Friday, July 18, 2014

Be an Encourager! (Acts 4:32-37; 20:1-6) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

“You know dear, I’ve been thinking about taking up oil painting, what do you think?”  Well, to be honest, I just don't think you have the self-discipline to stick to a hobby, you know how you are, and it’s pretty expensive, besides, I’ve never seen you show any artistic talent.  Do whatever you want, but if it were me, I’d just drop the idea.”    

“Hey dad, I’m having trouble with my homework, can you help me?”  No, not now, I’m too busy.  And I don’t know why you’re having trouble anyway.  Why, when I was your age, I didn’t get any help from my folks, and besides I was a good student, I worked hard, and got good grades.”  

So let me be direct, are you a discourager or an encourager?    Let's start with a cold hard fact of life.  There is and there always will be an abundance of things in life to be discouraged about.  This has never changed.  Please tell me if I'm wrong?  If you or I had to wait until everything was perfect, until we were totally happy with life and our situation, would we ever be an encourager?

Look at yourself or your circumstances.  Are you totally happy or satisfied or content?  You might be thinking about your health, your job, your finances, where you lack talents and abilities, your appearance, we can always find things we don't like about ourselves or our circumstances and this can lead to being discouraged.

Look at your relationships.  Relationships with family or at school, or at work, or in the neighborhood.  Relationships are often less than ideal. There are always aspects of our relationships that are less than we hoped for, that have not met our expectations which can lead to our becoming discouraged.

Or look at our local community, or the government, or politics, or the economy, or immigration, or global warming or climate change, or crime, or corruption, and we can easily become discouraged.   Everything is terrible.  We are just victims of life's problems.   Like the man who said to the pastor:  “My life is a mess Rev. there is nothing you could say to encourage me, but go ahead, just try, I dare you?”

Why then have you and I met people in our lives who are encouragers?  Think of one person who encouraged you at a critical time in your life.  And why does the bible exhort followers of Jesus in spite of circumstances to be encouragers?

What does encourager or encouragement mean? It comes from the ancient Greek, what a surprise.  What did the father, Gus Portokalas, say in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “Give me a word, any word, and I will show you the Greek root of that word.”    The Greek word is paraklesis, and means a holy urging, a personal urging, an urging of the Spirit.  Recall Jesus promise to his disciples – “I will send you another comforter who will remain with you forever.”  That word translated as comforter is Paraclete in Greek, the same word as encourager paraklesis. 

Now this word is shaped by the context; it has many connotations.  It can be translated as: comforter or to comfort, to encourage, to exhort, to inspire, to warn someone, to spur on or urge on, to hearten, to embolden, to fill with courage or confidence, or strength of purpose.

An encourager is being a channel of the Holy Spirit in another's life.  Encouragment is the work of God's Spirit.  It is a holy work.   The Holy Spirit, the paraclete, is operating through you, when you are urging someone to carry on, to believe in themselves, to trust in God, take some action, to find comfort and peace.

Which leads us to a beloved man of the early church; Barnabas.  He was an associate of the apostle Paul on their missionary journeys.   Did you know that Barnabas was not his given name at birth?   We read in the book of Acts 4:36:  “There was a Levite, Joseph, a native of Cyprus, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas, a name which means Son of Encouragement.”  Joseph, was renamed Barnabas by the apostles, because of a stellar character trait – he encouraged other Christian believers. 

Barnabas sold a field he owned and turned the money over to the apostles for their mission.  He convinced believers in Jerusalem to accept the apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul who persecuted Jews who had become followers of Jesus Christ.  He taught new believers and exhorted them to remain faithful to the Lord.  “Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith and many people were brought to the Lord.”  Yes, people were literally brought to the Lord through his witness.”   In fact if you are looking for a name for a new baby you just might want to consider Barnabas, though it is probably more appropriate for a boy than a girl.  

Are you an encourager?  Think for a moment, when is the last time you encouraged someone?  For isn't it often our nature to judge, to criticize, to reprimand, to humiliate, to gossip about, to ridicule, to point fingers at others than encourage?  

We are pretty good about encouraging children.  We cheer them on to say their first word or to take their first steps.  We are pretty good at encouraging our grandchildren.   And what a joy it is to do so.   And no I won't  say our grandchildren are the cutest in the world, but they are close.  But what about your spouse?  Or your friends, your neighbors, or your colleagues at work.  What about your friends in Christ here at PB?  

We read in Acts 20 that the Apostle Paul on his missionary travels encouraged the believers in the early churches in Asia because their faith ran counter to the culture them found themselves in.

An encourager isn’t blind to human flaws and weaknesses, his or her own or others.  An encourager recognizes sin and shortcomings and yet seeks a constructive approach to others.  An encourager tells the truth to another if they are hurting themselves or others, but in a way that builds bridges rather than burns them and focuses on what is positive and possible in persons.  An encourager has patience, energy, and commits others to prayer.

Like the story about an audience at a concert who just finished hearing a solo by a squeaky tenor.  When finished, the applause was less than enthusiastic.  One member of the audience exclaimed:  “Extraordinary!   Wonderful!”  “Excuse me,” said a puzzled man sitting in the next seat. “I can claim some knowledge of the subject, and I think his voice was very poor.”  “Voice replied the other man.  “I wasn’t thinking of his voice.  I was praising his nerve!”

Jesus summons us to envision what a person can be, what someone can become in faith, to see possibilities of growth and change, to see unrealized potential. 

Albert Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven years old before he could read and understand his first word.  He had to be tutored in math.   His family had little hope that he would amount to anything.  Pablo Picasso was born prematurely and left to die by his mother on a table in the house because he was considered too sickly to make any contribution to the world.  Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, was advised to give up her dream of becoming a writer and find work as a seamstress by her family.  Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor who told him he lacked ideas.  

As a pastor I have worked with many families over the years, and I have seen the damage – how spirits, confidence, one's identity, hopes and dreams can be shattered and crushed when others have discouraged them at a critical moment.

Steven Covey, in his book Principle Centered Leadership which describes 8 characteristics in leaders writes:  “Once my wife and I felt uneasy about the labels we and others had attached to one of our sons, even though these labels were justified by his behavior.  By visualizing his potential, we gradually came to see him differently.  When we believed in the unseen potential, the old labels vanished naturally, and we stopped trying to change him overnight.  We simply knew that his talent and potential would come in its own time.  And it did, to the astonishment, frankly, of others, including other family members.  We were not surprised because we knew who he was.” 

Jesus calls each of us by His grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit to the ministry of encouragement.  And what a powerful and astonishing witness it can be.  Some of the greatest success stories of history have followed words of encouragement. A boy who loved music was bitterly disappointed because he could neither play nor sing.  One day he shared his disappointment with Amati, the violinmaker, who said:  “There are many ways of making music.  Some play violins, some sing, some paint pictures, some carve statues, while others till the soil and grow flowers.  Each sings a song and helps to make the music of the world.  You can make music too.”  And so Antonio Stradivarius grew up to make music by making violins.

An elderly member of my former church at Santa Monica received this note following surgery:  “Dear Bill: I just heard that you and I have a lot in common, our love for our Savior Jesus Christ and having major surgery on our rotator cuff.  I just wanted to drop you a note of encouragement.  It has been eight months since my operation and I have already been out playing golf and throwing a baseball.  My trainer tells me that I am way ahead of my rehabilitation schedule--besides playing golf, I can also lift weights.  I know that you, too, will have the discipline and patience that it takes.  There will be great challenges, but I know if I can do it, you can too.  Please be assured of my prayers for your recovery.  We have a great God.  During my rehabilitation, I have taken this verse for my own encouragement and I want to pass it along to you: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  Phil. 4:13.  Sincerely, Orel L. Hershieser. 

I personally am very grateful for brothers and sisters in Christ who have encouraged me  in the church I grew up in and in the churches I have served as pastor over the years.    I am grateful for teachers, professors, friends, and family members who have encouraged me.  Their words and support has made all the difference.  May your walk in the Spirit be a ministry of encouragement to others so that God may use it for His glory.  Amen!  

No comments:

Post a Comment