Friday, March 31, 2017

A Tribute to Grandpa: Building a Legacy of Dignity & Honor

Last week there was a mass shooting in Wausau, Wisconsin that claimed the lives of four people one of them being a police officer.  A man distraught by a pending divorce came into Marathon bank and shot two people, one of whom was a close friend of my grandpa Bernie.  The man shot a lawyer involved in the divorce case, and a police officer in a stand off.  He was later arrested.

The situation upset my grandpa a great deal.  The woman he knew was just about to retire, and had told grandpa how excited she was about finally retiring.  Grandpa was very upset, and all that morning he was sorrowful.  He had a heart attack later that day, and he passed away.

I'd like to tell you about my grandpa and what he meant to me.  Many of us have a story that involves ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, and often that story reaches a turning point.  The turning points tend to be at a moment when we learn about who Jesus Christ is and what His place in history is.  

At the age of 17 my parents divorced, and I was expelled from high school a few months later after using drugs in frustration over my issues in the world.  From there my life spiraled, and soon I was accumulating charges, jail time, and probation as one accumulates groceries in a shopping cart. 

Little did I know that as I passed into my twenties, binging further and further into outer darkness there was a quiet revolution taking place in my family.  It started when my grandpa Bernie began attending a biblical Christian church called Good News church of Mosinee.  Grandpa found a vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ at this church and was baptized into the living body of Christ.  And a few years later my mother, inspired by this victory, began attending this church as well, and was baptized into the body of Christ soon after.  As I meandered into addiction and darkness, embracing self destruction and petty pleasures, a band of renegade Christ-followers, real radicals, began praying for me.  This bible study prayed for me for many years, unbeknownst to me. 

I think I was about twenty-six when Grandpa asked through my mom if I would meet with him to talk about things.  I don't know why I agreed to this.  Normally I would refuse completely to be scolded and slapped for being a bad boy.  But for some reason I accepted this offer.  

Grandpa sat down with me one and one, and had the courage and boldness to hand me my first Bible.  It was a gift, and I accepted it.  He then talked to me about Jesus.  And I raised my various complaints and objections to the faith.  What about the gnostic gospels?  What about people who never heard about Jesus?  Who made God?  Why does God allow evil in the world?  Why is Jesus the only way?  And Grandpa answered me the best he could.  But I never forgot the way in which he presented Jesus to me.  He presented a loving Christ, and Christ that had given him joy and transformed his life.  I never forgot the joy on his face when he told me about Jesus.

I thought he was a fool.  I thought it was a nice thing that he did.  But I fundamentally thought it was stupid.  But I had done my part.  I had humored him and his nonsense.  So I went on my way.  And continued with the drugs, the drink, and the pariah lifestyle.  But for some odd reason, as I trucked around town walking from here to there, carrying my laptop computer in a bag, going from coffee shop to basement couch and on and on, I carried that Bible with me too.  And I started to read from it. It was after all a fascinating part of our culture and society.  I read a lot from the book of Genesis.  I enjoyed the stories.  I read from it and wrote about it.  

For a solid year I did this.  And again I received a gift that Christmas.  For some reason I asked for Christian stuff.  I think I wanted to learn more.  In a stroke of genius my cousin purchased for me a movie called "The Gospel of John."  The movie being word for word, the actual book of John from the Bible in narrative visual format.  Being obsessive, I watched this movie probably over 200 times.  For some reason I kept watching it over and over.  There was something special coming through from the words and the dialogue.  

Soon as I reached rock bottom, after overdosing in the emergency room twice and almost dying in ICU intensive care I finally had had enough.  I knew I needed something different in my life.  I knew I needed help.  So one night, wretched to the core, I fell down on my knees by the old fire place and something came to my mind that I ought to cry out to Jesus for help.  So I did.  I cried out to Jesus begging him to help me in total despair and abandon.  

Today I'm a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.  I've been clean from drugs for 4 years and 5 months.  I'm a graduate magna cum laude from Liberty University with two degrees.  I'm an accepted candidate for officership in the Salvation Army Central Territory (USA).  And it all began when my Grandpa Bernie handed me my first Bible and told me about Jesus.

Ever since then Grandpa has meant a lot to me.  He was the one man in my family I could look up to as a man of honor and dignity.  Grandpa was part of a rare breed, a generation of men who had dignity and honor.  He was part of a generation who fought in Korea, who stood for justice in the world.  

There's one story I always recall from Grandpa's war time service in Korea.  He was an MP.  All of the MPs would head into the towns nearby to go after the women, and drink and carouse and all that.  He told me how he had gotten married right before going to Korea.  And only him and one other guy would sit on the sandbags as the rest of the guys went and did that.  And the guy sitting next to him would say,"Everybody else is going out to have a good time.  And I'm stuck here with this dumb pollock."  

But what Grandpa did then, had eternal consequences.  What he did then was he began establishing a legacy.  95% of the guys went into town to throw decency, honor, and dignity to the wind.  Grandpa stayed behind.  

Later, Grandpa served as the chief of police of Rothschild, Wisconsin.  He kept scales on his desk, a reference to the scales that lady liberty holds in which she is weighing things rightly, to uphold justice and truth.  And on one side of the scales he kept a picture of his daughter Kelly as a child.  And in the other, his work duty.  I imagine whenever he was tempted to bend the truth, or bend the law to suit his own desires or to protect someone or to help a wealthy individual, he looked at that scale.

In fact the story was told of how a member of the community, well, his wife had been caught shoplifting.  The man walked into Grandpa's office with a case of expensive alcohol, and suggested that they might come to some sort of arrangement.  And Grandpa took a deep breath, and told him to get out. He did the right thing.  Another time he was offered a bribe, again, he refused it.  He was establishing an eternal legacy.

We don't seem to realize how much it matters, when we think no one is watching, when we think "who would know?"  or "why would it matter anyway?"  It turns out it really does matter.  Those hard decisions we make, when we think no one is watching, well, the truth is those decisions reverberate off the walls of eternity and affect everything about us, and our lives.  Those decisions don't end when they happen, and either those tough stands or those compromises and capitulations come to define us, and come to shape our stories in expansive over-arching ways.  

Grandpa established a legacy of standing firm, to do the right thing.  He was very simply, a good man.  We toss that phrase around today like it's nothing.  The people that get called good men are often not good men.  My generation in fact, is chock full of some of the most despicable, womanizing, drug infested, pornography addicted, self-serving cowards, the most pathetic ridiculous excuses for men ever seen on this Earth are part of my generation, I know, I was one of the worst!  

It's a tragedy when the world loses someone like Bernie Check, because good men are so rare today.  They are such an endangered species today.  Party boys and bros?  Well, we've got tons of them.  Good men, honorable, decent, dignified men are an endangered species today.  But today, I'm trying to be one of the few.  And I hope you are too.  

Don't get me wrong, Grandpa Bernie wasn't perfect.  Though some of us maybe viewed him that way, it just isn't so. Grandpa would've been the first to say that he was a sinner in need of the grace found in Jesus Christ.  That is just the truth.  He needed Jesus just as much as I do. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  

Grandpa's war stories inspired me.  Grandpa's service to the Wausau police department and the Rothschild police department awed me, even if he loathed the memory of his mistreatment by them.  Grandpa's joy and comfort as he spoke about Christ deeply impacted me.  Grandpa's example of love and service to his country, his family, his wife, and his God set the bar for me in my life.  He wasn't perfect.  But he was a godly man.  He knew Jesus.  So I know I'll see him again, if I succeed in following Jesus day and night until the last day of my life.

Grandpa was deeply concerned with the state of our country, the moral decay, the secularism, and the young turning away from Christ.  He saw hope, but he also saw great strife.  Ultimately he focused on Jesus Christ and carrying the gospel.  Grandpa was a man of dignity and honor.  He was a Christian.  And I hope that through me his legacy of faith and dignity can continue.  I hope that in the future, when I'm faced with difficult decisions, and when I'm faced with opportunities to compromise my ethics and compromise my values that I'll remember Grandpa Bernie, and stand firm and do what is right, instead of what is convenient.  That is a rare thing in our society.  But if enough good men decide to live that way, to do what is right instead of what is easy, then our country and our world still has a chance to carry on.  Ultimately though, the ability to do that is found only in Jesus Christ the savior of the world.  He provides the new desires, he provides the firm foundations, he provides the hungers for justice, for righteousness, for honor, and for truth.  Grandpa Bernie was a Christian who lived it and he will be missed.  But he would tell us to be joyful, because if we have that vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ then we will see him again in the kingdom eternal. 

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