The Art of Encouragement

In a society of information overload it can be very difficult to keep our thoughts and discussions positive. Like most people, I listen to the radio when I’m driving my vehicle, I have a news homepage on my computer and I watch cable news on TV. So, with what amounts to a deluge of mostly negative information, is it possible to be positive and encourage others? Yes, I believe it is possible, though it takes practice, patience and a desire to reach out. These approaches can be mastered by anyone, which is why I call them an “art”: I don’t think they happen by accident.
Joshua 1:1-8:
“After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua, son of Nun, Moses’ aide: Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you: do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
Joshua was called upon to lead a large group of people into a new territory. His first obstacle was to cross the Jordan River when it was in flood stage. Back then they did not have bridges or ferries to provide a means to cross. They had one option available and that was to walk, so that’s exactly what they did. They were told to follow the priest “since you have never been this way before,” which is the same place many people are finding themselves in today. Joshua was worried, scared and overwhelmed, which is why God tells him several times to “BE STRONG AND VERY COURAGEOUS.”
In the last month, we have witnessed three of the largest and most devastating hurricanes ever to strike the city of Houston and the communities and cities of Florida and Puerto Rico. Thousands of people experienced these hurricanes first hand. Some stayed in their homes while others were forced to evacuate and spend days and weeks in shelters, hotels and volunteers’ homes. The devastation has been catastrophic, with lost lives, homes and personal belongings. As hard as it might be to live through these events, all the buildings and personal belongings can be replaced. Homes can be rebuilt and personal belongings can be replenished. It has been heartwarming to see such a large number of volunteers and huge donations to help the many thousands of people affected.
Worried, scared and overwhelmed is not a place anyone aspires to find themselves. That’s why it’s so important to support and encourage the people working hard to be of help. To support and encourage takes effort, a desire to listen and an attitude to want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Encouragement usually comes from listening to someone and lifting their spirits by verbal and physical actions that demonstrate that you care. Encouragement can also be expressed through notes, cards, flowers, donations or gifts.
The “art of encouragement” can become second nature if you’re willing to invest your daily energies to make someone else’s life better. Open your eyes and your heart and you will understand what I’m talking about. If you want to make a difference in this world, start in your family, church and neighborhood.

YOU CAN DO IT!

During adversity, our true character shines through. Put one foot in front of the other and don’t stop. On vacation one time, a friend and I decided to go for a hike in the mountains, just outside Big Sky, Montana. It was a beautiful September day, and we didn’t set any specific goals or talk about a particular destination; we just decided to hike three to four hours up the mountain, eat lunch, and hike back, assured as we were that on this well-traveled trail the hike would be easy.
But as we climbed, the air became thinner and breathing became more difficult, to the point where we had to stop walking in order to eat or talk. We followed the trail along a stream, crossed the stream, climbed some more, and then found ourselves in a dazzling meadow brimming with colorful wildflowers and framed by a thick grove of pine trees, with the stream seemingly meandering toward the sky. Suddenly, as if in a dream, there it was: the top of the mountain. In an instant, the goal was obvious to both of us: we had to make it to the summit. We just knew the view from that mountaintop would be beyond description. What had begun as a leisurely hike with no real objective or destination had now become a quest, motivated by our determination to make it to the top.
This mountain was going to be conquered. Sometimes all it takes is a glimpse of the top, a new turn, or a crossing over the stream, and you look up and there’s a whole new perspective—wildflowers, a new challenge, the stream you’ve been following and crossing now appearing to be flowing to the heavens. The challenge looms before you, and you say to yourself, I can get there. The air may become thinner, but it doesn’t matter because you adjust: you stop talking, you stop eating, and you start doing, moving, walking, one foot in front of the other.
The top will never be reached if you never start, or if you start but stop as the breathing gets harder or the work more difficult. So start right now and don’t stop till the summit is at your feet.
Something else I remember about that hike is that the top was farther away than it looked. Distance in the mountains can be difficult to gauge, and often objects are farther off than one assumes. Also, the weather that day changed with no warning: due to the high elevation, the temperature dropped, and as my friend and I climbed we even experienced snow flurries. In other words, even as the path was leading us toward our goal, the conditions were worsening, our environment was changing, and the degree of difficulty was increasing. Sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it? But we didn’t quit. We kept climbing, with the air thinning, temperatures dropping, snow blowing, and muscles tiring—up and up and up. Our eyes were set on the peak. We knew our view from the top would be so vivid, we never considered turning back.
Once my hiking friend and I had set our goal to reach the top, failure to do so was not acceptable. After continual zigging and zagging, after resting to eat and catch our breath, after following the trail for nine miles, we triumphantly reached the summit. The view was everything we had dreamed it would be and more. The air was crystalline, and we took in breathtaking views for twenty or thirty miles in all directions. But it was so cold we couldn’t stay very long. So, you might ask, was it worth it? Without question. Even if you were to disregard the spectacular view and take into account the hasty retreat, it was worth it . . . because we reached our goal.
Returning to the trailhead was a seemingly endless hike, and since we didn’t have flashlights, we had to keep up the pace to make it back before dark. To celebrate the day’s achievement we went to a local restaurant where we feasted on two big steaks and joyously relived the events of the day.

Courage

I love this word because it inspires and motivates. When I think of courage I think of the men and women who serve in our military. They leave all the comforts of home and family and put themselves in harm’s way to defend the weak, free the oppressed or help those suffering from catastrophes. I think of the courage it takes for the person who becomes disabled due to serving in our military.
I also think of the courage it takes for a mother or father when their child is fighting for their life with a disease, or the person who hears a negative report from their physician about a medical test. It takes courage to have an opinion about something that differs from your peers or mainstream thinking. It takes courage to tell the truth when your boss instructs you to lie. It takes courage to admit you’ve made a mistake and need to apologize. It takes courage to accept a person’s childhood that was less than perfect and move on. It takes courage to realize you have alcohol or drug dependencies and need help. It takes courage to be responsible sometimes. Life is full of challenges; it takes courage to deal with its ups and downs. It takes courage to stand up for important values that you hold dear.
In the Bible we read in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be Strong and Courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua was asked by God to lead the children of Israel. The children of Israel were a divided people who complained and were very difficult to manage. The previous leader was Moses, and Joshua was one of his subordinates. He worked with Moses for years and understood the difficulties Moses dealt with and the huge task before him, the magnitude of the job and his future responsibilities. He feared failure, rejection, exhaustion and for his life. He was reminded, as we are, of a commandment from God: “Be Strong and Courageous.”
Joshua’s first task as the new leader of Israel was to cross the Jordan River at flood stage and conquer a well-built fortress called Jericho. This was a huge, overwhelming task and battle, but Joshua heard God’s words “Be Strong and Courageous” and stepped up to the task at hand. He led the children of Israel, the Bible says the water actually parted and they crossed the Jordan, walking on the river’s dry ground, when, the Bible says, the river’s waters parted. Joshua and the Israelites then circled Jericho once a day blowing rams’ horns for six days. Then on the seventh day, they circled the fortress seven times, blew their horns and shouted and the walls of Jericho collapsed. The people inside surrendered, giving the children of Israel a conclusive victory and increasing their faith in God and His appointed leader, Joshua.
Here are courage boosters to help give you strength:
Proverbs 28:1— “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
Psalm 34:4— “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 27:1-3— “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”
Remember what God said in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be Strong and Courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

A Good Person

Proverbs 12:2 (NIV), says, “A good man obtains favor from the Lord.” To be a good man or a good woman is admirable at all times, and the thought of obtaining favor from the Lord is awesome. The Lord smiles when men and women are good, so He blesses them with His favor. I believe through His word that God desires men and women to think about being good, doing good, and receiving good.
Here’s my description of a good person: someone who does the right thing regardless of whether anyone is watching. He or she thinks before speaking and, understanding the power (positive or negative) of words, is careful to speak kindly to and of others. A good person chooses to lift up rather than tear down. A good person cares about every family member, from grandparents to his or her own children. A good person has wide shoulders and puts in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. A good person takes time to listen to his or her spouse and children and help, nourish, and cherish them. A good person is a protector, provider, and counselor. He or she leads the family spiritually, financially, and emotionally by example, never faltering or wavering. A good person is trustworthy, tells the truth, and lives by the truth. A good person apologizes for a mistake and is quick to ask for forgiveness. A good person is a peacemaker at home, work, church, and in the public. A good person serves when called upon, gives back to his or her community, and gives to those less fortunate. A good person is slow to complain, looks for solutions, encourages others, and is quick to offer a smile and compliment because he or she understands the value of other human beings. A good person knows love as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 (NIV):
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
No wonder a person like this obtains favor from the Lord. But to become a person like this requires God’s grace, prayer, and determination. To be all of the above all of the time is impossible because we are human, but His word encourages us to pursue these good traits.

Words

Life’s challenges have a way of bringing out the best in us—and sometimes the worst. Some people shine like beacons while others lash out, and still others fall apart and in extreme cases jump off bridges to end it all. I want to discuss the lashing-out and falling-apart types. If you live long enough, life will definitely throw you a curveball, by which I mean a challenge you never saw coming and which completely catches you off guard. It’s usually not fun; however, as you work through it, you often grow emotionally and spiritually and gain strength you may not have known you had.
The tongue is very small yet capable of causing a significant amount of trouble. People go wagging it about without giving a second thought to the devastation it can cause or the harm it can do.
In Psalms 34:13 (NIV), David says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” He gives us a short sentence with a huge message and a piece of extremely good advice. Of course, “evil” is a subjective term. Some people think others deserve a good tongue-lashing regardless of the ramifications of their words. And haven’t we all at one time or another said that if nothing else we would feel better because we got something weighty off our chest? But ask yourself this question: did you really feel better? I never felt better after lashing out at someone, even if I thought that person deserved it. Almost always, he or she will become defensive or aggressive because his or her feelings may have been hurt. Moreover, things are said by both parties that damage the other. Are such damaging words “evil”? I don’t know, but they’re unquestionably not good.
Lashing out at someone with emotional, explosive words spoken with hateful intent seems to be more commonplace when people are under financial or personal stress. Are you living under such stress? Is it possible that lashing out has become the primary means of dealing with your stress? Chances are you can’t answer that question objectively, because in your eyes you can’t see or don’t want to believe that you would behave in such a manner. Therefore, ask a loved one or friend to be honest and tell you the truth.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to accuse anyone. I’m being extremely truthful from my own experience, and fortunately God helped me to recognize my personal path of destruction before my behavior alienated my whole family. What you communicate can be the “kiss of death.” If you belittle, criticize, correct, embarrass, or ridicule someone, regardless of the situation, you can deliver a kiss of death to their emotional and spiritual well-being—and to your own.

Merry Christmas

Have a Merry Christmas
Christmas will be celebrated in just a few days and if you’re like me and thousands of others you still have presents to acquire. This time of the year can be joyful for many people and stressful and depressing for others. It all starts around Thanksgiving with our schedules filling up with the demands of church, family and work. Practices start full force if you’re involved with your choir, Sunday school or any church program. Traveling can be a lot of fun and adventurous as we visit distant relatives and friends; however, this too can add a level of stress. At work our responsibilities may increase as we near year’s end: sales quotas, reports and holiday parties. Again, this can be exhilarating and fun but also add additional stress to our lives.
We also carry emotional baggage from the past twelve months or even longer, which only compounds the stress as all these things pile up. The wrongs, perceived or real, we’ve received from co-workers, family and friends can also get added to the pile. With all this going on, plus the responsibilities of work and family, it’s no wonder we can be robbed of the joy of the holidays.
Here’s an instant fix: forgive others and then forget about it. I know this sounds ridiculous, but the burden and heaviness of harboring bad feelings and bitterness due to hurts we’ve received can add a tremendous amount of stress to our lives. This is a great time to give the best gift ever to yourself by forgiving others! We often rationalize our own thoughts and ill feelings about those who have hurt us by persuading ourselves that these thoughts and feelings are somehow fixing what they’ve done or that they deserve what we’re feeling. In reality, of course, how you’re thinking or feeling about others doesn’t change or correct what they’ve done or said to you.
Here’s a Bible verse to help support what I’m suggesting: Ephesians 4:31-32, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.”
If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve experienced being falsely accused, wronged, judged, lied to and verbally abused. It hurts and bruises us emotionally. When we harbor these hurts they fester and grow until we are overcome with them and can’t shake them from our thoughts. They wake up with us and go to bed with us. They’re like a nightmare that won’t go away; every time we fall back to sleep we start where we ended the night before. Do you get my drift? Only if you harbor these feelings can you relate to what I’m saying. It’s time to dump the ill will and bitterness! Forgive those who’ve hurt you! You will be the winner! Just imagine waking up tomorrow with NO ill feelings toward anyone! Just imagine going to bed without the heavy burden of being disappointed and hurt by anyone. Do you think you’ll sleep better?
Merry Christmas to yourself! The best gift you can give yourself is forgiving all those people who’ve taken advantage you, abused you and wronged you in this and previous years. Forgive—forgive and forget. Bury all the bitterness, anger, slander and every form of malice.
Take the time to get alone and pray that God will remove these unkind feelings toward others from your heart. As you pray for God to help you forgive others, you’ll feel peace and comfort. The space in your heart that was occupied by bitterness will be filled with love. It really works, and you will feel the benefits from this great gift. Bring the joy of Christmas back into your life!

A Father

In Isaiah 64:8 the prophet says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This scripture describes God as our father and our potter and us as the clay to be molded and shaped by Him. A potter is someone who takes a piece of clay and shapes it by applying water and pressure in certain areas, creating something useful. The piece of clay cannot change without being touched by the hands of the potter, but when touched by the potter the clay is transformed into something beautiful, with meaning and purpose. That is God’s objective and desire: He molds you if you let Him; He creates in you beauty, meaning, emotional stability, and spiritual strength.
The influence of an earthly father is significant in shaping us spiritually, physically, and emotionally. A father’s love and care is, in ideal circumstances, unconditionally, patient, and kind. Again using the analogy of an earthly father, God wants a significant role in our lives. He is our friend but does not want to be “just” our friend; friends after all, come and go, while a true father stands by our side forever.
God wants to be a part of our spiritual life, to commune with us… with you… through prayer, to be worshipped and hallowed by you. He wants to communicate with you about your needs, where you live, what you do in your career, how you feel, the state of your health, and the success of your marriage. Your finances and how you manage them are of great interest to God, not for His benefit but yours. Your joy and happiness? God places them at the top of his priorities. When you’re sad, confused, and unhappy, God reaches out to give comfort and soothe your pain. As your Heavenly Father, He loves you from the time you’re conceived through your entire life on earth and into eternity. His love is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and forever beyond!

Refresh

Proverbs 11:25 (TLB) tells us, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will be refreshed.” Take a moment to think about this proverb and what it means. Does “the generous will prosper” mean prosper financially? spiritually? emotionally? physically? Supply your own meaning and, as you do, have faith in God, yourself, and others and witness a miracle!
“Refreshing others” could encompass many meanings, too. To some, it could mean simply a nap or a good night’s sleep; to others, a swim in a cool stream, lake, or pool on a hot summer’s day; for yet others it could be kind words from a friend, family member, or even a stranger. The word “refresh” is subjective and varies in meaning, as each day takes on its own shape. Again, the Bible allows us to fill in the blanks with a simple message: those who refresh others, in whatever circumstances, will themselves be refreshed. How do we refresh others? you might ask. If you have twenty different friends, my guess is there are twenty different needs, thus twenty different ways to refresh your twenty friends.
Where does a person start to refresh others? By removing the focus from oneself and placing it on others. Stop taking and start giving; give a lot and don’t stop! Pray for other people, call them, send them notes of encouragement. Refresh coworkers or subordinates by going out of your way to assist them with their tasks. Help them succeed without any recognition for yourself. Do good, then disappear.
Change your outlook. It’s easier said than done, I know, but we can definitely change some things in our lives just by changing our habits. For example, you can lose weight by burning more calories than you take in, so eat less and exercise more. Though it sounds simple, we all know it takes effort, discipline, persistence, and often help. Your outlook today is the sum of all your life experiences buried deep within, so deep they’re extremely difficult to change on your own and often require help, just as the effort to lose weight does.
On the other hand, change can sometimes be quite simple, although even simple change often takes determination. Start by reading the well-known Bible verse John 3:16 (TLB): “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Why is this verse so well known? Because it summarizes the love of God through the gift of His Son, because by having faith in Jesus we find salvation and the promise of eternal life.
Life definitely has its challenges, twist, and turns ; some we like, and some we don’t. There are really hard times and really good times. With a relationship with Jesus Christ, the good times are great, and the hard times are bearable because, remember, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28, TLB).
So look for opportunities to say thank you. Upon waking, thank God for the bed you slept in, the roof over your head, the rest you received, for running water, heat, and air conditioning, the breakfast you’re about to eat, and, most of all, for your family. Don’t take any of these for granted if you’re blessed with them.
My point is to be thankful for the seemingly simple things in life. Always start your day with thanks—thank God, thank your spouse, thank your children, thank your neighbors, thank your coworkers—and you’ll develop a heart of gratefulness and an attitude of optimism. Find the good. If you search deep enough you can find the good in everyone and everything. I know this may sound foolish—even naïve—and impossible, but try it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It is an abundant joy to share and spread the love of God wherever possible throughout your day. Your life will become better as you make an effort to make the lives of others better.

Apples of Gold

Just think what would happen if every day we woke up with the desire to look for opportunities to speak words of encouragement to the right person at the right moment. I believe with all my heart that when we look for such opportunities, God helps us find that specific person with that specific need.
In Proverbs 25:11 (NIV), the Bible says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” This scripture is one of my favorites because it gives a visual depiction of the benefits of speaking the right words to a person at the right time and the positive results those words produce.
You might ask how I can be so sure and so passionate about this divine appointment. I’m sure and passionate about it because I’ve been on the receiving end of those encouraging words. I remember a friend of mine not too long ago who said, as we discussed one of my prayers, “It’s not a matter of if God is going to answer your prayer, it’s a matter of when He is going to answer it. His timing is perfect.” My friend and I agreed that we thought the “when” was God’s will. My friend gave me a reassuring hug, and I can tell you his words of encouragement definitely were “fitly spoken like apples of gold in pictures of silver” I went on my way with a renewed confidence that my travails were only a bump in the road and that everything was going to work out.
Why make such an effort to boost someone else’s self-esteem? Studies show that one reason people are so unhappy is that they live a self-serving life, always asking what’s in it for them. When we look for ways to help others, our focus changes, spreading outward, and so in being a blessing to others, we will also be blessed, and our own problems become smaller as we help and care for those in need. Reaching out can be as simple as saying, “It’s not a matter of if God is going to show up – it’s a matter of when He is going to show up.”
It’s amazing how words spoken to the right person at the right time are similar to the stars aligning just so, as in those once-in-a-millennium times when a planet that is normally not visible to us presents itself because the heavens themselves are in the right place at the right time. It’s a special moment or opportunity that, if missed, may never come again, as special as the difference you can make in a person’s life by acting at the right moment – also a moment that, if missed, may never come again. When you really think about how unique the moment is and how it will forever be lost to you and the other person if missed, you begin to truly appreciate how “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” You see?
YOU REALLY CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Olympian

Life is definitely not always easy. It’s full of challenges, heartache, turmoil and difficulties, but it’s also full of happiness, fulfillment, peace and enjoyment. A person must live through some of the not-so-good or bad times to fully appreciate the good times. Have you ever felt overwhelmed or anxiety ridden or been haunted by sleepless nights? Conversely, have you ever felt peaceful, relaxed and rested? We’ve all lived and felt both. Usually, the quality of our life is directly related to the decisions we’ve made and the results or ramifications of those decisions.
I’ve personally lived through several poor decisions and the results they produced, asking myself how and why? Life is full of such poor decisions, and believe it not, we are all very much alike. It’s just that some folks make better decisions than others, some are more aggressive or conservative than others and sometimes we’re flat out in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. I’m sure you can relate to it all. I remember several years ago I had just bought a new Chevy SUV. It was nice and pretty, electric everything. I was in my third week of ownership when someone ran a red light and broadsided me, knocking me into a fire hydrant. So my brand-new SUV was all dented up on the passenger side from being hit and the front was all bashed in from hitting the fire hydrant. It was so damaged, it required towing. The car in front of me wasn’t hit or the car behind me—just me, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was banged up, bruised and frustrated. To add to my problems, the person who hit me didn’t have insurance. You talk about a bad day! It could have been a whole lot worse, though: what if pedestrians had been on the sidewalk when I jumped the curb and hit the hydrant? That could have been catastrophic, for them and for me. I asked myself, why me? One minute later, and I would have been spared this very painful, aggravating and expensive ordeal. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t my fault or the result of a poor decision—sometimes bad things just happen. Success, and sometimes survival, requires determination, dedication and perseverance.
As the 2016 Olympics came to conclusion and after spending many hours enjoying the many different events, I realized that out of 11,000 contestants only three athletes won medals in each event. However, all 11,000 contestants went through a weeding-out process in their individual country to qualify. They spent hours, days, months and years training. They traveled to compete with other athletes and were chosen based on their performance to represent their home country. It required physical and mental determination, dedication and perseverance year after year. They excelled in their field ahead of many competitors until they came out at the top, the best and the cream of the crop. They made it to the 2016 Olympics, which in my opinion makes them all winners!
Which reminds me of two Bible scriptures:
• John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
• Romans 10:9: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Regardless of your age, ethnicity, gender, failures or successes, if you read, say and believe these two scriptures, you are a winner! Where you will spend eternity can be determined in the next few moments based on your decision to either accept or reject Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
Anything and everything in life that has value, is good and has positive eternal consequences will take determination, dedication and perseverance.