Category Archives: Biography

The Call

“But I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Forty years ago March 4th fell on a Sunday. It was the first day of an eight day series of televised meetings held by evangelist James Robison at the North Phoenix Baptist Church. I was in attendance every day. I don’t remember what Robison preached on at every meeting, but the first night stands out: that’s when I responded to God’s call to preach the Gospel.

The message was on apathy. It affected me so strongly that I crafted my own oratory speech on the topic for my high school forensics team the following year. It was a speech that won the largest tournament in the Soutwestern U.S. that year at Arizona State University.

I was a junior in high school when James Robison came to our church. I would turn 17 on the final day of the crusade. The preivious Easter Sunday, not quite one year earlier, I had committed my life to Jesus Christ. I was baptized the Sunday after Easter and attended church each week from that point forward. In fact, I became immersed. I went to youth choir on Sunday nights, Monday night outreach, Wednesday prayer meeting. I was at every youth activity and went to youth camp the following summer. I wanted to be whatever a Christian was supposed to. This went further or deeper for me, though.

The pastor of my church was Richard Jackson, a passionate Gospel preacher. Many times when he preached I felt compelled, not just to do what he urged, but to run up to the pulpit and preach! When Robison came, the fever grew stronger. I wanted to do what these men were doing. On the first night of the Robison crusade I responded to the invitation to recommit my life, to stop being apathetic. I spoke to a crusade counselor, I believe his name was Mike, who was just a few years older than me. I think we prayed first, then I said, seemingly as an afterthought, “I believe God is calling me to preach.” It wasn’t an emotional decision. I had come to the realization, perhaps admitted to myself for the first time, that this would be my life.

Interestingly, my grandmother called it when I was only five years old. She told me I’d be a preacher. I never gave it another thought, until I came to the same conclusion at age 17.

For 40 years I’ve pursued and practiced preaching the Gospel. I don’t know that I’ve been that successful, and I’m certainly not worthy, but I remain committed. So long as the Lord Jesus has a place for me to serve, I’ll keep it up. I don’t intend to retire. Maybe I’ll go on another 20, 30 or 40 years. Who knows? I just want to finish the race and hear the Lord say, “Well done, faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

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1969-2019 Auspicious Events for Ministry

It is appropriate for me that I started this article at 11:11 on 1-1-19. 1111 has had significance for me for some time, and it is the first day of a new year. Not just any new year, however. I’ve considered it, and during my lifetime significant events have happened at the end of each decade. Now, I suppose I could attempt a similar exercise with any year, but during each year ending in nine, something life changing has occurred, and/or something new has been inaugurated.

I wrote a blog yesterday and took it all the way back to ’79, but as I was thinking just now, I can even find a life changing event that occurred in ’69, when I was only seven years old. 1969 was the year my parents divorced. My biological father was an alcoholic and his irresponsible, sometimes violent, behavior precipitated that permanent separation. I never had a good relationship with my dad beyond that time. Early on he was a dangerous person to be avoided. Later he was distant and I had limited communication with him until several years before he passed away in 2008. This left a painful wound on my heart that didn’t heal until I fully accepted the reality that through Jesus, God is my Father, and He has not abandoned me. I will admit there is still a scar, but that has served to glorify my Heavenly Father. I am also thankful that my biological dad eventually put his faith in Jesus, so I’ll see him again one day.

I publicly committed my life to Jesus Christ at the North Phoenix Baptist Church when I was sixteen. One year later, in 1979, I surrendered to God’s call to preach. During that first year as a follower of Jesus I attended church faithfully, and often when Pastor Jackson passionately delivered his message I would feel a strong compulsion to do the same thing. I didn’t really recognize this as a calling until, shortly before my 17th birthday, an evangelist named James Robison came to our church and conducted and eight day event (back then they were called crusades). On the first night he spoke on apathy, and I responded to the invitation to recommit my life to Christ. As I was talking to the crusade counselor I mentioned, almost casually, that I thought I was being called to preach. The next year I graduated high school and pursued a college education to prepare for the vocation I’ve pursued since that time.

My first staff position in a church began after my first semester at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. I became the youth minister at First Baptist Church, The Colony–about an hour’s drive from seminary. In January of 1989 something remarkable happened at that church. You see, when I started ministry there they had recently hired a new pastor due to a previous church split. Two-thirds of the original congregation were meeting in the high school cafeteria with the previous youth minister as their pastor. The other third, who called me to be their youth minister, maintained control over the church property and met in the original building. The remarkable thing that happened was this fractured congregation agreed to unite. There was serious resistance from the pastor who hired me, and he quit in protest. My youth group increased ten-fold immediately. It had dwindled to just nine people due to the contentious atmosphere created by our pastor, but the Sunday after our merger there were 90 teenagers in attendance!

That wasn’t the only significant thing that happened 1989. It was also the year I started producing House of Judgement in the DFW Metroplex. The idea of an alternative haunted house was not mine. The concept came from a church in Alabama, and they called it Judgment House. Pastor Bill Wilks of our church, who was from Alabama (and ministers there now) outlined the concept and asked if I’d consider getting our youth to do a Judgment House. Frankly, the whole thing sounded cheesy and exploitive. But I kept thinking about it. I came to the conclusion that we could do it in a way that was realistic and relevant. I introduced the idea to our youth group in the living room of the home where I stayed. There were 30 kids there that night, and they enthusiastically committed to make the event a reality at our church. In fact, that first youth group was responsible for us called it House of Judgement, rather than Judgment House. They thought that sounded much better, and I added to older spelling of the word judgement. The rest is history. I wrote my very first play, and we produced it in what I like to call a “mobile theatre format.” Instead of audiences sitting still and watching the set change between scenes in a traditional theater, we moved audiences from scene to scene. Each year I wrote a new play. I wrote and directed of House of Judgement and led in it’s production with three different churches from 1989 until 2006. During that time nearly 100,000 people attended, and over 10,000 made public professions of faith in Christ. 1989 was an auspicious year indeed.

By 1999 I had been serving for seven years as the associate pastor and youth minister with Freeman Heights Baptist Church. It became obvious that God wanted me to start a church. A series of events took place that forced me to take action sooner than I would have planned. However, I had strong support from the pastor I served with and from our denomination. On July 4th, 1999 (Independence Day was intentionally significant), City of Refuge launched at 111 Ranch in Garland, Tx. Our day to day operations were out of a house I leased, and we met in hotel ballrooms for worship. About a year and a half later we decided to change the name of the church to Zion–a city on a hill, the people of promise. Ten years later we changed the name again, largely due to a changing culture and persistent misunderstanding of the name by some. We are now Lifewell Church. On July 4th of this year we will celebrate 20 years of ministry in the Garland area.

In 2009 our church leased the building where we still meet on the downtown Garland Square. It is 122 years old, one of the oldest structures in our city. We’ve had a presence in the center of the city for 15 years, but getting this building established us. It is the launch point for what I believe God is going to do next…

Do you see the pattern? 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009: during each of these years something significant has happened that has shaped my ministry.

It is January 1, 2019 as I write this. What will God do next? That’s something about which I’ve prayed fervently for several years, asking and seeking and knocking. The watchword for me this year is GROW. I want to see our church grow significantly, as individuals mature spiritually, and as God exponentially adds new people to our community. However, this morning I came to the conclusion that the time has come for me to write consistently, and to finish the book I started several years ago. I am insecure about this. I don’t know who will read what I write, but I’m going to write. What you’ve just read is the result of that conviction.

79-89-99-09-19: Ready, Set, GROW!

I believe 2019 will be a significant year for me and for our church. The watchword for  this year is GROWTH.

It seems that every 10 years at the end of the previous decade, God establishes something significant in my life as a minister. 79-89-99-09-19. 

In 1979 I had been a follower of Jesus for a year and surrendered his call to preach. I pursued an education to prepare for ministry for the next decade.

In 1989 I was a year into professional ministry (as in, I got compensated financially; I’d been a volunteer minister for several years up to that point). Two important things happened: the church in which I ministered was reunited and re-established, and an I had the privilege of starting an annual event that was destined to reach thousands of people with the truth of the Gospel.

In 1999 the church I and a small group of young people founded the church I still pastor. At that point we called ourselves City of Refuge. Today the church is Lifewell. We’ve had our ups and downs, struggles and celebrations, people have come and gone, returned and left again, but we have a core group that has persevered. There are many new faces, and I believe they are the firstfruits of a new beginning that will result in tremendous GROWTH.

In January of 2009 our church established the lease on one of the oldest buildings in town. It is a 122 year old structure on the Garland downtown Square, and it’s been our place for ministry and worship in the heart of the city for a decade now.

So, every decade something significant has been established. Is something new coming in 2019. I cannot say. However, I do believe it is our year. I do believe it is a year the Lord will rain favor on me and our church–undeserved favor, which is grace. I’ve been tracking God’s promises for 20 years, and I’m looking forward to their realization in my life and ministry this year.

Here’s a promise I received from the Lord just this morning. Psalm 90 is a good Scripture to read as a new year begins. I memorized verse 12 many years ago: “Teach us to number our days rightly, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” However, the Spirit of God spoke at the end of the Psalm today.

“Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. Let your work be seen by your servants, and your splendor by their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands— establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:15–17, CSB)

Amen. I’ve seen hard times, lean times, and certainly some good times. However, I must admit I’ve been persistently disappointed at the limited growth of our church. But I am a prisoner of hope (see Zechariah 9:12)! I have continued to believe that we are moving through a process of preparation for significant impact on our world. I believe God will bring remarkable growth to me and to Lifewell Church in 2019– personal, spiritual and numeric growth. It is our year. Let the beauty and favor of the Lord our God be upon us! Establish the work of our hands! Amen.

Physical Training Anniversary and New Challenge

One year ago today I embarked on a project to renew my body. I’d gained flab and lost fitness. I made a meme of Frosty the Snowman with my face superimposed because I looked like a snowman. I don’t look like that today!

I won’t go into all of the details of my diet and exercise program here. If you want to look back at earlier entries in this blog you can discover what I did. Suffice it to say, what I’ve done worked. I’m maintaining less than 10 percent body fat and have gained muscle mass. My waist is at 29 inches. My goal is to gain about 10 more pounds of lean body mass and keep the fat percentage where it is currently. However, I’ve encountered an obstacle: injury.

Over the years, I’ve seen a repeat of the same issue. I’ve gotten myself back in shape and then sustained an injury to my shoulder(s), which results in my not being able to train my upper body. I get disappointed, don’t do other exercise, let my diet go, gain weight, and remain out of shape until long after the injury heals. I re-injured my right shoulder while doing benchpress last week. This is sad because I had gained strength even though I still have a mis-located (broken) collarbone sustained while doing incline benchpress. I’m afraid I’ll have to find other chest exercises. Bench has proven destructive. Yes, I warm up. Yes, my form is correct. 

I’m not giving up, but I am learning. First, I’m not afraid of gaining too much fat, even if my workouts are curtailed while this shoulder heals. Why? I’ve found the golden ticket to fat loss and maintaining lean body mass. It’s called intermittent fasting. You could also call this scheduled eating. I’m not the expert here. You can look it up. Read books by Jason Fung. Watch YouTube videos by Thomas DeLauer and Dr. Eric Berg. What I will tell you is, it works.

Intermittent fasting means I fast periodically for at least 13 hours, up to 24. Typically I stop eating between 3pm and 6pm and don’t eat again until the next day until noon. On the 13 hour fasting days I drink Bulletproof coffee and/or eat eggs, no carbs in the morning. Secondly, I limit my carbohydrate and sugar intake. I eat almost no bread, no pasta, no potatoes, and limit the amount of fruit. Of course, I avoid all sweets, and don’t put sugar in my coffee or tea. Intermittent fasting is easier on a low carb diet. When I eat carbs I’m hungry all the time. When I eat healthy fats, I’m not. The simple reason for this is, when you eat carbs, your body uses that as fuel immediately; therefore, it wants you to keep supplying those carbs throughout the day. When your body doesn’t have carbs/sugar for a longer period of time, it learns to burn fat. This is what happens when someone follows the now famous keto diet.

A keto diet is a good place to start before entering into longer periods of fasting (ie. longer than over night). Once your body is in ketosis, it isn’t craving carbs for fuel. Fasting becomes easier in this state because your body is used to burning fat, and will easily burn body fat in the absence of food. That’s what you’re looking for, at least if you need to lose some flab.

So, I’m injured. I’m disappointed. However, I’m not giving up, and I’m not going to get fat again. Fasting is a discipline often associated with religion. In fact, every major religion practices fasting to one degree or another. Sadly, many Protestants or Evangelical groups do not practice it. We should. It’s healthy, both spiritually and physically. I’ve written about this as well. The reason I bring in the spiritual aspect at the end of this entry is, I believe God’s providential reason for allowing my current injury is to move me away from focus on self and toward increased spiritual discipline, or what the Bible calls training in godliness. The essence of this kind of training is focus on God instead of self. Fasting is one of the spiritual disciplines I want to pursue. There are others.

I’ve just purchased the Kindle version of Richard Foster’s classic A Celebration of Discipline, along with Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines. One year after my physical transformation, I will now focus on training in godliness/a holy life. Basic to this is becoming more like Jesus. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m impatient. I’m easily frustrated. I complain often. I’m lustful. Just saying no to these things will not stop them. I know because I’ve tried that approach my entire life. What I need is to learn to say yes to a good and loving God, and that includes saying yes to spiritual training and discipline.

for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8, NRSV)

My Smile

I never smile with my teeth. At least, not on purpose. I have need for quite a bit of dental work, but have never been willing or able to invest the money. However, the most visible flaw that I seek to hide is a broken tooth, which I’ve had for 35 years. Today that will change. In a couple of hours I will finally have a crown put on that tooth.

I’ve related the story of my broken tooth to audiences when speaking about fighting and turning the other cheek. You see my tooth got knocked out by an employee of an Exxon gas station.

It was 1983 in Phoenix, Az, and I was on Christmas break from Baylor University. I purchased a 1970 yellow Chevelle Malibu to get around. One December evening I decided to go to Metrocenter Mall to see the movie Bladerunner. However, my Chevy was running rough. I figured the timing needed to be adjusted, so I pulled into a full-service Exxon gas station near the mall. The bay door of the garage was up with a big sign that said, “open.” I parked and asked the guy if he’d put a timing light on my car real quick. He said, “We’re closed.” I pointed out that the sign said open. He insisted. I walked away and muttered an obscenity under my breath.

I sat in the driver’s seat and proceeded to try staring my car. Next thing I know there’s the employee I’d asked, standing at my open window. He grabbed my face with a greasy hand and punched me with the other. I watched my tooth fly across into the passenger side of the car.I was shocked, injured, in an indefensible position and probably outnumbered, since I seem to remember seeing another guy walking up behind my attacker. So, I pulled away. Humiliated

I had to have emergency surgery on the tooth that night to disconnect the nerve. For 35 years I ‘ve lived with that broken tooth. It’s been a reminder of several things.

1) Watch your mouth. I haven’t always done so to this day. However, blurting out whatever you feel can get you hurt or in trouble. We have some politicians today that could stand to learn this lesson today.

2) Be mindful. Have 360 degree awareness of people and surroundings. It’s too easy to be distracted. Far more so now than in ’83 due to all of our little tech gadgets. There are bad people out there, and they will take advantage of those whom they perceive to be weaker than themselves.

3) Don’t allow a potential threat to approach me while sitting in the car with an open window. Keep the window up. Don’t roll it down to meet a confrontation. If I cannot drive off, I’ll get out of the car.

4) Turning the other cheek is costly. It’s humiliating to get hit and not hit back. My pride was more injured than my tooth. I wanted to return to the garage that night with some big friends and pay the guy back. I didn’t. Not fighting back bothered me for many years, even though I am a Christian who says he believes in the teaching of Jesus. However, this is the perfect example of what Jesus spoke about. I turn the other cheek in response to an offense, not an onslaught. This guy proved to be what I had called him under my breath, a jerk (I used a more offensive term), and he hit me and hurt me because I had offended him. It stopped there. He didn’t keep hitting me. His friend/co-worker didn’t hit me. I was permitted to leave. Self-defense was not necessary, except that I should have been aware of the threat and blocked a punch.

Thirty-five years is a long time to live with a broken tooth and an embarrassing smile. Hopefully, the need for a reminder to keep my mouth shut is over. After today I’ll smile a little more. In fact, I’m thinking of getting braces in the near future, so a mega-watt smile may be in the works.

You Can Be Less Fat & More Fit

Fitness is more than how thin you are, but I believe a good start (probably the best place to begin) is with a change in your diet, which results in a leaner body. A lean body is better for many reasons: less prone to heart disease, increased longevity, avoidance of type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems and a host of other complications which result from hauling around too much body fat every day.

It’s not popular to say this, but neither is it a secret: many people are simply carrying too much body fat. Perhaps you are one of them. Notice, I didn’t say “too heavy.” It’s not about weight; it’s about body fat percentage. The average American carries between 28-40% body fat (and it may be worse today, since that stat is from a study done 15-20 years ago!). That is not healthy. Not at all.

One year ago my body fat was around 23% at a weight of just over 170 lbs. I’m around 71 inches tall. I wasn’t terribly unhealthy, but I was getting there gradually. You see, everything accumulates over time, whether fitness or fatness. In 2012 I had gotten down to 7% body fat, was lifting weights and running regularly. I felt great! Then I broke my clavicle doing incline presses and that slowed the weights down considerably. I was discouraged. I stopped running. My diet gradually got less healthy. I still went to the gym a couple of times per week, but my workouts weren’t enough to burn off the additional calories.

The difference over a five year span was a gain of 16% body fat, which translates to around 20 lbs on my frame. That’s an annual gain of a little over three percent fat, or a mere four pounds each year. Consider, if I had gone another decade I could have been carrying around the high average of 40% body fat. NO THANKS!

I took a look at myself in the mirror at 23% and didn’t like what I saw. I looked like a round, slightly lumpy snowman. I knew what I could look like when healthy and fit. I knew it was going to take some work to get back. It did! I’ve journaled about that process here, so you can look back at those blogs if you’d like. The picture I’ve included in this entry is a screenshot I took this morning from a body fat calculator on my mobile device. To use the app you still need body fat calipers, and, yes, you need to weigh yourself. Currently I weight around 145 and am carrying about 5.5% body fat. Did I mention I’m 56 years old…

If your sex is male, and you’re not an elite athlete, then you should aim for 10-15% body fat. If your sex is female and not competing in some sport, aim for 20-25%. If you need to be leaner for a sport (I am a martial arts instructor), then you may seek to go lower. However, men shouldn’t get below 4% or women below about 9%. You do need some body fat. I am keeping mine between 5-7% because I want to stay at that level of fitness to teach my karate’ class. That, and I like how I look and feel when I’m this lean.

So, what’s the secret? Did I do Keto? Count calories? Fasting? Run an hour a day? Overall friends, although it’s hard at first to apply the self-control, the concept is really very simple: you get fatter when you eat more, and you get thinner when you eat less. You also get fatter when you’re less active, while still eating the same, and you get leaner when you’re more active without increasing the amount you eat. Everything accumulates over time, fitness or fatness.

Duh? Well, why do we read so much disinformation when it comes to this? People want to believe, “You can eat whatever you want and lose the weight!” No, you can’t. Don’t buy it (metaphorically or literally). There are many paths to the goal of losing fat, and there are variables, but the truth is your body carries more fat when it doesn’t burn the excess (yes, I’m going to use a bad word here) CALORIES you’re consuming.

So, do you want to get fit? Start with your diet. You need to establish a healthy diet. If you want less fat, then you need to eat fewer calories. You need to cut out the sugar and starch. You need to schedule your eating.

Next, you need to move more. Find a form of exercise you will do regularly: walk, swim, bike, lift weights, get into an aerobics class, learn and practice a sport like basketball or an art like karate’ or yoga. Aim for 30-40 minutes of vigorous activity five or six days per week.

Do you want help? Coaching? I’m considering doing that for people in the near future, so stay tuned…

Billy Graham

Billy-Graham-Nixon-Funeral-2Billy Graham has passed on to see the Savior he faithfully served and spoke of for so many years. I don’t believe any evangelist has had the same impact, but I pray God will raise up another. What would that require? One word: integrity.

Billy Graham was never involved in a scandal. Every time I ever heard him speak, it was of Jesus, who died and rose to save us from our sin. I watched Billy Graham preach the funeral of Richard Nixon. Seated in front of him were five living presidents, all of whom he knew and most of whom he had counseled. Billy Graham preached the Gospel, not politics, not personal opinion, not a people pleasing eulogy, just Jesus. That’s what it will take to bring about a revival in this tragically bent and backslidden nation of ours. May God raise up another Billy Graham.

When I was a young teenager I was hurting, lost and had little hope. I had been exposed to the Gospel, and that is likely due to earlier influence from Billy Graham on the culture in which I was raised. If I were growing up today, that influence would be absent. However, it took more than a generalized cultural exposure to Jesus to save me from my sin and self. I needed to hear the Gospel, clearly and plainly proclaimed.

I was watching television in my bedroom, must have been 13 or 14 years old. Billy Graham was on, preaching one of his many crusades. At the end of the message he gave the invitation to make a decision to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He invited people in the stadium where he stood to join him by coming from their seats to the stage. However, on this night Billy Graham did something else, which I don’t remember seeing him do on other occasions when I watched his crusades. What he asked was directed to those of us watching the telecast, and it seems a little silly, but my willingness to join his invitation demonstrates just how much I wanted Jesus in my life. Billy Graham said (something to the effect of), “If you’re watching the telecast from home and would like to put your faith in Jesus, why don’t you get up and place your hand on the television as you pray with me.” I knelt in front of my TV, placed my hand on the screen, and prayed the sinner’s prayer with Billy Graham. I remember it clearly.

During this time I was also exposed to the preaching of Richard Jackson of the North Phoenix Baptist Church. That too was on television. I prayed the prayer with Pastor Jackson on numerous occasions and eventually went to his church and publicly committed my life to Jesus Christ. The public commitment, walking the aisle, going down to the front like all those people did at the Billy Graham crusade, that was important. Jesus said, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father in heaven, but if you deny me, I will deny you” (Matthew 10:31-32). That was the final step in the process of my decision to believe in Christ. I took it on Easter Sunday, 40 years ago, and I’ve never gone back.

“I have decided to follow Jesus.

I have decided to follow Jesus.

I have decided to follow Jesus.

No turning back, no turning back.”

It all started when I heard the Gospel plainly preached by Billy Graham. Simply stated, this is that Gospel. Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life that you and I are supposed to but don’t, then died on the cross to pay the price for our sins and prove God’s love. Then Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, and now he offers the gift of eternal life to anyone who will decide to put faith in him. Realize, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23 & 6:23a). We see evidence of this in our own lives and all around us today. Jesus came to offer life. In fact, he promised: “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come to offer a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10). So, even though sin brings death, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Do you want that gift? Will you put your trust in Jesus who died and rose to offer it? “that if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Saved from what? Saved from death and eternal separation from God and love and life in hell. All you have to do is believe. Call out to Jesus. “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Will you make the decision today to believe in Jesus? Speak to him in prayer right now. You can say something like this:

Dear Lord Jesus,

I am a sinful person, and I need you to forgive me and save me.

I believe you died on the cross for my sins. I believe you rose from the dead.

I open my heart and accept you as my Savior.

Jesus Christ, you are Lord. Take charge of my life right now.

Amen

Thank you Lord Jesus for saving me. Thank you for sending your servant. Please send another to this generation. Send revival. We need it desperately. We need to return to you.