Encouragement seems to be a lost art in an ever increasing negative world. You and I are surrounded by negativity all the time. Most news is negative. Most newspaper stories are negative. Negative news sells. And while it might make a profit it is making us miserable.
However the church is supposed to be different. Those following Jesus should be the cheerleaders for others who are following Jesus. Yet the church tends to be filled with negative Ned and Nancy. People who just want to murmur and complain instead of build up. So let's recapture this lost art in the church.
First, let me say encouragement needs to begin at home. Our marriages and families have become the hangout for negative words and it has to stop. We must turn this around. Married people would you go back to your dating days for a moment. How negative were you with each other then? My guess is not much or you would have broken up. So why do we allow this in our relationship now? It needs to stop. Ladies your husband needs a cheerleader and that is you. Too many men get lured away by women who will flatter them and cheer them on. Your words ladies are powerful and they can lift your husband up when he is down. But if you don't then it might open the door for trouble in your marriage. Men you have cheer on your wife. She needs to know she is beautiful and you cherish her. Do this with your words. Encourage her in all she does. Let me also say we need to practice encouragement with our children. I have heard parents say awful things around their kids. You will take them out of school for a bomb threat and then drop one right on them with your words. Stop it!!! You are not helping them but hurting them. When is the last time you encouraged your children?
Second, men should encourage men and women should encourage women. Are there exceptions? Yes. But in the household of faith let's start with this. Men find another guy you can encourage. Pray for them throughout the week. Ask them how they are doing. Don't just talk football, but talk life and encourage them to be the men they need to be. Ladies find another lady to encourage. Since you ladies are more touchy feely then give them a hug and cry together. Pray for each other. Check up on each other when you think of it. Remember do for one what you wish you could do for all.
Finally, when you favorite a tweet or like a Facebook status that is just a start it is not encouragement to the full like people need it. Take some time. Be a cheerleader for someone else. Let's other cheer you on. Let's create an encouragement culture in our church not just a negative one.
Sometimes the English language can be a very confusing thing. I could show you my High School report cards to prove my struggle with it. But quite often we will read Scripture and find ourselves confused because we are translating from one language to another. No place is this more easily recognized than with the word "Love". We use love to talk about food, clothes, and then relationships. We love ice cream but also our spouse. It can be confusing. However, in the Greek language there are several words for love and sometimes when you are reading Scripture you need to remember that.
In John 21 there is an incredible exchange between Peter and Jesus. But with our confusing language it is hard to see what is really going on. Jesus keeps asking Peter if he loves him with Peter replying of course I do. But what is really going on?
Jesus uses the word "Agape" this is a word which describes unconditional, selfless love. A love that does not love in order to get but a love that gives. But Peter uses the word "Phileo". This is a word which means the love of a family or friendship. In other forms it gives us the first part of the word Philadelphia the city of brotherly love. Can you imagine how it sounded that day: Jesus - "Peter do you have unconditional, selfless, giving type of love for me". Peter - "Jesus you know I am your friend".
So why does this matter?
What is the greatest commandment?
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind". This is Agape Love. Love that is displayed in the heart with affection. Love that is a soul love and is faithful and devoted. A love which penetrates the mind into reason, knowledge and imagination. This is the love we are called to.
Follow Jesus means loving Jesus. He first loved us and demonstrated that on the cross.
Love Jesus with everything.
With the lack of Evangelism in the church perhaps it is time to ask a difficult question: do we believe in hell? I realize hell can be a controversial subject and many would like to never talk about it. It would be easy to ignore those sections of scripture but that is just not possible. We need a refresher course in the big idea that everyone lives forever somewhere. And then we need to look at our family, friends, and co-workers and ask the hard question of where will that be for them?
The mistake which is easily made concerning hell can be how you get there. At times we want to send whole groups of people there. At times we will think people are too good to go there. But Scripture helps us to clarify this. It starts with a simple truth "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3:23. So now you have everyone separated from God because we all sin and sin does not allow us to be apart of the glory of God. We will always be short no matter how good we are. Since we all fall short we have to figure out how to deal with this. And this is where many leave the track. They start doing good things. They give to the needy. They attend church. They pray. They read their Bible in an attempt to make themselves right with God. Whole religions are devoted to doing things in order to be right with God. This brings us another big truth in Scripture: "for the wages of sin is death" Romans 6:23. This is problematic because now our payment for sin is death. Sin produces death. It always produces death and to think it could produce life is a lie. So we all sin and since we sin we all die. But Paul does not leave us hanging. The second half of that verse in Romans 6 "but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord".
Since we can't make ourselves right with God, God came to us. Jesus comes and lives a perfect life without sin. He dies in our place for our sin. He rises again conquering sin, death, hell and the grave.
You go to hell when you try to be your own Savior or make anything other than Jesus your Savior. Nothing pays the penalty for our sin and makes us right with God. "Nothing but the blood of Jesus".
Let's remember this truth. People are lost and far from God. God has done everything to pursue them. He gave everything for them. Why wouldn't we share this great news. Sin can be forgiven. Jesus paid it all!!! We can be right with God through Jesus!!! Stop trying and start trusting.
Everyone lives forever somewhere. Where are your friends, family and co-workers going to live?
There are 2 amazing stories in the pages of the New Testament surrounding 2 of Jesus followers after Jesus told them to "follow me". In John 1 we find the story of Phillip. Jesus looks at Phillip and says "Follow Me". Phillip goes out and invites Nathanel to come and follow Jesus. Phillip doesn't hesitate he simply invites. The next one is found in Luke 5. Luke uses the name Levi but we know him as Matthew. Matthew is sitting at a Tax Collectors booth collecting taxes and living like a traitor to the Jews. Jesus invites him to follow. Matthew goes out and invites many to a large party so they can meet Jesus.
Phillip and Matthew simply invite because they were invited. But you and I have a tendency to make Evangelism this hard complicated thing with many formulas. And it is true what is hard we will not do. We don't have time for hard. But to simply invite others out of our experience with Jesus is simple and easy and powerful.
So what is kee
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in the church is our constant fighting and bickering over methods. We argue over methods. We start new churches. We leave churches we have been at for years. Our greatest fights are not over doctrine they are over methods. And it must stop.
God is His incredible wisdom only told us few things about the early church in the pages of Scripture. We have no idea of their methods but we know their mission. They gathered together on the first day of the week, because it was the day Christ rose from the dead. They took and offering. They sang. They preached the Word. They did life together. But we don't know what instruments they used to sing those songs. We don't even know the songs other than a couple of lines in Paul's letters. We don't know much else and I believe that is Divine Design. Then we can't argue over method but focus on mission.
Methods are divisive. And if you have been in a church for very long you have seen this. We fight over instruments and songs for worship. We argue over what the pastor should wear to church. We argue over method quite a bit and it is causing us to get off mission. Could you imagine if our Army in the middle of the war just started arguing over the color of their camo or what type of fuel blend to use in their tanks? It would be an ineffective army. We have become and ineffective church.
So let's return to mission and look for methods which will work. You and I have only experiences a small slice of Church History. Let's not assume it has always been one way or another. Let's discover what works for 2013 and lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Mission not Method. Let's get back to the church Jesus started.
What is the Church? Andy Stanley in his book "Deep and Wide" and also in his messages has done a great job talking about the problem we have with the word church. Jesus used a Greek word "Ekklesia" which simply means the gathering. When he talked about the church and building it, he was speaking of his public gathering of people. About 300 years later, The Romans start using the word Basilica which speaks about a place/ a building. When the Bible was being translated the translators for the King James Bible took the word Ekklesia and used the German word Kirche which in English is Church which means House of God. However, when William Tyndale did the First translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew to English he used the word 'Congregation" to point to a people and not a place.
What do you think about when you hear the word Church? People? Place? Most of us probably have to admit we think of it as a place a building which we come to in order to Worship.
This error has caused many problems in the gathering of people following Jesus. Let me just list a few of them.
1) We become more about maintaining buildings then leading people in a growing relationship with Christ.
2) We compartmentalize our faith and live one way at Church the Building and another when we are not there
3) We invest in buildings and not people
4) We confuse people and some of them think God actually does live in the building
We must return to Ekklesia. We must return to the gathering Jesus created and not just build buildings and think He will be there.
When you think of a Cornerstone what comes to mind? For most of us it is the stone in the corner of a building. Normally it has a date on it and even some times things are placed in it. However, this is not the Cornerstone Jesus was referring to. In the First Century they had different ways of building. They would start with a large stone normally granite or marble. They would get that stone perfect. It would be level, plumb, square and any other term you want to use. And when that stone was perfect they would build everything else off of it. If the Cornerstone was solid the building would be and if it wasn't the entire building was in jeopardy.
Jesus says He is the Cornerstone of the Church. The truth we build everything on is: "Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God". And everything else builds off this truth.
Why? Because the starting point for faith is to answer the question "Who is Jesus?". Once that question has been answered you know where you are as a follower of Jesus. If Jesus is merely a good man or nice guy and maybe a teacher, then you won't follow him. You might listen to a few words, but you will not lay down your life to follow him. But if Jesus is God it is a total game changer. We follow Him and lay everything down for Him.
The same is true in the church. Jesus built everything from the truth "He is the Christ the son of the living God". When churches don't believe and don't follow that it leads to everything crumbling. Maybe you have had the experience of the boys with white shirts, black ties, and name tags knock on your door. They sound sincere and genuine but when you dig into their beliefs you find they do not build on Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God. Jesus is a god but not The God. Everything else crumbles on that foundation.
So who do you say Jesus is? I believe Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God. What about you?
According to a recent Gallup Poll 77% of Americans say they follow Jesus and believe He is God. However, a private research group did some great work to get a better pulse on church attendance in America. They found 25% of adults go to church 3 out of every 8 weeks. That is a very big gap. So why do people say they follow Jesus but are not apart of the church?
I think there are many reasons, but ultimately we have left what Jesus really started. We have left the idea of what he started and have turned it into something else. Over the next few days I hope to bring clarity to this issue. So let's begin.
The Cornerstone of Ekklesia is "Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God"
The Church is built of this truth. The faith journey for everyone starts with an honest answer to this question: Who is Jesus? What do you say? You know where you are in your faith journey based on that question. Forget what you believe about the Bible for a moment and start with Jesus. Who is He?
The #1 book on the New York Times best seller list right now is "Killing Jesus" by Bill O'reilly. He says he believes Jesus is the Christ but this book is historical and doesn't deal with that. I have to disagree with Mr O'Reilly. You can't have a conversation about Jesus without talking about who he claimed to be. He was worshiped as God. He forgave sins. He rose again. Undeniable but we try to make it about something else.
The church is built off this truth. Some churches have left this truth and the whole foundation is coming apart.
So who do you say Jesus is?
The church is built from the tur
With two different groups of people standing around listening Jesus told was is by far His most famous parable. It has been called the parable of the lost son or the Prodigal son. But it speaks to both groups of people we learned about on Sunday - Servants and Sons.
Standing around Jesus that day was the Pharisees and the Sinners. One group thought they were good enough that God loved them and the other thought they were so bad God couldn't love them. So Jesus tells this Amazing story:
The Parable of the Lost Son11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
What an amazing story. The younger brother has wasted everything and decides to come home and ask His Father to let him be a servant. the Father runs to the son and throws his arms around him. He puts new clothes on him and has a celebration. There is no talk about him being a servant, because he is a son!!! Now there is another boy involved. He hears the music and gets mad. And where does he go? He tells his father "I have slaved". He never thought of himself as a son but a servant. So while the younger brother sins and thinks he is a servant the older brother lives like a servant trying to please and perform for the father.
They both made the mistake of forgetting their sonship. You and I are sons. God has adopted us into His family and if you have trusted Christ - You are God's Son. Stop living and acting like a servant - you are a son.
May we fully learn this truth and live it out.
Jesus Follower, Husband, Father, and Pastor and trying to keep those in the right order....