Baxter Black

He was right out of central casting: lanky frame, cowboy hat, and thick mustache. He looked the part as a cowboy poet, writer, humorist, and entertainer.

Baxter Black was a veterinarian before his storytelling wit roped him a new career. For a little fun, look him up on YouTube. I like his bit, “Religious Reflections.” He tells it better than I, but here’s the plot. He attended a wedding at a little church in the Rocky Mountains. He became distracted by a banner on the wall that said, “Mount Up With Winos.”

Black wondered if the message indicated some kind of theological drift. He thought of some similar banners that might correlate – “Ride with the Risque,” “Sail with Sinners,” and the like. After spending most of the ceremony thinking about it and as they were leaving, he asked his daughter, “What do you think about that banner?” She read it aloud. “Mount up with wings. I like it. Why?” “Just curious,” Black said as he vowed to wear his glasses more often.

The context of that familiar phrase is, “Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isa. 40:31). The wait is a confident expectation that God is for you. The strength is knowing that you are not alone, and that God has a way of lifting you above the chaos. To connect your life with the Creator’s purposes is to tap the source you need to manage yourself and find wisdom amidst adversity. The first step of that connection is to trust Jesus Christ with your soul.

Does counting on strength from outside yourself make religion a crutch? Well, religion may be a crutch, but Almighty God isn’t. The difference is relationship. To receive strength from knowing God isn’t a crutch. It is truth you embrace by simple faith.

Black’s family wrote in his 2022 obituary, “He lived his life guided by a simple faith in Jesus and his admonishment to love God, practice forgiveness and mercy to all who offend, and to care for the least of these. No one was a stranger to Baxter. Every person he met was a friend.” To live a life of love, forgiveness, mercy, and care takes enduring strength from God.

Perhaps he would approve of my few lines offered in his memory: “At the end, he lay down his cowboy frame; And heard Someone familiar call out his name. ‘Mount up on eagles wings,’ (not on a horse!). To fly to Jesus was his final course.” Baxter Black left for the land of the living. He was 77.

P.S. Don’t forget to wear your glasses more often!

He Is There

Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin suffered a heart attack during a game. Millions of TV viewers and stadium fans were shocked at the scene as emergency medical staff rushed in. Players gathered on the field in a circle weeping and praying while Bills trainer Denny Kellington performed CPR.

ESPN personality Dan Orlovsky prayed on live TV. “We want answers, but some things are unanswerable,” he said. “We just want to pray, truly come to You and pray…for Damar.” Later he posted on Twitter, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matt. 18:20).

The automatic response appealing to God to intervene is not uncommon. Remember the surge in church attendance after 911? What does this tell us? The secular worldview is not large enough to encompass the human experience. An awareness of God’s existence and even His proximity erupt into your consciousness even if you are not believing or seeking. Helplessness and desperation will test your worldview. I know of an avowed atheist who kept pleading “Oh God” at the scene of his serious car accident. The philosophers can debate if there really is such a thing as an atheist. Nietzsche argued, “God is Dead.” He also went insane while holding that thought.

The Bible says, “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Rom. 1:19). It cannot be easy to suppress that internal knowledge since evidence for God abounds. It will not be suppressed when helpless millions watch a young man dying on a football field.

Humans are hard-wired to know there is Someone beyond ourselves. That doesn’t mean prayer comes naturally, but it can incite curiosity. Norman Rockwell captured that curiosity in his painting, “Saying Grace.” The grandmother and child pray at the diner while fellow patrons stare at them.

But make no mistake. A curiosity about God and prayer, an awareness of God, even a prayer in crisis are not enough. That same God has revealed Himself through nature, in the written word, and by stepping into human history. He has a high moral standard, which you cannot meet. But all is not lost, because He died on the cross to make you blameless, even holy. By faith in Christ you receive forgiveness and new life. “With the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness” (Rom. 10:10).

Jesus once explained that a man was born blind “so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). That’s not easy to contemplate. But as Damar Hamlin is now at home recovering after over a week in the hospital, he can fairly claim that same result. God is there and is at work in the world, and in you.


People are attracted to restoration stories. That explains the popular TV shows about old houses, junk (“collectible”) pickers, and pawn shops. They appeal to a human delight with recovering and renewing value. They may even connect with a deep, personal hope that all is not lost.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s niece Aveda King carries on the family legacy in her own way, advocating civil rights for unborn children and support for their parents. Her work grew out of her very personal loss. “I prayed often for deliverance from the pain caused by my decision to abort my baby. I suffered the threat of cervical and breast cancer and experienced the pain of empty arms after the baby was gone. And truly, for me, and countless abortive mothers, nothing on earth can fully restore what has been lost; only Jesus can.”

What did she mean by that? She experienced the restorative power of God’s forgiveness. Peace and a renewed sense of purpose replaced her regret and pain. This life transformation began when she came to faith in Christ in 1983.

Joni Eareckson Tada experienced her own restoration. At age 17, she was paralyzed in a diving accident. Since 1967 she has lived as a quadriplegic. Once, I saw her point to her wheelchair. “I thank God for this wheelchair,” she said, “because without it I would never have come to know and love Him so.” After decades of life and ministry she said, “I’m so focused on God’s calling on my life, which is to share His love with special needs families and to promote a biblical worldview on disability globally.” That’s what her restored life looks like.

Jesus’ early disciples were concerned about what they might lose by choosing to follow Him. He didn’t offer empty promises but pointed to the big picture. “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29). He offered them, and you, a restoration to something far better.

Dan Reeves

In the grand scheme of things, it was a small act of defiance.  A “first world problem” as some would say. But it speaks volumes about Dan Reeves.

Reeves was a native Georgian, raised in Americus. He spent 38 years in the National Football League as player and coach, including a stint with the Atlanta Falcons. His participation in nine Super Bowls speaks to his success. But football was not his highest priority in life.

Reeves professed faith in Christ at an early age. He found a way to express that faith through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). “In 1965, when I was a rookie for the Dallas Cowboys,” he said, “Coach (Tom) Landry was one that helped start FCA. Since he was involved with it, I started doing some things with the FCA.” FCA President Shane Williamson acknowledged Reeves’ participation over the years, calling him “a man of integrity, an amazing coach, committed husband and father and a great partner and friend to FCA. Generations of players are better men, husbands, fathers and leaders due to the influence Coach Reeves has had on their lives.”

Now let’s go behind the scenes to the night before Super Bowl XXII between Denver and Washington. Head coaches Reeves and Joe Gibbs planned to lead a Christian devotional for both teams’ players interested in attending. NFL commissioner Tagliabue found out about it. “You can’t do that,” he said. “It just doesn’t look right, with two teams that are going to play in the Super Bowl having a devotional the night before the game.” Reeves defied Tagliabue. “We were Christians before the Super Bowl,” he explained later, “so we went ahead and did it. You still compete and go out and play as hard as you can the next day.”

Reeves lived by and spoke about his priorities in life. “Jesus Christ is first, others are second, I am third.” You can trace this to Jesus’ words, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). This is a call to prioritize faith in Christ as the only way to enjoy a right standing with God. Another Reeves saying was, “You can tell the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” That Christian ethic is rooted in this: “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Reeves enjoyed pointing out that his greatest achievement in high school was getting a freshman cheerleader, Pam White, to go on a date with him. In 2022 after 57 years of marriage, she watched him slip away from the land of the dying into the land of the living. He was 77.

Best Days Ahead

I recently traveled to Boone, NC. As part of my activities there, I heard Irena Creek tell her story.  With an early childhood like hers, it was no small miracle that she came to believe her future would be any better.

She was born in a former Soviet Union country. Her parents were alcoholics. One evening while her father was out drinking, her mother left and never returned. The village placed Irena and her sister in a military-style orphanage. She felt alone, unloved, and abandoned. One day in the midst of despair, a new thought challenged her to stop looking at everything that was wrong. She should look forward with hope. She began to believe her best days lay ahead.

Soon they moved the girls to a more compassionate orphanage. It was there she heard that God knows and loves her. The cross of Christ took on new meaning as she placed her faith in Him. At 10 years old she finally felt secure, unburdened. She realized that it had been God’s voice urging her toward hope. And it was God who arranged for a Christian family in America to adopt Irena and her sister. Today, Irena serves with Operation Christmas Child, the same ministry that shared God’s love with her as an orphan.

Thinking that your best days are ahead does not require you to believe in the mystical powers of positive thinking. Optimism about tomorrow is well-founded. These three truths show you what I mean.

(1) Every morning you awake to the compassions of God. Even in the context of a book of laments the writer notes, “The Lord’s…compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). Awake tomorrow knowing that with God, all things are possible.

(2) God is always at work in your life. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” You experience this as a “partaker of grace” (Phil. 1:6-7). Tomorrow’s work in you brings more love, knowledge, and discernment.

(3) Yesterday’s sufferings do not diminish your ongoing purpose. Paul had considerable trials in his past yet he wrote, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). Tomorrow is a better day when you hear the upward call and continue your mission to love God and neighbor.

The believer has reason to be a joyful optimist! You can see it in Irena’s life story. You can see it in your own faith journey. And if no other reason, the promise of eternity is reason enough to rejoice that your best days are ahead.