PRELUDE Legacy Number One AN OBVIOUS LOVE FOR CHRIST Legacy Number 2 AN OBVIOUS LOVE FOR MY MATE Legacy Number 3 AN OBVIOUS SENSE OF HUMOR Legacy Number 4 AN OBVIOUS SENSE OF ORDER Legacy Number 5 AN OBVIOUS INTEGRITY Legacy Number 6 OBVIOUS GENEROSITY Legacy Number 7 OBVIOUS ENCOURAGEMENT Legacy Number 8 AN OBVIOUS LOVE FOR THE LOST Legacy Number 9 A TREASURE CHEST OF STORIES Legacy Number 10 A WRITTEN RECORD
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Very early in the morning of April 17, 1999 the phone next to my bed screamed with a persistence which demanded immediate attention. I pushed the button on the speakerphone and heard the voice of my nephew, Ron. It was hushed and heavy with grief.......
"Dad has gone to be with the Lord".
My instinctive reaction pushed words over my dry lips, "No!! When?" "About two o'clock this morning. I don't think he even woke up. He died in his sleep. Apparently, it was a heart attack", came the reply.
The news of my brother's sudden death was crushing. He was twenty months younger than myself, and very active, in spite of long-standing back and leg pain. So, I was certain he would outlive me.
After all, as the oldest in the family and plagued with heart trouble and diabetes, I was certain I would be the first to die.
The sad news was relayed to the rest of the family members, and a few days later most of the surviving siblings flew to Astoria, Oregon for the burial and memorial service.
If a funeral can be said to be good, this one was.
During the graveside service four deer suddenly appeared just yards away from the gathering, as if they had been sent to add their condolences to the fallen outdoorsman. At the same instant two wild geese flew overhead in salute.
But, more importantly, at the family gathering which preceded it, and the memorial service which followed, grand memories were shared.
The widow, her sons, and their grandchildren, together with a large group of friends, gave testimony to the ways in which Ken had effectedtheir lives for good. The words of the grandchildren were particularly touching. It was evident that this man had left a legacy not soon to be forgotten.
It was the death of my brother....the first of my siblings to pass from this life...which strengthened my determination to re-examine the subject of what I wanted to leave my own children and grandchildren.
It was not a new thought. It had preyed on my mind for months. Ken's death only served to intensify the ideas already stirring inside.
One of the earlier things which compelled me to seriously consider my own spiritual legacy was the sight of all the notebooks full of Biblical studies I had accumulated throughout forty years of teaching. Without any pretense as to their infallibility or the skill with which they have been written, the fact remained that they represented countless hours of intense study and must certainly contain at least a modicum of information which might be of some benefit to the next generation. It seemed sad, somehow, to have made discoveries which would die with me!
As I write these words I am already 75 years old and, by Biblical standards, living on borrowed time.
The major part of my life and ministry is ehind me. But it seems to me that it is time to soberly consider what I (and all who have reached their middle or later years) should leave behind to those who follow.after...
Legacy Number One
AN OBVIOUS LOVE FOR CHRIST
Everything begins with this.
If I could leave millions of dollars to my offspring, I would have gifted them with nothing of lasting value.
If I could bequeath to them magnificent homes and luxury cars, I would have granted them nothing they couldn't get from the devil himself.
If I could pass along to them endless vacations in exotic places, I would only multiply their opportunities for irresponsibility. Those they could also get from the Enemy.
But, if they can remember, even in the darkest moments of their existence, that their father/grandfather cherished the life-giving Son of God above all else, I will have planted in their minds an example of enduring value, reminding them of the brevity of their own lives and the supreme significance of clinging to the Savior.
Obvious love for Christ means far more than an occasional appearance at some church meeting or a quick prayer before a meal. It means cheerfully speaking of Him in the course of each day. It means happily referring to Him in every mundane circumstance. It means talking and acting as if He were really the invisible Presence during the tough weekday struggles. It means behaving as if what my little five-year old granddaughter said is true when she recently emerged from her Sunday School class with the solemn pronouncement, "Grandpa, you know that God is everywhere".
I don't recall what her name was, but I sympathize with another child who once asserted that she wanted a God "with skin on".
I want to be the kind of person who so accurately reflects what He is really like that I will be , in some very small measure, the embodiment of what Jesus is.
When I was a boy, a girl a bit older than myself lived nearby. On occasion she passed our modest home on the broken sidewalk. Sometimes she even stopped to talk briefly.
I remember her well because there was something mysteriously different about her. My unenlightened mind could not comprehend what the strange quality was. When I saw other girls, even at that tender age, I tended to think of them in sexual terms.
However, though this particular one was certainly pretty, somehow I could not permit myself to think sullied thoughts about her. And I did not know why.
It was not until much later that I found out what made her unique, pleasantly invulnerable to impure notions. The answer was simple: She was a devoted young Christian, and she carried with her the aura of holiness even as a youngster.
That's what I want to be...someone who unconsciously radiates Jesus.
Not an old, well-starched religionist who has long since forgotten what it is like to be a child.
Not a hard-nosed impatient pensioner too pious to enjoy talking about Christ and his cause in the middle of a game of Rook with the grandchildren. Or while watching endless replays of "Heidi" with my tiny granddaughter.
Not a solemn Bible-thumper who won't take time for a rousing squirtgun fight with the younger brood or a silly game of hide and seek, or "horse" on the basketball court.
Not an old man too 'mature' and 'spiritual' to do what the Boss did when he parked snot-nosed, damp-bottomed kids on his lap and announced to the big folks that the kingdom was full of little twerps just like those.
Let me get a bit more systematic.
To be an "obvious" lover of Christ involves several very concrete things:
- It means to talk of Jesus freely as a natural part of daily life and conversation.
- It means always speaking of Him with profound respect, so that, though He is always perceived as part of life "down here" my children never forget that He reigns "up there".
- It means making everyday choices solely on the basis of what HE wants and not what I want. If the alternative to worship is staying hometo watch TV, the kids must know in advance what my obvious selection will be. If the pattern of my life has made it clear that cheering for Jesus is more important to me than the game, the youngsters will know that my choice at this point is the expected one, as natural for me as breathing is to them.(If, on the other hand, my track record consistently puts passive spectating ahead of spiritual worship, they'll simply wonder why I suddenly got so conscience -smitten.)
- It means being worshipful while worshipping. I'll save my flippant comments for flippant situations, and not encourage them while in the King's special presence.
( One of the most disturbing aspects of the new and popular contemporary worship is that, in the midst of what may be a genuine attempt to honor Christ, we may turn praise into religious recreation, and nothing more. Any worship service which does not result in making Jesus look more high and holy is not really worship after all. And a strong and deep regard for the majesty of the King will never be instilled into the minds of the next generation unless it is clearly demonstrated by the behavior of MY generation.)
- It means treating my offspring the way Jesus treated people. He was firm with the rebels and hypocrites but incredibly gentle with the humble and well-intentioned.
And he always knew the difference between the two.
Legacy Number Two
AN OBVIOUS LOVE FOR MY MATE
It has been wisely said that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother.
Next to devotion to Christ himself, this is surely the most important legacy which a parent can leave his offspring.
When I was a young believer I struggled for some time to comprehend what constituted real "spirituality". I had been privileged to meet some remarkable Christians who impressed me with the quality of their lives. Naturally, I longed to be as poised, confident, and dedicated as they appeared to be. Somehow, in my attempts to emulate the best of those around me, I concluded that the most deeply spiritual were those who were the most reserved. That created an enormous problem for me, because I was a stray Irishman, corralled by God into his Kingdom, and anything but "reserved". I almost despaired of ever reaching the heady heights of godliness. I talked too much. I got too excited about things. I loved drastic actions in Kingdom work. I had strong convictions that cried for expression. I would never make it.
I could never become reserved!
But, eventually, I realized that what appeared to be spirituality was nothing more than personality traits. Some people were "born quiet" and/orborn introverts". There was no necessary connection between their spirituality and their solemn silence and lack of emotional reactions. They were, rather, part of the standard equipment with which they had been endowed from birth.
So, I sought elsewhere for a more accurate and Biblical yardstick by which to measure spirituality. The search was long, but I finally reached a conclusion.
The only accurate way to assess spirituality is to observe how one treats those nearest to him. It was as simple as that.
In my case this translated into a workable formula which can be expressed in one easy sentence:
"I am only as spiritual as I am good to my wife."
No amount of prominence in praise meetings, learned Biblical exposition, or zealous witnessing will do as substitutes for this painfully obvious guideline. I may pray for hours, preach a thousand sermons, berate a thousand politicians for their godlessness and fight from now 'til judgment day for family values, but none of it will take the place of simply loving my wife as Christ loved the church!
Armed with this down-to-earth credo, I can dare declare that this kind of love has got to be practiced with such consistent diligence that all my children and their children will never forget that, whatever else he may have been, their forebear obviously loved the woman God gave him.
But how does such a private thing as "love" become plainly evident to them?
May I suggest some ways:
- Never criticize your mate in public.
- Never contradict your mate in public.
- Never compare your mate unfavorably with any other person.
- Never fail to express public gratitude for anything good that your mate does.
- Never hesitate to show public affection for your mate. Clasped hands, discreet kisses, tender hugs can all speak volumes to onlooking children. I shall never forget the thrill I felt when my customarily prudish parents embraced and enjoyed a quick kiss one day in the doorway of our living room.I was reassured and grateful for that single symbol of the love they held for each other....a love of which I was frequently uncertain until that moment.
- TELL others that you love your mate! Put it into words! Youngsters, in particular, delight to hear that older people actually love one another. It blesses them to hear it said. And it makes a tremendous difference in their understanding of what real love is.
The entire secularized society in which they have been immersed has virtually forced them to conclude that "love" is something experienced only by the young, slender, smooth and vibrantly healthy individuals they see on TV and movie screens.
The result is that they suspect (or are already convinced) that it is primarily a physical phenomenon, reserved for bedrooms and sexual situations. When you, with all your bulges and wrinkles, declare love for your counterpart, with all his/her physical flaws, you have made a statement which casts love in an entirely different (and much more accurate and encouraging) light.
- Serve your mate joyfully. This applies to both husbands and wives. The common notion that wives are supposed to serve husbands is only part of the picture. A husband always too busy to help with the dishes or the family wash has forgotten the Biblical principle," serve one another". And the impression which happy service creates on an observer is immeasurable in its good effects.
I have heard the astonishment in the voices of wives when they hear that one of their number actually has a mate who cleans up after himself, makes the bed after rising, puts his clothes in the hamper instead of the floor and doesn't leave messes for his wife to remedy. All agree that the dear woman has a walking miracle in her home!!
- Shower your mate with symbols of love. The symbols will, of course, vary with the couples involved. What spells l-o-v-e to one will not to others. But flowers, perfume, new aftershave, a bright fishing lure, a note or card will all work their wonders. Cultivate a reputation for being asymbol dispenser. The kids will soon find out about it.
- Brag about your mate to your children. When his/her name comes up, tell them about the latest good thing he/she did that they wouldn't know about if you didn't tell it.
Every time you say something good about your spouse that person looks better to the one to whom you told it. If one of the kids seems prone only to recalling the mistakes made when he was being raised your boasting about him/her will stir in a positive ingredient the offspring will add to the salad of his own assessment.
My father was a very stern man, determined to keep us all in line at any cost.His rough-hewn approach to family matters carried over into his new life as a Christian. Thus, when there was a Gospel meeting of any kind, anywhere in the vicinity, all children were commanded to hop into the car at the appointed time and rush off to attend the event. In his zeal to expose the kids to every possible presentation of truth he sometimes took them to some bizarre gatherings. So, to this day, they have some sad memories of religious services. Nevertheless, one of them once pointed out something they often overlooked in those earlier times; "Dad always took God and his word seriously!" What an admirable quality! A fact about which they could boast. A truth to modify their memories of uncomfortable settings where some self-appointed prophet embarrassed themby his foolish rantings in the name of the Lord.
Bragging about a mate doesn't mean you need to wait 'til he/she takes up bungee jumping , hang gliding or ski jumping. Brag about the fact that he/she makes good coffee, or cleaned the garage, or wore a nice new dress, or......anything.
Legacy Number Three
AN OBVIOUS SENSE OF HUMOR
Samuel Butler once wrote that "the most perfect humour....is generally quite unconscious".
That may be true, but I suggest that it only becomes unconscious after it has become a habit. And it only becomes a habit after considerable practise.
During my early conditioning in a very orthodox church the atmosphere was such that I could never have associated God with either joy or laughter!
There is much evidence in the Bible itself that a sense of humor is not only fitting for a believer, but commended by the Word. Look at a few sample passages...All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15)
A joyful heart is a good medicine. (Proverbs 17:22)
"Be glad and leap for joy. (Luke 6:23)
Furthermore, it is a well documented fact that jokes and laughter are very beneficial for both mind, emotions and body. They can alleviate physical pain, lessen the likelihood of depression and suicide and, in some cases even cure the body.
With that kind of track record humor should most certainly be part of the heritage we leave to those who come after us.
In his book, Humor: God's Gift, Tal Bonham tells of a blind preacher. "When I first met him," he writes, "I noticed that he had an infectious sense of humor. 'What do you do for relaxation?' he asked. 'O, I play a little golf', I said, 'Well, I would like to play you someday'., he said. I tried not to act surprised as I said,'Anytime'. 'I would like one concession', he continued,' to compensate for my blindness'. 'Anything you ask', I agreed. 'The only stipulation I have', he continued, 'is that we play at night!'"
Now there was a man with a sense of humor!
To illustrate the opposite attitude, Bonham also relates the story about a little girl who became a Christian and was baptized in a country church on Easter morning. That afternoon she was so happy she ran through the house singing and dancing. Her sour grandfather rebuked her, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself! You just joined the church and you're singing and dancing on the Lord's Day !"
Crushed by the old man's attitude, the child strolled out to the barn, climbed up on the corral fence and stared at the sad-looking mule with his long face. Sighing, she said, "Don't cry old mule. I guess you must have the same kind of religion that grandpa has !"
One of the most down-to-earth spiritual men I ever knew was smitten with a heart attack while ministering in Singapore. While waiting in the hospital for the second attack which would sweep him into eternity he could not resist what had become a lifelong habit....he told his wife a joke before he died.
Another acquaintance, a very godly woman, lying on what was to be her death bed, joked with the doctor about the startling color of his tie shortly before leaving to meet Jesus.
What a legacy! So confident of their destiny that they laughed their way into the divine Presence!
But let's not wait til death's doorway opens before we establish a reputation as people of good fun. Cultivate it now!
One of the kindest compliments I get in my later years comes from my five-year-old granddaughter when she looks up at me and says, "Grandpa, you're so silly!" That comment, coupled with, "I love you" reminds me that I'm already leaving something behind that makes a difference in her young life.
One of the temptations of age is to forget the bright and happy things which lit our lives and dwell, instead, on the memories of "what might have been". It is far too easy to feed the mind with the dead and decayed recollections of pastfailures, past pain, and past sins.
The result of such concentration is a pessimism which drains the soul of appreciation of all the humorous things which still happen all about us.
Like the moment when my granddaughter suddenly burst into my office looking like a tattooed lady from a carnival. Flanked by two playmates at whose home she had been playing, she looked both serious and frightened.
"Look what they did to me, grandpa", she lamented, referring to the dark markings decorating her pink arms and neck.
"She wanted us to do it" piped one of the attending "artists", in a very defensive tone.
I laughed at them and simply said, "Well, it looks like you have been having fun together."
To which Amy replied, "Oh, grandpa, I thought you'd be mad!"
How could I be angry? She looked so delightfully weird, while her companions stood by as if waiting for judgment day. It was just one of those things kids do. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. It was humorous, not grim! A good soaking in the bathtub would turn a miniature childish tragedy into an occasion for a bath the child needed anyway.
It was an innocent episode to be enjoyed and remembered , not as a crisis but as an event made more memorable by seasoning it with humor. Life is filled with such episodes!
Our clan, thanks in large part to the example set by our father, does a lot of laughing when we gather together. There have been times when I've had second thoughts about all the hours spent telling jokes and rehashing old funny incidents.
But no more.
If we do nothing more than lift each other's spirits by recalling, for example, the tale from my own childhood when I chased my brother through the front door of our tiny home it would be time well spent.(It would have been an event of no particular note if the pursuit had not catapulted him through the living room, the kitchen, and, finally, out the back door and onto the screened-in back porch. In his frantic haste to escape he did not pause to determine whether the screen door was unlocked. So, without losing a step, he thrust his hands ahead of him, and found himself carrying the entire door ahead of him into the back yard. The thing had been locked, and the impact of his charge had ripped off both hinges and hook at the same instant. When I saw what had happened I almost collapsed in uncontrollable laughter. Brother Kenny, suddenly realizing that we had accomplished a feat worthy of Laurel and Hardy, joined me in the hilarity.)
It was unforgettable, and we have recounted the story a hundred times since.
I believe the new generation, spectators of our healthy follies, will find them both infectious and beneficial.
Legacy Number Four
AN OBVIOUS SENSE OF ORDER
Imagine a world suspended in space, lighted by an incredibly huge gaseous star. Imagine that furiously burning furnace of fire a scant 93 million miles away, spewing forth heat, light and various invisible rays in endless and ceaseless profusion. Now imagine what would happen if that titanic fiery orb strayed just a little closer to that world. Imagine the incineration of billions of human beings and the inferno reducing it to an uninhabitable cinder.
I have just described our own earth, its sun, and what would happen if God were not running an orderly solar system.
It is indisputable that the Creator has a passion for order, and that passion makes virtually everything else possible. Because of it, we not only survive but flourish as humans. Because of it all plant and animal life is sustained. Because of it all scientific discovery is possible. Because of it a degree of peace of mind is also possible, even in a flawed universe victimized by the fall.
Evidence of order is on every hand. The sun rises at a predictable time each morning and sets on schedule at night.Lunar eclipses are so well timed that their occurrence can be accurately announced in advance. We are even told that all of us have a kind of interior clock which must bereckoned with when we take swift flight across datelines.
God has commanded order, not only in the natural world, but the spiritual world. There are ranks of invisible beings committed to His service, all of them fulfilling his will in an orderly fashion. That same sense of order is reflected in his instructions to the church, that "everything be done decently and in order".
What amazes me at times is how underrated the idea of order has become in the present Christian world.
Perhaps we have simply ingested too much of the chaotic poison of modern society, where is has become virtuous to proclaim our aversion to anything which smacks of discipline.
Perhaps we have been conned into believing that order is synonymous with oppression.
Maybe we have bought into the lie that makes "order" sound like the stifling of our vaunted "creativity". (I am reminded that C.S. Lewis once insisted that attributing "creativity" to any mortal is blasphemy, since only God can be creative.) And we, again, need the reminder that the one truly creative Being produced a very orderly universe. Order and creativity are not adversaries. Indeed, the first is what makes the second possible!
Think for a moment what would have happened if out Creator had unleashed his great creative powers with no thought of order in mind.
He would, in fact, have called total chaos into being!
And we mortals, by our neglect of order, have very successfully done that which our God was too wise to do. We have created chaos.
- We have achieved chaos in our personal lives. With more leisure time on our hands than ever before in our history (We once worked 60 hours a week, spread over six days. Now we stop at forty , for five days a week) we still manage to drive ourselves to psychiatrists because we are so unbelievably busy! It never seems to occur to us that it might be helpful if we paused long enough to check out, not our vacation destination, but the amount of disorganization which traps us!
- We have created chaos in the family organization. The idea of "headship" has virtually vanished. The big words are now "partnership" and "whole-family decisions". No wonder a secular writer, more perceptive than most Christians, stated in a Readers Digest article that the simple answer to juvenile crime was to "put father back at the head of the family".
- Furthermore, we have sustained chaos as a ruling principle in the activities of our households. We have long since decided to disdain any kind of reliable routine, which is the fruit of good order, and, instead, we rarely eat all of our meals together, rarely stop and fellowship with one another in the home, almost never pray together, and seldom even stick together in church. As soonas we cross the threshold we are likely to split up.
Teens go to sit with their friends. Tikes go to the nursery, and mom and dad are left alone in the pew. In my own church our youth pastor suggested to the congregation one evening that it might be a nice thing if adults and teens met together occasionally for Bible study and praise. The idea was rejected almost unanimously!
The harvest of our failure to cherish order is staggering in its size! It fills juvenile halls, jails and abortion clinics with its "victims".
I am convinced that almost the only people who can hope to remedy the situation are those to whom this book is especially addressed. I think that older believers,motivated by love and truth, can reintroduce order to the next generation. Our offspring, generally speaking, are so submerged in their disorganized life style, so committed to a way of life which tears them away from their home bases, that they are convinced it is impossible to recapture order and its long-lost child, tranquility.
But you, my mature reader, are likely to know better. You can remember calmer days, when routine spelled security and order was high on the agenda of your childhood.
How might we develop this part of our legacy to our children and grandchildren?
Not by decree. By example!
Begin with the physical setting. A neat and clean home,with neat and clean rugs, floors, shelves, tables and counters speaks order andpeace in unmistakable terms. Don't let yourself be a "piler" just because you're retired and don't need to answer the bell every morning. Don't walk away from the bedroom each day with an unmade bed behind you. Don't let newspapers and magazines clutter your floors and coffee tables. Don't let dishes sit unwashed just because you don't have as many guests as you once did.
When the children and grandchildren come to visit what they should see immediately after the greetings, kisses and hugs is a home filled with well-arranged components, each in its proper place.
And remind those grandchildren that everything they use during their visit is to be put back in its place before they leave. You need not say anything about how things are done back in their own homes. If those homes are disorderly, the contrast between the two will be plainly evident without your saying anything that sounds dictatorial or judgmental.
Next, consider your own appearance. I've found, since retiring, that it is very easy to become a slob. After all, I don't need to shave, or put on a fresh shirt or tie now that I'm no longer lecturing in a college classroom. I never have liked ties anyhow, and shaving is certainly not a recreational activity. How much simpler to descend to slobbism. After all, it is very much in vogue in our decadent society. To look unkempt is a sign you are in touch with modernity!
But, it is also a sign that you have succumbed to disorder and all it symbolizes.
Please understand, I'm not appealing for a return to outdated clothing styles, as if "old" is somehow synonymous with "virtuous".
Clothing styles and tastes come and go, as they always have down through the ages. And, by and large, they say nothing in themselves about individual morality. All clothing trends which are in the mainstream of cultures are usually compatible with Christian morality. But significant deviations from "mainstream" standards, anthropologists have long agreed, are commonly indications of sharp deviations from accepted moral standards in any society.
Nevertheless, my major concern has to do with disarray, disorder, and dirt. It would seem apparent to me that we should array ourselves as if we were about to step into the presence of royalty.The fact is, we ARE in the presence of Royalty....God himself.
I do not mean God loves us any less if we have dirty faces or soiled socks.
It is not a question of love. It is a question of respect. Do we respect God enough to wish to perpetuate the principle of order for a new generation, or do we not?
I realize that some older folk have misunderstood this issue to such a degree that they revile their children and grandchildren because their dress conforms to modern styles. In such cases Irecommend that they open their photo albums and check out what they themselves wore thirty years ago. The old stuff will look downright weird. They wouldn't be caught dead in the wide lapel double knits of yesteryear! So, they must be very charitable about what younger people drape themselves with in our day.
There is one other aspect of "order" which we must bear in mind; how it relates to our testimony.
If we live in very small, modest homes, or in palatial mansions makes little difference. But if those domiciles, of whatever size or expense, are dirty and unkempt, we are sending a message to every unbeliever who crosses the threshold.
By the same token, if our personal appearance is bad, we tell those unbelievers that they were not important enough for us to honor them by looking acceptable.
I have been in many homes in several nations in my 75 years. I have been invited into an adobe hut with dirt floors and knew immediately that I was being honored by my hosts. The dirt had been swept smooth and the crude wooden table (the only one in the humble home) had been washed with water. The adobe, the simple wooden furnishings and the hard soil on which I stood spoke of order and welcome.
I have been privileged to step into a wooden structure so crude that it would be used only for animals in America but so different that I was glad to be there. The difference was the orderliness of the people who shared that minimal shelter with us. The coarse wooden boxes and makeshift furnishings were all well placed and well washed and, again, I was honored to be a guest in the dwelling of such people.,
Order has nothing whatever to do with monetary status or social standing. Rather, it has to do with something internal expressing itself in home and garments. It is a reflection of an inner conviction that order honors God!
And order has nothing to do with severity or the absence of warmth. It, rather, provides a backdrop for hospitality and loving concern for both family and guests. Disarray, on the other hand, says, "I care so little about my family and you, my guest, that I did not bother to make my home as presentable as possible for you!"
Legacy Number Five
AN OBVIOUS INTEGRITY
During my short stint as a sailor in the United States Navy at the close of the second World War I was introduced to a philosophy which I had not encountered in the civilian life of the day.
The settled notion among the enlisted personnel was that we poor swabs were victims of the officers. They got paid more, were housed and fed better and enjoyed far more privileges than we did.
It naturally followed that we deserved to take advantage of any and all opportunities to acquire some of what was ordinarily reserved for them. After all, it was no more than just!
So, consistent with the prevailing philosophy, my mates on the deck force asked that I avail myself of some of the choice fruit juices from the officer's pantry whenever possible. My duties were such that I frequently worked on the same deck (called,"officer's country") as their food supply. In full agreement with the viewpoint of the lowly seamen, I acceded to that request by secretly absconding with a number of cans of the coveted delicacies.
My conscience bothered me, to be sure,but I silenced it quite effectively by reminding myself that "they have more than we have anyhow and, therefore, this particular form of theft is justifiable."
That was long ago. I have since become a Christian and, of course, know better.
Nevertheless, I find that the issue of integrity is still a live one. It has fallen on hard times. There seems to be no end to the ways in which it's absence can be justified.
Integrity needs to be dramatically and decisively demonstrated as at no other time in our national history.
It must be done in several distinct areas of life:
In Keeping Promises
Few things undermine confidence in the older generation more than failing to keep a simple promise. The words, "But you promised!" are the anguished cry of a youngster whose elder has said he would take him fishing, to the ball game, or out for ice cream but failed to do so.
Second thoughts are no legitimate alibi. Nor is being tired, busy, or forgetful. A promise is a promise and it must be kept, whatever the cost to our ailing bones!
In Keeping Secrets
I know it is easy to discount the importance of guarding confidential information offered by a younger person.Sometimes the content of the "secret" is so trivial that revealing it seems of no consequence.
Sometimes, as a matter of fact, we let it become fuel for jest, so we freely blurt out what a child whispered to us in secret, because it was so "cute".
But confidences are important to young ones and we must help them be preserved.
In Keeping Rules
If you consistently drive above the posted speed limit you are laying the groundwork for your child's future disregard for laws. You are telling him, in big, brazen letters, "The rules governing life don't really matter!"
Some years ago a brother of mine joined me in a journey to California. Low on funds, we decided to make the trip by sharing a ride with three others bound for the golden state. Among those in the car was a grandmotherly type who talked constantly about her church and the marvelous, miraculous things which occurred in it. At first we rejoiced that there was another saint travelling with us.
Then we stopped for gas and lunch. After a few moments our spiritual friend emerged from the nearby store with good news. She had discovered that the man in the store gave her change for a twenty when she had actually offered only a ten dollar bill for her merchandise. With a big smile she slipped into her seat spouting, "the Lord works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform."
When I reminded her that there was still time for her to go back and return the money, she snorted, "No way! It was their mistake, not mine. Their loss and my gain!"
I said she was "grandmotherly", but I hope she never had either children or grandchildren to corrupt with her own fraudulent version of "Christianity".
If you step out of the store, knowing that the clerk mistakenly gave you too much change, there is only one recourse: tell that youngster to wait a moment while you go back and correct the error. No matter that it involves only pennies! Do it!
I realize that one of our favorite indoor sports is to complain about excessive taxes. Wasteful politicians, adept at dispensing money which is not their own, are in control. And, thank God, we have the vestiges of a democratic system which occasionally make it possible to lighten the load by complaining loudly enough. But, until the millennium ushers in perfect government we are morally obligated to pay every penny the current law demands. Jesus lived under the sway of a totally pagan political system whose tax collectors frequently fleeced those under their jurisdiction. But, when one of his disciples asked how they were to pay the temple tax, Jesus did not sidestep the obligation or negotiate a discount. He sent his disciple on a fishing trip and, from the mouth of a fish, produced the full amount required.
It simply will not do to submit a tax return that fails to report every last cent of taxable income. To do anything less is to inspire fraud in your offspring.
When my wife and I were first married we got a job managing a small Dairy Queen stand. Our employer was very precise about the extent to which we could indulge ourselves in our product. "You can each have two cones a day, and no more." So, despite the fact that we were both extremely fond of the smooth, white stuff, we never ate more than was officially allowed.
What made the whole arrangement more intriguing was the second stipulation; "If you weigh each cone carefully, and thus not give excessive amounts when serving the customers, I will give you a bonus at the end of the summer."
Again, we took pains to comply. It gave us an additional incentive to be careful.
But our strict leader never came across with the bonus!
Workplace rules are frequently unfair. Employers commonly take advantage of their employees. Workplace rules are frequently the occasions for them to further their own interests... not yours.
HOWEVER; workplace rules fulfill a completely different function for the Christian! They become the occasions for the demonstration of integrity!
Legacy Number Six
One of the most outrageously generous men I have ever met was a Jewish gentleman in southern California.
He lived next door to my family and me Because he was a Christian, he did all he could to support Gospel efforts of all types. I was a travelling evangelist at the time. He was a salesman by profession and worked hard at his job. But, he never made a great deal of money. His big, old car, stuffed with samples, cruised a wide area in search of customers for his specialty items. But, when the time came to bring home the bacon, the slab was small.
Nevertheless, there burned in him an unquenchable desire to give, and give again!
Often he would drop by, unannounced, and thrust a bill into my hand, assuring me that he could spare it.
I shall never forget him. He was a man of obvious generosity!
I know Jesus told us not to let our right hands know what our left hands are doing, in the process of giving. But, we must remember he was speaking of those who were generous to be seen and not seen to be generous. He was not tellingus that all our giving must be secret. He was telling us it must always be rightly motivated!
Generosity, of the right sort, has a way of getting known. Witness the fact that Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the incredible level of sacrificial giving on the part of the Macedonians. In other words, not only did the left hands of the Macedonians themselves know what was happening, but the visiting apostle knew as well.
Be generous with time.
My wife and I have noticed that the older we become the more we cherish silence and solitude.
When we were young and surrounded by four chattering children the noise level was seldom bothersome. So, we easily enjoyed the time spent with them. In fact, if circumstances made it necessary for me to be away from them I always longed for the moment when we would be reunited. I loved having time with the kids!
But the years have taken their toll.
I have now reached the place in life where the major event of the day is a nap, or a very quiet, undisturbed evening with my dear wife, alone at home.
But children and grandchildren have a way of breaking into the schedule with a variety of things.
On a cold winter night a phone call from somewhere in the darkness tells me my son's car has broken down and he needs to be rescued.
Another call is a plea to come and pray for a sick grandchild. Still another informs me that there is a special event which requires the services of a baby sitter....and guess who they had in mind for the job!?
Such demands on my time were routine when I was a young father. It was the kind of thing which went with the territory. But now I am old. I tell myself that our child-rearing years are long past and we deserve the rest from our labors which we now covet.
At this stage the choices to be generous with time are much harder than they once were. And they are probably more important than they have ever been, because they directly effect more people than before for the simple reason that there are now a lot more of us! We began with two, who became one. Then the miracles began. Now there are twenty of us in our immediate family....kids, their spouses, and their kids. Potential demands upon time grow with the growth of the clan!
But I must be generous with time. It is a crucial part of the legacy I want to leave behind.
It is harder now to keep a late-night appointment at the bedside of a sick offspring. I need more rest than I did when I was young. It is harder to break the routine forced upon me by dietary and medical restrictions.It is harder to be patient with the mistakes of a new generation.
But, they NEED my time. They need to belistened to. They need an ear into which they can pour their stories and their troubles. While it is usually true that they must find their own solutions, they need a sounding board while they are searching for them.
(As I was typing the paragraph above, six of my grandchildren suddenly poured into the office, bursting with energy and loud accounts of their most recent ventures. It was impossible to concentrate on this book. But, I had to smile inside as I realized that, once again, my theories were being tested. Interruption or no interruption, I closed the computer down and spent the remainder of the evening listening to them, talking to them, and, finally, playing a wild game of rummy with them. I repeat; they need my time!)
Be generous with abilities.
This can be a problem.
The fact is, our children frequently have more talent than we do. So it often seems there is nothing we could possibly do that they cannot already do better.
Take the world of computers, for example. If you are at all like I am, you're convinced you were born too late to master the capricious gadgets. But, you're grandkids handle them like you once handled toys in a sandbox.
Furthermore, your son is a better businessman than you were, or linguist, or mechanic.
So what can you offer?
Don't sell yourself short. You were around long before the new ones arrived. You learned things they never did.
You probably have more long-range insight on investing, more experience with the proper use of your own language, and where to go to get the best prices on car repairs. Whatever the skill, your offspring need to know you stand ready to share it if called upon.
Which brings up a related point...
I determined a long time ago not to give advice to grown children unless it was asked for. The same holds true for skills. Hold them in readiness. But never foist them on anyone....even if you know good and well that "they are doing it all wrong". Remember that you learned most of what you acquired by trial and error. Give them the chance to do the same.
Be generous with money.
The older we get the more we seem to be concerned about money. This becomes particularly true as we anticipate survival after retirement. Once the era of the fixed income sets in a lot of anxiety can come along with it.
But, it is also the era in which the promises of God become highly relevant. "My God shall supply all your need..." was not a pledge which applies only to the young. It includes all of us older people as well.
But, more importantly, another promise should govern our behavior at this stage of life; "Give, and it shall be given unto you."
Fortunately, we do not need to be wealthy to be giving. The important thing is to maintainwhat someone long ago called "the relaxed grasp". Whatever monetary resources we have must always be accessible to those nearest us.
However, there are some things which ought to govern the actual disbursement of our finances.
Let's look at them.
Don't give in any way which undermines personal financial responsibility.
The father whose son habitually misspends his earnings and goes into debt as a consequence must never rush to bail him out. Paying someone else's bills at the price of perpetuating his mismanagement is not a loving act.
Don't give anything which could be easily earned by the recipient.
One of the most valuable lessons we can transmit to the new generations is that life is intended to be sustained by the much-despised four-letter word, "w-o-r-k-".
Gifts must never take the place of honest labor. Only salvation itself is free. God has nothing for sale and never will have. But, we live among mortals whose right it is to expect work in exchange for wages. So, we must not give something which could be readily earned.
Well-intentioned parents and grandparents need special caution at this point. It is, in fact so much fun to give that we can get carried away in our desire to spare our offspring the sweat that it cost us to get the needed components of daily life. I ,for one, would love to be able to pay for the homes of my son and daughter. I would love to pay for all the furnishings of those homes. I would dearly love to pay off all of their current debts and get them brand new automobiles.
I would love to do all that, just because I am a father who loves his children.
But, it is probably fortunate that I am not actually able to do many of those things, because in paying all their bills I would most likely bankrupt their character! Love demands that I face the unassailable fact that they can, in fact, eventually earn all of those necessities themselves!
Do not give beyond the gratitude of the recipients.
I know that the Master wants us to give, motivated by love and not for the sake of receiving thanks. He behaves that way all the time. But, I also know that the habit of gratitude is more important than the habit of getting things for nothing. One holiday season, not long ago, I decided I would take all of my dozen grandchildren to a Christmas movie. It was a first-run film and the total cost was considerable. After the movie I took them to the food court at the shopping center for a treat. It was then that one thing became abundantly clear: I had not done them a favor at all!
The food was not to their liking. The selection was not wide enough. They didn't get as much as they wanted. The wail of loud complaints rose all around, like a bad smell. I had given beyond their level of gratitude and it was an expensive and counterproductive episode. I had allsucceeded in giving them nothing more than an additional occasion to be ungrateful for something. I admit I am not smart enough to assess such things accurately in advance in every instance, but I do know that I learned to be just a little bit wiser in the process.
Give freely, as an expression of love, not as a substitute for love.
Too often we use giving as a means of assuaging our guilt. Perhaps we were too selfish with our time and our talents, and find it easier to discharge our duties to the coming generation by peeling off a few bills rather than by investing ourselves in their lives. But money can never be an adequate substitute for self-giving.
I have been in many homes throughout the years. Some were huts and hovels. Some were mansions. But I observed that young children generally were unaware of either the privation or splendor IF they knew they had the love of their parents. As an adult, I was keenly aware of the nature of the surroundings. My mind was doing what so-called adult minds commonly do. I was evaluating the physical setting, the apparent value of the furnishings, the color scheme, the presumed cost of the place. But the kids seemed not to notice any of it. Kids don't thrive on gifts. They thrive on love!
When you give, give hilariously!
My present goal, financially, is to give away money so freely that, when I draw my final breath, the wallet, bank account and checking account empty!
To accomplish this I want to give with joy. I want to have a smile on my homely old face every time I pass a dollar, secretly or otherwise, into someone else's possession.
When God said it is more blessed to give than to receive He knew what he was talking about. "Freely you have received, freely also give" sounds to me like an invitation to enjoy parting with money, as well as obeying a command.
When a little one looks longingly at the ice cream sign, "freely give". When a ride on a merry-go-round would be like stepping into the anteroom of heaven to a child, "freely give". When one more baseball card would make his day, "freely give". When that bigger "little child", your married son, lost his job when they down-sized the company, "freely give". When sickness strikes the household of your daughter and the doctor bills are mountain high, "freely give".
God's greatest pleasure was to give his Son. It was his ultimate expression of love.
Your greatest pleasure should be in giving.
Consider how to distribute the leftovers after your departure.
At this point I call to your attention some observations shared by Malcolm MacGregor in his excellent book, Your Money Matters.It's God's to begin with and you are just managing it. Give it back to God when you and your spouse are done with it. You say, 'What about our kids? I owe it to the children to give itto them.' I have talked to many Christian sons and daughters and most have expressed this attitude, 'Mom and Dad worked their whole lives, and they loved that missionary over in Africa [or that Bible School wherever, or that Indian work, or that Gospel broadcast, or their local church]. We just wish they would give it to them. We don't need it. God is taking care of us.'
The exceptions to this that I think of are Christian sons and daughters with tremendous spiritual problems, exhibited in their negative attitudes and their inability to handle their own personal finances. Some are actually waiting for Mom and Dad to die so they can get theirs---a rather unchristian attitude, to say the least.
Now, if your sons and daughters are not Christians, the worst thing you can do is to leave them money. If he is an alcoholic, he will drink himself to death. If he has financial problems, they will get worse.
You say, 'But if I leave something to him, he can at least get out of debt.'
No, he won't get out of debt. He'll make a downpayment on a bigger boat or a bigger house or a more expensive car and end up just that much further in debt. I have never seen an inheritance help a family having problems.
People who are not following Biblical principles have their lives out of balance, so they wobble and vibrate. Giving them more money to get things out of balance is not going to solve anything.
All you do is compound his problems. And if your children really love the Lord , they probably don't want you to leave your assets to them.
MacGregor goes on to point out that there are exceptions. "Let's say you are a farmer and your son is working with you on the farm. You want to leave it all to God and yet you want your son to have the farm to continue to make a livelihood. All right, put it in trust, with the trust owning all the land and the church owning the trust. Provide for the son to have a twenty year purchase agreement to buy back the land from the church. That's a good idea. You had to buy it to begin with. You had to scrimp and save and pour out sweat to get started. Why shouldn't he? God gave you the power and ability to get it; let God give him some too. That way you can give everything to God without cutting off your son."
If you have minor children, you leave everything in trust to the children with the guardians appointed as trustees. (If you're willing to trust them to take care of the children, they ought to be able to take care of the money!) If all the money has to be used for the children before they turn twenty-one, fine; that's what it's there for. But provide that when the youngest child turns 21, the residue of the estate goes to God, whether it's $1 or $1,000,000."
Legacy Number Seven
As I was growing up, it soon became evident that my father had trouble distinguishing between two important ideas.
One was "promoting pride" and the other was "encouraging progress".
Because he feared the first, he seldom did the second.
I have every reason to believe that he was proud of his children. However, it was rarely expressed. Instead, his comments usually burst out in the form of corrections and rebukes. He wanted us to be the best possible persons, efficient in every thing we undertook. He wanted us to work well, think clearly, and behave ourselves.
But he never wanted us to be cocky about anything, so corrections were never balanced by encouragement.
It's the same kind of mentality which Garrison Keillor expressed when he catalogued the biting correctives of "Johnny's" parents... comments which had driven the young lad to the brink of despair:I iron you clean shirts, why can't you wear those? It wouldn't hurt you to comb your hair once in a while. Beans. What sort of lunch is that? Don't eat so fast, what's the hurry? Sit up, it hurtsjust to look at you. Don't you know how to sit in a chair? Put your feet on the floor and don't lean back, you'll break it. Speak up, I can't hear a word you're saying. Don't talk to me like that. Don't give me that dirty look. Pick up your feet when you walk. You didn't dry those glassesólook at this, you call this dry? Why do you always go around slamming doors? How many times do I have to tell you? When are you going to learn? Why can't you get it through your thick head? What's the matter with you? (Lake Wobegone Days, published by Viking Press, 1985, page 310)
When I first read that passage I was alarmed. Some of the admonitions sounded all too familiar! I could hear my own voice echoing down through the years.
I was, indeed, my father's son!
I don't want my own negative outbursts to be part of the legacy. I want to counterbalance the well-intentioned rebukes by massive doses of encouragement. I know now that I spent far too much energy trying to assure that my kids would not grow up proud. And too little energy assuring that they would grow up confident in their God and the capabilities He offered them.
We all know we need encouragement for ourselves. When some of it happens to drift our way we are immediately grateful. What is easy to forget is that everybody else needs it as much as we do.
Encouragement is a grand and oft-repeated theme in the Bible:
The first mention of it occurs in Moses' speech to Israel as he reviewed God's dealings with them. He reminds them of the hour when God instructed him to encourage Joshua, his successor, whose major life's work was to lead the nation successfully across the River Jordan into the Promised Land.
It's interesting to me that the first use of the word "encourage" should be connected with someone's future career. Surely, each of our offspring needs that impetus as preparation for future service to Christ.
But there is much more...
In Judges 20:22 "the men of Israel encouraged one another" at the moment of confrontation with the enemy.
In II Chronicles 32, surrounded by Sennacherib's impenetrable army, Hezekiah "encouraged them with these words, 'By strong and courageous. Don't be afraid...'".
The first mention of the word in the New Testament occurs in Acts, chapter nine. "the church was strengthened...and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord."
When we encourage someone, we are, indeed, in good company. We are doing precisely what the Holy Spirit himself is doing. The effect is marvelous! Growing and living in profound awe of God! There is no way in which encouragement spawns pride. It does just the opposite.
While promoting progress it also promotes godliness!
The dictionary reminds us that the term means to "inspire with courage, spirit or hope". Webster comments further by saying that "to encourage" "suggests the raising of one's confidence especially by an external agency ". (That's where we come in.)
We should do our encouraging early in the life of children. (I do not mean "flattery". Flattery is telling lies for selfish reasons. E ncouragement is telling the truth to someone for unselfish reasons.)
When the little one shows you the product of his first efforts at drawing, it is time to tell the truth. Is it a work of art, showing that the kid will one day surpass Michelangelo? Not likely. What is the truth? A small child made an honest effort to please you by doing his best. THAT is commendable, and should be acknowledged as such.
(Incidentally, I was an artist by trade for many years, and as such I have seen a number of childish scrawlings which do, in fact, show promise of developing talent. When that is evident, it is additional reason for encouragement of the child.)
When the little gal, her feet still far from the pedals, mounts the piano bench and haltingly plinks away at a tune so badly rendered it is beyond recognition, what is the truth? She is trying hard! She wants to please you. She has practised manyhours. Again: the effort is commendable. To flatter would be to say, "That sounds so professional!" To encourage is to say, "Thank you for playing for me. I really appreciate it."
When the youngster shows you the 'A' he got in science or the project he finished in shop, it is an occasion for appreciation, not a time to tell him he should have done better, or been more careful with the soldering iron. It is the moment for encouragement to reign!
When children get older they still cherish our approbation. They are still our children after they marry and they still thrive on encouragement from us.
Never mind that they often do foolish things. They bought cars that are too expensive for them to make payments easily. They bought homes too soon. The monthly payments have been killing them ever since. They invested in stuff that doesn't pay off. They spent money on things you know they didn't really need. They did the same things we did when we were their age. It took us a while to get out from under our own follies.
If my wife were not so considerate she could catalogue a number of dumb choices I made in an earlier time. She could tell about a green Mercury I bought because the seller assured me, "This car is in such great shape I wouldn't hesitate to drive it from here to California." (It cost me hundreds of dollars in crucial repairs in the next fewmonths, and I thank God I never added the additional blunder of trying to steer it to California.)
She could mention her fervent objection to taking a borrowed motorcycle on vacation for my sons to use on northern backwoods roads.I had assured her, "It will be perfectly safe". (One of my son's friends almost killed himself on it in the midst of our vacation....and wrecked the bike to boot.)
She could relate the sad tale of the bright red Ford that caught my eye while driving past a used car lot. I bought it, brought it home, and poured untold amounts of money into it, only to discover that the front seating was intolerably painful for my ailing back. (I had to sell it and try again.)
My son told me the other day that there is a list of things his wife has in mind of which she occasionally reminds him. Each is preceded by "I told you...""I told you not to buy that car."
"I told you not to rent that apartment.
"I told you not to buy that house trailer".
These are episodes in a painful education process.The time will come when the lessons are learned. In the meantime, there is on- going need for encouragement.
I am convinced that it is imperative for me and my generation to remember that the time for training and rebuke has passed when junior takes flight from the nest.
Both are legitimate methods of child-rearing because both are advocated by Scripture.
But when a child leaves home those functions fall into the hands of others. Other trainers take up where we left off. Circumstances, employers, college officials, co-workers, and a host of others become your grown childrens' faculty.
Our main job is encouragement!
(Of course, if strictly moral issues arise, we have a duty, not as parents, but as Christians, to admonish them to repent. Nevertheless, even that must be salted with encouragement).
One of the most memorable "encouragers" I ever knew was T.A. Hegre, founder of Bethany Fellowship.
I have been privileged to be part of that group for many years. I recall several times when I was feeling troubled or upset about something and went to his office for counsel.
Sometimes I went in with a bad attitude, and in no mood to have my soul peeled, lest mycurrent opinion about something be found incorrect. However, invariably, by the time I emerged from the interview I was encouraged.
Mr. Hegre had a penchant for building people up, not knocking them down. Though I do not pretend to fully understand the mystery of encouragement, I do know, from experience, that the words of Mr. Hegre had a way of helping me recapture my perspective and, at the same time, show me myself.
In the ancient story of David there is a powerful lesson to be learned about encouragement,at a time when he was repeatedly harrassed by a backslidden king. The record tells us at one point that "David encouraged himself." But nothing really changed. Self-encouragement is usually no more valuable than any other form of self-induced projects. However; there is more to the story. We are told that, later, David encouraged himself IN THE LORD HIS GOD" What a difference it made! Encouragement is meant to come from OUTSIDE ourselves. God often supplies it directly. But more often it comes via other human beings.
It is our privilege to be among those who convey it!
Legacy Number Eight
OBVIOUS LOVE FOR THE LOST
I told my children, at an early age, that the only thing they could take with them into the next world was other people.
Because that is the case, all of our lives must be focused on getting as many people saved as possible during our brief stay on this planet.
One of the tragic things about some Christian families is the utter absence of evangelistic interest. Too many parents have made their homes into fortresses, designed to protect their young from the incursions of foul influences, but never venturing out to gather others into the safety of the Kingdom.
This does not have to be so!
There should be instilled into youngsters, from a tender age, the realization that we exist on this earth for the express purpose of glorifying God by calling rebel sinners to his Son!
This will never happen automatically. And it will seldom happen from simply exposing them to the Sunday morning sermons.
Love for lost people must be generated by us!
How can it be done?
a. We must talk about evangelism
Weave into your conversation the all-important subject of witnessing to others about Christ. Keep it foremost in the minds of children. When they mention kids in their classes who are misbehaving or giving them a bad time, underscore the fact that their behavior indicates that they need Christ.
If they complain about the evolution being taught by their teachers, or the bad example being set by other leaders in the school, point out the fact that these are, once again, symptoms of their need of conversion.
If they are distressed about their mean neighbors or the kids in school on drugs, tell them, once again, that the cure is Christ, and everyone is a candidate for conversion. Challenge them to share the Gospel in every situation. (Incidentally, it is good to tell your kids and grandkids all these things even if the kids themselves are not yet saved. It will emphasize to them their own sense of spiritual need and pave the way to personal conviction.)
The things we talk about in the hearing of the young are their strong clues to our own primary interests. If we talk about evangelism, they know we care about evangelism. Silence on the subject tells them nothing....or, worst still...tells them we really don't care about the corrupt world and its obvious need of something better.
b. We must pray about evangelism.
I assume we already know that prayer with our children and grandchildren is part of our relationship with them. When they come to visit, prayer should be on the menu. And, when we pray together, it should be more than "bless mommy and Daddy and the kittens". It should include expressions of concern for the lost people with whom we and the kids are acquainted. It will underscore the primacy of soul-saving, and the genuineness of our own passion for souls.
c. We must practise evangelism.
"Talking about" and "praying about" are good beginnings. But, they are not sufficient. When the little guy says, "Dad, do you tell people about Jesus?" there had better be a ready answer in the affirmative, or all your talking and praying will mean nothing whatever!
If you haven't made evangelism a major part of your own life, begin at once. Opportunities abound!
If you are at all like I am, unnerving questions always come up when this touchy subject is mentioned: How do I go about it? When do I speak up, and when do I shut up? How do I overcome my fears? What do I say?
Without pretending to offer a complete course on personal evangelism, let me at least make a few suggestions:
- Make a private commitment to God to be a vocal witness about his program for rescuing lost people. You are not too old. You are never too old! A dear friend of mine recently died after a prolonged struggle against Parkinson's disease. For the final two years of his life he was in the small room of a hospital, his faculties diminishing almost daily. But, everyone knew what he stood for to the moment of his death. Horribly limited in both mind and body, he nonetheless declared Jesus to all who with whom he came in contact. Why? Because he had made a commitment to be a witness!
- Make a public confession. Tell the group at your church, or just your mate, that you've made a new commitment to be used as a witness for Christ. Get yourself out on a limb by saying it out loud.
- Tell God, every morning that you are available for his use. Many years ago I had occasion to do a lot of traveling, frequently by public transportation, as I held evangelistic meetings around America and Canada. I found that it was relatively easy to stand before crowds in safe churches and preach about salvation. The difficult part of the job was figuring out what to do enroute to the next preaching appointment. There weren't conveniently receptive audiences on buses and trains. There were just masses of folks who didn't particularly want to be disturbed during their journeys. They were not inclined to stand up in the bus and invite me to preach as we went down the highways. So, I wrestled with all the questions I've just listed. But, chief among them was "How do I know WHEN I should say something?"
I puzzled and agonized over that issue for months. In desperation I finally cried out to God. In reply he planted a starkly simple word in my mind. It was "availability".
As I mulled it over I realized the implications ...
God has always had a shortage of people to be his broadcasters. So, he uses anyone he can get his hands on. (The Bible is filled with sample cases of God putting unsure, unspectacular guys to work. Like Gideon, and Moses, to name a couple.)
There may be no lack of trained, slick and professional types who could speak quite eloquently for The Boss. But there are desperately few who ever get around to it. Why not? Because, they are not available! They're preoccupied with a lot of lesser stuff...or maybe they're just as scared as the rest of us! In any event there is not much gospel being gossiped around these days...on a person-to-person level.
The solution is availability.
Say to God, "I have no idea whom I will meet today. I have no idea how I can possibly effect anyone for Christ. I have no idea what I'm to say if I meet someone with an open mind. BUT, I AM AVAILABLE!"
I promise that God will take you up on your word. He will open doors you didn't evenknow existed. People will cross your path that you never planned on seeing, and/or he will plant in your mind witnessing prospects you may even have forgotten about.
When the availability issue has been settled, the rest will follow. He will help you read the signals people send you, letting you know in subtle ways that there is a tiny crack in their armor of shyness or rebellion. When you see the "signal", you can say whatever comes naturally. I mean it. In those moments just say what most readily comes to mind. It will probably be the right thing. Perhaps just a mention of the name of God, or Christ. Perhaps a comment about how God helped you in someway.
The solution is availability.
Of course you must also learn the basic truths which you will need to convey. You will need to tell them, lovingly:
- There is, indeed, a God who created everything. There are three comparisons which best describe Him: He is like a good Father. He is like a totally dependable friend. He is also like a completely just judge.
- There is a fundamental problem with all of us. We have all deliberately chosen to be selfish in myriads of ways, and thereby offended the good Creator.
- There is a God-planned solution to the problem of our offenses against God. God's only Son, a part of Himself, legally took upon himselfthe punishment due us for all of our selfishness. This He did when He died on the cross.
- There is a twofold response which the offended God expects of us in order for Him to be legally able to grant us pardon for our offenses: We must first have a wholehearted change of attitude about all our sins. And, we must consciously receive Christ into our personalities.
- We must show them how to evangelize.
You can normally expect those nearest you to be your starting point in evangelism.o, armed with a committed frame of mind, pledged to be available, equipped with the minimal truths listed above, now swallow hard and open your mouth at the first opportunity which God places before you.
The wonderful thing about this whole matter of evangelism is that all of us already have the necessary equipment to do it.
This is what I mean: Every normal person, from Adam until now, has hands with which to do things, feet with which to change location at will and a voice with which to speak. It is the selfsame set of facilities which made it possible for the apostle Paul and the other great missionaries of history to spread the Gospel. And, the good news is; you, too, have all those requisites as well.
All that remains, it seems to me, is to sit down and ask a common sense question. "What can I do to make some meaningful contact withsome sinners in the circle of my acquaintances?"
Let me make some suggestions:
- Invite a neighbor over for lunch. Then, let the conversation take its course. Wait for signals. If he or she shows any sign of interest in a serious subject, pursue it with whatever comes to mind. If they do not, don't worry. Just thank them for coming and invite them back again.
- Take a cake or cookies to any new neighbor.
- Any time you hear of an acquaintance who is sick, or in need in any way, make a point of calling them or going to their home to offer help and/or sympathy.
- When you have a birthday or anniversary, invite people from the neighborhood to help celebrate it with you.
- Join a secular civic group. Get into the Rotary Club, or the Kiwanis, or the Flower Club, or whatever organization meets regularly for whatever stated purpose. Get where sinners are! After all, the Master didn't get his reputation as a friend of publicans and sinners by hanging around exclusively with his followers. He got it by mixing with the people who needed him most.
- Do volunteer work like Meals on Wheels, foodshelf, or anything where you can carry the reality of giving to a secularized situation.
And remember, before everything, remake the commitment and restate the fact that you are available!!
In every setting, watch and listen for the signals of openness, and then share whatever comes to mind.
We can step into Jesus' role, in a very practical way, by taking younger people into the neighborhood, the streets, the bus depots, the parks, the malls , or any other place where there are people with time to listen. With a handful of attractive Christian literature, cheerfully offer good reading to passersby.
Or, take them to the local rest home, where neglected people are invariably delighted at the very sight of youngsters (anyone below fifty). Then, you tell the old folks the old,old story while your offspring listen in.
If they have become Christians, introduce them to the elderly and give them opportunity to tell how they got converted.
There are few limits to the places where you can demonstrate your love for sinful men and women.
It will rub off on your offspring.
It will be a lasting legacy for you to leave behind.
Legacy Number Nine
A TREASURE CHEST OF STORIES
After reading the Bible for a long time, it finally dawned on me that the Gospel itself is, above all else, a story !
Based upon that realization, down through the years story-telling became a major part of all my preaching.
Not everyone was happy with that emphasis. I recall coming down the aisle after speaking on a Sunday evening and being confronted by a man with a firmly set jaw and a frown on his face.
He got right to the point. "You didn't preach tonight. You just told stories!"
I was somewhat taken aback at first. He was a man whom I greatly respected and his words carried weight with me. But as I gave more thought to his comments I realized that he had unwittingly put me in the same class as the Master Himself. Almost all the truths which Christ conveyed were in the form of stories. Many were hypothetical. Some related actual events. But they were stories nonetheless.
Every individual who ever lived is experiencing a series of events. Everyone is living out a story. It is what life is made of. And we all relate to stories because we are all part of one!
Kids love stories. We should be taking advantage of that love by being story-tellers ourselves.
I hope that you, like me, began telling stories when your children were still young. But, even if you did not do it then, you can begin now. I once believed that tales were only for small children, but I have long since discovered that is not the case.
I began by reading Bible stories to our small ones. Then I added allegories to my repertoire, and found that they loved those as well. Night after night they followed my imaginary hero, Ruber, the Red Elephant ,on his many adventures. He was, of course, a Christian elephant, who spent his time helping missionaries and vanquishing the foes of the creatures of the jungle. He rescued monkeys from unbelievably large crocodiles, oversized snakes, and many other threats against their tranquility. And he was always merciful, even to his avowed enemies.
Next came the Blue Rabbit series. A spotted rabbit, whose coloring was unacceptable amid his pure white companions, fled to "blue rabbit land" where he turned totally blue in color and had a spate of adventures.
Along the way I read The Narnia Series to the boys, and found that they understood the symbolism at an early age.
What surprised me was that our children continued to love hearing stories way up into theirteen years. Of course the vocabulary of the stories enlarged, and the subject material moved on to true tales from Dad's youth, but the fascination with verbal narratives continued.
One of the happiest parts of the story-telling phenomenon is that now my children's children have heard the news of their parents' listening years and, when visiting us, now ask me to repeat the old stories which once enthralled their Dads.
As the years march on I am forced to come up with new ones, but I find it takes only a bit of imagination, some vocal animation, and a surprise ending. I think it is safe to say that most of our grandchildren would much rather listen to a story than watch TV.
I know that some of my readers have told themselves they do not have sufficient imaginative powers to be adequate story-tellers. But, I don't think that is generally true. What makes stories exciting to kids is not the skill with which they are told as much as the content! And it is at this point that we have a decided edge. So many things have happened to Mom and Dad, or Grandpa and Grandma, that have never happened to them.
We come from a different world, as far as they are concerned. We come from a planet on which there were no TV sets, transistor radios, credit cards, malls, plastics , rockets or computers. We are, in fact, potentially intriguing creatures of another time, who actually walked to school, listened to radio mysteries, drove carswith no turning signals, attended black and white movies, ate hamburgers costing a mere nickel, ran on cinder tracks, wore strange clothing, and listened to something called "record players". We are different from almost all of the world they now know. And the differences can be made to sound like exotic adventures....through stories.
But most importantly we are privileged to transmit life-changing truth through stories. From our own lives, successes as well as failures, we can extract lessons learned from a patient God.
Repeatedly, for example, I have told two generations the nearly-tragic true tale of my own escape from death. I had disobeyed my mother by going into the deep end of the local swimming hole and almost paid with my life. Had it not been for a tall stranger who came to my rescue at the last minute, I would have drowned.
On another occasion my unwise curiosity was almost my undoing. My brother and I hopped on a bike, pedaled by a young friend, and the three of us followed what we thought was the last fire truck. To our horror an additional truck loomed at the top of the short gravel covered hill below which we rode and bore down upon us with terrifying speed. By the mercy of God it missed us by inches as the shocked driver jerked the wheel of the red monster to the right, just in time to avoid crushing us under its massive wheels!
You have your own stories, locked in your memory. Turn them loose! Tell them to the kids!
Legacy Number Ten
A WRITTEN RECORD
One of the things which became obvious to me while teaching Church History was the fact that it is the writings of men and women, rather than their personal experiences, which have had the most enduring effect on distant generations.
Very few people, for example, know anything about the personal life of John Calvin. They have probably never even heard when he got married, how many children he had, what were his favorite colors or foods. But, most of the western world has been profoundly effected by the things he committed to print.
Most Methodists, one or two generations removed from the man himself, cared little about the marital problems of Wesley, but their whole lives were molded by his hymns and the Methodist Discipline which he authored.
People don't generally care how well Luther may have gotten along with his wife, Kate. But their lives have been profoundly impacted by his Catechism.
The same is true of Augustine, or any other influential historical personage.
While it is true that much of what these men wrote was deeply rooted in their own personal experiences, it is still true that the experiences themselves were only the backgrounds fortheir writings. The things which have persisted were not so much what happened to them as what they wholeheartedly BELIEVED. And so, it is written BELIEFS which are transmissible, not EVENTS.
To me it is, therefore, nothing short of tragic when a Christian dies without leaving a written record of his most cherished beliefs about life and the things which matter most.
All of the things we have mentioned in previous chapters are important, to be sure. But all of them only provide the means by which convictions are demonstrably convincing. And, in a generation or two, they will fade from the memories of those who follow.
Convictions themselves, however, congealed in print, live on!
A moving story was recently offered in The Readers Digest (July, 1999 issue) which underscores the importance of putting things into print.
The author (interestingly enough, named "Dugan") tells the tragic tale of her own father, and the powerful truth he learned from an auto accident The man accidentally killed a boy one day when he turned his bicycle into the path of his car. He brooded over the event throughout his life.Thirty years after the accident her father gave Dugan a written account of that terrible time and how it had affected his life. A little later, while dying of cancer, he related to his daughter what he had learned from those years of agony; "Evenif the horrible happens, God is forgiving. And, with that assurance, we can forgive ourselves".
He then requested that his daughter write the whole story down. She did.
Here was written record of a basic truth, backgrounded by a convincing life!
It is this kind of thing I believe we should also leave behind!
It doesn't really matter whether or not you are a great writer. It doesn't really matter whether what you record ever becomes a published book. What does matter is that your family has a record of your most profound convictions about the things which are most important in life. Cast it in the form of a journal, a series of letters, or an essay. Whatever works best for you. But, write it all down. You've got more time now than you had in the frenzy of your early working years. Find a corner.
Go to it.
In the silence, record a legacy in print.
Let those who come later get the benefit of all God has taught you along the way.I finish where I began.
You already know... "You can't take it with you." So, what will you leave behind?
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