Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gracious Words

Image result for hebrews 3:13

“Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Heb. 3:13)

Each year ELCC has an anonymous online survey for our members.  If you ever want to know what someone really thinks of you, host an anonymous survey.  Our survey was, as usual, largely positive but I was especially encouraged by one comment: 

I want to be clear that ELCC is one of the BEST co-ops I've been part of and I've sampled a NUMBER of co-ops over a number of years and left dissatisfied for all sorts of reasons... I have felt welcomed with open arms in this co-op.... ELCC does so much to foster community and fellowship and it's work that is well worth it and reflects in the great, supportive community that can be found here.... ELCC does so much to help moms at co-op - from the resource library, helping co-op moms in need, meals, prayer support and so much more.... I feel like with the board at ELCC there is a whole group of people actively working to make ELCC the best co-op it can be. And it doesn't feel like the board has a "monopoly" on running things, but that rules are considered and well thought out for everyone's benefit, not just for the benefit of board members. In addition, the board and leadership are highly accessible and always have time to answer questions and address concerns.... I like that ELCC has a nice balance of both kinds of classes so every family can find just what they are missing at home. I love that ELCC builds in opportunities to serve the larger community needs. I love the monthly community lunches where we can spend time breaking shared bread together. I love that high moral standards are adhered to and my child will be largely in a safe environment with a shared value system.... I like that this co-op seems reasonable and flexible about policies and practices, rather than rigid - not strictly following the letter of the law, but instead the spirit of the law. I love that there are so many godly mothers that wholeheartedly serve in this co-op community and it is truly reflected here. I love that so many of the fathers are highly visible at co-op, praise God! There is nothing that warms my heart more than to see fathers committed to this endeavor and being visible week after week. Please thank these faithful, serving men. Their support and visible leadership can only make this co-op even better. I'm thankful for such a dedicated Board that surely works tirelessly behind the scenes to make this co-op exceptional in every possible way. I am also so blessed by such a vision that is cast upon this co-op....Thank you so much! Keep up the good work!

I was in tears reading this comment.  I felt so appreciated, so very loved.  I felt like I feel when my kids finally realize it's me whose been cleaning up the house and say "Thank you Mom!" It was gratifying and humbling to receive such high praise.  It made me feel valued and appreciated, like "Finally, someone sees what all this is for!"

In studying God's word I am seeing how vital encouragement is, and how it is so important God explicitly tells us to encourage one another!

Jesus is our example in John where he explains to the disciples "in this world you will have trouble" but the very next verse (John 16:33) He says "Take heart, I have overcome the world!"

Far too often we hear or read something along the lines of "there's trouble" but rarely has the next line been encouraging.  More than likely the next line is gossip or bitterness, the exact opposite of encouragement.

The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together (Acts 13:15, 16:40, 18:27, 20:1-2, 27:36). They shared Scripture-saturated words with each other to spur one another on in faith (Acts 14:22), hope (Rom. 15:4), unity (Rom. 15:5; Col. 2:2), joy (Acts 15:31), strength (Acts 15:32), fruitfulness (Heb. 10:24-25), faithfulness (1 Thess. 2:12), perseverance (Heb. 10:25), and the certainty of Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:18).

Encouragement was, and is, a part of daily life for a believer!

So, how can you become someone who uplifts and encourages? Here are some practical steps

1. Stop doing things that are the opposite of encouragement.  Stop complaining Philippians 2:14 , uproot bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) and get rid of gossip (Proverbs 16:28; James 4:11)  (Eph 4:29) These things damage relationships and make encouragement next to impossible!

2. Practice a habit of thankfulness and dwelling on God's goodness (Phil 4:4-8) Fill up your heart and mind with these good things so that you can pour them into the lives of others. 

3. Pray that God would create a spirit of encouragement within you, like Barnabas, who was known as "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36) and look for specific ways to encourage others.  Not just "I like your sweater" but sincere encouragement, you can even use scripture in your encouragement!

4. Encouragement could be a card or note, a handshake or pat on the back, or any number of things.  Be creative in your encouragement of each other. Work to create a culture of encouragement where ever you are. (1 Thess 5:11)

5. Make a list of people who serve you and encourage them.  Husband/Wife, Pastor, Sunday School Teacher, Volunteers - reach out and encourage the people who make a difference in your every day life.  Much of their work is largely sacrificial, take long hours, and often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.  I am reminded of  Proverbs 14:1 "A wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down" 

I hope this encourages you today! 


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Can you keep a secret....

Image result for shhh

"Can you keep a secret?"

Last spring I was stopped at a gas station on my cell phone when another mom whispered "Can you keep a secret?"  I made my kids get out of the car before she whispered through the phone that she was expecting baby number five!  I was so happy for her - she explained that while her husband knew and was joyful, their extended family didn't know yet - so could I keep it a secret - just for a little while.  I rejoiced in her happy secret and smiling to myself invited my kids to get back in the car. 

Then a mom asked me to keep a secret about her shy daughter who had a crush - she was so cute and nice - I told mom I would join her prayers for wisdom, and never say a word.  

And then last fall a mom had a secret, and she didn't share it, not with me, not with anyone. She knew it was a big problem, she knew she needed help, but she didn't share the secret.  And then last week another mom called me with a secret - the same big secret -and I sent my kids from the room and prayed a "Dear Jesus help me" prayer as the whole ugly secret came spilling out and even though no one else knew - God knew the whole time - and then I knew the truth that had been concealed in the fall and the hurt and harm such a concealment had caused. 

I may love a happy news type of secret - I may keep a "bear my burden in prayer" kind of secret - but then there is the truth that sin loves a secret.  And there is a secret that sin doesn't want us to know about secret sin - and I can't keep it a secret!

Sin loves a secret because in secret, sin can be justified. In secret, sin can convince you that "it's not that bad" or "that won't really happen." Secretly, Eve ate the apple as the serpent hissed "Surely, you will not die." Sin loves a secret because it can cunningly convince you that it's secret will be kept, that no one will know. 
Luke 8:17 For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.
Many times secrets are kept out of fear, fear of rejection, fear of sin being known, humiliation... secrets not only fester in the darkness - but they become heavy - so heavy they burden the soul. 

It is my prayer that my fellow believers can let go of such fear!  
1 John 4:15-18 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Truth says that if I belong to God, He is for me, Christ is in me, and I have no more fear of judgement. I can admit sin, I can overcome sin through Christ's power at work in me, and I - who live in perfect love covered by the blood of Jesus - no longer have to live in fear and shame.  Sin doesn't have to be a secret that we keep - for ourselves or for others - because sin loves a secret.  In secret, sin can harrass the sinner, berate them, tear them down all day and night - like a sin secret so big it will overwhelm and consume you.  But in the light, the secret is less, and I don't need to keep the sin secret - because we are covered by a perfect love that drives out the fear of the sin secret and allows believers to surround the repentant sinner, the brother or sister, with Christ's love and forgiveness.

And therein is the tension of the gospel!  The beautiful messy everyday grace that we all need to uproot the sin secrets in our lives and outwit the cunning snakes that whisper in the night about how we aren't good enough and no one will love us, and life isn't worth living.

Christ says his load is light - and it's the light that drives away the darkness and it's the lightened load to admit we are all sinners - and then light to love one another in spite of our fallen selves.

Can you keep a secret? No - the secret is out - Christ has washed away our need for secrets and the only thing we need now is grace and the strength to love each other through all our spilling secrets.

Sin loves a secret, and fear keeps a secret, but perfect love frees us from all our secrets. Praise God!