Today, I turn 60 years of age. Just writing that seems surreal. I know, “60 is the new 40”, but wow. Just…wow.

And that’s all I have to say about thaaaa-aat.

I decided that the best way I could celebrate would be to “count my blessings”, in the words of the old hymn; to “name them one by one”, sixty blessings for sixty years. I have led an incredibly blessed life. Incredibly blessed, so blessed that it seems almost unreal. This is a long post; I am writing it as much for my own benefit as for anyone else, but feel free to read along.

  1. I was born in the United States of America, which gave me an automatic leg up on 95% of the world (people who were not born in this land of opportunity).
  2. I was born to parents who gave me unconditional, supportive, nurturing love, and gave me every opportunity to succeed in life.
  3. My parents are still living, soon to celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary, Lord willing, and in good health and good mind late in their 80s. For that matter, my in-laws will soon celebrate their 60th anniversary, and they too are sound in mind and body.
  4. I spent my childhood in a great neighborhood, in a wonderful city (Roanoke) in a beautiful state (Virginia).
  5. I was blessed with a good mind (OK, take it easy on me, since 60-year-olds are definitely old), and a healthy body, which enabled me to play sports.
  6. My mother took me to church as a small boy, prior to my dad ever becoming interested in the things of God. Then, when I was 8 or 9, my father became a follower of Jesus, and began to lead our family in a clear spiritual direction.
  7. When I was a little kid, a family in our neighborhood held a five-day Good News Club, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. I memorized the books of the Bible, and have never forgotten them, in order (though I think that I briefly got a little hazy in the middle of the Habakkuks and Nahums).
  8. Our family attended a church that, for whatever weaknesses it may have had, proclaimed the gospel of Christ clearly enough that a 10-year-old boy could understand and place faith in Christ. I was baptized and began to follow Jesus.
  9. I had some good Sunday School teachers in that little church, some of whose names are lost to time, but they each made an impact on my life.
  10. Mom instilled in me proper English (no thanks to Dad!), proper manners (not that I always use them), and a proper reverence for God.
  11. Dad inspired me to think for myself, rather than going along with the crowd. The ethical and moral example that he (and Mom) set were of the highest order. He taught me to mind my own business rather than meddle in that of others, and he (and Mom, again) showed me how to treat people…I have never heard my father tell or laugh at a racist joke, nor ever use racist language. Not. Even. Once.
  12. Dad particularly helped me gain a life-long love of sports. I played eight years of sandlot baseball (mainly 2nd base, but some shortstop and a little bit of catcher thrown in). I became a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan watching the ’68 World Series, the first baseball I really watched. I started out as a Colts fan in football–like my Dad–but soon found it was more fun to root against him, and the Steelers became my football team.
  13. My sister (my only sibling) and I, despite being a few years apart in age and never really living all that close to each other, get along very well, love each other, and have never had a serious argument (well, that is, after I got past the stage of calling her “fatty” or whatever juvenile things I called her as a child).
  14. When I was in junior high school, my family changed churches (to the church that is, to this day, my parents’ church, Shenandoah Baptist in Roanoke). The ministry of this church had a profound influence on my life, and on the lives of all of those in my family. When I was entering 10th grade, my parents enrolled myself and my sister in Roanoke Valley Christian Schools.
  15. I had the opportunity to serve, beginning as a sophomore in high school, in the AWANA children’s ministry at Shenandoah. My motives in beginning were incredibly noble: I was sweet on a girl who was part of the ministry, and I went so as to hang out closer to her! She, though, was not to be a long-term love interest, while AWANA has been; I’ve had the privilege of being instrumental in beginning two other AWANA clubs in churches and am in the process of another.
  16. As a young person, I had adults who saw potential in me and offered me opportunities to lead. I will always be grateful in particular to Jerry Hayden (in relation to giving me such opportunities through AWANA). Jerry asked me, as a junior, to coach the AWANA Pals Olympic team, and our team of boys brought home a state championship! He also, my senior year, asked me to be the speaker at the year-end AWANA banquet. I am thrilled to report that to my knowledge, there are no extant copies of that speech–I cringe to this day when I think of how awful it was–but nonetheless, he gave me that opportunity.
  17. Still thinking of my time as a teenager, two men came into my life who played an incredible role in my development. The first was my youth pastor, Steve Futrell, whose passion for the Lord, love for the youth, and–gotta say it–slightly zany streak at times, was a catalyst to my desire to follow Jesus more closely. The same can be said–including if not even more so the “zany” part–about a much older gentleman, Dr. Walter Craymer, who taught Bible and Spanish at Roanoke Valley Christian. Words cannot do justice to the debt I owe to those men.
  18. I had some success in sports as a young person, mainly in baseball and soccer. Highlight: in 9th grade, Lucy Addison Junior High won the Roanoke City championship, and I was All-City at 2nd base, batting .429 for the champs (and it was particularly special that we beat Ruffner Junior High, where my lifelong friend Rusty Snyder played, in the championship game.). Also was soccer MVP at Roanoke Valley Christian School in my junior year; I scored the first goal in school history (I believe it was a penalty kick during a drubbing from Lynchburg Christian Academy).
  19. I was class president of the first graduating class (1978) at Roanoke Valley Christian. This was an exceptional class of people, many of whom I still consider good friends to this day. Jim Hill, who as the years have gone by has become a much better friend than ever, has already called me this morning to sing an off-key version of “Happy Birthday”.
  20. I was able to attend Tennessee Temple University and graduate from there–in the used-to-be-standard four years–with a degree in Christian Education. I met many fine people there, and significantly through the magic of Facebook, have been able to continue some of those friendships.
  21. I met my wonderful wife (of 38 years and counting), Karen, as a junior in college, and she has been a faithful companion for all of these years. We met at Zollie’s Pizza Factory (long-since closed) at a birthday party for a mutual friend, Warren Wright.
  22. I worked for a year while she finished college for Little Debbie (yes, I have shaken the hand of the “Little Debbie”), at a wage higher (for that time) than a lot of places for which I might have worked.
  23. Moving back to Roanoke while I went to seminary at Liberty, Karen was able to work (and I had the great privilege of serving in a junior-high ministry internship at Shenandoah Baptist), such that when I graduated seminary, we had no educational debt.
  24. I was able to graduate magna cum laude from Liberty Seminary, where I sat under some great teachers. I did this by getting seminary credit–and my readers will be tempted to call me a liar here–for 36 semester hours between January and May of 1985. I don’t recommend that course of action, by the way, but I am proof it can be done. Oh, and my “formal education” was completed just a few years ago when I had the opportunity to take on class on the D. Min. level, at Reformed Seminary here in Atlanta. I made an “A”, so my final doctor’s level GPA is 4.0. For what it’s worth. Which isn’t a great deal, truth be told.
  25. God allowed me to learn some important life and ministry lessons through two short-lived ministry experiences in Colorado upon graduation from seminary. Even though neither would be considered “successful” by typical norms, I thank the Lord for friends made through those situations (ironically, I made more lifelong friends–at least by Facebook standards–in the more difficult of the two than in the “easier” one. Go figure.).
  26. While living in Colorado, our first child Anthony was born. He brought a lot of joy into our lives with his arrival; he was always the happiest little kid! He is married and living in Durham with his sweet wife, Ellery, and we look forward to seeing them both at the beach next Saturday! Still no grandkids yet, though… 🙂
  27. First Baptist of Bassett, Virginia was for Karen and myself a wonderful place of healing. The people there were–and are–some of the finest people I have ever known. They took Karen, myself, and Anthony in, and loved us and cared for us and made us feel part of the family–and we still do. I served only two-and-a-half years there, first as Minister of Education and Youth, and then, for 14 months, as Interim Pastor, but God used that time to heal us and to prepare us for other ministry opportunities.
  28. I was privileged to serve Brentwood Baptist Church in High Point, NC, as pastor for just over three years. It wasn’t all peaches-and-cream; there were some rough spots. Probably rougher on the congregation having to deal with a young (29 when I began) pastor making many dumb young pastor mistakes, but we all persevered together. Still count some of those folks as good friends to this day.
  29. During our time in High Point, our second son, Brent, was born. Brent was the absolute best little kid. He made us laugh on a daily–sometimes hourly or…minutely?…basis. He always had something silly–sometimes ingeniously funny–to say. The stories could go on for hours.
  30. In October or November of 1992, seeing that my time at Brentwood was likely drawing to a close, I contacted Chuck Byers, who was serving as the head of the search team for a little church in a place I’d never heard of–Mercer, Pennsylvania–as that little group of folks was looking for its first pastor as they were planting themselves as a new church in Mercer County. That blossomed into a thirteen-plus year pastorate, with so many wonderful things that it’d take a separate document to try to count them all. God did some great things as we tried to be faithful.
  31. Our baby girl, Chiannon, was born a little less than two years into our Pennsylvania odyssey. There’s a special bond between daddies and daughters, and there was no exception for us. She’s continued to be such a blessing, and now she has this fella Grant…no, he’s a separate post.
  32. Grant is our son-in-law, and he’s become, literally and not just in words, one of my best friends. What an absolute joy for me to be able to say that. And the cool thing is that he would say the same.
  33. Back to Fellowship Community Church in Mercer: that wonderful little church was privileged by God to work with hundreds of college students through the years, most, thought not all, from Grove City College. Many alumni and faculty from Grove City remain friends to this day; I argue with some of them on Facebook regularly (but more often, agree, and definitely on the most important things–for the most part). I love college students!
  34. In 2006, we moved to Georgia, where I was involved in attempting to replant a very small church. Ultimately, it didn’t “take”, but God is sovereign, and some good things happened for the kingdom even in this.
  35. I began working at Chick-fil-A right about the time that I left that little church. I had a wonderful (and patient) boss, Zach Thomas, who is and will remain a lifelong friend. I learned new skills at Chick-fil-A, made more great friendships, and felt like I made a real contribution. God used this time off from “vocational ministry” to help me develop in various ways.
  36. I also am very blessed that, just at seemingly the right time, opportunities in the “gig economy” became available to me. I have driven for Uber for going on six years, and for Lyft for over a year-and-a-half. I am thankful that I can make money on my time and my terms in these ways.
  37. I am grateful for Grace Community Church in Marietta, where I’ve now been on staff part-time for over two-and-a-half years, but where we’ve been attending ever since I left the church plant in Marietta. This church has been and continues to be a blessing in our lives!
  38. I have been blessed through the years–beginning with little Billy Gray while I was in high school and continuing through the present day–to be able to share the gospel in conversations with a number of people, and to see many of them decided to commit their lives and eternities to Jesus. I get to do that very thing this very evening (in a teaching format). What an incredible blessing that God allows believers to have!
  39. I have had the privilege of making some tremendous friends. What a blessing they have been throughout my life! If I were to start naming them, I’d surely leave off some that I dare not. You know who you are. Thank you.
  40. I have been incredibly blessed with the spiritual leaders I have had in my life. Specifically, four pastors: Bob Alderman, Lee Roberson, Lew Bennett, and John Harris, each of whom have played a significant long-lasting role in my spiritual development, and three of whom I consider close friends.
  41. I have had some unusual (and exceptional) experiences. I was on a game show, Scrabble with Chuck Woolery, and was the champion on the first two days. In total, I won $13,500. It’s an experience I will never forget.
  42. That wasn’t my first TV game show, though. When I was in maybe 5th grade (?), I was on the Fairview Elementary team on “1-2-3”, a math quiz show on educational TV in Roanoke where various elementary schools competed against each other in a math competition. We made the playoffs (where we were summarily bounced in the first round).
  43. I drove an actual race car in an actual race…you know how there are not a whole lot of things in life that don’t actually end up being as much fun as you thought they’d be? Yeah, this was not one of those. I drove in the “Faster Pastor” race in 2006 at Sharon Speedway in Ohio, a 3/8 mile dirt oval in Hartford, Ohio. Sliding a car through the corners on a dirt track, then picking up the throttle and flooring it in the straightaway…man, I’d do that again tomorrow.
  44. Continuing the theme, I’ve driven up Pike’s Peak, parasailed in the Carolinas, hiked up Duns River Falls in Jamaica, climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, swam in the Mediterranean, skied Keystone, and gone over Niagara Falls in a bucket. OK, I’m lying on that last one.
  45. Mom and Dad never, ever neglected to take a vacation. While my parents worked hard, they were never workaholics and understood the value of getting away…I cannot for the life of me fathom people who never take a vacation; I think that they do so to their own detriment. We were fairly routine in our choices: a lot of years we went to Myrtle Beach, while others we went to Virginia Beach (often to Seashore–now First Landing–State Park). The vacation of our family’s lifetime was a two-week jaunt down the Gulf side and back up the ocean side of Florida, with the requisite trip to Disney World; this took place in 1975, and we all still think back fondly to it.
  46. I have traveled across a lot of these United States in my sixty years. Following my parents’ lead–but expanding the parameters a good bit–we always took the family on regular vacations. Our favorite spot is Avon, on Hatteras Island, NC (where we head in just a few days, as a matter of fact!). We’ve been to the Grand Canyon, to Las Vegas (not a penny was gambled!), to Mount Rushmore, to the Great Salt Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park and the Riverwalk in San Antonio and the ocean in Santa Barbara, to Cape Cod and the Liberty Bell and NYC. We’ve been to Florida many times, to the “Redneck Riviera” (look it up), to beautiful Charleston and lovely Savannah, to the Jersey shore and the St. Louis Arch and the Windy City and Malibu and Niagara Falls and the UP. Oh, and Bonsack, of course (Roanoke friends will appreciate). And I could add a lot more places to the list!
  47. I’ve also traveled to a number of foreign countries, some via cruises and some via…not cruises. Favorite spot? Italy, hands down. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Sunset on Sugarloaf (Rio), though, ain’t bad either.
  48. Some of my overseas trips have not been for “pleasure” (mostly), though. In 1979, I was able to go to Guatemala and help build a Christian school. In 1992, I went with a Baptist group to Sao Paulo (ending up in Rio for a day-and-a-half, hence the “sunset on Sugarloaf” comment above). During the past decade, I’ve traveled to Nigeria, El Salvador, and Ecuador, all on trips to do the work of ministry and share the love and gospel of Christ.
  49. I have been privileged to become an instructor with Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, teaching the Bible in various places (including Nigeria, above). Walk Thru the Bible presents the timeline of a given Testament and explains how the Bible is laid out, pointing to Christ. If you have never taken part in a Walk Thru Live Event, you must. Better yet, contact me and I will come and do it at your church!
  50. What wonderful things are pets! We’ve had three cats (Ozzie, named after Ozzie Smith, not Ozzy Osbourne; Muffin, and Smuckers, who technically is our daughter’s cat but who has remained with us since Chiannon moved to Greenville) and two dogs (Swee’Pea, a wonderful little Jack Russell–or rat–terrier, we’re not sure which, and our current little beast, Gilligan, who is part dachshund and part Jack Russell). What wonderful companions they are; Gilligan has been such a blessing during Covid lockdown!
  51. Through my friend Luke Livingston, I came to learn of Elm Street Cultural Arts in Woodstock (at that time, it was Towne Lake Arts Center), a community theater where I have been able to reignite a passion for acting that lay dormant for decades, and where I’ve also developed a new hobby, improv. I’ve also done a few things with other theatres. Favorite roles include Harold Hill in The Music Man, Putti van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank, Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Papa Murphy in Bright Star, and Buffalo Bill in Annie, Get Your Gun. What fun…time to get involved in another (once this infernal Covid thing is past).
  52. I’m incredibly blessed to have a rich diversity of Facebook friends. Being involved in the theatre is one key reason, but there are others. I want to be able to have intelligent, reasoned, respectful discussions with people of various stripes. Sometimes, it’s just…discussions…but not usually! There’s more common ground between us than a lot of us realize or will admit, and I appreciate and try to build on that. We certainly need more understanding and civility. A lot more.
  53. God has blessed us with a beautiful home to live in. We were able to pick it up 12 years ago as a foreclosure, and we’ve tried to make improvements as we’ve had money and time. It’s now a lot more house than we need, but that’s enabled us to have the blessing of
  54. Renters, to help pay bills and get us on firm financial footing. We’ve had some great ones as well, including our current tenants and, for a few years, some young Saudi students. Yahya al-Dosary…what a joy to know that goofball and consider him a friend (and if we ventured to Saudi Arabia today–and one day we might–we would be treated like absolute kings and queens).
  55. I mentioned “healthy body” early on, and on that point, I have been–to this point of my life–almost never sick. I can’t remember the last time I had the flu, and have never really had anything more serious than that in my entire life. At the risk of grossing you out…I have not thrown up since my oldest was in diapers. Literally. Oh, I get a cold occasionally–and the older I get, the more that knocks me for a loop–but if that’s the worst it’s been at age 60, I cannot complain. Yeah, I’ve got a bum knee–two surgeries on my right knee have left little to no cartilage–but I manage, and it doesn’t typically give me a lot of pain. The blessing of good health is one we should not take for granted.
  56. I’ve not often been closely touched by tragedy; with one exception, none of my closest family or friends have died young. That exception was when one of my very closest friends in life, Rusty Snyder, died suddenly at age 47. That was a hard loss. But it was the exception, not the rule.
  57. I have been in the same fantasy football league for 31 years, a league I started when I was turning 30. I’ve been in the league half my life now, and have made some great friendships through it. It’s a blessing (if not also a frustration, since I’ve only won the championship three times; it’s been 15 years since my last championship; this year doesn’t look good).
  58. I have a great library full of good books (many of which I have actually read!). My theological library isn’t as extensive as I’d like it to be, but that sentiment can be echoed, in almost those exact words, by every pastor in the world.
  59. Mostly, and I alluded to this earlier, I am incredibly blessed in that, being a sinner through and through as I am, God saw fit to choose to save me by His amazing grace. This is the greatest blessing of all.
  60. Finally, I am absolutely certain that I am forgetting–or failing to see–a lot of blessings that God in His grace has bestowed upon me, and I am absolutely certain that He will continue to do so in whatever remaining years He gives me. Soli Deo gloria.

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