The Healing Leaf

images-4She was eagerly interacting with her third-graders as I passed by the classroom last Sunday morning. With her arms around one of them, she listened intently to the trivia that was so important to the little girl. The next time I noticed her she was on the second pew on the left side of the auditorium, sitting erectly and drinking in every word the preacher said. Then I noticed that she never missed a word as we sang praises.

When I finally got over to talk with her, she told me about her third graders, how much she loved them and how encouraging they were. She particularly talked about a little girl who, the daughter of a single mom, is extremely plugged-in and smart as a whip! The zeal was unharnessed and the optimism for the future glowed unabashedly.

I should add here that she currently has no hair. Legally blind before the cancer, the nineteen months of chemotherapy “finished off” her eyesight. As I first approached her and gently patted her on the shoulder, she asked the lady sitting beside her…”Who is it?” Her friend identified me for her and she, in turn, just glowed all over and began to tell me how much she’s enjoying the gospel meeting. There are “chemo” bruises around her eyes and on her face. But her completely bright spirit belies any of the chemo sickness or fatigue.

After conversing with her a bit, I asked about the prognosis. Her reply, “We cannot cure it, but we can keep it at bay.”

I am inspired by so many souls who, rather than giving in to disease and discouragement, seem to find in the throes of trials, the springboard to greater faith and they, like the skilled alchemist, just mix up a little fear of the unknown with twice that much pain and a smidgen of humor when needed and combine with that great faith and, when this mixture gels, it produces in them a contentment like Paul had in Philippians 4: 11-13:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I remember my mother making several statements when she was suffering with the same disease as this friend I met today. They were statements that evidenced that she had the recipe right, too. Statements like:

“Oh, you know, everybody has to leave this life in one way or another. I don’t know that it matters all that much how.” …Or…

“Well,  why should I think that I would not be one of the people who has this disease. I am surely not better than many of the people I know who have had cancer.”…Or…

“We need to just be sure we’re living so that we can spend forever together in heaven. That’s where the permanence is.” …Or…

“You know, I do not mind going at all. It’s only about the people I’m leaving behind that I worry. It’s because of them that I’d like to stay, because I know they will hurt when I leave, and they want me to stay.” (She knew this because she had lost her own mother in this same way.)

Medical professionals and technology today can do so much more about cancer than they could in the eighties when my mother suffered with it. There’s just so much more hope now than when she was diagnosed. And yet, how? How could there be more hope than any generation can find in I Thessalonians 4:16, 17?

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Every child of God, healthy or disease-ridden, whole or maimed, free or bound, at the mountaintop or in the darkest valley has hope that can only be described as infinite. We will always be with the Lord. In the eternal scheme of things, it makes little difference how this old body proceeds from the earthly realm. Infinity is the length of time we have to be with the Lord. Infinity is the word that describes our time of wholeness and perfection. Infinity is the equalizer for those of us who have called on His name.

After the service, my new friend said to me, “I’m so glad brother Colley came down here last night to preach right here on the floor right in front of me. I could almost see him.” I’ve got a feeling brother Colley will be finishing this meeting from the floor. And I’m happy that we will have that wonderful eternal gospel meeting in a place where there will be no loss of eyesight, no bruises, no feeble frames and no cancer. I’m glad God “has a healing leaf” for each one of those!

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1,2).

Sister to Sister: The Father and the Daughters

images-3I knew it would be touch and go for my ladies day in Warner Robins, Georgia yesterday because of the laryngitis issue that has hung around for way too long. There are bad things; no singing along with the Pandora, no cheering for my favorite kids at Lads to Leaders, no phone chatting with Ezra lately. But there are good things like getting Glenn to answer my phone, drinking lots of spiced tea with honey and no husband nagging!

I also knew that my sister, Celine Sparks was going to have a tough time with her ladies day in West Virginia because she also has has coincidentally succumbed to laryngitis at the same exact time as I.

But when I called my dad and he told me that my other sister, Sami Nicholas, was also preparing for a ladies day in Georgia and that she also had laryngitis, I argued with him. “No, Dad, you’re mixed up. It’s Celine and me that are speaking this weekend and it’s us that can’t talk—not Sami.” But Dad was persistent, and sure enough, when I finally got Sami on the phone, she was obviously worse than Celine or me and she was speaking, or trying to speak, in Cedartown, GA.

It was amazing that all three of us had the same debilitating issue, trying to do the same job and we had not even been in the same proximity of each other. (Maybe the devil is just trying to shut us up!) I guess it’s those spring pollens and perhaps a family allergy to them?

At any rate, it got me thinking. Sisters are like that. We suffer from the same problems and face the same challenges. Sisters in the Lord have so very much in common. The big problem is sin and we all suffer from all of its direct and indirect consequences as we go through our days. This is true even if we do not personally know each other and if we are not even in the same proximity.

Secondly, sisters in the Lord are all trying to do the same job. Just like the three of us were working toward the same weekend goal, even though we were not together, spiritual sisters are all working toward the same eternal goal. We want to get to heaven and our primary job is to take our families there with us.

Finally, we all have the same Father and he does know what we are doing. Sometimes, we argue with him and often we do not understand that He does know best. But He is our Father. He IS keeping up with us—our problems, our plans and our schedules.

The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knows them that trust in him (Nahum 1:7)

Ants, Wasps, Frogs and Fatal Exposure

 

11082647_820767779139_5842487408376472451_nThis week has had its challenges. The little things can really make a good week go south, and several at once can challenge your Christianity. Returning home early from a gospel meeting in Jackson, Tennessee, I found sugar ants in the kitchen that just showed up out of nowhere, following my bread starter from room to room even if I utterly and completely cleaned that jar in between moves. Wasps are suddenly everywhere in the bathroom. Come to find out, a tree limb has fallen on the roof, piercing it asunder and the attic above the bathroom is wet and a habitat for wasps and dirt daubers and now they can come right through the ceiling which is also now pierced. It was the bathroom beside the baby’s crib and the baby and his mother were already settled in for the night.

I came home early, arriving here on Sunday night about 12:30 am, because I was pretty sick. You’ve been this kind of sick…you know, where you can’t speak above a whisper, but your cough is deafening and unrelenting. My daughter Hannah and Baby Ezra left me on Monday afternoon and I gargled and sipped and oiled and rubbed and just kept right on coughing that  rib-splitting, sleep-stealing cough.  Because I am speaking Saturday, I, at last, gave in and went to the doctor yesterday. She was very thorough. Three shots in the bottom, antibiotics and prescription cough syrup, antihistamines, more gargling and sipping and strict orders for bed rest till it’s time to leave for Georgia. She even demanded that I have a driver for this trip and that I drink hot tea all the way there and even while up speaking. That’s the kind of week.

The computer that had all of my data on it, including all the stuff I need for this weekend, officially died this week. Fifteen huh-huh-hundred dollars was the final bill for that bottle of accidentally and partially frozen flavored water that spewed  out in that hotel room last week, and I am still just hoping optimistically that I retrieve the data in time for this weekend. Of course, all of that data retrieval doesn’t happen while you’re in bed, for sure. It happens with multiple trips to the repair shop and the Apple store.

Then my husband came home last night. He, too arrived about 12:30 am. That was kind of good, because he was so sleepy that he was sleeping right through those long and loud coughing jags. During one of those jags, around 3 am, I got up and stole around loudly for a bit and, just as I was right beside Glenn’s head, something slimy and wet went KUH-runch under my right foot. I could not help it. I screamed like a banshee. It was dark, but I could see something writhing in the floor. My husband just opened his big brown eyes, sat upright and calmly said, “Do not do this when I am older than I am right at this moment. I believe I will have a heart attack.”

Lights came on.

“It’s a frog! I crushed a frog!” I coughed out the words. The frog lost its croak in the 3 am flush, but, alas, I still have mine.

This morning, my husband woke up and said, “I had the strangest dream. You were around here on my side of the bed and you screamed and there was a frog, of all things, right here in the floor.”

I guess I will just let him go on thinking that was a dream. He’s going to have enough reality when he says good morning to the roof and the wasps and the rotten ceiling…and the fifteen huh-huh-hundred dollar water spill.

Okay, so there is one quick spiritual application I’d like to make. Of course, the health issue is the only one here that really matters, in the big scheme of things. All of the other problems are first world problems. We are rich enough to have indoor bathrooms, dismay over sugar ants means we have sweet things to eat, etc…. But the worst thing about this week is that I shared my disease with my daughter, who as a nursing mom can’t take those antibiotics that I am taking, and now, she has shared it with Baby Ezra. Hannah is sick because I was sick. Ezra is sick because Hannah was sick. I should have been more protective, in the first place. I exposed them.

Now, I am sad about that. But I think about sin a lot—the great disease for which there is but one balm; the disease which, without the cure, brings us down for all of eternity. How tragic it is when parents are not protective of their children with regard to sin. Sometimes I witness parents literally exposing their children to the disease. Oh, I know that each adult person is responsible for his or her own sin (Ezekial 18:20), but still, parents can immunize against the disease or they can expose. I know parents who daily turn on the filth of the devil on television for their young children to view. They are exposing. I know moms who lose their tempers and yell at their husbands in front of their children. They are exposing. I know families who go on vacation and fail to worship with the saints while traveling. They are exposing. I know children who have found Dad’s alcohol in the cabinet and tried it. Dad has exposed.

It’s sad to expose our kids to the flu, to strep throat, or even to the common cold. But it is tragic—eternally and irrevocably devastating—to think we would expose our kids to the disease that will take their souls for all of eternity. Oh, the final choice will be theirs, but early exposure at the hands of parents is something almost too painful to contemplate.

Sister to Sister: I’m Old…So Here! (Part 3)

11057335_10152618923116384_8647455845390333819_nSuggestion three is not easy to say. In fact, its implementation is a struggle for this older woman. But I believe it might be the most practical of any suggestion in 2015 for millennials who want to be keepers–guardians  and protectors of–the home. I’m not a millennial. (Does that mean I am a pre-millennial? Not in the theological sense, but, yes–in the “older woman” sense.) But I know lots of them and I love the way that so many of them are coming back home–to its values, its oh-so-important roles, its traditions. So today, let’s think about something small, relatively new and pretty powerful in terms of relationships in the home.

It fits in the pocket of your purse or sometimes even in a very large pocketed keychain. It’s only a few centimeters in both length and width. In fact, its smallness is one of its biggest selling points. But in that tiny pocket package there is power to destroy relationships. The devil can fit in a package even that tiny, if you let him. You know what the package is. It’s your cell phone—your mobile device.

I heard about a pre-schooler the other day who was asked the question, “What’s the most important thing in the world to your mommy?” Without batting an eye, the sweet little girl responded “Her phone.” Sometimes the answer must be just that obvious to our kids. We keep it with us at all times. We protect it from the elements. (I actually know a man who, while cleaning the swimming pool, was accidentally falling into the water. This man had the prudence and presence of mind to reach into the pocket of his shorts and toss his cell phone onto the concrete, mid-fall! The phone was salvaged.)  We make monthly payments for its use and we check on it multiple times throughout our days.

But I know many homes in which the devil, through that little flat rectangular disc, is doing great damage. Here are a few ways he works through your device:

  1. He makes you fail to “redeem the time”. Sometimes our houses are dirty and/or cluttered, we are behind on the laundry, the cat litter box is a mess, the beds are unmade and we are running late to worship. We fail to study our Bibles daily, but we have scrolled through our news feeds, taken time to post a picture or status and, oh, if only our houses looked like our pins! (Don’t think for a moment that this is personally directed at anyone, because I write, first, to improve my own time redemptive habits.)
  2. The devil makes you overspend. It’s so much easier to buy things when there’s no getting out of your pajamas, no “store hours” to fit into your schedule, no face-to-face exchange of money, no paper trail and SO MUCH (literally, the whole world of retail) from which to choose.
  3. He makes you fail to see needs around you. You are focused on the needs that are far away…a child on CNN who is lost in the Rockies, a ten car pile-up on I-65, a federal financial crisis, or a politician who has misspoken. All the while, you are failing to see the things you can personally fix, or at the very least, affect…the child who is losing his way spiritually—YOUR child…the “pile-up” that’s in your closet, your playroom or your laundry room or, even worse, the emotional pile-up that has accumulated between you and your sister in Christ…the financial crisis that has occurred in your own checking account or with the plastic in your wallet…the words misspoken around your own breakfast table, or the words of encouragement that went unspoken as you scrolled through distant statuses and pithy postings of strangers. Sometimes, we just become very far-sighted in the presence of our devices and the things we could positively affect remain unaffected. And when we fail to do good, it is sin (James 4:17).
  4. The devil tempts us through the lust of the eyes and flesh (I John 2:16). With the multi-billion dollar pornography industry, most of which is readily available on your device, not to mention the appeal of the world through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, he is having a heyday in the lives of the people who are supposed to be sanctified. If you cannot see this as a personal affront of the devil—an affront of which you need to constantly beware—then you are not astute enough to be mentally responsible before God.
  5. The devil is working to addict (enslave) the people of God. Anything that I can’t lay aside for  His purposes, whatever His purpose may be at any given time, is an addiction. Many people I know are addicted to cell phone use. They cannot lay the devices aside for more important things, even temporarily.
  6. The most tragic thing the devil might be doing through your mobile device is destroying your relationship with your spouse. The command for wives in Titus 2 is to love (phileo) our husbands. “Phileo” is friendship love. We are commanded to be best friends with our husbands. Our husbands are commanded to dwell with us according to knowledge, giving us honor. We are missing out on some pretty basic and important relationship builders when we are phone or i-pad addicted. We miss smiles and winks. We miss opportunities to pick up a dropped fork or a broken spirit. We miss conversations that result in sexual intimacy or answers to life’s dilemmas. We miss the “look” of utter dependence that might have made us more clearly see the importance of what we are doing in the home or, in the case of husbands, on the job. We, thus, miss confidence milestones and esteem builders. We miss opportunities to show gratitude. We are absent in the “moments” of life and love. We become deficient in our communication skills because it’s easier to “stalk” than talk; easier to feed curiosity than character; easier to maintain internet navigation than interpersonal communication. So we slowly erode relationships. We do what is easy and neglect what is rewarding. It is a self-centered way to watch our marriages die. And, when the devil succeeds, through the tiny box, in this erosion, he can get his tentacles on so much more—your purpose, your skills of submission or your husband’s leadership abilities, and even the generations that will eventually come from your home.

Are you wondering if the devil may be “stalking” you through your device. Ask yourself some simple questions:

  1. Are there days when the “basics” of home are missing some components—like hot meals, clean clothes in the closet, or clean forks in the drawer…but the facebook posts have been read and you’ve caught up on Instagram notifications? (Maybe I should get up this very moment and do something else and not even post this!)
  2. If you check back on your eBay or Amazon (or other retail) history, do you find that you are spending more than you thought on impulse on-line purchases? Do your kids or grandkids already have more than they need to wear (or play with) and more keeps popping up in your mailbox? Do you have so many clothes (or shoes or purses or baby carriers) that you never wear any of them out and you keep searching the web for more? (I talk to myself. Do you?)
  3. I know you use your Facebook to encourage others, but, if you read Matthew 25, do you find  yourself failing to do most of the “judgement-day-requisites” listed in verses 33-46 in real relationships with those in your congregation, while you find time somehow to shop, pin, post and “catch up” with people you seldom see?
  4. Do you find yourself taking your device to the bathroom with you or locking the door of your office while perusing the web or quickly shutting down pages when someone walks into the room?
  5. If you challenged yourself to do without your mobile devices for one full day except to answer incoming voice calls, would you have a difficult time doing that? Is it hard for you to commit to that test?
  6. Do you have your phone with you at the dinner table?
  7. Do you text others as you ride along with your spouse in the car?
  8. Do you text while driving?
  9. Has your spouse ever mentioned  to you that he wishes you would not be on your phone while with him?
  10. Do you communicate with someone  of the opposite sex online about matters that are sensitive, personal or even sexual in nature?
  11. Do you “talk” with someone of the opposite sex online…a friendly communicative relationship of which your spouse is unaware?
  12. Do you keep surfing or communicating online at night after your spouse goes to sleep?
  13. Do you find yourself very often finishing a line of text or reading a post before going to see about a crying baby or answering child who is calling you? Or do you always look at your phone while rocking your baby or watching a movie or ballgame with your children or family?
  14. Have you ever parted from your spouse and failed to kiss him goodbye because you were involved on your device?
  15. Are you withholding any passwords or devices from full spousal awareness and accountability?

imagesIf one or more of the answers to the above questions is “yes” for me, then I need to examine that area of my life and consider changes. I might be using my phone to communicate while failing in the most important communication of all. If several of the answers is “yes”, then I should beware. The devil may be trying to connect with me online. If I accept him as a friend, I will complicate my life and endanger my eternity. He is constantly posting, sharing, tweeting and texting. He is very tech savvy and extremely “social”.  I must be sure that I own my i-phone rather than allowing it to own me. Because the devil knows my number.

Not About Trophies

IMG_1658What if I could tell you about a tool that has proven to be a key factor in keeping young adults faithful to the church after they leave home, go to college and launch families and careers? I think you should be interested.

When our son, Caleb, was nine years old, we attended our first Lads to Leaders convention. We knew little about the program and less about the convention, but we arrived at the Opryland hotel in Nashville, Tennessee about twenty minutes prior to the time Caleb was scheduled to participate in Oral Bible Reading, one of many non-competitive programs offered to young children. We had no clue how large the hotel was (and this was in the pre-Delta years), how complicated it would be to navigate the parking. gardens, hallways, and ballrooms of this place and how much would eventually be involved in what was to become, from this small beginning, a relatively large part of our lives.

Because, you see, we did not fully know, at the time, how large was the job—the job of keeping our children engaged and involved in the work of the Lord, while keeping their middle school and high school and college “garments” unspotted from the world. We did not fully appreciate how complicated it would be to navigate the corridors of their childhood and adolescent years while keeping their direction heavenward. We surely had no idea about how much would be involved, when all has been said and done, in raising kids for the Lord.

We had already learned, though, that no program, no eldership, no youth minister or youth group could have even a fraction of the influence that we, as parents could wield in the lives of Caleb and Hannah. Lads to Leaders cannot take children to heaven. Only parents, by the grace of God, get to influence children by direct imprint. They are primary shapers. No other person or program is even a close second.

Having said all of that, though, I need to tell you this. A study has shown that about 85% of children who are heavily involved in Lads to Leaders for a period of ten years while growing up, have remained faithful to the church into adulthood. While I did not conduct this survey and I do not know all about how the data was collected, I know about my own personal data. Both of my children were very heavily involved in the program for more than ten years. During those years we memorized hundreds of verses as a family as we focused on the annual goal of the Centurion of Scripture program. We learned to look for opportunities to serve as we seriously worked to be “Good Samaritans.”  Our children learned how to write and deliver scripture-filled speeches to appropriate groups and they did it, not only at convention, but in various venues all through the year. They are still speaking regularly.They tried their hands at various art projects that lend themselves to teaching children or benevolence or illustrating spiritual concepts. They documented progress in scrapbooks that we will always treasure. They learned to use mass media venues to teach the Word and they immersed themselves in study in preparation for Bible Bowl competitions. They studied topically for topical Bible tests (The Pearls Project) and our daughter went to read the Word regularly to an elderly lady who lived on our street. They learned to direct a cappella songs and, in all of this, they learned about the role of women in worship and how important it is that women remain silent in worship settings, submitting to the authority of men.

Peripheral blessings of the Lads to Leaders program have been many as the years have gone by. We were blessed to be able to produce four editions of  Hannah’s Hundred; Bible verses set to a-cappella music to help kids (and adults) memorize the Word (you can find them here). Our children were invited to speak for lots of different groups, including political and pro-life organizations as well as churches and youth groups.Both of our kids put together new programs for Lads to Leaders and presented them to the board of directors for incorporation nationally. They had the opportunity to write study books for teens in conjunction with these programs. Glenn and I have been blessed to develop the Keepers and Providers programs for Lads and watch our congregation’s children be excited to learn the skills that make homes better for Him. These are opportunities and blessings that came our way through our involvement with Lads to Leaders. Other families have been blessed in other ways.

The Lads to Leaders  program is not magic. It cannot come into your church and “rescue” the kids who are spiritually malnourished at the hands of parents who are worldly and unconcerned about the future of the church or the salvation of their families. But, for those who are seeking first the kingdom, it can be a great tool for making Matthew 6:33 very practical in the family. It IS what you make it at home.

Some have postulated that kids who grow up in Lads are only meeting the challenges and doing the work for the sake of applause and trophies. However, statistics are proving that trophies and conventions are merely the motivational tools in early years that keep kids growing, training and tasting the satisfaction that comes from leading in service to the Lord. I personally know scores of kids who have gone through the program and emerged with skills that they use daily as they serve our Master with humble hearts. Once again, the focus and attitudes with which kids emerge depends almost entirely on the focus and attitudes of  parents. That’s just the way the spiritual economy works. We get out of our kids what we, as parents, put into them. Lads just makes the organization, goal-setting and keeping on track a lot easier for parents who already have the dedication required to raise truly successful children. (The definition for true success is “living your life and going to heaven.”)

On that day 22 years ago, when we first walked into that room full of third-graders reading the Bible in front of that friendly audience, we had no clue how large the footprint of Lads would be on our family dynamic. But we are glad for that day.

For more information about how your congregation or your family can get involved, contact ben@lads2eaders.com. You can visit their website at www.lads2leaders.com.

My Dad and I Aren’t Speaking

10636914_10152348142731384_6237585982492991252_oYesterday, I really needed to talk to my dad. He’s 92, you know, and communication with him on a regular day is not as easy as sending an email, or even making a call. But yesterday? It was like navigating a mental obstacle course (and I am not so mentally fit in the first place) to figure out how to communicate with him.

First, he’s hearing-impaired. Bless him, but, as my mother used to say about her hearing- impaired father “…he can’t hear it thunder.”  Second, I had an extreme case of laryngitis—couldn’t speak above a whisper. Third, even on a regular day, Dad needs a phone without many options. You know, it’s probably just his generation…the generation that was bombarded, for the first time, with bombs, not buttons on electronic gadgets. Remotes, phones, computers, and video games are unsettling to his psyche. Fourth, my computer fell victim to a water spill over the weekend in the Opryland hotel. It was flavored water, in a bottle that had partially frozen in the refrigerator. I was so intent on getting that color out of that expensive carpet, that I was not even noticing that my computer was dyeing and dying. So yesterday, there was no facebook-ing family and relaying messages to Dad via my computer. Fifth, upon attempting to borrow a computer, I realized that we were remotely located for the week and there’s no internet. So we packed up and went to McDonald’s. I guess it was remotely located, too. Starbucks! Yes, it had great internet, but the borrowed computer, I learned, also had a big glitch and quickly went to black screen. Between the baby being really ready by now to be home and the computer issues, I gave it up and we went back to our cabin.

So I just talked to my other Father. The one who hears me even if the phone, the internet, and the cable are all out. He is the One who hears me over the baby’s cries and the clamor of the world. He is the One who is never too busy, never too preoccupied and never hearing impaired. He is the One who is THE Father of Fathers. He is the Father of technology. He is the Father of  sound perception. He is the Father of the crying babies and the Father of the nonagenarians. He is the Father who knows what we need before we ask. Best of all, He is the Father of those we love who, for any given reason cannot hear us. The One who knows my needs and hears my prayers knows my dad’s needs and hears his prayers and he does both simultaneously. He is our connection when we are remote and disconnected. He is, in short, the Father whose “eyes are on the righteous and his ears are open to their cries.” He is my Father who will one day open the ears of my earthly father. He will dispel all of my anxious fears about my earthly dad. He is the Father of my father…and yet, He is my own Father. I find a lot of comfort, even from a distance, in that!

…and, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, just talk to my Father. He is keeping up with me and you…simultaneously!