In 1986 we learned my wife, Sharon, had the beginnings of Stage 3 Breast Cancer.
God used this frightening time to remind us of the fragility of life. Living with the specter of cancer, we promised to never take for granted our love for each other or our four children. Every decision we then made was rooted in understanding we have no promise of earthly tomorrows.
Six years later our sixteen-year-old son, Mark, and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident. Their deaths threw everything we believed into the Refiner’s Fire.
When God’s promises of sufficiency, joy and peace seemed far away and impossible for Him to keep in the aftermath of death’s defilement, He reminded us of Isaiah 45:2-3:
"I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, Who summons you by name."
Slowly the healing balm of encouragement emerged as a treasure in the darkness that broke through the fog of anguish and hopelessness. From the moment of the deaths of Mark and Kelly, God kept the promises of Isaiah 45 by using the Body’s practice of biblical encouragement. Though our congregation also mourned, they gave us what they could. They believed for us when we couldn’t believe for ourselves. The cards, personal notes, and practical service were our lifeline to the reality of His character. When we felt betrayed by God and refused to acknowledge His love for us, He sent the Body to be a physical demonstration of that love. God’s people became God’s promise keepers.
Biblical encouragement is not fixing another person’s broken heart. It’s becoming a channel of God’s compassion that helps turn that person’s heart toward God. In this world that has such enormous needs, it’s possible that you feel helpless and inadequate to do anything to clean up some of the horrific devastation left in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Perhaps your own heart is smashed and empty. Yet biblical encouragement is not an option for the child of God. It’s a mandate. Out of your weakness, God’s strength will flow and remind others of His presence and love. Families who have lost everything need the Body of Christ to be channels of His compassion, offering what we have in Him, though we may offer it from hearts that are themselves smashed and empty.
As you consider God’s call to offer a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus to people who are spiritually thirsty and hungry, consider this call from the 1800’s. Octavius Winslow reminds us that God supernaturally strengthens us when we give to others the little we have:
Is thy cruse of comfort wasting?
Rise and share it with another,
And through all the years of famine,
It shall serve thee and thy brother:
Love divine will fill thy storehouse,
Or thy handful still renew;
Scanty fare for one will often
Make a royal feast for two.
For the heart grows rich in giving;
All its wealth is living grain;
Seeds (which mildew in the garner)
Scatter’d, fill with gold the plain.
Is thy burden hard and heavy?
Do thy steps drag wearily?
Help to bear thy brother’s burden;
God will bear both it and thee.
Numb and weary on the mountains,
Wouldst thou sleep amidst the snow?
Chafe that frozen form beside thee,
And together both shall glow.
Art thou stricken in life’s battle?
Many wounded round thee moan;
Lavish on their wounds thy balsams,
And that balm shall heal thine own.
Is the heart a well left empty?
None but God its void can fill;
Nothing but a ceaseless fountain
Can its ceaseless longings still.
Is the heart a living power?
Self-entwined its strength sinks low;
It can only live in loving,
And by serving love will grow.
Bath, August 1860
Monday, September 26, 2005
Dr. Charles F. Betters often says that the death of his sixteen-year-old son, Mark, "unbolted us from our love affair with this world." Dr. Betters has served as Senior Minister of Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bear, Delaware, since 1986 and is frequently called upon to address church pastors and leadership all across the country. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware and Eastern Baptist Seminary. He earned his Doctoral degree from Covenant Seminary. Dr. Betters' previous pastorates include Wissahickon United Methodist Church and Logan United Methodist Church (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Red Lion United Methodist Church and Red Lion Evangelical Church (Delaware). He has four children and six grandchildren. His wife, Sharon, is the author of Treasures of Encouragement. Dr. Betters and Sharon co-authored Treasures of Faith. When Dr. Betters is not preparing a sermon or actively shepherding the people of his church, he can be found on the golf course or playing with his grandchildren.
Mark INC Website