Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Encourage Somebody Already

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11

A recent study found that 85% of people hate being encouraged. Wait. No, that's not true. It turns out pretty much everyone likes being encouraged, and we all need people to nudge us in the right direction every now and again. So it makes sense that this is something we do for one another in the church.

In context this verse means something like: Because of the certainty of Jesus' return and because of our solid hope in the salvation that awaits us when He returns, we ought to do two things:
  1. Give encouragement to one another as a means to urge fellow believers to continue walking rightly with God.
  2. Promote Christian growth in one another.

But do we actually do this? When was the last time you gave some encouragement to an adult friend at church because of what you saw God doing in their life? One of the best ways to do this is to share with them how something they did or said touched you. Or when was the last time you did something to help develop an adult friend further in their faith? Maybe you invited them to join you in some spiritual discipline or suggested a book to them. 

There are hundreds of ways to do this. Only you know what is right for your particular friend or family member in the context of your friendship, but here are some ideas to help you get started. 

  • Commit to pray for them and ask if there is anything you can pray specifically about.
  • Have you read a Scripture, article or book that ministered to you? Suggest it to them.
  • Tell them how God has ministered to you or others through them.
  • Ask them how they are doing in their personal walk with the Lord right now.
  • Ask them to be your prayer partner, Bible study partner, Accountability partner, etc...
  • Send a sermon to them either via email, CD or DVD. 
  • Start theological and biblical discussions with them.
  • If you are farther along in the faith than them, offer to disciple or mentor them.
  • Write them an encouraging card, text or email. 
  • Write a song about them and all they mean to you. (Ha! Just kidding! I had to make sure you were still paying attention.)

Look, it isn't that hard to do. I know it can seem unnatural at first, but this is an important role that all of us are called to play in the family of God. Remember, there is an enemy who is actively scheming to deceive your friends and bring them to ruin. Satan wants to destroy and devour them. You can't just sit by and silently hope they survive his attacks. There are people in your church who need you. So suck it up! Get out there and encourage somebody already. Choose at least one person and encourage or build them up today. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Your Are Not Your Own

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26

He was thrown in jail in 1660 for preaching without state approval. He was a non-conformist, a Puritan pastor. Although he was uneducated, John Bunyan was known to be a powerful preacher who drew large crowds to hear the gospel. The Church of England considered him (and thousands of other Puritan pastors) to be dangerous outsiders. Thousands of these pastors were forced out of their pulpits. Some were killed. John Bunyan was imprisoned. 

He would spend twelve long years in his cell during this first imprisonment. He spent that time writing to his church, praying for his captors and worrying about his family. Astoundingly, Bunyan could have secured his release at any time but did not. Had he simply agreed not to preach any longer, he could have gone on his way; but his conscience wouldn't allow it. How many of us would have done the same I wonder? His willingness to endure for twelve years would be laudable even had he been a bachelor, but Bunyan was a family man. He had a wife and six children, the oldest of which was blind. As long as he was in jail, he was unable to provide for their needs. This caused him no small amount of anguish.
"Parting with my wife and poor children has often been to me like the pulling of the flesh from my bones... I have often brought to mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family would likely meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lies nearer my heart than all besides. Oh the thoughts of the hardship I thought my blind one might go under would break my heart to pieces." (Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. p 123 as quoted by Piper, John in The Hidden Smile of God. p.56[I've updated the language to make it easier to read]
Yet, despite his concern for his family, John Bunyan refused to be silenced. He remained in jail until religious freedom once again broke out in England and he was freed to both be with his family and to preach. Bunyan would be imprisoned two more times during his lifetime. It was during one of these later imprisonments that he wrote the book Pilgrim's Progress for which he is still known. This book is worthy to be remembered but it's a shame that Bunyan isn't remembered more for his unyielding commitment to preach the Word and to live for Christ.

Bunyan's life illustrates a truth that I believe he understood better than most. The believer's life is not his own. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then your life is not yours to do with as you please. Not one second of one day of your life belongs to you. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." Jesus said, "I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me" (John 5:30). Jesus didn't live His life as He wished but according to the will of God the Father. May those who follow Jesus and call Him Lord take the same attitude! If every Christian were gripped by this truth, much of the lostness and pain in our world could be defeated 

Who are you living for? Who would you say directs your life in the big decisions? And in all the small ones? Remember, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Live like it!

Father, forgive me for living my life as if it were my own, selfishly assigning or witholding my time and resources based on my own preferences. Forgive me for not seeking Your will every day in the big decisions and in the small ones. Thank you for reminding me today that my very breath is a gift from You. My life is not my own, help me to spend it in service to You. Use me for your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Public Praise

Hallelujah! I will praise the Lord with all my heart in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
Psalm 111:1

It's just a little verse but it has a lot to say.

If we are to follow the psalmist's example, the first thing we find we must do is to praise the Lord. To praise God means to brag on Him, to tell how great and worthy of honor He is. In the first four verses of this psalm alone God is called unendingly righteous, gracious and compassionate. His works are called great, splendid, majestic, and wonderful. For me even the first word of the psalm rings forth as a call to praise. The Hebrew word 'hallelujah' is considered to be the highest form of praise in the Bible because it includes part of God's sacred name. It combines the Hebrew word for praise (halal) and the beginning of the name Yahweh ("I am who I am") by which God revealed Himself to Moses. It literally means "Praise the LORD!" Let's give heed to this admonition.

Second, we see how we are to praise Him. The psalmist commits himself to praise God with his whole heart. It would be insulting to offer up half-hearted praise to a God this deserving of worship. Praise ought to be the overflow of a grateful heart. It is the willing gift of one who has been awed by God's glory. When we glimpse God's true character we are driven to worship Him with all we have. Does this describe the praise you offer to God? Is your praise red-hot and pouring directly out of your heart or is it a half-hearted offering of lukewarm leftovers from your love affair with the world?  

Lastly we see that although we worship God with our hearts, it is not enough to merely worship Him in our hearts. The psalmist commits to worship God in the assembly and in the congregation. He will tell others of God's goodness! God is so wonderful, so amazing that those who are stricken with love for Him must tell others. This is what we do when we sing in worship. We are not only telling God about His greatness but we are singing it at the top of our lungs so that anyone in earshot can know how wonderful God is. Notice though that the psalmist is not talking about singing in this passage. Music is a wonderful way for us to praise God but it can't be the only way we praise Him. We must praise God with words too. We must declare His goodness publicly! When was the last time you bragged on God in front of other people? When did you last give Him the glory for answering a prayer or for providing for your family during a difficult time? 

Purpose in your heart today to openly declare how great God is! Don't be timid; do it wholeheartedly. Who knows, your worship just might give someone else the courage to publicly praise God too. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Be Silent Before Him

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
Habakkuk 2:20

Have you ever known someone who talked way too much? I'm talking about the kind of person who just doesn't know when to shut up, even if it's for their own good? 

I bet you have. I work with middle schoolers so... yeah I've known one or two kids like that. To tell the truth, I've been accused of talking too much myself on more than one occasion. It can be a real problem. It's off-putting and annoying for those around us.

But as guilty as I am of doing this to people, I can't help but wonder how much more guilty I am of doing it to God. How often do I go to God talking on and on when I ought to simply be silent?

Silent in awe of His glory.
Silent before Him bearing the weight of my sin and guilt.
Silent in repentance.
Silently rejoicing in the great grace He has shown me in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Silent in worship.
Silent in meekness, listening to hear what He might say to me.

Sometimes it is simply impossible to wrap words around the fear, the guilt, the joy, the love, or the gratitude that our hearts feel toward God. In these moments it is often better to lift our hearts up to God in silence than it is to try to explain to Him what He can read plainly on our hearts. 

When was the last time you sat silent before God, too overcome by His goodness to even form words? I encourage you to spend some time with the Lord today, and try to speak less than you normally do.