Monthly archives: February, 2016

The Blessing of Encouragement

The Blessing

It’s more meaningful than flattery. It reaches further than pleasant words. It plunges deeper than a round of applause. It sees more than the surface. It seeks you, not me. It seeks your good, but comes from mine. It gives to you and builds you. It costs me, but gives back. It can have the face of comfort and consolation in the midst of sorrow or it can provide the energy and confidence to move forward in faith. It is life-giving, power-supplying, and heart-transforming.

What Scripture says on the topic of encouragement is astounding! It strengthens faith. It prevents the hardening of hearts. We are told to encourage others, but are told of others who encouraged themselves. When Jesus left, He sent the Helper, the Comforter, the Encourager. Yes, when we’re told to encourage others, we are essentially instructed to model the same behavior as the Holy Spirit. But how? How do we encourage and not slip into flattery? Well, think about it first from the receiving end. Encouragement makes me want to be a better person. Flattery merely makes me think I am a better person, and not even at the core. Encouragement is based in truth and eternal things. Flattery is based in the flesh or temporal things. Encouragement breeds contentment in who God says we are. Flattery keeps us confused and chasing after more empty compliments.

The Old Testament, maybe more than the New, tells of the ancient practice of pronouncing a blessing over another. I don’t claim to understand the practice, especially in the story of Jacob and Esau. And up until about a week ago, I had never experienced a blessing so powerful. In a room of thousands of people, the worship leader picked one girl in her 20s to represent the whole of us. She was to take communion on our behalf, but before the sacrament, he spoke blessing over her. He didn’t know her from Adam, (or rather, Eve), but the depth of truth, comfort, and encouragement that came from his heart through his mouth to her ears and the ears of us all elicited tears from something just as deep. She represented all of us in the sacrament of communion, and (at least from my perception) she represented all of us in receiving such a blessing. For many of us, those five minutes were more powerful and more memorable than the three hours of music. In that blessing, that encouragement, he breathed life into that arena. Yes, you had to be there, but no, encouragement is not reserved only for moments like that. That is the opportunity and responsibility before us today and everyday—to breathe life into the people in our lives and in the rooms (or arenas) into which we walk.


Love Does Not Envy

Love Does Not Envy

It’s easy to do without even realizing it.

You pick up your phone. Scroll through your Facebook newsfeed and it happens. You start comparing. Comparing yourself with your friends. Where they get to vacation. Where their kids go to school. What job they have. What version of an iPhone they have. What kind of car they drive.  What neighborhood they live in. How happy their marriage looks. And, in one way or another, we envy.

Wanting, yearning to have what someone else has. This has been happening for quite some time. Remember back in Genesis 3 when the serpent was tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden? The temptation for her to “be like God” was appealing enough for her to take the first chomp. This goes to prove that even people in the most wonderful circumstances can be discontent and want more.

MORE. We must sound like a bunch of 2 year olds to God sometimes. Figuratively speaking, we sit in our adult version of high chairs pounding the table for more.

But, when will it be enough? When will we be content with what we have? All the things and excess that we stuff our houses and lives with were never meant to fill the void that will make our hearts, our souls content. Only Jesus can do that.

God reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 of this truth. It’s a clear directive to not envy and a call for us to replace it with contentment. Even giving us a little hint that the whole comparison game is not a good idea. (“…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” – I Corinthians 10:12)

Some of us may need to shift or gain a new perspective. We are all blessed by God. Abundantly. (“Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” – James 1:17) When our hearts are set on things above, contentment will become our default response. (“Set your mind on things above. Not on earthly things.”  – Colossians 3:2)

We must choose our thoughts carefully. Take captive that very first thought of being envious and don’t walk down that road any further. And, remember all the things that are “in” and we chase after here on earth, are temporary at best.

I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy. The only logical

explanation is that I was made for another world.  – C.S. Lewis


From God With Love

From God With Love

 

It’s been said they are a country song come to life.

Blake and Miranda. Ben and Jennifer. Gwen and Gavin. Kourtney and Scott. Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog.

You know, don’t you? The one thing these couples have in common? They are no longer together. This Valentines, love is not in the air for them, anyway.

If it’s true, that our society idolizes and in some ways tries to mimic these Hollywood, power couples’ and their version of love, it seems safe to say that there’s a lot of people…a lot of relationships headed for trouble.

With a skewed view of love, couples (even Christian couples) continue to sail on the voyage of life and marriage confused and wondering why there’s such daily struggles at getting this thing called love right. And, is it even possible?

I’d venture to say that it’s not just the “couples” today that feel the strain to make relationships work. It seems like relationships in general whether it be friends, co-workers, neighbors, extended family can often be, well…complicated.  Full of drama. You know, the #facepalm kind of stuff.

The good news is, if there is ever a situation where God is the epitome of something, it is of this very thing. Love.  I’m so glad that I don’t have to go wander the aisles of Barnes and Noble and spend countless hours Googling, “How to Love” or “What is Love?”. We already have the answer.

The way Jesus loves. (“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” – I John 3:16) If we pause and just reflect on that. If we could somehow make progress and emulate how He loves. I can’t imagine the drastic change we would see in all our relationships.

Love Defined is all about God’s version of Love in 1 Corinthians 13. Yes, that’s usually the chapter the pastor reads at..every wedding. (!) But, if we take the time to really hear it, study it and dissect it, we will know how to love. No mystery here. It’s a game changer. We just have to do the work of learning it and practicing it daily. Sometimes moment by moment.

Maybe this Valentines season, the best gift we can give our spouse is to admit that we are missing the mark too often on how we love and have a conversation on how to change that.  I mean, can you imagine what that would mean to your spouse and how it could change your relationship for the better?

Maybe you just need to have an open dialog with someone in your life – family or friend – just start a conversation on the fact that you want to love better. The healing that could bring. Then study 1 Corinthians 13 together and jump in a Love Defined class!

If you’re single or spoken for this Valentines season, remember that you have Someone who thinks you’re of worth. He loves you extravagantly (Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” – Ephesians 5:3 MSG). You are valued (“Keep me as the apple of your eye…-Psalms 17:8).  You are dearly loved by God. (“See what great love the Father has lavished on us…” – I John 3:1)  Feel His love.


“Don’t Take This For Granted!”

Dont take this for granted

They say that “admitting it” is half the battle, right?

 

Ok then, I’ll admit it.  I love football.  I mean I really love football.  When you cheer for the ultimate college team – Notre Dame – you love football, right?

 

And since I love football, I’m super excited about a super game this super weekend (ya, pun intended). As is the case every year, there are some pretty special storylines around this weekend’s Super Bowl: who will win the 50th playing of the game? Which team comes out on top – Denver’s number one defense or Carolina’s number one offense? And of course, incredibly important – who will have the most amazing, “you gotta be kidding me” commercials this year?

 

But the biggest story line no doubt has to center around Peyton Manning. Everyone knows Peyton Manning. Even my dear wife who (cover your ears…) can’t stand football knows who Peyton Manning is.

 

An incredible student of the game, most fans recognize Peyton as having one of the greatest football minds ever. No one has passed for more yards or throw for more touchdowns in their career. No starting quarterback has more wins. He’s the only quarterback to take multiple teams to multiple Super Bowls. Holds dozens of NFL records.

 

One of the most prolific passers of all time, Peyton is now closing in on 86 years old (well, give or take a few decades). I read this week where he sought out some personal time with the first year players on his team. While preparing for his fourth visit to the Super Bowl, in what may be his final season of an incredible career, what advice did Peyton have for these rookies as he met one on one with each of them?

 

“Enjoy it. And don’t take this for granted.”

 

Don’t take this for granted.

 

There’s wisdom that can only be gained when one has journeyed long and experienced much. The exuberance of wins, the heartbreak of failures. The celebration of the touchdown! The agony of the interception. Fans that cheer, fans that boo. Great seasons. Losing seasons. Peyton’s experienced it. He knows.

 

Don’t take this for granted.

 

I’ll never be a professional football player, but I need this advice as well.  And so do you. I need to be reminded that there is no promise of tomorrow, no guarantee of a second chance. So don’t squander this one.

 

I see this call to not take things for granted from two angles:

 

  1. The greatest gift you experience came at a very high price. The rush of getting to the Super Bowl? It’s such hard work; it takes blood, sweat and tears. The joy of knowing true hope and life eternal? You can’t afford the price.

 

Ephesians 2:11-15 says, “But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, (but) now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything. Dying that death, shedding that blood…The new life that Jesus offers didn’t come cheap. Don’t lose sight of the great cost he endured so you could experience.

 

 

  1. Capture the moments. I was reminded of the quote recently: “One of the most expensive things in life is a wasted moment.” Ephesians 5 prompts us to “be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”. Colossians 4 echoes that by telling us to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity.” That opportunity to demonstrate kindness. To express thanks. To go the extra mile. To say and show I love you. Don’t pass on it. We aren’t promised tomorrow. We may not get to the Super Bowl again.

 

Live intentionally. Live tenaciously.

 

Aware of a need? As Paul reminded us in Galatians 6:10, “…as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” Been given chance to share what’s true, what gives life? Speak up in love. Sitting with your kids at a stop light? Take moments that feel like an eternity and make a difference for eternity. Sensing your spouse needs comfort? Offer your ear, and a shoulder. A chance for reconciliation to take place? Make the phone call. Have the conversation.

 

Don’t take this for granted.

 

As Jesus followers, we live for eternity. We have our hearts and minds fixed on it! But we get there moment by moment. One day at a time. One breath at a time.

 

Peyton is right. This day, this opportunity, this moment. Don’t waste it. Refuse to take it for granted.

 

 

Guest Writer: Jeff Bell – Pastor of Connections, Northland, A Church Distributed