of who you are. Let Him remind you of who you really are and how He will address every feeling, every concern and every problem in your life, according to His Holy and Divine will. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”

That moment I shared with my daughter and those cupcake earrings, it made me feeling like a million bucks. God, He is a victorious warrior and the greatest hero of all – and He, as we seek and obey Him in all things, will rejoice over us and fill us with a joy that we won’t be able to contain. And what God longs to do in your life, it will be greater than a pair of cupcake earrings. Run to Him, let Him fill you with His presence, with His truth, with His will for your life.

be genuine

While out at the store, I came across a wallet made of leather and stamped into the leather wallet was the word: genuine. For something to be genuine, it means it has to be real – to be pure, to not be counterfeit or fake in any way. I reached into my pocket to compare this wallet with my own, wondering how real my wallet was.

Both were black in color, both had a sleeve for cash and several sleeves for cards, etc. And both had a clear sleeve for a drivers license. Now both wallets looked like they were leather and yet here I was, holding my wallet and now also holding a wallet that was marked as genuine. How genuine was my wallet then, in this side-by-side comparison, with the new wallet marked as genuine?

As followers of Christ, we must be genuine and our lives must be stamped with this truth. We must understand though, that in order for our lives to bear witness to a true, genuine faith in the Lord, then we must be devoted to taking in the Word of God and then living it out. This is what we are to compare our lives to.

genuinefaith

James 1:26-27 says: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

This truth from James gives us three markers of what it means to be genuine in our pursuit of knowing God’s Word and then living it out. First, tame your tongue. Second, care for those in need. And third, avoid worldliness. When we do these things, we walk in God’s Word, we are more apt to have His stamp of “genuine” upon on our lives. When we know this truth and live out, we genuinely represent God to others.

We say we want to take in and live out God’s Word. We say we want those around us to know we belong to the Lord. And we say we desire to have a genuine faith. And yet, our “religion” is useless if it what we take in from God’s Word, if it does not tame our tongues, if it does not move our hearts to serve and and if it does not separate us, or distinguish us in word and deed, from the rest of the world.

Take time to consider what the Lord may be speaking to you through these verses in James. Reflect on your journey with God, because it is possible that you are looking to others and thinking you are genuine in your faith, but you may be far from that truth. We cannot compare ourselves to others. We must compare ourselves to God and His Word. So, when you look at your life – at what you think and believe, in what you say and do – are those actions and elements true, pure and genuine? One can compare wallets, and hope or think they are the same – both being genuine – but the truth is that only the one marked as genuine is the real deal. As a disciple of Christ, are you the real deal – or do you merely hope or simply think you are? Have you been deceived by your “religious” activities and busyness?

Controlling what we say, passionately caring for others, and remaining separate from the ways of the world – it will require that you know God’s truth and abide in His truth. It  requires of you to compare yourself to Christ and His Holy Word, not others. We cannot desire to influence the world around us if we are allowing the world to influence our thoughts, our words or our actions. May you make the time to reflect on this truth and then allow God to show you the condition of your heart.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – April 2015)

Abandon Our Excuses

Many of us suffer from a condition, a toxic spiritual condition that we often try to mask or explain away. Many of us have become all to familiar with this state of life and we have allowed it to become an intricate part of our daily lives.

This condition is called: excuses. We are quick to have an excuse ready for all of our short comings. In fact, often our excuses try to shift the blame to others or to something else. Often times, it is no-more-excuseseasier to make an excuse then to actually address our true need. We live in a time where excuses are everywhere and people have settled for living in a state of excuses rather than in a place of truth and freedom.

Why? Because truth is costly. And freedom actually requires sacrifice. But an excuse? Well, it is often clever and quick and is “just enough” to get us by. And we’ve settled for a life of excuses, rather than a relentless pursuit of a loving and holy God who wants to full transform our minds and hearts to reflect Him.

Have you been carried away by excuses? Has your spiritual growth been hindered by habitual excuse making?

In order for us to abandon our excuses we have to confront the reality of sin and temptation in our lives. James 1:13-15 says: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

Far too often we find ourselves under pressure, and that is when we cave to excuses. The temptation we face comes from ourselves, for God is impervious to evil – meaning He is holy and untouched by evil, but we are born into sin and must daily choose to say no to sin and yes to the Lord and His mighty work in our lives. We let everything else in this world entice us and set our priorities. We let those forces drive our decisions, rather than the cry of God to work more fully, more deeply in our lives.

Excuses allow sin to grow in our lives, that is why we must abandon our excuses. We make excuses about staying away from God and the church. We make excuses from submitting ourselves to the revealed word of God and true Biblical authority. We allow everyone else’s opinion to matter more than the Lords, and we make excuses for it.

God wants to redeem and restore every broken place in our lives. He wants to provide an escape for the enticing sin that lingers before us.

My 8th grade football coach always told us: “Emery, excuses are like…(I’ll save you his wording, I am sure you’ll get it)…we all have them, and they all stink!” Friends, you know what else stinks? Sin! We have allowed ourselves to wallow in our sin and excuses rather than reaching for the hand of the Savior who longs to pull us out, fully and forever, from the muck and mire of our sin saturated lives. Now is the time to abandon your excuses and to fully press into God in this present moment.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – March 2015)