Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos – March Encourager’s Devotion

March Encourager's Devotion

Just a quick scan of news headlines can be very discouraging, even downright frightening.

Justice Department finds racial bias in Ferguson police practices

Netanyahu Says Iran Poses ‘Threat to Peace of Entire World’

Iran calls Obama’s 10-year nuclear demand ‘unacceptable’

Target to cut thousands of jobs

Get ready—Fed to cause major turmoil this month

It is hard to maintain inner peace when our world is in such chaos. Yet that is exactly what Christ came to bring us – a peace that the world will never be able to offer us (John 14:27), a peace that defies human understanding and guards our hearts and minds no matter what is going on around us (Phil. 4:7).

I remember a time when I experienced that kind of peace. I was pregnant with my first child, but had been put on 24 hour bedrest due to complications. I was fearful, worried I might be losing my baby. Lying in bed, I read Psalm 91 (NKJV):

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. … He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge … You shall not be afraid.”

Things like this are hard to explain, but as I read that passage, I could just picture God “covering me” and I felt peace in His presence.

My father once shared a story with me about God ministering peace to his spirit when he was going through a bout with cancer. He was driving down the road worrying about life, death, and his family. He had a Christian radio station on and a song called “Silent Partner” by Jessy Dixon began to play. Dad said he started to weep as he was comforted by the idea that God was his partner during that difficult time – a partner you might not always see or hear, but you know He’s there giving you strength and seeing you through.

A few years ago, I discovered prayer labyrinths (you can see prior posts about labyrinths and an explanation of what they are here). The image for this post includes a picture of one of my favorites at Mercy Retreat Center in St. Louis, MO. When my sister passed away in 2012, I was so glad I had found these beautiful places to pray. My time there brings me peace.

I share these stories with you because they show various ways to draw closer to God and attain the peace He promises – Bible reading, Christian music, prayer walks. Other means of finding peace might be through the company of friends and family, through worship services, or through inspirational reading. I have also had art minister peace to me. We might do as Paul suggested in Philippians 4:8-9 and think on anything we can that is good, or lovely, or praiseworthy when we are bombarded with negative news images. Paul also says in Philippians that when you do the things you know are right “the God of peace will be with you.” It is interesting that Paul wrote all this while he was in prison. He had discovered how to have peace regardless of his circumstances (4:11-13).

OUR PEACE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND US.

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

Now, what does all this have to do with being an encourager? Well, this is a time when those around us are worried and fearful. We will only be able to encourage them if we are at peace ourselves. You cannot lead someone to a place you  cannot find yourself. So, build yourself up in the faith and then go minister to others who need peace.

MAY YOU SHINE AS LIGHTS IN A CROOKED AND PERVERSE WORLD! (Phil. 2:15)

This post is part of the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Accompanying materials for this month’s devotions: Click here for the Bible study for March and here for the answer guide.

Encourager’s Devotional Series – February Bible Study

This Bible study correlates with February’s devotion for the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Meditation

You will have two meditation sections in the study guide this month. I’m putting an extra one up front because I believe that before you can be truly loving to others you must “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18). Understanding how much He loves you, and how He demonstrates His love for you, should fill you with a sense of security, love and appreciation which will then just more naturally flow out to others. So, to help you think on the “length, width, height and depth” of His love …

Choose a few of the following accounts from the Gospels to read (or any others that may be favorites of yours which demonstrate the love of God). Remember, these stories are found in the other Gospels too, so you might want to do some cross-referencing and read several accounts. When you are finished, take some time to meditate on the extent of God’s love and express your thankfulness to Him.

Can you identify with any of these sinners?

  • the rebellious/wasteful son
  • the doubter
  • the mockers and unbelievers,
  • the one afraid to speak for Christ
  • the one led to sin by fleshly desires

From Romans 5:8, answer the following questions:

How did God demonstrate His love for us?

When did God demonstrate His love for us?

Read 1 John 1:9 and reflect on the extent of God’s mercy and love.

Information

What did Jesus say were the two greatest commandments? Mt 22:36-40

List the five types of leaders Jesus gave as gifts to the church. (Eph 4:11)

What are these leaders supposed to do for the saints? (Eph 4:12)

What is the purpose of our works of service to one another? (Eph 4:12) Continue reading

What if missions is not my calling?

I had the honor of guest blogging for Ally Keaton, one of my former college students. I love Ally’s passion for missions and for supporting others as they serve in their own contexts.

Ally in Africa

This is a guest post by Lisa Womble, who is co-pastor and founder of The Merge, a coffeehouse/church/concert venue in St. Louis, MO. Lisa formerly served on the faculty of St. Louis Christian College. She received her Master of Divinity from Lincoln Christian Seminary and is a certified Grip-Birkman coach, helping people discern their gifts, calling, and vocational aptitudes through personality and gift assessments. To find out more about Lisa, you can visit her website.

whatifmissionsisnotmycalling

“That’s not my gift.” Whenever I lead a seminar or do team building using spiritual gifts assessments, this statement starts running rampant amongst participants. It’s usually done in jest as a way for people to jokingly say they don’t want to do a particular task. It’s funny. We all laugh. After all, one of my goals for these sessions is to help people “create a template for their ‘yes’ and ‘no’” and stop…

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Mature Love – February Encourager’s Devotion

Encourager's Devotional Series - February

Just as love is the crux of the Gospel message, it is also the key to building a vital, effective, mature church body. Love is such a key factor that Matthew 22:36-40 says everything hangs on it. When I read that verse, I picture a door with two hinges. One hinge is our love for God and the other is our love for people. If either hinge is broken, the door simply does not work as it should. It may even become stuck and be totally inadequate at fulfilling its purpose.

God has designed us with purpose. We are called individually to serve God in different ways. And we are called as a body of believers to function in a certain way so as to complete the work that God, through Christ, began on this earth.

Ephesians has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible because in it I see how BIG God’s plan is for the church. It inspires me to see how a mature body of believers could really accomplish great things. If we are ever to fulfill that calling, we must get a grip on the love thing. We will never be the mature Christians we should be, or the effective church we could be, until love is firmly planted in our hearts. That’s why I’m so excited about The Encourager’s Devotional Series and the benefits of intentionally building an encouragement ministry. I think it’s the first, and perhaps biggest, step a congregation can take in becoming what God has planned.

You see, one of the biggest and most harmful myths that pervades the church is the idea that it is “THE” ministry’s job, or the job of a select few, to make everyone else become mature believers. But Ephesians 3:14-4:16 tells us differently. The ministry’s job is to prepare the saints to do ministry. The body is called to edify itself in love. We are all called to speak to each other in ways that promote maturity (4:15), to treat each other lovingly (4:2-3), and to do works of service together (4:12,16).

Like it or not, God has called us together to be a people – plural (Luke 1:17; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10). His plan is that we work in community (Eph 2:19-22). This community aspect of our faith is so important that unity was Jesus’ “last request” concerning His followers before His death (Jn 17:20-26). It is only when we work together with other believers in love that we are most effective as witnesses of God’s grace, power and love to the world (Phil 2:1-15).

When studying the life of Moses as he led God’s people, one thing is abundantly clear – God insisted that they stay together. They could not split up and say, “Ok, those with enough faith and maturity can go into the promised land now and the rest of you who aren’t quite ready yet must go wander in the wilderness.” No, they would either go in as a people or wander in the wilderness together as a people.

Studying Moses helps us answer the question of how you stick with a group of people when you see the promised land (in other words you see that things should be better than they are), but the people around you aren’t quite “there” yet. Continue reading

A Life Mentored to the Tune of Andrae Crouch’s Music

Through his music, Andrae Crouch has been a part of my life as far back as my earliest memories. Since the evening I heard of his passing on January 8, 2015, I’ve found comfort in this loss by strolling down memory lane with his songs.

The first song I replayed after receiving the news was “Take Me Back.” Here’s what I posted that night:

I am so saddened by the news of Andre Crouch’s passing, though I know he is rejoicing with his Savior. I can’t tell you how much his music has influenced my life. I could share MANY songs of his and tell you the place in my life where the song had impact, but this one song is the one I have gone back to over and over again. I first heard it on vinyl, so I chose this version to share tonight. 

I’m so glad Pastor Andrae taught me at a very young age that I can always return to God no matter how far I’ve strayed … and He will always take me back no matter what I’ve done.

My mother loved Andrae Crouch, too, so his was the first concert she ever took me to see. We saw him a couple times. The concerts were so spiritually uplifting, but as a young teenager, I was also delighted to see how much fun Christians could have.

The image of Andrae performing “It’s Gonna Rain” at the St. Louis Kiel Opera House while dancing with an umbrella (as well as umbrellas for the choir) still brings a smile. And then – mom and I were cracking up laughing about this as we relived the memory today – at some point in the evening a choir was raised from below the stage on a lift. After singing a great “holy-rolling” number, they were taken back down below the stage but we could still see them from the balcony. That’s when the Spirit really started to move and they were having their own dance party/church service down in the pit. The audience in the floor seating couldn’t see what was going on, but they sure could hear it. The plan was to bring the choir back up for an encore, but when they did the choir members were so disheveled it took a few minutes to get them back in place to continue the singing.

Click here to see Andrae perform “It’s Gonna Rain” – but sorry, you won’t get to see the choir in action.

At that concert, as well as many other times in various recordings, I remember Andrae declaring, “We’re not just doing a concert here, we’re gonna have church!” And have church we did. I’ve “had church” in the privacy of my own home (or car, or workplace) so often with his music. The following clip is an example of how, just when you thought Andrae was done with a song, he’d take it to another level. At the end of the clip, you’ll also hear brother Crouch tell how he came to write such beautiful music despite the fact that he didn’t read music.

Andrae Crouch taught me the power of prayer and instilled in me the desire to “have church” with God’s people, whether in person or “in spirit.” I know first hand how powerfully the Spirit ministered to people through Andrae’s music. Continue reading

Flag on the Play – Church Goers, Polling, and Football

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According to Lifeway Research, “most of the faithful [83%] balk at skipping church for football.” When I read this statistic I just chuckled and thought, “I call BS.” Here are just a few reasons this was my response to the research:

  1. The survey itself means nothing to me if I don’t know how many of the people polled actually even like football. If you’re not interested in sports, it’s easy to say you “put divine revelation ahead of division rivalries” and sound quite pious when you say it. (This was an actual quote from the article – yet another reason for me to keep chuckling). But what if it was something you are interested in? Would you put divine revelation above shopping? Or a bar-b-cue? Or just the need for more sleep?
  2. Most church goers, even the faithful, have skipped church for far less than a football game – many not requiring any excuse at all. The methodology of the study said, “Responders were screened to only include those … who attend a religious service on religious holidays or more often.” Well, that’s a pretty large range. It certainly did not provide me with much clarity on who was answering the question, let alone how to apply these “startling” findings (as one article called them).
  3. This just smacked of Christians responding in the way they think they’re supposed to instead of truthfully. This is often referred to as the “halo effect.” According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, while more than 40 percent of people say they go to church every week, statistics simply do not show this to be true, with the actual figure being lower than 20 percent. And this is where I stop laughing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those who believe you must be at church every time the doors are open. My beef is not with those who do not attend regularly (although, as a pastor who spends a lot of time preparing food for the table each week, it sure is nice when people show up for the meal). My real concern here is that Christians so often feel the need to pretend they are doing better spiritually than they really are. We should be concerned about a church culture where this is the pervading mentality.

And to broaden the discussion, why are churches hoisting up the banner of this “research” in an effort to say, “See, Jesus IS better than football”? Or, worse yet, as if to say, “See, if you skip church for football, 83 percent of us faithful think you’re a heathen and consider ourselves more spiritual than you.”

 

 

 

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Bible Study Answer Guide

Click here to view accompanying materials (original devotional, study guide and general introduction).

If you would like a leader’s guide to facilitate this study with a group of friends, feel free to email me at pullupachairwithlisa@gmail.com. The leader’s guide contains suggestions for ice-breakers, activities you can lead with a group, as well as additional teaching material.

ENCOURAGER’S DEVOTIONAL SERIES – JANUARY BIBLE STUDY ANSWER GUIDE

Information

Why was Paul in prison? 2 Timothy 1:11-12; 2:9

Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel.

How do Galatians 6:8-10 and Matthew 5:10-12 advise us to respond when we are persecuted for doing good?

They encourage us to keep on doing good and not lose heart.

How do these Scriptures bring encouragement?

They help us remember:

  • You will reap a harvest if you do not grow weary.
  • The kingdom of heaven is yours and your reward in heaven is great.
  • You are in good company (with the prophets before you).

In 2 Timothy 4:14,15 Paul has two responses to those who hurt him. What are his responses and how are they different? Continue reading

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Bible Study

If you haven’t already read the January Encourager’s Devotional, you might want to check that out before proceeding to the Bible study below. And if you need to get caught up on the details of how this series works, see the introductory post.

Note, the Bible study format will always have four sections:

  • Information – This section may include additional reading, further thoughts on the month’s texts, background information and Bible study questions.
  • Meditation – Here you’ll find things to prompt personal reflection and thoughts on how the devotion may be speaking to you.
  • Application – This is where we’ll brainstorm together to stimulate ideas for possible follow-up responses to this month’s devotion. We’ll consider activities you may want to do, jot down the names of people who come to mind as you’re reading, and note personal promptings you may want to act on after contemplation and prayer. Many options should be considered even though you may not act on all of them.
  • Dedication – In this section you’ll be challenged to write down (either in the comments section following the blog, or in your own notes) things you want to commit to doing for this month or in months ahead. The list may contain both individual and group project ideas. I hope you choose to share your commitments here or with a friend or two to increase accountability for follow-through. If you choose to note them here, I’ll personally check in on you later and try to “spur you on toward the love and good deeds” you’re hoping to undertake.


ENCOURAGER’S DEVOTIONAL SERIES –
JANUARY BIBLE STUDY

Information

Why was Paul in prison? 2 Timothy 1:11-12; 2:9 (Note: I’m providing one link here to the book of 2 Timothy so you can scroll through the book for other references. For all other Scripture references, I’ll link to those specific texts).

How do Galatians 6:8-10 and Matthew 5:10-12 advise us to respond when we are persecuted for doing good? How do these Scriptures bring encouragement?

In 2 Timothy 4:14,15 Paul has two responses to those who hurt him. What are his responses and how are they different? Continue reading

When Hearts are Revealed through Social Media

 

Lord, heal our hearts.

Lord, heal our hearts.

Today my heart is grieved by those who spew hatred. I’m especially troubled by those who claim to be Christ followers yet don’t seem to realize that what they post and share on social media is saying so much about their true feelings towards others. As the St. Louis area still reels from recent events in Ferguson, the last thing we need is more people stirring up animosity.

So, I was tempted today to challenge some of the posts I’ve seen. But then I thought of the Scripture in which God says He can change people’s hardened hearts from stone to flesh. Healing for our region and beyond will require dialogue, debate, debunking and determination on the part of those trying to foster peace. In this moment, though, I am not suited for the battle because my own heart is agitated.

I’m choosing instead to make the irritating posts I see my promptings for prayer:

Holy Spirit, convict hearts as only you can. Lord, please chisel away the callouses and turn these stony hearts into hearts of flesh.

Hearing the Plea from Those Who Need Encouragement – January Encourager’s Devotion

 

Paul to Timothy

Paul to Timothy (NKJV)

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 Welcome to The Encourager’s Devotional Series. I’m so glad you took the time to see what it’s all about. Before we dive into the devotion, here are a few notes about this devotional series:

Since this is the first post in a series that will continue throughout 2015, you may want to take a look at the introduction to the series (if you haven’t already) for information regarding the schedule for posting and what you can expect in the weeks to come.

Throughout the devotions, I will present many ideas on how you may apply what you’re learning to minister encouragement to others. I pray you will see the suggestions not as a list of “to do’s” (who needs any more of those?!), but as “prompts.” Let the Spirit stimulate your thinking, but don’t let it stop with just thinking. As you read, make note of anyone who comes to mind. Then, “be diligent” and “make every effort” to minister to someone with encouraging words and deeds.

For this first devotion, it may help to get out your Bible and turn to 2 Timothy. All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise noted. You might want to read the whole book (it’s a short one) before you read the devotion. Or, you may just choose to have it open for reference during your devotional time. Either way, I hope you enjoy the devotion!

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The Apostle Paul’s writings are so uplifting I don’t often think of him as someone who needed encouragement himself. Although, it does make sense. After all, he was often beaten, imprisoned, and bad-mouthed – both by unbelievers and by those who claimed to be of the faith. So, let’s look at Paul first as the encourager in order to gain insight as to how we might also be effective at this ministry even when we are experiencing hard times ourselves. Then we’ll look at Paul as the one in need of encouragement to help us recognize different ways others may need help.

The Encourager’s Perspective

In 2 Timothy, we find that Paul is near the end of his life. He is in prison, still facing opposition, and many of his friends have deserted him. After all he has done for the church, he seems to be concerned that some people are ashamed of him.

Yet, in the midst of all these trying things, Paul declared that the Lord was his sustainer and his deliverer. That Paul could stay so positive and focused on ministry during his own difficulties is something to consider as we seek to become encouragers. Paul did several things to maintain his ministry focus even when he himself was discouraged.

  • First, he reminded himself of the truth of the Gospel and the end result of the Christian life (2:9,11,12; 4:8; see also Rom. 8:18-39).
  • He also reminded himself of how God had helped him in the past (3:11).
  • He reviewed and showed thankfulness (1:16-18) for how others had blessed him in the past (reminding me of his words in Philippians 4:8).
  • And finally, he kept the needs of others in mind, even being willing to sacrifice himself for their sake (2:10).

Following these practices of Paul, we can keep ourselves encouraged, so we can then be uplifting to others. As Paul said, we should bring the Word to others and encourage them both “in season, and out of season” (4:2). In other words, we should do it even when our own conditions are less than favorable. Once we’ve geared ourselves up to become encouragers, we then need to become observant of those around us, intentionally looking to find people who need this ministry. As with Paul, someone people might not come to mind right away because they seem to have things in their lives under control. So we have to ask God to show us the real needs people have, sometimes despite their outward appearances.

Another Perspective: Paul’s Pleas for Help

Using Paul’s list of needs can prompt our thinking as to how we may help others this month.

  • Paul had an obvious physical need – he wanted a coat because it was soon to be cold (4:13,21). Can you help relieve someone’s winter worries by giving clothing, paying a heating bill, or running an errand for a shut-in? Is there a ministry in your area you might partner with to meet such needs?
  • Paul also had a spiritual need – to be reminded of the Christian’s ultimate victory as he struggled. Through cards, conversation or messaging, can you share the Word of God with someone to encourage them to persevere?
  • Then there are his emotional needs – Paul repeatedly expressed the desire for understanding and companionship (1:4; 4:9; 4:21). Notice how he appreciated that one friend actually went out of his way to be with him (1:16-18). Paul needed to know that he still had supporters, that not everyone was ashamed of him. Can you go out of your way to spend time with someone who’s lonely? Do you know someone who might feel a sense of shame for what they’re going through? Your companionship can help them feel accepted and loved.
  • And finally, Paul required help with his ministry (4:11). Can you come alongside someone to help in their ministry, even for one day or one task?

Remember, you don’t have to do everything that comes to mind as you contemplate the suggestions for ways to lift the spirits of others. But it is important to be diligent in seeking such opportunities. The world needs more encouragers.

Let’s do our utmost to go to those who need to be encouraged.

And, let’s hurry, before the cold becomes unbearable!

Next Wednesday, I’ll post the follow-up Bible study guide for this devotion. I hope you’ll continue to participate and let me know how you are finding ways to reach out to others who need to be refreshed.

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