Baseball, Bikes, and One Warning From My Mother

(Growing Up in Dallas)

I grew up in Southeast Dallas, the old Pleasant Grove area.  During those years (1960’s), most of my memories of living in our neighborhood are good.  I don’t remember my parents being concerned about crime in our neighborhood.  Things were relatively calm in that neighborhood.

In my memory, life was full.  Baseball in the summer and touch/tackle football the rest of the year. We had a field behind us that belonged to a nearby Baptist church where we played both sports.  It was the gathering place on hot summer evenings.

In the summers, when we were out of school, I would get on my bike in the morning (often with my friends Kip and his brother Dale) and stay gone most of the day.  I rode with friends to stores, to the park, to nearby streets, and to the community swimming pool.  These were different times. In fact, the one warning that I got from my mother (who would be working at a bookstore all day) was “Don’t be late for supper.”

What I Wish I Known Earlier

earlier-faster-better-precocious-kids-Nov06-istockI admit it.

At times throughout my life, I was confused – very confused. Maybe you weren’t. I do know people who appear to have had it together all of their lives. Not me.

When I was in college, I stayed up all night writing page after page of areas of life where I was confused. I still have these writings – I think – somewhere.

Yet, I have learned so much about life. I am still learning. However, I can point to growth in things I have learned.  I wish I had known these five much earlier.

1. I wish I had known the value of being gracious. Gracious people have a way of extending grace in their different relationships. People who are not gracious can be curt, rude, self-centered, and even self-absorbed. The gracious person has an extended hand – always willing to be helpful. The ungracious person looks out only for themselves. “Don’t ask me for help. That’s not my problem.”

What I Have Learned in the Last Three Years

harding-school-of-theology (1)In December 2013, Charlotte and I moved to Memphis, Tennessee. I began working with Harding School of Theology, a wonderful seminary with some of the finest students anywhere.  We moved from our home of 20 years in Waco, Texas.  This was quite a transition.  For 36 years, I preached in primarily three different congregations in Texas, Missouri and Alabama.  I love serving a congregation.  It was a very difficult decision to move my ministry from a congregation to a seminary.

I serve as an administrator for this seminary.  Yet, I have never stopped preaching.  I continue to preach many Sundays and teach Bible classes either Sunday morning or Wednesday evenings.  The transition was not about ending ministry but changing its form and place.  Yet, it was a transition and transitions are not easy.

In three years I have learned much.

  1. I have learned the beauty of an unexpected phone call or note from someone whom I have known many years.  People from our congregation in Texas have been so good to us!
  2. I have learned how wonderful people are in Memphis.  So many people have been gracious.  I can’t count the  number of lunches and coffees that I’ve had with various people.
  3. I have learned the importance of silence.  Ruth Haley Barton has said, “… I believe silence is the most  challenging, the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among evangelical Christians today.” (See Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton, p. 19)
  4.  I have learned how precious it is when people give financially to help these students.  Specifically, when people  give to help provide scholarships, they really bless these students.  As a result, the congregations and cities where  these students will serve will be blessed.
  5. I have learned (again) the importance of maintaining a rhythm of life that renews.  Like many of you, I have no  trouble finding something to do.  Consequently, it is very important that I build into my life practices that can  renew me.  A time for exercise.  A time to think.  A time to read and reflect.  A time to rest.
  6. I have learned that transition is difficult, even if it is a good transition.  Transition takes a lot of energy.  Sometimes transition is imposed upon you.  At other times, it is something you choose.  Regardless, it is difficult.
  7.  I have learned much about developing habits that give a person endurance and energy.  This is been a very  important theme for me in the last few years.

I Am Not Worthy

Worthy-Main-StarsShe sat outside our auditorium.  She sat in a folding chair, practically doubled over as if she was in pain.  She rocked and rocked.  Little did I know that she had a gun in her purse.

She was deeply troubled.  She had been an alcoholic for many years. That night her eyes were bloodshot. I presumed she had been drinking.  I approached her just before our worship service began. She said that she wanted to remain outside the auditorium in the hallway.

“I am not worthy.”

When the Encourager is Missing

At some point, by the grace of God, many of us have the opportunity to be influenced by an encourager. Very often, encouragers challenge us to imagine a future. They present possibilities. They inspire confidence.

I once heard the following story about my grandfather and have since thought about it many times.


My grandfather, John Martin, grew up in Oklahoma. His father had the reputation of being a very hard man. Meanwhile, his mother was a godly woman who was a part of a nearby church. They had two sons.

His mother had a reputation throughout the community for helping people when they were sick. She would often stay with a sick family and care for them until they got well. Her husband, however, could be cruel. He would often speak of his son Leonard, complimenting him for all that he could do to help around the farm. Yet, he rarely had a kind word to say regarding his other son, John (my grandfather).

John graduated first in his high school class. Then, with the encouragement of his mother, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. He wanted to become a medical doctor. He earned 110 hours of credit but then his senior year in school, his mother died. His father told the townspeople: “John doesn’t have enough sense to make a doctor.” His father cut off the tuition forcing his son to quit his studies.

John had not only lost his encourager but his tuition as well.

John went back home and began working on the farm. He later drove a truck. Then, during World War II, John worked on an assembly line in a munitions plant in Oklahoma City. He loved math and would often work trigonometry and calculus problems on his break, just for the challenge. One day, while on the assembly line, he was calculating some mathematical problems, when a friend asked, ”John, why aren’t you up there (pointing to the manager’s office)?”  

He married a young schoolteacher by the name of Iris and they moved to Searcy, Arkansas, where he worked at the Harding Dry Cleaners (on the campus of Harding University) until retirement. At the laundry, he once again worked math problems during his lunch break. He worked at this laundry until he retired.

He had dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. However, he had long ago lost his encourager.

Many years later, when my grandfather was in his 90s and living in a nursing home, he reflected on this story. My dad asked him about his years at the university, the death of his mother, and his dream of becoming a doctor.

He finally said, “I know I could have done it. I know I could have.”

This chapter in my grandfather’s life is a significant part of my own story. Because of this story, I have learned to value the contribution that certain encouragers have made in my life. I have realized that were it not for some significant encouragers, I could easily have given up and taken the path of least resistance.


Is there a family story that has been significant in shaping your life? Do you think about this often?

Getting an Education from the Classroom to the Street

I need to be reminded that “the sovereign Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:19). Street.jpeg

God has always wanted his people to depend on him.

Yet, life at street level is often difficult. In fact, it can be very difficult.

Years ago, I went to seminary. I studied and worked hard. I took courses in biblical texts, theology, church history, and practical ministry. I wrote research papers. I read and read. This time of study was very important in my own development as a person and minister. Yet, in no way was my education complete.

As I entered a congregation and began my ministry with these people, my street level education began.

These moments included:

Standing in a dusty West Texas cemetery with a young couple who were about to bury their little baby who was stillborn.

Having coffee with a union steward, asking him about how the economic conditions of our area were impacting families of workers who had been laid off.

Sitting in a living room one week after we had moved to a church, only to have a very wealthy man tell me I had just begun working with a church full of losers.

Getting called to an emergency room to sit with a family whose father/husband had just had a serious car accident while drinking.

Watching from a front row seat what happens to a family when the marriage vows are broken. I had no idea the pain of betrayal was that intense.

Listening in my office to two young foster children as they told me the story of the abuse in their previous foster home and how they were moved to a safe home. Finally, these sweet little children were freed from this hell on earth.

Preaching and teaching message after message and realizing just how difficult this could be.

Entering a funeral home, only to hear a father wail as he grieved the death of his daughter, whom he had accidentally run over with his truck.

Witnessing baptisms and seeing the radical change in some peoples’ lives.

I am still learning. Sometimes this learning takes place because of what I read in a book. Sometimes this learning takes place within the congregation, the community of believers that I work with. Quite often, however, this learning takes place on the street where life unfolds and we are reminded again of our desperate need for God.


What has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned from being an observer of life?

Steve Jobs and Those Seemingly Irrelevant Experiences

The Wall Street Journal recently printed a portion of Steve Jobs’s 2005 commencement address at Stanford. Sometime those experiences, skills, courses, can seem irrelevant. Yet, quite often, later in life they turn out to be a valuable part of who you are.


I naïvely chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and no idea of how college was going to help me figure it out, and here I was, spending all the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me and begin dropping in on the ones that looked far more interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms. I returned Coke bottles for the five-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example.

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer was beautifully hand-calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me, and we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts, and since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.

If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.

As I read this portion of his speech, I thought about my own life. So many experiences and interesting turns. Sometimes when I reflect on the past I wonder how some of these experiences connect:

  • My first two and a half years of college at Eastfield College (a Dallas County community college). A stimulating time in which I was introduced to so many new ideas in the classroom.
  • Years of working various jobs including at a fast food drive-thru, a bakery, a sales company, and United Parcel Service.
  • Fascinating interviews I conducted for a sociology class project at Eastfield that introduced me to a number of non-profit organizations that exist to help people.
  • Working with churches in Alabama, Missouri, and Texas and all of the experiences that go with ministering to people.
  • Ministering in Kansas City, Missouri, which allowed me to get acquainted with a long-time police officer who introduced me to parts of Kansas City I would never have seen otherwise.
  • Being intentional for most of my adult life about meeting with people over coffee/lunch in order to learn and grow. I am thankful for people who let me ask question after question. These people include ministers, a rabbi, mayors, professors, business people, coaches, etc. These include people who are a variety of ages.

I really could go on and on with this. How does God use these experiences? I’m not sure I always know. However, I do believe he has used these experiences and so many more in ways I already see.


Think about your own life. What have you experienced that seemed to have no relevance to what you were doing at the time but its relevance now is obvious?

Being Judgmental Doesn’t Have to Take So Long

It was October 1995. I had been in Bethesda, Maryland, at a seminar for almost a week. Finally, it was time to go home. Late that afternoon, I flew out of Baltimore and changed planes in Chicago.

After landing in Chicago, I boarded a connecting flight to Austin. As I sat in my seat waiting for the departure, person after person passed by, apparently planning to sit in the back. Numerous people walked by and I began to wonder if maybe I would actually fly out of Chicago with no one in the middle seat.

Then I saw him.


He wore a business suit, stylishly long hair, and a dark tan. I saw him coming and decided that he was probably full of himself. No doubt he was the kind of guy who would be judgmental of everyone else who didn’t make as much money or wasn’t dressed as nicely. (How is that for being judgmental?) Sure enough, he stopped at my row and asked if he could have the middle seat. I moved so he could sit down.

I didn’t tell him I had already decided that I didn’t like him.

We soon began talking. He appeared to be very affluent, urbane, and articulate. At one point he asked me what I did for a living. He seemed genuinely intrigued that I was a minister. He said he liked the worship service at his church. The service was very succinct and tight. He said he always learned something and always got something out of it. He went on to say that he especially liked his Sunday school. The adult classes were primarily led by four of their ministers. These were very good classes and they dealt with topics like how God works in one’s life or how a Christian should handle his/her money. Recently, two ministers had a class on Christian themes in recent movies.

He said, “I enjoy going to these classes. On Sunday morning I usually go to two classes. You can go to a class with 100 people and keep going back and meeting various people. It is relevant and I come away having learned something.” He went on to say that it was very different from the kind of Bible class where you open your Bible and read verse by verse.

On Wednesday nights the people who regularly attend the church are sort of expected to be there. Usually there will be some kind of message by their pastor. Several comments will be made about the church and there will be a meal at a nominal price.

He then went on to tell me that someone led a very interesting class on the 12 steps. He said his church takes the approach that people out there are battered and bruised in some way. One does not have to be poor or from the other side of the tracks to have experienced this.

He looked me in the eye and said, “All of us have experienced being bruised or battered in some way.”

I should not have put him in a category before even meeting him. Because I had “sized him up” early, my attitude toward him and my view of him were seriously slanted. The man I assumed to be arrogant was more humble than me. In fact, his humility exposed my own arrogance and judgmental spirit.

That evening, while traveling from Chicago to Austin, I learned something about humility (or perhaps my lack of it) from a man who appeared to have it all together but whose life displayed far more of a transparent, humble spirit than my own. It doesn’t take very long to be judgmental. Hopefully, I will remember that snap judgments may cause me to miss someone whose life is being transformed by God.


Do you recall a time when you thought you had figured out someone, only to later realize that you had misjudged that person?

Stuck in a Memphis Bathroom

I was stuck.water.jpg

Years ago, I had just finished taking a final exam at Harding Graduate School of Religion (Memphis). The test was not complete until late afternoon. I decided to spend the night and stayed at my friend Gary’s apartment. Gary worked nights and I would have the apartment to myself most of the evening.

I had been in Memphis all week taking a D. Min. seminar and so by Friday evening, I was ready to relax. I planned to watch a pre-season football game on television and eat a pizza that had just been delivered. Just before eating the first piece of pizza, I stepped into the restroom to wash my hands. I turned the knob at the sink and the thing fell off. Water shot into the air. I ran outside to look for the apartment office or a maintenance person. I saw no one.

I ran to the next apartment and banged on the door. A guy opened the door and he was drunk. I told him what had happened and he started yelling about the irresponsible maintenance people. Meanwhile, water was seeping under his wall. He said that he would contact maintenance, so I went back into the apartment. I yanked a hose off the vacuum cleaner and stuck one end over the broken faucet so the water could flow through the hose, while I held the other end over the bathtub.

I sat on the commode lid, holding one end of the hose with one hand and the other end with the other hand.

For about thirty minutes, I sat there. I was stuck! Sitting on a commode lid, praying for someone to come. Finally the drunk guy came into the apartment and a maintainience man followed. He turned the water off outside and began vacuuming the water with a shop vacuum cleaner.

About 10:00 PM, they both left. The maintenance guy went home. The drunk guy went to his apartment. I left my seat on the commode lid.

I went into the kitchen. The game was over and the pizza was cold. What an evening!

I had been stuck all evening in a Memphis bathroom.

Now lots of us get stuck.

Sometimes families get stuck. Their life and joy are gone.
Sometimes married couples get stuck. Their sexual relationship may lack passion and desire and instead happen only out of a sense of duty.
Sometimes friends get stuck. They continue to be friends even though their withdrawals are larger than their deposits.
Sometimes churches get stuck. They stop dreaming or anticipating what God might do.
Sometimes elder groups get stuck. They stopped having any fun or joy a long time ago.
Sometimes individuals get stuck. A guy may spend more time sitting in his recliner watching ball games than talking with his wife and children.

Getting unstuck is not always easy. Yet the first thing that we need to do is to simply acknowledge that we are stuck. Then we need to spend some time imagining a new kind of life. We need to imagine life that is unstuck. For example, we need to imagine what we might do as a church if we were unstuck.


Have you experienced being stuck? What did you notice about the experience? What makes getting unstuck difficult?

Rookie Mistake

I thought I would simply go to Target on Friday morning to pick up a GPS that was on sale. I couldn’t believe the price.

Turned out to be more complicated than I thought.

Retail Sales Outlook

We were in Dallas for Thanksgiving. We were with my parents, my brother, and my sister’s family. We spent the night at my parents’ house. I decided to get up early and buy the GPS at the nearby Target.

At 5 AM, I walked into the Target near Town East Mall. The parking lot was full. Hundreds of paper cups were scattered outside the store where many people evidently had waited for the store to open. Inside, it was unbelievable. I had never seen that many people inside a Target at one time. Check-out lines were backed up with long lines that snaked throughout the store. People were even checking out at the snack bar.

These shoppers were veterans. They were intense shopping warriors making their way through the store, doing battle with the full power of bulging carts. They looked tired but determined.

I was out of place. A rookie.

Ten minutes later, I headed toward the exit. The GPS had sold out shortly after they opened. I was way too late.

I went across the street to Town East Mall. (It was 5:30 AM and I was already out. May as well go someplace!) I walked through the mall watching people. It was amazing! Every restaurant in the food court was open. Inside Macy’s, there were people at the perfume counter. 5:30 in the morning? Others were trying on clothes. I could not believe the number of people in that mall before the sun had come up.

Ok, I realize that some of you are shaking your head at this point. You’ve been there and done that on Black Friday. You may be a shopping warrior yourself.

No doubt it is obvious to you that I was out of place.

A clueless rookie.