Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I Thessalonians 2:6b-12
“Where Always is Heard an Encouraging Word”
July 25, 2009 Life Church

1. Thank you for the opportunity to share a few words with you this morning. Do you feel better now than when you came in? I think our relationship to God, and therefore, going to church, SHOULD make us feel better. I hope you feel better right now than you did when you got here, and I hope you’ll feel even better when I am through in 25 minutes than you do right now.
Working with you folks at Life Church touches my heart and my life. You very likely don’t even realize the difference you make, in me. But I want you to know I am grateful. Encouraging one another is a vital part of the life of a healthy church. Sixty-two times in the New Testament alone the word “encouragement” is mentioned as a duty, a responsibility of all believers. In John 13, Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” The nature of love, is encouragement. Love encourages.

2. The mind and pen of the Apostle Paul shared the nature of encouragement with the people of Thessalonica in this letter. Listen again to his words, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God who called you into his kingdom and into his glory.”

3. Did you hear the words? Encouraging, comforting, and urging. The nature of our ministry to each other, and therefore to the whole world, is encouragement. Take just a minute and get those words in focus. This is God’s word for you and me today, speaking to us through the writings of Paul the Apostle, saying, “This is how you will live a life worthy of me.”

I. First, be an encourager.

A. Encouragement is the nature of the Christian life. What does the word “encouragement” mean? In the original language, it means a strong, positive appeal. Put an emphasis on “strong.” It’s a command of Jesus. What’s the old song? “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word.” Discouragement should never, ever, ever, happen in the life of the church. Discouragement should never happen to anyone, here, in the church.
I fascinated by one account of the frontier church. When John Wesley Hardin, the famous outlaw, was converted and called to preach, he wisely demanded that worshipers check their guns at the door. (He may have been defending himself against what might happen if he preached a bad sermon!) In the same way, when we come to church, we leave our personal agendas at the door. We check our politics; we check our soapboxes, our hatred, our frustration, or whatever it is that we have toward another person. We check it at the door. It isn’t permitted. It isn’t allowed. Discouragement is no more allowed than standing up and speaking four-letter words in the middle of a Worship Service. It simply is not done.

B. In the church, we simply do not permit negative discussions. Loveless, negative criticism is a prime component of selfishness and sinfulness. You know what I hear all the time from folks? I hear people who say, “I can hardly wait to get to church. I take such a verbal beating all day every day at work that I look forward to coming to church so that I might be encouraged, so I might hear a strong, positive, appeal.
During the Boar War of 1899-1902, a man was convicted of an unusual crime. He was found guilty in court of being a discourager. He went down the front lines, walking through the trenches, speaking to people with worlds of discouragement, discord, and distrust. He said, “We’re going to be defeated, we cannot win this battle. This is wrong for us to be here.” When the war was over, he was brought to court and put in prison because he was a discourager. He had no weapon in his hand. His weapon was the power of discouragement.

C. That’s simply not allowed in the fellowship of the saints. Let me try to say it another way:
In the church of Jesus Christ, those who know Him, those who love Him, must learn, and must honor the idea that we CAN and SHOULD disagree. But we must NEVER dishonor one another. For to dishonor one another is to dishonor our Lord Jesus Christ.
We may disagree politically, we may disagree philosophically or pragmatically about nearly any issue, and even some doctrines. But disagreement is no license for dishonor. I respect a brother or sister in Christ who disagrees with me. I am not called to do battle with them. I am called to talk with him and pray with him that together we might seek a higher level of understanding in Jesus Christ.
For you and me, the question is: Are we encouragers? Or discouragers? We cannot permit rumors, gossip, cynicism, and sarcasm to characterize any atmosphere, any climate where we are. We are to counteract it, to contradict it with encouragement -- a strong positive appeal.

II. The second thing Paul said was we are to Comfort one another.

A. The Christian fellowship is meant to be a haven for comfort. In the original language it means “design to cheer up.” The whole concept is a design, a plan, to uplift the spirit. And the result is to “inspire correct behavior.” Not beat it into someone, but “inspire” correct behavior. If you glance back to verse 7, there is a word picture of a mother nursing a child. A kind of gentle compassion. A mother should always take care of her own health, keep herself well-fed and healthy, because if she doesn’t, her child will not get the nutrients needed to be healthy, and the child can become ill. It is horrible to see the TV shows with mothers so starved themselves that they cannot nourish their children. The picture carries itself to us. We are to feed on encouragement from God in order that we might comfort others.

B. I was heartened a few days ago by the words of a young woman who said that she was coming to this church “Because it’s the warmest, most encouraging place I have found. I want to be in a place where people are that loving and caring and accepting.” Maybe the design to cheer her up is working!!
But Paul goes farther. He states that the comfort we give is designed to “inspire correct behavior,” as “a father deals with his children.” Dads, pay attention. There’s no heavy handedness here. It’s done by inspiration. This is the loving father who has such compassion for his children that he gives them boundaries and makes demands on them. The example of his life is so authentic to the children that they derive comfort from his inspiration toward correct behavior.
Everyone has experiences in life that you just don’t forget. In Junior High School, I played quarterback on the football team. I worked hard in practice, and was determined to do my best. The last thing I wanted to do was let the team down. But I got in a situation where I didn’t know what to do, and threw a pass that was intercepted. The other team scored. I was devastated. — Then I had to go to the sidelines. Now, I loved our coach, but he was a little like Mike Ditka, or John Gruden, if you know what I mean. Before I even got to the sidelines, he was insulting my origin! He raised some rather serious questions about my character. He implied some ugly things about my mother. I had never seen a man so mad! I thought he was going to kill me. That rage was intense! He was out of control, screaming and yelling and waving his arms. But I bowed my neck, and looked him right in the eye, and took it. Every word he said. But inside I was devastated. I didn’t mean to throw that interception. I wouldn’t have done it on purpose for all the world. I went to the sidelines and just stood there. At times like that, all the other players give you a lot of space. They don’t want to be next to you. And I was standing there staring at the ground when Coach Walker walked up beside me. He just stood there, and let me know I was not alone. And then, he said, “This week in practice I’ll show you how to correct that so it won’t ever happen again.” And he did, and it didn’t!

C. Good discipline is taught. Not demanded. That’s why we are to encourage one another. I’ll ask you again, “Are you an encourager, or are you a discourager?” May I ask you another question? “Do you cheer people up?” I mean, when people see you coming are they really glad or do they say, “Oh, no! Here he comes again! Here she comes again!”

III. There’s a third dimension, and I think this is the best. We are to Urge one another.

A. The word for urging means “earnest entreaty.” It is a genuine, serious plea to improve, to achieve a goal. We are to sincerely, genuinely urge one another on. We’re to urge people to know God’‘s grace in Jesus Christ. The very nature of the Christian life is that we’ve experienced something so wonderful we want everyone to know about it. And so we are to urge one another to come to know Jesus.

B. I have on my desk a stack of cards from a 1-2 grade SS department at a church I served. If I get low, all I have to do is pick up one of those cards. One says, “Yur my favrit prchr.” I can go a week on that! Another says, “I like church. You preach good. Can you preach shorter?” There it is, folks, encouraging, comforting, and urging! Right now, I need to pay attention to the urging.

1. How long has it been since you wrote someone a note? Just an “I’m thinking of you”? After I preached here a few weeks ago, one dear lady from this church wrote me what I think is the sweetest note I have ever received from anyone outside my family. Thank you. Everyone needs that encouraging word. People are out there every week getting stoned and stomped and criticized and condemned. They need that encouraging word. So make a call. Write a note. Send a card. Pat a back. In doing so, you urge people to live lives worthy of God. Is there any greater goal? Is there any greater need?

2. Charlie Shed tells a wonderful story about Johnny Lingo. Years ago, Johnny, upon completing a career with he Merchant Marines, found an island with a group of people that he loved. He decided that he was simply going to go there, take the way of the native, and live his life out on that island. He was going to get married and raise a family in that wonderful, simplistic lifestyle. During this time he learned a custom of the island. The custom of the island when you wanted to marry was to buy your bride from her father. On this island, the highest form of economy was a cow. If people had cows, they considered themselves wealthy. So it was very common for a suitor to negotiate a price of one cow or two cows, or it cause a big uproar when someone offered three or four cows. Johnny met a young woman named Muhanna. When he went to propose to her father, the people on the island were shocked. Because Muhanna was just a plain, ordinary appearing girl. Nothing extra-ordinary about her appearance. No one would accuse her of being pretty. She was, in the language of the island, a “one-cow” girl. Johnny stunned the island. It spread like wildfire that he had offered ten cows for Muhanna in marriage! An incredible price! Well, by now you should be able to guess the rest of the story. Because he said, “Muhanna, you are this beautiful to me,” she became beautiful to look at, and more importantly, beautiful to live with.

3. Folks, I want you to hear me loud a clear. I’m urging, “Welcome to the ten-cow church!” Where the spirit of God is so strong that He looks down inside a plain, ordinary life that’s not worth much at all and He says, “I give you my Son, Jesus Christ, who is the greatest gift I can give you ... far beyond ten cows. I have given my Son to you. That’s how much I love you. That’s how much you are worth.. That’s how much I am going to change your life.
That’s the church of which I am glad to be a part. Amen “By this,” Jesus said, “shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

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