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Letters From Dad
By Greg Vaughn Fred Holmes
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2005 Greg Vaughn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Mystery Box
What was it about this box that could inspire such celebration yet bring such tragedy?
Three thousand years ago, thirty thousand men danced upon a hill.
Thirty thousand men dancing to the sound of lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, cymbals, and trumpets.
Thirty thousand men dancing with laughter and song.
Their raucous revelry bounced off the mud brick houses of the tiny mountaintop town of Kiriath Jearim, careened through the surrounding forest of fir and cedar, and echoed across the Judean hills all the way to Mount Jearim. They could be heard all the way to the nearby villages of Zorah and Eshtaol, even to Kesla, two miles to the south. Amazingly, their sounds even reached Jerusalem, a full eight miles away.
As if in homage, Kiriath Jearim faced Jerusalem, though both were holy sites. Jerusalem was the holy city upon a hill that God had claimed as His own. Kiriath Jearim also sat upon a hill and was also blessed by God. Twenty years before the town was filled with dancing, God sent a mysterious box to its people, entrusting them with its protection.
And now King David, God's anointed ruler and unifier of all Israel, had come to Kiriath Jearim to reclaim that box and take it home. Wearing a linen ephod, David led the procession that removed the box from the home of Abinadab, whose son, Eleazar, had been charged with its safe keeping. Two of Abinadab's other sons, Uzzah and Ahio, were given the honor of leading the ox-drawn cart that now bore the box through the town streets.
Although the cart was new, it creaked and tottered as it gathered speed descending the steep, rocky hill. It quickly became apparent there was a problem: the cart was going too fast. Only Uzzah and Ahio saw the danger, whipping and yelling at the oxen, while all around them the frenzied celebration continued.
At the bottom of the forested hill lay an ancient graveyard, and by the time the cart passed through the crumbling tombs, it was out of control. The terrified oxen protested with guttural brays as the rampaging cart slammed into the backs of their legs. Uzzah and Ahio whipped them mercilessly, urging them on, but they ignored the whip as their hooves slipped on the rocky terrain.
Then to Uzzah's and Ahio's horror, they saw the threshingfloor of Nacon directly ahead, its polished stone floor smooth as glass. It would be like trying to cross a frozen lake. Reacting instinctively, Ahio grabbed for the oxen's harness while Uzzah ran to steady the cart. They might as well have been trying to stop an avalanche.
The oxen were running full speed when they hit the threshing-floor. As their legs went out from under them, the cart began to tilt, its precious cargo sliding toward the edge. Uzzah put out his hand to stop it. Only then did the surrounding celebrants realize what was happening, and with a shout, they encircled the cart and stopped the disaster before it could go any further.
A sigh of relief went up from David. The unthinkable had almost occurred. Another second and the box would've been destroyed. But relief quickly turned to shock as he saw Uzzah crumpled beside the cart. Thoughts of celebration winnowed away like chaff as David knelt and examined Uzzah's lifeless body. Amazingly, there was not a mark upon him. Not a gash or broken bone. Not one sign of violence.
Uzzah had not been killed by oxen or cart.
He had been killed by God.
Stunned disbelief filled David's eyes—the same eyes that had faced down Goliath and stared into the tortured soul of Saul. The king slowly raised his face to heaven and screamed. "Why?!?"
What was it about this box that could inspire such celebration yet bring such tragedy? It was rectangular in shape, measuring about four feet long and two-and-one-quarter feet wide and high. It had been built of acacia wood overlaid with gold, so obviously it had some monetary value. Maybe that's what drew its last owners, the Philistines, to steal it after defeating the Israeli army at the battle of Aphek. The Philistines had kept it for seven months, passing it from town to town.
Why so much moving around? Because everywhere it went, this box was accompanied by plagues. And not just any plagues—bizarre plagues. Plagues of mice and hemorrhoids. That's right, hemorrhoids. In fact, it got so bad that no self-respecting Philistine who wished to sit in comfort would go anywhere near that box. The problem was how to get the Israelis to take it back.
The Philistines came up with an ingenious solution. They had their finest goldsmiths fashion little golden icons resembling mice and hemorrhoids and placed them in a golden box next to the box that had been causing all the problems. They then left both boxes on a cart at the foot of Kiriath Jearim, thinking, Ha! Now they'll be the ones who'll get hemorrhoids! But the joke was on the Philistines. The people of Kiriath Jearim didn't get hemorrhoids. As a matter of fact, for the next twenty years they were greatly blessed.
So what was this mysterious box? You've probably already guessed. It was the ark of the covenant. It stood for God's covenant between the Israelites and Himself. It was also called the ark of testimony, reflecting the "testimony" of God's faithfulness to His chosen people.
What made this box so unique was that God Himself dwelt between the two golden cherubim that graced the top. He designated it as the container for His presence among the Jewish people.
But there was also something else. Something inside. Something God greatly prized.
A letter—His first to mankind.
The Ten Commandments
That's right. When the Lord wanted to communicate to us how we could have a relationship with Him, He wrote us a letter. He even handwrote it. He wanted to make it personal. God may have had a sense of humor when it came to the plagues He sent upon the Philistines, but when it came to the Ten Commandments, He was deadly serious. Make no mistake about that. He wanted His people to be guided by every word contained in this letter. Ultimately, it was to be their instruction manual for life.
In fact, with the coming of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the Law, He wrote us once again. You've read those letters. They're called the New Testament.
A Forgotten Form
God doesn't take letter writing lightly. Unfortunately, the importance of this fundamental form of communication seems to have been lost on us today—unless you count e-mail, with its electronic shorthand and smiley faces. But snail mail? The old letter in an envelope, with a stamp on the front, entrusted to the United States government? Forget it. Most of us couldn't write a good letter if we were forced to. We promptly forgot what little we learned about good writing sixty seconds after our final English exam.
I know I did. But then again, I didn't have a lot to forget. When it came to writing, I had always aspired to mediocrity and had achieved it with distinction. Just ask any of the English teachers I had throughout my academic years.
"Greg Vaughn, a writer?!?" they'd chuckle. This would be followed by wild, spastic laughter accompanied by red faces and gasps for breath. Can't blame them. I was grammatically challenged. No, I take that back. I was capable of inspired eloquence when the occasion demanded. Unfortunately, the finest prose of my middle school and high school years was forever lost to posterity when some jealous janitor unceremoniously scrubbed it from the bathroom wall.
So you can imagine how shocked my teachers would be today if they knew that their "star" student was now traveling the country encouraging men to write. Heresy! And it gets worse. I'm actually teaching men how to write. Thank goodness my teachers don't know. It could single-handedly raise the heart attack rate across the country.
But I assure you, no one could be more shocked than I. What could possibly encourage such foolishness on my part? Three things: my kids, my dad, and a mystery box of a different kind.
Chapter TwoA Rusty Tackle Box
If you were to die today, what would be in the tackle box of your life?
Before I explain what compelled me to take up something I was notoriously bad at, let me tell you a little about myself. I was born in Lubbock, Texas, in the Texas panhandle. My parents both grew up on rural farms—good ol' West Texas farmland. My dad's father was a sharecropper with twelve children (including my dad) whom he used as slave labor for the farm. Grandfather was a harsh, tough-minded man, and my dad inherited many of those traits.
After my parents married, they moved from the farm to Lubbock to start a family. Not long after came four kids: my older brother, Larry, me, and my two younger brothers, Rick and Steven.
Steven got polio when he was eleven months old, and since this was before the Salk vaccine, he ended up severely affected. Dad didn't handle this well and began to drink heavily and throw himself into his work. Running a community grocery store, he would put in eighteen hours a day, six and sometimes seven days a week.
My mom, on the other hand, was as supportive as a parent could be. She was my hero. Still is. Throughout my childhood, she worked hard at taking care of her home and family, while also working long hours as an RN.
Because of Mom, I accepted Christ into my life when I was six years old. Unfortunately, I ran away from God during my high school and college years. The entire focus of my life had become playing football and chasing girls. But one day during college, my purpose significantly changed when a prominent local businessman came to my fraternity to share the gospel. My first thought was, This guy's a brave man to come give his testimony to 120 pagans! I admired him and decided I wanted to be just like him. So when he asked if anyone would like to stick around after the meeting and talk, I did exactly that. From that moment on, my life was turned upside-down again for Christ.
Tackling the Memories
Not long after my father's death I was digging through his things in the garage when I came across an old tackle box that belonged to him. My dad was a rabid fisherman. He loved fishing with a passion. But he rarely took me fishing and never really taught me how to fish.
The last years of my father's life had been difficult, and that tackle box had turned rusty with disuse. It took an oversized screwdriver, some scraped knuckles, and a lot of prying to get it open. Inside I found the usual refuse of a fisherman: worn out lures, dried salmon eggs, rubbery worms fused together, tangled line, and rusty hooks. None of it was of any use to anyone anymore. I carried the box to a nearby garbage can and was preparing to toss it in when suddenly it occurred to me—this was all I had left of my father.
I began to weep. For the life of me, I couldn't have told you why. It was just a rotting mess of useless worms and hooks, but somehow it represented my father—the same father who had never told me he loved me, never told me he was proud of me, never even hugged me. The only thing I had left from my dad was an old tackle box and silence.
The tears suddenly turned to anger. I was angry at my father, angry at myself, angry at God. And I remember crying out to God, "This is it? This is all I get? I don't even have my father's signature!"
Left with Nothing
It was a crazy thing to say at the moment. But for some silly reason that only God knew, I was suddenly desperate for something written from my dad. Something personal. Something to hold on to. And his signature is what came to mind.
Then God suddenly spoke to me. "Hey big shot, got a question for you," He said. "If you were to die today, what would be in the tackle box of your life? What would your children hold in their hands tomorrow that would let them know they were the treasures of your life?"
"Well, God," I admitted, "I guess nothing. Just like my father left me nothing."
I went to bed that night feeling sorry for myself. Didn't sleep much. I kept thinking about how my kids would remember me. I was sure they knew I loved them. Unlike my dad, I had told my children countless times that I loved them and was proud of them. But something within me said that wasn't enough. I needed to do more. I needed to give them something tangible that they could keep long after I was gone.
"I Need to Leave My Kids a Blessing!"
The thought just popped into my head. I didn't have a clue where it came from or what it meant, but it sounded good. A blessing? Yeah, all right, that sounded like something my kids might want. But what exactly was it, and how did you give it to others? Was it like giving them a cold? Did you just stand back and sneeze your blessings all over them? I didn't know.
I remembered a book I'd once read about the importance of giving and receiving a blessing. It was appropriately called The Blessing, and it was by two of my favorite authors, Gary Smalley and John Trent. Aha! Maybe that's where the idea had come from! Convinced that the secret to giving a blessing lay within that book's hallowed pages, I leaped from my bed and proceeded to tear the house apart looking for it everywhere—except the bookcase. (I mean, who keeps books in a bookcase, right?)
Two hours later, with the contents of nightstands, closets, and shelves cluttering every room in the house, I finally found it—in the bookcase. I stayed up all night rereading the entire book. It felt like manna from heaven. There in those pages was the secret of the blessing in all its glory. Simply put, to bestow a blessing upon your children meant you expressed to them your love and pride. But the book also offered a word of caution. Giving a blessing wasn't to be taken lightly. It was serious stuff. The authors plainly stated that it was the greatest gift a father could give his children, one that could profoundly affect the rest of their lives.
Of course, I still didn't have a clue how to offer this blessing. But I did know I wanted my kids to remember me for more than an old tackle box. So I swore right then and there that I would bless my children. Still, telling them verbally seemed redundant. I'd done that their whole lives. No, I wanted to leave something behind. Something permanent.
And that brought me to the idea of writing a letter. If one letter was good, then two had to be better. And then three and four and five. That's it! I'd write them letters for the rest of my life! So many letters it would take them the rest of their lives just to read them all! They would be poignant letters, filled with what was important to me and why I loved them, and about my hopes and dreams and wishes for them—tons and tons of letters.
But where to start?
Chapter ThreeMan on a Mission
We were just going to get together and do what men do best—eat—and then see if we couldn't figure this thing out.
If you're going to write a letter, you need stationery, right? And if you're talking about writing to your kids, it should be the finest stationery you can find! So the next morning, I went straight to the best stationery store I knew of and told the salesman I wanted the most expensive stationery he had, and I wanted the nicest, most expensive leather binder so I would have some place to keep those letters once I'd written them, and I wanted those binders embossed and engraved with the names of my kids ... and ... and ... puff! puff! gasp! gasp! ... I was so excited I was hyperventilating.
I bent over to put my head between my knees while asking, "How much?"
"Hundred dollars each," smiled the salesman, sensing a big sale.
"Great," I gasped. "I'll take seven."
"Seven?!?" The salesman's jaw hit the floor. This wasn't a sale. This was the beginning of a college education for his kids. "What in the world are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm going on an adventure," I smiled proudly, straightening up, "to bless my children."
He was so amazed he brought out the other employees and asked me to tell them what I was doing. I'll never forget the response of two young men who came out from working in the back. When they heard what I was doing, they looked at each other with amazement. "My dad would never do that!" one of them said.
Yep. That's me. Super Dad.
Excerpted from Letters From Dad by Greg Vaughn Fred Holmes Copyright © 2005 by Greg Vaughn. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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