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More than a pat on the back

Ever have one of those moments when you just need to hear a word or two of encouragement - something that uplifts and helps you just keep on keeping on? Encouragement is something we all need more of – we just don’t get enough of it in our daily contacts. In fact, most of us struggle with discouragement on a regular basis. Encouragement is at the root of our "self-worth". It is what gives us a sense of dignity and respect - it changes how we see ourselves sometimes. As one of God’s kids, we have a sense of being “grounded” in his unconditional love, and that gives us a sense of encouragement even when our actions, personal character flaws, or lack of success in today's complicated tasks seem to be pulling us down.

That's exactly what Jesus did. He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out. "I took on the troubles of the troubled," is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it's written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we'll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!  (Romans 15:3-5 MSG)

A long time ago, I heard a preacher deliver a sermon that has stuck with me for all these years. The crux of the sermon was this: Your past and present need not continue into your future. Too many times we want to allow our present to be clouded by our past. Encouragement is simply hope - hope that not only CAN God do what needs to be done in your life, but he WILL do it - without failure! His love for us is unconditional and absolute – it will not change over time or be meted out in proportion to our behavior - thank goodness. It is steadfast even in the midst of our wavering - bless God. He loves us first and foremost! We don’t even have to show him we love him first in order to be a beneficiary of his great love – he loves us and draws us. I find that pretty doggone encouraging! God is there when we need him – even in the midst of the most difficult times. In fact, he uses those difficulties to draw us closer to his loving heart and to help our love for him grow deeper.

At times, we are facing tough circumstances – things we label as punishment in our lives - things we just don't 'get' why they are happening. As a child of God, we are not subject to punishment because of our negative behavior. In fact, we are given the opportunity for corrective action – being taught by the Holy Spirit and the truth revealed in the Word in order to correct the behavior and walk away from it in a freedom of spirit. God is using those circumstances to complete the work of perfecting us through ongoing opportunities for learning of his great love. Even in the times we need to seek him for his faithful and unwavering forgiveness, we can be encouraged - his forgiveness isn't 'conditional' based on our performance. He forgives the old and gives the new – we call this an exchanged nature. He forgets the past and focuses on the future – we call this a fresh start.

Regardless where you find yourself today – God’s forgiveness is extended to you. Your part is to see your need for forgiveness and to turn to God to receive it. His part is to extend his grace, embrace us in his tender arms, and then lead us into the path of his love. Be encouraged! God’s love is enough to make the sorrow and shame of the past and the present a thing we need not carry into our future! Embrace his love and enjoy his encouragement. Just sayin!

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