Wednesday, November 21, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-21 [Encouragement] Beware!


Beware!

There are two dangers present in our theme of encouragement. The first danger is encouragement's opposite: discouragement. (We'll consider this tomorrow...) The second danger is that we can also be encouraged to do the wrong things.

The sad history of Israel and Judah's kings is that many more of them were evil rather than good. Many of the evil kings were encouraged in their evil by negative influences:

  • Solomon's son Rehoboam listened to his friends rather than his father's advisors - it split the kingdom.
  • Ahab was led into terrible evil by his wife Jezebel. And Solomon was led astray by his many foreign wives and the need to honour their gods in order to preserve the political ties he'd made by marriage.
  • The young man in proverbs is led astray by the bad company.
  • Adam and Eve were beguiled by the serpent who disguised their rebellion as "self-actualisation."

The king in our passage today is Ahaziah who was a king in the Southern Kingdom. He reigned for one year before being put to death by Jehu. He was only 22.

The Chronicle writer (who looks at Israel's history from a spiritual perspective) gives a clear opinion on Ahaziah's short-lived and disastrous reign: His mother Athaliah encouraged him to do wrong.

Athaliah was the grand-daughter of Omri who, from secular history, was one of Judah's most successful kings, but who, from a spiritual perspective, had walked in ways displeasing to the Lord. Athaliah, having learned from a bad example, went on to be a bad example. (If Omri was her grandad, then Ahab was her dad or uncle, another bad example...)

Encouragement is active influence. We can use it for good or for evil. As parents we need to use this power very responsibly. We also need to recognise that some of our "encouragers" should not be listened to - just ask Ahaziah and Adam and Eve!

Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother's name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. 3 He too walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong.      (2Chronicles22:2-3)


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-20 [Encouragement] Perspective


Perspective

The best encouragement gives us the perspective that God is with us. We can say "You can do it!" or "Keep going!" or "Hang in there!" but that kind of encouragement is based in what we can do. The best encouragement reminds us or helps us to see that God is with us.

Our passage for today is from the story of Elisha and the Arameans. The Arameans discovered that God was telling Elisha where their troops were going to raid so that the Israelites could avoid them. They sent a garrison to grab Elisha at his farm. When Elisha's 'butler' went outside to chop wood etc, he saw the troops on the hill surrounding the house.

Terrified he ran in to tell Elisha. Elisha's enigmatic answer was that there were more with them than with the Arameans. The servant couldn't believe it, so Elisha prayed that the servants eyes would be opened. Then the servant saw the hillsides crowded with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. Then just as the servants eyes where opened, Elisha prayed that the enemies eyes would be closed!

Our enemies often intimidate us. Deadlines vex us, critics surround us, doubts assail us, circumstances tire us, and bullies crowd us. Like the servant we make the mistake of looking at the number of enemies and we let the picture of our enemies define our concepts of God! We assume that because we can see our enemies, God is not there. We assume that because our enemies look powerful, God is not. We assume that because our many enemies are here, God has left!

We assume wrongly!

Sometimes it would be nice to have Elisha's gift, to have our eyes opened to see the heavenly forces that God sends out on our behalf. It would be so nice to see that our enemies will never be able to wipe us out. We have something Elisha did not have. Two things in fact! Firstly : Elisha did not know that only one third of the angels joined in Satan's rebellion against God. For every agent of evil there are two angels! Secondly: When Jesus died on the cross He overcame sin, death, and Satan. The cross is the D-Day of the battle and Jesus' second coming is the V-Day.

While the war has been won, there is a lot of mopping up to do and a lot of prisoners of war to be set free. It is our privilege to participate in this process and when we face enemies who come from the one who came to steal, kill, and destroy, we can know God's presence and we know that His army is great and the Jesus is the champion!

Encouragement is reminding ourselves and others that God is at work in our circumstances regardless of what our eyes can see...

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" the servant asked.
16 "Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
17 And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.      (2Kings6:15-17)


Friday, November 16, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-16 [Encouragement] How to encourage Paul


How to encourage Paul

How do you encourage a person of the calibre of the Apostle Paul?
What does it take to "fill up his tank?"

In his letter to Philemon, we get an amazing insight to Paul's heart:
You see, Paul was encouraged when he saw the people of God encouraging and caring for one-another...

Here's something I wrote in 2004:
...Our congregation has taken a beating in the last few months. We have been through some tragedies and very sad losses. There are not easy answers and there are no trite sayings that can be band-aid plasters to the deep wounds we feel. God Himself has to be our Comforter and our Strength.

But there is a great deal of help that comes from good community. In the midst of the sadness and sorrow, our congregation community has shown tender loving care in all sorts of amazing ways. People have prayed for those who have been ill and bereaved. People have sent thoughtful sms's and cooked meals for those who have struggled. People have come to serve tea, have baked cake, fetched and carried, and taken a load of practical things off the shoulders of those who had very heavy loads. They have pitched in and lifted the hands of the weary and supported those who have felt so weak.

It has been an amazing experience for me. These experiences of love and kindness have inspired me and lifted me. As I have witnessed these simple acts of love, devotion, and care - this refreshing of hearts of the saints - I have been amazingly comforted...

Now, fourteen years later I am still seeing the same things!

While I can't claim any kin-ship with Paul beyond the "chief of sinners" thing, I do feel like Paul did - encouraged and filled with joy because I have seen the saints (that's you!) refreshing the hearts of the broken-hearted and those being squeezed and stretched.

No, I don't have all the answers to the "why?" questions. And I haven't figured out exactly why life can be so hard. (I have some ideas, but not the specifics) But I have seen a God who loves us and transforms the hearts of His children so that they are His hands, feet, and voices saying "I am still with you and I still love you!"

And I am ENCOURAGED.

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.      (Philemon1:7)


Thursday, November 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-15 [Encouragement] Weighed down???


Weighed down???

As stress levels are on the increase, our support structures are on the decrease. Longer hours means we spend less time with our families who strengthen us. When both spouses work it is harder for them to support each other. With people's increasing desire for privacy, they are not letting people get close to them, and people are not willing to intrude.

We are getting lonelier and lonelier and with the loneliness comes discouragement.

Stress can break us. Encouragement reverses the effects of stress. To speak a kind word costs us very little and to encourage someone only takes a bit of time. Can you think of someone who has really encouraged you? Can you remember how much it meant?

We've already talked about the kind of things we can say like:
"Good job", "I've got your back" and so on.

But let's talk about the ways we can do it...
- A post-it note on a desk or pillow or under a windscreen wiper
- A brief sms or whatsapp
- A phone call
- An anonymous card with an inspirational Bible verse
- A little gift (PS Bars with their little sayings are fun)
- A voucher for a coffee
- A flower or biltong or chocolate or jelly babies

The bottom line is. There are many weighed-down hearts around us.
Be creative.....
It will make a difference!
Don't hesitate.... JUST DO IT!

An anxious heart weighs a man down
but a kind word cheers him up       (Proverbs12:25)


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-14 [Encouragement] Strengthening


Strengthening

A few days ago we saw Job confronting his "comforters" for their failure to care for him and encourage him. Job claimed that, if he were in their place, his mouth would encourage them and comfort from his lips would bring relief.

Today we're going to test the truth of Job's claim.

When Job was initially struck down with disaster and tragedy, his comforters came to sit around him. They start really well: they're just there for him. They sit with him and keep him company through his pain. (In Jewish Culture this is called "Sitting Shiva")

But after Job's first outcry and complaint, his friend Eliphaz begins to speak. (Unfortunately the speech is not helpful because, it ultimately boils down to saying "You must have done something to deserve this Job, so confess your sins and get your head out of the dust.")

But the start of Eliphaz's speech is perfect confirmation of Job's later claim. Eliphaz starts by acknowledging Job as an encourager. He recognises Job as one who has given wise guidance, who has offered timely support and who has strengthened others.

This is so significant.

The first thing that Job's friends say about him is that he is an Encourager.

And what does encouragement look like?

  • His instructions have strengthened feeble hands: when people didn't know what they were doing, Job empowered them. "Let me help you, let me show you." "Do you need a hand?" "How can I assist?" "Try it this way..." "This is what my dad taught me..."
  • His supportive words supported those who stumbled. "Don't worry, we can try again." "We'll get it sorted out..." "You'll bounce back..." "I've got your back..."
  • When knees faltered he offered strength. "Lean on me." "I'm with you." "You're not alone."

The key thought in our verses to day is "strengthening".
Encouragement is about strengthening others.
- We share our knowledge/experience/wisdom and empower people.
- We offer forgiveness and a second chance to those who stumble.
- We come alongside and lend our strength to those who falter.

May it be that verses below become a description of us...

Think how you have instructed many,
how you have strengthened feeble hands.
4 Your words have supported those who stumbled;
you have strengthened faltering knees.
      (Job4:3-4)


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-13 [Encouragement] Where does encouragement come from?


Where does encouragement come from?

In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he urges the Christians to live a Christ-like life of love, unity and humility. But what is fascinating is that Paul starts off, not with the request or instruction, but a reminder of what they already have. (It's useful to know what is already in the tank when you're planning a trip...)

In our reading Paul draws their attention to what they have 'in the tank' as it were, by asking a rhetorical question: "If you have any encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion..." (And the obvious answer is "Yes we do!")
Encouragement is the first on the list - so let's look more closely...

The Greek word for "encouragement" is 'paraklesis' and it occurs some 28 times in the New Testament. It is most often translated "encouragement", "consolation", "comfort" or "strengthen."

But what is most striking is how similar "encouragement" (paraklesis) is to "Holy Spirit" (parakletos). Both words come from the words "alongside" (para) + "calls/called" (kletos/klesis). In this sense "encouragement" means "the calling (cheering) voice beside us" and "Holy Spirit" means "the One who walks beside us (cheering us on)." That's pretty cool if you think about it... When we're encouraging people, we are doing what the Spirit does!

And Paul goes on to say that our encouragement comes from being united with Christ. Our love for and connection with Jesus is the source of our encouragement. What does that mean? It means that I am so loved that He came to earth for me and died in my place and adopts me as His own!! This amazing Good News gives me a sense of being loved, valued and considered worthy. This encourages, consoles, comforts and strengthens me!

So, when we encourage others, it comes from our connection to Jesus and what He did for us and when we encourage others, we are getting very very very close to the work that the Holy Spirit does!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
      (Philippians2:1-2)


Friday, November 9, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-09 [Encouragement] Be an encourager


Be an encourager

One of the most powerful things we can do for a friend, colleague, child or spouse is to be an Encourager.
In a rather chilling confrontation, Job challenges his friends with these words:
4 I also could speak like you, if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.
5 But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.

We live in a challenging perfectionistic society where we are in a quest for "zero defect." (We call it the "Rat Race") We are surrounded with an overwhelming number of fake and often unrealistic finish lines: "If you drive this car, live at this address or socialise with these people, then you have won the race. (Oh, by the way, congratulations, you are the King Rat!")
In the light of these circumstances it is not unusual for people to feel irrelevant, overwhelmed, discouraged and depressed. But when challenges and setbacks come in people's lives we can be encouragers.
Here are a few kinds of encouragement we can offer:
  • "You're doing a great job even though you think no one notices."
  • "Don't worry, you may have missed it this time, but you can try again"
  • "I really believe you can do it - even if you don't believe in yourself"
  • "Great Job! Thanks for the hard work!"
  • "I know it's a big challenge, but I'm praying for you"
  • "You're not alone - I'll be here for you!"
  • "I will always love you! It doesn't matter if you try and fail."
And you can probably think of more. The secret is to find ways to encourage our loved ones with notes, calls, cards, verses, emails and sms's. A pat on the back, a word of recognition, prayer support and a look that says "I believe in you!" can radically transform people.
In a society where people are quick to criticise and condemn, let's let our mouths speak differently.
But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.      (Job16:4-5)


Thursday, November 8, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-08 [Encouragement] The Importance of Encouragement

Encouragement

Our theme for the last few weeks of the year is going to be "Encouragement". We're going to look at the importance of encouragement, how we encourage others, how discouragement works and how God encourages us. I hope the series will be a great blessing to you.

(You can subscribe for this series at http://eepurl.com/dhGrzL If you were on the Month of Mission devotions list you will not automatically receive this series - you'll need to subscribe...)

The Importance of Encouragement


Hezekiah was one of the Old Testament's last good kings. He lived in a difficult time when the Assyrians were the dominant world power who eventually destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and were threatening Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom.
In the first part of our chapter Hezekiah is busy. When he hears that the Assyrians are coming, he fixes the walls, secures the water supplies and stocks up the armoury.
But over and above all these practical arrangements, Hezekiah does a really important thing: He encourages the people.
Let's watch him:

  1. He gathers the people in an assembly. Sometimes one needs to make an occasion of encouragement.
  2. He calls the virtues of strength and courage out of them. God places these virtues in us. Sometimes these need to be called out of us.
  3. He acknowledges the reality of fear and discouragement and calls them to make a decision about these negative emotions.
  4. He puts the enemy into context: The Assyrian King may have a vast army, but he is only human. With Israel is the "LORD our God" who "is with us" and will "fight our battles". (The "LORD" is in capital letters to indicate that Hezekiah is using the holiest name of God - "Yahweh" - the name revealed to Moses when he led the Israelites out of Egypt.)
  5. The people gained confidence
Today we are pressed, squeezed, challenged, drained, exhausted, intimidated and bullied by many difficulties. We need to be encouraged and we need to be encouragers.
The Christian singer, Jeremy Riddle, tweeted this: "Encouragement is like oxygen to the human spirit. Don't forget you're carrying someone else's air. Encourage them - help them to breathe."
You can be like Hezekiah - you can give someone else some air.
Take a moment to pray, asking God to show you the "air" (more on that cool thought next week!) and then share it with someone.


He appointed military officers over the people and assembled them before him in the square at the city gate and encouraged them with these words: 7 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 8 With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.       (2Chronicles32:6-8)