There are certain core values I hold dear–the knowledge of God’s Word, proclamation of the Word, and the spiritual needs of mankind. Hardly a day goes by when one or more of these values speaks to me. They are good and noble values, but I cannot take credit for them. To a great extent, the seeds of these values were planted by my brother Doug, and his example through the years has encouraged their growth in me. He may not be aware of how highly I idolize him in my heart, but it is true–I am grateful to Doug for his positive influence, and his role in shaping these core values in me. Today is his 56th birthday. What better time to honor him with a few words of gratefulness?
When I was a kid, Doug would always find ways to get me out of my room to go outside to play. In 1974, we moved to a remote acreage three miles from Gilbert, Iowa. Since we lived out in the country, it was often just the two of us. It’s hard to mimic team sports with only two people, but Doug somehow came up with imaginative ways to play. There was the ground ball game where we would stand 10 feet apart, one with a bat and a tennis ball, hitting grounders to the other in a simulated game scenario. Field the ball cleanly and it was an out. Let it pass, and the runner made it safely. This went on for 9 fictitious innings…a complete game made up entirely in our heads. June was NBA Finals time, and you could often find Doug and I on our 15’x15’ concrete slab in the backyard playing one-on-one, imagining we were star players competing in a Best of 7. He was usually Elvin Hayes (the Big “E”) and I would be Marques Johnson. Football season had us taking turns at QB while the other was wide receiver, running routes and catching passes. When snow fell and it was reasonably warm, we played a special version of our football game called “OJ”. That had something to do with OJ Simpson’s landmark game in 1973 in snowy Shea Stadium against the Jets when he broke Jim Brown’s rushing record and exceeded 2,000 yards for the season–the only player ever to do that in 14 games.
All that backyard practice paid off when Doug and I competed in organized sports. I have fond memories of the flag football team we played on together. Doug was in sixth grade and I was in third. It was a special year because Dad was our coach, sending in plays written on soybean bag-tags. One play was particularly memorable. Dad drew up an elaborate flea flicker that featured both Doug and I. Doug would take the snap and flip the ball to JD Ackerman who ran right. JD lateraled back to Doug who had faded left. Then Doug threw a bomb to me as I streaked down the left sideline, wide open. That play worked to perfection the first time we tried it. Doug lofted the pass toward me, and I’m sure all the older kids wondered if this little third grader could make a play. But all those hours of running pass routes in the yard paid off. I knew exactly what to do. I caught the ball cleanly and scored my first touchdown in an official game.
In high school, Doug was successful in football, basketball, and baseball. He joked about his lack of natural speed, but he more than made up for it with his intelligence, toughness and confidence which enabled him to make the Varsity squads his Freshman year. I remember our cousin Steve remarking that Doug had a “cannon” for an arm, a talent that landed him a turn at Quarterback on the football team. In basketball, he had a killer jumpshot from the perimeter, great vision, and a mind for the game. He was part of the Gilbert basketball team that made it to substate. As a pitcher on the baseball team, he would arc a curve ball so effectively, it would make batters drop to the ground only to find the ball spinning over the plate at the last second.
In those days, a pastor of a local church named Allen Sparks took interest in him and a few other guys from the community, forging them into a phenomenal group of young men. This group of friends had a strong impact on me as well. Besides Doug, they included Bob Kosbau, John Kitchen, Doug Anderson, and Keith Swanson. It is a testament to Allen’s vision and leadership that three out of these five young men went on to become pastors themselves.
These friends had vision, a desire to pursue weighty things. But it wasn’t all serious. These guys knew how to have fun together. And they were kind enough to include me. I have fond memories of late-night Risk parties, and playing pickup games at Beyer Hall or State Gym on the Iowa State University campus. I was honored to be invited to play with those guys–it was there that I learned to play the up-tempo “Lakers/Magic Johnson” style of ball these guys favored.
The greater influence Doug and his friends had on me was their love for God and heart for evangelism. Doug was at the center of it all. They planned and coordinated outreach events that appealed to the youth–scavenger hunts and group games that were always entertaining–and followed them up with an impassioned gospel message. I was always surprised to see peers from my public school seated around me, intently listening to Doug or another speaker talking about Jesus–describing the joy of being forgiven, the promise of new life and peace of mind. Those outreaches imparted to me a constant reminder of the importance of being bold, of confidently getting past the routine, daily chit-chat, and talking about things that matter.
Their positive influence included a love of inspirational music that speaks to the soul. It was through them I developed an appreciation for the impassioned music of Keith Green, the creativity of Michael W. Smith, the soulful sound of Leon Patillo, and the wholesomely rich music of Amy Grant. This music carried me through college, encouraging me through challenging and confusing times, and kept my mind focused on the Lord.
A favorite memory of Doug that occurred during these years. One Christmas Break, Dad paid for Doug and I to go skiing in the Pennsylvania mountains with our childhood friends, Steve and Scott Cissell. I’m not sure the wisdom of giving four teenagers a credit card and such absolute freedom, but it was certainly memorable for us. I learned to ski on a Black Diamond slope and we enjoyed meals together, just us four. Once as Doug and I rode the ski lift together, Dan Fogelberg’s timeless song, “Leader of Band” played, and we talked fondly about our Dad. A fierce snowstorm hit the Allegheny Mountains the night we were returning, and the perilous journey through the blinding whiteout capped off that memorable experience with Doug.
When Doug left for college, I found myself in a strange place, void of his influence. It was a period when I learned I could spread my own wings, but the way was pocked with uncertainty, and I stumbled through high school trying to find that noble way of life that Doug made look so easy. I had intention of keeping the high standards that my brother set, but was more often at a loss for what to do or how to conduct myself. I noticed how Doug’s passion for engaging with other Christians had not waned when he went to college, how he engrossed himself in Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). CCC’s central mission is evangelism, and so impassioned was Doug’s commitment to that cause, he gave up Christmas break to attend KC83, a massive evangelical event geared towards college students. The late Billy Graham was one of the featured speakers. Somehow, Doug persuaded me to attend, and I soon found myself doing door-to-door evangelistic cold calls with total strangers in the streets of Kansas City. The whole thing was very much out of my comfort zone, but very memorable I took the gospel message to heart and when school resumed, I was eager to apply what I had learned. With great fear and trepidation, I asked my basketball coach if I could lead the team in prayer before a game.
Later, after I graduated and went to college, Doug moved on to pursue a Doctorate of Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. I was impressed with his devotion to knowing and preaching the Word of God. Dad bought tickets for me to fly to Dallas to visit Doug during Spring Break of 1985. Being there on the DTS campus was like walking on holy ground. It was exciting to meet Doug’s friends–future pastors, men committed to the Word. But these guys weren’t just studying in their dorm rooms. Doug had organized some kind of street evangelism ministry on the streets of Dallas, so I tagged along. I was overwhelmed by the boldness and willingness to walk up to people and talk about Jesus without hesitation.
These experiences with Doug instilled in me a desire to engage people. It is a desire that conflicts with my natural tendency to get alone and avoid people. Now when I hide myself away in my office for long periods of time, I get a restless, uneasy feeling that maybe I ought to get out and engage. Doug’s example has taught me the value of walking down the hall, engaging people on a personal level, inviting them to lunch, and perhaps getting beyond the trite and routine conversations to talk about things of more eternal significance.
When he finished Seminary, Doug accepted a position as Youth Pastor at Parkview Evangelical Free Church in Iowa City. He was perfectly equipped for that role. His ability to motivate and cast vision was put to effective use. Many kids heard the gospel message and grew deeply in their faith through his teaching and leadership. I have the pleasure of knowing a couple of his prodigies through my work at Collins Aerospace, young engineers with a heart for the Lord. These are quality guys who have obviously spent time with my brother. Doug’s love for youth ministry was a key influence on me. Not long after arriving in Cedar Rapids to start my career, I followed in Doug’s footsteps and looked for opportunities to serve in youth ministry. I am grateful to Doug for imparting this love of ministry to me, for I see that the time invested in eager young people pays big dividends.
Doug later became head pastor. In that role, he embarked on cross-cultural ministries that underscored another developing passion in him–his concern for the needy and underprivileged. Doug was the inspiration behind “The Spot”, a ministry to the troubled south side of Iowa City offering a safe environment for learning, games, and growth. From its humble beginnings, The Spot has flourished into the highly successful Faith Academy, with 75 enrolled students. The effectiveness of this inner city ministry was inspirational to me, and spurred my involvement in homeless and youth shelter ministries from 2005 through 2011.
Doug married one of his youth group sponsors, a godly woman with an unselfish heart and laser-lock focus on helping people with needs discover Jesus. I notice how well they work together. Doug effectively applies his skills to parent his kids, applying the same intentionality to everything he does for them. I see how he engages them, volunteering to coach their sporting events, opening his home for gatherings, taking them on memorable adventures. I often compare my own parenting style with his. He helps me see how I could do things better, and his commitment reminds me to stay engaged.
I am a follower by nature, pliable and permeable. I am constantly looking for truth outside of myself, not trusting my own instincts. Doug, on the other hand, is naturally self-assured and confident. He had a firm grip on the right way to live. He exudes confidence, and has a magical way of making me want to be a better person. I have come to learn that my idolization of Doug is not completely healthy. I have to learn to be content with the gifts God has given me, to be genuine in my methods rather than vainly trying to apply the things that work for him. But in the end, I am thankful for Doug. The core values he helped forge within me are right and good. The love I have for the Word has provided stability and guidance in my life. My desire to experience fellowship with godly guys has led to some quality relationships post-college, a thing I think is rare today. My genuine concern for people in need enables me to treat them as equals. These are fruits of the good seeds Doug implanted in me, fruits I enjoy to this day.
So, Doug–have a happy 56th birthday! Thank you for your positive influence on me.