Tag Archives: Encouragement

Responding to the Growing Spiritual Darkness.

Our nation and the world have witnessed an overwhelming amount of change the past couple months following the death of George Floyd. Many voices for change have been positive, such as the efforts by peaceful protestors to secure racial equality and justice for the African American community. Other voices, however, have adopted violence as their primary tool for change, evidenced by the devastating riots sweeping through many of our cities – creating chaos, social upheaval, and a trail of destruction. These agitators seem intent on hijacking the peaceful effort to end racism, and using the moment instead to create anarchy and fuel revolution. Many in the movement are especially hostile to the Church and God’s people.

Using social media and intimidation to eradicate dissent, these militants demand allegiance to their radical worldview. They are intolerant of those who disagree, insisting such people be fired from their jobs, suspended from their colleges, removed from their communities, and canceled from the culture. Their aggressive and threatening tactics have had a disturbing effect on people across the country.

Many now live in fear that something they say could cost them their career, their reputation, their safety, or their freedom. As a result, many have resorted to silence, self-censorship, or an outward embrace of an ideology they inwardly loathe. These acts of timidity and compromise are understandable when you consider the stakes.

Sadly, these feelings of fear and trembling have infected those inside the church as well. Feelings compounded by the growing effort by many elected officials to place restrictions on church attendance, Christian worship, home-based Bible studies, and obedience to our Lord. Afraid of the power wielded by these civic authorities and angry agitators, and intimidated by their threats and belligerent postures, many Christians have silently submitted to the state. Others have reluctantly conformed the expression of their faith to the rigid restrictions of elected officials, unelected militants, and self-appointed social media bullies.

As I considered this changing cultural landscape and reflected on what God would have His people do, a very relevant verse of Scripture came to mind.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).

This verse, which no doubt many readers will be familiar with, is both encouraging and challenging. It draws a clear distinction between the spirit at work in the world and the Spirit that rests on God’s people, offering us a reminder that “He who is in us (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is in the world (the spirit of antichrist)” (1 John 4:4). The Spirit of God strengthens us to confront and respond to those who sow chaos, hate, and deceit; to those who seek to weaken and dismantle the church.

We must remember that we do not operate in a spirit of fear, cowardice, or timidity. The world, however, does because it is not empowered by the Holy Spirit and does not have the love of God in its heart. But God’s love does abide in us, and that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

Some may disagree and say, “Look at the disciples who trembled in fear when a storm jeopardized their safety on the water. And what about, Peter? His fear of an angry mob caused him to lie about his relationship with Jesus the night before Christ’s death on the cross.”

It is true that Peter and the other disciples displayed fear and timidity during their time with Jesus. But all that happened before the Holy Spirit descended on them in Jerusalem. Post-Pentecost Peter, in contrast, boldly proclaims Christ wherever he goes, even when Jewish religious leaders threaten him and subject him to flogging.

Instead of being saddled by a spirit of fear and timidity, then, we are emboldened by the Holy Spirit. This is not the generic power of influential and mighty people. It is power infused by the Holy Spirit. “’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). We are supernaturally empowered to behave with boldness.

That supernatural boldness, in turn, is to be used for supernatural purposes. We are not empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our worldly dreams, achieve worldly success, or satisfy our selfish ambitions. Instead, we use it to advance God’s agenda, do the Lord’s will, and proclaim the Good News of Christ to a dying world.

Holy Spirit power confronts evil, protects the oppressed, cares for the exploited, speaks for the voiceless, intervenes on behalf of the marginalized, defends the helpless, comforts the downtrodden, encourages the discouraged, opposes the wicked, extends hope to the hopeless, and stands for righteousness.

Perhaps most of all, Holy Spirit power speaks truth to a world engulfed by lies and deceit. When society lies, misrepresents, fabricates, distorts, and deceives, we must counter with truth. Truth grounded in Scripture: unvarnished, hope-restoring, soul-nourishing, sin-exposing, outlook-encouraging, purpose-giving, God-glorifying, biblical truth.

Truth points people back to God. Truth reveals the sin in our lives. Truth makes known the Creator. Truth unveils God’s love for us. Truth discloses our need for repentance. Truth communicates God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Truth speaks to our need for regeneration, redemption, justification, and sanctification. Truth informs us of God’s holiness and His desire that we pursue godliness, righteousness, and obedience. Truth shifts our focus away from ourselves and our circumstances, and reorients it towards God and His magnificence.

Truth exposes and refutes the relentless litany of lies the god of this age tells us: God is not real; God does not care; God did not create the heavens and the earth; God is not omnipotent; God is not worthy of our worship; Jesus was just a man; Jesus is one of many ways to God; Jesus did not live a perfect life; Jesus was not resurrected; Jesus is not coming back; We are good enough; We can earn our way to heaven; We can say the sinner’s prayer and keep living the same lives; We are the centrality of the gospel; We can ignore Scripture when it doesn’t appeal to us or it makes us uncomfortable; We control our own destinies; Absolute truth does not exist; Sin is a silly invention of man; Faith is foolish; Hell is a myth.

We could spend days listing the lies that Satan sells and tells. After all, he is the father of lies and there is no truth in him. And deception is one of the defining features of the end times and the antichrist who “through his cunning will cause deceit to prosper under his rule” (Daniel 8:25). The antichrist’s reign is built on lies crafted so cunningly that they deceive everyone in the world except those sealed by the Spirit of God. Billions of people will embrace and peddle his deceptions in the end, including the powerful, wealthy, intellectual, and elite – from politicians and business titans to cultural icons and celebrities.

Sadly, millions of churchgoers will renounce their faith and leave the church after falling for his falsehoods. These are those who claim Jesus as Lord with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. They pledge their fidelity to Christ as long as He makes them the center of His universe, gives them the worldly desires of their hearts, bequeaths them lives of comfort, leisure, success, and happiness, and makes no substantive demands of them. They proclaim Christ as long as it benefits them materially, socially, financially, and professionally. But as soon as their (faux) faith jeopardizes their career, their status, their safety, their prosperity, their reputation, their freedom, and their lives, then they repudiate Jesus and disown their faith. These are those prophesied by Hosea, God’s people who are destroyed for lack of knowledge (truth).

In addition to a Spirit of power to speak the truth boldly, the Lord gives us a Spirit of love. Love bestowed on us by the Spirit is supernatural, allowing us to love not as the world does but as Jesus loves. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. Selflessly. And not just love those who love us in return, but the stranger and enemy as well.

Love should also compel us to speak truth to those who have yet to surrender their lives to Jesus: friends, strangers, colleagues, neighbors, associates, and family alike. Refusing to share the Good News of Christ with those around us is the ultimate act of selfishness and reveals an absence of genuine love for those in our lives.

Keep in mind that a considerable cost exists for boldly proclaiming Christ, speaking truth, and sharing the Gospel. Jesus warned His followers: “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are My disciples. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other” (Matthew 24:9-10, NLT).

It seems that truth has never been as much a reality in America as it is now. Fortunately, God gives us a spirit of self-discipline (as Paul reminds us above in 2 Timothy 1:7). And as with Holy Spirit power and love, Holy Spirit self-discipline is supernatural. By the Spirit we will remain steadfast, faithful, and unshakeable in our faith irrespective of the hate, violence, and bullying that confronts us. When faced with incarceration, fines, criminal prosecution, and state-sponsored discrimination we will not compromise, soften, betray, or renounce our commitment to Christ.

Friends, the speed with which our society is devolving into a land of unbridled immorality is breathtaking. It appears we are hurtling towards the end of the age at an ever-increasing velocity. Witness the escalating violence, greed, idolatry, pride, perversion, and selfishness that define our nation and compare that with these words from the apostle Paul:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NKJV).

Regardless of how close we are to end times, though, we are definitely entering a season of deep spiritual darkness in this country. God appears to be withdrawing that which restrains sin (2 Thessalonians 2:7), allowing our nation to pursue its lusts and desires unfettered.

Which means things will get worse. Society will celebrate sin more unabashedly and condemn morality more harshly. Rebellion against God will increase in intensity. We will witness horrifying acts of wickedness on an almost daily basis. And rampant depravity will saturate society.

Brothers and sisters, we have a biblical mandate to confront this growing evil in society. But we must awake from our spiritual slumber. We must steadfastly stand in the gap, speak truth, and show love. And encourage others to do the same (encouragement is oh so important in these troubling times).

We must not fear the forces of evil. We cannot remain silent as the enemy attacks our faith. We must resist the temptation to timidly withdraw from the battle before us.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Encouraging the Faithful.

Eight years ago FBI agents arrested financier Bernie Madoff and charged him with operating a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that remains the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. Thousands of investors suffered devastating losses, forcing many of them to forgo retirement and leaving others in financial straights. Driven by insatiable greed Mr. Madoff destroyed thousands of lives and inflicted incalculable pain on his clients.

As heartbreaking as that story was, it pales in comparison to the countless spiritual frauds perpetrated on unsuspecting Christians every week. Unfortunately, the consequences are far costlier for them than it was for those duped by Madoff’s financial fraud.

The author of Hebrews voices this warning, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but encourage each other daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ so none of you is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Note the audience. The writer addresses believers. His cautionary counsel describes a dangerous series of interrelated events that lead to spiritual ruin. It all starts when a Christian succumbs to the deceitfulness of sin. Over time, as sin tightens its tentacles around the Christian, the believer’s heart hardens. It ceases to listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and grows desensitized to the ways and words of God. Eventually the hardened heart becomes fertile ground for evil and its presence evidences unbelief. That evil heart of unbelief then compels the believer to turn away from the living God.

That is a terrifying scenario that places in peril our spiritual health. It therefore behooves us to understand the sequence of steps that lead to this outcome. The passage offers a timeless reminder of the importance of resisting sin and remaining vigilant in guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Thankfully, the author of Hebrews provides a blueprint for avoiding such disastrous situations. We are to encourage one another. Notice the universality of the writer’s directive. Every Christian is included in its scope. All who follow Christ must encourage other believers.

Note the frequency we should do this. Daily. Not monthly, not weekly, daily. This speaks to the significance that encouragement plays in the life of a believer. Encouragement sustains faith, inspires growth, refreshes weary souls, and nourishes the heart that’s hungry for hope.

Lastly, encouragement reinforces truth. That is of particular concern in this text. Remember, the wayward believer’s departure from God begins with an embrace of sin’s deceit. To counter such deception we need a foundation steeped in God’s word. Consequently, we ought to encourage each other in truth. Scripture is the ultimate antidote for deceit.

Take time to encourage a believer or two this week and incorporate encouragement into your daily routine so it becomes a habit.