Friday, December 14, 2018

Encouraging a Small Church, Part 2

I made it to Roseville to preach last Sunday and my friend, Richard, is now back in Nigeria. He is due home next week.
Here is what I came up with to encourage this little group. Maybe it will encourage you and your group as well.

How Do You Fix a Discouraged Church?
A lot of small churches are discouraged. In fact, a lot of people in large churches are discouraged as well. Do you ever get discouraged about church?

What can be discouraging about church?

  •        Some people there are discouraging
  •        People are always disagreeing
  •        Someone there doesn’t like me
  •        It’s cold in there
  •        It can feel oppressive
  •        People there are negative
  •        I go there to be encouraged but am discouraged instead.
  •        Sometimes I feel inferior because everyone there looks like they have it all together
  •        So many needy people drain me
  •        Sometimes the sermon leaves me feeling accused
  •        We can’t raise enough money to pay the church’s bills
  •        I have problems no one there wants to hear about. They can’t or won’t help me.
  •        And on, and on, and on…

You know, some of us may want to be discouraged. Being discouraged is our happy place. So, if that is you, you may want to put your earbuds in and listen to some discouraging music, because I am going to tell you how to become an encouraged church – how to be a happy church.

First, understand that your discouragement comes from within you. It is in your head. The bad news about that is that if someone like Mary Poppins comes along and fixes all those discouraging things I listed in the beginning, you would still be discouraged.

Another way of saying that is that your discouragement is a reflection of your relationship with God. Do you really trust Him? He made a promise to Israel that extends to us. He said:

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,
And all the remnant of the house of Israel,
You who have been borne by Me from birth
And have been carried from the womb;
Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:3-4

God is our loving father and he will protect us. Yes, bad things do happen to good people. At least things that we interpret as bad, happen to good people. But God sees all eternity and all of geography at the same time and He knows so much more than we do. He will take care of us.

Yes, but how do we overcome our discouragement?

First, Become an Encourager

1.   Paul told the Thessalonians:

“Therefore [h]encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

2.   Make it your business to encourage everyone you see. Intentionally avoid the self-checkout line so you can speak to the cashier and encourage her or him. In the parking lot, on the bus, at work or school be encouraging. It may be a simple “Have a good rest of the day,” or “God bless you,” or it may be a quick story, but brighten the day of everyone you meet. Make that a part of who you are.

3.   And especially at church, look for someone who looks like they need to be lifted up, like the people God spoke of in Isaiah 46, above, and find a way to encourage them. Don’t belittle their problems, acknowledge that their issues are real, but give them hope.

4.   And if enough of you take on that challenge, eventually the balance will tip, and you will be a part of an encouraging church. 

Second, Make a Joyful Noise

Psalm 100 

1Earth, sing to the Lord!
Be happy as you serve the Lord!
    Come before him with happy songs!
Know that the Lord is God.
    He made us, and we belong to him.
    We are his people, the sheep he takes care of.
Come through the gates to his Temple giving thanks to him.
    Enter his courtyards with songs of praise.
    Honor him and bless his name.
The Lord is good!
    There is no end to his faithful love.
    We can trust him forever and ever!

He speaks of His gates and his courtyards here, and we know He is talking about much more than His old testament temple. The world is His footstool. When you enter His world each morning (or evening is you are on the night shift), make a joyful noise. It may be a simple “Good morning!” to someone, if you say it like you mean it. Or it may be a song. Rich Mullins’ “Our God is an Awesome God” or “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” or “I’m happy today”.

And don’t let anyone bring you down. If someone calls you a Pollyanna, just own it and continue on.

Third, Pray a Lot

Talk to God about being encouraged and about being an encourager. You can even start off your prayer by saying something like “Lord you know about all my problems, we have talked about them a lot and I am going to leave them in your hands. Let’s talk about you giving me more courage so I can encourage the people around me. Especially the people at church.”

I knew a man, a working man, an humble man who prayed every night that the next morning God would lead him to someone he could help and would give him the skills to help them. And that’s how he lived his life. He was not a prominent church member but was one anyone could rely on. He was very special.

And Fourth, Remember That Our God is a God of Rescue.

When He met Moses at the burning bush, God told Moses that He had heard his people crying out to Him and He had come down to rescue them.

The Bible is a book of rescues:

  •        He rescued Cain from his enemies by putting a mark on him
  •        Noah and his family from the flood
  •        Isaac from becoming a sacrifice by Abraham’s hand.
  •        Joseph from being killed by his brothers and again from prison in Egypt
  •        In turn God used Joseph to rescue his family from starvation (and picked up Egypt in the bargain)
  •        And in the second most dramatic rescue of all time he rescued the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt after protecting them from each of the ten plagues in turn
  •        He rescued Jonathan from the hand of his father, David, when he ate the honey because he didn’t know the rules
  •        David speaks repeatedly in the Psalms of God as his rescuer

·       God rescued.
  • Daniel from the lions den
  • Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo from the furnace
  • Jonah from the whale

·       Using Esther he rescued the whole nation from annihilation at the hands of Haman

·     29 times in the 21 chapters of Judges it speaks of the deliverance of Israel from their enemies

And all of this was just the preface for the greatest rescue of all time:

Luke 2:8-11 says this:

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [e]Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11

And it isn’t over yet. On a Sunday morning, Jesus got up and walked out of the grave, proving once and for all that there is nothing in this world we need to be afraid of or discouraged about. And He is coming back.

I will close with these words from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18:

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [m]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive [n]and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

“When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound….”

Monday, December 3, 2018

Encouraging a Small Church

I am speaking this weekend at the Roseville Church of Christ. My friend Richard Inyang, the regular preacher there, is in Cameroon where the locals are shooting at each other. I am concerned about Richard. Besides the church, he has a wife and three children here and a mother and father in Nigeria, next door to Cameroon. Nigeria is where the soldiers swoop in and kidnap whole schools of teenaged girls. Pray for his safe return and for the safety of his family and friends.

Richard asked me to speak words of encouragement to the Roseville church. He didn’t say they were discouraged; I am reading between the lines. I think a lot of small churches are discouraged. What should I tell them?

I can say that God is good, that Jesus saves, that he is coming back to rescue us, like he did the nation of Israel from Egypt, and I probably will mention all those things, but they know all that. Yet they are discouraged.

I am guessing they are discouraged because they have misinterpreted the mission of the church. They think we have been charged with saving the world and they see us losing ground in that fight. “Why aren’t we growing?” “Why aren’t we able to influence our neighbors?"

And perhaps they are focused on their personal situations and wish they were better. “How am I going to make next month’s rent?” “Why isn’t God rescuing me right now from my circumstances?”

I have to think about what the message should be. What do you think?