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Who Will Encourage You – Who Will You Encourage?

1 Thessalonians 3

Who has God placed in your life to encourage your faith?

For me, the list is long. It starts with my parents and grandparents. It continues with Sunday School teachers. Mike Taylor, Mike Compton and Rodney Salmon are like my fathers in ministry. James Lankford believed in me and gave me an opportunity to grow in ways I never imagined possible. And then there are pastors, Paul Box, Bobby Boyles, Walter Mullican, Dan Campbell, Roger Ferguson, & Chris Wall. Each in their own way helped me take my next step of faith.

There are friends I don’t get to spend as much time with as I would like because we live so far apart – Brian Waddell, Dustin Whitten, Eric Rogers, John McGee, Chris Mayfield, Johnny Baxter, Earl Donor, the Swans.

There are friends I’m honored to serve with everyday – Brent Andrews, Brad Aylor, Keith Davis, Joe McKeen, Kolby King, Ryan Hulseberg, Susan Helm & the rest of the staff at FBCO.

There are people I attend church with – these are too numerous to count.

Who has God placed in your life to encourage your faith?

Paul sent Timothy to the church at Thessalonica for two reasons. He wanted Timothy to encourage them in their faith. Paul wanted to be encouraged by their faith. And that’s exactly what happened. Timothy stepped into the lives of the Thessalonians. He encouraged their faith. He delivered the letter from Paul. He spoke words of life.

And the Thessalonians did the same.

I meet a lot of people who say they like Jesus but they don’t like the church. These people miss out on so much. God gave us one another. The church is filled with people I want to grow with, be accountable to and partner with in ministry. We encourage one another in our faith. We support one another in times of crisis. We serve together to accomplish our mission. Their strengths complement my weaknesses and my weaknesses complement their strengths. We’re far from perfect. We don’t always get along. Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes we argue and fight. Sometimes things get a little weird, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it because having these friendships is better than not having them. It’s worth it because they see things in our world I don’t see. They know things about God I don’t know. They have resources I’ll never have. And the same is true for me. When we come together, to share what we know, do what we do and use what we have something remarkable happens.

We become something more.

Your church and your friends are the family you choose. They should encourage and challenge your faith. You should encourage and challenge theirs. You should pray for one another something similar to what Paul prayed for the Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, “May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.”

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for my parents and grandparents, my friends, mentors, teachers, coworkers & the churches you’ve placed in my life. My faith is strong because of their influence. My life is better because of them. Whatever the circumstance, Father, you’ve used these people in my life for my good. May you encourage them in their faith. I pray that today each of them would know your favor. I pray for them what Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, “May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us together very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.”

I love you, in Jesus name –
Chad

Bitter: Amplify the Sweetness

SweeTarts - Bitter SweetRuth 1

SCRIPTURE

Ruth 1:16-18, “…wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (NLT)

OBSERVATION

Bitter. Why do love stories always seem to start with something so bitter? The Book of Ruth is a love story. It’s a story about family. It’s the story of a Mother-in-Law who suffered great loss and a Daughter-in-Law blessed by and a blessing to her entire family.

SPOILER ALERT. It’s great to know the end of the story. Ruth returns to Judah with Naomi. Ruth meets and marries a son of Israel. The coolest part of all? Through the bloodline of Ruth is born David, King of Israel. Through his bloodline would come Jesus, redeemer and Savior of all. That sounds big. It sounds significant. It sounds important. It sounds blessed.

But that’s not how Naomi felt. She was Ruth’s Mother-in-Law. She is part of this bloodline and a significant part of the story too. But in chapter one she doesn’t feel blessed. She feels bitter. Rightfully so, I think.

She met and married the love of her life. Moved from her homeland. Gave birth to two sons. What  happens next is tragic. Her husband dies. Both sons die. She’s left living in a land of foreigners where the economy has crashed, food is hard to come by and she’s the one responsible for her household, two morning Daughters-in-Law.

Mara, bitter, numb – it’s all Naomi has left to feel. Desperate, she returns to her homeland. Her Daughters-in-law follow. Naomi knows what it’s like to live far from home. She graciously releases her Daughters-in-law to return to their family. One goes. Ruth stays. My wife and I borrowed her words for our wedding vows.

“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Through the tragic and bitter beginning to the story of Naomi and Ruth is a glimmer of hope, a brief glimpse of love that cuts through bitterness and out lives tragedy. Naomi had won the heart of Ruth.

There was much to morn. Bitterness seems like the appropriate response. But just beneath the surface of bitterness was the sweet center of genuine love that will eventually write the story of salvation for you and me.

APPLICATION

Have you ever had a Sweetart? People deliberately put these bitter pills in their mouth for the sweetness that will later come if only they hold on. This is the pain of bitterness Naomi experienced. Certainly she suffered tragedy. Bitterness was an appropriate response. But she held on. Ruth encouraged her. Her family helped her. And in the end she became great-grandmother to kings. The bitterness of this moment amplified the sweetness of the next.

Life will have bitter moments. The relationships you build before the bitterness can sustain you. Don’t take them for granted. The end of the thing is better than its beginning. Hold on. God is working out the divine story of his relentless affection for you.

Are you living through a bitter season now? Hold on. There’s sweetness ahead.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Help. In moments of tragedy, when things don’t go my way, when the odds are stacked against me, when everything falls apart – help. I love and trust you. I believe you have my best interest at heart. I believe you know what’s best for me. I know that you are able to do exceedingly abundantly above all I ask or think. In my bitter moments give me the presence of mind to remember that the bitterness of this moment amplifies the sweetness of the next. Give me the strength to hold on. Help me trust and follow you in difficult times and celebrate and honor you when things are good. Thank you for my marriage and my family. I am blessed through them. Bless them with your favor today.

I love you, in Jesus name –
Chad

A Prayer for My Family

My daughter was born with respiratory problems. She spent the first 4 days of her life in the EOPC at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, OK. There was an IV in her foot, breathing mask on her face and they kept her in a well lit pod you had to reach into in order touch her. It was scary. Thankfully, she recovered relatively quickly.

She came home with an IV in her head. We had to administer antibiotics daily. There I was, a first-time father, with a beautiful baby girl, completely powerless to take away the hurt, fix the problem and make her healthy. At one point, as I held her and she received another round of medicine, I realized, no matter how much I may want to, I will never be able to protect this girl from all the hurts this world can inflict on her.

It was an overwhelming thought.

When I’m overwhelmed I pray. While I’ll never be able to protect my daughter from a broken heart, or save her from the bad choices of stupid people, I know the One who can. So I turned my thoughts toward God and began to poor out my heart to Him. It’s a simple prayer I continue to pray for my family and myself to this day. It goes like this:

“Father, protect my family from sin, temptation & harm.”

Short, sweet, to the point – but there’s a depth of meaning just beneath the surface of every word.

Protect my family from SIN.

I’ll be honest. I’m a knucklehead. I’m going to make mistakes. Sometimes I’ll just step it in it. Others, I’ll deliberately run headlong the wrong direction simply because I want to. Either way, my sin has consequences. God forgives my sin. Even through His forgiveness sin often comes with consequences. I may deserve these consequences, but God, please rescue my wife and my kids from the consequences of my bad choices. Do what you want with me, but don’t make them pay the price for my bad choices.

Protect my family from TEMPTATION.

Let’s face it. We sin because we like it. If it were ugly, nasty or gross it wouldn’t be tempting. But it’s not those things. Sin is always attractive. It usually looks like a good idea at the time. We choose it. We stumble, not because we’re stupid, but we have an appetite for sin. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus prayed, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What if we asked God to change our appetite for sin? What if we asked Him to give us a hunger and thirst for righteousness? What if sin became repulsive and righteousness became our driving thirst?

Protect my family from HARM.

Our world is a dangerous place. We’re going to face problems caused by other people, circumstances or simply because life happens. God can protect us from harm. Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, “…all authority has been given to me on heaven and earth.” Jesus has all authority over all things. He can use his power on your behalf. He can do this to fix things. He can do this to protect. He can do this to save. Sometimes, when we face the potential for harm Jesus will use His power on our behalf.

Matthew 28:20 says, “…and lo, I am with you always…” Sometimes Jesus doesn’t fix the problem. Sometimes He allows the hurt to happen. When He doesn’t use His power on your behalf He promises to walk through the situation with you. We may not understand, we may not agree, we may not like it, but sometimes the hurt is necessary. The Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” When Jesus doesn’t use His authority on your behalf to protect or to fix He will walk through the situation with you and produce in you a story that will ultimately benefit you and others. It becomes the epic tales we tell of battles won, insurmountable odds overcome and the glory of our God at work in us, through us and sometimes even in spite of us.

How will you pray for yourself and your family today? Perhaps this simple prayer is a good place to start.

“God, protect my family from sin, temptation & harm. In Jesus name I pray. AMEN.”