For the past couple of years, I have been active on Facebook, which I joined mainly to announce posts on this teaching ministry website and also on my racial topics blogsite (blacktaxandwhitebenefits.com). Since I am writing this newsletter so late this year, I almost didn’t mention it on Facebook. However, in rereading my 2017 Newsletter, I noticed that it was written in early April also. Whatever else may be said, it is obvious that my “sin” of procrastination has not been just a recent problem and I apparently remain unrepentant!
It is always interesting to look back over my calendar of a previous year. My feelings about the year are usually different from the facts found on the calendar. For nearly 50 years, I have been supported by generous and longsuffering church folk as a full-time or part-time minister. When that ended in 2016, I thought I might start having some of those retirement feelings. I didn’t and I haven’t. My schedule manages to remain pretty full, which is good because it keeps me from getting into more trouble than I otherwise would!
My Newsletters always contain a lot of personal information in them as well as ministry information. For me those two areas are so connected as to be indistinguishable. Ministry takes on different forms, to be sure, but not a day goes by without me thinking about what I am doing (or at least should be doing) for God. And on almost all of those days, I am doing something worthwhile and not just thinking about doing them. As Romans 12:1 puts it, our bodies are to be “offered as living sacrifices,” which means that being a Christ-follower is a 7/24 affair. Further, that sacrifice is called our “spiritual worship,” and that means that worship is also a 7/24 affair as well, not something reserved for Sundays and other assembled worship.
Not being on a ministry staff means that I teach and preach less than I did for decades, although now I teach more through the avenue of writing. Back in 2016, I said in print somewhere (likely my Newsletter) that I was going to have a major focus on writing and do much less speaking. As a result, I did find the time to write three books the first half of that year. At that point, I started receiving less invitations to speak, which was expected. I am still writing a lot, but mostly for my website and blogsite, which allows me more flexibility. My speaking gift doesn’t seem to have diminished with advancing age (yet!), but I am using it less. I honestly haven’t known just how to feel about that, so in the past couple of years, I have simply asked God to be my Divine Scheduler. I neither hang out my shingle as an available speaker nor decline many invitations to speak, so I am trusting that God is indeed in control of this part of my ministry schedule. But on to the details – covered by quarterly segments.
In January, I attended the Texas/Louisiana/Oklahoma leader’s meeting, which is called the “Round-Up.” Not being on staff now means that I don’t automatically attend such leadership meetings at any level, but since this one took place in Dallas, I was advised to attend. These types of meetings are always inspirational and fellowship-rich. In February, I taught a Sunday workshop on race issues for a Region of the New York City church located in New Jersey. Spending time with old friends (especially Larry and Mary Lou Craig) and making new ones was most enjoyable. The group was very racially diverse and hopefully my thoughts on culture, race and kingdom were helpful. From there, I caught a flight to Boston in order to spend time with my best friend, Wyndham Shaw, whose health was failing and has continued to fail. It was a special trip to the East Coast, a part of the country I grew to love in the sixteen years we lived there. Later in February, I conducted a weekend workshop for our sister church in El Paso, which was a fun experience. Hanging out with Aaron Salazar, the church leader, is nothing if not fun!
In March, I made a trip to Orlando to participate in a Diversity Team presentation at the annual gathering of three Service Teams – the Elders, Evangelists and Teachers. We have a Diversity Team headed up by Scott Kirkpatrick and we are thankfully gaining more traction and thus having more opportunities to help leaders and members alike understand key issues that face our members of color – and therefore all of us. We have three white members of the Diversity Team and in this instance, were each able to make brief presentations along with others. Most similar presentations are made by our members of color, which is as it should be. Michael Burns is the exception to this pattern, as the best writer in our movement about racial issues, by a fair margin. He is simply exceptionally gifted as a teacher in general and on this issue specifically. His book, “Crossing the Line: Culture, Race and Kingdom” should be must reading for all disciples of all colors. His upcoming book, “All Things to All People,” is another must read as Michael guides us through the sometimes tricky path of developing true cultural competency.
In the latter part of March, I preached twice in my home Region in Dallas, the Dallas East Region. My preaching opportunities in Dallas are in an expected decline and the full year’s calendar reflected that decline. After four years, I’m no longer the “new kid on the block,” plus our younger staff members need to speak more as a part of their training and development. But I do appreciate the opportunities to speak in my home church whenever they come. I’m still a preacher man at heart!
March 31st was the day our brother and hero, Scott Green, graduated to glory. I wasn’t able to attend his memorial service in Seattle but watched the entire service on livestream. It was a very touching service and a fitting one for such an exceptional leader of influence among us for so many years. We are an aging movement of churches and losses like this one are naturally increasing. While this trend is not unexpected, each loss is felt by many and a hole in our fellowship on earth is definitely real. May God bless Lynne and the Green family as they continue to adjust to life without Scott.
Our son, Bryan, hit the 50-year age milestone on April 7. You know you are getting old when you have a child who is a half century old himself! It’s rather shocking but helped by the fact that he is a young 50. I preached three times in April, once for my home Region and twice for the Southwest Region, led by Mark and Connie Mancini. Both of these ministry groups feel like home. For whatever reasons, something “clicked” the first time I spoke in the SW group and it is still clicking. In fact, at this moment, I am preparing a sermon for this upcoming Sunday once again in the SW.
The first weekend of May found me conducting a workshop for the Orlando church. My good friend, Marshall Mead, had recently moved there with his family to be the congregational evangelist and invited me to conduct the workshop. This opportunity also gave me a reunion with another staff member, Brian Santos, who became like a son to me and Theresa when he was in our ministry as a single man back in Boston many years ago. The Orlando church is a great group and are currently “up to their ears in alligators” as they help prepare for the “World Discipleship Summit” which will take place in Orlando in July of 2020. I don’t envy their job, but I really appreciate it. This conference will be a huge one and a monumental one for our family of churches. Pray for Marshall and the Orlando church as they are serving us all!
In the middle of May, Theresa and I spent a week visiting my only sibling, Pam, and her husband Charles, who live in the Cincinnati area. Although Pam is 10 years younger than I am, we connect on every wave length. No one understands me better, which is both scary and extremely helpful. She and Charles find a way most years to visit us, usually around our birthday month in October. Theresa’s birthday is October 23rd, Charles’ is the 24th and mine the 27th. We had a great time when they visited us last October and a great time when we visited them in May a few months prior. Five of their seven grandchildren live in Cincinnati and seeing them is always a special treat!
In June, I started teaching a five-part midweek series in the Dallas East Region. It was by design a series that addressed some “hot topics.” One of these was about several aspects of spiritual relationships in the church, and at Derik Vett’s encouragement (he’s our Region Leader), I delved into the controversial topic of women’s role in the church. This led to my writing of two articles on the subject, both of which are on this website. They have attracted their share of attention and have led me to study the topic much more, which in turn will lead to me writing more articles (maybe in time, even a book).
The title of another lesson in the series was “Sex, Drugs and Alcohol” (almost “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” – a 1977 single by Ian Dury, who popularized the phrase!). In God’s providence, that particular midweek happened to be scheduled with the Dallas version of HOPE Youth Corps in attendance. Thus, many teens and campus students from all over the world were present, along with our own large local youth group. Given the topic, saying that God’s providence was heavily involved in the scheduling is to me a no-brainer. It was quite a night.
The other segments of that series were taught in July, and at Derik’s request once again, I provided full outlines of each lesson, all of which were sent out to our members via email. I also taught a weekend workshop in my home state of Louisiana in the middle of the month, at Baton Rouge. Tony and Carmon Hill lead this group and I must say that Tony is an excellent Cajun cook. We had a large gathering at their home on Saturday evening and I ate way too much of his delicious seafood. We were joined for the teaching segments by our sister church from New Orleans, led by Steve Stevenson and his wife. It was a real treat for this old Louisiana boy to be back in Cajun country! Speaking for our smaller congregations within the Texas connection has been very fulfilling for me and I hope for these churches. I usually take a short-hop airline flight on Saturday morning, teach Saturday afternoon, preach Sunday morning, conduct a small group leader’s meeting in the afternoon and fly back home Sunday night or Monday morning. It has become my format of choice in the past couple of years. As they say, blow in, blow up and blow out!
July 15, 2018 is a date that will live on in the memories of thousands, for it was on that date that one of our greatest spiritual heroes left us – Gloria Baird. She and Al were a very early part of the Boston Church Movement, which in time ended up as the International Churches of Christ movement. Gloria and the entire Baird family faced her battle with cancer bravely for the past several years. As the end approached, she and Al agreed that they would not slow down until they had to, and they didn’t. Her memorial on the 28th was the most amazing one I have ever attended. The back-and-forth mix of laughing and crying about did me in. The sharing by family and fellow-disciples was simply grand and this grand lady deserved nothing less. I was honored to speak the next day for the all-church service in Phoenix, sharing a lesson entitled, “Gloria Baird Yet Speaks.” The idea in the title came from Hebrews 11:4 and the message was based on one of my favorite chapters in the Bible: 2 Corinthians 4. Gloria lived out the principles in that chapter about as well as anyone I have ever known. Thankfully, Al and the family left behind are dealing with their grief about as spiritually as possible.
August dealt us another significant loss when Cathy Hammond died. She was a marvelous wife and supporter of her husband, Guy, in their ministry “Strength in Weakness.” This ministry is one of the most important in our fellowship of churches, dealing with the challenge of same-sex attraction. Guy himself has that attraction and when he gave up his gay lifestyle as a new disciple when still a young man, he assumed that he would live a celibate lifestyle from that point forward. However, along came Cathy and his emotional and spiritual love for her, as God gave them strength, allowed them to have a wonderful marriage, complete with three children. Cathy was an integral part of this very important ministry from the outset and she will be missed greatly by her physical and spiritual families. My friend and hero, Guy, will continue to use his gifts and his background to minister to those who are intent on dealing spiritually with their similar challenges. May God bless all who provide and participate in the Strength in Weakness ministry!
August was also the month when our first (and oldest) grandson left the nest. Bryce Gordon attended a community college in Dallas for his first two years but moved to San Antonio to attend the University of Texas, San Antonio branch (UTSA). He and his close buddy, Josh Vett, live in an apartment together near the campus. They have been making brief promotional videos for HOPE Volunteer Corps that have evidently gone viral among the youth of our fellowship. I get a kick out of watching these two as they come up with very unique ways to get the message across. Grandchildren are, well, grand!
September contained a ministry surprise for me. Ten years ago, I played a significant part in helping found a leadership training program in the Mekong Region of Asia called the “Asia-Pacific Leadership Academy.” I remember sitting in a hotel lobby in Phnom Penh, Cambodia after teaching what I assumed would be my final class in APLA. The date was around mid-November of 2012. As I thought back to the many trips to the Philippines and surrounding nations to teach leadership courses, tears came to my eyes. Those years were full of very precious memories and to sense them coming to an end produced those tears.
But, never say never! My dear friend and fellow-teacher, Rolan Monje, invited me over to Manila to teach another course in celebration of the 10th anniversary of APLA and to be a part of yet another graduation ceremony. It was an amazing time. The facility where we met was packed. Some of the younger students were children of the original students in the program. Rolan has done a superb job of not just keeping APLA going, but has taken it higher and higher in enrollment and types of programs now being offered. I am so proud of him and his wife, Weng, and of all of those involved in this highly effective training program. It may have been an unexpected trip, but the joys experienced were predictable, based on lots of happy history!
The beginning of October found me traveling out of the US once again as I attended the Delegates Meeting of our movement in Panama City, Panama. I am not a delegate or a member of the Teacher Service Team any longer, but as a member of the Diversity Team, I wanted to attend in order to support this group as they made two different presentations at this program. It was good seeing so many old friends and former ministry associates from various places. The number and types of relationships I have with people all over the world boggles my mind and always moves me to count my blessings with a grateful heart. I am indeed a blessed man.
The Sunday after returning from Panama, I preached again in the SW Region back in Dallas. The following Sunday, my wife’s 75th birthday wish came true. She wanted me to take our three Dallas grandsons to Boston to see Tom Brady play in person, and due to the generosity of two dear families, all seven of us Dallas Fergusons were able to go to the game. I described the whole weekend on Facebook back in October, so I will spare my NE Patriot hater friends the agony of hearing the details again. However, just to provide context, it was the first of two times that my team beat the Kansas City Chiefs (barely, both times, but a W is still a W)!
November began with me speaking for the monthly service of the beginning stages of a church planting in Tyler, Texas. Theresa’s brother and his wife, Curt and Janet Clemens, live in that area now and are heading up these early stages of the planting. The group met in a hotel meeting room for the first couple of times but are now able to meet in the clubhouse of the Clemens’ subdivision in Chandler (near Tyler). For such a small group, they have developed a pretty cool music group for the services. It helps to have Curt as a guitar man and song leader. Since we have a little place near a lake not too far from them, it gives us a good excuse to spend the weekend there and worship with them when they have services. Several of those attending from the area are now in Bible studies. Kudos to Curt and Janet for their heartfelt efforts and labor of love!
November was another time of loss, for within a week of each other, two special disciple friends died – Cecil Wooten and Christie Lamb. Cecil was a longtime church administrator in Boston and then in Los Angeles. As a highly successful businessman in his earlier years, his expertise in all phases of administration were invaluable for many years. Besides his contributions in this way, he and Helen were special friends to Theresa and me. His sons Marty and Mike and their wives are also good friends of ours. Cecil died at 94 and it was a blessing to hear stories about him that I hadn’t heard before during his memorial service in Birmingham, Alabama.
Christie was the daughter of Roger and Marcia Lamb, friends and heroes in our churches. Roger has been the driving force of “Disciples Today” media since its inception. Christie was about the age of our children, so seeing a friend die that young was very sobering and painful. Making it even more painful was the fact that the Lamb’s son, David, had died five years earlier of leukemia. Hearing of Christie’s death left me almost speechless. My first response on Facebook was simply, “There are no words.” In the intervening months since her passing, Roger, Marcia and Michael (their remaining son) have handled their loss in a way that only God could make possible. Their faith has risen far above physical circumstances and challenges, providing us with examples as we face what life on planet earth dishes out. May God bless the Lamb family in their continuing adjustments.
I preached one more time in my home Region in November and once again in December. In looking back over my writing done in 2018, I found the following regarding articles posted on both my teaching website and racial topics blogsite. On the teaching website, 20 new articles were published – 13 written by me and 7 written by others. Some of the posts were combined into articles of several parts. On the racial topic blogsite, 13 new posts were published, 7 by me and 6 by others. That yielded a total of 35 additional posts on the two websites, 20 of which were written by me. I would judge that to be a reasonable amount of writing for a year, but I had planned to write even more since I wasn’t working on a book. However, some of the articles were on topics that took quite a bit of study, so all in all, I feel fairly productive in my writing ministry.
When I started my official teaching ministry as my main ministry focus at age 65, trusted friends advised me to concentrate on leadership training and writing. At my present age of 76, writing will remain my main avenue of teaching. I enjoy it and intend to keep doing it as long as God enables me to continue. Additionally, I have been receiving more requests to read the writings of others and to offer my input as they prepare to publish books and/or articles. I am happy to encourage their efforts, for they give fresh and varied perspectives that help many people. Besides my writing efforts, I did have 15 preaching slots in Dallas and 8 teaching trips and conferences in other places last year. Thus, as I finish this very wordy newsletter, I type with satisfaction, knowing that I am still exercising a teaching gift that God has provided me. I pray that you have enjoyed reading this and have been spiritually encouraged by doing so. And if you have read this far, may God bless you for your tenacious perseverance! Have a great rest of 2019!