For people who read and take the Bible seriously, there are many more names for God than just, “God.” The primary one is “Father,” though for some people, that is a difficult image because of their experiences with others. What can we do about this? Based on Isaiah 9.2-7 and Isaiah 66.7-13, you can listen to some biblical thoughts on it here:
Some folks just have a perfect, God-ordained sense of timing. Have you ever received a card or a phone call or a hug at just the right time? I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me over the course of my life and ministry. Even this week, after a particularly distressing few moments that had a more profound impact on my psyche than they should have, the Lord used two friends to encourage me: one with an “out of the blue” phone call that communicated just the right words, and another with a card that said exactly what I needed to read.
There is great power in the use of the spiritual gift of encouragement. Nobody gets too much encouragement, right? The Bible mentions this gift in Romans 12: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well….If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging” (vv. 6 & 8, NLT). People who have this gift find it very easy to seek out the positive and reinforce it. And they are responsive to God’s little nudges, and his overall sense of timing.
George Barna recently reported that more American Christians report having the spiritual gift of encouragement, which – if they use it – should be really good news for churches. Hopefully, this is true for Canadian Christians, too! Encouragement, as I see it, is the fuel for ministry.
Is your church running on empty? Suggest to your church leadership that they engage in a survey of the congregation’s spiritual gifts (I can help you with that, by the way…). A spiritual gift discovery is often a real revelation for people, as they learn what God has equipped them to do in the life of the church. You can be sure that at least one person in your fellowship has been gifted with encouragement. Once you know who that person is (or who those people are), draw them into a nurturing of their gift. Help them understand that their encouragement will strengthen the leaders of the church, and will bring a positive spirit to the life of the congregation. Never underestimate the value of encouragement.
Just ask me. I know.
This edition of Encouragement From The Word was first published on February 13, 2009.
As a musician, I have always found it important to pay attention to rest. Why? Because if I’m playing in an ensemble, and the composer has given me a symbol for rest, there’s a good possibility that if I play something, it’s going to sound dissonant. Even if I’m itching to keep playing, rest symbols urge me not to, for the good of the ensemble (to say nothing of those listening).
Rest is also important in life generally. As a human being made in the image of God, I know that God designed me to have rest. My body requires sleep, and without aid of unnatural stimulants, my body will even tell me when it’s time to go to bed at night. But sleep is not all there is to rest.
God’s design for the rhythm of the earth is to have a day off in seven. God set this pattern out at creation, when the world was made in six days, and on the seventh, God rested. Fields were to go fallow one year in seven. Debts were to be forgiven after seven years. There is a rhythm of rest in all of creation.
Vacation time, no matter how much or how little our jobs allow us to have, is equally sacred time. I would argue that times for retreat, where it’s just you and God, are also very important in the rhythm of work and rest in life.
Yet we humans sometimes think that, by one means or another, we can go without rest. And do you know who can be some of the worst offenders in this area? Pastors. Because some pastors can be cursed with a people-pleasing gene, they have a hard time saying no, even at their own peril. Recently I found myself saying to a colleague, whom I love, that when we have perforated boundaries around vacation, we demonstrate to our congregations that rest is not an important part of Christian discipleship.
We – all of us – are human, not super-human. Each of us needs rest – weekly, annually. We should not deny it of ourselves, and we should not allow anyone else to attempt to deny it of us.
The writer to the Hebrews hints at an aspect of rest that we are inclined to miss, and that is that Sabbath is, in a real sense, a rehearsal for eternity. “So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today” (Hebrews 4.6-7a, NLT).
Do you take rest seriously?
I read a most interesting piece through an online journal the other day that cast a different light on the apostle Thomas, who is best known for being a doubter.
Consider how John tells the story: “One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side” (John 20.24-25, NLT).
The story goes on to tell that Jesus appeared to Thomas and the apostle was able to see the wounds for himself, and believe.
The article I read suggests that there was a different reason for Thomas doubting what his colleagues had said about the resurrection. John recounts that when the Lord appeared to them in the Upper Room, “he said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’” (John 20.21-23, NLT).
Perhaps, reasoned the author, Thomas doubted the resurrection not because he hadn’t seen for himself, but because the disciples failed to demonstrate what they said Jesus had done in and for them. They hadn’t gone out and forgiven folks. They hadn’t gone out and shared the good news with anybody. They had stayed in the Upper Room because they were afraid of what the authorities would do if they were found.
There is an instructive word for God’s people in this story. If we accept the plausibility that Thomas doubted because he saw no evidence in those to whom Jesus appeared, then we have some soul-searching to do. How can we expect others to believe that Jesus is raised from the dead if we are not living as those who believe it?
We can say that we believe Jesus rose from the dead, and we should. But what are we doing about it? Are we extending grace and forgiveness? Are we telling others what Jesus has done for us? Are we caring for those closest to the Lord’s heart? What are we doing with the good news that Jesus is alive?
Take a few moments to reflect on what you could do this coming week that would encourage others to believe with you that Jesus is alive. How will you ‘do’ the good news?
“It is finished!” (John 19.30). Those were Jesus’ last words from the cross before he died. This is what we mark on Good Friday: not simply that Jesus died, that his human life was finished, but that Jesus’ atoning work that brings us salvation was finished right at the point when he breathed his last.
Because of this reality, I remain constantly amazed at how many people feel the need to deny that the work of salvation was finished on the cross. How do they deny it? By subscribing to the notion that they need to do good works to gain their salvation.
If you did a random survey on the street and asked people how they could get to heaven, a lot of people – even churched people – would reply by saying that you have to be good. You have to do nice things for people.
Unfortunately, these folks have put the cart before the horse. It’s important to do good, yes, but not so we can appease God; we do nice things to please God. Do you see the difference?
When we do good works as a way to thank God for his gift of salvation, we honour God with our actions, doing good in gratitude for having been set free from sin. But when we do good works in an attempt to curry God’s favour, it’s like saying that Jesus’ death wasn’t quite good enough to satisfy God.
Sounds crazy, put in those terms, doesn’t it? But it’s true: when we perform good works as a means of paying God back for sin, we’re telling God that his plan to have Jesus die in our place was insufficient.
What could be insufficient about taking the one who had no sin and placing our sin on him as a final sacrifice? How could any good deed I do come close to comparing with that?
On this Good Friday, let the words, “It is finished!” echo through your mind, and spill from your lips. Remember that on this day, our salvation was fully accomplished for us, and there’s nothing we can do to add to it.
But we can live for him, daily.