"...choose This Day whom you will serve..."  - Joshua 24:14 - 15

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Encouragement For This Day

Lets Us Examine Our Own Hearts!

By Kristin Couch

Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

So the New Year is well under way, and with it come dreams and lists and fresh plans and high expectations. Healthier eating plans are googled, new exercise schedules are embraced, and perhaps there is some tweaking of the budget. Good, good, and good! But what about the health and condition of you heart?

Proverbs 4:23 - Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

This is what I have come to understand: God inspects and reads our hearts. He does not care one whit about outward appearance. Think of how God rejected David’s taller and stronger and more handsome brothers in favor of David!

1 Samuel 16:7 – But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

God is not impressed when we feebly attempt to showcase our holiness and good works in front of others, as the Pharisees did. We may be able to fake a good heart towards others for a season, but we cannot fool God.

Matthew 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart with be also.

I believe the fruit of the Spirit reveals the condition of our hearts. If our heart is pure and soft it will yield: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When we treasure Jesus, our heart comes under his authority, and the outflow is uncontainable. We love purely, give freely, and seek to serve.

Let us each examine our own heart today!

Be On Your Guard

By Kristin Couch

1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)- Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

I have often wondered, as Christians, if we believed this verse, and lived this verse, what changes would slip into our lives? We should move through each day circumspectly, as Satan is lying in wait for us. To be sober-minded is to be sensible and serious; present and alert. So how does this play out practically?

*Your child spends unlimited time texting and surfing the web on their phone, and you notice they are becoming less “present” with the family. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Perhaps you set limits? Check their phones? Place protective software on it? More importantly, talk about biblical heart issues with your precious child. Pray for them. Be the sober-minded parent that God has called you to be.

*You find yourself complaining about something. And then the complaining grows and so does discontentment. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. If you are a sober-minded believer, starve the sin! Begin listing the ways in which God is so good. And then turn around and do good to others.

*A family member or friend speaks damaging words to you or about you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Forgive them. And pray for God to change their hearts and open their eyes to their destructive words. Root out any bitterness and sin in your own heart. Remember: hurting people hurt people.

*A friend calls to “share” a prayer request with you involving a mutual acquaintance. The conversation quickly slips into gossiping. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Stop the conversation immediately. Confess that you do not want to give Satan a foothold. Pray for protection in all conversations.

*Discouragement floods your soul and makes your steps heavy; weary. You do not know how to get through the hour, let alone the day. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. As a sober-minded believer, open your Bible and read Gods promises in the book of Psalms and Proverbs. Pray. Read the gospels. Invite other believers to pray. Repeat to yourself the truth that you are not alone; God is always with you.

Remember the words of Christ Jesus:  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Strive To Be Forgotten

By Jon Couch

Happy New Year and God's grace, mercy, and peace be to each of you as together we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ, both here in the Tampa Bay Area and to all of the nations.

As revival and awakening continue to consume my thoughts, God drove a convicting word deep into the wellspring of my soul as He challenged me to examine my own walk with Him in this new year.  I pray that the following that God spoke into my heart will encourage, strengthen, and challenge you as we give Him all of the praise and all of the glory for what He will do in us, through us, and beyond us.

Strive To Be Forgotten

This title alone rubs raw against our self-focused flesh, and yet as I scour Scripture, this truly is the end-goal.  Who among us desires that people trip over us on their way to the cross of Jesus Christ?  As we die to self daily in order to bring fame to God's name, our mission is to point others to The Way, not point them to ourselves.  This is a gut-wrenching process as God empties us of us, and as our flesh is often weak during this treacherous sanctifying walk, we tend to insanely desire the never-satisfying acceptance of others, versus the ever-satisfying acceptance of Jesus.  One area that this is manifest in our culture today is through social media.  Don't misunderstand, we use social media and I believe that it can be a great tool to spread the Gospel to the masses.  However, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, social media can also be an insatiable addictive trap where we spend hours per day in a never-satisfying quest to be liked, followed, and validated by others.  Are you hungry to be freed from all of the prison cells of false-joy that are based on whether you are accepted or rejected by the people around you?  If so, strive urgently each day to be forgotten as you intentionally push Jesus to the front in every situation.  As you desperately run deep into the recesses of the shadows of the cross, watch as your soul begins to sing a new song.  As you ponder these thoughts, perhaps the new year has not started as you had hoped.  If you are weary and fainthearted, be of good courage right now. God greatly encouraged me through the words below, and I fervently pray that you will be encouraged as well.

We have just crossed over the threshold into another year and the question of the hour is not, what can we do to achieve more comfort for ourselves, but rather what will we truly do in 2018 with this Jesus who is called the Christ as we make much of Him and die empty of self daily?  When it is all said and done, we will all be known for something.  What will you be known for?  Don't settle for casual country club Christianity.  Leave it all on the field with no regrets.  Will our lives and the resources that God has entrusted to us be used for our glory or for His glory?  Are we seeking to advance our own kingdom or His Kingdom?  Are we seeking to elevate our name or The Name that is above every name?  We can only do one or the other, but not both.  Rise up you warrior of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Stiffen that spine.  Choose This Day to be encouraged over discouraged.  Choose This Day to have faith over fear.  Focus on Jesus, not your circumstances.  Hunger and thirst moment by moment for His abiding presence and nothing else today, and then watch as joy and contentment saturate, intoxicate, and enrapture your soul.  Since our God is for us, who or what can be against us? Absolutely nothing.  Pound on the door of Heaven right now that He might use you to be the catalyst to spark the fire of revival and awakening in your sphere of influence, all for the praise of His glory.  Be encouraged in the battle and do not lose heart, for the battle belongs to The LORD!  Be desperate.  Be intentional.  Be urgent.  Never allow working for God to take precedence over and supersede worshipping God.  Intimately bask in His presence.  Make Jesus your everything at all costs.  Hold fast to Isaiah 58:8-11 and never let go.  Strive to be forgotten, so that those around you will not even see you, but that they will only see Christ in you the hope of glory, as The Word of God dwells in you richly.

Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, and support as my ministry efforts greatly depend on God's monthly provision through you.  Blessings to you in 2018 as you fix your eyes upon Jesus!

"Hear my cry, O God;  Attend to my prayer.  From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed;  Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy." - Psalm 61:1-3

Encourage:  To inspire with courage, spirit, or hope: to hearten

By Kristin Couch

In January of 2016, I asked God to give me a key word for the year. I had not asked for such a thing before, but had read of others doing so. “Courage and kindness” were the answer, and I spoke of it to no one, but scribbled it down and tucked it away.

That was the beginning of what would be a dark and frightening journey for our family. I am calling it our “Hard Providence” because NOTHING passes through God’s hands without His permission. Just remember Job.

Courage is pressing into God despite what is unraveling around you. It is having a straight spine and fortitude because of what Jesus has already done for His sheep. If we do this, we will display the fruit of the spirit because our hope and trust are in a secure, unshakeable God.

This, of course, is simple to type and another thing entirely to live. Obedience to God, I have discovered, is a daily, sometimes hourly, choice. And obedience gives strong evidence of trust, love, and faith.

Very few people have been able to encourage our family on this dark path, because very few know the depths that we have plunged. But our God, El Roi, sees it all. In desperation, I have turned to God’s Word each day for encouragement. God’s Word, and the writings of Elisabeth Elliot and Charles Spurgeon. These two people, who suffered tremendously during their lives and through their own “Hard Providences,” have heartened innumerable fellow pilgrims.

Suffering paves the way for a softened heart that can shore up flailing and discouraged people. Pain, when given back in surrender to the Lord, breeds encouragement and hope. Do not waste your pain. Use it for God’s glory.

“God will not protect you from anything that will make you more like Jesus.” Elisabeth Elliot

"I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.” – Charles Spurgeon

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” - Deuteronomy 31:8

The LORD Is On My Side
By Jon Couch

His heart was broken.  Total devastation.  The pain was searing.  Hopelessness and despair filled the room as rivers of water flowed from his eyes onto his pillow.  He cried in utter desperation for God to lift the dark cloud over his life. The battle that he was in was as intense as any battle that one could face.  The weight and burden that he carried daily was not a result of a fleshly battle, but an intense spiritual dogfight of mass proportions.  As the fiery darts were slung his way daily, he grappled with waving the white flag on a minute by minute basis.  Who was the man in this scenario?  A husband?  A Dad?  A Christ-follower?  The answer is yes, yes, and yes.  And yet, he was also a pastor.

The calling of a pastor is the most noble and dangerous calling in post-Christian America.  It will cost everything, as he daily dies to self to serve the people and bring glory to God.  So how then does a pastor, especially here in the United States, press on in the battle and not lose heart?  Many Scriptures give us great comfort and courage, but I believe a gem of healing balm is found in Psalm 118:6. Psalm 113 – 118 are known as the “Hallelujah Psalms” as they are glorious words of exaltation to God.  And yet as we begin in Psalm 118 we see additional praise as the psalmist is God-centered and then we arrive at verse 6 which says, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear, what can man do to me?”  Three potent sections of one verse that should rock your world pastor as you faithfully endure hardship as good solider of Jesus Christ.

First, “The LORD is on my side.” L-O-R-D.  The proper name of the One True God.  There is no other. In the midst of the dark night of your soul today,  The God of the Universe is for you.  As he holds the planets in one hand,  He holds you in the other.  Stiffen that spine as you rest in the truth that God is on your side.

Secondly, ”I will not fear.”  You get the sense that the psalmist is making a declaration of war.  Fear of man, fear of circumstances, and fear of the unknown will no longer be an option.  Do you see what happens when we start with the premise that God is on our side?  Our hearts are refreshed.  Our outlook becomes clear.  Our motivation is God-centered, and our lives begin to sing with strength and confidence as we rest in The Great God of the Bible.

Lastly, “What can man do to me?” As we start with God, we then declare war on fear in the name of King Jesus, and this confidence places everything into perspective.  Because The Creator of the world,  The God of The Bible, is on your side, this positional standing gives you a launching pad of boldness and courage from having already achieved the victory, not one of still searching for the victory.  Paul echoes a similar sentiment of unwavering confidence in Romans 8:31 when he declared, “If (since) God is for us, who can be against us?” No matter what you are facing today, what can man really do to you since the LORD is on your side?

Being opposed by Satan and his cohorts is par for the course for those men who answer the call of pastor. Friends will betray you.  Family members will betray you.  Fellow pastors will betray you.  But God will never betray you.  In the midst of the battle, you can and must rest confidently in the truth of God’s Word and therefore know without any doubt that the battle truly belongs to LORD as you walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Be encouraged right at this very moment and do not lose heart!  All of the heartache and all of the pain of this broken earthly life will be worth it all when you stand face to face with King Jesus on That Day.

“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him….” - Psalm 137:7

Do The People Around You See Jesus In The Midst Of Your Pain?

By Jon Couch

Everyone has pain in this earthly life. No one is immune. It is impossible to outrun the pain, because the pain will always find its target. Therefore, the question is not, “How can I alleviate my pain?”, but rather, “Do people see Jesus in the midst of my pain?” As God continues to prune and refine my fleshly rebellious heart, He is teaching me that my pain always has purpose. Now, when the trials of life begin to mount, I must confess that this phrase that “my pain has purpose” is much easier said than actually lived-out. However, as the fog of the trials of life continue to hover near the surface of our brokenness, our overarching goal must be that in the midst of our pain, that people will see the glory of God radiating with splendor and on full display. But how do we live victoriously in the midst of one struggle after another?

First, we must embrace that it is God who has graciously given us our trials. I realize that this statement is counter to our fleshly rational human thinking, but it is biblical. Paul said in Philippians 1:29-30 “29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” God grants or graces us with the privilege to not just bask in the power of Christ’s resurrection, but to also partake in the fellowship of His sufferings.

Secondly, we must embrace that our pain has purpose beyond us. Beyond us? You mean that even my pain may not be completely about just me? How this rubs our selfish flesh raw! Often, we want even our pain to be just about us. The reality is that no one is a bigger fan of us, than us, and yet even our pain is not always about us. Therefore, when we go through a trial, one of the biggest challenges is not the actual trial, but to shift the viewfinder from ourselves to a laser beam focus on God and then others’. As Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, he reminded them that their pain has purpose beyond themselves when he said in 1 Corinthians 1:3-5, “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” Simply put, your pain is not just for you. Don’t hoard your pain. Your pain is empathy training ground for effective ministry as we minister best out of our trials.

Lastly, we must embrace that we are to give God our heartfelt thanksgiving in all things. Who honestly wants to do this? Praise God in the storm? Really? Genuinely thank God for the trials that He has graciously lavished upon us? Seriously? Yes. Anyone can praise God on the mountain top when all is seemingly well. And yet, it’s fully possible that we are not in the center of God’s will. One of the biggest traps in the American church today is this ideology that if we pursue God, everything will be easy and everyone will be for us. I’m not sure what bible this idea has evolved from, but it is not from The Bible that is God’s Holy Word. The Psalmist David penned these potent words in Psalm 34:1 when he said, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Those are big-boy words that can only be accomplished as the Holy Spirit empowers us to give thanks and praise God not because of ideal circumstances, but in-spite of all circumstances.

Do the people around you see God in the midst of your pain? As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Be encouraged in the battle and do not lose heart as you keep the hand to the plow and don’t look back!

"Imposters Abound"

By Kristin Couch

Go ahead.  Turn off the computer, the feeds, subscriptions, Facebook, smart phones, texts, and Twitter.  Even those "Christian" blogs and websites.  Be still.  Sit still.  Open your Bible and feast upon a verse, a Psalm, a gospel.

There is a restlessness about our nation, our churches;  myself.  When I veer slightly off that narrow path I feel the discontent creeping into the corners of my heart.  It might be slight at first but it is a beast that growls and demands to be fed.  Don't feed it; starve and stifle it with the Word of God.

Believer and truster of Christ:  imposters abound.  The father of lies will whisper that the Bible alone is not enough; the gospel is not enough; Christ's death and resurrection for his children are not enough.

Be encouraged beloved of God: Christ is enough!  Trust Him; love him; turn away from any teaching that is not gospel-centered.  The Holy Scriptures are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and inerrant.  Meditating upon Scripture will breathe peace to your soul.

It doesn't matter what is swirling around us culturally.  There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). God's truth is steadfast and unchanging.  Preach this to yourself as you pray throughout the day.  Love people and share Jesus with them; love God most.

"Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter."  ~ Charles Spurgeon

"Stay In The Trench And Do Not Flinch"

By Jon Couch

It has been said that pastoring is not a job, it’s a calling – and I could not agree more.  One man once said, “If you think that you are called to pastor, but you also think you may desire to do something else, go do the something else.”  Why the directness?  Because if you are not truly called by God to pastor, as the pressures mount, you will gladly take any exit ramp possible to alleviate and eradicate the pain.  So for those who are truly called by God to this noble, yet servant leadership (John 13) role of pastoring, how do we press on, day in and day out, in the midst of the struggle?  The following are 7 keys from God’s Word that I pray will encourage you, embolden you, and stiffen your spine as you valiantly soldier on in obedience to the LORD:

1) Remind yourself daily Who called you.  The old phrase rings true: “If God brought you to it, He will see you through it.”  God doesn’t make mistakes and He has a plan for His glory and your good, yes even in the midst of the challenges and pain that you are facing today.  The apostle Paul proves how powerful the call of God is when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”  Regardless of what others say about you, remember Who called you.

2) Remind yourself daily to have calloused knees:  The preacher’s power is not from standing in the pulpit, but by helplessly falling on his knees in his prayer closet.  Contrary to the world’s thinking, our power is not from ourselves, but when we are on our knees it is of God.  If we are not seeking the face of God in all things, we have failed before we have even started.  "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:6-7

3) Remind yourself daily to wash yourself in The Word:  If we are not anchored to the Voice of Truth, we will anchor ourselves to the other voices that are jockeying for our allegiance.  Therefore, it is crucial that we daily mine the Scriptures, bind the truth around our necks, write God’s wisdom on the tablet of our hearts, and hide His Word deep within the wellspring of our soul.  As Psalm 1:1-3 tells us, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  Daily bathe in God’s Word and your roots will become deep in the LORD, allowing you to withstand the storms of life.

4) Remind yourself daily to stay Gospel focused:  In the midst of the battle, it is relatively easy to completely lose sight of what we are fighting for.  The war is not about physical life, but everlasting life.  When this mission is constantly top-of-mind, we are more apt to press through the dry seasons of ministry as we rely through desperate dependence upon God to carry us each step of the way.  Because the Gospel is potent beyond human thinking, we must cling to Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 when he declared with confidence and fervency, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

5) Remind yourself daily that suffering for the Gospel is inevitable:  Jesus did not mince words when he warned us in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  The key here is that we would recalibrate our hearts and minds to be in Christ (in Me Jesus says) for peace in the midst of the suffering.  And yet, as we rest in Christ during the challenges, we must also remind ourselves the cut-to-the-chase promise that Paul gave to young Timothy when he said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

6) Remind yourself daily that the battle is spiritual:  Satan desires for us to be deceived into thinking that we are wrestling against flesh and blood.  Why?  Because if we are focused on overcoming flesh and blood, we are focused on the wrong enemy as the real enemy will seek, steal, and destroy us.  Paul poured this deep truth into the Ephesians 6:10-12 when he said, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Keep your heart in-tune with the reality that Satan is not some little guy in a red suit, with a pitchfork, a goatee, and eyebrows gone wild.  No, as the spiritual battle rages on, he masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) and he prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

7) Remind yourself daily that the battle belongs to The LORD:  Praise be to God for this reality, because if it was up to us, we would be in big trouble.  At the end of your day, no matter challenges we face, when we are in Christ and under His righteousness, we can and must rest in the soul-satisfying fact that the battle belongs to the LORD.  You notice I said that we “should.”  Of all the 7 keys to adhere, this is the one that I struggle with the most. Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver from this body of death (Romans 7:24)?  God will!  As we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), may God grant you His perfect peace in the midst of the struggle.  “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”    - Psalm 20:7

Be encouraged in the battle pastor, and count it all joy when the enemy assaults you with his fiery darts of deception and slander (James 1:2-3).  Don’t bend, don’t buckle, don’t break, and don’t waver regarding God’s call on your life.  Keep your hand to the plow and don’t look back (Luke 9:62).  Drive a stake in the ground today with great resolve that even if God doesn’t go your way, you are still going His way (Daniel 3:16-18). Contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), and do not lose heart.  Stay in the trench and do not flinch!

"Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing."  - 1 Thessalonians 5:11