You’ve Been Chosen to Clap and Cheer
November 12, 1989
How’s your E.Q.? We’re going to find out in just a few moments.
But first, just a word about my text—Hebrews 10:24-25. It comes from one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. There is so much we don’t know about this book. For instance, we don’t know who wrote it or when it was written or to whom it was written. We don’t even know where the recipients were living or precisely what circumstances called forth this epistle. Consequently, there is an air of mystery which hangs over the book of Hebrews.
But there is one fact we are sure about. That fact is revealed in the very title itself—The Epistle to the Hebrews. This book was written to Jews who had come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were Hebrews by birth and Christians by faith. And in that sentence is the story of this book.
Hebrews By Birth And Christians By Faith
To be Hebrews by birth meant that they had entered into the world of Old Testament ritual. They knew and obeyed the Law of Moses. They kept the dietary laws. They sang the Psalms of David. They observed the feast days and tithed their income. They read the prophets and kept the Sabbath day holy. They were Jews from first to last.
To be Christians by faith meant that they had heard and believed the Gospel message. They had seen that Jesus was the promised Messiah and they had trusted in that great fact. They now believed that all of the Old Testament pointed toward the coming of Christ. And having made that step of faith, they identified themselves with the fledging congregation of Christians.
It was not an easy step to make. Their Jewish friends accused them of treason against Moses. Their families urged them to come back to the synagogue. Their faith was on the firing line every day. Compromise was easy, convictions hard to hold.
They were tempted to give up their open identification as Christians and lapse back into Judaism. Many of them had already done it. Many others were thinking about it. For these Jewish believers in Jesus, spiritual warfare was a daily reality. And many of them had become casualties.
It is against that backdrop that we read the words of our text—Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Notice that the writer uses the phrase “Let us” three times. First, he says in verse 24, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on.” That word “consider” means to “fix the mind on.” It’s the idea of radar locking onto an object. It’s the idea of focusing on something in order to produce a strategy for obtaining it. We are to “strategize” concerning how we may “spur” each other on to love and good deeds. And the word “to spur” means to deliberately provoke. It is almost always used in the New Testament in a negative sense, as if you were were deliberately picking a fight with someone. But here the sense is positive. We are to find a strategy which will enable us to deliberately provoke one another to love and good deeds. Second, he says in verse 25, “Let us not give up meeting together.” Clearly, this was a great temptation for those first-century Jewish believers who felt the pressure from their friends in the synagogue. Third, he also says, “Let us encourage one another.” To encourage means “to inspire to continue on a chosen course, to impart courage or boldness.” You encourage someone when you take courage and put it into them.
Needed: A Few Good Encouragers
I could summarize by saying that encouragement is fundamental to the Christian faith. It is one of the reasons we come together on Sunday morning. It is one of the most important spiritual gifts. And it is one of the sacred promises we have made to each other. These are the words of our church covenant: We do, therefore, in His strength promise … that we will be careful to encourage each other in the faith and service of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We need this because everyone is having a hard time. There is so much negativism and despair in the world. And some people are so negative that they are never happy about anything. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the man who entered a very strict monastery. It was a spartan place—concrete floors, cold biscuits, the works. One of the rules was that the monks had to keep absolute silence. They were allowed to speak only two words every five years.
Well, this fellow entered and kept silence for five years. When the time for his review came up, his superior asked for his two words. He said, “Food Bad!” His superior blessed him and sent him back to his work. Five years later his review came up again and his superior asked him for his two words. He said, “Bed Hard!” His superior blessed him and sent him away. Five more years passed and his superior once again asked him for his two words. “I Quit!,” he said. “That doesn’t surprise me,” said his superior, “You’ve been complaining ever since you got here.”
We all know people like that, don’t we? They may be basically fine folks, but you know if you talk to them long enough, they’re going to start complaining. I know a few people like that, and when I see them coming, it’s all I can do to keep from running the other way.
A Spark Of Hope
But every once in a while there is a spark of hope in the world. It happened this week at the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. Thousands and thousands of young Germans gathered at the Berlin Wall to celebrate the greatest political change in the last thirty years. Did you see the headline in the Chicago Sun-Times this morning? It said that yesterday one million East Germans traveled to the West. Who could have dreamed it even one week ago? It reminds us of the words of President Eisenhower who said, “The people of the earth yearn for freedom and one day the nations are going to have to give it to them.”
And there they were on top of the Berlin Wall—singing, laughing, dancing, clapping, cheering, chipping off little pieces of the Wall. There is a great lesson here: You can build a wall around a city, but you can’t build a wall around the human heart.
And that’s why encouragement is so important. It reaches across the man-made walls to touch the human heart. It’s a long way from Berlin to Oak Park but what happens there touches us. And that’s why when we see it on TV, we want to stand up and cheer for them!
Mark Twain and A Few Other Luminaries
How important it is to be an encourager. Mark Twain said, “I can live for a week off one good compliment.” William James, the father of modern psychology, said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” And George Adams said, “Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.” Finally, there is a Japanese proverb especially fit for Chicago: “One kind word can warm three winter months.”
This week I ran across these words: “If you treat a man as he is, he will stay as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to become and could be, he will become that bigger and better man.” That strikes me as an entirely true statement. People tend to become what we think them to be. They either live up to or down to our expectations.
If you treat a man as trustworthy, he will strive to prove himself worthy of trust. If you tell a child, “You can do it,” pretty soon he’ll start to believe it. If you treat a friend as an enemy, before long that’s exactly what he will be. And it is a fairly well established fact that if you treat a man as a criminal, he will prove it by robbing you blind.
Back To The Text
And that brings me back to the text for today: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
What is the Day which the readers will see approaching? It is certainly the Day of the Lord’s return. How is it that they will “see” it approaching? Well, we already know that these readers were sorely tempted to turn back to their old way of life. Every day was a spiritual battleground. As the battle rages around them, the one fact that will help them keep their courage is the hope that the Day of the Lord is not far off. So, the meaning is that mutual encouragement in the hope of the Lord’s coming must become a priority in light of the spiritual battles raging all around them. The battle is raging, the “Day” is coming, mutual encouragement is therefore absolutely essential.
The writer specifically mentions two areas for encouragement in verse 24—love and good deeds. Love moves in the area of attitude, while good deeds move in the area of action. That is to say, we must encourage people into a positive way of thinking and a positive way of living.
It is easy to see why this is so crucial. During a battle, when the heat and smoke fill the air, when we are under tremendous pressure, we are faced with two great temptations: The first is to get angry and the second is to give up. Love will help us not to become angry and good deeds will help us not to give up. So, we are to find ways to encourage each other in the very areas where we need help in the time of crisis—love and good deeds. We are to find ways to say, “Don’t get angry,” and “Don’t give up.”
Sometimes you are on the giving end of encouragement and sometimes you are on the receiving end. This last year it seems like I’ve been on the receiving end more often than not. Thanksgiving is only a few days away and I’ve been taking stock of the last twelve months and thinking about the amazing things that have happened to our family.
A year ago at this time our family was in the most desperate place we had ever been in. All the props had been knocked out from under us and all the things we trusted in were gone. We were dangling between heaven and earth. There is nothing more frightening. Unless you have been there you cannot understand it. You don’t live week to week or even day to day. You live moment to moment, first scared, then angry, then scared again. You have no idea what the future holds and no real way to control your own destiny. You aren’t thinking about six months or three months down the road. It’s just, “How will I get through the rest of this day?” Your friends don’t understand and you can’t really explain it to them because you don’t fully understand it yourself.
That’s where we were one year ago. And into our life God sent Kathy Lewis. Dan and Kathy were members of the church I pastored in Texas. They are some of the sweetest, finest folks God ever made. Dan runs a small remodeling and construction business in Dallas. It’s pretty tough most of the time, and they just eke out a living the best way they can. It would be fair to say that Dan and Kathy are modest, unassuming people and if they entered the church today, nobody would give them a second look. But they both love the Lord, and Kathy is a tremendous prayer warrior.
“You’re Going To Make It”
So it happened that while we were dangling in mid-air Kathy called Marlene. She said, “God told me to start praying for you in a special way about a month ago. I didn’t want to do it because whenever God tells me to pray for somebody that always means they are about to go through a hard time. And now it has happened to you. But I want you to know that God knows what you are going through and He’s watching over you and you are going to make it.”
That one phone call was the beginning of a turnaround for us. The clouds eventually parted, the sun began to shine, and we looked toward the future. Months passed—January, February, March—and a letter came postmarked “Oak Park, Illinois.” I didn’t really know where it was. A church was looking for a pastor. I decided to write them back, but it didn’t matter because I knew I was never moving to Chicago. Then came April and we were doing fine. Then came May and suddenly we had another crisis. This was the financial crisis—the one where you don’t have any more money. We just plain ran out. All our savings were gone, the money was gone from the checking account. We were desperate and anxious and upset.
And the phone rang. It was Kathy Lewis. She said, “God told me to start praying for you again last week. You must be going through another hard time.” Marlene told her how things were. Kathy said, “I just want you to know that I’m praying for you and I know God is going to take care of you.” And amazingly, things worked out. We didn’t miss a meal.
It was a week or so later that I traveled to Chicago to preach here at Calvary for the first time. There was no problem with that because I knew I was not coming to Chicago. So it was just a fun weekend.
“I Think You Should Go To Chicago”
Then about three weeks later I agreed to return as a candidate—albeit a bit reluctantly. I still thought I wasn’t going to come as your pastor. After all, it’s a long way from Texas to Chicago! Somewhere in there we got another phone call from Kathy Lewis. She told Marlene, “I think you should go to Chicago.” Even though I’m not very mystical, by this time I had learned to listen to what she said.
So we made the trip up here for the candidating weekend. Some of you may remember that the Pulpit Committee put me through 24 meetings, interviews and messages. By Friday night I was tired and about half-sick. The five of us were jammed into a room at the Ritz Carleton. I just wanted to go home to Texas. It was a combination of things—the schedule, the unending questions, the unfamiliar environment, the enormity of the move, and a feeling of extreme exhaustion. That night Marlene and I had a fight. I was complaining and she just looked at me and said what every wife says in such a moment: “Grow up.”
The next morning I felt a little better and Sunday was better yet. By the time we flew back to Texas, we both felt that if God wanted us to come, we could do it.
About three days later the phone rang. It was Kathy Lewis. She told Marlene a strange story. She said, “Last weekend I felt impressed to start praying extra-hard for both of you. The Lord spoke to me, and I sensed that you were fighting his call to Chicago. So I prayed that you wouldn’t fight the Lord, but that you would be open to his will. She told Marlene that she felt led to pray that prayer on Friday and Saturday—the very days when we were struggling so much. There was no way she could know what we were going through, but God spoke to her and she prayed for us in the very moment when we needed it.
I can’t tell you what that did for me. I took it as a message from the Lord. That confirmed what we had already felt—that God wanted us at Calvary.
How Do You Like It Here?
It’s been a few months now, but we get asked the same question almost every day—”How do you like it in Oak Park?” The answer is simple. We love it here. This is home to us. Home used to be in Texas, but not any more. Home is Oak Park. Home is Calvary Memorial Church. Home is 1050 North Mapleton Avenue. Home is right here, right where we are.
We are so happy. When I say “we,” I mean Marlene and Joshua and Mark and Nicholas. All of us are so happy to be here. We’re settled now, we’ve bought our winter coats, we’ve put up the storm windows, we’ve turned on the radiator, we’re ready for a Chicago winter! On top of that, we’ve discovered Michael’s Beef House and Edwardo’s Stuffed Pizza and Jewel-Osco and Phoebe’s Frozen Yogurt. This week we even made our first trip to the wonderful Museum of Science and Industry. We cheer for the Cubs and I’m even learning to cheer for the Bears! We are true Chicagoans now.
And most of all we love this church. Just this week I met a friend from Texas and told him that I had come to one of the great churches of America. To me, that is no exaggeration but a simple statement of fact.
And to think, a year ago I had never heard of Oak Park. When I think of what God has done for us in the last twelve months, I am amazed and humbled. Truly the Lord is good. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I have more blessings than I could ever count this year.
I say all of that to come back to the main point. God has used many people to encourage us during this year. But no one more than Kathy Lewis. At every critical moment she was there—prompted by the Lord—to encourage us. By her well-timed words, she “inspired us to stay on our chosen course.” When we were weak, by her love she imparted courage to us. When we needed a good word, the phone would ring and it was Kathy.
That’s what encouragement is all about. That’s the ministry God has called us to. That’s something you can do this very week.
The E.Q. Test
Back at the beginning I promised that I would take your E.Q.—your Encouragement Quotient. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself:
1. Do my words of encouragement easily outweigh my words of criticism?
2. Am I generally uplifting to be around?
3. Do words of praise come easily to me?
4. Would those who know me best consider me an encouraging person?
5. Do I pass along only the good news and swallow the gossip?
6. Do I think more about opportunities to give praise or more about my need to receive praise?
7. Do I tend to focus on the positive qualities of other people?
8. Is it easy for me to be critical of those who frustrate me?
9. When I pray, do I pray for those who frustrate me?
10. Have I been diligent to encourage those closest to me—my children, my husband or wife, my students, my co-workers, my close friends?
Grade yourself this way. If you answered “yes” to eight or more, you are probably an encouraging person. If you answered “yes” to seven or less, you’ve been drinking too much vinegar and you need to switch over to Gatorade!
Where Never Is Heard A Discouraging Word
By the way, isn’t it true that we are often better at encouraging those we hardly know? And we are slow to encourage those who are closest to us. That especially applies to our children. We’re so good at putting them down:
“Don’t interrupt me. I’m talking.”
“Don’t ask me why. Just do it.”
“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“Why don’t you grow up?”
We yell, we put them down, we intimidate them, we criticize them in front of others. And we wonder why our kids struggle so much with their self-image. Consider these words of Cecil Osborne:
“The child’s self-image is being formed in his early years. He either learns that he is loved, and that he is a great kid, basically good, doing his best, and going to succeed in life, or (he learns) that he is not loved, but impatiently endured, that he is bad or stupid, and will probably come to a bad end.” (The Art Of Learning To Love Yourself, p.22)
So what are you building into your children? And how do they feel about themselves? Your words of encouragement make all the difference.
Helping People Feel Important
Some of you will recognize the name Henrietta Mears. She was for many years the Director of Christian Education at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. And she was the inspiration for a whole generation of Christian leaders. Henrietta Mears was a wonderful student of student nature. These are her words: “Whenever I meet a new person, I imagine them wearing a sign across their chest which reads, ’My name is _________. Please help me feel important.”
That sums up my whole sermon. Helping people feel important is what encouragement is all about.
But where should we begin? I have three simple suggestions:
First, make sure you begin each day by saying an encouraging word to each member of your family. Have you ever had one of those “uh-huh” breakfasts? That’s what happens when you are too frazzled to talk intelligently to each other. So you grunt. “Would you like some coffee, sweetheart?” “Uh-huh.” “Don’t forget your lunch.” “Uh-huh.” “Where’s my geometry book?” “Uh-huh.” “Can I borrow a hundred dollars, Dad?” “Uh-huh.” “Would you like a dead rat with your scrambled eggs?” “Uh-huh.”
We’ve all had mornings like that. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit. Take time to encourage each other before you go out the door. Remember, it’s a jungle out there.
Second, before you say a word of criticism, say a prayer for the person you are criticizing. This is simply a practical piece of advice. If we criticize without praying, we run the risk of speaking in anger and saying things we regret later. But if we pray first, the venom is drained out of our words. We may even lose our anger completely and decide that the criticism is unwarranted. What a difference it would make if we would follow this simple rule.
Third, when you feel the slightest urge to encourage someone this week, go ahead and do it. The reason is obvious. By doing it on the spur of the moment, we do it with joy and enthusiasm. And that’s the place to begin in applying this message. Make a simple resolution that every time you feel like encouraging someone this week, you will go ahead and do it. Just put aside your work, get up from your desk, pick up the phone, write a note, pat someone on the back, say a good word to lift someone’s spirits. Try doing it for just one week. Who knows? It might become a permanent habit.
The story is told of a little second grade boy who was trying out for a part in the school play. The day came for the auditions and his mother took him to school and waited for him to come out. She was nervous because she knew he couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, couldn’t dance, and couldn’t memorize very well. So she was surprised when he came out after 45 minutes with a big smile on his face. “How did it go, honey?” “It was great, Mom. Guess what? I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.”
In truth, that could be said about all of us. We have all been chosen by God to clap and cheer for our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. They need to hear it and we need to do it. Let the applause begin.