Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

Encouragers

A friend said recently that her elderly spiritual mentor still sends her frequent messages of encouragement, often at just the right time.

Have you ever received a word of encouragement when you needed it?  I have.

I read recently of a little girl with multiple handicaps who was teased unmercifully by her school mates.  Then, one day her teacher called her up to her desk and gently whispered: “I wish I had a little girl like you.”

That comment was life-changing for that girl.  Somebody valued her.

The apostle Paul lists encouragement as one of the spiritual gifts from God in Romans 12.  He says that if God has given you the gift of encouragement, you should encourage others.

Paul was very good at encouraging.  He could be tough on people for their shortcomings.  But his letters are littered with encouraging words.  He frequently told his readers that he thanked God for them for their love of God and their good deeds.

What is so great about encouragement?

For me, it is seeing something of worth in someone or in what they have done.  When the comment is genuine, people blossom.

Personally, I react better to encouragement than discipline.  I often need discipline – from God and other people.  But God leavens discipline with encouragement in my life – perhaps a word from scripture or from a friend.

Encouragement is most effective when you see something specific in someone that is praiseworthy.  That person realizes your words are not just empty flattery but real.

Encouragement is also important in keeping us on the path God has chosen for us.  In that sense, we build one another up so that we strive to please God even in the hard times.

The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 3:13: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

God himself has shown us the way to encourage.

When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river, the Holy Spirit descended on him and the Father said from heaven: “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Just after that, Jesus went into a desert place and faced great temptation from Satan.  He went, knowing that the Father loved him and was pleased with him.

May we be ready to offer encouragement, especially to those facing trials.

The right kind of fear

A popular American preacher made a great point in a sermon this week – we should fear God, not man-made horrors such as terrorism.

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia, highlighted Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.  Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Followers of Christ, who put their faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for them, need not fear hell.  But they must have a holy awe and respect for the Lord who is master of the universe and mankind.

God loves us and cherishes us like a father loves his children.  But he is not a teddy-bear.  He is God the Almighty.

Stanley was dealing with world concerns with terrorism – specifically radical Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere.

He said he raised this issue because some people are preoccupied with the terrorist threat and others who dismiss it will face it in the future.  He wants all to remember Jesus’ words.

Christians should not fear terrorism, he said, because their eternal future is assured – they will be with God forever.

You can find Stanley’s full sermon at http://toughseries.org/in-the-beginning.

Quite naturally, most of us do not want to suffer and die.  But are we afraid of death?  If so, why?

For people who do not know Jesus, there are good reasons why they should fear death.

But for believers, we should ponder the words of the apostle Paul who says in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”

He adds that he wants to live so he can do more fruitful work for Jesus.  And yet he desires to be with the Lord in heaven.

That should be our way of looking at things, too.

Stanley noted the words of a second century Roman doctor who met Christian martyrs.  He marvelled that these Christians were not afraid of dying.

As I said in my post “Radical Islam” last week, Christ has won the victory over evil and Satan on the cross.  Roman emperors did not crush the Lord.  And neither will modern-day terrorists.

Fear God – not men.

Radical Islam

How should Christians react to radical Islam?

Above all, we should remember that Christ won the victory over Satan and evil on the cross.  Radical Islam will not extinguish the light of Christ.

Of course, evil is still widespread.  But the day is coming when Christ will return triumphant and Satan and his forces will be finally destroyed.

As someone once said, Christ’s death and resurrection was like D-Day in Normandy during the Second World War.  After D-Day, the days of the Nazi regime were numbered, but the allied armies still had to mop up the German forces.

Radical Islamic groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS have already killed and persecuted many Christians and people of other faiths in the Middle East.  Their followers have also sown terror in other parts of the world.  Some Canadians have joined them.

But the love of Christ is more powerful than the sword.  It was Christian love which conquered the Roman empire.

Christians resorted to armed might to fight Islam in the Middle Ages.  But, in the end, they failed.  Muslims and Christians fought to a standstill after centuries of war.

Christ called on his followers to love others – not force them to submit at the end of a gun.

The message of Christ will always have to compete with other points of view.  In democratic societies, this debate is usually peaceful.

Moderate Muslims live peacefully among us.  Many fled from persecution in their home countries to come here and want nothing to do with violence.

Decades ago, I worked with a Muslim man who had been a journalist in his native Pakistan.  He was one of the kindest, gentlest people I have ever met.  He became a keen Canadian citizen.

A few years ago, he returned for a visit to his homeland and was appalled by the violence there.  It was not at all the country he remembered as a young man.

The interesting thing is that many Muslims in war-torn countries around the world are giving their lives to Jesus.  They, too, are appalled by the violence and drawn to a loving Christ.

We followers in Jesus need to place our trust in Christ that he will defeat evil with love.

Peace in his presence

I was feeling tired and worried, struggling with minor things when I went to a prayer gathering this week.

Two hours later, I left feeling refreshed and full of energy.

Once again, I learned that in God’s presence, there is peace.

This morning, I talked with a friend who is depressed by a long illness and who wonders why God is not healing him.  In his mind, he wonders whether God is upset with him.

So I read to him one of my favourite Bible passages – Zephaniah 3:17 – where the prophet writes:

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

I turn to this passage and picture myself as a child in the arms of God, listening to him as he calms me and rejoices over me with singing.

This teaches me that there is no problem too great for God.  And that he loves me, no matter what I do.

I just need to enter his presence and spend time worshiping him and resting in his love.

Later today, I read the well-known words in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

I can testify that this is true.  When I do yield to the Holy Spirit, he gives me the guidance I need in the small issues of my life – issues which seem big but are not.

I am just slow to turn to him.

Yes, listening to God brings me peace. 

The importance of memories

Our children have just given us a second party to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary – and with it more loving memories to build our lives upon.

Actually, we’ve been celebrating for the last couple of years.  It began with a family cruise to the Panama Canal in March 2014 and then officially last July at a family dinner at a restaurant here in Ottawa.

But our three children went one step further and organized another party here at the home of one of our daughters today.  One of our children gave a lovely speech, another prayed powerfully for us, and a third gave us a wonderful DVD of 50 years of marriage and family life.

I write this to say how much these memories mean to my wife and me.  They are engraved on our minds and spirits and we will draw strength and joy from them.  They are blessings of God.

At the same time, I know that many people have lived lives of suffering and pain.  Talking about happy times like these may simply hurt them and for that I am sorry.

I acknowledge that the blessings in our family have far outweighed the difficult times.  Still, we have not been exempt from trouble.

But whatever life has dealt us, are there not some good memories we can call upon?  It seems to me that happy memories can be very simple – and very meaningful.  And they can nourish us when we feel down.

I like very much the homespun wisdom of Bob Benson in a taped talk he gave more than 30 years ago.  He talked about stone memorials that Abraham and Jacob and other Israelite leaders set up many centuries ago to remember events where God had blessed them.

Indeed, believers in the Bible constantly brought back to mind the acts of God in the lives of earlier generations – especially, the miraculous escape of Moses and the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

These memories helped build the faith and hope of people going through tough times.

Few of us can point to anything as spectacular as God parting the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could escape from their persecutors.

But God has blessed each one of us.  Sometimes, we just need to let God open our eyes to see his blessings.

And resurrect them in dark times.