pastor (8)

‘pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd

[ This post is #8 in a 22-part series. So as to best comprehend this series, read the introduction to the opening installment (posted Mon., Oct. 2). ]

Mario & Marilyn Pineda. Mario and I were students together back in preaching school days. Mario was preaching a bit with a local congregation and would soon wind up preaching “full time” there.* I was the true newb at the time; I was yet to even preach my first sermon when Mario and I first met.

Neither was I wearing a ring on my left hand yet, but I would be in the near future. While on the other hand, Mario was already a married man. He and his sweet bride, Marilyn, were quite a pair; a marvelous young Christian couple. They both strove to be Christ-like, each in their own ways, and together. Their care and consideration for each other was deep, easy, natural, and flourishing. Their great love for each other lit up the room whenever they walked in together.

And believe me: I, and others, took frequent and joyful note of that.

I don’t know if Mario or Marilyn ever knew it at the time, but they were often the topic of conversation among instructors and fellow students.

“Isn’t it great the way Marilyn did ____ for him?” “Did you see the way Mario took care of ____ for her?” “Just look at the way those two look at each other, will ya’?” “They just seem to want to give each other the best they have all the time!” Etc.

Such were common comments by all whenever Mario and Marilyn would depart a larger group’s company. They made us all determined to be better people and for those who, like myself, were unmarried at the time, well, they gave us a sterling example.

Mario and Marilyn, you two silently taught, pastored, shepherded, and instructed no small number of people in some of the ways of true thoughtfulness and tenderness, consideration and service, for our mates. It was easy to see Christ at the center of your marriage and the Spirit’s fruit in your lives then, and I know such must be all the more the case today.

Though I’m sure I’m exceedingly far from anything like a great husband, there is no doubt in my mind that I am a better partner for my mate due to the model Mario and Marilyn set before me over and over. I’m very thankful for that.

Father God, in the name of Jesus, I thank you for good men who love their wives, and by so doing, show that way clearly to others. Thank you for the shepherding your servants, Mario and Marilyn, silently gave me in this regard. Lavish your riches on them forever, I pray. Amen.

[ * To this day, Mario & Marilyn still minister with the Prairie Hill Church of Christ, located just south of Duncan, OK. ]

pastor (7)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd

[ This post is #7 in a 22-part series. To understand this series best, first read the intro to the opening installment (posted Mon., Oct. 2). ]

Clayton Waller. In mentioning Clayton here, I’m perhaps going a bit afield from my original parameters for this series in that he was technically not, as we say, a “located preacher” when I got to know him. But, he had recently returned to the U.S. from years of missionary labors in what was then northeastern Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) – and, sadly, had been deeply hurt in the experience. And of all places, he and his sweet wife, Ina, had put down roots in my home church in Duncan, OK. When the Westside School of Bible & Preaching came to be, Clayton was tapped to become one of its instructors. It was in his class on Romans that I, now a student in that school, first met him.

And what a meeting it was! Highly skilled in the Bible’s original languages (especially Hebrew) and with a keen sense of “the big picture” of Scripture and how it all tied together, Clayton obviously viewed Christian faith through a very different set of lenses than any other preacher I had met before. While most seemed to typically saturate their messages with verses strung together from all over the New Testament (“going everywhere preaching the gospel” – LOL) and spoke a great deal of what we’re to be about doing today, Clayton invariably focused on a single passage, drilled deep, and focused primarily on how what God did and is doing affects us, and so, only then, what we do.

He didn’t “skin the denominations” when he spoke of churches or preachers outside of our specific heritage, either. In fact, he was content to quote whoever and give credit for whatever true good was done in the name of Christ by anyone. “Truth is truth no matter who says it and good is good no matter who does it.” Further, whenever he spoke he frequently used two words it seemed I only rarely heard from the lips of others (with the exceptions of Robert Gregg and Stanley Sayers): “grace” and “mercy.” And the Holy Spirit – oh, to Clayton, the Spirit was alive and well and working today, directly, and not only indirectly.

But, perhaps most startling of all to me was what I will call his “openness.” While some others clearly started with the expectation that we can know and explain even matters of very fine detail in seemingly all things faith-related and that such is our God-given responsibility and task – that is, that we can, and must, answer nearly all the faith-questions that can be conceived of and asked – Clayton quite deliberately swam against that stream. While others dwelt on ascertaining certainty, Clayton was clearly content to often live with mystery. He seemed to have a whole pallet of colors with which to paint, while most others appeared to have only black and white at hand. Consequently, he was a constant contrast to much of what I heard throughout the rest of the week, be it in school, sermons, Bible classes, or reading that had been assigned or suggested to me.

This was, to me, to say the least, curious and amazing, new and shocking. And, terrible to say, were ways that some others even actively urged me to reject and strongly resist.

How I wish I could tell you otherwise, but it is simply the truth: it would be several years before I began to embrace my Clayton’s perspective. At the time I knew him, I listened to him, but I rejected his perspective. (sigh) But, in time, that would change. And it was Clayton Waller who first challenged me to do so.

Father God, thank you for my brother, Clayton Waller. Thank you for sparing and carrying him and Ina through their ordeal in Rhodesia. Thank you for his ceaseless attempts to fit my eyes, and the eyes of many, with a new set of glasses. Thank you for your grace and mercy, for being patient with me, and for giving me time and temper to come to accept them. Thank you for Clayton’s shepherding of my mind with his staff and rod. Thank you for using Clayton to crack open my then rapidly closing mind and giving me an expanded – and still expanding – vision of you and your work. Thank you for teaching me, through him, that how I go about thinking is just as important as what I think. May it be Christ who is glorified in it all, and through whom you hear my prayer. Amen.

pastor (6)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(This post is #6 in a 22-part series. To fully appreciate this series, first read the first installment’s introduction (posted Mon., Oct. 2).
 
Steve Bracken. At the start, I thought what Steve exemplified and shepherded me in most was sincere love and joy in the Lord. To me, his unquestionably genuine (key words!), quick, irrepressible smile was ample evidence enough of the presence and fruit of God’s Spirit at work within him.
 
However, that quickly evolved into a perception of Steve as an embodiment of the essence and true end of the gospel itself – peace – for if Steve was anything at all, it was peace and striving to be a peacemaker. Knowing Steve was like watching Romans 12.18 walking and talking; if tattoos had been “cool” back then, then that text is what should have been tattooed around his neck. Love, joy, and peace – ever wrapped in robes of gentleness and kindness – that’s what Steve was all about in big and obvious ways.
 
And yet, those things aren’t what Steve modeled for me, and pastored me in, best. To understand, you’d have to understand the time and place in which I came to know him. Suffice it to say that it was in many ways an appalling and galling time in our church family. Tumultuous times had bubbled to the surface, the atmosphere was ever-tense, and passive-aggressive ways were frequently in full-display, so much so that even I, a still infant Christian, could detect such with ease. Whispering, gossip, outrageous speculations, insinuations, and slights filled the air.
 
I will tell you what I have never told anyone until now: though those were some of the most joyful and vigorous times of growth for me in the Lord, they were also some of the most disheartening and depressing times for me ever in the life of a church family.
 
But, without ever directly mentioning the subject or the word (at least that I can recall), it was Steve Bracken who ministered one extremely strong and vital word to me through it all and in every moment.
 
Courage.
 
Courage under fire. Courage while caught in a crossfire. Courage when reputed pillars of faith caved around him and mimicked cowardly critics. Courage when seemingly everything around shouted discouragement. Courage to be a blessing and give words of blessing even as the air was filled with curses. Daily. Courage to take it, take it all, and take it with a smile.” Courage to keep going and to do so sowing seeds of peace while a multitude shouted for war. Courage to forgive … again and again and again.
 
Wow. Talk about guts for God! Talk about what it means to be a man, a true man of God!*
 
Just … wow.
 
I have one deep regret regarding, Steve: I never told me any of what I have told you here.
 
Oh, Father God, forgive me of this sin. Thank you so much for my bold and beautiful brother, Steve Bracken! Increase his tribe and count me among it. In the name of our Prince of Peace, I pray. Amen.
 
[ Two notes: * My bride and I elected Steve to officiate our wedding ceremony and I could not have been more pleased to have had such a smiling, courageous hero and champion of peace to do so. It made the moment all the more beautiful to me. * Steve died on Valentine’s Day 2015. His remains are buried in Seagoville, TX. And though I’ve never visited his grave, I’m told that engraved on his gravestone are the most of fitting words: “Keep smiling.” ]

pastor (5)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(#5 in a 22-part series)

First, to grasp what’s going on in this series, read the introduction to the first post in this series (Mon., Oct. 2).

This installment is a bit different from those preceding in that today I’m especially thankful for those whom I have immediately followed, in terms of time. That is, wherever I have been, I know I’m profoundly indebted to those who preceded me. Some of them I knew/know personally, and some, even very well (e.g. – David Bryan, Duard Givens, Kirk Givens, Jim Hance, Leon Sharp, and Jerry Sullins).

And, of course, if we extend things back in time, most I did not know personally, if even at all.

They all did some very good, often challenging, work and I realize I have been privileged by our Father to have entered into their shepherding of souls, pastoring of people, and labors of brotherly love.

But, more on some of these in particular, God willing, in coming installments this month. And, in a broader sense, in my sermon this coming Sunday morning with MoSt Church. 😉

Father God, great is everything you do and great is your grace to work your good through us your weak, earthly vessels. Thank you for these men, and their mates, that I sense you have led me, by your providence, to follow. In the name of your Son, I ask that as you used them as you pleased in their place and time, use me and mine here and now to accomplish your will among your people and beyond. To your glory. Amen.

pastor (4)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(#4 in a 22-part series)

To understand what’s going on with this series, read the intro to the first installment (posted Mon., Oct. 2).

Stanley Sayers. Stanley blessed me years before we knew each other. He did that by being a prolific reader and an accomplished author.

Understand, I grew up an avid reader and the bookcase along the north wall of my parent’s living room was my primary library. I grew up reading virtually everything my parents placed on the shelves there. The World Book Encyclopedia (yes, I read, not merely referenced, encyclopedias). Hardback copies of American Heritage magazine (my favorite). Years and years of The Reader’s Digest (my second favorite). Volumes of biographies on World War Two veterans from Oklahoma. Two Dr. Seuss books. Issues of ‘Popular Science’ and ‘The Voice of Freedom.’ A picture Bible. Many letters from my grandmothers and some of my aunts. Religious tracts that my Grandmother Smith mailed us. Assorted books and magazines from the far right of the political spectrum (e.g. – John Birch Society material).

And … a handful of religious books, nearly all of them authored by a man named Stanley Sayers. His work entitled For This Cause I read again and again. (I don’t have a clue how his books got on our shelf, but I suspect they were likely either gifts from my Grandma Smith or from a very close family friend, Louis Chenault, who was a deacon in the Northside Church of Christ in my hometown … where Stanley preached during a portion of my growing up years).

Now when I first enrolled in the Westside School of Preaching (1978), Stanley was one of the instructors there and was also one of the first instructors that I met. I’d never met anyone who had written a book before nor anyone I had knowledge of having had authored articles for magazines. That was true though it was one of my distant kin who founded and edited ‘The Voice of Freedom.’ I mentioned such to him when we were introduced and, much to my delight, we talked books and writing in practically every conversation we ever shared in the years following. Time and again, standing together in his study, he’d think of something in a book that he’d want to show me, walk over to one of the shelves, find the volume, and almost immediately turn to the selection he wanted me to read, usually just a few sentences or paragraph. Simply amazing. Further, his tremendous memory was exceeded by his great kindness and thoughtfulness, ever abundant and free.

Thank you, Stanley, for nurturing within me the joy of learning, the love of religious reflection and writing, the value and importance of printed words, the need to understand the views of others and to learn from them, and the deep conviction that can come from all of those matters combined. You spoke to me most, ministered to me best, and in a sense you still do, through the printed word, and I will ever be grateful for that.

pastor (3)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(#3 in a 22-part series)

To understand what’s going on with this series, read the intro to the first installment (posted Mon., Oct. 2).

Jerry Hurst. Jerry became the Westside Church’s associate minister roughly around the time I became a Christian (1976) and we became fast friends. He was also the director of a school of Bible and preaching* he had begun and, in fact, soon became Westside’s pulpit minister. Needless to say, he had a full plate.

And yet, I will tell you that few men in my life have ministered as powerfully to me as Jerry Hurst. How so? Primarily in three ways: (1) making time for me, (2) persisting in patient listening as I peppered him with a seemingly endless stream of questions and newborn babble, and (3) like an offensive tackle opening up all kinds of big and little doors of challenge and opportunity for me over and over and over again, he’d blast a hole in the line and then, in effect, tell me to run for daylight.

Four decades have passed and, at this moment, I can only recall a very few of the questions I ever posed him (i.e – what do you see I can do to help around here?; what on earth is Matthew 24 about?; and what are some good books I’d do well to read and own?), but his patience with me I will never, ever forget. He was patience personified. The way he’d roll his eyes at me whenever I’d always (rudely) barge in on him unannounced, gently shake his head, ask me what on earth it was that I wanted this time, give me that trademark Jerry Hurst smile, and then tell me (sometimes) to sit down, all the while knowing full well that whatever was about to happen was not going to be over with quickly.

LOL. Good times … that no doubt cost him way more time than I could have ever imagined at the time. Jerry was the first preacher I ever knew that I would come to know really well and refer to as “friend.”

Thank you, my friend, for investing much time in me and shepherding me in so many ways. Father God, do bless my friend in all ways and forever. Amen.

[ * The Westside School of Bible & Preaching was a three-year school in Duncan, OK, meeting all day long on Saturdays. I enrolled in WSBP in Jan. 1978 with no intent whatsoever of preaching, but simply to try to grow a bit as a Christian. However, by the time I early- graduated from WSBP (May 1980), I had been engaged in fill-in and part-time preaching on a virtually every week basis for close to a year. It was Jerry who first got me up to preach a sermon to a church and until Jan. 1980, every time I spoke with any church, anywhere, had been by his arrangement. ]

pastor (2)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(#2 in a 22-part series)

To understand what’s going on with this series, read the intro to the first installment in this series. I posted that here yesterday (Oct. 2).

J.T. Marlin.* We had nothing in common. He was a very formal old-school preacher and I was a long-haired, awkward teen who wrestled with just trying to grasp what he was saying. Not for lack of education, eloquence, or effort on his part, you understand; if anything, he was highly polished and professional. It was simply that we were so very different and how can you “hear” anyone so different from yourself? But, I applied myself to the task, truly – though mainly just out of curiosity and respect, I must confess – and J.T. quickly picked up on that; he noticed that I was “listening,” not merely “hearing.”

And though he struggled for an exceedingly long time to simply learn and remember my name (something I found very humorous at the time, but I can oh, so relate to now!) I could tell that he knew I was trying. And so, somewhere in the course of virtually every sermon, he’d make what I could tell was deliberate just-for-me eye contact, multiple times. No small thing in a church of well over 400 in average attendance! Way more communication went on between us with eye contact than anything he ever verbalized to me. In fact, I don’t recall us ever even sharing so much as a single extended conversation! But, what he communicated with his eyes reinforced what Hubert Plumlee had conveyed to me in other ways. “We may be very different, but you matter to me (whoever your name is – LOL!) and what I’m saying matters to you.”

And so with his eyes, J.T. opened my eyes to God a bit more. Or as the old adage puts it well, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” J.T. cared, and I knew it.

Thank you for shepherding that then lost sheep with just your look, brother.

[* J.T. preached with what was then known as the Westside Church in Duncan, OK, across town from Eastside where Hubert Plumlee preached. Their ministries partially overlapped each other in time.]