Encourage!

Neal Pollard

Steven Covey has said, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” There is great wisdom and truth in that. Encouragement requires unselfishness and thoughtfulness. It requires our looking at the other person and empathizing with their circumstances. It requires a genuine love, care, and concern. The interesting thing is that it does not have to cost anything, take much time, or demand a lot of energy. But, oh the benefit it gives to one who greatly needs it!

Such vital people as Joshua (1:38), David (1 Sam. 23:16), Hezekiah (2 Kings 19), the priests during Josiah’s reign (2 Chron. 35:2), the sons of Israel who returned from exile (Ezra 6:22), Darius the Mede (Dan. 11:1), the Christians in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:23; 15:32), the brethren at Philippi (Acts 16:40), and Paul (Acts 18:27) are recorded in the Bible as having received it. Judges, kings, priests, children of God, Christians, apostles, and even those who were not in a covenant relationship with God all needed and benefited from receiving encouragement. That tells me that everyone I meet could use whatever encouragement I can give.

So, what can I do to encourage the people I encounter today?

  • Express genuine gratitude to someone for something he or she specifically does or demonstrates.
  • Pay someone an unexpected compliment.
  • Tell someone’s superior how much you appreciate their work, service, etc.
  • Do a task or favor for someone who seems stressed or depressed.
  • Look someone in the eye and sincerely ask them how they are doing.
  • Pay attention to one who may ordinarily labor anonymously (parking attendant, security officer, door greeter, janitor, etc.).
  • Show interest in a co-worker or employee who seems lonely, discouraged, or is new.
  • Write a kind note to someone else at church (for extra credit, let it be someone you do not know well), to a preacher you may or may not know who you appreciate, or to an acquaintance from your town or neighborhood.
  • Smile and wave at a little child or an elderly person you come across.

Challenge yourself to find additional ways and people you can encourage. Make it more than a daily dare. Make it an every day effort. You cannot know the full, positive impact you will have and the social, emotional, and even spiritual revolution you can begin in your home, your congregation, and your community. Maybe you, too, can earn a nickname like Barnabas had, and be known as a Son or Daughter of Encouragement (cf. Acts 4:36)! Have you given someone a shot of Vitamin E today? What are you waiting for?

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Embracing The Struggler

Neal Pollard

So much is said about the deficiencies of youth and young adults in our current culture. While every generation has its shortcomings, I have observed a hopeful trend. Perhaps it rests on the faulty foundations of political correctness and relativism, but young people today seem much more prone to accept and nurture those who have discernible difficulties like handicaps, mental or physical challenges, or social limitations.

Another way it shows up, specifically in the church, is the way they rally around those who are spiritually broken or in need. When a teenager or young adult responds to the invitation, watch how their peers flock to their side to show their support. This beautiful, tangible act is reflective of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and it is a trait that the father so wanted from the older brother (cf. Luke 15:20,31-32). It looks a lot like the tender goodbye between Paul and the elders in Acts 20:37.

This willingness to reach out and comfort one another is a supremely biblical way of interacting within the family of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”  God calls His people to have that kind of nurturing spirit. When we see those who are physically hurting, we should respond (Mat. 25:35-36; 1 Jn. 3:17). When we see those who are emotionally hurting, we should respond (Rom. 12:15). When we see those who are spiritually hurting, we should respond (Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). The response should be more than token and certainly should not be heartless and surface. It should not be shown with favoritism, but to everyone who is in need of it.

This warm and loving response may not come as naturally to some of us who are older, but oh how crucial it is that we stretch ourselves to do it. Embracing a sinner does not mean embracing a sin. Let us discipline ourselves to see the difference. Hear the words of the Hebrews 12:12-13: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

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Not Enough Room On A Short Pew

Neal Pollard

I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew.  The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews.  They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.

I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was!  This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.

It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.

What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it.  Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!

Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).

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No Fans?

Neal Pollard

Baltimore was the host of history yesterday.  Never, in nearly 150 years of professional baseball in America, has a regular season baseball game between two Major League teams been closed to the public.  I estimated the crowd inside Camden Yard to have been exactly zero fans in the stands, breaking Baltimore’s old record-low attendance of 655 on August 17, 1972, also against the White Sox.  There were fans behind the stadium gates in left-field and a small group gathered on the balcony of the Baltimore Hilton yesterday who could somewhat see the action, but their reaction as the home team won was muffled and faint as far as the players were concerned. The game was played this way because of the ongoing Baltimore riots, for the safety of fans and players.  The latter, when interviewed, talked about how eery and bizarre it was to play a game in front of no fans.

While we could chase the political and cultural rabbits stirred by the fact of those teams playing that game yesterday, let’s think about the players.  How hard is it to concentrate when you are on the field and can hear the sportswriters typing or the two scouts in the stands talking?  What’s it like to have success at the plate or on the mound and the appreciation be the deafening silence of the empty seats?  These guys make a whole lot of money, but, as Chris Davis said after the game, “When you’re rounding the bases, and the only cheers you hear were from outside the stadium, it’s a weird feeling. I’ll take any home run I can get at any time I can get it, but it’s definitely more fun when there are fans in the stands” (info via Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun online, 4/30/15, and baseball-almanac.com).  I think any of us could imagine how surreal and distracting that would be.

We are not running the Christian race to glorify self, for earthly accolades and recognition.  In fact, Jesus condemns such an approach to religion in Matthew six.  Yet, God knows how we are made, that we thrive on encouragement.  He tells wavering saints in Hebrews about the “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (12:1).  He mentions the crowd in the midst of the metaphor of running the race. While we cannot hear or see those referenced there, we can be audible and visible support for each other—strengthening weak hands, feeble knees, and heal others (12:12-13).  We must cheer each other on and “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11).  The world will not applaud us for standing up for what’s right and living the way God instructs. But, we have each other.  It’s not the size of the crowd, but the vociferousness of the cheering, that will make the difference.  Let’s be fans of one another, today and every day.

A COORDINATED RESPONSE

Neal Pollard

The leading local story today has to do with how police and fire responded to the Aurora theatre shooting in the summer of 2012, a horrific crime that left 12 dead and most of the other theatre patrons injured to one degree or another.  Those tasked with evaluating the response use words like “chaotic” and uncoordinated to describe what emergency responders did in the face of the incredibly unusual and tragic scene.  It is hard to imagine how one would prepare for something so unprecedented and it is much easier to make such evaluations in hindsight, but all seem agreed about the need to work together more efficiently when faced with life or death situations.

There is no greater life or death situation than concerns the spiritual state of even a single soul.  Whether we are talking about bringing a lost soul to Christ, helping a discouraged or offended brother or sister, or retrieving a Christian who has fallen away, it requires a coordinated response! Many people are needed to work together to help a person in his or her relationship to God.  Paul urges, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…” (1 Th. 5:11).  He also writes, “Bear one another’s burden” (Gal. 6:2a).

When we are faced with the challenge of reaching a lost soul, think of all the coordination needed.  There is the friend or family member trying to reach them, but who else? What about the one(s) trying to study with them, not to mention members who need to reach out to them by befriending them, make them feel welcome, have them into their homes, and introduce them to other Christians?

When someone is struggling, it requires many people calling and reaching out, visiting, and doing what can be done to show them love and concern.  When someone has fallen away, it takes more than the preacher or an elder to do that “heavy lifting.”  Anyone who knows them and can influence them should coordinate with all others to rescue the perishing one!

Twelve lives ended that fateful night in Aurora.  It has been determined that emergency responders were not responsible for a single person being lost, a fact that has to provide them with solace and validation.  When we stand before Christ, each of us wants to do our part so that we can say no one was lost due to our neglect or lack of response.

“What Ever Happened To Toasters?” (*)

Neal Pollard

That’s what Tidewater resident Laila Cheikh might want to know.  She made a cash withdrawal for her cab company drivers from her Newport News, Virginia, Bank of America branch and got an unexpected “gift.”  Someone accidentally included a dye pack, like those given to bank robbers, in her bag of cash.  It exploded, leaving a huge mess and a foul smell.  That was on August 14, 2008.  In March, 2009, she sued Bank of America for bodily injuries from the dye (via USA Today Online, 8/14/08; Janie Bryant, The Virginian-Pilot, 3/14/09).  It’s unclear if the case has ever been solved.

I imagine you have had a day or two when you were delivered a less than pleasant surprise.  It may have been a dose of bad news.  Perhaps it was that person whose apparent color-blindness regarding the red light roped you into a fender bender that changed your morning plans.  It might have been a pink slip from a company you’ve faithfully served for years.  So many things can happen unexpectedly which alter your course or have a negative impact on you.

Though it will not compare to the day Job had (Job 1-2), it will test your character, your attitude, and your Christian example.  What you do when the unexpected and unpleasant “blows up in your face” is crucial!  You can be a light or you could cross over to the “dark side” (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; 1 Th. 5:8-10).  It’s up to you.  You never know what might be in the “bag of life.”  Be ready!

 

(*) They used to give new customers a toaster when they opened a bank account (before my time).

 

Three Words (Guest “Baker” Today)

Scott Phillips

A couple of years ago I was walking through the parking lot at a Lowe’s in north Denver. There was a kid with Down’s syndrome working there collecting the carts as I was on my way in. I was having an ok day, not paying much attention and minding my own business, when he said something to me that I will never forget. Three words. I know that Lowe’s probably wants their employees to greet customers on their way into the store, but I was completely taken by surprise by the 3 words he chose. After the shock wore off, I felt a little embarrassed, a little flattered, but now was smiling,  and what had only moments before been an ok day, had now become a great day that I will always remember.

Occasionally when I drive by one of the billboards posting the current lottery jackpots, I let myself imagine what it would be like to have that much money. I would be able to do so much good. I could help so many people and could give so much away to people who need it. But then I realized one day that I had been deceiving myself. I probably would not be the generous giver that I imagine myself to be.

I came to this conclusion one day recalling the story of the kid in the parking lot. Had he simply given me $3 that day instead of the 3 words, I would probably not even be able to tell you what I spent it on. I’d have nothing to show for it, and my life would not be any better off.  So, those 3 words have more value than $3.

He gave me something of value. He gave me something that I didn’t deserve. He gave of himself to make my day better.

I have been stingy with my words. And if I cannot be generous with my speech, an endless supply that costs me nothing, why would I think that I would be more generous with a lot of money?  I would like to use the crutch of being an introvert, but that is only an excuse, and the fact is that I have the ability to speak, the ability to give of myself, to make someone’s day better, but I don’t.

So let me encourage you, if you are anything like me, to come out of your shell and engage in the practice of using a few words to change someone’s day and maybe their life. Try saying something like, “you look great!”, “I appreciate you”, “thank you”, “I’m glad you’re my friend”, “you’re a great friend”, “I look up to you”, “great hair day!”, or “let’s have lunch”. And if you really want to change someone’s day, you can even use the 3 words spoken to me by the kid in the parking lot……”MOVIE STAR LOOK!”

As a Christian, we have something more valuable than words to offer others. We have salvation and the good news of Jesus Christ. The world needs to hear the words that we have, but we’ve been taught not to talk to strangers, that people that we don’t know should somehow be feared. The reality is that even the boogie man needs Jesus. As far as I can tell, “Strangers” are exactly who we’ve been instructed to talk to in Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations……”

So let’s see if we can make a difference with a few words. Like “come to church”, or “Jesus loves you”. Or you can use my Uncle Emmett’s favorite ice breaker “where are you from originally?” He was able to start many conversations which led to many bible studies which led to many conversions with those few words. Jesus made a big difference in the lives of Peter and Andrew when he simply said to them “Follow me”.

So let’s be generous with others in the words that we speak. Let’s give of ourselves.  Otherwise they may forever remain strangers, not knowing the love of God.

(first delivered at Bear Valley church of Christ as a Wednesday devotional, 2/26/14).