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 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!