Challenge Day 28

Today’s Inspiration. As I sit down to write this, I think of all of the little things that people say and do that mean so much to me—that encourage me in so many ways. It doesn’t take much—a note, a few words that tell me I notice you and my heart soars with joy and thankfulness.

I know I can’t be the only one.

Today, we’ll continue with the theme of encouraging one another, particularly our brothers and sisters in Christ, but this time we’ll look at Hebrews 3:13:

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (NIV)

You may notice that this passage provides one answer to the question of why—Why should I encourage other Christians?—that you were challenged to seek out answers to yesterday. If you’re still questioning that, this passage in Hebrews is similar in context to yesterday’s passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and may provide further insight. But our focus today is encouragement itself, and on that little word daily.

Challenge Day 28 ...daily #writinglifeaugustchallenge

Today’s Challenge. Today, pray for insight and inspiration. Then make a list or two (or three…): Think about things that encourage you to keep believing, keep going, to keep learning, keep praying, keep Bible-reading, keep trusting, … how are you encouraged? How can you then take those and turn them into encouragements for others, whether small or large? Some types of encouragement only take a few seconds, others may take sacrifice. Pray and ask God how, and who, you can encourage. Then list people you can begin with—and begin to practice daily encouragement.

Today’s Participation. Pick a person to encourage, thoughtfully consider how you can do so, and do it! If you have multiple ideas about how to encourage other believers, feel free to share them below or on Instagram using #writinglifeaugustchallenge (follow @rhondalorraine if you want me to see them!).

After yesterday’s post, so many kinds of encouragement came pouring in—to me—through different venues and from dear friends. Just as they have been over the past few weeks. Honestly, each time it was completely unexpected and deeply appreciated. I want to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who has read, liked, shared, or commented on a post here or on Instagram since I started up this blog in January. I do notice you, and I am thankful for you and praying for you.

Challenge Day 27

Today’s Inspiration. Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s what we’ve been exploring since Day 19. And while your neighbor turned out to be anyone around you, the Bible also tells us to pay special attention to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of those verses is today’s inspiration:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV)

We’ll look to the words Therefore encourage one another for the challenge today.

Old red milk jug sitting in front of a beige brick wall. Photo text: Challenge Day 27, encourage one another. #writinglifeaugustchallenge

Today’s Challenge. One thing I’ve learned from sitting under wise, Bible-loving pastors all my life: When you see the word therefore at the beginning of the verse, you need to know what came before it. Knowing that will help you put the verse into context.

Your challenge today, then, is to pray for understanding and then read through 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. You know Paul is telling his readers (and you!) to encourage one another, but why? The therefore indicates that he has just given the reason for this. In English we know this little word as a transition word, meant to connect two ideas and show the relationship between them. What Paul’s saying here is, Your brothers and sisters in Christ need you to encourage them. I’ve just given you the reasons they need this encouragement. 

Your mission? To read through and understand those reasons.

Today’s Participation. Complete the statement, “I need to encourage other Christians because ______________.” Use your understanding of the passage you read today to help you complete it. Then share the statement with someone either face to face or online.

Challenge Day 26

Today’s Inspiration. Over the weekend I attended my cousin’s wedding and Bia Malu Uno. This is the last of a series of ceremonies that are part of Igbo wedding rites in the bride’s Nigerian culture. People from all over the world—literally—came to witness this traditional joining of the bride’s family with the groom’s, and the day was filled with such joy and love. At one point as we were watching the people mingling, dancing, and laughing, the groom’s father (also my cousin—my mom’s first cousin) said to me, “This is beautiful. This is how it should be.”

The bride, a beautiful Nigerian woman in a cream-colored wedding dressed and orange necklace holding a bouquet of soft, wheat-colored grasses tied to look like a hand-held broom.

This is how it should be.

People of all nations and cultures, getting along. Filled with genuine love and acceptance for each other. Yes, even—gasp!—people of different religions. Jesus’ name was highly honored in both the ceremony and the hearts of the majority of people there, but there were also representatives of Islam in attendance since the groom himself converted several years ago. I’m sure, given the diversity, there were people of other religions or no religion at all in attendance as well. What I did not see or hear at any time during the weekend was a disrespectful gesture or word from one guest to another, or about another.

A group of women from several different cultures and a child dancing a traditional Nigerian dance.

What I saw, what I witnessed, was a diverse group of people treating each other, at the least, as neighbors—and more often as family.

We’ve been spending time thinking about Matthew 22:37-39, in which Jesus, speaking to a Pharisee, named the two greatest commandments. The second is to

Love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)

A red-headed, ten-year-old girl’s face is close-up in the left-hand corner. In the blurred background, across the aisle seated in chairs for a wedding are women in traditional Igbo dress, bright green and bright pink.

In the account of the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisee in Luke, the Pharisee wanted to qualify this. Actually, he wanted to justify himself—probably his past actions and present attitudes toward certain groups of people—so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, NIV). Rather than give a straight answer, Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan, who turned out to be the one person in the story who acted like a true neighbor to a man who had been beaten and left for dead—a man who may not have stopped for him, if the situation were reversed (Luke 10:30-37).

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The white groom in an Igbo hat and outfit. The outfit is made from non-traditional material—red with a Wisconsin Badgers logo repeated in a pattern. He is bending over hugging his aunt.

Do likewise. You be the one who acts like a neighbor. Whether it’s a friend or a stranger. Someone who looks like you or someone who doesn’t. Someone who thinks, believes, and acts like you or someone who doesn’t. Someone you’d normally consider your sworn enemy.

Look around you. See those people? Those are your neighbors. All of them.

Taken from the back of an outdoor tent, there is a group of women in Igbo dress dancing outside the tent. They are doing a dance to indicate their acceptance of the groom’s family for their daughter/cousin—this shows they will not take her away and nullify the wedding. In the foreground are spectators, other wedding guests witnessing the transaction.

And how are you to treat these people, these neighbors of yours? You are to love them like you love yourself. Like you love yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a tall order. Because I know myself, and know that my first natural reaction to most things in life is to protect myself, to care for myself, to guard my own interests, often to the detriment of others. But that’s not what Jesus wants. Loving myself? Yes, I am to love myself. But then extend that same love to everyone around me. The way I protect myself? I need to protect others that way. Care for myself? Care for others just as much. Guard my interests? Guard their interests too, if they are worth guarding.

Which brings us to today’s challenge.

The bride’s father, a Nigerian in traditional Igbo garb, walking in a meadow with the groom’s aunt, a white woman in a black and white dress.

Today’s Challenge. Your challenge today is to take yesterday’s list of the ways you love yourself and turn it into statements about how to love your neighbor. In the paragraph beginning “I don’t know about you” above, I did a bit of this. Your bigger challenge, though (one that doesn’t stop at sundown), is to try to practice this kind of love toward the people around you.

A red ceramic candle holder with star cut-outs sitting on a wooden wall shelf. Photo text: Challenge Day 26, neighborly love. #writinglifeaugustchallenge

This challenge, especially the second part, won’t be easy. You will fail. But that’s the beauty of God’s forgiveness through Jesus, and of the promise of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Jesus; God forgives when we fail and the Spirit helps us show love in ways we wouldn’t be able to on our own. That means that throughout this challenge, you’ll want to—need to—pray for God’s help. Help showing you what it means to love someone as you love yourself. Help living it out. And forgiveness for those times you are unable to do as he commands.

Today’s Participation. Tell or show us about one of your neighbors and one small way you are able to show them neighborly love—or want to begin to try to show that kind of love. Write about it in the comments or post about it on social media using #writinglifeaugustchallenge.