ODYSSEYING WITH PAUL – A LEGACY OF ENCOURAGEMENT
July 9, 2017
Tony Campolo tells of the African-American Baptist Church he attends in Philadelphia that celebrates Graduate Recognition Sunday once a year. On this particular Sunday, a few students led the congregation through some liturgy and singing.
Then the pastor stood up to preach. In lofty oratory he proclaimed, “Young men and young women, you may not think you’re going to die, but one of these days they’re gonna take you down to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt in your face, and go back to the church and eat potato salad!”
Now that’s hard core! What a sermon opener! What an unforgettable underscoring of the reality of mortality!
It hits us between the eyes with the question, “What legacy am I leaving?” When the folks are back at the church eating potato salad, what will they be saying about me?
Will I be remembered as a Discourager or as an Encourager?
[SHOW VIDEO CLIP]
Two Asheville, NC police officers were dispatched to a residential neighborhood over the July 4 holiday to investigate a noise complaint. When they arrived, they found children laughing and playing and enjoying a homemade slip’n slide they had created along the edge of the street.
The kids were being supervised well by their parents and grandparents. Traffic on the quiet street was not being blocked in any way. The cops found nothing to be concerned about.
In fact, since it was a very hot and humid day, the officers decided to cool down with the kids. Videos went viral on Facebook and national media showing the officers gliding happily down the slip’n slide, having a super-fun time!
And maybe, just maybe, those kids in that Asheville, NC neighborhood will grow up to harbor a positive attitude toward law enforcement. Perhaps they will view police officers as encouragers rather than as discouragers.
What legacy are you leaving? Are you a discourager or an encourager?
DISCOURAGERS MIRE IN THE DIRE
Whether they realize it or not, they spend much of their life bogging others down in a mud-pit of constant and critical negativity.
Yes, discouragers are purveyors of cold pricklies. What are cold pricklies, you might ask?
Cold pricklies are harsh, biting, disparaging put-downs that deflate and destroy another person’s confidence and self-esteem. Can you think of any?
Experts in the counseling business will tell you in takes five warm fuzzies – five encouraging comments from other persons – to remove the damage from just one cold prickly inflicted upon you and restore you to a decent frame of mind.
Discouragers mire in the dire. They delight in purveying cold pricklies, for in doing so, they have the power to paralyze the present for someone else.
Growing up, I had a good friend, Keith, who was an amazing baseball player. He was scrawny, about 5’2”, maybe 110 lbs., but boy, could he slap line drives all over the field! And as a shortstop, he was like a vacuum cleaner, scooping up ground balls and throwing runners out with his cannon-like arm! The sad thing, though, was that Keith never got to display this tremendous talent in Little League or Babe Ruth games.
You see, Keith’s dad would stand behind the backstop the entire game and criticize every move his son made. Whenever Keith stepped in the batter’s box, his father would be offering such snide running commentary as “Son, you swing like a rusty gate!” In the field, if a ball came Keith’s way, his father would offer “You throw like a girl-I’m ashamed for people to know you’re my boy!” The denigration was non-stop. Keith would literally be shaking with nerves and anger and tears. And he would freeze up and strike out and boot ground ball through his legs under the weight up his dad’s constant condemnation.
Keith spent his high school years in the bleachers watching Gary, Mike and the rest of us play ball. Though he had far more ability than any of us, he couldn’t take the abuse from his father. I never could figure out why Keith’s dad reveled in paralyzing the present for his son, killing his spirit. But that’s what discouragers do. That’s the legacy they leave.
And discouragers are also about poisoning the future. Like a rock thrown into a pond, their debilitating words and actions impact tomorrow in ways they could have never imagined. Their sin-stained, spite-filled persona changes the course of lives and even world events.
Author Ron Dunn tells the story of two altar boys. One was born in1892 in Eastern Europe. The other was born just three years later in a small town in Illinois. Though their lives were quite different, these two boys shared a similar experience.
Each altar boy assisted his parish priest in the celebration of Mass. While handling the chalice during Holy Eucharist, they both accidentally spilled some of the wine on the carpet.
But this is where their stories diverge. The priest in the Eastern European church, a discouraging figure mired in the dire, upon seeing the purple stain, slapped the altar boy across the face and shouted, “You clumsy oaf! Leave the altar, NOW!” He did. The little boy grew up to become the atheistic and strongman communist dictator of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, personally responsible for torture and murder of thousands.
The priest in the church in Illinois, upon seeing the wine stain, knelt down beside the boy and looked him in the eye and said, “It’s all right, son. You’ll do better next time. You’ll be a fine priest for God someday.” That little boy grew up to become the much revered church leader of the mid-20th century, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who faithfully served God and humanity as a priest, a writer, and as an advocate for the poor, opening windows of faith to thousands of spiritually-starved persons.
Fulton Sheen had the good fortune of having an encourager in his life.
Instead of seeking to mire in the dire,
ENCOURAGERS INSPIRE TO GO HIGHER
They are all about motivating others with the words “you can, you will” instead of “you can’t, you won’t”. They help you to reach further than you could possibly dream.
The Apostle Paul is a master encourager, to say the least. In Acts 20, we behold his encouragement in action. He is concluding his third missionary journey. He is on a farewell tour of churches he has planted in Greece and Asia Minor.
Tears of joy and sadness are shared, for he will never pass this way again. Listen to Luke’s eyewitness account of what transpires:
Paul called the disciples together and encouraged them to keep up the good work in Ephesus. Then, saying his good-byes, he left for Macedonia. Traveling through the country, passing from one gathering to another, he gave constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.
Yes, we see Paul reminiscing with the believers in the fellowships he founded. We hear him commenting on the positive, reminding them of God’s goodness. These young Christians have dealt with ridicule and persecution for Christ. They have been put down and are probably doubting their convictions. Paul helps them to see what they cannot see in themselves—that Christ is with them and doing some powerful things through them.
We all need such encouragers who inspire to go higher. My daughter Allison had such an encourager—her high school band teacher, Alan Shull. Under his tutelage for five years of marching and concert band, she not only learned how to play a flute quite well, but she also developed the confidence to lead and direct the band.
The other day I was rummaging around looking for a couch pillow in the back of the closet that used to be a part of my daughter’s room in her teen-aged years. I saw her wall of quotes—snippets of inspiration that Alan Shull had shared with her and her band mates. She had written them down and posted them—sayings such as “Don’t be afraid to take a leap—a chasm can’t be crossed in two small steps!” And, “To succeed you’ve got to be easy to start and hard to stop!” And, “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, just how many times you get back up!”
Yes, encouragers are all about commenting on the positive…And they are also about conveying courage.
The young believers have seen the bravery Paul has exhibited. They’ve seen the scars of the beatings he has endured. He tells them, “22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Looking to Paul’s example, they too will continue in the race of living faithfully for Christ, sharing his hope in tough times to come.
It’s interesting to note that in the Greek language spoken by Paul, the very word encourage means to call to one’s side, to comfort, to console, to strengthen. Basically, to encourage means to put courage in.
On June 18, 1956, a freak accident happened on a lake in New York. A speeding motorboat bounced on a wave and shot into the water two of its passengers, a 50-year old man and a little girl. To keep her from drowning, the man held her head above water while the boat circled back. They rescued the girl. But the man sank and drowned.
That’s how Dawson Trotman died, the founder of the Navigators, an international discipleship ministry. According to a quote from his obituary posted in Time magazine, “He lived to save others…that was Dawson Trotman, always lifting someone up.”
Encouragers are always lifting someone up, conveying courage in the way they live their lives.
And encouragers inspire to go higher by commending to God.
Paul’s parting words to his friends are, And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
And then we read: 36-38 Paul went down on his knees, all of them kneeling with him, and prayed. And then a river of tears. Much clinging to Paul, not wanting to let him go. They knew they would never see him again—he had told them quite plainly. The pain cut deep. Then, bravely, they walked him down to the ship.
I don’t know about you, but I find something deeply moving in being commended to God. A couple of months ago I was visiting with an elderly lady on the cardiac floor at RMH while doing my rounds as a volunteer chaplain. At 91 years-of-age she was recovering from a heart attack. I prayed for her. And as I said “Amen”, she inquired, “Now may I pray for you?” And she shared the most beautiful prayer, lifting me before God and lifting me up spiritually on a day when I had been pretty down.
Encouragers will do that sort of thing. They will put their arm around someone’s shoulder and humbly commend that individual to God in prayer.
We arrived early for the 4th of July parade in Gypsy Hill Park this past Tuesday. We set up our chairs along the parade route and sat there enjoying some country ham sandwiches while the 5K race was still going on. It was kind of quiet and peaceful as runners of all ages passed us by.
But then we heard this commotion in the distance. People along the parade route were standing and cheering. And as the entourage of runners grew closer, we saw the reason for the affirmation: It was Dustin Thurston.
Dustin was born prematurely, and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly afterward. This neurological disorder took away his balance, movement and muscle tone.
He graduated from Fort Defiance High School in 2014. Through adaptive sports, Dustin has skied, zip-lined and played baseball. And yes, he participates in road races with the help of his team—his sister Carley, his former PE teachers, Mike and Tracey Lilly, and his best friend Isaac Diehl. They call themselves Team Dustin.
His mom Stephanie later told a reporter, “Dustin’s always had such an awesome support system,” his mom said. “We’ve never not had people encouraging us and always being there to face the challenge with us. That is huge in our life.”
“And it’s so heartwarming to see the people and how much they love him and care about him being able to do things just like anybody else. It means a lot.”
That’s an amazing thing, isn’t it!
Yes, we know there are Discouragers in this world who mire in the dire, purveying cold pricklies, paralyzing the present as well as poisoning the future of others.
But thank God Almighty there are Encouragers like the Apostle Paul and Asheville police officers and Alan Shull and Dawson Trotman and a 91-year-old praying lady and Team Dustin who inspire to go higher, choosing to spend their days commenting on the positive, conveying courage and commending others to God!
In which camp do you reside? What legacy are you leaving?
When the burying is done and they’re back at the church eating potato salad, what will they be saying about you? “Ol’ Roscoe sure was a pathetic discourager!” Or, “Wow! That Lucille was an awesome encourager!”