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The Ramshackle Home and the torturous Tug of War

May 28, 2018

1The whole student body was cheering.  The gymnasium was filled with raucous, jovial shouting.  The senior class students had won every round of school-wide Tug Of War and stood triumphant.

Then the student emcee gestured towards the faculty.  “And now let’s see how the seniors do against the faculty…”  The place erupted.  The next thing I knew I had taken off my jacket, shoes and socks and grasped the rope.  I was fifty-seven years old, looking down the taut line at eighteen-year old football players.   Some people were pointing at us and chuckling.

I committed to the victory.  We are not going to lose this contest.

The whistle sounded and we teachers bowed to the task, straining, grunting and calling out a cadence so that we could pull in sudden spurts in order to throw off the seniors.  The place was screaming. I had planted my bare feet firmly on the wooden floor and was walking back with each strain.  I felt each muscle in my body lock.  I mean, every muscle was stretched.  My back.  My shoulders.  My thighs.  My calves.  Sweat was pouring down my neck as we inched out way backward. It felt like I was trying to pull a John Deere tractor uphill.  Yet, to the amazement of the crowd, we teachers were actually winning.

A whistle blasted.  To the shock and delight of the students, we teachers won the contest.  As the senior students released the rope in defeat, my body couldn’t respond quick enough.  I was so tight that I stumbled backwards and hit the gymnasium floor with a crash.  I was spent.  My back would be locked up for another half a day.

That’s the story I remembered whenever I continued my summertime study in the book of 1 Peter.  The one word that reminds me of that Tug of War:  fervent.

In chapter 1 verse 22 I read “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.”

Peter is writing to us the truth of fellowship love:  If you understand what it is to be a Christian, then you realize the proof is that you love other believers. Isn’t Jesus the Messiah the example in love?  Of course He is.  Aren’t we to imitate Him?  Of course we are.  This raises the bar.  We certainly are to love everyone – there’s no doubt about that at all – but we are to strain every available resource in showing love for fellow Christians.

Your whole life as a Believer produces a love for other Christians that is to be fervent. Christian writer Robert Raymer says the definition of “fervent” (ektenos),  is “at full stretch” or “in an all-out manner, with an intense strain”.  This word doesn’t mess around; it’s a Greek word that means “stretched,” ektenes.  Lange’s Commentary says

Ektenos was an athletic term conveying the meaning of “striving with all of one’s energy” and was used to describe a runner who was moving at maximum output with taut muscles straining and stretching to the limit. This meaning presents the clear picture that love is not something that will just happen, but is something we have to work at like an Olympic athlete who strives to master his area of expertise with all his energy. We must make the choice and be earnest, resolute, even intense in our practice of agape love, always in complete dependence of God’s indwelling Spirit and His living and abiding Word.

This is more than emotion. This is the Believer with a readiness to show sacrificial service to that other person. This is always, and this is extreme.

When I was a sophomore college student, I joined two juniors in a trip to Clarksville, Georgia to help a small storefront church on the weekends.  We would fill in wherever the pastor would need us that week:  youth pastoring, leading singing, giving announcements, cleaning the church … you get the idea.  And may I say that this literally was a storefront church with an in-the-window air conditioning unit that chugged away bravely.  Just one, mind you.  The little congregation of thirty bore the heat well.

This little congregation was situated some three and a half hours away from campus so we would stay in the area on Sunday afternoons in order to be able to help with the services on Sunday night. I vividly remember my first Sunday at the church on a sweltering Georgia day.  The service finished and the folks were mopping their brows with handkerchiefs.  We shook hands with the pastor and stood in the front of the door, unsure of which restaurant we should visit, due to our limited funds as students.

A small, portly woman hobbled over to us. She was in her sixties, her hair in a bun.  She wore a faded sun dress and flat shoes. And a wide grin.

“You boys are coming home with us for lunch and a rest,” she said confidently.  “Papaw’s already home and gettin’ the food out of the oven.  We’re just around the corner.  Come on, then.  Get in your car and follow me.”

We followed her rickety pickup truck and pulled into a long gravel driveway to a house whose front lawn was littered with cars.  The house had peeling green paint flecking off under the hot sun and an elderly dog wandered by.  The barn in the back had a slight lean, and the fence was mostly chicken wire.  The front walkway and porch were red bricks that were deeply embedded in the soil.  We came in through the front room and noticed that the ceiling was sagging.  The sofa was worn to the point of being threadbare, and the curtains were faded.  These people were poor.

We stepped into the kitchen and paused … in shock.

Crammed in every available space in that kitchen – from counter tops to end tables to even the top of the refrigerator – was food.  Piles of food.

Ham.  Chicken.  Homemade bread.  Corn. Tomatoes.  Lettuce.  Beans. Grapes. Hamburger. Stew.  Soup.

Papaw could hardly say the prayer of blessing, he was so tickled.  As we ate, he regaled us with charming home-spun stories of farming and family and holidays and churchgoing.  We ate happily and listened contentedly.  I gazed around the room.  The ceiling bulb had no fixture.  The wallpaper was peeling.  Yet I could not remember when I felt so comfortable.

Then came the pies.

The pies.

Hokey smokes.  They were huge.  Each slice was equivalent to any three restaurant portions.  They were homemade works of art.  We were swooning.

Miss Ellie raised her hand before the farmer started another story.  “Papaw, that’s enough for now. The boys need to get a rest before tonight.” She nodded and walked us over to the bottom of the stairs as we trudged blearily from the table.  “You all go on up the stairs and get into that room. There’s three beds there, and you all get some sleep.  We’ll wake you up in a few hours.”

We reached the top of the stairs and opened the door and once again stood speechless.  The room was a new addition to their house.  It had brand-new beds, a clean and bright blue carpet and just-installed wooden paneling.

And a new air conditioning unit in full blast.  The room was a delightful 70 degrees.

The pastor later told us that this farming family sunk their savings into building a “Prophet’s Chamber” for the sole use of our little group of college students who came down to serve at their church.  They bought and built with the most loving care I had ever seen.  These dear, dear folks had sacrificed their own budget to help the Lord’s ministry by stretching and showing their love.

That hospitality by  Miss Ellie and Papaw were to bless me for the rest of the academic year.  I saw a couple who strained in sacrificial love in order to serve the Lord and show caring for fellow Believers.

It’s been a lesson in giving for me that has not gone away.

And it’s only fitting that I share it with you.


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One Comment
  1. Wonderful story!

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