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Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

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?

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Feedback from an “Orphan” Sister

Two women outdoors hugging and smilingPerhaps you read the recent post called “Orphans Among Us”. If not, you may read it here: http://thecolleyhouse.org/sister-to-sister-orphans-among-us. This reader response made me want to be more like Christa (and more like Christ).  I hope it will encourage us all to value our family in the Lord more than even our physical families.

 

Hi, Cindy!

I hope all’s well with you. I just read your article “Orphans Among Us” and I really enjoyed it! I was raised half in the church. I was born into a Catholic family. My parents divorced and my mother remarried (unscripturally) to a man who attended (a very permissive and not wholly biblically sound) church of Christ. While that congregation had some issues that eventually led to my whole family walking away from the faith, I know God had me in the palm of His hand. When I got older and started looking, the local church of Christ is where I started (and fortunately that one was sound). While my family growing up is still lost, I’m thankful that the process resulted in my husband becoming a Christian and my children being raised in a Christian home. All the backstory was just to say this: I’ve had an amazing experience with other women stepping in to be my surrogate mothers in the faith. I’ve been blessed with several wonderful women who have been wonderful friends and tasked themselves with teaching me as their own. I don’t know what I would have done without them. I got really nervous when we moved to a new place because I was losing my physical family, but also my surrogate family in the faith.

Last year was especially hard for us. We were still relatively new in town. I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I lost two babies last year, and some wonderful women helped me through that. The doctors thought there was an ectopic pregnancy. I was desperate and scared. We’ve since been been “adopted” by an older couple at our congregation. They have my little boys calling them Gigi and Pawpaw. Once, I was at their house and one of their actual kids called. They’d come in from out of town and were telling them where they were. Lloyd and Christa, who had “adopted” us, told their children that they had company and would have to see them later. When I offered to leave so that they could be with their kids, they told me that my family was closer than theirs. As Christians, we’re closer to them than their blood family (who are lost). When I lost my second baby, Christa had been acting as my mother the whole time (my blood family wanted me to have an abortion because I have a history of difficult pregnancies). When we went to the ultrasound and the doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat, Christa was the first person I called. While my own mother wasn’t willing to look at the ultrasound photos (they were all I had, but our baby isn’t alive in them), Christa came over and cried with me over them. When I hemorrhaged at 5:30 in the morning (and my husband, after rushing me three blocks to the hospital, had to leave me there to get back to our kids–who we didn’t have time to wake up), I called Christa. She wasn’t angry that I woke her up (but said she would have been if I hadn’t). She sat with me all day, held my hand, and prayed with me. I know that it’s so very true that there are orphans among us. I just wanted to share my experience as one who was adopted.

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Three Doors

14481964_10153793830326384_7614171791050123724_oThese days, my siblings and I are spending more time than ever at my Dad’s house in Jacksonville, Alabama. I love being there, though the stretches away from hearth and home and husband make me wish I could be in two places at once. And there’s Waffle House. I love the way the servers (Dad calls them “nurses”….He has always called waitresses “nurses”.) are so very attentive to him. They start cooking his meal and setting his steaming coffee on the table when they see our car drive up. They open every little plastic container of creamer or jelly for him when they bring them to the table, knowing that his arthritic hands have difficulty pulling the tiny tabs to open them. Like I said, there’s lots to love about that kind of service. And the food is good…once…or twice…or even three times a week. But that many times a day is a bit much for my palate, not to mention my calorie count. 

Still, it’s not really about me at this stage. It’s about taking him where he would go all by himself, if he could, since we are really trying hard to get him not to be going places all by himself. It’s about a lot more than food these days. Sitting by the window in Waffle House watching the JSU world revolve outside the window with my sweet 94-year-old father is capital fun for me. We watch kids walking dogs and policemen pulling over cars and reflections of what all’s happening at the Grub Mart in the back glass. I show him pictures of his great grandchildren on my phone and he marvels at all the game scores, driving distances and names of famous athletes that I can call to his memory by a simple search on such a small device. The man who waited for the automobile to become a common mode of transportation marvels as I explain to him what exactly is a podcast and how women can interact during a podcast discussion—women from all over the world. 

So last Wednesday morning as he laboriously climbed the stairs at the entrance of Waffle House, I noticed a middle-aged lady holding the door open for my father. I smiled at her and thanked her for waiting patiently as he approached the door. She looked at my dad and said “Well, today I’ve already eaten, so I won’t get to eat my breakfast with you. But I hope you have a good one!”

I said, “:”Sounds like you’ve met Dad before…”

She responded “Sure did. I ate breakfast with him the other day and I told him ‘Your money’s no good with me!”

I thanked her for being so kind—to share a meal with him and then buy his breakfast. As he ambled on in, she said “Well, I enjoyed it. But really, on that day, I just thought about “what would Jesus do?…What would he want me to do?…and I decided He’s want me to do something good for a sweet elderly man.”

At that moment, I knew that there was more than one open door at the Waffle House. so I took the conversation to the next level: “That’s just so kind of you. I love my Jesus and I love to study the Bible. In fact…” At that point I went on to tell her about Digging Deep, and our study this year about types and shadows. I told her that I would love for her to join us and that my favorite thing to do is to study the Bible with people. I asked her if she would think about joining our group and even studying with me personally. “I’m all about Bible Study…”

“I sure will!” she said. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen by accident,” she went on, as I gave her my card with contact information. “I’ll be looking you up!”

Two doors were open. She thought she’d hold open a glass door for my father to walk through. She really was holding a golden door of opportunity open for me. I’m glad I could walk through it. I’m glad I had my wallet with that card to hand her. I’m thankful for His Providence at this moment and so many others. 

I’m not sure I believe that nothing happens by accident. But I do believe He is constantly orchestrating events to work for the good of His people (Romans 8:28). I hope she’ll pursue her opportunity now. I hope she’ll knock, so her door, too, can be opened (Matthew 7:7).

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Orphans Among Us

soccer-mom-1The following is an excerpt from a letter I received from a young Christian sister this week. Small editions have been made for clarity and anonymity. I want to thank this sister for giving me a bit of a picture of the struggles and needs of young mothers raised outside the body. Can you help? I know, if you are an older woman in Christ, you can. But WILL you? Here’s the excerpt:
In Bible Class this morning I was shaken up.
One of our congregations ministers  filled in for our class today and talked about Titus 2. The class was mostly older retired men and women.
He was brave enough to ask questions that made it clear God EXPECTS the older to teach the younger which is not only teens but for those in their 50s to mentor those in their 20s and 30s. He called many in that audience to step up to the plate. 
His wife commented and talked about how an older Christian man impacted her and she cried thinking of how he was more to her life than her physical grandfather.
I was especially moved by the wisdom of God because I, personally, have sought older Christian women and, although it’s only two or three women, I have made them the mothers in Christ that I need in order to raise my children in God’s ways and love my husband as God expects; to keep going when I feel defeated and to be my  hope when I do not know if I can persevere. 
I don’t know if you realize that it is hard for those of us who are NOT from Christian families to fit into God’s family because we feel lost many times. We even feel like we are intruding because the ones we look up to have kids (physical families) of their own. We need what older women are to us and are thankful when we get to be in their lives. We are orphans of a sort with emotional baggage but we “cry out” to the people of God and are blessed when people respond.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Titus 2:3-5
Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

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.

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

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.