Pop Pop Epistle # 185 – About Jimmy and Vicki

Dear Grandkids,

I have no doubt that as you grow up, the Lord will put people in your life at key times to help you along the way. He certainly did that for me. Let me tell you about one of the most influential couples in my life. Let me tell you about Jimmy and Vicki.

As you know I did not grow up in a Christian home and did not ever enter the door of a church until I was about 14 years old. I started going to the First Presbyterian Church youth group in Aiken, SC at the invitation of my neighbor and best friend Chuck England. It was there that I first met Jimmy and Vicki. They were about four years older than me and by the time I was a junior in high school they were married and serving as leaders in the youth group.

They were the kind of leaders who loved to hang around with students. Over the next several years and on into my college summers me and my friends would spend many a night just loafing at their house, playing games… and watching. They didn’t know that they were teaching us about what a godly marriage looked like.

Jimmy was a runner. Still is 45 years later. He got me into running and even though it was not something I was ever passionate about – fact is, I didn’t really enjoy running – still, I ran. And because I was running when I met Nona in 1979 she started running. And it WAS something she became passionate about and ran for 35 years until I convinced her to start walking with me as we were moving into our older years.

In 1976, I went off to college in New Orleans after high school to study Biomedical Engineering at Tulane University. Soon thereafter Jimmy and Vicki headed to Massachusetts to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. During my junior year in college I sensed the Lord  calling me to vocational ministry and right away they started recruiting me to come up to Gordon-Conwell when I graduated. Which I did. But they didn’t just invite me to come up to the school, they also invited me to come and live with them In Gloucester, MA. I spent one semester with them and their golden retriever Sundance ( and Mary – remind me to tell you about 90 year old Mary and her bathroom song).

Now why do I even mention Sundance? In 1969 a movie came out entitled “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Hanging out with Jimmy and Vicki I grew to love Sundance in particular and goldens in general. Nona will tell you that we had a prenup when we got married that stated that we WOULD get a golden retriever and that it WOULD be named Cassidy. Which of course we did. And of course she loved Cassidy as much as I did.

Jimmy and Vicki introduced me to a lot of the first Christian music that I listened to. Artists like Dogwood, Don Francisco and Keith Green. And it was because I loved Keith Green’s music that  I even met Nona.

When it came time for our wedding on 8/1/81, we asked Jimmy to officiate and because I had no sisters, we asked Vicki to be a bridesmaid. Jimmy was not yet ordained so he could not pronounce us man and wife but we had him to conduct a lot of the ceremony. We then spent our first year of married life in Raleigh before going back up to Massachusetts to finish my degree.

The Lord was putting a lot of the pieces of our puzzle together as only He could. Because I went to Gordon-Conwell (due to Jimmy and Vicki’s influence), Nona and I started attending Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh when we got married (the pastor was a GCTS grad.) And that is where I spent 10 years as a student pastor and began my 40 years of pastoral ministry.

So as I mentioned, Jimmy and Vicki influenced and impacted my life in many ways – spiritual growth, marriage, music, dogs, exercise, and career. They are now living in Black Mountain, NC in their retirement years. Just last week we had a chance to again spend some time with them as they introduced us to one of their favorite hikes – Lookout Mountain in Montreat, NC. You can tell from this picture that none of us look like we have even aged over the last 42 years.

So be on the lookout for people who will have the right kind of influence on your life. I am very grateful for the way that God used these friends to shape and influence me. But maybe even just as importantly, be on the lookout for people that need YOU to be the right kind of influence in their lives.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle # 184 – Happy Birthday Ezra and About March Madness

Dear Ezra,

Happy Birthday #4 to you. And maybe you know this, maybe you don’t – but unless something drastically changes your birthday will always fall smack in the middle of what is known as March Madness. March Madness is three weeks of NCAA basketball madness at the end of March. It is a tournament that involves 64+ teams  – and if you are good enough or lucky enough to win 6 straight games then you are crowned the champion for the year.

You are fortunate enough (depending on how you feel about basketball) to grow up right in the epicenter of the madness. Three schools very close to you do their best to get to the tournament each year and 13 times in the last 66 years those teams have come away as champions (Duke – 5x, UNC – 6x, and NC State – 2x).

For a lot of people in our area basketball is more than just basketball. Basketball is their religion. Here are a few things that I mean by that:

  • Their identity is as a faithful follower of their team more so than as a faithful follower of Jesus.
  • They would never ever miss watching a game but they would not have a problem missing church.
  • They are physically and emotionally involved in watching their team play but find it difficult to engage in worship.
  • Conversations with friends are often about their team but rarely about God and their faith.
  • They have lots of clothing that reps their team but nothing that represents their relationship with God.
  • They can remember stats about players and teams from many years ago but can barely remember any Scripture verses.
  • You will often hear them beseeching God when a tight game is on the line but never hear them praying out loud when the church gathers for prayer.
  • They can make a bold argument for why their team is better than your team but have no idea how to make a compelling argument for the defense of the gospel.
  • Their joy is rooted in how their team is playing rather than in the blessed assurance that the Lord is always with them no matter what.

Even as I write this our three triangle teams have already been eliminated from this year’s tournament. Duke…gone in the second round. NC State…gone in the first round. And UNC didn’t even make it to the dance this year. Absolute madness.

But God is still on His throne.

May you never forget baby girl that no matter how much madness this world brings – basketball or otherwise – God is still on His throne.

And never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle # 183 – Happy Birthday Haddon and About That Day

Dear Haddon,

A very happy birthday #3 to you.

You already know that I like to make up silly songs – often silly songs about you and the other grandkids…

There was a boy named Haddon
He loved to ride the bus.
His best friends were a monkey
And a hippopotamus.
The monkey’s name was Larry
And the hippos name was Sam.
They had another friend who was
A big old pig named Ham.

That one just got made up. I promise.

I’ve always liked words. Words are cool. Way back when I was in the 5th grade at Aiken Elementary I was the 5th grade spelling champion and runner up in the whole school. I still remember the word that I missed that is how devastated I was at losing.

I started writing poetry when I was in high school. For some reason I loved creating sentences that rhymed with one another. After I became a Christian I started writing poems about God and faith. It was a way for me to ponder on paper some of the thoughts and emotions I was having. Some of those poems turned into songs – you are probably most familiar with my Jonah Rap.

Here is another poem/song that is a favorite of mine. I wrote it many years ago at a time when I was thinking about heaven and THAT DAY when I would see Jesus face to face. THAT DAY is not as far away for me as it was then. But wouldn’t it be awesome if we experienced THAT DAY at the same time because we were both alive when Jesus decided to return to earth not as a little baby in a manger but as a Conquering King.

That Day

I’m longing for that day when I’ll be crowned with my reward
But more than that I cannot wait to see my precious Lord
For He has done so much for me
So much to set me free
And that is why I’m waiting for that day.


On that day He’ll come again
Or on that day I’ll go to Him
That day when this old journey is complete.
On that day my heart will sing
On that day I’ll see my king
On that day I’ll wake and know it’s not a dream.

I know it won’t be long before I enter heaven’s door
And then I’ll know just what my life of faith has all been for
I’ll see my savior face to face
I’ll feel the love of His embrace
And that is why I’m waiting for that day.


One day all the pain that comes with this life will be done
And I will cross the finish line and know the race is won
The victor will be on His throne
And I’ll see my eternal home
And that is why I’m waiting for that day. (chorus)

(Click HERE for a YouTube rendition and ponder this: why does Pop Pop have so much skin on his face)

You are a bundle of three year old awesomeness. Sorry there is so much yucky sickness in your family and I can’t celebrate with you on THIS DAY. But…

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle # 182 – Happy Birthday Bowen (and Memories of an 8 Year Old)

Dear Bowen,

A very very happy birthday to you! In fact, I hope you have a very bodacious birthday!

Eight. What an awesomely great age to be. I remember when I was eight. But now I am 8 x 8. That kind of sounds old don’t you think. And yet…

And yet I can still remember a lot about when I was 8 years old. Which is kind of funny since I sometimes have a hard time remembering things that happened last week.

When I was 8…

  • I was living in Aiken, SC at 633 Aldrich Street in Crosland Park. We were the 3rd house down on the right from Highway 1 which led out of Aiken toward what would later be I-20.
  • I lived with my Mom (Bett) and my brother (Gus – Great Uncle Scott) – my folks had gotten divorced 2 years earlier and we moved from Columbia, SC to Aiken.
  • We had muscadine bushes in our back yard and a tree house in the woods just behind us.
  • Even though we had a very small house, we had a maid named Willie Mae Hamilton who did some cleaning and was at our house in the afternoons because my mom worked. I exchanged Christmas cards with her for many years even after I had left Aiken.
  • I used to jump off the roof of that house (see below) and pretend I was Superman. One time Superman broke his arm.
  • We had 2 dogs. A schnauzer named Chebee and a mutt named Cuba. Cuba and I used to share fudge popsicles. He got a lick then I got a lick.
  • We rode our bicycles all over the neighborhood – never worried about things that parents worry about now.
  • I went to North Aiken Elementary. It was about a mile away. More often than not I walked – crossing a major road to get there. Again, things that were not as concerning as they are nowadays.
  • My third grade teacher was Mrs Fripp. I had friends at school that were named Tommy and Buddy and Mike and Mark.
  • Our favorite things to do on the playground were playing tag and playing marbles. I was one of the fastest kids and was hard to catch.
  • Every so often my dad would come from Columbia (60 miles away) to pick us up and we would go spend the weekend with him.
  • He would often take us to “his club” where he drank with his friends and played cards while we entertained ourselves with pinball machines.
  • His mom, my Grandma (named Hortense – isn’t that a funny name), would take us shopping in Columbia at the beginning of every school year and buy me and Gus new clothes. She would have been about the same age that I am now and I remember thinking that she was really old. But she was really good to us.
  • I had never been to church and had no idea who Jesus was.
  • I took a trip to California when I was 8 to see some relatives and to visit Disneyland (DisneyWorld did not yet exist). It was the first time that I flew on a plane.
  • Lyndon Johnson was President. The Los Angelos Dodgers were the reigning baseball World Champions. The Green Bay Packers were top dogs in football. The US was fighting a war in Vietnam. We had not yet put a man on the moon and there was no such things as personal computers or mobile phones.

I have great memories of being 8. Life was good. Life was simple. Life was fun.

In case you ever wanted to know… Here is a picture of the house I lived in on Aldrich St and of me when I was 8 years old.


So, in the year 2079, should the Lord tarry, you will be the same age that I am now. That’s crazy to even think about. And you will be reminiscing for your grandkids about what your life was like way back in 2023. My guess is that you will have a lot more memories than I do because your mom does such a great job of capturing and cataloguing memories in ways that were not available back when I was 8.

In the meantime, enjoy your birthday and have fun making lots and lots of remarkable memories – memories worth remarking about when you are 64. I’m looking forward to making some of those memories with you.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle # 181 – About Goals

Dear Grandkids,

310 weeks!

That’s how long my steps streak lasted. For 310 consecutive weeks I got at least 70,000 steps each week. That is just 2 weeks short of 6 years.)

  • During that time I had 3 surgeries (all kidney stone related), but I managed to keep walking.
  • Those steps were taken in 9 different countries.
  • I walked in rain, sleet, and snow.
  • I walked in temperatures under 20 degrees and over 100 degrees.
  • Sometimes I was walking before 6 AM
  • I walked even when I didn’t feel like walking because of the goal that I had set.

That is the power of a worthy goal.

A worthy goal provides motivation. A worthy goal provides a roadmap for success. A worthy goal helps you to stay focused on your priorities. A worthy goal gives you a reason to celebrate accomplishments.

Here are a few quotes about goals that I like…

  • “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” — C. S. Lewis
  • “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” — Steve Jobs
  • “Goals are dreams with deadlines.”
  • “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” — Michelangelo
  • “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” –Zig Ziglar

I tend to make goals in the area of physical fitness since I need to stay fit because of my family’s heart health history. A few of the goals that I am even impressed by include…

Running 700 miles in 1979 – which works out to about 2 miles a day. Not really a long run from a runner’s perspective but for me, who did not really enjoy running, it meant consistency over 365 days.

100 pushups everyday in 2020 – I knew that I needed to add some strength training to my regimen. So first thing every morning for 2020 I knocked out 100 pushups. Every single day.

70,000 steps every week – I defined this goal in terms of 70k steps per week instead of 10k steps per day. This gave me a little flexibility on those days that I didn’t feel great or the weather was bad… or I had a kidney stone operation.

My streak of 310 weeks came to an end last week because of my 5 day stint in the hospital. But I am anxious to start another streak as soon as I get back on my feet again. I was sad that the streak came to an end. I was hoping to make it a 10 year streak. But, alas, things were out of my control as very often happens with the pursuit of goals. Goals are a means to an end not an end in and of themselves. It is easy to even make them idols. My steps goal has served to keep me healthy and in decent shape for a 64 year old guy. So I’ll keep walking even though the streak has ended. A new streak is just beginning!

Do you have any worthy goals that you are pursuing? I’d love to hear what they are and talk with you about them. Perhaps we can challenge each other to keep getting after the goals we are pursuing. I know that I need all the encouragement I can get.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop






Pop Pop Epistle # 180 – About Missing Christmas

Dear Grandkids,

When I say “missing Christmas” I don’t mean that I miss it now that it is over, I mean that I missed it – as in Christmas happened without me.

And I missed hanging out with all of you.

This will be the Christmas that I hope never to repeat. I went to the hospital on December 22 for “routine” out-patient surgery to get rid of a kidney stone. Remind me NEVER to think of any kind of surgery as routine. I went home mid afternoon and that’s when things began to go sideways. I have had enough kidney stone extractions to pretty much know what to expect but this time my expectations were unexpected.

I had a horrible night that featured very little sleep and lots of pain – especially pain in my abdominal core – which I have never experienced before. A midday call to my doctor on Friday resulted in a trip to the Emergency Room. Because it was 2 days before Christmas,  the ER was surprisingly not busy and I was able to be seen within 30 minutes. A minor miracle!

I was admitted to the hospital after about 5 hours of triage and tests and poking and prodding and then would not see the light of day for another 5 days.

Hence, I missed Christmas.

I missed our Maggiano’s meal on Friday with your parents. I missed our Christmas Eve brunch Saturday morning. I missed our Candlelight Service on Saturday night. I missed our RBC worship celebration on Christmas morning. I missed our family gathering on Christmas afternoon. I missed the Reyner Disc Golf Tournament on Tuesday. And I missed all the other hangout times that happened.

After three days of dealing with pain – and I will admit that your Pop Pop does not do pain well – and after lots more tests and watching and trying to figure things out, they finally decided that I had a tear in my bladder that was releasing fluid into my abdominal cavity. A place that it was not supposed to go. Hence all the core pain.

And then after 2 more days of antibiotics they got the pain under control and the fluid minimized and decided to send me home. The hope is that the tear in my bladder will repair itself over the next two weeks. If it does not then I will face a surgical repair and another stint in the hospital. So we wait and see.

Here are a few of my takeaways from my “missing Christmas” time in the hospital:

  • The nurses  and other health care professionals that provided my care were amazing. They did everything that they could to make sure my hospital stay was as “pleasant” as possible.
  • There is no such thing as a good night’s sleep in the hospital.
  • I was reminded often of what I tell others when they are going through difficult times: God is in control and “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”
  • I have been reading through the Book of Revelation which talks a lot about patient endurance. I’m thinking it is one of the things that the Lord must want me to learn.
  • I was reminded that “THIS is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” We have NO promises that tomorrow will be crisis free or pain free. So rejoice in the gift of Today!
  • I realized that there is much that I take for granted. I am hopeful that I will not do this so much.

My hope and prayer for you is that you NEVER EVER EVER have to deal with kidney stones. They are definitely my “thorn in the flesh.” Quite literally. But if you do, never forget that the Lord is near!

And never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop





Pop Pop Epistle # 179 – About December 5, 1945 and the Devil’s Triangle

Dear Grandkids,

Have you ever heard of the Devil’s Triangle?

Wikipedia says, “The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil’s Triangle, is an urban legend focused on a loosely defined region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where a number of aircraft and ships are said to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”

Urban legend or not some weird things have happened in this geographic area over the years. For instance, 77 years ago today, on December 5, 1945, five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers comprising Flight 19 took off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission. After having completed their objective, Flight 19 was scheduled to take them due east for an additional 67 miles, then turn north for 73 miles, and back to the air station after that, totaling a distance of 120 miles. They never returned. A search and rescue aircraft was sent out to try to find them. It was also never heard from again. A total of 27 men lost their lives as a part of this urban legend. (Source: This Day in History)

Whether there is in fact a geographical Devil’s Triangle remains to be seen. But I have no doubt that there is a spiritual Devil’s Triangle that many men and women have been sucked into and have lost their lives as a result. maybe you can remember these as the 3 “D”s of the Devil’s Triangle:

Discouragement of the Saints – The devil has a plethora of schemes up his sleeve to try to discourage believers. It might be “unanswered” prayer. Or losing a job. Or strained relationships. Or health concerns. Or any number of other things that the enemy of our souls might use to keep us from courageously resting in the Lord and finding our satisfaction solely in Him and NOT in the things of this world.

Doubting the Word of God – This has been a favorite ploy of Satan’s from the very beginning. In Genesis 3:1 he says to Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'”  Just by asking the question the way that he did he made Eve second guess what she knew the Lord had indeed said. God’s Word is under serious attack these days and the devil is taking advantage of the secularization of our society to create widespread doubt in the minds of believers.

Destroying the Church – According to Scripture, the Church is the Bride of Christ. What better way to destroy the people of God than to destroy His Bride. And the devil has been doing everything he can to make this happen. Moral failures among pastors, denominational strife, hypocrisy among the faithful, elevation of good works over the preaching of the gospel, fascination with the health and wealth gospel, a prevalence of very subtle false teaching, the adoption of a-biblical sexual ethics, and on and on. Through all of this, however,( as well as the recent pandemic), the Church is being purified and prepared for the Bridegroom to be presented “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:27)

One of the best ways to avoid the Devil’s Triangle is simply to be aware that there is a Devil’s Triangle. And spiritually speaking, it is NOT urban legend. It is in fact quite deadly.

My encouragement to you is what Paul said to his friends in 2 Corinthians 2:1. That you “would not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.”

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop




Pop Pop Epistle # 178 – Happy Birthday Audrey and About Camelot

Happy Birthday Audrey,

On December 3, 1960 – 62 years ago today –  the Broadway play Camelot debuted  on Broadway. It is the legendary story of King Arthur, Guenevere, and Sir Lancelot in the magical land of Camelot.

The legend of King Arthur is centered around a mythical sword known as Excalibur. The legend says that the sword was stuck in a stone and that only the rightful king of the land would be able to withdraw it. Many tried. Many failed. But when Arthur tried it came out easily. He was the rightful king of Camelot. It was King Arthur who ruled Camelot and it was King Arthur who established the Knights of the Round Table.

But it was your Pop Pop who established the Knights of the Cross – of which your dad is a member. When he was 10 years old I wanted to create a rite of passage for him. So I gathered 10 men around him who were tasked with praying for him about one specific character quality each. And I presented him with a replica of the sword Excalibur to remind him to stay true to the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God.

Which he has done!

You are only 5 years old but it will not be that long before you are thinking about meeting a man and getting married. Your Pop Pop’s encouragement to you is to make sure that the man that you marry is a man of the Word. A man who faithfully wields the Sword of the Spirit. A man like your dad.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop




Pop Pop Epistle # 177 – Happy Birthday Grayson #10

Happy Birthday Grayson,


Life is all about choices.You have already made a lot of choices in your young life. One of the choices that I am amazed by is your choice to read through the Bible this past year. I was awed by your diligence and discipline to see this through. One of the things I often talk about with the college students that I work with is “becoming a man or woman of the Word.” Most of them, who are twice your age, have never read through the Bible. But at least one of them, when I told them what you were doing, has taken up the challenge.

That is one of the by-products of the choices we make. People are always watching. You make good choices and people will follow your example. You make bad choices and people will follow your example. As a 10 year old young man I am very proud of the choices I see you making.

But now you have another choice to make. It is a choice that Nona and I have been looking forward to ever since you were born. It is a choice that we hope you will be as excited about as we are. It is a choice that we think will be very fun and memorable. It is a choice that your parents already know about and are willing to help you think through.


So make a choice right now. What one question can you choose right now to figure out what I am talking about.

Hope you have an awesome awesome birthday.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop




Pop Pop Epistle # 176 – Happy Birthday Keller and About Soccer

Happy Birthday Keller,

I have been told that you are going to play soccer for the first time this Fall in an organized league. I hope you enjoy it. It is an awesome game and is known around the world as “the beautiful game.” It is also known around the world as football – not to be confused with the football that we Americans play. And it is the most popular sport in the world.

Interesting fact: Cristiano Reynaldo, a footballer for Manchester United, has 470 million+ followers on Instagram – 100 million more than the 2nd place person. That fact alone tells you how popular the sport is worldwide.

The United States was kind of late to the party. Back in the 1970’s when I was in high school it was just beginning to really be a thing. I don’t even remember there being organized leagues in the town that I grew up in. Lots of opportunities to play baseball and the other football – but not soccer. I never even thought about playing the game until my senior year in high school when a couple of buddies invited me to try out for the school team. Because it was still relatively new and because I was a decent athlete, I ended up making the team and being a starter. I played left wing and scored two goals during the season – one with my right foot and one with my left. We played 10 games and managed to win four of them. Can you even tell from the picture below that that is your Pop Pop?

Here are a couple of life lessons that the game of soccer can teach us and that I hope you learn while playing. These are not original with me but they are great lessons to learn…

  • Your character is more important than how good you are
  • It takes no talent to hustle
  • Celebrate the wins but learn from the losses
  • Play smart off the ball
  • Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards
  • Winning requires team work
  • Play with the goal in mind

Each one of these lessons is the beginning of an entire conversation. Maybe after you have played the beautiful game for awhile and experienced them for yourself we can sit down and talk about them. I would love that.


Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop




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