I just reread my 2018 Newsletter for this website and discovered that it was written in April of last year and the one from the prior year was also written in the month of April. So, I am a natural born procrastinator. Since I am writing this 2019 version in February, I must have repented at least a little. For whatever reason, I thought of the newsletter this morning and decided to write.
Actually, I think I know the reason it came to mind. One of my spiritual daughters, Michaela Iiames, along with her friend, Paula Chu, spent the night with us last night. John and Michaela’s son, AJ, just lost his young wife to cancer after four years of marriage. Emily was only 26 but left us anyway, her gain and our loss. Michaela and Paula had flown from their homes in North Carolina to California to drive AJ’s car and dog back in advance of his move to be closer to his family. Our reminiscing took us back to the late 1980’s in Boston and helped us fill in many blanks of precious memories from that point forward. It was a special night. Michaela reminded me that I had become “Dad” to her when her father was dying many years ago. Being a surrogate dad (or grandad) is my favorite role in life these days, so it was a very special night.
As I reread my 2018 version of the newsletter, my gratitude was stirred as I thought back through so many good experiences. I already know that this current newsletter is not going to recount nearly as many positive events. 2019 was one of the hardest years of my long life, the details of which I will share with you. But thankfully, those challenges forced me to start 2020 off with a spiritual retreat that helped me immensely. Although I was wrestling with God at the end of the year and questioning why some of the challenges had to occur, I am now thanking him for pushing me to the edge emotionally and spiritually. Once again, our loving (but unsentimental) Father did his thing in my life and led me to a victorious surrender. No pain, no gain; much pain, much gain. It is the way of the cross and that way leads back to God and his peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).
We spent New Year’s Day on the road as we drove to Houston for our niece’s wedding the next day. Adrienne and Chad met as fellow teachers in the Houston, Texas area and tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony. We traveled back the same day of the wedding, driving in an intense rainstorm almost the whole way. Our son and his family were riding with us, and because Joy gets carsick easily, she rode in the front seat and kept me awake! We had a wonderful and wonderfully long conversation. Chad and Adrienne just completed their first year as husband and wife and are doing very well in their young marriage. They both fit quite naturally into each other’s extended families.
Our Dallas/Fort Worth church January kick-off weekend was enriched by having Mark and Nadine Templer as our guest speakers. They did a great job and being around them reminds us of what tremendous work they have done and are doing with HOPE Worldwide in serving the poor and needy. I traveled to Tulsa the following weekend to help with a similar kick-off for our sister church there. I stayed with Vince and Ro Pierce, who lead the church there, and barely restrained myself from kidnapping their little son, Kevin. That young man guy is delightfully entertaining and amazingly unique for a child his age. That was a very fun weekend and an encouraging way to start off the year!
I spoke the next weekend for the small group in Tyler, Texas, which is in the early stages of a church planting. Theresa’s brother, Curt Clemens, and his wife, Janet, live in the area and are heading up this effort. It’s always fun to be with them, for they are both characters! While we were at our little place (we call it the camp) near the lake in East Texas, Dave, Peggy and Scott Malutinok stopped by for a night en route to their temporary home to San Diego. Dave had taken on a new role with HOPE and they needed to spend six months there to get fully acclimated in the home base of the organization. The Malutinoks have been special friends for decades now, so any time with them is a treasured time.
February was one of those really challenging months since it was a surgery month for me. I did manage to work in a teaching weekend with the Knoxville, Tennessee church before the surgery, but that was about the only bright spot in an otherwise tough month. I’ve had two surgeries since moving back to Texas five years ago and have another scheduled for next month. As anyone over sixty can tell you, getting old ain’t for sissies. The partial knee replacement I had eventually worked out, but right after the surgery, the wound started bleeding even before I left the day surgery location. Before the first night was over, I had bled enough to soak up a three-layer wrapping of Ace bandages. I honestly thought I might bleed to death during the night, but obviously (and thankfully) didn’t! The rest of the month was filled with much very painful physical therapy.
In mid-March, we made a trip to San Diego to visit the Malutinoks and drove up to the Orange County area for one night to visit friends there. Bruce and Robin Williams hosted a dinner at their place, where we were joined by Mary Mains and Mike and Melanie Wooten. These were among our best friends during the two-year stint we spent living in that area (2013-2014). Kevin Mains was sorely missed at that table, most by his dear wife, but by all of us who knew him well. He as an amazing man, taken from us way too early from our human perspectives. But it was good to be with Mary and the others. Then it was back home for more of that wonderful physical therapy!
During the last days of March, the Southwest Elders’ Conference was held in Dallas. Theresa and I were asked to be guest speakers, although we haven’t served as an elder and wife for some years. The attendance was truly impressive, with couples attending from many places in the US and from several foreign nations. We were a part of the beginning of this conference when it was just designed just for the SW part of the US. However, from the earliest gatherings, people attended from other areas and this expansion has just kept occurring. The two main planning couples, dear friends of ours, were Bill and Sally Hooper of Dallas, and John and Nancy Mannel of Kansas City. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the few days we spent together. It was a good way to conclude the first quarter of the year.
April started off in a good/bad manner. Theresa was invited to share the same lesson in our home church region that she had taught the wives at the Elder Conference. That was the good part. Almost immediately afterwards, she started developing symptoms of pneumonia, an illness she has experienced six or seven times. It is one of the major hazards of her COPD condition. Thankfully, we have caught it early every time except for the first time back in Phoenix, that one having led to a week in the hospital. I spoke in our SW Region, led by Mark and Connie Mancini shortly after Theresa’s bout with pneumonia. Being with that part of the DFW church is always such a treat. As I said in last year’s newsletter, we just seem to “click” in a special way with that group (and the Mancini’s).
May was a full month and a challenging one. Preaching at the Tyler service again was the fun part. I then flew to Boston to spend several days visiting the Shaw family, as Wyndham’s health continued on its downward spiral. MSA (multiple systems atrophy) is one of the cruelest diseases possible, and to watch your best friend battle it is very difficult. That being said, watching that battle as a wife, son, daughter or grandchild has to be far worse. Faith shines brightest in the darkest hours, and the faith of the whole Shaw clan is evidence of that truth. On this trip, I stayed with Jim and Maureen McCartney, which was a blessing that helped me weather the challenges.
From Boston, I flew to Phoenix to meet Theresa there for a few days on family business. That trip was its own challenge, beginning with a snafu in the Boston airport that was unique. For the first and last time, I had booked a flight on Spirit Airlines. I was awaiting my flight back to Dallas, where I was going to spend a short night and then fly with Theresa the next day to Phoenix. While I was awaiting my flight, Spirit announced a delay of two hours. Not good, but as long as I could get back to Dallas in time to help Theresa get to the airport, all seemed doable. Next, the flight was cancelled without explanation. As I said, my first and last flight booked on that airline. Saving money isn’t everything and in this case, neither was losing money, however painful.
I started looking for flights to Dallas on other airlines. I found a late one on United that went first to Philadelphia and then to Dallas. So, I went to the gate for the flight and began working on my laptop. I heard an announcement about a gate change for a Philly flight, so I got up and moved to the other gate, which wasn’t that many gates away. All was good, I thought, as I continued working on my computer. The flight’s time was apparently delayed by 21 minutes, but that wasn’t a problem for my connecting flight in Philly. Finally, I made my way to the check-in, only to be informed by the attendant that my ticket was for another United flight to Philadelphia!
I ran back down to the other gate where I had started, just in time to be told that the flight had departed already. Two United flights to the same city within 21 minutes of each other. Wow! I didn’t catch the flight number in the announcement, so my normal perfectionist mode of “assume nothing” had failed me. My bad. After booking a very early morning flight directly to Phoenix and helping Theresa work out her own plan from Dallas, I spent a sleepless night in the Boston airport and more money than I ever wanted to figure out. I didn’t even try. From there, it was finally on to Phoenix for the few days there. Not a good memory, although a unique one, which is saying something all its own given the hundreds and hundreds of flights all over the world I have made. Learning patience and surrender is never a one-and-done deal!
May ended with a visit to our hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to see Theresa’s older brother, Barney Clemens, who was nearing the end of his life. He died a few days later, on June 5th. He was the first of our siblings to die, ushering out one era and ushering in another. We remained there to serve the rest of the family in any way possible and to attend the memorial service. Theresa’s family is really close and this was a sad time we shared together. But everyone worked as a team and the experience had its positive moments to be sure. Due to the stress of it all, both Theresa and I came down with the flu a few days later, which lasted a couple of weeks, my first such illness in years. At the end of the month, I wrote a private article just for myself entitled, “A Prayer for Restored Sanity.” That gives you an idea of my spiritual and emotional condition at the time.
A few days before Barney died, my dear friend Michael Burns came to speak for the DFW church on the topic of race and cultural issues. He and I were able to grab a dinner together, which was such a treat for me. I’ve praised Michael many times already for his teaching and writing abilities, which are in my opinion, beyond unique. He did a great job in speaking, as he always does, being such a gifted teacher. I am currently reading in manuscript form what will become his latest book, one that grew out of a need he saw when teaching about these types of issues. The title is: “Crossing the Line: Politics, Allegiance and Kingdom.” He has asked me to read two of his previous books also as he was writing them in order to give my perspectives and input. In all three cases, I am left in awe of what I read. This newest work in progress will change your views of the kingdom of God in its relationship to the kingdoms of the world, I will promise you that – without question.
July began with a conference held in the Dallas area with those from our sister churches in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma attending. Seeing dear old friends and making new ones in settings of extended fellowship is always good, very good. A couple of weeks later, Mike and Libby Rock, some of our closest friends, came to visit for two full weeks. They were in the midst of a life and ministry transition and we wanted to be a part of helping them negotiate it. We spent most of the time at our place near the lake in East Texas and I think it was time well spent. I ended the month preaching in my home church region, and all in all, July was a good month. The one before it and the one after it, not so much.
My old friend and former fellow elder in Boston, Bob Gempel, died suddenly on August 13. Experiencing the passing of two very significant people in my life in the space of two months took a toll on me emotionally. Other things happened in that month that were none too positive either, adding to the challenges. At that point, I wasn’t thinking much about the big picture of how God might have wanted to use those events in my life. I was pretty much just in survival mode. God wasn’t, and he was intent on helping me see the bigger picture, which I didn’t do until the end of the year, as noted in my introductory remarks at the beginning of this piece.
September was another demanding month for me. It began with a trip for Theresa and me to Boston for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Boston church. The day prior, a second memorial service for Bob Gempel was held, which we attended. Our grandson, Bryce, flew in from his college location, San Antonio, and joined us for both of those events. He got to see the world in which we had lived for 16 years, a good life experience for him. He actually joined us in Boston for the opportunity to attend the first Patriots’ game of the season on that Sunday night, being a diehard Pats fan. But as a disciple, he loved the opportunity to be a part of the whole weekend’s activities. Seeing so many dear friends under such varied circumstances was emotionally draining and at times, somewhat overwhelming. We stayed with Valdur and Irene Koha, as we usually do, which always helps calm the storms and increase the blessings side of life.
I made a trip alone to California at the beginning of October to spend a few days meeting with the ministry staff of the Orange Country Region of the Los Angeles church. Bruce and Robin Williams are scheduled to retire in March of 2020, and the group wanted me to help with developing the best perspective regarding the leadership transition for the whole group. It was an intense few days of meetings, but I hope helpful. I was also able to preach on that Sunday. After 47 years of full-time ministry service, the Williams will be in retirement mode officially, but as disciples of Jesus, they will always be in serving mode. May God bless this part of their lives! Having been in that mode myself for some years now, it’s not a bad mode at all. The opportunities to use our training and experiences never disappear.
I preached three times in October for regional groups in Dallas, covering some basic biblical subjects that I am planning on developing into a short book within the next month. We will see if God approves that plan or not. I think it will be a good book to meet a continuing need to help disciples remain grounded in doctrinal fundamentals. In the midst of that very busy birthday month for Theresa and me (Theresa turned 76 on October 23 and I turned 77 four days later), came some very unwelcome interruptions.
In preparation for Peggy Malutinok visiting us, I went to our lake place to make sure everything was clean and in working order. Theresa and Peggy go there for several days each year for a spiritual retreat together. Just as I finished the last task of cleaning, suddenly water started pouring through the kitchen area ceiling. Great – a leaking roof! Within the hour, literally, as I had a builder in the area checking out the roof, he discovered active termites in the garage and a major water leak in the back yard. I’m saying to God (under my breath), “Really? On top of everything else, this?” I will spare you the details of what all of this led to for the next several weeks, but I should have tried much harder to get the big picture of what God was working to accomplish in my life. It took me the rest of the year to finally start thinking more spiritually and to begin seeing God’s hand in it all. Happy birthday month, Gordon!
I preached once in November and Theresa and I also spoke for the teen ministry in our local ministry region. Those times went well. Then the inevitable happened: my best friend of my whole life, Wyndham Shaw, passed into glory on November 21. His dear wife, Jeanie, had been staying in touch with us throughout his past several months, so his passing wasn’t unexpected. But it was hard, really hard. I wrote three fairly lengthy Facebook posts as a part of processing the loss. We traveled to Boston in early December to be with his physical and spiritual families and to be a part of the memorial service, a “Celebration of Life.” Jeanie used something else I wrote on the memorial program and I delivered the eulogy. Many others shared in the service and it was a time full of laughter and tears, sorrowing and rejoicing, introspection and inspiration.
I have a new book coming out very soon, entitled, “The Power of Relationships.” Two chapters are devoted to Wyndham and Jeanie, which include the FB articles, the memorial program article and the eulogy written out. As I said somewhere in the book, all that Wyndham was in life deserved to be stated and all that was stated deserved to be in print. I did my part of that, and Jeanie has her own book about Wyndham’s wisdom at the printer as well. She asked me to write the Foreword for her book, and I can tell you that the book is a veritable treasure chest of wisdom – from both Wyndham and Jeanie. It is destined to become a classic. Look for it!
Well, that about does it for 2019. Christmas and New Year’s with our son, Bryan, and his family was a welcome relief from the emotional toll of the six months prior. I don’t recall a year being as stressful and burdensome as last year was. I started off the new year at the lake by myself on a spiritual retreat. There I saw the hand of God come into full focus and my world turned rightside up once again. While I don’t believe for a moment that God caused all of the challenges in my life last year, I do believe that he had a very specific plan to use those things to help me grow spiritually. Unfortunately, I wasn’t looking for the answers nearly as quickly as I should have been. But God never lets up until he accomplishes in our lives what his plans are for us spiritually. Since that spiritual retreat, I have thanked God repeatedly for the challenges and pain of 2019. I will have more to say about that in next year’s newsletter. Stay tuned! And have a great year in 2020!
I just re-read my 2016 Newsletter, which I wrote it in February of last year. The year prior, I wrote about my teaching activities of 2015 during January of 2016, a record of sorts (earlier than usual). I am writing this present newsletter in early April, another record of sorts (but not a good one).
I think I will blame my tardiness on writer’s block. But just what causes writer’s block anyway? I suppose it can be a combination of several things. A natural tendency to procrastinate is one; laziness is another; the questioning of the value of what you write is yet another; and trying to spin too many plates at once is a likely culprit as well. Most of us males are not good at multi-tasking, while most females excel in it. Only the fair gender can keep up with their own conversations as they change channels without warning! In the case of this newsletter, I will just have to settle for saying better late than never!
I have written this newsletter in a quarterly format for the past number of years, although at the height of my teaching ministry when I was traveling much of the year, I used a monthly format. When I started this year’s version, I assumed that my calendar had been significantly less cluttered last year and that I should use a half year format. After finishing, I went back and arranged it in a quarterly fashion once again. I was, thankfully, busier and more productive than it felt like – and that’s a good thing. Retirement is for those who don’t have meaningful work to do in their later years, and that is decidedly not true in my case. I will also confess at the outset that I’m a wordy fellow. What I write on my websites isn’t typically edited by others. (Feel free to send me editing suggestions and corrections, by the way.) My books are always edited carefully, which makes them somewhat less wordy and more to the point, usually with shorter sentence structure. But I enjoy writing in this style found here, perhaps because it is so similar to the journaling I do with God. So, let’s get started!
The First Quarter
I preached in my home Region three Sundays in January of last year, once preaching two times on one Sunday in different meetings of our group. That was more preaching in a short time than is the usual for me in Dallas. The lessons delivered were pretty challenging ones, and evidently resulted in one family ceasing to attend, a family that my wife had originally reached out to. That was sad, but no apologies offered for preaching truth. In the watered down religious atmosphere in my city, with its predictable results of watered down beliefs, the words of the prophet ring true: “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions (Isaiah 30:10).”
February started off with a bang. My old buddy, Chip Mitchell, put the pressure on me to speak in Philadelphia that first weekend, on the topic of racial issues. That particular weekend was Super Bowl weekend, and my favorite team (the much loved and much hated New England Patriots) was in the game. I agreed to go to Philly with the stipulation that I could fly back right after Sunday services and be with my family to watch the Super Bowl. When the game started, I was already pretty well drained physically and emotionally. By the time it was over, I was fully drained. Seeing a comeback for the ages was hard on the old man I have become, but since I didn’t have a heart attack, I can probably substitute that experience for a medical stress test. The trip to Philly was great, by the way. It is always a blessing to be with the Mitchells, the Gemples and the Evans – and the Philadelphia church! We all have history together.
The middle of the month found us back in Orange County, California, where we had lived for two years before moving to Dallas. Our dear friend, Kevin Mains, had died of a heart attack and we attended the very special memorial service for him. It was a bittersweet time, very bitter and very sweet, for Kevin was not your average man. He was a man of incredible love and zeal – for God and for people. Although he was not yet 60, God decided that it was time for his homecoming, and we all had to come to peace with it. Yet another of my friends had died, years younger than I am, a reminder of the brevity and uncertainty of life on this earth. Sobering.
Back home, I taught the first lesson of a Sunday School type series in the Northwest Region of our congregation. Todd Asaad and his wife, Patty, serve as the lead ministry couple in this region, and also for the congregation as a whole. It was Todd’s idea to have a series of lessons taught in the Sunday services (or in midweeks), meaning that other parts of the service would need to be shortened. This provides some insights into Todd’s strengths, which are many. He is always open to new ideas as he looks for ways to help keep the church growing both spiritually and numerically. The suggestions I have made to him personally are listened to carefully and often acted upon. Good leaders listen and good leaders experiment with new ways to strengthen God’s family.
The teachers for this series were from what we have called the “Digging Deeper” group, and we most often taught in pairs. That turned out not to be ideal for us, and as we are about to start a similar new series this year, we are using only one teacher per lesson. This teacher group is essentially a teachers-in-training bunch, although most everyone in it has already enjoyed quite a bit of training and experience in public teaching.
I also spoke in the Southwest Region of the DFW church the last Sunday of February. Mark and Connie Mancini are the lead ministry couple in this Region, and it is always a delight to be with them. They both have been blessed with significantly large amounts of the gift of encouragement, and they bless me with it in very nice ways! It is obvious how much their flock loves them. My journey of addressing racial issues in both speaking and writing (through my blogsite, blacktaxandwhitebenefits.com) began in this very racially diverse region, and I always feel very loved and welcomed by all when I am there.
I entered March with speaking yet again in the Southwest. In looking at my calendar, I see two different events showing up fairly regularly on Saturdays – meetings of our teacher’s group and conference calls with a Diversity Committee, a group that is dedicated to helping our movement of churches grow in understanding diversity and in in using it as a way of helping our members and also attracting others to our fellowship. We have more outward diversity than about any religious group of which I am aware, and we want to make sure it is an inward diversity as well, demonstrated by the depth of our interracial relationships. I may be the least qualified person in this particular group, but I am old, Southern, and have some influence that can add to the mix.
I also see that I spoke toward the end of March in my home Region, the Dallas East group. Derik and Leigh Anne Vett are the ministry staff leaders for this Region. They are always open to me speaking when I have a sermon idea on my heart, and are just a great couple to be around – very spiritual and very positive. Their family is very special as well. Their son, Josh, is a close buddy of my grandson, Bryce. Derik definitely has a teaching gift and is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Theology.
The Second Quarter
April began with a gathering of the three main Service Teams in our church movement – comprised of Elders, Teachers and Evangelists. After serving for a number of years on the Teacher Team, I had resigned, but since the meetings were in my home city, I attended. As always, having that many leaders in one place was special – and entertaining! The only speaking appointment I see on the calendar for April was teaching the sixth and final lesson of the series mentioned earlier, back in the Northwest Region. It wasn’t a packed month generally, but conference calls and other events, plus my writing, made it busier than my calendar indicates.
May was an usual month for me. I had no speaking appointments, as far as my records indicate (and I keep pretty good records). I did have the unfortunate experience of undergoing hernia surgery. Recovering from it was much more difficult emotionally than physically, given my hypochondriac tendencies! You can read more about my weirdness in that area in the very excellent book, “An Aging Grace,” put together by Jeanie Shaw. I wrote the second and last chapters in the book, and many others whose names you would probably recognize wrote chapters as well. The younger crowd would do well to read the book in order to understand and help their parents, and the older crowd will benefit much by hearing from those who are facing their same challenges of aging.
Also in May came an annual visit from our dear friend, Peggy Malutinok. She and Dave have been special friends for many years now, as have their now grown children. Their youngest son is named Scott Gordon, but I just call him S. Gordon for obvious reasons! Theresa and Peggy are the best of friends and enough alike to be scary! Hopefully this year, she will bring Dave along with her. He has served through the years as a ministry staff person, but spent more years heading up HOPE Adoptions (twice) and serving as the main administrator for HOPE Worldwide at one point and for the New England/Continental Europe group of churches at another point. He just recently resigned an amazing job with Habitat for Humanity to once again work for HOPE.
In June I see only one speaking slot, this one again in my home region, Dallas East. In the latter part of the month, my sister, Pam Anderson, along with her husband, Charles, came for a week’s visit. They are always a delight to have. Charles is a minister with the Churches of Christ in the Cincinnati area. Pam is my only sibling, and although she is 10 ½ years younger than I, she is the only person on earth who totally “gets” me! About ten years ago, I wrote a satirical humor piece about seeing an old man in my bathroom mirror after I had just taken a shower. I wrote it with her in mind, knowing that she would crack up when reading it (and she did). Without further explanation, I will just say that some others of my relatives thought dementia had set in after they read it!
The Third Quarter
July was a very busy month for me. The Dallas East Region did the teaching series later than the Northwest Region had, and I taught two of the lessons in our midweeks, along with a teaching partner. Sandwiched in-between those two midweeks was a trip to Boston for Theresa and me. Our dear, dear friend Wyndham Shaw was being honored with quite the unique “retirement party.” He has been dealing with a very devastating disease for the past several years (MSA – Multiple System Atrophy). The honoring focused on his life, ministry and family – by decades. I and many others had five minutes apiece to share our hearts, and in-between each decade segment were skits about him, conducted by his children and grandchildren. To say that the skits were absolutely hilarious would not come close to describing them. Wyndham laughed often and loudly as he saw various aspects of his life portrayed most humorously by his family members.
We returned to Dallas in time for me to teach the second midweek lesson of our series, followed the next day by a flight to Nashville to meet with their church leaders and to do quite a lot of teaching for the church there. All told, I had about a half dozen meetings and teaching slots. I was blessed to stay with our old friends, Tom and Sheila Jones, which made the trip even more special. Tom remains one of my confidents on all matters spiritual. He edited most of my early books, and more importantly, he has done much editing of my heart. He and Sheila have played a very special role in our lives for about 30 years now.
August began with me teaching one of the lessons in the teaching series in the Southwest Region. I also preached two Sunday sermons that month in the that same region, both as a part of a series on the Holy Spirit. The only other event I see on the calendar that tied into my teaching ministry was a fishing trip with Stan Hallowell, our music ministry leader in my home region, along with several other members of our church. I used that trip as an illustration in one of my blog articles about racial diversity on my blogsite. I was the only white guy on the trip, and so I had to ask if I were the “token white” for the day. After catching the first several fish (we caught about 60 catfish that day), I also had to ask if that was an example of “white privilege!” It’s so good to have friends of all races and to be comfortable enough to enjoy some humor that might otherwise be too sensitive to enjoy outside the church family.
September was a very special month for me and Theresa. I taught the Dallas ministry staff near its beginning, a lesson addressing the question of when a person is ready for baptism. That article is on this website, if you haven’t read it already and would like to do so. Early in the month Theresa and I flew to Atlanta to speak for a Marriage Retreat hosted by the Gwinnett church. It was with some uncertainty that we accepted their invitation, due to Theresa’s health challenges, which include breathing and fatigue issues. However, since she had only one lesson to teach, we agreed to come. After that one lesson, her lungs were burning and she was so exhausted that she spent the next few hours in bed during the afternoon leisure and fun time. Those who attended had already read my book about our marriage, “Fairy Tales Do Come True,” and as a result, the group was quite familiar with us from the start. We quickly fell in love with them, and had a wonderful time. We decided to close the chapter on our decades of teaching in marriage retreats, and felt like this was a great one to end on, as difficult as the decision was to make.
After the retreat, we were able to visit our nephew and his wife, Ian and Jenny Clemens (plus their two beautiful kiddos), members of the North River church in Atlanta, and to also spend a few days with the Malutinoks (who are also members there). That occasion marked the last time we would see Dave’s mom, Olga, for she just recently passed away at age 93 (almost 94). She nearly died over a decade ago, but God spared her life, and she lived to study the Bible and become a disciple. We enjoyed our time with Dave, Peggy, Olga and S. Gordon immensely. That whole trip was very, very special, as have been scores of similar trips through the years with our plethora of dear friends. Our ministry lives have had their challenges, but the blessings so far outweigh the challenges that those in the latter category are all but forgotten. God is good!
The Fourth Quarter
October was a weird month for me. Near the end of it, my life clock hit the 75 year mark. Here I was, just trying to live one day at a time and mind my own business, and all of a sudden, this happened! Egads! I’ve almost gotten over the shock of it nearly six months later, except when I am filling out forms and have to write it down. And now this month (on April 7, 2018), my son turned 50 – I have a 50 year old son! Well, let’s change the subject if you don’t mind (and I’m pretty sure you don’t)! I spoke only once in October, putting the final touches on the teaching series in the SW Region. My sister also came for a visit, perhaps to witness her brother’s birthday and to be thankful that she has 10 ½ year to go before she hits that same mark! As always, her presence made everything better.
November was a good month, with a trip to Tulsa for a teaching weekend workshop. Vince and Ro Pierce lead the church there, and we hit upon a schedule that worked well for me and the church. I’ve used it since. I flew in on a Saturday morning, held a workshop on the subject of discipling in the afternoon, and then spent time with some of their leaders in the evening. On Sunday, I preached about evangelism and then taught the small group leaders in the afternoon, addressing the practicals of how to be more effective in evangelism. It was a delightful weekend, and I almost packed the Pierce’s young son in my suitcase to take home with me! Little Kevin stole my heart and touched my “funny button” numerous times. He is a unique little guy, I think destined to do some great things in his life. Suffice it to say that he has developed the skills of negotiation in ways that are far beyond his age!
Although this was the only speaking engagement I had in November, I did much of what I am always doing – reading, studying and writing. By design, my teaching ministry at this stage of my life is much more about writing than about teaching in person. But I will keep speaking in a pulpits and class settings as long as I can. I wrote three books in 2016 and none in 2017, but if you combined all of the writing I did in the latter, it would add up to at least a couple of books in length. I am always writing articles for both this teaching website and my blogsite, a number of which haven’t yet found their way onto those sites. They may and they may not, but my brain is always conjuring up thoughts and ideas and I love to write them down. Additionally, I answer many biblical and personal questions via email. My mind doesn’t rest much, even while I am asleep. My dreams are quite something, and being a light sleeper, I remember many of them – good and bad ones!
December is celebration time, right? It is for the younger generation for sure, although not always for the older ones. Christmas can bring up memories that are not so celebratory. I have some of those types of memories involving loved ones who are no longer with us, but all in all, I love December. This last one found Theresa and me back in Phoenix, where we had lived and loved for nine years (2003-2012). Our dear friends, Mike and Maricar Angeles, celebrated their 25th anniversary in grand style, with a renewal of vows and banquet to follow. They had been asking us to be a part of it for years as they planned ahead for it (Maricar for sure – not so sure about Mike!). I officiated at the “unofficial” wedding and was able to speak the next day for the church as they met in one group instead of in their normal setting of smaller regional groups (“big church” they call it).
That Sunday was a treasured one. Not only did we get to fellowship with so many old and dear friends, but the service itself was unique. A week or two prior in Dallas, Todd had preached a lesson in which he told the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the heart-breaking circumstances in which he penned the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Near the end of the sermon, Todd showed a video of the music version performed by the group “Casting Crowns.” As they sang the very beautiful song, the lyrics were being scrolled on the screen. It was a very moving sermon with an equally moving musical ending. I knew when I heard the illustration and the song that both had to be incorporated into my upcoming Phoenix sermon.
I planned to do it much like Todd had, and shared that with Gary Sciascia, the congregational evangelist in Phoenix (and a longtime dear friend, along with his wife, Gail). He agreed that they would set it up with the music video as I had requested. The night before, Gary called to say that their worship team had already planned to do a live rendition of the very same version of the song. When he asked if their performance would suffice, rather than showing the video, I was frankly hesitant. The Casting Crowns group does a wonderful job with it, and I didn’t know what to expect of the Phoenix group. But in spite of my hesitation, I agreed. To my amazement, they were simply excellent, and their lead soloist (David Mesquitta) was at least as good as the lead male soloist for the professional group. It was to me a phenomenal ending to a very special service – a “God thing” for certain!
I finished out the year speaking in my home region on Christmas Eve, sharing a lesson about “Jesus the King.” Thus ended a year full of events and surprises, as do most of mine. God is so good in knowing what my adventuresome spirit needs, and he always provides. I had thought before starting this newsletter that 2017 had been relativity tame, compared to most previous years. Perhaps it was in some ways, but going back over it has been uplifting. God keeps me busy, probably to keep me from getting into more trouble than I would otherwise. I am thankful for the past year and all that he enabled me to do. Every year of life is a blessing, and the one in which I became three-quarters of a century old was certainly no exception. Thank you, Jesus! And thank you for reading my rambling! May God bless all of us during the rest of 2018!
Gordon, April 2018
INTRODUCTION TO ARTICLES
This section of the web site contains my personal articles that address a variety of topics for a variety of types of readers. Many of these articles have been posted on other web sites, such as Disciples Today and various web sites of churches. Some have been posted on the web site of my local congregation, the Phoenix Valley Church of Christ (phoenixvalleychurch.org). Others have been posted on the Greater Houston Church web site (thegreaterhoustonchurch.com) since I have been working closely with them for the past couple of years. This web site also contains quite a few audio sermons I have preached there in recent months.
My articles have been written over quite a span of time, which should be kept in mind by the reader. Although some editing and updating of articles may be a possibility, many need to remain in their original context in order to make complete sense. Therefore, the date on which the article was written will be included at the end of many articles, to help give the readers a context. While I might word some things differently if I were writing them today, the timing of the writing sheds some light on where I was at the time of writing and on where our movement of churches was when I wrote the original document. The benefit of taking this approach is that some important historical aspects become obvious. The possible downside is if the reader doesn’t take into account my progress as a writer or the progress of our movement. Thus, I ask for your grace as you read older articles especially!
When I add new articles to the web site (which may or may not be newly written), they will appear at the top of the list. The longer they have been on the site, the further down the list they will be. For those of you who have already read the other articles, this will help you spot the new ones more easily. God bless you for taking the time to read and learn. True disciples of Jesus will always maintain a thirst for growth in knowledge and in life generally. May this column provide some help with those worthy endeavors.