Thursday, May 24, 2018

Encouragement and Parakeets

So encourage one another with the hope you have. Build each other up. In fact, that’s what you are doing. 

I don’t remember whether I heard this from a coach on The Voice or a judge on American Idol, but one of them told a contestant that people want to have fun and enjoy the music, and that success comes from making it possible for people to enjoy what you’re singing.  I think that’s true.  If the person is struggling, we struggle with them.  If they’re enjoying their performance, we enjoy it too.

I think this is also true about church.  People want to enjoy God.  God wants us to enjoy him.  The more we encourage one another to celebrate God’s presence together, and we meet Him in those moments, the more there is joy like nothing else, and as a result we are encouraged.

Unfortunately, so often at church (or anywhere else) we’re too worried about offending one another, or getting the words or music right, or whether we’re wearing the right thing, and that takes our attention off of enjoying the One we’re there to celebrate, and keeps us from experiencing the encouragement of God’s love and grace.

To keep focused on encouraging one another, it helps me to remember how I got here, that day I first told someone that I had discovered God in a new way and that I wanted everybody to know how cool God is.  I had let down the walls and let God in more than ever before.  I had expected judgement, and instead I found grace, and love that was beyond what I could imagine.  I wanted everybody to know that same love and grace.

I didn’t know the theology yet, but I was experiencing the Holy Spirit, the encourager, the paraclete.

I can’t resist having a little fun with that word and pointing out what you probably already noticed – how much paraclete sounds like parakeet.  Paraclete is Greek for helper[1], but dictionaries trace parakeet to the Italian word parrocchetto which means “little priest,” or parrucchetto which refers to head plumage.[2] Since many priests wear special hats, I can see the connection.  Parakeets also have head plumage.

We also often use a bird as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, but usually it’s not a parakeet, it’s a dove.  I must say that has always seemed like a bit of a misrepresentation to me.  Doves are pretty and quiet and soft, and sometimes the Holy Spirit’s nudges are like that, but for me that mostly means I’m just not listening enough.  When I am really listening to the Spirit, the blazing fire and loud wind that the disciples experienced when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost fit so much better (Acts 2).

In the story of Jesus’ baptism, the gospel writers say people saw the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), but maybe the term describes the movement more than the actual vision. Doves are white, the color of purity, so I see how that represents God’s goodness and righteousness. Parakeets are colorful, playful, and smart.[3]  God is omniscient…the smartest of smart.  God is joyful….which is like playful. And since we’re made in God’s image and we know how to laugh, we must have gotten that from God, too.  Parakeets come in many different colors,[4] and I am continually amazed at the different hues of God that I discover as I continue to learn and grow.

As birds go, maybe the one that fits even better is the phoenix.  In Greek mythology, this bird lives forever because it is continually reborn.  It dies in flame and is resurrected out of the ashes.[5]  Isn’t this what happens to us?  God refines us in fire like silver or gold,[6] and makes something beautiful out of the ashes.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. (Isaiah 61:3)
Whichever bird works for you, birds remind me of hope because of the poem by Emily Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all...

Hope is like a bird, and encouragement is how we help each other to have hope.  There are lots of ways to encourage one another, and the Holy Spirit works in us through all these things.

The word paraclete also means advocate, like a lawyer.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, facilitated by the work of Jesus on the cross.  That amazing grace and love we experience as we draw near to God is because Jesus Christ died for us, conquering our sin and obtaining forgiveness for us all.

Today and every day, I pray that you are encouraged through knowing the grace and love of God that we have through faith in Jesus Christ who lives in us through the Holy Spirit, our encourager.

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