Mature Love – February Encourager’s Devotion

Encourager's Devotional Series - February

Just as love is the crux of the Gospel message, it is also the key to building a vital, effective, mature church body. Love is such a key factor that Matthew 22:36-40 says everything hangs on it. When I read that verse, I picture a door with two hinges. One hinge is our love for God and the other is our love for people. If either hinge is broken, the door simply does not work as it should. It may even become stuck and be totally inadequate at fulfilling its purpose.

God has designed us with purpose. We are called individually to serve God in different ways. And we are called as a body of believers to function in a certain way so as to complete the work that God, through Christ, began on this earth.

Ephesians has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible because in it I see how BIG God’s plan is for the church. It inspires me to see how a mature body of believers could really accomplish great things. If we are ever to fulfill that calling, we must get a grip on the love thing. We will never be the mature Christians we should be, or the effective church we could be, until love is firmly planted in our hearts. That’s why I’m so excited about The Encourager’s Devotional Series and the benefits of intentionally building an encouragement ministry. I think it’s the first, and perhaps biggest, step a congregation can take in becoming what God has planned.

You see, one of the biggest and most harmful myths that pervades the church is the idea that it is “THE” ministry’s job, or the job of a select few, to make everyone else become mature believers. But Ephesians 3:14-4:16 tells us differently. The ministry’s job is to prepare the saints to do ministry. The body is called to edify itself in love. We are all called to speak to each other in ways that promote maturity (4:15), to treat each other lovingly (4:2-3), and to do works of service together (4:12,16).

Like it or not, God has called us together to be a people – plural (Luke 1:17; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10). His plan is that we work in community (Eph 2:19-22). This community aspect of our faith is so important that unity was Jesus’ “last request” concerning His followers before His death (Jn 17:20-26). It is only when we work together with other believers in love that we are most effective as witnesses of God’s grace, power and love to the world (Phil 2:1-15).

When studying the life of Moses as he led God’s people, one thing is abundantly clear – God insisted that they stay together. They could not split up and say, “Ok, those with enough faith and maturity can go into the promised land now and the rest of you who aren’t quite ready yet must go wander in the wilderness.” No, they would either go in as a people or wander in the wilderness together as a people.

Studying Moses helps us answer the question of how you stick with a group of people when you see the promised land (in other words you see that things should be better than they are), but the people around you aren’t quite “there” yet. Continue reading

Can “Daughters of Eve” Never Be Free from The Curse? Exploring “Rule” and “Desire” in Genesis

Until now, I have avoided blogging about “the woman issue” in the church because, frankly, I grew tired many years ago of being “the issue” and just decided to fulfill my calling. No need for further debate. Just lead by example and move on, I convinced myself.

Recently, however, one of the young women I used to mentor told me she would be using the book Captivating by Stasi Eldredge for a women’s Bible study she leads. I told her to be sure she sought out other sources for a balanced view. The very same day, I ran across Samantha Field’s blog and connected her to it since Field is currently running a series reviewing the Eldredge book.

I’ve had several follow-up conversations with the young woman as she’s gone through her studies. This has taken place in a private Facebook group we share with several other women. What has struck me in this group discussion is that, no matter how many voices there are out there encouraging women, the voices that seem to penetrate deepest (probably because they’ve heard them the longest) are those that tell them to “stay in their place.” This grieves my heart. And so, with that, I add my voice to those calling out for the redemption of the “daughters of Eve.”

As a starting point, I’ve chosen to add some commentary to Field’s most recent post. Here’s the excerpt from her post that prompted me to write today.

From Field – The next two pages are Stasi Eldredge sounding exactly like Helen Andelin (“It was a brilliant trap, well set,” because women should “cunningly” ensnare their husbands with manipulative traps), and then she relates a story about “Betsy” who was married to a “verbally abusive man” who was an elder, “mean,” who “villainized her to their children, their church.” But what did Betsy do– and what all women in her situation should do? She “didn’t seek divorce”; instead she: invited him to feel the weight of his consequences … She fasted and prayed … She gave him many tastes of what life could be like together …

The advice from Eldredge sounds a lot like the consequences of the curse for the relationship between men and women. When studying the curse and specifically the word “desire” in Genesis 3:16 (“Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you.”), it is interesting to see the wording of that passage is almost identical to Genesis 4:7 in the story of Cain and Abel. There, sin is said to be desiring to overtake Cain, but he can master it. It seems like Eldredge is advising women to give in to the ungodly desires and tactics brought on by the curse.

A third parallel passage to this usage of “desire” (the only three times this word is used in the Bible) is found in Song of Solomon 7:10. There it says, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me.” Note the positive image of desire in Song of Solomon, as well as the role reversal. The context is a picture of a mutual relationship – She is his; he does not have to make her submit. “Rule” is not found, or needed, here. The context of Song of Solomon would indicate that this is a description of what the redeemed male-female relationship should be like, a contrast to the fallen state. It is a beautiful image.

But alas, most patriarchists would have women forever bound to the curse. “Daughters of Eve” are never to be free – not even in Christ.

Sometimes the Whale Is Your Salvation

Man, this place stinks! How did I end up here? The darkness … the slime … it’s suffocating. God, I can’t take much more of this. I haven’t been that bad have I? Why are you punishing me? I know I didn’t want to go to Ninevah, but nobody wants to go to Ninevah – no self-respecting, righteous person anyway. I am one of your people, so why would you treat me like this? It’s just not fair.      

This is how I imagine Jonah’s inner dialogue during his “whale of a crisis.”

The story of Jonah and the whale is one of the first Bible stories told to children in Sunday School and at bedtime. We learn from this account not to disobey God as Jonah did.

As the story goes, God told Jonah to go to the wicked city of Ninevah and warn the people that they were going to be punished for their sins. Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah (mainly because he didn’t like the part where God was also offering to extend mercy to the Ninevites if they turned from their sinful ways). So, he fled from the Lord and hopped on a boat going to Tarshish. During this trip a great storm arose.

When the men on the boat discovered that Jonah’s disobedience was the reason for the storm, they threw Jonah overboard. This is when Jonah was swallowed by the whale. After Jonah said a prayer of repentance, the Lord commanded the fish to spit Jonah up onto dry land. Once Jonah recuperated from his ordeal, he finally went to Ninevah and did as the Lord had instructed.

We usually think of the whale incident as part of Jonah’s punishment, his “trial” if you will. It did, of course, help Jonah come to repentance, but consider what Jonah’s state was before the fish swallowed him – he was drowning. Chapter 2 of the book gives a very graphic account, in Jonah’s own words, of what that experience was like…

“You hurled me into the deep,

into the very heart of the seas,

and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers

swept over me…

The engulfing waters threatened me,

the deep surrounded me;

seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;

the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you brought my life up from the pit,

O Lord my God.”

What means did God use to deliver Jonah from this horrible state of drowning? He used the whale! The great fish came and swallowed Jonah, thus saving him from death. Jonah 1:17 says, “…the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”

Granted, a three night stay in the belly of a fish would not be pleasant. It was surely dark, smelly, and slimy. Yet, this experience was provided by the Lord to deliver Jonah. It was a blessing.

This brings to mind James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Trials may come for various reasons. Some are our own doing. Many of the epistles warn us to be careful that our desires for riches or pleasures do not lead us into troublesome situations (e.g., I Tim. 6:9; James 4:1; Gal. 6:7,8).

Other trials seem to be set up by God himself to test us and purify us. Paul said he was given his “thorn in the flesh” to help keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Likewise, David (Ps. 119:67-75) acknowledged that God afflicted him to teach him to obey God’s word.

There are also trials brought on by the enemy of our souls (see the book of Job). And, alas, many of our trials are just the natural consequences of living in a fallen world. In the book of Romans (especially chapters 5-8), Paul goes into great detail as to how the world has been corrupted since the fall of Adam. Death, sickness, and strife will be a part of human existence until we are in heaven.

Regardless of the source, however, James and Paul both tell us to count it a joy when we face these trials. We can do this because we know that the Lord will use the trials of life to perfect us and help us mature. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Even things that seem bad in our lives will be worked out by God for our eventual good. Paul says that the good that will come is better than we can ever imagine. He reminds us (Rom. 8:18) that “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

When we feel as if we are drowning in our troubles, it may help to remember this lesson. Sometimes what we consider to be a terrible trial is being used by God to make us become more like Christ. We can come out of trials better people than when we went into them. In this sense, the trials can rescue us from our own nature and help us mature in spirit. Sometimes the whale is our salvation.


* Scripture references from the Holy Bible, New International Version.

Welcome to the table …

The table – It can be used for meals, meetings, games, conversation, counsel or even as a make-shift writing spot for those like me who cannot always find the top of their desk (or just prefer to head out to a coffeeshop to write). It is my hope that this blog will serve as a table where we can gather for each of these purposes. So, here are the kinds of things I’ll be posting:

Meals – We all need nourishment for our minds, our bodies and our souls. Through music, art, devotions and challenges to our thinking, may we all be well nourished.

Meetings – I am a certified Grip-Birkman coach and have a passion to help people discover their gifts, personalities, intellectual styles, and occupational motivations. I particularly like to hold team-building seminars and foster appreciation for the fact that an effective team requires people with different ways of thinking and doing. See more at

Counsel – Life is messy. Why pretend it’s not? I am a pastor who avoids the idea that there are quick fixes to tough problems; no one here will be told to “just get over it.” Instead, you’ll find links to resources and good advice from others who have been where you are. Those who are suffering and those who are overcoming are welcome to this table to share their life experiences.

Games – We all just need to have fun sometimes. “A merry heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). You’ll find healthy doses of humor here.

Conversation – I believe the best solutions come when we do life in community. Whether we’re looking for answers to global problems, theological debates, or just day-to-day conundrums, we’ll take a look at varying opinions and develop an ear to really listen and hear what others think and feel about the issues at hand. Open-mindedness and civility will be part of our core values, but that doesn’t mean we’ll tip-toe around the issues.

Writing desk“Lisa Womble writes hope-inspiring true stories that draw people closer to God and closer to each other.” This was my answer when instructed to draft a one-sentence mantra to keep me focused on the primary goal of my writing. I’m currently working on a book about my friend who is in witness protection. I will be sharing excerpts and reporting on my progress here. It is a powerful story of transformation. But not all stories have to be this dramatic to be powerful. Story sharing is a great way to get to know each other and my aim for this blog is to create a space where we come together to share our stories.

If you want to be understood, tell your story.                                                                                                                                      If you want to understand others, listen to theirs.