Exhort One Another
There was a story circulating in a community within 200 miles of here about 20 years ago of a young man who was graduating from high school. Like any high school senior with a bring future, his family was excited about his big day. His parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents were planning a huge celebration. Like every other family they were filled with hope and expectation for what the future would bring. Yet, in the midst of all of the excitement there was a small complication. For whatever reason the school had made a change from the years before and instead of graduation happening on Friday night, the school decided to hold the celebration at 6:30 on a Wednesday night. The small church where the family attended decided that they would just adjust their mid-week services so they they could celebrate with the High School Senior and his family. The minister offered to have services before the graduation, or to move it to either Tuesday or Thursday night so that the family and the rest of the church could all be present at this mile marker event without feeling guilty. It seemed like a wonderful solution at the time.
However, the young man’s grandparents held considerable power in that small church and vetoed the schedule change. They reasoned since it was decided years ago that they would have a mid week Bible service, God came first and they would not allow that service to be changed for any reason. And in that small little town, on that Graduation night, the young man’s grandparents attended Wednesday Night services, just like they had done for the last 50 years or so at 7:00. While across town their grandson received his diploma without their support and without their blessing.
That night two different sets of people went to bed. The grandparents went to bed confident in their compliance to Hebrews 10:25. While their grandson went to bed that night confused about whether or not his grandparents really cared about him. You know what Hebrews 10:25 is don't you? It's the go to church or else passage. When I was little I learned it from the King James which said, Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is.
Maybe you grew up like I did, with an understanding that the Hebrew writer simply wanted to say, You need to go to church every time the doors are opened. Don't be like the pagans, who skip church go fishing or watch the Super Bowl or to work late or some other poor excuse. And in essence, church attendance became one more notch on our Bibles. I knew that if I wanted to be in compliance with what the Bible said, I had to be at the building three times a week, it didn’t matter if we were traveling, on vacation, or whatever if I wanted to comply with God’s law I had to be in a building.
Let me just say that I believe that church attendance is important, and obviously that is a part of what this text says. But like so many other texts, we have made technical compliance the point of the passage and totally missed the meaning. Technical compliance is a poor substitute for the intent of this passage. The intent of this command is not church attendance. It is encouragement.
The Hebrew writer reminds us twice about the need to encourage one another, first in Hebrews 3:13 we read But encourage each other every day while it is today. and then in chapter 10:24-25 Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. Do this even more as you see the day coming.
This can’t be a Sunday Morning worship passage because the text actually says every day. The writer of Hebrews was intentionally telling us to get together because there are a lot of discouraging things that happen to people every day. We gather together because it is vitally important to our spiritual health and well being. That’s why this passage is so important, because everyone of us needs a little encouragement.
In the spirit of Father’s Day I wanted to give you a few building blocks that can use to proactively encourage one another. First we need to Decide that we want to be encouragers.
We arrived at the Berry’s Chapel congregation right after the fuss of 1995. Berry’s Chapel had so many fights and so many splits that they named them by the year instead of the event. You could tell that the congregation was hurting when we arrived. The fuss of ‘95 took 100 members, two of three elders had resigned, dissolving the eldership, and they fired the Youth Minister. Unhappy people left. People blamed the preacher, the last youth minister, the elders, and the people who were still there. If you were to ask outsiders about the church they would say it was cold and unfriendly.
A few weeks after we began our work at Berry’s Chapel, a widow moved into a condo in our area and started attending Berry’s Chapel. She introduced herself as “Cricket,” and she was a loving, happy, joyful lady. Like Trista and I, she had missed the fuss of ‘95 so we didn’t have a side to cheer for or to blame. But she did one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen. She found a folding table and some chairs at a garage sale, and came by the building to get a copy of the directory. Then once a month she invited six to eight people to her home for a meal.
It was simple, and yet one of the most powerful things I had ever seen. Folks showed up, ate, talked, laughed, and then went home. She did it every month because she decided it was important to get to know her church family. It took considerable time to cook once a month for 8-10 people. She invested money to buy the table, chairs, and groceries. But it paid great dividends for the Church family and the people she blessed in her home. After a few months, Cricket would often say “This is the friendliest church I’ve ever seen!”
In our text when the Hebrew writer says But encourage each other every day, it is a call for you to make the decision that you are going to do something simple and at the same time profound. The proverb is true, that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You might not ever be the worlds best encourager, but even Barnabas had to make the decision to encourage instead of criticize. This morning make the decision, put it into action, and then repeat. You can do great, amazing things when you have a well-defined path to follow. So go ahead, decide to be an encourager and then just do it.
The second building block is Looking and Listening.
Paul writes to the church in Philipi Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. We need to be looking and listening for things that are noble and lovely and admirable and praiseworthy. In other words we should stop focusing on the things that are offensive, dirty, and negative.
Back in 2000 there was a management book released titled “Fish" and 19 years later it is still one of the most popular management books in print. If you have not heard of the book, it’s this little book that tells the secrets learned at the Seattle Fish company that helped make their business fun, effective, and more profitable. The cornerstone to their success is that they understand that they choose the attitude they have toward their work and their fellow employees. We can moan about our jobs. We can complain about how little we get paid. We can simply endure. OR we look and listen for things to enjoy. We can choose to make work fun. We can choose to focus on the service we can extend, or the benefit we can provide, and we can take pride in the product we produce. It's a matter of where we choose to set our mind.
You get to choose how you are going to respond to your circumstances. We can see everything as a tragedy or see things as a challenge. We can see obstacles or opportunities. We can focus on our inability, or God's great sufficiency. It's our choice, it all depends on what we see.
The same is true of people, we can spotlight their failures or their victories, the strengths or their weaknesses. Paul says we should look for the good in others and then encourage them to continue in the struggle we call life. We choose how we will see others.
Have you ever stopped to listen to yourself? How much time do you spend spotlighting the weaknesses of others compared to talking about their strengths. I'd bet you spend more time on the negative than you'd care to admit. Why is that? Why do we feel superior when we are tearing someone else apart? How are we better off for ridiculing the weaknesses or quirks of another? Paul tells us we should celebrate and spotlight people's progress rather than their weakness. We should try to catch people doing things right rather than griping about the things they do wrong. We all have rough edges, we all let people down, but beating each other up over these things distances us from the heart of God.
Next we must be willing to include others. Paul writes in Romans 15:7 So accept one another in the same way the Anointed has accepted you so that God will get the praise He is due.
One of Paul’s main points in the book of Romans is our need to not just tolerate, but to accept and include those who are different from us. While Paul was writing specifically to Jews and Gentiles, the premise is just as important today. God is an amazingly diverse creator and it’s not just the color of our skin, or the accents in our speech that display His diversity, but our human nature.
Paul is reminding us that our strength, our maturity can be seen in our ability to joyfully include one another regardless of all of the things we find to keep us apart. Children of God are called to willingly give up our rights, our desires, and even getting our way so that others can be welcomed into our community of faith and allowed to use their gifts. That means that I have to be willing to focus on the things in your life that are noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. As long as I make the decision to look for the good in your life, it becomes easy to include you and allow you to use your gifts.
Paul wanted us to understand the blessing found when we include people different than ourselves. It’s only when we include one another, that God can get the praise that belongs to Him. When the world sees a group of folks who have more reasons to be separate than they do to come together, actually working together and including one another they will recognize that is something only God can do.
Next we must focus on using Uplifting Words. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29 When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need--words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you.
Do you struggle with speaking life-giving words? I am afraid to ask you to raise your hand because only half of you would be honest enough to raise your hand, and the other half would say negative things about those who told the truth. It’s so easy to fall into negative speech patterns. We talk so much that we rarely pay attention to the words we are saying. The result is that we use our words to kill the spirit of our fellow travelers, brothers and sisters, strugglers in this world.
I get a bit nervous when I read this passage because I start a mental inventory of what I said during the day. How did I talk to Trista? How did I talk to the boys? how did I talk to the folks in the office? how did I talk to that Referee? Suddenly tons of words, sentences flash through my head and I think how many of those words were for building up? How many were corrupting?
In Ephesians 4, Paul is addressing this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the Gospel. He’s contrasting the way we were when we were unbelievers and who we are now, our new identity in Christ. There should be a stark contrast between who we used to be and who we are now in Christ. The greatest change should bee seen in the way we speak. When we were unbelievers, our words were used in self-serving, destructive ways, but now because of the grace of God our speech is changed. Paul is calling us back to the truth that we should be speaking life giving words. When we speak words of encouragement and life is when we really see good things happen.
We have a new vocabulary, it’s like we have learned a new language. I rarely have to think before I speak in English, (which at times is problematic). But I am trying to learn some Spanish so that I can welcome and greet our hispanic family and the people who come to visit with Cristobal. And when I try to use Spanish, I have to think before I speak. I can’t just blurt out my first thought. It requires me to slow down and think about what I am actually saying.
How different would your words be if you and I did the same thing in English? We are also learning a new language. We are learning how to use the language of God, which are words of welcome, compassion, greeting, acceptance, and love.
Finally, if we are going to build people up we need to Be Positive. Once again Paul writes in Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
I get it, there are plenty of days that it is difficult to be positive and hard to be happy. I am sure it was difficult for Paul to feel joyful while he was chained to the floor of a Roman prison. But, Paul knew that our feelings are a horrible task master. He might not have felt joyful, but he chose joy. Paul lived out his understanding that God desires for His children to be joyful and positive about life.
You will face a hundred difficulties every day which make it difficult to be and stay positive. But it is not impossible. We get to decide how we are going to feel, act, and interact with one another. We get to decide if we are going to be in control or allow our feelings to wreck our lives. I am not saying that your feelings are wrong, I believe that you have a right to all of your feelings; you can be happy, mad, sad, or glad. But feelings bring color to our experiences, they are not the experience.
It’s like when we were looking Trafton’s first car. Trista and I wanted a car that was dependable, had a good safety rating, that a 6 foot 5 teenager would fit in and be able to see out of the front windshield. Trafton wanted a nice radio. I don’t have a problem with his car having a nice radio, I just refuse to choose a car based on the radio.
In the same way we cannot allow our feelings to run our lives. If you want to be spiritually and emotionally healthy you must understand that God has allowed you to choose your attitude. In a world filled with thousands of things you cannot control, one of the few things you can control is your attitude. You get to choose how you will respond, how you will think, how you will act in regards to what happens to you in your life. A positive attitude will help you in many, many, ways.
I’m not saying everything in your life can be changed by being positive. I am saying that there are many things that can be changed for the better. I’m saying that if you want your one and only life to be good that you absolutely must begin with your attitude. Nobody makes it through this life without their share of disappointment, loss, or problems. But everyone of us can choose how we will respond to the challenges, the disappointments, and the losses of life. Your attitude determines your happiness! You get to choose! You can decide to build others up, because there are too many people who made the decision to tear them down.
Marion Gordon tells the story about one morning when she opened the door to get her paper and was surprised to see a strange little dog with her paper in his mouth. Delighted with this unexpected delivery service, she went to the kitchen and got the puppy some treats. But the following morning she was horrified to see the same dog sitting in front of her door, wagging his tail, surrounded by eight newspapers. She said that it took her the rest of that morning trying to find the rightful owners and returning their papers.
You know all she had to do was turn the paper on the dog and that dog would never have returned. It works that way with our relationships, too. We swat people one time too many and they don't come back to us emotionally. They may still be there in body, but they'll be somewhere else in spirit. That’s why God calls us to encourage each other every day while it is today. It not only works, it's God's will.
As we close this morning we will be offering what we call an invitation, which is a church-a-neese way of saying if something has happened or if the Holy Spirit has been working in your life and you need to ask for prayers or for help, or need to celebrate something great that has happened in your life we invite you to come forward and share with the church family so we can encourage you and be encouraged by you.
But, no one ever comes forward to allow us to celebrate with them because we kind fo feel weird and like we are bragging if God blesses us, I mean He hasn’t blessed everyone with a promotion, or the ability to buy a new vehicle, or got engaged. And I don’t want to make people feel bad because God isn’t blessing them. Which is a direct violation of the command to rejoice with those who rejoice.
But every now and then someone will come forward and say, I need prayers because I have sinned. Our shepherds will offer a prayer for them, and then after the service we walk up pat them on the back and tell them we love them and will pray for them, and we usually won’t. It’s not that we don’t want to pray for each other or that we don’t have the best intentions. It’s because everyone in here can say, I need prayers because I have sinned. And in the midst of our sin, we do what mankind has always done, we hide. And as long as we are hiding we will never be able to encourage one another because we don’t actually know one another.
So this morning I am asking you to do something radical, and frightening. I am asking you to be open and tell the truth. If the Holy Spirit is moving and prompting you, I am asking you to do the scary thing and quit hiding. Admit; I am struggling with pornography, I am struggling with anger, I am struggling with the way that I use my language, I am struggling with hatred, I am struggling in my marriage, I am struggling with my parents, I am struggling with my kids. I am struggling..... and I need someone to hold me accountable and encourage me to be what God created me to be.
It’s scary, but I believe that God is bigger than our fears. And I promise that as long as I have the privilege to stand in front of this church family and encourage us to model love in the model city, there is nothing you can do that would disqualify you from being a part of this family that is filled with broken people.