Sister to Sister: Too Big for Tree-Hugging!

10422956_10153120542101322_775683428250343547_n-1A few days ago, due to the giant hospitality of some family members in California, my husband and I walked through a forest where the trees made our Alabama trees look like saplings. They immediately dwarfed even the largest of the men among us and made me feel like I was in an epic  movie about elves or small trolls. It was an exercise in humility before the One who created, replanted and nourished these senior trees for centuries. I stood literally amazed in His presence.

Upon asking a few questions about the root systems, I understood that, contrary to what I would have assumed, the roots of Sequoia trees go only about ten feet under the earth’s surface. So how, one would ask, do these trees stand for centuries towering to heights of near 400 feet? (That’s about 34 stories or so!) It seems to be an impossible feat of engineering.

The answer is that the shallow root system of a Sequoia tree travels outwardly for an entire acre or more, drinking up the rain that falls onto a large area of the ground and becoming entwined with the roots of other giant Sequoia trees in that large vicinity. Thus, the nutrition supply is greater because of these outwardly “traveling” roots and the physics problem of heavenward trees with no depth is solved by the stability  gained by getting all “tangled-up” in the root systems of other trees. The trees actually hold each other up!

This made me think about people, especially God’s people. We, as God’s people, need the same two things to be his heavenward people. We need nutrition and each other. We need “traveling roots,”  if you will, to grow toward our God. When I try to isolate myself, keeping my Christianity to myself, remaining uninvolved with fellow Christians, I cannot grow heavenward. The stability that I need to reach spiritual heights is only available when I’m all “tangled up” with the people of God. It is, in fact, in involvement with His people—in ministering to them—that I minister to the Lord, Himself (Matthew 25:31-46).

Trees need water. The Psalmist said this eloquently in the very first psalm:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper (vs.1-3).

But trees, especially the giant Sequoias, of northern California, also need each other. They could not survive without the strength they derive from their roots growing around each other. I love Jeremiah 17:7,8:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.

I want to be the tree whose roots are both near to the water of Life, for nurture, and outwardly spreading, for stability. God is the original planter, environmentalist and ecologist. Best of all, there are eternal truths hidden in all his workings.

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 33:5).

Sister to Sister: A Warm Blanket

woman-prayingThe ladies at West Huntsville recently hosted a “Sweet Hour of Prayer” on a Friday night in September. We focused our prayers on specific souls we are trying to reach for Him and we offered suggestions to each other as to how to present the gospel, encourage faithfulness, and overcome the world in the lives of those we love and want for the Lord (Of course, we really want everyone for the Lord!) Because of the overwhelming enthusiasm and the open communication we shared that evening, we are considering repeating this prayer time; perhaps even twice a year. It was a strengthening time for so many and we all had a typed prayer list upon leaving, so that we could continue taking each other’s needs before His throne. Would you let us know by emailing byhcontest@gmail.com if you would like to see this happen again periodically and, if so, whether you would be close enough to attend?

I’m constantly amazed and humbled by the prayer efforts of my sweet sisterhood. Prayer IS an effort. It takes discipline to talk to the One who always hears, knows the recesses of our hearts, and answers, but does not speak back in 2013 in an audible voice. It takes faith, perseverance and time and it is rewarded a hundred fold by those who invest. It is also rewarded in the lives of those for whom we pray. I am blessed every day by sisters who are praying for me. Just today I got this note from a sister for whom I have great admiration:

“Love you Cindy! I am and have been praying about this. I trust they will change their minds.”

Who wrote it and what’s it about? It doesn’t matter. It’s just a sister letting me know that she’s praying for a needed change. That’s the essence of what we all constantly pray for each other. And change is God’s business. He can do anything and He WILL do anything that is within the realm of His will. And that, sister, is all the change we really want! We need to be on our knees for each other!

Tonight, as I write, our congregation has just enjoyed a big and fun time of fellowship. Speaking with a young mom, who brought her two little girls to this event, she began to describe how the older one likes to pretend that the younger one is a baby and she likes to coddle and pet her and “take care” of her. Now, mind you, the oldest one is only five. This mom said, “It’s pretty sweet to watch one of them taking care of the other.” Don’t you think God thinks that it’s pretty sweet when we, as His children, take one another’s needs to him–when we “take care” of each other in His presence? I do.

And speaking of sisters stepping to the plate for each other…I have been so blessed by some sisters in the past few days. Last Monday I came to notice, through a blessed set of circumstances that I was booked for two ladies days on November 2nd. Talk about a panic! I went into a nail-biting frenzy immediately when I realized that I had been corresponding with two different churches about the same day, all the while thinking that all the correspondence was from only one church. Somehow, one of the churches, having been scheduled for the first Saturday in November of 2014, had accidentally jumped tracks to planning for THIS November 2nd…and I failed to notice! When a friend of mine in Missouri wanted to attend, she began noticing that my website was saying a different congregation than was my facebook page. I am very grateful for this sister, who started asking questions on facebook that alerted me to this. (You know I could have been up somewhere speaking when my cell phone started ringing from the other location!)

So I began to call my sisters. I wanted to at least offer this lady in Tennessee an alternative speaker when I called to tell her I could not come. Celine Sparks (bless her!) said “Well, it’s our ladies retreat, but since I’m not speaking, I will do it, if you can’t find someone else. But I do really hope you can, because I want to go be with our own Mastin Lake ladies. What about Hannah?”

Hannah Giselbach (bless her, too!) said “Oh, I wish I could, Mom, but I am already speaking in Kentucky that weekend. What about Sami?”

And sweet Sami Nicholas (bless her most of all!), who was already in Jacksonville helping with our Dad at the time, said “Well, they will likely have an alternate plan themselves, but if they want me to come do it, then I can cancel my other plans and I will do it. I really am passionate about that topic and it will be good for me.”

It’s just an over-the-top blessing that I have such encouragers in my physical family, who are also my sisters in the Lord. But the woman who encouraged me the most is my sister in the Lord that I have never met. Lori Backer, who had planned this ladies day for these many months, responded this way when she learned that I would not be coming to her congregation until next year:

“Cindy, I love you. I look forward to you coming, so very much! Many times I’ve wished I could attend Polishing the Pulpit just to hear all of you, wonderful women of God that not only assist your husbands in the ministry, but shine so strongly Jesus Christ in YOU. What ever is decided there is never any regret, only love. I apologize for the confusion- it is my error, and I pray you don’t fret over it any longer. I’m so sorry for your fathers health problems and will keep him in my prayers as well as the family.”

She could have been livid with me for not catching this error that was as much mine as hers. She could have canceled the whole thing and walked away from a difficult job that doesn’t pay any dividends in dollars. She could have. But she responded with encouragement, kindness, and love. Over and over again, I am blessed by the warm blanket of fellowship that God has given us for our comfort on this often cold and unfeeling sojourn toward heaven. My sisters are the refuge that people outside of Him simply do not have. I praise Him for all of you.

If you are in the Maury City, Tennessee area this coming Saturday, November 1st, we will be studying “Let the Beauty of Jesus be Seen in Me” at the Maury City Church of Christ. But, especially, if you are in the Paris, Tennessee area this Saturday, hear Sami Nicholas speak about “Jumping In With Both Feet” at the Eastwood Church of Christ. You will hear God speak through a passionate and good heart.

The Best Thing About PTP

The best thing about PTP? We’re supposed to sum that up on the evaluation sheet for this huge event that Glenn and I just finished in Sevierville, Tennessee. The retreat center’s halls are empty now, the tabernacle has been dismantled, our legs feel kind of like noodles, and the Bible Plinko is in the back of our SUV.  Polishing the Pulpit is finished for 2012 and we are in reflection mode. Conversations, friendships, counseling sessions and worship scenes swirl in our minds. It’s really been an internal blessing with eternal benefits.

PTP began several years ago in a home in Jacksonville, Alabama when three preachers met for a weekend to exchange sermon ideas. The largest venue that they can find in the area now has challenges accommodating the crowd which, for the last few years has been growing by about 500 people per year. This year’s count was just over 2500. But the crowd isn’t the best thing about PTP for the Colleys.

It’s incredible that an event-turned-phenomenon like this can start with a few exchanged sermons and morph (in just a few short years) into a multi-tracked convention with tracks for elders, preachers, wives of elders, deacons, wives of deacons, wives of preachers, children, teens, members and more. The great thing about these tracks is that you don’t have to declare. You can jump tracks all you want. I love that part since I am a preacher’s wife, an elder’s wife, a parent, a member and a speaker. I am easily overwhelmed, but this is a really good kind of overwhelming event. But that’s not the best thing about PTP this year.

I have been incredibly blessed (so much so that when I pray, I ask God consistently, “Why me, Lord? How is it that I get to do this?”) to have been privileged to speak to the ladies at PTP for all of the years that a ladies program has existed. The ladies class began in Pigeon Forge several years back with a core of about 12 women in a one-class-a-day format. As it has simply exploded since that time, I’ve been so blessed to watch. We are filling up rooms and ballrooms simultaneously and the families we represent are benefitting in ways that will never be publicized, but will populate heaven. This is one of the best things about PTP this and every year.

Kids just get VERY excited about the program. “Kids” and “excitement” and “program” are hardly ever in the same context. But here, the concepts co-exist. As one of my friends’ five-year-old son recently said, “I cannot wait to go to ‘Polishing the Pit-bull!” Service projects, the bigger than life apologetics mole, “Digger Doug”, Bible games, Nerf Wars, a historically accurate reproduction of the tabernacle, youth singings, and speakers that are passionate and interesting will make your kids beg to come back again and again. But that’s not the best thing about PTP, for me.

Four hundred women committing to a deep Bible study on the topic of “sanctification” for the next year was definitely a highlight for me. I cannot wait to see the fruits of this study. Be sure to check out the podcast on www.thecolleyhouse.org this Tuesday night at 7:00 CST for details. Lots of personal studies are currently occurring as a result of last year’s Digging Deep study. Pray about these. Enroll in the study you can read about on Monday’s blog post.This is over-the-top exciting for me, but not the best thing about PTP.

The speakers. Being blessed to hear Alan Highers on doctrinal issues or B.J. Clarke on the Passover Lamb or Eric Lyons talking to teens on the age of the earth or Tom Holland talking to 2000 people about heaven is just about as close as you get to the actual place. The messages are just about the very best parts of PTP.

Resolve. That’s got to be just about the best thing about PTP. I have seen teens turn the corner from selfishness to caring at PTP. I have seen parents learn the secrets of discipline that very well may make the difference in eternity for their children. I have seen men take home the key to successfully overcoming pornography and I have seen mothers understand for the first time what it means to be a keeper at home and then leave determined to fulfill that sacred charge. I have seen couples on the fast track to divorce resolve to make a sanctified home for the Lord. And years later, I am witnessing the fruits of these changes that began at a PTP counseling session or in a class tailored for folks in their situations. That is one of the very best things about PTP.

But for Glenn and me, selfishly, the very best thing about PTP is the Clarkes, the Sippers, the Andersons, the Benavideses, the Thompsons, James Weaver, the Owens and ourselves. These are OUR families. They are the ones in our congregation. They are the ones who worship with our family at West Huntsville who were feasting at the spiritual table. They are the ones who are coming home with the renewed zeal, the fresh ideas, the determined fortitude, the increased knowledge. They are the ones who will be using the resources for the kingdom in Huntsville, Alabama. For Glenn and Cindy Colley, in a spiritually selfish (is that an oxymoron?) way, we are most thankful for and blessed by God’s Providence in bringing these precious souls to PTP. Among these families, there are 22 children (three sets of twins, no less…I think that’s a record for one church at PTP). Just start thinking about the children of these children who will one day benefit from their coming and you begin to see the potential for our family at West Huntsville. We are just so rich at the gracious hand of our powerful God! Our church will be strengthened, our outreach magnified, our children’s classes enriched, our families fortified, and (Praise God!) our evangelism empowered as a result of these eight families having attended. I hope we can have sixteen families in 2013. We love every family at West Huntsville and would love for every family to get to enjoy and grow from this feast.

If you’ve never been, may I challenge you to put it on your calendar for 2013? It will be well worth a couple of school and work days missed. It could be financially feasible if you start that little savings account for PTP now. If you are really wanting to go and simply are unable to swing it all by yourself financially, check out the website at www.polishingthepulpit.com. If you are an elder’s wife, the idea of an eldership helping a family go to PTP may be something you can “help” your husband think about. Whatever the contribution you can make to your congregation’s participation, you will be blessed. I can hardly see how eight families can attend without ultimate enrollment additions in the Lamb’s Book of Life. For the Colleys, that’s the best thing about PTP.

Tips for Growing Closer as Sisters

  1. Bake 24 cupcakes to take to Wednesday night services. Put them in separate baggies and attach a Bible verse that contains the word sweet. Then have your kids pass them out to the widows, single moms and/or lonely sisters. If you don’t have kids, do it with another sister.
  2. Purchase a poster board and write a cheery message in large letters to a sister who is sick at home, hospitalized or in the nursing home. Then bring the poster to worship with you and have all the sisters sign their names and little cheer notes. Then take a sister along to visit and hang the poster for your convalescing sister.
  3. Find an elderly sister who needs a cheer-visit. Then go find a young sister who would be happy to get her toddler out from under foot for an hour. Take the toddler to visit the elderly sister. Bring along a little gift for the toddler to give the older woman.
  4. Go to the thrift store and buy three pretty plates. Wash them and fill them with homemade muffins, cookies or candy. Then bring them to services to three college-aged sisters. Attach a note that says, “Please recycle this plate…bake a roll of Nestle’s Toll House, refill the plate and bring it back to pass along to an aged sister.” You can even give the college student the cookie dough when you give her the plate, if you want.
  5. Bake sourdough bread. Find recipe and instructions at TheColleyHouse. You can bake it all up if you want and not worry about keeping it going. Bring your foil-wrapped, ribbon tied loaves to worship with you and just randomly pass them out to sisters who look like they’ve had a rough day or morning. (You don’t have to tell them they look rough!)
  6. Bring six stamped, addressed notes to worship. Leave the cards inside blank and have them pre-addressed to an unfaithful sister. Pass out the cards to six sisters at worship and have them write a Gal.6:1 kind of note to encourage the erring sister and mail from home. Choose stationery for all six cards of different shapes, sizes and designs.
  7. Make a bulletin board that highlights ladies activities. Just get permission from your elders and go at it. Try to include happy photos and lots of joy!
  8. Take note of the good things that are being done by your ministers’ wives and your elders’ wives, church secretary or “janitoress.” You might want to do your children’s Bible class teachers, instead.  Have your children go and give them a sweet coffee mug with a bag of tea and a note that says. “You deserve a break for tea! Thanks for all you do!” Tie a ribbon on the handle of the mug! If you don’t have children, go at this yourself.
  9. For Halloween, instead of trick or treating the whole evening, set aside a time to let your kids take fruit treats to elderly sisters. Let them wear their cute costumes to give instead of just taking! This is a great thing for college sisters to pair up and do with the kids of the congregation.
  10. Have a “sister sing” at somebody’s house. Record the singing. This is usually some of the prettiest a cappella music you will hear. Then listen to your sisters praise God together when you are riding in your car.

Get Under His Wings!

Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. (Ruth 1:16,17)

These words that you’ve likely heard read at several weddings were actually spoken by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. Both found themselves at new low points of life in widowhood. Both were searching for some security and purpose. Both had unanswered questions and unfilled potential. Is anything like that going on in your life? 
Naomi had decided to go back to Bethlehem. The famine had subsided. Her family was there.  Although she figured she was too old to remarry (vs.12), she still longed to go back to the place where people knew her (vs.19). She was looking for a comfort zone.
Ruth, though, was a different story. Her own mother lived in Moab. Her childhood acquaintances were there. Her husband’s grave was there. Moab was her comfort zone.
And yet, we see in Ruth a fierce loyalty to Naomi. What is it in the dynamics of this relationship that prompted Ruth to promise to partner through this life with her mother-in-law?
First, we have to credit Naomi as we read between the lines of Ruth chapter one.  She had the hearts of two foreign daughters-in-law whose husbands were no longer in the picture. That is no easy feat!  Problems with in-laws always makes the top five in any expert’s list of common marriage problems.  It’s easy for moms to resent the girls who “dethrone them” in the hearts of their sons. It’s easy for wives to resent the positive comments that husbands make about the great dumplings Mom made (especially if the wife doesn’t even know what a dumpling is!)  or the way Mom brought Dad his slippers when he came home from work.  There are just some hidden, but very deep potential pitfalls in the relationship of in-laws, especially female in-laws! The applied teachings of Christ can navigate us to harmony in these relationships. Naomi had obviously been good and kind to and protective of Ruth and Orpah.
Secondly, it had to be the case that Ruth was devoted, not only to Naomi, but primarily to Naomi’s God, Jehovah.  She was leaving her mother’s house (vs.8), her most logical (from a human standpoint) prospects of marriage, and ultimately her sister-in-law, Orpah. I believe it was the case that Ruth was already in love with Jehovah God and His people. 
Next Sunday, one of my dear sisters in Christ is getting married to a faithful gospel preacher. Having grown up in a non-Christian home, Terri doesn’t get a lot of support from her family as she determinedly lives for Christ. She has asked me to be the matron of honor in the wedding. I tried to politely decline and suggested that she ask her own sister to attend her. I said, “Don’t you think it’s important to include your family?”
Her response was “I am including my family….You are my real, forever family.” I have to think Ruth was thinking along these lines.  We too should grow to think of our family in the Lord as our truest kinship. I often see congregations struggle through the cliquishness of little family groups within the church who are constantly planning all of their activities together to the exclusion of those who may not have any relatives in the church. Sometimes I see new Christians spending lots of time alone because their old friends don’t fit into their new Christ-like lives and, sadly, their new Christian family is unconsciously keeping them at arm’s length.  If you are blessed to have your blood family members in the congregation with you, please work to have an outward focus. Eternity is not all about your blood kin! (Or maybe it is about Calvary- blood kin!)  It’s all about your family in Christ. There will be no private banquets in heaven. We will all be around one table…the Master’s table.
We have a new brother named Phil in our congregation at West Huntsville.  Phil looks like a stereotypical homeless person. His hair is kind of long and scraggly and he has an ill-kept beard. His face is somewhat disfigured and he is tall and very lean. But Phil is not homeless; he is just all alone in his home.  Phil is a very hard worker.  His job is not glamorous, but it pays the bills. Shortly after Phil was baptized, we learned that he has no physical family. I was touched to find out that one of our couples in the congregation included him in a large family Thanksgiving gathering. This good woman who made sure this meal happened is related  to no less than 20 people in the congregation. But she has an extended view of family and it’s a view we all should adopt.
Ruth, like Terri and Phil, had grown to understand that, in Jehovah, there was a family that, although still largely unknown to her, was the eternal family. She was willing to take big risks to be a part of that family. Boaz later described the amazing metamorphosis in Ruth’s life. He credited her decisions to her trust in the Lord.
It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.
The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust (Ruth 2:11,12).
May we all get under His wings and trust!
(Largely from Women of Troubled Times, Cindy Colley, Publishing Designs, Huntsville, AL)

Good Senior Moments

It was definitely one of the most encouraging days of my year. Last Saturday I attended my first ever Senior Day with the folks in God’s family in Henderson, Tennessee. The day began at 9:30 with registration and coffee and at 10:00 we all went to the auditorium for about thirty minutes of singing praises. Since there was a big crowd and thirty congregations of God’s people represented, and Robert Hatfield was leading the singing…well, it was a foretaste of heaven. Then Glenn had the chance to talk to a most attentive and eager audience about Seven Groups of People Seniors Can Encourage: elders, discouraged people, children, missionaries, sick people, young couples, and people who are lost. He gave very specific and practical ideas to these seniors…like buying 500 note cards and determining to write encouraging notes in all of them and have them all sent out before you leave this world…or finding a teen in the congregation and becoming his/her friend by going fishing with him or going shopping with her, so that you will then be able to talk with him/her about spiritual growth that may be needed…or adopting your own personal missionary to whom you write and to whom you make occasional contributions when you are able.

After this lesson, we all went to a large gathering area and ate together while we visited and then listened to a double barbershop quartet perform old classics. That was great fun. Then we sat around those tables and sang a while more. Then Robert Hatfield, who is in his early twenties, talked for about five minutes about what the elderly people in the room meant to Him. He spoke in very encouraging tones, taking his text from one of the Psalms. Then Glenn spoke again for about five minutes and the final prayer concluded the day’s activities around 12:30.

The most contagious spirit of cooperation and optimism was the best part of the day. Everyone was excited and smiles and hugs were everywhere you looked. These senior Christians were obviously where they wanted to be and they were there to soak up every idea. You could tell, not just from their words, but from the intent manner in which they listened and the excitement on their faces that they were going to implement the ideas that were not already a part of their lives. In general, they made me want to be just like them “when I grow up.”

I’m impressed when we have youth days with the enthusiasm of our teens. But I do believe these seniors exhibited an even greater attitude of service than I usually see from our youth. I believe the attendance was better than at most youth days. I believe they sang with more fervor and visited with more friendliness.

I think we should have more of these senior days. I believe they arrived with eagerness and left with resolve. Now, when they do the things they decided to do, thirty congregations are going to grow. And those teens in those churches are going to grow, too, because these godly older people are going to love and mentor them.

One more thing…I’m not really old enough yet to be at a Senior Day. I just came with the speaker.