Obedience: Finishing the Climb

 

When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.
And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb. Mt. 27:59-61

The progression to the foot of the cross had been a grueling and sorrow-filled climb. Mary had followed the Lord from the halls of Pilate to the hill of Golgotha. She watched the agony of the cross from a distance. She felt the earth move under her and witnessed the tearing of the rocks (Matthew 27:50-56). She was present when the centurion at the foot of the cross made the good confession: “Truly this was the Son of God.” She and the other Mary followed the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, as he laid the body of the Lord, wrapped in clean linen in his freshly hewn tomb. She watched as Joseph rolled the stone over the opening of the sepulcher (Matthew 27:56-61).

I once had a study with a woman who was contemplating becoming a member of the body of Christ. She was unashamed in asking me just what would be required of her family. “Would we need to be there at every service? My kids have a lot of practices and games and our youngest really has a strict bedtime. The older two have loads of homework. Wednesday nights would be really difficult for us. I just need to know what kind of commitment we would be needing to make.”

I recall an elder in the church in one of the places we lived. Through every sermon, he constantly looked at his watch. He became visibly upset if the service exceeded the hour. I have observed, in some congregations, an exodus of a large number of people after the communion is served, but before the final song and/or prayer.

Somehow, I don’t think Mary was looking at the sundial. I don’t think she was wondering if the commitment from here on out would require more time and money. I don’t think she was thinking about how nice it would be to get home and wash her tired and dirty feet that had climbed the hill to Golgotha. I don’t imagine her thinking about what was for supper or whether there would be time before the Sabbath to go shopping at the market. In short, this woman, who had originally been demon-possessed, was now committed to the Conqueror of demons, of the grave…of sin.  She was the kind of disciple that willingly stayed till the end. Are you?

Sister to Sister: I AM BECAUSE I AM

nature-scenery-at-the-flambeau-riverIn Exodus 3:14, God gave Moses the name by which He wished to be identified to His people, Israel, when he presented to them the prospect of deliverance from slavery to Pharaoh, their hard-hearted taskmaster. 

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

I AM THAT I AM.  Frankly, as a child, when I heard the story of Moses and the burning bush, the name sounded awkward and left me wondering exactly what God was trying to convey by the nomenclature. But as I read the name today in the American Standard Version, I’m amazed at its significance. The ASV renders it I AM BECAUSE I AM.

Just think of that! Every one of us can wear the first part of this name: I AM. You are. I am. We exist. But we do not exist because of ourselves. We exist because of a mother and father who existed because of another set of parents, who existed ultimately, through the line of generations back through time because of an original cause: Jehovah. God. The Creator. We are because He is. I am because of His eternal being and power. I cannot wear the second half of God’s Exodus three name. I am not existent because of my own existence. In other words, I am, but not because I am. I am because He was, is and continues to be. My name is I AM BECAUSE HE IS.

Jehovah, then, is the only one who can claim the name I AM BECAUSE I AM.  Everyone else has an original cause. He is the Original Cause. So that makes Him God. He had no beginning, no designer, planner, maker or authority. That makes him the ultimate of all of those things. The fact that He is the Original Cause renders Him the superlative in every relationship: the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. The Original Cause does not have to explain Himself. Just as the Exodus three name implies, He not only is because He is, He does because He does. In our modern vernacular, we might say He gets to decide. Everything. The buck stops with God. 

This is why Moses had to take off his shoes in front of that bush that day. Moses, the one who was caused, who was saved from destruction, who was nurtured in the palace and commissioned to deliver was standing, at that moment, before the Great Cause, the Savior, the Nurturer, the Deliverer.  

That’s why every one of us has to deal with God. He is the One with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13). There’s a sense in which we all have our burning bushes….The ultimate One is the only One who can truly present the ultimatum of this lifetime. Because He has this kind of superlative power over us, it makes it all the more amazing that he gave us His Son. Jesus, the One who was every bit God, who shared the quintessential power that’s inherent in the Exodus three name, gave up, for a time, the ultimate authority and learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8). Obedience. I AM THAT I AM obeyed. And He did this for me. The One who could wear the name I AM BECAUSE I AM humbled himself to dwell among those who are the caused rather than the Cause and even to die for the caused. 

When I think about this, I know that I’m not worthy to contemplate this humbling of Jesus. I am not capable of fully grasping the great gap between Cause and caused that was bridged at Calvary. But I want to take off my shoes before the  great I AM. Whatever I’m called upon to do as I go forth from my burning bush, I want to do it. I want to bow before the great I AM THAT I AM. 

May all who suffered sword or flame

For truth or Jesus’ lovely name

Shout victory now and hail the Lamb

And bow before the great I AM.

Sister to Sister: At Last! the West Huntsville Women’s Seminar 2015!

11222795_10153195680049069_178530950660725037_nIt’s finally time to register! (http://seminar.westhuntsville.org/)…for GREAT lessons about living with purpose that will get you back on track for Him and for your families. “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” the popular Friday night time of petitioning God together in behalf of the needs of those sisters in attendance and those we love, will, once again open our weekend with prayer and refreshing encouragement from sisters. Then, on Saturday, Kathy Pollard, of Denver, Colorado, will be taking us to the scriptures to give us just what we need to keep on keeping on as we close a year that has been one of the darkest years for morality in the history of our country. We NEED this weekend!

Kathy will also give us a crash course in Bible marking, for which I, personally, can hardly wait. There’s free Friday night housing in homes. There are snack times, there’s book-store perusal time, singing time and there’s encouragement coming from hundreds of smiles and praying hearts. We can do this thing of raising kids and grandkids in a culture gone awry! Kathy will be giving us ammunition for the fight that is ahead.

I truly hope you can come. Make it a sisters road trip. Make it a weekend and stay over for Sunday if you can. We’ll meet your flight and get you to your lodging. Bring your prayer requests for Friday night. Bring your Bibles for marking. Bring your daughters for the faith of your future grandchildren. Bring your sisters for growing closer. Bring your non-Christian friends for a glimpse of hope. Bring your appetites, your singing voices and your pajamas. This only happens every other year, so don’t miss it. If you come and you do not find strength for the journey, I personally will refund your registration fee!…

Okay, so it’s FREE. The seminar itself, the snacks , the lunch, the housing in homes…It’s all free of charge and waiting— for your spiritual advantage. So go here …http://seminar.westhuntsville.org/ …for answers to your questions, and to sign up. The T-shirt is the only thing you can buy on the whole page and it’s certainly optional and sold to you at cost for eight dollars.

Have I convinced you? So go sign up, already!

(ps….if you have questions, call or text Emily at 256-509-2541 or Holly at 256-322-7556)

Cafeteria Style Religion

pohb75mb48vzcoWhen I was a kid, my family would occasionally go out to eat at Britling’s in Birmingham. It was a cafeteria—old style— and the array seemed infinite to my child’s-eye wonderment. But there was also a substantial problem, in my childish perception: the adults could choose anything they wanted from the cucumber salad at the very beginning right down to the peach cobbler a-la-mode at the end. The kids on the other hand had three choices of meats for their “child’s plates”: a chicken leg, a small hamburger patty, or a little bowl of spaghetti. That’s all. We could not pick the trout almandine, the meatloaf or the shrimp. And, perhaps worst of all, we could not pick the chocolate pie, the peach cobbler or the banana pudding. If we were going to eat any of those things, we had to take what our parents picked off of their own plates and mercifully placed on our own.

Thus, the now legendary question I asked in my nasally, fresh-from the-tonsillectomy voice when I was a mere four years old: “We’re going to Britling’s? Is that the place where the grown-ups get whatever they want to eat and the kids get whatever they want you to have?”

The cafeteria line has never been my favorite. Still isn’t. The thing is, when I was a kid I wanted to be able to pick; I mean from the whole, entire spread. As an adult, it’s the picking that is the problem. Too many choices and certainly too much stress figuring out how much I’m paying for my choices when I’m adding things to my tray one casserole and cobbler at the time. But it’s also the thing about balance. It’s really a cafeteria style temptation to skip the salad, greens and Brussel sprouts and pick the fried fish, the candied yams, the fried okra and the lemon chiffon pie. They even tempt you to get some kind of dessert for your bread…like orange crescents or carrot muffins. (“Muffin” because they don’t want you to think you’ve already picked up a piece of carrot cake when you’re deciding whether or not to take the fudge pie at the end.)

There are drawbacks to the cafeteria system that can make us unhealthy and all-spent out. But the application of the cafeteria-style mentality to our spiritual choices is eternally tragic. Think about it with me.

As I look on the Facebook walls of friends who are LGBT advocates on this week that’s been heartbreaking for me (and actually at any given time), I notice many comments about the Golden Rule, about loving one another and about treating each other fairly. Of course, all of these concepts are straight from the book. They are Biblical concepts that are repeated over and over in scripture. They are truth and we cannot bypass them on the way to the end of the line.

But in our zeal to talk about the God of love and the love of God, we cannot silence the God of law and the law of God. The condemnation of sin—the part of the Book that holds us accountable for the moral, sexual, and religious choices that we make—is too obtrusive in the Word of God, for us to pretend He accepts us all even as we rebel against His expressed commands. Approaching the Word is not standing in a cafeteria line in view of an array of choices. He is God. He is holy. Reverend is His name. He is the supreme authority in the lives of those who will live with Him forever in eternity. He gets to choose—terms of admittance, lifestyles, modes of worship. He gets to dictate life to me.

I understand and am saddened that there are many in our country today who do not believe the Word…at all. They are not even “in line” before the Book.  I get how they can get their heart’s permission to fornicate, to be adulterers, drunkards, licentious, swindlers, homosexuals and to participate in all sorts of sin. With no objective standard of conduct, what, except personal preference and fear of unwanted short-term consequences, is to stop unbelievers from any kind of riotous behavior? The answer is—nothing. At least those people are honest in their rejection of the standard.

I also understand that group of people who have faith in the Word, but sometimes falter in keeping its precepts. I am one of those people. We are saddened by and ashamed of sin.

It’s the third group of people that are perplexing to me. They are the ones who are claiming an allegiance to the Bible, wearing the name of Christ and even engaging in lots of good works in the name of the Lord and, all the while, defending and/or participating in the very actions that are expressly condemned in Scripture. It’s the “Christians” who, on Facebook, talk about how proud they are of someone’s “coming out of the closet” or post pictures of themselves in extremely immodest attire or use profanity (or post someone else’s use of it) or invite friends to the bar. It’s the sisters and brothers among us who exalt what the Word condemns, endorse what the Bible disapproves, and proudly display what the Bible calls shameful.  These are the cafeteria-line Christians. They’ve chosen the parts of Christianity that they find appealing and rejected the rest.

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus referred to a group of people who did lots of good things and even did them in His name, but yet were lost. Why? Because they did not comply with the full will of the Father in Heaven. They chose to do some good works, while at the same time, rejecting commands of the One Who has all authority over all of the lives of all people in all generations.

May I always remember that The Word is not a cafeteria line. It is sustenance for my soul, as the Psalmist said:

I opened wide my mouth, and panted; For I longed for thy commandments (Psalm 119:131). 

And finally, this wonderful paragraph from Psalm 119 is a divine mantra for those of us today who are finding it hard to digest all the “love talk” from those who are blatantly disobedient to His clearly expressed will for human sexuality:

Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,

but I do not swerve from your testimonies.

I look at the faithless with disgust,

because they do not keep your commands.

Consider how I love your precepts!

Give me life according to your steadfast love.

The sum of your word is truth,

and every one of your righteous rules endures forever (vs.157-161).

 

Sister to Sister: Seriously?…Another Root Canal?!

imagesLast night as I traveled home from Bible study, a young friend sent me the question, “What if a person was baptized at a point in life when she really did not believe in God? Does that render her baptism invalid?…Now that she believes, does she need to be baptized again?”

This morning as I write, I’m headed to the endodontist’s office for a root canal. I wouldn’t hate it quite as much as I do except that I already HAD this root canal done a year-and-a-half ago. I mean I already did the dread, the drill, the cap, the pain, and the recuperation during the holidays of 2013. I spent New Year’s Eve in the chair. I remember. “Everything’s fixed now,” the dentist said. “You shouldn’t have any more problems.”

But I did. In fact the pain never totally went away. I kept telling myself “That ache you’re feeling back there is just residual.”…”Everybody probably feels pain for a while, right?”…”It’s probably just because you grind your teeth, Cindy Colley…You need to wear that retainer more faithfully.… That’s it. After all, you had a reputable dentist do a root canal and you have the cap back there (and the receipt for a big dental bill) to prove it.”

Oh but nothing doing. “It hardly ever happens,” my dentist explained, when I finally told him about the pain, “But every now and then, for some reason, that area below the tooth just gets reinfected and we have to drill back through the cap and get that infection out. I need to do an X-ray to see what’s going on in there.”

I knew that tooth wasn’t reinfected. Truth be told, that old infection never went away.

“Are you telling me I have to have ANOTHER root canal?” I stared at him, open-mouthed, as I heard his post Xray synopsis.

“Yes, that’s basically it….Only, this time, we have to drill through the cap to do it. I’ll have to send you to a specialist. Let me see if I can find one that takes your Blue Cross….And let me give you an antibiotic to help the swelling go down, so it will be easier to deaden your mouth.”

“That’s okay, I said…I’m already on antibiotics for bronchitis.”

So today, I’m headed to that specialist.

You see, everything looked good back there in the back of my mouth. Any dentist would have looked back there and said, “Oh, you’ve got a cap back there. Looks good.” It’s that Xray machine, though, that sees all the way through the flesh and bones…it’s that machine and that machine only that can reveal what’s going on way down deep. And, in my case, that wasn’t good. The infection that remained rendered the first root canal invalid. Today, I have to do it again. ARRRG!

That’s the way it is with our spiritual conditions. So a person goes under the water and rises again to the sound of Christians singing “Oh Happy Day.” She gets hugs all around from the members of the church. Her name is in the bulletin as the newest Christian. Perhaps she even attends all the time. But only God knows if the infection (sin) has been removed from her life. He knows whether or not her baptism washed her sins away. He has the Xray machine.

If a person is baptized to please someone else, as surely was the case in the scenario that my young friend related, the infection of sin is still there. If a person goes under the water in an emotional moment  that’s void of true commitment, perhaps because friends are doing it or, as one person I know did, in a desperate attempt to save a failing marriage, the infection is still there. Those who are looking on may find comfort in knowing the procedure has been done, but the “cap” on that baptism is just hiding the infection. It will keep hurting. Try as she may, this girl is not going to get rid of the ache of sin. She may tell herself over and over that it’s okay. But if the ONE, the Spirit, who sees all the way through, does not bear witness with her Spirit that she is a child of God (Romans 8:16), then the infection of sin is still there. It will never stop hurting, eroding, destroying, until the sin is removed.

Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins(Acts 2:38). It’s a simple procedure by which infected people become clear and clean. But it is possible to go through all the motions without removing the sin. May I always put all of my life under the Xray machine of His Word. He knows.

And, of course, the answer to my young friend’s question is, “Your friend’s original baptism had nothing to do with the removal of sins or forgiveness. It was merely a submersion; a dunking with no spiritual significance (except perhaps it was a blasphemous ritual). How could one’s baptism accomplish forgiveness in the heart of the living God in whom she did not even believe?  If she now believes and is penitent, let’s get back to the water. Let’s clear up the infection.”

Sister to Sister: Figuring Out Godliness–Part 3

Do You Trust Him?

aster_cafev1_600x300I went to lunch recently with a couple of friends from a denomination who wanted to talk about women and ministry. It seems they had a close girlfriend who was an extremely talented speaker. “She’s got this amazing ability to convince and convict non-believers. She’s a better preacher than any man we know” they said. “Don’t you think God expects her to use her talents to speak to people about him? “

The answer is “yes.” Of course there are settings in which all of the talents God has given me can and should be used to His glory. But just because I’ve been blessed with a talent, doesn’t mean there are no divinely imposed restrictions regarding the use of that talent. My husband is a great guitarist, but he does not play the guitar in worship. My daughter is a great cook, but she doesn’t prepare her famous macaroni and cheese for the communion table. I like public speaking. Is that a talent I can use in worship to God?

Let’s look at the passage from I Timothy 2 again:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression (I Tim. 2:11-14).

In a context that is addressing worship issues, women are commanded to be silent. They are commanded not to have authority over or dominate a man in worship. Before we address the reasons given in the passage, let’s look at a parallel scripture:

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.
And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church (I Cor.14:34,35)

The devil has often used the tool of feminism in our society to make God’s people ashamed to adhere to clear teachings of the New Testament about the role of women in worship. After all, this is the 21st century. Women are astronauts, engineers, CEOs and presidential candidates. Can we really continue promoting this antiquated notion that women are to be silent in our worship assemblies?

Romans 12: 2 tells us “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”.  Sometimes when we think of worldliness, we think of immorality. We think of drinking, gambling, reckless affluence, and illicit sex. But being conformed to the world is simply allowing the culture around us to influence us to disobey God.  The teachings about a woman’s role in worship are some of the plainest teachings in the New Testament.  We need help to misunderstand them.  The fact that they are not politically correct in our culture does not change them.

Frequently, I will have someone ask “Couldn’t this teaching have been for Paul’s culture only? Does it necessarily apply to women today?”  In our text, it is almost as if the Holy Spirit anticipated this question. Notice he proceeds to give the reason for the command: “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”

Notice that the reason, (what happened in the Garden of Eden), has to do with people far removed from Paul’s culture. In I Peter 3; 4, 5, Peter reiterates the submission principle, in this case speaking about submission of a woman to her husband. Notice the woman who modeled submission for the first century Christian women was Sarah. But Sarah lived a couple of millenniums before the first century.   She was definitely not part of Peter’s culture.  See, the teaching about submission in the church and in the home is not a culture-limited teaching. It began in the Garden and continues to apply in God’s new covenant.  It applies throughout all eras of time and across all cultures.

While I can see many reasons for God’s imposed limitations for women in worship, it’s important to remember that whether or not a command makes sense to me is irrelevant to its importance or the consequences of disobeying it. As a matter of fact, if I choose to obey only the commands that make sense to me, then I am not really trusting God. I’m not really doing what God says because he says it. I’m doing what I think is best. While our faith is a reasonable, logic based faith, it goes a step beyond logic. Faith says “I will obey when it makes sense to me and even when it doesn’t, because I trust that God knows what’s best for my life.”

But remember. The answer to the question about whether I should use my teaching talents in the kingdom was “yes.” So if I cannot teach in worship, then how can I use this talent?

I know a young lady who started a community Bible study for ladies in her hometown. She obtained permission to use a town hall and soon had about 50 women in attendance, half of whom were not members of the Lord’s church. I dare say she was reaching more non-Christians with the gospel than her husband who was the local preacher. But was she in any way having authority over men? No.

I know a teenager who started a weekly devotional for girls via email. Her weekly emails strengthened and blessed the lives of dozens of girls each week. Was she using her teaching talents for the kingdom? Oh, yes. But she was not violating the passage.

My daughter and I often have the chance to speak for ladies groups:  ladies’ days, teen girls’ days, ladies classes at lectureships, girls’ sessions at youth rallies, mother-daughter banquets, youth camps and retreats. All of these are wonderful times of fellowship and learning for all involved, especially us. But in none of these cases are we violating the passage.

It has been my experience and observation that those of us who are concerned about being Titus 2 women (as noted above), evangelizing the lost, and caring for the needy  have far more to do in the kingdom than we can possibly accomplish in this lifetime, without clamoring for positions of leadership that God reserved for men. It has also been my observation that when women step into positions of leadership in worship, important jobs best done by women (the care of their children, hospitality, the guiding of the house) are neglected. But let me say it again: It doesn’t really matter if I can see the wisdom in the prohibition. God said it. Faith is doing what God says to do. Period.