Be an Encourager

En Gedi

I think it’s safe to say that one thing we would all like is some encouragement – just a kind word from our spouse, an “attaboy” from our boss, a nice note from a friend. Who couldn’t use a little encouragement from time to time? In each of my churches I’ve had many people who have encouraged me, but there have been a few who made it their ministry to build encouragement into my life on a regular basis and believe me there were days that I wouldn’t have gotten through without them. I thank God for those godly encouragers.

In the New Testament the idea of encouragement is related to the idea of comfort. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica comfort one another (4:18) and comfort yourselves together (5:11). The same word is used for encouragement. The concept of comfort gets to the heart of encouragement. When we encourage someone we bring comfort into their lives.

This word is also used in the book of Hebrews when the writer says that in these final days of human history we are to be busy exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day (of Christ’s return) approaching (10:25). Some translations (the NIV for example) use the phrase encouraging one another in place of exhorting one another. While both translations are viable, sometimes those of us who tend to be more in-your-face (guilty as charged) like the idea of exhorting people instead of encouraging them which has a gentler, kinder connotation. We might consider whether we would get farther with people if we encouraged more than we exhorted.

The point is that Christians are to be encouragers. Part of what we are to do is to encourage other followers of Christ who are down. We are to bless them, refresh their spirits and help them on their journey.

The secret to encouragement is not to wait until it arrives at your door but to give it away. Sure we all need to be encouraged but so does everyone else and if we’re all waiting then no one is giving.

So go out and encourage someone today – even if you don’t feel like it. You don’t need to find out if they’re discouraged or down, just pick someone out and find a way to encourage them. Practice a random act of encouragement. Your turn will come. Someday encouragement will show up at your door unannounced and you will be blest. But you will be doubly blest if while you’re waiting you’ve been busy encouraging others.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Godly Response to an Evil Act

En Gedi

Periodically something happens in our world that is so evil, so egregious that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It happened again last week when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky and all 298 people on board perished – innocent people who had nothing to do with the conflict raging on the ground. Since that terrible moment when the plane exploded in midair the world has been engaged in finger-pointing and blame.

But let the world go – there’s a much bigger issue here for followers of Jesus. A much more personal issue. The question for Christians is how should we respond to such a tragedy? Do we simply ignore it because it did not affect us? Do we acknowledge it with a quick prayer and then file it in the back of our memories? What should our response be?

I want to share some thoughts with you that I originally shared over three years ago on the occasion of another unfathomable tragedy.

The response of Christians – followers of Jesus – to any tragedy should involve several things. First we need to recognize the grief of those who have lost family members and pray for God’s grace and strength for them in their time of need. Psalm 9:9 says The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. In John 14:27 Christ said, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Pray that those who were impacted by this tragedy will look to Christ for strength and for peace that only He can give them.

Secondly, we should ask God to bring good out of what appears to be an extremely evil situation. While we can’t begin to understand how God can do that, we know that He can. The Bible teaches that while God is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), He can use it for good (Genesis 50:20). Let’s ask God to do exactly that.

Thirdly, we need to affirm that this tragedy is the result of sin. The debate in the days and weeks ahead will no doubt include arguments on both sides related to who should take the responsibility for this heinous act. No matter who is to blame when you get to the bottom you will find sin. Sin is the reason people lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Some will try to blame God by using the old argument, if God is all powerful He could have prevented this tragedy. In one sense that is true – God is all powerful and He could have prevented it. However God has also granted us personal responsibility and we will all answer to God for our actions. We have the choice to either act in righteous ways or in sinful ways. When we choose sin over righteousness the natural and logical outcome is something terrible. We should not be surprised. Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs – on the sinfulness of man.

Fourthly we ought to pray for those who perpetrated this terrible crime. They too need God’s forgiveness. I know that is a difficult concept for many, even for Christians to accept. But this gets right to the heart of the gospel and that is that God’s grace is sufficient for all sin – no matter what the sin. It’s not the degree of sin that is the issue in the gospel, it is the degree of grace and God’s grace is greater than any sin you can commit (Romans 5:20).

Finally this tragedy should make us even more committed to sharing God’s love. We have no way of knowing the spiritual condition of those who were involved in this disaster, but there is a good chance that they have never heard the gospel. This will not be the last tragic event to impact our country and the next may be closer to home. But even apart from tragedies, people die all around us every day – people who need to hear about Christ. We need to recommit ourselves to the task of the gospel.

The Bible warns that in the days before the return of Christ our world will grow increasingly violent (2 Timothy 3:1ff). We need to respond in ways that are increasingly godly.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God Takes the Summer Off

En Gedi

A lady in our church recently published this on her Facebook page – it came from the ministry Joni and Friends. I hope it makes you think and reevaluate your priorities this summer.

God Takes The Summer Off

We are sorry to inform you that God will not be available during the summer beginning June 1st. He feels He deserves some time off, so He has canceled His normal duties for the summer.

He has agreed to send the sun and rain occasionally when He happens to be in town, but so far as answering prayers for the needs of your family, please don’t count on Him.

God has let church leaders know that they should not plan any outreach efforts or mission trips during the summer—or at least if they do, they will have to do it without Him because He plans to be gone a lot to see relatives, baseball games and the lake. God has expressed the opinion that we should find someone else to take His place.

Then we reminded Him of His promise, “Surely I will be with you always,” but He said He didn’t realize when He said it that it meant going two or three years without a break. He expressed His sincere regret and hopes that it will not cause anyone any inconvenience.

God may be contacted anytime after September 1st at which time He hopes to get back into the routine. “Please defer all requests until then,” He requested.

Aren’t you glad God doesn’t take the summer off? As we approach summer, make it your determination to bring yourself and your family to God’s House on Sunday. He’ll be waiting for us to worship Him.

Does that sound like anyone you know? Maybe you? Sure it’s a ridiculous thought that God would take any time off, let alone an entire summer. And it’s a good thing He doesn’t or we’d be in big trouble.

But why, then do we think we can take time off from church? Can you imagine how Hebrews 10: 25 might sound if some Christians were writing it today?

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, unless it’s too hot, or you
have a family reunion on Sunday, or you have tickets to see your favorite
baseball team play, or you just need a break . . .

You get the idea. We often do what we don’t want God to do.

Hey, I know that there will be times when you can’t be in church this summer but it should be a very short list – sickness, kids sick, vacation, have to work, – hold on I’m still thinking. Well, like I said it should be a very short list.

I hope to see you in church this Sunday!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Hobby Lobby Case: Victory for Religion or Harbinger of Defeat?

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what many believe will be one of its most significant decisions of this term. In summary the court decided by the narrowest of margins (5-4) that a privately owned company cannot be forced by the government to pay for health care which violates the religious convictions of the owners. Those who sided with the plaintiffs, which in this case were Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, will claim a great victory for our first amendment rights, specifically the protection of religion. The comments posted online by the Pennsylvania Family Institute reflect the sentiments of many evangelicals. Liberty in America was affirmed and protected today as the United States Supreme Court sided with advocates for First Amendment freedoms, and rejected government overreach into the lives of those who own and operate businesses. You can read their complete statement here.

There is, however, cause for great concern in this apparent victory. Our government was established to function with three equal but separate powers; the executive (president), the legislative (congress) and the judicial (courts). Each has their role to play in concert with the others. One of the geniuses of our founders was that our laws were to be established by the officials who were elected by the people. Those who were closest to the people and answerable to the people made the laws.

However, recent history has demonstrated the inability of the executive and legislative branches of our government to function together for the good of our nation. For some time our nation has been at a political impasse. While many on both the right and the left of the political spectrum see their primary responsibility as impeding the agenda of their opponents there is a dark side to this impasse. We have effectively become a nation ruled by the courts. No longer is the will of the people or their elected representatives the key factor in determining our laws. Instead a few unelected judges who do not need to answer to the people determine the laws that govern us.

In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Christians approve the court’s decision. But what happens when the makeup of the court shifts to the left? When decisions begin to come down in opposition to our religious beliefs? It will only take one more strategic appointment for the votes to become 5-4 against religious freedom. And another to be 6-3. Before we rejoice too loudly we need to understand what is at stake. We need to realistically evaluate the course on which we are headed. A country that is ruled by its judiciary can more easily be led down a different path than a country in which the laws are established by the representatives of the people. Do we really want to be a nation ruled by judges? Even if they occasionally rule in our favor?

While I am grateful for the ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods case, I believe that it is a dangerous harbinger of things to come. That we will increasingly become a nation ruled, not by laws passed by the people or their representatives, but by judges. And if recent history is any indicator, the decisions will not reflect a biblically based wisdom, but a humanistic view of life. There is danger in the path that we are on even if we see occasional victories.

Which brings me to this: our confidence is not in man but in God. The Psalmist reminds us that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8) and the writer of Hebrews that the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6).

Ultimately our hope is not in the laws that are passed or the judicial decisions that are rendered but in a righteous God who never changes (Hebrews 13:8). That is where we need to rejoice!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Life is Better When . . .

Most people are looking for something in life that will make their life better – a better job; a nicer house; more money etc. The basic problem is that too often they’re looking for the wrong things in the wrong places. For the Christian, life is better when you begin looking for the right things (followed by right actions) in the right place. The quality of our lives does not depend on the amount of things that we have (Luke 12:19) but on the way we choose to live our lives.

With that thought in mind, here are 10 ways that you can make your life better.

Life is better when . . .

you live a life of Forgiveness instead of a life of Bitterness (Matthew 6:12 & 14)

you live a life of Giving instead of a life of Miserliness (2 Corinthians 8)

you live a life of Generosity instead of a life of Greed (Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38)

you live a life of Honesty instead of a life of Lies (1 Peter 3:10-12)

you live a life of Purity instead of a life of Immorality (Matthew 5:8, 1 Corinthians 6:18)

you live a life of Serving instead of a life of Taking (1 Peter 4:11)

you live a life of Sacrifice instead of a life of Selfishness (Romans 12:1)

you live a life of Order instead of a life of Turmoil (1 Corinthians 14:40)

you live a life of Calm instead of a life of Chaos (Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 5:9)

you live a life of Humility instead of a life of Pride (Luke 14:11, James 4:6)

You get the idea. Life is always better when we attempt to live it God’s way whether that makes sense to us or not; whether it’s easy or not; whether it will benefit us or hurt us in the short term; no matter what anyone else is doing.

What would you can add to this list that would make your life better if you began to do things God’s way?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Resisting Compassion Fatigue

In my last post I wrote about Compassion Fatigue – the emotional weariness that we feel from overexposure to the plight of the poor and needy. In America we are exposed to so many appeals – many, if not all of them, legitimate needs – that we become insensitive to the suffering of people around the world. We become indifferent, even calloused from seeing too many starving, malnourished babies, too many victims of disasters, too many people picking through the garbage dumps of the world to find something to eat. With remote in hand it’s too easy to change the channel so we’re not confronted by another emotional appeal. It’s easier to watch a commercial about the newest BMW than to confront the poverty of a starving child in Uganda.

But as Christians we’ve been given a responsibility, a mandate to care for the poor and needy. The Apostle James makes our responsibility clear:

My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don’t do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, “I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.” What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead! (James 2:14-17)

As Christians we don’t have the option of ignoring the plight of the poor. Our faith demands action. But we’re still human and that means that we can still suffer from overexposure to suffering; we are still prone to Compassion Fatigue.

So what do you do when Compassion Fatigue sets in? Here are some simple steps:

First confess it for what it is – sin (1 John 1:9). Any time we fail to live in agreement with the Word of God (see James 2 above) it is sin.

Second agree with God that everything we have has come from His good hand and in reality still belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1, James 1:17) – this removes the barrier of ownership which often leads to selfishness.

Third ask God to give you a heart that reflects His heart (Deuteronomy 10:18, 15:11, 82:3-4, Proverbs 14:31, Luke 6:36, Acts 20:35 – for those who protest the use of OT passages that related specifically to Israel I would simply point out that the heart of God has not changed).

Fourth, realize that God has not asked you to solve every problem in the world. You can’t feed all of the hungry or cloth all of the naked or provide for all of the needy. So, stop feeling guilty – unless of course you are not feeding any of the hungry or clothing any of the naked or providing for any of the needy.

Fifth, rejoice that God has given you an opportunity to minister His love, in His name, by His grace.

Don’t allow Compassion Fatigue to rob you of the joy of giving (1 Corinthians 9:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Compassion Fatigue

Not long ago I came across the phrase Compassion Fatigue. It stood out because it’s a term that I had never heard before. Compassion Fatigue is an interesting concept. It’s caused by too many appeals for financial aid. The result is insensitivity to the suffering of people – we become indifferent to the plight of the poor and needy.

Those of us in America have probably experienced it on some level. What was your reaction the last time your phone rang and on the other end was someone from a charitable organization asking you to make another donation? For you readers from other countries this happens on a regular basis in my country. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of groups that collect money for military veterans, local and national police associations, health organizations, drug and alcohol abuse, children and youth – and the list goes on.

We are also exposed on a daily basis through television news broadcasts (and commercials) to the poverty and suffering of people – especially children in Third World countries; to the ravages of war and the squalor of refugee camps; to the devastation and heartache of the victims of hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes even in the remotest corners of the world. If it happens, we know about it and it isn’t long before someone is asking us to give.

Add to that your local church that asks you to give each week for their ministries, to support missionaries, to send someone on a short-term missions trip, to help local para-church ministries and you begin to get an idea of what compassion fatigue might look like.

The majority of these organizations asking for money provide a legitimate service and each one has to raise its own funds – sometimes millions of dollars. And the only way to get those funds is to ask. All of that is good, but there are some who fear that America has reached a point of fatigue – compassion fatigue and we are moving from a culture of generosity to a culture of insensitivity. We have seen too much poverty, too much suffering, too many hungry children.

For the Church of Jesus Christ this is a real problem. We are taught to give (Luke 6:38); to remember the poor and needy (Proverbs 14:31, Galatians 2:10); to be generous (2 Corinthians 9:6) and to do it all cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). But most Christians have limited resources. You cannot give to everyone who asks for help. You probably cannot even give to every organization that you would like to help.

So what’s the answer? How do you decide which appeal to respond too and which to ignore? That’s a difficult question and the response will probably be different for every Christian. The important issue for the child of God is not to allow Compassion Fatigue to set in and begin to dictate your giving. Once it does you have crossed the line between cheerful giving and giving that is driven by a sense of obligation and duty.

Next Week: Some thoughts on resisting Compassion Fatigue.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve