Tag Archives: Encouragement

Encouragement Needed

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’
Zechariah 8:9a (NIV)

In just a month or so, Wendy and I will be celebrating three years that we’ve lived in the house we built here in Pella. This morning I was thinking back to those months between August 2014, when we broke ground, and the end of February when we moved in. It seemed like an eternity. I was not prepared for all of the decisions that had to be made and the endless fussing and fretting over the most seemingly insignificant decisions.

The process did seem long and endless at the time, but the truth of the matter is that the building of a complex, multi-level, multi-room structure in six months would be nothing short of miraculous to those Zechariah was addressing when he wrote today’s chapter sometime around 500 BC. The “remnant” of exiles who returned to rebuild Jerusalem with its crumbled walls and broken down Temple were looking at not months, but long years – even decades of painstaking, back-breaking toil.

The rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple began in 536 BC but was abandoned two years later. It was picked up again fourteen years later and went on for another five years before it was eventually rededicated. The rebuilding of Jerusalem would continue for another 70 years.

Today’s chapter reads like a message of encouragement to the people facing the arduous task of continuing the work while in the depths of frustration at the rebuilding process. Through Zechariah, God encourages the people to imagine how great it will be when the work is completed and families of all generations are filling the city streets from children playing freeze-tag to old people leaning on their canes and reminiscing about the “old days.”

The truth is that whether we’re ancient Hebrews facing years of toil to rebuild our capitol city or a modern day couple standing in Lowe’s wondering if the project will ever be completed, we all sometime need encouragement to keep pressing on. The Apostle Paul consistently told the followers of Jesus, to whom he wrote the letters making up most of the New Testament, that he was writing to encourage them. He told them to encourage one another and reminded them  that their love, prayers and gifts were a tremendous encouragement to him. Paul was carrying out the task of building the church, not a building made of wood and stone, but a much messier task of building a living, breathing organization of diverse, flesh-and-blood people into a cohesive whole.

This morning I’m reminded that we all need encouragement on this life journey. It’s an important ingredient to any project, relationship, or process. Even God knew that the people of Jerusalem needed a shot in the arm, and today’s chapter is a record of the encouragement He sent through His prophet, Zechariah.

From time-to-time we all need others to encourage us and we, in turn, need to be on the lookout for those who could use a dose themselves. Encouragement is simple gift to give: a kind word, a postcard that takes you five minutes to write, a thank you note, a prayer, or a hug and sincere “Hang in there.”

Need a little encouragement today? Consider your reading of this post a divine appointment. Hang in there, my friend. Press on. Keep going. I know it may suck right now but I believe that your faith and grit are leading to good things ahead.

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

Victory Song

Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying….
Judges 5:1 (NRSV)

For centuries, nations celebrated key military victories with song. Back in the Exodus, Moses’ song was sung after the victory over the Egyptians. Psalms 18, 20, and 118 are examples of songs of victory in David’s day. Today, the practice is more apt to be associated with athletic victories. When our beloved Cubbies win (over 100 times this past season!) I can’t help but break out in the refrains of “Go, Cubs, Go! Hey Chicago whattaya say? The Cubs are gonna win today!”

The practice had several practical elements.

First, it united the people in celebration. There’s nothing quite like everyone joining together in song. We do it in almost all communal events. In church we have hymns. In pubs we have drinking songs. At sporting events we have fight songs. Songs bring people together as one in the moment, and a victory is a key moment for such an event.

Second, it helps assure historic memory. I’m sure most ancient victory songs are forgotten in time, but the victory songs of Moses, Deborah and David have lasted millennia and I myself remember singing the song of Moses in Sunday School. A good victory song was a way that a victory might be memorialized forever.

Third, it would encourage future generations. As victory songs were sung through time, they inspired and encouraged soldiers that victory was possible for them, too. “If them, then why not us?” soldiers would think as they sang the familiar victory songs and shored up their anxious souls.

Also, the victory song could be instructive. Armies feeling good about themselves, basking in the glow of their achievement, could be reminded to be grateful and humble. Battles can go either direction and there’s no sense in gettin’ the big head. Thank God for the victory. There’s a great scene at the end of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V after the historic battle of Agincourt. Outnumbered 5 to 1, the British pulled out an improbable victory over the French.

Shakespeare penned this dialogue between Henry and his Captain (and cousin) Fluellen:

KING HENRY V

Come, go we in procession to the village.
And be it death proclaimed through our host
To boast of this or take the praise from God
Which is his only.

FLUELLEN

Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
how many is killed?

KING HENRY V

Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
That God fought for us.

FLUELLEN

Yes, my conscience, he did us great good.

KING HENRY V

Do we all holy rites;
Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;’
The dead with charity enclosed in clay:
And then to Calais; and to England then:
Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.

“Non nobis” and “Te Deum” is the latin version of “Not to us, but to Thy name be glory.”

Today, I’m thinking about victory and encouragement and community and humility. I enter today with a handful of songs on my lips.

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Continue in What You Have Learned

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….
2 Timothy 3:14 (NIV)

When the weight of the world seems to land on your shoulders,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When doubts nag, and scurry about your mind like pests,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When negative circumstances fall around you like dominoes,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When prayers seem to hit  the ceiling and bounce back in an echo,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When the way is cloudy and the future uncertain,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When the day lies ahead, and it looks to be an uphill stretch,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

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featured photo by Ewan Cross via Flickr

Blessing

And of Joseph he said:
Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choice gifts of heaven above,
    and of the deep that lies beneath;
Deuteronomy 33:13 (NRSV)

Along my life journey I have received words of incredible encouragement from family, teachers, and mentors:

You will do well in whatever you do.
Whatever you do, I know you’ll succeed.
You’ll do great. I know you will.

Those words are examples of what the ancients called a blessing. Most commonly given from father to son, king to subject, leader to follower, a blessing is a word of affirmation spoken to bless and encourage. Some blessings can be prophetic nature while others simply to strengthen and comfort the recipient.

In today’s chapter we find Moses approaching then end of the road. He is in the home stretch of his life journey, and the finish line is straight ahead. He gathers his people together and, tribe-by-tribe, he speaks over them a blessing. The blessing for each tribe is unique, and the themes include life, safety, strength, acceptance, abundance, provision, affluence, favor, possession, and etc.

Today, I’m thinking about my children, and others who live within the circles of my influence. I’m thinking about the opportunity I have to speak words of blessing into them. Conversely, I’m thinking about the curse of staying silent and not blessing those who I have the opportunity to encourage. I need not wait until the end of my life journey to speak a blessing over others. In fact, what a shame it would be for me to do so.

Super Tom! (Not)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

When historians look back on these times that we are living in, one of the major themes that they will address is how social media has changed the world. Society has changed dramatically in the past ten years and I’m not sure we can fully realize in the moment the breadth and depth of the change.

We live in a Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook culture in which thoughts are reduced to 140 characters or a 400×400 pixel image. Please do not read in this post what I am not writing. This is not a judgment on social media, merely an observation.

One of the things I observed is that in reducing the message to fit the medium, the context of the message can change dramatically. Take Paul’s words to his friend in Philippi in today’s chapter. The more well known translation is ” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Talk about Pinterest quote material.

Yet, in isolating and reducing the message of the verse it appears to be a promise of unlimited potential. I might as well photoshop your face on the body of a comic book superhero to use as the background of my Pinterest post. SuperMe to the rescue. I can do all things!!

But when I read Paul’s words in the context of the previous sentences, the message of that phrase takes on what I believe is a significantly different meaning. Paul’s life journey has taken him to high mountaintops of earthly success and deep valleys of death. He has experienced “the good life” and he has found himself shipwrecked on an island like a real life episode of Lost. When he writes, “I can do all things” he is saying, “I will survive. I will be okay. Whether it’s a good day or bad, I can be content and trust that God will give me the strength to get through.

Today, I’m thankful for context. I’m glad that Paul was not writing an empty promise of superhumanity which does not fit my reality. I may be typing this post in my Batman boxer shorts, but that’s where my super hero capabilities end and I know it. To hear Paul’s encouragement to walk today’s journey knowing that whatever comes my way God will give me the strength to endure…well, that’s a message my heart can really use as I begin my day.

Proper Position

Proper Position

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NIV)

No one will accuse me of being a fitness geek. Nevertheless, I have picked up a thing or two along the way. When it comes to strength training, I have never forgotten the principle that position and form is critical to getting the maximum benefit from each exercise. If your body is not positioned correctly and you don’t move with proper form you will not only minimize the outcome of your effort but you could even end up injuring yourself.

This morning as I read the encouragement to “stand firm” and “hold fast” I thought about position. If I don’t put myself in a position emotionally and spiritually to stand firm then I can’t expect the maximum benefit as I weather life’s storms. Taking care of myself physically, staying connected spiritually and relationally, maintaining a conversation with God, and investing time and energy in quiet are all components of putting myself in the proper spiritual position to stand firm. It is the spiritual equivalent of standing with feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, back straight.

Today, I’m putting myself in the proper position to stand firm.

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