Friday, January 19, 2007

At the Tea Table

“The fruit of the Spirit is.....gentleness...” (Gal.5:22)

I have a wonderful little book in my library written in 1895 by the great preacher, T. DeWitt Talmadge, entitled, At the Tea Table. Few today will have heard of him, but according to one account I read, “He was probably the most spectacular pulpit orator of his time—and one of the most widely read.” In the old book (with the original copyright, by the way), Talmadge writes of that time of the evening when a family of that era would sit down to a table of light sandwiches, sweets, and the all-important tea pot. He then pictures, allegorically, individuals who might be in attendance at the table—for instance, “Dr. Butterfield” and “Mr. Givemefits,” whose conversations give very different perspectives on life.

A good deal of the first chapter sings the praises of tea, where Talmadge quotes a Chinese scholar of the previous century who said of it, “[Tea] tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens and refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.” Quite a claim, wouldn’t you say?

It may be argued that coffee affords some of these same benefits, but I would contend that surely the atmosphere, and quite possibly the conversation, at a coffee klatch would be noticeably different from that at a tea party. This is assuming, of course, that the tea is served from a lovely tea pot, and drunk from delicate tea cups, not sturdy mugs. Somehow, it would seem to me that the careful maneuvering of fragile china would inspire the same conscientiousness in conversation. If coarseness is unbecoming with an oversized mug in your hand, it is surely unforgivable with a bone china tea cup! I am being somewhat facetious, but only somewhat. You understand, I’m sure, that it’s not tea that I’m promoting so heartily (though I do love it); it’s the waning quality of gentility.

With all of our acquired access to activities and places that our grandmothers or great-grandmothers did not enjoy, it becomes easy, as women—even Christian women—to assume a masculine stride, figuratively, if not literally. And it is not a good trade-off, I will wager. I appreciate being able to go to college, earn a living, if necessary, and offer my thoughts in the arena of debate, but not if it costs me the unique pleasure of being regarded as a lady. Femininity may not always be fragile, but it is always gentle. It may have to do hard things, but never hurtful ones. It may be strong-minded, but never strong-willed. I may be old-fashioned, but I would disdain any activity that would require that I think like a man. I bring a woman’s, a mother’s, a grandmother’s, and a great-grandmother’s perspective to any conversation I engage in. And it is a valid perspective.

So, if you attend my tea table, you can expect lively conversation, my best china, and a pot of very hot tea. We may (no, we will!) laugh; we may cry; we may talk of day to day happenings, or we may talk of high and lofty things’ but we will most assuredly talk of God. And we will celebrate our great fortune to have been born women, with the distinct possibility of becoming women of God

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What's in a Name?

“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” (Eph. 3:14-15)

I heard on the news recently about a man who is petitioning the court for the right to take his wife’s name when he and his fiancĂ© marry. According to his argument, he has brothers to carry on his family name, but his wife has no brothers to pass down hers. But this seems to me just one more instance of trying to minimalize customs and traditions that have marked civilized society for hundreds, even thousands, of years.

Since medieval times, it has been customary for the wife and children of a man to wear his name. When a daughter is given in marriage to a man, she then takes his name, which only stands to reason since it is he who has promised to protect and provide for her, just as her father did. Somehow, however, in the continuing quest for “rights and privileges,” it has become popular for married women to retain their own family name. As one woman has said, “Maintaining a maiden name for a woman is a way of keeping her personal identity, a way of holding on to one’s origin.” Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I did not marry to change my identity at all, but simply to enhance it. I am still that same young girl—Salle Jo Hopkins—who was blessed of God to be able to capture the heart and name of a wonderful man, my husband, Richard.

“Well then,” it may be asked, “Why shouldn’t you reflect that duality by using both names?” For two reasons, I think. First, God said of the first couple that their collective name would be “Adam” (Gen.5:2); and they would now be considered “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Certainly, then, if we share “one flesh,” it only stands to reason we should share one name. And, as I said, if he has offered to give me and our children his provision and protection, I do not mind at all if that name is his. In fact, I glory in it. (By the way, if a man refuses to take on this responsibility, he doesn’t have a name worth sharing with any woman. 1Tim.5:8).

The second reason is that, even though “Salle Jo Hopkins Sandlin” might seem like a legitimate compromise, it would still not sufficiently reflect who I am. After all, my identity is far more than dual, since I am not only a product of my father, but also, my mother, and their parents, and so on. I could say I am Salle Jo Sparks Blount Collins Hopkins Sandlin, but that would not begin to cover it either. In the final analysis, it is not really important who I was, but who I am today. Those who came before may have helped to shape my natural inclinations, but my own decisions are the true measure of who I am.

The Bible teaches the importance of a family name, and the verses in Ephesians three tell us the most important name a man or woman can have. I am a Christian—not as a distinction from other religions, but as a designation of a relationship. I chose to become part of the Bride of Jesus Christ, which automatically made me a child of God the Father. We are “bone of bone and flesh of flesh,” and He has promised to take full responsibility for me in this life, and that which is to come. I gladly, and gratefully, share His name.

So, who in the world am I? I am Salle Jo Sandlin; and I am a Christian. I can truthfully say, that is all the identity I need...or want.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Truth About Lying

“And the woman [Rahab] took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were.” (Josh.2:4)

Rahab was lying. The question remains, however, was she a liar? Here is where the oft heard excerpt from messages on sin would be inserted: “How many murders do you have to commit to be a murderer? How many things do you have to steal to be a thief? How many lies do you have to tell to be a liar? How many times does a man have to lust after a woman to be an adulterer?” (Actually, I just made that last one up. Somehow, that one never came up!). Of course, this was usually leading up to the point the preacher was really trying to be make: “How many beers do you have to drink to be a drunkard?” However questionable (even sinful) some of these things may be, this is a poor argument, a false analogy, to be exact. For instance, does a single hole-in-one make someone a golf pro?

But to get back to Rahab, if she was a liar, then according to Revelation 21:8, she will spend eternity in hell, a theory that Hebrews 11:31 would refute. Are we then left to relegate lying to the murky waters of “situational ethics?” Acknowledging that although the Word of God is infallible, we are not, perhaps we can find an answer to this conundrum that will reflect both the character of God and the reality of life.

Many Bible characters withheld the truth from interested parties, including the Lord himself, who chose not to acknowledge His Kingship to the vacillating Pilate, saying, in effect, “You’re the one doing the talking” (Matt.27:11). Then there was David’s wife, Michal, who provided a false alibi for her husband, who was on the run, in order to save his life (1Sam.19). And in today’s society, without those who are willing to lie to terrorists, our security as a nation would be even less fragile than it is. It is evident from these, and other illustrations I could just as easily have mentioned, there is a relation between the speaker and the hearer. As one author has suggested, “Responsible speaking is extending the truth to those who have the right to know.”1

The other truth that is obvious to me from the Bible is that lying is only tolerated by God in extreme cases. For instance, you remember that when Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie about money to the Holy Ghost and the apostles, it cost them their lives (Acts 5). For you and I to say we have never lied is to provide a built in refutation of our claim; but to allow it to become our modus operandi is to cross over from telling a lie to becoming a liar, if we assume there is a difference. As one woman boasted to me once, “If it takes a lie to cover my _____, I’m lyin’ every time!”

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of people who have “taught their tongues to speak lies” (Jer.9:5). But for you and me, as children of Him whose name is Truth, a lie should stick in our throats like a bone. Instead of covering ourselves, we should be like the man commended in Psalm 15:4, who it says, “sweareth to his own hurt.” As wives, lying can become justifiable in our eyes as a means of keeping peace. But I agree with Matthew Henry, who wrote, “Peace is such a priceless jewel that I would give anything for it, but truth.”

If this is a recurring theme with me, it is because I see it as a chronic blight in the lives of people who call themselves Christians. We should take it seriously. God does.

"A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.” (Prov.19:5)

1. Davis, Richard. Wycliffe Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Ed. Carl F.H. Henry. Peabody, MS. Henrickson Publications, Inc. 2000. p. 680

Friday, January 5, 2007

Walking with God

“And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” (Gen.5:24)
“…and Noah walked with God.” (Gen.6:9)

What does it mean to walk with God? Is it any different than following God? Enoch and Noah’s choice to walk with Him was especially noteworthy because it was during a time when, obviously, nobody else was doing it. (“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” Gen.6:11.) And we have no reason to assume their choice was coerced in any way. It was a product of freewill (at least, as free as a Sovereign God allows). In both cases, it saved them from a cataclysm—the Flood. And in our case, walking with God will save a man or woman from a spiritual cataclysm—a ruined life.

But, to go back to my original question, how does one walk with God? Hebrews 11:5 gives us a clue when it tells us that Enoch also had a testimony that he “pleased God,” then in the following verse explains that we will never please God without faith. No wonder 2 Corinthians 5:7 says we “walk by faith,” the opposite of walking by sight. This is not blind faith. God sees what is ahead clearly. It’s merely allowing Him to guide us with His own eye (Psl.32:8), a glorified “birds-eye-view,” if you will.

Then, of course, Amos 3:3 asks rhetorically, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed,” with the obvious answer being, “No.” Two opposing factions never make progress, since they’re always butting heads. Walking with God, then, involves two things: pleasing God and agreeing with Him. I pondered whether walking with God is the same as following Him, and now I think I know the answer. Walking with someone puts to rest any suggestion of reluctance that mere following might allow. God wants us to grow spiritually to the place where we are confident pace keepers with Him. Not only does He need to set the path, He needs to set the pace, if we want to consider ourselves as walking with Him. And, by the way, that is exactly what He requires of us.

“[A]nd what doth the Lord require of thee, but to…walk humbly with thy God.”
(Micah 6:8)