Encouraging Words

encouragement signOur teen years may have been pretty tough…From internal pressures to being accepted and liked, fears of rejection, hormones, desires, demands, etc…All of it was a bit much…but we got through it.

What helped you get through those years?  Was it academics or sports?  Family or friends?

For me, it was God blessing me through the encouraging words of others. These encouraging words were, in fact, life changing in many respects. I’d like to highlight two people in my life who spoke encouraging words. This is not to diminish the impact of others who have spoken into my life at all (parents, best friends who have listened and shared, etc.), but as I sit and write, these two come to mind.  Honestly, I don’t think these two know the impact of their words on my life. In fact, they may not even remember their words at all.  But to me, their kind words and words of hope were a part of God’s plan.

The first bits of encouragement I presently recall came from my sister.  It was during a time when I was feeling down and depressed and contemplating taking my life.  To be frank, I don’t remember her words to me exactly and I didn’t share with her all my thoughts.  But I remember her encouragement to me that I will get a girlfriend, grow taller, get thinner, etc. Really, she gave me words of hope that kept me going so I would not give up and hold onto just a little bit longer.  I listened and believed these words of hope…

One other bit of encouragement I received was in the form of a compliment from a fellow youth group member, Kathy.  We were on a youth retreat to Colorado (from Minnesota) and a few fellows and myself decided to serenade some of the girls at the camp. Afterwords, Kathy approached me and told me that I had a good voice.  That is something I never heard from anyone before and it stuck.  From there, I joined the High School choir the next year and earned a solo at one of the concerts.  In college, I joined a barbershop quartet and a travelling singing group in college (Common Bond).  And from the travelling singing group, I met the woman that I would marry at a Christmas party for all of the travelling singing groups.

In looking back, I am amazed at how God’s plans unfolded in my life.  I am also amazed at the impact words of encouragement and the giving of compliments can have on another person’s life, even my own.

So, for those who had given words of encouragement and compliments to me throughout life, I say “thank you.”  Fellow blog readers, do not focus on the negatives in others, but be ready to give the hope of encouragement and praise to others.  It only takes a few seconds to speak into others’ lives (for the positive or negative) and you never know how much small words of encouragement can impact their lives.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their need, that it may benefit those who listen.”                                                                                             Ephesians 4:29

Considering Suicide (Part 2)

national suicide preventionThe following blog is Part 2 of “Considering Suicide.”  (Please read Part 1, (click here) first.)

OK. Let’s get caught up: The jailer was ready to kill himself, but he stopped midway through his actions and listened to Paul’s words of hope, “We are still here!”  Immediately the jailer put down his weapon of self-destruction to check on the truth of Paul’s statement.  When he saw that Paul spoke the truth and the situation wasn’t as dire as he perceived it to be, he recognized the rashness of his actions and the fact that Paul had just saved his life. Let’s continue to listen in to this account in Acts 16…

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

After the jailer looked around, a sense of urgency came as he rushed into Paul & Silas’ cell and was trembling before them.  He was actually trembling.  We can only get a glimpse of the emotional state he was in.  The awe, the wonder, the fear, the curiosity, and the realization of what he almost did manifested itself in his trembling.  

Next, the jailer brought them out of the jail cell.  It was then, I believe, that the jailer realized that he was the one who was in a cell – the cell of his own making.  The jailer recognized that Paul & Silas were not the ones who needed saving, but that he was.  “What must I do to be saved?”  The jailer recognized that they had something he wanted.  No, something that he needed in his life.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Paul & Silas spoke about the hope of the Gospel…that Jesus died for their sins.  All his failures were remembered no more.  His worth as an individual was found through God’s love for him and Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.  Jesus defeated death and gave hope for a new life.  Whoever believes in Him will live eternally with God, and without sin, forever.

By listening to Paul, the jailer, who was once hopeless, found hope.  He who would act under his own perspective acted upon Truth.  He who thought his failure defined him found a new definition of his worth.  He who was about to end his life chose to live, and by living, his whole family was impacted and saved.

In Jeremiah 29:11, God said, “‘For I know the plans  I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.‘”  In the life of the jailer, a life that seemed insignificant, we see how God worked in his life and brought the message of Christ to his heart, and in doing so, he was saved – not only him alone, but his whole family.

Readers, God has a plan for you.  In Him there is hope.  In Him there is a good future.  If you have been considering suicide, learn from the jailer and follow his path. Listen to that voice that tells you to “Stop” and turn to Him for your worth and for direction. God is not done yet. The future is promising.  Do not act on your own perspective. Now you see in darkness, but God’s truth found in Christ will shed light on your heartaches and will give hope for your future…in this world, and the next.

If you would like this presentation to be given at your church or youth group, please contact us at info@foundchristcounsel. org or by calling 570-402-5088 (ext 1).

Finding Hope Through Grace Part II: A Relevant Co-Sufferer

hope

Pain and hopelessness are feelings that are common to everyone. It is a good possibility that one of the earliest memories of your childhood includes a “crisis” that brought on significant amount of pain. The fact that we live in a broken world with broken relationships assures us we will not walk very far into life without experience a significant amount of pain. Even in scripture we see pages after pages of lives that are filled with pain. Take Job for instance, or King David. They were true men of God yet their lives were full of intense pain. How did they find hope to carry them through their suffering?

In Part 1 we talked about the importance of perspective and how it can change our outlook on a situation. Balaam was angry at his donkey for not moving forward, until God opened Balaam’s eyes (Numbers 22).  Balaam’s anger quickly turns to remorse and gratitude for God’s grace in sparing his life.  I can frequently respond in anger because of painful situations that occur in my life or I may become anxious and feel hopeless when my life does not seem to be going the way I want it to. However God has to frequently enlarge my perspective to understand what He is doing in my life.

The psalms frequently display this larger perspective that is given by God. In Psalm 142 we see David crying out to God about his troubles in a very personal and direct way (1-4). He asks God to come into the midst of His suffering and acknowledges that only God can truly rescue him (5-6). Another interesting point about this Psalm is that his desire is to praise and worship God and not simply to relieve his symptoms. Even though the Psalm ends in the midst of the suffering experience with no response from God, there is a sense of hope. David is comforted not by God taking away his present suffering, but by reflecting on the person of God, “for you will deal bountifully with me”.

There is no person or thing that can provide more comfort than leaning into the arms of a gracious God. I know I am saved by God’s grace and I am daily reminded that I need God’s grace to continue in life, but the Grace that gives me the most hope is the Grace that I look forward to. As God’s children we have been promised every spiritual blessing in “heavenly places” through the person of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3).

God often has to remind me that here on earth I am to expect suffering because sin has left its thumbprint on the earth I walk on, the body I live in, and the relationships I interact with. God is in the process of restoring me to Himself and at times that means suffering, but I have a confident hope that one day I will see Him face to face and finally experience the full Grace of God. Then I will see clearly as all my suffering is put into perspective by HIS GRACE which He has LAVISHED upon me (Eph. 1:7-8). If you want to know the hope God provides through the riches of His Grace cry out to Him and invite Him into your suffering.

Psalm 142

You Are My Refuge

A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.

 1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;

with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,

you know my way!

In the path where I walk

they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see:

there is none who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living.”

Attend to my cry,

for I am brought very low!

Deliver me from my persecutors,

for they are too strong for me!

Bring me out of prison,

that I may give thanks to your name!

The righteous will surround me,

for you will deal bountifully with me.

THE (It’s Not) FAIR CARD

I had the pleasure of watching The Grace Card on video a few months back.  It was a great movie, but the whole “card” bit as mentioned in the title was lost until the very end.  When presented at the end, however, it became a touching moment.

There is another “card” that is frequently played among the masses.  It’s called the Fair Card, or better said, The (It’s Not) Fair Card.  You know what I’m talking about.  I don’t think a week goes by without hearing the phrase “It’s not fair” at least a few times in my home.  If you have more than one child, you know what I’m saying.  One child gets two cookies.  The other gets one.  One child goes to bed earlier, the other child goes to bed later.  One child gets to play on a video game longer.  The other does not get as much time.  One child has more popcorn in their bowl.  The other has less.  One child gets to drink beer with dad, the other doesn’t.  OK. I’m joking with the last one.

When such perceived unfairness comes about, out comes the (It’s Not) Fair Card.  “No fair! He got to have more than me!”  or “Why does he get to have more than me?!”  We parents typically respond one of two ways.  We either hear their plea and make things even or fair, or we say something along the lines of, “Life’s not fair (Deal with it).”  As parents, I believe we try to do what we can to make things fair, while taking age and maturity into factor as well in parenting decisions.

Sometimes we forget that we are also children (of God) who sometimes give the same complaints to our heavenly Father.  “Daddy, It’s not fair!  They have more than me!” “Dad, I get disciplined for what I do, how come they get away with their bad behavior?!” “Dad, I’ve been good.  How come I can’t have what I deserve for my good behavior?”  Can you hear these words echo through the chambers of your heart?  They are the cries of a child that call out for fairness, justice, and equality in a world that is broken.  They are the cries of a child who has a hope that their world would become safe and good.  They are also the cries of a child who lacks the perspective of an eternal, holy and just Father.

Our perspectives are often askew when we simply consider our small world versus the eternal and entire kingdom of God.  When we consider God’s eternal plan, His love for us and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us, can we really ask such questions?  Our heavenly Father will not answer us in the trite ways we answer our children by giving them more or by telling them to suck it up.  No, our Heavenly Father, in His wisdom, has already answered such cries.  Listen to how He responds:

Me:Daddy It’s not fair!  They have more than me!”

Father: “I have blessed you in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. chose you in Christ before the creation of the world. I’ve adopted you as sons through Christ. I have given you redemption through Christ’s blood, and I have forgiven you your sins” (Eph 1:3-7).  You have my love. I have given you eternal life (Jn 3:16).  

Me:  “Dad, I get disciplined for what I do, how come they get away with their bad behavior?!”

Father:  “I have given mercy to everyone who has been disobedient.  Even to you when you were disobedient” (Rom 11:32).  “I have also set a day when I will judge the world with justice by the man I have appointed (Christ). I have given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). 

Me:  “Dad, I’ve been good.  How come I can’t have what I deserve for my good behavior?” 

Father:  “All your good deeds and righteous acts are like dirty rags (Is 64:6).  You have sinned and fallen short of my glory (Rom 3:23).  The wages of sin is death.  Because of your disobedience, you deserve death…eternal separation from me.  But because I love you, I am giving you a free gift: eternal life with me (Rom 6:23) through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8).”  

How can we play The (It’s not) Fair Card with God?  God, in His love and wisdom, chose not to be fair to us.  If He was fair, he would have given us what we deserve-eternal separation from a relationship with Him in hell.  This would have been fair.  Thank God that He is not fair.

Waiting for God

Ever been in a waiting room for more than 15 minutes….waiting…. with kids?  As a parent, I try not to be in such situations (even though I have great kids) because I know that when they get impatient, I get impatient with them.  So, we try to occupy their time waiting with handheld video games or a book or something to get their minds off of, well….waiting.  Why?  Because waiting is boring, right?  There’s no excitement in it (though if you’re waiting for the dentist, there probably is anxiety!).   “When are we going to go in?”  “How much longer?”  These questions are almost as annoying as “Are we there yet?“, but as much as I try to tell my kids to be patient, I’m often thinking the same things.

In Exodus 32, The Israelites were tired of waiting for Moses.  He was up on the mountain and they had to wait for him to come down.  They were waiting so long they weren’t sure he was ever going to come down.  The Israelites lost all contact with Moses and therefore lost all contact with God.  They became spiritually bored.  So,while they waited,  they decided to get busy doing things that were familiar to them.  They had Aaron make a golden calf and began to worship it and celebrate, dancing the night away.  That didn’t work out too well.

Have you ever become spiritually bored?  Have you ever asked God questions which have never been answered?  Have you waited on him without answer for a time and then decided to just go about your life as if you were no longer waiting with purpose on God?  Have you ever wondered why you aren’t getting that excited feeling you once felt when you first came to know Christ…that mountaintop experience?  I know I’ve felt that way.

Spiritual boredom often comes when we lose contact with God.  Perhaps we are waiting for unanswered questions or we are disconnected because we have become distracted by…well, life.  Perhaps there is a sin issue that you are asking God to take away, but He has decided to allow you to work through it rather than deliver you from it.  Often times we are waiting for God to act or answer, but He does not seem to do either.

Scriptures repeatedly point out that our faith is not necessarily a faith of waiting, but of action.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (action), “Follow me” (action), “faith without deeds is dead”, etc, etc.  At the same time, Scripture also states that we are to wait upon the Lord.  We are to wait in expectation (Ps 5:3), wait in hope (Ps 33:20), and wait patiently (Ps 37:7) for the Lord to do His will.  In these passages (and many others), our waiting for the Lord is based on a trust that He will do as promised.  This waiting has a focus on Him, His character, and His love.  When we wait for the Lord to answer our prayers, our eagerness and focus may lead to the action of preparing for an answer.  For example, take the two farmers who prayed for rain.  One prayed and waited (and became bored), the other prayed and prepared the fields as he waited.

What about you?  Are you waiting for an answer to prayer or for the Lord to act?  Are you simply waiting or are you waiting with anticipation, preparing your own fields (heart) for His answer?  I have one prayer that I have been asking God for for many, many years.  He has not answered this prayer…yet.  At times, it has been easy to give up hope, believing that God will not answer my prayer.  But this is not faith.  This is not waiting with hope.  This is not me preparing my heart for His answer.  Friends, do not give up hope.  Do not wait without anticipation, growth, or preparedness for how He will answer.

I’ve recently read that our faith has to be so strong to pray for something and believe we’ll get it, while having a faith so strong that even when the answer is not given or is a “no”, that our faith will still remain unwavering.  That type of faith can only come as we wait upon the Lord, and at the same time actively seek Him  (through reading, prayer, and applying our lives to His Word)….This is how we can prevent spiritual boredom and not become distracted by the familiar idols of our past.

Get Real…Hope

I spoke with a good friend last week who learned that most of his desires may come to an end.  He loves running and playing sports, is a physical education teacher at a Christian School, and has dreams of entering the missions field.  An orthopedic doctor thought that he should not run or play sports again.  Now, they are looking into whether there is something more going in the hip than a torn tendon…maybe even cancer.  After the initial shock and disappointment, his faith in God was being challenged, and his hopes for the future, the future he desires, may come to a complete halt.  But he knows one thing:  That God is in control.  If God has other plans, then my friend will hold onto them…Though my friend’s plans may come to an end, his hope will not because it is grounded in a God who loves, who provides, who never abandons, and who never fails. 

Hope in God is often placed in God answering our plans and “hoping” that God will give us what we desire.  When He does not follow our plans or desires, we lose hope, thinking or feeling that we have been deserted.  I have seen this many times when people have experienced  loss…especially when they have lost loved ones, when they have lost jobs, friends, etc….  The experience of loss often invokes feelings of hopelessness.  However, the experience of loss only feels like it is the end…it only feels like we can’t go on…it only feels hopeless. 

The disciples felt this on what we call Good Friday.  They experienced the loss of a great friend, a teacher, a healer, and giver of hope.  They had lost their means of living and way of life (or so they thought).  When Christ was captured, crucified and buried, the disciples felt hopeless.  What more could they do?  They lost their jobs, friend, and their hope. Their future was unclear…That is, until Jesus was raised from the dead.  Their hope suddenly came back to life!  Not only was Jesus resurrected, but so was their hope!  When Jesus said “It is finished,” he was not speaking about hope being finished or his life being finished, but only that part of the plan…the payment for our sins.  But there was more to come… God’s plan was not over for Christ, nor was it over for the disciples.  Experiencing loss is not the death of hope.  Though a tragedy, loss is also a course correction of life and hope.  God’s plans are not our plans…His ways are not our ways.   Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  Don’t give up hope, especially if your hope is found  in the God above, who loves you, cares for you, and who is not done working in you or with you.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow wearythey will walk and not be faint.”   Isaiah 40:30-32