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Category Archives: Encouragement

Be mature

Back in the dark ages when I was a freshman at Biola College, Dr. Curtis Mitchell addressed his Old Testament Survey class. He encouraged us, “Be mature about the rules of Biola.” At that time, all the students had to subscribe to “The Pledge,” five things that Biola students could not participate in while a student at the school.

I would echo Dr. Mitchell’s words by saying, Be mature about the rules of COVID-19. If required, wear a facemask, and wear it properly over your nose and mouth, not just over your chin or only covering your mouth. Wait patiently outside a store until you can enter. Follow the directional arrows and go with the flow. Practice social distancing. Register for church attendance if you are allowed to attend.

Be mature by accepting the rules and guidelines with good grace. The apostle Paul wrote, “give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Stop complaining about wearing facemasks, school closures, directional arrows, and oft-repeated words that you have grown tired of. Model maturity, contentment, and peacefulness to those around you.

Be mature about what God is doing in your life. The apostle James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Stop chafing against what you cannot control. Through your mindset, demonstrate that you have confidence in God’s plan and purpose.

Be mature about how God uses trials to help us grow up. John 15:1-11 describes how God uses pruning and shaping to move us from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit. James 1:2-12 and Romans 5:3-5 explain how God uses trials to produce proven, mature character in our lives. Give God permission to use this pandemic to help shape your character and make you more effective for his service.

Be mature.

 

Egg-citing!

We got egged last night!

Thanks–Jack, Simcha, Josh, Abi, & JoJo Gilbert. We appreciate the love and encouragement!

 

Excel Still More

Below is a note I sent to the leaders in our church last week. I hope you find it encouraging as well and are able to put it into practice in your fellowship.

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“Excel still more.” Rather than being a reference to a Microsoft Office product, “Excel still more” is part of Paul’s encouragement to the church in Thessalonica.

1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 (NASB95) – 9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,

Paul is commending the church for how they love one another, not only in their city, but throughout the province. Rather than rest on their accomplishments, Paul encourages them to keep up their efforts and even build on them.

I think this is an encouragement that we need as leaders of FCBC. Over the past few years, we have worked together to build and develop a sense of caring community. We have accomplished a great deal in meeting needs, praying for people, and caring for our congregation. Rather than pat ourselves on the back and say what a good job we did, we need to continue to work at building and strengthening our community.

Granted, we face unique challenges with the social distancing guidelines. As I have said several times recently, we are in uncharted, white water rapids of an undetermined length. That being said, we have untold opportunities to work with Christ in bringing caring ministry to our congregation.

Let me encourage you to reach out to the people in your class, small group, ministry team, and sphere of influence. Check their pulse and see how they are doing. Ask how you can pray for them. Ask if they have any needs that are going unmet. Schedule a Zoom conference call with your small group or class so the folks can see one another. Look for creative ways to stay connected with your folks even when we cannot be together physically.

One of my prayers for all of you and our congregation is that God would strengthen our faith during this crisis. In Luke 22:31–32, Jesus tells Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” God is doing a great deal of sifting during this pandemic. My prayer is that each of us will come through this with a stronger faith.

Let me also encourage to find something to praise God for every day. It is so easy to listen to the news and be consumed with fear over the dire reports and predictions. In spite of that, God is still firmly in control and will accomplish his plan and purpose. One thing I am thankful for is the technology available to us today to connect with people and proclaim the gospel. There is more ministry taking place and reaching more people through the internet than ever before. I praise God for that. I also praise God for faithful, generous givers. Despite not meeting together, our giving remains strong and we are ahead of budget. Praise God!

Please let me know how I can pray for you and serve you during this season.

Excel still more! Blessings to you.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in Encouragement, Scripture

 

Jesus is with us in the storms of life

Finding ourselves in a wicked bad storm (wicked bad is a New England adjective 😉 ) does not mean we are out of God’s will. Oftentimes, God will use a storm both to test our faith and to strengthen our faith. Below is a video devotional on Mark 4:35-41. There are several principles we can glean from this gospel story that can help us today in the storm we find ourselves in. Blessings to you.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2020 in Encouragement, Gospel of Mark

 

A shelter in the storm – PowerPoint & Audio

Since we could not meet for worship and some might not have access to Facebook to hear the message, I took the liberty of creating a video with my PowerPoint slides and audio track of my sermon from Sunday. “A shelter in the storm” examines Psalm 46 where the psalmist says that God is the source of his security and it has a significant impact on his life. May you find your strength and security in God.

 

 

Shelter in place

One of the phrases that has come out of the coronavirus pandemic is “shelter in place.” It started in San Francisco and is a directive that keeps people isolated at home as an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. It closes all non-essential businesses and only leaves hospitals, fire departments, law enforcement, and essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies open.

For the Christ follower, the directive to shelter in place should drive us to Psalm 91 and the shelter of the Most High. Psalm 91 is a passage of Scripture that I turn to during times of crisis. If we dwell in God’s shelter and abide in his shadow, then we do not need to fear any circumstance, disease, virus, invisible enemy, persecution, or opposition of any sort. We can rest with confidence, knowing that God is with us and that he will show us his salvation.

Take time to read Psalm 91 today and make the Most High God your refuge and your fortress. You won’t be disappointed.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2020 in Encouragement, Psalms, Scripture, Videos

 

When You’d Rather Be Voted Off The Island

During the current COVID-19 crisis, many people feel like they are trapped in an episode of the TV show, “Survivor,” and wish they could be voted off the island. I used that metaphor many years ago when I wrote a chapter for an unpublished manuscript. The chapter is entitled, “When you’d rather be voted off the island.” It looks at the instructions found in Jeremiah 29 and gives principles for how to survive what feels like an experience in exile. Click on the link to download a pdf copy of the chapter. If you are interested in reading the book manuscript, click on the link at the top of the page, “Things that go bump in the mind.” I hope that you find encouragement.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2020 in Encouragement, Scripture

 

Secure in the Storm

As I mention below, Psalm 46 is one I turn to during times of trial and difficulty. In light of the rampant fears over the Coronavirus, it seems it is time to once again remind myself that God is the only one who can truly provide peace and comfort. May this psalm remind you to be still, and know that God is who he says he is.

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During times of difficulty and trial, whether it be my fall and broken hip (November 2017), the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, or the latest school shooting last night in Florida (October 2018), I find great comfort and security by turning to Psalm 46. In 1996, I wrote an article on the psalm entitled “Finding a place to stand” that was never published. I share it below in the hopes that it encourages and helps you find a place of comfort and security.

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People everywhere are looking for security. We hear about financial security, job security, home security, security systems for our cars, and even preventative medicine that provides health security. We all want to feel safe, secure, and stable. We all want to be free from fear.

The problem we face is that we live in a world that is basically insecure. People board planes that they consider safe, only to discover that they have been hijacked en route.  Others go to work feeling safe and secure, only to receive a “pink slip”. And still others visit a doctor for a routine check-up, and instead discover that they have a life-threatening disease. Money, health, possessions, people, relationships, and houses all are subject to change at a moment’s notice.

So then, the challenge we really face is to find a source of security that does not change.The writer of Psalm 46 claimed that he had found such a source. He boldly declared that God was the source of his security.

Webster’s Dictionary defines security as safety; certainty; freedom from worry; protection, shelter. In this psalm, God–as the psalmist’s security–is described by those very words.

 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. . . The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. . . The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Psalm 46:1, 7, 11, NASB)

The psalmist used four key terms to describe the fact that God is a sure defense. He referred to God as a refuge, a strength, a help, and a stronghold.

When you were young and afraid at night, did you ever crawl into bed and pull the covers up over your head? I know I did. I believed that as long as I was covered, the monsters in the closet or the ones under the bed could not see me. And because they could not see me, I was safe.

God is our refuge and stronghold. He is our shelter, our hiding place. We can go to Him and know that we are safe.

When two children get especially angry with each other, what is one thing they might say? “My brother is bigger than your brother!” Or, “My dad can beat up your dad!”

Like little children, when we get into trouble, we want help from someone who is bigger and stronger than we are. God is that person for us. He is our strength when we have none of our own.

Besides describing God has our refuge, strength, and stronghold, the psalmist also stated that God is “a very present help in trouble.” Have you ever helped a child learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels? You run alongside, ready to steady the bike when it begins to wobble. Our children do not have to search for help because it is already present. In the same way, God comes alongside to assist us and to render aid when we are in a tight spot.

The psalmist called God the LORD of Hosts. It is a name of God that appears most often in the context of failure and powerlessness. In the Old Testament, this name was a great comfort, because it reminded Israel that the LORD of Hosts was a God who worked on their behalf to fulfill his purpose in their lives.

When we are in trouble and have no power to help ourselves, when we are under attack and require protection, when we reach the end of our rope and need deliverance, we can rest assured that God can and will work on our behalf.

The psalmist doesn’t stop with merely explaining that God is a refuge and strength. He went on to say that there are three changes in the attitude of the one who trusts in God’s protection and care. He stated that because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not strive.

The first change in my attitude is found in verses 2-3. Because I know for certain that God is my hiding place and provides strength to take action, and I am convinced that he is with me and ready to act on my behalf, I will approach life with a sense of confidence.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. (NASB)

The psalmist stated that he would not be afraid even though the worst possible natural disasters might occur. He pictured the likelihood of an earthquake, a tidal wave, and a volcanic eruption. (The phrase, swelling pride, means to rise up, or to surge, as the NIV translates it.) He stated, Even if the most stable thing I can imagine, a mountain, should crumble . . . even though the ocean be stirred up into 30 foot swells . . . even though Mt. Rainier should shake and tremble and surge with molten lava . . . even then I will still trust God.

Rather than become irrational and panic, the author of this psalm stated, In the likelihood of a devastating natural disaster, I will not be dismayed. I will not be paralyzed with terror.  I will not fear, because I know that God is my sure defense.

Perhaps the chance of an earthquake doesn’t wake you at 3:00AM in a cold sweat. What causes you to cringe is the possibility of your son or daughter having an accident with a drunk driver. Maybe the rumors of your company downsizing and the possibility of a layoff takes your breath away. Perhaps you’ve discovered a lump on your side and you’re apprehensive about what you might learn. Maybe you’re haunted by the fear of your parents getting Alzheimer’s or having a stroke and you won’t be able to take care of them.

If you sense a hurricane warning in your life, anchor deep in the knowledge that God is your refuge and strength. Then you can ride out the storm without being alarmed. The first result of knowing that God is my sure defense is that I will not be afraid. The second result is that I will enjoy a sense of stability and blessing.  Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, and I will not be moved.

In verses 4-6, the psalmist described a river flowing through the city of Jerusalem that brings blessing and joy. He used a metaphor to say that God is present among his people. (This concept would be well known to Israel since the prophet Isaiah also likened God’s presence to a river in Isaiah 8:6 and 33:21.)

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. (NASB)

In the Old Testament, God was present among his people through the temple. Today, God is present in believers through the Holy Spirit. God’s presence not only causes us to be glad and to rejoice, but also to experience a sense of security and stability.

That doesn’t mean that this person will never encounter problems. It simply means that in the midst of them, they will not be moved.  Just north of Los Angeles is an amusement park with an observation tower. Guests can ride to the top and view the surrounding countryside. Because of the danger of earthquakes, the tower is designed with a sway factor of 7 feet at its upper point. In the event of an earthquake or high winds, the top of the tower can rock 14 feet back and forth.  But it will not crumble because its foundation is secure.

In the same way, the one who trusts in God for his sense of security can withstand difficulty and disaster without being moved.

In addition to stability, the psalmist explained that God provides help when morning dawns. Have you heard the saying, “God is seldom early, but never late”?  Since dawn is the time of attack, God sends deliverance when it is needed the most.  Whether your night of trouble is short or long, you can rest assured that morning always comes.  And with the morning comes a renewal of God’s faithfulness. (See Lamentations 3:22-23.)

We do not need to be afraid because God is a refuge and strength. We do not need to be moved because God provides help when we need it most.  The third result that the knowledge of God’s presence and protection should produce in our lives is that we can relax and not worry.  Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not strive.

In verses 8-10, the psalmist stated,

Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (NASB)

I was part of a ministry team in Kremenchuk, Ukraine on May 9, 1995, the 50th anniversary of V-E day. Much of Ukraine was under Nazi occupation during World War II and the city of Kremenchuk was destroyed down to the foundations of the buildings. The population of the city went from 120,000 before the war to about 5,000 afterwards.  We watched old men in uniform, women with tears in their eyes, and somber children laying flowers at a monument commemorating the Soviet victory over Germany. We were moved by a 21 gun salute. There was one old grandmother who was sobbing, her shoulders heaving, as she cried for a husband? a son? killed in the war.

Our response to all of this was quietness and silence. We had nothing to say.  What more could we possibly add?

That is the response that the writer of this psalm suggested in verse 10. After telling them to view the remains of war and consider God’s work, he commanded his readers, Cease striving.  Be still.  Be quiet.

This command is not a comfort for the harassed, but is a rebuke to a restless and turbulent world. In the midst of noise and confusion, be quiet. When panic builds and the need to do something rises, be still. When the pressure mounts to worry and fret, cease striving.

The command is to stop doing one thing in favor of another. Stop worrying and let God be exalted in your life.  Be quiet and watch God work. Cease striving and know that he is God. This kind of knowledge pictures an intimate acquaintance. It comes through the process of enduring stressful times and then afterward reflecting on what God did to bring you through.

In times of distress, it is tempting to place our security in bank accounts, political alliances, military strength, personal relationships, and worldly wisdom. It is extremely difficult to relax and let God demonstrate his power.  Yet that is precisely what God wants me to do.

Do you live in strife and panic? Are you fretful and worried? Do you find your sense of security slipping away? Enter God’s invisible sanctuary of rest and trust him completely for your security.

To move closer to that goal, begin by making friends with silence. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that silence and I are friends. Acquaintances, perhaps. Life is filled with so many distractions and noisemakers. Gain control of them and allow yourself time to reflect.  Find a quiet place to think.

Then make a list of the things, people, circumstances, and situations that concern you and rob you of peace. What worry is your constant companion during your waking hours?

Follow that by tracing the phrases, “I am with you,” or “Do not be afraid” throughout Scripture to learn what God has promised to do for his people. Genesis 15:1, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 91, would be a good starting point.

Wrap your fears into a neat mental bundle, and toss them one by one into the trash as you read those verses. Ask the Lord to take each specific fear and replace it with his calm, victorious presence.

Finally, memorize verse 10. Each time you find yourself fretting and “sweating the small stuff,” or when you feel insecure, repeat that verse to yourself.  Jump start your day with it as you get out of bed in the morning.

If you do these things and place your security in God, you will be able to conclude with the psalmist, Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, I will not strive.

 
 

The power of encouragement

2 Corinthians 7:6–7 – “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.”

Each one of us longs for someone with the “Titus touch” to come and encourage us.  Celeste Holm, the famous actress, once said, “We live by encouragement and die without it— slowly; sadly, and angrily.” Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “I can live off one good compliment a month.”

Encourage one another.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2020 in B.C., Encouragement, Scripture

 

Addicted to approval

I am working my way through an encouraging book, Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul, by Lance Witt. In a chapter entitled, “Approval Addiction,” he made a statement that I am all too familiar with.

It has been said that for those of us in ministry, compliments are written in sand, but criticism is written in wet cement. That has certainly been true for me. I have carried disapproval deeply, and it takes a long time to wear off. As a result, you can end up working hard at being a diplomat and constantly sharpening your people skills to minimize criticism.

While that has certainly been my experience, I have attempted to counteract that tendency but saving every encouraging comment and note I receive. I have four notebooks with all the notes I have received over 33 years of ministry. Perhaps I should go back and reread a few of them. That might help firm up the compliments and soften some of the criticisms.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2019 in Encouragement, Quotes