Sister to Sister: Are You Trying to Say “I Love You?”

Tonight in this hospital room, this daughter experienced a few very sweet moments. I will treasure them in memory whether my dad and I have lots of future sweet moments in time or not. As today has gone by, my Father who has said precious little, and only in in breathy, labored tones for several days, has become more and more alert. Mind you, what you might think is pretty much asleep all day was still more alert to those who have been keeping this vigil. 

Every time I see his eyes open, I try to go to his side and grab his hand. Tonight he grabbed right back. He even gave me his signature quick nod of recognition. 

Then I always think of everything I can talk about in his one ear that now has a hearing aid. (The other hearing aid was crushed on the floor of the ambulance—and that was another story as Sami chased the driver down and out of the building to try and find the missing hearing aid.) I talked about football. I talked about getting better. I talked about what I was eating and about breathing treatments. And then I told him I loved him. He slowly forced out the “I” and then put his very sore tongue to the roof of his very blistered mouth to make that “L” sound. 

I said “Are you trying to say “I love you?” 

“Yeah” he said. 

That’s all I needed to hear to be okay through this long night. Such a great little present for a this weary pilgrim. But that was not all. I asked him if he wanted me to read the Bible. This time I got a clear “Uh-huh.” 

Before the hospitalization, we’d been reading in Acts and we were ready for chapter seven, so I read the story of Joseph to Him as told by the first martyr, Stephen. I think I was reading so that all the staff out at the nurses station could probably hear. When I got to the resolution part about Jacob going down to Egypt, Dad just drifted back off to sleep.  

I’ll take it. A few minutes of communication is a great source of comfort in this very well-lit, bustling, but yet, very lonely room. It is the best one of today. There are a few lessons in every gift. Here are tonight’s five lessons. 

  1. “Yeah” is easier to say than “I love you.” . That’s true in just about every relationship. Short answer quizzes in families and friendships are just easier.  Sometimes in all kinds of life problems, we have to help each other say those three words. It’s always better, if someone’s having trouble saying them, to assume he means them till you know differently.
  2. You never know the value of healthy communication until you have to do without it. So don’t let days go by—days when you could be talking and sharing with the ones you love. Don’t let those days escape while you pout or exchange the silent treatment or engage in hurtful communication. Especially, don’t do this in your marriage. You will experience deep regret.
  3. Only the people you’ve really loved with agape can appreciate fully the three words when you say them. See, Daddy did not love me just enough to share some material blessing with me (although he certainly worked hard to do that). He did not just love me enough to put up with my inadequacies (although he surely was in the next room during the messy, late- night-studying, bathroom-hogging teen years). He did not just love me enough to build things in the wood shop for Christmas (although there was the doll bed and the cabinet for my tea set during the sixties and the wooden purse, stilts and shuffle board game of the seventies and the marble mazes and rocking horses and graduation banks for grandchildren of the eighties). He, along with my mother, who was also sharing and making and building, loved me enough to give their lives for me, if needed. They loved me enough to pray about inadequacies and to correct them. They loved me enough to build more than toys and purses. They loved me enough to build character. That’s the most enduring home-made gift.
  4. There’s something very ironic about the goal. Heaven is THE goal. Ironically, God has placed in us a very strong desire to keep our loved ones here with us rather than to be completely willing to have them go and be with the Lord. I cannot fully explain that fierce desire to preserve and protect feeble life. But I know it is right to have it. It is right to protect and preserve life, because that defense is innately built into the moral compass of people of conscience. One has to be trained to devalue life. It is not the natural affection of Romans 1: 31 and 2 Timothy 3:3. So I grab that hand and it’s the best when he grabs it right back.
  5. There’s great comfort—always, in all ways— in the Word. There’s an amazing example, for instance, of the application of Romans 8:28 in that ancient account of Joseph in Egypt. We get to look at how a faithful person perseveres when there are family members who are spiteful or friends who falsely accuse or forget about the good things we do for them. We get to see, up-close and personally, how the  faithful react to both poverty and riches. Sometimes, when we are weary, there’s so much comfort that we can go right off to a deep and peaceful sleep while reading the Word. I think I can maybe even do that tonight…right here in this chair. 

Sister to Sister: Bind Us Together

For several days now, I’ve been thinking about and praying for a righteous perspective about relationships…friendships…the sisterhood. Like most areas of living, if we can get HIS view into our own focus, we can get this right. After thinking and maybe even overthinking, I believe the age-old secret to preserving godly relationships is deeply embedded in the concept of agape, itself. And it really seems pretty simple to me.

I think there are two premises that are required for friendships that cannot be severed. It’s important to remember that BOTH premises must be central to BOTH parties in a relationship. It seems to me that, if they are, you have a friendship that can’t be annulled; a kinship that will never end. If they are not, the friendship is severely compromised.

The first premise is this: I will never intentionally offend you, unless I must offend you to obey God.

The second premise is this: I will never be offended by something you inadvertently do, unless it is sinful, and thus offends God. 

Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but it seems to me, that if BOTH parties in a relationship are willing and able to maintain BOTH of these premises, there will be no end to the “green pastures” through which he leads and protects us. Adherence to the first premise means that I will love you enough to do whatever it is that would keep you safe from insult or injury in my relationship with you, up to the point of offending my Lord. The second means I will love you enough to give you the benefit of the doubt when I am tempted to become offended, unless you are sinning in the offense.

I believe this is Biblical. The first premise is based on many passages, including I Corinthians 10:24.

Let no man seek His own, but every man another’s well-being.

The second premise finds a home in many places, too. Among them would be I Corinthians 13:4-7

Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The first premise makes me pray “Lord please help me to be only an encouragement to this, my sister, and help me never to be a stumbling block to her in any way.  Let me show her always your grace and your light and place my own desires below her needs and desires.”

The second premise makes me pray “Lord, please help me to think the very best of this, my sister. Please help me to be longsuffering enough to know that she loves me and that she would never intentionally hurt me.”

If we both are thinking both ways, we can’t ever lose relationships over things that are less important than the gospel. I believe a great example of this is the relationship of Jonathan and David. Surely Jonathan placed his own desires below the needs of David as he risked his own life in the advancement of David, even against his own flesh and blood (I Samuel 20—premise 1). Surely David must have always been thinking only the best of Jonathan, even as Jonathan died fighting in the army of David’s own enemy, Saul. It is encouraging to see David’s memorial honoring of Jonathan even after he lost his life in service to Saul (II Samuel chapters 1&9—premise 2). 

I hope and believe I can rely on these Biblical principles to guide me to godly relationships…those relationships that can always promote unity and evangelism among and by His people today. 

Do You Need to Write this Love Letter?

The following is a letter originally drafted for a woman I met rather coincidentally in a small southeastern town in which I was speaking not too long ago. She was a spirited young woman who made my day by giving me a beautiful cookbook. I had to leave quickly and was unable to study with her at the moment we met. Perhaps the letter below might help another soul somewhere who is yet in sin, or perhaps it might help you as you approach a friend who is coming near to the kingdom. I know I do not always make the most of opportunities to love people in the way that makes an eternal difference. I hope I can do better.

Dear Valerie,

It was really a joy to get to meet you a couple of weekends ago when we spoke in ____________. I am so pleased with my cookbook. Please forward my small donation to the charity about which we spoke. Thanks so much for thinking of me. I love to cook and I love new cookbooks, especially this one with potent reminders of the spiritual bread of life.

I am always refreshed and thankful to meet people who have a zeal for spiritual things and whose lives have led them down a path to a grateful realization that God is so merciful and good. That was definitely you! I know you’re very thankful and amazed by his care and that He has allowed you to overcome so much and come to this good place in your life where you finally have a chance to glorify Him with blessings that he bountifully gives to you.

The burden on my heart now is to be sure that you are in Christ and do have that hope of heaven. I carry this burden with me to every place I speak and I see it in every new face I meet. I just had to write and be sure about this because I am going to stand before the same judgment bar one day that you will and I just want to tell as many people as I can. It’s not that I have any secrets about the will of God that you don’t have. It’s just that the devil is very busy deceiving in our world today through the hundreds of denominations out there all teaching different and opposing plans of salvation. The devil really doesn’t care how religious we are if he can just keep us outside of Christ. He doesn’t care what good hearts we have if he can just deceive those good hearts into accepting false teachings. He doesn’t care how many good things we do for our neighbors if he can just keep us out of Christ. He knows that forgiveness and redemption and all spiritual blessings are found only in Christ (Eph 1:3, 7). So he loves to make people think they are in Christ when they really have not done what the New Testament says to do to be in Christ. I don’t know about you personally, but I love your heart of submission and I want to be sure that I help you if these are things you have not thought about before. I think you are right about something you said to me. When people really want to do the will of God, He can bring people into their lives for a reason. I hope that he can use me in a small way in your life. I am praying as you study the things that are in this letter that you will want to be sure that you have followed his will and that you are in Christ where forgiveness is.

About 98% of the world of “Christendom” today teaches that all you have to do is pray the sinner’s prayer in order to be saved. Something like, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart. Thank you for loving me and saving me right here and right now…” The problem with that is it’s just not found in the Bible anywhere. It is true that he loves us and that he is willing to save every last one of us (II Peter 3:9), but as with all of his blessings, his salvation is conditional on our obedience. It really bothers me that the devil uses this “sinner’s prayer” that is nowhere in scripture to deceive so many people into believing that they are saved, when, in reality, they are still in sin.

It is true that belief in the fact that Jesus is the son of God is a prerequisite for salvation. Without that faith it is impossible to please him or be saved (Mark 16:15,16, Heb.11:6). It is true that we have to repent or put away sin from our lives. If we keep on sinning on purpose, we will perish (Luke 13:3). We have to confess that faith in Jesus as God’s Son (Romans10:10). While all of these things are essential steps toward salvation, the Bible nowhere ever says that these things put us into Christ. It’s just not there.

But the New Testament does tell us what it is that does put us into Christ: Look at these clear teachings:

Rom 6:3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
Rom 6:4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

According to this verse, it is baptism that puts us into Christ. Look at another:

Gal 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Gal 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Again, God just made it as plain as day how we put on Christ.

We can ask the same question lots of ways:

How do I wash my sins away?

Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

When am I forgiven?

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What do I do to be saved?

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved;

Exactly what saves me?

1Pe 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

In fact, in every case in the book of Acts where people desired to be saved, they clearly were immediately baptized for the remission of their sins(Acts2, Acts8, Acts 9, Acts 10,11, Acts 16). In one case the man actually risked his life in the middle of the night to leave the jail and go be baptized. If he had been caught by his Roman superiors, he would have surely been executed (Acts 16). Each time I read and reread all of these passages, I get so upset at preachers who are reading the same Bible I am reading and yet are willing to ignore these plain teachings about baptism and teach that it is not essential for salvation…that it is just a symbol of your salvation. Romans 6:3,4 teaches us that baptism is the very place where we contact the death of Christ. If we don’t go down into those waters with a heart of submission, knowing that we desperately need his salvation, we do not even come in contact with the death and blood of Jesus!… and that is a scary reality to take to judgment.

The point is this. If I was baptized because I thought I was already saved, then I was not coming to God on his terms. I was not being baptized for the remission of sins like they did in Acts 2:38. I was not doing it to wash away my sins (Acts 22:16). I was not doing it to be saved (Mark16:16). It was not a step of faith if I did it as a symbol that I was already saved. I was putting my will above his. I was saying, “Lord, I was saved without ever being baptized into the death of your son, and now I will be baptized to show that I have already been saved without doing what you said I must do to be in Christ.” If I am a member of a church that teaches baptism is not essential to be in Christ, then I am a member of a church that is misleading people into a false security of salvation.I said all of those things because I could tell your heart was an open one to His will. I am praying as you read this that you will just want to be sure that you are doing and teaching what the Bible (the only word we have today from God) says about salvation. There is no more important subject. I have already been praying for you and for the good things you are doing already. I just pray that now that you have this letter in hand, you will look carefully at these passages in the context of the whole New Testament and be very careful not to be led astray by any person (including me!) I have nothing personally to gain by telling you this, except to know that I will not have to look into your face in the judgment day and know that I was silent about this very important subject. Just be sure the church with which you are working is the church of the New Testament, teaching the same thing that first opened its doors of salvation to the world in Acts 2. If we do what they did on that day, we will be what they were…Christians. But if we become involved in a religion that leads people astray we will be accountable for that, too. Remember, the devil doesn’t mind religion at all. In fact, since he is the father of lies (John 8:44), he loves false religions. Not every one that says “Lord, Lord” (i.e. not every one who is religious) will enter the kingdom (Matthew 7:21,22 ), but he that obeys the will of God. I could go on and on…
…And I will, if you have any questions at all with which I might be able to help. I’ve thought of you often and prayed for you. Again, let me thank you for my gift. I hope that this letter finds your heart open to do and teach all of his will. You can be a great minister for His cause to other ladies. So many are searching for these truths and so many are being led astray. Let me know if I can help further.

Because of Calvary!

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.  

Sister to Sister: “Baby Down!”

14305233_937682760579_6131246353948726920_oWhen my Hannah was about four years old, her younger cousin, Abel, was born. Amidst all of her grandmothers’ ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the new baby, Hannah shouted across the room to her grandmother “Pumpie!” (That’s what she called her.) “I’m over here!” 

This week, I’ve had a few vivid recollections of that sort of sibling or cousin jealousy as I’ve held my brand new Colleyanna. Ezra, her big brother, looked at me and repeated a phrase over and over as I was walking around with Colleyanna in my arms today. He kept saying “Baby down.” 

I said “Do you  mean you want me to put the baby down?” 

“Uh-huh,” Ezra said. (Like mother, like son).

Sibling jealousy was a thing…a real thing in the Corinthian church of the first century; so much so that Paul used a good portion of the book of First Corinthians to address it. The climax of the discussion is in chapter 13, where he describes love. As I think about that chapter, I see that several of the characteristics or anti-characteristics of love were a bit lacking in Ezra’s behavior today. For instance, love envies not. I’m pretty sure envy was at the root of “Baby down”. I think maybe Ezra was being pretty focused on himself and behaving a bit unseemly. But Ezra is a little child. (And this kind of attention seeking toward a grandmother is not unpleasant to this Mammy, by any means!)

It’s interesting that I Corinthians 13 concludes by pointing out that children talk like children. They think and understand like children. But when they grow up, they put away childish things. There will come a day very soon, if things are right in Ezra’s home, when he will no longer be jealous of his sister, but rather protective and encouraging. Maturity compels us to protect and encourage each other in the body of Christ—to seek the well-being of one another (I Cor. 10:24). That’s what Christians do when they grow up.

Practically speaking, this means you rejoice when someone else excels in some area of service even if it’s an area in which you also work. You are glad when another receives honor for the good things in her life. You are willing to step aside and let another person have the chance to do something that perhaps you have “always” done. You forbear with someone who does something in a a manner less preferable to you, albeit scriptural. You absolutely refuse to berate a brother or sister to his or her  face or behind his or her back, but you will go to all lengths to save his or her soul. In short, you get out of the way for the cause of Christ. You serve rather than seeking service (i.e “How come no one visited me in the hospital?”). Your path in Him is one of conviction and consecration, rather than convenience. It is always self-instructive, rather than self-indulgent. You are never eager to say “Hey, look! I’m over here!” When a new Christian’s needs take precedence, you never say “Baby down,” because it is your purpose to put childish things away.

And when you use the phrase “Oh, grow up!” you’re talking to yourself and you are wanting to do it the I Corinthians 13 way!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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.