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Synopsis of Encouragement is Contagious
We’re about to slice a piece of the bread of life, the word of God. And today’s slice is a big one beginning with: Philippians 2: 6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to live in obedience to him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done. 8 Don’t let anyone lead you astray with empty philosophy and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the evil powers of this world, and not from Christ. 9 For in Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body, 10 and you are complete through your union with Christ. He is the Lord over every ruler and authority in the universe. 11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. It was a spiritual procedure – the cutting away of your sinful nature.12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. 13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. 15 In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ. 16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new-moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules were only shadows of the real thing, Christ himself.
3:1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. 2 Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.
Clarence Thomas who, as many of you know, is now a Supreme Court Justice, acknowledged that one of the persons who had a great influence on his life was a nun by the name of Sister Mary Virgilius Ready. Judge Thomas says it was the encouragement that he received from her that helped him to overcome poverty and racism and become someone. Newsweek magazine wrote about her and others who served in the school that Clarence Thomas attended. The article read as follows: “The nuns who lived in the black areas of town were not popular. The Ku Klux Klan once sent a hearse to the rectory to intimidate church officials. “Much like Myers Anderson, the nuns taught discipline. ‘They said you could do it,’ recalls Orien Douglas, a classmate of Clarence’s. ‘Mostly they said, ‘You will do it.””
The article went on to say, “It was the sisters’ encouragement that stood like a wall against the hopelessness that gripped many people in that community. It was the sisters’ constant words of encouragement: ‘You will succeed…We believe in you…We insist that you believe in yourself.’”
As we reflect on today’s slice of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we find Paul exhorting the Philippians to never allow our eyes to focus on anything except Jesus Christ. To do so is to invite disaster and distraction into our lives; to focus on the administrative machinery rather than the Lord Jesus Christ will result in a church that winds up fighting itself and demonstrating a poor testimony to the world. The Lord Jesus Christ must never become a sideshow but always be the main event in the life of the church. A church can never reflect the joy of the Lord unless it is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. Today it is very obvious that we are different people. We are young and old, male and female, rich and poor, democrats and republicans, liberal and conservative–yet, in spite of all these differences, we are one people through the blood of Jesus Christ. We are on the same level at the foot of the Cross. Paul knew from first-hand experience what can happen to a church when it starts to fuss and fight amongst itself rather than join hands and work together for the common good. Paul wanted them to focus on encouragement rather than envy or enmity.
A distinguished Scottish preacher tells of passing a young lad on a street in Glasgow during the winter. He speaks warmly to the poverty stricken lad and inquires: “Are you cold, my lad?” The lad replies: “I was sir, until you spoke to me.”
Since I believe that the danger which the Philippian Church faced is the same challenge every church and individual Christian faces, it will do us all good to think for a few moments about the awesome power of encouragement. Paul is telling us that we can do it. We are incredible people when Jesus Christ reigns in every heart and mind.
I offerinsights for your consideration and action today.
WE MUST FIRST FOCUS ON WHAT A PERSON CAN BE IN CHRIST RATHER THAN WHAT THEY PRESENTLY ARE. LOOK FOR POSSIBILITIES–NOT PROBLEMS
I want to share with you some of the world’s opinions about a few folks known to us:
Albert Einstein: Did you know that Albert Einstein was four years old before he could even speak? And seven years old before he could read and understand his first word? Did you know he had to be tutored in math? So much for S.A.T scores and other measuring devices of intelligence.
Thomas Edison was told by his grade school teachers that he was so dumb and dull that he should clean chimneys for a living. He is considered one of the greatest inventors our world has ever known. We could be worshipping by candlelight rather than our electric lighting in our sanctuaries today. So much for dumb and dull people.
Ludwig Beethoven”s professor of music told his parents that a career as a musical composer was out of the question for Ludwig. He was hopeless. Imagine all of the beautiful music we would have been denied if Ludwig had listened to his critics.
Pablo Picasso: Picasso was born prematurely and was left to die by his mother on a table in the house. He was considered too sickly to make any contribution to our world.
Then I think of all of the strange characters that our Lord Jesus Christ gathered around him to be his disciples, and I think of all the men and women who through the corridors of history had been chosen to be part of our Lord’s work. Not many of them were highly regarded in the social circles of their time. Many of these people went on to do great things because there was someone who brought encouragement and inspiration to their lives. Someone believed in them when no one else did.
Gert Behanna was fifty-three years old when she became aware of God.. Gert had another shock the very next Sunday when she went to church. She says, “I’d never been to church in my life and I remember how eagerly I awaited that first Sunday. I’d just had a glimpse of God Almighty–me, an alcoholic, a drug addict, rich, lonely, and miserable–already I was beginning to know what joy really was.” Gert had just accepted Christ. She was eager to attend church to meet and talk with persons who had known the love of God for many years. “What ecstatic people these long-time Christians will be!” she thought. Even though becoming a Christian was probably the happiest day of her life, she was somewhat hesitant about going to church that first Sunday. “I was afraid they would embarrass me with their love and enthusiasm,” she said.
Gert did not find the church people as loving and enthusiastic as she imagined. What she discovered was, as she said: “Bowed heads, long faces and funereal whispers.” She expected people to shower her with love and affection for making the right choice and wanting to be part of the church. But no one welcomed her. No one even spoke to her the first Sunday she went to church.
Gert writes, “As time went on and I attended other churches, in various parts of the country, I made a bewildering discovery. These long-faced, listless people were present in every congregation.” Then she asked a very good question: “How could they come into God”s presence Sunday after Sunday without breathing in the joy that danced in the very air?” Let us remember that the theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is joy.
ENCOURAGEMENT AND UNITY ARE POSSIBLE IN THE CHURCH WHEN WE LOOK FOR THE COMMON GROUND OF COMPASSION RATHER THAN THE BATTLEFIELD OF COMPETITION.
I recently read of a Christian church in Oregon that provides encouragement cards in the pew rack. The members take the time before and after the worship services to write notes of encouragement to fellow members. These cards are then mailed on Monday. Can you imagine why this church is growing? Today there are people who are looking and longing for a word of encouragement. Encouragement usually happens when hands are clasped with other hands rather than rolled up in a knotted fist at each other.
ENCOURAGEMENT AND UNITY ARE POSSIBLE WHEN WE RID THE CHURCH OF THAT SICKENING VIRUS CALLED SELFISHNESS.
In a certain church there was a woman whom I will name Mrs. Pat McGruffy. Mrs. McGruffy was the number-one critic of a certain pastor. If the sermon was too short, it was because he had been lazy that week. If the sermon was too long, it was because he was trying to impress the people. Mrs. Shewas always criticizing him at the church’s administrative meetings. Finally, the pastor had had enough and went to see Mrs. McGruffy at her home. He rang the doorbell, and no one responded. He knew she was at home. He rang the doorbell again. Giving Mrs. McGruffy the benefit of the doubt, he got down on his knees to look through the keyhole to see if perhaps she had fallen on her way to answer the door. Low and behold, as he placed his eye to the hole he came face to face with this white eye peering back through the keyhole at him. The pastor shouted out, “Mrs. McGruffy, you better get up real fast, because this is the first time we have ever seen eye-to-eye.” Sure enough, Mrs. McGruffy got up and walked out the back door of her house and drove away! If you are looking for disunity and for reasons to disagree in a church, you will always find enough to do so. It is only when we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on Christ that we will ever make the Church a healthy body.
One of my favorite stories concerns a bishop who was traveling by ship to visit a church across the ocean. While en route, the ship stopped at an island for a day. He came upon three fishermen mending their nets. Curious about their trade, he asked them some questions. Curious about his ecclesiastical robes, they asked him some questions. When they found out he was a Christian leader, they got excited. “We Christians!,” they said, proudly pointing to one another. The bishop was impressed, but cautious. Did they know the Lord’s Prayer? They had never heard of it. “What do you say, then, when you pray?” “We pray, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.””
The bishop was appalled so he spent the day teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. The fishermen were poor but willing learners. The next day, they could recite the prayer with no mistakes. The bishop was proud.
On the return trip the Bishop”s ship drew near the island again. When the island came into view, and when they were within speaking distance, the fishermen cried out, “Bishop, we come hurry to meet you.” “What is it you want?” asked the stunned bishop. “We are so sorry. We forget lovely prayer. We say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name…” and then we forget. Please tell us prayer again.” The bishop was humbled. “Go back to your homes, my friends, and when you pray say, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.””
Those three brothers lived out in their personal lives everything that I am trying to share about the power of encouragement in the life of a believer and as that believer lives out the faith in a Christian community. Those three brothers focused on what they could be in Christ rather than what they were not. When these three brothers were in the presence of God, joy danced in the air. The brothers had unity because they looked for the common ground rather than the battlefield. The brothers knew that when the three thought as one they had rid themselves of that deadly virus called “selfishness.”
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