Ultimately, God is the great encourager.
Have you ever received a little bit of encouragement? It can really pick a person up and give him/her a brand new outlook. The second year I was in Seminary I became dejected due to a Systematic Theology course that was so demanding it was taking me away from my other classes. I was blue but God gave me a great idea. I reread one of my papers I wrote in Intro to Counseling the prior year. My professor was Charles Zimmerman and he was the head of the counseling department. He wrote some very nice comments in the margin of my paper and then at the end he wrote that he thought I was going to be a great counselor. That bit of encouragement from Dr. Zimmerman lifted my spirits and propelled me through the rigors of Systematic Theology. It was more than a pat on the back; it was also a shot in the arm filled with encouragement and optimism which lasted a long time.
There is a dude named Barnabas who was the Apostle Paul’s first missionary partner. When Paul became a follower of Jesus the apostles were very skeptical (due to Paul’s extreme persecution of Christians prior to his conversion). It was Barnabas who convinced the apostles that Paul was for real and that they should invest in him. Barnabas’s nickname was Son of Encouragement and he was of great help to Paul in his early ministry. I love receiving encouragement and I try to be an encourager; wouldn’t that be a wonderful epitaph, “He was a great encourager.”
Ultimately, God is the great encourager. Very frequently we are reminded in scripture that the Lord is near. That doesn’t just mean that He’s in close physical proximity to us; it means he’s here to comfort us and to encourage us and to let us know that He is in charge. That does wonders for me when the dark plague of anxiety hits me or when the dreaded cloud of loneliness knocks on my door. God wants to be your encourager directly or through a great friend.
Here are some suggestions for building a team of encouragers. First, decide to become an encourager for others; we need to get our eyes off of ourselves and we need to be a help to others. Second, lean on God for your encouragement (my favorite books for this are Psalms and Philippians- you have to find your favorite books). Third, don’t forget to pray without ceasing. Get involved in a men’s group or women’s group at your church. I host a men’s Bible study on Monday nights- my biggest joy is hearing about how the men have dinner with each other, how the men do service projects together, and witnessing the camaraderie that God has given them. If you are not in a small group you are missing out on tons of encouragement. If your church doesn’t have small groups be a pioneer and start one.
God wants to encourage you! Who are you presently encouraging in return?
But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
Remembering the minimalist
Rich Mullins is a hero of mine. Mullins was the third superstar in Contemporary Christian Music. First was Keith Green (who did not sell tickets to his concerts), second was Amy Grant, and then Mullins burst on to the scene with his worshipful lyrics and pleasant singing voice. CCM is big business and he made millions. However, he had a trust set up where he was only paid what the average wage earner made the previous year. This was back in the 80’s and 90’s; but in 2017 dollars he would have been paid $45,000 that year. I think JZ makes that per day! Mullins was a minimalist- something you don’t hear much about in Evangelical circles. He just wanted to live like an everyday dude. His trust was instructed to give the rest of his earnings to his favorite churches and parachurch ministries. Can you imagine if we all lived on 45k this year ( I know it’s impossible to pull off due to mortgages, car payments, orthodontist payments, etc)? Imagine how much we could give to our houses of worship, our parachurch ministries, and other charities. If just the upper middle class in America did that, we’d end world hunger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a free market capitalist all the way but one of the greatest things I’ve learned is that it’s greater to give than to receive.
I know a guy who I served with at a mega church in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. When he was starting out in ministry he fell behind a little on his bills. He has a wife and at that time he had 3 young children. Somebody in the church body found out that he had gotten behind. That person(s) went to Publix and bought them 2 weeks worth of groceries, put them on the front porch, rang the doorbell and ran so he (they) could not be seen. To this day, my friend does not know who it was that gave so graciously. Do you remember playing ring and run as a kid? This was the Believer’s version of ring and run! The Apostle Paul writes in the New Testament that God loves a cheerful giver. My friend and his family were so blessed by this act of kindness that they teared up. But you know who was even more blessed? The person(s) that left those groceries on the front porch and ran. Giving back to God is one of the greatest joys in life whether it’s your resources, your time, your spiritual gifts, etc. God loves a cheerful giver (some versions translate that Greek word as hilarious- God loves a hilarious giver). When Peggy and I lived in Dallas my dad decided to help us out financially on a down payment on a house; it was one of the coolest things to see how excited my dad was to give such a substantial gift- he was a very cheerful giver; we were blessed and he was blessed- it was awesome!
If you are hesitant to give at your church because of so many financial abuses worldwide, set up a meeting with your executive pastor and ask him questions such as how much money does the church give to international and domestic missions? What is the senior pastor’s salary and what is the salary of the support staff? If the church isn’t giving to missions or benevolence you might want to move on. If the senior pastor is making a huge amount and living above the median income for the church members and his staff is making below average income, you might want to speak to the Elders or move on. There are many churches that take good financial stewardship seriously and you can find comfort in giving there. If you would like to give to Listen Ministries you can do so via our website listenministries.org or via check at 233 Harbor Creek Dr. Cary, NC. 27511 We will answer any questions you might have- our finances are an open book. Our mission is to provide free counseling to Pastors, Missionaries, and Ministry Leaders locally and around the world.
“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”
2 Corinthians 9:7
How do we build a humble identity in Christ?
My wife and I had the pleasure of living in Dallas from 2011-2016. We made some wonderful friends there. One of the first things we did for pleasure was attend a Third Day concert. A freaky thing happened that made me feel like a complete alien. The opening band played a song that required audience participation. I think Peggy and I were the only ones in the whole venue that didn’t know the song and the audience part. Then, Third Day played the exact same song to open up. I felt like a total Yankee. The song was Deep in the Heart of Texas; I’ve come to love that song. Texas is a unique state- there is a popular bumper sticker that reads, “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could.” I think that quote is from Davey Crocket. Starting in 4th grade Texans take Texas history- it is ingrained in them that Texas is the most awesome state in the Union. Plus, their parents also pour out The Texas Pride Kool-Aid. One night, we were at a dinner party in which the hostess slammed Philadelphia (they lived there when her husband was pursuing his MBA). She said how unpleasant and cold the people were; this greatly offended me because I lived in Philadelphia until I was 12. Then she went on to boast about how great Texas is and how proud she is to be a Texan. Healthy or not, Texans have a very strong identity in being from The Lone Star State.
Likewise, Christians should have a very strong identity based on our heavenly citizenship given to us when we were adopted by Jesus. However, our identity is not based in pride. Our identity is based in humility as we realize that it’s not our works that shape our identity but rather it’s the grace of God that has brought us into the family through Christ. A wonderful acrostic for GRACE is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. We do our works out of our appreciation of salvation by grace.
All of this begs the question, how do we build a humble identity in Christ? The Bible is so rich in teaching who we are in Christ that as we read it we can be a miner for identity nuggets. The Texas school children are immersed in Texas identity, likewise we must be immersed in the Living Word of God. When I feel my identity is being shaken, I make a bee-line for the first chapter of Ephesians. You need to find passages from the Word that speak to you in this area. Prayer is the Oxygen for the believer- if you want to build a Christian identity try to talk to and listen to God; a good acrostic on prayer is ACTS- Adoration, Confession, Thankfulness, and Supplication (interceding for others). My favorite book on prayer is called, Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (make sure that you get the modern English version). Start listening to Christian Worship music and Contemporary Christian music- it makes a huge difference. Start serving- Jesus came to serve and not to be served and we are called to be servants; you’ll always be yoked closer to Jesus when you are serving Him. The first act of service I ever did was teaching Middle School Sunday School at the 8am service. I don’t think I had ever gotten up that early in my life (on Sunday) and now I was doing it joyfully every week. I’m still in touch with some of those kids as they are in their 30’s now. I was with Paul Chastain when he became a follower of Jesus. Today, he’s a pastor, husband, and dad of several kids. I want to encourage all of you to start serving. Pray that God will burden your heart for a specific ministry opportunity. I really don’t know if there is a better feeling than serving others for the love of God. If you want to build your identity in Christ you should also get into a small group with other believers. Most churches have small groups that study the Bible together. If you are on a college campus you can plug into Inter-Varsity, Cru, or Navigators- they all offer small groups. We all have an identity- some have poor identities some have inflated identities. Do we have a Christian identity?
Comparisons Will Mess Up Your Identity
Where do you derive your identity and peace from?
Comparisons Will Mess Up Your Identity
Comparisons will trip you up! I was born into a family of scholar athletes. My dad excelled in several sports -he won the Middle States Tennis Championship at age 17 and he went to nationals. He was also educated at Harvard Business School. My brother, Johnny, was a full scholarship soccer player at Duke and my brother, Andy, was a full scholarship football player at William and Mary. My sister, Marianne, was an excellent student and a Junior Elite gymnast. By 5th grade it was evident to me that I wasn’t like them- I was just a decent student and I was slow in sports and grossly underweight. I compared myself to my siblings and I developed a gigantic inferiority complex which I started escaping from through drugs and alcohol; by senior year in high school I had become a full blown alcoholic. College was the same but in larger proportions. My identity was messed up because I focused on the areas where I didn’t measure up. It was a very slippery slope.
God is a jealous God. He calls any type of identity shaping apart from receiving our identity from His Son idolatry. I wanted my identity to be a big man on campus but I wasn’t designed for that. A person can take a seemingly good thing such as working out at the gym and he/she can elevate that good thing into obsessive over exercising. This is idolatry because the person is seeking his/her identity in physique (that is where he or she is deriving his/her peace). As Christians, our identity and peace must come from our adopted relationship with the living God. Jesus is the Vine and we must abide in the Vine (John 15).
One of the persons in the Bible who obviously compared himself to another is King Saul (Israel’s first King). Saul started off well but he went off track in an idolatrous way. One day when he returned from a victorious battle he heard some girls singing in celebratory mode. They sang, “Saul has killed one thousand but David has killed ten thousand.” Obviously, this was just hyperbole but from that point on Saul became insanely jealous of David and he tried to kill David several times. Saul’s identity was immersed in worldly pride and not in humble adoration of Almighty God. When his pride got rocked, he lost the false peace he had derived from it and he basically went insanely jealous.
Where do you derive your identity and peace from? Is it from Jesus or is it from something obvious like food, alcohol, prescription drugs, materialism, etc? Or could it be from something subtle like your spouse, your children, your work, your exercise, etc. – all of these things are fantastic but if they are elevated above our worship and devotion to God they become false idols and we become controlled by them. The thing or person that controls us is our functional god. Most of us profess faith in God but is He actually functioning as our God? We must ask ourselves, “Who or what is controlling me?” or, “From where do I derive my identity?”
Whom do I have in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25,26)
Here Am I, Send me!
Okay, God. Shake me, bake me, and brake me, but make me more like Jesus.
Here Am I, Send Me!
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted,seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King,the Lord Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah has this awesome encounter with the Lord God Almighty and he responds, “Here am I send me.” His life is never the same and he goes on to become perhaps the most famous prophet that Israel has ever had. In Isaiah 53, his Messianic prophecy is utterly mind blowing (especially when you consider that he wrote it at least 700 years before Jesus walked the Earth). In his book WHEN PEOPLE ARE BIG AND GOD IS SMALL, the author (Ed Welch) explains that if you were visiting the Redwood Forest checking out those incredible Sequoias and then you came home and somebody told you to look at a Dogwood tree; the Dogwood probably would not leave you impressed because you’ve just been awed by the Redwoods. After having this incredible encounter with God, Isaiah no longer fears man and he sets forth on his prophetic ministry. When God is truly AWESOME in our lives our fears are greatly diminished.
I’ve had a few Isaiah 6 moments in my life- the day I became a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit indwelled my heart- I was radically changed in an instant. I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean on Easter Sunday, 1991. Later that day, I faced some opposition from a family member and Jesus blanketed me with the Holy Spirit. When God called me into full time ministry he confirmed it with an incredible encounter. In August of 2017, God gave me the call and the vision to start Listen Ministries. I quickly resigned from my job and I started driving for Uber so I could have the flexibility to launch Listen Ministries. I’ve never looked back regarding this decision because God is awesome to me.
I have a friend that I met while I was working as a Hospital Chaplain in Dallas. My friend is a Physical Therapist and she was very happy at the hospital. However, she always had a desire to be a missionary. She had her Isaiah 6 moment while on a domestic flight- she sat next to a man who told her that he was starting a health clinic in Haiti. The Holy Spirit confirmed that she was to leave the hospital and serve in Haiti. Within one year she had raised enough support to leave the hospital and to launch the clinic in Haiti. She just finished the most fulfilling two years of her life.
About 20 years ago, I was at a Pastor’s Conference in Merritt Island, FL. During a prayer time in which over 200 believers were praying. A woman prayed for Pastors to set out for England to start churches there. My friends (a couple from my home church) instantly experienced the call from The Holy Spirit to go to England. Within 18 months they had sold their house in Deerfield Beach, Fl. And they set out to start a church in Woolacombe, England. They also started a Christian Music/ Teaching festival called Creationfest (which ministers to thousands of young Brits every summer) The husband has gone home to be with Jesus but his wife is still serving in missions in York, England where she lives with their children. Their legacy at Woolacombe and at Creationfest lives on through leaders they discipled.
One of the common threads the people in the above vignettes had were that they were able to hear God’s voice. How do we prepare ourselves hear God’s voice? The disciplines of the faith (prayer, Bible study, devotions, worship music, church attendance) are all necessary but if they are done without a broken and contrite heart, they just become moral platitudes. We must have a Psalm 51 heart; a heart that says, “Okay, God. Shake me, bake me, and brake me, but make me more like Jesus.”
Perhaps the Lord wants you to start serving at children’s Sunday school or middle school. Maybe he wants you to serve at a rescue mission or at a nursing home. Perhaps He wants to use your construction skills in the Dominican Republic The possibilities are endless! I pray that He confirms your next step in ministry servanthood with an Isaiah 6 moment and with a burden for others. You will always be at your finest when you are delighting yourself in the Lord. I’ve encouraged many believers to serve over the years. I’ve never had anyone come back to me and complain about my counsel in this area. Perhaps you should take a month or two away from social media and/or television; that will free up time for you to spend with God. My wife and I have a dear friend in Dallas who shuts off her smartphone at 9pm every night she and does not turn it on until 9am the next morning- guess who she’s hearing from? Maybe the Lord wants you to serve in Foster Care. We know a couple in South Florida who started fostering a child about three years ago. Eventually, the Lord opened the door for them to be able to adopt the child. Now that is ministry in its purest sense. Maybe God has a wonderful ministry opportunity waiting for you- are you listening to him?