Nature or Nurture?

“What do you think is causing the rise in drug use among teenagers?”

This was the question posed by a politician to a group of high school students in 1987. He was ostensibly trying to get a teen perspective on teen issues. It is more likely he was trying to build his voter base for a future run for President.

The kids made a few stabs at trying to answer the question. Things like:

  • Both parents at work, leaving kids home alone
  • Boredom
  • Poor parental role models

My son was not patient enough to endure any more. He stood, identified himself and addressed the speaker, who, by the way, had attended divinity school as a young man.

“Senator,” he began, “the problem is the condition of the human heart. The cause is sin.”

He then gave the politician a concise presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He explained that until the heart is surrendered to Christ and comes into obedience to the Master, evil will abound. The students cheered. The politician was speechless.

Several years later a young woman approached me at my office in the church. She had just started working in the day care and came in to introduce herself.

“I went to school with your son,” she said. Then she told me the story of that day at the high school.

“We were so proud of him,” she disclosed. “We thought he was great!

“There were lots of us who had been Christians for years, but we were silent. When we saw how bold he was, it made us want to speak up, too. I mean, he wasn’t afraid. It gave us the courage to start standing up for Jesus. It changed us.”

“And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel …” — Ephesians 6:19 (KJV)


The Third Commandment

I was recently reunited with a dear childhood friend. We e-chatted back and forth with treasured memories. I soon learned that her remember-er is different from mine.

For instance, I remember getting in trouble for crossing the highway to play with a friend. She remembers getting in trouble for crossing the highway to throw rocks at that little boy, whose name she says was Lars. I say it was Sven.

Play with the boy, stone the boy; Lars, Sven. Things get lost in Memoryland after 58 years, but one memory remains unshakeable. My friend Anne shared the word of God with me, and it left an indelible impression on my life.

We were sitting on the floor in her bedroom playing something and listening to a red vinyl record of the marches of John Phillip Sousa.

I do not remember exactly what I said, but all of a sudden my diminutive friend, who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, exclaimed, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain!”

Where did that come from? I had never heard anyone use the Word of God in a regular conversation before. At first I was offended (I think the Word of God does that), and I felt upbraided. Then I felt conviction (I think the Word of God does that, too) and a sense of having done something really wrong. But I didn’t want to run away and hide under the bed or anything.

Then I was curious. How did she know that, and how did she know how to use it in the right context? Not even my mother had ever said anything like that to me. How could a kid do that? It was direct and powerful, and it was right.

When I recovered from the shock of what had just happened, I think I replied something like, “Oh, OK.” But I pondered it for years. It had depth of impact. It was simple, but profoundly complex.

It was obviously something that required extensive and detailed study or knowledge, but it came from the mouth of a babe. It was emotionally intense, pointing the way to a place remote from me and inaccessible.

I’m telling you. I pondered it for years. And then I decided to test it.

I was thirteen and defiant. I was the master of my fate. I was thirteen and scared to death. But with typical teenage bravado, I decided to challenge Anne’s admonition and let fly with some sort of sacrilegious verbiage. Then I waited.

It was not long before I felt the effects of that outburst. Sparing you the gory details, I will say that I fell into a cycle of sin and sadness that lasted for years. And I knew it had begun when I shook my rebellious tongue at the Almighty.

Not satisfied with two proofs of purchase, I challenged God and His Word yet again as a young married woman — again on purpose — with the same sad and sinful result.

Finally I began to catch His drift. Taking His name in vain was a thing not to be done. God is real. God’s Word is real. There are consequences for breaking the commandments.

Later I learned that if you have broken one of the commandments, you have broken them all. That’s when I knew I was in BIG trouble. I started looking for that remote and inaccessible place, and He drew me closer and closer. It was not so remote after all and was easily accessible. You just had to say the right words.

“Lord, forgive me.”

Thank you, Anne. You can remember our growing up years any way you want to, but this is how I remember you.

“But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” — Matthew 21:15-16 NIV)


It was a simple act. My elderly neighbor had eye surgery, so I baked a small cake and took it to her. I was a new Christian and a bit unsteady on my born-again legs, but I did know how to bake.

She was very grateful for the gesture. I felt simply radiant playing Lady Bountiful, spreading good will, happiness and sweet treats in my path. Giving has its reward, but pride in giving is not especially pleasant to look at, and I don’t think there is any reward involved.

Nevertheless, being quite pleased with my Christian charity, I skipped merrily home.

A few days later I called to ask if I could retrieve my empty plate of Sweet Treat Christian Charity. When I arrived, my neighbor was glad to see me, healing nicely, but distant.

“That’s OK,” I thought. “Old people are usually a little off anyway.”

It’s amazing how we view people who have lived longer than we have. They’re eccentric, too cautious, too talkative, too withdrawn. They smell funny. Their houses are too neat. They don’t hear well; they don’t see well; they walk too slow.

She seems so fragile. If I give her a hug, I might break a bone. He’s cantankerous; he’s grumpy. He only wants to talk about things that happened 50 years ago. She remembers every detail of her childhood, but she can’t remember what she ate for breakfast.

Now that I have a little age on me, I look at it quite differently. I laugh heartily out loud to myself in the grocery store. I treasure the moments of my life. Too eccentric? I don’t like to drive alone at night in the rain. Too cautious? Or just wise? I can talk and talk and talk. I can be still and be still and be still.

Old people smell funny for a variety of reasons. Things leak. The perfume we have worn for years is the scent we like. Mixed with disinfectant and foot powder, it’s not quite as alluring, though. We don’t notice the smells so much anymore. And did I mention … things leak?

Well, of course our houses are neat. Our kids took most of the furniture when they got married. Life is different when the three rowdy kids, the long-haired dog and the useless cat don’t live there anymore.

Hey, I hear what I want to hear. I see just fine — since my cataract surgeries, before dark, with my glasses, large print books and over-sized flat screen TV mounted on the wall. And I pace myself. What’s the hurry? I can get downstairs in one piece if I take the steps one at a time. Stop and smell the roses already!!
You won’t break my bones. Hug me! I’m human, and I love to be hugged. Kids know that. They’re not afraid to show some affection. That’s what makes us grumpy and cantankerous. We don’t get nearly enough hugs.

A little history lesson wouldn’t hurt, you know. Listen to an old person. The stories he can tell are the best. And I have it on good authority that if you’re really old, you can remember them any way you want on any given day. Who’s left to dispute it?

Well, back to the story.

I stood in my neighbor’s foyer, dish in hand, making very small talk, when the Lord spoke to my heart, “Pray for her.”

“I will, Lord. Just as soon as I get home. The children and I will pray for her. Good idea.”

“Pray for her now.”

“But, Lord, I’m new at this. I wouldn’t know what to say. Besides, I don’t even know if she’s a Christian. I wouldn’t know what to say. What would I say? What would she say? It’s probably better to wait until later. I really wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Pray now.”

“OK!” I screamed silently as I slammed the dish down on her lovely table.

I took her hands in mine and said, “I’d like to have a word of prayer before I leave.”

She led me to the couch, and we sat facing each other as I tried to think of what to say. I said something I know, but I don’t know what it was.

Finally came the “Amen!” In the South we say AY-Men! So be it. Now you can go stickin’ a fork in it ‘cause it’s done. And it was done. I was done. I had started to sweat a bit and was anxious to take my leave.

This dear, fragile lady looked at me with tears in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she gushed, then added, “My sister lives in Florida. We talk on the phone a lot, but I don’t get to see her. She said she has somebody who comes and prays with her, but I’ve never had anyone who would do that with me. Thank you.”

“Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me.”  — Jeremiah 35:13 (NLT)