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A Word of EncouragementA Word of Encouragement
by Gary Holloway

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    Could you use a word of encouragement?

    When my niece, Katie, was a baby and would begin to cry uncontrollably, her father, Rush, would burst out in song with the first words of a hymn, “Troublesome times are here...” I think he was on to something.

    Sometimes we all need a word of encouragement. Troublesome times are here, and not just when the baby is crying. We face all kinds of trouble. There are ordinary troubles: nagging illnesses make us feel not quite ourselves; our jobs become boring and repetitive; we worry about our children; we don’t feel appreciated.

    Then there are real troubles, serious ones: the tumor is malignant; the company is downsizing and you lose your job; your single daughter is expecting; your parents have to move in with you; your faith is challenged and you begin to wonder if you’ve lost it altogether.

    Then there are the troublesome times in which we live, times we cannot control. Like many of my generation who were raised in small towns and suburbs, I grew up in Mayberry, or rather, in Beaver Cleaver’s neighborhood. I played outside with all the neighborhood kids and even went to their houses without my parents being alarmed. After all, everyone in our neighborhood was a Christian of some sort (well, except for the Jewish family around the corner and the one family down the street who didn’t go to church anywhere). Even if they weren’t devout Christians, they were good people, decent people. You could trust your kids would be O.K. at their houses.

    Times have changed. We hear so much today about violence and abuse that we want to know a great deal about a family before we let our kids play with them. We don’t let them play in the neighborhood after dark. We don’t even walk in the neighborhood after dark. Our culture, our nation, seems to have changed for the worse, and no matter what politicians promise, they cannot deliver. Things don’t get better.

How do we live as Christians in times like these?
    How do we live as Christians in times like these? How do we live bold, confident lives in an age that is increasingly neutral or even hostile to Christian faith? How do we keep our faith and keep our children faithful in the face of the greed and violence of a culture rushing madly after pleasure?

    What we need is a word of encouragement.

A Timely Word

    This introduction points you to a book that gives encouragement — the biblical book of Hebrews. Hebrews is one of the neglected books of the New Testament. We neglect it, perhaps, because it speaks of things so foreign to our experience: sacrifices, high priests, tabernacles, and covenants. It tells stories of obscure characters like Melchizedek. We’re not even sure what kind of biblical book this is. We place it with the epistles or letters, but it doesn’t read like a letter. We don’t even know who wrote it. Why study such a strange book?

    Because we live in strange times — difficult times, troublesome times. We need strength. We want encouragement. That’s exactly what Hebrews supplies. Near the end of Hebrews, the author tells his readers, “I urge you, brothers, to bear with my word of encouragement, for I have written to you briefly” (13:22). The author of Hebrews writes to Christians who live in troublesome times. Their world, like ours, was increasingly hostile to Christianity. They, too, feared for their children. They, too, faced sickness of body and soul.

    Hebrews is written to encourage them — and us. All the things mentioned in Hebrews — angels, Moses, Melchizedek, priests, heroes, tabernacles, sacrifices, and covenants — are there to point us to the greatest encourager of all: Jesus Christ. No matter what we face individually or as the people of God, Christ has faced it before us. He is there as the pioneer of our faith, who blazes the trail for us. He is the champion who wins the victory for us. He is there, suffering with us in our hour of deepest despair. He is there, waiting for us to join him in glory. No matter what we face, no matter what trouble comes, Jesus is always there for us. That is the message of Hebrews: a word of encouragement. Exactly what we need to hear.

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