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Proverbs 13-16

Proverbs was probably not meant to be read at the pace of four chapters per day, or even one chapter, but rather at the rate of maybe one proverb per day. It is very hard if not impossible to meditate on proverbs en masse.

Therefore, I would like to focus my comments on just one proverb out of the four chapters read today. It is Proverbs 16:7, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

This was a very important proverb to my father, Jim Vaus. He grew up as a preacher’s kid and like many PKs before and since, my dad knew how to talk the talk even when he was not walking the walk. He got involved in crime at a young age, committing armed robbery while still a teenager. He spent eighteen months in jail and at a work camp for that offense. After that, he was drafted into the army during World War II. He rose to the rank of captain but soon thereafter faced a court martial where he was convicted of misappropriation of government property and misuse of priorities. He was sentenced to ten years in a federal penitentiary. He spent two of those years at McNeil Island in Washington State, after which he received a pardon from President Truman. He was ordered back into the army to lecture on his expertise of electronics. After receiving an honorable discharge, he returned home to Los Angeles where he set up his own electronics engineering company. Before long, he was using his electronics knowledge for wiretapping, both for the police department and in the service of a private detective.

Through my father’s work in wiretapping he came to the attention of Mickey Cohen, the “celebrity gangster” later depicted in films like Gangster Squad. Cohen asked my father to remove a wiretapping device from his home, which my father did. That led to other jobs. Eventually Cohen paid him enough, for electronic surveillance and protection during the Battle of the Sunset Strip, that my father gave up his other jobs.

Through Cohen, my father met a man he would know only as St. Louis Andy. This man wanted my father to develop an electronic system whereby they could withhold horserace results coming over the Continental Wire Service. Dad did develop that gadget for Andy, withholding news over the wire service for 90 seconds, just long enough for Andy’s men to place bets offtrack on horses they already knew had won races in some other part of the country. They set up shop first in Arizona, controlling race results coming into Southern California. They were very successful.

Then my father was to meet Andy in St. Louis on November 10, 1949, to set up his system and control illegal off track betting in the entire western half of the United States. However, my father never made that meeting, because on November 6, he happened to attend a tent meeting in downtown LA where a young Billy Graham was preaching.

That night, Graham quoted the words of Jesus, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Then during the invitation Graham said something to the affect of: “I have sensed that there is a man in this audience tonight who has heard this message many times before, but he has never given his life to Christ, and this may be his last opportunity.”

My father felt like God was speaking to him. He went forward and knelt in the sawdust praying, “God, if you’ll mean business with me, I’ll mean business with you.”

One of the first people my father told of his commitment to Christ was Mickey. Cohen, amazingly, respected Dad for his decision to quit organized crime. They remained friends for the rest of Cohen’s life.

That was not the case with St. Louis Andy. When Dad told Andy that he would not be in St. Louis, Andy showed up at my parents’ home with a bunch of his bodyguards.

That is when Proverbs 16:7 became so meaningful to my father. At a time when he should have been wracked with worry, his mind and heart were at peace, trusting in the Lord to work out the whole situation.

Amazingly, when my father refused to go with Andy, the gangster and his henchmen turned and walked away. That day, Proverbs 16:7 became a living reality for my father. Of course, that is the only way anything in the Bible really becomes meaningful—when we put it to the test.

You can read the rest of the story in my book, My Father Was a Gangster. You can learn more here:


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