What is a "tiehacker"?

"Tiehacker" is a term originating in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri. It referred to a class of people from WAY back in the hills that made a living cutting trees into ties for the railroad. I first heard the term from my wife shortly after we married. I had been working outside all day and was dirty and stinky. She had learned it from her father, and thought it just meant "a bum". Never having heard it before, I looked it up. Although I am not really a bum, I thought it was interesting, and I do have a life-long love affair going with the Ozark hills, so ... there you have it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Totally depraved, and mighty glad of it!

I am totally depraved, and that is a good thing! Perhaps I should explain what I mean, though.

This is gonna start off sounding bad, but here goes:
I am not a sinner because I do bad things; on the contrary, the bad things are a RESULT, not a CAUSE, of my sinful nature. I inherited that nature from my father, and his father before him, all the way back to Adam. I have no more control over that than I do over the color of my eyes or length of my toes.

I was born in sin. Every cell of my body is inclined towards sin, enjoys sin, revels in sin. If my human nature were to have full, unchecked sway, I could be capable of just about any heinous thing imaginable. And this includes being an enemy of God. In fact, that is the primary, central, foundational basis of my depravity. On my way to hell, riding on greased skids. 

So, why is that a good thing? If that was all there was to the story, it wouldn't be, of course. But there is more to the story. Much more, in fact.

My sinful nature prevented me from drawing close to God. To use a rather disgusting analogy, it's kind of like a cockroach that instinctively runs and hides when the lights are turned on. The more the light of God shines, the more my sin nature runs away.

So, how does this get fixed? How can I ever hope to avoid ending up in hell? How can that sin nature be overcome so that I can run TOWARDS God, not away from Him?

Simply put, if left up to me, it could never happen.

But it was not left up to me, and that is what makes this a good thing. If there did happen to be any good thing in me, then I would be responsible for exercising it and taking care of myself. But thank God, that burden has been taken away from me.

God, in His infinite mercy and love and goodness, saw fit to have His very own Son take the punishment that was due to me, and to provide to me, all on His own, the righteousness that is required to enter into His presence.

If I wasn't totally depraved, then I would be at least partially responsible for my own salvation, and my own security. That is truly a frightening thought! How could I ever be sure? I couldn't. I would always be worried whether I was doing good enough. 

But, since He has done it all, every last bit of it, I don't have to worry. It is all HIS responsibility. He alone can save me, and He alone can keep me saved. My only responsibility is to take the love that He gives to me and to return it to Him, giving Him the glory and honor and praise that is due. And He even gives THAT to me, as part of the free gift of salvation by faith! Isn't that awesome?

So that, in a nutshell, is why I am happy to admit that I am totally depraved. It frees me from worrying about my eternal destiny, and frees me to be able to worship Him who gave me the gift of salvation and security through Jesus Christ. I don't have to count on me! Jesus lived for me, He died for me, and He rose for me. I couldn't do it for myself, and I don't have to. In fact, to even try would be to insult Jesus.

And that, my friends, is why I can say that being totally depraved is a GOOD thing! The question is, can YOU? Because you have the same problem. Quit trying to be good enough. It ain't gonna happen, period, end of discussion. You are just as depraved as I. Throw yourself on His mercy, accept the free gift that He offers, and spend the rest of your life enjoying His presence rather than running from it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

From Atheist to Born-Again Christian: My own story

I sat down planning to write an article about genealogy methods, but I feel compelled to go an altogether different direction instead.

I want to share a short version of the story of my journey from being a practical atheist to being a true Christian.

I was raised in a sort-of Christian home. My dad had been raised Evangelical Lutheran, and my mom as a Pentacostal. But neither of them were practicing, and seldom attended church of any kind.

I was sent to parochial grade and high schools in the Missouri Synod system. Not, however, because of the religious teaching, but because the public school district where we lived had a reputation at the time of being a baby-sitting service for juvenile delinquents, and the local Catholic school tuition was way more than they could afford. So Mom and Dad joined the Lutheran Church, and with the tuition discount for church members, could just barely afford the tuition at the Lutheran schools.

In grade school, we had a daily morning devotional in the class room, and Wednesday morning children's church at the church next door. Every Monday, we had to tell whether we had attended church and/or Sunday School the day before. And in 7th and 8th grade we had a daily class preparing for our Confirmation. That entailed a lot of Bible reading and memorization, catechism studies, and so forth. At the end, we had to write an essay about what our faith meant to us, and especially our up-coming Confirmation. Mine was chosen as the best, and I had to read it to the church as part of the Confirmation service. My folks attended that service, of course, just as they did whenever any of us kids were involved in some way. My dad was so proud of me being the valedictorian that I thought his shirt would bust open right there in the pew. (Or, maybe, it was suppressed laughter caused by the rather embarrassing fact that my voice was in the middle of changing from boy-squeak to man-baritone during the speech.)

In high school, we had morning chapel in the gym. Religion classes were required every semester all four years. Old- and New-Testament history, theology, comparative religion, all kinds of stuff. I always did well in those classes, like I did in most other classes.

But, and this is a big "but", just because I learned the material does not mean that I believed it. Far from it. By the time I got out of high school, I was fed up with religion and the hypocrisy that was rampant in the school and in the church. So as soon as I could, I sent a letter of resignation to the church and went on my merry, pagan way.

I spent the next couple of decades indulging whenever I could in all the sins of the flesh that I could, and also read a lot of pagan philosophy. I studied Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Teutonic mythology. I dabbled just a little with the occult. I tried to read some of the "New Age" mystical stuff, but just couldn't stop laughing long enough to take any of it seriously.

A favorite activity was to engage in debate with any Christians that were willing. It is a sad thing to say, but the vast majority of church-goers haven't a clue what they believe or why. They can parrot a few points of dogma picked up here and there, and maybe have memorized a 4-point "plan of salvation" from a tract, but that is quite often the extent of it. I had all of that knowledge accumulated from twelve years of study at school, and so could almost always twist them into knots in short order.

At one point in my mid-twenties, I met one of my first "true" Christians. Daryl was my boss at work, and my friend away from work. A couple years older than I, he was a teaching elder at his church. He was one of the very few people I had met that actually walked the walk as well as talk the talk. He actually believed this stuff, and lived his life by it. Also, almost as impressive, to me at least, was the fact that I couldn't get the best of him in a discussion or debate. He tied me up in knots, rather than the other way around. I visited his church a few times, and was impressed with what I saw and heard. But, it wasn't long before I was back to my old happily sinful self. I eventually changed jobs and lost touch with Daryl.

I rolled along until the summer of 1996. I was 36 years old, a couple months shy of my 37th birthday. And the most horrible thing happened to me. I developed, for the first time in my life, a real, honest-to-goodness, conscience. Horrors! I started being plagued with guilt for the stuff I was doing. The women, the alcohol, all of it. I started losing sleep over it. My health was going downhill. And, I knew enough to recognize it for what it was: conviction. The Holy Spirit was working on me, convicting me of my sin. Eventually, in July, I tracked down my old friend Daryl, who fortunately, or perhaps providentially is a more appropriate word, was still working at the same place and thus was easy to find. We agreed to meet for a Sunday afternoon of fishing, the last Sunday in July of 1996. We talked a lot, and I went back to his house for supper with him and his family. (Boy, the kids had sure grown a lot in ten years, and he had added a couple more as well!) But nothing was settled that day. We agreed to stay in touch.

All the following week was spent in contemplation and arguing with myself. Finally, Sunday morning, August 4, 1996 I went to a local park and sat under a tree with my Bible open and began to read. I got as far as the story of Noah and the Ark. I realized that although God is long-suffering, He will only put up with so much before intervening. That point had been reached in my life. Fortunately for me, He had opted not to condemn me permanently, but rather to save me. So, propelled by the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. 

My life has never been the same since that day. Most of my old friends drifted away, perplexed by the "Bible-thumper" that I had become. But I quickly made new and better ones, fellow believers all. I have been involved in several ministry ventures, and hope to have more. 

So. That's who I am, and how I got here. 

In His name
Ron