Dave Ramsey and the Dissolution of Christian Stewardship
This article was first published in June 2014. It has been read more than 16,000 times and stirred up a honest nest of Dave Ramsey minions. I post it again, because Ramsey is now selling his house (pictured below). The value of his house has increased from $6 million to $15.5 million.
I stumbled into Christian Stewardship quite by accident. It was not on my list of interests or career choices, but as you know yourself, following God is not like mapping out the shortest route on your GPS. I have never been the smartest guy around, but I do know how to learn, so I set out to learn about stewardship.
As a child I learned to tithe from my father. It was never a legalistic type of thing where you have to give a tenth or else God will be mad. It was just something we did. I never gave it much thought – until I found myself (as I said, quite by accident) working as a stewardship professional. In fact, I even received an award (complete with a very nice plaque) as the “Stewardship Professional of the Year.” I am a good learner.
The stewardship thing worked out well for me and for a time I was one of the leading stewardship folks in the country. I have written material that has been used in thousands of churches around the world. There was a period of time when every stewardship item in the Southern Baptist world had my fingerprint on it somewhere.
There have been a couple of significant changes to stewardship during my lifetime. When I was a child, it was quite common to believe in tithing. However, during my teenage years there was a movement to change that position. People began to teach that tithing is legalistic and it is much more consistent with Jesus to be generous without specific guidelines. Tithing fell out of favor with many.
I remember well my introduction into this new world. It was at a small gathering of stewardship folks. I had already had a part in developing some material encouraging folks to be tithers. One of the men at this gathering was Cecil Ray, known by many Southern Baptists as the father of Baptist stewardship. I didn’t know him personally but I was well-aware of his reputation.
Early in the meeting, Dr. Ray referred to those who taught tithing as “legalists.” Out of respect and deference I kept my mouth shut. (If you know me personally you probably don’t believe that last statement.) During a break in the meeting I told my supervisor if that old man calls me a legalist one more time we are going after it. He advised patience and keeping quiet.
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Church Basement Theology
For my freshman and sophomore years, I attended a junior college close to home. I was coming off a two-month summer stay in the hospital, and I wasn’t convinced of a future direction, so it was the most convenient option. As with most kids, college was an entirely new experience for me and introduced me to many unforgettable experiences—from weekly war protests to a teacher who frequently stood atop his desk.
I remember one class where this big kid, sitting in the front row, fell asleep one day. Just as he started snoring, someone reached across and jostled him awake. Fewer than five minutes later, his head was back on his desk, deep in sleep, and snoring even louder. This time, instead of waking him, the professor suggested we should let him sleep since he probably had a rough night.
I made two glaring mistakes that first year of college. First, I took a class on Art Appreciation. Second, the class met right after lunch. Every afternoon after eating, the professor turned off the lights in the room and projected slides of great works of art on the wall as he discussed them in detail. I confess I was the one sleeping more than once.
Normally, I’m not a sleeper. I never take naps. Once up in the morning, I’m awake until bedtime. I stay busy, and even if there’s nothing pressing to do, I find something and entertain myself. You can accuse me of a lot of things, but I’m not one of those people who sleeps a lot, but I’ve known many people who have essentially slept through life.
When I speak of sleeping through life, I’m not referring to an occasional nap or dozing off during a boring movie. It’s a reference to the person who spends an entire lifetime without learning anything new about God. Perhaps the best way to understand it is to think of the person who believes the same thing they believed at age 20 when they are 70, or 60, or even 50. Their grasp of theology has been unchanged by experience—they have basically slept through life when it comes to faith.
I see it all the time in Facebook discussions. People who grew up in the church and lived their entire adult life as faithful church members but they still cling to elemental theological opinions that they learned in kid’s Sunday School.
Perhaps I can make sense of what I’m saying by describing my own experience. I remember sitting in the church basement during Sunday School as a kid and discussing what happens when people die without knowing Jesus. I suspect I was always the skeptic that untrained teachers hated. I was the one who asked about the poor people in Africa who never even heard about Jesus, would they spend eternity in hell? It didn’t seem fair for God to do that to them.
The smarter, more experienced teachers would say something like, “That’s not for us to decide, God will do that right thing,” and then continue teaching that everyone who died without being saved spent eternity in hell. If you have gone through life without wondering about that, then you have been sleeping; you are brain dead. The entire evangelical doctrine of hell rests on answering that question.
But we move beyond the questions of childhood. Important theological questions are not answered in the church basement. Life happens, and we have other pressing matters. Then one day, a friend dies, or perhaps a family member. He was a good person, kind, considerate, generous, liked by everyone, a bastion of honesty and integrity. However, not a follower of Jesus in any sense of the word. Now the question is more important. Is my friend destined to spend all of eternity, without any ending, suffering from fiery flames, covered with skin that won’t burn up?
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the same God I learned about from those same Sunday School teachers in the church basement. I mean the ones who taught me to sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” and “God is good, God is good, God is good to me.”
Life goes on, and now you’re 60 years old. Your granddaughter, your oldest grandchild, is out partying with friends from college and has a fatal car crash on the way home. You were never invited to her baptism because she never had one. No church Christmas programs because her parents never took her to church, and as far as you know, she was not a friend of Jesus. She was a beautiful girl, loved by her many friends, on her way to being someone special, and you loved her dearly. She was your first, and to be honest, your favorite grandchild.
Can you live with the idea that she will spend eternity in excruciating torment? I’m talking about the kind of punishment no human would even inflict on another human. After all, isn’t that what you were taught about hell.
The person who has slept through life still believes what he was taught in the church basement—everyone who dies without knowing Jesus spends eternity in hell. If they are ever asked what happens to people when non-Christians die, their answer is simple; they go to hell. These people have slept through life. None of their experiences register with them. The fact that life doesn’t seem consistent with their belief is a non-factor.
This person is the parent with a gay son or daughter who they have disowned because they have always believed God wants us to condemn homosexuality. They know this because that’s what they were taught at VBS held in the church basement. Life is much easier if we don’t question the things we were told are true. After all, if it was good enough for Jesus, then it has to be good enough for me.
It’s time to graduate from Sunday School and move your theology out of the church basement. Don’t be afraid to reflect on how your experience is inconsistent with your theology. Be willing to examine what you learned as a kid and start considering what life has taught you and how it impacts what you believe (or think you believe).
Now that your wonderful granddaughter has died, do you still believe God will oversee her eternal existence in a fiery hell? After all the things God has done for you, do you think He would do that to her? For eternity?
The only way to get out of the theological church basement is to be willing to ask questions. Just because your favorite Sunday School teacher taught something doesn’t mean they were correct. Even if they attached Bible verses to what they taught, have you studied to determine if that’s what it really means?
In every area of life, we continue to learn new things. I’ve tried to think of any other area of life where we stop learning, but I have failed to come up with even one. I’m open to your suggestions. Why do we do that in what might be the most important area of life? Many do. Listen to people. Those with a church basement faith are easily recognizable.
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Are You Sure that All Lives Matter?
I have struggled for the past four years with understanding how so many Christians can support a man with Trump’s moral failings. I’ve been discipled in Christian values my entire life and what I observe with Trump and his followers is foreign to anything I was ever taught about Christian values.
It was pounded into my brain that all Christians cling to a similar set of values, even though we might have differences in theology, religious practices, and lifestyles. I might be a Baptist, and you a Catholic, but our values are the same, even if you don’t eat meat on Friday. We always shared the same values with unknown-tongue talking Pentecostals, Saturday church-going Seventh Day Adventists, and Whiskey-palians (as my father used to call them).
All of us valued love for other people. We might not always act like it, but we all knew that every person had value. This idea of loving all people was so ingrained into us Baptists that we took it upon ourselves to do everything we could to make sure the whole world is saved. We were taught that loving others was important enough that many volunteered to give up their lives to preach the gospel to the four corners of the world, which included even the communists, Chinese, and the savages. Every life has value.
Another value we shared is that certain behaviors are to be avoided. The extent of this depended on your Christian tradition, but I’m thinking of things like sobriety (both alcohol and drugs), speech (for most of us, this included George Carlin’s seven dirty words), honesty (not only in what we say but also how we act), and kindness (don’t be a bully, use your manners). There are certain things Christians do and don’t do because of our values.
Somewhere along the way, culminating in the election of Trump in 2016, Christians are no longer identified by values. We have substituted policies for values. In other words, A Christian is no longer identified by a value like loving others or avoiding certain behaviors. Christians are now known by their political policies. These policies include abortion, restrictive immigration, obtrusive law and order, military dominance, and an overarching economic policy of money is good.
Values no longer matter. Policy is now king. It’s permissible to elect a vulgar, dishonest, hateful, greedy candidate as long as he advocates the correct policies. In fact, I’m amazed at how often I hear people say something like, “I know Trump is a bad (vulgar, despicable, obscene, hateful) man, but I support him because I agree with his policies.”
How many “Christians” have you heard make this statement?
I’m aware that some of you Trumpers are going to call me out because, after all, you do oppose abortion—the ultimate value. Opposing abortion is not a value; it’s a policy. The value is to protect life and being against abortion is one policy that sometimes values life. But not always.
Opposing all abortions is not life-affirming; it can be quite destructive. What about the young couple who are excited about having a child and take all the medical precautions to have a healthy baby, only to learn after five or six months they will have to decide between the mother or the baby, they won’t both survive?
Or, what about the 15-year-old who is raped and gets pregnant? Her family is unwilling or unable to help her. She can take a year out of her life, drop out of school, have a baby she can’t possibly raise, and destine herself and her baby to a life of poverty. Don’t tell me that people will help her. Sure. They drag her into a pregnancy help center, show her some videos and give her a handful of baby clothes to take home, but who’s going to pay the medical bills, provide childcare while she finishes school, supplement her minimum wage job, and be there for emotional support?
Don’t forget the woman who has been told by her doctor that her baby won’t survive more than a few hours after birth and that the infant will have severe painful deformities. Sure, she could have the baby, but who will pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs required to try and save the life? How do we affirm the mother’s life after we’ve condemned her to a life of poverty?
These are all hard questions, and fortunately, they are not faced by most of us. But the point is valid—refusing abortions without exception is not always based on valuing life. Anti-abortion is a tool that usually puts value on life, but it’s not the only policy that’s necessary. Refusing to eliminate all abortions does not mean a person doesn’t value life.
The abortion rate has been on a steady decline for decades, even during Democratic administrations. This reduction is occurring while Republicans are waiting for the magic number of Supreme Court Justices to overturn a law. In the meantime, pro-life policies are making an impact. Things like education, birth control provided by insurance, increased support for the poor are all policies that contribute to reducing abortions. Advancements are happening while Republicans are fighting these policies. They don’t want teens to be educated about birth control; they fight against affordable health insurance; they oppose assisting the poor while standing in picket lines in front of abortion clinics wrapped in the righteous robes called, “Right to Life.”
People who refuse to say, “Black Lives Matter,” when it comes to racial issues, ironically refuse to say, “All Lives Matter,” when it comes to issues like abortion, gun control, climate change, immigration, and military superiority. For them, the life of a fetus matters, but the life of the mother doesn’t. The rights of a gun owner matter but the life of a shooting victim doesn’t. The life that wants to drive a gus-guzzler matters but the life of the rest of us on the planet doesn’t. The life of a citizen matters but the life of an immigrant doesn’t. The life of a soldier matters but the life of someone caught in the crossfire doesn’t.
If you want to support a candidate like Trump, that’s fine; it’s your right as an American citizen. But don’t tell me you are doing it because of your Christian values. You’re doing it because of your policies that are not based on Christian values. I’m tired of being insulted because I don’t share your values when the truth is, I don’t share your policies. My values are the same ones we grew up with; you’re the one who changed values.
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Maundy Thursday Thoughts
Getting ready for Easter has been an annual experience in my life as far back as I can remember. Easter Sunday was always a special occasion at our house, and the preparations were thoughtful and meticulous.
It usually began weeks early as my mother would drag us to the clothing store to purchase our Easter clothes. In our family, you always wore your best clothes to church, but on Easter, we always had new attire. This was back in the time when a young boy was expected to wear a suit and tie, and I was no exception. Although I would never have admitted it, I was always a little proud of my new Easter suit.
Saturday evening before Easter Sunday was always an important time. That was when we colored Easter eggs. In our family, we did not use plastic eggs with candy inside – we only used the real thing. My mother would boil approximately two dozen grade A whites. Hot water and a touch of vinegar were poured into about five or six old coffee cups, and a small tablet of dye was dropped into the mix.
My sister and I worked hard at being creative with the way we colored the eggs. There was a touch of friendly competition to have the best-looking egg.
On Sunday, always after church, my parents would hide them in the yard, and the search was on. It never took a long time to find two dozen eggs in the familiar yard. Since we lived in Colorado, there were years when the ground was covered with snow on Easter Sunday. On those occasions, the eggs were strategically hidden in the house. This always raised the concern of not locating all the eggs because they would stink in a few days.
The family dinner was another Easter preparation. Since my father was the pastor of the church, it was not uncommon for us to have friends from the church to share the meal at our house. This was always great because it usually meant they would bring their eggs, and our hunting experience was intensified. However, my plan is not to talk to you about shopping for clothes, coloring eggs, or cooking a ham dinner. I am taking this occasion of Maundy Thursday to speak about making spiritual preparations for Easter.
Now, the first issue to be addressed is, what does the term Maundy Thursday mean? Very early in the history of the church, Christians began to regard Thursday of Holy Week as a particular time for participating in the Lord’s Supper. The day came to be called “Maundy Thursday,” a reference to Christ’s giving a “new commandment” (John 13:34) to His disciples. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for “commandment.” Continue reading
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Having been a student of the church for as long as I can remember, I feel qualified to make a simple observation about what is currently happening. My focus will be narrowed only to consider financial ramifications, a subject that I feel uniquely qualified to explore. At one time, any stewardship or finance material produced by the Southern Baptist Convention either had my name on it or was influenced by my DNA. I even received an award for being the “Stewardship Professional of the Year” by an independent organization. What I say might be wrong, but it’s not out of ignorance.
I believe the social distancing we are experiencing is going to bring about significant change to the American church. That is a bold statement, and in six months, you might throw it back in my face and accuse me of being an idiot. But for today, I’m sticking with it, so let me explain.
My prediction has nothing to do with church/state matters of whether or not we should allow the government to dictate our religious practices. Also, it has nothing to do with reckless pastors encouraging their people to congregate and trust God. My prediction is all about money.
One of the primary things I learned from working with hundreds of churches is that the most significant determiner of church income is attendance. Obviously, larger churches have more money than smaller churches. However, even within the same church, high weekly attendance will produce larger offerings than a Sunday with low attendance. We don’t see it much in the warmer climate of Texas, but churches in areas where they have to cancel because of bad weather know this to be true. It takes a long time to make up for the offering that is missed when a Sunday morning service is canceled. Continue reading
My Two Fathers
This is the introductory chapter to my latest book, My Two Fathers: Things My Earthly Father Taught Me About My Heavenly Father. You can only purchase a copy at this location – www.my2fathers.com.
I’m not sure I can separate my earliest memories of my father from my earliest memories of God. For most of my life, they were the same.
That might sound shocking to some, and I expect to be questioned by a few people for making that statement, so I probably need to explain. When most Christians envision God, they conjure up an image of Jesus only bigger and more (more of what I’m not sure). We’ve all heard that Jesus was God embodied within a man; He was God in the flesh. It stands to reason that God must look something like Jesus, only older since Jesus referred to God as His father. That’s probably why many people’s image of God is an old man, kind of like George Burns in the movie, “Oh, God.”
If you want to be more politically correct, you will come up with Morgan Freeman from “Bruce Almighty” or Whoopie Goldberg in “A Little Bit of Heaven.” When I was a young kid, we didn’t go to the movies or watch TV, so I didn’t have any help with understanding God and what He might be like other than what I was told and saw with my own eyes. Kind of like a baby kitten adopted by a mama dog, I grew up thinking God was like the one who cared for me and provided my needs.
That might be a good enough explanation for the first four or five years of my life, but there had to have been a time when I finally wised up and realized my father was nothing like God. Once I read enough of the Bible and understood the true qualities of God, I would cast aside such childish thinking—but I never did.
As I near completion of the seventh decade of my life, my declaration is the same—the person who taught me the most about God is my father. Every experience I’ve had with God has been seen through a lens of what my father taught or showed by his life. That doesn’t mean my understanding of God is warped. I hope to show you throughout this book that my earthly father provided a thorough and healthy view of my heavenly father. Continue reading
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Cheating: Baseball and Impeachment
If you know anything about me at all, you know I’m a baseball fan. A quick peek into my office will convince you if you have any doubts. On top of that, my favorite team is the Texas Rangers, my hometown boys. That means I can’t be a fan of the Houston Astros. One of my favorite things to do when the Rangers and Astros play one another is to watch the game with the picture-in-picture mode. I put the Rangers’ broadcast and Astros’ broadcast side-by-side in order to hear how both sides describe the same events.
Consequently, I focused significant attention on the stories the past few days about the Astros’ cheating scandal. In case you’re not a baseball fan and haven’t paid any attention, here’s my one-sentence recap. In 2017, on their way to winning the World Series, the Astros illegally used video equipment to steal opponent’s signals to gain an advantage for their hitters in real-time while batting.
Rumors were rampant, but when a whistleblower, a pitcher and former Astro on the 2017 championship team, made it clear that cheating did happen. In the baseball world, all hell broke loose. Three managers and one general manager lost their jobs. They were singled out because they should have been in charge but chose to turn a blind eye. (No players were identified or punished for reasons beyond the scope of this article.)
You have to give Major League Baseball credit for putting a stop to such blatant cheating. Now, I understand, a certain type of cheating has been a part of baseball since the beginning, but this is a new level – using electronics in real-time. You know league officials would rather not have to call people out for cheating. It was difficult to investigate, learn unfortunate facts, and punish people—but for the sake of the game, it had to be done. Continue reading
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I’m Tired of Hearing that You’re Pro-Life
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing people support a political candidate based on one issue – abortion.
I’m going to suggest three reasons why it’s a problem to make abortion the one and only campaign issue.
People who chose to use the term “pro-life” rather than abortion, are not being honest – with themselves or with anyone else. If you are truly “pro-life,” then you would equally oppose capital punishment, war, and indiscriminate gun ownership. These are all pro-life issues. I don’t know of anyone in the pro-life movement who believes abortion, capital punishment, and war should be eliminated and guns severely restricted. They are not really pro-life.
If you honestly want to be pro-life, then continue to advocate for eliminating abortion but also stand up against capital punishment, identify as a conscientious objector, and advocate for stricter gun control laws. If you want to be especially serious about pro-life, then you should also work to eliminate poverty, demand health care for everyone, and do what you can to stop climate change. In fact, to be pro-life, the list is almost endless – drive the speed limit and follow all safety laws, speak out against the tobacco industry, seek out ways to help people fight obesity, stop posting hateful messages on social media, demand fair treatment of immigrants and people of all races.
My second reason is that being a one-issue political supporter is dumb. You are essentially saying that nothing else matters. “Take us to war, eliminate Social Security, be immoral and dishonest, raise taxes, ignore every other problem because I don’t care as long as you claim to be anti-abortion, you have my vote.”
It sounds ridiculous when you put it like that, but it’s precisely what has happened. We have countless officeholders who have nothing to offer except a claim to be against abortion. We have politicians in place who know they are safe and can do whatever they want because they were elected because of one position and they know you will vote for them regardless of anything else they do. Continue reading
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At the top of my Facebook newsfeed this morning was one of those reminders of something posted on this date in the past. The one for today went back ten years to New Year’s Day, 2010. Most of these reminders are interesting, but this one especially caught my attention.
Ten years ago I was in the hospital. If I said I was hanging onto life by a thread, it would sound overly dramatic but it’s true. After spending nearly two weeks in the hospital, these are the words I posted on Facebook that will probably show up under my memories sometime later this month.
“After twelve days in the hospital, I am finally at home – feeling well, weak, and grateful. I have spent the past few hours reading your messages, wiping away tears, and amazed at what happened. This is my report to my family and friends, who I discovered in greater legion than I anticipated.
No one should really care about all the messy details, but just let me say, I was lying in a hospital bed, diagnosed with CHF, being told that my kidneys might have already applied for retirement, and my doctors decided the best course of action was to insert about twelve feet of Goodyear bicycle inner tube down my throat in order to help me breathe.
A time when my family felt most helpless (not quite hopeless). My own feelings of hopelessness did not really matter because I was too far away mentally to understand either hope or hopeless. Nearly three full days of the experience have been expunged from my memory with the precision of a Hoover. We were desperate for God to do something.
Although I was only semi-conscious during the worst part of the ordeal, I still had my own low point. It was when I was aroused enough to recognize portions of the experience and I remember staring at the off-white sheetrock wall of my hospital room, containing nothing more than a red light switch and an orange decorated hazmat storage box. At that moment, I honestly believed that I had died and gone to heaven. However, the encumbrance of the ventilator and the uncomfortableness of the entire situation caused me great disappointment – I had higher expectations of heaven. We all needed God to do something.
The doctor called the house early on Monday morning to speak with Sharon. He asked if we had a “Living Will.” That kind of question in that particular scenario grabs your attention. He explained how the lung problem was leading to a kidney problem, and the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, and that inserting the tube was the best (or perhaps only) solution. I don’t think any of us felt desperate, but this is one of those sandy places in life where you do not want to erect a foundation.
Then a miracle happened!
The ventilator was inserted, and the vigil begun to see what God would do. And, God did not disappoint anyone. It was an amazing week of answered prayer, physical feats, and unmistakable encounters. I will not even attempt to explain what happened in this short thanksgiving missive but let me encourage you to stay tuned. The book has already been titled and outlined.
As I said earlier, I am home gaining strength. I would love to speak to each of you individually, but there were so many friends and family prayer warriors that the number is inestimable. There must have been at least fifty people on the hospital staff that came by my bed to complement me on my wonderful family. I felt like a preacher at the conclusion of an especially good sermon having to accept all the accolades. If the sermon was really that good, then you need to give God the credit. I kept saying to these complementors, “God has really blessed my life.”
You are one of those who have been used by God to bless my life. Thank you.
I hope you will allow me to share the “rest of the story” over the next few months. I am coming off one of the lowest and one of the highest times of my life at the same time. Through your prayers and support, you allowed me to see a miracle – an amazing sight.”
So, when I saw this today, it caused me to reflect on the past ten years, a complete decade of my life has passed since this happened. I have long considered this borrowed time anyway, but it has proven to be much more. I had polio as a very young boy. I remember calculating that since I was born in 1950, by the year 2000, I would be 50 years old and that’s all I ever expected from my weak body. I’m highly pleased for the extra 20 years and certainly would not object to another 20. But much has happened in the past ten, since my hospital ordeal.
The following is the list of major events in my life since the calendar has read twenty-teens.
- The greatest man I ever knew or will ever know, my father, died. He taught me everything I needed to know about living.
- I changed occupations, from church consultation to writer and book publisher. In 10 years, I have been able to build a business that pays the bills and keeps me challenged and growing.
- After more than 40 years and probably close to a half-a-million miles, I gave up driving. The last drive was a Sunday trip to preach at a small church west of town. I no longer felt comfortable that I had enough strength in my arms to control the car. When I arrived at home, I told Sharon that I was done. (Sharon will tell you that I still have much to learn about being a “back-seat-driver.”)
- My son Matthew married in one of the most fun weddings I have attended. It was a great evening, and he hit the jackpot with Tina.
- We picked up nine grandkids to add to our first, Noah, who is now in college.
- Our youngest son Andrew was deployed by the Army to Afghanistan. I checked for casualty reports every day for nine months and finally rested when he came back home to his family.
- After visiting nearly every church within a reasonable distance from our house, Sharon and I decided to leave the institutional church with the conviction that there must be a better way. Along those same lines, I no longer identify myself as an “evangelical,” not because my theology or behavior has changed, but because the word doesn’t mean much any longer.
- Sharon and I celebrated our 40th and 45th anniversary during the past decade.
I hope this post greets me first thing in the morning on January 1, 2030. I’ll be 79 years old, hopefully married 55 plus years and reminiscing about a long list of great things once again. It’s in God’s hands and if He chooses something else, I’m good with that also.
I mentioned that my father taught me everything I needed to know about life. One of his most frequent lessons occurred when I talked to him about a problem. His solution was always the same and it has always worked. I don’t see any reason to change his advice. No matter what problem I encountered, he always told me to “trust the Lord!” He always did, and I try hard to follow his example.
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