There have been many discussions about gifts and ministries within the church. We all know great preachers, Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, worship leaders, singers and musicians, and we know people who say that they really don’t have anything special to bring to the church. If that’s you, I want you to know that God says you do, and He will always have something for you to do; something only you can do. Ephesians 2:10 says that “we are God’s handiwork, in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”That’s all of us.
However, I want to spend a few minutes talking about someone we all know. If you go to church on a regular basis, you know this person. You will probably know them even if you attend sporadically because they will come looking for you. They have different names, different, genders, different ages, and nationalities, but we can call them all by the same name: Encourager.
I bet you just thought of someone, didn’t you? That one person who always seems to go out of his or her way to tell you they are glad to see you, or that they appreciate something you did (even if it’s something that seems small and unimportant).
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas(which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36-37)
The man referred to as “Barnabas” throughout the rest of the New Testament, was, in fact, a man named Joseph. Barnabas was a nickname meaning “son of encouragement”. I wonder how he managed to earn that name? What did he do? How did he behave? What else do we know about him?
He was the one who sought Paul out and brought him to the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). He gave Mark another chance after he had deserted Barnabas and Paul on their first journey (Acts 15:37-40). Perhaps it was that encouragement that turned Mark into someone who Paul would later call useful (Phil 1:11).
I think we would have enjoyed spending time with Barnabas, don’t you?
Here is the thing. When we look in God’s Word, it is full of encouragement for us, so it shouldn’t be that difficult for us all to become encouragers. Yes, I know, some people just seem to be gifted with it, and that’s ok. We want to keep them doing just what they do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part too.
not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another (Heb 10:25)
Part of our reason for going to church is to encourage one another, so look around you. Catch a kid doing something right, and tell them about it. Then tell their parents. Tell that elderly person you’re happy to see them. That young single mom may be in serious need of a hug. Do you know who cleans the bathrooms in your church, or who fills the communion trays? Tell them you appreciate what they do. Oh, and don’t forget about the Preacher, and especially the Preacher’s wife.
The point is that everyone needs encouragement at one time or another. You never know. Your words may be just what they need to keep going.
I have been working on some variation of this post for several days now, and it’s been bouncing around in my head for several weeks. Let me just cut to the chase and tell you up front that one, this is going to be a series of posts, and two, it’s going to be geared toward, you guessed it, my sisters in Christ.
However, my brothers in Christ are welcome to keep reading if they want to. We’re not spilling any deep dark womanly secrets here…at least I don’t think we are.
So, for my sisters. God has put so much on my heart that I’m having trouble getting it all down in any kind of sensible order. To be honest, that part of it may have something to do with menopause related brain fog. Please understand that what I’m going to say today and however many more posts it takes me to finish, comes from a heart of love and concern, and I really do have a point to all of this, if you’ll just bear with me.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)
There isn’t anything quite as beautiful as Godly women caring for each other. Ruth always comes to mind as one of those women, but you also have to ask yourself what kind of mother-in-law Naomi must have been in order to receive that kind of devotion from her daughter-in-law. If you are unfamiliar with this part of the Old Testament, you can read about Ruth and Naomi here.
Maybe we find it so lovely because we don’t see it often, and that is part of what I want to talk to you about today.
If you are a woman, there is one thing you know for sure. Women can be terrible to each other. We can do more harm to each other than any man could ever do to us. For some of us, it starts with our mothers, grandmothers, or other female caretakers. The ones whose constant criticism made us feel unworthy. For others, we got it on the play ground or in the classroom. Many of us had unpleasant experiences with the mean girls. If you were one of the mean girls, I hope and pray you out grew it. Some mean girls grow into mean women. A woman’s name came to your mind didn’t it? Yes, we all know at least one.
Sadly, some of those mean girls and mean women even call themselves followers of Jesus. However, they really aren’t what I want to talk about today either. I imagine we’ll get to them eventually. I will suggest this though. If you know some of those women, either within the body of Christ or without, start praying for them today! More about that later.
I want to talk about the ones of us who go to church whenever the doors are open. Maybe we teach Sunday school, or lead a women’s study, or sing in the choir, wash the dishes after the fellowship dinner, or do a host of other things that often go unnoticed.
Sadly, for some of us, even the most faithful appearing, Church and all the activities therein is nothing more than a social club. I recently heard the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is kind of reflective of that attitude, but I’m not really wanting to talk about that today either.
I want to talk to those of us who really love the Lord, and want to know Him. Those who have seen Him move in our lives, and know the power of prayer. We know what the Bible says, and we work to learn more. We’re trying, we really are, but sometimes, because we’re human, we get caught up in whatever else is going on in our lives.
Have you ever been to a gathering like Women of Faith where you are in a huge venue with thousands of other women raising their hands in worship? Where you listen to other women share God’s word with you as it relates to being a woman? It’s amazing! It’s a mountain top experience, and we leave ready to tackle whatever God has for us. The thing is, we have to go back to our lives, our jobs, our families, our churches. We can’t stay on the mountain top. But we as women of faith, sisters in Christ, and daughters of God, can bear each others burdens, and encourage each other to love and to good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). We can pray for each other, and pray together.
We can, but do we? Oh, some of us do, (and we all know who they are) but what about the rest of us? Have you ever looked at another woman in church and thought, “she looks like she might be having a bad day. I need to talk to her”? Did you follow through?
Do we reach out to our sister in Christ who just moved in to town? What about that one that you’ve known since grade school, but don’t really know because you belonged to different groups. What about that woman that seems like a porcupine, whose whole demeanor and body language says “stay away”? Or what about the Chatty Cathy, who talks a mile a minute, gives out too much information and drives you crazy? Or that one that you just don’t like? Are you looking down your nose at someone you perceive as less than, or are you maybe resentful of the one you perceive as more than?
Do you put on a mask or put up barriers when you go to church because you know how other women can be and you’re scared to death they’ll find out that your life isn’t perfect. Do you suffer from depression, and feel like you can’t talk to anyone at church about it? Do you feel guilty because you think that if you were “spiritual” enough that you would feel better? Do you have secret addictions or other sins that you are trying desperately to keep hidden? Are you embarrassed because your kids are the ones who are always in trouble and you “just know” that everyone is looking down on you? Let me tell you that we can’t pray for you or help you if we don’t know there is a problem. Please don’t be afraid to open up. That is what the body of Christ is for.
For those of you who don’t have any of those fears (and I doubt that there are any really). How would you respond to those women who do? If you would react any other way than I just did, I want to know why, and I want to know what you think Jesus would say!
I think every one of us understands what women who work together with a common cause can do. A little under a hundred years ago in this country, women endured all kinds of abuse, but prevailed in finally getting the right to vote. A little later, another determined group of women pushed for prohibition. Can you imagine what God could accomplish through a group of determined, Godly, Holy Spirit filled women who love each other in Him and submit themselves to Him and His purpose? Look at what he did with twelve common Jewish men!
Here is the thing. Our enemy knows too, and the last thing he wants is a bunch of Godly, Holy Spirit filled women on the move. So, he is going to do his best to keep us fragmented.
So what does he do? Some of us he attacks as children, burying us in a shame so deep, we might never find our way out. Some of us he attacks with illness, physical and mental. Some of us he just lets our own sin defeat us, and then he makes us feel like we are the only one and no one else will ever understand. That lie is often so ingrained that even after we come to the Lord, it persists. So we all go to church and paint on faces of perfection. We create cliques and look for people who are just like us, and then, when the unchurched enter our doors, we confirm what they already believe, that we are just a bunch of hypocrites.
Do we deserve that? We probably do.
Some of you are going to get defensive right away. Did I hit a nerve?
So what do we do?
First, we repent. We ask God to forgive us and show us where we need to change.
We fall in love with Jesus all over again.
Then we ask Him for wisdom.
Then we reach out in truth and love to our sisters in Christ.
We find out who they are. What’s going on in their lives? How we can pray for them and how we can help them? Maybe they just need someone to listen. Maybe they need help with groceries, or babysitting, or maybe they need someone to tell them that they are a loved, beautiful daughter of God and they don’t have to put up any kind of front.
Then we need take off our own masks, and come out from behind our own walls, and accept from others what we offer to them.
Then together, we submit ourselves to the One who died for all of us.
And He will use us in ways we cannot even imagine!
This is me, reaching my hand out to you. Will you take it?
Let me know what you think in comments below. I’d love to hear from you.
My grandfather was a preacher. You might assume that means that all his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren followed the straight and narrow, went to Bible college, and either became or married preachers. Not exactly. We all went the prodigal route, and some of us are still out there.
Grandpa memorized massive amounts of scripture, and could call up a scriptural response for just about any situation. He did that often, and most times in lieu of any other advice. One time, in frustration, one of my cousins said, “That’s great Grandpa, but how does that apply to me?” He needed to know the practical application of what my grandfather had said. I’m not sure if he got the answer he was looking for.
We all need practical application. How do we take what the Bible says, and apply it to our lives today. I know a lot of scripture too, but I’ve learned that there is a huge difference between knowing the words, and knowing the Source of those words. It is possible to “talk the talk” without even knowing how to “walk the walk”.
We spend a lot of time on this blog looking at what the scriptures say, looking at the original languages, looking at how wonderfully everything fits together. I want to do everything I can to give us a clearer picture of God’s message to us. However, all that is worthless, if we choose not to, or can’t figure out how to, apply it to our lives.
Sometimes, even what appears to be a biblical lesson in practical application can be confusing.
Look at this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome:
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21)
Ok, at first glance that seems pretty straight forward. Do your part to get along with everyone (yes, this is hard sometimes). Seeking revenge is not your job; it’s God’s (yes, that’s hard too). So how do we do that? If your enemy (or just that jerk of a neighbor you can’t stand) is hungry, you feed him. You help get his physical needs met. Ok, but what is this? “heap burning coals on his head”? What does that mean? It kind of sounds like “kill them with kindness”, but is it? That still kind of sounds like a revenge-like response.
This is where it helps to understand the culture of the day.
This is a quote from the Bible Knowledge Commentary that I found here.
“Sometimes a person’s fire went out and he needed to borrow some live coals to restart his fire. Giving a person coals in a pan to carry home “on his head” was a neighborly, kind act; it made friends, not enemies.”
So, the goal is to turn our enemies into friends. Friends that we can maybe then lead to Jesus? It’s not killing someone with kindness; it’s loving them to the Lord! That is how we “overcome evil with good”! I’m sure you can think of someone, even several someones, who need that.
One more thing though. Up in verse nine of this same chapter, Paul says that love must be sincere. That means we are supposed to be working from a place of genuine love for people, even unpleasant people. That is hard, and we can’t do it on our own. We can only do it through the power of Jesus in the Holy Spirit living in us, and those changes don’t happen over night. The important thing is that we make the effort. We do what He tells us, and when we feel like we can’t, we trust Him to work through us, and do it anyway. Every time we do, we look a little more like Jesus to a hungry, hurting world.