Church programs are not a bad thing, but are often not the answer that people make them out to be. This is not programs, as in the order of worship; this is programs as in ways of accomplishing an end. There are many valuable programs. Youth programs, recovery programs, jail ministries, homeless ministries. The problem is that when it becomes a program rather than a way of life, it loses its validity and often fades away. That being said, though, we might propose a program with the hope that it becomes a way of life.
This is the age of superheroes. It started decades ago with the comic books. Then it spread to television and the movies. Batman, Superman, the Avengers, the X-men, Power Rangers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everybody (well, nearly everybody) likes a superhero. Kids, and even some adults, want to be one. While it might not always be possible to be a superhero, everyone can be a hero. Everyone can become a H.E.R.O.
H.E.R.O. may become a program, or an umbrella for many programs in a church. More importantly, it can teach those young peopleThe very young among us need to know that they can make a difference, too. who want to be a hero that it is possible. It is easy. Every Christian can be Helping, Encouraging, Reverencing, or Overcoming.
A hero may look outward. Superman wouldn’t be the hero he is if he used his powers only for his own good. What if he just used his strength to break into bank vaults to take the money? Would he be a hero if he used his invulnerability to shield the crooks from gunfire? What if his super speed was only used to help in a getaway? It is that he uses these powers for good that makes him a hero.
Anybody can help somebody else. It doesn’t have to be a big thing.
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Matt 25:33-36)
Jesus mentioned six things. Helping, though, is not limited to these six, although much could be broken down into these categories. Adults and older teens may be able to give someone a ride to where they need to go. Money, even as little as a dollar, may help someone in need. But there are many ways that others can help.
The very young among us need to know that they can make a difference, too. Sometimes it is bringing a can of food or a few pennies, especially if it was their idea. Having young people at a senior center to talk to or entertain the residents is a way of helping that is very much appreciated. Children as young as age two can do chores around the house, if they are presented as ways to help and not as a job that needs to be done or they will be punished. It is amazing how one person’s attitude goes from rebellion to compliance just by changing the words “do that” to “will you help me do that?” People intrinsically want to help.
While we want to help, too often we want it to be in a big way or a noticeable way. Somehow it seems that giving $100 to help distribute Bibles in Ukraine is more important than giving $1. We forget what Jesus said about the widow who gave leptons. “Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Matt 12:43-44) It is not the amount we give, but the amount we want to give. If all you can do is open the door for someone who uses a walker or a cane, that is helping in a huge way.
Sometimes the best thing a person can learn is that helping does not have to be public. It often is more enjoyable if people don’t know who did the deed. A teenager rakes the leaves from a neighbor’s yard of clears the driveways of snow, without being seen. An office worker makes a pot of coffee when someone else emptied it, even if they don’t drink coffee themselves, just because it is the right thing to do.
Those in the H.E.R.O. club who are helpers are important. They are heroes. But not everyone can be a helper.
One of the early Christians who sold land and brought the proceeds to help those in the church was “Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement).” (Acts 4:36, ESV) While he was also a helper, this Joseph was mostly noted for being an encourager. Indeed, he encouraged the apostle Paul after his conversion, when many were afraid of him. (Acts 9:27)
Psychiatrists tell us that a child becomes what he hears. If all he gets, especially from his parents, is negativity and being told “you will never amount to much,” he will never amount to much. The child who is honestly being told “you can do it” will do more than he thinks possible. Encouragement (and its opposite) is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some overachievers become so to prove the naysayers wrong, but most are those who have been shown that they can do anything they want to do.
Encouragement is so much a part of the Christian life that it is incorporated into our assemblies. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another.” (Heb 10:24-25) The word “exhorting” is the same word in the Greek as “encouragement” in the translation of Barnabas’ nickname.
Encouragement is something that does not need financial ability or physical strength. Sometimes it is merely being present. In fact, sometimes being truly present (actively listening) when another is speaking is a great encouragement. A kind word, even a simple “thank you,” may be all a person needs to encourage them. Any child in sports or the arts knows how important an encouragement a parent’s presence can be. More importantly, they know how discouraging a parent’s absence is.
One athlete recently said the most important words his parents ever said were, “I believe in you.” Sometimes a young person feels like they don’t want to hear it anymore, but deep down they know it is an encouragement, if sincerely stated.
The church needs revering heroes. I recently had a man tell me that every time he gets up to say a public prayer, it terrifies him; but it is not all about him. One young man (at least one) cried the first time he got up to lead singing; but he became a very good song leader. Preaching a sermon at age eight was not easy, but it led to a life of teaching, preaching, and writing. Getting up in public often takes immense courage, but we need men and boys who can lead in reverence to God.
Reverence, however, goes beyond the public worship. And it is not just for men. Priscilla taught one of the great preachers of the first century. (Acts 18:26) Women are often the ones who lead family worship to God, because some men fail to do so. Nor are they forbidden even if the man leads the family. Women even participate in the public assembly. They are allowed to sing with the congregation, and some do so very enthusiastically.
New Christians in a congregation that participates in congregational singing are often afraid to sing. They don’t know the words to the songs, and they may have never sung in public before. Let us never forget that any attempt to sing praise to God is a heroic act.
Young people may be revering heroes at the most inopportune times. Any time one stands up for the truth of the gospel in the face of humiliation or persecution, one is a hero. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:10) When one refuses to participate in hurting others, or chooses to assemble with the saints over other activities, one may be a H.E.R.O.
Sometimes overcoming is the most heroic thing of all. Just the simple act of choosing to publicly confess the name of Christ and be immersed for the forgiveness of sins, thus allowing Jesus to overcome sin, often takes courage. Even more so, if the person’s family oppose Christianity. The humble act of submission to Jesus overcomes sin. Everyone who does so is a hero.
There are other overcomers among the H.E.R.O. club. While we let Jesus overcome sin in the general, thereEncouragement does not need financial ability or physical strength. are also specific problems that some people face, and overcome. Addictions are a serious problem today, and the church is not immune. Drugs, alcohol, sex, tobacco. When these become addictions they take one away from Christ. It is not easy to overcome an addiction, but it is possible with Jesus’ help. Just overcoming may be the only heroic act one can do. But some are heroes because they not only overcome their problems; they then use that to help others be overcomers.
The best person to teach an alcoholic is a recovering alcoholic. There is a reason that the twelve step programs insist on a person having a sponsor, or becoming one. The sponsor can help in ways that someone who never experienced the problem cannot understand.
The church is made up of forgiven sinners. Everyone has a particular sin or issue that they must or have overcome. Some people wonder why they have to “go to church.” Perhaps that is God’s way of putting them in touch with the right person to help them overcome a problem. A parent who has lost a child may just be waiting to help another grieve. A caregiver of a developmentally disabled person or an aged parent can help one through those situations.
Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) He is the ultimate overcomer, because he overcame death. Every one of us, though, can say the same thing. Everyone may be a H.E.R.O.