On Going West…
THE IDLE AMERICAN
Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury
Dr. Jimmie L. Nelson, a minister long-known for being about his Father’s business, still preaches and teaches at every opportunity–even as the years stack up.
The seasoned theologian and long-time faculty member at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth observed his 94th birthday on February 11. Church friends held a luncheon in his honor a few days earlier.
The date was well and good by him, since he had another commitment on February 11. He was an officiant at a graveside service for a friend of some 50 years. That he would put “service in front of self” was no surprise to his friends, nor would it have been to Dolores, his late wife of 53 years.
Dr. Nelson is moving to a retirement center in Lubbock soon, and there have been many “good-byes,” including his “signing off” as teacher of a bi-monthly breakfast Bible study he has led for a decade.
Slowed by neuropathy and limited hearing, he forges on, still a frequent pulpit guest. He is keen of mind, biblically brilliant and a master of subtle humor which sometimes zings over the heads of his hearers, including yours truly.
I’m on the yonder side of the aging trail, too.
He was “zinged” a few times at the Burleson luncheon. It was thrown by PrimeTimers (members of a certain age) to denote his long service to First Baptist Church.
There were laughter and tears, but mostly laughter. Several verbal shots were fired by Dr. Gerald Marsh, himself a SWBTS faculty colleague of some three decades. More than 100 attendees “said thanks,” including remarks by Lead Pastor, Dr. Ronny Marriott, and by Dr. Mike Milburn, Marriott’s predecessor who served in the pastorate for almost 30 years.
Dr. Marriott–expressing thanks for Dr. Nelson’s serving as interim pastor twice during his five decades at FBC–said folks usually know when he is on the scene several steps before he arrives. “The click of his cowboy boots is unmistakable,” Dr. Marriott said. (A West Texas native who grew up in Borger, Dr. Nelson has long chosen boots as favorite footwear.)
Perhaps the most riotous laughter was provided by the honoree during farewell remarks at his final breakfast Bible study he has led for the past decade.
He recalled serving as a grader for the late Dr. Ralph Smith, a respected Old Testament authority. He was instructed by Dr. Smith to circle students’ errors, deducting one point for each miscue.
Dr. Nelson said he wasn’t sure what to do with one student’s paper on Hebrews. It was “bloodied” by the red ink circles denoting 104 errors. He wasn’t sure what grade to give, thinking that a grade of minus 4 seemed odd. “Oh, let’s be charitable and give him a zero,” Dr. Smith directed.
Well-spoken, long admired and a leading denominational patriarch, Dr. Nelson continues to “take the high road.” He’s always looking for ways to continue in Christian service, which began during his junior year in high school when he owned his first Bible. A graduate of Borger High School and Baylor University, he enrolled at SWBTS for study that led to a doctoral degree. He’s also known for his dry wit, clever remarks and skills at the “42” table.
Friends wonder if he may already be plotting a unique activity for his 95th birthday in 2023. After all, at age 91, he opted to ride the zipline at Palo Duro Canyon. To celebrate another birthday, he snorkeled on a Caribbean cruise. The snorkeling turned out to be a brief activity, but he told friends that he “saw one fish.”
When his next birthday rolls around, his many friends don’t think the party will be held around a card table. It likely will be unusual–maybe even unbelievable–and almost certainly will be staged outdoors. Something that it WON’T BE, however, is virtual.
Dr. Newbury was a longtime university president who continues to write weekly and speak throughout Texas. Contact: 817-447-3872. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.