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Monthly Archives: April 2018

Encouragement

Part of my daily routine is to read a scripture-based devotional as a means of staying grounded in my faith. I wish I could say I am 100% faithful, but the effort is there none the less. Recently, I finished a devotion authored by Dan Britton and Jimmy Page titled, Called to Greatness: A Devotion to Ignite the Faith of Fathers and Sons. One of the daily devotions discussed people in our lives that can be classified as “Drainers” or “Refreshers.” Drainers “exhibit repetitive negative, pessimistic, complaining, and “life sucking” behaviors. They criticize, complain, whine, make excuses and find faults. Their words are laced with destruction, and they spew their poison on anyone who dares to listen.” Refreshers on the other hand are, “faith-filled, positive, right-living, energized” people who speak words of life. They help fill you emotionally, relationally, and spiritually by breathing encouragement, blessing, and hope into your life. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a Refresher to all those I interact with. I want to take a moment and talk about encouragement and how we can encourage those around us.

In talking about encouragement, what are we saying? First, look at the root word – courage. Dictionary.com defines “courage” as noun and is a personal characteristic exhibited by, “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Likewise, to encourage is to take the noun, courage, and turn into action by “inspiring with courage, spirit, or hope.” Second, consider the biblical breakdown of encouragement. Strong’s states the Greek word for encouragement is “parakaleō” and is the combination of two words; “para” and “kaleō.” Para means “to walk along side” and Kaleō means, “to admonish, exhort, strengthen.” So, an encourager, a Refresher, is someone who walks beside someone else speaking inspiration and hope into the life of someone who may need help persevering the moment.

Being an encourager sounds like a difficult task doesn’t it? Why would someone want to step into that role? Outside of the fact we live in a tough world and need encouragement; for the Christian, it is a command. The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Timothy 5:11). Likewise, the writer of Hebrews instructs the Jesus follower, “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) Interestingly, the biblical term “edification” is very similar to encourage. To edify someone is to build them up. It is a construction term giving the picture of laying bricks on top of each other. The words we speak can build people up and act as bricks of encouragement. Being an encouragement to others is something we should all strive to do; not as a command, but as a desire.

Unfortunately, a person’s perspective may hinder them from being an encouragement. How do you see yourself when you look in the mirror? In the book,Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters, John Maxwell shares that 80% of people “focus on what they have failed at instead of what they have failed to do.” The focus is on their failure rather than their future. Either by design or by default, you either see the world as half full or half empty. It is impossible to encourage someone else unless you are able to encourage yourself first! How can you speak life, hope, and inspiration into someone else unless you first speak it into yours? The truth is, the same God that created the universe is the same God that created you and I, and we are created in His image. He loves you and he calls you His friend. When you see your reflection, see yourself through the eyes of your Creator and be encouraged.

How you see others is as vitally important as you see yourself. When you see others, how do you see them? Do you see them through the eyes of God as well? Do you understand God loves them as much as He loves you? The Bible say in Romans 2:11, “There is no partiality with God,” and Galatians 2:6, “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” God sees the sinner and the saint and loves them both. To be an encourager to others we need to possess the same vision. This is a tough nut for me to crack; especially when I interact with people that I don’t care for, but I’m trying. At least I have the right perspective.

Now that we know what encouragement is and why we should do it, how do we do it? Encouragement can be broken down into words and actions. We all know the nursery rhyme, Sticks and Stones. The nursery rhyme is a lie because words certainly can hurt you. You may not think so, but there is true power in the spoken word. The writer of Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” James, the brother of Jesus, describes the tongue as “a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 3: 5-6). Our words can tear people down just as easily as they can build them up. Choose your words wisely – be a people builder.

Just like words, our deeds or actions can encourage others. Again, coming at it from biblical point of view, Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The good works are the actions we are destined to perform for the benefit of others. When we physically make an effort to encourage others and meet their needs, we “…do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17. You know it to be true; when someone physically steps into your life and gives you the boost you need for the day, for the season, it makes a world of difference. Words without action are just that – words.

Hopefully I have encouraged you to be a Refresher. When you wake up in the morning, before you put your feet on the floor, make up your mind to be encouraged. For no other reason than you have breath and get to live another day. Use that truth and allow it to spill into the lives of others. You can be an encourager for someone today, tomorrow…Be a Refresher and not a Drainer. Be blessed!

Ever Been Stuck in a Rut?

Have you ever been stuck in a rut? Webster’s defines a rut as, “a usual or fixed practice; a monotonous routine; a track worn by a wheel or by habitual passage.” Some might call it “a funk,” or a “stale season.” Ruts can develop in the work place, our spiritual life, personal growth, as well as relationships. Regardless of how we define it, chances are most people have been in a rut. The good news is ruts are normal and can be effectively eradicated with some effort.

Case in point: I live in Virginia Beach and we generally do not get large amounts of snow during the winter. However, when we do get snow the city has a hard time and havoc usually ensues. This winter was an exception; not the havoc part, the measurable snow part. One storm in particular dropped almost 10” in my neighborhood. It was a beautiful thing, but the storm knocked the power out and power equals no morning coffee – Havoc! I own a 2011 Honda Pilot as assumed I would be able to navigate the fresh powder and acquire the desired morning beverage. You know what they say about assuming… I didn’t make it 500 feet before I was stuck in rut and the snow had lifted the Pilot up and I could not get any traction. I was in a rut! I could not turn left or right; I could not go in reverse either. I was lucky enough to have a nice guy in a lifted truck tow me back home and I put the Pilot back in the driveway.

Now this is obviously an example of a physical rut, but I want to talk to you about relational ruts; especially in married relationships. I have a desire to help married couples achieve the marriage of their dreams and those marriages do not come with ruts. Yet, every married couple gets stuck in a rut, and if you have not been stuck yet, you will. Before I share three easy tips with you, it is important to be intentional in your relationship. You might feel your marriage is in a rut, but your spouse may not. Intentionality brings the subject to light. When intentional focus is at hand corrections can be made. No two marriages are the same, but these tips will help you move in the right direction.

Look at the Current Routine.

Sometimes in life we get stuck on auto-pilot. Things are not necessarily bad, but you may feel the calendar is just flying by and life is stale. This is where intentionality takes place. Get out the pencil and paper and list the aspects of your relationship. Check off the ones that are fine and highlight where there needs some improvement. Here are some common areas where couples can fall into a rut:

  • Daily routines
  • Shared activities
  • Meals
  • Date nights
  • Sex
  • Outings with friends
  • Family time

If there is mutual agreement to any part of your life where you feel like you are in a rut, prioritize those areas.  First, start making changes to the areas highlighted that works best for your relationship. You must be intentional and start somewhere; even if it is a small step. The hardest part of getting out of a rut is making a course change. The smallest degree in changing course will lead to a totally different destination. Breaking out of a rut takes work, but it’s well worth the effort. Ready to liven things up?

Intentionally Break the Routine.

Once you have highlighted the areas in your marriage that need a little tweaking, it’s time to put a plan into action. Here are a few ideas for the areas I listed above:

  • Daily routines – Do you go through the same motions every day? If so, shake it up a bit. Try a different route to work. Play some different music while you travel. Get coffee out every now and then, get it at home if you have a Starbucks addiction.
  • Shared activities – I love to play golf and I know my wife will never play golf with me. However, she will happily drive the golf cart. She loves to window shop; me not so much. But, we both like to people watch. Make a list of a few new activities you’d like to try, pick one, and JUST DO IT.
  • Meals – Shake it up in the kitchen. Try at least one new meal at home every week. There are several home delivery services that deliver exotic meals you both can enjoy making together. This allows you the stability of an existing routine, while inserting something new and exciting into the mix.
  • Date nights – This one is simple. If you go on regular date nights, and you should, go somewhere different. Get away from the same old comfortable restaurant and movie deal. Intentionally try out new destinations for your date nights.
  • Sex – This one is almost as easy as the date night fix. Be intentional! Life steps in and outside responsibilities reduce our sex lives to a predictable pattern. Guys, step it up here and help your wife with the kids, household chores, whatever she needs. She’s a crockpot that needs to be plugged in before you go to work. Ladies, set aside some extra time for him to be alone with you, and remember he’s a visual creature.
  • Friends – Do you go out with other married couples? If so, and things are predictable, shake it up and suggest something new. Fun activities like bowling, or a game night at home can be a welcome change to the routine.
  • Family – Bored at home with the kids? Break away from the electronics and social media and get the kids to share their ideas of fun. When I babysit my grandchildren they always want to play horsey. Pop is getting too old and they are getting too big, but you get the point.

The smallest change in the routines of life will help you get out of the rut you are in. Things will become a little more exciting and will springboard into the final tip.

Spontaneity – Plan It.

Isn’t that some sort of oxy-moron? If you and your mate do not intentionally plan to be spontaneous more often, spontaneity simply will not happen. Look at your calendars, make a reminder every week to do something unplanned that will be fun, romantic, or exciting for you both. Spontaneity is fun, and most people deeply desire a measure of it; especially in their marriage. Intentionally planning to be spontaneous may sound strange, but it will pay off and get you out of the “same ole, same ole.”

We are all busy and getting busier all the time. Things can get ordinary, common place; and the only way to eliminate that is to decide you’re not going to let it stay that. Again, be intentional. I cannot stress it enough. Don’t wait; talk about it, then move.

Road to Emmaus: Despair to Delight

As I begin this message, it is just before 4:00 pm on Resurrection Sunday, April 1, 2018. I am purposefully writing at this time because it coincides with the narrative of the Emmaus journey found in Luke, chapter 24. Our characters of this narrative, Cleopas and another disciple of Jesus, have left Jerusalem and are heading to their home in Emmaus; about a seven-mile journey. Their conversation at the start of this trek is rather animated. After all, their hopes of deliverance from the Roman empire have been dashed with the crucifixion of their Messiah. Now, with his body missing from the tomb, it is time to leave the dangerous environment of Jerusalem.

Not long into the journey, Cleopas and his partner are joined by another traveler. The traveler is none other than the resurrected Jesus, yet the Bible states, “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (v. 16). Jesus asked the what they are discussing in such an animated fashion. I can almost see the expression on Cleopas’ face as he answers something like, “Dude! Where have you been? Are you the only guy in Jerusalem that doesn’t know what happened?” Jesus plays along with them and has Cleopas explain things as they resume their walk.

After Cleopas finished his dissertation on things gone wrong, Jesus gifted these two distraught disciples with a firsthand Bible study in prophecy. Starting with Genesis 3:15, the first messianic prophecy found in scripture, Jesus taught them for the continuation of the journey. All the while, Cleopas and his partner never came to grips that it’s Jesus doing the teaching. As the travelers approached Emmaus, the sun was setting, and Jesus was invited to have dinner with them. He agreed and reclined at the table with them. In this setting, Jesus assumed the role of the host; took the bread, blessed it, and began to serve his traveling companions. It is at this time the disciples eyes are opened and they recognized it is Jesus who has served them. Before they can utter a word, “Jesus vanished from their sight” (v. 31).

After the disappearance of Jesus, Cleopas and his partner recapped all that had taken place. They remember how their “hearts burned” during the journey while Jesus taught them. Their despair shifted. There was a renewed hope in their spirit. The two elected to travel back to Jerusalem and tell the other disciples what they had encountered. They found Peter and the others gathered in the upper room, and as they began to tell the story, Jesus appeared to all present. “Peace be with you” was the salutation Jesus spoke as he came into their presence.

So, what does this narrative have to do with you and me? For me, it is a message resurrection, of restoration. It is a story of how a person can have such high expectations of what being a Christian is, only to have those expectations squelched by the world. Over time our aspirations may become misguided and the next thing you know our “walk” has become somewhat crooked. Or maybe tragedy has struck your family. There has been a loss of a loved one, or a relationship severed. Perhaps there has been a job loss and the world is crushing you and all you can see is the struggle to put one foot in front of another; just to make it through another day.

Please allow me some creative liberty if you will. You ever wonder why Cleopas’ traveling companion is not named in this narrative? Sure, we can do some biblical investigation and come up with some good guesses. I believe it his wife, Mary, one of the three Mary’s found at the cross of Jesus, but that is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is the companion is not named. May I suggest you and I are the other disciple traveling with Cleopas. Insert your name into the narrative. Think about the time when you came to know Jesus as your Savior. You where excited and had visions of how life with the Messiah would be different. However, over time, the world has crept in and has left your faith and vision cloudy. You might even be in the same state of despair as our travelers.

The truth of the matter is Jesus is still walking beside you. He is still walking beside me. We have to listen to his teaching. We have to recline at his table. We have to partake of what he wants to feed us. It is only then our vision will become clear and our despair return to delight. The length of this journey is totally up to you. Sure, it might not be a two-hour, seven-mile walk, but it could be. Just don’t let it be a life-long adventure. In a note of transparency, I’m not in a state of despair but I know people who are. I’ve gone through seasons of staleness that only become refreshed when I listen, recline, and partake. How about you?