Encourage Me

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Sometimes we need to be encouraged! The glorious truth is that, to a Christian walking in the will of God, there is no such thing as a dead-end street. However, discouragement and frustrations sometimes come our way. Moses got discouraged. Samuel got frustrated. David got discouraged. Jesus even became discouraged. There are five (5) ways the Christian can be encouraged.

1) Scripture: The Word of God can give us encouragement. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. King David wrote the Psalms as a way of not only to give praise to God but to be encouraged. Scripture is important because it reminds us of our past and it tells us of our future. When Paul talks about death and resurrection, he ends the words with Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. (14) We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (15) According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (16) For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (18) Therefore encourage each other with these words.

In Hawaii, because of the time differential with the continental U.S., the NFL Monday Night Football game is played in mid-afternoon, so the local TV station delays its telecast till 6:30 in the evening. When my favorite team plays, I’m too excited to wait for television, so I’ll listen to the game on the radio, which broadcasts it live. Then, because they’re my favorite team, I’ll watch the game on television, too. If I know my team has won the game, it influences how I watch it on television. If my team fumbles the ball or throws an interception, it’s not a problem. I think, That’ s bad, but it’s okay. In the end, we’ll win! “In this world you will have trouble,” said Jesus. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When going through trouble, knowing the final outcome makes all the difference.

2) Fellowship: The Church is very important in giving encouragement. During the time of my wife’s illness, the Church was a tremendous help and source of encouragement. HEB 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Attendance in Church is very important. It will usually tell us if there is a problem. HEB 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (NIV)

3) Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is the comforter. Jesus said, I go that the comforter may come. ACT 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. PHI 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

4) Prayer: Remember how it felt when you needed to be encouraged and you talked to someone special who understood? MAT 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (NIV)

5) Discipline: Those who God loves, He disciplines. HEB 12:5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Bart Starr was the great quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. One year he made an arrangement with his oldest son to encourage good grades: for every “A” Bart Jr. brought home from school, Dad would give him ten cents. One Sunday the Packers had a particularly bad game, and Starr didn’t do well at all. It was a long plane ride home, but as he arrived home and entered his own bedroom, he felt better to see a handwritten note from Bart Jr. It read: “Dear Dad. I thought you played a great game. Love Bart.” Taped to the note were two dimes! There are times in each of our lives when we can use a little encouragement!

The Joy Of The Lord

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Yesterday, was my anniversary; 25 years here at Hillside Christian Church. I don’t know why that date is etched in my mind. I came here at a young 35, thinking I was going to change this place and I’m not sure who has changed who. It reminds me of the young Associate Minister, fresh out of seminary and thinking that he had the world by the tail. The new Associate came to serve under a Senior Minister who had been at the church for 30 years and was very well loved. The new Associate felt he could preach on any topic and could do so on the spur of the moment. After all, he had made straight “A’s” in his homiletic classes at Phillips Theological Seminary. So the wise old Senior Minister said, “You can speak this Sunday morning and I will put the topic on a piece of paper under the pulpit and you can read it just before you speak.” Sunday morning came and the young Associate was excited and stepped up to the pulpit and took the piece of paper and opened it to get his sermon topic. “Constipation”. He looked out at the congregation and said, “Moses took the two tablets and climbed down from the mountain.”

I am mindful of the opening line in Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.” Life is difficult, sometimes it is hard and cruel. We cannot always control what happens in our lives. I can’t even begin to guess how many funerals I have conducted or weddings that I have presided at. How does the Christian keep his/her joy in a difficult world? People die and we are not joyful about it. People get divorced and that is no fun. People become ill and what happiness is found in that? Some lose their jobs, others have financial pressures, all of which can rob us of our Christian joy.

Research has shown that the average adult will laugh 15 times in a day. A child on the other hand will laugh an average of 400 times a day. There is a lesson in this for us. If my happiness (or health) depends on what somebody else says (or does), I guess I have a problem. LUK 10:1 The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. Life wasn’t easy on this journey! The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” The Bible nowhere speaks about a “happy” Christian; however, it talks plentifully of joy. Happiness depends on things that happen, and may sometimes be an insult: joyfulness is never touched by external conditions, and a joyful heart is never an insult.

At about 445 B.C., Nehemiah finds himself being the cup bearer for King Artaxerxes. Following the Babylonian Exile the reorganization of the Jews was largely the work of Ezra (the scribe) and Nehemiah (the governor). The Israelites have been in exile for 150 years. The city of Jerusalem had been leveled. The Temple destroyed and no wall around the barren city. The people were very poor and had almost lost touch with each other. Some were farmers and herdsman in the countryside. Most were slaves in Babylon. When all the people were gathered they numbered 42,360.

Ezra stands on a large wooden platform and reads the law. The people are touched by hearing the word of God. Remember, most of these people and even their parents have not read the word of God. They are moved and motivated. Nehemiah is a realistic man, how can he take 42,360 people and rebuild a city? How can they build a wall around this mountainous town? How can they raise food to eat? How can they have a revival that will spiritually renew the people? Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Faith does for our living what sunshine does for stained-glass windows. I did a funeral for a man who died at the age of 43. It was an unusual service to say the least. The service climaxed to the music of “Love Potion Number 9.” The sad part was that this man had lived all of his short life looking for joy in all the wrong places. Two failed marriages. Never really happy at work. Tried to find it among the motorcycles, the tattoos, etc.

Very few Christians could say with Paul’s conviction, “For me to live is Christ.” Joy is not external, it is internal. People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so. Ever watch a tree grow?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness….We love to go to exciting worship services. Raise our arms and sing. Get “filled with the spirit” and dance around. But what happens after we leave? Joy is not entertainment, it is a way of life. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said, “You are doing so well following Vickie’s death.” As I stood there beside her bedside as she died, my life changed. This one that I had courted for two years was gone. This one that gave me two children, would not be there to help. For 18 years she was my companion and my best friend. But you see, there was also something there at her bedside that did not change. A JOY that not even death can take away. A joy that is the result of believing that Jesus is the Christ. A joy that is the byproduct of a life well lived.

1TH 1:6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. Take away my capacity for pain and you rob me of the possibility for joy. Take away my ability to fail and I would not know the meaning of success. Let me be immune to rejection and heartbreak and I could not know the glory of living. Know I understand what Paul means when he writes, 1TH 5:16 Be joyful always; it is a way of life.

Building A Home

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A dad once said, “My children have been studying their Bibles and have found a biblical reason for always getting ice cream sodas after church on Sundays.” “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” I am optimistic about the future of the family. During the 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s the family fell on some very difficult times. However, during the 90’s the family has gained great importance again. People don’t seem to have the “hang-ups” of making a commitment. Living together outside the bonds of marriage isn’t as glamorous. Even among those who seek pre marriage counseling there appears to be a greater commitment on the permanency of marriage. As long as love shall last. Until death do us part.

This change has come about, I think, because of four (4) reasons: The alternative to marriage was even worse. People do not live together well without making a commitment. No relationship can be based on sex and convenience, it must be based on love. Couples are marrying at an older age. People are more settled and mature. They know where they are going and what they want to be. The role of the father in marriage has greatly changed. Teddy Roosevelt once said about his 16 year old daughter, “I can either be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot do both.” Mark Twain’s philosophy: When a kid turns 13, stick him in a barrel, nail the lid shut, and feed him through the knothole. When he turns 16, plug the hole. More fathers today are taking part in child-raising than those of a generation ago. Putting children to bed (62 percent now; 16 percent then) Changing diapers (53 to 6 percent) Attending kids’ sporting events (52 to 37 percent) Reading to children (49 to 14 percent) Bathing children (46 to 24 percent) Feeding children (40 to 12 percent) Helping with homework (30 to 21 percent) Attending parent/teacher conferences (45 to 24 percent) Societies “norms” have changed allowing more of a partnership in marriage. Which automatically makes a stronger marriage and a happier marriage.

The family is what makes us who and what we are as a person! Habits are rooted in our early family experience. A test was given to a group of children for the purpose of discovering traits of selfishness or generosity. Children of the poor were often more egalitarian and less selfish than children of the rich. Children from larger families were definitely more generous than those from smaller families. Sharing had been learned in the intimacy of the family circle.

There are four factors that make a marriage and a family successful.
1) Affectionate caring = “I care about you.” In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. The greatest concern of your earthly life is caring for your family…and gave himself up for her to make her holy….
2) Vulnerable communication = “I trust you.” Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Trust can never be demanded, it must be earned.
3) Joint accomplishment = “I need you.” “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Loneliness is a serious problem and even God saw that from the beginning. It is not good for man to be alone.
4) Mutual giving = “I love you.” Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church….However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

A young family invited the new preacher and his wife over for Sunday dinner. The mother of the home was very concerned that it be a perfect affair. She drilled the children days in advance about the proper behavior. Finally, when the day came and the meal was cooked and at exactly the right time, everyone was invited to come into the dining room where the table was set out with a white lace table cloth, and the good china, silverware, centerpiece, candles and everything. They sat down at this formal table and the father had the blessing and when the blessing was over the little nine-year-old daughter reached for her glass of iced tea and knocked it over. The little brother jumped to get out of the way and knocked his over too. There was an awkward moment of silence as everybody kind of looked to the mother realizing how disappointed she was. But before anybody could say anything, the father flipped over his glass of tea and started to laugh. The preacher caught on and flipped over his tea and started to laugh. The preacher’s wife knocked over her glass of tea and started to laugh. And everybody looked to the mother and finally with an expression of resignation she picked up her glass and just dumped it out in the middle of the table and everybody around the table just roared with laughter. And the father looked down at his nine-year-old daughter right beside him and he winked at her. And as she laughed embarrassingly she looked up at her father and winked back but as she did it flicked a tear out of her cheek and it rolled down her face. And she looked up almost worshipfully at a father who loved her enough to be sensitive to save her from one of life’s most embarrassing moments.”

Mercy Killing

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While the issue of euthanasia has always been with us, it has become more complex in our society because of the advancement of medicine. In recent years it has especially been brought to our attention by the actions of people like Dr. Jack Kavorkin. Euthanasia has gained supporters, particularly among the young. According to a nationwide survey of the Harvard School of Public Health, results show that 63 percent believe doctors should be allowed to end the lives of terminally ill patients. In a similar 1950 poll only 34 percent agreed. And while 53 percent of those over 50 would approve of legalizing physician-assisted suicide, 79 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds would. Catholics (72 percent) favored euthanasia laws, while Jews (68 percent) and Protestants (59 percent). Initiatives urging such laws can be found in at least 20 states. California was just the latest state to accept a law permitting euthanasia.

Is this really what our society wants? I am mindful of the man who decided to commit suicide. Saturating his body with gasoline, he put a rope around his neck, tied it to a tree limb that jutted out over a river. He put a pistol to his temple. He then set a match to his body, jumped from the tree and pulled the trigger on the pistol. Missing his temple, the bullet hit the rope and cut it and he fell in the water below which immediately put out the flames. As he climbed back up the bank of the river, gasping, he said, “Wow! If I hadn’t have been a good swimmer I’d have drowned!”

We are struggling with two issues that somehow get blurred together. The first issue is causing death by doing something that brings on death. The second issue is allowing death to take place without our interference. We struggle with both because we don’t like death. And we are especially troubled by death when it is associated with pain. Even the Apostle Paul doesn’t like the term death and prefers the use of the term “sleeping.”

As Christians and as human beings we are charged with the responsibility of cherishing life. “Choose life” the Deuteronomist writes. We prefer life, but sometimes because of the quality of life we prefer death. No one argues that some people, given life’s circumstances that death would be a blessing. But what is the Christian to do?

A few short years ago, a torrential rain caused a swollen creek to wash out the underpinnings of a bridge on the New York State Throughway. One truck and several cars careened into the chasm with the bridge, and several persons were killed. A driver, following at a safer distance, seeing the horrible sight of the disappearing bridge, skidded to a stop just a short distance from the catastrophe. Reacting quickly, the driver ran to the bridge to offer assistance, if possible, to any victim, while his wife raced back up the highway with the idea of flagging down approaching cars. A large and expensive sports car zoomed toward her as she frantically waved her arms in a desperate attempt to alert the occupants to the disaster ahead. The driver, with a beautiful woman at his side, laughingly ignored the warning. Deliberately thumbing his nose at his would-be rescuer, he accelerated and hurtled off the collapsed causeway. Automobile and occupants were swallowed up in the gaping hole where once a bridge had stood. He took not only himself, but at least one other with him in death.

When Christians attempt to warn people of impending judgment which God has said shall surely come to the unrepentant, fools will mock. The church must renew her efforts to rescue the perishing and care for the dying.

We put physicians in a very uncomfortable role. All of their training, all of their oaths, call for sustaining life. Now, when quality of life becomes poor, we ask them to end our lives. The question goes beyond a legal question, it is a moral and ethical issue. The very soul of the physician is at sake, who is accountable to God. No physician wants to see us suffer and may feel like failures when they are unable to provide a cure. And yet, many patients have no hesitance to ask to die.

The problem with granting or encouraging the use of the “right” to die is that it will lead to our “duty” to die. Knowing the depravity of humanity, it is unthinkable that once old people enlist the help of friends or family, they will soon be expected to enlist such help to “end it all.” People will say to the ones dying and in pain, “You know, you don’t have to go on like this. You could end it all painlessly and quickly, and stop your own pain and the hardship on your family.”

Where does the line get drawn? Do we move beyond those terminally ill? Do we move beyond those in great incurable pain? Do we allow the handicapped to die because they are less than a full person? And who sets the standards for a “quality” life?

Our answer to this dilemma is found in whether the physician or anyone else encourages death by artificial means or allows death to take place naturally. To inject or give medicine to any human being, knowing that the end result will induce or cause death is morally wrong. Morally, we cannot deprive the sick of food or water. To withhold medical care where there is a reasonable amount of hope for survival is ethically unacceptable. The physician’s role must always be to sustain life! Neither the physician nor society can make the decision on what is quality of life – that resides with God. Poor quality of life never justifies taking a human life. We may shoot the horse, or put the dog to sleep, but unlike the animal, the human being has a soul.

Life calls for dignity and so does dying. Sometimes we overlook the pain and the suffering of our loved one just so that we can keep something tangible for ourselves. The patient does have the moral right to stop medical care. It is a courageous act to know that medical care is only prolonging death, and that while being terminally ill, make the decision to discontinue medical care. Not to have food and water withheld, but to stop taking medical treatment. To allow nature to take its course and die with dignity. When accidents and other illness cause the patient to be unconscious and there is no reasonable hope of the patient living without life support, family and physicians may make the decision to allow death to occur naturally.

In Iona Henry McLaughlin’s book, “Triumph Over Tragedy”, she tells of her struggle to find purpose and meaning in her life following the death of her daughter Jane to a brain tumor, and a few days later, her husband Pete and son Jack were lost in an accident which also left Iona near death. The sequence of tragedes were overwhelming for her. Lying in her hospital room she wondered for what purpose she continued to live. She often wished for and prayed for death and to join her three loved ones. The Easter faith she had known before came back to her in that time of deep need. And she knew, in a way that she had never known before that God was, that God was good, and that God who had walked with her in all the pain she had encountered since the tragedies was in her life then. The struggle with ‘Why?’ was the most difficult question in her life. Why would God take from her those people she loved most? It was a letter that had come to her from her minister shortly after the discovery of Jane’s tumor that helped her most. He had written then, “God is as sad over this as you are. It is not God’s will that such things happen. Amid the many circumstances of life, some things happen because we belong to a human society. But God’s will is for life to be lived to its fullest. I believe God hurts when we hurt. For Iona, the final step in overcoming her tragedy was in moving beyond the ‘Why’ to accepting that she was where she was and with God’s help and love she could move on to where God would have her be. “Whatever is, is: You cannot change it. Whatever has happened, has happened, and you cannot go back and change any of it, however, or why ever it happened. The question is not ‘Why did it happen?’ but ‘What do I do now? Some questions have no answer; you should know that by now. You should know that only fools persist in seeking the answers to ‘Why?’ Tragedy may enter your life, but — through the grace of God you can live again — you can triumph over it.