Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What I Learned About God From My Dad

Five years ago this week, my father passed away. Its hard to believe its already been five years. It seems like just yesterday I remember him cracking some joke at which he laughed harder than anyone else. I can also still hear his take on what's going on in the world and how he had the answer to fix it all. Trust me, with what's going on right now, if he was here, we would never be able to keep him quiet. Somehow, I picture him strolling through the the corridors of heaven trying to give "Troy Stone" insight and suggestions to anyone who will lend him an ear. Indeed, God broke the mold when He made my Dad as I've yet to find anyone like him.

Growing up I learned a lot from him. How to bait a hook, how to throw a ball, and how to hold politicians accountable. Maybe its a bit of a reach, but somehow I think the decline in the world around us in the last five years might have something to do with the fact Troy Stone doesn't have politicians shaking in their boots anymore. I'm just saying.

Of all the things I learned from my Dad, I think the things I learned about God are the most valuable. No, my Dad didn't sit me down and teach me Bible stories and make me memorize Scripture. He taught me by how he lived his life. He was far from perfect and believe me, I wasn't blind to the imperfections. Yet, somehow along his journey, this imperfect man taught me volumes about a perfect God.

Mrs. Baird's Bread. Its the best you know. At least according to my Dad. No, other brand would do for the Stone household. Even if it was the highest priced bread on the market, you could count on it making it's way to our house. My Dad would do anything to provide his family with the best. Whether it was Sony, or Zenith, or Craftsman, or Chevy or some other brand he thought was the best. You could rest assured no brand he considered "junk" or inferior would be purchased with his hard earned money. Nope, only the best. It makes my perspective about a God who wants the best for me an easy thing to grasp. After all, if my earthly father wanted that for me, how much more does my heavenly Father desire that for me?

Scripture tells us that God can not lie. He never breaks promises. And while I'm sure my Dad told some whoppers in his day, I don't know of another person I've ever met who was better at keeping promises than my Dad. If he told you he'd do it, you could pretty much take it to the bank. Trusting someone like that becomes easy once they've established a behavioral pattern of integrity. It's the same with our heavenly Father. His unwavering faithfulness to all His promises makes trusting Him easy. Fortunately for me, I have to admit my trust and confidence in God definitely had a jump start from seeing that characteristic in my earthly Dad.

Another characteristic of God I saw in my Dad was that of refuge and protector. One time I remember we were going to a parade in our hometown. We were stuck in traffic and this man behind us gets out of his car and starts screaming profanities at the top of his lungs. My dad reacted by jumping out of his car and declaring that he had his wife and kids in the car and would appreciate it if he would cease with the profanity and get back in his car. I remember my initial response was that of embarrassment and fear of the man retaliating. But when all was said and done and the man apologized and got back in his car, I remember feeling safe. You know when you're young and you think your Dad can beat up anybody's dad? I kind of felt like that my entire life. Maybe not so much that my Dad would engage in a fist fight with everyone, but just the fact that I always knew he had my back. I just always knew that if anyone messed with me, they would have to tangle with him. It's that quality in my Dad that makes it easy for me to view a God who is indeed my Refuge and Protector. It's so easy to read a Scripture like, "If God is for me, who can be against me," and walk through life as if it were absolutely true.

I could go on and on with stories about my Dad and how they painted a picture of God for me. He was my biggest fan, he genuinely enjoyed spending time with me, and I really think he constantly saw in me, who I was even when I didn't resemble that from time to time.

I really miss him. Some days more than others. Fortunately, I'm not like some who grieve without hope. For I know that one day I will be see him again. Looking at all that's going on in the world I'm thinking that day may be fast approaching. And I'll get to hear the corny jokes. And I'll hear why old school country is the only music worth listening to. And I'll hear how he can now say without a doubt that West Virginia is indeed almost heaven. What a character! If you knew him, you can certainly relate. If you didn't, trust me, when you get to heaven he'll be easy to find. He'll be the one eating a sandwich composed of a couple slices of tomatoes between two pieces of Mrs. Baird's Bread. Be prepared though, he'll try to convince you that you haven't eaten until you've tried one.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Smell Of A Campfire

We took a family camping trip this week. Other than a line of thunderstorms that made for one wet morning, we had a great time. We fished, roasted hot dogs, made smores, told stories by the campfire at night, and did lots more camping activities. If you've ever been camping, you know the routine. You also know how after cranking up that first campfire how everything takes on that campfire smell. Your clothes, your tent, your bedding, your hair, everything. Nothing is immune. If you were to meet anyone anywhere, there is no way of hiding that you've been camping because the smell is all over you.

As I sit here, I'm wondering if those of us who are Believers, can say the same about us when it comes to our encounters with God. I mean, is it evident that we've been with Him? Can we meet anyone anywhere, and it be completely apparent that we've been in His presence? Moses, spent time with God and when he came down the mountain, his face shined so bright the people made him put a veil over it. There was no hiding the fact that he and God had met up on that mountain. His physical appearance was altered. Abraham encountered God and this son-less man became the father of many nations. Jacob wrestled with God and from then on walked with a limp. Mary encountered God and became pregnant with the Son of God. Saul, who later became Paul, encountered the Lord and was knocked off his horse and his life was changed forever.

On and on I could tell of men and women who could not hide the fact that they had been with God. It was obvious to everyone that there was a noticeable change in them. Every encounter with God has the ability to transform us. Those encounters have the ability to transform our worry and stress into peace. They have the ability to change our fear into faith, our sadness into joy, and our mourning into dancing. Those God encounters can change the way we think, the way we act, and the way we treat others.

Just like that smoke from the campfire effects everything it comes into contact with, so it is with the Holy Spirit. Whenever we determine to allow Him to have access to our lives, our lives will show evidence of His presence. That transformation however only takes place when we determine to all Him access to our lives. Going back to Moses, his countenance was changed but nobody else's was. He was the only one who pressed in and made the decision to encounter God. Everyone else was content to simply allow Moses to spend time with God and pass along whatever God said to him.

Since, we've been home, we've been washing everything we took on our trip. And we've just about eliminated the lingering campfire smell. I just pray that I never get to a place where the evidence of God's presence in my life is eliminated. I can live without the smoke, but I don't ever want to live without His fire in my life that is ever transforming me into the man He longs for me to be.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

15 Years Old

I met a man a few days ago who had to be in his 80s or 90s. He was wearing a hat that had a logo on it that read, "Veterans of Underage." I rarely miss an opportunity to thank military veterans when I see one. This day was no different. Assuming his hat meant he was one of those men who lied about his age when he signed up for military service, I asked him how old he was when he enlisted. He response floored me. "I was 15," he said.

Immediately my mind raced back to the days when I was 15. Days when you could find me hanging out with my friends. Days you would see me playing baseball, or football, or some game on Atari 2600. Yet, here was a man who suited up in military attire, took up arms and set out to free the world from madmen like Hitler and Mussolini. What a contrast!

I can't help but wonder what his mom thought the day he came home and told her he had enlisted. To be honest, its hard to imagine. For those of us born after that generation, I truly believe we have no clue. It was a different world then. A world in which boys didn't lose themselves in a virtual gaming world. No, this was the real deal. A world in which you didn't get unlimited lives. This was a world where the blood was real and the risk was high. This was a time when heroes weren't rock stars or athletes. It was a time when our heros where boys who were willing to preserve our freedom even if it meant losing their very lives.

I didn't have time to hear this man's whole story, but I'm sure he had one that would have kept me on the edge of my seat and brought me to tears. I struggle a bit when I see men like this because I know they won't be with us much longer. What a tragedy it will be, and how much poorer we will be when that generation is no longer with us.

I look around and I see a world consumed with this idea of entitlement. A world that's screaming for their rights and what they deserve. A world for the most part unwilling to make any sacrifice to preserve the freedoms and liberties we have. Of course, I'm not referring to our military men and women of today. They are a small remnant though in a world that's forgotten what it took to get where we are. Today if a 15 year-old boy or girl were to lie about their age and enlist, the military would have a lawsuit on their hands. Yep, times have changed.

I'm not advocating 15 year-olds in the military. I'm pretty sure you'll agree that the idea of today's 15 year olds in the military is quite a scary scenario. I'm thinking I wouldn't feel all that safe. At the same time, somehow, the idea of this gentleman I met being a defender of my freedom set me at ease. Perhaps, it was the gaze in his eye and the weathered skin that told the story of a man who had been to hell and back. I'm not sure. And perhaps, my view of this man at the age of 15 is way off. Still, somehow I know that even at 15 years old, I would sleep well knowing this man was defending my freedom.

At 15, I was shooting spit wads across the room, my mom had to wake me to get ready for school and I complained when I had to mow the yard. At 15, this man was dodging incoming shells and firing at the enemy. Indeed, times have changed. I'm just so thankful for all those "Veterans of Underage," and the parents who made those incredible sacrifices. Without those heroes, it is no doubt that my life at 15 years-old would have been much different.