A Tribute to My Dad

I still remember “the call.” It came 39 years ago today, at 1:00 p.m. I was home alone, in my college apartment, watching a baseball game on TV. When I answered the phone, Mark Murrow greeted me with a dim voice. I’d never had a call from Mark before. He lived next door to my parents, about an hour’s drive away. “Why would he be calling me?” I wondered. Soon, it became clear.

“Your dad has had a heart attack. You need to get to the hospital as soon as you can. He is at Northwest Medical Center.” He told me where the hospital was, and I hung up.

Jumping in my 1975 Ford Maverick, I head for the nearby Tenneco gas station. After buying just enough gas for the trip across Houston, I was off, driving like a crazy man. Then it happened. At 1:20, a peace came over me as I sensed a clear voice from God. “You can slow down now. He’s gone.”

He’s gone. Those two words would change everything for me.

When I arrived at the hospital, I went to my mother. We hugged, cried, and prayed. Then I called my brother. When he arrived an hour later, I told him the grim news. The rest of the day remains a blur.

But let me return to those two words: He’s gone.

The Bible says, “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12). I confess I have honored my dad more in the past 37 years than I did in my first 19. There were too many times I did not obey his words or honor his position. I suppose that’s called “being a teenager.”

I had a special relationship with my dad. There are so many great memories: playing catch, fishing all night, birthday parties, vacations, cub scout outings, ball games, and my favorite – the night he slipped into the church sanctuary to hear me preach my first sermon.

So today, on the 37th anniversary of his death, I honor the memory and legacy of Lester I. Denison. A farm boy and product of the Depression, he served his country heroically in WWII. He started his own business, raised two good kids, and was faithful and wonderful to his wife.

It has been said, “The greatest need in every male’s heart is to have the approval of his father.” I suppose I’m still seeking my dad’s approval. I want him to be proud of me . . . as I am of him.

Lester I. Denison was many things: military veteran, business owner, Sunday school teacher, and entrepreneur. But to me he was just “Dad.” That makes this my saddest day of the year. On December 15, for the 37th time, those two words still ring in my ears as if spoken just seconds ago . . .

He’s gone.


Here are some things you may not know about hair. If you are blonde (coloring doesn’t count), you were given about 150,000 hairs to work with. Brunettes must get by with 100,000 and redheads with just 60,000. So, if you’re a frustrated redhead, it’s okay to express your frustration in many ways, but don’t pull your hair out; you can’t afford to.

The average eyebrow has 550 hairs. (As an aside to all men, feel free to trim your eyebrows before you look like a poodle.)

Ten percent of men shave only with an electric razor, while 30 percent of women do. The average beard has 15,500 hairs. Half of Caucasian men go bald, compared to 18 percent of African Americans and almost no American Indians.

Fifty percent have gray hair by age 50 (more if you have more than two kids). Cutting your hair does not make it grow. The life span of one hair is five years.

And here’s one more truth. God has your hairs numbered. While that isn’t hard for the follicly challenged, it says something about how intimately you are known by your God. So get to know him. Life is short.

You’re hair today, gone tomorrow.


I was insecure as a child. I think it goes back to my infant years. When Mom used to rock me, she used those big rocks. My insecurities carried over to my teen years. When I watched football games on television and the teams went into their huddles, I thought they were talking about me.

Actually, there was a day when they didn’t huddle up at all. The quarterback would tell each player what to do. Then it all changed at the powerhouse of college football: Gallaudet University. Located in Washington, D.C., Gallaudet is a school for the deaf. The quarterback calls the plays by sign language.

In the old days, one of their quarterbacks noticed that the defense was watching him call the plays. So he asked the players to “huddle up,” so he could call the plays without being seen by the opposition.

The custom continues today, on the football field and in the church. Yes, in the church! In most churches, we are more concerned with “holy huddles” (meetings, gatherings in our buildings) than we are with putting points on the board (ministry, service).

Church, it’s time to break the huddle and run some plays!


Today – December 12 – is a big day for birthdays! This is especially true for the entertainment industry, and for those who are, let’s say, among the older among us.

Born on December 12, 1893 – Edward G. Robinson

Born on December 12, 1900 – Sammy Davis

Born on December 12, 1915 – Frank Sinatra

That’s not a bad roster of births. But there’s another big day coming, just over a week away. We call it Christmas. On that day, December 25, we celebrate the birth of our Lord. And Jesus has something very different from the men mentioned above. Let me explain.

Died in 1973 – Edward G. Robinson

Died in 1988 – Sammy Davis

Died in 1998 – Frank Sinatra

See the difference? While Robinson, Davis, and Sinatra are no longer with us, Christ is. The one who was raised on the third day is with us today. So as you play your old Frank Sinatra Christmas album, rejoice that, while ol’ blue eyes is no longer with us, the One he is singing about is.

First Football Game

A man took his blonde girlfriend to her first football game. After the game, he asked her how she liked it.

“I loved the game,” she said. “But I can’t understand why everyone was killing each other over 25 cents.”

“Over 25 cents?” asked her boyfriend. “What do you mean – 25 cents?”

She explained, “All the fans kept screaming, every time they hiked the ball, ‘Get the quarter back! Get the quarter back!'”

That is what is known as a simple misunderstanding. Unfortunately, life is also full of huge misunderstandings. Such as good works get us into heaven. Or God only loves us when we “live right.” Or there are many roads to heaven.

Clear communication doesn’t matter so much when you are watching a football game. But when playing the game of life, it means everything.

A Day of Infamy

On this day in history – December 7, 1941 – the Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise attack against the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The day, coined as a “day of infamy” by President Franklin Roosevelt, thrust the United States into the Pacific Theater of the second World War.

American losses were massive: 2,403 deaths, 1,178 wounded, 188 aircraft destroyed, 159 aircraft damaged, and 19 ships destroyed.

There were numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action by Japan, but the lack of any formal warning, particularly while negotiations of military action in Asia were still ongoing, led our President to his famous “infamy” characterization of the date. Because the attack commenced without a declaration of war and without explicit warning, the attack on Pearl Harbor was later judged in the Tokyo Trials to be a war crime.

“A date which will live in infamy.” There have been other dates like that – in each of our lives. For me those dates include December 15, 1979 (dad’s death) and September 28, 2008 (mom’s death). On a national level, those dates include November 22, 1963 (death of John Kennedy) and September 11, 2001.

We attach significance to specific dates. These dates serve as reminders of past crises and events. They remind us of things we need to avoid. They teach us lessons of the past that guide us into a better future.

So on this anniversary of the Second World War – 76 years ago – may we all resolve to be a better nation and a better people. This “date of infamy” only defeats us if we fail to learn its lessons.

Obvious Questions

A young family was touring the FBI Headquarters. They were shown pictures on the wall of the ten most wanted men. The family’s young lad asked, “Why don’t you just keep them when you take their pictures?”

Here’s another great question, asked by a little girl of her dad, who was a pastor. “What do John the Baptist and Kermit the Frog have in common?” Her dad was clueless. “I have no idea, honey. What do John the Baptist and Kermit the Frog have in common?”

“They have the same middle name!” she said.

Kids indeed ask some wonderful questions. That’s how they learn.

Questions must be a good thing, because there are a lot of them in the Bible. “What is your life?” “What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” “If a man dies, shall he live again?” “What think ye of Jesus?” “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”

Kids are full of questions. The Bible is full of questions. Life is full of questions. But there is good news. For every problem there is a solution, and for every question there is a God.

The best way to get in trouble is to turn somewhere else for the answers to life’s most important questions.


Celebration of Joy

Pastor and author Bruce Larson writes, “The bottom line for you and me is simply this – grimness is not a Christian virtue. If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, paleontologist, and philosopher, put it even more simply. “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.”

I have discovered two truths in my Christian journey. First, if you walk with God, you will always be in trouble with someone else. Second, you will experience outrageous joy. James, the brother of Jesus, said it like this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

Joy is the result of walking with God. Joy is a mark of mature living. Joy is the nature of God. Joy is the promise of God. Joy can be yours today. You will meet a lot of somber saints along life’s path. Keep walking.

St. Teresa of Avila said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!”


Lessons from Enron

One of my favorite sports memories occurred on March 30, 2000. That was the night my Houston Astros opened their incredible new ballpark with a 10-inning preseason win over the New York Yankees. I paid $100 each for three seats that were closer to God than the field. But we were there; that’s all that mattered.

The ballpark was called Enron Field. That was before Enron filed for bankruptcy amid one of America’s historic corporate scandals. That was 15 years ago today – December 2, 2001.

Under chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay, the energy-trading company landed the number seven spot on Fortune magazine’s list of the top five hundred U.S. companies. In 2000, the company employed 21,000 people and posted revenue of $111 billion. Over the next year, however, Enron’s stock price began a dramatic slide, dropping from $90.75 in August 2000 to $0.26 by closing on November 30, 2001.

As prices fell, Lay sold large amounts of his Enron stock, while simultaneously encouraging Enron employees to buy more shares and assuring them that the company was on the rebound. Employees saw their retirement savings accounts wiped out as Enron’s stock price continued to plummet. After another energy company, Dynegy, canceled a planned $8.4 billion buy-out in late November, Enron filed for bankruptcy. By the end of the year, Enron’s collapse had cost investors billions of dollars, wiped out some 5,600 jobs, and liquidated almost $2.1 billion in pension plans.

Lesson 1 – There are no guarantees in this life.

Lesson 2 – Put your faith in God, not man.

Lesson 3 – Money, and the things money buys, do not last.

Lesson 4 – Be careful in naming a new ballpark after a company.

A Big Universe

Our solar system has a diameter of 7.5 billion miles. That means if you drove your space car 65 miles per hour around the clock, it would take you 13,172 years to get across it. And there are over 100 billion stars in the Milky Way (galaxy, not candy bar). That’s 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy. Astronomers estimate that there are 50 billion galaxies in the universe.

As I meet people I didn’t know I knew, I often comment, “It’s a small world.”

But as I look to the sky, I conclude, “It’s a big universe.”

And call me simple, but I figure that if a watch must have a watch maker, then a universe must have a universe maker. But the majesty of God is not that he is big. It is that he is small.

During World War II, Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl chronicled his experience and found something outside of himself. He wrote, “Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or Someone other than oneself.”

That was Frankl’s way of saying the God of the universe wants to be the God of your heart.