Sister to Sister: New Digging Deep Study!

In The Shadows Digging Deep BannerOne of my favorite moments of every year is the session at Polishing the Pulpit (www.polishingthepulpit.com) when we unveil the new Digging Deep study. This year was the best yet. We had approximately 30 women onstage yesterday who had done every last bit of the Persecution study. That’s representative of about 5000-6000 hours of collective study on that stage. Many women finished the study this year, but were unable to be with us. Many more were all but done and are still finishing up. Hundreds did a portion of the study. Every hour spent in the word is an investment in a sphere where we will not run short on time. What happened today at 12:45 in Ballroom A was just a little icing on the cake for women whose real reward for Bible study is wisdom for life’s tough challenges and decisions. I am very proud to call those who are diligently digging in the Word my sisters and friends.

The new study is called “In the Shadows”. It’s a rich comparison of the shadows of the Old Law and the real images of the New. The key verse is Colossians 2:17:

These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

The goal of the new study is to grasp the significance of the elements of Old Testament worship, sanctification, law, and service in the context of their foreshadowing elements of redemption in the New Covenant—all of this to make us feel the depth of gratitude appropriate for people washed in the blood of the great Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. I need this study. I am thankful He has given us another year —at least the beginning of one—to dig deep in His Word. I am thankful for my sisters who are serious about Bible study. There is not enough time in any of our lives to finish the dig. The deeper we dig, the more knowledge is both gained and yet available.

So please join us for the study. Please share the study. Invite friends, both faithful and unfaithful…both in the covenant and in need of learning of it. I know it will be a blessing; not because I am presenting it, but because it is purely the Word of God.

You can find a free copy of the study for downloading as well as, alternately, a deluxe study notebook for purchase in the Digging Deep section of the store on www.thecolleyhouse.org. There are cute tumblers and Digging Deep t-shirts there, too. These are fun parts of the fellowship, but all you really need is the study. You can follow the group of Diggers on the Facebook page called “Digging Deep In God’s Word” where you will also find information about the monthly podcast.

You have just eight more days before the study officially begins. So get your shovels. Invite your friends and let’s help ourselves to the faith that comes from the Word (Romans 10:17)!

PTP! Let’s do this!

13912888_10153675854961384_3576400400912032462_nAs I write, I am trying to head out the door to attend one of the finest teaching programs I’ve ever experienced. Throughout the last year I have listened to 177 full length classes on the flash drive I brought home from last year’s Polishing the Pulpit. (http://polishingthepulpit.com) just while driving in my car. I’m spiritually richer just for the listening. I know more about the Bible and how to apply it. I have more teaching tools. I am glad I can listen in the  car after the gathering has dispersed. But to get to go and enjoy the fellowship of 4000 Christians while attending some of these lessons in person is a blessing in the vestibule of heaven, itself! 

The other night, while visiting the church in Jacksonville, Alabama I met a lady from the community who came also, to visit their Wednesday Bible study. When I met her, she related to me that someone in the community—someone to whom she had mentioned that she really wanted to know God’s will for her life—said “You should go over to the church of Christ. They have the best Bible studies over there.” Now I do not know who this person was. She was apparently not a member of the church. She had just become impressed with the reputation of Bible study that the Jacksonville church has. 

That was a breath of fresh air for me. God’s people should work hard to maintain that reputation. I’m sure I’ve heard at least a hundred times in my lifetime “The church of Christ used to have the reputation of being the people who knew the Bible. But that day, sadly, has passed.” Well, if it’s passed, I say, let’s bring it on back!

At Polishing the Pulpit, that’s the goal. You will start to believe that we can regain that reputation when you circulate through classes and connect in conversations  and go to the how-to sessions on everything from teaching tots to planning mission trips to food preservation for disaster outreach to learning some basics about the Bible languages. And the  fellowship at this great program!…It’s simply a foretaste of heaven. The children’s program alone is reason enough to make the trip with your family. They get to wander though a life-size New Testament village and soak in the accounts of that Book! I hope you will make plans now for next year, if you’re not traveling to Sevierville,Tennessee this weekend to attend,

I get to talk with ladies about the meek and quiet spirit of I Peter 3. I’m discussing this year the subtleties of the devil’s tactics to try and “trip up” Christian women. I’m simulating a study with a Mormon and kicking off a year of Deep Bible study for women. I’m over-the-top excited about that. I’m talking about some bad reasons to stay in an unfaithful church, some ways to use social media for Him… and more. I love this opportunity to teach. It makes me work and learn and study that blessed Book…Its meat (Hebrews 5:12), Its milk (I Peter 2:2), Its bread (John 6:58) and Its water (John 4:13,14).  But even more, I love the opportunity to learn.  I am just one tiny little teacher (well…you know what I mean) in a vast program of many teachers far more qualified than I am. So, for me, it’s all about soaking it up! At PTP, you learn quickly that, the more you know, the more there is to know. That’s why you keep coming back. And the best part is, you have 358 days in between PTPs to glorify Him with the applications you bring back from those seven days. It’s kind of like a spiritual gold rush for Christians…only  the gold is really there and you really do become richer. And you can take the gold home and invest it, and, slowly, you become richer and richer toward God. Let’s go do this!

Sister to Sister: “He’s Family.”

13445308_10153545698711384_8626082806051738344_nIt caught me a little off-guard when the manager at Waffle House In Jacksonville, Alabama called me over to the counter to have a word with him. He asked for my phone number. 

Well, that didn’t sound right. What I mean is, he wanted an emergency number just in case any medical emergency ever comes up with my father who’s 93 and goes to Waffle House almost every single day….Sometimes, he goes two or three times a day. I was touched. He said “Well, he’s like family to us. That’s just how much we think of him.” 

They know what he orders and they give him a little extra of this or that. They open his creamers and his jellies because they know those arthritic hands have a hard time getting them open. They refill and pamper and “darlin” him till he’s full and then they open all the doors wide for his walker as he leaves. 

That’s how they define treating someone like family. And, mind you, I’m very grateful that they’re so very attentive and kind. They are extremely accommodating and most respectful.  And the fact that they cared enough to get the contact info struck a chord inside me. 

But, still, I’m glad that Dad has a real family. Real family, you see, does a whole lot more than taking breakfast orders, delivering the purchased items, and doing it with kindness and extra measures of respect and friendliness. All of that is so much more than you expect, as a customer, but still not nearly what it means to be “family”.  

Being family is doing everything in your power to identify and make sure all needs are met. Family is shared memories and hopes. It’s defending each other while holding each other accountable. It’s rescuing. It’s reminiscing. It’s communicating about the mundane and struggling together through the challenging. It’s being secure, even in your mutual vulnerability. In the Bible, it’s the Greek word “storge” and the absence of this kind of love is included in some pretty heinous sin-lists in the New Testament (Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3).

It’s interesting, in this context, that God calls us— the church—the “family” (Ephesians 3:15). Sometimes I fall so short of the calling of “family” in reference to my treatment of the brothers and sisters with whom I have the truest kinship…the blood kinship that comes from Calvary. 

I’m pretty devoted to my physical family. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for either of my sisters or my brother. I have a pretty constant anxiety about my father’s well-being. The way I miss my mother is deep and, at times, still excruciating. My husband is everything to me, My children and grandchildren are dear to me beyond words. They put the light in my eyes and the spring in my step. I am all about family.

Perhaps the manager at Waffle House really does think my father is like family. But, for me, family is a little bit more. May I work harder to be truly “family” to those who are my siblings in the family of God. May I strive to exhibit the same (or even a greater) care for the eternal family as I do for the physical family. And may I not allow the fact that I can’t keep up with the needs and cares and sorrows of that many people to stop me from doing my best to treat my Christian kin as family; one person…one opportunity at the time.

From the Archives: Remembering One Back-to-School August

back-to-school_M1eTPK_u_MI’ll never forget this August of 2010, when My daughter Hannah, 23, and fresh out of college, became a high school English teacher. Hannah!…the one who had never attended a day of “real” elementary, middle or high school!  She also had never planned to be a school teacher. In fact, she had purposefully planned NOT to! Here are her thoughts that fall:
So I realize, of course, that it’s been 198264910.7 years since I’ve updated this thing. I would apologize for this, but seeing as how I’ve made no prior commitment to waste your time with my own random musings which are probably only interesting to me and maybe my mother who loves me more than any daughter deserves to be loved (my dad loves me, too, but is much less likely to even know what Tumblr is), an apology really isn’t necessary.
In the event, however, that you, the current reader, are somewhat interested in my quite unexpected post-grad way of life, keep reading. The other 90%, just stop here. This is just another, “Wow-let-me-impart-into-your-soul-some-urgent-life-changing-thoughts-that-are-really-not-that-earth-shattering-but-feel-good-to-get-off-my-chest” post.
The last time I got on here and talked about my life, I was fresh out of college, about to stay in a friend’s apartment all summer in Henderson, TN. I was doing some freelance work for a religious publication and working with some great kids in my youth minister boyfriend’s youth group. I was also speaking at youth rallies and such on some weekends. For then, that was plenty. I was just glad I didn’t have to feel like a major moocher at my parents’ house . I wanted to feel like I was doing something worthwhile. I felt that by the end of the summer, I would have another exciting plan to chase.
I had an amazing summer. I cooked every day. I had slumber parties. I dyed t-shirts. I got to speak to hundreds of girls who were hungry for truth and just someone to relate to them. I made new friends—some of which I think will last forever. I went star-gazing. I wrote a lot. I fell in love.
In the meantime, I sent my resume to as many newspapers as I could find that needed writers. I quickly discovered that not a lot of promising journalism opportunities are made available to newly graduated starry eyed writers with no major reporting experience and no Masters degrees.
By the end of the summer, I was still believing in my heart of hearts that I was going to get a call with an exciting job offer in an exciting new city in which I could spread my wings and become the competent journalist I was meant to be.
It seems God had other plans.
I got a call near the end of the summer. Chester County High School needed an English teacher and I had been recommended. Would I be interested in coming in for an interview? I chuckled. Never in my life did I ever think of myself as a public school teacher—much less HIGH SCHOOL. I was an English major, yes, but had never had a single education class, and definitely no student teaching experience. What a joke! I expressed, however, how honored I felt that I was considered, but for now, “probably not—I’ll get back to you though.”
Long story short—a week later, still no job, and my desperation was at an all-time high. The last thing I wanted to do was to financially depend on others when I was perfectly capable of working for my own paycheck. After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to call the school back and inquire about the position. After all, it would only be a 1-year contract, it was good money for starting out (especially in this economy), and it would be good experience to have under my belt regardless.
The position was filled.
I knew it would be. Sure I did. My own stupid fault for being too good for a perfectly good job that not a lot of fresh college grads are offered.
I was kicking myself for a few weeks because of that. I kept praying. I asked God to open another door for me since I had shut that one.
Then I got another phone call.
I was sitting in McDonald’s with the boyfriend when the principal at CCHS called me and asked me to come in for an interview. Turns out the guy who was originally offered the job had a family emergency and had to give up the position. I was really sad for him, but this time, I wasn’t so smug about a temporary career path that wasn’t necessarily my first choice.
Two short weeks later, I was thrown in a classroom, responsible for the education of over 150 ninth graders, my heart pounding. What you may or may not know about me is that I’ve never stepped foot into a public school. Home schooled all my life, my expectations of public high school were…well, there weren’t any. I’m not just making funny jokes when I say I didn’t know what a hall pass was, what bus duty was, what in-school suspension was, or even what a grade book looked like. I felt like a turtle trying to run a marathon, but I put on a confident face and, although I looked like a student myself, tried to convince my students that I was aptly authoritative and deserved their respect.
I’ve somehow made it through 3 complete months of teaching. While I know this may not the path for me (and that, more than ever, I want to home school my kids), I don’t regret the decision to teach for this year. God has given me more open doors in these past 3 months than I remember having my whole life. I’m amazed at how many of my students feel comfortable opening up to me about real-life issues: divorce, abuse, sex, break-ups, self-abuse, and most importantly, how to get to heaven. I’ve had Bible studies with students who are searching for something solid and stable in their worlds that are full of everything that’s broken. I’ve had multiple opportunities to share Christ with so many different open and desperate hearts. It happens just about every day—not exaggerating.
Besides that, I’m learning so many life lessons myself that I know will inevitably help me to be a better mother, a better teacher, a better organizer, and a better communicator. God knew I needed these lessons. I complain a lot about how He’s teaching me patience and wisdom, but deep down, I can hear my dad’s voice ringing loud and clear….”This is good, Hannah. It builds character.” Every time you hear a parent say something about “character-building,” you know it’s going to feel lousy sometimes until it’s all over and you can admit it helped you to grow. I’m trying to beat myself to the chase by admitting it now. The truth is, just as a disclaimer, I complain a whole lot because my job requires so much more work and time than I ever dreamed it would (I’ve realized that all teachers are underpaid and underestimated). I am ready to experience something new, but I do not question God’s plan in placing me here. Yes, He’s using me as a mouthpiece for Him in many ways (whether or not I always make the best use of that), but more than that, I think He’s teaching me a few lessons I needed myself.
I still view my life as an adventure, despite the day-in-day-out routine I’m in at the moment. After this year, I’m excited to see what God has in store for me.
As always, I’m so unworthy and I make the dumbest mistakes. On the upside, I believe I’m learning from each one. That makes them almost worth it.

7 Pounds of His Grace

13912431_928723135739_3489667227565621351_nDear Father, 

I already knew that You are God, Yahweh, the Great I AM. I am the one who speaks and writes and cries about life in the womb because of the holocaust against it in America today. I should say that I am ONE of the ones, for there are still many and we are unwilling to give up the battle for life to those who routinely burn with saline, rip apart, vacuum out and discard those viable body parts, suffocating those screams before  tiny mouths can open to the air that allows them to cry out for themselves. I am not about quietness when I can be a voice for those whose beating hearts are stopped in brutal and painful ways. 

But, today, Lord, I knew more than ever that Your throne of grace and majesty extends into the darkness of the womb. Help me never to forget what I saw today. I know that You have pushed the pause button on the miraculous, but this morning in that doctor’s office in Montgomery was just about as close to a miracle as I will get before Your mighty trumpet blows. 

My little girl’s little girl was there, as big as life, on that screen. In fact, it was the tiny epitome of life. They told us that she weighs seven pounds and four ounces already and her chubby cheeks evidenced that she’s big and healthy.  Lord, I cannot believe that I saw so clearly that right cheek turn to the side. I’m remembering now that you told us to have cheeks that turn. I pray that she will. It will be painful for me if I ever have to witness her cheek being smitten; yet I know she will experience hurt and people will mistreat her. Help her to turn the other cheek—to show mercy in exchange for cruelty. Help her never to be self-centered or to seek for glory. Help her to defer to the preferences of others. Help me to show her the beauty that comes from a meek spirit.

I saw her little hands in her mouth. It’s tight in there now and she’s just all balled up with her hands against her cheeks and against those tiny lips. Lord, they are Your hands. Those fingers will play instruments or hold a baseball bat or a needle and thread. They will turn pages in all kinds of books. They will turn pages in Your book, Lord. One day some handsome boy will put a ring on that chubby finger that I saw today and her daddy will give that hand in marriage to him. Those sweet hands will roll out dough and pat curly tresses and pick up cheerios and mend socks and fold clothes.  I pray that those little fingers will minister for You, Lord; that they will feel burning foreheads and administer Tylenol…that they will hold other hands beside hospital beds and nursing home rockers…that they will change diapers…that they will change lives by opening up Your Word in Bible studies. May those hands hold Yours. May they be daily folded in prayer and reaching to fill needs. 

I saw that tiny heel that Hannah has been feeling—-that even I can feel— as she kicks against the taut skin on Hannah’s right side. I could count the toes and see that little foot so very clearly. Lord, You made that little extremity so perfectly! May her spiritual feet be just as beautiful. May her feet carry the gospel of peace to the souls around her for all of her days. Help us, as her family, to train her to walk—to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. May we never take it for granted that she will, but help us Lord to be purposeful for the footsteps of her and her brother, Ezra. The devil is purposeful. He is seeking to devour. On some days it seems like he is making it next to impossible for parents to direct the footsteps of little ones in Your ways. But we can do all things through Your Son. May even we, as grandparents, profoundly impact her footsteps to stay in Your narrow way that leads to life. 

She heard me, Father! That little girl responded to my voice. I knew because when I spoke she turned her head toward me and she opened her eyes wide in response! This is the part I could not believe. I said, “She’s hearing me!” The technician responded “Of course, she is!”  So I told her right there that I loved her. I called her “Sweetness” since I do not know her name, and I told her about You, Lord. I just could not help myself. I made her promises. I made them out loud and  I will keep them. I told her I will teach her about Jesus, Your Son, and that I will teach her Your Word. I told her that we love her so much and that we cannot wait to tell her about You! I sang a bit of “Baby Mine” to her and I was overwhelmed at that moment with Your goodness to me. I am just dust, Lord! How can I thank You for a moment like that?! When I was driving those four hours to arrive in time for that ultra-sound after getting those three hours of sleep last night, I have to admit it. My faith was weak. I thought I would see an unrecognizable bit of blur. I saw YOU there, Father, and I will never forget Your grace in letting me see, in her, Your amazing creative power and unrivaled attention to detail. I stand amazed in Your holy presence!

And then, as she turned to look toward us, searching for the sounds, she opened that huge eye as wide as she could, as if to say, “Where ARE you?” And, in that moment, I fell helplessly in love with that little girl…just hopelessly and forever devoted to her well-being. Father, help me, to show her the goodness in this world; the hope that’s still left in this place. Help those beautiful eyes to sparkle and shine and to shed few tears of sorrow.  But most of all, help us to show her the hope and peace that comes from living for You. Help those gentle eyes to witness, with wonder and awe, the pictures and characters in little Bible story books. Help them to record the righteous examples of service around her. Guard her tender eyes from those things that can trap her at an early age. Give her maturity and resolve before the toughest tactics of Satan catch her eyes. As she grows, give her eyes to search for those who may be willing to listen to the gospel, the message of Your salvation. Open her eyes that  they may see those whose needs may really be doors to evangelism. Lord keep her eyes focused heavenward. 

Reflecting back on this day, I can hardly believe You let me do this. Your Words are true: She IS fearfully and wonderfully made! My only sadness is that her grandfather is preaching Your gospel in Kentucky this week and there is no way I can adequately describe this heart-swell to someone who was not in that room!  Help us Lord, her parents and grandparents. If all is as it seems, You are giving her to us in perfect condition. May we work as a team, Father, to give her back to You, through the gift of Your Son, in that same perfect condition. Father, thank-You for today. I cannot wait  to hold her, fresh from Your hands. I cannot wait for her to see my face and to start learning just how much I love her. But, most of all, I can’t wait to show her You and just how much YOU love her. I want her to see Your face!

Moms, Shoot for This!

13245489_132797127136197_2138064978297995935_nCentral California this last week has been very warm in a couple of ways. The degree of hospitality was the best kind of warm as several families in the Lord’s church went out of their way to see that our every need, and so much more, was met. One of the conversations we had with Jason and Jill Jackson was about family life and parenting and how they, several years ago, sought advice from our brother, Wendell Winkler, about how to make a home from which children might emerge and faithfully walk in the ways of the Lord. He had five pieces of advice that are worth sharing. He was a man of great wisdom and moms will do well to put these in their hearts and around their dinner tables.

  1. About normalcy: Even if your family is a preaching family or an elder family in the church, don’t make your children feel as though they are “on display” or “different” from other Christians. After all, the reason we do what we do is not because of the preaching role or the leadership role. The reason we do what we do is because we are Christians. We can make our kids resent the work pretty quickly if we cause them to think there’s negative abnormality about serving the Lord. Don’t make your sons wear a coat and tie to events when the rest of the kids have on khakis and polos. 
  2. About the value of a dollar. Don’t try to provide all the “wants” for your kids. The work ethic is missing today in many homes, even in the church, and it is to our detriment.  Children will be better stewards of their material possessions if they understand that earning and saving are prerequisites to enjoying and sharing material possessions. The entitlement spirit is strong in our culture and we have to work to help our children reject it. Perhaps another way to say this is “Don’t let your children complain about the food on the table.”
  3. About saying “yes”: You should say yes to the “asks” of your kids as often as you can (“May I go here?” …”May I try out for this?” …”May I have a sleepover with my friends?” etc…) because you will have to say “no” often because of the difference in our profession of Christianity and the culture in which we live. 
  4. About criticism: Criticism will come from those in the world and from those in the church. Your family, if you are faithful, and especially if you are in a leadership position, will often be scrutinized and there will be those who think it’s their job to “correct” or instruct you, even if you are doing your very best. Just expect that. Prepare your minds for it and go on and do your very best. 
  5. About balance. You will pay dearly if you neglect family to do “church work”. You will pay dearly if you neglect your work in the church for family priorities. Be sure you have a good balance and blend. The work of the church should be the family’s work. Get in there and do it together! Family vacations, ballgames, family game nights and hobbies pursued together will grow and solidify the influence you are able to wield on your children. Never take a vacation from God, though. Whatever you are doing, be sure your family knows He’s always the priority and you will not forsake the worship of His church for any reason. Remember, as a mom, your most important evangelism is in your home. Those souls are the priority during their growing-up years. 

There you have it. I know lots of parents who are great examples of this kind of parenting and family balance. This spring, one of those families in Texas watched, as their daughter gave them this word of thanks for that kind of “raising”.  Kastin Carroll would have included lots of Biblical references had she been speaking just to women. But in this graduation ceremony, you can hear the Word behind her remarks to her parents. Her father is an elder in the Brown Trail church in Fort Worth. She and her dad are in the photo above.  You will enjoy and take courage from watching.