(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
Exodus 20:3 through 6 is our featured Scripture (from God’s Word to the nations version):
“Never have any other god. Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. Never worship them or serve them, because I, the LORD your God, am a God who does not toler- ate rivals. I punish children for their parents' sins to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me. But I show mercy to thousands of generations of those who love Me and obey My commandments.”
But what does this Old Testament Scripture have to do with our legacy? Quite a lot! Because a legacy (an inheritance) is not only what we acquire from those who have gone before us, it is also what we leave for those who come after us! And according to Exodus 20:3 through 6, our legacy we receive or pass on to others can be either good or bad!
Let me give you a personal illustration: My father left a legacy that has affected his three sons and generations beyond! Although he was married to my mother for 29 years, he was not faithful! He had numerous girl friends over the years, and he abandoned my mother and three sons, ages 14, 12, and 10 (I was the youngest). He fled our family with a woman he had been engaged to about 30 years past, before he met my mother! We had to sell the 208 acre Connecticut dairy farm on Sharon Mountain because he had illegally obtained a double-mortgage on it, and we had no money to satisfy the debts.
Let me enlarge on the legacy I received from my father:
- Of the three Norton boys, I was the one who wanted to grow up and be a dairy farmer, taking over the family farm. I loved that farm!
✞ I knew every nook and cranny of that 208 acres! I loved the farm house, the barn, the out-buildings, the apple orchard, the tree house we boys had built in the orchard, and all the other features of the land, to the farthest pastures and crop fields. ✞ I loved the animals (cows, chickens, farm dog, barn cats, chickens). I even had a favorite Holstien cow named Curly that I had raised from a newborn calf. When waiting for the school bus on cold mornings, and if the cows were pasturing in the western field across the street from the house and barn, Curly would come and stick her head through the barbed-wire fence, and gently ‘moo’ for me to come over and scratch her curls between her horns! ✞ I loved the history of the farm! Originally it was just over 300 acres. But over the years my father had sold some of it off. ➔ The house was built probably around 1920, according to its architectual features. Apparently the original farmhouse had been replaced. ➔ The barn served the farm since about 1825. It’s beams and posts were squared off by broad ax, and held together by wooden pins. ➔ The Apallachian Trail ran through the east- ern back side of the land. ➔ We boys had discovered Indian markings chis- eled into rocks in a couple of places on the property. ➔ There were ruins of an old mill on the south end of the original 300 acres, that dated to the late 1700's. ➔ Another barn had stood on the property, a mile from the house and standing barn. The foundation, filled with the collapsed struc- ture, was all that was left. My father had pulled the decaying barn down with a team of horses after a cow had strayed into the barn and falled through the rotted floor.
But I was only ten when Pop left, too young to take over the farm! My mother was 54 and in declining health, and my two older brothers didn’t have much interest in farming. So everything was sold off. My brother George told me not too long ago that he realized how much I loved the farm when, at the auction, he turned and saw me crying as others took possession of the things I loved!
- The foundation of my world was ripped from under me! But I had thought for years that it didn’t matter that much because I couldn’t recall any negative feelings concerning losing the farm. Finally, thirty years after, and with the help of a psychologist, I discovered that my feelings were so intense I pushed them down within me, very deep in my mind and heart, so I wouldn’t have to deal with them! I still can’t remember those feelings, but I know they must have been intense!
- We moved four times in the next eight years, and I felt like I had no roots – no place of my own to call MY home! Hence, my confidence to face life suffered, and my self-esteem was in the dumps. I hung out with the wrong crowd, got into trouble in school and with the police, and drank heavily when I could get my hands on alcohol – because that was what I thought I deserved from life!. By age fifteen, I was an alcoholic!
✞ After graduating from high school, I served four years in the Air Force as a radar repairman. But I didn’t excel in either case! ➔ But during my first year in the Air Force, I made a great discovery! I discovered Jesus, and fell in love with Him! I didn’t know much about Christianity and the Bible, but I knew three things: ❏ Jesus was real! ❏ He was alive! And... ❏ He loved me! ...and I fell head over heels in love with Him! ➔ My life slowly (very slowly) began to change! ➔ From what I know of my ancestors, I was the first Christain in generations of the Norton family! ✞ Just eight days after my military discharge, I married a wonderful woman! Hope is my beautiful wife of more than 53 years! ✞ God called me to be a minister – a Baptist minister! And for the next twenty two years we lived in apart- ments and then church parsonages after I was called to my first church. I was thankful for the places to live that the Lord provided for us, but I still felt rootless, nowhere to call my very own! ✞ The first roots I put down since losing the farm; the first roots of owning my own dwelling came in 1982 when we purchased a four-room cottage in Patterson Grove, an old Methodist campmeeting in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. Our cottage was one of 110 cottages in the Grove, all centered around an open-sided tabernacle. I remodeled this 1894 cottage inside, and painted the outside. I could actually drive a nail in the wall with- out first getting permission from the church board! That cottage made me feel that I had roots – a place to call my own! ✞ In 1990, the Lord gave us another root-strengthening blessing! We purchased our first house in Van Meter, Pennsylvania which we rented out since we were living in the church parsonage two miles away. And, over the years, I put down roots by rebuilding that 1904 house, adding a five-car garage and an apartment above it! ✞ We sold that Van Meter house almost three years ago, and bought a home in Newnan, Georgia. Now our roots are growing deeper in the red clay soil of Georgia!
- My father could not keep his eyes and hands off of women! How my mother put up with his philandering ways to me is amazing! But she was a martyr!
✡ Consider verse 5 of Exodus 20, the second of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses. He said, “I, the LORD your God, am a God who does not tolerate rivals. I punish children for their parents' sins to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Somehow I was bequeathed my father’s fascination with sex. ✞ I was fourteen and in Boy Scouts of America, when an assistant scoutmaster pulled three of us older boys off to the side and showed us a pornographic book. That was my first exposer to pornography. The assis- tant scoutmaster thought it was great fun! But I struggled with pornography for the next several years... ✞ ...until God, by His grace and mercy, delivered me from that sin! He has also broken the chains of other compulsive addictions – overeating, gambling, and nicotine. ✞ I was told by a family friend who knew my paternal grandfather (he died before I was born) that he was a ladies' man in a big way! He passed it on to my father, who passed it on to me! I suspect my grand- father was not the first generation to be sexually addicted!
My two brothers also stuggled with compulsive/addictive behavior inherited from our father!
- The eldest, George, had to overcome a reckless early life of alcohol and drugs.
- The middle brother, Neil, could never shake his addiction to nicotine and prescription drugs. He was court-ordered to a lock-down drug and alcohol treatment center, but turned back to drugs as soon as he was released. He died nine years ago at age 69.
Thank God both of my brothers became Christians later in life! I have one in heaven now, and I and my brother George are on our way!
My father left a deep mark on his children, as his family of origin so marked him! Yes, truly, “…the iniquity of the fathers [is visited]…upon the children to the third and fourth generation…” (Exodus 20:5). But God can break that chain of generational iniquity! Our daughters, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren have a better chance at life because Hope and I have devoted our lives to Jesus Christ!
The final Gem of this series will be posted on this coming Saturday.