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. 

Don’t Do the Bottom Dance!

 12961581_899337245299_646194236159384067_nI have to do one more graduation salute because my extraordinary niece, Miriam Sparks walked across that stage last Friday night at the North Alabama Christian School graduation. I could tell you how proud I am of her writing, but you can see for yourself here: http://www.tomorrowschurchtoday.com. (If you have teens or if you are a teen, you definitely want to be encouraged by this website.) I could go on about Miriam’s theatrical talent and the climactic end of her high school string of plays when she played the Velveteen Rabbit in a production by Carriage House Players. There were a few moments when I felt like I was on the front row of a Broadway production. She was seriously good, especially when they let her sing! I could add that she saved the day for me when she agreed to travel to Clarksville, TN last year to help me decorate for and prepare the rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding. I did not even know how badly I needed her till we got that preparation underway. I could tell you about how influential Miriam has been as she has spoken in several spiritual venues for women and girls, even traveling to speak in a seminar in New Zealand. I could tell you about how she’s risen to the top among Lads to Leaders participants nationwide.  I’m proud that she’s been awarded at least three scholarships to Freed Hardeman University and that she will be rooming there with another very special niece, Song Nicholas, next year. So many doors opening and so many relationships about to happen. There’ll be tons of decisions in the next four or so years for Miriam, and sometimes she won’t even recognize the crucial moment when a decision will be larger than this life and have ramifications in eternity. 

My favorite thing about Miriam, though, is her perpetual optimism. Favorite phrases are “…but that was really okay, because…” or “…but it turned out better than we thought when…” or “…At first I thought ‘oh no!’, but then…” or  “…Wait, I’ve got an idea how we can fix this…”  She’s just never to be outdone. Satisfaction, for Miriam, is not contingent on circumstances.  Like Paul, she’s determined to be content in whatever state she finds herself (Phil. 4:11). Thus, her days have a happy soundtrack. She sings all the time she’s not talking!…and that’s not as much time for a melody as you might think!

My favorite Miriam story happened when she was just about three years old. I was keeping all four Sparks kids while their mom and dad were out of town. I explained to Miriam that I had to take Hannah to play rehearsal because she had to learn the dance for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Now, I really did not mean a dance at all. It was more like a skip and a hop and a turn-around on the stage, as I recall. But nothing gets past Miriam. She gave me a little sermon right then and there, in a very high pitched little voice with an added thick southern drawl:

“Well, I don’t think Hannah should prob’ly be learnin’ to dance. And I ‘specially hope that she is not going to do the bottom dance ( hear bahhhh-tum day-unce), because the Bible says that people should only do the ‘bahhhtum day-unce’ when they are in their own house with their own family. That’s what the Bible says.”

Well, maybe Miriam didn’t have the exact wording of any Bible passage. But somebody had been doing a pretty good job of getting a concept in her little heart about how some things are just not appropriate for Christians. Every time I’ve presented a lesson that encourages Christians to chastity, I’ve thought about Miriam. So here’s to a song on your lips through every act that’s the musical of your life, Miriam Sparks. And here’s to never doing the bottom dance, unless you’re in your own house with your own family! 

Just Monsters Under Your Bed

13226652_10153481188316384_2798949385439034883_nWe had six high school graduates in the congregation at West Huntsville this spring. It’s been great fun watching three of them grow up and getting to know the other three later in the game. They are all special to our West Huntsville family. Savanna is a pianist and vocalist. Ryan is a landscaper and a football player. Emma sings with her dad (and they are very talented!). Rachel likes to perform on stage and lead singing for women. Jacob is also a stage musician. Come to think of it, it was the year of musically talented graduates. They are all wonderful Christian people. 

But Nuris is a stand-out in some other ways. She’s thirty-six years old, a native El Salvadorian, and is the mother of four. You may remember reading about her baptism two years ago here: http://thecolleyhouse.org/crazy-happy. That weekend was even far better than this one. But still, this was a pretty special weekend for Nuris.  It was the culmination of years of studying the English language and then the geography, history and culture of the United States of America, along with some math and science. It took many days (years, actually) of searching, in a house with two small children, for quiet moments to study the materials needed for obtaining this high school diploma. I was there for a few tutoring sessions and we never found the quiet. We just yelled louder than the babies. 

I remember that day when Nuris first visited our services. She was one of those people who didn’t really “look like” a good prospect for conversion to Christ. After all, she could speak little English, she had a demanding newborn baby, her husband wasn’t with her, and she told me she did not want to study on that very first day I met her. Still, I gave her a card with my phone number and told her to let me know if she changed her mind. She did,

She changed her mind, her life, her religious affiliation, her marriage, her parenting and her spiritual family. She changed her eternal status from lost to saved. She was ultimately baptized into Christ for the remission of her sins, becoming a member of His church. Her daughters were given the gift of having a Christian mother. 

With the help of God and many people, now Nuris is a high school graduate. She is the one who received the standing ovation last Friday night at the North Alabama Christian School graduation ceremony. She is the one who requested the song “ They Word is a Lamp unto My Feet” for the music for her graduation slide show.  She is the one whose extra-curricular activities were not softball, guitar and Lads to Leaders, but diapers, dishes, bills and emergency C-sections. She is the one who is over-the-moon excited about a cap and gown.

People can change. They do it all the time. People can change minds, hearts, lifestyles, directions and destinies. Many who are reading the blog, though, do not need to change directions or make big lifestyle transformations . You just need encouragement to stay the course…to finish the race in some of the darkest spiritual days in American history. You need encouragement when you look at the presidential ballot, the restrooms at Target. the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Vatican, the Barna surveys and the pornography and gambling industries. You need encouragement as you empty the over-flowing Diaper Genie (in your sleep) or administer meds to the Alzheimer patient or explain to a four-year-old why you can’t go to the movie about his favorite super-hero. You need to be reminded of the inherent brevity of trials and the impending beginning of eternal perfection. The land of good and right and health and rest is just around the corner for all of those who stay the course. 

I know you have friends who’ve decided that the Bible is for the uneducated, that the old-fashioned religion is for simpletons, and that there really is no eternal truth. They make all kinds of claims about mistakes in the Word and errors committed by the Savior. They make personal accusations about your sincerity and motives as you try to reach out to them and others with the gospel. But be encouraged. The day is swiftly approaching when all of the mockers will bow before the God who put original life and breath in them (Romans 14:11). You will be there as he judges the living and the dead (II Timothy 4:1). You will experience the final victory when sin is permanently banished never to plague you again. 

So for now, let’s praise him for the window of opportunity for change. Let’s ask people to study His Word with us. Let’s pray for His will in this place of our temporary citizenship. Let’s love the fellowship of His like-minded people. Let’s bask in the peace that passes understanding that comes as we turn our sorrows and petitions heavenward (Philippians 4:4-9). Let’s turn a bright light on our fears and realize they are just a child’s monsters under the bed. Our Father will come in and suddenly they will be gone. His Word is the great expositor of evil and the final rewarder of His own. Claim the joy along with Nuris. Sing her favorite Psalm today!

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Nothing will I fear as long as You are near. Please be with me to the end.”

Sister to Sister: To My Favorite Up-and-Coming Freshmen

11128756_918729561504765_8571427497927844563_n11203551_10207101069869834_614411671581224642_oThis weekend, two of my favorite nieces, Mattianne Sparks and Song Nicholas will graduate from high school. They have had the best of teachers throughout their primary, middle and high school years: their parents. They are both headed for Freed Hardeman University and both have already received scholarships and have applied for and are hoping to receive additional scholarship funds. They are Christians—faithful followers of our Lord—and they are exemplary in their demeanor. Mattianne’s also a great catcher (and hitter) on her softball team. She has influenced non-Christians to attend services with her when traveling with the team. (She’s unwilling to travel and play at the expense of attending worship faithfully.)  She is also a teacher of two-year-olds in a local Christian pre-school.  Song’s an asset to her volleyball team, loves to play the mandolin and has been bold in her stand for modest dress and godly entertainment choices, even in situations where that “truth in love”  stand was not popular.  They’re both going to love college and be successful in whatever paths they take, because they understand the meaning of true success (“living your life and going to heaven”).  They don’t need my advice, but they know I’m bossy, so here are a few unsolicited tips for my two favorite FHU 2015 freshmen:

  1. Be nice to everybody, especially those who seem to have few friends and a hard time “fitting in”. Say “hello” to everybody you meet as you walk around campus. Don’t look down at your phone as you walk to class. Look in the eyes of people you meet and say “hi”. You will miss so much if you’re looking down. You may even miss a relationship that could bring you much joy.
  2. Go to Gano (the cafeteria) alone sometimes. It’s fun and a temptation to always go with a big group of girls. But you’ll meet more people and, maybe even meet the man of your dreams, if you go alone sometimes (unless, that is, you have already met him). It’s okay to look a little lonely every now and then. You’ll be surprised at some of the new people and conversations that will come your way. Oh, and take different path from your dorm to Brown-Kopel or the Gardner Center every now and then. There’s lots of different ways to go, so mix it up. Remember, the adventure is in the “mix-up”.
  3. Sit in the front of your classes, when you get to choose. It’s harder to get distracted and your teacher will engage you more and remember you better. It helps the GPA.
  4. Take a light load the first semester. Lots of changes and challenges are coming your way. It’s better to wade into college life than to dive into the deep end.
  5. Wait till after the first semester to pick a major. You will have more information and find out a lot about yourself between August and January. You can get a lot of those general education classes that are required for all majors out of the way. Take care to not miss the great Bible teachers while you are there. I know several that you’ll be very blessed by choosing.
  6. Try hard to NOT stay up till two or three or four a.m. every night. All your friends will be doing it, but, you can really get into a routine of sleeping in class when you get into that habit. Bad for the GPA.
  7. Remember the sacrifices of your parents and donors who are making your schooling possible. There’s a debt you owe—a responsibility to give your best effort.
  8. Show gratitude. Always write thank-you notes to those people who show you kindness. Write a thank you note to each professor at the end of each term. It’s very Biblical, it’s very thoughtful and it will also help you to develop good relationships with people with whom you will do well to be friends. Write a thank you note to every foundation or organization each time you are awarded a scholarship, no matter how small. And write letters home to thank your mom and dad every now and then. Write Piedaddy a short letter every semester or so, too…and your other grandparents. They are all so proud of you.
  9. Make the most of chapel. You will have this amazing chance to worship God for a short time every day with hundreds of young Christians. How many college students get to do that?! Worship him every day in spirit and truth. There will be some around you who are uninterested. Don’t let them embarrass or discourage you. Give Him your best. He gave you Calvary!
  10. Don’t let anyone take away your allegiance to simple New Testament Christianity—your determination to be a part of the one true church, to worship the way the church of the New Testament worshiped and to cling to truth. So many students come from homes and congregations in which truth has been “watered down” in relativism and denominationalism has been accepted. Beware of those who may be critical of the restoration plea and critical of those who believe we can know and obey truth. Choose and place your membership in a church where truth is taught plainly and sound elders are committed to feeding the flock. Then ask those elders what you can do to stay involved. Teach a class, be a part of a visitation team. Learn to love elderly people in that church. And, whenever you see Dr. Gardner, engage him in conversation. He will bless your college experience.

Song and Matti, I know that I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know. I know you already have plans to be the best you can be, because you already love Him with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. He’s been making your decisions for you for a long time. So just keep doing what you’ve been doing all along: seeking first the kingdom and giving Him the glory.  I daresay you will have classmates who are helped along to heaven for having known you.

Your uncle Glenn and I love you both very, very much!