A WORD OF CAUTION, A WORD OF CHALLENGE, AND A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT

In my reading the last several days I have come across several thoughts and observations from a variety of authors that have impacted me. In this post I want to pass on to readers three of the things that struck me.

The word of caution that grabbed me is from Pastor J.A. Medders and his observation, “One of the greatest dangers of studious Christians is loving the study of God more than God himself.” Certainly we are to study the Bible and what scholars and others have written about God and his revelation, but Medders points out the danger of getting so caught up in studying and increasing our knowledge that we forget the primary purpose of learning.

Medders cautions about what he calls “theological trophy hunting” in which some “read the Bible to get more verses on [their] side . . . so [they] can win an argument, or show how much [they] know.” We must be careful not to be like the Pharisees, who in the words of Professor Bruce Metzger emphasized the WORD of God rather than the word of GOD. Medders’ primary point is that we are not just to love the study of God or books about him, but to love God.

The word of challenge that got my attention is from Psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein concerning our regrets in life. Inspired by something Ralph Waldo Emerson said, Bernstein’s “advice is to accept the fact we all make mistakes, apologize to those we’ve harmed, forgive oneself, and focus on our personal strengths and gratitude rather than regrets from the past.”

The challenge for me is in those two words accept and apologize. I hope none of us will use the observation that “we all make mistakes” to minimize our mistakes because everyone makes them. And of course we should apologize to those we’ve harmed; but more than that, as Christians, many times we should not just apologize, but ask for forgiveness as well—from both those we’ve harmed as well as the Lord. With regard to focusing “on our personal strengths . . . rather than regrets,” my sense is we should not be too hard on ourselves; but acknowledging our personal strengths does not erase our mistakes.

The word of encouragement is three quotes from The Art of Aging by Sherwin B. Nuland. Hopefully, even younger readers will be encouraged as well as those of us who are older. Early in the book Nuland observes, “Used well, an aging brain can become a more useful brain, and often a wiser one” (p.32). Late in his book Nuland states the obvious, “The getting of wisdom is, of course, a process, and it has no end point.” He continues, “The wisdom that we seek with age is not something that comes without effort, nor is it unearned consolation for the passage of years. Rather, it is the result of reflecting” (p. 253).

In reading Nuland’s observations I’m sure you can see how at the age of 68 I am encouraged by what he writes. I think I am using my aging brain well; I also believe I’m still in the process of getting wisdom; and with the continued passage of years I find myself reflecting more and more. No matter what your age, I hope you are encouraged.

I realize this is an out of ordinary blog post, and I thank you for reading it. Let’s all be open to and look for words of caution, words of challenge, and words of encouragement.

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WHO DOESN’T NEED THIS?

There are multiple possible answers to the question, “Who doesn’t need this?” What I want to suggest is everyone needs, wants, and appreciates encouragement. Some may say they don’t need it, and they may think they don’t, but I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating it when it is given. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, once made the point when he said, “How do you identify someone who needs encouragement? That person is breathing.”

I’ve thought about the idea of encouragement for many years and in my life have both received a lot as well as tried to give a lot. Looking back I think in my early years I received more than I gave, but in the last 25 years or so I think I have been more on the giving end. That makes sense because as we mature we realize just how important encouragement can be.  

My interest in encouragement and desire to be even more intentional about encouraging has been intensified by a book I ordered and read last month entitled Encouragement. Written by Mark Chanski, this book greatly expanded my understanding of encouragement and how to encourage people. I love the sub-title Adrenaline for the Soul as it paints a picture of what encouragement does for people.

In the New Testament the Greek word sometimes rendered encourage or encourager can also be translated with a variety of other words. Jesus’ word for the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel can be translated encourager. Other options include advocate (or counselor), helper, comforter, exhorter, and consoler. The core of all these options is that the one who encourages is someone who is called to stand beside and help another. (All this certainly describes the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.)

In Romans 12:8 the Apostle Paul lists encouragement as a spiritual gift some Christians have. John R.W. Stott notes the verb has “a wide range of meanings, ranging from encouraging and exhorting to conciliating or consoling” (Romans, pp. 327 and 328).

No Christian has all of the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12, but that does not mean a believer who does not have the gift of encouragement should not be an encourager. I especially like Paul’s instruction to his readers in I Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” After instructing them he practices what he is saying by encouraging them!

All of us should be encouragers, and we need to be honest encouragers. By honest I mean we should not mislead others with what we know are unrealistic expectations. Rather than encouraging, I think doing so may do just the opposite. (What a challenge for parents and grandparents as they cheer on their children and grandchildren!)

I close these thoughts with a quote from the 19th century influential English “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon, “It does people good to be told how highly we value them. There is many a Christian man and woman who would do better if now and then someone would speak a kindly word to them, and let them know that they had done well.”

Perhaps you and I can be more aware of the good it does when we speak such a word to others.

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A NEW VENTURE

Now that I’ve published a book, A Pastor and the People:  An Inside Look through Letters, I am going to expand my writing by starting a blog. My passion and dream is to write honestly about the Christian life, the Bible, and the Church. And my plan is to post one or two times a week.

I hope my posts will be challenging and encouraging to readers as well as nudging them to think. I will do my best to refrain from being overly dogmatic, but as you read keep in mind that I am a committed Christian who believes the Bible and loves it as well as the Church.  After all, I was a pastor for 44 years and am currently an adjunct professor of biblical studies! And I acknowledge from the outset that I could be wrong.

Since I love to read, a lot of my posts will be inspired or prompted by the writing of others in articles and books. Often I will comment on something I have read that has impacted me and perhaps recommend it in case readers are interested.

Having read this introductory post I hope you will follow the blog to receive future notifications by email.

Thanks.

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