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Build Each Other Up
November 18, 1990


My text this morning is 1 Thessalonians 5:11, "Encourage one another and build each other up." Paul recognizes that living the Christian life is not easy. Neither in Paul's day nor in our day, is it a simple matter to live life successfully. We each need all the help we can get from one another. Last week's sermon made the point that we are family. We are related to one another through Jesus Christ. One thing families do for one another is encourage one another, build each other up, so that each may not only survive, but live productively, successfully, and faithfully.

The opposite of "build up" is "tear down." Our society is very adept at tearing down; building up is something else. Dirk, a young man in his twenties, and I use his real name because I want you to begin including him in your prayers, was damaged by drugs when he was a teen. Drugs tore down his mind, his body, and his emotions. He became suicidal, and when backed into a corner, violent. Violent is too strong a word; when he is taunted, he retaliates with his fists which gets him into fights. This behavior got him in trouble with the law. For the past several years, Dirk has been in and out of jail, hospitals, and psychiatric units.

But, he is now a ward of the court and finds himself inextricably involved with the penal system. For several months he has been locked up in the Santa Clara County Jail with a highly likely chance he will be sent to a state prison. Why? The last time he was in a hospital, another patient who was severely disturbed, kept teasing Dirk, taunting him, until Dirk lost his patience, lost his self control, and hit the teaser. This act violated his probation and Dirk was put back into the jail. For months Dirk has been in solitary confinement.

Dirk suffers from depression, and is suicidal. Can you imagine what it is like for him to be locked in a small cell and allowed only one hour a day to be out with other prisoners? One hour a day, he is allowed to watch television. During the one hour he is allowed to make phone calls. What kind of humane system puts a suicidal, depressed person in solitary confinement? Two weeks ago, Dirk again tried to hang himself in his cell.

We must change the system. Did you know that the largest mental health facility in the state of California is the Los Angeles County Jail? We live in a state which locks up the emotionally disturbed in jail, rather than treating them in hospitals. We prefer guards to doctors. We prefer punishment to treatment. California has closed mental hospitals, and decreased the number of beds, while the population has increased greatly, and the stress level has increased to the point that many more are emotionally disturbed, not to mention the minds that have been damaged by drugs and the Vietnam war. Where are the disturbed? Where are the emotionally ill? Where are the mental patients? On the streets and in jail!

We would rather build prisons than provide quality education. I am very concerned about the decline of quality education in the public schools of California. Once our schools were among the best in the nation; that is no longer true. The amount of money spent on each child's education in California ranks near the bottom of the states. Classroom sizes are too large. The handicapped and disturbed children are by and large "mainstreamed." Even when some classes are set aside for the severely handicapped child, they are often too large. I talked to a teacher of such a class the other day. She said the task was impossible. Her class is too large to give any individual attention. Her job is caretaking, not teaching, and like her predecessors, she is ready to quit in frustration.

Many like to blame teachers for the sorry state of our schools. The trouble with schools is not the teachers. Ellie and I have three sons who went through California schools. Some of the teachers were not as competent or as capable as others, but on the whole, our boys had excellent teachers. They cared; they were conscientious, but severely handicapped by the large classroom size, the lack of money and the lack of support. School districts have been forced to cut back on counselors, music and art.

There is something drastically wrong with a state that uses lotteries as a way of financing education. The education of our children, the building up of our children, is far too important, far too critical, far too consequential for our future, to be financed by undependable lotteries, and batted about by the governor and the superintendent of schools. The governor seems far more concerned with winning some sort of contest with the superintendent than providing sufficient funding for schools. According to Friday's newspaper, the governor is proposing yet another decrease in funding for schools, while supporting a substantial salary increase for the new governor. The general populace seems far more interested in taxes than schools. What they don't seem to realize is that their precious property values will decline considerably when the schools fall apart. I'm very concerned about a system that prefers prisons to mental health facilities and schools.

There is too much tearing down, and too little building up. "Build each other up," urged Paul. On the community level, we must change the systems: the penal system, mental health system, and the schools. On the personal, individual level, in your interpersonal relationships, in your families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and church, rather than tear one another down, build each other up! Human relationships would be revolutionized if our primary concern and motivation were to build each other up.

I invite you this morning to relate to people, not on the basis of what they can do for you, not on the reactive level where you react to what they say or do to you; but on the proactive level, asking yourself, "How can I build them up?" In Ephesians 4:29, Paul urged, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs."

Parents and grandparents, ask yourself, "How can I build our children up?" Building up the child is quite different from indulging a child. Dr. Stephen Glenn, a family psychologist, has written a helpful book called, Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World. The materialistic culture within which we live has pleasure, happiness, and self-indulgence as goals. These are far different goals from living productive, successful and faithful lives. Living in our culture makes it very difficult to rear self-reliant, independent, resourceful, happy children. Building children up is far different from indulging them. Elbert Hubbard wrote, "When parents do too much for their children, the children will not do much for themselves." In her inimitable style, Erma Bombeck told her children, "I loved you enough to insist that you buy a bike with your own money--that you could not afford and we could." Carol Amen quotes a wise person who once said, "Parents are not for leaning on; parents are for making leaning unnecessary."

The goal of building each other up is to dispense with leaning and leaners. Rather than a family of leaners, or a church of leaners, we hope for people who stand straight with their heart bowed to God. Building each other up means to help each other relate to God, to introduce one another to a personal, living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. One who lives faithfully, that is, full of faith, is one who will also live productively and successfully, devoting oneself to God, living a life of service. Pray for your children, pray for one another, and speak to one another of God. Tell them of God's love. Invite them to trust Jesus with their lives.

And, this Thanksgiving week, let's build each other up with thanks. Be generous with your thank yous this week. Give the gift of appreciation. Gifts do not need to be monetary, nor things. Give a gift of appreciation. Write some thank you notes this Thanksgiving to people who have blessed your life.

One Thanksgiving years ago, I wrote a letter to my fifth, sixth and seventh grade teacher. My school was so small, we had two grades in one room. I had Mrs. Stewart in fifth and sixth grades, and when I went to seventh grade, they had reorganized the classes. Sixth and seventh grades were now together, and there she was again. We all groaned! She was one of those tough teachers. She made us behave, and she made us learn, whether we wanted to or not! Being that kind of teacher, she did not receive many thanks at the time.

I realized some twenty years later what an excellent teacher she was, and how she had influenced my life. So, one Thanksgiving morning I sat down and wrote her a letter. She was deeply moved by the letter, and delighted in telling how she received a letter with the return address of some Methodist Church. As she was a faithful Roman Catholic, she thought, "Now, what are these Methodists trying to do?" but what a surprise when she opened it and read my thank you.

Last Friday evening, Fellowship Hall was filled with people grateful for Jim Hillhouse's life. Many beautiful things were shared about Jim. I hope he had heard most of them before he died. Don't wait until the memorial service to say thank you to someone you appreciate. Do it now because thanks and appreciation build each other up.

We have work to do. All around us are persons who need to be built up, who have been torn down by indulgence, criticism, or abuse--verbal, physical, or drug abuse. Let's the systems that tear down. Let's change the way we relate to one another. "Encourage one another," urged Paul, "and build each other up."

© 1990 Douglas I. Norris