Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Funeral I Will Never Forget: Benny Duggan's Story

Benny Duggan's Grave
This past Thursday I experienced one of the saddest events in my thirty years of Christian ministry. I conducted a funeral service and nobody came. Those present for the service were a funeral director, a court appointed attorney, and myself.  It was the first time during my three decades of ministry that this has happened. No family. No friends. Nobody else. The man who died was named Benny Duggan. His will stated his wish that a funeral be conducted at his death, and the courts set aside money in Benny's trust for this purpose.  The attorney, court-appointed by the Department of Human Services, had attempted to find Benny's next of kin. None could be found.  Though I had never met Benny, since I was the one asked to conduct his funeral service, I decided to spend a few hours researching his life. It is amazing what one can accomplish with the Internet, a little patience, and some research skills.  I shared the following story with the funeral director and court-appointed attorney at Benny's funeral. We all got a little emotional about it, so I thought I would share Benny's story with my Internet friends and issue a challenge for all of us to notice the Benny Duggans in our lives--before they die.

As I began my research, I knew just a few things about Benny. I knew he was an only child. I knew he had attended college (Northwestern Oklahoma State), and had been a successful wheat farmer, business investor and "collector of cars." I knew he had been a spend-thrift, saving almost every penny he made, so he was not poor.  I also knew he had been been born August 9, 1921 and died on August 15, 2012. That was about all I knew. Then I began my research.

Benny's Family

The first remarkable and startling discovery I made about Benny is that his grandfather, James Duggan, was born in 1815. That's almost 200 years ago. Benny's grandfather was born when James Madison was President of the United States. The War of 1812 was not yet over at the time of James Duggan's birth. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third Presidents respectively, would not die until Benny's grandfather was almost a teenager. Most of us have twenty to twenty-five years between generations, with grandfathers born fifty years prior to our birth. I have never conducted a service where the dead person's grandfather had been born 200 years earlier.  

Benny last name "Duggan" is Irish. It has sometimes been spelled Dugan or Dugin in the past. I discovered that Benny's forefathers had migrated to America from Ireland during The Irish Famine of (1740-1741). The thousands of Irish families that came to America during what the Irish named "The Great Slaughter" became excellent farmers in the river valleys of Virginia and Ohio.  Benny's grandfather, James Duggan (the one born in 1815), first became a successful farmer in Ohio and then later in Iowa. James Duggan and his wife Delilah had ten children, one of whom was Benny's father, Joseph (Joe) H. Duggan.

Joseph H. Duggan was born July 17, 1857, four years before the start of the Civil War. Joe Duggan attended school until the fourth grade, and then he dropped out to help his father by working full-time on the family farm. In the 1880's, at the age of 30, Joe Duggan struck out on his own and moved west to Colorado where he worked as a farm laborer on the southern slopes of the Rockie's. Then, like many Irish laborers in America with dreams of becoming landowners, dreams expertly portrayed in the Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman movie Far and Away, Benny's father came to Oklahoma Territory at--or shortly after--the Great Land Run of 1893.

Joseph H. Duggan settled on a beautiful quarter section (160 acres) of land 12 miles northeast of Enid, Oklahoma. A pre-statehood map of this area has listed Joseph Duggan's name on land located in the southwest quarter of Section 4, Range 23 North and 5 West. This area was was known as Union Township. Joseph Duggan's 160 acres was half timber and half pasture, with beautiful Rock Creek flowing through it. This land was ideal for wheat farming, and that is precisely what the unmarried Joseph Duggan did. He farmed wheat, just like his father had done in Ohio and Iowa. Joe Duggan was excellent at what he did, and he began to prosper as a wheat farmer.

Joseph was not drafted to serve during World War 1 (1914-1918) because his wheat farming was vital to the security of the United States. The government exempted him. After the war, Joseph went to Kingfisher, Oklahoma to visit his brother Theodore Duggin, the only relative who had also migrated to Oklahoma from Iowa. While visiting Theodore, Joe met a young Jewish Russian girl who had been born in Kansas, but whose Russian parents had immigrated to the United States right before her birth. This pretty Jewish girl was visiting relatives who also lived in Kingfisher. Joseph met her and fell in love.  Joseph Duggan was sixty years old at the time, but his age did not scare away this beautiful twenty-eight year old Russian Jew named Elizabeth. Joe and Elizabeth Duggan married, and Joe took his young bride back to his wheat farm northeast of Enid. Five years later the Duggans only child would be born -- Benny F. Duggan.

Benny's Farming

Benny, like his father and grandfather, grew up on a thriving wheat farm. Unlike his father and grandfather, Benny attended school through the twelth grade. Benny's father had been sixty-four years old when Benny was born and eighty-two years old when Benny went off to college in 1939. Benny attended college at the prompting of his father and found himself exempt from the draft for World War II because the government believed Benny could help the nation more by taking over the family farm than by being drafted as a soldier.  Benny Duggan never obtained his degree because his father became ill. Benny came home to take over the farming operation.

On December 17, 1942, Benny Duggan's father died. He was eighty-five years old. Joseph H. Duggan had been an early Oklahoma settler and successful wheat farmer. He left behind his twenty-one year old son, Benny, and a fifty-three year old wife, Elizabeth. Benny loved his mother, and for the next two decades he cared for both the farm and his mom. However, when Benny's mother became physically frail and in need of a warmer winter climate, Benny decided to lease the family farm and move his mother to south Texas. By the time of this move in the mid-1960's, Benny had invested some of his farm earnings in various buildings and property in Enid, Oklahoma.

Not much is known about Ben and his mother Elizabeth during their years in Houston. However, in July of 1971, Elizabeth Duggan died. She was eighty-four. Benny brought his mother back to Kingfisher, Oklahoma where graveside rites were conducted at Kingfisher Cemetery. Elizabeth was buried beside her husband Joseph. After the funeral, Benny came back to Enid to tend to his farm and the various properties he owned. Benny was fifty when his mother died. He had never married,, and unlike his father, he would not marry later in life.  His mom and dad now were gone. He had no siblings. He would possibly have had some distant cousins around the Kingfisher area, but there is no evidence Benny had any contact with them. He lived outside of Enid during the 1970's and 1980's, tending to his farming, and mostly keeping to himself. In the 1990's, when Benny was reaching eighty years of age, he bought a home in Dallas, Texas. He was now too old to farm. He kept ownership of his land, but he leased it to local farmers and then moved to Dallas.

Benny's Frailty

During this past decade, Benny's life spiraled downward. He kept to himself in Dallas. Nobody knew him or where he had come from. He was not in good health during his eighties, and all that the neighbors knew was that he had way too many cars on his property. His front yard was becoming an eyesore. What the neighbors never realized was that Benny was too old to drive in Dallas traffic, but that didn't stop him. He had numerous vehicular accidents, but rather than repair the cars he wrecked, he simply bought a new one. Rather than paying off his car loans with insurance money (Benny had only bare minimum insurance), he simply went to the bank to buy a new car--before he had paid off the wrecked one. The bank would loan Benny the money because his open line of credit was secured by the valuable land and property he owned in Enid. Benny continued to detoriate physically, emotionally and mentally.

In 2009, Benny came to Enid for a visit. He wanted to check on his farm and properties. He was now eighty-eight years old. While in Enid, he fell and broke his pelvis. After several weeks in the hospital, he was ready to be released. However, due to the extent of his injuries, hospital administration would only release Benny to a family member who would come, pick him up, and then care for him. "Who," they asked, "can we call to come get you?" "I don't have anybody," Benny replied. "There's nobody you can call." The hospital was not sure about what to do. After a conference, they decided to release Benny to a nursing home facility in Enid. Benny had a trust fund that could pay for the nursing home care as long as it was needed.

Unfortunately, the nursing home where Benny was admitted had an administrator with a gambling problem. She stole from her patients' trust funds, and when that money was not enough, she turned to armed bank robbery. Benny was one of her victims. Due to the medications Benny was taking to manage his pain, Benny's ability to think rationally became progressively worse, but it didn't keep him from the pain of knowing he was being swindled. More than a few strangers took advantage of him. After the police arrested the nursing home administrator for fraud and bank robbery, they discovered other ways Benny had been taken advantage of by other people. Law enforcement requested that the Department of Human Services step in and move Benny to another nursing home. The court also assigned an attorney to watch over Benny's finances. Though the attorney had Benny's best interest at heart, Benny found it difficult to trust anyone because so many people had abused him the last few years of his life. There had been nobody who served as his advocate.

Benny died suddenly on Wednesday, August 15, 2012, in his nursing home bed. His body was broken and bruised. His emotions spent and his life a testimony to the evil in the hearts of men. He died alone, abused by many who had taken advantage of him. The bank officers that loaned him money for the cars without investigating why he needed so many, the nursing home administrators who had been assigned to care for him but abused him, several of the people who leased his land and property, and the neighbors who lived by him--all of them either abused or abandoned Benny in his time of need.

As I spoke with the funeral director and attorney at Benny's funeral, I felt a renewed commitment to focus on the Benny Duggans in my life. It doesn't take long to get to know people by asking a few questions about their life and becoming interested in their story. Intentional acts of kindness toward senior adults speak volumes about our understanding of the importance and significance of every human life. There are dozens of Benny Duggans in the nursing homes of our communities, and rather than see them as objects to deceive and use for personal gain, we Christians would do well to redouble our efforts in serving the elderly in our community.

Though Benny Duggan's funeral may be the only one I ever officiate that has nobody in attendance, it may go down in my life as the most signficant funeral service I've ever had the privilege of conducting. Benny Duggan reminds me of the importance of getting to know the stories of our senior adults, and reaching out to them in love.

Thanks, Benny. I hope I've honored your life and story in some small way. I just wish more people had known you and your story before you died.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stop Cursing the Darkness and Start Turning on the Lights

One of the privileges of operating an Internet blog is meeting people on-line that you would otherwise never have the privilege of meeting. One such person is a 70-year-young lady named Mary G___ . She and her sisters were born in Arkansas during World War II in a place they came to call "Madness" because of the horrific physical and sexual abuse they suffered. Their mother knew what was happening, but she did nothing to stop it. There was "the breath of evil" (Mary's words) in the presence of their abuser. 

In 1967 Mary became a follower of Christ. Prior to her conversion, Mary was "as lost as a goose in a snowstorm," still bearing a scar above her eye where she fought with a member of the Hell's Angels.  Shortly before she became a Christian, she was homeless with three babies. "Without Christ there is no telling where I would be," says. The last several decades of her life have been a journey toward wholeness.  Mary's sister disappeared into a world of mental illness, but Mary developed a hunger for God's Word.

In 2010, 68-year-old Mary was a graduate student at Hardin Simmons/Logsdon Seminary (M.A. Family Ministry), doing research on sexual abuse. It was during that time she came across this website and began reading some of the things I have written about sexual abuse, patriarchy, and male domination. "I was 68 years old, had grown up under the load of male domination," says Mary. "In my research, I found a statement by Bruce Wares that said, 'One reason men abuse their wives is because women rebel against their husband's God-given authority.' I was horrified." Mary decided not just to study the cause and effects of sexual abuse, but to tap into her personal recovery from abuse and begin to bring practical healing to other survivors.

Mary is holding her first ever Sex Abuse Survivor Workshop at the Country Inn in Texarkana, Texas on September 15, 2012.  Her husband and church have been very supportive. "Even if it is one woman who is helped, it will be worth it," says Mary. If you would like more information about the conference, you may contact Mary directly at

As Mary shared with me some of her background, she me the following fascinating story. She has given me permission to share it with you.

"We live about a hundred and ten miles from Lubbock. On the outskirts of Lubbock is a strip club that used to be called, "Chilli Willies." Every time we drove by there, I prayed for God to close it down or infest it with a plague of lice, mice and frogs, anything God - just shut the doors on that hell hole. Well, after four years of  driving past Chilli Willies and praying that prayer, God said to my heart, "Stop cursing the darkness and go in there." Really? I drove on to Lubbock and did what I had to get done and tried to push the idea out of my head. Again, "Stop cursing the darkness and go in there." I even stalled the time to leave thinking God might be out to lunch and not see me drive on by or maybe they would be closed if I waited a little longer. "Stop cursing the darkness."

Since the deer and wild hogs come out at night, I needed to get home before dark.  So, as I cruised on by the strip club, out of the corner of my eye, a young woman walked walked out of the club. She was headed toward the convenience store next to the club and she appeared to be a dancer (imagine that). I probably drove another half mile before I turned around and headed back. (You just can't out wit God!!!) There she was coming out of the convenience store.

I headed into the strip club parking lot and got out of my car to approach the woman. I introduced myself and asked her if she worked at the club. She replied that she did. Her stage name was Diamond. She went on to say that she used to deal drugs to support her children but she changed "professions." I asked her about Jesus and if she attended church any where. She said she had been a member of a church but was no longer attending. I asked her if she could get me into the club to talk to the manager about starting a Bible Study for the dancers. So walking along with her, I followed her inside to a very dark place (spiritually and literally) and spoke with the manager. I shared my desire to do a Bible Study and he said he would "talk to the girls." I knew he wouldn't. I gave him my card with John 3:16 on the back, thanked him and left. Shortly after that, the club closed down.

I have asked God to let me write and speak as I live out the last years of my life. I want the last years to be better than the first ones. I want to get into every church I possibly can and try to help the women and in so doing, strengthen the next generations to come! Dr. Dan Allender (The Wounded Heart) said, "Sex abuse is a designer evil that is meant to shatter us and drive us away from God." I have got to get this message through to women and church leaders."


I love how God is using women like Mary to build His Kingdom and teach guys like me some wonderful lessons of life.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It Honors Christ and Is Biblical for Women to Teach Men

"And there was a prophet named Anna ... a widow of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day ... and she continued to ἐλάλει of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36-38 NAS).

I have used the Greek verb ἐλάλει in quoting the text above without translation. Before I show you how this word is used throughout the New Testament, let me remind you of a few things to set the context of this very important text. I believe the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God, and our beliefs and behavior should reflect the biblical standard.

(1). The gospel writer Luke is describing the first public appearance of Jesus Christ (the Anointed One) in the Temple of Jerusalem.
(2). The law of first mention makes this verse vitally important in showing how Christ is to be revealed to people.
(3). Simeon has already preached a stirring proclamation of Christ to all (see Luke 2:34-36).
(4). Anna now takes center stage and ἐλάλει of Christ to all.

The word ἐλάλει is used throughout the New Testament. This word is used of Jesus in Mark 2:2 where he "preached the word" (KJV) in Capernaum. This word is translated "stating the matter plainly" in Mark 8:32 (NAS). It is most often used of Jesus when he "speaks" to His disciples for the purpose of instruction. This word conveys in its etymology and essence: "To speak for the purpose of teaching."

Anna taught the people of the Temple. She didn't teach just women. She taught all. Anna had no "covering" over her, such as a husband, because she had her authority from God. She was gifted and inspired by the Spirit, enraptured and enthralled by the Savior, and moved by need of the people. Again, Anna needed no covering from any man because she had her calling from God. Anna preached Christ. Sure, there would have been men who refused to listen or who walked out as she spoke of Christ. These would have been the rabbinical and Temple leaders who "were not looking for the redemption of Jerusalem," but believers--both men and women--welcomed her teaching them.

To be honest, I am stupified by John Piper, Don Carson, and others who add to Scripture and try to impose on women restrictions that are nowhere found in the New Testament. What puzzles me is how the clear and direct teaching of the entire New Testament is seemingly ignored in the minds of these men. The only explanation I can find is that their errant interpretation of one passage of Scripture (I Timothy 2:11-15) leads them to deny the infallible text of Scripture. If you count yourself as one who is confused by what seems to be a contradiction of the entire New Testament by this Timothy passage, then I would urge you to print off and study carefully a blog I posted years ago entitled Are the Sisters Free to Function? I think this article will help you see the error of interpreting Paul to mean something that is contrary to the rest of the New Testament, and to the very thing Anna actually did in the Temple. I wonder if patriarchalism, disguised by the modern misnomer "complementarianism," is actually a hindrence to the gospel; particularly when its advocates are denying the clear teachings of the New Testament.

This weekend we are interviewing a delightful woman for a pastoral position at Emmanuel. Our Leadership Team is moving the position that my assistant held (she is retiring) from the secretarial pool into a ministry position. The person we are interviewing is a M.Div graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary and their "star student" according to the professors to whom I spoke. If she becomes part of the pastoral staff at Emmanuel, she will join two other smart, competent women who will form our pastoral team of ten. I am grateful to be among Christian people in Enid who--had we been in the Temple when Anna began to ἐλάλει of Christ-- would not feel the need *"to pull a Piper."

One of these days male leaders in the Bible-believing community will take for granted that the New Testament teaches the Spirit empowers people to serve based on the His giftings and not gender.  One of these days the idea that the Spirit withholds certain gifts because of gender will be rendered as unbiblical and unhealthy as the ancient notion that certain people ought to be slaves because of color. Equating women teaching men about Christ (something Anna did) to same-sex sexual activity, and then calling both activities "sin," renders powerless the very definition of sin. Sin is any transgression of the law of God (I John 3:4). It is clear from Luke 2 that when the Lord first appeared the Temple, one of the persons who preached of Him to the men and women present was a woman. Why do we call "sin" the very thing God uses to bring honor to Christ? It's about time we Christians lived our lives in accordance to the standards of Scripture and not according to the traditions of men.

(*The phrase "to pull a Piper" means "to so focus on gender that one misses Christ.")

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Shaking Dust Off Feet"--Turning Over to Condemnation

"And if anyone will not welcome you or refuses to listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet..." (Matthew 10:14 NIV).

Jesus is giving instructions to His disciples on how to deal with people who give a proverbial 'cold shoulder'  by withholding basic human hospitality ('will not welcome you') or coldly cutting off communication ('refuses to listen to your words'). In context, Jesus' disciples were intent on sharing the good news of the kingdom, receiving into personal fellowship all those who called Jesus their Lord. But Jesus knew that some would not warmly receive His disciples and would refuse to even listen to what they had to say. Jesus gave precise instructions as to how his disciples were to respond to those who would act in this manner.

Jesus said, "Shake the dust off your feet."

Most of us have absolutely no idea what Jesus was saying because we have little or no understanding of first century Jewish expressions. Listen to what the Hebrew linguist and the great Jewish scholar John Gill says about this particular idiom:

"The Jews believed that even the dust of a heathen and wicked country contaminated them. To "shake the dust off your feet" was the Jewish way of signifying that they would have nothing more to do with those who would not welcome the people of God, or anything more to say to to those who refused to listen to their message. By shaking the dust off their feet, the Jews looked upon those who acted in this manner as impure and unholy, as they would any heathen city or country. Jesus is alluding to this custom when He speaks to His disciples. He is instructing them that there will come a time when they will need to "shake the dust off their feet"  in their desire to communicate with others.  By this act, they testify that the very dust they shake off their feet will rise up in judgment against them, and declare that though the good news of God's grace has been proclaimed among them, they have rjected both the messenger and the message, and as a result, will find an aggravation to their condemnation."
I am not sure I have ever had to think of shaking dust off my feet and it makes me wonder if (1). I have not pursued people enough to risk being given the cold shoulder, or (2). My mind is too pre-conditioned to accept people unconditionally without thought or respect to their response to either me or my message, or (3). I, like many Christians, simply ignore the difficult words of Jesus. Sometimes I wonder if I read the Scriptures more interested in receiving what Jesus gives than I am obeying what Jesus says.

It would seem to me that if a pastor or another Christian in authority will not warmly receive you or listen to your words..."Shake the dust off your feet." If a person withholds hospitality and refuses to even let you speak... "Shake the dust off your feet."  Don't be bothered. Don't get angry. Don't get even. "Shake the dust off your feet." The Lord is much wiser and far better equipped to hold the guilty accountable. The manner in which people receive God's children is the manner in which He will receive them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Storm Clouds Are Brewing on America's Horizon

My reading habit is to settle on three books and read them simultaneously. Sometimes all three are finished in a week, particularly if my bedtime reading is free from compulsive sleep. When a book is finished, another one becomes part of the cycle. Every few weeks I will throw in a Jack Reacher novel or other fiction work, but the predominate mix of books I read for pleasure are on history, finance, or culture. To me, reading a book is far better than watching a movie. The difference is similar to that of either watching or participating in the Olympics. Reading requires a firing of the mental circuitry that is unnecessary in movie watching. Lovers of scholastics write books; lovers of culture make movies. One is not necessarily morally superior to another, but one is definitely intellectually superior. Watching a movie becomes an escape from problems while reading a book becomes an entrance into solutions. It's one of the reasons why America may be in for a shock in the coming months. We watch too many movies and read too few books.

One book I highly recommend you read is The Debt Bomb by Dr. Tom Coburn, United States Senator from Oklahoma. His book is an eye opener into the dangerous world of municipal and government debt. Dr. Coburn is clear and concise regarding the horrific problem and the painful solutions. The Senator urges a drastic cut-back in government programs and expenditures and warns against the dangers of increasing the money supply to pay off government debt. The Senator, however, fears his solutions are too painful for America and the temptation too deflate the dollar is too strong for government officials. To understand the harm of deflating the dollar to pay off a sixteen trillion dollar national debt, I would urge you to read The Creature from Jekyll Island. This latter book will explain to you how a group of private banks, called The Federal Reserve, is allowed to inflate (increase) the supply of paper currency by creating money out of thin air (computer keyboard strokes) in order to cheapen the American dollar. Without cutting government expenses, the only way a sixteen trillion dollar debt will not completely crush our way of life is for the dollar to be intentionally devalued (inflation). In short, when a loaf of bread costs $50 dollars, a tank of gas costs $500, and a small home costs $500,000, then the government's debts won't seem as big. Unfortunately, this stagflation will bankrupt the majority of citizens and eventually turn America into a dictator state (think 1930's Germany).

It has been rightly said that "A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

• From bondage to spiritual faith;

• From spiritual faith to great courage;

• From courage to liberty;

• From liberty to abundance;

• From abundance to complacency;

• From complacency to apathy;

• From apathy to dependence;

• From dependence back into bondage."

If you are unwilling or unable to read the above books, it may be possible for you to watch the following video called America Freedom to Facism.

No need, in my mind, to be discouraged--unless your trust is in kingdoms of this world.

"Seek first the Kingdom of God ..." said Jesus. For all my friends in Enid, I want to encourage you to be a part of a Wednesday night Bible studies (beginning in September) as we examine the unshakeable kingdom of God and why one's view of life and the universe should be unaffected by catastrophic events on earth. In addition, we will examine how life's most basic needs--the need to connect, the need for respect, and the need to protect--are all only fully met in an understanding of, and entrance into, the unshakeable kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was the message of Christ, and it is the hope of every Christian. If you want to know what this unshakeable kingdom looks like and how it affects you, join us on Wednesday nights at 6:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall.

Economic storm clouds may be brewing, but the God who loves us rules the universe.

Put your trust in Him.