It’s December 2nd and my days are numbered. I’ve got my Christmas Cards in hand, but not my traditional letter yet. I am notorious for running around in a tailspin trying to get the letters and cards together and out before December 25th. Almost every year that we have been married, I have nearly caused my husband to have to bring out his puffer because of the anxiety I create about getting these letters out. (I promise I’ll try not to give you an asthma attack this year, hunny!) I just am too committed (and stubborn) about carrying on this tradition of sending out our yearly testimony of how the Lord has worked in our lives to throw in the towel. I finished reading Romans the other day and read Paul’s personal greetings in chapter 16. I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like if the letters I sent out at Christmas time could echo all the sentiments about the folks I send them to.
It is no secret that I love to collect friends. I’m blessed to have dear people all over the world that I am honored to call, “friend.” When reading Romans and other epistles before, I must admit that I have sort of skimmed through the opening greetings and closing greetings because it seemed sort of…too personal, I guess? But my heart was especially pricked this time when reading it because the Holy Spirit reminded me that, “ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15). So, it is not a mistake that these personal greetings are in there.
The people that he mentions and the descriptions he gives for why they are so important to him stir up all sorts of memories of people that have impacted my life in big and small ways that I appreciate so much.
Right off the bat, I can relate to Paul’s opening greetings. He recommended that the church accept someone new to the area, a fellow sister in Christ, Phoebe. He asked them to receive her and make her feel welcome. People have done this for me in so many different ways. I grew up in the same, dear church, where my Dad was my Pastor my whole life until I went to college. When I visited Liberty University, we had a friend who told us to introduce ourselves to the Campus Pastor as one of his friends and ask him to show us around. He did and that’s a large reason I became a part of the Liberty body of Christ. Then, when we moved to Nashville, my mom got on the phone to call a friend who had lots of connections in that new-to-us city and through him we met a man who recommended four different churches to us. Judson Baptist was one of them and they welcomed us with open arms, helping us have a sense of roots in a place that had no familiarity to us. Here we are, back in Lynchburg, and of all people, my very first RA from Liberty has reached out to make us feel connected to the church family at Thomas Road Baptist.
Paul moves on to talk of Priscilla and Aquila, who worked along side him and risked their lives for him and many other churches full of Gentiles. I think of missionaries we worked with in lands that are closed to the gospel who risked their lives to even be associated with the groups we travelled with as well as the churches that meet in their homes. Then, I also recall our driver in Kenya, who handled the safari like van with ease through the rickety excuses for roads and off road canyons all for the sake of allowing us to help spread the gospel.
I can’t top his greeting to the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia, Epenetus. That sure is amazingly preserved history. I’m so glad we have that. However, I do remember the seeds of truth that God allowed us to plant and the relationships that grew from them on the same continent and others as well. Isn’t it incredible that that first convert in Asia that Paul mentioned could possibly have left a legacy in spreading the gospel to his native people in a reach as far as this generation that we now live amongst?
I appreciate the people Paul greets who worked hard for the Lord and His people such as Mary, Tryphena, and Tryphosa. I think of the sweet group of ladies and gentlemen who made up the kitchen committee at my home church that worked tirelessly behind the scenes for all those business luncheons, weddings, funerals, fundraisers, and other special occasions. I think of all the deacons at the churches that I’ve been a part of, who so graciously gave their time to help guide the church in important decisions. I think of the many Awana, GA/RA, and Sunday School Volunteers who invested in lives such as my own to disciple us. I think of the Pastors I have sat under, who are on call 24/7 to minister to those in and outside of the congregation. I think of the church staff members that have worked quietly to take care of day- to- day tasks to keep the church informed and to support its ministries in practical manners.
Both blood and adopted family greetings are sent by Paul to Herodion, his relative, and Rufus’s mother, who was like a mother to him. There’s no denying that my own family near and far has made obvious and subtle impacts on my life, shaping into the person I am. I’ve been blessed with a Godly heritage. I’ve been doubly blessed with Godly adopted family, such as my five adopted grandmothers: Miriam, Grandma Lois, Mumsie, Sankey, and Mrs. Margaret. And then there are dozens of people I’ve called “Aunt” and “Uncle” through my life who have shown me living examples of how to live for Christ with patience, humility, and courage. David is still confused as to whom I’m really related to and whom I’ve adopted as family.
Paul closes by giving a reminder that only Jesus can hold us all together and use us as vessels for bringing nations to Him for His glory. The same is true for us today. All of the people that God has brought into my life are just common folks, who have surrendered their lives to Christ and invested their time and gifts to spur me on to do the same for others. Somebody had to tell Epenetus about Jesus so that others in Asia would hear of him. I wonder who the greeting would be addressed to if we saw the first convert today in some remote tribe that has never heard the gospel? Could it have your name in the greeting? Could it have mine? Those friends we collect along life’s journey are so much more than knick-knacks to line the shelves of our memories. They are ebenezers…memorial stones, which testify that only Jesus can hold us together, as common as we are, and give us the honor to be used as vessels for bringing nations to Him for His glory. So when I postmark those Christmas cards and letters this year, my heart will be full of joy not only over what the Lord has done in our lives this year, but also for the many ebenezers that He has blessed us with to help make us the people we are today. And those ebenezers, my dear friends, are no scrooges.