The Difference Encouragement Makes

The Difference Encouragement Makes

Charlie Smith

“And when he was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them going in and going out at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord” – Acts 9:26-29a

In 1984 the Chicago Cubs hired Jim Frey as manager. During spring training, while inspecting his new team, Frey saw a young infielder named Ryne Sandberg hitting hard groundball after hard groundball to shortstop. Another word for a groundball to shortstop, no matter how hard hit, is an out.

So Frey took aside the 24-year-old, whom the Cubs had received as a throw-in two years earlier from the Phillies, who projected him as nothing more than a backup. The manager’s message was: You’ve got the size; you’ve got the ability; drive the ball! When you get that inside fastball, don’t ground out; knock it over the left-field fence.

It worked: That year Sandberg won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. By the time he had retired, he had hit more home runs than any other second baseman in major league history. And when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the highest honor afforded any baseball player, and this for a guy deemed expendable by the team who drafted him, Sandberg invited as his special guest to the ceremony his old manager, Jim Frey.

What a difference a word of encouragement can make!

This is the difference we see Barnabas making for Saul. The church in Jerusalem, which Saul had persecuted, is afraid of him when he comes and tries to join them. But Barnabas, who had credibility with the church and the apostles, takes him to the leadership and vouches for what Saul had done by preaching boldly in the name of Jesus. And what a difference it made for the future of the church!

Why did Barnabas react differently than others in the Jerusalem church? I think Barnabas saw the same potential that the Lord saw in Saul, whom He had appointed as his chosen vessel to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Barnabas saw not what Saul had been but what he could be.

It’s not a coincidence that later we see Saul, by then known as Paul, offering encouragement to his son in the faith, Timothy (2 Timothy 1). All of us can think of examples of people who have encouraged us in our Christian walk, and because of that we are strengthened to encourage others.

Here’s a challenge: Who is one person in your congregation who you could encourage to do more for the Lord? You’ve got to be intentional in doing this, or it tends to never happen. And you need a deadline; I challenge you to reach out in some way to encourage them in the next week.

What a difference it can make!

Breaking The All-Time Assist Record

Breaking The All-Time Assist Record

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The FIBA basketball glossary defines an assist as a pass to a teammate that directly leads to a score by a field goal (a basket scored on any shot). When I was in High School and college, Duke University had a guard named Bobby Hurley who would break the all-time NCAA record for assists with 1076 in 140 games (sports-reference.com). That means an average of almost eight times per game, he gave up the ball to a teammate whose three-point shots, slam dunks, or other baskets made the crowds stand up and cheer. While knowledgeable enthusiasts of the game appreciate the importance of the “assist man,” the average fan may miss the vital contribution of the one making that assist. But the very concept suggests unselfishness and one with a team mentality. For them, satisfaction and enjoyment comes in a well-timed, well-placed contribution that allows others to get recognition and praise.

Scripture places a great premium on the person who assists others. Our first thought may be financially. Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he had taken care of his own financial needs (and of those with him) while doing missionary work, recalling words of Jesus not recorded in the gospels that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In the matter of “giving and receiving” (Phil. 4:15), Paul encouraged a mindset that applied to more than just monetary things. It was not a mind which sought “after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (2:21). It was a “humility of mind” that could “regard one another as more important than” themselves, that could “look out” not merely for their “own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:3-4). It is the Christ-like heart that chooses to “please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:1-3); cf. 1 Cor. 10:24,33). Oh, to say with Paul, “So then we pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).

Would you like to be the assist-leader in your home, in your congregation, and in your community? Look for ways to put others in the spotlight for their efforts and kindness. That may mean reorienting how you see life, looking to give glory and not needing to have it. What a righteous revolution would occur when our focus would be on how to make others look good, helping others to be appreciated and recognized, and setting others up for praise and admiration. It will in no way hinder us from receiving the highest accolade of all, given by the most important witness–the One who sees all with perfect perspective (Ecc. 12:14). A “well done” from Him has eternal implications (Mat. 25:21,23). What more do we need than that?!

Encourage!

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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I Don’t Want To Know!

I Don’t Want To Know!

Neal Pollard

Too often, it’s a great disappointment to learn about the personal lives of politicians, athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, and other professional entertainers. Their public persona and abilities may attract, inspire, and move us, but the aforementioned details are all too sordid. What might look wholesome on closer examination has a very seedy side.  Perhaps this says as much about any of us who place them on a pedestal, but that doesn’t lessen the chagrin.

Hypocrisy is something that can occur among “normal” people like Christians, too. Sadly, we can appear to be one thing around those of “like, precious faith” but have a different side that we show away from them. This is a spiritual malady that can afflict anyone, preachers, elders, deacons, and their families included. It can have such a devastating effect. To think that our poor example could cause a new, a weak, or any other Christian to stumble and fall should fill us with dread.  The precious influence we build by our talents and positions must never be squandered by defects of character or even bowing to pressures in specific circumstances.

Peter preached the first and second recorded gospel sermons. He was an apostle and one of Jesus’ closest friends on earth. Yet, Paul recalls an occasion where Peter succumbed to his flesh and sinned in a way that hurt his influence. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul says,

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain
men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they
came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the
party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy,
with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the
gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live
like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel
the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was driven by fear and favoritism. His action was devastating, dragging even “the son of encouragement” to follow his discouraging behavior. Thankfully, Paul loved Peter (and the Lord) enough to challenge the hypocrisy.

Friends, none of us will ever be perfect. We’re continually susceptible to sinful words and deeds. But let us guard against secret, double, or insincere lives knowing that such can totally destroy the faith of those who look to us to show them what Christlikeness looks like. In other words, let us be what we tell others that we are and that they should be. Consistency and integrity are some of the Lord’s most potent tools in our lives to bring others to Him.  Take care of His tools!

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Warming Up The Cold Shoulder

Warming Up The Cold Shoulder

Neal Pollard

Occasionally, a Christian who has fallen away and is approached by a concerned elder, preacher, or other Christian will respond by saying the people at church were cold, unfriendly, or unwelcoming.  They complain that they get the “cold shoulder” from the folks in the congregation. Could most of us try harder to reach out to each other, as well as our visitors?  Undoubtedly!  Of course, all of us know that this is a pretty flimsy excuse for forsaking the One who suffered and agonized for each of us in order to make heaven a possibility for us or the One who provides us with such abundant blessings throughout every day.

However, the Bible does seem to show us a pretty clear case of a new Christian who dealt with the collective cold shoulder of the very first congregation of the Lord’s church.  In fact, he also knew that those from his former religion were trying to kill him.  Suffice it to say, he faced some enormous pressures and adversities as the result of his obeying the gospel of Christ.  As he lived out the rest of his life, he suffered a lot just for teaching and preaching Christ, like being stoned, shipwrecked, scourged, slandered, and scrutinized.  People questioned and doubted him.  He did jail time.  But in his early days while still a new convert, he felt the effects of the cold shoulder.  The Bible says, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).   Imagine trying to place membership at a local church and having people avoid you, doubt your conversion, and rebuff your attempts to fellowship them.  That would be devastating.  Would you continue worshipping at a place like that?  Saul did.  How did he warm up the cold shoulder?

First, he had help (Acts 9:27).  Thank God for people like Barnabas, whom the Bible calls “the son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).  He intervened.  He took the new Christian under his wings and brought him more into the fellowship of God’s people.  God always needs and makes use of willing Barnabases who will help those on the outside looking in to “come inside” more fully.

Second, he spent time with the leadership (Acts 9:27b).  Barnabas takes Saul to the apostles.  So far as we know, churches at this time were not yet organized with elders.  The apostles were the first leaders in that first church.  Saul got to know them, and they got to know him.  Luke, in Acts 9:28, simply says Saul “was with them.”  God’s leaders are a crucial part of integrating those feeling the chill of the cold shoulder.

Finally, he proved his worth as a Christian (Acts 9:28-29).  He was active.  He reached out.  He was involved.  For Saul, that meant speaking boldly in Jesus’ name and defending His word.  There is absolutely no proof that Saul ever lamented or complained about how the Jerusalem Christians were treating him.  He just got busy.  What was the effect of that?  The first time Saul has a need, “when the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out toTarsus” (Acts 9:30).  They reached out to him.

Ever think you see a spot of frost or icicle on the shoulder of a brother or sister in Christ?  Consider several things.  First, you may be “reading” him or her wrong.  Second, they may be carrying some huge burdens that effect both their countenance and their demeanor.  Further, even if you are right and are experiencing a Frigidaire moment from the faithful, remember the warmth of God’s love.  It’s His church, part of His eternal plan, to which you have been added.  He will never give you the cold shoulder.  Then, remember Saul.  Even if you don’t have a Barnabas, reach out to your elders.  No matter what, remember that you serve the Lord and for that reason must keep your shoulder warm!