Two weeks ago I was out of town and last week I was out of it. Driving almost 1600 miles does take a toll on the body. We went to Virginia for a wedding. My children who love the changing colors of the leaves really enjoyed it. I, however, am by no means a fan of the cold. It wasn’t terribly cold, but a nor’easter blew in with us and the weather was rainy and windy for a day and a half. Fortunately the weather cleared before the wedding and everything was lovely. The whole visit was wonderful. We were able to see so many relatives that we haven’t seen or even talked to in years. We were even able to witness the engagement of one of our nephews. I don’t think we could have asked for a better vacation.
That brings to mind the question of what makes a great vacation, or great visit, or even a great day of homeschooling. Is it the weather? Is it the entertainment? Is it the accomplishments? For most people it’s one of these or a combination of all of them. If I were to assess my trip by these criteria I would be miserable. The yacht club where we were to enjoy the rehearsal dinner was flooded under three feet of water from the storm. I got drenched (which made my hair frizz terribly) while walking three blocks in high heels to the new restaurant in the pouring rain. I was not entertained when the relative made an inappropriate comment about me in front of my children, nor was I entertained when the drunken hockey player dropped the mother of the bride on her rear end in the middle of the reception. We spent most of our time at my mother-in-laws house waiting for various relatives to come visit. We spent little time at the beach and no time at any of the local amusement parks. The one thing we “accomplished” was to take the children to our favorite park, Mt. Trashmore (a landfill turned into acres of outdoor family fun). Just the same, we considered it a great vacation. Our whole intention in going there was to spend time with my husband’s entire family. It was so much more important that the children get to know their family, not their parents’ old stompin’ grounds. What made it a success was the people. We loved our time with the family. We loved our days hanging out at Mammaw’s house. This most important accomplishment we could have achieved was to encourage and bless the people we were there to see.
I was reading this morning in various sources and was reminded about God’s admonitions to encourage one another. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 it says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” In Hebrews 10:25 you can read, “…but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” And again we read in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” The Lord encourages us, if we will only listen to Him. But He doesn’t stop there. He asks us to encourage one another. Many people in my family are Christians. Many others say they are Christians because they were raised in the church or because they attend regularly, but their lives don’t appear to support that claim. These scriptures are talking about Christians and Jesus encouraging Christians, but the truth is that one way to reach the unsaved is by encouraging them. Everybody needs encouragement. Jesus loves us all. Those who are Christians need me and my children to come to them and remind them of a few things. The race is being run for a reason. Prayer and reading scripture are beneficial. Living a pure and sinless life is a worthy goal. Jesus is coming back. Those who aren’t Christians need us to show them that they have another option. There is no real encouragement in this world. There is no hope, no reason, and no answers. People are lost, in every sense of the word. They don’t know where they are, where they are going, or why any of this is happening. A little encouragement from us shows them that the love of Christ isn’t a special privilege for just a select few. They see Christians who exclude nobody from the gifts of Christ. The gift of salvation is available to them all. I’m no theologian so I can’t tell you with any certainty what is going on with a person who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t live like it. I do know that Paul told the Corinthians (in 1 Corinthians 5) to cut off fellowship the man living in sin proudly committing sins of sexual immorality. I also know in Matthew 7, scripture says that you will know them by their fruit. When I see someone proudly committing sins of sexual immorality or doing other things which the Lord expresses distaste for I’m pretty confident they are not Christians. It becomes dicey for me when they still think of themselves as Christians and every Christian around them seems to be OK with their behavior. I don’t fellowship with them, meaning I don’t spend tons of time with them discussing the deeper issues in my life or taking counsel from them about how to live my life. I do ask the question, “How do I encourage them when I know that much of their discouragement comes from their sinning?” Jesus would have simply told them that he knows they are sinning (in the world’s most encouraging tone of voice) and that He offers salvation, they need only repent and follow Him. I, as you may have noticed, am not Jesus. I also have not mastered the world’s most encouraging tone of voice, so I must find a way to follow His example with my own weaknesses and lean on Him for His strengths. I can greet them with love. I can show interest and acceptance of them, without showing acceptance of their sin. I can pray constantly for chances to share the truth of the gospel with them. While I wait for those opportunities I am constantly witnessing, telling them about what the Lord has done in my life. I tell them about what our church is doing or learning about the Lord. I take every possible opportunity to talk about the Lord. When they ask a question or make an observation which opens the discussion of sin and repentance, I can carefully address whatever has been put “on the table.” It’s a constant balancing act, but they’re worth it.
Let’s bring this back around to homeschooling. My children know the Lord. Most days they even show fruit of that. This allows me concentrate on other things than their salvation, like their walk with the Lord and their integrity. I must ask myself, “How can I help them to, as Paul the Apostle told the Philippians, ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,’?” I highly value academics in my home so it’s so easy to look at a homeschool day as a success or a failure based on how much schoolwork was accomplished. But at the end of the day I remind myself that the most important thing in my homeschool day is my homeschool students. I ask, “Did I spend the day helping them to do their best?” Their best does include finishing all their assignments for the day. Doing their best includes focusing and paying attention. Doing their best also includes treating their siblings and me with respect. Another question I ask myself is, “Did I spend the day encouraging them?” When I encourage them, they finish the day believing that they are worthy, they are loved, and they can do their best another day. The more we continue to encourage, the more they will excel in their work.