I wish I were more of an encourager. I tend to nitpick and complain about things. It takes a lot to be able to stay positive and I work on it a lot. Sometimes I have to get off on my own and ask God to get my mind back to what helps Him most. I know that when I don’t give encouragement, and I have a negative attitude, that I pollute other people around me, and it hurts the efforts of God’s Spirit. I have to self-evaluate my thoughts and actions to make sure what I’m doing and saying is coming across in the best way possible. As a congregation, we need to make sure we are about encouraging others. We are a small congregation that is made up of mostly older saints, and we need to make sure we are encouraging the younger ones coming up, so that they will keep the congregation going after we’re gone. Younger saints need to encourage the older saints, because it’s hard to get older and not be able to do as much as when you were younger. Basically, we all need to be about encouraging each other.
In the church during times of persecution for believing in Christ, the Hebrews writer encourages the Hebrew saints in the church this way: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” Heb 10:23-25. I don’t know what it means by “Day”. When it is capitalized like this in the interpretation, it usually means a significant time, like when the Lord comes again. An encouragement that, that day could come at any time. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that; it could be when our life comes to an end or any special day that may be coming in the future. The message is that we need to be about encouraging each other, loving each other, and stirring each other up to good works.
Are you really encouraging others and leading them to good works? Sometimes, we think we might be, but in reality, it is coming off as discouragement. Look at how Paul put it when he was instructing the church how they ought to encourage each other: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” Eph 4:29. Don’t say things that tear down others and the church. Only say things that build up others and the church. Look for the right occasion to give your encouraging words so that those who hear it (witness it) see grace being given. Sometimes we have bad timing. Sometimes we don’t say the right thing. Sometimes it’s said in a joking way, but it still stings or even hurts. Let’s be encouragers who show grace (kindness, forgiveness), and help build others up, not saying things that make us feel good to get attention.
In our daily Scripture reading that is in the bulletin, Moses gives encouragement to Joshua, as Moses in getting ready to step down to be with the Lord. Let me tell you, it’s not easy following a leader who is strong and popular. Everything you do and say is going to be compared to your predecessor. About the only way you are going to be effective, is if your predecessor hands the baton off to you in the presence of the people you are going to lead. That’s showing grace to the one coming after you, who needs to lead, and keep the group that has been assembled going in the best possible way. This is what Moses did and said: “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed’” Deut 31:7-8. Notice what Moses didn’t say: “Here’s Joshua, and he will be a great leader with time, so have patience with him until then” or “Well, you’ve been an obstinate group to lead, and I hope you’ll follow Joshua, because he’s going to need all the help he can get.” Hmm, did that sound like some of the encouragement we give at times? Yeah, I’ve been there, too.
If you notice what Moses did say, it was telling Joshua to be strong and courageous, not that he hadn’t been, but an affirmation that Joshua is the leader now, and he is going to need strength and courage to lead. But also, Joshua is not on his own, just as Moses wasn’t, and the Lord will be with Joshua. “Don’t worry Joshua, know that the Lord is still in control, and He will help you lead.” We need to understand, the Lord is faithful all the time and will not let us down, as long as we obey and follow the Lord and His ways, He will bless us and we will prosper.
Will our congregation grow and keep going? Yes, it will, if we follow the Lord the best we can, and allow the Lord to work in and through us. We will have leaders step down and leaders who will step up. We will have times of uncertainty and times of joy and growth. What we need to realize, as Paul did in his first letter to the church in Corinth (3:5-8), some will plant seeds, others will nourish the seed planted, but it is God who gives the increase. He will always give us increase if we share our faith with others, encourage those around us, and give glory to the One who makes it all possible. Praise be the God who knows all, sees all, and leads all who have faith in Him. May we encourage each other to have the faith of Moses, Joshua, and Paul, and all the other great leaders in the Bible. I love you all, Doug.
Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ John 18:36
Do a word search on “kingdom” in the New Testament, and you’ll be surprised at how often it pops up. That’s because the kingdom of God was a very important topic in first-century A.D. Christianity, and rightly so. Jesus preached about it throughout Galilee, declaring that it was at hand (Mark 1:14-15; cf. Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1). It was the theme of both the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 4:23; 5:1-3, 10, 19-20; 6:10; 7:21-27) and the majority of his parables (cf. Matt. 13:44-46). He sent his disciples out to preach about it (Luke 9:1-2, 59-60; 10:1, 9-11). He preached about it after he died and was resurrected (Acts 1:3). After he ascended, his followers preached about it (Acts 8:12; 14:21-22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 30-31) and wrote about it (cf. 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5).
As seen above, while on trial Jesus said to Pilate that his kingdom “is not of this world” (John 18:36). Other comments he made give us an inclination about the nature of his kingdom. When a scribe complimented Jesus’ answer about what is the greatest commandment, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34), indicating that the scribe’s understanding of the Scriptures put him in close proximity to the kingdom. In a way that meant he was close to the geographical borders of a kingdom? No, for Jesus’ kingdom isn’t of this world. Thus, Jesus was showing that the kingdom is spiritual in nature (cf. Luke 17:20-21).
Paul’s told the Colossian Christians that God had transferred them into the kingdom of his Son (Col. 1:13). The writer of Hebrews told the Hebrew Christians that they had received a kingdom (Heb. 12:28). John said to the churches of Asia Minor that Jesus had made them a kingdom and that he was partners with them in the kingdom (Rev. 1:6, 9). That tells me that the kingdom of God is the church, Christians are citizens of that kingdom, and Jesus is its King.
Paul also said that at the end when Christ returns he will give the kingdom back to his Father after destroying all other rules, authorities, powers, and after having put his enemies under his feet, including death (1 Cor. 15:24-28). On that day his angels will take out of his kingdom all who unrepentantly disobey God and cast them into hell, after which the righteous in the kingdom “will shine like the sun” (Matt. 13:41-43). Christian, what kind of citizen of God’s kingdom are you? Are you submissive to the King in all things, or are you unrepentant in your sin? Are you even a part of his spiritual kingdom to begin with? If not, do what they did in the New Testament (Acts 8:12). Repent of your sins, confess your faith in Christ, and be baptized into his body (Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 12:13), which is his church (Col. 1:18), which is his kingdom (Col. 1:13).
For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Rom 14:7-9
One of the mothers of two girls in the youth group I ministered to, would get her girls attention at times by saying to them, “Oh yeah, because it’s all about you, isn’t it?” A good reminder that would help them understand, that no, life wasn’t all about what they wanted. This is a message I have brought to my preaching at our congregation, “It’s not all about you and me.” Probably one of the biggest epidemics we have in today’s culture is thinking it’s about what we want and how to satisfy ourselves. One of the main teachings of the New Testament is, that we as Christians, do not live for ourselves, but for the Lord. That we have died to self and now live for the Lord and His will. That we are not here to serve ourselves but to serve others; to love one another and to share each other’s burdens.
When I was a young man, I was very self-centered, and looked to gratify by own wants. It took going down a very dark path to help me understand that what I was doing wasn’t really gratifying. It took a very low time in my life to realize that I was only really happy when I was at church with the Lord. It still didn’t take away my selfishness. What made the most difference was having kids that I was responsible for. Peggy and I had to work together to make sure they were taken care of, and it turned my joy not in possessing material things, but in providing for my family. I still have to remind myself that it isn’t about me, but what is best for others, and especially what’s best for Christ’s church. Paul reminds us in the Philippian letter, “Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Phil 2:1-4. Then Paul writes how Jesus was exalted by humbling Himself, even to the point of dying on a cross for others.
Sometimes we feel sorry for ourselves because we don’t think our needs are being met. Usually, that is an indicator that we need to quit thinking so much of ourselves and start reaching out to others. By helping and lifting up others, many times we are lifted up, and we feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. Paul is writing in the Philippian passage about humbling yourself, seeking to be in tune with other’s needs, looking to their interests over your own, and then says in v.5 to have the attitude of Christ. How often do we sacrifice ourselves for others? To not have everything all your own way in your marriage, family, at work, or at church. It’s the practice of giving of yourself to help fulfill the needs of others so that relationships with others and God progress and grow. It takes trying to become likeminded and of one accord as Paul encourages us to do. If we fuss with one another over things that could be resolved easily, if someone was willing to budge, it would make it to where things get done instead of at a standstill because of disagreement.
This takes us back to Paul, and the Romans passage above, where he is speaking to Christians that are judging others for not doing things the way they think it should be done. They were judging each other about what they ate and what special days they observe. Can you imagine that? Whether it was food sacrificed to idols, Jewish dietary restrictions, or someone being a vegetarian when everybody else likes their meats. Some were saying that every day is the same as the other and there are no special days, while others thought that there were special days to observe, no matter who started them or for what reason. It’s just good to get together and observe special events in history or in our Christian heritage. The main thing is that they were judging each other over things that Paul thought weren’t important to their Christian lives. I wonder what he would think about observing Christmas and Easter?
It's bad enough judging others because they don’t do things the way you do them, but even worse, they were showing contempt for each other. Let’s put that another way, they were thinking evil thoughts about each other. These are brothers and sisters in Christ and they are having bad thoughts about each other. That is not what Christ intended for His church! This is not the way the church should think and treat each other! The apostle John in his first letter speaks continuously about loving one another. Do you think that there might have been a problem in the church back then, with people checking their attitudes at the door, so that the church could move forward together in the right direction? The church John was dealing with was splitting because of gnostic thoughts. There are varying gnostic thoughts, but most of them had a hard time dealing with Jesus being the actual Son of God, and that He had been with God from the beginning, and had come to earth, and went back to be with God when His mission on earth was done. It also involved how they thought they should live as Christians. Some thought they could do whatever they wanted because they were saved. While others thought, you needed to abstain from almost everything of the world in order to be pure before God. Two extremes trying to come together as one. Can you see how there were differences in the church at that time, so that writers like Paul, John, and Peter write to get people to set aside their differences and serve Christ together? There thoughts needed to be more about serving the Lord, instead of serving themselves. Can we learn from this today? Are there people in the church that you don’t agree with? Are there churches in the brotherhood that you don’t like what they’re doing? These writers might be writing to you and me just as much as they are writing to their own situations back then. That’s the way of God-inspired writers and why their writings are timeless.
So how do we put their writings into practice? Paul says in Romans 14, that we need to live our lives for Christ. It’s having the conviction that you are going to live, think, and do things just as though Christ was inside of you guiding you. We need to live for the Lord. Wait a minute, that’s exactly what we are to be when we are baptized into Christ. We are in Christ and He is in us! So, we put our old self aside and start living as though Christ is in us. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this, because I want to be in the lead of my life. It’s hard giving control over to Christ, and allowing Him to lead you, until you have practiced it long enough to where it becomes natural.
But wait there’s more! We need to die for the Lord also. Not only putting our old self aside, but actually dying to self. Paul put it this way in the second Corinthian letter, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” 2 Cor 5:14-15. Christ died for all of us, so we ought to be willing to die for Him. Not physically die, although that could be true also, but dying to self to give ourselves to the Lord more. It’s developing a life of giving more of yourself to the Lord so that His kingdom may grow. It’s developing a life of working together with others in the kingdom to make the church grow. It’s developing a life where you are concerned more about helping someone come to the Lord than satisfying your own desires. How can you live more for Christ and less to yourself? How can you die to yourself and allow Christ to lead you more into His will? By living and dying to the Lord. I’ll end with this passage from Jesus, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Mark 8:34-36. May we all put aside our selfish way and come together to serve the Lord and His church. I love you all, Doug.
What can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and praise the Lord's name for saving me. I will keep my promises to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Ps 116:12-14 NLT
Sometimes we need to step back and ponder all the ways the Lord has blessed us. Yeah, I know, we should always consider how we have been blessed, but if you’re like me, things happen in life and I tend not to consider all the blessings of the Lord; and I’m a preacher! But I think it is human nature to forget the blessings we are given, and concentrate on the negative things the world, by also focusing on all the things that happen in our personal lives. We think to ourselves, “When I get through this part of my life, this obstacle, I will take some time to think about God in my life.” That is thinking backwards in our Christian faith. No matter what obstacles we are going through, we need to consider how the Lord provides for us, guides us, protects us, and gets us through all life’s situations. If we keep that thought first in our minds, we can make it through the toughest of struggles, and come out stronger in our faith in the end (Romans 5:3-5).
Now, we know what the Lord does for us throughout our lives, but what can we do in response to His care? “What can I offer the Lord for all He has done for me?” We can help others in need or have better attendance when the church assembles or maybe we could put more in the collection plate as if we could pay back the Lord in these ways. These are not services that we do to pay back the Lord. We do these things because it pleases the Lord and helps build up the church. They are all good things, but what does the Lord really want from us? What does a god really need from his worshippers? David says he will “lift up the cup of salvation”, but what does that mean? If used literally it could be a drink offering to God for saving him, which the Lord did many times in David’s life. If David is using it figuratively, it could refer to his portion of being part of those who are saved by the Lord, like we are part of the saved through Jesus Christ. How often do we thank God for making us part of the saved, that we will not only spend our days in this life serving the Lord, but we will also be in the presence of the Lord for eternity – saved from eternal torment?
We need to spend time praising the Lord for all the many blessings He bestows on us throughout our lives. We need to praise Him in our prayers, when we sing praises to Him, and when we encourage others in the Lord. We all like to be praised for the things we do, how much more important is this to do to the Lord who provides all the good in the universe? To give God all the praise and glory that we can bring ourselves to think about. The Lord never tires of giving and providing for us and only looks for us to acknowledge Him as our Lord and Savior. To share with others the many blessings we have been given and tell them of the God we serve. Not to tell them how we are right and they are wrong, but to tell them of all the magnificent blessing we have been given by a God that is the definition of love, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:15-16. We need to truly believe and understand that the Lord loves us and wants the best for us.
The other part in David’s psalm, is that he will keep his vow or promise to the Lord in the presence of everyone around him. It’s pretty easy to keep our promises to the Lord when we assemble as the church, but how about in the other parts of our life? What did you vow to do when the Lord touched your heart and you gave your life to Lord in baptism? Well, not only did you confess that Jesus is the Son of God (that belief is essential), but also to obey all of God’s words and His will. So, not only what He has commanded, but also obeying the examples given to us in the Bible. But wait there’s more! We are to study to understand the implied inference of His word, or to search past the black and white of Scripture, and find what God really meant when He allowed that portion of Scripture to be written and used for all generations. So, we have command, example, and implied inference; used together it should take out all the loopholes that man is always trying to find. What God, through His Spirit, said, showed, and implied, these we will keep to honor the Lord in our private and public life.
If you are really serious about being a child of God, and follower of Christ, you will repay/render to the Lord your whole life, not just part of it, but all of it. Our life has been given to us by the Lord, He has provided for us in this life, He sent His Son to die on the cross for us, and He has offered us eternal life with Him, if we will follow and obey His word and will. In everything, the Lord should be first in our private life, as His church, and as one living in the world where the devil is so prominent. We can’t do this alone, it takes working together with others that are like-minded and to share our hope of eternal life with as many as possible. May we always look for ways to give back to the Lord, to praise His name for the salvation we have, and to live a life that honors the Lord no matter where we are. May God bless you all richly, I know He will, Doug.
A wise man is strong,
Yes, a man of knowledge increases strength;
For by wise counsel you will wage your own war,
And in a multitude of counselors there is safety. Prov 24:5-6
My dad always told me to choose my battles well. I have passed that bit of wisdom on to my children and to those I minister to. It’s one of those bits of wisdom that I regularly need to adhere to myself, so it’s easy for me to remember. We all get upset and angry over various things, but how do we go about handling those situations? Do we just go off on the first person we see and will listen to us? Do we attack instead of talking things out? Do we ask questions to get the full story or do we assume we have enough information and pursue? These are questions that need to be answered if we are going to confront people and situations to bring things in alignment with God’s will.
Many times we don’t follow the main instructions of the New Testament about confronting by having patience and proceeding with love and gentleness. Paul wrote to Timothy, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” 2 Tim 2:24-26. The theme of the passage is to help people change for the good and in such a way as not to alienate them with our use of words. You can’t help someone if they quit listening to you. Yes, there are times when you need to get their attention, but that’s an exception to the rule, not the rule. It needs to be done, if at all, as a last resort. Don’t quarrel! You’ve lost the battle if you go there. Be gentle, teach others in the way you approach the situation, use patience in all circumstances, and when you correct someone use humility. Boy, those are words to live by. How are you doing at relating to those around you? Keep trying; don’t be trying!
In the Proverb above, a person is strong when they pursue wisdom and knowledge in life situations. Some of you out there can listen to instruction, or observe someone else’s mistake and learn from it, so that you don’t make the same mistake. God bless you in that ability. But others, like myself, have had to learn things the hard way. Sometimes it takes several times to learn the lesson. Yikes! The greatest thing we can do in life is to gain knowledge so that we can proceed in wisdom. When you read the Proverbs, you will read over and over again, that the wise person does the right thing and the fool doesn’t. Yes, I just said that I’ve been a fool at times, but I don’t want to stay there, so I keep trying to add knowledge to how I proceed in life. What we need to do is fear God’s wrath and pursue wisdom, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” Prov 1:7
The greatest resource for this is the Bible that God has given us. The knowledge you need comes from studying your Bible; not just reading it, even though that is a good start. Peter wrote to the church, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” 2 Peter 1:2-3. In life, you will need to go to other sources for knowledge of a certain field, but the knowledge you receive from God and Jesus in the Bible should be the basis of all other knowledge. Not that the sources need to be from God, but that you read and learn them with God and His knowledge in mind as you study. The word of God needs to be so ingrained in our lives that everything we learn outside of the Bible is seen through the lenses of God’s word. Many people have this backwards. They think that they should learn things from the world and then try to make God fit into it. No, first have God in your life so you can see how the information you learn applies to how God wants you to live your life. It takes, having the notion firmly planted into your knowledge, that all good things are from God. How we obtain and use the information we receive will determine whether we are following God or Satan; good or what leads to evil.
The next part of the Proverb above is directed at whether you obtain knowledge by your own means, or whether you share your ideas with others to see how thoughts pan out. I used to work in a plywood mill that had many jobs that were mundane at best. Guys would have their headphones on and listen to talk radio. Many times, their attitudes would get hard and nasty. Sometimes they would finally unleash all this information they had stored up and you better hide behind something. What they had been filling themselves with was caustic, and taken in for an extended time, turned them caustic. If they took the time to share what they had heard in a humane way, they often would be able to put the information into the right context, with the help of others knowledge and input. There’s a proverb that goes along with this also, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” Proverbs 12:15. That’s the way it is with learning God’s word. If we are reading and studying just by ourselves it has the possibility of becoming all jumbled up, but if we are able to share our thought of what we have learned with those around us, it helps us to put the information into context. So, the writer of the proverb encourages us all to seek counsel before we go into a situation all fired up.
There are a couple of other proverbs that go along with the ones we have been looking at. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” Prov 11:14 and “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established” Prov 15:22. It seems as though it is important to seek counsel with someone or others that can help you make sense of your life situations. I miss my dad, because he was someone that I could share ideas with and he would help me sort it out. My wife is also a good counsel to share thoughts with. It’s good to have someone you trust to be a sounding board for your ideas. But, it’s important to not just share them with anybody that happens by, but to seek someone that you consider to be wise, so that you may become wise, “A wise man (person) will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” Prov 1:5. To become wise, you need to associate with wise people that help you to become wise, not someone who will act foolishly with your thoughts. Many times, you will need to seek out more than one wise counsel to get consideration from different viewpoints. The main thought here is to seek wise counsel and there is no better counsel than God through prayer and studying His word. If you can find a group that is doing that together, you might just have found a multitude of counselors to help you become established and find safety in a good answer.
Wisdom isn’t something that happens overnight, but is a process that occurs over many years. What is wise to us at the time, may not be wise when it is acted upon. We need the counsel of wise people, and ones that have our best interests in mind, not just whoever is available at the moment. We need to learn by what we read, hear, and observe to keep us from learning the hard way. When we make bad decisions, we need to learn from them so we can be wiser the next time. And above all, we need to follow what this next proverb has to say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” Prov 3:5-6. Trusting in the Lord with all our heart is the wisest thing I can share with you. So many times, we try to take on decisions and situations on our own without the Lord, and the direction He might give us to take is lost. We need to spend more time in prayer, allowing God to direct our thoughts, and not leaning on our own understanding. We need to humble ourselves in prayer, so that our own thoughts don’t interfere with what God is trying to get across to us. May God guide and direct you in your life so that you can make the wisest decisions possible. I love you all, Doug.