Browsing Tag

Ezra

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

“There’s something I don’t understand about God…”

So said Ezra, age five. As we were tromping through the old cemetery beside our house, he was asking about the people buried there. “Were these people Christians?” 

This little tromp followed closely on the heels of our visit to one of our friends whose wife has just passed away. “Was she a Christian?” 

I had explained to Ezra that she was a Christian and so she got to go to heaven, but that her husband, who is aged and, thankfully, left behind for now, is not. That’s why your Papa has asked him to study the Bible…so he can learn how to go where she has gone and so he can be with her again someday. 

“Did he say he would study the Bible?” 

“Yes, he did. So let’s pray that he listens and wants to obey God, so that he can go to heaven.”

And so came the common line of thinking that you and I have heard countless times. (I’ve just never heard it expressed by a five-year-old.)… “So this is what I don’t understand about God. You know, Mammy, that not all of the people who are not Christians are bad guys. Most of them are just nice people; but they are not going to get to go to heaven. People who don’t get to go to heaven are going to have to burn. So how can God do that to nice people?”

And that just about sums up one of the most pervasive of all theological questions: How can a loving God damn people to eternal torment?  

So I talked about this for a brief few minutes there in the cemetery with Ezra. I told him how this earth we walk on is just really a testing place. “God is giving us a chance to choose whether we will obey him—all of what he commands us—or not. He is seeing if we trust Him enough to just obey Him. If we look around us and see this beautiful world—that grassy field over there, the mountain behind it, these huge oak trees and even our own bodies that can run and chase each other—if we see all of that, we should know that Someone made all of it. If we search for Him, we can find Him in His Word and then we can know what He wants us to do. But we have to care enough to study His Word and find His wishes for our lives. If we care enough to do anything to obey Him, He will help us to know how to do it and He will be our Father and take us to live with Him, forever.”

Ezra responded….”I kind of understand all of that, but I think there are some parts of it that I cannot understand because I’m just a kid. I think I will understand it better when I’m a grown-up.” 

I did not want to burst His bubble and tell him that there are some parts of it that he will never understand. But I did add that the most important thing to God is that we trust Him enough to just do what He says even if we don’t always understand. 

Later in the week we watched that classic old Disney movie together: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. He listened intently to a line taken from the ten commandments and another phrase repeated throughout the movie: “I make sure I’m right, and if I am right, then I go ahead.” 

Then Ezra said “Mammy, is Davy Crockett dead now?”

“Yes, he is, Ezra.”

“Well, was he a Christian?…because he acts like a Christian.” 

So now, reflecting on the week I just spent with that precious little five-year-old, I’m pretty sure he’s absorbing the truth that the most important thing about living, is dying; and the shape your soul is in when you do. 

As I was driving him back to meet his mama today, we had one final theological discussion. It started when he said something to purposely scare me and I quipped “Ezra, you are going to give Mammy a heart attack!” 

“Mammy, what’s a heart attack?”

After a little discussion about valves and blood flow, Ezra said. “Do you think I will ever have a heart attack? I’m kind of afraid of a heart attack.” 

I tried to reassure him that he is healthy and that, although he will one day die, it will likely be when he’s an old man and that he will probably never have a heart attack, even then.

“But, Ezra, you know every single person has to die one day.”

“Oh, I know that,” he said. 

And then I added, “…unless we are still living here when Jesus comes back in the clouds. If he comes soon and if we are still living, then we will never die.”

As I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw a look of excitement like I rarely see on that little face.  He said. “Do you really mean it?! You mean if we are still alive when He comes back, we will never die?!” 

“That’s right.  We will just fly up and meet him in the clouds and go on to heaven with him.”

“Oh!…Well then, that’s what I hope happens! I want to still be living when He comes back!” 

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20).

Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:3).

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

“Dat’s de Pwoblem!”

Five-year-old Ezra is concerned, lately, about every death. (We all should be a lot more thoughtful about the appointment with death and judgment that 100% of us will keep!) He’s especially concerned about whether or not people who’ve died have gone to be with God. Recently, his parents visited Mount Airy, North Carolina, the home of Andy Griffith and the model town for the fictional town of Mayberry. As they were telling Ezra about going to Floyd’s Barber Shop and the drugstore and the Sheriff’s Office, He asked them “Did you see Andy Griffith?”

When they told him that they couldn’t see him, because he’s dead, Ezra immediately asked “But did he obey God?”

Last week, while Ezra was visiting with us for a few days, he “tromboned” a few bars of “Seventy-Six Trombones.” A little taken aback that he would know that song, his Papa said “Ezra, do you know what that song is about?”

“Actuawy, I do.” Ezra replied.

“Do you know what movie that’s from?” Glenn asked.

“Actually I do. It’s from De Moosic Man.”

“Do you like that movie?

“Yes. I love it!

About this time I interjected that his parents were a little bit worried about the hero of the story—the fact that he was a conniving swindler promoting sin at every turn. Glenn answered, “But didn’t he repent at the end?”

Ezra quickly chimed in “No, he did not wepent. Dat’s de pwoblem.”

I’ve been asked to speak in an upcoming lectureship about how to raise our children to be evangelistic. In thinking about how to frame this lesson, I’m reminded that Ezra is right. Sometimes we think about all of the anti-Biblical messages in the world that draw people from God: atheism, denominationalism, worldliness, etc….We think about the huge propaganda that Satan has successfully spread about the non-essential nature of baptism. All of these (and more) are huge roadblocks to salvation in our modern world. But all of these are surmountable. I’ve seen people overcome each of these obstacles to live full and rich lives and go home to glory when they died. They did it by repenting: changing their minds about a particular course of action and following a different course.

But Ezra is right. When people are unwilling to repent, that unwillingness is the obstacle to salvation that cannot be overcome. That’s the pwoblem.

Repentance is the absolute hardest part of God’s plan of salvation. It’s the part that takes boldness, stamina, perseverance and self-control. It’s the part that makes you keep on confessing Him for life and it’s the part that makes you determined to get to the water and have your sins washed away. It’s the part that, once out of the waters of baptism, keeps you heaven-focused. It’s the part that makes you never, ever give the world a longing look again.

If we can put the concept of repentance in our kids—both its difficulty and its attendant blessings—we will raise naturally evangelistic kids. We do this by using the word “repentance” when we are punishing them. We do it by talking about hearts when we watch movies like The Music Man. We do it by stressing the concept of coming to one’s self when we are talking about the Prodigal Son or David and Bathsheba in family Bible time. We do it when we read the story of Beauty and the Beast or Pinocchio or any number of tales in which people changed their minds and actions in a positive direction. We do it when they hear us pray that our hearts will be tender and change when we find out we are wrong. They do it when they hear us petition Him in behalf of specific people we name, who need to change their hearts. We do it when we explain to them the difference between Peter and Judas when the cross put them to the test. We do it when, at very young ages, we keep spanking that hand over and over until we get a contrition after disobedience. We do it when we show them compassion after the contrite heart rights a wrong.

We saturate our children with the truth that salvation is about hearts. It’s about obedience resultant from penitent hearts.

Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Jesus Christ

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Finding the Hook

Last week was packed with a good kind of craziness around our house. Our four-year-old grandson, Ezra was with us for a few days. Both Glenn and I were slated to travel and speak on the weekend, but we were still determined to take Ezra fishing, have lots of time pushing that swing outside, have at least three trips around the neighborhood on the tractor, visit the park, and squeeze in at least one pop-in with our postal lady and one with Ezra’s friends at the bank…not to mention the four services at the West Huntsville church while Ezra was in town. And all in between those activities, while at home, we were the good guys versus the bad guys in the living room. We have a hide-out under a tree that’s really on the couch under the afghan, a horse that’s actually wooden and  rocking, but he transports to far-away and dangerous places just the same, and a jail in the study that’s not as secure as one might think, for four-year-old prisoners who know how to “file out” with plastic knives sneaked in by allies or “bust loose” through the back porch and hop on a pirate ship, which is a north-bound hammock that tosses wildly in the stormy sea. 

A definite highlight this visit was a Captain Hook costume that I pieced together when Ezra’s imagination turned to Neverland. We re-purposed Glenn’s lawn mowing hat from the basement and, with a little red paint, a sword that my dad had made many years ago for my son, a feather from an Indian chief’s headdress in the costume crate, and a red robe from Amazon Prime, he was set. The little coat hanger hook glued inside a piece of wood in Glenn’s workshop was his favorite part of the ensemble. His little antique child’s bed in the window cubby in our bedroom was the perfect ship, with the baby sound machine on the ocean setting and a reflective nightlight putting the moon and stars on the ceiling. Captain Hook was up to no good and I was constantly spotting my costume jewelry around his neck, attached to his belt, or in that little treasure chest in his “ship”. (My jewelry stash may never be the same!)

But in one very serious moment (and those moments happen at unplanned times), this question emerged:  “Mammy, do bad guys know dat dey are bad?”

Now I had to pause a moment before delving into any response to that very relevant societal question. Just a few seconds of reflection was all it took to realize that this question is a deep spiritual and philosophical quandary. Its ramifications are profound. Yet it needs to be settled in the mind of this four-year-old…and in my own.

The answer is, of course, “No…Not always.”

James 1: 20-22 reads like this. Find the bad guy here:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 

The implication is  that the bad guy does not know how to leave the superfluity of naughtiness (also translated “overflowing of wickedness”) if he does not have the word engrafted or implanted in him. He simply must be in the Book to know that wickedness is wicked and that filthiness is filthy. A bad guy has to be in the Word (or have some connection to the broad influence of the Word of God)  to know that he is bad. Sin is identified by the laws of God (Romans 5:13). 

Some guys, though, have looked in the mirror of God’s Word and walked away, They are aware of the transformation that the Word would have them undergo. But they choose to walk away from the  “mirror” without letting that Word change their hearts or their behaviors. In this case, the bad guys do “know that they are bad.” They have, like Pharaoh of old (Exodus 8:15,32), hardened their hearts. 

Here’s the description by James of the “bad guy” who knows he is bad from verses 23 and 24:

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

The Greek word for “forgetteth” there includes neglect.  This man knows, at least on some level, what God would have him to do, but he does not care. He refuses to allow God’s word to convict and change him. This “bad guy” knows he is bad. 

This conversation with Ezra ended with an elicited resolve to never, ever be the real-life bad guy; the one who knows he is wicked, but doesn’t care. But further, it ended with a resolve on both of our parts to always be looking in the mirror of the Word, so that we can know when we are bad and mend our ways. Wickedness, whether the wicked is aware of it or not, separates a man from God (Is. 59:2).

Hook. Where did the “pretend” end and the eternal realities begin? When did the pirate ship become a vessel of spiritual transport? When did his little mind stop fighting with the wooden sword and launch a pint-sized battle with the sword which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17)? You never know when the teachable moments will come, so be sure you are on-board in little adventures every chance you get. Those moments  may contain keys to eternity. 

.

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: “Mammy, I want to tell you…”

Ezra, my 4-year-old grandson, just called to tell me about the baptisms that are occurring tonight after a Bible study that his parents have been conducting with a couple that visited the marriage seminar at Edgewood recently. This is blessing my world tonight in so many ways and on so many levels. 

The obvious and most important is that two souls are being washed tonight. Two precious souls added to the body of Christ. Two souls saved by the mercy of God and the blood of Jesus (Romans 6:1-4)

The second reason that what’s happening right now is pivotal is that these two people being baptized are parents of very small children. That means that these kids, from this night forward, will be parented by intentional, devoted Christians—people who are directing them with eternity always in the forefront. It means that whatever brokenness or spiritual poverty may have existed in the former generations, no longer has to exist. Tonight is the forging of the first link in a chain that can be unbroken—each generation forging its own link and each generation guiding the next to faithfulness. These small children will never have to remember a time when their parents were walking away from the Lord. 

The third thing that’s wonderful is that I’m basking in the joy that a mother gets in knowing the next generation is evangelistic. It’s not always easy and pretty to be conducting Bible studies with a two-year-old and a four-year-old in tow. It’s not always easy to offer hospitality, to make sure that your children and those who belong to the ones who are hungering for the gospel are quiet enough, so that concentration on truth can occur in the next room. It’s not always easy, but it is always eternally gratifying. 

And that’s the part that makes a grandmother’s heart sing: “Mammy, this is Ezwa…. I want to tell you that Mrs. Kiki and Mr. Lavardo and Jo-Jo and all of them are going to get to go to heaven now. Dey WEALLY are. It’s because I been so good to dem and Cohweenanna has, too. We been teachin’ dem about God. Dey have already been baptized tonight.” 

Well, you and I know that they will not go to heaven because Hannah and Ben’s son has been good to them. They will, just like you and me, get to go to heaven because God’s Son has been so good to them. All the same, I’m happy that Hannah and Ben are putting joy into Ezra and Colleyanna when souls are reached with this good news. I’m glad she is showing them that they can have a part in someone coming to know the Lord. I hope they will get to experience this ultimate bliss over and over in their lives.  

It is ultimate bliss for this lifetime. Only heaven can be better than this. 

Tomorrow, I am going to go and teach women lessons from Titus 2. Because of tonight’s little four-year-old testimony of the power of parenthood, I’m going to speak the truths about motherhood with a little more conviction…perhaps with a little more clarity. The future of the body of Christ is dependent on what parents are putting into the hearts of their children. I’m so thankful for parents who are serious about the transferral of their families to that eternal home around the throne. And I’m supremely grateful for that sweet couple in Georgia who woke up this morning in an unwashed and lost state. Tonight, they are going to bed washed and heaven-bound. What blessed children will be sleeping down the hall from them!

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

“Sweep in Heaven Peace”

Matthew 25 is one of those rare passages containing a glimpse into the world beyond this one. The curtains of the judgement scene are pulled for a few brief verses and we are clearly taught from those judgment verses that, when we do good things for the brethren, we are doing them, in essence, for the Lord. 

So, on the way to the crisis pregnancy center, where my daughter was volunteering on that Thursday morning, she explained to her kids that, when Ezra and Colleyanna were in the playroom that she would be attending (a place where siblings, of mothers who were being encouraged NOT to abort their unborn children, would be entertained and watched) that they would be doing an important job. She explained that they would be helping mothers learn how to be better mothers and take good care of their babies; that it’s a great day because they would actually be doing something for Jesus. Ezra, who is four, took the job seriously.

Following their time at the pregnancy center, they headed to Chik-Fila, where they were meeting my son-in-law, Ben, and their friend, Carina, to study the Bible. Hannah told the children about the importance of the Bible study and that, when they were playing nicely during the study, they really were getting to do yet another thing for Jesus. 

The best part of the day was yet to come. At the conclusion of the study, Ben told their sweet friend that he and Hannah were always available should she decide she wanted to be baptized into Christ. She responded “Could I just do it right now?”

In their excitement to take her to the water, Hannah hurried the kids into the car and began to explain to them that Carina was going to be baptized for the remission of her sins. From the back seat, Ezra smiled a huge smile and said “You mean we get to do something for Jesus AGAIN?”

It had been a long and full and very blessed day. On the way home, the radio was playing “Silent Night.” Hannah was thinking about other things (good things) and didn’t even notice the song on the radio until she heard the little voice again from the back seat:

“I wuv this song. You know why? Because it says, ‘sweep in heaven peace’ and Carina gets to go to heaven now. I think this is a God song. A God song for Carina.”

May you and I have that heart…a heart that loves getting to do things for Jesus…a heart that wants “heaven-peace” for people in a troubled world… a heart that wants a “God-song” for all the people who could use His music in their lives!

 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: “I Said I Would Try”

“Ezra, what happened?! You told me on the way here today that you were going to be good and obey!” He leaned in dramatically and said slowly for emphasis, “No, Mama. I told you I would TRY to be good and obey. But then I said ‘but I probably won’t.’”

Taken from my daughter’s Facebook status yesterday, it’s probably the 3-year-old way to verbalize how we all feel sometimes when we fail to live the way we intended. It’s how I feel when I fail to keep the New Year’s resolution about more time for study and prayer. When I fail, yet again, to speak in kindness to my husband, who does love me similarly to the way Jesus loved the church. When I fail to give my friend the World Video Bible School card that I intended to give her in hopes that she would watch a soul-saving lesson. When I fail to encourage the sister at services who has been going through a broadly known temptation to sin. When my voice is larger than my persistence in patience with my children. When my will to be in control of spending is not as firm as my desire for some fleeting pleasure of this world.

“I said I would TRY, God.” How must He feel when I fail over and over?

I suggest that it was not an inexperienced God who answered the question in Matthew 18, “How often shall I forgive my brother who sins against me?…until seven times?”

The “No. I’m telling you to forgive him until seventy-times seven,” answer was not based on any reality of man sinning against man. After all, is there any human being who has trespassed 490 times against Cindy Colley?  The answer is no.

But have I…will I transgress that many times against my God?  I hope I do not do it in one day, but, alas, I probably have/will in my lifetime. God was saying to me “Be willing to forgive others, to the extent  and with the love with which I have forgiven you.”

In fact, He said that His forgiveness of my “490 actual sins” is dependent on my willingness to forgive my brother/sister of the total number of sins for which they seek my forgiveness; even though my burden to forgive will never actually reach the extreme level of God’s willingness to forgive me. The extreme level was/is Calvary.

The lesson is not about overlooking Ezra’s misbehavior. I hope he got the spanking because He will be blessed to have experienced consistent discipline. The lesson is not about God overlooking my sin, either. It’s about the amazing length to which His arm of salvation was willing to reach to pull me from its clutches, because, in His righteousness and justice, He could not overlook it.

I’m so thankful that when I really do try, as His child, he disciplines me, forgives me and then always sits me down again beside Him and gives me another chance. I, like Ezra, am pretty sure I will never get it exactly right. But I will be sitting beside Him when the last service is over, when the last hymn is sung, when the last  “amen” has been uttered. And He will just transfer me to sit, once again with Him, around the throne…for always…not because I was perfectly good, but because I was perfectly forgiven at Calvary.

The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)