The Tale of Two Stephen’s: A Matter of the Heart

So, I got a call from my sister last week. She wanted to talk to me about a nephew. He had hit some hard times and was struggling with various issues. My sister was trying to help him and called to ask if I could provide him with some assistance. We conversed a bit and I told her I would get back with her. Well, afterwards, for some reason, I remembered another young man with the same name. I knew that both men had faced difficult times in their adult lives. I couldn’t help but compare the two.

These two men were both born in seventies, both raised in two-parent homes, but the one was raised in a blended family. One grew up in a military family environment and brought up in the Catholic Church and the other in a middle class, nondenominational Christian home. I was intrigued by their life trajectories, so I took a brief look at their fathers and grandfathers. I wanted to see if there was anything in their family ancestry that would provide some insight for their destructive tendencies in their adult life. I guess I wanted to dispel the notion that children raised in two parent homes fare better than those raised in single parent homes. Even though we tend to believe this is mostly true, it is not always true and with varying factors. Then the Lord showed me something a little deeper.

Generations of fathers

So, these two young men grew up with successful fathers.

Stephen One’s grandfather, lost both parents at a young age. At best, we know that he was left in the hands of extended family, but bounced around a bit. His grandfather was a laborer, and according to his grandmother, he was a heavy drinker, known for some abusive behaviors and a carouser. His was a strict disciplinarian. He fathered fourteen children. He was drafted during WWII and spent most of his service time in a German POW camp. Readjusting to civilian life was not easy. After his separation from the military and his POW experience, unable to return to some kind of normal, he abandoned his wife of thirty years.

Stephen One’s father, retired from the military. He was raised Catholic. His father was a strict disciplinarian that never spared the rod. His father abandoned the family when he was about seventeen years old. Stephen’s father was a Vietnam veteran. His first marriage produced three boys, albeit the marriage did not survive. He married two more times and produced a fourth son with his second wife. As a military member the family moved around a bit. He passed at the young age of fifty-five.

Stephen One, is older by a few years than the other Stephen. During his father’s memorial he confessed that his father was very abusive to him and his brothers. As the oldest he took the most abuse. His parents divorced when he was still very young. The situation was not pretty and the three boys were removed by CPS and sent into foster car where he encountered more abuse. After a while, his father was able to regain possession of him and his brothers, but that did not improve his lot.

This kid had a rough childhood. He was raised by two step moms, neither of which could understand, much less handle his behavior. Nevertheless, Stephen grew up and followed a typical trajectory. He had his various issues and grew up to be an angry man. He was angry at his father, his mother, and a system that failed him over and over again. His marriage failed and the relationship with his children suffered. Where ever he went, whatever he did, he had to face his demons. These days he still tries to stabilize his life, but that’s the problem with demons, they are constantly in your face ready to discourage, ready to reek havoc. No matter how much pain and hurt he had endured he never wanted to inflict harm on anyone. He recognizes the need for healing, but finding a starting point has not been easy.

Stephen’s Two’s grandfather, was raised in a blended family. He was an abusive alcoholic. His parents had divorced when he was young and was estranged from his father. His father passed away when he was fifteen years old. He enlisted in the military at a young age. As a result of his parent’s divorce he spent some time in an orphanage where he experienced further abuse. He retired from the military.

Stephen Two’s father was raised in a two parent home, a military family. His mother was a stay at home mom. He was raised Catholic. As a military family they too moved around a bit. The family established their final residence at their last duty station. Like his father, Stephen’s Two’s father was an abusive alcoholic. After school, Stephan’s father went to work for a living. He married and had three boys. Stephen’s grandparents divorced after decades of marriage.

Stephen Two grew up in a loving, Christian, intact family. Mom stayed home to care for the children and even homeschooled the three boys. The family was in church every time the doors were open. He had a loving, but strict father. He had a passion for missionary trips. This fella had it all. He was the definition of privilege. He graduated from high school and went straight to college. His first year, he did everything but what the college required, so he failed. He came home and went to work. Somewhere along the path something went eerily awry.

When everything should have been going great for this young man, it had to be everything but great as he plotted to commit armed robbery. There were no accomplices. I have always heard that “You should never point a gun at anyone, unless you aim to shoot them.” Well, this Christian man was apparently prepared to shoot another human being for money. We will never know, because fortunately, the victims were not prepared to die for money. He got away with the robbery. He went on the run. He fled the country with the US Marshalls on his trail. He was eventually arrested, brought to trial, and sentenced to prison for a few years.

Two Stephens, one was dealt a hard hand, the other dealt a winning hand.

Stephen One, was dealt the hard hand. The abuse at his father’s hands left him with an emotional handicap. He found it difficult to maintain healthy relationships. He reaches out to his brothers for help, but he gets rejected, nevertheless, he presses on. He spent time in jail for a traffic incident that wasn’t reported by the injured party until eighteen months after the fact, that turned out to be a felony. Even though no charges have been filed, the experience has made him determine to make a better life for himself.

His father passed away almost twenty years ago. Stephen was married at the time. His father’s death brought back too many upsetting memories, memories that continue to haunt him. Not to long ago, his mother who abandoned him, attempted to reenter his life. That didn’t go to well. He sees one of his children, the others want nothing to do with him. He reaches out to extended family for help. His extended family have a deep faith and if they are able, willingly provide him with assistance. In this situation, the children of God are showing the love and compassion of Jesus Christ,

Stephen Two, unlike the other guy, had every good thing. What made the guy that was handed every good thing, go south? Why was he prepared to kill for money? His family supported him throughout his ordeal, and to date continue to provide support. He also garnered pastoral support. He now tries to share his experiences with the Texas Prison System. Was that what God called him too? What happened along his path that drove him to armed robbery? Was this a test for the entire family?

There are many 40 Facts About Two Parent Families

A supportive environment in an intact home is a key factor in raising children to be happy, healthy, productive adults, and patriotic Americans, but it is not a guarantee, no more than raising children in a Christian home environment guarantee a child will embrace biblical values, or always take the moral road. Scripture tells us Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Ephesians 6:4, says, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Well, sometimes parents get it right and children still disappoint, and sometimes parents mess up, royally, but rarely admit it.

Parents tend to rationalize their parenting methods? Some parents still hold to the parenting method “Do as I say, not as I do.” The phrase is actually used in the Bible when referring to the Pharisees that always fail to walk the talk. Well, we know that using this parenting method was not very successful. Nevertheless, we all feel good about our parenting skills. Regardless, can we truly get an accurate picture of Jesus with just talk? Are all Christians walking about as true representations of Jesus Christ? How many pastors will fall from grace before the year is out?

God promises so much, but He will ask things of us that will not fit our narrative of Him. God has a plan for those He calls and He will train us for that plan. We need fellowship with one another, because believers are the church, not that brick and mortar monstrosity that drains the pockets of its members to pay outrageous salaries to a man who preaches to itching ears. And still the world grows ever so dark, so evil, so cold. Well, the Holy Spirit will reveal the things of God to those that seek God. Does anyone hear from God? No pastor has too. They can just go to sermon central and order up a ready made message for Sunday.

I do not know the heart of any Christian leader, but when the celebrity pastor falls from grace it makes national news. These leaders are not immune from sin. They are not immune from gluttony, or greed. They speak evil of our leaders. If Christian leadership should be anything, it should be an example of the love of God. Jesus warned us of wolves in sheep’s clothing. I am compelled to warn Christians that failing to test the messengers, and the message is dangerous. It is seduction at its finest. And just like COVID caught us unaware, so do false teachers and false teachings.

Test the Spirits

We consume worldly goods, attitudes, and behaviors to excess, but not without first checking reviews, or getting feedback and such. But where it should matter, where we have been warned, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1John 4:1).”, we simply go along to avoid not fitting in. Because it is all about status. We accept everything we are taught by the prevailing Christian thought. If you recall, the Pharisees were the prevailing thought and they were wrong about Jesus. Jesus knew their hearts. We cannot know what is in the heart of any man, so we should be testing the spirits.

Oh that wicked heart

Christianity is criticized and God is rejected, because of the individual that fails to represent the true image of Jesus Christ. I do not believe that today’s celebrity evangelical leaders even recognize the true image of God. The Scriptures do say that God will hold those that call themselves leaders to a higher standard with a greater condemnation. They have been duly warned in Scripture. But we too will be held accountable for every deed. Every generation leaves it mark on this world and in our heart, for the good and the bad.

Look at our main streets, side streets, dusty roads, major interstates, the roads are lined with churches of every size and flavor and yet the love of many has grown cold. No one should be shocked. Evangelicals blame the liberal agenda, the progressives, but even with all His commandments, God is love and He wishes that no one perish. He extends grace and mercy where none is merited. He curses and He blesses. He gives and He takes away.

Spiritually, when it comes to the things of God it is not the culture, the social environment, or the political landscape of any era that has created the world in which we live. Those are outcomes. If we say, we believe in God, if we say we believe the Scriptures as written, then the problem is and always has been the heart of man. That is why God sent His only Son to do the one thing that we could not do for ourselves.

The Bible tells it like it is

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it? 1 Samuel 16: 7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Luke 6:45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10-17 “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.”

This is the good news. Mine is to trust in the God that has all this chaos under His control, under His command. In this world if we want to live for Jesus Christ we will have persecution. We should not expect revival. If we want to live for Christ we should expect things to get worse. But we can trust and rest in the promises of God. The environment that I need to check is this flesh of mine. I will ask God to search my heart. Psalm 139

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