Thoughts to Ponder

Raising Children

Deut. 6:5-7 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. [7] "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." [NASB-U]

I want to warn you right at the start of this Thought to Ponder, that there may be some unsettling things contained in it. I want to share some personal experiences as a way to make a point. God's commandment to teach our children about Him is very important and I want to open myself and my past up to you in order to show that vividly. I deeply regret many of the actions I will relate. I would do anything to be able to go back and change the past, but I can't. I am exposing my shame so that God can use my past to touch hearts. In no way am I bragging about or proud of those past sins, but I want to be completely honest about them. To God be the glory, I am humbled that He would love a sinner such as me. I also want to make sure that you understand that I believe with all my heart that if I had died during this time of rebellion against God, I would have spent eternity in hell separated from God and His love.

I grew up as a Preacher's kid. My Father was a pastor in the Missionary church. It is a small denomination and was part of what was called the holiness movement. My parents never drank alcohol or smoked. I never heard a curse word in my home or come out of my parents' mouths. I was shown love and kindness. We did not have much as far as material things, but we were rich because Christ lived with us. I heard and understood the salvation message from the time I can remember. My parents lived out what they preached. I gave my life to Christ at an early age. Unlike many people, I can't tell you exactly when that was, but I think I was about 7 years old.

I joined the Marine Corps when I was 19. It was the first time I had been away from home for an extended period of time. At this time (1973) the drinking age was 18. I soon made friends and we started going out to the enlisted club on base. I started drinking and smoking cigarettes. Was it just peer pressure? No, not really, I thought these things were cool and enjoyed not having to answer to anyone about what I was doing. My language became as bad as any Marine you have ever heard.

I lost my virginity to a prostitute at a 'club' we used to visit on weekends in Charleston, South Carolina. My life was in a tailspin, but I didn't realize it. I had rejected Christ as my Savior, but again I didn't realize it. I can remember coming home so drunk that I had to place one foot on the floor and hold the curtain with one hand to keep the room from spinning. But I never forgot to ask Jesus to forgive me for my sins before I went to sleep. I wanted to make sure that if I died or if He were to return during the night that I would spend eternity with Him. I am proof that it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you can pull the wool over God's eyes. I had no desire to change, I enjoyed my life and the next day I would just start all over and end the day asking for forgiveness, feeling no remorse for what I was doing. Little did I know that James had described me perfectly two thousands years ago:

James 4:4 You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. [NIV]

My parents made me uncomfortable, so I didn't have much contact with them. My Mother was always writing those annoying Scripture passages at the bottom of her letters to me. Letters I never bothered to reply to. I seldom called them, I was just too busy with life. That and I didn't like the probing questions they always asked me about church, etc…

I got out of the Marines in 1977 and joined the Beaufort County Sheriff's Department in South Carolina. I loved my job. I loved the thrill of never knowing what would happen next, living on the edge, facing life and death. I saw a lot of death, up close and personal. I had married just before getting out of the Marines and my wife used to say that my job was my mistress. She told me she could fight another woman, but she didn't know how to fight my job.

Drinking helped to numb some of the emotions I was having. I saw things people shouldn't have to see, but someone has to deal with the evil in this world and most often that falls on the Police Officers.

As I said I loved my job, it made me feel alive, yet at the same time it was killing me. I was growing colder and colder on the inside. I started having trouble relating to my wife. I can remember one morning (I worked nights) coming home and she wanted to complain about how she had been treated at the electric company by the clerk the day before. I just couldn't relate. I had just worked a shift full of meaningless death. I had seen a teenage girl and a teenage boy who died in a horrible auto accident. When I got to the scene both of them were laying in the road dead. Who cares if someone was rude to you?

I have always enjoyed writing and I continued to write during this time of my life. I wrote poetry. It was dark and painful. I often see the same kind of poetry on websites I now visit or in messages I get from people who are contemplating suicide.

I was not even making a pretense of asking God to forgive me anymore. I lived in the real world, not in some dream land where God helped people. You had to be stronger and quicker than other people or you too would become a victim. You never showed any weakness because that was a good way of becoming a victim also.

My thoughts were growing darker and darker. I no longer feared death, in fact I would often look at the bodies in the morgue and think that they looked peaceful. Oh, how I longed for that peace too. The worse my emotions got the more chances I took, the more risks I was willing to take on the job. Don't get me wrong, I was a good cop, I tried to be fair and honest, and I never put anyone else in danger. I just would no longer wait for backup if I was first on the scene, I would rush in and take control, no matter how dangerous the situation was.

As I lost my fear of death and started to think of it as a way to gain peace, I even had thoughts of suicide. I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 and I knew what it could do to the human body. It would be quick and easy and foolproof. But there was a nagging in my heart, something that kept telling me that this was wrong and not the answer.

I was 31 years old but I felt like I was 80. I did not sleep well, but I blamed it on working nights. I didn't want to work days, night shift was where the fun was, but I wanted rest so badly. It even crossed my mind to go to a doctor and ask him to put me in the hospital, so I could get the rest I needed, but I couldn't because the stigma that it would cause at the department was too much for me to think about.

My marriage was on its last legs, my health was getting worse all the time from the stress I was under. I finally decided to leave the job that I loved more than life itself. I left Police work and went into the Navy. That ended up being the straw the broke the camel's back on my marriage.

I worked hard at sea and I partied hard in port. I still felt the emptiness and still wanted rest, but the lifestyle I was living helped to beat those emotions down.

This continued from 1984 until 1989. I then met a woman that I fell in love with and I remarried. After we were married for a while she asked me to take her to church. She felt that something was missing in her life. Within 6 months she had given her life to Christ and I had come back to Him, albeit with a little kicking and screaming involved.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with teaching our children, but trust me it has everything to do with it. I might have turned my back on Christ and rejected Him in my life during those years, but I never forgot the truth, I just didn't want to live it. I couldn't even run away from the truth, because God kept bringing it up. I believe with all my heart it was those truths that were in my heart and mind that kept me from being just another suicidal statistic. I know the reason I felt uncomfortable around my parents was that the Holy Spirit used them to convict me of my sin. No I didn't listen right away, but the foundation was there so that the Holy Spirit could use it to reach me.

After I finally came back to Christ, I spoke to my Mother and she told me that she had prayed for me every day for that whole 20 years. She also told me that just as I came back to Christ, she was getting ready to give up and was beginning to believe that they had lost me forever.

I praise God for loving Christian parents that laid the foundation in my heart that enabled the Holy Spirit to reach down into the pit of hell and pull me out. Of course I also praise God for His mercy and for being the Good Shepherd who did not give up until He brought His lost sheep back safely to the fold.

I was so cold inside that I believe if I had not had those foundational truths taught to me as a child I would never have come back to Christ. Yes God used my wife and her conversion to speak to my heart, but it was not as easy as it might sound. I hated it when she gave her life to Christ. She instantly turned into my parents! She would read her Bible all the time and even cried during church service. I hated it because it was a source of conviction to me. It was conviction because I knew the truth, but didn't want to admit it. I knew I was a sinner, I knew I was headed to hell, but it was easier to deny than to deal with.

When I say that my parents gave me a solid foundation, that is true, but I don't want you to miss an important part that I have not yet addressed. The foundational truths, that we are sinners headed for an eternity in hell unless we confess our sins and live for Christ, were taught to me. However, I had not laid any foundation of my own. I never read my Bible, I didn't think I needed to. I thought I knew it all from hearing my parents talk about it and hearing my Father preach.

I realize now, just how little I really understood about God or His word. I would have believed that the passage "God helps those who help themselves" was in the Bible. I mention that because I want you to understand that if I had truly had a better understanding I might not have fallen so easily into sin and rebellion. I want to try to show a balance between what I did have and what I didn't have. Yes my parents taught me about God and my sinful nature and about Christ and I believe that is the foundation that kept me from committing suicide or totally rejecting Christ for the rest of my life, but my foundation was certainly not what it could or should have been. I thought I was a good person and if you have told me the things I was going to do in the future before I joined the Marine Corps, I would have been appalled and not believed it.

Luke 7:36-47 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. [37] And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, [38] and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. [39] Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner."
[40] And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher." [41] "A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" [43] Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly." [44] Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] "You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. [46] "You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. [47] "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." [NASB-U]

I praise God that I am that woman. I hold no illusions that I was a good person, I know what my sins were and I have not mentioned most of them here. I know that I deserve to spend eternity in hell in torment for my sins with no hope of salvation. I was not a lovable creature that God saw the good in, I was totally sinful and a wretched worm, whom God loved because of who He is, not because of who I was. He loved me in spite of who I was.

I found the peace and rest for my soul in Christ, that I had searched for through alcohol and living on the edge and that death seemed to offer. I now know that death is the enemy, not the solution and I praise God that He is willing to allow me to minister to those who are in the position I used to be in, so that I can tell them Who truly offers peace and rest for their souls.

Lay the foundation of truth in your children's hearts, it might be their safety line when they need it most. Pray for them unceasingly. I praise God for parents that beat on the gates of heaven on my behalf the whole I time I held them at arms length. Encourage your children to read God's word and get to know Him on a very personal level. Talk about God in front of them, not as a way to beat them over the head but rather because you love Him and He is part of your daily life. If He isn't, then you need to start building your own foundation.

Don't believe for an instant that sending your children to youth group or making them sit through a service or two each week will give them enough of a foundation that they will be able to stand when temptation comes. Church today is more about entertainment than building a solid foundation. If that foundation is going to be strong it will be because you as parents took the time to build it for your children, and because you encouraged them to build it up more each day.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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Feburary 2005