Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spiritual Gifts Part 11: Exhortation, Not Just Another Pretty Faced Cheerleader

Hey gang!

I don’t talk about sports much here on One Man Revival, but I love them. I grew up on baseball, football and basketball. If they were on television, I was normally glued to the set. When I was in high school, I went to all the Bridgeport Indians football and basketball games, even if they were on the road. Of the two sports, I love to play basketball more. Even at 40, I still have a decent shot.

However, I love watching football. What I love most about football is the hitting. I’m not writing an article about condoning violence, but I watch football to see great plays and great hits. My friend Bill says I should be a bigger hockey fan because of the hitting. The late George Carlin once said, “The best part of sports is knowing that there are going to be some serious (expletives) injuries.”

Football purists need no reason to get excited other than knowing that the game is going to be on the tube or in their neighborhood. However, some people need encouraged to get fired up for their sports team. They need their chips and a drink. One of my female friends once asked me while watching a game on television, “Well, I’ll never understand this game. When I am supposed to cheer? There are no cheerleaders.” I just look at her and go, “WHAT?”

Sometimes people need that. No disrespect intended to cheerleaders everywhere, but when I am watching the game seriously, you are a distraction. Albeit a beautiful, dolled up distraction. You are helpful though to the novice or casual fan. You tell them when to cheer, what to say, and how excited to get. Even if our team is down 31-7, you’re right there continuing to encourage us to keep the faith. The purists may make fun of you saying, “Don’t they realize we’re down by more than three touchdowns?” Yes, yes they do.

I won’t mention this one cheerleader from our high school by name, because it might embarrass her, but I always remember that she cheered a lot based on the score. On many an occasion, if we were blasting a team, she always had this mocking in her voice that would crack me up. On the seldom occasion that we were losing, she would get all grumpy and have this almost Eeyore verbage that showed how far we were down. I wish this were a video blog just so I could demonstrate it.

But isn’t that the great part of cheerleaders? They are always encouraging us to win. It’s always better than Rob Schnieder going, “You can do it!” and a hundred times better than listening to Dick Vitale telling us that it is “Awesome, baby!”

Do you ever wish you had cheerleaders in other places in life? When you are having a bad day at work and feel like you’ll never finish, you could push a button on your phone and “BAM” cheerleaders show up telling you that you can get the job done. When you are stuck in traffic thinking you’ll never get home, you could turn to a cheer that would get those cars on down the road. When your kids want McDonald’s and you are struggling over the oven trying to make a nutritious meal, cheerleaders telling you to keep at it because you know it’s good for them. OK, maybe having cheerleaders all the time, might get a tad boring or annoying after a while, but occasionally as a change, wouldn’t that be awesome?

That is the point of today’s spiritual gift, exhortation. God wants us to win and he needs us to encourage others in the race. He makes us all different. He’s gifted people like Sidewalk Prophets, Chris Tomlin, and Third Day to encourage us in song. He’s gifted Mark Lowry, Mutzie, Brad Stine, and Steve Geyer to encourage us with comical wit. He’s gifted blogs like The Church of No People, Stuff Christians Like and me to encourage you over the internet. There are many more.

Exhortation is defined as the unique, God-given ability to encourage, strengthen, and admonish others for the purpose of helping them to reach their God-given potential. We’ve talked a lot about encouragement, which is the other term usually given to this gift. I haven’t talked much about strengthening and admonishing yet. Let’s do that. The strengthening part is usually this person walking beside you giving you a stronger belief in yourself and more importantly, in God. Exhorters have no problem letting you know that God is with you and that He is also working with you in your walk. They’ll tell you that you’re not alone. Do you ever feel like you forget that? I know I do. There are days when the world and people have just whipped me (figuratively, of course) and I feel alone. I have a couple friends back in Florida who had this gift dominantly. My friend Tim would always seem to know when to call me. God gave him a sense that I needed encouraged and he called to check on me.

Some people get worried that they’ll feel like pests if they act on the exhortation gift and call you. I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me that they had given up at times because they felt no one cared. The phone didn’t ring and they stayed alone. I’m not saying that people can be irresponsible to their own well being and stay alone, but I think there are times when we as Christians need to act on God’s impulses to call on a friend. Take the chance. Most people have no problem telling you if you’ve caught them at a bad time.

My friend Shawn is even more intrusive. He won’t call people. He just likes to show up at your house to check on you. He once told me that two of his friends liked to hide from him. I asked what he meant. With the invention of caller id, some people just don’t answer their phone. Especially if they have backslidden, they are more likely to drop you to voicemail and try to make excuses. Again, I’ll stress that people sometimes do need to be responsible for themselves and pick up the phone.

My friend Shawn’s other part of the exhortation gift is what bugged people the most. He’s even confessed to me that this is the part of the gift he hates, the admonishing. Webster defines admonish as to express warning or disapproval in a gentle or earnest manner. Let’s be honest for a moment. All of us have moments of messing up. We sin, whether by omission or commission, by accident or on purpose. That makes the exhorters have to help get us back in line.

Many years ago, I had a problem buying lottery tickets. I would often use the excuse that I had the money to play with and that it was helping education. No one was really getting hurt. Shawn and I were out one evening and went to a gas station. I bought a ticket. He didn’t say anything immediately. He let me scratch and lose my money first. We started driving down the road to our destination. He quoted me a few verses on how a fool and his money are soon parted and he realized that was getting him nowhere. Then, he stepped it up. He shared with me about how doing that may cause a brother to stumble. I can gamble, so a brother struggling with sex can go out clubbing and that’s OK too. He had me and I knew it. We don’t want to sin and give the message to others that it is fine for them to do the same.

Bryan Carraway talks about Barnabas as his primary example in the Bible. Barnabas saw potential in the apostle Paul after his conversion and it was his defense of Paul that helped the Israelites accept him. With this, he encouraged Paul and admonished the Israelites for judging Paul. Barnabas used the gift again when he attempted to persuade Paul to give John Mark a second chance in Acts 15 to go with them. It so divided the two that Barnabas went off to encourage John Mark and Paul went his own way. Exhorters believe in the good in people and find it hard to turn someone down that needs a second chance or more at serving God.

The greek word used in Scripture is parakaleo and Carraway tells us that this is the same root word where paraklete, the word describing the Holy Spirit comes from. The Holy Spirit inside us does exhort us in the three ways we’ve talked about at different times, as needed. Exhorters always seem to have our best interests at heart and do their best to put us toward success in what we are called to do.

The three prominent characteristics of exhorters show us how these with the gift will act. First, they are people-persons. They are very intuitive about people. If you have an exhorter that believes you are genuine, they will give you every chance to succeed. Next, exhorters want to see people find their potential in serving God. If they see negativity in any form (apathy, half-heartedness, defeatism), they will try to change bad attitudes into good ones. Whether it is giving you a pep talk or a good kick in the pants, exhorters will fill the role. Finally, exhorters bring spiritual growth along. It is not a surprise that these people will mentor others for a season, recommend books or other materials that will result in people overcome shortcomings.
Exhorters share the same desire I do. They want you to be able to look yourself in the mirror days, months and years from now and realize that you are closer to God than you were yesterday. We are close to halfway through the series and next time, we will talk about the gift of intercession. As we close today, I give you a video of a song I will be hearing in a few hours at Winter Jam 2010 in Champaign.

I found this video on YouTube and this is a fan-made video. Pretty awesome, I have to say.

I love you guys!

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