Speak wisdom with kindness, always encouraging others

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

I share the following “modern-day parable” that was on a website owned by a friend of mine (who happens to be a mortician). It’s funny, but it’s also very insightful, and it had the Scripture verse I quoted above at the end of it originally. Enjoy — and LEARN more about God and others through the humble story of some frogs:

A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, and two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other frogs gathered around the pit. When they saw how deep the pit was, they told the unfortunate frogs they would never get out. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up out of the pit.

The other frogs kept telling them to stop, that they were as good as dead. Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and simply gave up. He fell down and died.

The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and suffering and just die.

He jumped even harder and finally made it out.

When he got out, the other frogs asked him, “Why did you continue jumping. Didn’t you hear us?”

The frog explained to them that he was deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.

This story holds two lessons:

1. There is power of life and death in the tongue. An encouraging word to someone who is down can lift them up and help them make it through the day.

2. A destructive word to someone who is down can be what it takes to kill them.

Be careful of what you say. Speak life to those who cross your path.

The power of words….it is sometimes hard to understand that an encouraging word can go such a long way. Anyone can speak words that tend to rob another of the spirit to continue in difficult times. Special is the individual who will take the time to encourage another.

Really easy to let pity-party mentality distract us from God, isn’t it?

Read 1 Kings 19:9-18

“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ … ‘I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away’ … ‘Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him’” (1 King 19:9,10,18).

I want to begin this post with an important confession: Sometimes I’ve felt sorry for myself when things haven’t gone as I expected, even feeling a certain twinge of bitterness sometimes because I honestly felt like God “owed” me a different outcome.

I’d be willing to bet I’m not alone in this, am I? I’ll be you, too, have reached low points in life when you were ready to join me and Elijah the prophet in our little pity party, haven’t you? Be honest. No one knows about it except you and, uh, well, GOD — and he’s very aware every time we fall into the morass of doom, gloom, and self-loathing that generates such feelings of despair and/or self-pity.

This is one of the most vivid and meaningful Old Testament revelations, I think, of how God is and how he works in our lives, as well as what he expects of us.

Bottom line is probably this: God in his great grace has chosen to love and use us piddly little human beings in his plan for our world and our universe. Sometimes that doesn’t work out the way WE might want. It’s at those times we are most vulnerable to dropping the ball, to missing his plan and doing his will. So it’s at those very times of discouragement or distress that we come to rely on him.

Here are some steps I’ve found effective for dealing with self-pity and the accompanying blues/depression. Take them for what they’re worth and I prayerfully hope they’ll be helpful when you find yourself feeling afraid, worried, or just plain down and out at the way life may be going:

1. Rant to God, just as Elijah did. Do you think trying to ignore your anger, fear, or bitterness will somehow make it go away? If you’re like me, that only puts me in the odd situation of trying to convince God that I’m a “happy warrior” stronger or braver than I really am. If you re-read this passage carefully, you’ll notice that God asked Elijah twice “What are you doing here, Elijah,” and Elijah gave the same self-oriented answer both times.

I don’t know why this process was repeated twice, but maybe it was because God wanted Elijah to realize God really, really knew just how Elijah was feeling and acting — and wanted to emphasize he had something better and expected something more out of the prophet.

2. Wait for God and really listen for his response to our ranting. Oh, I don’t mean you’ll hear voices in the walls or angels’ choruses doing backup singing for the mighty voice of God as it comes booming into your living room. Indeed, in Elijah’s case it was in the silence following some pretty spectacular physical manifestations that carried the “voice” and presence of God to him.

3. Then remember what God has “called” you to do and get on about doing it, even if you don’t feel like trying. God was pretty emphatic in his questioning/questioning and in Elijah’s response/response that it was time to get up and get about doing God’s will. Once you’ve poured your heart out to God, acknowledged your hurt and discouragement, it’s time to stand back up (to “cowboy up” as some Western writer friends of mine would say!) and move on.

4. Never forget that you are not alone — you are part of God’s community. Here’s the part that too many dear, sincere people seem to forget. Elijah was convinced he was the only disciple still left who was seeking God and seeking to follow him. It’s really easy to see only the “box” we’re in — you know that box, right? It’s the one everybody keeps telling us to think outside of. What a shocker it must have been to Elijah, after the narrow escape he’d made from Jezebel and Ahab, to discover there were still 7,000 faithful followers of God in Israel. (Here I would insert a somewhat old-fashioned, go-to-church plug: Find a like minded group of believers where you live right now and start meeting with them regularly. Turn off about 90 percent of the TV preachers you might be tempted to follow. Give your local church your time, best efforts, and — yes! — financial support.)

Hope some of that’s worthwhile for you. It helps when I’m falling into the pity-party trap and taking my eyes of God and his purposes for me.

Which nation is God’s nation? Israel or America? Or some other nation?

Read Romans 9:1-18

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants” (Romans 9:8).

I am a native-born citizen of the United States of America and proud of it. This nation offers something most other nations in the world do not: The right to speak our minds and freely disagree with others. When I start to get disgruntled about all the politics, bickering, and other problems America has, or when I see all the injustices and social problems American’s still must resolve, I remind myself that we still have an incredible lifestyle and some wonderful liberties that many other nations lack.

But I have never nor will I ever think of America as a “Christian nation.”

When I look at the world today, and looking back throughout history from ancient times to the present, I see that God had a plan for the Jewish people. They were chosen by him to bear witness to his power and presence. They were given custody of the Law of God and were the people through whom God revealed himself and his love for the world.

But I have never nor will I ever think of Israel as “God’s nation/people” in our world.

The “true Israel,” the real “nation” or people of God are those of us who are followers of Christ, members of his Body. Let me say that again in a bit different way: God doesn’t have a nation, God has people who have been “born again” (a phrase in the original Greek of the New Testament best translated “born from above”). People are Christians; nations are NOT Christians.

Why is this truth important today? It’s important because too many folks have confused a sort of odd, religious nationalism with biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity puts the Kingdom of God above every nation or kingdom on the Earth and says we, as believers in Christ and his followers, owe our ultimate allegiance not to ANY government in this world. We are members of God’s Kingdom first and citizens of whatever earthly “kingdom” secondly.

With that perspective, we can see more clearly that there are times when America and Israel and every nation in the world may fall short of God’s plan for his people — understandably, of course, because no nation in the world is God’s “people.” God’s people live in every nation and are united not by politics or governance, but by faith in Christ and obedience to him.

Jesus put the matter in perspective with those well-known words he spoke to the Pharisees when they tried to entrap him publicly and get him branded a traitor to Rome. He said: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). We owe the allegiance of good citizenship to our “earthly” government, wherever we live. But we owe our highest allegiance to the Kingdom of God — not a political nation, whether that’s America or Israel.

Ignore false prophets, prophecy time lines: Live for Jesus today

Read John 16.

“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:16,22).

A very misguided “preacher” or “pastor” — or perhaps he was just an enterprising lifelong salesman who had made a ton of money off of spiritually gullible radio listeners and followers over the years — caused quite a stir all over the English-speaking world not long ago when he confidently warned that May 21, 2011, was going to be the date of “the Rapture.” According to this silly fellow and his equally silly followers, true believers would be caught up on May 21, 2011, to be with Jesus; the rest of the world would suffer terrible disasters and catastrophic events until the day of Final Judgement, which he said would happen on October 21, 2011 and end all of time as we know it.

Really?

You can guess, of course, what he did when May 21, 2011, came and went without believers being caught up from the world, and actually without the worldwide catastrophic events he said would happen. He concluded that his calculations were off. Or, no, wait — May 21, 2011, was the “spiritual” judgment and October 21, 2011, will be the actual Final Judgment.

This silly fellow did the same thing in 1994, predicting the Rapture and/or Last Judgment (I haven’t looked it up to be sure exactly WHAT he expected back then) for the autumn of that year.

My dear Lord — and I say that as a sincere prayer, though a prayer of dismay — how many foolish people with sincere hearts seeking to serve God will be duped by how many silly fools (let’s call them what they are: “false prophets”) before we’ll learn. God has NOT put us in this world to seek after obscure “truths” of Scripture. He has put us in this world to love and serve him and to share that love in service to everyone we meet.

When will the Rapture happen? When will the Final Judgment take place? Are we living in the Last Days or the End Times today?

Who knows and who, really, is supposed to care outside of God himself??

Of course God intends for us to eagerly look forward to Jesus’ return. That ought to be part of what motivates us to care about others and to share that love of God in Christ by the way we live and serve those all around us. But no where are we told to obsess over “Bible prophecy” or some of the “end times” wall charts so-called teachers throw out there to satisfy our curiosity for their financial gain. (Do they still use wall charts or have we progressed to Power Point presentations in Bible prophecy “seminars” these days?)

Yet still, given the way human nature seems to crave a careful, simple plan for living, there will always be people who flock to the Bible prophecy industry, eagerly laying out big bucks to line the pockets of these wonderful teachers. A Harold Camping (I think that was the latest false teacher’s name) seems to arise every 10-20 years. And every time, ignorant believers let themselves be duped by this latest false prophet’s message. Time after time, it’s as though otherwise thinking, intelligent people tell themselves, “No, really, I really think THIS time, this guy has it right …”

No, not really. I honestly believe you ought to throw away your Bible if you aren’t going to use it for anything more than some sort of sanctified “magic book” to see into the future.

Forget about seeing into the future and set about loving God fervently, serving God joyfully, and serving all those people in need who God brings into your life today!

False teachers take advantage of others, profit off destroying faith

Read 2 Peter 2:1-22

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them” (2 Peter 2:1,19).

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR US?

Wow! The Apostle Peter really went on a tear against false teachers, didn’t he? As you read through this entire second chapter of 2 Peter, you clearly get the idea that false teachers, deceptive Christian leaders, etc., were worse than murderers! God’s punishment for false teachers, according to verse 17, is reservation in the “deepest darkness.”

And, indeed, we all sort of understand this, don’t we? When someone swindles or scams people out of
their money or possessions, etc., we consider such a person to be a scoundrel. But if that scoundrel
does his dirty deeds in the name of the Lord, as a supposed teacher of truth and one who calls people to faith in God — we absolutely can understand how much more terrible he is than a simple, garden variety scoundrel or swindler, can’t we?

Because cheating or misleading people for your personal profit in the name of God goes beyond betraying the victim’s trust in you — that involves turning their precious faith in God into an avenue of mockery and financial profit.

It troubles me to see churches grow into “mega churches” numbering in the thousands, even tens of thousands. I see too much “performance” or “entertainment” worship in so many such churches, instead of the community of faith that God intends every church to be. As a result, there is tremendous risk that false prophets will gain footholds in such operations, eager to take advantage of people’s financial generosity and turn the church into personal profit machines.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that every large church is a scam or is being used by the leadership for personal gain. But I am saying that as churches grow into huge groups, the potential for abuse grows.

What about those of us not in positions of leadership within a church? What about those of us who are simply seeking to be faithful to God and open to any ministry he sends our way? We, too, must watch ourselves carefully. We must seek to work for God and reflect the love of Christ to everyone we meet, both inside and outside the family of God found in our local church(es). We must be careful that we never take advantage of others’ faith. Don’t mislead others, under the guise of faith. If we do, we face some pretty awful consequences, don’t you think?