Be Givers And Not Takers

Can you be hip and still love Jesus?

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    Meek or Weak?
    Mark 11:15-18 (NRSV)

    Then they came to Jerusalem.  And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?  But you have made it a den of robbers."  And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.

    Jesus said, "Is it not written:  'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'?  But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
    Mark 11:17 (NIV)

    MANY people have difficulty comprehending how Jesus could be forceful and mighty and still be meek.  I was taking the elevator to my office the other day and overheard a woman say that her friend was too meek, that she lacked self-esteem.  As I got off on my floor, I remembered the beatitude, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).

    In today's society, we may confuse meekness with a lack of courage or self-respect. But meekness has a fuller and deeper significance in scripture.  It grows from commitment to God and humility of soul and leads to inner peace.  Jesus calls us to this meekness.  On the other hand, we are also to be bold, especially when proclaiming our faith.

    Jesus did not show timidity or spinelessness when he threw the merchants out of the temple courtyard.  He certainly was not lacking courage or self-esteem.  He was meek, humble before God, but he was bold in proclaiming God's truth.

    Prayer:  God, teach us to be meek but not weak and to be bold but not arrogant.  Amen.

    Ester had courage and she saved the jewish people

    What is courage?  Some definitions:

    Courage - a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger or pain without showing fear

    Braveness, bravery, courageousness

    Spirit - a fundamental emotional and activating principle determining one's character

    Mettle, nerve, spunk, heart - the courage to carry on; "he kept fighting on pure spunk"; "you haven't got the heart for baseball"

    Gallantry, heroism, valiance, valiancy, valor, valorousness, valour - the qualities of a hero or heroine; exceptional or heroic courage when facing danger (especially in battle); "he showed great heroism in battle"; "he received a medal for valor"

    Stoutheartedness - the trait of having a courageous spirit

    Fearlessness - the trait of feeling no fear

    Fortitude - strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity with courage

    Cowardice, cowardliness - the trait of lacking courage

    Courage - a quality of spirit that enables you
    to face danger or pain without showing fear

    What is encouragement?  Some definitions:

    1. The act of encouraging.
    2. The state of being encouraged.
    3. One that encourages.

    Encouragement - the expression of approval and support commendation, approval - a message expressing a favorable opinion; "words of approval seldom passed his lips" abetment, abettal, instigation - the verbal act of urging on cheering, shouting - encouragement in the form of cheers from spectators; "it's all over but the shouting" advancement, furtherance, promotion - encouragement of the progress or growth or acceptance of something fosterage, fostering - encouragement; aiding the development of something goading, prod, prodding, spur, spurring, urging, goad - a verbalization that encourages you to attempt something; "the ceaseless prodding got on his nerves" incitement, provocation - needed encouragement; "the result was a provocation of vigorous investigation" vote of confidence - an expression of approval and encouragement; "they gave the chairman a vote of confidence"

    Encouragement - the act of giving hope or support to someone boost assist, assistance, help, aid - the activity of contributing to the fulfillment of a need or furtherance of an effort or purpose; "he gave me an assist with the housework"; "could not walk without assistance"; "rescue party went to their aid"; "offered his help in unloading" morale booster, morale building - anything that serves to increase morale; "the sight of flowers every morning was my morale builder"

    Encouragement - the feeling of being encouraged

    Hope - the general feeling that some desire will be fulfilled; "in spite of his troubles he never gave up hope"

    "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

    Variations of the word "encouragement" occur five times in Paul's first letter to the church in Thessalonica.  In chapter 3, Paul recalls how he sent Timothy to Thessalonica to encourage the believers there, and then he relates how he himself was encouraged by Timothy's reports back to him about the believers in Thessalonica.  In chapter 4, Paul reassures the Thessalonians that death is no obstacle to the hope that all believers have in Christ, and he exhorts them to encourage one another in this regard.  Then, here in chapter 5, Paul again instructs the believers to encourage one another, with special emphasis on building up two groups-those who bear the burden of leadership, and those who are timid-two groups who may have particular need of encouragement.

    I don't think encouragement came naturally to Paul.  Passion came naturally to Paul.  Boldness came naturally to Paul.  Knowledge and many qualities of leadership came naturally to Paul.  Encouragement did not come naturally to Paul.  In fact, before Paul came to know Christ, there is little evidence that Paul even placed much value on the ability to build others up.  Before Paul came to know Christ, he was making a career out of tearing others down.  I think Paul had to learn the skills of encouragement.

    Did you know that Paul had a mentor for several years after his conversion on the road to Damascus?  Paul did not immediately step into the role as leading missionary to the Gentiles.  During his first missionary journeys, Paul traveled with a man from Cyprus named Joseph.  When Paul was still Saul and still persecuting the church, Joseph from Cyprus was already following Jesus.  Before Paul ever realized who Christ really was, Joseph from Cyprus was a recognized leader in Christ's church in Jerusalem.

    Joseph was the one who introduced Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem, telling them about Paul's dramatic conversion and encouraging them to give Paul a chance.  Joseph was the one who brought Paul to Antioch, gave him the opportunity to preach among the believers there, and encouraged him as he grew into a pastor.  Joseph was the one who was the lead missionary on what is known as Paul's first missionary journey.  It was Joseph from Cyprus who taught Paul all about encouragement.

    If Joseph from Cyprus doesn't sound familiar to you, it might be because he is better known by his nickname-Barnabas.  Barnabas means "son of encouragement."  He got that nickname from the original apostles.  Encouraging others just came naturally to Barnabas.  Wherever he went, he encouraged the people around him.  It was Barnabas who taught Paul all about encouragement.  From Barnabas, Paul learned the skills of encouragement and Paul learned to place great value on encouragement.

    Paul was a missionary, a church-planter.  He would go to a city in which there were few believers.  He would preach and teach and plant a church.  He would pastor that church long enough for it to get established.  Then he would move on to another city.

    Paul did not forget about the churches he left behind though.  He prayed for them.  He wrote letters to guide them.  And he frequently sent one of his co-workers back to encourage them, with the mission specifically to encourage them.

    For example, Paul sent Tychius to the Ephesians to encourage them (Ephesians 6:22) and also to the Colossians to encourage them (Colossians 4:8).  As I mentioned earlier, Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to encourage them (1 Thessalonians 3:2), and later he sent Timothy to the church in Ephesus as well.

    In his letters to Timothy and to Titus, both young pastors under his tutelage, Paul writes of encouragement as one of the important tasks of pastors and elders (2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9).

    In his letter to the church in Rome, which is a church that he did not found, Paul writes of his desire to visit them for the sake of mutual encouragement (Romans 1:12).

    Encouragement doesn't usually get a lot of press as one of Paul's major teachings, but over and over again, Paul stresses the importance of mutual encouragement.  Paul makes clear that leaders are called to encourage the flock.  And Paul puts special emphasis on building up two groups-those who bear the burden of leadership, and those who are timid.

    If Christians in general put as much energy and intention into encouraging one another as Paul tells us too, we would probably be well along the way of following Christ's command to love one another.

    Some of the aspects of character that go into being a good encourager:

    1. Expanded vision-the ability to see beyond the obvious circumstances to recognize possibilities that others cannot yet see.
    2. Trustworthiness-demonstrated interest in and true compassion for those one seeks to encourage.
    3. Authenticity and the willingness to share from one's own experience of finding faith and hope in difficult times.

    Some of the skills of encouragement.

    Here is a description of the tools that many of us have that are good for tearing others down.  Jeremy Houck describes the "level" of unrealistic expectations that we use to evaluate others, the "tape measure" that we use to make sure everyone measures up to our expectations, "the hammer" of criticism that many of us keep available to pound others into shape, and the "sand paper" of negative words that we use to smooth out what we consider to be their rough edges.

    It is a helpful way to think about some of those not-so-helpful tools.  I want to give you some tools to carry around with you so that you can be more prepared to build others up.  I want to give you a different set of tools.

    The first skill is to learn to put away the tools of tearing down.

    That can be harder to do than it might sound.  Most of us don't set out intentionally to use those tools-the level and the tape measure and the hammer and the sand paper.  But sometimes it can be harder to put them away than it sounds-especially for those who have frequently been on the receiving end of those tools-especially if one's parents were adept at those tools.  When we are accustomed to being hammered by criticism and sanded by disapproval, it actually turns out to be pretty easy to hammer and sand others without even noticing that we are doing it.

    The first skill to develop if you want to be a good encourager is to learn to put away the tools of tearing down.  Learn to think before speaking, so that words that tear down are left unsaid.  Learn to think before remaining silent, so that words that build up are not left unsaid.  The first skill in learning how to offer words that are both truthful and encouraging is to learn how not to offer words that tear down.

    Having put away the tools of discouragement, invest your resources in restocking your toolbox with new tools.

    Replace the level of unrealistic expectations with the prism of hopeful imagination.  Be intentional about noticing how another person is growing and envisioning where continued growth might lead.

    Also, be intentional about noticing how circumstances that are despairing on the surface might carry a message of hope underneath.

    Corrie Ten Boon tells an amazing story in her book "The Hiding Place."  She and her sister Betsy had been imprisoned by the Nazis for hiding Jews in their home.  The prison camp that they were in had horrible conditions and their quarters were flea-infested.  During a time of prayer one day with her sister Betsy, Betsy actually prayed, "Lord, thank you for the fleas!"  Corrie was so surprised that she interrupted their prayer meeting to ask her sister why she prayed that way.  Betsy lovingly explained from her heart, "Corrie, don't you see? The Lord provided the fleas. That way the guards will not bother us in our barracks so we can pray and worship freely."

    In other words Betsy had applied the prism of hopeful imagination to see the positive side of a difficult circumstance.

    Some cautions come with the prism of hopeful imagination.  Be expansive in how you apply this tool, but be selective in how and when you share your expanded vision with another.  For example, as you are applying your hopeful imagination to how someone may be growing and where that growth may take them in the future, be careful not to apply your timetable on them.  Always be humble when you are sharing what you see-for the one you are seeking to encourage needs know that you are not denying the reality of their current situation, and the one you are seeking to encourage must be free to test the validity of what you see.

    Get a new tape measure too.  Instead of one that only measures how far away someone is from perfection, get one that measures how far a person has come.  Unlike the tape measures you can get at Home Depot and unlike the tape measure of unrealistic expectations, this new tape measure does not have a preset limit to its length; it will keep extending no matter how far someone grows.  To use this tape measure properly, you have to remember never to fence anyone in but always leave plenty of room for growth.

    Replace the hammer of criticism with the pump of affirmation.  The pump of affirmation is not about filling up space with meaningless or false words, but it is about taking notice of actions and attitudes that are worthy of praise and finding ways to acknowledge them.  It's also about affirming a person's inherent dignity that is always there no matter what their situation is.

    The neat thing about the pump of affirmation is that it is much more energy efficient than the hammer of criticism.  The hammer of criticism tends to wear out the one who wields it almost as fast as it knocks down the one who is getting pounded.  In contrast, the pump of affirmation is better than the proverbial perpetual motion machine.  As you get better and better at using your prism of hopeful imagination and your tape measure that measures how far someone has come, you will find that it takes almost no energy at all to operate the pump of affirmation.  In fact, you may find that you feel stronger and stronger as you apply the pump to others.

    Replace the sand paper of disapproval with the glue of appreciation.  Make it a practice to ask yourself, what do I appreciate about this person?  What do I admire about him?  How does she help me grow?  How does he make my life better or more colorful or more hopeful?  Then let her know.  Most rough edges in people respond better to balm than to sand paper.  A drop or two of quiet appreciation offered at the right moment can go a long way to binding others up and strengthening them for their tasks.

    The last skill that I want to mention is a background skill.  It is not absolutely necessary to the possibility of offering encouraging words, but the greater this skill is the more powerful your words of encouragement will be.

    This skill is to take note of your own experiences of finding courage in discouraging circumstances.  Encouragement is about putting courage into someone from whom courage may be leaking out.  Whether or not it is appropriate in a given circumstance to share your own story, the more you know-really know in your own heart-the certainty of God's promises, the more you will be to see signs of God's faithfulness in someone else's life and the more you will be able to communicate the hope of God's promises to those people. Remember your own experiences.  Pay attention to how those experiences of yours are similar to biblical examples. Notice how you have seen God's promises given in Scripture come to pass in your own life.

    Sometimes you will want to share your story as an encouragement to another.  Sometimes the details of your own story are not as important as the fact that you have your own story.

    Sometimes you will want to share a particular promise from the Bible with another.  Sometimes sharing Bible passages is not as important as the fact that you know and trust what Scripture promises.

    Whether or not you choose to share your own story, whether or not you specifically mention God or the Bible, the more you know deep in your heart the encouragement that comes from those sources, the more powerful your words of encouragement to another will be.  They will see it in your eyes that you know that of which you speak.

    "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  Respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.  Warn those who are idle.  Encourage the timid.  Help the weak.  Be patient with everyone," and remember God's various promises and gifts.

    The Lord encourages us in a wonderful ways.

    This is what the LORD says:  "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:10-11

    Remember this promise and/or encouragement

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