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Always Encouraging

Encourage one another daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

Since I attended the University of Iowa and spent more than thirty years of my life in Iowa, I was especially interested when Iowa played Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament some years ago. You see I have been a Duke fan for all my life. When Duke won the game I’ll never forget the reaction of some of the Iowa players. The thing that impressed them about the Duke team was “They’re always encouraging each other.” Not they’re great shooters or rebounders or ball handlers but they encouraged each other.

Encouragement is a powerful element for success in any facet of life. And nowhere is that more true than in the life of living for Jesus, being Christian. As you read about the early Christians in the book of Acts you get this refrain “they encouraged” one another.
Just one of many examples: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.”

Sisters/Bothers, God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another—“always encouraging.”

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To Tell the Truth

The truth will set you free. -John 8:32

Have you ever thought about how hard it is to tell the truth in church. Surprised? Do you believe the church is the place of truth? Do you assume that unlike other institutions, places, and people the church is different because here we find the truth? Of course, the church is the custodian of truth, specifically the gospel truth. Of course the church is the place where you don’t expect people to lie to you, and most of the time they don’t.

So when I talk about it being hard to tell the truth, I don’t mean we tell lies to each other (though it’s not unheard of). Rather, it is how we often fail to think about or talk about the negative, the problems, the unflattering things. Of course some people see only negative and some who are never happy with anything. Some of them use every chance possible to point out shortcomings (real or imagined).

We are often guilty of trying so hard to “sell” our story, our church, ourselves to others that we distort the truth by only talking about the positive. Sometimes, we also hide unpleasant matters by “creatively” interpreting facts so that we maintain an upbeat atmosphere.

We sometimes “kid” ourselves about our own spiritual condition. We don’t express our real opinions because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or cause problems. We accept shoddy efforts because after all, they’re just volunteers.
Usually this is not done for wrong motives but because we have mistaken notions about protecting image and feelings. In some cases we just don’t think. I know that I’ve probably been guilty myself. I want people to feel good about the church, themselves and (I have to admit it) me. So I don’t notice or don’t mention anything that might prevent that.

Now some of this is simply using good judgment. For example you don’t write a brochure for prospective new people and talk about negative issues (You don’t mislead either). We see that the positives far outweigh the negatives, and rightly emphasize them to prevent a “negative spirit” from discouraging us.

The point of all this is that we need to learn to trust each other and God enough so that we can face real problems and issues that affect our ability to grow as disciples, to reach the unchurched and make all disciples. As a church we have a lot of strengths but like all churches we also have weaknesses. While I do believe we need to focus on our strengths, we also need to deal with weaknesses. Identifying them, acknowledging them, talking about them is never easy but necessary so that we can deal with them in constructive ways.

My prayer is that God will help us be honest with ourselves and speak the truth to one another in love.

Encouraged To Follow Jesus

Encourage one another daily. -Hebrews 3:13

Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes miss things that are right in front of us? Often it’s because something else has the focus of our attention. The book of Acts in the New Testament provides an example.

Christians, churches are directed to Acts to learn about the early Christian movement and what how it relates today. We rightly are often awed by the explosive growth of the early Christianity community (3000 added in one day). We see the miracles of healing, of deliverance from dangerous situations and other exciting happenings. But there is something else which we might miss.

During my daily reading in Acts one day, something caught my attention: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.” I wondered—“encouraging them…?” As I skimmed Acts (14:22; 15:41; 16:5; 16:40; 18:23; 20:1-2, 12, 32; 27:22, 36; 28:15), it became like a refrain—“encouraged,” “strengthened.” One of the prominent disciples was Barnabas meaning “son of encouragement” (4:36).

Then I remembered the Great Commission: “Make disciples…I’m with you.” And finally a light went on. Encouragement of his people is a priority for God. Having pastored a church, I’m well acquainted with the Sunday/Monday syndrome—a spiritual high followed by a letdown. There’s also the wear and tear of the battle. But the Psalmist declares “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

But encouragement is also about helping a person toward a goal. It is to assist one for effectiveness and achievement. Jesus promises a helper (paraclete=one who stands along side to help), the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Years ago Iowa was beaten by Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament. I remember the Iowa players’ reaction after the game. Of the Duke players they said, “They’re always encouraging each other.”

Encouragement is a key element in discipleship, both being and making. We tend to lose sight of this element, perhaps in the excitement of evangelism and new people coming into the church in Acts. Later, as the apostles return to places where many have come to follow Jesus, their ministry to those Christians is encouragement.

God’s method of encouragement is that human beings filled with His Spirit, stand with one another to encourage and strengthen. We are directed to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

Bothers/Sisters God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another. Any consideration of the way we shape our lives together must keep that in focus.

Encouraged To Be Disciples

Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye. -Acts 20:1(NIV)

Some years ago, I attended a conference at Asbury Theological Seminary.  I don’t know if the conference leaders had consulted with one another or not.  But there was a recurring theme that I didn’t really notice at first.

After the week was over and I returned to the church where I was pastor.  And on Monday morning I met the jarring reality of everyday life—Council Meeting, etc. It was a typical Sunday/Monday morning syndrome of pastoral life.

It “so happened” (God’s work) my daily reading was in the book of Acts.  And one day something caught my attention: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by…”

Something started to stir—first, just a little bubble.  I’m dense, but God is equal to the task!  Without me knowing it, for two weeks God had been putting something together.  The recurring theme—encouraged, strengthened, Barnabus (Son of encouragement?).   And then I remembered Jesus’ charge to His disciples, what we call “The Great Commission”: “Make disciples.”  But it was the final words: “I’m with you,” which brought it together.

Encouragement of his people is a priority for God.  He knows about the Sunday/Monday morning syndrome, the wear and tear of the battle, the discouragement brought by the deceitfulness of sin, the failures of our weakness. 

            The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit  (Psalm 34:18)

            Encouragement is also a key element in discipleship, both in the being and the making.  We tend to loose sight of this element, perhaps in the excitement of new people coming into the church.  But later, as the apostles return from their missions, their ministry to the Christians is encouragement. 

God’s method of encouragement is that human beings filled with His Spirit, stand with one another to encourage and strengthen.  In the book of Hebrews we are told to encourage one another daily (Hebrews 3:13).

Bothers/Sisters God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. 

That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another.  Any consideration of the way we shape our lives together must keep that in focus.

The Meanest Man

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  –II Corinthians 5:17

“The meanest man in Montgomery County,”  is how my uncle, Don Ledbetter (known as “Doodle” by relatives and hometown people), was described to his son, D.K., by a man who knew him from his hometown.  Doodle’s funeral was Sunday in a rural church in North Carolina.  Where he had pastored for 20 years (fresh out of seminary), in a church built during his time there, a packed congregation listened to the story of an amazing life.  For more than 50 years, as pastor, teacher, District Superintendent and a hospital chaplain he served the Jesus he loved.  He completed a doctoral program in his seventies.

He was more like a brother to me.  My mother, his oldest sister, was more like a mother to him because their mother had died when he was five.  We played baseball together, hunted, etc. and attended college together.  I lived with his family for a while during my college days.  Though I moved away and didn’t get to see him much in later years, he was always special to me.  He often would have me preach in his church when I would visit.

The impact of his life on so many was obvious from the stories shared and the conversations with former classmates and friends of his and mine.

If you wondered how he got from the “meanest man” to that, you probably have guessed by now.  He knew Jesus.  As Paul Harvey used to say here’s the rest of the story.  The man who called him “the meanest man…” continued.  “I’m not a Christian but if I were, I want what Doodle has.”  What better evidence of a changed life.

I hope people who know me would say the same: “I want what he has.”

Whom Shall I Love?

Love your neighbor as yourself  Luke 10:27 

” Few stories have so made an impression on the world as this.  It has been called most practical of parables.  Read the story

A lawyer asks the most important question―Jesus was often asked.  “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?  A difficult question, he thought.  “Love God, Love your neighbor,” Jesus answers simply.

Now the lawyer asks what he thinks is an unanswerable question.  “Who is my neighbor―whom shall I love?  The theologian, Helmut Thielicke calls this ”theological fencing.”  He says, “He is itching to slip like an eel from his grasp if this Jesus would reach out for his soul.  He had rubbed his inner man, as it were, with soap.  Countless people do that.  Any pastor can tell you about these slippery souls….As long as a man has some pious questions to ask he doesn’t need to act.”  To speculate and brood about theological questions to escape responsiblity is wrong!

This shows a basic misunderstanding of love.  It has no boundaries to love except need and ability.  “Love ‘like the sun, which does not ask on what it shall shine, or what it shall warm, but shines and warms by the very law of its own being’” (William Trench).

Jesus tells the story, the story most often called “The Good Samaritan.”  A man beaten and robbed along the road and left for dead is helped not by the religious who pass by but by one normally an enemy to this man.

And Jesus asks, “Who was the neighbor to the man?  A different question than the lawyer had asked, one which reverses the question.  A neighbor is one who shows mercy, has compassion, one with a “big heart.”  And we are reminded that, “Anybody who loves must always be prepared to have his plans interrupted.”(168).

          To whom am I a neighbor?  To whom are you a neighbor?