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Encouragement

wpt043Way back in the day, Chuck Bolte and the Jeremiah People did a hilarious skit called “The Service” about five people sitting on a church pew waiting for the service to start.  There was an older couple, a younger couple who had it all together and knew it, and a young wife who in tears admits that her husband has left her and moved into a hotel.

Out come the clichés.  In one place, Chuck who played the younger man, said something like, “You see, Julie, as Christians we’re on God’s winning team.  We make our baskets, we sink our putts, we cross the goal line!”  Then he asks that penetrating question:  “Julie, have you made Christ the center of your marriage.”

“Look,” she says.  “I don’t know how to make Christ the center of our marriage.  I come here for help and all I get are words… words I’ve said to myself a thousand times.”

Ouch.  But hey, at least she got some words.  Sometimes church people don’t even do that.

In 35 years of some sort of ministry, I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of gritty grace.  Sure, some people got it wrong.  But I’ve seen enough people get it right to dismiss my own “inner Pharisee” and pay it forward.  They taught me how to run to the spiritually wounded, not away from them.  Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. [click to continue…]

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Davidson High School, Mobile, Alabama.  Circa 1974.  My freshman year.  I’m standing in the cafeteria line, waiting to decide whether I was going with the hamburger or whatever today’s chef’s choice was.  It was there I spotted her, headed toward the faculty dining room.  This was worth losing my spot in line for.

She was our school guidance counselor, and also an experienced English teacher.  She was wise about things I was ignorant of.

She also happened to be my great aunt.

“Aunt Helen!” said I.  “I wanted to ask your advice about something.”

“What’s that,” she replied.

“Well, see, I’m writing a book – a novel – and I wanted to get some advice from you about how to get it published.”

(I should pause here to interpret what “novel” meant.  I probably had about five chapters, about five notebook pages hand-written each, about a tough-guy high school kid who winds up dying for the girl he loves, who happened to have the same name as the girl I was fixated on in the ninth grade.  Anyway…)

Her advice was sage – way wiser than my 14 years.   She didn’t write off my dreams and tell me that 14-year-olds don’t get published as novelists.  She didn’t boggle my mind about query letters, agents or publishing houses either.  She offered me words of encouraging truth. [click to continue…]

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Q – I am really backsliding in my relationship with God and I’m not really worshipping like I used to. What should I do? Please help.

There is more to life than trusting Christ as your Savior and waiting to die so you can show up in heaven.  He has designed a journey of growth, love, and intimacy that allows you to make choices today that will serve you in this life (the future) and the next (your eternal home in heaven).  It’s also possible, however, that you can waste your life and its opportunities for intimacy with the Lord.  That’s the basis of this question.

Every believer deals with this issue – what to do when we find ourselves drifting away from that connection with the Lord.  If somebody gave merit badges or degrees in this, I’d be at the front of the line!  Here are some things I have found to be helpful in reconnecting my life with God, reordering my priorities, and renewing my spiritual life. [click to continue…]

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It’s a small, weary feeling you carry day and night
Against a vast expanse of time, trouble, and exhaustion.
You’re at the mercy of circumstances that somebody else controls.
You feel jerked and tossed back and forth like a rudderless boat.
Lost for direction or answers,
You’re still moving, but you don’t quite know where…
You’re still seeking,
But sometimes you forget what the questions were in the first place.

Yet something keeps you hanging on –
A voice that says, “I’m here, be strong,”
A prayer of faith, a nighttime song
Of hope that says, “This won’t be long.”
Someone keeps you hanging on. [click to continue…]

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The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me but always evil” (2 Chronicles 18:7).

If the guy who’s always right is also the guy who’s always talking about repentance or judgment, here’s a thought:  repent and avoid judgment.

The solution is NOT to find a different collection of advisers who only tell you what you want to hear.   [click to continue…]

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Tucked inside a rapid-fire to-do list in the Bible is a simply-carved roadmap into the hearts of other people.  After Paul suggests how believers can get along with their persecutors, and before he suggests how we can get along with other believers (that’s a much longer suggestion), he gives this encouragement:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”(Romans 12:15).

A simple phrase.  But a world of meaning packed in these simple instructions. [click to continue…]

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I will give the lonely a reason to believe in companionship again.

And in so doing, I will banish loneliness from my own heart forever.

-from The Encourager’s Creed

Somewhere near you is an Eeyore in Tigger’s clothing.  They’re bouncy, flouncy, trouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun on the outside.  But on the inside they’re desperately alone and resigned to eating thistles.  And you can make a difference.

There is somebody not far away who is adored for all they do and have to offer.  They have no shortage of attention, compliments, and outright praise.  Yet for all the attention and admiration they receive, they are profoundly lonely.  Why?  Because while many people are amazed by them, nobody seems to understand them.  But you can.

It’s the chameleon of the emotional world. It blends seamlessly into any environment, and play-acts with the best of the cons.  It can empower anybody to be hysterically funny in order to disguise the depression and isolation. It can offer wisdom or encouragement or insight to anybody else, but receives precious little in return. It can mimic the language of the spiritual, with talk of solitude and prayer and hearing God – yet all the while it disguises a relational wasteland. But you can (and should) break through all that.

Loneliness.  Ever since Eve and her husband were evicted from their first home, something in us has ached with a longing for companionship and deep connection.  We want to know we are searched (understood) thoroughly, known intimately, and loved unconditionally.  [click to continue…]

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I once read that among those who run in marathon races, somewhere around the 18th mile to the 22nd mile of that 26-mile run, the runner hits “The Wall.”

(That’s about as close as I’ll ever get to a marathon, other than the three days I just hiked through the Disney jungle, but I digress…)

The Wall is a place so hard that the runner thinks he or she can’t possibly continue the race.  It’s a little uncertain whether The Wall is physical or psychological, but it’s real.  And the temptation to drop out of the race is greater at this point than at any time in the race.  The runner feels he can’t make it.  The lungs burn, the heart pounds, and the runner fights dizziness and nausea.  A little voice begins to whisper (or scream), “Why torture yourself?”

You may not run 26-mile marathons, but if you are a follower of Christ, that fact alone means you are in an endurance race.  And you can expect at times to encounter “The Wall.”

You will find The Wall when you have tried time after time to pray consistently, and have failed. [click to continue…]

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Jason meant well.  But his efforts to help the butterfly-to-be only ended in disaster.  For days he had watched the cocoon and wondered what it would produce.  Finally he noticed a tiny opening in the cocoon’s wall.  On the other side, the new life form was struggling furiously – desperately – to be free of its self-designed prison.  Feeling compassion for the little creature, the boy found a sharp knife and carefully cut the cocoon’s wall in order to relieve it from its struggle.

The butterfly soon died.  Its wings were grossly deformed, and it was unable to fly.  What appeared to be a struggle was actually the process by which the animal’s wings are formed.  Jason had short-circuited the process, and the results, though unintentional, were tragic.

You and I are very much like the butterfly.  We are often wrapped up in our own kinds of cocoons – alone, stifled, limited, longing to be free.  Sometimes these are prisons of our own doing – addictions, bondage to sin, broken relationships, stupid decisions.   At other times our cocoons are thrust upon us in the form of disappointments, losses of loved ones, extended illnesses, or the abuse of others.  Either way, the results are the same.  Why do we feel so alone?  What in the world is God up to?  Where will we ever find relief?  When will we be “free to fly” again?  How will we make it through another day? [click to continue…]

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Imagine a giant stadium, and you’re in it.

As in, on the field.

You’re engaged in a contest that will test every fiber of your strength, will, endurance, and confidence.  Sometimes you’re on defense, and the task is to stand your ground against an opponent that has considerable resources.  Sometimes you’re on offense, and the task is to recapture lost ground or gain new ground as you outwit, outmaneuver, or overpower your enemy.

Let’s just go ahead and dispense with the obvious.  I like you and everything.  But left to your own game plan or abilities, you’re cosmic road kill. Dead meat with all the trimmings.

You.  Can’t.  Win.  This.

Heck, you won’t even make the uniforms look pretty.

Oh, and did I mention… this is no game.  This is your life.  The visible and the invisible.  The temporal and the eternal.  The private and the very public.  The “spiritual” and the “secular” (as if there is any distinction).

Fortunately, you do have some weapons at your disposal that are mighty through God. And there is a pathway – a strategy that leads to prevailing strength and power.  [click to continue…]

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