January 27, 2008
"Every Day God: Encourages"
(Acts 4:36-37; 11:22-24)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
There was a young musician whose first major concert was poorly received by the critics. The famous Finish composer Jean Sibelius, happened to be a friend of this young man and consoled him by patting him on the shoulder and saying, "Remember, son, there is no city in the world where they have erected a statue to a critic." (1)
We've talked about how Every Day God Empowers Us, Equips Us and Enables Us. Today we're going to talk about how Every Day God Encourages us. Like that young musician who Sibelius encouraged, we all need encouragement from time to time. Encouragement is a necessary part of life and a necessary part of the life of Discipleship.
Encouragement is sort of like a peanut butter sandwich the more you spread the peanut butter around, the better things stick together. The more we spread encouragement around, the better we stick together.
A United Methodist Pastor relates how his four year old daughter was in the back seat of the family car, having a good old time singing to herself. Here's the song Dad heard: "It's not my brother, not my sister, but it's me oh Lord, standing in the need of PRAISE." (2)
You know, there are times when we're all standing in the need of Praise. From time to time we all need to know God's affirmation. That's why one of my favorite characters in the New Testament is Barnabas. Let's look at Acts 4:36-37; 11:22-24 and you'll see why.
Acts 4:36-37 (NRSV)
 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement").
 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.
 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion;
 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.
Barnabas was a true encourager. He offered encouragement to the early church. What Barnabas did for the leaders and members of the early church, God does for us Every Day. And we need that encouragement.
First: Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Grateful. We are the salt of the earth, that's what Jesus said. Salt adds flavor, it's a curative and it's a preservative. That's our role in the world. But we can't forget, that we all need a little sugar, too. We all need a little sweetness in our lives. And gratitude is the sugar that makes life sweeter.
There was certain a businessman who experienced a shattering emotional breakdown. The depression that followed depleted his energy and his enthusiasm for life. He sought help, but didn't seem to progress. Days passed. One day an insightful friend said to him, "When was the last time you singled out someone who has been gracious to you or influenced you and expressed your appreciation?"
That question annoyed him. But when he went home that evening and he pulled out some writing paper and, for the first time in twenty years, he remembered a high school English teacher. He hadn't thought of her in years, but she'd taken an interest in him. She'd helped him to discover a love for poetry he didn't know he had. She made him feel as if he might be worth something after all.
He wrote her a simple letter. Three days later, he received a reply. This long retired school teacher wrote, "My eyes are blinded with tears as I write. You are the first student in all my career who has ever written me a letter to express thanks. I will keep it and treasure it as long as I live." (3)
With that letter in hand, he thought of someone else. So he wrote another letter and another. And you know what, because of that sense of gratitude that took hold of his heart, he didn't even notice when he got well. But that gratitude was the curative for his heart and soul.
Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Grateful because God knows just how sweet and how much healing power there is in Gratitude.
Second: Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Reverent. I can think of a couple of times in my life where I felt an almost overwhelming reverence. One was at the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington D.C. I had friends who died in Viet Nam. I know men and women, who lost sons, daughters, husbands and wives over there. It wasn't really a holy moment but it was a moment filled with a sense of complete and utter reverence for the lives of those men and women and their families.
Another, more profound, time was the first time I had the privilege of going to Israel. We actually arrived about four hours later than expected. By the time the plane landed and we got our luggage it was dark outside. I discovered something, even the Holy Land looks like every other country in the world in the dark. We could have been driving across the hill country of Texas for all we could tell.
But the next morning, because of the excitement and jet lag and a weird sound I knew I'd heard before but couldn't identify, Mary and I got up and stood on the balcony of the hotel in Tiberius overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We couldn't really see anything except the few lights that were on around the Lake, the balconies next to us and a portion of the ruins of a Crusader Fort.
And then I saw a fishing boat and I recognized the arrhythmic sound we'd been hearing. It was the sound of the floats on a fishing net being pulled into the boat. We listened to the sound of a fisherman fishing with a casting net, the waves of the Sea of Galilee and the sounds of early morning, all the while watching the sun rise over the Golan Heights.
For me, that was a very holy moment. A wave of deep reverence and the presence of God filled us both. It was like God had suddenly opened a door and we had stepped back 2000 years to an early morning with Peter, James and John. I almost expected to see Andrew walking with Jesus.
It was a moment that took our breath away and focused our thoughts and minds and hearts for the rest of the trip; a trip turned into a pilgrimage, not just a tour.
You see God wants us to have those kinds of moments each and every day. Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Reverent. For in those moments of reverence, when God is revealed in unexpected places and unexpected ways, the Spirit of God lifts and fills our spirits. We gain strength and focus for our lives. We remember that we are here to serve and glorify God. And life itself becomes holy. And that encourages us. And we need all the encouragement we can get.
Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Reverent.
Third: Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Absolving. That's a fancy word for forgiving others and for wiping away the guilt of sin and wrong doing. For us, it's forgiving those who have sinned against us and letting go of the hurt and pain cause by others. Personally, I think the best way to do that is not with words but with actions.
There was a young soldier was utterly humiliated by his senior officer. The officer had gone beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior in disciplining the young soldier and he knew it, so he said nothing as the younger man said through clenched teeth, "I'll make you regret this if it is the last thing I ever do."
A few days later their company was under heavy fire and the officer was wounded and cut off from his troops. Through the haze of the battlefield he saw a figure coming to his rescue. It was that same young soldier. At the risk of his own life, this young soldier dragged the officer to safety. The officer said, apologetically, "Son, I owe you my life."
The young man laughed and said, "I told you that I would make you regret humiliating me if it was the last thing I ever did." (4)
That's God's kind of absolution. You see something happened on Calvary that changes everything. Because Jesus gave His life for us, We experience absolution. We experience forgiveness. We can see Christ in all his majesty but I think we see Him most clearly in the mercy we have received. And we want others to see Jesus, then one of the best ways for them to see Him in us, is through the mercy we offer them. Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Absolving.
Fourth: Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Confident, too. With a heart filled with gratitude, a reverent and absolving spirit we can walk with Confidence. Not a confidence built on our own but a confidence which comes from God.
In A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, there's a story about a student who was unlike most other students. (Watch This)
One day in the 11th grade he went into a classroom to wait for a friend. The teacher appeared and asked him to go to the blackboard. He replied, "I'm not one of your students." The teacher said, "Doesn't matter. Go to the board anyhow."
The student told him he couldn't do that and when the teacher asked "why not?" the student told him because he was mentally retarded. The teacher came over to the student and said, "Don't ever say that again. Someone else's opinion of you doesn't have to be become your reality."
It became a liberating moment for the student, a time of great learning. The teacher, Mr. Washington, became the student's mentor. Later that school year Mr. Washington addressed the graduating seniors. In his speech he said, "You have greatness within you ... You can touch millions of people's lives."
After the speech this student went up to Mr. Washington and asked him if he had greatness within him. The teacher replied, "Yes, Mr. Brown, you do." The student thanked him and told him that one day he would make the teacher proud.
In his senior year it happened that Brown was placed in Mr. Washington's speech and drama class. Although Brown was a special education student, the principal realized that this would be a good match.
Mr. Washington gave Les Brown a larger vision of himself. While other teachers passed Brown from class to class, Mr. Washington made more demands of him. He made him accountable. He enabled him to believe in himself. He rose from an errand boy at a Radio station to one of it's hip-talking DJs to broadcast manager. In 1986 he formed his own company and has become a successful motivational speaker. At series of his motivational speeches was produced for public television. Mr. Washington saw the program and called Les Brown to tell him how proud he was of his achievement. (5)
Les Brown had to work hard to finish high school. But because of the confidence Mr. Washington had in him and helped him have in himself, Les Brown gained new motivation. You see, when others believe in us we gain confidence in ourselves and we're able to do great things. Remember what God says about you, "This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter, in who I am well pleased. Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Confident.
Fifth: Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Enthusiatic. Did you know that early Methodists were looked down upon because they were too enthusiastic in their faith. We sang with too much enthusiasm. We worshipped with too much enthusiasm and joy. We shouted "Amen" which wasn't proper or socially acceptable in Church. We were looked down upon, but the message which our preachers preached, changed lives.
A preacher tells about a woman in his church who is so excited to be a Christian. She had a shady past and pretty much hit bottom when a friend reached out to her and brought her to church. The church members welcomed her warmly and loved her into the circle of their love and God's love. She started going to church faithfully. She joined a wonderful Sunday School class. She began studying the Bible daily. She started praying regularly and in the process accepted Christ.
She realized for the very first time in her life that God loved her, even her! She came to understand that even though she'd done all those sordid things in her earlier life, God still loved her. God forgave her, accepted her, valued her, treasured her. She was absolutely bowled over by that "Amazing Grace" and she committed herself to Christ heart and soul. Recently she told to her pastor, "I'm so excited to be a Christian, that I've got a strong case of the "can't help its." (6)
She just can't sit still. She can't keep Jesus to herself. I think the "can't help its" goes with being a Christian. Because Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Enthusiatic. And in that enthusiasm, we can't keep Jesus and the mssage of forgiveness and mercy to ourselves. We have to share it, "we just can't help it." Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Enthusiatic.
Now I don't know if you've noticed or not, but the points of the sermon spell out the word GRACE. Everything we have, our relationship with God, our forgiveness, our place in the Kingdom all come through the Grace of God. That unmerited gift of God's love for us. And through that Grace we are Encouraged to share and offer God's Grace to others.
There was a little girl whose first-grade class held its "track and field" day. She won quite a few ribbons, among them one blue ribbon for a first place. Later that day, when she came home, the blue ribbon was missing, and her mother asked what had happened to it. "Oh," she said, "Bruce was crying because he didn't win a first place ribbon, so I gave it to him." (7)
Her mother hugged her and told her she thought it was very generous to give Bruce the ribbon. The little girl responded "It's no big deal. I know I won it and giving it to Bruce made him feel better."
That little girl understood what Grace and encouragement are all about. You've received two blue ribbons today. One is for you. I want you to know that you are top notch, first class, first place people in the Kingdom of God.
The second is for you to share with someone else. A lot of people don't know they are first place people. No one's ever told them that it's not about the ribbon but about our character, heart and actions. Your assignment is to find someone you know and love, who has influenced you and to give them the blue ribbon as a sign of your gratitude, love and encouragement. And as a sign that they are first place people in the Kingdom of God.
Every Day God Encourages Us To Be Grateful, Reverent, Absolving, Confident and Enthusiastic so that we can share God's Grace and the Good News with others. You can do that with a simple piece of ribbon. Who knows what difference it will make in their life or yours.
1. Leadership - Vol. 7, #1.
2. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), Feb 1992
3. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), Oct 1989 Adapted from a story told about William Stidger
4. The Autoillustrator, P.O. Box 336517, Greeley, CO 80633 1-877-970-AUTO (2886)
5. Based on a story in "A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul"
7. The Autoillustrator, P.O. Box 336517, Greeley, CO 80633 1-877-970-AUTO (2886)
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