Richard, Raymond and Rufus (affectionately known as Sarge) were brothers; sons of poor parents who labored from morning ‘till night on the farm in order to survive and provide for their ten children, as well as several unofficially adopted cousins. Their home, a ramshackle farmhouse had an all-purpose kitchen with a wood burning stove and a big table. Two chairs with a board stretched across the backs served as my grandmother’s ironing board, and her iron was a heavy cast-iron one that was heated on the stove. This was also where a washtub would be filled with water, also just heated on the stove, for baths. A door led from each side of the kitchen—one down a path to the outhouse, and the other into a side yard with a well where Grandma pumped all of her water; with dozens of chickens roaming free, at least until she decided it was time for one of them to become dinner.
Shortly after my dad, Richard, passed away in 2009 I told my mom I’d write his biography. Many from our large extended family contributed their memories, but the real treat was hearing some of Uncle Sarge’s tall tales from childhood. His Arkansas dialect is mostly unedited in an attempt to keep the story’s authentic flavor. (Dad on the right and Sarge on the left in the picture–the last time they were together on a cruise to Alaska in 2007, as far from their Arkansas roots as either could ever have imagined.)
“Once I got play’n in some lime out in the chicken house. They used it for puttin’ in the chicken nests to keep the mites and other critters down. Well, Mama saw that lime on my hands and said, ‘Son that could kill you.’ So I freaked out and Richard and Raymond teased me mercilessly about it for months. This went on and on, and the more I was scared about it, the more they went on. I got so scared that I wouldn’t put my hands on my body or in my pockets. I was afraid I was going to contaminate myself and keel over dead. Richard and Raymond would tease me all the time and tell me I was gonna die from touchin’ the lime and then they would try to get dirt on my hands, so I would have to wash them. Finally I got over being scared about it, as I had lived for months and hadn’t yet died. I was sure glad when I figured out in my mind that I wasn’t gonna die from touching the lime, but Richard and Raymond sure had a good time teasing me about it.”
How easy it is to be bamboozled by someone you trust, and the tale of the teasing brothers makes me recall the more serious issue of false teachers. Consider the words of Jesus as well as the admonitions of John and Peter:
Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Matthew 24:23-28
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
After years of illness or injury and recovery, I was finally at a point where my car was learning to go in directions other than doctors’ offices or hospitals. On a much-needed vacation, a favorite pastime was to soak in a bubble bath with a good book—something I rarely have a chance to do at home. On this day, when the time came to get out of the tub, I was shocked to discover that it was almost impossible because years of infirmity had diminished my strength to the point that it was a struggle just to get to my knees, let alone stand up and step out. I decided I was much too young for this, so when I got home I joined a gym and started counting calories; determined that I was going to get back in shape so I would be able to keep up with my on-the-way grandchild.
One year later, I’d lost over forty pounds and was in better shape than at any time since high school, when PE was required and I had no choice but to exercise five days a week. I hadn’t looked or felt so good in years and, on top of that, I got to buy an entirely new wardrobe. I didn’t keep any of the old “fat clothes” either for I certainly would never need them again. The Lord didn’t let me get too cocky about it though—a friend, intending a compliment, actually said, “Oh Barbara, just think, this is as good as you’re ever going to look in your whole life!” OK, great—how nice to know that it’s all downhill from here!
But oops! It soon became easy to skip a day here and there at the gym, or to allow myself an extra piece of bread or a second helping of food; and over several years I noticed that some of my new clothes weren’t quite as comfortable as they’d been when I bought them. Then some of them didn’t fit at all. Then I was shopping for undergarments that would compress my waistline and wearing things that were loose fitting or had elastic waistbands. Like I said, oops!
So, here I am; back at the gym and counting calories again, working off the pounds I allowed to creep back; and it turns out to be a good thing I didn’t keep those “fat clothes” because with the current economy, getting a whole new wardrobe again isn’t an option so I’m extra motivated. Along the way, as He often does in every life experience, the Lord has been gracious to point out some spiritual parallels.
My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I have a responsibility to take care of it to the best of my ability. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
The principles for developing spiritual maturity in 2 Peter 1:5-7 work just as well to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.
As weight gain may be slow and subtle, almost unnoticeable for a long time; so are the effects of unrighteousness. Little sins seem like nothing, but allowed to continue they escalate and become destructive. Ananias and Sapphira probably thought little white lies were OK, but one lie that seemed OK to them cost them their lives. Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. (Acts 5:9-11)
The Apostle Paul repeatedly referred to life as a race, and my desire is to finish the race well; doing the maximum amount of damage possible to the kingdom of evil. If I am a good steward of my body I will be better able to accomplish the Lord’s purposes; so when old unhealthy habits creep back into my life, I must turn from them and start anew, just as I would if I recognized an old sin popping up that I thought I had overcome. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)