Encouragement for Thursday

This past Sunday was a reminder of God’s greatness. We were reminded of the name that God gave for Himself to Moses at the burning bush, to credential Moses as His representative. That term is the name YHWH, which is normally rendered as Adonai in Hebrew. In English that name usually appears as LORD. This term appears in the Bible 434 times. The discussion reminded me of the song at the top of this week’s message. It addresses God as Adonai, along with a couple other names that God uses for Himself. In addition to the verses Pastor James discussed, here are a couple other verses where Adonai (LORD) appears:

“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut…” (Isaiah 45:1)

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

Another name that the song presents for God is the name in the title, El Shaddai. It appears as God’s name or title 48 times. There has always been some disagreement between scholars as to how the term should be understood. It is often translated in English Scriptures as “God Almighty,” emphasizing God’s power. Some believe the “sh” sound at the beginning of the word was adapted from more modern Hebrew, and that the original word would be pronounced “saday.” Others believe that the title should be understood as “God of the Mountain,” which may be a reference to God’s place above us, or to Mt. Sinai. I am not a Hebrew scholar and cannot determine the best choice. Nevertheless it is a distinctive name that God calls Himself. Following are a couple verses where it is found. Both verses below also contain Adonai. It is interesting to note that El Shaddai appears in Job, which is generally believed to have the been the earliest book written, over 30 times.

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

“The LORD said to Job: ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!’” (Job 40:1-2)

The third name that the song contains for God is El Elyon. It is used by and for God 28 times. This term translates to “God Most High.” The term elyon was also used by peoples like the Samaritans to refer to their most high god, among their pantheon of false gods for different roles or purposes. In the Old Testament, the term “El” refers to the one true God, and when used in combination with elyon, “El Elyon” gives God recognition of His true standing above all. A couple of Scriptural samples follow.

“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’” (Genesis 14:18-20)

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” (Psalm 46:4-5)

The verses in Psalm 46 also simply call God, “God.” This word is the translation of the word “Elohim,” which appears in Scripture over 2,700 times. It means “mighty one,” or “supreme one.” Unlike the other words discussed already it is also used to refer to human leaders, judges, angels, and possibly others. So although it is often used as a name for God, it is not exclusively used as a name for God.

So which name is the best or most accurate for God? Adonai (LORD), El Shaddai, and El Elyon are all used by God to refer to Himself, as well as being used by others to refer to Him. I think the general guideline is that the word used in a particular case or Scripture is the one that best described the attribute of God that either God or the writer is trying to emphasize. I think God appreciates all of them, as they bring Him honor and glory. As long as we address Him with respect and love through prayer I don’t believe the particular term matters.

Take heart and be encouraged!


Encouragement for Thursday

This week finds me in Florida attempting to relax my mind, if not my body entirely. I always have a desire to get out and experience nature, as well as seeing interesting local sights. I received some inspiration from a very unusual source a couple days ago. It is a short illustration or story that I read in the Beach Welcome Center’s 2023 Annual Magazine Visitors’ Guide. Most of the magazine is filled with ads for various activities and restaurants in the Tampa Bay and nearby gulf area. There are also tidbits about the area’s history and facts about wildlife. I read this story, probably fictional, that made a few connections with me, so I thought I would share it with you. There is no author credited, but the website given is BeachWelcomeCenter.com. The editor of the publication is Christine Phares.

Once upon a time, there was a wise old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself when he thought of someone who would dance through the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he saw a young man, but the young man wasn’t dancing. Instead, he was reaching down into the sand, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As the wise man came closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?”

The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I guessed that, but why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up, and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

“But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down and picked up another starfish. He threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

This story connected in my mind to the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:3-7. While not an exact parallel by any means, it, like the story above, reminds us of the value of each individual. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)

I believe that God uses believers to reach His lost sheep. It might be tempting to think, “Gee Joel, I’m not a preacher, missionary, pastor, or teacher. Really, how much of a difference can I make?”

A couple days ago Pastor James shared the story of his sister, who works for a dentist. She shared a devotional with him, and he comes to work excited to share what he read and has learned about God each morning. Can she help everyone, and make a difference for everyone who needs God and His guidance? No, but it made a difference for that one.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

The picture above is Norfolk & Western Railroad car 402. I saw it in its current state at the Mad River & NKP Railroad Museum in Bellevue, Ohio. It was built by the Roanoke Shops in May 1941. It was built to serve as a Safety First Car (safety inspection car). It still has that label on the side of the car. It was retired in February 1969 and sold to the Luntz Iron & Steel Company. I don’t know what purpose it served with the steel company or how its journey brought it to Bellevue. Many of the cars that the museum receives are gifts from individuals or organizations, hoping that one day the museum and its dedicated group of volunteers can restore and preserve them. I saw many cars at the museum that had been restored to a beautiful condition. I imagine that one day it will be car number 402’s time for restoration.

I am not a rail car expert or mechanic, but it looked like the structure and undercarriage of # 402 were pretty solid. Eighty-two years take a toll on a steel car. Time, use, and exposure to the weather left the exterior faded, rusty, and even crumbling in spots. The march of time has a definite effect.

The march of time also has a definite effect on humans. Despite efforts to stay healthy through diet and exercise, aging takes place. Bones weaken, muscles lose tone and flexibility, and skin loses elasticity. Even worse, we experience aches and pains that a railroad car simply cannot. We tend to think of the end of our earthly lives as relief from the bounds of our physical problems and weakness. Upon our physical death, as believers our souls or spirits will join Jesus in Paradise. We can look forward to the day when at the second coming we will be presented a new physical body to live a physical eternity in Heaven. Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:20-21:

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

What exactly will our resurrected bodies be like? After His resurrection Jesus still looked unmistakably like Jesus to His followers. However, His body was no longer subject to the decay or damage that physical life on Earth could cause. We can expect the same for our bodies.

“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, NIV)

When I think of the challenges and pains my earthly body has experienced it is hard to imagine what my glorious, spiritual, Heavenly body will be. Considering God, I am sure it will be better and more glorious than I can imagine, like Heaven itself!

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

On several occasions Pastor James has stated that he doesn’t watch the news on T.V. because it hurts him more than it helps him. I have the same attitude. These days the news itself is often depressing. Compounding the pain is the spin that the national news outlets put on the news. Newscasters not only want you to know the news, they want you to feel the same way about it that they do. I don’t appreciate the effort to steer me toward a particular political ideology. It is discouraging to see people in our country with no respect for God or His ways with as much influence as they have. Considering the general state of affairs, a scripture came to mind:

“I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning, nor favor to the skillful; for time and chance overtake them all. For indeed, a person does not know his time: like fish that are caught in a treacherous net and birds caught in a snare, so the sons of mankind are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.”

(Ecclesiastes (9:11-12, NASB)

Those who are in power may find themselves out of it at any given time. Solomon had seen enough and had enough God-given wisdom to know that peoples’ comfort in their own abilities, wealth and wisdom couldn’t be trusted. He also undoubtedly learned from the experiences and teaching of his father David. David knew that earthly power and wealth was fleeting, and that God valued righteousness above anything else.

“In the Lord I take refuge;

How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain?

For, behold, the wicked bend the bow,

They have set their arrow on the string

To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.

If the foundations are destroyed,

What can the righteous do?

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;

His eyes see, His eyelids test the sons of mankind.

The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,

And His soul hates one who loves violence.

He will rain coals of fire upon the wicked,

And brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;

The upright will see His face.”

(Psalm 11, NASB)

The Law and the Prophets taught us that we would never be able to fulfill the Law to the degree God requires to be considered righteous. Thankfully God knew our weakness and addressed our need.

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, but it is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”

(Romans 3:21-25a, NASB)

We get discouraged by watching the ungodly making decisions that affect our lives. We get discouraged when events lead our country away from His guidance instead of toward it. It is frustrating that many people in our country don’t know, or want to know God. We can be thankful that nothing escapes His sight. He knows the righteous and unrighteous and will deal with each one accordingly. I am thankful we are counted as righteous because of Christ’s righteousness and our relationship to Him. God knows His people and meets their needs. One day we will see His face!

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

A few weeks ago I shared a hymn that was written as a prayer- “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” For some reason I have had musical prayers coming to mind lately. Another one stopped to visit today. Many years ago when I was young one of the Christian groups that I heard a great deal of music from was Petra. The style of their songs was varied, with some being mellow and beautiful, while others were more of a driving rock style. The style of their music would not be considered as hymn or worship music. Regardless, some of their songs carried some of the strongest personal messages about Scripture and your personal journey of faith that I have heard. If you want to listen to songs that will really make you look inwardly, listen to their songs “Judas’ Kiss,” or “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows.” Others like “Road to Zion” are calming and reassuring. The Petra song about prayer that came to mind is appropriately and simply titled “Prayer.” The song was based on teachings from 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, Ephesians 6:18-19, and Matthew 6:9-13. Following are a couple of the verses:

First, I want to thank You, Lord

For being who You are

For coming to the rescue

Of a man who’s drifted far

For calling me to be Your son

And calling me to serve

Lord, the way You’ve blessed my life

Is more than I deserve

Keep the ones I love so dearly

Fill their emptiness while I am gone

And fill the loneliness in me, in me

Let me be the evidence

Of what Your grace can do

To a generation struggling

To find themselves in You

May they come to know the love of God

May their eyes be made to see

Give me the opportunity to share

The truth that sets them free

And may unity in all things

Be the banner of Your church

And let revival’s fire begin to burn

Begin to burn

These, another verse, and the chorus of the song are all the types of prayers that I would like to make– honest reflection of where I once was, where I am, and how God can use me. I am glad there are different types of music to reach me, and all of us. I think we all learn when we hear Scriptural truth and Godly reflection coming from unexpected places. I know I am spiritually richer for it. Please watch and listen to Petra sing “Prayer.”

Take heart and be encouraged! 

Encouragement for Thursday

The day before Easter I was able to visit Lake View Cemetery to see Daffodil Hill in bloom. I have known about it and seen pictures and video of the scene for many years, but never remembered to visit when the daffodils were in bloom. I was not the only one who visited that day. There were many people walking around it and taking pictures of family and friends among the flowers. Besides the beauty of the flowers, I noticed that the scene and the atmosphere really seemed to put people into a good mood. They were happy to see the outward signs of spring and warmer, brighter weather.

Daffodils and early spring blossoming bulbs have always been seen as harbingers of awakening and new life. Hope and growth rises from what previously looked to be cold, desolate ground. This image has been common for thousands of years. As Isaiah describes:

“Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.

The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.

Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers

and singing and joy!

The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,

as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.

There the Lord will display his glory,

the splendor of our God.”

(Isaiah 35:1-2, NLT)

The word translated as “crocus” in verse 1 is translated in other versions as “narcissus,” “lily” or even “rose.” The type of flower isn’t clear, but the image of them signaling rebirth and renewal is clear. It might seem like you have been living in a desert wasteland, but that will change. “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

Although Isaiah was dealing with God’s people at a difficult point in history it is clear that his message reached far ahead to a future time.

“And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind

and unplug the ears of the deaf.

The lame will leap like a deer,

and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!”

(Isaiah 35:5-6)

When Jesus was approached by disciples of John the Baptist in Galilee and was asked if He was the Messiah that John spoke of, “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’“ (Matthew 11:4-6)

It sounds like He had Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 35 in mind, doesn’t it? I believe He did, even though it isn’t a full direct quote. The remainder of Matthew 11 presents a strong parallel theme to Isaiah 34 and 35. The unrepentant, those against God, will end up facing destruction. “Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.” (Isaiah 35:10). As believers we have been ransomed by the Lord through His payment of Jesus for our sins. May we all take Jesus’ message in Matthew 11:28-30 to heart: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Yesterday I had an old hymn come to mind that I have not heard, or thought of, in a while: Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us. The words were believed to have been written by Dorothy Ann Thrupp, who made books of hymns for children. It appeared in her “Hymns for the Young,” published in 1836. The music was written by William Bradbury, who wrote the music (as well as lyrics) for many well-known songs and hymns, including Sweet Hour of Prayer, Jesus Loves Me, He Leadeth Me, The Solid Rock, and Just As I Am.

Although it first appeared in a hymnal for children, Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us can possibly be appreciated even more by those more experienced in the faith. It is based on David’s thoughts in Psalm 23. Instead of David’s third person point of view statements about God in the psalm, the hymn takes a first person point of view. The entire hymn is a prayer to Jesus. Through the verses we recognize His leadership, ask for His sustenance, recognize His sacrifice, ask for protection from sin, acknowledge our sin and accept His freedom from it through His grace, and ask that His will and love fill our lives. I sang this hymn for many years without realizing what a powerful message it carries. When I realized it was a prayer it meant much more.

Saviour, like a shepherd lead us,

Much we need thy tender care.

In thy pleasant pastures feed us,

For our use thy fold prepare.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,

Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,

Thou hast bought us, thine we are. 

We are thine, do thou befriend us,

Be the guardian of our way.

Keep thy flock from sin, defend us,

Seek us when we go astray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,

Hear o hear us when we pray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,

Hear o hear us when we pray.

Thou hast promised to receive us

Poor and sinful though we be

Thou hast mercy to relieve us

Grace to cleanse and pow’r to free

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus

Early let us turn to thee

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus

Early let us turn to thee.

Early let us seek thy favour,

Early let us do thy will.

Blessed Lord and only Saviour,

With thy love our beings fill.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,

Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,

Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Please take a moment to listen to the beautiful rendition of this hymn in the video below. Sing along. I am sure Jesus would appreciate it.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

In the early 1900’s Enterprise, Alabama was a small town built on cotton farming. The local farmers grew cotton and businesses were built on transporting and trading in cotton. When the crop was good people made a good living. When it wasn’t the whole area struggled. Around 1915 an enemy they previously only heard about reached their town– the boll weevil. They came in large waves looking to fill their stomachs with cotton seeds. They did fill them, and no cotton plants grew. The local cotton crop was devastated. The farmers, businesses, and people of Enterprise were in trouble.

Many farmers and people in other areas that had been hit by the boll weevils tried to find ways to stop them. Insecticides, barriers to protect the plants, and other insects to attack the weevils were the most common ways others tried to protect their livelihood. Enterprise figured differently. After research someone found that their area was ideal for growing peanuts, which were of no interest to the weevils. Farmers began to plant crops of peanuts rather than cotton. They found that peanuts thrived in the area, and ended up bringing them more money and a better living. By 1919 the area was doing so well that the people of Enterprise decided to do something to acknowledge their good fortune. They built a monument in the center of town–a woman holding a giant boll weevil above her head on a pedestal. The inscription on the plaque appreciates the contribution of the boll weevil to the wealth and prosperity of Enterprise. It is believed to be the only monument in appreciation of an insect pest in the world. Over the years the boll weevil became a sort of mascot or symbol for the town. There are decorative boll weevil statues in front of businesses and buildings throughout the city.

Enterprise’s experience demonstrates two important traits about its people: 1) They were open minded and creative about finding the best solution to a major problem, and 2) They kept a healthy perspective about the positive effects the major problem had on them. Instead of wringing their hands and commiserating about the awful shape they found themselves in they found a way to make the best of the situation. They hadn’t been peanut farmers, but why couldn’t they be? Then after working through their plan and solution they maintained a good-natured attitude of appreciation for the whole series of events.

Reading about Enterprise’s history with the boll weevil brought a possibly odd Scriptural parallel to my mind. I thought about Joseph. Like the people of Enterprise, Joseph found himself in a very bad situation not of his own doing. His brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Rather than complaining about God or trying to escape his predicament he worked with it. He took his imprisonment in stride and tried to serve his new masters in the best way he could. I am sure it was a situation he never imagined himself in when he was at home working with his father. As we know, his service rewarded him with responsibility and prosperity. God was able to use him to benefit Egypt and Israel. When he met his brothers after the passing of his father Jacob, it might have been tempting to look back with anger or vengeance upon how they treated him, but he did not.

“But Joseph said to them ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21)

How do you face a difficult challenge? It can be hard to think clearly about how to best respond. When working through a solution it can be hard to keep going in order to reach a favorable conclusion. Then when looking back it might be easy to overlook God’s guidance and care. We know that God used Joseph to accomplish His plan in Egypt. I also believe God was helping the people of Enterprise in 1915 as they prayed for His help. The challenge for us is to keep a mind open enough to see and accept a solution that may not be what we first had in mind. God loves us!

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Like most of you, hymns and worship songs mean a lot to me. At various times throughout the week, probably when I need their message, they pop into my mind. Sometimes other songs do too. I was reminded of a song this week that was one of those other songs from many years ago. I am sure in the past I have shared other songs by Keith Green. He was a popular Christian musician from a period about 40 years ago. He and his wife Melody wrote songs that seemed to dig to the heart of what believing in God, accepting Christ, and living for Him meant. Unfortunately he and two of his young children left their earthly lives in a plane crash when he was only 29. His wife carried on the ministry to the less fortunate that they had begun together.

The song that I would like to share speaks of the goal and attitude I would like to always bear in mind. I hope that it means the same for you. It also fits in precisely with the message of Philippians we have been studying. Please listen to “Make My Life a Prayer to You”:

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

As of the date I am writing this message, March 8, 2023, I am remembering my younger brother Jeff who passed from his earthly life 28 years ago today. In some ways we were alike. In other ways, very different. As young kids we were close. As we got older we drifted to our own groups of friends and didn’t hang around much together. When we reached our mid twenties I think we started to appreciate each other more. We both had an interest in photography. We were both involved in musical groups– me vocally, and Jeff as a bass and guitar player in a couple of bands (although he did sing harmony, he didn’t consider himself a singer). He had a great love of animals and had many pets, sometimes taking in one friends didn’t want any longer. Both of us loved to travel. The two years prior to his passing we took a vacation together in the summer. We went to Hawaii one year, and then to the Bahamas (Nassau/Paradise Island) the next. The year he died we were making plans to go to Aruba. 

Jeff was a believer. He had struggles at different times with different aspects of life. He finally accepted that God would accept him the way he was–that he didn’t have to be perfect beforehand. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time with him when I had the chance. I wish I had gotten to know him better as an adult, and that we kept in touch better. I wish I had told him that I loved him more often. I believe he knows that I did love him, but I know I could have done much better.

This week’s encouragement is a bit different. We have family to love and people to appreciate for a period of time that is unknown to us. I would like to encourage you to make the most of your time with your family and loved ones. Get to know them and let them know that you love them. It is always tempting to think “I can do that tomorrow.” Sometimes you reach a point where you just can’t. Take advantage of the present.

I appreciate what Jeff taught me in life. I appreciate the experiences we shared–the laughter and the harder times. I appreciated having him to grow up with and be my brother. Hopefully my thoughts help you find renewed appreciation for your brothers, sisters, or others close to you. 

I would like to share a song that I think of when I remember him. It helps remind me that where he is I will one day be, and that we will meet again.

Take heart and be encouraged!