Sunday, April 23, 2006


As far as I can remember, there are only two men that I've ever known by the name of Herschel. And they both share the distinction of having at times provoked both my ire and admiration.

Herschel Walker was the first person I’d ever heard of with such a name -- a behemoth running back for my favorite football team back when I was an adolescent boy. My brother and I had a poster on the door to our bedroom with Herschel Walker frozen in mid-stride, the purple numerals on his white jersey (#34), looking so strong, so unstoppable, so proud. He had been the hope and joy of the Minnesota Vikings when he was acquired in a blockbuster trade (with a contract worth unprecedented millions)… until he had actually played a couple of seasons in the Minnesota backfield.

In short, Herschel Walker ended up a disaster and a disappointment. He tanked as a player, and -- because of the great risks undertaken to secure his place on the team -- he basically tanked the team in the process. For whatever reason, he never found his rhythm on the Vikings offense -- while his former team (the Dallas Cowboys) found plenty of rhythm by way of the draft picks that were used to acquire new players that eventually even led the Texas team to Superbowl glory. Herschel Walker was shortly traded away to Philadelphia (bound for further obscurity and ineptitude), and the poster on my bedroom door found its way to the trash, as I learned to despise the name of Herschel.

The second uniquely-named man in my experience is an itinerant septuagenarian American pastor by the name of Herschel Martindale. I must confess that -- picking up where I had left off with the last Herschel -- my initial impressions of Mr. Martindale were not abundantly favorable. We were first introduced in the city of Prague. Herschel was speaking at a conference for all missionaries in Europe under Great Commission Ministries (GCM); I was on assignment for a video project commissioned by GCM headquarters that included an interview with this man who had served as one of the founders and visionaries for the movement's work in Europe. Unfortunately, the video shoot did not go very smoothly, as we had a lot of issues in finding a suitable location and battling high wind. Furthermore, both Herschel and I were severely jet-lagged, and we all quickly wearied through the interview process... By the time we finished, it felt like we barely escaped with our sanity.

Even today, through subsequent encounters (in different contexts), I recognize Herschel's caveats. He's not the most powerful or graceful public communicator. He habitually starts off a message with a set of corny jokes. He slips in and out of tangential old stories like a grandfather in an arm chair. And his subject material is very predictable.

In fact, as far as I can tell, everything Herschel Martindale teaches comes back to two main topics: (1) Walking with Jesus through the Power of the Holy Spirit, and (2) Spiritual Warfare. Of course, there are minor variations on these themes... But not much variation... Herschel continually reiterates that we don't need any new information or new tricks; rather, we just need to listen, learn, and apply the basic truths that we've already heard many times -- loving God, loving others, walking in God's Spirit, resisting temptation, and so on... He has said many times, in many variations: “Our problem is not a lack of knowledge; our problem is a lack of obedience.”

Which is a very good point. Although Herschel's recurring teachings could be seen as simplistic and dismissible, I’ve discovered their principles to be unmistakably wise and correct. More than new information and clever insights to obscure concepts of the faith, it is vital to be continually reminded of the basics. And Herschel Martindale excels in the basics -- not just in teaching them, but in living them. Serving as a pastor for over 50 years, he has outlasted hundreds (if not thousands) of dynamic orators, inspiring visionaries, and clever theoreticians. All through resting on two simple points: walking daily with God, and living in cognizance of the daily battles that seek to divert us from this walk.

So I've returned to a fondness and admiration for the name Herschel. Yes, there may be mixed emotions at times. And I'll probably not be bestowing any of my children with such a name. But when it comes down to it, Herschel is my hero.


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