Westside…Still the Best Side of Virginia!

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the Westside church in Salem, Virginia. It was a blessing and honor for Glenn and me to be invited back to speak to the regulars and home-comers as faithful saints gathered on this day, as they have faithfully done in this locale for fifty years. Interestingly, our local work with this congregation began on it’s twentieth anniversary. We were extremely blessed to have lived and worked there for a wonderful and memorable five years. That means that twenty-five years have elapsed since we made the decision to move from Salem to Alabama. That sweet family of God, where the candle of Revelation two is very much still aflame, will always hold a deep and dear spot in our hearts. 

I learned some things about myself yesterday about which maybe I needed to be reminded, or even to learn. 

I learned that I love to talk about God’s Word, no matter the circumstance. Though there were friends in that room for whom I have great affection…friends I was longing to hug and with whom I longed to reminisce, the first order of the day and my favorite one, other than worshiping Him, was to open that great Book and talk about Philippians one. It still always amazes me that He has given us Words appropriate and pressing for every circumstance and meeting of His people.

I learned that time is a speeding locomotive and I long for the timeless side. It just took my breath away when I realized a few days ago that exactly thirty years had elapsed since that day we pulled up with a newborn and a three-year-old into the driveway at 203 Parkview Drive in Salem and saw Charlie Gwaltney, in his plaid driving cap, waving us into the drive as he bounded across that yard with a big box of doughnuts and a welcome that good elders know how to give new preachers. How could this really be? I want to be in that place where the shock of the passing of time never gives me this helpless feeling and where death doesn’t steal away large segments of the congregation while I’m briefly looking the other way. That congregation around the throne will be secure and immovable. 

I was reminded that I am consistently treated, by God’s people, in a manner that’s far better than I deserve. I want to treat every member of His family with whom I have contact just that way. They are the channel of His blessings to me. May I BE the channel to others. 

In the middle of huge blessings that were just packed tightly into a few hours, there was still something that was inside of me…something that gave my heart just a shred of dissonance and kept making me think “I love this so much, but why is this so hard?” I kept trying to put my finger on it, this “feeling” that kept welling up inside me, sometimes almost evoking sentimental tears. It’s hard to know, in the middle of the emotion of a flood of memories, but I think the dissonance was this: The world, the congregation, the work, the influence in Salem Virginia is not mine in 2017. In 1987-92, that was my world. My purpose was all wrapped up in souls in Salem—my kids’ souls, my husband’s work, the Eddlemons, who were learning the gospel, the ladies retreat, the friends and family day, the radio program and the neighborhood outreach that I tried to do at the library and the school and in our neighborhood fourth of July parade. 

But someone else’s truck is parked in our driveway. That’s a good thing. It means we went somewhere else, to a place where we thought the need was greater for us—for our family in His cause,  for ministry to my mother who was dying, at the time.  Certainly we are never irreplaceable. In fact, those who followed us have done greater works than we could have done in that place. For those men and those works, we are profoundly grateful. There’s a great work still happening in that place. God’s goodness is everywhere in Salem, Virginia in 2017. 

But is it okay to acknowledge with a little bit of sad nostalgia that, right then and there, in the middle of a huge flood of memories for so many people, that I am one of those memories? Maybe it is okay. Maybe it’s a good thing to enjoy being physically present in the time and place, wherever that is, where our influence for Him, however small, is greatest. I had a work to do for Him in Salem in 1987-92 and it kept me very busy and extremely fulfilled. It was the “time of our lives” when reviewed with the perspective of child-rearing. What happened in those years is propelling a young preacher in Jacksonville, Florida today and a young mother of two who is a preacher’s wife in Columbus, Georgia. There’s no adequate gratitude to the Westside church for that environment of faith. 

But still, our influence there now is extremely limited. I think that reality yesterday was a kind of wake-up call for me. If there is any good that I can do in my sphere of influence in 2017, I’d better get busy.  Many of those who listened to the gospel in 1987 have gone on to glory or moved to other places. Lots of the arenas where our words were heard have been replaced by other venues—better ones. This reality made me long to return to the place and time in 2017 where our small influence is still engaged—where there is still a space to “get busy.”

Today, we are on our way back there. We wouldn’t trade that walk down memory lane yesterday for any amount of money. It was priceless to us. We owe a great debt to the Westside family. But we praise Him for the here and now…and, most of all, for the heaven that waits!

Sister to Sister: Monkey on Board!

Tonight I showed my dad a couple of You Tube videos that feature the San Saba, the navy ship on which he traveled around the world during the second World War. Now, I’m pretty sure there must have been some momentous things that occurred as that crew delivered troops to shorelines, launching them in smaller boats to finally put troops ashore in enemy territory. 

But Dad commented specifically about two days he recalled as he watched those films. He was reminded of the first occasion when he saw a sailor in the film sending signals to another ship with  specific waves of various colors of flags. He said “I was trained to do that; and one day the ship that my brother, J.P., was on, the USS Maryland, came within a couple-hundred feet of our ship. Now I knew my brother was on that ship and I thought maybe I could get a message to him. So I tried to do that with the colors. My message reached my brother and he actually responded.” 

Now I thought that was a pretty neat story. Two brothers from Peaceburg, Alabama in passing ships on the Pacific all the way around the world, communicating with the Semaphore flag alphabet. Something about that exchange made me thankful for the comfort of knowing that, though they would not lay eyes on one another or speak to each other, that my dad, on that particular night fell asleep knowing that his brother was safe and sleeping nearby, at least for that moment in time. 

There is comfort in knowing our brethren are safe. There is security in knowing that, although our circumstances and earthly perspectives may be different, our cause is the same. There is encouragement in knowing that the same Father is unfailing in His mercy to all those who accept His Will and advance His cause. But the unity of our unique communication, as sisters, and our fellowship with one another is a priceless commodity. We should never take that for granted in our country where we have the freedom to openly meet together and encourage one another.  

I’m glad I got to hear Dad tell about that day. 

The other day he recalled? Well, it seems on that day, one of the sailors brought a small pet monkey aboard the San Saba. (Japan does have some pretty cute monkeys.) But, to my father’s dismay, the authorities found out about the extra mate and the ruling was “Monkey Overboard.” The monkey, like a brave compatriot, continued to wave at the sailors as he bounced in the waves of the Pacific until they were out of sight. 

I’m not sure there’s a lesson in that second recollection, except maybe that it was too bad for the poor friendly monkey that his visit to the San Saba occurred during a war that was very much about the ethical treatment of human beings, rather than in today’s cultural war in which, often, the rights of animals trump the rights of innocent human beings. He was just a few decades shy of PETA, poor thing.

Sister to Sister: How about a Little Empathy?

When I hang a new calendar, looking over the spent and tattered one I’m putting in that file cabinet…the cabinet that now has a stack of gridded sheets that represent the business, the slammed schedules, the birthday parties, the travel. as well as the mundane housecleaning, cabin cleaning, and mending days of the past year, I always try and think about the big picture. Every little square in that twelve page card stock and pocketed book that I’m filing away was a day of movement. Every square was movement toward heaven or away from it. We live sadness and hope. We live purpose and appointments. We live fun and fervor. But we never live static. Each turn of the page is a progression toward eternity. What makes each square so precious is that one square will be the last one. 

…Which makes me think about empathy. With the passage of time in each of our lives, our experiences multiply. I mean, I used to have no clue about grandparenthood. (Who are all these crazies who are obsessing over a dimple or the color of a baby’s hair?) Now I know. I fully empathize because my realm of experience grew. That happened on one of the squares in 2014. I used to come up short in the empathy department for those who were caring for elderly parents. Not any more. That happened slowly on lots of squares in the past ten or so calendar records. Experiences have simply broadened my scope of empathy. It was never that I didn’t have sympathy for those in the sandwich generation. But empathy is a whole different thing. Empathy is what make you give grace and truly feel WITH another who is experiencing something you’ve known firsthand. Remember, empathy is what makes our Lord the GREAT high priest that He is. We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Rather, we have one who has been tried in every point, just like we are tried, yet He did it without sin (Heb. 4:15). Empathy qualifies him to be my mediator and I am so thankful for His divine empathy. 

On that page, let me list a few scenarios of which I will not be critical this year. Experiences produce empathy. Empathy produces grace. So here:

  1. I will not criticize young mothers who are struggling in worship services to make toddlers behave. 
  2. I will not criticize young families who are occasionally late for Bible class.
  3. I will not criticize young moms who show up for Bible class on Wednesday night in jeans and a milk-stained t-shirt. 
  4. I will not criticize older people whose eyes occasionally close and whose head sometimes inadvertently bows during the sermon on Sunday.
  5. I will not criticize bragging grandmothers.
  6. I will not criticize grandmothers who buy too many baby clothes.
  7. I will not criticize the careful choices made by children about the care of aged parents.
  8. I will not criticize the families of faithful elders and preachers about matters of judgment.
  9. I will not criticize people who occasionally cry in public–people who others may classify as “emotional basket cases.”
  10. I will not criticize the eating and exercise habits of busy people.
  11. I will not criticize those who do not take every call at the moment it comes.
  12. I will not criticize busy people who lose keys, phones, glasses and other essentials frequently and who sometimes forget appointments.

There’s a little list of a few of the many decisions that experience has helped me make. Experience is my friend. Gray strands are my teachers. I know that our realms of empathy are not all the same. But the world might be a gentler place if we allowed the scenarios  and circumstances we’ve faced to teach us grace. Notice that I did not say “indifference to sin.” We have to care deeply about what grieves God. But empathy makes us also care deeply about the “infirmities” of His people. Experience makes us keenly aware that we might not know details that are crucial in decisions being made by others. Empathy makes us better people.  

Digging Deep: Five Days till We’re “In the Shadows”!

unnamed-8Others have tried and failed and, surely, I can’t put into words the exponential spiritual growth that occurred at Polishing the Pulpit this week. Suffice it to say that I’m so very thankful to be in these mountains the third week of August each year. I come to a spiritual peak in the times I share with these thousands of Christians in this beautiful part of God’s world. I’ll always be grateful to Allen Webster and the elders in the church at Jacksonville  for having the vision and zeal to make PTP the outstanding program that it continues to be. The fellowship is not even the main thing, but that alone is worth the trip!

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Countdown to the new Digging Deep study is at 5 days. The official beginning of the “In the Shadows” study is September 1st. I hope you can think of someone to invite to join us as we dig into what I think will enable us spiritually—to better evangelize and to more fully understand the purpose and importance of the Old Testament. So many of those we encounter in various churches around us are, on the one hand, confused by our insistence that we are no longer under the Old Law…or, on the other hand, curious as to why we study the Old Testament accounts so thoroughly and frequently. 

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I really believe that it will be impossible to complete the study this year without, in the end, understanding the value of the Old Testament to Christians while still being sure that it has been fulfilled and is no longer binding on us, as law, in any respect. That’s why I think it’s a great idea to invite your friends who may not have made the distinction in covenants to study along. I hope you will take the time to at least message a few friends or post the study on your Facebook wall.  Lots of women are studying as a class this year, as well.

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Now, about the Digging Deep study guides….You may order those at any time here: http://thecolleyhouse.org/store#!/Digging-Deep/c/20688312/offset=0&sort=normal. You’ll also find there the new Comfort Colors Digging Deep t-shirts that Ben Giselbach designed for us this year. The graphite and mint green made a great combination this year. You might want to take a look. (We had to remove the bundle we had offered earlier because our tumbler supply has been exhausted.) Note that all t-shirt orders must be completed by September 1st. This deadline enables us to have the shirts printed quickly and be able to mail them out in the first few days of September. 

Remember, also, that you may download the complete no-frills version of the study on the same page as well. We invite you to do that at any time with our compliments. The main objective here is to get the Word into the hearts of women, so be sure and do whatever best facilitates that. Don’t forget the podcast occurs monthly toward the end of the month. We hope you can join us for that hour live. We update the dates for that via the Facebook page “Digging Deep in God’s Word”.

Thank you for giving me the chance to study through the scriptures each year with you. I cannot tell you how huge a part of my life Digging Deep has come to be. And that’s a good thing. (Sometimes, though, I have to be careful to let my husband know that I love him even more than I love Digging Deep!)  So get ready. Get set…14063715_220885821642921_2281945772074807030_n-1

 

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.