Category Archives: Personal
With so many graduations going on this month, it occurred to me recently that I graduated from high school FIFTY years ago. Yep, a half-century ago, I marched with the Camarillo High School class of ’63.
More significantly, it also occurred to me that it was fifty years ago that I started doing youth ministry. I wrote about it briefly in my book Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again]:
My call to youth ministry came in the form of an actual phone call.
After I graduated from high school in 1963, I went to work for the architectural firm that gave me a job after I won the drafting contest. After several weeks working for the architectural firm I was absolutely bored to death. On top of that, I noticed how bored (and boring) everyone else there seemed to be. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to become an architect after all.
A few weeks later Don Goehner, the executive director of Ventura County Youth For Christ, called me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working part-time for YFC as a club director. My responsibilities would include running one of the high school clubs, helping out with Saturday night rallies and doing some graphic design work. He also wanted me to help start a new junior high club program. The pay would be $50 a month.
I was stunned and absolutely overjoyed. It took me all of five seconds to say yes to Don. I definitely wanted that job. The pay didn’t matter. I was only seventeen years old, and gas was only thirty-five cents a gallon. What mattered was that I got to do something I really wanted to do, what I believed God was calling me to do.
While there have certainly been times when I’ve wondered what my life might have been like had Don Goehner never made that phone call (Would I have become a world famous architect, designing impressive buildings and making millions of dollars …?), I have no regrets whatsoever. Youth ministry has provided for me a very rewarding and fruitful life. I met my wife in youth ministry. I learned how to preach, teach, write and play music in youth ministry. I made a lot of dumb mistakes and learned valuable lessons and leadership skills in youth ministry (as my old friend Bill Wennerholm was fond of saying, “Learn to run a junior high group and you can rule the world.”) I got to work alongside a lot of amazing and inspiring people in youth ministry. And I learned to follow, serve, trust and love Jesus more authentically in youth ministry.
So here I am, fifty years later, Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Am I still in youth ministry? Of course I am. It really doesn’t matter what your job description is. Once you’ve been called into youth ministry, you’re in it for life.
Today my old friend Dan McKinnon was laid to rest at Miramar National Cemetery after a very Christ-centered funeral service at Clairemont Emmanual Baptist Church. He died on Thanksgiving Day, having lived a fruitful life of 78 years. You can read an article about Dan’s life in the UT newspaper by clicking here.
Before he died, Dan meticulously planned his own funeral service, which is exactly what took place today. Congressman Duncan Hunter and his former pastor Tim LaHaye spoke, as did several other friends and relatives. Dan asked for specific songs to be sung: I Saw the Light, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Daddy Sang Bass, Angel Band and the old spiritual Amen. It was my honor to play banjo and sing those songs for Dan today along with my old Brush Arbor band mates Ken Munds and Dave Rose.
I first met Dan around 1966 when he was serving on the board of San Diego Youth For Christ. He was a young man, in his early 30′s as I recall and he owned a radio station in town, KSON. A few years later KSON sponsored a talent competition called “Country Star” (an early version of “American Idol”) and by that time I had formed a band called Brush Arbor. We decided to enter the contest. There were more than 100 entries and we managed to make the cut to the finals, a show that was broadcast live on the radio. Contest judges included a producer from Capitol Records, a Billboard magazine executive, and several other people who I don’t remember. We won the contest that night and the producer from Capitol (Steve Stone) asked us if we would be interested in a record deal with Capitol. Needless to say, we were very happy to sign a record contract that would put us on the same label with Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and the Beatles.
After we were signed by Capitol, Dan offered to be our manager, and so we entered into an agreement with him which turned out to be very beneficial to us. Not only did he own KSON, but he had connections with the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Association and many other country music industry leaders. With Dan as our manager, our very brief career as country music stars really took off. We got Nudie Suits, started playing Vegas, making appearances on the Opry, touring with Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, the Everly Brothers, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings and the list goes on and on. I stayed on with the band for a couple of years before departing to continue my calling in youth ministry.
About the time I left Brush Arbor in 1974, we won the Academy of Country Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year. We received a nice trophy (presented to us by Kenny Rogers) and so we gave it to Dan to keep in his trophy case. Thirty years later, Dan organized a reunion of the band at his Wildcat Canyon Ranch where he presented each one of us with our own Academy of Country Music Award which he made possible. Mine is prominently displayed in my home.
In 1975 I had a conversation with Dan regarding bluegrass music. I mentioned that there were quite a few bluegrass music fans living in San Diego (me, for one) and I suggested that it might be a good idea to feature some bluegrass now and then on his radio station. He thought it was a great idea and he asked me if I would like to do it. I was completely surprised by the offer because I had no radio experience at all. (I thought radios worked because there were little tiny people inside.) Dan just grinned and said “Oh, anybody can be a DJ. We’ll show you how.” Ha. I have since learned that professional radio personalities are incredibly talented people. I still haven’t got the hang of it and I’ve been doing a weekly show on KSON now for almost four decades.
Dan sold KSON back in the eighties to Jefferson-Pilot Communications, who then sold the station to Lincoln Financial Media. I’ve had lots of bosses and program directors at KSON over the past four decades. But each year on the anniversary of my show, I like to give credit to Dan for its success and longevity. He made it all possible. In 2001, on our 25th anniversary extravaganza at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon, I honored Dan by presenting him with a commemorative Deering Banjo. He always wanted to learn how to play one but I don’t think he ever found the time to work on his banjo licks.
So goodbye old friend, and thank you. Thank you for believing in me and providing me with some of the most memorable and significant moments of my life. You will always be remembered with great fondness and respect.
My sister Mary sent me this photo for my birthday. It is a picture of me, apparently taken 65 years ago on the occasion of my second birthday. If I remember correctly, we lived on Deodar Street in Oxnard at the time. I must not have had any friends, or if I did, they weren’t invited to the party.
After being assured that receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award doesn’t necessarily mean your lifetime is over, I was pleased to accept a LAW from Youth Specialties at their recent San Diego National Youth Workers Convention. From what I hear, this was the first of many that will be given to individuals who have contributed in some significant way to field of youth ministry. In my case, I co-founded the organization giving out the award, so I suppose that’s the secret to getting the first one! Regardless, it was a very special night for me and I am very grateful to the staff of Youth Specialties and all who contributed to making it happen. The presentation was captured on video and posted by Youth Specialties on YouTube as well as their web site.
After the presentation, several people said they were surprised to hear that I gave up a promising career in music to pursue youth ministry. Actually, that’s not quite true. I tried to explain it in the interview but I’m not sure I explained it very well. So let me explain it a little better here.
First, I was in youth ministry before I ever started playing music. In fact, it was youth ministry that prompted me to take up music in the first place. As a Youth for Christ staff member in the 60′s, I was trying to figure out how to reach kids for Christ. Folk music was pretty popular at the time, so several of us learned to play guitars and banjos and we formed folk groups. Our YFC rallies became “hootenannies” and believe it or not, they were pretty cool.
My first group was a folk trio with my wife Marci and another YFC staff member Dave Sheffel called “The Accidents.” That was in 1966. I played bass. Later, I learned banjo and formed a bluegrass group with my brothers and wife Marci called The Rice Kryspies. We recorded a couple of albums and played for churches, youth groups and two summers at Forest Home Christian camp. I really got into bluegrass music and my obsession with the banjo kept growing, but it was a hobby, a part-time thing while I was working for YFC and doing youth ministry in my church.
I was still playing with the Rice Kryspies AND doing youth ministry when Mike Yaconelli and I started Youth Specialties in 1968.
Then, in 1972, my wife Marci contracted pregnancy and she had to quit playing bass with The Rice Kryspies. My brothers and I continued along with two new members of the band, Ken Munds and Dave Rose. We changed the name of the band to Brush Arbor. After winning a local radio station talent contest, we were signed by Capitol Records and before long we were hearing our music played on country radio stations. One thing led to another and we ended up on the Grand Ole Opry, doing some network TV shows, touring with people like Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins (my favorite) and then winning a couple of country music awards including Vocal Group of the Year (Academy of Country Music). We had a manager by then and a booking agent, both of whom were expecting us to become the next big thing in country music. Capitol Records called us “The Voice of the New Country.”
All this happened very quickly and I have to admit, it was a whole lot of fun. But in December of ’73, while taping an NBC TV Special with Johnny Cash at Rockefeller Plaza in New York (on the same stage that later became the home of Saturday Night Live), I realized that I just couldn’t keep on playing with Brush Arbor. Our booking agent was telling us that he was going to put us on the road for over 300 dates per year. Youth Specialties was just getting some traction. My son Nathan was two years old and needed a daddy at home. I was torn between too many things and putting too much stress on my wife and partners in ministry. So I quit the band in New York. Our manager told us (while we were in New York) that he had booked us on the Hee Haw TV show and wanted us to fly to Nashville immediately to tape three shows. But I just couldn’t go. I had already made plans to go from New York to Atlanta to meet up with Mike Yaconelli and Denny Rydberg for a YS event.
So, I told the band I didn’t want to hold them back and they would need to replace me, which they eventually did. I played out a string of dates in Las Vegas in early 1974 but that was the end of my music career. Brush Arbor ended up going through a few more personnel changes after I left and while they never became the next big thing in country music, they had a good run and ended up being a top Christian country band. My brother Jim kept it going for quite a few years and they made some really good records.
I never felt like I gave up anything to do youth ministry because (1) youth ministry was what I had been called to do all along and (2) I was a very mediocre banjo player. I knew I would never make it as a professional musician. I would have starved to death.
But the time I spent with Brush Arbor (and since then, playing with other bands and doing my radio show) has been wonderful. I’m very blessed and thankful to God for all the opportunities that he has given me to do what I love to do.
Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Nashville for the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) “World of Bluegrass” trade show, awards show and FanFest. I had a wonderful time there meeting up with old friends, listening to music, shopping in the exhibit hall, re-living old memories of the Nashville I remember from my old Brush Arbor days and in general just having fun. Listening to the best musicians on the planet has a way of putting me in a very good place emotionally AND spiritually. I’ve always considered my passion for bluegrass music a gift from God. Whenever I am enjoying it fully I am engaged in a form of worship. A great musical performance draws me immediately to God who is the Creator of all good music and has given us the capacity to appreciate it.
As I laid awake in my hotel room bed after a particularly wonderful night of music on Friday evening, I thought about how incredibly blessed I was to be able to come to Nashville and immerse myself so completely in this odd world of bluegrass music. My thoughts also turned to other passions in my life. Jesus. My wife. Do I also take time to immerse myself in them—like I do bluegrass? I was starting to feel a bit guilty.
And then it struck me that yes, I think I do. A few weeks ago, my wife and I were blessed to spend a week on the island of Cozumel, off the eastern coast of Mexico. We stayed at a beautiful resort and did nothing but just enjoy each other’s company for a whole week. What a wonderful time we had together, just being together and enjoying each other without any of the distractions of my normal life. No banjos. Whenever Marci and I are able to do something like this, we are drawn together in a very intense and beautiful way. We try to do this every year.
And this summer, I had the chance to take a group to Mexico to serve Jesus in Mexico on two separate mission trips. Whenever I have a chance to go and immerse myself in serving those whom Jesus identified with the most, the poor and the needy, I am drawn so much closer to Him. I always come home from those kind of mission trips with a renewed sense of passion and love for my Savior and what He has done for me. I’ve also been considering a spiritual retreat sometime soon, just a few days to get away and spend some alone time with Jesus—not working for him but just spending time with him.
I’m thankful that God has given me these passions and that I can take time to immerse myself in them from time to time. What are your passions?
My sister Mary posted this old picture of our parents on her facebook page last week. My dad was in the Seabees during World War II, building airstrips, barracks, bridges and the like in the Pacific Theatre. This photo was probably taken when he was on leave, early 1945, when I was conceived. I was born in November of that year, just a month or two after the war ended. I was an original baby boomer.
My parents grew up in a different time. Growing up I heard them say things like: “When I was your age: we didn’t have indoor toilets … we had to pump water from a well … we had to milk cows and gather eggs before breakfast … we had to walk five miles to school.” It all sounded like ancient history to me.
Now my history is ancient, too.
How many of these can you relate to? They were all true when I was growing up:
- We couldn’t drive into town for a fast food meal because there were no fast food restaurants.
- Mothers who worked outside the home were considered irresponsible.
- TV sets were considered furniture and they were available in black and white only.
- And it went off the air at midnight.
- And there were only 3 channels.
- Pizza was called “Pizza Pie.”
- And it wasn’t delivered to your house.
- But milk was.
- And milk bottles had little cardboard stoppers in them.
- Newspapers were delivered by paper boys.
- There were no movie ratings because all movies were more or less G-rated.
- But Christians still didn’t go to them because they were “worldly.”
- Christians didn’t go to bowling alleys either.
- Or to school dances.
- But we could buy candy cigarettes.
- And little bottles of Coke made out of wax.
- Coke machines dispensed glass bottles.
- Music was purchased on 45 rpm records.
- Roller skates had keys.
- There was only one phone in the house.
- And it was on a “party line” so you had to make sure a neighbor wasn’t using it.
- We saved S&H Green Stamps.
- Nobody ever asked “paper or plastic?”
- We could take toy guns to school.
- Ice trays were made of metal.
- Cameras had blue flash bulbs.
- Clothes were dried on a clothesline.
- Wash tubs had wooden rollers for rinsing clothes.
Ancient history, indeed. One of these days your life will become ancient history too. Enjoy it now … while you can!
Pastor Carlton Harris (College Avenue Baptist Church) just completed a powerful series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins. One of my takeaways from the series was that the Seven Deadly Sins are particularly troublesome for Christians, for those who are inside, not outside the flock. In other words, they are the sins of the church. Truth is, they originated not from the Bible but from the church fathers, most of whom lived in monasteries with other monks. While monks weren’t likely to kill, steal, tell lies or commit adultery, they apparently struggled quite a bit with anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. And I have been reminded by Pastor Carlton that I do too.
What strikes me as unique about these sins is that they are all more or less acceptable. They seem rather benign on the surface. Take anger. Who doesn’t relate to that line in Broadcast News “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” We don’t really consider anger a sin. We think of it more as a natural and sometimes necessary response to disruptive events in our lives which deserve to be called out. Anger doesn’t need forgiveness, it needs management.
But why stop at seven? Seems to me there are other sins which produce just as many sinister consequences as the classic list of seven. Some have suggested these:
- Leaving the Toilet Seat Up
Personally, I’d like to nominate Busyness as the Eighth Deadly Sin. It’s one that I deal with every day and I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat addicted to busyness. I don’t like being NOT busy. I really don’t know what I would do with myself if I weren’t busy. I like doing things, creating things, solving things, running things, um, writing things. I sometimes brag to people that I am not retired. “But you’re getting up there in years, aren’t you?” they think to themselves. “Well, it’s not biblical to retire,” I assure them as if I’m not being sinful but obedient.
Busyness is a sin, no question. Certainly the consequences of busyness are pretty much the same as the other seven. When you’re too busy you experience anxiety, shame, aloneness, guilt, broken relationships including one’s relationship with God. Maybe Busyness didn’t make the original list of seven because monks by definition lived a disciplined, unhurried life. They didn’t deal with the demands of modern life that we have to contend with in today’s fast-paced world. Well, the probably did, in their own medieval kind of way. But apparently they didn’t see any real harm in it.
My old pal Jim Burns is fond of saying “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” That sure sounds like a sin to me. Busyness is a sin for which we need forgiveness, healing and the power of Christ to overcome. I myself have been way too busy these last two years while serving on a church staff. The problem for me is that most people don’t see my busyness as a sin at all. They simply cheer me on and admire all that I’m doing for the Kingdom. This is not their fault or the church’s fault. I was already busy when I accepted the call to CABC. I had plenty to do even without the ministry that God called me to do at the church. Fortunately our senior pastor is one who knows the danger of busyness and has urged me to be very careful with my schedule, to set limits and priorities on my time, to erect fences around my soul so that the Devil won’t gain a foothold. I have found it hard to follow his advice (it is so counterintuitive to me) but I am taking steps … slowly but surely … to un-busy myself. I want more than anything to be fruitful for God and to please him in all that I say and do but I can’t do that if I’m just too busy.
How about you?
I’ve been playing the banjo now for … let’s see, that would be 46 years … the same number of years I’ve been married. Yep, I bought my first banjo on my honeymoon. It was a Harmony banjo, made of plastic, which I bought at a pawn shop in L.A. We were on our way to Palm Springs (from Ventura County, where we were living at the time) and as I recall, Marci was OK with me buying the banjo with some of the money we were given at our wedding. We both were singing in a folk trio at the time called the Accidents (patterned somewhat after Peter, Paul and Mary) and we figured a banjo would be a nice addition if I could learn to play it.
And I did for the most part. Like most banjo players, I learned to play by listening to Earl Scruggs. There were other banjo players (Doug Dillard was one of my favorites) but as I soon found out, they all learned from Earl.
Earl passed away last week at the age of 88 and he was still making music well into his ninth decade of life. He won a Grammy award for best country instrumental performance at age 78.
HIs memorial service was held last Sunday afternoon at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry for so many years. I listened to a broadcast of it on the web and it was very moving. It’s amazing how many people were there to pay tribute.
If you would like to listen to my radio show honoring Earl Scuggs, you can listen online at www.kson.com/bluegrass.
Slacker Radio also asked me to program an Earl Scruggs tribute station and it is now available for listening at http://www.slacker.com/station/earl-scruggs-tribute.
Today I am celebrating ten years since my wife Marci’s brain surgery. It was in 2001 that she was diagnosed with a meningioma tumor in her brain which thankfully was operable. You can read the whole story about her surgery and recovery here which I posted on the web ten years ago this week.
Here’s what I posted on December 11, 2001:
Tuesday, December 11
After sending an e-mail to everyone I could think of, I headed for the hospital around 9:00. They wouldn’t let me in the CCU when I got there, so I had to wait a while until they allowed visitors in at 11:00. When I saw Marci, she still had all those tubes in her, including the respirator going down her throat, so she couldn’t talk, but when she heard my voice, her eyes opened and I saw a little smile under all those tubes. My heart leapt. When I held her hand, she squeezed mine hard. The nurse told me not to get her too excited because they were testing to make sure she could breathe on her own. They wanted to take the respirator out soon. So I just stood and watched for a while, feeling really good that she recognized me and was trying to communicate. I left the room while they finished up their testing on her.
When I came back in about an hour later, the respirator was out of her throat and she opened her eyes when I spoke again and tried to talk. It was real raspy but I heard her “Hi babe” which is what we usually call each other. I started crying again (I’ve been crying all week) but this time they were tears of joy. I said something that must have been funny because she laughed and then started coughing. Praise God for that laugh! That’s what I’ve been praying for … I just couldn’t bear not hearing her laugh again. Marci’s sister Dixie came in and cracked a joke or two and Marci laughed some more. The intensive care nurse asked in amazement, “Is she always like this?” I answered “Yes!”
I stayed with her for a good part of the afternoon, just looking at her while she slept, thinking to myself that even though her eyes are almost swollen shut, her face is all puffy, her hair is gone, she’s wrapped in bandages and has tubes galore coming out of her … she looks so beautiful to me. I don’t want to get too sentimental here, but I think I’m falling in love with my wife all over again. I’m just so happy that she’s doing well and that I’ll get her back.
Corey also got a chance to see her in the CCU, but Amber was not feeling well and running a slight fever, so she couldn’t go in. Amber went on home today. I have really appreciated having her here during this time.
I went home later in the afternoon, and we (Dixie, Corey and me) went out and got a little Chinese food. After being home a while, I wanted to go back down to the hospital and see Marci again. While I was there, Dr. Hardy came by to check up on her and he said she’s doing good. He checked her vision by holding up fingers and making her count. She got all the answers right, so he was pleased with that. He told her that her eyes would probably continue to swell until she couldn’t open them at all, and they would turn black. He said, “Remember what I told you … in another couple of days, you’ll look like you’ve been in a prize fight.” She laughed again. I told him that he was my new hero. What an amazing thing to be able to do … to go in and take a tumor out of somebody’s head, sew it back up, and have the person laughing the next day. Incredible.
I slept better tonight.
I am so thankful to God for the gift that he gave to me and our family of these ten years with my wife. She is still laughing and brings joy to everyone who knows her.
Ten years ago, just a day or two before Marci’s surgery, our granddaughter Maddie was born at a hospital in Orange County. We took Marci to the hospital to see Maddie the day before her surgery because we knew that it might be her only chance to see her, given the serious nature of the surgery. Our neurosurgeon had warned us that blindness, brain disabilities of various kinds, even death were possible outcomes.
Well, today as I type this, Marci and Maddie are seeing a matinee performance of “The Nutcracker” together–just the two of them. I know they are having a ball and I am so grateful