CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA – DAY ONE

    BLOG #42, SERIES 4
    WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
    CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
    DAY ONE
    October 16, 2013

I just returned from a most memorable weekend in Philadelphia and Gettysburg.  The appointment had been made a number of months ago, but until I actually arrived there I had only the haziest idea of what I might meet there.  All I knew was that a certain Pastor Trevor loved my 2008 biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to speak to his church on the subject of Abraham Lincoln.  By the time I got there, my newest book, Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories had just arrived.

What a wonderful experience it turned out to be!

I would be dividing my time between the church’s men and their sons, and the church’s high school students.

Since I’ve never belonged to a congregation of more than 3,500 members, it was a radically new experience for me to be speaking to a church of 10,000 members, plus 5,000 teens and children.  A church with a staff of forty; sixteen being full-time pastors.

I might as well confess that up until last weekend, I didn’t think much of large or mega churches.  Mainly, I guess, because I’d never before experienced one first-hand.  With that many people, I really didn’t see how the average member could have his/her needs met.  I even wondered whether or not there might be more than a little of Elmer Gantry-ism in their leadership teams.

But rather than ramble on in generalities, let me tell you what it was like being there.  I’d be spending my first morning with about 500 of their teens attending Calvary Christian Academy.  I spent considerable time at home writing what I hoped would be an interesting lecture, but, as I continued to pray about the weekend, gradually I was convicted that I ought to ask Pastor Trevor if he’d be willing to get the young people to write out questions that intrigued or interested them (on subjects such as Lincoln, writing, authors, reading, life, etc.—whatever might be on their hearts).  He relayed that message to the teachers.   And so it was, after a three-hour rain delay, I arrived late; but there was this imposing stack of questions—and I’d be speaking to them the next morning.  I finished at 1 a.m.  Believe me, they’d taken me at my word: Here are just a few of their questions:

    PUBLIC SPEAKING

•    How do you handle talking to large groups?
•    Were you always good at speaking to large groups?  If not, how did you overcome that fear?

    READING/WRITING

•    Do you have to know how to use direct objects and predicate nominatives to be a writer?
•    Do you have to be a good reader and like to read to be a good writer?
•    How does journaling help you become a better writer?
•    As a journaler, do people write about their lives or what went on in the world?
•    Does traveling to historic places give you inspiration?

    QUESTIONS DIRECTED AT ME

•    How do you become an author?
•    What is your favorite color?
•    How did you come to know God?
•    What is it like knowing people are reading books you wrote?
•    How do you know what God’s plan is for your life?
•    What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
•    Why did you decide to write biographies about people?
•    Do you ever run out of ideas to make your books better than your previous books?
•    How do you create great books that are interesting to most age groups yet talk about God too?
•    How does it feel to be known and famous?
•    What do you do when you don’t know what to write about?
•    As a professional writer to a young writer, what is the best way to improve one’s writing capability?
•    Which of your works are you most proud of?

    ABRAHAM LINCOLN

•    How long did you study Abraham Lincoln for your book?
•    What made Lincoln a great leader?
•    What do you think was Lincoln’s greatest flaw?
•    In your opinion, what was the single most difficult decision made during Lincoln’s presidency?
•    Was Lincoln a Christian man?
•    What was the hardest decision Lincoln had to make as president?
•    When Lincoln was president, did he have people to discuss his decisions with, and did they agree or disagree?
•    Was Lincoln personally interested in freeing slaves?  Or was it just a political move?
•    How did Lincoln feel about his widespread fame?  How did he handle it and stay humble?
•    Why in most photos does Lincoln wear a top hat?
•    Did Lincoln struggle with the paparazzi?
•    Elaborate on the dream Lincoln had just before he died.
•    How do you think our nation would be different without Lincoln and his faith in God?
•    The Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in history.  Yet he went after another man.  Could you tell us about him?
•    What was the single event in Lincoln’s life that set the stage for what he became?
•    Did Lincoln want to be president as a child?

    * * * * *

As you can see, their questions were not only insightful, they reveal that their Calvary Christian Academy history teachers really teach their students history!  Many college students today wouldn’t have been able to field questions as deep as many of these.  Nor be as knowledgeable about history.

Not only that, but they were most attentive, alert, interested in the subject, and respectful.  Afterwards, a number came up front to ask for my autograph—one wanted it on her wrist. 🙂

    THE FAITH OF LINCOLN

In the evening, I spoke to 400 – 500 fathers and sons about Lincoln’s faith in God–while young; when as an adult he put God on hold for many years, and then when his second son, Eddie, died, how he recognized his great need for God; and finally how, during the Civil War, only his moment by moment reliance on God made it possible for him to face the horrific casualties (620,000 – 750,000), more than all the rest of our wars put together).  I also discussed the need for parents to return to the daily story hour so that they can minister to their children’s spiritual  needs from day to day.

Afterwards, for several hours, I signed their Lincoln books (both the biography and the new story anthology).

Then I was ferried back to the motel.  Next day was Gettysburg.  Will fill you in on that next week—what it was like during the government shutdown!

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KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH

BLOG #35, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH
STUDIO IN A CASTLE TURRET, ROUND TABLE BROADCAST, MARDEL’S,
OWLS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, COFFEE, AND DAWN OVER DENVER
August 28 2013

How is that for a mouthful of a title?

It was still dark when my alarm clock shattered my dreams that morning of August 14, two weeks ago. I was out the door of the Grey House high on Conifer Mountain by 5:20. By 6:30, I could see the castle with its red-lighted beacon silhouetted against a cloudy dawn. As I approached the Westminister destination, I stopped, got out of my SUV, and unlimbered my legs so I’d be ready to sit down for the two-hour broadcast.

Afterwards, as I walked up the time-weathered steps, dawn’s gilding paintbrush gave the castle an otherworldly glow. Inside, all was already in progress for “The Breakfast Table Show: table-in-the-round, headphones and mikes, cups of steaming coffee, Roy Hanschke and Gordon Scott,–glaringly absent: Denise Washington Blomberg—, and an empty chair for me. How often, over the years had I thus joined this precious circle!

Fortunately, Denise would be back; but I gained a renewed sense of the fragility of life when Roy later shared with me the story of the dark days and nights when cancer came way too close to ending his part of the morning broadcast.

I thought back to the day in March when the station celebrated 85 years of broadcasting of KPOF Denver. 85 years under the same ministry ownership sharing the same gospel message.

What a milestone!

My thoughts drifted back even further, as I looked out the turret windows, to the days when the castle was a stagecoach stop. Yet here it still was, an anachronism when compared to the steel and glass skyscrapers just waking up to our southeast.

My reveries were abruptly terminated by a motion from Roy: In seconds, the commercial would end, and we’d be on the air. Ah the magic of radio! Still magical even in this age of nano-technology-driven instant obsolescence.

Once again, I was introduced to the listening audience–only, for the very first time, I was not here to talk about my latest Christmas in My Heart® book, but rather about my just-out Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories (Howard/Simon & Schuster). It was also announced that, periodically during the two-hour broadcast, we’d be giving away copies of the book to listeners who called in when invited to do so.

And, it was noted to listeners that I’d be sharing several stories with them each hour.

Denise’s empty chair reminded me each time we missed her effervescent presence–which was every time we looked in the direction of that chair–how irreplaceable each of us is. For each of us is a one-of-a-kind: in eternity itself, there has never been, nor ever will be, another Denise, another Roy, another Gordy, another me, another you.

Even without her, the old electricity re-ignited, having flared again and again during years past. What one didn’t think of, another did: thus there were no awkward pauses, but rather a continuous flow of Abraham Lincoln, the gentle giant who still rules over our hearts–both in America and around the world.

Every so many minutes, just before a commercial break, it would be announced that next, I’d be reading a story from the book–and so the conversational flow would stop: for “How Lincoln Paid for His First Book,” “Only a Mother,” “Tenderness in a Ruined City,” and “The Heart of Lincoln,” four of the shortest stories in the collection, yet each simple little story deeply moving in a unique way. Each revealing another dimension of America’s only Servant President: accessible to all, be it a broken-hearted little boy, a shy little girl pleading for her brother’s life, a dying young man in a makeshift hospital, or a young Confederate wife and baby in the still burning city of Richmond who apprehensively opened her front door, only to see a tall gaunt figure standing there, who, to her stunned exclamation, “The President!” simply responded, “No, ma’am; no, ma’am; just Abraham Lincoln, George’s old friend.” [“George,” being the now near immortal general, George Pickett, who led the greatest charge in our history, Pickett’s Charge, in a losing cause at Gettysburg].

We could all hear the voices of listeners as they called in, overjoyed that I’d be personally inscribing their books. We’d also hear the voices of those whose calls were relayed in from the switchboard during commercial breaks. More often than not, calls from those who were deeply troubled about illness, privation, inner torment, each asking for intercessory prayers.

It was at such times that I became more fully aware that this was not merely a commercial radio station, but rather a group of dedicated prayer warriors, each, from station manager, Jack Pelon, on down, committed to selfless service to all God’s sheep who looked to those inhabiting the Castle on the Hill as undershepherds to the Great Shepherd. All across the great city of Denver, they were listening to every word we spoke.

I thought too, both then and later, about the station’s 85-years of daily struggling to remain alive in an increasingly secular age, especially in recent years when Christianity and those who believe in God are openly mocked by a society that has apparently lost its spiritual moorings.

Every so many minutes, it would be announced that I’d be signing the Lincoln book at two locations that week: downtown Denver’s Barnes & Noble on Friday and Mardel’s Christian Bookstore on Wadsworth on Saturday.

It would be at Mardel’s where I’d fully realize the power of KPOF’s spiritual ministry to the people of Colorado: All day they came, all but two there because they’d heard Wednesday’s broadcast, they loved Lincoln and yearned to learn more about him in the new book and in my earlier biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage–, but mainly, they were there because they trusted those dear folk in the Castle they listened to so faithfully, day in and day out; spring, summer, autumn, and winter, year after year. And, because they’d heard me before, heard my voice breaking in deeply moving stories, they opened up their hearts to me, considering me also to be another undershepherd. What greater honor could there be? Furthermore, they were at Mardel’s because it was one of that dying-breed: an overtly Christian bookstore, courageously day by day fighting the forces of secularism determined to eradicate such spiritual holdouts as this one.

After we’d sold out all the Lincoln books early, I debriefed with Dana Oswalt, long-time Mardel’s bookstore manager, about all I’d experienced. Since she’d tuned in to the broadcast herself, she knew they’d be coming. She now confessed how deeply moved she’d been by what she’d seen and heard at my booksigning table.

* * * * *

But back to the Castle. All too soon, we took off our headphones, breathed giant sighs of relief that we’d made it through the two hours without a glitch–even without Denise. But mainly, we were almost incapable of speech because of the intensity of it all. Then G.M. Jack Pelon came in to thank us. Which led to some needed semi-comic relief. “Have you seen our owls?” His office, it turns out, is full of owl photographs he’s taken. Serendipitously, even though it was now day, several of the owls, high up the castle wall, blearingly peered down at us–but their owlet babies were evidently taking a nap so never got to see them.

It is said that owls are wise birds. Judging by this family of owls that condescends to share their castle with its human inhabitants, it appears that they too can sense the calming, peaceful, yet energizing presence of the Great God of Us All in the rooms below.

A Lincoln Civil War Stories                                                                                                                                                                                          Scan_Pic0049

IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?

BLOG #12, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?
March 20, 2013

During the last week, the world has been shocked by the sight of an unroyal pope, Francis the First, abandoning regality, both with the cardinals and curia as well as the people; taking the bus back to his modest room, carrying his own luggage, asking the massed crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, and walking into the crowds without security to interact with young and old, greeting each one individually. Nowhere to be seen: the imperial pope the world has come to expect down through the centuries. A servant pope! A throwback to the humility of our Lord while on earth over two thousand years ago.

Just so, this coming June, when Howard/Simon & Schuster releases our Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories, readers will see revealed, in story after story after story, America’s only servant president. Sadly, even the new Lincoln film fails to adequately portray that aspect of our 16th president. When you compare the Lincoln coming to life (like old-time photo negatives in a developing tray, in each of the 32 stories) to the imperial U.S. presidents of recent memory, it will shock you just as much as Pope Francis is shocking the world during the last week. Strength tied to selfless-humility. This synthesis of two ostensible opposites is all too rare in our arrogant I-did-it-my-way society. Lincoln’s humility, as revealed in my upcoming anthology, is spiritual, a reflection emanating from his moment-by-moment dependance on God.

Just as is true with the Post-Apostolic Bishop Nicholas, a subject I have attempted to capture in two recent biographies (2010 and 2005) published by Thomas Nelson.

Is it possible, in our narcissistic self-centered age, that selfless, spiritually-based humility may be returning as an ideal? Is it possible that arrogance’s long reign over society may be nearing its own sede vacante?

We can only watch. And hope.