The Cowboy and the Professor

God has come in Christ to share His LIFE with the believer. This LIFE will produce a soul-deep shift from self-centered life into one which is other-centered. This becomes an irreversible change which is progressively realized. ~Dr. Nat Tracy

I recently asked my parents to tell me who has had the greatest impact in shaping their souls and why. Their answers were not surprising; I’ve heard these names for years.  Common among both my parents, who have been divorced for over 20 years, was my mother’s father, Oscar Johnston, and a professor at Howard Payne University, Dr. Nat Tracy. No two men could be more opposite.

Oscar was an old cowboy from west Texas who had no more than an elementary school education. He was crass, rough, and direct in his communication. He told stories as well as anyone I have ever met. He had a very high regard for the Bible as the Word of God and made it clear to my parents how vital it is to live out your knowledge of Jesus. To him this was critical to being a Christian. His Bible is shelved in a prominent place in my home.

Oscar Johnston age 19

Oscar Johnston age 19

I worked for Oscar on a cattle ranch in northern New Mexico four summers in a row. On one of those summer days a letter arrived in the mail from back home. I fingered the corner of the envelope.  It was from my girlfriend.  I’m in love, I think; I’m not sure. I’m 16.  The day before, I had tried to explore the idea of love with my granddad after supper. While the dishwater was heating up on the cook stove, he sat in his chair smoking his pipe and staring out the window when I thought it a good time to ask him a question.

“What do you look for in a wife?”

I don’t know where he was in his mind but he didn’t want to come back.

“What’s that?” he said.

“What do you look for in a wife?”

Sensing this was an important question he cleared his throat and took his pipe out of his mouth and said, “You want to find a helpmeet.”

“A what?” I asked

“A helpmeet.”

He said it like I ought to know what that meant.  It did have a King James kind of sound to it, so I didn’t ask him again, what with me having been raised in the church and all.  I was sure I ought to know what a helpmeet was, but I didn’t.

“She helps you live a life you couldn’t live by yourself,” he said. He thought he had helped me so he nodded his head once, like he was putting a period at the end of a sentence.

I know that sentence sounds paternalistic, but given the life and times he grew up in, I think it is a pretty good statement.  I tell people all the time that the best thing I can do for anyone as a Christ-follower is to help them hear God.  In many ways being a husband, father, friend, and follower of Jesus is tied to that idea of helping others live a life they couldn’t live by themselves.

Dr. Tracy was a gentle soul, but a towering intellect. He taught philosophy and the New Testament in college. I had heard of him for years through my dad’s preaching.

Dr. Tracy was my greatest influence. I spent time with him in a small group of young preachers in soul searching and praying together.  I would go to his office and the two of us talked; he always lovingly and gently corrected my thinking. He was one of the greatest encouragers in my walk with Jesus.  He asked me if I thought of being a Bible teacher in a college. I said learning is so hard for me. He said “Well, some have quick mind and they sound very smart, but it’s shallow and it doesn’t change who they are. Others have a slow mind but what they learn, they learn well and deeply; it reshapes them. You think deeply.”  His teaching challenged my thinking, opened up God’s word to me in a way that changed how I looked at life and taught/preached. ~Dub Chambers

My mom has quoted Dr. Tracy thousands of times over the years. I was fortunate to meet him before he died when I went to college in the 70s. He remembered my dad and spoke kindly of him. But what struck me about Dr. Tracy was that he was interested in me. What did I feel God calling me towards? What did I think of Jesus? His encouragement:  to pursue Jesus as long as I have breath.

Two men, two very different men — shaping the souls of my parents, and me. God uses such variegated instruments to make us into what He wants us to be. In many ways God is the ultimate pragmatist. He will use whatever we offer Him to shape us.

He is no respecter of soul-shapers.

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness with my friends and sons.
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One Response to The Cowboy and the Professor

  1. Bob says:

    Thanks for this one Joe. I still remember a lot of older people from my home town as I grew up that helped to shape me too. It’s funny how when we need these people, their words come back to our minds. It’s the same with old Hymns too, wonderful, and sometimes funny, how God uses these to show us the way.

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