Ex-Pastor Ham

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Thankfulness Series: Joshua Larsen

This post is part of a series on thankfulness. The first post explained the series purpose.

When I started this website nearly three years ago, one of my stated purposes was to write an ongoing series expressing gratitude to many of the folks who have impacted my life spiritually in some way. Not in order of importance. Not in order of height or weight. Not even alphabetical. And certainly not exhaustive (which I could never do). After I wrote that introductory post linked above, the first person I wrote about was my Uncle Ron.

Unfortunately after those first couple of posts I let the series drop off. Until now.

If you read that post on Uncle Ron (which I hope you did), you remember the study Bible my parents bought me in March of 2008, and how several personal notes written within have served as a repeated source of encouragement over the years. One of those notes was from my cousin-in-law, Josh Larsen.

What is a cousin-in-law, you ask? It’s someone who marries your cousin, and in this case, cousin Katie. Since Katie was much like a sister to me growing up next door, Josh is kind of like a brother-in-law. An older, cooler, more athletic brother-in-law (thankfully, for a while longer I still have him bested when it comes to smoking brisket).

Now, I didn’t grow up with Josh because he came along once I was already in my later teen years. Even so, I’ve still known him for almost 20 years. And though we haven’t lived near each other for the last 15 years or so, I still occasionally see or hear from him. Which brings me back to the note.

Here’s what Josh had to say:

“‘God . . . in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory, and the exact representation of His nature . . . ‘ Hebrews 1:1-3

Jonathan, I pray you will see the risen Christ as He walks through these pages. I know you already know Him, but continually seeing His beauty and glory is our only hope of walking in the freedom He purchased. So as you read may you be changed (2 Cor. 3:18), and as you are changed may you want Him even more. I join Paul in praying that ‘you may know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19).’ I’m glad to know you and to be a part of your family. Katie and I will continue praying for you and Steph, and we look forward to seeing you sometime in the future. In Christ, Josh”

The thing that has stood out to me as I’ve mulled this note over the years is that it is saturated with Scripture. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it is only the Scripture that can accomplish the things that Josh desired for Christ to accomplish in my life. Banal cliches or shallow aphorisms may have sounded neat, but they simply wouldn’t get the job done. So Josh eschewed them for the meat of the Word. He gave me substance. Which is my second observation: Josh set an example by knowing the Word well enough to be able to offer it to me. If I don’t have hard-earned familiarity with God’s Word, I won’t have treasure to offer to others as Josh was able to do for me.

Each time I read Josh’s words, I am thankful for them. They are a part of a special collection of notes that have been important sources of encouragement for nearly a decade. I pray that I will prove to be such an encouragement to many others over the years of life and ministry that God gives me.

Strengthened: Ron Sommerdorf

This post is part of the “You Strengthened My Hand In God” series. The first post explained the series purpose.

“Who is this guy,” you ask? Other than boasting an incredible last name, which you can see, and dashing good looks, which you dear reader cannot, here’s what you need to know:

Uncle Ron is, as I explained a mere ten words ago, my uncle. He’s not an uncle in the most traditional way. You see, he was quite late to the party. He swooped in and gently, patiently unpeeled my Aunt Bonnie’s fingers, one at a time, from the life of singleness to which she clung. He won the day by wooing the maiden. What a guy.

Uncle Ron had to overcome all the typical hurdles that were laid down before a mere mortal durst enter from outside the compound and approach a Hamilton lady: the occasional veiled threat not-so-neatly hidden behind a wide, coffee-scented smile; or the “accidental” flat tire in the church parking lot; or the hand grenade (OK, two or more of those never actually happened, but we weren’t very nice to outsiders wishing to date a lady Hamilton).

But all of that is beside the point. The real question is, why is he included in this series of those I’m thankful for?

Enter pliable little Jonathan Hamilton.

Now, I knew Uncle Ron long before he was my uncle. He must have come along at some point in my preteen years, and by the time I was in high school he was teaching the boys Sunday School class. Lucky him. He happened to have this most painful of responsibilities (painful due to what comes next, not due to the responsibility itself) at a time when me and my epically disruptive compadres were “running the show” in Sunday School. Poor, poor Uncle Ron. We were not kind to him. As a matter of fact, when I realized last year that I would now be teaching a teen Sunday School class, my mind remorsefully flickered back to memories of my misbehavior and thought of what must be the coming payback, “And so it begins.”

But even though Uncle Ron surely knew that every Sunday he was in for a battle royale, he never came to Sunday School pre-angried, so to speak. No armor. No weapons. Just carefully prepared lessons from Proverbs. And boy did we need them. We also needed a sharp kick in the teeth. Thankfully, he did not see fit to provide that. With his frame, he could have done some real damage to us twits.

I’m thankful for his patience.

But even all of that is not the ultimate reason I chose to write about Uncle Ron. The main reason is rooted in something that Uncle Ron wrote to me a few years ago. Steph and I had already been living in Michigan for about six months, and my mom and dad bought me a nice study Bible for my birthday. Before shipping it to me, they each wrote a meaningful note in it, and had several other family members do the same. Uncle Ron wrote the last note in the cover of that Bible.

A few months ago, right around my birthday, I re-read these precious notes from family. I do this periodically, probably once or twice a year, often when I’m feeling discouraged in life or just plain homesick for family. As a matter of fact, the cover to that Bible already wore out (no, I’m not super spiritual, it was bonded leather). I paid what probably amounted to about three times the cost of the Bible to have it rebound last year, and insisted that those note pages be kept. You will get a chance to read portions of them in future posts, but first up are words of spiritual strengthening from Uncle Ron (copied here without permission and with my own nuanced punctuation and such for clarity, hopefully he doesn’t mind):

Jonathan

I’ll be brief – only two verses:

Proverbs 4:23 “Keep thy heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”

Proverbs 23:26 “My son, give me thine heart and let thine eyes observe my ways.”

Give God your heart, and hide His Word in your heart, and serve Him with all your heart and you won’t be ashamed or disappointed.

I know you will remember all this from the Proverbs series in Sunday School.

In Christ, Ron

Put on the spot at a family gathering, Uncle Ron was ready to strengthen my hand in God from the only Source that can actually accomplish that task – God Himself, revealed in His Word. That is an example and a testimony worth striving for.

I’m thankful for the rich heritage God has blessed me with. I’m thankful for many family members who love Him. I am so glad that His Word is central in the lives of most of those I’ve been surrounded with my entire life. I am truly blessed, and I thank God for Uncle Ron’s part in that fabric of family blessing.

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