Friday, April 19, 2013

The Women of Acts

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Braet von Überfeldt woman with bible 1866
As I've tried to understand my role as a Christian woman in spreading the gospel, I've looked at all the women mentioned in the New Testament.  Don't get me wrong; I think there are more examples to follow in the Bible than just the women.  However, I don't think it is out of line to look first to those courageous and hard working ladies.  They helped the early church explode in growth; how can I do what they did?

One of the first women mentioned by name in Acts is Tabitha (there is enough middle schooler left in me to refuse to call her Dorcas).  She was a disciple, a follower of Christ, and we know her mainly for the garments she made for the widows (Acts 9:36-39).  But have you ever really read verse 36? "This woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did."  I always remembered the widow's clothes, but that little phrase packs a lot more punch.  She wasn't just sewing a cloak here and there.  After Peter raised her from the dead, "It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:42).  Even before the miracle, she was well known and loved enough that the widows called Peter from another town to help.  She did her good works to the glory of God, and that is the heart and soul of evangelism.  

What does that mean for me?  I'm not going to be raised from the dead in the same sense that Tabitha was.  Still, can you imagine the impact I could make if someone could say of me that I am "abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which I do continually?" Jesus talked about what it would look like. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).  According to Jesus, good works are a kind of evangelism.  It doesn't require special training or years of Bible study; it only requires action" doing good deeds in the name of the Lord. Jesus even gave us an idea of the kinds of good works that he expects of us: "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink ; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me" (Matthew 25:35-36).  

There is a set of those good deeds that God has created women especially to fill.  He created us as nurturing mother-figures.  What does that have to do with evangelism?  A lot!  You could be raising the next evangelist!  I said last week that I don't want my evangelism to stop at my children.  I still don't, but I also want to take a harder look at the importance of raising the next generation.  I've often heard it said that Christianity is one generation away from extinction.  I always assumed that phrase meant that we need to do all we can to help our children make the decision to follow Jesus.  But what if there is more to it than that?  "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38). I need to raise my children in such a way that they have every opportunity not only to go to heaven but to take as many people with them as they can.

My husband and I believe our son got the preacher gene.  He is kind and outgoing.  He already has the little old ladies at church wrapped around his fingers; he knows them by name and greets them every week (the gum they give him only has a little to do with it!)  My earnest desire is that we raise him and both of his sisters to reach their full potential in the kingdom.  I want him to keep his kind nature and gird it up with a solid understanding of Jesus so that he can one day spread the gospel too.  I hope one day, an older Christian can say of him and his sisters, "For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmothers Marlene and Shannon and your mother Melissa, and I am sure that it is in you as well" (2 Timothy 1:5, names changed).

Let me say also that you don't have to be a biological mother to fill this role.  One of the women I admire most from our former congregation is one who dropped the title "social worker" and took on the title "Mimi" for a precious little boy who needed a good home.  In his greetings at the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul sends out a greeting to Rufus's mother, who he said was like a mother to him too (Romans 16:13).  Our boys and men working for the kingdom need their mothers and "other mothers" to nurture them, teach them, love them, and support them in their work, both present and future.  In that way, we work for the kingdom too.

These few shining examples in the New Testament give me hope.  They show me that there are many ways of spreading the gospel, and I don't have to sign up for the next mission trip to Honduras to get in on them.  Raising my children, doing good deeds, supporting and nurturing others are all growing the kingdom.  My job is to see them as such.  Instead of looking past these jobs to find work that has more visible results, I need to put on God's spectacles and see these jobs as obeying the Great Commission.  More, I need to see opportunities to do these jobs.  My prayer is for open eyes.  
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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