Blog Post By Gary Henry

How Do We Measure "Encouragement"?

If you needed encouragement and someone encouraged you, how would you be different? Having been encouraged, what would be the difference between the “before” and “after”?

Unfortunately, most people would say that being “encouraged” mainly means they “feel better” emotionally. In an age of subjective individualism, where human feelings are the ultimate value and highest authority, nothing is more significant than how we feel. So problems like discouragement are defined primarily in terms of feelings. To be discouraged means to feel “down,” while to be encouraged means to feel “up.” And in this cultural milieu, “encouraging preaching” usually amounts to some variation of “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Now, feelings of defeat and depression are certainly unpleasant, and we like to avoid them whenever we can. But these feelings, which often accompany discouragement, should not be confused with the problem itself. The real problem lies deeper and has to do with our will rather than our emotions. What we need is to be jolted into action.

Look at the word “encourage.” You can see the root word “courage.” The basic meaning, then, is “to impart courage to.” And as any soldier can tell you, courage is more than a feeling; it’s an action.

So test yourself. Did you find last Sunday’s sermon “encouraging”? Was it “encouraging” to have that heart-to-heart talk with a friend? Be careful how you answer. If you say yes, but all you mean is that you feel better, I would suggest that you have not been truly (or at least fully) encouraged. In the deepest sense, you will have been encouraged when you do what is right — and you keep on doing it.

There is no more encouraging book in the New Testament than Hebrews. Written to Christians whose faith was wavering, this powerful treatise says one thing: don’t give up. I read the entirety of Hebrews to a church one time as my last “sermon” to them. I wanted to encourage them, and I could think of no better way to do it than to read Hebrews. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus , the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1,2).

So to those of us who teach, preach, and write, let’s be careful in our definition of “encouragement.” If the result of our work is that people simply feel better but they are still too afraid to jump that dangerous chasm in front of them, we have not really “imparted courage” to them. So let’s be truly — and deeply — encouraging. Let’s embolden people to take those scary steps that faith would take, even if their hearts are quaking. Courage, as has been said, is not the absence of fear; it is going ahead and doing the right thing even when our feelings are failing us.

Gary Henry –

The post The (Real) Difference Encouragement Makes appeared first on WordPoints.

Throwing Deep, Into Heavy Coverage

Throwing Deep, Into Heavy Coverage

It is football season. Although progressivism and political correctness say we’re not supposed to enjoy football anymore, I still like it.

Like most fans, I am thrilled when a quarterback throws “deep,” attempting a pass to a receiver far downfield, often under heavy coverage by defenders. Even if the pass is not caught, the attempt to do something unexpectedly bold is exciting. I believe it is also admirable.

On January 2, 1967, I got to sit in the old Tulane Stadium in New Orleans while Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide played the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Sugar Bowl that year. On the very first play from scrimmage, Kenny Stabler, Alabama’s left-handed magician of a quarterback, hit Ray Perkins with a 45-yard bomb that stunned the Nebraska defense and their fans. They never recovered, as Stabler kept throwing one deep, devastating pass after another. Alabama won the game 34-7 — and they didn’t do it by avoiding risk and playing it safe.

In my life, I’ve often “thrown deep, into heavy coverage” — sometimes with disastrous results. But although I’ve gained wisdom from each of my big mistakes (and the biggest ones have done tragic damage), I hope those bad experiences haven’t made me so conservative that I won’t take any more chances. I would rather fail trying to achieve a bold, disruptive vision than to succeed in doing something that was merely “safe.” Despite the mistakes, I hope to keep throwing deep.

Yes, we do need to be careful. Prudence is a virtue (Proverbs 22:3). But in life as in sports, our objective must be more than simply the avoidance of mistakes. A quarterback too “prudent” to throw deep will not help his team very much, and a human being who won’t do anything “unsafe” is not going to be of much help to anybody either.

Many examples come to mind, but here’s just one. Many of us who preach are playing it safe. Like an athlete who plays only to “keep from losing,” we seem to have no higher objective than to keep from offending anybody (at least those who provide our paycheck). When we have something to say that might truly be challenging and provoke some real change, we pull our punches. Lest anyone think we’re suggesting there’s any change they need to make, we soften our statements with so many qualifications, exceptions, yes-buts, and fine print, by the time we get done, we haven’t really said anything at all. Whether in the pulpit or in print, we make our points so “safely,” we seem to be apologizing for having made the points in the first place. This was not the way Jesus taught, of course. He was willing to “throw deep, into heavy coverage.”

So preachers, many others will tell you to be careful, and you should listen to them. But I say, if you’ve counted the cost, be willing to pay it. Run some risks. Stick your neck out. Rock the boat. If you’re not willing to do that, don’t be so foolish as to say you’re emulating Jesus.

Gary Henry –

The post Throwing Deep, Into Heavy Coverage appeared first on WordPoints.

Blog Post By Gary Henry

Salvation . . . y Mas!

Sometimes, I guess, doing the “same old thing” is not enough. In California recently, I noticed that CVS Pharmacy has opened a new group of stores branded “CVS Pharmacy y Más.” In Spanish, of course, y más means “and more.” The new stores are doing well, apparently.

It occurs to me that churches are also doing the y más thing. In fact, I know very few that aren’t doing it. In the world today, consumerism has gained a nearly total dominance in our minds, and it is difficult for us even to think outside the box of this mindset. In religious and spiritual matters, areas where you would think consumerism has no relevance, churches not only think in terms of marketing but even outdo businesses at their own game. And I am not talking about denominational churches that have joined the “church growth” movement. In this post, I’m concerned with the number of “our” congregations that cater to members who would not worship there if there wasn’t a good bit of y más going on. It’s time to admit it: the gospel is no longer enough. What used to be extras have become essentials, if a church expects to grow.

The gospel has become a generic “commodity” (ordinary, uninteresting, and of low perceived value). Offering the gospel is not nearly enough anymore to make a church a place that people would want to go to. Today, it’s all about the extras . . . the y más. Acting like consumers, people typically go to church where they find the extras they want. “The gospel? Well, yes, you can get that in several churches near us. But we’re looking for a church where they also have __________ .”

Some will say they despise this kind of thinking, and they have in mind mega-churches that draw crowds with rock-band music, rock-star preaching, and rock-arena church buildings. But that doesn’t worry me as much as my brothers and sisters who will often drive right past a sound congregation that desperately needs their help in the Lord’s work in order to worship with a group that offers “more” — more youthfulness, more friendliness, more married couples with children, more enthusiastic singing, more interesting preaching. Worship . . . y más. In short, a nicer “experience.” After all, in a consumer society, it’s the “experience” that counts. Starbucks succeeds by brewing up an experience, not just coffee. The NFL succeeds by putting on an experience, not just an athletic competition. And churches succeed by providing an experience, not just the gospel. It would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

And what about us as individuals? Are we content with salvation or do we require salvation y más? How honest are we about what really attracts us? Is it the gospel itself, or is it the extras? In a day when so many interesting temporal things often accompany the Christian’s hope of heaven, how many of us would continue to do what we do (and worship where we worship) if the extras were taken away?

Gary Henry –

The post Salvation . . . y Mas! appeared first on WordPoints.

Blog Post By Gary Henry

Shutting Out the Noise

While speaking in Newark, Ohio recently, the brother who led our thoughts at the Lord’s Table on Sunday morning made some points that have stuck with me. He talked about the need for us, while observing the Lord’s Supper, to “shut out the noise.” In an increasingly “noisy” world, this is an important bit of advice.

The most obvious noise comes from our digital devices and their incessant barrage. The mass of “things to know” and “things to do” is beyond comprehension. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Just life itself, whether digital or not, is complicated. No aspect of it is simple these days. And the cumulative effect of the whole thing is that our minds are rarely free from the demands placed upon us by information, activities, and relationships. To repeat, it’s a very “noisy” world that we live in.

There is no changing the way the world is, of course. The clock can’t be turned back, and it is foolish to try. So what are we to do?

One thing we can do, as the brother indicated at the Lord’s Table, is consciously “shut out the noise” when we need to. We can deliberately reject every thought except the one we wish to be thinking about, focusing our complete (and restful) attention on that single truth or principle. I don’t say this is easy, but I say it can be done. At least it can be learned. Even if our minds are not used to being disciplined, we can start training them today. Little by little, we can acquire the ability to meditate on just one thing — and really let that one thing sink in.

Learning to “shut out the noise” takes practice and training, especially if we’ve not been making any effort to do this lately. As with any skill, we learn it gradually, starting small and then learning to take bigger steps. The growth is not immediate; it is incremental. If we can quiet our minds today for only a few seconds, the day will come — if we keep working at it — when we can do it for a few seconds longer.

But here is my point: we won’t be able to “shut out the noise” at special times (like the Lord’s Supper) if we haven’t been practicing the discipline at other times. So I recommend having a “quiet time” each day, if nothing else just for the “training” effect of it. It’s an old idea, but it’s valuable.

Granted, there is nothing specifically “Christian” about this. Buddhists and Hindus have long known the value of “mindfulness” and “meditation.” Nobody owns the exclusive rights to this discipline; it is the common property of the human race. But if it has been a tool that people in general have found helpful in their various pursuits, how much more valuable would it be for a Christian to use in pursuit of the highest of all goals. If tools take their character from those who use them and from the use to which they are put, the practice of “shutting out the noise” can be an honorable tool when used to bring us quietly before God’s throne for a few moments of rest and reflection each day.

Gary Henry –

The post Shutting Out the Noise appeared first on WordPoints.

Blog Post By Gary Henry

Many Things are True in Two Senses

In Bible classes, it is common to hear people speak out in defense of two separate, but equally true, positions. For instance, I heard a brother recently emphasize our need to see eternal life as a present possession (1 John 5:13), and another brother responded that we have the hope of eternal life (Titus 1:2). Both of these are true; they simply present life in Christ from two different perspectives.

When we read the Scriptures, it becomes clear that some passages talk about the “already” part of life in Christ and others talk about the “not yet.” These passages are not in conflict. Both are needed, and if we quit thinking about either of these perspectives, our faith becomes unbalanced and ineffective. Consider three examples.

Salvation. The Christian’s salvation is a present reality. “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). But we are also in the process of being saved. Peter wrote, “You believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8,9).

Kingdom of God. God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13), but we have not yet gained “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). So the Scriptures speak of God’s kingdom as both a present reality and also a future hope.

Holiness. In Christ, we are “saints” or “holy ones,” and we are “holy brothers” (Hebrews 3:1). Together, the Lord’s people constitute a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). But holiness is also a goal. Paul urges us to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Each of these points should remind us that our salvation in Christ is both an accomplished fact and also a growth process. Generally speaking, the present aspect of our salvation provides a “sedative,” and the future aspect serves as a “stimulant.” When we’re discouraged, we need to hear that our salvation has been accomplished by Christ so that we can rest securely in His grace. But when we’re lackadaisical, we need to hear that it is only the penitent and the diligent who are going to finish the race. Every Christian needs both truths. This morning we may need a “sedative,” but by this afternoon we’ll very likely need a “stimulant.”

The multi-dimensioned nature of truth is one reason we need to study all of the Bible. It is only by exposing our minds to every page of the Scriptures that we can avoid over-emphasizing one part of the truth at the expense of others. And mark it well: the more you think one perspective is “what we really need to hear right now,” the more you probably need to pay attention to the remainder of the Scriptures. The parts you don’t like to hear are often the parts you need the most.

Gary Henry –

The post Many Things Are True in Two Senses appeared first on WordPoints.