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I Peter 4:8-11 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Silent Prayer

Before I move into the main part of this morning’s message, let me say it has been fun hearing from many of you about the ways you have served a member of your family this past week.  I’ve heard about cars being warmed up, foot massages being given, books being read to people, books being purchased to give to family to help them draw closer to the Lord, and more.

2010 is the year of the word “Yes”  which stands for the “Year Everyone Serves.”  We want to be practical in our Christianity and put hands and feet to our faith through our Christian service.  In fact, the staff and ministry directors are already planning a whole Saturday called “The Twelve Hours of Service” for this summer where we hope every church member will be involved in one of six service projects that will each last for two hours.  Could we get 100% participation on that day where each of us gives two hours of our time to serve in some capacity?  I believe we can.

Verse 10 of I Peter 4 says that everyone is supposed to serve.  Not just those with the spiritual gift of hospitality, but everyone. There is no great or small service.  Every gift is needed.  Every person is needed.  Every contribution is important.

In March of 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley, Jr., and was hospitalized for several weeks. Although Reagan was the nation’s chief executive, his hospitalization had little impact on the nation’s activity. Government continued on.

On the other hand, suppose the garbage collectors in this country went on strike?  Just a three-week nationwide strike would paralyze the country.

Who is more important-the President or a garbage collector? In the body of Christ, seemingly insignificant ones are urgently needed. Remember, each gift is necessary in the Body and important to God.  I’ve been given challenges in sermons before and I found them quite difficult.  Your assignment to serve 52 times this year is an easy one if you will just wake up with the mindset that you want God to use you each day.  Charles Kingsley said, “Have your tools ready and God will find you work.” Our good friend “Aunt Jessica,” is always ready for the unexpected.  She keeps screwdrivers and first aid kits in her purse.  She’s always ready when a need arises.  That’s just the way we should live as Christians.  Be ready to serve and God will give you an assignment.

We learned last Sunday from I Peter 4 that we are to serve through loving people deeply.  We are to serve through showing hospitality without grumbling and we are to serve by allowing God’s grace to flow through us, even to people we don’t like.

Using the same Scripture, this week I want to challenge you to serve one another with your words.  Hear I Peter 4:11 again, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” What I want to focus on today is the idea that we can serve one another with our words, and when we do, Jesus will be praised and God will get the glory.  Literally, God speaks through us.

In the New Revised Standard Version, Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so you’re your words may give grace to those who hear.” You’ll remember last week I said that I Peter 4 told us we were to be grace agents.  One main way we do that is through the words that we speak.  James 3 tells us that the tongue has the power to bless or curse; that our words literally hold the power of life and death.

Some translations say, “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” What would evil or unwholesome talk be?

I’m gonna get something out of the way before I go on.  Christians, please listen closely.  Name calling, belittling and swearing at people is completely unacceptable speech for Christians.  We are to serve God’s grace to people with our words and when we call people names, belittle them or swear at them, we aren’t serving God, but the devil.  It is the devil’s mission to tear down and destroy people.  This is serious business with serious consequences.  Many people have lived below their potential and have turned to less than God’s best for their lives because of some inconsiderate, arrogant, or jealous person who ran their mouth like a machine gun spewing destruction all over people’s lives.  If you are a Christian, your speech is supposed to serve God and His purposes.

James 3:9-10 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, WHO HAVE BEEN MADE IN GOD’S LIKENESS. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

But James issued a warning: a fountain cannot give forth two kinds of water, and a tree cannot bear two different kinds of fruit. We expect the fountain to flow with sweet water at all times, and we expect the fig tree to bear figs and the olive tree to bear olives. Nature reproduces after its kind.

If the tongue is inconsistent, there is something radically wrong with the heart. If that is the case, confession and repentance and asking for God to do a work in your life and in your mind and mouth are needed.

Some people think that the only argument against foul talk, calling people names, and bad language is that it is simply bad manners or socially unacceptable. But God’s word condemns it. James says that the reason we should not curse people is because they have been made in God’s likeness. We should not use any word or name that reduces them to anything less than their full stature as God’s created beings. Parents, spouses, siblings-think about your speech in the last week.  Did it serve up God’s grace or Satan’s undermining attacks?  We are to live crucified lives with crucified tongues.

What else would be unwholesome talk?  The Bible addresses gossip frequently. A physician in a Midwestern city was a victim of a disgruntled patient who tried to ruin him professionally through rumor, and almost did. Several years later the gossiper had a change of heart and wrote the doctor asking his forgiveness, and he forgave her. But there was no way she could erase the story, nor could he. The damage was done. Hereafter the innocent doctor would always look into certain eyes and wonder if they had heard the story—and if they believed it.

Another unacceptable way of speaking is criticism.  It is easy to see the things that we think people should change.  One of my “gifts” is to see what is wrong with something.  That’s how I’m wired.  It’s not my natural inclination to see what goes right first.  I have to work hard to keep myself in check.  If I don’t, I’m just walking around ready to point out to everyone what isn’t working.  You all want to sign up to be my new best friend, don’t you? I have to work hard at not being negative.  Just because that’s how I process things doesn’t give me the right to spew every thought that pops into my head into everyone’s lap that passes by me.  Just because something may be true doesn’t mean it is helpful.  Remember, the goal of our speech is that it will be helpful; that it will build people up; that it will give grace to the person who hears it.

One of the biggest problems in relationships is an abundance of criticism and a lack of edification.  Christians, when we criticize, spouse when we criticize, parents, when we criticize, we are exalting the negative.  How many of you know the best way to reinforce behavior is to exalt it and highlight it and talk about it and focus on it?  We need to get off of the negative because when we harp on it, we reinforce it.  We are supposed to be the people of a positive report, with good things to say, with praise to give.

In some of our homes, we need to go on a fast.  We need to start fasting every critical comment for 30 days.  We need to be quiet about it and pray about it rather than point it out.  We don’t always need to tell someone when they’ve done wrong.  Wouldn’t you love it when you did something wrong if someone would just NOT mention it?

Did you know that when you criticize people you are weakening them making it more likely that they will never change-that they will never improve?  We are supposed to use words that give power and strength to people to enable them to change.

Criticism can take many forms, but it is always motivated by self doubt and jealousy.  Someone said, “Criticism has its place, but it always takes second place to encouragement.”

I’m not saying that you should never point out where someone could improve or where something was overlooked that needed to be attended to, but I’m saying that criticism that is constant or done with the wrong motivation isn’t helpful and can be used of Satan to ruin people.

There is a difference between being corrected and being criticized.  People who love to criticize are people with critical spirits. Let me offer some help in distinguishing between constructive criticism and a critical spirit.  A person with a critical spirit passes judgment along with the comment. Romans 14:10 says, “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother?”

People with critical spirits pass a judgment when they pass along a comment.  The judgment might be, “You’re stupid.”  “You’re ugly.”  “You’re no good.”  But with their negative comment there is an underlying tone that implies they have judged the person rather than given grace to them and tried to help them.  Criticism is constructive when the goal is to build the person up, to assist them, to help them move forward.

So we know what unwholesome or evil talk is.  What is the kind of talk that gives grace to people and builds them up?  It’s basically encouragement.  Encouragement will empower and elevate people to be what God has created them to be. I guess if you’re looking for a point to this message, that’s it.  We are to empower and elevate people and when we do, we have served them grace with our speech.

I posted the question on Facebook, asking people to recall a time in their lives when a word of encouragement made a big difference in their lives.

Our web designer, B.G. Hamrick wrote that his high school track coach used to tell him, “”No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, it can all start over today. Your future is yet to be written and it’s not dependent on your past” Changed my life and direction in a big way!”  When would B.G. have received that comment?  It probably wouldn’t have been during practice.  It would have come after he didn’t win the race, when he was feeling vulnerable, when he needed to be picked up emotionally.  I’ve seen coaches literally shred their players with their words in the middle of the game.  Why not offer a word of encouragement and then work on what needs fixing during practice when the player is refreshed and ready to improve?

Pastor Wendy wrote, “During my middle school and high school years, my youth pastor encouraged me regularly. He would always say, “I could see you in ministry Wendy” or “I think God has big things in store” or “Stay Motivated,” stuff like that. I believe that made a very positive difference in my life!”

Danielle Williams recalled a time when she sang her first solo in church and Brenda Thomas sent her a card telling her to keep singing for the Lord.  She says she still has the card.  Can you imagine what kind of confidence that gave Danielle as she prepared for the next number?

Others talked about the encouragement a teacher offered.  Can you think of someone who served as an encourager in your life?  Someone whose positive words made a big impact or a great difference in your life?

Achievers like Pat Summitt, the Lady Volunteer’s Basketball Coach, demand the best from themselves and others. You might think that her high standards and demanding ways are the reason her teams have won three national titles over the past four years, but you’d only be partially right.

After a dry spell in the mid 90’s, Summitt popped a cork on the long ride home from a game the team should have won. Summitt chewed on one of her seniors so hard that it devastated the athlete. After a sleepless night, the player, called her coach at six in the morning saying she needed more than to be told when she makes mistakes, she needs some encouragement too.

That early morning phone call served as a “wake-up call” for Summitt in more ways than one. Slowly, she’s changed her ways to avoid breaking a player’s spirit. Her new combination of high standards and an encouraging spirit is taking the Lady Volunteers to a new level.

Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt flavors things and makes them better.  Your speech should flavor people’s lives and make them better.  What you say should empower them to become elevated from where they are.

Robert Schuller tells a story about a banker who always tossed a coin in the cup of a legless beggar who sat on the street outside the bank. But, unlike most people, the banker would always insist on getting one of the pencils the man had beside him. “You are a merchant,” the banker would say, “and I always expect to receive good value from merchants I do business with.” One day the legless man was not on the sidewalk. Time passed and the banker forgot about him, until he walked into a public building and there in the concession stand, sat the former beggar. He was obviously the owner of his own small business now. “I have always hoped you might come by someday,” the man said. “You are largely responsible for me being here. You kept telling me that I was a ’merchant’. I started thinking of myself that way, instead of a beggar receiving gifts. I started selling pencils — lots of them. You gave me self-respect, caused me to look at myself differently.”

Adam Clarke, in one of his commentary says, “I often read a little book called “God is in the Small Stuff.” In the book there is a dissertation on encouragement. I would like to share that with you this morning.

People seldom think of encouragement as a gift because it seems so ordinary. But it isn’t. Encouragement is actually quite rare {because it is seldom given} and it is so valuable {because it is so meaningful to the recipient}. In our humble opinion, encouragement makes the perfect gift, and here’s why:

1. It’s free.
Encouraging someone requires absolutely no cash outlay. This doesn’t mean there is no cost. It may cost you time creativity, and thoughtfulness. But all of that is what makes encouragement so appreciated. It requires something from you, not just something from your wallet.

2. It requires no shopping.
You do not have to a make a trip to the mall for this gift. Many times this gift can be delivered from the home or the office. Writing a note of support or making an encouraging phone call may be all that’s necessary.

3. It doesn’t have to be gift wrapped.
Attractive wrapping adds to the appeal of a gift, but none is needed with encouragement. It is a beautiful all by itself.

4. It can be custom-designed.
You don’t have to worry about sizes. But you must still give some thought to making your gift of encouragement a perfect fit. You have to think about some details–what are the best words of comfort, motivation, or support the person needs to hear.

5. It doesn’t require batteries.
So many gifts require batteries as an energy source. Not so with encouragement. It creates and energy all by itself. If you don’t think so, just watch the increase in activity when you motivate someone with a kind and supportive comment.

6. It will last a lifetime.
Think about it. What other gift could you give to a child that will have value for years later? Encouragement can do just that. A little word can make a big difference, and the results can be life changing.

Proverbs 15:23 says that the right word spoken in the right season brings great joy to people, making a great difference in their lives.  I’m convinced that it would be easy to not let a day go by without encouraging someone.  Even if you live alone and don’t get out of the house on a given day, there is a letter you can write or a call you can make to lift someone up.

Let’s not be stingy with our positive comments.  Let’s not be like the hard hearted husband whose wife was ready to file for divorce after 30 years of marriage. “I have had it, living with you. You never tell me you love me anymore,” the wife said. To which the husband replied, “I told you I loved you when we got married; if I change my mind I’ll let you know.” Why not lavish positive words on people rather than make them guess how we feel about them?

In Acts 13:15 the Apostle Paul makes an APPEAL – “Brothers, sister, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak!”  We get down.  We’re easily depressed.  We get focused on the wrong things.  We need to hear an encouraging word.

Throughout the Bible, we see effective leaders using the power of encouragement.

What did Moses tell the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 31:6?  “Be strong and of good courage.  Do not fear nor be afraid of them.  For the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you.  He will never leave you or forsake you.”  What a great pep talk.  He tells them they don’t have to be afraid because God is with them.  Sometimes that’s all the encouragement we need.  We just need to be reminded that God is with us and we can walk through whatever we’re facing with His help.

Hezekiah gave encouragement to all of the Levites in II Chronicles 30:22.  Josiah gave encouragement to the priests in II Chronicles 35:2.  Hezekiah knew even leaders grow weary and need to be encouraged.  Those of you who are managers or bosses, look after those under your care, and lift them up with your words.

Something I appreciated about the Pastor I worked with in Cincinnati was that he would regularly just say, “How are you doing?”  “How is Thom?”  “How can I pray for you?”

The Apostle Paul was an encourager.  Acts 20:2 says that as he traveled he spoke words of encouragement.  Even when he got out of prison, Acts 16:40 says, he and Silas went to Lydia’s house to encourage the Christians there.  It was so part of Paul’s DNA that even though he had just gotten out of jail, he started encouraging people right away.

A guy called JOSES was such a legend at encouraging that the Christians in Jerusalem decided to rename him BARNABAS, which means ‘Son of Encouragement!’

Proverbs 16:24 says pleasant words bring healing to the bones.  Do you know how many hurting people are walking around and the condition that they have can be cured with something you have the power to give?  Encouragement can bring healing to the bones.

Write someone a note to brighten their day.  Did you ever considered how the New Testament letters are “encouragement notes” to the churches? A note or email saying “I’m praying for you,” or “I care,” means so much to someone who is lonely, grieving, or discouraged.

I read about a University football coach in the U.S. who each year would privately talk to a new player at the beginning of the football season. He told him, ’I’m very impressed with your ability. If you work really hard this year, I think you’re good enough to make it to the National Football League.’ He told this to every player on the team! You know what happened? He had the highest percentage of players of any University to make it into professional football.

This week’s challenge comes right from the Bible.  Hebrews 3:13 says “Encourage one another daily.” Encourage someone every day to be at their best for God.

Remember what I said earlier, “Encouragement will empower and elevate people to be what God has created them to be.” Let God’s grace flow through you to others as you offer words of encouragement.  Your assignment this week is to serve someone with your words of encouragement.

Pray this prayer out loud in closing with me.  It is from Psalm 19:14. 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

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