February 23, 2006

Strong in the Lord

1506 page28 capRACTICE, PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH. I’m here to tell you that it’s what you do, not what you say, that’s gonna count on judgment day.” The lyrics to that song were popular in the home I grew up in. Daddy had all the stubbornness of a German, all the smoothness of a drill sergeant, and all the weaknesses of the rest of humanity. But he had the qualities that made him a good father and a committed worker for God.

A Life Committed
My father learned about commitment at the age of 5, when his parents escaped from East Germany with their six children. His mother had vowed that her children would have a better life, so they boarded a ship headed for the United States. They landed in New York on April 22, 1952, with only $11.45 to their name. Dad carried that commitment with him the rest of his life. He served in the United States Army during the war in Vietnam.

1506 page28After his discharge from the Army Dad married my mother, and within a few years they had two children. That’s when Dad felt God tugging at his heart. He went to college and studied to become a preacher. He and Mom both worked while Dad went to schoo1. I remember this clearly because Dad and I walked to school together.

In 1977 Dad graduated from Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University) in Tennessee, and he and Mom had their third child.

Dad’s passion for God first took us to North Dakota, where he served as a pastor for a three-church district over the next four years. We went to two of the churches one week, and the next week we went to the other. Each congregation grew.

One of the ways Dad encouraged participation in the worship service was to tell the children what his sermon would be about and have us count how many times he said specific words. The child who came closest to being right got a prize. I never won.

After four years we moved to Illinois. Again Dad’s congregation grew. Then my parents split up. The rumors that surrounded the incident caused my father to lose his job. Yet so great was Dad’s passion for God that he became a literature evangelist, selling religious books door-to-door. Later he married a widow who had four young children. For the next 12 years Dad worked to provide not only for his new wife and her children but also for the three children he had with our mother.

Still Faithful
After years of struggling to provide for his family Dad was called back into the pastoral ministry. A small congregation in east central Idaho asked Him to be their pastor. Dad preached his first sermon to his new congregation on an April day in 1998. The little group grew and flourished under Dad’s leadership. Each member came to love him.

For Reflection . . .

What is the most lasting positive legacy you have received from a parent or guardian?
2. Describe an incident in the life of the person you mentioned in the previous question, and how that incident reflected some aspect of God’s character.
3. Given the fact that all our role models are “only human,” what does that say about God’s grace?
4. If you wanted to leave the next generation a legacy from your life, what would it be?

In November 1999 I got a phone call. Doctors had discovered a tumor attached to Dad’s liver. They couldn’t say how long it had been there or how fast it was growing. In January the doctors said that Dad had only about four months to live, yet his spirit was undeterred. His witness resulted in his baptizing his older brother.

Every time I called to see how things were going, Dad would do two things: First, he’d tell me some corny joke to try to make me laugh. Second, he’d remind me of the hope of the resurrection. If his faith ever wavered, I never saw it.

In April 2000, on the weekend when Christians around the world declared their faith in Christ’s resurrection, Dad’s congregation gathered around him. Someone began to read, “‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .’” Daddy squeezed my hand, and he was gone.

Daddy had all the stubbornness of a German, all the smoothness of a drill sergeant, and all the weaknesses of the rest of humanity. Daddy wasn’t a saint, but his dedication to others, his passion for God, and the courage to live his convictions led him to his greatest accomplishments, seeing his children working for God in various ways and still strong in the Lord.
Lisa Sutton writes from Strawn, Illinois.