Prayer is dependence on God

I wish it was different, but air travel is not what it used to be. Technology, Covid fallout, and rising costs have made flying quite impersonal and complicated — with the resulting onerous squarely on the traveler. Just like everything in our current culture, the doctrinaire is to get an app and it will supply all the information you need. Yeah, right.

What about when no one was at the arrival gate last week to tell us where to go for our specific bus transport? No one in sight. Pick up a “help phone” on the wall outside the concourse bathrooms? No help there either. The app is useless — human beings are priceless.

But our Heavenly Father is always there. Always.

I am reminded of the words of the songwriter:

We have a Heavenly Father above

With eyes full of mercy and a heart full of love

And He really cares when your head is bowed low

Consider the lilies and then you will know.

Those lilie’s in the field depend completely on the heavenly Father. They have no bank accounts, no insurance plans, nor any governmental assistance. They depend fully on the rain, Sun, and natural nutrients the Heavenly Father provides.

They are as perfect a picture as we can get of a dependent believer — trusting God in prayer. They are the example our Savior used in the Sermon on the Mount where He taught us to pray.

Both on the mount (in Matt.6:10) and in the garden (in Matt. 26:42) Jesus taught us to pray the prayer of utter dependence, “Thy will be done.” On the Mount He taught us how to live — in total dependence on our Heavenly Father. In the Garden He taught how to trust Him for eternal life — in total dependence on God’s unmerited gift of salvation.

We use the phrase,”Prayer changes things.” Yes, prayer changes us from self reliance to God focused dependence. Prayer changes and blesses our partners in prayer as they join in the ministry of intercession. But, in actuality, God changes things! He alone is the one who can take our hopeless or seemingly impossible circumstances to reveal His perfect plan and will.

What a privilege to lean on the everlasting arms of the almighty God. Total dependence through the gateway of prayer is the pathway into His protecting and providential presence. Let’s live like the lilies…

Following God’s Leading

Led by His Hand

In the year 2000 Positive Action Bible curriculum commissioned a talented artist by the name of Chris Ellison to illustrate Frank Hamrick’s study entitled Behold Your God. Chris developed thirty-five magnificent drawings depicting the nature, character, and works of the Godhead to introduce each lesson.

My favorite illustration is for the chapter on “His Omnipotence” that shows a mighty hand parting the waters of the Red Sea. Frank begins that lesson with these words from Puritan theologian Thomas Watson. Speaking of God Watson says, “He can do what He will; His power is as large as His will.” We have seen a measure of that power all through the Grace Journey of our lives. But at no time has it been more evident than these last two weeks since the dreaded word cancer became personal.

Today we are making final preparations to depart for Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, on Monday. Later next week we’ll go through medical testing and then on Thursday meet with an evaluating physician who will lay out the plan of attack to address the cancer discovered in my bladder.

I am at peace with this process because I can see the incredible way our faithful Lord has opened doors for this treatment option in just two weeks’ time. The past days have been a blur of preparations for this next step of the journey. God is at work and this cancer challenge is only one of the current issues we’re facing. But in all of these trials we remember our sovereign God’s words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Charles Simeon in 1759 is reported to have said to his congregation,

“What is before us, we know not, whether we shall live or die; but this we know, that all things are ordered and sure. Everything is ordered with unerring wisdom and unbounded love, by thee, our God who art love. Grant us in all things to see thy hand; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

While studying God’s grace over the last dozen years, I have learned that His grace is matchless, sustaining, and sufficient. Not deterministic, but saturated with God’s superintending direction. So that through our decision making we can have confidence that God’s providential hand is leading and guiding us. I don’t understand it. Just revel in His goodness and grace.

My good friend John Brock said this week in a Good Friday meditation, “Nothing goes off the rails on the train of Providence.” I love that thought. A wise Thomas Watson observes, “Learn quietly to submit to divine providence. Do not murmur at things that are ordered by divine wisdom. We may no more find fault with the works of providence than we may with the works of creation.”

We are so thankful for the multitudes of friends who have sent messages indicating their prayer support. Likewise, we are buoyed by the precious scripture passages that have been transmitted to us. I’ve compiled a growing list of verses that I call “Our Treasure Trove” of God’s promises. We are resting, trusting, and going forward to follow where the Lord leads.

Positive Action grants Gerry Carlson free use of this image for non-commercial purposes. When presented, note that permission was granted by Positive Action Bible Curriculum and that the original art was by Chris Ellison.

The Cancer Journey Begins

Journal Entry: Written on Sunday, March 26, 2023

In an increasingly interconnected world, it is fitting that I was informed about cancer from a very impersonal app on my iPhone.

On Friday afternoon, a text message appeared on my phone informing me that I should check in for a doctor appointment on Monday morning. I was confused because I thought that all appointments with my urologist had been canceled and replaced by a three month follow up visit. I tried to cancel the new appointment through the app and when asked in a dialog box why I was canceling, I explained in a few short words that I was confused.

Then just a few minutes later, I discovered an email telling me there were test results now available in the digital portal of my AdventHealth app. I accessed the app to hunt for the latest test results, and lo and behold, I discovered a report on the tissue that was taken from the bladder resection surgery that I had two weeks previously.

I printed out the report and realized it was brutally honest to this very untrained layman. This was not the message that we were hoping to receive. It said in bold type, “Invasive high-grade urothelial carcinoma.”

So, I texted Connie‘s brother and sent him via email a copy of the pathology report. He is a brilliant retired veterinarian surgeon. Within 20 minutes he called on the phone. After catching up on some family updates, I said, “OK, tell me about the report I sent to you.” He replied, “Gerry, words mean something, and the words in this report that mean something are invasive high-grade carcinoma.” He said, “If I were you, I know what I would do. I would go right to aggressive treatment at the very best cancer option and proceed as swiftly as possible.”

I told him then that the person who had just replaced me at Maranatha Village had recently retired from Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her job over the many years was as an executive secretary to chief of the all cardiologists at Mayo. During the last few years of her career, she handled many notable patients that came to Mayo for various kinds of treatment. She has extensive contacts within the Mayo Clinic system in Rochester.

A number of years previously Kaye had opened the doors for my sister Cheryl to be admitted to Mayo within a few days and receive lifesaving treatment. Then a few years after that, her husband Dwight faced life-threatening heart issues. Once again Kaye was able to open up the doors and get him lifesaving procedures. And just last summer, she was able to open the way again for Dwight to return to Mayo for successful treatment on a persistent and debilitating neurological issue.

So, I immediately called Kaye on the phone and told her about this new challenge. She said, “Bring the report to me at church on Sunday and I will make contacts on Monday morning.” I replied that I’d like to bring it over to her right now, and she came back with, “OK give me 15 minutes because I just got out of the pool.” Connie and I jumped into our golf cart and took the two-minute ride over to the Halstead‘s villa. As soon as she saw the actual report, her eyes widened and she said, “I know the secretary to one of the four best urologists in Mayo Clinic. I’ll send this to her”. I told her that I’d already sent her a copy via email. Kaye is emailing it tonight because she knows her friend looks at emails over the weekend.

We went back home with our minds spinning in a whirlwind. I immediately thought of our neighbors, who we’re not able to return this winter because the husband had in recent months gone through a cancer journey at Mayo. I remembered they had reported in an email to our village community how they were blessed by being able to stay at a wonderful facility in Rochester.

Within a few moments we had a conversation and they described the blessed ministry of Hope Lodge that is within walking distance of the Clinic. It operates expressly for the purpose of serving cancer patients as a place to stay where there are others who are walking the same pathway.

We don’t know what the road ahead looks like, these are just the first steps of this stage of our Grace Journey. Doors will have to open, and medical help will be needed in the days to come. Just this week I started rereading Robert Morgan’s wonderful little book Red Sea Rules. He begins the Preface by quoting Charles Haddon Spurgeon with this comforting thought:

“The Lord will make a way for you where no foot has been before. That which, like a sea, threatens to drown you, shall be a highway for your escape.”

Subsequently we have gained an appointment at Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, for April 12th. Pray that the Lord will be glorified in all that transpires. We are trusting our Lord to lead us down that highway.

Several friends have already given us uplifting scriptural promises to guide and encourage us. We will hold fast to God’s almighty hand.

“The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.” Nahum 1:7

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” Isaiah 41:10, 13

A number of months ago I took Psalm 71:18 for the remaining days of my life on this earth. I offer these words each day as a prayer of trust in the abiding will of our great God and loving Savior.

“Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; Until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.”

My Friend Bud – Part 6


Bud and I had grown together over the years. I knew how he thought, and what he expected. His pastoral leadership style, and then his AACS leadership role, were definitely different than his college administrative style and responsibilities. Especially different was relating to the large staff of the college that was divided into many departments. His expectations for student workers and hourly staff workers caused frustration many times to him. I tried at times to get ahead of problems, but that didn’t always work when immature students and inexperienced workers fell short of his expectations.

I knew that Doc Weniger lived by his daily “to do” task list. The night before he would write out his tasks for the following day on a yellow legal pad, and he would pursue those tasks with a singular focus. It was not a good sign when he went out of his office, armed with his yellow pad, looking for a staff person. In time I made him aware of how people were sometimes intimidated and overwhelmed by his forceful personality and stern direction. Sometimes his forceful intervention and correction was warranted, and other times it was not – but the average staff worker just didn’t know how to respond.

After I called attention to him about this problem, to his credit, he called a meeting of all the staff and acknowledged that frustration and anger arose at times in his response to staff. I believe there was improvement after that, but it was a reality of his powerful ways. Many leaders do not realize how forceful they are in personality. Bud had grown into this persona over many years of carrying the load of leadership. He carried some heavy burdens that contributed, in my opinion, to the building of stress in his life. For years I considered him as the person most capable to handle stress. I’ve come to the opinion that maybe I was wrong about that all along. He was a gifted leader; but he was human, and he was susceptible to stress.

The pressures of caring for Marilyn for many years, plus the burdens of leading the institution – especially not being able to please all the constituencies – and the weight of budgets and financial realities took its toll on him. In his later life circumstances and decisions brought him heartache and disappointments. He ultimately slipped into dementia and my last contacts with him were phone calls where he was upbeat, but struggled to remember things and seemed to focus on some simple pleasures of life.

I prefer to remember him as the animated cheerleader at MBBC athletic events; and his engaging interaction with students, children, church members, college patrons and friends, and a host of God’s servants from across the country who knew him for his leadership contributions.

  • He was a man of native intelligence. Smart and well trained, in addition to being capable of interacting with educational and political leaders, as well as construction workers and church members.
  • He was a man who was consistently responsible. He was absolutely committed to his calling, family, job, ministry, and the tasks of the day.
  • He was a man of incredible stamina. When we traveled together, and after we came home from a trip, I could not ever attain his energy and stamina. That used to bother me. Now, I realize it was his gift.
  • He was a man of unfailing determination. His dedication to planning was legendary, and a dogged determination to complete the project or task marked his life.

Later in life I was influenced by my dear friend and colleague Frank Hamrick. Frank taught me to see the Scriptures through a God focused perspective. He emphasized that the Bible does not present to us great men, but a great God – albeit a God who gifts, empowers, and uses men to accomplish His work. My friend Bud was greatly used by a great God. For this we can be grateful.

My Friend Bud – Part 5


In the fall of 1982 Bud and friend Ken Thelen dropped off their sons, Tim and Todd, at Maranatha to begin their college careers. Later Bud told me that he was concerned about lack of attractiveness around the campus and that prompted him to talk to Dr. Cedarholm. He said something like, “Cedar are you ready to retire, and do you still want me to come to lead Maranatha in the future?” Cedar’s response was something like, “Whew, I was afraid you didn’t want to come and so I was afraid to ask.” That conversation set things in motion for Bud to begin to give transitional leadership to MBBC in the spring semester, and was inaugurated as president to begin the 1983-84 school year.

When I arrived five years later at MBBC in 1988, I learned more of the story of the challenges facing Maranatha in 1982-83 when Bud began to take over the helm. Cedar was worn out at age 68, and the college was faced with several difficult issues. The institution was in a budget crunch, over staffed, and was endeavoring to face the fallout of previous financial decisions that needed to be addressed. Some of the issues included: The college had cosigned at local banks for student loans that were not being paid. Gifts for replacing the large windows in Old Main had been used for current obligations and the drafty windows were causing increased energy costs.

Bud tackled these issues with his characteristic focus and energy. In those early days of his presidency, he ruffled feathers, but in retrospect it initiated what some have called “the Second Maranatha Miracle.” The original miracle centered around the procurement of the property, buildings, furnishings and equipment. The miracle of the second fifteen years of the institution encompassed stabilizing the financial and administrative functions of the college, the expansion of the campus, strengthening academic programs, and the growth of the student body.

The current Maranatha website records that “no fewer than 39 building and remodeling projects were completed” during this era. This was where Bud was the most effective. He not only gave the vision for the projects, but he created the construction know how to make it happen. Because of experience he gained back in the days at Normal he learned how to be a general contractor, or work with contractors in an effective way.

He also brought financial credibility to the institution. Before he launched the Student Center fund raising project, Bud saw to it that state-of-the-art windows were installed in Old Main, and paid for out of general operating expenses. Once, that project was completed he embarked on the $450,000 Student Center project, which was the brilliant repurposing of a small gym and storage area into a beautiful two-level facility. Later, the building of the Fitness Center Gym and the Cedarholm Library were added to benefit the campus through his determined expertise.

In 1988 I went to join him at MBBC as Vice President for Administrative Affairs. Even though I have never had an accounting class in my life, I wound up as the Chief Financial Officer. I often said that I knew my main qualification for that aspect of my job was that he knew I was as tight as he was in financial matters. By the time I arrived the budget process and financial accountability were clearly established. For three years I supervised the financial office and was the person responsible to manage all the staff. One of my main responsibilities was to tell department leaders that if they spent all of their budget in the fall, there would be no more funding in the spring.

But it was in the supervision of the staff I met my greatest challenge in working for, and with, my friend, Bud. During all twenty years that I worked under him we had very few conflicts. Others at Maranatha had more difficulty than I did with his direct and powerful leadership style. Actually, I had few conflicts with him in this area – it was the task of being the go-between, and advisor to department leaders where I faced my greatest challenge.  

My Friend Bud – Part 4


Bud also led in the administrative work of organizing and leading the AACS Washington Conferences that were held in D.C. each year. Even though AACS president Dr. Al Janney presided at these events, it was Bud, and our staff from Normal, and later from the Fairfax office, that provided the planning and administrative structure for all the AACS programs. I oversaw the day-to-day operation, but it was Bud who was the leader. We worked very well together. I understood his high standards for everything from appearance, attention to detail, and striving for excellence.

During that time, he also initiated the AACS Student Competition that began at Tennessee Temple in April of 1979, but then moved to Bob Jones the next year to accommodate the crowd of contestants. This competition in Bible, Academics & Arts was the fruit of several dozen state associational competitions from the affiliated state chapters that made up AACS. There were many, many more high school, junior high, and elementary school students across the country participating in local and state competitions.  

In addition, he had the vision to work with other leaders in AACS to bring about Athletic Competitions, a Christian Honor Society, and other activities that helped to serve Christian schools nationwide. And he did all of this while still pastoring a thriving and growing church.

It was the intersection between the demands of moving AACS ahead, and the church program where I had the greatest challenge. Often, we would both fly out on Wednesday for a conference that was held on Thursday and Friday, and then fly back to Bloomington-Normal on Friday evening. I would be exhausted – and Bud seemed to be energized for the weekend of church ministry.

He had established a very effective Saturday morning men’s prayer breakfast that became a key discipleship factor in the church. I, along all the other pastoral staff members, were expected to be there. But the other guys hadn’t been flying back the night before to Chicago O’Hare and then commuting down to our community on a connecting flight. I loved the Saturday morning ministry, but it was difficult for me to keep up. Not for Bud.

He also gave very effective leadership in organizing the male leadership of the church into a large and active Deacon Board. By the early 1980s there were 27 deacons – and all were involved and contributing. He had years before reorganized an old separate board system of seven deacons and seven trustees into one group. As the church grew, he wisely expanded the deacons to include more and more talented and dedicated men.

He treated these men as equals and communicated extensively and clearly his ideas, vision, and goals. The deacons made decisions based on open discussion, and he listened – sometimes pausing for further study and discussion. He never ran ahead of the men. The board was organized into various action committees that oversaw and reported to the full board. We always had several biblically qualified “Elders” on the board. I served alongside my dear friend Evangelist Paul Levin for several years.

Deacon meetings were always spiritual highpoints and they were events that we looked forward to each month.

My Friend Bud – Part 3


In November of 1970, I became pastor at Faith Baptist in St. Paul, Minnesota. In January of 1971 Bud came to preach at my installation service, and our friendship strengthened over the next eight years. In 1975 he and I worked together to host the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship annual meeting at Faith. The year before that he engineered my election to the FBF board, and I still serve as an emeritus board member of FBFI today.

It was during my time in St. Paul that Bud became a strong and well-known leader. He started a Christian school and then became the leader in a new state Christian school organization. He became recognized as a substantive preacher and was invited to preach in many churches, schools and conferences.

Calvary experienced explosive growth during the 1970s, rising to over 1,000 in regular attendance. From 1970-1978 Bud led the church in five building programs that culminated in the 1,000+ seat auditorium that was completed in 1977 in time to host the FBF Conference. It was during this time that he was invited to join the board and executive committee of the American Association of Christian Schools. The AACS was still in a developmental state and in the summer of 1977 Dr. Al Janney, AACS President, asked Bud to consider taking over the administrative leadership of that growing, but struggling, organization.

It was in the early fall of 1977 Bud called me and asked if I would consider coming back to Normal to work with him in running this new venture? He said, “I don’t think there is any money, and I’m not sure what the number of schools are…but, would you pray about it?” I didn’t hear anything more until January when Bud called and asked me to fly to Illinois and then drive with him to Indianapolis to meet Al Janney. Dr. Janney did not know me at all – but, he trusted Bud and agreed to extend me an invitation to join the AACS staff as Field Director.

During our time ministering in Minnesota, Bud’s wife Marilyn was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and life began to change for the whole Weniger family. Connie and Marilyn had become close friends during our youth pastorate days, and so it was with mutual fondness that Connie and Marilyn anticipated renewing their relationship. Even though Marilyn’s condition progressed she maintained an indomitable spirit and continued to be a shining testimony of dependence on God’s strength.  

We moved back to Normal by the end of June in 1978 and a new relationship between Bud and me was started. Bud was full time pastor of the growing Calvary Baptist Church, but he was also Executive Vice President of the AACS, and I was to do the work of the association. The AACS offices were located in the church and shared much of the church office staff and equipment. My duties required much travel, although Bud also traveled to many Christian school meetings and conferences.

The church program and activities continued at a fast pace, but now both of us were heavily involved in travel all over the country. Bud had already launched the large AACS Midwest Conference that became an annual affair in October. It was held at the flagship Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago and drew over 2,000 attendees. He brought in nationally known speakers like former California Superintendent of Education Max Rafferty, Eagle Forum Founder Phyllis Schlafly, and North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. One year, Illinois Senator Chuck Percy asked to address the convention attendees so that he could assure them of his support.

Bud had grown to be an impressive personality with a strong platform persona and insightful organizational instincts that translated into the ability to bring growth and development. In the fall of 1981, he was even invited to appear on the nationally syndicated Phil Donahue TV show that emanated from WGN-TV in Chicago. I accompanied him on that trip and we rode to the studio in a chauffeured limo from the Hyatt Regency where we were put up for the night. Those were the days that the national media was just discovering the booming Christian school movement. AACS grew from about 600 member schools to 1,600 during the ten years I served under Bud’s leadership.

My Friend Bud – Part 2


Bud became well known as a tireless worker. His preaching was substantive and required diligent time in study. As his son Greg recently reminded me – he loved alliteration. But he always made sure his main points supported the exposition of the passage.

His personal evangelistic efforts were also constant and conspicuous because it became evident that he was leading the way in going to people’s homes and leading them to trust Christ. But as the church grew, he began to lead in building programs that focused on many hours of volunteer labor. It was often that two nights a week were designated as work nights. Many of the new members were motivated to come out to work – because they saw their pastor leading the way.

He also used a monthly church newsletter to promote and communicate the vision and plans that he was giving for building the church body and properties. In addition, he launched a radio broadcast that became well known in the community. He also wrote articles for the local newspaper and was constantly projecting a positive message for righteous living in the social life of the community. He was regarded as a strong voice for conservative and biblical principles and became widely respected in Central Illinois.

I thrived in that environment. As the youth pastor I inherited a small youth group because about ten leading high school graduates had just gone off to college. During the next four years a number of teenagers trusted Christ in the youth ministry. Because the church was attracting so many new families, I was able to bring their teens into a dynamic and growing youth ministry.

My first summer at Calvary I initiated an annual Western Camping trip that grew from 27 in 1967, to over 60 by my last summer in 1970.

I remember before leaving on that first trip Bud said to me, “What will you do if that bus breaks down?” I hadn’t thought of that yet, but said, “Be quiet. I don’t want to think about anything like that.” But the old 48 passenger International Harvester bus made it all the way to Denver and back.

We had regular youth activities that ultimately reached 75-100 teenagers most every weekend. Our campus ministry to Illinois State University grew to over 40 students attending each Sunday for a class that I taught, and to hear Pastor Weniger preach. College students were saved and discipled during those years, and the church welcomed them with open arms. Pastor Weniger was the heart and soul of all of that activity and outreach.

In the spring of 1970 Dr. Cedarholm invited Bud to give the baccalaureate address at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. I knew what this meant – the bestowal of an honorary degree – but I knew that the people of the church were clueless about such things. I called Doc Cedarholm and asked, “Are you giving Bud an honorary degree?” Cedar demurred and did not want to answer directly. I said, “Doc, the people at the church have no idea about these matters. It will be embarrassing for Bud to return and say to the church, ‘by the way over the weekend…’” Cedar cleared his throat and replied, “Well, you can tell the men at Calvary that their pastor will be honored in a significant way.”

I informed the Deacon Chairman and he made plans to make the trip to Watertown for the event. Bob Green, deacon chair, then gave a helpful announcement on Sunday morning that Pastor Weniger was now Dr. Weniger. But to the Calvary people he was always Pastor Weniger.

My Friend Bud – Part 1


I met Bud Weniger for the first time in August of 1957. He and his new bride Marilyn were honeymooning at the Turner cabin – right next door to our family cabin in northern Wisconsin. I remember that he was a cool guy and we water-skied together some. I was just a scrawny kid, not quite 16, who lived for water-skiing in the summer. I knew he was from the famed Weniger family, because his dad and three uncles were all preacher friends of my dad.

Little did I know at the time that within two months my dad would be taken to heaven in a plane crash. That tragic human event became a big part of my growing up and would result in giving me many mentors.  My dad’s reputation, and the respect that was given to him, introduced me to many men in the ministry. The first names of the senior “Weniger boys” – Arno, Archer, Ortiz, and Max – were often spoken in my home. Later several of Bud’s cousins were classmates of mine at Pillsbury College.

Drs. Ortiz, Bud, Arno Sr., Archer, & Max Weniger

When I was a college student, several years later, I would meet Bud again. He became pastor of First Baptist in International Falls, Minnesota, and was visiting our campus in Owatonna, Minnesota, for meetings and to see students from his church. I remember reconnecting with him briefly in the parking lot. I was impressed by his demeanor and the fact that he was a sharp dresser. He had adapted to the northern Minnesota environment and looked the part of an impressive Northwoods man.

About five years later I received a letter from him during my third year in seminary and it caused great excitement and interest. A year before Bud had taken the pastorate of Calvary Baptist in Normal, Illinois, and the growing ministry had prompted him to seek an assistant pastor. He wondered if I would be interested? I was very interested in joining him and the Lord worked it out so that we moved to Normal in the early fall of 1966. (This full story is told in my blog post at The Road to Normal.)

Those were four dynamic and impactful years in my life and ministry. Calvary was an established church congregation that lost its building and had to reorganize as an independent church just four years before Pastor Weniger arrived in late 1964. (A short account of that history is included at A Tale of Two Churches.) The remainder of the 1960s was a phenomenal growth time for that body of believers. Many people came to Christ during our 50 months as an assistant under Bud. In addition, the church was attracting numbers of wonderful Christians who were leaving mainline denominational churches in the area due to a drift toward liberal theology.

When we arrived, the average attendance was about 200. When we left in November of 1970 to take a pastorate, the attendance had mushroomed to regularly over 600. Pastor Weniger led in that growth with hard work, wisdom, and well-rounded communication skills. I learned much from him. When he arrived, there was a division in the church and he carefully pastored both factions and brought them together as the years increased. It didn’t hurt that new people were constantly coming in to take important leadership roles, still he did not lose people and he gave even-handed leadership to heal the wounds of the past.

He was also wise for his relative youth. I remember soon after I came that one day he said, “Come with me,” and we jumped in his car to visit a new couple in the church. His purpose was to apologize to them for repeating something that he had heard, that he learned was not true. He told this couple “I was wrong, will you forgive me?” I never forgot that experience. Not many people knew about it, but it was the right thing to do. That couple became valuable workers and assets in the church for years to come.

Next week: Part 2 – Dynamic Growth

We’re finally emerging from the Covid Fog

Covid hit the country and our little personal universe in March, 2020. On Saturday, March 7, of that year, we were with our son and his family at Sea World for a fabulous day. This photo marks my memory of that magical experience.

I remember seeing hand sanitizers on the counter of a food stand at Sea World on that day, and thinking, “that is a novel idea…” Little did we realize what was coming. That next week the long fog of Covid began to descend across the USA, and around the globe.

In early December of 2020 Covid hit our small retirement village with a vengeance with over 125 cases recorded before it subsided. We lost three residents to heaven at that time, and three other men came down with very serious cases that required many days of hospitalization.

Back in early July of this year Connie began to suspect that she might have contracted Covid — again. This was da ja vu, right? We borrowed a home test kit from a friend and botched it. So, what do we do now on a late Saturday afternoon? We decided to head for CVS because they bailed out Connie with a medical need right after Hurricane Irma visited our area in 2017. You go back to a trusted place, right?

In a few minutes we went out the door with a large plastic bag containing 16 free test kits courtesy of the United States government. At home we botched the first test attempt, but then — we strike it rich and successfully test. Connie has Covid; I don’t. Not yet. Now what do we do?

We vowed to call the emergency phone number of our trusted Maxwell Medical Group in the morning. The weekend medical emergency person did a marvelous job getting through to Dr. Maxwell and called us back very soon. By 10:00 A.M., on Sunday morning, I was at our Walmart pharmacy when they opened. But they were out of Paxlovid already, and the pharmacist told me he already checked with their sister store 10 miles north. I said what about CVS? He called the man who had given us 16 test kits the night before. When I walked into CVS, that same pharmacist spied me and called out, “I’m filling your order right now.” That is God’s grace in action!

Since then and before, there have been several twists and turns, but through it all our Lord has been faithful. Plus, a number of medical personnel have come alongside to help us navigate the pathway. These experiences have caused me to reflect on the five wonderful doctors God has given me in my life — and four of them Connie and I have shared. Let me introduce you to them. God’s grace has been evident all along our journey.

Dr. Titus Johnson – delivered me at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago in 1941. About five years later he took my tonsils out in the same hospital. What I’ve learned since is that this family friend spent his entire medical career shuttling back and forth between Swedish Covenant and the Congo. Dr. Johnson is a legend in missionary medicine and a book tells his story.

Dr. Harold McGinnes – was a fine surgeon when I served in Normal, Illinois, as a youth pastor and later with AACS. He called me at a hotel one night while I was on a ministry trip in Mississippi to tell me he performed emergency surgery on Connie and removed a very diseased appendix. What a blessing this godly physician was to our little family. He would say, “All healing is divine. God just gave me the privilege to participate in the process. I cut out the offending part, and God heals the body.” I still have this well-worn book in my library from him.

Dr. Omer Tveten – became our family doctor in St. Paul, Minnesota when I assumed the pastorate in 1970. His practice was in a simple building on Payne Ave, but he was beloved by the community. This dedicated bachelor physician served our family for over 30 years until my mother moved to Idaho prior to her homegoing.

Dr. Ron Hughes – became our wonderful doctor and good personal friend during our 18 years in Rocky Mount, NC. Ron was a fellow deacon when he advised me to have a Stress Test in 2003 that led to my life-saving quintuple by-pass heart surgery. Ron and his wife Toni are dear friends.  

Dr. Marvin Maxwell – then coming to Florida, the Lord led us to our beloved family doctor, Dr. Maxwell, and his whole staff at Maxwell Medical Clinic. This is the faithful doctor who has shepherded us through many medical challenges since moving to Maranatha Village – including two bouts with Covid.

Our Lord has given us many other fine medical professionals over the years, and especially in these “retirement” years in Florida. We listen to their direction and trust God for His guidance and protection. That is a safe place to be. In the grasp of His grace.