FROM A FATHER’S HEART
On November 1, 2014, my wife and I gave our daughter away in marriage. It was and continues to be a momentous and blessed occasion for us. What follows are the words I spoke just prior to the pastor’s introduction of Jennifer and Paul as husband and wife, and I believe, explain in part why we are so blessed.
This has been an amazing year for us. For the better part of the last 46 years, it’s been, “If my papa can’t do it, no one can.” This year we’ve progressed to, “If my papa can’t do it, my man can.”
In fact it’s better than that: what Jennifer’s papa can do her man can do better. In the last few months, Paul has done more things around our house than I have in the last decade. But I’ve discovered his secret: it’s silicone. Silicone when properly applied is like love, it covers a multitude of sins and defects. And there’s no one better at finding applications for silicone and applying it than Paul, Jennifer’s handyman, her silicone-man.
The Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
It was no secret that Jennifer liked boys and, as she matured into adulthood, that she wanted to be married and have a family. But not just anyone would do. She wanted a man of God as her husband. And this is what she prayed for. And as the months turned into years and the years to decades, she perfected the image of her man of God. By the time that a quarter of a century had expired and her papa had gone from dapper to doddering, the list of features that her man of God would have and those that he would not have had grown considerably.
Judy and I have marveled that when Jennifer’s dear friends, Melissa, Rachel, Melody, Shannon, Jammie and Michelle and her very dear cousin, Jill, were getting married and forming families, Jennifer always rejoiced in their blessings and never complained that this particular blessing had not been granted to her. And when her two brothers, one older and one younger than her, were married she wholeheartedly rejoiced in their good fortune and delighted herself in their children.
Folks we’re talking about 25 years, a quarter of a century! That’s a lot of water under the bridge. What was happening all of that time? Obviously we don’t know the whole story, but we may have an insight into just one small aspect of it: Jennifer’s long list of man of God attributes. You may have noticed as I have that God talks to himself, especially when he has to deal with strong-willed people. Now it probably didn’t happen this way, but I can imagine God saying to himself, “what are we going to do with this chick and this perfectly good man of God we are preparing for her, but who doesn’t conform to her specifications?”
Fortunately, we know that as a believer lives out his or her relationship with Jesus Christ, that God is continually at work in him or her to will and do His good pleasure. And so it was and is with Jennifer. A number of months ago, Jennifer called Judy to say that she was impressed that God wanted her to prune her list of man of God attributes. Before her change of heart, facial hair and tattoos were not acceptable, but now they were. Shortly after that Jennifer called Judy and excitedly exclaimed that a man had walked up her sidewalk, armed with a bouquet of flowers. Folks, I am happy to announce that this is the man who stands before us today, approved of by both God and Jennifer, complete with a beard on his face and a tattoo of a cross on each arm.
Forty days after his birth, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to participate in a redemption rite according to the law of Moses. There they were greeted by Simeon, who Luke describes as a just and devout man. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit had assured Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Upon seeing the infant Jesus, he took him in his arms and said:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Jennifer has always treasured her family. And she has been especially close and caring for Judy and me, her mom and dad. In that Jennifer was not yet married, we were increasingly troubled to think that someday when Judy and I would depart that we would be leaving Jennifer alone. Now friends and family, today our hearts are full and content. When the day of our home-going arrives we can, like Simeon, depart in peace, knowing that our precious Jennifer will not be alone: she will be comforted and cared for by a man who loves both Jesus and Jennifer, her new husband, and our beloved son-in-love, Paul Millan.
Please join your hearts with mine as I pray for Paul and Jennifer.
How can we say thanks, Lord, for the things you have done? Things so undeserved, yet you have given to show your great love for us. You have found Jennifer and Paul on the broken road and because they have each said yes to you there, they have been able to say yes to each other here, today. Paul and Jennifer have adopted as their own your desire to be seen in them. This is the cry of their hearts.
Lord, let their life as it unfolds together be an on-going series of before and after portraits, each succeeding portrait exhibiting a greater manifestation of your ineffable character. As this happens it will indeed be a glorious unfolding, for you will be seen in them. I praise and thank you Lord for all you have done and for all that Paul and Jennifer hope to be. Glorify yourself, Lord.
This I ask in the precious name of Jesus, amen.
I was gratified by how well my words were received, especially by Jennifer and Paul, although Jennifer did ask in jest (I hope!), “What kind of a father roasts his daughter at her wedding?”
MY HEART’S DESIRE
I’m just an empty vessel;
to be used for good or ill.
My Savior, He did wrestle
that I would do His will.
He gave another Comforter
so I might be ever filled
with living bread and water
that every fear be stilled.
Of the Holy Spirit filling
there is no surfeit.
God is ever willing —
through Him pow’r is replete.
He’s given me a reason
for the hope I surely have,
that I might in every season
share and render eternal salve.
Lord, grant that I may ever be
with You so filled up
that all may truly say,
with Jesus I do sup.
Jerry Harmon, February 15, 2009
JESUS CHRIST IS MY LORD
Somewhat startled, I suddenly sensed an unusual peace. As I pondered this new experience, I realized that my heart and mind were now united in the conviction that Jesus was Lord and that I had passed from “death to life” – I was “born again”! Just as suddenly this peace transformed itself into joy. I wanted to shout and jump around but was constrained by both my characteristic social inhibitions and by the setting itself, an evening church service. Nonetheless that joy and peace, first experienced that day in Montana 35 years ago, persisted and continues and grows, even to this day. I was then 29 years old and had been married to my high school sweetheart, the former Judy Welsh, for nearly nine years. Our son, Jeff, was 5 years old and our daughter, Jennifer, 3.
From the time we were 16 years old until April 14, 1966 when we were both 23, Judy and I were nearly inseparable. We always had great affection for one another and resented the hours that our work and schooling kept us apart. I considered myself one of the most fortunate guys in the world for having Judy as my wife and lover. I am sure that neither of us could imagine a life without each other. However, the turmoil of the 60’s was conspiring to upset the seven years of going steady and marital bless that Judy and I had enjoyed and test us in ways that would change our lives forever.
My family was not religious. We would occasionally go to church, but I ‘m not sure that any of us knew why. My parents, however, did subscribe to the publications of the Unity School of Christianity in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. During my teenage years I took a particular interest in the teachings of Unity, diligently incorporating the discipline of making “positive affirmations” in my life. This practice provided dividends as I excelled academically, athletically, politically and socially – Judy became my steady. After two or three years, however, my devotion to this discipline waned and eventually subsided altogether.
After our second year in college on June 16, 1963, Judy and I were married in a little Lutheran church in Whitefish, Montana. I continued going to school and earned my bachelor’s degree in 1965. Judy taught the third grade for those two years. Upon graduation, I was persuaded by the Selective Service Board to join the US Army and on April 14, 1966, I left my bride of three years in a lonely God-forsaken airport in Butte, Montana for an all-night flight to another God-forsaken place, Fort Jackson, South Carolina where I would go through basic training. A week later when I was able to call home for the first time, Judy informed me that she was pregnant with our first child. Four months later, Judy would fly to down to South Carolina to accompany me to Fort Benning, Georgia where I would attend infantry officer candidate school. During this six-month period, except for an occasional overnight pass, Judy and I could not live together. On March 7, 1967, I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army and was assigned to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Finally, after almost eleven months of living apart, we would again be able to live together as husband, wife and baby makes three. Although we knew our time at Fort Huachuca would be brief, we basked in our good fortune of my not immediately being assigned to Viet Nam. Just as we were getting comfortable at Fort Huachuca, I received overseas orders, not for Viet Nam as expected, but for the Republic of South Korea. This news came as some relief, except we would again face a period of separation, this time for 13 months with no overnight or weekend passes or any other such thing.
Judy handled our 13-month separation much better than I did. She wrote and sent me pictures daily. Her letters were cheery and filled with details of how our son, Jeff, was growing, developing, talking, etc. I left home when Jeff was just a year and didn’t return until Jeff was over 2 years old. Upon my return, Jeff knew me and greeted me with “Daddy!” All of that was because Judy was so faithful to me and to him and kept us both informed about the other. For my part, faithfulness was wanting. I rarely wrote home, drank excessively and eventually succumbed to the temptations of loneliness. My sense of guilt and failure became increasingly burdensome to me. It was not until a year after my return from Korea that I blurted out my transgressions to Judy. While our relationship was somewhat strained after my return home, with this confession, it became fractured. Understandably, Judy wanted nothing to do with me and upon this we were both agreed: I didn’t want anything to do with me either.
Fortunately, the very next day our friend from OCS made arrangements for Judy and me to meet with his pastor from his high school days for “marriage counseling”. To my surprise, Judy agreed. I was amazed. It would have made more sense to me had Judy left me, even though I did not know how I could bear up living without her and little Jeff. After greeting us warmly, Pastor Parks announced that he was not a marriage counselor. “Not a marriage counselor! Then why are we here?” I thought. He went on to explain that he was a pastor and that his role was to present Jesus Christ to people. He then asked me whether I believed in Jesus Christ. I answered that I wasn’t sure what it meant to believe in Jesus Christ, but (for some reason) I was quite certain that Jesus Christ was not God. He then turned to Judy with the same inquiry. To my astonishment, she quite simply answered, “Yes, I do”. Intuitively I understood that she was not merely declaring here belief in a historical Jesus, but proclaiming her faith in Him. Although I knew Judy as a very moral and upright person – qualities I loved in her, that Jesus Christ was profoundly important to her was surprising. Somehow, her proclamation inspired in me a hope that she could and would forgive me. Pastor Parks went on to explain that our marriage was like a circle. If Jesus Christ is the center of that circle, then the closer each of us draws to Jesus, then inevitably the closer we become. I do not remember whether Pastor Parks explained the gospel to me or not, but I do remember his assurance that God had forgiven me and that somehow that forgiveness was related to a relationship with Jesus Christ. What I was most certain of, however, was that my beloved Judy was at least in the process of forgiving me. We had driven over to Covina from Anaheim in chilly silence. Our trip back was filled with warm conversation. What an amazing turn of events!
We immediately began attending a Lutheran church and as soon as I completed it’s “confirmation” process we became members. The Bible had always been a mysterious and difficult book for me to understand. But now I was reading it regularly and it was beginning to make sense to me. Although I was assured by everyone that I was forgiven and as I result would qualify for heaven, I was troubled by passages such as 1Corinthians 6:9-10:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
If this was true, then how could I expect to be accepted by God? Then I would read the very next verse:
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Although I understood that if some kind of transformation took place, a sinner could become a saint. What I did not understand was how that transformation occurred and how one could be assured that it had.
From John 3:16 I understood that if one believed in Jesus Christ, he would be saved. Still, what did “believing in Jesus Christ” entail?
Over the next several months and with the special help of an older Christian couple who had befriended Judy and me, I began to understand that believing in Jesus Christ meant believing in who Jesus Christ is (true God and true man) and what Jesus Christ did (paid the penalty for my sins). This was God’s plan for man’s redemption, and if I would honor and respect Him by wholeheartedly accepting and embracing it, God would make me righteous (perfectly fit for heaven) (Romans 1:16-17).
That evening in Montana 35 years ago, I first realized that beyond all doubt I did in fact believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus was not only Lord, He was my Lord and Savior and remains so even to this day.
Jerry Harmon, 2006