Sunday, October 24, 2021

 Oct. 24, 2021, column:

'Imagine Heaven' strengthens faith

By Mike Haynes

                It’s not that I didn’t believe in heaven, just that the concept seemed too surreal and unlike the natural world that it was hard to imagine what it might be like, and it was difficult to visualize family, friends or myself in a place that no one in this world has seen.

                Our pastor did a fascinating series of sermons several years ago on heaven that I probably should revisit. Tommy Politz said that obviously, believers in Christ won’t be floating on clouds playing harps but that we would have houses to live in, satisfying work to do and plenty of time to drop in on friends for a cup of coffee.

                Now that I think of it, maybe we could even take harp lessons if we wanted to.

                I once wrote that I hoped heaven would include the chance to watch videotapes – this was a long time ago – of anything we wanted to see from the past. Maybe we’d be able to see the 1954 Cotton Bowl in color or the actual signing of the Declaration of Independence or, more important, Jesus being baptized.

                But my thoughts of heaven were almost fantasy-based, sort of wishful thinking.

                Now, because of a book and a series of Bible study lessons, I have a more concrete vision of heaven. And it has shed light on pretty much every bit of scripture that I come across.

                John Burke’s 2015 book, “Imagine Heaven,” relies heavily on near-death experiences – so many of them that he refers to them as NDEs – to provide accounts of short visits to heaven that are convincing and inspiring. And he supplements those stories with biblical references to heaven that fit surprisingly well with the NDEs.

                The book itself is enough to motivate serious consideration of life after death, but our Sunday school teacher, Kevin Hazelwood, brought it to life – or afterlife? – even more with his vivid descriptions from the book and his research of scripture passages that are corroborated by many NDEs.

                Kevin and I agreed that the book is convincing because of the sheer number of well-researched near-death incidents Burke describes. Writing about “Imagine Heaven,” materials science professor Dr. Walter Bradley said he appreciated the varied accounts from interviews “with people of very different ages, cultures, religious beliefs, and physical challenges (such as blindness) to find the common elements that emerge to give a vibrant picture of what life after death will likely entail.”

                Burke, pastor of Gateway Church in Austin, said he wrote as “a convinced Christian,” but he admitted that he had not always been convinced. And he said he purposely chose “stories from people with little to no profit motive: orthopedic surgeons, commercial airline pilots, professors, neurosurgeons – people who probably don’t need the money but have credibility to lose by making up wild tales.”

                Of course, the stories are from people who claim they visited heaven but didn’t stay. Airline Captain Dale Black and two other pilots were in the crash of a small plane in California. The other two men died, and it appeared that Black did, too. But he was revived, and he reported breathtaking sights.

                Black said he traveled through a path of light surrounded by darkness, escorted by two large, angelic beings dressed in white. He approached “a magnificent city, golden and gleaming among a myriad of resplendent colors. The light I saw was the purest I had ever seen. And the music was the most majestic, enchanting, and glorious I had ever heard. … I knew instantly that this place was entirely and utterly holy. …

                “The entire city was bathed in light … The light was palpable. It had substance to it, weight and thickness, like nothing I had ever seen before or since. … Somehow I knew that light and life and love were connected and interrelated. … Remarkably, the light didn’t shine on things but through them. Through the grass. Through the trees. Through the wall. And through the people who were gathered there. …”

                Black described “groupings of brightly colored picture-perfect homes in small, quaint towns … If music could become homes, it would look like these, beautifully built and perfectly balanced.”

                That’s just the beginning of accounts from scores of people who “died” and came back. The most common experience was an overwhelming feeling of love and forgiveness. Many experienced reviews, some with Jesus by their side, of good and bad things they had done in their lives. They said when faced with the sins they had committed, there was no condemnation – just as Paul promises in Romans 8:1.

                Teacher Kevin took from the book the concept that in heaven, our selfish human nature will be removed, leaving only love. “We will be who we were created to be,” he said. Another takeaway: We are not our body; we are spirit.

                He also listed statistics of commonalities in the book’s reports, including out-of-body separation, 75%; heightened sense of sound, sight, touch, smell, 75%; encountering mystical beings, family and friends, 57%; a life review, 22%.

                Many of the common reports came from people of diverse backgrounds such as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and atheist. Some interacted telepathically with a man in white with sparkling, magnetic eyes. Christians thought he was Jesus.

                Some were given a choice to stay in this fantastic world or return to Earth. Others were told it wasn’t their time.

                The book reminded me of a recent story about Gary Bartel, a former Texas Tech football player, former West Texas A&M coach and Grand Prairie athletic director who was in a long coma with COVID-19 and finally recovered. After regaining consciousness, Bartel told Greg Riddle of The Dallas Morning News, “I was in a room with just a table and a couple of chairs, and a man walked in. The room was really bright, and the man sat down across from me and we talked about my family and my life. All of a sudden, he stood up and said, ‘It’s not your time,’ and he walked out of the room.

                “My whole perspective on life has really been changed. I’m just thankful for every day I get to get up and I’m breathing and my feet are on the floor and I get to stand up. You can’t live in fear. You’ve got to live in faith.”

                This book strengthened mine.

 * * *

Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016 and has written for the Faith section since 1997. He can be reached at Go to for other recent columns.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

 Oct. 10, 2021, column:

Franklin Graham: Still a rebel with a cause

By Mike Haynes

                Franklin Graham says he still is a “Rebel With A Cause.”

                The son of Billy Graham – who is well known for his own preaching, humanitarian work and political views the past few decades but always will be associated with his famous father – spoke to an estimated 11,600 people in Amarillo’s John Stiff Memorial Park on a warm Sunday afternoon two weeks ago. It was the largest audience of his eight-city Route 66 God Loves You Tour that started Sept.  19 with 8,700 people attending in Joliet, Illinois, and ended Oct. 2 before 6,800 in San Bernardino, California. Total tour attendance was around 56,000.


     Preparation for the event spanned months and included 165 Texas Panhandle churches. Many members brought “unchurched” family and friends.

                Franklin Graham preached Sept. 26 from a small podium on a large stage filled with drums and other equipment of the tour’s musicians. Spread out in front of him were the thousands of local and area people, mostly sitting in lawn chairs, some with umbrellas to ward off the 86-degree sun.

                His message was a basic evangelistic appeal, with the story of “blind Bartimaeus” from Mark 10:46-52 his scriptural focus.

                Graham had told me he would touch on cultural issues and the state of the country, and touch on them is all he did, listing stealing, taking God’s name in vain, worshipping idols, lying, adultery, sex outside of marriage, murder and abortion as examples of sins that fall short of God’s standards.

                “Any type of sexual relationship outside a marriage relationship is a sin against God,” he said. “And let me tell you what a marriage relationship is: It’s a man and a woman. … That’s how God defines marriage. God made us male and female.”

                While calling abortion a sin, Graham continued, “In a crowd this size, there are a number of women who have had an abortion. … Will God forgive you for what you’ve done? I’m here to tell you that absolutely, he’ll forgive you.

                “But you’ve got to come to him with faith in Christ. The point is, all of us are guilty of breaking one or more or all of God’s laws. There is no one who can keep the laws of God. … God sent his son to save us, to save you, to save me. And all we have to do is be willing to accept it by faith. Wow. What a good God. What a great God that he loves us that much.”

                Although such viewpoints are merely the traditional beliefs the Christian church has held for 2,000 years, they make Graham a controversial figure in a world that increasingly embraces relativism with no moral absolutes. That’s why, at a short news conference before the event, I asked whether he still considers himself a “Rebel With A Cause.” That’s the title of his 1995 book that describes his rebellious youth and his eventual full acceptance of a calling to preach God’s Word.

                “Sure,” he answered with no hesitation. “What I mean by ‘rebel’ – I believe in telling the truth and standing up for what’s true. And I don’t care if it’s politically correct or not. I’m going to just say what I believe the Bible teaches, and it’s what I believe, and if it steps on people’s toes, I’m sorry.

“But this country of ours is in trouble. We’ve turned our back on God; the politicians want you to look to them to solve all your problems. They just make the problems worse. And it’d be better if the politicians just got out of the way and just let people like here in West Texas just do what they do, and things would be a lot better. Our country’s just in trouble morally, spiritually, economically, we’re in trouble.”

Despite Graham airing those convictions, the overwhelming spotlight of the day was on the words “love” and “hope.” The evangelist from North Carolina pointed out the faith of Bartimaeus that resulted in Jesus giving him sight. “There was no hope for a blind guy,” he said. “All he could do was sit on the side of the road and beg.

Being a good person has nothing to do with salvation. It’s accepting the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. “It’s not by works, but by faith. And Bartimaeus cried out in faith.”

Christian band Newsboys, led by Michael Tait, echoed the message with songs such as “He Reigns,” as did Marcos Witt, who sang in English and Spanish, and longtime Graham musical colleague Dennis Agajanian.

A chapter in “Rebel With A Cause” recalls the first meeting of Agajanian and Franklin Graham – on the Texas Tech University campus during the 1975 Billy Graham crusade in Lubbock.

At the Sept. 26 event, Agajanian skillfully picked his guitar and sang old hymns such as “Nothing But the Blood.” And he pleased the crowd with “Amarillo By Morning.”

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry or Woodstock, Agajanian said, “Jesus Christ is a greater savior than you are a sinner. He loves you, man.”

After Graham’s message, locally trained counselors met throughout the park with those who stood up in response, giving them a guidebook for the next steps of Christian faith.

Franklin Graham headed to Alaska after the tour to greet a new group of wounded veterans attending one of the retreats his organization provides each summer. I suspect he planned to repeat something he said in Amarillo:

“Let’s live the life God has called us to live. Let’s do it forgiven, cleansed, knowing we’re on our way to heaven.”

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sept. 26, 2021, column:

Graham to make Route 66 God Loves You Tour stop in Amarillo

By Mike Haynes

                Organizers of the Franklin Graham Route 66 God Loves You Tour had expected 4,000 to 5,000 people to attend last Sunday’s first stop of the two-week evangelistic effort in Joliet, Illinois. In Graham’s first large public speaking engagement in 18 months, some worried that the continuing pandemic might keep people away.

                Apparently the offer of God’s hope was a strong lure. According to the ministry and WJOL radio, more than 8,700 showed up to hear Graham and some well-known musicians proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Most brought lawn chairs to sit in 90-degree heat on the asphalt parking lot of Chicagoland Speedway.

                Amarillo and Texas Panhandle residents are invited to the fifth stop on the tour at 4 p.m. today at John Stiff Memorial Park near 45th Avenue and Bell Street in Amarillo. The temperature was expected to approach 90 here, too, but the park will provide grass instead of hot asphalt. Those attending are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets.

                 Knowing the parking congestion around the park during past Fourth of July fireworks events, I suggest getting there early. Even though it’s been 21 years, this son of Billy Graham, preaching the Christian message, drew big audiences for three nights to the Texas Panhandle Festival 2000 at Dick Bivins Stadium.

                Graham said in a July telephone interview from Alaska that Amarillo and the other locations were chosen for the 2021 tour because Billy Graham Evangelistic Association leaders thought these cities would be receptive.

                “Of course, we’ve been in Amarillo before, and we have contacts with the churches. So we felt that we had a good base to work with there,” he said. Graham said he’s aware the nation isn’t out of the woods yet regarding COVID, and in Illinois a week ago, he addressed the issue.

                “Many people are afraid. Many people are scared,” he said from the outdoor stage. “Many people don’t know what to do.

“Twenty years ago, 9/11 changed the world. In 2020, the pandemic changed the world.” But the ultimate answer, he said, is in the title of the tour.

“I’m here to tell you, ‘God loves you,’” he said.

Members of local churches have taken a Christian Life and Witness course in order to be counselors at today’s event, and they hope area church members will invite neighbors and friends to attend. A friend in Florida told me he hopes it won’t be just a rally of Christians but a time of change for people who haven’t given their lives to God.

That kind of effect was seen in Joliet, where the BGEA reported that “hundreds” made decisions for Christ in person and “hundreds more” did so through online and text responses in both English and Spanish. Plans are for all the tour stops to be streamed at

After Joliet, the God Loves You Tour was to stop at St. Louis on Tuesday, Springfield, Missouri, on Thursday and Oklahoma City on Saturday before driving down I-40 for today’s Amarillo event. The tour will continue at Albuquerque next Tuesday and Flagstaff, Arizona, on Thursday before concluding Saturday at San Bernardino, California.

Graham is joined on the tour by Newsboys, who have had 33 No. 1 Christian radio hits; Marcos Witt, a Hispanic singer and pastor; and Dennis Agajanian, a longtime performer at BGEA events.

Graham said the event’s purpose absolutely is the basic evangelistic message of the Bible but that he also can’t ignore the current state of the nation and slide of our culture away from biblical values. He recalled recent conversations with former Vice President Mike Pence about the political and cultural crossroads that face America.

 Graham and Pence were in Alaska in July supporting Operation Heal Our Patriots, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, which Graham heads along with leading the BGEA. The ministry offers guidance, marriage counseling and recreation to wounded veterans and their spouses.

“Every week we have couples that get saved,” Graham said from Alaska. “We baptize them right here, and the water’s cold; it’s like liquid ice. And so you get baptized here, they mean it; it’s the real deal.”

Jim McKee, a Bible teacher at Hillside Christian Church in Amarillo, believes now is a perfect time for Graham to bring Christ’s message to Amarillo and all along Route 66.

“Franklin Graham communicates so well how man has departed from the path of God,” McKee said. “But he tells us how to find the love and grace of Jesus and return to God’s straight way. He speaks scripture so clearly, showing God’s moral absolutes, but also God’s love to all who believe in his son Jesus.”

As Graham said on the phone, he and I have a little more gray hair than we did during his Amarillo festival in 2000. But with multiple ministries, he’s as active as ever. He’ll be at the park today.

So will I.

* * *

Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016 and has written for the Faith section since 1997. He can be reached at Go to for other recent columns.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

 Sept. 12, 2021, column in the Amarillo Globe-News:

Twenty years later, America needs renewal, guidance, more than ever

By Mike Haynes

                I don’t remember any specifics about Sept. 12, 2001. I do know that, like most Americans, I was unsettled and probably even scared like I had been as an 11-year-old during the Cuban missile crisis or the next year when President Kennedy was killed.

                I had been in bed the morning of Sept. 11 when I heard about the World Trade Center. When Kathy called me from work, I was recuperating from heart bypass surgery that had kept me from beginning the semester as an Amarillo College instructor. I think she called after the plane hit the first tower.

                Stuck in our bedroom, I watched the unfolding drama of the second tower, the Pentagon, the Pennsylvania crash and all the country’s flights being grounded. Everyone who was old enough then remembers the uncertainty, fear and desire to do something about the attacks.

                I know I prayed.

                Because the heinous acts had been carried out with airplanes, Sept. 12 had me anxious that other attacks could come from above. I thought, “What if a terrorist hijacks a crop-duster and crashes it into a local building?” When I finally made it back to work a few weeks later, I scanned the sky and thought about where I would run. Walking through the park from the college to my car one day, I was nervous when I saw a small plane overhead.

                Author Ben Rhodes wrote that years later, a room in the CIA headquarters still had a sign that read, “EVERY DAY IS SEPTEMBER 12TH.” That attitude did energize the nation’s efforts to root out terrorism around the world and to remain vigilant to threats. And one silver lining of Sept. 11 was the instant togetherness it generated.

                At the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14, 2001, President George W. Bush recalled President Franklin Roosevelt’s phrase, “the warm courage of national unity.” Bush continued, “This is a unity of every faith, and every background. It has joined together political parties in both houses of Congress. It is evident in services of prayer and candlelight vigils, and American flags, which are displayed in pride, and wave in defiance.”


           During the same Sept. 14 service, Billy Graham said, “A tragedy like this could have torn our country apart, but instead it has united us. So for those perpetrators who took this on to tear us apart, it has worked the other way – it has backlashed. We are more united than ever before. I think this was exemplified in a very moving way when the members of our Congress stood shoulder to shoulder and sang, ‘God Bless America.’”

            National resolve even showed up in the media on Sept. 12. This newspaper’s headline read, “America’s Day of Terror.” Others abandoned objectivity with “’None of us will ever forget’” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), “Outrage” (Atlanta Constitution) and “Bastards!” (San Francisco Examiner).

            Two decades later, it’s hard to imagine Democrats and Republicans coming together to sing anything. National unity seems a dream, and courage in the public sphere shows more combativeness than warmth.

And although some efforts by private groups and individuals to save people in Afghanistan may offer hints of hope, the nation is not united.

            After Sept. 11, 2001, church attendance suddenly increased. It lasted only a few weeks. That Sept. 14, Bush quoted a woman in New York who had said, “I prayed to God to give us a sign that He is still here.” Bush commented, “God’s signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own. Yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral, are known and heard and understood.

“There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure
the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey. And there are prayers that yield our will to a will greater than our own.”

Graham reminded us that collapsing buildings, even when people are killed, are not a surprise to God, considering this fallen world. He quoted Psalm 46:1-2: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”

And the evangelist pointed out the many crosses in the National Cathedral. “For the Christian, the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for He took them upon Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’”

Graham said, “We desperately need a spiritual renewal in this country.” Bush stressed God’s love and ended his speech like this: “May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.”

Twenty years later, America needs that renewal and guidance more than ever.

* * *

Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016 and has written for the Faith section since 1997. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

 Aug. 29, 2021, column in the Amarillo Globe-News:

'I want to be part of it': How a Fritch couple became extras in a scene of 'The Chosen'

By Mike Haynes

   Getting to the site of the Sermon on the Mount and waiting for Jesus to declare his wisdom wasn’t easy for Derrol and Debra. And then they heard only a phrase or two here and there throughout a long, cold day. But they would do it again in a heartbeat.
                Derrol and Debra Wells weren’t in the crowd at the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago when the Messiah gave the world the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule. They live in Fritch, Texas, and drove to Midlothian, 30 miles southwest of Dallas, to be extras this Feb. 10 in the Sermon on the Mount scene of “The Chosen,” the Christian media phenomenon that people across the globe are watching.

                It’s the first multi-season episodic drama about the life of Jesus, shown at no charge primarily through an app that connects to streaming devices but also on YouTube and on DVD. The show’s website says it’s “the largest crowd-funded media project of all time,” and after two eight-episode seasons, it continues through a “Pay It Forward” program in which donations fund each $10 million season. Creator and director Dallas Jenkins hopes to produce seven seasons watched by at least a billion people. So far, episodes have been viewed more than 250 million times.
                Two years ago, Debra discovered a short Christmas film Jenkins had produced for his Chicago church. “You see so many Christian movies and TV shows that are just cheesy, and I just can’t bring myself to watch them,” she said. “They’re not good; they’re embarrassing. So I resisted.”
                She finally watched “The Shepherd.” “It touched me deeply,” she said. “The acting was just pristine. The way they put it together, the story was just perfect.”
                Jenkins, son of “Left Behind” bestselling author Jerry Jenkins, followed with Season 1 of a project that showed Jesus gathering his disciples – including Mary Magdalene and other women – from the point of view of those followers, “the chosen.”
                Hooked on the series, Debra and Derrol “paid it forward” enough to qualify as extras in the Sermon on the Mount shoot. Episode 8 of Season 2 ended with Jesus appearing to the crowd; Season 3 is expected to begin with the actual sermon.

       The Wellses had car trouble even before they passed Amarillo on their way to Midlothian. They rented a car and made it to Olton, where they picked up Bree Elam and her daughter, Lillie.
“Bree is Australian, and she’s not comfortable driving on the ‘correct’ side of the road,” Debra said. The Elams had been strangers before Debra saw Bree’s Facebook request for a ride to the sermon shoot. Now they’re good friends.
                The shoot, in the middle of the pandemic, required “Chosen” producers to set up a massive operation that included busing 2,500 extras from a football stadium to the set at a 1,200-acre Salvation Army camp, herding them through metal detectors and doing COVID testing.
The Sermon on the Mount occurred as the 2021 “Texas Freeze” was beginning. But postponing the event wasn’t an option. The temperature got as low as 28. “The wind was about 30 miles an hour when we got there,” Derrol said. “I thought, ‘My goodness, what are we stepping into?’”
                Everyone was dressed in biblical-era robes and sandals. “We’re stuck there, and we didn’t come prepared for that amount of cold,” Derrol said. “We had on sandals that were made out of wicker and no socks,” Debra said. “It soaked up all the wet in the grass, so we walked around in wet sandals all day in the freezing cold.”
                The Wells’ costumes were designed by their daughter-in-law, Grace, who has a fashion design degree. Derrol had grown a bushy beard. They had to hide all modern jewelry and their glasses.
                They were far back in the crowd. “If Jesus – Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus – was in the Galilee, we were in Judah. We were way down south,” Debra joked. She said they could see the main actors but had trouble hearing their lines.
“Of course, we weren’t wearing glasses, so we couldn’t see them real good either,” Derrol said.
But the crowd remained positive and benefited from Christian musicians – Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes, Phil Wickham and Michael J – performing before the shoot began. “They sang, ‘The Blessing’ over us,” Debra said. “And you talk about chilling; you just had cold chills – on top of cold chills.” She said the musicians didn’t escape the temperature. “I don’t know how they played,” she said. “Their fingers were blue.”
                Shooting the scene was such a huge production that the filmmakers got extra footage and interviewed participants for a 45-minute documentary called “Journey to the Sermon on the Mount” that was live-streamed last Sunday. Comments from extras – who came from as far as New York and Puerto Rico – indicated how meaningful “The Chosen” is in their lives.
                Shooting the Feeding of the 5,000 is being planned now. “It’s going to be awesome,” Debra said. “I want to be there.”

                But she made a point about the series. “’The Chosen’ is not the Bible,” she said. “It’s based on the Bible. But it’s really the backstories of the followers of Jesus, and the stories are based on plausible situations. Don’t watch it thinking you’re going to get exactly what the Bible says.”
                As director Jenkins emphasizes, “The Chosen” continually leads viewers to scripture.
“When I first heard about it, I didn’t know what kind of impact it would have,” Derrol said. “I thought, ‘Well, they’re just making a little video.’ Then the further it went, I saw how it was reaching out to a vast amount of people in a lot of different countries, and people are being saved. Anything we can do for people to be saved through Christ is what we want to be part of.”
                “The Bible basically says that toward the end of things as we know it now, the Word of God is going to go out all over the world,” Debra said. “And with all of my heart, I believe this is part of it. And I want to be part of it. It’s important. It’s life and death for people. I think it’s one of the most important media projects that’s ever been undertaken.”

* * *

Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016 and has written for the Faith section since 1997. He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

 Aug. 15, 2021, column in the Amarillo Globe-News:

Lombard book should be bible for high school coaches

By Mike Haynes

            A 1973 book by an Indiana native whose UCLA teams won 10 NCAA men’s basketball titles and had an 88-game winning streak was for years a bible for players and coaches nationwide. The late John Wooden’s “They Call Me Coach” was a bestseller for decades, and for many, Wooden still is the model for college coaching success and integrity.

Now we have a book published in 2021 by another Indiana native whose high school teams won 1,379 basketball games and lost 133 on the way to 19 Texas state girls championships.

Joe Lombard’s book, “More Than A Coach,” confirms what his family, friends, players and others know about the man who retired as Canyon High School’s girls basketball coach in April 2020 at age 67: that he also is a model of coaching success and integrity. His book, crafted by gifted writer Jon Mark Beilue in close collaboration with Lombard, not only is an inspirational biography but should be a bible for high school coaches everywhere.

And like Wooden, Joe Lombard stresses that faith in God – and the Bible with an uppercase “B” – is a key element in his life and career.

“I think the priorities of God first, family second, occupation third, allowed me to have a long career filled with much joy,” he said in an email last week. “The world can become a better place when we allow the LORD to always direct our path.”

Those priorities also are listed in one of the 16 “Timeout With Joe” segments of the book that follow each chapter. The “Timeouts” are one reason every coach of any sport should have “More Than A Coach” in his or her office or next to the bed at home. And one “Timeout With Babs” shows how vital the influence of Joe’s wife, Babs Lombard, has been. Babs gave up her own coaching job – after winning a state championship at Hale Center – to focus on their children and also to serve as Joe’s statistician, team counselor and basketball adviser.

Joe Lombard’s “Timeouts” offer guidance from offensive and defensive sets complete with court diagrams to a “Timeout” outlining his faith journey from his Indiana Presbyterian childhood to the influence of Catholic families at Nazareth – where his teams won six of his state titles – to Methodist churches in Hale Center, Tulia and Canyon. And don’t forget Wayland Baptist University, the school that brought Lombard to West Texas in 1971 to play basketball.

More than once, the book mentions a statement that stuck in Lombard’s mind.

“Billy Graham has said that coaches will influence more people in one year than most will in a lifetime,” he says. “I don’t take that for granted and it became a top priority. I feel we are chosen. This is our purpose. This is our passion and our gift. We are planters of seeds for young people.”

That higher purpose grew as the years passed.

“Maybe I owed the players more than just being their coach,” Lombard says. “When I was young, so much was about wins and losses. As I grew older, my faith grew hand in hand. My perspective of working with young people was making sure I taught them more than basketball.”

In addition to day-to-day interaction with his teams, Lombard was able to expose student-athletes to the Good News of Jesus through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“The last 20 years with FCA I became more of a spiritual leader,” he says in the book. “The kids definitely knew I was a Christian – no ifs, ands or buts. The last 20 years may have also been my best coaching during that time because, in a way, I wanted Christ to have a jersey or Christ to be on this one-year journey with my team. That was my passion – to be stronger in my witness without being overbearing.”

Living your faith while not overstepping church-and-state restrictions at a public school can be a balancing act, but Lombard handled it well. The Christian message wasn’t forced on anyone, but students had a chance to hear it through FCA.

“Some of them never went to church, and many were inspired by others just being in our meetings,” he says. “They could take a little more of Jesus back to their teams. I know on the girls basketball team for sure, one of our FCA participants will lead us in prayer before every game. Many times, on days we don’t have a game, somebody will want to lift someone up in prayer, whether it be a fellow student or family member.”

Though retired from his position as – to quote Beilue – “the greatest high school girls basketball coach there ever was – and ever will be,” Lombard sometimes speaks in the present tense about Canyon’s girls because he remains an assistant under the new Lady Eagle head coach: his son, Tate Lombard. Tate has three state titles under his belt – two at Wall High School and one in his first year leading Canyon in 2020-21.

Lombard’s daughter, Lindy Slagle, also has been a successful coach but has decided to focus on being a mother while teaching special education in Amarillo. The second priority on Joe Lombard’s list – family – now is geographically close.

The book reveals some of the family’s ups and downs. “I want people to see that our life as well as anyone's life can be a struggle with much heartache, frustration, and disappointment,” Lombard said in an email. “Also, we had our share of adrenaline rushes and happiness.”

In “More Than A Coach,” Lombard summarizes his journey: “…there’s my youth growing up in basketball-crazy Indiana, the leap of faith to come to Texas, the courage to change careers, the importance of family, and the sustaining faith I have in Jesus Christ.”

Plus, he’s just a nice guy.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

 Aug. 1, 2021, column:

PK challenges men to follow Christ full-force

By Mike Haynes

            The main difference in the Promise Keepers event in Arlington last month and those of the 1990s was the empty seats. But that’s misleading.

            The men’s ministry started by then-Colorado football coach Bill McCartney in 1990 grew into regular gatherings of thousands at stadiums and arenas. The peak was the Stand in the Gap event on the national mall in Washington, D.C., in 1997. National media reported that hundreds of thousands of men stretched for a mile on the mall that day, and the PK movement was widespread and visible enough that it drew attention from The New York Times and CNN.

            The ministry also attracted protesters at most of its events. Women’s groups, pro-abortion people

and others showed up with signs and shouting. An airplane flew over a PK event at McCartney’s home football stadium in Boulder, Colorado, with a banner fluttering behind it that said, “We don’t want your promises.”

            I attended both of those assemblies, and I can tell you that the “Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper” ( and the words of speakers at Washington, Boulder and elsewhere were nothing more than traditional Christianity. The huge events reminded me of Billy Graham crusades of old, with preaching, music and worship – just with a focus on men.

            So did the men’s conference this July 16-17 at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The speakers preached faith in Jesus Christ and the need for men to stand up for him in their homes and in society. The musicians celebrated salvation and following Jesus.

            My brother David, nephew John, friend Mark and I were among several thousand men at the

conference, the first major event since PK has begun a comeback after almost two decades of hibernation. The Arlington get-together had been scheduled for the summer of 2020 but because of the pandemic was postponed to 2021 with an online conference taking its place last year.

            In 2020, PK CEO Ken Harrison was predicting a crowd of 80,000 at AT&T Stadium, and I think attendance would have approached that goal if not for the virus. By this summer, 80,000 apparently was unrealistic. CBN News said “nearly 30,000 attended,” but my eyeball estimate put it at between 10,000 and 20,000.

            The reason that’s misleading is that the event was streamed online to many more men than that. Harrison said it was being seen in 23 countries and that about 70,000 men were watching from U.S. prisons. Watch parties were viewing the activities from churches all over the country; one example he mentioned was Southcrest Baptist in Lubbock.

            So a lot more men than those on the Cowboys’ turf and in the AT&T seats heard Jonathan Evans, the ’Boys’ chaplain and son of renowned Dallas pastor Tony Evans, open the event with a challenge for men to lead their families. The younger Evans was just the first of many dynamic speakers who continually inspired some to raise hands of praise and others to clap heartily.


       Nick Vujicic, an Australian motivational speaker, author and founder of Life Without Limbs, ended Friday night with a hard-hitting talk that challenged men to follow Christ full-force. Vujicic, born without arms or legs, scooted back and forth on a carpeted table, his message crescendoing into thrilling applause and ending with a traditional altar call. One report said a few hundred men walked forward to talk to counselors about the Christian life.

            Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, a Delta Force and CIA veteran, stirred the crowd as he recalled the heart-wrenching 1993 “Blackhawk Down” experience in Somalia when U.S. soldiers died and he questioned God before realizing that the Lord was there just as he had been in more successful operations. Boykin epitomized the toughness and compassion that he said Christians should exhibit.

            Everyone in the kingdom of God has a specific calling on his life,” he said. “It’s time for you to stand up and be the warrior that God called you to be.”

            Tauren Wells, a recording artist and worship leader from Houston, woke up the audience Saturday morning with his energetic brand of music, followed by former Cowboy Chad Hennings interviewing a panel of NFL Hall of Fame members – Michael Irvin (Cowboys), Tim Brown (Raiders) and Charles Haley (Cowboys) – about their faith and leading their families.

            Make sure you go to the owner’s manual, the Bible, to get your name and find your identity,” Irvin said.

            A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, recalled coming to Christ after hearing evangelist and former gang leader Nicky Cruz. “Jesus can take a heart of hatred and turn it into a heart of love,” Bernard said.

            Les Parrott, an author, psychologist, co-founder of the eHarmony dating site and creator with his wife, Leslie, of an assessment tool for married couples, urged men to work on their own self-esteem and spirituality. “Your relationships can only be as healthy as you are,” he said.

            And Samuel Rodriguez, a California pastor, brought down the house to end the conference with his impassioned plea for men to submit to Christ. Rodriguez, introduced by Texas evangelist James Robison, said the men present could help stop the modern cultural descent from biblical values and could “change the world.”

            Rodriguez, who didn’t always agree with President Trump, recounted his experience reading scripture at Trump’s inauguration. He said friends in the media discouraged him from mentioning “that name” in the prayer. Instead, he concluded by saying, “Respectfully, in Jesus’ name.” At PK, he shouted that he had not been ashamed to proclaim the Word “in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!”

            Promise Keepers’ new slogan is “Building on the past to redefine the future.” One adaptation is promoting ministries that help children, such as Compassion International, and that fight modern slavery, such as International Justice Mission. Racial reconciliation, a key focus in the 1990s, wasn’t highlighted at Arlington but was obvious in the racial diversity of the speakers.

            I don’t know whether PK will take off like it did 30 years ago, but I hope the seeds planted in Arlington will continue to grow.