Monday, April 20, 2015

Letters of Encouragement

Mail boxes
On today's Make a Difference Monday, I'd like to share with you something our congregation does to fulfill the command to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11,14; Hebrews 3:13, 10:25).  We have a long list of people who could use encouragement on a long term basis.  About half are prisoners in our prison ministry, and the other half are the chronically sick, missionaries, college students, soldiers, and anyone else who needs to be built up on a regular basis.  Our congregation is divided into four "teams." Each week, one team leader writes a letter of encouragement and makes enough copies for each person on our encouragement list.  Then the members of the team sign the letters, hopefully leaving a short personal note as well. 

At first, I thought this was a little odd.  Why would someone want to get a photocopied letter with signatures on it several times a month?  I imagined many people putting them in the circular file.  What I found out is that many of them are very grateful to receive these letters and even look forward to them. I think there are several reasons for this.  Everyone likes to get personal mail in the box instead of the seemingly endless supply of junk mail and bills.  The signatures prove that a group of people cared enough to commit to signing the letter.  I think the biggest encouragement, though, is in the letter itself.  Rather than a dollar store card with a cheesy saying, people are getting a half page letter with a Biblical message of encouragement. 

For the past three years, I've been a team member, signing cards each week.  This year my husband and I decided to be team leaders.  I figured if I can't come up with 12 half page letters of encouragement, I should hang up my blogging hat for good!  I'm even able to edit some of our past blog posts.  

Today I'd like to encourage you to try something similar.  Make a short list of people you know who could use some building up and send them a letter this month.  See if you can make a habit out of it. Even if you don't have 20 people sign the letter, it will mean a lot to the person you send it to.  I'm sharing the first two letters that I have done for this year, both edits of past blog posts.  Feel free to use them as your own letter of encouragement, but please list our website somewhere on it if you do.

Letter #1
Imagine strolling into a pawn shop. The bell rings as the door opens.  On the shelves lurk abandoned jewelry, guns, and electronics. Then to your surprise, peering about you notice lots of big yellow stickers with one word, Redeemed.  Someone wanted this one back, someone paid back all the money that it was sold for and then some.  Someone thought it was valuable, desirable and precious.  It's no longer for sale.  It may be sitting here, but it's not destined for the pawn shop.  It's redeemed.
Paul illustrates the pawn shop in Ephesians.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7)
The only things that can be redeemed are things that have been pawned.  We sold ourselves to Satan when we sinned. So we came to the pawn shop.  Not visitors but captives.

One day in strode a man ready to buy us back.  No money was exchanged; the price was blood. Then with those big yellow stickers in hand, he looked around for anyone who might like to be redeemed, sealed by the Holy Spirit.
That is the good news of our salvation- the price has already been paid.  Every person we pass on the street, rejected and stuck on a shelf, has already been paid for. They need to accept the free gift. But how?
How does one receive the Holy Spirit?  Are we talking about a miracle here?  No indeed.  It's the simplest thing in the world.  Peter explains it in Acts 2, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (v 38). Baptism brings us two gifts in its wake: forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we are sealed, receiving a down-payment on our promised inheritance.  We are marked, "God's own."

Letter #2
This word of encouragement comes from a missionary in a developing country.

One summer day one of my students began a story with this intriguing sentence, "I am studying medicine because my dad is such a responsible doctor."  I smiled encouragingly at her, waiting for some tale about how he told her stories from work. I guessed wrong.  He brought something quite different home.
One day walking down the hall past the wards he overheard a conversation which included the word "strangle." Appalled and angry, he opened the door to find two brand new parents hovering over a cradle.  Two little girls waited for them at home, and they had no intention of making it three.  He forbade them, then went to find his wife the nurse.  Tenderly, together, they took that little girl home to be the first of their two daughters.
A little girl fated for abandonment or murder instead received parents, siblings, and a home. That's the picture of grace.
Her story mirrors ours.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
He adopted us.  We were nothing and less than nothing.  We were his enemies when he decided instead to make us his sons (Romans 5:10).  No wonder that Paul says that this is "to the praise of the glory of His grace." 


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