Sermon October 2, 2016: Are you willing to be an encourager?

Posted in Sermons
[Raymond Lee]
  • Presenter: Raymond Lee
  • Date: October 2, 2016
  • Location: Congregación León de Judá, Boston MA

The word encourage literally means to put on courage, the opposite of encourage is of course discourage. What is encouragement? It is to draw alongside someone and provide them with all sorts of positive, constructive action, so instead of feeling discouraged, depressed, they can hope to raise their head and have the courage, resources and strength to become the very person that God has called them to become.

Dear brothers and sisters may I make a bold suggestion here? That every single one of us here without exception is only here because someone has encouraged us, that someone has cared after drawing alongside of us and perhaps even in the most neediest moment and spoke a word of encouragement to us, given us a lift when we needed it, otherwise none of us would be here, so these good people from heaven, hallelujah, we praise God for them, amen, hallelujah, amen.

I immediately think of my school teacher, I was the naughtiest kid in school, I broke eight pairs of windows in school, I still have the scar to prove it. Last week I went back to my elementary school reunion and one boy said: I was the second naughtiest kid in class, I said: who was the naughtiest kid in class? and he said: it was you, it was you, and I almost forgot how naughty I was because I became a Pastor! and none of my teachers believed me when I told them I had become a Pastor.

But dear brothers and sisters I would not be here passing on the good news to you, passing on God’s goodness if not for the wonderful encouragements in my life. We love because Christ loved us first, we encourage because all of us have been encouraged by the love and support we have received, and so we are all called to pass it on so that others may be blessed like us.

I’d like to invite us to read Hebrews 10:24 and 25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The theme of both these passages is encouragement, but encouraging one another while it is today as long as it is today, “but encourage one another”. Please pay attention to these words one another because they are mentioned three separate times, question: who are these one another? who are they? Is it just him? or just me? it is all of us, it’s me, it’s you, it’s him, all the people in the balcony, everyone, hum, hallelujah.

So as we see from the Bible’s perspective encouragement is not just a job for a few but a job for everybody, encourage one another daily as long as it’s called today. Question: why should we take up this job, what is our motivation for wanting to encourage others? Well the first reason of course is: we wanna give something back, but the second reason is also because none of you may be hardened by sins, deceitfulness and get used to it.

Brothers and sisters: it’s a serious matter, an awful matter and even a frightening matter for someone to be pushed towards the edges of sin. I’ve been a christian for over 55 years so I became a christian when I was 5 years old (laughs) and I’ve walked with God for 55 years but there were some really discouraging times in my life too, there were some incredibly high times and there were some incredibly challenging times but I thank God for encouragers in my life, hallelujah, praise the Lord.

For many years God let me into the marketplace and gave me great success in business, here He even allowed me to start the first low-cost airline in the world, and for two years it went very, very well but with high oil prices and other factors we went down, it became a great crushing blow, it is almost as if I had gone financially, socially, emotionally from heaven right down to hell.

For days I had trouble getting out of bed, for months it was hard to work outside my door without facing hostile reporters but I’m here to testify to you, I’m still standing here, I’m still standing here because of the glory of God, because of God’s mercy in reaching down to me when I most needed Him and for sending us folks to encourage us in our deepest moment of need.

There was one sister who one day brought me a whole bag of Häagen-Dazs ice scream, she said: Pastor I know you, you love Häagen-Dazs ice scream and I was thrilled, I was even more touched that on the day he brought the Häagen-Dazs ice cream her company had only one dollar in the bank but such an incredible encouragement pouring happened in our lives, I praise God for loving people like that.

And I remember my college roommate Peter who we had night debates with, we felt like we were carrying swords going up against each other and he always commented on my driving so I sometimes didn’t really wanna see him, but during the worst times in my life he came on to see me again and for a year and a half he offered his encouragement and he said: I’d like to call you every single day every day at 8 o’clock in the morning, if you have good things I wanna hear about them, if you have terrible things, troubles in your life I wanna hear them but I’d like to pray for you and for a year and a half every single day, no man, I’m very nervous about the calls, what if it is another hostile call? what if it’s someone that wants to criticize me?

But at 8 o’clock every morning when I had the courage to pick up the phone, whoa it’s Peter! and it was the best time of my day. We thank God for encouragers like that, they are lifesavers! And I wouldn’t be here standing, nevermind speaking the Word of God to you if not because the Grace of God has expressed through the arms, the legs and the wonderful words of encouragement to us, so to God be the glory, hallelujah.

But brothers and sisters: it is a serious matter, it is an awful matter and just even a frightening matter for someone to be so pressed in life that they find it is almost impossible to walk the christian walk anymore, and in the moment of deepest trial they need to draw alongside them, and to give them a lift when they most need it.

So I’m here to talk to you about encouragement because many christian, especially those of us seek to live out our faith in the marketplace with our hopes to shine for Christ and remain true in the christian faith, but some brothers and sisters succumb to temptation and fall into the net of sin, and we must reach out to them before the enemy has a chance to get to them, amen? amen, hallelujah.

You know, like, I need to talk about how terrible sin can be, like, at first it may seem like a piece of candy but after you get really sucked into it and then like, you become totally under it’s control, and the heart has a way of hardening, and even becoming as hard as a rock. With absolutely no room for light to penetrate, not even God’s word, it suddenly becomes easier to keep falling down and who cares if I sin or if I swim to the surface, I may as well go out of way and stop pretending that I’ve ever been a christian, and so they can drop out of the walk of faith.

Does this kind of thing happen? of course it happens, it happens all the time, it happens far more often than we might want to admit. Perhaps it is already happening to someone you know and if the truth was to be told it might even be happening to you. I remember in the biggest trials in my life if not because of God’s encouragement I would find myself in water everyday like trying to break through big blocks of ice above me, it’s so hard that I feel like drowning, but I thank God for reaching down to me through the encouraging arms of those who held me and helped me up again, hallelujah, praise the Lord.

So this is why you and me need to seize any and every opportunity to encourage one another, here it says: as long as it’s called today meaning that today is not gonna be together, all todays will become yesterdays by tomorrow, and before it’s too late we must reach out and encourage, and bring people back to the Lord while there’s still time.

So we need to encourage one another daily, not giving up meeting together as somebody has the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day approaching. While we are living in a daunty and dirty world we don’t feel like lions, we feel more like Simbas, we feel young and vulnerable but God wants to give us victory, so there will be a great day of victory coming to us, but while we are in the trenches fighting and there are others who are trying to push us down we need to fight back and loudly proclaim the name of the Lion of Judah, hallelujah, hallelujah, amen.

Then the theme of today’s message is encouragement, God longs for every single one of us to become encouragers and this morning we are going to look into an important Bible character whose name is Barnabas. How many of you have heard the name of Barnabas? Please don’t confuse him with Barrabas, Barrabas is that thief on the cross, Barnabas is Paul’s friend and companion.

Compared to Paul Barnabas is much less famous, most of us know Paul but a lot less of us know of Barnabas, but you know, without Barnabas there would not have been Paul. The reason why the Apostle Paul was greatly used by God and had a chance to help many people was because of the encouragement of Barnabas therefore Barnabas is the silent hero behind Paul’s life, the very name Barnabas means encouragement.

Now originally his name was Joseph but why did they call him Barnabas? did they just have a bad pronunciation, they meant to say Joseph but instead ended up saying Barnabas? no, they called him Barnabas because that was a really special name, it means son of encouragement. In jewish culture the son took on the spiritual traits of his father, they not only took on the father’s wealth, they not only took on the father’s wealth but they also took on the father’s traits, so when someone gave the name Barnabas, they chose to gave it to him they were paying a very high compliment because in his very person he exemplifies the characteristic, the virtue of encouragement so if anyone wants to look at what encouragement is they just look at Barnabas.

Barnabas is an example of how you can effectively project the message of the Word of God but no matter how hard you look through the Bible you can’t find one of his sermons, some suppose that Barnabas could be author of the Book of Hebrews but there’s no hard evidence for that, but one thing we can safely assure is: Barnabas’ whole life is a sermon, a sermon that inspires and teaches us to care for and encourage others. Barnabas’ life drives home the truth, anyone of us no matter how extraordinary or ordinary, as long as we allow God to use us, can have a huge, huge impact upon the life of others.

So this morning I’d live to invite us to look at Barnabas’ life and how he opened himself to encouragement four times, but the reason Barnabas can be so effective is because he has learned to see others through the eyes of God.

The world has taught us to see people only through it’s own values, they may be rich, they may be poor, they may be an important person or just one of the bunch but Barnabas has learned to see each and every one of us through the eyes of God, he has seen each one of us as created in the image of God, amen? he has come to see that each one of us is invited to become a personal son or daughter of God through His Son, we are invited to become important members of the House of Faith and to become important pillars in the Church of God; to God be the glory for choosing and redeeming us to become his holy people.

And because he has seen through the eyes of faith he can’t find one person that isn’t important, for every person created in the image of God is a vip in the eyes of God, and no matter what the lies the world is trying to tell you, don’t ever forget that, we are all vips in the eyes of God, amen, praise the Lord.

And so when Barnabas sees such great potential in people he is eager to see them develop their full potential, in fact he just can’t wait to bring out the gifts and talents, and strengths so that they can become all that God has created, so Barnabas is greatly used by God to establish the christian community and to train many who are weak to become strong and fight bravely for the Lord.

So what are the four types of people that Barnabas went out of his way to help? the first kind of people that Barnabas helped were those who had physical or financial needs. So let’s reach together Acts 4:36 to 37: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

In the primitive Church we see that many believers lost their job and wealth through the faith in Jesus Christ, some have even been cast out of their own homes and became refugees. I remember visiting and speaking in Calcuta many years ago, I met a brother there, because he put his faith in the Lord and became baptized the villagers captured him and even cut his nose off, so looking at him visibly seemed like he was handicapped but in his face there was the most beautiful expression because the beauty of Christ was reflected on his face.

But there were many college students who after graduating from college when they said that they were christian in a job application originally their names were at the top of the list, but when they said they were christian they fell to the bottom, but there were others, many who were christian who said: we need to help these young people out.

So when Barnabas saw this great need among his brothers and sisters he did not remain unmoved, he could not shut it off his mind, when Barnabas saw the great need between his brothers and sisters he sold one of his properties and gave the money to the apostles to alleviate the predicament.

When some people read this they might say: is this communism? brothers and sisters this is not communism but it’s a hundred times better than communism because it is out of a voluntary spirit not because they had to, they really wanted to offer their property to help the needs of his brothers.

Dears brothers and sisters: when I was deacon of Gordon chapel there were many students who would come to my office looking for counseling. One day a student from Ethiopia came, his father had just died and just wanted to go home for the funeral but he didn’t have money so he was very sad, so many students rallied around him, they prayed for him but there were also some secret angels; one day this young boy opened his email and while he was expecting to have normal letters he found an airplane ticket to go home, he was totally amazed, he was at a loss for words, he was full of tears of joy so he went home to the funeral. He came back to finish his studies and he said: because I’ve received so much, I’ve been encouraged and I need to encourage others back so he became a Pastor in the Ethiopian community.

When I was in college I had a fellow student named Mark Shaboyan, he was japanese american from Hawaii, he was a runner, he was a star athlete that could run at least twice faster than me, but one time when he had back problems they brought him to the hospital to give him surgery and while the surgeon was opening up his back the surgeon made a mistake and broke his back so he was paralyzed from the waist down, so when we went to see Mark he was in a wheelchair and he could not even go to class by himself, he couldn’t go up or down the stairs to go to the bathroom, he could not even go back to his dorm without someone helping him, so one of the brothers in the christian fellowship said: let’s help Mark and they said: let’s help him and then there were other brothers and sisters that joined them, even though the sisters in the fellowship were not too strong they also helped carry him.

So one day Mark sat and said: wait are you a christian? are all the that are helping me christian? are you a christian, are you a christian? everyone helping me is christian so I need to be christian as well! amen, because he received so much from God he said: I must give back! So after graduating from college he went to Cornell lawschool and he became a lawyer to help the less fortunate; because freely I received freely I will give, amen.

Dear brothers and sisters: when we are willing to open up ourselves to help it’s as if a slice of heaven came down upon us. Now we all know that Earth isn’t heaven, there are still tears, there are still people hurting, there are people who are in need, people about to fall into Satan’s grip but we thank God for encouragers and we need a lot more of them, may each of us become an encourager for God’s Kingdom, hallelujah, praise the Lord.

Now the second kind of person that Barnabas helps are the new and young believers like the young Simbas. One day they are going to become the big lion king but right now they are simbas, they are only simbas (watch the movie, laughs), do you know that there are all kinds of organizations out there trying to target 17 to 18 year old youth to turn them from the faith in Christ to become atheist? We must go out of our way to protect our young people! we must not let them fall into Satan’s grip, we must bring our simbas fully into becoming the lion king! amen.

So the second kind of person that Barnabas helps are the new and young believers, here we read Acts 13:43: “When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.”

And in Acts chapter 14:22: “Barnabas strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” He didn’t just tell them things like: if you believe in Christ everything will be just hunky dory, you’ll never be in any trouble, no, he was very honest with them, he told them: we must go through many hardships, he was being very real with them that there is humility and there is honor, there is suffering and there is glory, he told the whole truth to them, we must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God, to God be the glory.

And in Acts 13:52 we see the joyful completion of the work of God, “we see the disciples filled with joy in the Holy Spirit”, it is indeed that joyful and spirit-filled experience that can bring encouragement to the life of others. I’d like to invite us all to read the great commission of the Lord in Matthew 28:20: “Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

This is the great commandment, the great commission, to make disciples of all nations not just to bring them to faith in Christ but through the discipleship journey into a glorious maturity, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. So the question is: why is it so important to help young believers? why? because they are vulnerable, they are precious but they are also vulnerable, their faith and their knowledge are limited.

Sometimes they only need a little doubt in their hearts to hold them back in the faith. I remember a young student called Victor, he was a very, very fine student, everybody would be just there listening but he would be like taking copious notes so I said: well if I wanted to point out to any good student in the Church I would point to Victor.

So one day I decided to call him and give him a little test, and I thought: he is such a good student he is going to give a great test, right? wrong, why? because I found that there were some things that like he only understood after I held the sermon because he was stuck taking notes, every sermon there were a few things he couldn’t understand and he would remain stuck on those things but unfortunately his faith just remained at that level, so in some areas he could get to 75% and in some things he would be at 50%, and some things he could only understand at 10%, so I said: this is not gonna work, God has not called you to be a little bit christian, He has called you to be a spiritual giant, so I said: okay let’s meet together.

So for two months we met every week, I would make my chop suey, and after that we studied the Bible and we would talk about the faith, I don’t know what it was if it was the chop suey but in those two months his faith grew leaps and bounds, his faith grew more in those two months than it did in 8 years.

So I want to tell you: take special interest in your young people because I don’t have to tell you: they are the future of the Church! we must reach them before Satan has a chance to get to them, we must bring them fully mature as giants before the world gets them, hallelujah, praise the Lord, amen!

The third type of christian that Barnabas helped, the tall ones on the service on the surface look like very, very strong christians, Acts chapter 9 verses 26 to 27: “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”

Who is this “him” that Barnabas brought to the Apostles? Who is it? Saul or Pablo, Pablo! (laughs), okay I’m learning. So when Paul was called by our Lord Jesus to follow Him no christian was willing to believe in him and I don’t blame them because of Paul’s reputation, because Paul had been known for being a prosecutor of christians, he would round up christians and place charges against them, put them in jail, mistreat them and beat them, and even had some of them killed, so now when people hears: this Paul has changed and he has even become a preacher some people might say: hum I don’t know about that, what if he is not sincere about his conversion, he can still hurt us, so people were very shy to get close to him.

But brothers and sisters: imagine what would have happened if no one had come close to help him, the Church would have lost it’s first and greatest Apostle, but thank God for Barnabas! Even though no one was willing to receive him Barnabas said: let’s give him a lift! because even though he has prosecuted those people he has changed and we must receive him back into the Holy Spirit so God can use him through the Body of Christ, and so Barnabas, when no one else wanted to get close to him, Barnabas welcomed him warmly, glory be to God.

I remember: even though I had been a preacher for many years and everybody thought: oh he is so strong, yes there were times people saw me smiling big out there but inside I was hurting. One time one brother that was very close to me he said to me: Pastor I would like to give you some encouragement, I’ve cut a lovely meal at my home and several brothers are reunited and they want to give you some encouragement, so at first I thought: hum this is a little strange because I’m the Pastor, I’m supposed to be encouraging everybody, so what is this about: I want to encourage you? so when I was on my way while driving over thinking about how I’m going to lecture them I heard the Voice of the Lord telling me: Just receive, amen.

You know: the chinese Church don’t like to say thank you, if I had preached an horrible sermon I wouldn’t know and if I preach a great sermon I wouldn’t know because the expressions would be the same (laughs), so I have no idea if they really liked anything I preached, but right there when I was in the living room when each of them shared their appreciation with me, not just my ministry to them but who I am as a person this like, tall, like strong Pastor started to break down in tears not because I was sad but because I was so touched by their encouragement.

Dear brothers and sisters let me tell you something: no one in the Church no matter how strong, how merciful, how founded in their faith they are not beyond the need for encouragement and we need to offer it to them! To other beloved Pastors, to our elders and deacons, to our teachers and worship leaders, to all the faithful brothers and sisters, we must offer, even to those strong, words and acts of encouragement amen? so they will have more and more strength to serve every day, amen?

The fourth type of christian that Barnabas helped are those who have fallen away and even failed, so many christian may think: this is the hardest thing to do, encourage those with physical and financial needs you can cook a nice meal for them, share some of my wealth with them, I can get that, encouraging the young simbas I can get that, even encouraging the strong christian I can get that but encouraging a christian that has fallen, that failed? because why did he fail? must be his own fault, then who will help him? God help him.

Well this is where Barnabas made the difference. There was a man called Joan Mark, he was following Barnabas around, Paul around sharing the evangelism job but during one important period in their lives when people counted on him to be part of the missionary job Joan Mark let them down, he desserted to the team, when heat got too high he just ran away, that was disappointing. After this episode Paul decided that Joan Mark was not to be trusted, Mark you let us down, you let God down and you let God’s people down so sorry, we don’t need your services anymore, but right at this moment Barnabas spoke out, he said: wait a minute here, haven’t you and I felt fail before? and God gave us a second chance, why don’t we give him a second chance?

Now, scholars have debated for centuries whether Paul was more right in rejecting Joan Mark or if Barnabas was more right, I don’t care if Paul was 55% right or if Barnabas was 45% right, but as far as I’m concerned they were both right, Paul was right in upholding the high standards of integrity and service in the Church but Barnabas was also right in saying: no matter what that person has done we must look at that person through the eyes of Jesus, amen.

Because just as God has not sent his Son in order to condemn the world we can’t just throw someone who has failed like a piece of garbage, we must encourage them and love them, and help them to get back on their feet again, and we thank God for the Barnabas that helped because Joan Mark in Colossians 4:10, we find proof that Barnabas’ gamble was entirely worthwhile, Joan Mark is once again a great help for Paul despite his failure, Colossians 4:10: “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)”

You know what these words are? these are a letter of recommendation. Nowadays supervisors and employers are very afraid of writing letters of recommendation but Paul wasn’t afraid, he very strongly and firmly recommended Mark. If he comes to you welcome him with open arms, now that’s a strong letter of recommendation and why could Paul recommend Mark so boldly in the end? because Mark had changed.

From a young missionary who is prone to discouragement and failure he has turned into a strong man of God. Through the rest of Joan Mark’s life he not only became a fine co-worker in the Church but he most likely became the author of the Gospel of Mark, how many of you like the Gospel of Mark? amen, I came to know Jesus much better reading the Gospel of Mark, it’s the easiest to read gospel that introduced me to the faith and I have no doubt that the inviting way he presents of reading his gospel welcomes us much better to the story of Christ must have come as the result of how he has found so much grace, so much encouragement from other folks that it pulled him into the faith, and so he would say: freely I have received, freely I have to give.

Imagine the Bible without the Gospel of Mark and that’s why Barnabas deserves a lot of praise, christians through the centuries are thankful to Mark and for the Bible we have that has 27 books. A big thank you goes to Barnabas for his role in helping Joan Marc stand up again, many kudos to Barnabas for his constant encouragement to those who others have put aside for that is a great inspiration and a great example for all of us to learn from.

So in conclussion: God calls every one of us to become encouragers, are you willing to be one? (amen!) amen, amen!

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