This is Teacher Appreciation Week. My education came in six phases – elementary school, junior high school, high school, college, seminary, and doctoral work. Much appreciation goes, not so much to those who taught me the most, but to those who made the greatest impact on my life. Elementary School is a no-brainer, partly because of frequent family moves due to mother’s illness and Dad’s military service, I attended six schools in six years. Meryl Acton was my 6th grade teacher. She often said, “There is greatness in this room.” As I looked around the room I decided it must be me. Many years later, I determined, it was her. I dedicated the first book I authored to her. In her 90s, she called to thank me. I attended two Junior High Schools in three years, but by-far, my favorite teacher was Mrs. Rowlings, the Typing teacher. I had no earthly idea how much I would use what she taught me for the remainder of my life. She was a huge basketball fan and celebrated with me when I was awarded an athletic basketball letter in the 8th grade, then again when I earned an athletic basketball letter in the 9th grade – from a different school. High School is a tie between two coaches. Joe Tusa, who not only led our school to football championships, but was my 10th grade basketball coach. When I ended up in the hospital with a broken neck, he saved my place on the roster, even though I didn’t make it back for one year. A close second was my baseball Coach, LeRoy Ashmore, who was for many years the winningest High School Baseball Coach in Texas. What I will never forget is his frequently repeated comment, “Don’t die on Third. We can’t win if you guys die on Third.” Of course, he was talking about baseball, but what a great life-lesson. College professor, Dr. A.J. Quinn taught me it was OK to be human and challenged me to get serious about God’s call on my life, when I was having a bit too much fun in college. Seminary favorite was Dr. Cal Guy, who enflamed a mission calling in me. While I had Dr. Roy Fish during my first year in Seminary and his first year on the faculty, we did not become friends until my doctoral studies. Friend, Mentor, faculty colleague, he died way too soon to suit me. Wow! How blessed I have been! How greatly I appreciate all my teachers. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
April 28 was National Superhero Day, instituted by Marvil Comics and first celebrated in 1995. The day is all about celebrating heroes who inspire others to be better. Now deceased, I had to celebrate mine in absentia. Growing up my superheroes came in two categories: baseball players and preachers. My superhero baseball player was Shortstop Alvin Dark. He came to our church and spoke at a Royal Ambassador banquet. Having become a Christian at age 11, Dark was a consistent witness all of his life. I still have and treasure an 8×10 black and white picture of him that he personalized with the words, “Good luck, Dan. Al Dark” The next year he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and became my hero for life. Many years later, I wrote him a letter thanking him for his impact on my life and received a now lost response note from him. I have every baseball card ever printed of him except his 1948 rookie card which at last check, cost over $700. I tried hard to play Shortstop like him, all my life from Little League through semi-pro and church league softball. My superhero preacher was Dr. R. G. Lee, Pastor of the Bellview Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. My Dad took me to a conference, to hear Dr. Lee preach his famous sermon, “Payday Someday.” In the years following , I heard him preach it several times in person, bought the 33 RPM record album, and later the cassette tape. I memorized much of it, but dared not preach it. I have every book of sermons that he ever published. I always wanted to preach like him but could never think of enough adjectives. Although I never met him, he was a role model, and a superhero for me. Anyone else celebrate Superhero Day?
In 1940, Thomas Wolfe wrote a book entitled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” He was both correct and incorrect. My first full-time ministry assignment was as the Director of Baptist student ministries and instructor of Bible at Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas. For six wonderful years our home was the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. Now, fifty years later, I am making monthly trips there to teach more than one hundred pastors and church leaders as a part of the Valley Baptist Missions Education Center. Every time I go, it feels like going home again. In many ways, it is still the same warm, beautiful, friendly, Valley that we once knew. However, in many other ways, it is not the same. Or maybe, after traveling and ministering in all fifty states, every Canadian province, and fifty-nine countries of the world, the Rio Grande Valley just looks different. But the campus where I served, now called U.T. Rio Grande Valley, is much larger and complex. The Center that housed my office, is now gone and replaced with a larger, better located center. The apartments where we first lived have been renovated several times. The house where we lived, and to which we brought home our first-born child, is dilapidated, and worn. And by the way, the hospital where she was born is not longer there. Our favorite mom-and-pop cafes, where we ate genuine Mexican food, have all been replaced by large, bright, chain-restaurants. Trips for lunch/dinner across the Mexican border, without need of Passport or I.D., now face long lines, intense security, and dangerous circumstances. A few friends remain, but most have moved north. Many of the churches where I preached, are not any where near what they used to be, and I could elaborate. After being invited into the home of Mary and Martha, “Jesus and his disciples were on their way . . . came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary” (Luke 10:38). He seemed to return there often. I wonder if he thought he was “going home again”? Mr. Wolfe, you are both right and wrong. Long before your time, a naval commander, Gaius Plinius Secundus, known to historians as Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23-79), said, “Home is where the heart is” and at least a part of my heart will forever be in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
In the years since our marriage, Joanne and I have been members of twelve churches. Each one was unique in its contribution to our family. Each one was unique in the contribution we made to it. We watched our two children grow up in five of them. I baptized our daughter at one, watched our son get baptized at another, and baptized our granddaughter at still another. We attended weddings, funerals, baby dedications and other such special occasions at most. In addition to our tithe, we assisted financially with three building programs and with mission offerings at each. Between the two of us, we’ve traveled and represented these churches in mission projects in fifty-nine countries. We’ve had twelve pastors, and two Interim Pastors, plus I served as Pastor at two of them (one while in college; another while in seminary). We still communicate with friends from ten of the twelve. Over the same number of years, I served twenty-nine churches in two states as Interim Pastor. While limited by distance in some and family responsibilities in others, Joanne has accompanied me in many of these. Needless to say, churches, even with all their diversity, have been a major part of our marriage and our family. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”
On the Monday following Easter, it seems appropriate to share some of my favorite Resurrection Sunday quotes:
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” Timothy Keller
“Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.” Clarence W. Hall
“The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven. The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” N.T. Wright
“Two thousand years ago, in the Middle East, an event occurred that permanently changed the world. Because of that event, history was split. Every time you write a date, you’re using the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the focal point.” Rick Warren
“We live and die; Christ died and lived!” John Stott
“The resurrection is not merely important to the historic Christian faith; without it, there would be no Christianity. It is the singular doctrine that elevates Christianity above all other world religions.” Adrian Rogers
“What is the difference between a dead Christ, whom the women went to anoint, and a living Christ? A dead Christ, I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me.” Andrew Murray,
“Mary Magdalene and Mary go to Jesus’ tomb and find it empty. An angel tells them, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay’” Matthew 28:5-6
“He is risen!”
Dr. Dan R. Crawford, Senior Professor, Chair of Prayer Emeritus; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. Former Head of Task Force for the Teaching of Prayer in Theological Education for America’s National Prayer Committee. Administrative Consultant for the Valley Baptist Missions Education Center.
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Last week Major League Baseball celebrated Opening Day. Many years ago, I played on Opening Day. Not so many years ago, I coached on Opening Day. In more recent years, I’ve attended Opening Day games year after year. There is a life significance to Opening Day. Here are a few of my favorite quotes about Opening Day:
- “Opening day. All you have to do is say the words and you feel the shutters thrown wide, the room air out, the light pour in. In baseball, no other day is so pure with possibility. No scores yet, no losses, no blame or disappointment.” Mary Schmich
- “When they start the game, they don’t yell, ‘Work ball.’ They say, ‘Play ball.’” Willie Stargell
- “Baseball’s Opening Day is full of time-honored traditions: the President throws out the first ball, the Cubs’ starting pitcher walks away with a 54.00 ERA, the Royals get mathematically eliminated from the pennant race.” Rob Sheffield
- “There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League.” George Vecsey
- “An Opener is not like any other game. There’s that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. … You know that when you win the first one, you can’t lose ’em all.” Early Wynn
- “It’s like Christmas, except it’s warmer.” Pete Rose, on the thrill of Opening Day
- “Guys, if we win this one, all we have to do is win the rest of ‘em and we’ll have a perfect season.” One of my Little League Baseball Coaches, whose name I’ve forgotten.
- “Commit your activities to the Lord, and your plans will be achieved.” Proverbs 16:3, HCSB
March is about basketball madness, busted brackets, championships, etc. Time for some of my favorite basketball quotes, some of which have a lot to do with life itself.
- Admit to and make yourself accountable for mistakes. How can you improve if you’re never wrong?– Pat Summitt
- Bad shooters are always open – Pete Carril
- Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise– Michael Jordan
- The key is not the “will to win”… everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important– Bob Knight
- Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them. – Julius Irving
- They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds. – Wilt Chamberlain
- One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Basketball doesn’t build character, it reveals it. – James Naismith.
- There is a point in every contest when sitting on the sidelines is not an option. – Dean Smith
- We Don’t pray after a game … That’s too late. – Abe Lemons
- We not going to win by passing the ball around. Somebody’s got to shoot.” Charles “Chink” Kivell, my High School Basketball Coach.
- The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. – Zachariah 8:5
Like many of my readers, I am well-past retirement age, but still working. One of my “jobs” is serving as Interim Pastor of a church not far from my home in Fort Worth, Texas. On a recent Sunday I used a sermon illustration that related to my baseball playing days at Reagan High School in Houston. Following the service, a lady came up to me and admitted she too attended Reagan. As the discussion continued, we discovered that we attended together. Of course, it was a large school, and our class alone was composed of more than seven hundred students, so we did not know each other back in the day. In another church I discovered a distant cousin, and in still another, a friend from my teen-age years who lived a couple of blocks from me. In each case, while we had little-to-no remembrance of each other back then, we remembered many of the same things. All of this proving that while your past deeds may disappear from your memory, there are those around who can remind you of them. Memory, whether yours or that of someone from your past, is a precious gift from God. It was one of my Grandfather’s favorite songs, and I remember him playing it on his banjo and singing it to me: “As I travel on life’s pathway, know not what the years may hold; as I ponder, hope grows fonder, precious mem’ries flood my soul.” Indeed, “the memory of the righteous is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7).
Thank God for the pioneers. It was the early 1970s. Thousands of college students had discovered South Padre Island, Texas. Spring Break was advertised as “Sun . . .Surf . . . Sex.” I was The Baptist campus minister at Pan America University, located an hour from South Padre. I had a group of students who decided to add a fourth “S” to the description of Spring Break on South Padre – “Service.” We partnered with the Texas Baptist Men who located their Mobile Medical (and Dental) Unit on the Island. We secured a few doctors, a lot of Pan Am nursing students, and trained others in beach ministry, especially personal evangelism. We treated a few jelly fish stings, multiple cases of sunburn, lots of overdoses, and shared the Gospel with hundreds. In the third year of our “service” the Texas Baptist Collegiate ministry decided to encourage a dozen or so Baptist Student groups to join us on the Island. We made a fast tour of these campuses, doing some beach ministry training, and we hit the beach – with dozens of new service partners. It has been fifty plus years, and this week – spring break – tens of thousands of college students will arrive at South Padre for “Beach Reach.” All the “S” ingredients will be in place on the beach, including hundreds of Baptist students, motivated and equipped to “Serve.” They will serve, and surely “save” hundreds. Since “there is no more pioneering work to be done” (Romans 15:22, The Message), and since I’m a bit too old the join them, I will spend spring break in intercession and in thanking God for the pioneers.
In recent days, I have been feeling especially blessed. Interestedly enough, in the midst of these feelings, I came across a familiar quote – “In a society that has you counting money, pounds, calories, and steps, be a rebel and count your blessings instead.” I’ve seen this quote attributed to at least half a dozen authors, and claimed by websites ranging from Roman Catholic to Buddhist. So, I don’t know, or really care, who said it first. It is a correct assessment of blessings. Some of my blessings come from inner-personal relationships. I have often said that I am rich in friendships. Other blessings come from my family. I simply couldn’t ask for a better family, all the way from grandparents to great-grandchildren. But the greatest of all blessings come from my relationship with God. I grew up singing an old hymn by Johnson Oatman, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.” Lately, God “hath” done a lot for me. That should not come as a surprise. In Deuteronomy 28:2, the Bible says, “Blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” Consider the formula: Obey the Lord and get ready to receive blessings.
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