I Was A Thief

   They say, “confession is good for the soul”, so here goes. It happened when I was about 6 or 7 and we lived, I think in Beaumont, Texas. We had a good life, but certainly not spoiled. I think dad had a switch in every room in the house. He threatened to put a sign above one which said, “I need thee every hour”. Anyway, we had our share of ‘pine tree tea’.

   Well, one day dad took us kids to the ‘FIVE AND DIME’ store. I think it was Woolworths. Anyway, we loved that store. It had EVERYTHING a boy could wish for. The price seemed high to us. 5 cents for bubble gum! Twenty five cents for a pack of baseball cards! It came with a stick of bubble gum as well. Can’t beat that! Candy, little wooden airplanes, plastic airplanes, kites, slinkys, bags and bags of plastic army men, marbles, tinker toys, .10 comic books!!! Going there was heaven on earth to us.

   Problem… our weekly subsidy, was .25. We would have gone on strike, if we had thought of that. It wouldn’t have worked. We were just the three of us kids. Not enough for a union. We had to think all week about what we were going to get. Bob and I loved baseball cards, football cards, comic books. We were after Mickey Mantel, Roger Maris, and the others on the Yankee team. When we got one, we would trade back and forth. Spider man and Superman were the comics of choice. First editions and sets… we had ’em. We wanted more.

   Problem… we only got a measly TWENTY FIVE CENTS A WEEK. Frustrated? Most definitely. But we had to choose.

   On one occasion however, I determined to ‘out fox’ dad. Yep, I had it all figured out. We were at our favorite store. Going up and down the isle. Bob rolled down one isle, Ed went down another, dad was up at the check out area, and I was all by myself (I thought) on my isle. I got what I could pay for, and went to the check out. One by one we paid for what we got. Bob, Ed, and then me… We started out the store, and went to the car.

   Now I have to stop here and say that parents are weird. I could almost swear to you that mom and dad had the secret service working for them. Otherwise, how in the world could they know all the things we did wrong?!

   “Jack!” Now when I heard that tone of voice used with my name. It only meant one thing TROUBLE. “Come here son.” “Yes dad” I was trying to look confident. (I always failed at this.) “What you got in your hand?” I showed him the things I had legally purchased. (I thought it was over.) “What you got in your pockets?” (I was in trouble.) I pulled out a candy bar.

   Trust me, I felt guilty for doing it. I did it anyway. Now I was feeling worse. Dad said, “You stole this?” You know, when dad says that, it sounds so much worse. “Yes, dad” I said. The judgement was passed, and sentencing was immediate… “Well, here is what you are going to do. “You are going back in that store… you will walk over to the manager and hold out the candy bar, and tell him, “I STOLE THIS”, and apologize. RIGHT NOW!”

   I cannot tell you the feeling of embarrassment that crept over me. Cold sweats, knocking knees, the whole bit. I never thought of crying “THIS IS ABUSE!” No you see dad was the ‘supreme court’.

   I went back in that store, approached a man who seemed quite big to me. He said, “May I help you son?” I took a big breath and said, “Sir, Sir, I am sorry, (holding out the candy bar that my hands had taken), but I took this and didn’t pay for it.” I was expecting something like the police to come and take me to jail or something. But, no police, no reprimand. I guess he figured I was going through enough humiliation. He said, “Thank you son, thank you for doing the right thing.” I gave the not so delicious candy bar to him. Said, thank you, and went back to the car.

   Needless to say, I had disappointed dad. I had done worse, I had disappointed myself. Stealing is wrong. Paul said, “Let him that steals, steal no more.” That lesson, has always stayed with me. I have taught it to my kids, and I guess the lesson will pass down generations. (I hope).

   I owe dad a lot for this. I would hate to go through life stealing, and eventually thinking I could just take things instead of working for them. THANK YOU DAD FOR CARING ENOUGH TO TEACH ME.

   I was a thief… but ‘not no more’.


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The Danger of the Tongue

   Everyone has heard either lessons or lectures or something on the danger of the tongue. Obviously, the Bible and in particular, the book of James comes to mind when thinking about this subject.
First I want to tell you about something that happened one day when dad and I were hunting. I was barely a teenager when it happened. Dad had what looked to me to be a ‘canon’ (12 guage shotgun), and I had a 410 shotgun. I loved that rifle! I was excited about the prospects of going out with dad on this hunting trip. We were hunting for dove that day. We were out at the ‘break of dawn’ and had been hunting for a while, but no luck. Doves must’ve heard that dad was coming and they decided to sleep in or something. But they were no where to be found

   We were getting tired, and kinda bored. Dad fired off a couple of shots, (just to be sure the gun was working well of course). I did the same thing. I remember we were walking along a dirt road, and the field on one side was fenced with posts every 15 feet, and strands of old rusty barbed wire. Dad happened to find an old fruit juice quart can that had been opened and was empty. So he said, “Jack, put the can on the post, and I’ll shoot it and see how far it travels.” Well I was excited about this, so I placed it on the post, and evened it up and made sure it wasn’t going to fall. Dad got his rifle ready, poised himself, and was standing at a fair distance to be sure he didn’t miss, (about 3 feet). BOOM!! One shot (100 pellets), sent the can flying. I went and got the can, brought it to him.
    The most unusual look came over dad’s face, as he held this can in his hand and looked at it. “You know what this is, son?” I said, “Dad, it’s a can.” (Thinking something is wrong with dad.) “No, son… this is the heart of many a person, after a well meaning, God fearing Christian has gone out and tried to ‘win them to Christ’. “This is what the person’s heart looks like when a person goes out and takes the Word of God, and blasts away, thinking they are just ‘doin’ the right thing’.
   I have never forgotten that day. Dad has held up this can all around the world, trying to help Christians understand the power of the tongue, a careless, blunt, tongue.
O, it’s not the piece of flesh per say, as much as it’s the heart that needs adjustment.
I have thought often about this illustration that dad used, and have used it as well, to help me. Watch what you say, son. You have a hard time fixing someone’s heart once it is ‘blown apart’ by carelessness.
   James says it this way, “But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (James 3:2) James continues to speak of putting “bits” in horses mouths, and “rudders” on ships, and how these things determine the direction for the horse and ship. It is amazing how a small thing like the tongue, can cause so much damage. Yet it has the potential to accomplish so much good.
   Over the years the ‘old can’ with the result of the shotgun blast, has been viewed by many, many people. Some have learned the lesson, and some have not. The one question dad asked me after he looked at this can on that day, that I could not answer… “HOW DO YOU PUT A PERSON’S HEART BACK TOGETHER?” My answer… “I don’t know.” Jesus can heal. Jesus can help. Far better to be careful what we say, and how we say it.


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A Letter From Dad

   Dad wrote me a letter dated May 1, 1971, which was important to me then (and now) since I had just graduated from Preston Road School of Preaching in Dallas, Texas. The school has since been closed, and now after some 27 years of preaching in different states and countries, although not continuously, I want to share this letter and the
lessons contained in it because it may just help someone who aspires to preach
about Jesus, or just share His message with a friend.

   Dear Jack,

   Remember the day when you were twelve and we were out on a bird-hunting
trip? We were disappointed – no action! On the way back to the car, you
jokingly put an old rusty juice can on a fence post and said, “Shoot it dad”.
The response from a point blank charge sent the can flying nearly a hundred
feet down the field. Remember how we sat in amazement and viewed the damage
done? The gaping hole, the twisted metal, kind of an empty feeling. During that
moment a startling change came over me. In my mind’s eye I could see hundreds of
hearts, blasted apart by some pride filled preacher who knew little of the power of the Gospel and less of genuine love for the lost. From the garbage heap, that old rusty can has made it’s way to rest upon some of the most celebrated pulpits. It has a special place on my desk and permanent place in my heart. It teaches a lesson that is difficult to learn when you are young.

   Listen while I share with you the great message that it gives.

   That old can says, “Be careful with that ‘gun’, son, when you ‘point it at someone’.” The word of God is POWER. Power to save and power to destroy. The “sword of the Spirit” (word of God) can be (in some cases) a destructive weapon, and should be reserved for the ‘enemy’. Yet we’re in the business of salvation. The lost may not be an ‘enemy’ so much as he is just lost.  (Don’t treat everyone the same.) The word of God is also called the seed of the Kingdom. Put the ‘sword in it’s sheath’ and mount it by your side. Fill your hands with the ‘seed’ and sow it freely in every field. Face the enemy with the strength of the sword. Find the lost with the seed of the Kingdom. A man will not be lost if he does not Believe, Repent or is not Baptized. MAN(KIND) IS ALREADY LOST. The message you carry is not one of death, but one of life. It is heaven to the heart… not a ‘gun to the head’.
   It is the gift of grace- the power to save.

    Another lesson  learned is this,
    “Don’t tell me I’m going to hell unless you care enough to show me the way to heaven.” Cursing the darkness does not consume it. Blasting the sinner (with
the word of God) may silence him, without saving him. The sinner curses, runs
around on his wife and has a multitude of other problems which tends to provoke
“righteous anger”. What did you expect a sinner to act like? (The lost are
lost) if anyone knows it – he does! The single objective you have is to LEAD
THE SINNER TO CHRIST. Don’t be “turned off” by sins, destined to be destroyed
(forgiven) in conversion. The church of Christ is for “sinners only”, (Not a
show-case for saints). The New Birth is not a blessing (Christians) have
invented. Conversion is an “operation of God” (Colossians 2:12). Sin consumes
the sinner. Grace consumes the sin, and brings life. Care enough to do more
than condemn – care enough to save.

   If you listen carefully you can hear that old juice can say, “How can you put me back together once you have done this to me?” It is a rather pitiful sight. A sinner lost, condemned and hopeless. Along comes the ‘saint’. Yet this ‘saint’ feels that compassion and human understanding are sure signs of weakness and compromise. Winning battles and losing souls somehow does not equal victory. When we hurt needlessly, we not only loose our influence, but destroy the probable chances of others being able to help.  “We have met the enemy and he is us” is an
adage that can be applied to many a would-be soul winner, (and preacher).

   What does that tin can say loud and clear? “LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“I did not ask to be removed from the garbage pile and blown apart!” The sinner
(may be) unloving and unlovely… learn to love him. The sinner may be ‘unacceptable’ learn to accept him. He is a poor wandering soul. Take him up with arms of love. Speak softly and tell him of God’s great gift of grace. YOU CAN LOVE MORE PEOPLE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN A YEAR, THAN YOU CAN BLAST IN, IN FIVE.

   Remember, God does not charge you to be successful, just faithful. Be positive, prayerful, patient. Keep the sword (God’s word) ready. Sow the seed (God’s word) gladly. Don’t hurt or hinder. Give hope in helping. Get your sermons “down” not “up”.

   Remember, real understanding can come even in cans made of tin.

   We love you, Son…



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