Spring Break! Back to all sermons

Date: April 4, 2014

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Tags: justice, judgment

Synopsis: This Friday, many schools (students and teachers) were away for spring break; a chance for a rest and a “mini-holiday” to be refreshed. The Apostle Paul talks about people who “refreshed his spirit.” In other words, they provided him with a “mini-holiday” spiritually, which in turn provided him with the refreshment and strength to keep going. In this message (Spring Break!) we comb the Scriptures for clues about how we can provide this kind of encouragement and refreshment to one another in the Body of Christ.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It’s Spring Break! Many of the schools in Abu Dhabi have closed for two weeks – giving both students and teachers a chance for a rest, a breather, a break in the routine before the final push to the end of the school year. Many teachers as well as families with children take advantage of this time of year to travel; to take a trip, to get away for some rest and relaxation. As a result, we often find that our attendance at ECC drops over this time period.

We all know the benefits of this kind of break. Life is hard. Work pressures or school pressures are often intense. Stress builds. Tension in relationships, both at work and at home, can build to the snapping point. And sometimes we do snap! We need a break, a release, a rest, even if only a short one, to refresh us and energize us to carry on.

It is my hope, my belief, my prayer that Friday worship services here at ECC can actually be one kind of weekly break and refreshment point for all of us.

Once a year, Abu Dhabi hosts an international Triathlon; a grueling endurance event that involves swimming, cycling and running. Some of you have participated in the event! I’ve enjoyed going down to the Corniche and watching it. At various points along the course volunteers will stand and hold out cups of water that the athletes can grab as they go by – and be refreshed to carry on in the race. I hope that the times we get together here at ECC serve that need for all of us in our spiritual lives.

What I want to talk about this morning is how we can all help make ECC that kind of refreshment point or “mini-break” for one another.

There is a phrase I noticed in the Bible during my devotions a few weeks ago. I don’t remember ever really noticing it before – but this time I did.

The phrase is found in 1 Corinthians 16:18. It reads like this: for they refreshed my spirit…

I just kind of sat there and looked at it, and thought to myself: what a wonderful phrase!

Then I thought: Who are the people who do that for me?

Then the Holy Spirit nudged me and I asked myself: Do I do this for other people? How can I do this for other people?

What does it mean to “refresh someone’s spirit”? I did a short Bible search and actually found this word or a similar phrase in five other places in the New Testament. I found it in Romans 15:32: so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

Then I found it in 2 Corinthians 7:13: Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.

It’s also in 2 Timothy 1:16: May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me

It is found twice in that little gem of the New Testament: Paul’s letter to Philemon. It is in verse 7: For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

It is also found in verse 20:  Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

So, this was something that Paul experienced and found valuable. He valued it when he experienced it himself, and he valued it when he saw “the hearts of the saints” being refreshed as well. But what exactly is it and how do we do it?

I did a search to see how different Bible versions translated this phrase. I especially liked the different and creative ways J.B. Phillips captured its meaning it in his paraphrase of the New Testament.

In 1 Corinthians 16:18, he translates: They are a tonic to you and to me.

Philemon 7 he writes as: It is your love…that cheers the hearts of your fellow Christians.

Philemon 20 appears as: such an act of love will do my old heart good.

But my favorite is Romans 15:32 passage which he translated this way: that I may even enjoy with you a little holiday.

That kind of sound like a Spring Break to me!

So how can we do that for one another? How can we refresh one another’s spirits, cheer one another’s hearts, be a tonic to one another, even provide one another with “little holidays” in the midst of our long and often difficult spiritual journeys?

As I thought about that question, another word came to me. It is the word “encouragement.” I don’t know about you, but when I think about what it is that refreshes my spirit or refreshes and cheers my heart, it is closely related to the word “encourage.” This is a word that occurs many times in the New Testament, so let’s examine it and see what we can discover.

First, we learn that an encourager comes along side. We discover this by taking apart the original Greek word for “encourage.” It is a compound word. One word means “to call.” The second word is the preposition meaning “beside” or “along side of.” From this we can see that encouragement is both a position as well as an activity. To do it effectively, we have to be in the right place. We have to be alongside. In those earlier passages we looked at, we find that it was often the arrival or visit of certain people that Paul said “refreshed his spirit.” There is something about physical presence that brings refreshment.

But we also have to communicate to the other person that we are with them in the struggle; that we are on their side as well as by their side. We are not above them or ahead of them or behind them. We are beside them. Effective encouragement comes out of effective relationships. A superior attitude tends to crush rather than encourage, even if the same words are spoken.

Second, we find that an encourager offers the help appropriate to the need of the moment.

One of the interesting things about this particular Greek word, (parakaleo) is that it isn’t translated the same way every time you see it. It’s kind of a “chameleon word” that changes color in different settings. Sometimes it is translated “encourage.” But other times it is translated “comfort” and in other places it can be translated “exhort” or “urge.”

Why does the word keep changing? The basic idea is to offer verbal assistance from a position alongside. But what kind of assistance is necessary? That depends on the circumstances and the need of the moment. If someone is sad, what do they need? They need comfort. If someone is timid and fearful, what do they need? They need courage; hence the translation “encouragement.” If someone is feeling lazy or reluctant and about to quit or give up, they might need exhortation and urging. What the encourager does is come alongside, assess the need of the moment and offer the appropriate help. That requires alertness. It also requires sensitivity to the other person’s feelings and needs. The encourager must be tuned into the person he’s with as well as tuned into the Holy Spirit to discern the need of the moment and speak the right words.

These first two points both come from the etymology or meaning of the word itself. But there is also a valuable lesson that we can learn from a man in the Bible who serves as a great role model. In fact, he was so good at it that the apostles in the Book of Acts gave him a nickname: they called him Barnabas, which means, “Son of Encouragement”. Barnabas had a knack for coming alongside of people and encouraging them. We don’t have time to unfold his whole story, but it’s enough to say that without Barnabas, we would have had no Apostle Paul. Barnabas was a leader in the very first ever “international church”, the church in Antioch. He was a co-leader in the very first missionary team to be sent out. We could go on.

But for the purpose of this message, I want to focus on his model for encouragement. From Barnabas we learn one very powerful and important lesson.

A true Christian encourager always has a Biblical goal and purpose in mind.

There is a great description of what Barnabas did when he arrived in the church at Antioch. It’s found in Acts 11:23: When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.

I actually like the way the New International Version translates that:

When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

I think that is a wonderful summary of the goal and purpose behind all true Christian encouragement. This is where Christian encouragement parts company from its secular counterpart. The world’s encouragement tells us: do what you feel like doing, do what’s right for you, do whatever you need to do to fulfill yourself and find yourself. The world’s encouragement is all about making people happy and helping them feel better. But Christian encouragement is about helping people be better.

As I said, the specifics and nuances of how to do that will vary from person to person and from situation to situation. That’s where the sensitivity comes in. But the goal is the same in the end. We want to come alongside of other believers to encourage them to remain steadfast in their loyalty to the Lord. Every believer has tough days, difficult weeks, painful months and even years. During those times we are often tempted to drift away, to abandon our faith or to give up. Yes, we need a break, a pause for refreshment. But then we need encouragement and exhortation to keep on keeping on.

Like those volunteers handing out water at the Triathlon. They are not shouting, “Sit down! Stop running!” They are handing out the water and then saying, “Keep going! You’re doing great!”

The Bible speaks to a specific kind of encouragement that we all need. Not only is life often difficult, but we are also all bombarded by temptations to sin. In this struggle we all need encouragement. There is a passage in Hebrews that makes this point. (By the way, there are those who believe that the Book of Hebrews was written by Barnabas!) In Hebrews 3:12-13, we read: Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort (encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

A true Christian encourager always has a Biblical goal or purpose in mind. This is hard to do sometimes. Sometimes, encouragement means saying something the other person doesn’t want to hear.

When I was in high school, I joined the Drama Club. This resulted in my one and only foray into the thespian world of acting and drama. The play we performed that year was called “Big Doc’s Girl.” I was assigned the role of the local pastor (I kid you not!). His name was Rev. MacCreighton. I actually don’t remember much about the play or my part. But one line from my part stuck with me and it’s come back to me over the years. In the play, I was being asked to say or do something that collided with my convictions. Here was my line: “I can’t help by denying what I believe in!”

That is a line that Biblical encouragement does not cross. True encouragement, Biblical encouragement; the kind that provides true refreshment and nourishment to the spirits and hearts of other believers ultimately is that encouragement that urges them to stay the course and remain true to the Lord.

We see it in Hebrews 10:25: not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

So this is the challenge I want to give to all of us this morning. I said at the beginning that it is always one of my desires and goals that the worship services here at ECC would be refreshment points in our spiritual journeys. Through the music and the prayer time and the preaching of the Word, the observance of the ordinances – I hope Fridays at ECC represent a kind of oasis experience; a chance to stop and rest and refocus and spend time with God and gather strength for the challenges of the week ahead.

But there is only so much that we can do from the front. I believe, from the point of view of refreshment, the most significant part of our Friday gatherings may well be what happens as we enter and then again as the worship service is dismissed. This is when you have a chance to minister to one another and to refresh and encourage one another. The greetings, the warm handshakes, or hugs, or kisses, depending on your culture; the warm smiles, the genuine question that asks, “How was your week?” And then really listens for the answer!

It is meeting with a member of the prayer team after the service, but also the informal prayers we say for one another. It’s the willingness to say to someone, “Can I pray for you right now about that?” And then do it!

Let me also say that this kind of encouragement is not limited to Friday or Sunday when we gather together. It can (and should) happen as we get together in Life Groups and Men’s and Women’s Bible studies. It can happen one on one throughout the week, with a phone call, a text, an email: “How are you doing? I am praying for you! Let’s have coffee. How did you do on that exam?” It is done through sincere expressions of thanks and appreciation. When what someone has done has been a blessing to you, let them know! You’d be amazed how refreshing and encouraging that can be.

This kind of refreshment doesn’t come from formal strategies or task forces, though they have their place. This is just the Body of Christ functioning as a body, with every member caring for other members. It happens through spontaneous expressions of love and caring.

I wonder what might happen if everyone of us prayed before coming to church: “Lord, help me refresh the spirit of at least one person today!” Then as you get in the taxi or car to go home after church, based on your interactions during the morning, ask yourself, “What can I do during this week that will ‘refresh the spirit’ of one of my brothers or sisters?”

I think we would find that every Friday becomes a “spring break” and every week we can provide someone with a “little holiday” of rest, reviving them for the journey ahead.

Discussion Questions

1. The Apostle Paul makes several references in Scripture to people who, he says, “refreshed my spirit.” Share within your group about people in your experience who have had that effect on you.

2. Now reflect on what people have shared. Are there common factors (either in what was done or the character of the people) that led to people being “refreshed”?

3. Barnabas was a master encourager. Acts 11:23 describes the goal and purpose of Biblical encouragement. How is this different from the way the rest of the world defines encouragement? Why is it important to keep this distinction in mind?

4. Read Hebrews 3:12-13. What are some specific ways we can obey this verse (it is a command!)?

5. Read Hebrews 10:25. What does this add to our understanding of encouragement?

6. Write down several “I will…” statements for how you intend to refresh someone’s spirit/heart in the next week and share at least one of them with the others in the group. (You will be asked to report back next week!)