Dearest Hope Family,
Jim Valvano is legendary in this neck of the woods for his role in coaching the NC State Wolfpack to an NCAA basketball crown in 1983 and his enduring legacy as a cancer sufferer and one who raised money and awareness to fight the dreaded disease. In one of his final speeches for the foundation in his name, Valvano related a hilarious, self-deprecating account of himself delivering his first-ever pre-game “pep-talk” to his team. Wanting to combine drama and impact, Valvano ripped off the strategy and words of Vince Lombardi only to botch the pep-talk and not quite inspire the young men on his team to fight courageously on the floor.
It is no secret that we are all desperate for some interjection of courage into this fraught world of division, pandemic, and exhaustion, and it is also no secret that we routinely desire inspiration for the big tasks at hand as well as the litany of daily responsibilities and dilemmas we face routinely without interruption. Similarly, it is apparent that, like Valvano, we often grab at whatever we think will deliver the dose of courage or inspiration for the moment, and often find ourselves with a flat or unfulfilling “pep-talk” that fails to encourage.
Scott Sauls, a fellow PCA pastor in Nashville, regularly reminds his colleagues, “Pastors, as you prepare your sermons for Sunday, do so with the awareness that most people feel overburdened and under-encouraged.” What inspiring word or clever illustration or timeless truth do I need to craft for myself and others who are “overburdened” and “under-encouraged”? For the student who has felt robbed of her college-experience because of the pandemic? For the couple facing protracted, losing battles with infertility? For the person drained from chronic pain? For the front-line workers not quite able to muster motivation to stick with it?
Thankfully, Sauls doesn’t leave the challenge hanging without a bit of his own encouragement. He concludes, “The gospel of grace is the only sufficient answer to both!” For the over-burdened, free grace from Jesus promises and delivers relief from our burdens. For the under-encouraged, free grace from Jesus promises and delivers the solid ground of hope for any circumstance. Far from empty religious mumbo-jumbo or flat Christianese, the gospel of grace, on the lips of Christian believers to each other, is what lightens our loads and lifts up our heads.
In preparing for an upcoming funeral, I had the chance to review Paul’s simple conclusion and command to the church in Thessalonica along these lines. After explaining the hope of Christ’s return to make right the wrongs of sin and death, he charges these Christians – no doubt over-burdened and under-encouraged, “encourage each other with these words.” He commands encouragement because it is an easily depleted and sadly scarce resource.
Look at the people in your life. Look at the people in our church. Every single one is carrying something heavy – seen or, more often the case, unseen. Every single one is dangerously light on courage. Drink deeply of the gospel of grace for yourself and open up your mouth to relieve that burden and interject that courage that only the gospel of Christ’s grace can give.
I cannot wait till Sunday to give and receive that encouragement, friends!
Grace and peace,