Sister to Sister: Another Chance (Part 5)

images-6Glenn just kept listening to Jerry and Maria was listening intently as we zeroed in on key passages from Acts.

We went over to Acts eight, where that Ethiopian officer of the queen Candace, was riding along in the chariot and reading from the prophetic book of Isaiah, when Philip, at the Lord’s bidding, joined him. There is little of the Bible study revealed, but at the end of that study, the man saw water on the roadside and asked Philip if he could be baptized. Whatever it is that Philip said when he preached (literally “announced the good tidings”) to him, it made him want to be baptized. We talked here about how that baptism is a burial, indicated by the fact that they both went down into the water. But we need more than an indication to be sure we are getting baptism right, so we went over to Romans 6:1-5 and clearly read where the mode of baptism is distinctly portrayed as a re-enactment of the burial of our Lord—a burial from which we are resurrected, just as he was, to walk in a new life. I told her the truth about the Greek word that’s translated baptism in our versions today. It literally means “burial”. Translators were reluctant to use the word “burial” because it so plainly contradicted the mode used by religionists of the day. But it was the word chosen by the Holy Spirit. No matter where you look, you see that the very word “baptizo” means “burial” or “immersion”. Maria did not even want to argue about the mode of baptism, though. She could see that people in the New Testament were immersed in water to be saved.

We looked at how Paul, in reviewing his conversion story in Acts 22:16, related that Ananias, who came to him with the gospel said these words: “And now, why do you tarry? Arise and be baptized, washing away your sins.” Maria had no trouble seeing that Saul was IN sin and had need of the washing until he was baptized. We talked about how he had definitely believed out there on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), but that he still needed the washing in baptism before forgiveness could occur. Maria was reading and nodding and becoming very seriously contemplative. She was not taking this conversation lightly.

We continued to read in chapters ten and eleven about the good man Cornelius. We talked about the fact that even though he was devout and God-fearing, prayerful and benevolent (10:2), he was still in need of being saved (11:14). So Peter taught him about the Christ and baptized him.

We saw Lydia in Acts 16, at the place of prayer by the river, learn the gospel and submit to baptism. We looked at that jailer in Philippi, also in Acts 16 and how he went out of the prison in the middle of the night at the obvious risk of his own life for the purpose of being baptized. Maria was already convinced about her own need. But still, we went to the very plain words of Jesus as he commissioned his apostles to teach the gospel to the whole world:

“He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”

Very plain and simple. You just have to have  help to misunderstand the clarity there (Mark 16:16).

And then there’s that I Peter 3:21 language that is so plain….You would think God was expecting the devil to come and do crazy things in our world with the concept of baptism.  So he just came out and said it:

“Baptism does also now save us.”

I frankly told Maria that the devil has done a good job of mixing up the world about this very plain teaching. He has people make fun of “water baptism” people.The devil wants people to die in hell forever. He knows that it doesn’t matter how many medical mission trips you do, how many wells you dig in Africa, how many pies you bake for your grieving neighbors, even how many times each week you go to worship….If he can keep you outside of Jesus Christ, you will still belong to him. And it is baptism that puts people into the body of Christ (Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27) So, in spite of the ridicule, we have to keep saying it if we love souls. Throughout history, those who have spoken the truths of God have been ridiculed.

On that note, we talked about how that the whole picture of Maria’s obedience would not be easy. She would have a “hard row to plow” upon going back to Mexico. We would first have to search out a group of God’s people, if they even existed, in her hometown. I told her I would try and network a bit and see if I could find them. “The people of God, if they truly are His, will be good to you and help you with transportation to worship, if you need it, and they will encourage you as you start this difficult, but blessed lifestyle.”

It was time for the big question. “Maria, have you been baptized for the remission of your sins?”

Maria’s simple answer: “I have not been baptized with the baptism you have talked about today.”

I then asked Maria if she was ready to be baptized. Maria’s sweet answer? “I am ready now.”

After speaking with her a bit more about the magnitude of her commitment in a world of wickedness, I went to get Glenn. He was still listening to Jerry. My patient husband had given Jerry a bottle of water and let him talk while we had offered Maria the living water. She was ready to quench the thirst that can only be satisfied by the Water of Life.

Sister to Sister: Another Chance (part 4)

11902329_10153223400334069_4584303358887639646_n11934957_10153223401374069_98564377511046029_n(Digging Deep t-shirts! Five more days to order at www.thecolleyhouse.org. (Sale ends at noon on Friday. We will also have a limited quantity on hand for the seminar at West Huntsville.) Also, we still have room for several more at the Living with Purpose seminar on September 25th and 26th. So clear your calendar and do something healthy for your soul! It’ll be worth the time. All registration and meal fees will be refunded if not completely satisfied (since there are no fees!) Register here: seminar.westhuntsville.org/.)

And about Maria…The question that had surfaced several times was the  topic I had reserved for the very last characteristic we’d study about how we identify the first century church in the chaotic 21st century religious world. What does a person need to do to become a member of the New Testament church? Was it indeed what most religious organizations in “Christendom” today believe and teach about what a woman must do to become part of the church?

We went, once again, to the book of Acts. That’s where you go if you want to know about the origins and firsts of the church. We read again what 3000 people did on the day of Pentecost to get into the original church. There were many who did not choose to accept the overwhelming evidence presented by the apostles on that day that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God. But those who were convicted of His deity, asked  what they “must do to be saved’ (Acts 2:37) and were told in simple terms: “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins.”

Repentance was a big part of our discussion that day. Maria was unclear about exactly what repentance entails. We defined it from scripture as being more than a feeling of remorse. Repentance has to involve both changing your mind about sin and resigning from sinful actions.  We talked about how repentance is really a change in direction. A woman is walking in one direction and decides to go in the opposite direction, turns around and walks the other way.  But Maria was seeing the sorrowful results of sin all around her and did not need convincing that her life needed repentance.

As in all studies, though, I parked right there at repentance for a while. I told Maria that this was because I am convicted that repentance is the most challenging and difficult part of God’s salvation plan.  The world argues most about baptism (the most overwhelmingly obvious part of the plan, from scripture). But the part of the plan that takes the most humility, introspection, fortitude, courage, resolve, determination… well, it’s easily repentance. Baptism requires a moment with the right heart. Repentance takes a lifetime of assessing, deciding, re-assessing, choosing, standing firm, submitting and figuring out how to be true to the promise you made when you went under the water.  It means that the will of the One who took your place at the cross is forever more important to you than your own. Repentance is  a change of the affections finding reflection in your future direction.

We looked at Galatians five and how that repentance means that the works of the flesh are replaced in your life by the fruit of the spirit. We spoke of the eternal fulfillment that the difficult challenges of repentance brings. Maria was a penitent spirit. But I still wanted to walk through some key chapters in Acts about conversion with her…

Sister to Sister: Another Chance (part 3)

Womens-bible-studySo my good husband took Jerry in a little room and gave him a bottle of water and just chatted (…well, Jerry chatted…for a very long time), while we were about the living water in the next room. With open Bibles in both languages, we studied. Since Maria’s background in Mexico was first in Catholicism and then in a popular denomination, Maria was concerned that she had not found a church that aligned with the Bible as she understood its teachings. So we painstakingly examined what the New Testament says about the church. What would that church look like today?

We started with the names that are given to that church. We saw that the church is called the body in Ephesians 1:22, 23. It’s called the “church of Christ” (meaning the church belonging to Christ) in Romans 16:16 and the “church of God” In I Corinthians 1:2 and other places. It’s called the “church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23), and it’s simply called “the church” in many places. Maria agreed that it just would not be right for human beings to put their own names or even names they would personally assign on the body for which Jesus died, because it’s HIs bride (Ephesians 5: 23). He gets to pick the name.  After all, how would you feel about your husband if he was okay with you wearing someone else’s name?

We spent a while on how and when the church was established in Acts 2. Maria realized quickly that, if your church has a founding date other than Pentecost of 33 AD, it is not the church of the New Testament.

We talked about the founder of the church, Jesus of Nazareth, and how that any church that claims another founder would not truly be the church of the Bible. Maria said that, sadly, “her” church back in Mexico did have another founder and another beginning date. The more we talked, the more she wanted to find the church of the New Testament.

The next thing we talked about was organization. We went to I Timothy 3 and Titus 2 and Maria read for herself. She discovered that there were some very simple and easy-to-understand qualifications that must be met by a plurality of leaders in congregations. Here’s where she solidified her already haunting doubts that a papacy, a board of directors or a national or international council for a church could ever be what God intended. She came to fully realize that, in searching for the church, she must find a group of people who were autonomous…independent from hierarchy…a group which follows the Word as its only creed and its local elders as they feed the flock (Acts 20:28) and rule in matters of judgment.

And we talked about worship. We really talked about worship. We went all the way back to the times of Adam and Eve and talked about how that God IS concerned with the details of worship. We saw how that the whole Cain and Abel incident was precipitated by a lack of faith. That lack of faith resulted in worship that was not according to God’s command (Hebrews 11:4; Romans 10:17). We went to Leviticus ten and noticed the wrath of God poured out on Nadab and Abihu as the new priesthood system began with their presumption that they could offer a non-prescribed fire in their worship. Maria was all over this. It does matter to God that we follow directions for worship! She was thoughtful as we talked about worship and how that it’s never been intended to be an activity that pleases the worshippers. The audience of worship is God and He gets to decide what is acceptable in worship. It dawned on Maria…maybe for the first time…that, just because someone is worshipping does NOT mean that God is pleased with that worship. In fact, much of the book of first Corinthians was written to instruct about proper worship. It matters. She was getting it.

So we noticed how New Testament Christians worshipped. They sang together…simple, a cappella  music (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). We noticed how that we know, both from scripture and from history, that instrumentation in worship was not a “thing”—never even introduced in worship—till hundreds of years after the church began. We even noticed how leaders in denominations, which are today fully instrumental, were appalled when the organ was first introduced (http://www.bible.ca/ef/topical-historical-quotes-about-music-in-worship.htm) We talked about the prayers of the early church in worship and their weekly observance of the feast commemorating the death of Jesus. We talked about the teaching that happened when they came together. Maria was turning pages in her Spanish Bible. I was hoping Glenn could “visit’ with Jeff for just one more hour because the most important part of our discussion was just about to happen…

Sister to Sister: Another Chance (Part 2)

coffee cups bees starbucks selective coloring 2048x1296 wallpaper_www.animalhi.com_74…And then there was this day in early August.

It was a rainy day, but it promised to be a good day. I was on my way to pick up Maria for a Bible study. I had prayed that her heart would be open, that my words would be clear and translated correctly and that she would obey the sweet gospel. As I traveled over Chapman Mountain I thought about how I was hungry and that I could drink a latte while studying, just to tide me over till lunch. But then I thought I should also call Emily and Bonny and bring everyone else a drink, too. But I cannot think about two things at one time, so I missed my turn. Running late by now, I knew I would have to just apologize to the girls and skip the coffee.

So I pulled into Maria’s driveway and out popped Jerry and asked me if it would be okay if he wore “these shorts to church”. Jerry is a family member who is about thirty years old, but due to an accident earlier in his life, has suffered brain damage. He talks incessantly and without reason. I knew studying with him in the room would be a fiasco, so I  explained that this was just a Bible study and that maybe he might want to wait for another time when there would be a class. But he REALLY wanted to come and, in actuality, he HAD to come because there were others at home who could not be left alone with him. Although not responsible for his actions, Jerry was capable of harm to others. I moved things around on the back seat behind me and made a place for Him. But my heart started pounding and, as I backed out of the drive, I was afraid. I had tried to call my husband, while he ran back in the house for shoes, but there was not enough time.

So, as I drove down their street, I texted Glenn: “Please come to building ASAP. I have a crazy man in the car with me.” I later learned that Glenn read the text while discussing business with another preacher on the phone.

“I have an emergency,” he said. “I have to go.” And he did…in his dirty, work-in-the-yard blue jeans and with unshaven face, he bolted out the door. But he forgot to text back that he was coming. I drove along without saying a word. The sweet lady beside me could not communicate with me and the man in the back never paused long enough for me to get a word in. I texted Glenn again: “Are you coming??!!”

He responded this time: “On my way.”

But I knew his drive was thirty minutes and mine was ten. I did not want to get to the building before He got there. I felt that putting others in an uncomfortable spot was not the right thing. So I thought about the coffee again. I would drive over to Target, and go in and order coffee from the expensive coffee shop inside. That would “waste” enough time to make my arrival coincide with Glenn’s. But, oh my!…by now I had so many people that I was going to break the bank in that place.

“Cafe´?” I offered to Maria in my best Spanish accent.

“Si, “ she said.

“That means ‘yes’, Jerry explained. He knows just a little less Spanish than I do, but he loves to instruct me in the language. He was also telling me what kind of coffee and creamer he wanted and that he did not want sugar. He wanted Splenda.

I had a time asking Maria about hers, but I remembered “leche” from “dulce de leche” and finally figured it out. I had the other orders in my phone and so I hurried into the store. As soon as I placed the orders, I began dialing to give the others a heads up about the situation. Emily didn’t pick up, but, thankfully Bonny did. I told her to expect Glenn and to tell him where I was.

Then I picked up five steaming cups of coffee and carefully attempted to balance as I exited. I made it to the car and spilled just a little as I opened the door. But as I did, a sharp, stinging sensation went through the skin in my neck just under my chin and, just as quickly, the same sensation on my left shoulder. Bees were attacking me!

“Abejas! Abejas!” Maria screamed. “Abejas! Abejas!” That’s not how you want to learn Spanish nouns, let me tell you!

Meanwhile, in the back seat, Jerry was counting them, telling me they had flown away, asking for the Splenda, and if I had a trash can in the car. And my neck was turning redder and redder and the upholstery in my car was getting a hot dousing. So was sweet Maria!

When I did finally make it to the building, Glenn was moments away from phoning the police, Bonny started pulling out essential oils for the stings (What a handy girl she is!), and Emily’s boys who were doing their school work at the table opposite us were wide-eyed at the commotion that was going on in two languages! (Home schoolers never really know what the subject matter for the day may be!) Thunder claps punctuated the excitement and the rain began to come in torrents about this time. Could something good please happen about now?

This was a day…a time, that really needed redemption…

Sister to Sister: Another Chance (Part 1)

3-loaves-of-breadI’d almost forgotten about the sweet little lady who visited our services during the summer of 2014. I’ll call her “Maria”. Her home was in Mexico and her mother tongue (definitely her only tongue) was Spanish. She was in Huntsville for a few weeks visiting her daughter. She knew about our congregation through a recently converted bilingual Hispanic sister. Hoping to reach into the hearts of her local family, I picked Maria up for services a few times that summer. Yes, it was a bit awkward (and silent) in my car, since I don’t know Spanish, but I said “Hola”, “Bien”, “Gracias” and “Como esta?” …a lot. It was a very sweet little friendship that summer. I baked her bread and she gave me a little keepsake bracelet, but our relationship was, of necessity, pretty superficial. We didn’t have very much in common and, whatever we did have in common, we could not discuss. She could get very little out of those few visits to the worship assemblies or Bible classes, but I could tell she loved being there and that she wanted very badly for her children, who do speak English, to find the Lord. She had not exactly found him herself, but she liked what she saw among God’s people and she especially loved it when she was able to bring her young grandsons with her. She loved seeing them get excited about their Family Bible Week classes. But, alas, the summer ended and Maria had to return back home to Mexico. Through a rare translator’s work, she begged me to keep praying for her children, who live near our building, to come to know the Lord. I promised. I felt a pang of guilt as I realized I could have…should have…worked harder that summer to find a way…a translator…a time to study…so that Maria could know the gospel. “After all, I may be the only Christian she ever really knows and I have done a poor job of redeeming this short time with this soul….If I ever get to see her again, I will tell her the most important news she will ever hear.” It made me sad–even ashamed–to think I’d shared the bread that cannot sustain, but failed to share the bread of life.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015. Maria’s daughter, who lives locally and does speak broken English (let’s call her “Rosa”), and I had became Facebook friends. I, along with a couple of other sisters, often encouraged her to come to worship and she sometimes visited during the year that followed. Sometimes she brought her husband and children. Once, she brought her brother and his family. Several sisters were praying for Rosa and helping with her children when she would visit. Rosa got a job at the hospital here in town and became very busy. The year flew by and, a few weeks ago, Rosa told me her mom was applying for a visa to come back and visit again this summer. Immediately, I remembered the promise I’d made to myself a year ago. “If she does get that visa, then this time I will be sure she knows the gospel.”

And so she did come and the studies began. Maria was an eager student. This time my sister Emily was helping with the studies, too, and we relied heavily on a sister from another congregation to translate. Maria was excited to come to worship. She would often be ready with kids in tow long before I’d arrive to pick her up. We never knew who was going to be coming with her, but we’d always find other family members a good class or have them study along with us. Our elders encouraged us to study with Maria during the Wednesday Bible class hour.  We’d sometimes study after worship. Once or twice, we studied till pretty late at night. Once, Emily played with, fed, changed and just generally tried to entertain Maria’s infant grandson for a couple of hours so Maria could concentrate on the scriptures.   Another time, during worship, I went in the cry room, listened to the sermon on the live stream with earphones and repeated what was being preached in English so that Bonny, who was translating, could then repeat it in Spanish. This way we could have the message (at least most of it) translated without speaking out in the worship service. Bonny was a great translator and Maria was soaking up truth. She would often ask questions and they were deep and thoughtful ones. We could tell Maria had been in the book because she could find passages quickly. But she made it very clear that, for all she knew about the Bible, she’d been unable to find the church described in the New Testament. She wanted to find that church and she wanted to find its members in her hometown in Mexico. Emily, Bonny and I were praying fervently that our short summer time with Maria would be enough.

And then there was this day in early August…

 

Sister to Sister: Don’t Tell My Husband =)

Night-Scavenger-Hunt-Flashlight-Search-OutsideI definitely had my hands too full when I left the church building that Wednesday night. Every time I go, I’m loaded coming and going. That’s the way it is when you’re going to see your family, I guess. So this time I set my books on top of the SUV, specifically thinking, “It would be just like me to forget these books, but I am not going to do that. I am going to keep thinking about these books. I am going to remember that my Bible is on the roof.”

Ten minutes later I was walking up and down Oakwood trying to find my Dickson Bible and one of my husband’s antique books from which I had read in my ladies Bible class earlier that night. I am not going to tell you which antique book because the preachers’ wives might tell their husbands and there would be uncontrollable grief among the soldiers of the cross.

I was a sight. Trying to find a place to park my SUV…trying to dodge the traffic as I walked along a road that really doesn’t have a shoulder, and thinking of just how I was going to break this news to my husband, who was, of course, yet again, preaching out of town that night.

If I could find these books, I knew by now they would have been run over, torn apart and generally mutilated. I wasn’t sure which road to even search because, true to form, I had gone down one road and realized I had forgotten a stop I had planned to make, so I had turned around in an apartment complex drive and gone the opposite direction. At which point had I lost the books? “Since I thought I saw one of them flying away in the rearview mirror on Oakwood, I’ll start there,”  I thought. “But what are the chances?” It was dark. It was kind of dangerous, and, as time passed, so did lots and lots of cars. My chances of assimilating that Bible again were diminishing quickly.

And then a mini-van slowed and stopped, its lights almost blinding me. “Oh dear…friend or foe?” was my first thought….

And then the voice…”Cindy Colley, is that you?” It was the familiar voice of my brother, Tommy Barkley. “I thought that was you,” he said.  “I told Paula…we have to go back and see if that was Cindy. Something is wrong.”

And so Tommy and his wife, Paula, diligently and slowly retraced my path until at last we saw the scattered pages and Mrs. Paula got out of that van and picked up pages and pieces of pages for at least five minutes. She also picked up other things that really should not have been in my Bible as my good husband has told me over and over:  a photograph, a bulletin, a five- dollar bill, several attendance cards with notes on the back, a candy wrapper, an outline of a lesson I had taught, etc…. Tommy would not even let me get out of the van because I was on the traffic side; so there was my sister Paula out there chasing my paper trail all over Oakwood Road. I’ve been thankful for Tommy and Paula before—for helping me locate the right guitars for gifts, for encouraging me in teaching one of the baby classes, for making the sound system at the building so great, but I have never appreciated them quite so much as when I got home and realized that, with a few pieces of Scotch tape, I could actually piece together every single passage of both of those books!

Sometimes, people are spiritually looking for assimilation. We know about the Bible. Most of us own a copy. But, in our lives, we place the Bible in positions of irrelevance as we navigate the highway. We make turns, back up and turn around, stop and go, while we, like I was doing that night, drive further and further away from the Word; sometimes, like me, without even knowing it. Finally, we are not even sure exactly where we left it behind, but we know we need it back.

But by that time, we have often put ourselves in some dangerous and compromising situations. We find ourselves hurrying down a roadside that we would have never traveled had we not lost the Word. We desperately wish for light, for direction back to the Word…for someone to help. Spiritually, we need Tommy and Paula Barkley.

I want to BE Tommy and Paula Barkley for people around me who have reached this point of retracing, searching and putting-back-together. When I see someone who is looking for the light, may I always take the time to stop and say, “What’s wrong? Can I help you?” Then may I always take whatever time it takes from a busy schedule to lead her back to the Word and help her put it back together again so that it can, once again, be useful to her life; both now and for all eternity.

“All eternity”…perhaps that’s an oxymoron. We can never do anything for ALL of eternity, because there is no “all” of it. No matter how much has been expended there’s always that amount again…times infinity. It’s more than the human mind can unravel. That’s why looking for those people on the roadside who are trying to retrace is so important. Retracing is impossible without the blood of Jesus. And people have to find, assimilate and study the Word to know about the great power in the blood. I’m determined to stop and help someone back to the Word every time I get the chance.