New Years Encouragements
January 9, 2018 by Trent Hunter 0 comments
It’s a new year and this is a time for resolutions. There are good reasons at the turn of a year to resolve to do this or that. We’re always growing and in need of change. And churches do well to resolve to grow and to change in specific ways.
But that’s not what I’m in the mood for. Resolutions tend to look at what’s missing or what’s wrong as a reason for great effort. In the months and years ahead there will be plenty of opportunity for that. In fact, we give ourselves to repentance daily, and every Sunday is a chance to be reformed by the Word. Here in this post, however, I want to look at what we’ve got as reasons for great encouragement.
After all, resolutions are biblical, but so is encouragement. It’s what Paul did with his early disciples, “encouraging them” with “much encouragement” in the midst of persecution and trouble (Acts 20:1–2). In fact, it’s what Paul did for the Colossian church, as we’ve heard in recent months. Consider what that encouragement was for: “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2–3).
We are in a fallen world and we are ourselves fallen people with many reasons for discouragement. No wonder, then, that encouragement is basic to pastoral leadership.
So, here’s some encouragement. Five reasons, actually. I’m sure I’ll think of more in the hour after I post this blog. But here are five things that come to mind.
First, God’s Word is taking root in our church.
This is what any pastor wants, deep down. There are many factors that make for a healthy church. But there is no health apart from the Word which brings life. Brothers and sisters, you are receiving the Word with joy. You even received a hard Word from God with joy. Several of you, through our touchy section of Colossians 2 on the subject of “Add-on Christianity,” said to me, “Hey, this has been hard for me. I think I’m a legalist.” Or, “Judgmentalism is a temptation for me, and I need to hear this.” Others followed up with questions about the implications of our study, from a sincere desire to live in line with God’s Word. Nothing makes me happier, friends.
Second, hospitality is happening all the time.
Hospitality is that underappreciated but powerful means of strengthening the church, and you’re good at it. Over the past nine months our family has been making visits to Shepherding Groups on Sunday and Wednesday nights. We have watched you host your brothers and sisters. As you get up close with one another, we’ve seen you care for one another in concrete ways, fulfilling the twin-command, “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Ro. 12:13). Our family has also enjoyed invitations into many of your homes for a meal or dessert. I’m a pretty social guy, but I have felt at times (only at times!) like a turtle pulling into his shell after getting handled too much. Just trying to work in a turtle reference here. But that’s a good problem. Young and old, new members and veterans, you have shown great hospitality to one another and we have first-hand experience. Thank you and keep it up.
Third, you suffer well and bear one another’s burdens.
Our beloved sister, Geneva Anderson died two weeks ago. Her funeral was this past Friday. Geneva had a multi-decade battle with cancer, as you may well know. She often wondered why it was so hard for her to die. I believe she put it that way herself. And, of course, if you knew her you knew that she didn’t say those words from a desire for pity. Rather, her whole process of homegoing was a ministry to all of us. It seems that Geneva knew what God may have been doing through her life, and through her peculiar death: giving us a chance to show off Jesus’ work in us, who said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Another passage comes to mind as well, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Well done, Geneva, and well done, Heritage.
Fourth, your leaders humbly seek to be led by Scripture.
You never know what you’ll find when you join a new team. Since arriving here, I’ve joined a whole host of teams. The staff, several smaller teams among the staff, our elders, and I’ve popped into other meetings as well—men’s ministry, missions, deacons, children’s workers, etc. Here’s what I have found: a surprising lack of politicking and grumbling, and a significant measure of graciousness and effort to be more biblical. Oh there are exceptions because we are sinners. And that’s okay. Our foibles in our ministry together keep us humble, reminded that we need our Lord’s help. But I wish all of you could be with us in our elders meetings as we discuss what an elder is and does, what God’s qualifications are for the office, and how we can bring our work more in align with the Scriptures. We’re in the middle of a 1–2 year process along these lines. It’s a slow process but it will bear much fruit, Lord willing. Or how about the missions committee, who is laboring to define our mission in missions, and to lead us there. That’s a slow cook too, but will bear fruit in the years ahead. I could make similar comments for the men’s, women’s, children’s ministries, and others.
Fifth, we have a great foundation for the future.
I met you just one year ago next month. By that time, I had learned much about you. But in my visit in February I began to see up close what I had heard, and over this past year I have experienced personally confirmation after confirmation. You—now, we—are a people who want to see Jesus Christ exalted among the nations. We are a people who want our church to be known for its love and for its peace, and most importantly its Savior. We are a people who want our neighbors to join us in the worship of the Son of God. We are a people who hold fast to the Scriptures as God’s inerrant, trustworthy, and wholly sufficient Word. And we are a people whose only hope in life and death is that we belong to Jesus Christ. His blood and righteousness is everything to us.
Already a few more things have come to mind, but I’ll stop there. I’m already encouraged enough.
Notice something with me before I sign off. These are not, on the surface, spectacular feats. They don’t have a campaign attached to them, and they don’t mark a new and exciting season of church life. These reasons for encouragement are in the ordinary and everyday things in our life as God’s people.
Ordinary as they are, let us not take for granted the grace of God manifest among us. Rather, be encouraged. And as those who are encouraged with God’s ordinary, supernatural work among us, let’s resolve to give ourselves to more of the same. This encouragement thing—the early disciples needed it and so do we. So, let’s resolve to do more of it together in 2018.