My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Monday, March 21, 2016

In over my head and out of my league: A reflection on Exodus 6:30-7:1

And Moses answered, 'Look at me. I stutter. Why would Pharaoh listen to me?'”

God told Moses, 'Look at me. I’ll make you as a god to Pharaoh and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.'” Exodus 6:30-7:1, The Message

When Moses enters Pharaoh's court still covered in the dust of Midian and delivers his fateful “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Let My people go...'” to Pharaoh, the divine ruler of Egypt opines, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him...? (Exodus 5:2, NIV) The rest of the story of Exodus is pretty much the sovereign, almighty God's answer to that question. “Who am I? Well, let Me show you.” Upon reflection, it would have been better for Pharaoh to just get with the program and comply but we humans in general have a long history of non-compliance and unbelief.

That face doe
Of course, it's not just the pagan kings of the earth who need persuading that their earthly trappings aside He's boss and they're not. His servants and followers frequently need convincing as well. Take Moses for example. As much as I like Charleton Heston's version of the man in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, his portrayal seems to miss the fact that where once he was a proud prince of Egypt by the time of the burning bush episode he is a man awash in insecurities. Exodus 3:11-4:17 gives the inside scoop on just how resistant Moses was to God's call

Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)

What if they do not believe me or listen to me...?” (4:1)

I’ve never been good with words, neither before nor after you spoke to me. I stutter and stammer.” (4:10 Msg)

O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (4:13)

Somehow, I can't see the Heston Moses being so wishy-washy, even on his worst day.

Even Sir Ben looks pretty cool as Moe
And it doesn't end with his reluctant return to the land of his birth. As called upon Moses delivers Yahweh's message and Pharaoh unceremoniously throws him out and at the same time increases the work load of his enslaved countrymen. Now everybody is mad at him. But Yahweh coaches him up and sends him back for more to wit Moses replies, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”(6:12) After a pause in the narrative wherein Moses family history is relayed if only to underscore the point that clearly if ever there was someone chosen to take on the emperor of the world he is the least qualified to do so, the story reboots in Exodus 6:28 with his now familiar response to God's command to tell Pharaoh what's what: “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” (v. 30).

Personally, I prefer The Message rendition of it. Here's Moses with his familiar whine. “Look at me,” he says to Yahweh. “I stutter.” To wit Yahweh promptly responds, “No, you look at me. I'm God. You're not. In fact, I will make you a god to your brother Aaron who will be your prophet” (okay, some of that is my paraphrase but you get the point.) We are forever looking in the mirror when we need to be looking at the Lord.

When I look in the mirror, I am reminded of what's wrong with that picture: Why, at 53, do I still deal with acne? Why is my nose so big? And why won't my waistline decrease my exercise regime notwithstanding? I suspect most people who look in their mirrors see much of the same – the flaws, the inadequacies, the intractable history.

As people of God, we know where our identity is supposed to be – in Christ. As Paul wrote to the Christian community in Colossae,

God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me” Colossians 1:26-29, The Message

And, a few verses later:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Colossians 2:8-10, ESV

Admittedly, like Moses, it's hard to get that into our heads and hearts. We are quick to come up with a plethora of reasons why we cannot do the things we feel God is calling us to do. We feel too weak, too inadequate, too messed up, too dumb, too old, too normal. We look in the mirror and depending on the day we may even resent the fact that it feels like we are the butt of heaven's joke. Just look at me, we think. And then Paul counters that line of thought deftly:

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at.” 2 Corinthians 4:7, The Message

Eventually, the Ned Flanders' Moses of the early part of Exodus emerges as the Charleton Heston version (complete with glory-face) by the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). At that point in the story, this is not a guy to be messed with. He and Yahweh are tight. But what I intuit as I re-read the story in my regular devotions this year, is that Exodus, among other things, is a tale about how one man learned to look on God's face regularly – so much so that he literally had to wear a covering over his own face because the brightness of the reflection was so blinding – and learn the truth found there: I Am Who I Am and it is enough to know this.

As someone no less than D.L. Moody once remarked, “Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; then he spent forty years on the backside of the desert realizing he was nobody; finally, he spent the last forty years of his life leaning what God can do with a nobody!” I hope I learn this lesson before I turn 80. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

And all God's children said, "Amen!" (some thoughts about unity)

The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part."
Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in Matthew 6:7-15, The Message

Last week I spent an inordinate amount of time (for me) at prayer. In seven days, I attended five prayer gatherings at five different locations in Barron County. (If I had been more motivated, I could have attended a sixth one but opted to stay home one night and vacuum instead.) So, here's what my week looked like in a thumbnail sketch:

Praying through the Lord's Prayer together at Northside
A week ago Saturday night, fifteen of us from five different congregations in Chetek met at Northside Christian Fellowship, a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, to pray through the Lord's Prayer together. It was a Concert of Prayer led by Kirk Petterson, the President of the Wisconsin College of Prayer, and it involved worship, brief reflections from the pastors present on the various aspects of the Lord's Prayer, followed by spontaneous prayers shared in the group as a whole or in clusters of three or four. With the exception of Pastor Guy from Chetek Lutheran, we all hailed from evangelical fellowships. Our worship leader, Noah, a seventeen year-old young man, led us capably and sensitively through the three hour prayer event. It was a quiet, intimate time of refreshing, like a glass of cold water on a warm day.

Morning Star gathering at St. Joe's
On Monday night, my wife and I attended a charismatic Catholic prayer meeting at St. Joseph's in Barron. While St. Joe's is a part of four-parish cluster and served by Father Jim, the man who really functions as the pastor of the four congregations is Deacon Michael Cullen who hails from Ireland. He's a godly man who longs to see the Holy Spirit work in greater measure within the Catholic church. Like the gathering on Saturday night there were fifteen of us present – some from Barron, some from Chetek and a car-load from Superior. Annette, Michael's wife, suggested we go around the circle and introduce ourselves after which Michael gave some brief instruction and then turning to his worship leader, a wonderfully gifted guitar player named John, we began the gathering with what I would call a hymn to Mary. As two of the four Protestants present, Linda and I were a bit uncomfortable at that moment but the words of the paean spoke about admiration for her willingness to say 'yes' to the Lord's leadership. As far as I could tell there was no apparent bowing down to her. Not being familiar with the tune, it was easy to just be politely quiet while they sang the song. But after that, whatever else it may have looked like, the next hour and a half was frankly what I think the old folks from Full Gospel used to refer to as a Holy Ghost prayer time drifting between worship chorus (to Jesus) in English and lots of singing in the Spirit, sharing Scripture with each other and impressions - “words” - from the Spirit. The last twenty minutes or so was spent in intercession during which someone would lead out praying for something on their heart after which the rest of us responded in a prescribed liturgical refrain. We concluded by joining hands and praying the “Our Father” together. Frankly, I haven't been apart of such an enthusiastic and vibrant group of intercessors in a long time – especially so many who delight to sing in the Spirit. I enjoyed this gathering a lot.

With Pastor Norm in the Upper Room
On Tuesday night, at the invitation of Tammy who attends Refuge, I drove up to Rice Lake to participate in a gathering of the Upper Room. Located strategically on a hill that overlooks South Access Road as it heads east toward the shopping district on Rice Lake's south side, Kevin and Dawn live in a home with a front room made to order for large groups to gather, worship, pray and follow the Holy Spirit. On this particular night there were perhaps twenty-five of us present. I don't recall now how long this weekly gathering has been going on but folks from around the county come together every Tuesday night to seek the Lord together. Most nights, I was told, they just put a worship CD on and “soak” in the Lord's presence but this past Tuesday they had live worship led by a young man in transition from one ministry to another. The evening included choruses, prophetic singing, and lots of laying on of hands on one another. Some fell down after receiving prayer, a few broke out in “holy laughter.” The gathering usually begins around 7 o'clock and apparently goes until it's over so that people have the freedom to leave when they need to. I excused myself around 9. From my perspective it was a bit chaotic but that's not to say what was going on wasn't real. For my part, I found myself wanting to just stand at the window and pray over the city except the “window” seats were all claimed so I had to content myself with looking out from across the room. There was one persistent star in the sky that made me think of Sam Gamgee moment of insight as he and Mr. Frodo crossed furtively across Mordor in search of the cracks of Doom - “that in the end, the shadow is but a passing thing.” The joy of the Lord was clearly evident on those who were present.

Samwise is correct: the shadow cannot last forever

Wednesday nights during Lent this year, Linda and I are participating in a weekly study on prayer based on the Kendrick Brothers movie War Room (a movie about the power of prayer) held at Chetek United Methodist Church. As they like to say about us, we two are the token “Refugees” in their Methodist camp. The gathering begins with a simple soup supper followed by the study in their Sunday School room. Once again, 15 seems to be the magic number as that is how many are on hand this night. We watch a clip from the movie and that springboards our discussion on the topic of the week (this past Wednesday night was all about spiritual accountability). The conversation that follows was life-giving and insightful. These are sweet people who clearly love the Lord Jesus and it is good to be with them. Before we conclude we spend a few moments in prayer together. Dorothy is a dear senior lady who is going to have a spot on her lungs checked this week so before I go we step to the side and I pray over her.

Friday was the World Day of Prayer (World Day of Prayer) and this year's local gathering was sponsored by Chetek-Dovre Lutheran and Dallas-New Scandinavia Lutheran churches and held at Chetek Lutheran. The gathering began at 1 but prior to that we were all invited to a soup and sandwich lunch in the fellowship hall. By my count there were ten local congregations that were participating and maybe 50 people on hand. It was strictly speaking a liturgical prayer event where the only spontaneous prayers offered were from Pastor Guy, who gave the invocation, and Pastor Noel, who gave the benediction, peppered in between with a handful of simple hymns familiar to us all. Prior to the benediction, the Anderson brothers sang “The Lord's Prayer” as a special music selection. Growing up, praying written prayers was the only way I knew how to pray. But that was a lifetime ago and I've been in the charismatic branch of the Church way longer than I ever was a Lutheran so that praying this way I now personally find constraining and not really praying at all. But that's just me and I understand this is a more comfortable way for them to do it. I don't think God is displeased at all. In fact, what was very clear was the quiet, burgeoning sense of joy the ladies who had organized the event felt to see so many out for the gathering as the local World Day of Prayer event had lapsed for the past several years. (To be fair, if 50 people showed up at Refuge to pray the way Refugees like to pray that would be exciting to me as well.)

So what do I glean from this smorgasbord prayer experience? First and foremost, I love the Body of Christ. Granted, I live in a county largely populated by people of European descent but I love the diversity of expression you can find within the various Christian fellowships in our county. It is, I feel, a strength despite the fact liturgical types may view Charismatic folk like myself as a bit too emotive in worship than decorum may call for. At the same time, we who have no problem raising up holy hands in the sanctuary can't help but feel that those who prefer following a prescribed liturgy that is written out like a map are like those who like to travel but only within shouting distance of home. All that beside and above it all is the Father to whom we all pray, praying the prayer our mutual Savior taught us to pray. I can't help but feel he likes it and like any good dad loves it when his kids get together and actually enjoy and appreciate one another's company.

But issues remain – and will, I suspect, until the Day of the Lord. Personally, much of our differences settle out on worship styles and traditions. We worship the way we do because that's the way we like to do it time out of mind (even if we got Scripture and verse to back it.) On the other hand, there are legitimate matters that divide us. Last week, in the midst of my prayer buffet, I had an earnest conversation with a fellow pastor in our city who wanted me to understand why his congregation never participates with the community prayer events that we frequently host. When the ELCA decided to begin ordaining homosexual ministers and performing same sex unions, for many it was akin to bowing down to Baal. To the question why refuse to join in a prayer meeting with folks from Chetek Lutheran, whose delegates and pastor were personally against the measure, the response from some is simple: “What fellowship has light with darkness?” How do you overcome a barrier like that? I do not know. Most Baptists I know would not go out of their way to be rude to a Catholic Christian but would question in their heart whether those folks are really even saved. How can you join hands and pray the Our Father with people you're not even sure are part of the family of God? God knows.

I suppose everybody has to call it as they see it. “Jesus is the main thing. All the rest is details” is a nice enough saying except it infers that those who are holding out on joining in do so because they think they're better than us or know more than the rest of us. But what if it's a matter for them of breaking faith with the Lord they love? How could I ask a brother to do that?

For my part, I take people one at a time. I refuse to judge a person because they are from a particular fellowship and denomination if only so they don't judge me according to mine. And what of Jesus' instruction to his disciples when they reported they sought to dissuade another from ministering to a demonized man because he wasn't “one of us” (Mark 9:38): “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.” (vv. 39-41). Why do we seem to ignore this basic simple instruction when the need suits our purpose?

I believe that within every Christian fellowship in this city there are wheat and weeds growing in the same field. At the end of the age, harvest and sorting will happen not because of the recitation of correct doctrine but because we are known by God which is, perhaps, more important than knowing God after all. Until I am shown differently, I will gladly join with other disciples of Christ their peculiar (to me) faith traditions aside with the hopes that I will learn from them and be provoked to love and good deeds in the work of the Kingdom.

O God, like never before, Your kingdom come!

Friday, March 4, 2016

This year we owe. A lot.

No doubt about it! God is good— good to good people, good to the good-hearted.” 
Psalm 73:1, The Message

For the bulk of my pastoral ministry since 1991, we have annually been the beneficiary of a tax return. Between my moderate salary, a one-income household, four children and earned income credit, we have regularly received a nice bonus right before the Martin birthday season begins (between April 20-May 21, five of the six of us celebrate birthdays). For many years, our return was also our vacation money for the summer ahead and with it we were able to go places while the kids were still all home. But this year when Rick our tax guy sat down with us he had the task of informing us that we owe big time to the tune of $2,000. Gulp.

It's not hard to figure out why. All our children are grown now and, with the exception of Charlie, living on their own. In 2013, Linda went back to working full-time and since then both our incomes have steadily increased what with bonuses and pay-raises on her side and extra pay on my part due to part-time work coaching, shoveling snow and substitute teaching. What's more, since I've never earned enough to pay in, Refuge has never withheld other than Social Security tax. So, the math is pretty simple. In retrospect, we should have been thinking ahead.

You can find a picture for ANYTHING at Google
So there it was, like a bad smell in an elevator, an uncomfortable moment with no clear way to excuse yourself from it. But here's how God has provided so that we could pay the bill in full. Several years ago when we wanted to put our financial affairs in order, I sat down with a Dave Ramsey representative who took look at our budget. I had come to him wanting to talk about setting up a pension and retirement fund. He looked over our books and his advice to me was before setting up an IRA, we needed to take care of some of our debt. But before we really worked hard at that, we needed an emergency fund in case anything broke down unexpectedly while we were working diligently to reduce our debt load. He recommended a thousand dollars. We decided that two thousand dollars was more in order. It took us awhile, over a year or more but eventually we had it and converted it into a revolving CD. And then essentially forgot about it until its annual renewal date every January.

When Rick first hinted that we would need to pay in a significant amount this year, Linda and I both experienced a measure of anxiety, discouragement and perplexity. Where were we going to come up with that kind of money by April 18? As I recall, we prayed together asking God for help and provision. I had some money from last fall's Cross Country season and she had the money she had been setting aside with the hopes of buying a new furniture set. But even by pooling this amount we knew we were going to be short. And then Linda thought of the CD: I guess this counted as something akin to an emergency.

A week ago Thursday, Rick came to the house and took us through our State and Federal returns and confirmed our worst fears that yes, we would have to pay in a total of $2,000. But knowing that the means to address this bill was in hand, we could confidently place our signatures on the return and send them off with their respective checks enclosed. That evening, we went out for dinner in Rice Lake and then afterward decided to stop in at a few stores to do some window shopping. Furnish 123, a furniture shop in the old Wal Mart building, was our second stop after dinner and as we walked in the door we were greeted by Jessica, our neighbor a few doors away from us. “Hi, neighbors! Here for the sale?” Unbeknownst to us, the special they were running for a few more days included a sofa, love seat with a free recliner tossed in. We checked out several and Linda fell in love with one set in particular. When Jessica informed us of the price it was exactly what Linda had in her furniture savings account, a thousand dollars. She was able to pay for it entirely.

It ended up being a real good day after all
He's such a good, good Father. On the same day we were informed that we owed $2,000 he had already helped us years before to have that money set aside for just such a contingency. What's more, what started out to appear to be a day of doom and gloom turned into something of a red letter day for Linda as she was able to buy the furniture set that she liked after saving so diligently for it. God is good and we can trust him with daily lives. We're already taking the steps we need so that we don't get a surprise like that next year. It'll mean less take-home pay but God wants us to pay our taxes and therefore I'm counting on him to help us get by with less. One thing is for sure: we can trust him with our present and our futue, even if we haven't been planning as we should have been all along. Because He's that kind of Father, good and kind even down to the color of the furniture.

You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God—
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

Psalm 73:25-28, The Message

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Legacy: some thoughts on what we leave behind

Legacy is the footprint we leave behind
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove... but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

                                                   Forest E. Witcraft teacher, scholar

The Winter 2016 Courageous Living class just wrapped up at the Barron County Justice Center (or JC for short) this past Friday. What started as a 15-member class six weeks ago concluded with three “graduates” (but only two could make the final class). Some of the attrition came because of matriculation – they either got released from jail or the prison bus picked them up for the next leg of their personal journey. A few, unfortunately, were excused from the class for disciplinary reasons. But three guys chose to take “the Resolution” made popular by the Kendrick brothers' film Courageous.

Several years ago after making more than a few attempts to introduce Alpha!, a 13-week Christianity 101 course, to the JC, I asked the former Director of Inmate Services what she thought was the greatest need of the inmates at the Barron County Jail. Without blinking an eye she simply said, “fathers.” I have been a volunteer chaplain at the JC since the place opened up in 2004 and in all the one-on-ones I have conducted over that time I can say with reasonable certainty that over 90% of the guys I have met with either don't know who their dad is or don't want to know their dad or are vaguely aware that he is in the system somewhere. The 2011 film put out by the same church who produced Facing the Giants and Fireproof is all about dads becoming the fathers God calls them to be. When I suggested the six-week class based on the movie she said “yes” and we were in like Flynn.

The format of the class is fairly simple. In the first session we watch the movie. Over the next four weeks we have a Bible study based on four different Scriptures in Joshua that have to do with calling, priorities, legacy and faith. In the final class, those who are willing have an opportunity to make the Resolution. While I stress repeatedly that it is not necessary that they do so seeing that the matter is between them and God, more often than not the guys who are left stand, raise their right hand and repeat after me:

It's something akin to a sacred vow.

During the class on legacy, I share with them a story from my family's history. It's a story that is nearly 150 years old but it has been passed down generation to generation up until the present day. I wish it was something that I could brag about but it's not that kind of story. It's a sad one and it goes like this:

Not him but he served with him
My second-great-grandfather, James Martin, fought in the Civil War. He volunteered in 1862 when he was 18 years old and marched off to war with the 15th Iowa Volunteers. Over the next couple of years he was at the seige of Vicksburg in 1863 where, like a lot of men involved there, he spent some time in the hospital on account of malaria. In 1864 he was in Georgia in the lesser known battle of Kennesaw Mountain. According to his military record, during that conflict while on picket duty – during the Civil War, pickets were the first guys sent out to feel where the enemy was and subsequently were the first to be killed, wounded or captured - he was shot in the left arm. Like so many other guys of that time to be shot with a 50 caliber bullet in any of your limbs usually meant you lost it to amputation as he did. The rest of the war he spent in a Union medical camp recovering from that wound.

Returning to civilian life is hard
He came home to Oskaloosa, Iowa following the war and somehow or other ended up marrying a Quaker girl, starting a family and farming a small plot of ground. They soon added a daughter and two sons, my great-grandfather being the baby of the family. The 1870 Census of Mahaska County shows that her mother was living with them at the time suggesting that she was either sickly or needed help with the children. Something more was amiss than just her health, though. While I actually know a one-armed farmer and can personally vouch that his apparent disability has not slowed him down a whit, maybe farming in the days before everything was automated was just way too much. Maybe he drank too much. Or maybe he was just a loser. Whatever the case a day came that lives in infamy in our family. It was the day he walked out on his wife and kids and rode away forever. To her dying day, his daughter – Cora – who lived to see the Kennedy administration with all her faculties about her – believed that regardless of whatever else was wrong with her mother she had died of a broken heart. 

After her death, the children were all split up. Not even the grandma who was living in the home at the time took Cora in. She got sent to live with James' older brother, George and his family where she was unkindly treated and the two boys were taken in by different neighboring families. In time, all of them overcame, grew up and raised families of their own but that kind of trauma leaves an indelible mark.

Cora told this story to her daughter, Veryl, who in turn told it to her daughter, Alice, who passed it on to her daughter, Carol, a sad inheritance of desertion and betrayal. It was Alice who told the story first to me by sharing an excerpt from a letter that her mother shared with another relative:

My mother said that her father James Madison ran off with another woman and that she and the two boys grabbed him around the knees and begged him not to go but he shook them off and went. She was around five then. She said her mother grieved herself to death and died of a broken heart.”

You know when we glibly say about a matter, “A hundred years from now who will even remember...”? well, this particular story is now a 145 years old in the telling and it's still being told. Talk about legacy. 

I don't know what kind of soldier my great-great grandfather was. Going by his army record, he was an average soldier who more or less did his job and stayed out of the stockade. That being said every soldier knows you never leave your post. It's a capital offense if you do (think of the trouble that Sgt. Beau Bergdahl is presently in for walking away from his while in Afghanistan!) But James deserted his.

He married the woman he had taken up with and they moved up the Mississippi eventually settling in Minneapolis where he worked on the railroad. When he died a little over ten years later, the GAR buried him and interred his body in what is now the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldier Memorial Cemetery. Only his second wife, who was later buried in a pauper's field, was left to mourn him.

I tell that story to remind them that contrary to all that talk about kids being resilient (and they are) they each have remarkable potential to endow their kids with a legacy that releases blessing into their lives or perpetuates a family curse.

Patricia with her dad on her wedding day
I also share an excerpt from another letter. This was one was written far more recently by a young woman whose father died unexpectedly a few years ago from a heart attack. Jeff was a part of our fellowship, had served in missions for over twenty years and in the years preceding his death had been subbing fairly regularly in surrounding school districts. He had a healthy relationship with his wife and kids and his sudden death was quite a shock to all of us. At her Facebook page, his only daughter, Patricia, posted a letter to her dad:

While life is a vapor, eternity will last forever. I know I will spend my eternity with Jesus, my Dad, my baby brother Wayne, and many who have gone before and after them. I can only hope that my life on earth will be a testimony for Jesus and that others will find that peace and hope that only Jesus can give. Because everything else will fade away. We live life to the fullest, we love others as Jesus calls us to, we pursue truth in everything we do. And, we weep because we miss the ones that pass on to something greater. 

But we don't have to forget. We don't have to think we are alone. We don't have to say a permanent goodbye. We simply ask God to give us the grace, strength, and peace we need to live life to the fullest while we wait (some more patiently than others) to be reunited with Jesus and the ones we love already with Him.

I love you Pops. I am honored to be your daughter. I am so proud of the traits and passions I inherited from you. I will always smile when someone says that I am like you. I will always be thankful for the years on earth we had together - for the things you taught me. To be a person who puts God first. To stand up for truth no matter the cost. To love the Word of God. For our countless amazing memories together...and one day we will make more. I don't know when but I know we will. 

So Pops, Until the day we meet again.

Jeff didn't leave his kids a lot of money (if any at all). But he left them a legacy, an example to follow, a story to tell to their kids one day of their Grandpa who did his best to love his God and his family heart and soul. I hope one day that one of my kids will say the same of me when my life is over. I don't want to live on in infamy to generations of Martins yet to be born. In our family we've already had enough of that.