Life-Altar-4x3-1World Magazine shared the story of Ernesta Wood several years ago which captures the beauty of multi-generational faithfulness to the gospel. Wood, who at the time of the article was 88 years old, displayed “photos of her 53 descendants, nearly all Christians. Once a week for the past 16 years, she has sent them letters—777 in all…filled with stories.”[1]   Some of her accounts are dramatic:

Her blind grandmother miraculously saw Wood’s grandfather minutes before he died. Other stories cultivate a sense of God’s presence in less dramatic moments: Once, her parents’ pet birds escaped but returned to their cage before dark, just as her mother had prayed. Another letter told of how Wood stayed safe and her car remained intact as she was driving 65 mph down the highway without realizing she had a flat tire. 

The letters testify about tragedies as well. Wood’s first husband, Clyde, was a pastor and a pilot in training. He died in a plane crash when he was 54. Wood remembers sending her children to school that morning and praying, ‘Lord, help us to accept whatever happens to us today as from your hands.’ Then came a phone call: The plane was down, and one of the pilot’s legs had burned. She assumed the other pilot was hurt and drove to the hospital to pick up her husband. There she learned he was dead. Wood stayed calm and wrote about the comfort of knowing her early morning prayer had been answered amid the family tragedy. 

After her husband’s death, Wood moved in with her parents, then traveled as a teacher with the Jesus Film Project. She lived in Russia for a year and wrote to her grandchildren that the exact amount of money needed for her to live overseas that year, $27,000, miraculously came the day it was due. She wrote about new converts, prayers answered, and joy. Wood also visited Mongolia, Cambodia, South Africa, Croatia, and other countries. She hated flying, especially after her husband’s death, but she embraced the adventures and chronicled stories of God’s worldwide work. 

In 2007, Wood, then 76, married Cliff Wood, 80, five months after their first date. More than 700 guests attended their wedding, and two grandsons served as the officiating pastors….While giving a tour of the grandchildren’s photos hanging on the walls, Wood laughs at a photo of her and Cliff, two octogenarians, rolling by the White House on Segways. She remembers blowing past another elderly lady in a wheelchair who shouted, ‘You go, girl!’ That could be Wood’s refrain, as each of her weekly letters quotes Psalm 118:17: ‘I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord.’”[2]

May her tribe increase!

One of the beautiful metaphors of a local church presented in the New Testament is that of a close-knit family, a family that relays the truth from one generation to another.  I am not arguing for the perfection of the testimony. It is flawed for sure, and we don’t have to look very far to find imperfections in any church body, often it is as easy as a gaze in the mirror. Nevertheless, each church exists to make known the wonder of God’s grace found in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul in his application of the gospel in Romans 12 presents brotherly love as a fruit that comes from life on the altar.  He writes succinctly, “Love one another with brotherly affection.”[3] In many practical ways, the local church in the New Testament demonstrated a close-knit family of brothers and sisters. They sacrificed for each other to meet needs.[4]  They greeted one another with affection.[5] The strove to relate to one another in respect and purity.[6] Such support was critical because many new believers were made outcast by their biological families as they hailed their allegiance to Jesus Christ.

The picture given in the New Testament communicates more than a mere toleration of one another, rather it is one of heart commitment. Consider Paul’s experience on the beach at Miletus with the Ephesian elders. Luke records in an economy of words, “And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him.”[7]

Life on the altar leads to a life of brotherly/sisterly affection toward other believers. This kind of love allows for weaknesses, imperfections, and has a strong commitment and loyalty to others. This affection anchored in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ is the source of forgiveness and reconciliation.  This kind of bond will hold any church together, no matter what may come from outside or inside the church.

There is a scene in Charles Dickens’ classic, Great Expectations, that demonstrates such love. The main character “Pip” was placed in the care of his sister and her husband, Joe Gargery.  The sister was a mean-spirited woman who was not opposed to exploiting Pip for financial gain. Joe, however, was a Christ-like man, humble and hardworking.

Through a mysterious benefactor, Pip was given a fortune.  As a young man left the poverty of the forge and made his way to London to pursue a gentleman’s life in Victorian England. 

Leaving the humble setting of the forge, Pip soon forgot the kindnesses of Joe, his adoptive father. Pip became embarrassed by his unprivileged past and even by the appearance of Joe who came to visit him in London one occasion. Pip’s life began to unravel as he took on debt and made one unwise decision after another. In time Pip found himself in legal trouble and his fortune depleted. In one of the most moving scenes in Dickens work, Joe learned of Pip’s plight and paid the fee for his release. It was all that Joe had, and he made no demands for repayment.

In humility and brokenness, Pip returned to the home of his upbringing. When he arrives,  Joe is working in his blacksmith’s shop. Pip offered a sincere apology to Joe realizing that he had depleted his resources for his release. Joe’s response is one of the great lines in literature as he says to Pip, “O dear old Pip, old chap,” said Joe. “God knows as I forgive you, if I have anythink to forgive!…. Best of friends ever we were.”[8]

I offer this post at a time of great turmoil both in the world and in the church. In my own denomination at present, the rhetoric and hostility is at a feverish pitch on the eve of our annual meeting in Nashville next week. As we seek to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to God’s people, may we do so with love, honor, and respect.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words.” May we love one another with brotherly affection as a witness that our lives are surrendered to the One who is our only hope.

[1] Lewis, Kathryn. World Magazine, August 1, 2019. Online edition,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Romans 12:10

[4] Acts 2:45

[5] Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; I Thess. 5:26; I Peter 5:14

[6] I Timothy 5:1,2

[7] Acts 20:37

[8] Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations . Kindle Edition. Location 7095