Sister to Sister: Unnecessary Risks

So my husband called this morning to tell me that my digital gas gauge read zero-miles- remaining when he got to the end of our driveway this morning on his way out. I knew that, though. I live life on the edge about some things. (I’ve actually put it to the test before and I know that my Honda Pilot gauge gives a little grace…at least two miles once it’s reading zero….And, to be honest, I was coming home from the doctor, where my flu test had yielded a positive reading, when I realized I was almost out of gas, so, in my physically compromised state, I thought it was worth the risk.)

Some things are worth the risk. It’s worth the risk of an extra  pound or two to give yourself permission to splurge on a cupcake now and then. It’s worth the risk of being a minute or two late to the soccer game when you see a yard sale that calls to you. It’s worth the risk of getting stung by a bee or bitten by an ant to go on a picnic with your kids.  And it was worth the risk to me to try and make it home to my bed, even though I knew there was a small possibility that I’d get stuck on the side of the road. 

Some people, though, take spiritual risks and spiritual risks are never worth it. I know parents who know they could be helping to insure that their kids don’t fall away from the church. They could be having family Bible time each day or getting their kids involved in ministering to the elderly. They could be participating in Bible Bowl or Lads to Leaders. But they are willing to risk their children’s faithfulness on a mere three-times-a-week type religion. Big risk (In fact, it’s doubtful, even if their children emerge with the same kind of faith as their parents have, that this weak faith will weather the storms and reserve them a place around the throne.)

I know people who gamble with the calendar. They understand that they are outside of the fold of safety—lost— and they intend to do something about that…later. They fail to understand the risk of early death, the possibility of the coming of the Lord, the lack of desire they may have to obey…later. Big risk. 

I know people who take big spiritual risks in their marriages. Years slowly pass and husbands and wives grow apart, finding fewer and fewer common interests and more and more opportunities to be apart. Communication becomes strained and there are few intimate and tender moments. Marriage takes commitment and work. When one fails to commit to do marriage God’s way, the risks are of phenomenal proportions. They include the occurrence of extramarital sexual fulfillment, the dissolution of the marriage and home, the psychological  and spiritual damage to children and the eternal loss of multiple souls. Big risk.

I know those who have been influenced by others to take risks of addiction. Every first alcoholic drink is a risk. Every first drug use is a risk. Every first purposeful pornography use is a risk. In short, every addiction begins with a first use. That first experimentation is a big risk. 

It’s amazing to me that we live in a culture in which people are not about taking risks with health, or physical safety. Organic, free of preservatives or additives, free of harsh chemicals, safety belts, safety buckles, safety harnesses, safety recalls, the National Safety Council etc…etc…are all words and phrases we hear multiple times each week. It’s got to be a good thing when we heighten our awareness about health and safety. But how often do you hear “He has lung cancer and he never smoked a day in his life.”…Or…” She was killed instantly although she was wearing her safety belt.”…Or…”She was so health conscious. I can’t believe she had a heart attack.”

The point is this: Physical risks are sometimes just not truly calculable. We can do our best, but still not be prepared for what may be around the corner, health-wise. Spiritual risks are more calculable. Every one of us is headed for death. Death is not probable. It is not likely. It is not predicted. It is certain. Why would we not prioritize the spiritual safety measures that are at our disposal? Since it is certain that there will be a day when they will be of ultimate importance, why would we not want to minimize the risk of eternal tragedy in every way possible. 

One hundred years from now, it will matter very little whether my house contained an asbestos residue, or whether all the safety recalls were done on my vehicle. It will not matter much whether my eggs were organic or cost-effective. It will not matter much if my kids took antibiotics occasionally or depended entirely on herbal remedies or other homeopathic or eastern medicines. 

Please do not think this a critique on moms who are making the best health choices they can possibly make for their families. I know that’s a good thing. But we all would do well to compare the measures we take for health and safety to those spiritual measures we take daily for eternal health and safety. There’s so much about physical health that’s beyond our control. Thank God that physical health is passing and the kind of eternal well-being that we CAN control is forever. 

Don’t take unnecessary and irresponsible risks with the health of your family. More importantly, don’t cut corners spiritually. Do every thing you can to insure that every member of your family is anchored in faith…ready for the inevitable passage from life to eternity. 

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).

 

  

 

Sister to Sister: Happy 95th…to Both!

Yesterday was my Dad’s 95th birthday. It is hard to believe that he lived in an era in which an automobile was a very rare sight in his community, but then traveled the world during World War Two in a ship called the San Saba. When he was a small lad, he disassembled a radio to try and find the “people” who were “talking in there”. Now he asks us how that tiny phone can possibly contain the answers to any and all questions we ask Siri. He owns the bell and a wooden desk from that one-room schoolhouse in Peaceburg, where he attended when he didn’t have to be in the fields picking cotton (or hiding under the cotton basket so he wouldn’t have to pick). But then he went on to be one of the first in his family, if not the first, to graduate from college. It’s hard to believe he grew up as one of eleven children, a sharecropper’s son, and now he is the single remaining person of that generation of family. He watched the world take flight, man travel to the moon, the building of interstates and infrastructures and internet, as well as the destruction of the Nazi Regime and the Soviet Union. Ironically, he served in a huge worldwide war against injustice in the 1940s while blinking his eyes in 1973 and opening them to the injustice that would take millions more lives than all of the wars in which the US has ever been involved. 

So I took my dad in the golf cart to the back of the barn on Saturday, where he thought he was going to see a new fire-pit, When all of his family shouted “Happy Birthday!” as we rounded that corner, he knew this party was all about him and he had lots of fun opening Alabama and Mayberry trivia books and clothes and blankets and collar extenders. He loved a hat that one of his nephews had made for him bearing the name and insignia of his U.S. navy ship all those years ago and a forty-eight star encased flag like the one under which he served our country. But the best surprise of the day was the news of the upcoming birth of his third great grandchild, Baby Nicholas! That was the best news for all of us. 

It’s profound. Really. Yet, it happens all the time. This 95-year-old grandfather seems so very far removed from that 95-day old baby undergoing gestation. So many years, history, trials, victories…just so much living between them. And yet, there is coming a day when they will both recall the tiny dot on a vast eternal timeline in which they both existed on planet earth, that place of preparation for what is real and never diminishes or passes. Then, it will surely seem so distant and fleeting—that dot on the eternal timeline (If one could even say “eternal” and “timeline” in one sentence)—that they, having been mortals in generations that touched briefly on earth, will seem to have existed even in the same relative moments of time. What is 95 years, anyway, on the timeline of God, to whom a thousand years is as a day? 

Of course, the oversimplification of the profundity is this: We’d better all be able to get our tiny focus out of the wars, the accomplishments, the education, and the advancements and look at time and triumphs through the eyes of our Maker. He knew about flight and WW2 and globalism and the internet when he called Noah to save a seed line for the Messiah. He knew about all of the passing productions of men when He called Abraham out of Ur. He knew he was moving a patriarch so that He could call all men through Jesus to Himself one day, where no invention or amount of progress can bring men even close to matching the perfection of heaven. The answer to that call is all that matters. It is what links the 95-year-old grandfather and the tiny baby in gestation for eternity. It is, when that baby one day puts-on our Lord, what will truly make them blood kin. It’s the blood of Jesus coursing through spiritual veins that makes us eternal family. 

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (II Peter 3:8)

It’s just profound.

Vegas: Every Face a Soul

I just watched the slideshow of the faces of those killed in the mass shooting Sunday night in Vegas. It’s just more than you can handle emotionally to think of the young lives (almost all of them young) taken violently, senselessly in that horrible scene. It is WAY more than you can handle emotionally to think of the destination of many of those souls who were unprepared to leave this planet. This much we can rationally know: If one soul–the right soul– had been taught and had embraced, early on, the precepts of HIS gospel, these people would be home with their loved ones tonight. We cannot know the potential good that is done each time we share the Good News. We are debtors to Christ, but also to all potential victims of sin’s destruction, to share the gospel at every opportunity.

As I left Shreveport on Sunday afternoon, only two gates in that little regional airport, were full of people. I did not have a gate number on my boarding pass, so I walked up to the first gate and asked the attendant if this gate was for Atlanta. He said, “No, these folks are on the way to Vegas.” I looked around for a moment as I walked away. I actually looked into faces, thinking about how many of them were probably going to go and spend money, …money that people somewhere needed badly, in gambling casinos. I had seen, on my way to the airport that Shreveport is a gambling mecca. I wondered how many of them were addicted. Perhaps some in that large airport crowd were flying into Vegas to attend concerts…maybe even the concert or music festival that we all saw on Monday morning. It’s certain that almost everyone waiting to board that plane would soon wish they could be anywhere but Las Vegas. Every face at that crowded gate had/has a soul. I thought of that as I looked into their preoccupied eyes.  More correctly, though, every eternal soul has a passing face. It’s just that we don’t know the date of passage from mortality’s smiles and fun and plans and flights to eternity’s final destination. May I be more cognizant of life’s frailty, death’s certainty and eternity’s finality.

And may those who lost loved ones in the Vegas tragedy be led by his people who may know them to look to the Word and find the peace that passes understanding.

Sister to Sister: Hefner– A Life of Instant “Heaven” for an Eternal Hell

I began my day by reading this blurb from my son-in-law, Ben Giselbach:

Consider how many families have been crushed and how many hearts have been torn to pieces because someone believed Hefner’s gospel of free sex, “decent” pornography, and erotic liberation. When he was born, his Methodist mother wanted him to grow up and be a missionary – and in a way she got her wish. He did not invent pornography, but he was the first to institutionalize by making it “respectable” and mainstream. He was the harbinger of the new sexual ethic, fueling a revolution that has changed the globe in a way far worse than any war or disease ever could. He was a missionary who taught his message to the ugly end. He died yesterday as a pathetic, wrinkly playboy, perhaps still in those silk pajamas. We do not rejoice in his death (Eze. 18:23; 33:11). But we must recognize he died not as a successful philanderer, but a loser and a con man. He duped many into buying into his gospel of death and now stands before his Creator, explaining why he exploited so many made in precious His image. Lord, please have mercy.

Hugh Hefner is dead. His legacy lives on. He converted many whose influences have now converted millions. According to Family Safe (familysafe.com), these are fairly recent statistics. (However, pornography statistics are outdated very quickly because of the dramatic daily increase in porn use.) Hefner’s influence is compounded every second in our country. 

Pornography Time StatisticsEvery second – $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography

Every second – 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography

Every second – 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines

Every 39 minutes: a new pornographic video is being created in the United States

Hefner died today with a net worth of about 40-50 million dollars, all of which remains here, forever inaccessible to him. According to his own testimony, he had sex with over a thousand women, all of whom are forever inaccessible to him now. He has already entered a state of torment that will never end. The leader of the sexual revolution, the iconic king of sexual pleasure, will never know a single moment’s pleasure again. He will remember with pain and deep regret. He will wish for a Lazarus to dip a finger in water and come and cool his tongue, but no man can help him now. Hugh Hefner was instrumental in building a 97 billion dollar industry. He died a spiritual pauper. He will be buried beside Marilyn Monroe in Westside Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA. 

Imagine that! One day when the graves are opened, rising up next to one another will be the bodies of Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Hefner. But Entertainment Tonight and Star magazine will not even be looking that way. All eyes will be heavenward. 

If you are one among the masses of people who are living under the influence of Hefner’s industry…if you are contributing to the coffers of pornography or suffering from its addiction, you are still on the right side of eternity. You can still die a rich woman. You can still have heaven. I hope you will make conscious choices now to that end. If you are toying around with the idea of reading that salacious book or clicking on that inappropriate site or posting that seductive picture, I hope you will take a moment to think about where that “missionary” you are thinking of following is living— right this very moment.

Marvel not at this: for the hour comes, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment [damnation—KJV]” (Jn. 5:28-29).

Sister to Sister: When My Godly Husband Falls (Part 2)

I will continue to be in the Word every day. Notice I used the word “continue”. I cannot continue something that I’ve never begun. If I have not already made it my habit to study daily, may I begin now, even while beginning this new study, to put the Word in my heart regularly. It will be enriching now, but it may be the source of your sanity if you face the devastation of a spouse gone astray. You do not want to follow after wickedness. Stay close to the Book and you will have a hard time following His lead into sin.                                                             

 They draw near who follow after wickedness;They are far from Your law” (Psa. 119:150).

I will seek wise counsel. As a Christian wife, with a once-Christian husband, you have looked to your husband as a spiritual leader, just as the Bible commands (Ephesians 5: 23, 24). It’s very difficult to stop looking to that man as your mentor… as your spiritual advisor. But sadly, if he has left the Lord, as Saul did, he can no longer be trusted to instruct your spiritual conduct. You may need guidance desperately. May I advise you to seek faithful people; elders who are in the Word or older women who fit the Titus 2:3-5 model. If you seek professional counseling, may I advise you to seek out a Christian counselor, or, at the very least, a counselor who advises in accordance with Biblical principles. I have seen many women follow the counsel of a trusted, but non-Christian counselor, right onto a path that will lead them to hell. 

I will work diligently to protect my kids from spiritual danger. Your children will not come out of a childhood in which they witnessed their father (or mother, for that matter) fall into sin without being hurt. They will not escape unscathed. But I have seen plenty of children rise above such a situation to live faithful lives as adults. However, in most cases, where kids end up spiritually successful, there was a faithful parent who remained faithful even when the going got tough. In cases where the husband’s sin has resulted in his abdication of parental responsibilities, it means you must parent to the point of exhaustion almost every day. It means being sacrificially involved in the lives of your children. It means giving attention to discipline, helping with homework and protecting, as much as possible from the insecurities that come with divided parents; whether divorced or spiritually divided. It may mean walking that fine line between, on the one hand, ignoring, thus normalizing sin and, on the other hand, making it clear to your innocent children that their father is living in sin. There will be tough calls to make, but your life must be filled with prayer, the Word, good counsel and discretion. You cannot allow your emotions to strangle the joy out of your children’s innocent years any more than is already necessitated by the sin. 

I will not even begin to compromise with the world. This world spews forth self-fulfillment as the philosophy that brings us through the tough times:

—“Isn’t it time you did something for YOU?”

__ “You deserve to have a little fun, too.”

__ “You can’t let him rob you of your happiness.”

Or the line that takes the Word out of our concept of His will:

—“I think God wants me to be happy.”

 Of course, all of the above is rubbish.God did not call us to be happy. He called us to be holy (I Peter 1:16). It is important to remember, when making the tough calls in the tough times, that you can do anything for a lifetime. I know it’s hard. I know it’s exhausting. I know, on some days, life seems hopeless and it’s a struggle to go on. But try to see this life as God sees it. It’s a vapor or a flower that appears for a short time and… poof!… it is gone as quickly as it came (James 4:13-17). It is so very temporary and yet, it is the battlefield that decides the eternal victory. Don’t let the devil get you so discouraged that you choose an instant pleasure that results in eternal damnation. You can do anything…for a lifetime. You can bear any burden for the short sojourn to heaven. 

Sister to Sister: A Shepherd’s Plea

One  of  my favorite holiday gifts this year was from my brother-in-law, Scotty Sparks. This gift originated with my grandfather, a shepherd in the church for many years in Jacksonville, Alabama. It’s a letter he’d thought about a lot and typed out to send to members of his congregation who had gone astray. Following his death in 1982, the letter ended up in my mother’s hands. She eventually gave it to Scotty at some point in the late 1980’s and, as you will see from Scotty’s note to me, he used it as an outline from which to preach the gospel. Every plea in the letter is just as pertinent to people who walk away from the Lord today as it was to wayward members of the body when it was first penned. I know my “Daddy Duncan” wrote this from a heart of grief at the lost condition of some soul that was under his care. Perhaps he sent it to several. Perhaps, he also preached from this outline.

 

Here are Scotty’s words prefacing the letter he gave me for Christmas:

This is a copy of a letter written by your grandfather, John Duncan, while he served as an elder at Jacksonville. I do not know the year. Your mother, Johnnia, gave it to me while I was at FHU to have as a resource. (She was always giving me good books or material.) I eventually developed this into a sermon. I hope you will overlook my “boxing in” the points. As a college student with a low inventory of sermons and an even lower inventory of dimes for the copier, I simply used the original letter for my notes. Perhaps the precious knowledge that your grandfather’s deep love for souls demonstrated in the words of this document and preached several years after his death to encourage people he would never meet on this side of heaven will compensate for the defacement. 

And here is my grandfather’s letter. If you have walked away from faithfulness, will you think about his words?

Dear brother in Christ,

I am writing this letter not to censure or criticize your any way, but that I may exhort you and cause you to think of what it means to live in a lost condition.

One of the most solemn questions that could be asked of a lost person is:

“What if you should die in your lost condition?”…Terrible thing to think about….Judgment. One day we will have to stand before the great white throne and give an account unto God for the way we live here. We need to read often Luke, the sixteenth chapter, beginning with verse 19; the story of the rich man and Lazarus, and also the other passages of the Scriptures that teach what an awful place hell is.

Another question just as solemn is:

“What if you should live in your lost condition?” At first, that question doesn’t sound to be very solemn at all, but let’s think seriously about what we are doing when we are living in a lost condition.

First of all, we lend support to the forces of Satan against the Lord; fighting, whether we mean to or not, with Satan against the Lord’s cause, because there is no such thing as being neutral in the conflict between Christ and the devil. Christ, himself, said, “He that is not with me is against me.”

Secondly, we will influence others to be lost. not intentionally, of course, but inevitably. As God uses His children to lead others to salvation, the devil uses all others to lead people into sin and to keep each other in sin. Wicked men and women are used to lure some into evil, but some people will not be tempted by them, so, to reach these, Satan must use good and upright people. For example, wives may keep their husbands from being saved; husbands may lead wives to hell; parents may cause their children to be lost; or children may even do the same for their parents. 

Thirdly, we will live a life less abundant than God intended for man. Jesus came to give life more abundantly (John 10:10). A more abundant life includes many things…for example, forgiveness, hope of eternal life versus no hope, hence no fear of death versus a fear of dying; fellowship with Christ versus no fellowship…and many others.

Fourthly, our hearts will become harder (Heb. 3:13). “But exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” …Hebrews 3: 7,8… “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness…” …I Timothy 4:2…”Your conscience will become seared as with a hot iron.”

Fifthly, we will die in our lost condition. It is a mistake–a lie of the devil–to think that we might live in a lost condition  and die in a saved condition. In Numbers 23:10, Balaam wanted to die the death of the righteous, but he had refused to live the life of the righteous. And, if we die in this lost condition, we will be lost eternally. 

In conclusion, if we knew we would die tomorrow, we would want to be Christians, but if we knew we would live to be 110, we should still want to live each day for the Lord. There is one thing worse than dying in a lost condition–and that is living in a lost condition. 

 

My grandfather, to me, was that great friend who took us hiking in the woods in the fall and  fishing in the summer. He was that friend with whom we watched Bonanza on Sunday nights after worship. He was  the friend who went to town on my birthday to buy me the wonderful very hard plastic horse that I  still treasure and the silver necklace with the tiny blue bauble. He is the man who had such a credit rating in this small town that I could go in almost any store in town and pick up whatever he sent me for and simply say, “Put this on John Duncan’s bill.” He could build anything in that garage and he would take me to work with him and let me play on a giant old adding machine on his desk. He taught me to skip rocks and to bait hooks. He was the quintessential grandfather.

But to others, he was more. He did not, to my knowledge, have even a high school education, but he did important things. He faithfully raised two children of his own and three stepsons whose father left them at a young age. He was the progenitor of seven faithful preachers and of six women who married faithful preachers; of three elders in the Lord’s church and of four women who are wives of elders in the kingdom. 

Once, as a child, I enquired about why my grandmother all of a sudden had a lady coming every now and then, to help her do housekeeping chores. I had never seen a maid before and, though my grandmother was kind of ill by then, she was the hardest-working woman I knew. “Well,” she said, “…this lady needed some food and some help with her light bill, so your grandfather told me to try and think of some jobs she could do, so he could help her back on her feet.” I didn’t think so much about that then, but I have thought a little more about it as an adult. It’s a pretty good thing when you can help people without enabling indolence.

The congregation where he worshipped and served is now 99 years old. Next year, as it celebrates its 100th birthday, it will rejoice in the fact that its publication “House to House/Heart to Heart” reaches millions of people around the world annually with the gospel. The congregation will reach thousands who attend its Polishing the Pulpit conferences around our country. Of course, none of this is his doing. It is the doing of our great God who has used lots and lots of ordinary people through the years to keep the work that began with a gospel meeting in the year 1918 by Brother C.H. Woodruff alive in Him for the next 100 years. Each man in Christ is just one little link in a chain of events and lives and opportunities: one chapter in a book that will find its last chapter around the throne. But still, I’m glad for His tiny little part and I’m glad he was my friend.

As I write, I am sitting in the large Houston Cole library (pictured) on the campus of Jacksonville State University. It is one–the last, in fact–of several buildings that my grandfather helped construct on this campus. His secular job was to direct the maintenance operations for this university during several decades of the twentieth century. He was proud of its buildings and grounds and fiercely dedicated to a work ethic and the management of a team of hardworking men. He did not own his own home, but lived in university housing. (That’s me on the porch of that university house with a surprise from under their tree circa 1963.) He did not own his own car, but drove a university truck. His large and productive garden, where I learned how to grow things and what happened to people who didn’t like to work, was planted on university soil. He typed the letter that I am holding on a university typewriter and directed his team from a little university office. His sons would gather in a particular spot in one of the dorms that was acoustically wonderful and sing hymns. I even have a recording of one of those hymn-sings, and those young men were incredibly good for a country quartet. (I doubt that the dorms at JSU are often used for hymn-singing today.)

Now, I know that I am not unique in being able to reminisce about godly influences in my early years. I know that there are congregations all over this world that warm by fires that have been stoked through the years by faithful, yet very ordinary people. I know that my grandfather never once thought about the fact that I might someday sit and reminisce, from this chair, in a building constructed from a blueprint he once held in his hands. But here I am. In the same way, you and I do not know where and how our influence may live in the ensuing decades. But there will be a time and place in which someone will be thinking about me. I will be, to the world, an insignificant name on a grave marker. But to someone, I might be able to make an eternal difference. I hope I can do that for the little souls in my family, Ezra and Colleyanna, and I hope that difference will be for heaven.

My grandfather did not own much as he traversed a tiny little area on this planet. But he owns a mansion now. It would do a lot of people I know an eternally important good if they would heed the words transcribed above from a simple twentieth century shepherd. Can I help you live in a saved condition?