What’s the most encouraging thing someone has ever done for you?

The Encourager’s Devotional Series is planned around a monthly theme with related posts every Wednesday according to this schedule:

Week 1 – main devotion

Week 2 – correlating Bible study

Week 3 – Bible study answer guide

Week 4 – monthly wrap-up with suggestions for application or any other additional material I’d like to bring in

So, what happens when we have a month with five Wednesdays? Well, I’m going to call that the “5th Wednesday Free-for-All.” This is where I’ll ask you to bring your best encouragement ideas to the table. I will probably have some directed themes in future free-for-alls, but this being our first one, I thought I’d just ask, “What’s the most encouraging thing someone has ever done for you?”

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Earth Day – 6 Reasons Christians Should Care for the Earth

I once read a piece by someone who was against Christians participating in Earth Day. I don’t remember the author, but his sentiments were something to the effect of “beware of the human tendency to worship the creation instead of the Creator.” While that’s not a wholly unwarranted caution (see Romans 1:20-25), I’d have to add the warning to beware of the human tendency to worship self and our own abilities. We still have a bit of Babel in us (Genesis 11). We cannot be content to build our skyscrapers and empires without taking heed to the way our “progress” harms our environment and actually causes us to work against the principles and goals God has established for us. Here are six reasons Christians should take responsibility for caring for the earth:

1 – We should care for the earth because God mandated that we do so.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”Genesis 2:15 (all Scripture references from NIV)

From the beginning, God told mankind to care for His creation. In the first chapter of Genesis (1:26-28), this command includes the fish and the waters, the birds and the sky, the animals and the land.

We have a mandate to care for the earth. Why would we turn over our authority and commission to others?

2 – We should care for the earth because creation brings God glory and reveals God to man.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made …” – Romans 1:20

God uses nature to bear witness to Himself. Wouldn’t our care of nature help us be better witnesses to the world?

3 – We should care for the earth because it’s God’s teaching tool.

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” – Proverbs 6:6

This Proverb continues to instruct us to watch the ant to see how to gain a harvest. In contrast to the ant, man is called a sluggard and challenged to wake up and get to work. Otherwise, it says, “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” We have to admit, part of our lack of concern for the environment has to do with apathy and laziness.

I used to say that I’d be happy to recycle if they would make it easier – I just didn’t want to mess with different bins for different types of trash. Thankfully, my municipality did eventually make it easier. I have to wonder if I would have ever started recycling if they hadn’t. We often prefer to turn a blind eye to the notion that our world does actually have limited resources and that we harm it by our wastefulness and desire for convenience. Participating in environmental causes could teach us a great deal about ourselves. I’m glad that the younger generation is being taught to be better stewards. Shouldn’t more Christians be taking on the responsibility to help teach these lessons?

4 – We should care for the earth because our sin is the cause of its suffering.

“Cursed is the ground because of you …” – Genesis 3:17

Creation suffered from the curse when man sinned. Plants that flourished now had to contend with thorns and weeds. Animals that lived together in peace became enemies. Romans 8:22-25 says that all creations groans with us as we await our full redemption from the cares of this world brought on by sin. This passage also says that the “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” We are supposed to be helping to redeem creation as we await the final redemption. Are we, instead, making it groan even more?

5 – We should care for the earth because God cares for the earth.

After the flood (also brought on by man’s sin), God not only made a covenant with Noah, but also with the earth. When he put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of this covenant to never again destroy the earth by flood, God said:

“This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” – Genesis 9:12-13

If God would make a covenant with the earth, why should a Christian be hesitant to do so?

6 – We should care for the earth because we are called to be good stewards of all that God has given us.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10

We would all agree that we are to be good stewards of what God has given us. We have often heard messages about being good stewards of our money, our homes, our talents. Why do we balk at being good stewards of this earth? We should look at our stewardship of this earth as a service to others who share this planet with us, as well as a service to the Creator of all things.

If the heavens and the trees and the beauty of creation all testify to God’s goodness, shouldn’t we seek to keep it healthy and beautiful?

Suggested Resources:

Christians and the Environment – A One Session Bible Study

Creation Care – A Three Session Bible Study

Encourager’s Devotional Series – April Bible Study Answer Guide

Since there were not as many short answer or fill-in questions in the Bible study for the April devotional, I am not copying the full text of the study in this month’s answer guide. Instead, I’ve added a few prompts for you to share how you are applying the study.  

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According to 1:6 and 2:14-16 what kind of tragedy were the Thessalonians experiencing?

Severe suffering, persecution from those who opposed the gospel

Grief for those who have died is addressed in 4:13-18. What does Paul say we can use to comfort/encourage one another under these circumstances?

Tell them we have the hope of resurrection and that we will be reunited with those who have passed away when Jesus returns. Also, remind them that heaven will be for eternity and we will be with the Lord forever.

According to 3:7-8, why were Paul and his co-workers encouraged?

They were encouraged because the Thessalonian Christians are demonstrating their faith and standing firm in the Lord.

How does this relate to Proverbs 11:25?

Paul and his co-workers were always encouraging the churches and in return the churches encouraged them.

Meditation

Notice that in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 Timothy was sent specifically to encourage the Thessalonians. We studied last month the fact that the Holy Spirit was sent to be our comforter/encourager. Read 2 Corinthians1:3-4. It says God is the God of all comfort (and yes, that is the same root word as encourager). It goes on to say that we should comfort others in the same way that we have been comforted. What experiences have you had in which God was your comforter and encourager?

How have you used your past experiences to encourage others who are now in the same situations you have been through?

Application

Read 1 Thessalonians 3:12. Think of some people who “work hard among you.” How might you “show respect” for those people?

We are only five months away from Minister Appreciation Month (October). To help others think and plan ahead, can you share things you have done or are planning to do for those who devote their lives to ministry?

Eugene Peterson renders the key verse for this ministry (Heb. 10:24) as: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging …” (The Message). I thought that described our goal very well. Can you think of any way(s) to be “inventive” or creative with your ministry of encouragement, to do something different than you’ve done so far? If so, make note so you don’t forget.

Since we are now four months into the Encourager’s Devotional Series, I would love to hear some of your stories about things you have done in response to the material. Did you take up the challenge to “be more inventive” in your approach to the ministry of encouragement? 

Dedication

Are you doing this study with a group? If so, have you planned any group projects? Please share in the comments so everyone can add your great ideas to their encouragement repertoire. 

A Few Ways to Check Your Heart before “Speaking the Truth in Love”

We are told in Ephesians 4:15 that the body of Christ becomes more mature when we learn to speak the truth in love to one another. This is how we grow up and no longer act like infants in our relationships. Yet, we often avoid this command because it is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes we rationalize it away by saying we don’t want to offend anyone. And doesn’t that sound pious? Or, we say, “I’m waiting for my heart to be right before I go say what needs to be said.” Again, that sounds good and noble. In the end, though, it is simply disobedience.

The problem is we never quite feel it’s the right time to go have that difficult conversation. And so, we leave unsaid the thing that might help someone recognize sin or error, or the thing we need to say to restore relationship. And the whole body of believers suffers as a result.

It is interesting that the verses prior to this text use the imagery of being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (NIV). That’s exactly how this mind game we play with ourselves feels. The only way to relieve the tug-of-war in our thinking is to put on our big kid pants and follow God’s instructions. Otherwise, we are actually being deceitful and possibly resorting to “alternative actions” (Sounds better than “schemes,” doesn’t it?).

Those schemes are so appealing, though, and they too can seem justified. I’ll just go talk with my pastor about it instead. Or, I’ll just make it a matter of prayer.

Last week, I received a text from a friend who was struggling with this. I summarized for her the things I do to check my heart before going to someone to speak the truth I believe needs to be spoken. Below is the transcript of that conversation. Hope it helps the next time you are considering whether or not you are actually ready to speak the truth … in love.

Please excuse the poor grammar and punctuation. This conversation took place at 4:30 am (she's one of my night owl friends).

Please excuse the poor grammar and punctuation. This conversation took place at 4:30 am (she’s one of my night owl friends).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about you? Do you have any “heart checks” you use before going to someone to resolve an issue?

Menopause and Nurturing by Lisa Womble

A friend of mine has a great blog as “an exercise in female writing” and I was honored to have her share a post from me. I’m looking forward to seeing what others submit.

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I’m not sure when I first heard the word menopause, but I’m sure I never heard it referred to in anything other than a negative sense. It was something horrible women were to dread.

As I grew older – again not remembering any specific conversations about it, just a general impression gathered – it came to mean a time when women “lost something.” In menopause, you would lose your youth and vitality. You would be subject to a body out of control. (Insert picture of a woman swooning onto a “fainting couch” while suffering “the vapors.”) You would be a “dried up” old woman.

You would never again be able to procreate, and even if you were past the time in your life where you would desire to do so, it still would be a horribly sad day for you. Something to mourn. A part of your identity so precious…

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Encourager’s Devotional Series – April Bible Study

This Bible study accompanies the April devotion for the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

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Since this month’s study is mostly an in-depth look at 1 Thessalonians, you will get the most out of it if you take the time first to read the book. If possible, the best way to do this is to read it in one sitting (fortunately, this is a small book and won’t take much time). If you do not mind writing in your Bible, you might want to underline all uses of the words encourage, comfort, exhort, urge, and maybe beseech or appeal depending on your translation. You should find 9-13 usages. Almost every time you see these words, they stem from our root word for encourage (parakaleson). The only exceptions I could find are in the four passages noted below when Paul is using a string of similar words, each possibly to stress a different aspect of the meaning. The exceptions (using NIV) are:

2:12 – “… encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” In this passage, the first word is our word with its broad range of meaning. The second, comforting, is a more specific word used in relation to tragedy or grief. And the third, urging, is also more specific and more insistant (some translations might have “charging you” or “pleading with you”).

4:1 – “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” Paul is asking them to remember and live out what they had been taught about how to live in a way that pleases God. He asks first with a general word for asking, then uses our word (rendered “urge” here) to denote more urgency and be more commanding. By asking twice, Paul is being emphatic. He further stresses the importance of what he’s asking by adding “in the Lord” to his request.

5:12 – Neither of the two usages in this verse are from our root word.

5:14 – “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” The urging that Paul is doing is our root word. The other words are more specific depending on the task he’s telling us to do. Warning the idle (or unruly) has a harsher connotation. Encouraging the timid (or fainthearted) is the same word used in 2:12 which implies help for those who may be losing heart due to grief or tragedy. Helping the weak would involve being devoted to or “holding up” those who, for various reasons, cannot stand in their own strength at the moment (in this case, most likely because of weak faith or weak morals, but could also mean physically weak or ill). They need someone to walk closely beside them so they do not fall. And of course, all of us appreciate when others are patient with us.

According to 1:6 and 2:14-16 what kind of tragedy were the Thessalonians experiencing?

Grief for those who have died is addressed in 4:13-18. What does Paul say we can use to comfort/encourage one another under these circumstances? Continue reading

Bring the Rain by which the Flowers Bloom – April Encourager’s Devotion

Enc 4 April main graphic

(Image Source)

Charles Swindoll has some wonderful words on the power of encouragement:

Encouragement is awesome. Think about it: It has the capacity to lift a man’s or woman’s shoulders. To spark the flicker of a smile on the face of a discouraged child. To breathe fresh fire into the fading embers of a smoldering dream. To actually change the course of another human being’s day … or week … or life. That, my friend, is no small thing. But it doesn’t stop there. Consistent, timely encouragement has the staggering magnetic power to draw an immortal soul to the God of hope. The One whose name is Wonderful Counselor. Is it easy? Not on your life. It takes courage, tough-minded courage, to trust God, to believe in ourselves, and to reach a hand to others. But what a beautiful way to live. I know of no one more needed, more valuable, more Christ-like, than the person who is committed to encouragement.

When I first started The Encourager’s Devotional Series, I wondered if it would get old discussing the same topic every month. I am glad that has not been the case. Rather, my Bible reading has been enhanced by looking at Scripture with “encourager’s eyes.” I’ve been amazed at how often the Bible discusses the topic. I find hints on how to be a better encourager, texts that help me broaden my definition of encouragement, and good examples of what it means to minister in this way, even when I am not reading for that purpose.

While studying 1 Thessalonians, I discovered the word encourage is used four times (3:2, 4:18, 5:11,14). Following are some of the notes I took as I read:

* 2:5 – Encouragement is not just flattery. We should get beyond the more superficial forms of encouragement (“You sure look nice today!”) to real edification. Notice how specific Paul is with the commendations he gives this church in chapter one – they labored in love, they showed endurance, they were good role models, and more. When we praise people for specific things they do, it “spurs them on to more love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).

* 2:6 – We seek to encourage for the benefit it brings to others, not for the praise of men. Some of you may be doing much in an effort to encourage others, even though you haven’t received even one card in the mail for yourselves. Many times you’ll never receive a “thank you” for something you’ve done. This passage speaks to these situations and helps us to keep our hearts and motivations right as we pursue this ministry. To keep a check on your motives, you might try anonymous encouragement now and then.

* 2:8,17; 3:2,6 – But there is also a time for personal, up close, encouragement. This book speaks often of Paul’s “intense longing” to see his brethren face to face. He also sent Timothy to them to “stengthen and encourage” them. Loving edification means sharing of ourselves, our lives – purposely and intentionally spending time with others.

* 4:10 – The Thessalonian believers are commended for loving each other, but exhorted to do it “more and more.” We cannot overestimate the power of encouraging relationships. We simply cannot do too much in this endeavor.

* 3:2,10; 5:12-14 – Besides expressing thanks for the good that people are doing, real edification should also involve “supplying what is lacking in their faith.” The goal is to help them grow stronger in their walk with the Lord and with others. For example, among other specific instructions, Paul tells these believers to honor those who work hard, to warn those who are lazy or disruptive, to be more patient and to live in peace with each other. This stronger, more direct form of encouragement may not be easy to give, or to receive, but the benefits are like the showers of rain in April which produce flowers in May. Sometimes we get tired of the rain in spring, but it is necessary for growth.

How comfortable are you with pouring on the stronger forms of encouragement?

How willing are you to receive it from others?