Wednesday, February 7, 2024

4 Mountains of Men Who Shaped My Life

Four mountains of men who shaped my life all died within a thirteen-month span. I suppose that goes with being fifty-something.

In recent years, my wife and I commented several times, “You realize that people our age are the ones in charge and running things?” The adults who were in charge and in their forties to sixties when I was a child and teenager are now in their last quarter of a century and graduating to heaven one by one.

Shannon Harris, a blogger, writes, “A special kind of pain is felt when your mentor’s time on earth is through.” We remember significant conversations, lessons, and nuggets of wisdom they shared. Memories from their lives, which resonated with value, begin to feel out of reach. And those who loomed larger than life – almost immortal to us – show their mortality.

The Worshiping Pastor

Pastor Jack Hayford passed peacefully in his sleep in early January of 2023. Christianity
Today magazine once dubbed him “The Pentecostal Gold Standard.”  A world-renown leader, he pastored The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, eventually became Chancellor of The Kings College and Seminary, and wrote over 400 worship songs, including the popular chorus, “Majesty.” His radio and book ministry took his practical Bible teaching, heart for authentic worship, and love for the kingdom of God into the homes of countless Christians.

I benefited greatly from his preaching-teaching, his authenticity and vulnerability, and his ministry of writing. For three decades I listened to him and read many of his books, like Manifest Presence, The Key to Everything, The Spirit-Formed Life, and Blessing Your Children. I vividly remember his message from Exodus 3 at the Atlanta 1995 Promise Keepers event, when he had every man get on his knees in the arena.

Pastor Jack’s emphasis on integrity – first learned when his mother asked him to answer her question “with Jesus in the room” - his presence as a bridge-builder in the Body of Christ, and his passion to experience Christ intimately made him a shepherd of shepherds across denominational lines. My wife and I traveled once to the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove to spend a weekend under his teaching.

Pastor Jack and
Rhett at The Cove

The Discipler of Men

Last February, my long-time friend, mentor, and cousin, Morris “Moose” Keller went to be with the Jesus he loved. Though almost forty years apart in age, our friendship continued for more than thirty years.

Moose loved to fish for men, and life was his fishing pond. Whether on the job, at the grocery store, or in church. His signature line was, "Can I ask you a personal question? Do you know if you died today, you would you go to heaven?" And then, often using a "Steps to Peace with God" gospel track, he told them about King Jesus who died on the cross for their sins.

During my college days, he and I met every couple of months. I'd drive from Clinton to Greenville and meet him for lunch at Stax Omega.

We talked about life, the Lord, and our struggles - things that matter. That's what mentoring is. Spending time with someone, connecting over important things, listening, helping them grow and learn. Moose trusted God. His faith was consistent.

The last time I visited his house he lay in a Hospice bed. His body frail but his mind bright, he quoted Scripture after Scripture to me, telling me how he was learning to trust God, and sharing how he led one of the hospital nurses to faith in Jesus Christ a few weeks before. Moose asked me about my wife and three children - all by name. He talked about my father, who had been gone for fifteen years.

He got out his IPhone and said, "Ooooooh. I have to share with you what I read in my quiet time this morning. I read it in the Message and I've never seen it say it quite like this." He proceeded to read his morning reading to me. The last several years, I could expect a daily email sent to several dozen people outlining the notes from his daily Bible reading. 

He told me, "We've been through a lot, buddy." That time was probably the only one he ever ended our conversation without, "Call me if you need me."

The Consummate Bible Teacher

Then in April, Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Atlanta, Georgia, died. I tuned into his ministry as a freshman in college, listening to the InTouch radio broadcast. Attending a liberal religious college, which jettisoned the authority of Scripture and basic evangelical theology, his preaching helped anchor me in eternal truths.

My first year of school, I picked up his book, How to Listen to God, which had a shaping influence on my nineteen-year-old life. The first of more than two dozen of his books I would eventually read, I experienced his practical teaching that drew deeply from the Bible but also was illustrated with personal experiences. In that book I would find what was one of his constant exhortations: develop a lifestyle of meditating on the Word of God, expecting Him to guide you.

I first learned to preach from listening to radio teachers like Stanley. His winsome, conversational style combined with practical exhortations and challenges to trust God marked his teaching.

I met Dr. Stanley only once quickly at a book signing in Atlanta. After waiting in line, I said, “Dr. Stanley, thank you for teaching me about intimacy with God.” He stopped, lowered his pen, and stared directly into my eyes. Then he emphatically said, “That is the most important thing!”

The Encouraging Eagle

And then on January 21 of this year, my friend and business mentor Dan Miller left this earth. Dan’s books and podcast helped open the door for me, and many others, to become entrepreneurs, explore nontraditional work, and challenge conventional thinking about work opportunities.

Dan wrote, “Putting yourself in the driver’s seat requires creating a clear sense of where you want to go. A clear plan of action will separate you from 97 percent of the people you meet.”

Creating the 48 Days Eagle Community, he mentored modern entrepreneurs, which he called eagle-preneurs, to create the life they want, building their work around their life.

He modeled for many businesspeople how important it is to balance your life with both faith in God and making deep deposits in your family relationships. As he often said, “Success is more than a job.”

When we lose mentors, sometimes we grieve the lessons we’ll never learn from them. And then we realize we can cling to their God, embrace the same unchanging truths they believed and practiced, and make the world a better place by shining our light and investing in others – one person at a time.

- Three days after writing this post, another mountain of a man who influenced my life left this earth. Read my article about Henry Blackaby here.

Mountain picture used courtesy of Pexels

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