Sam and I rarely fought. Even as a kid, I don’t remember any face to face screaming matches with Sam. As adults, we were respectable, and we dealt with our few disagreements peaceably.
Except one time. I was probably thirty-five at the time.
We had a family member struggling with alcoholism. Sam and I disagreed about how we should approach that family member. I saw it as a Gospel issue, as in, “The Gospel teaches us to do this.” Sam saw it as a law issue, “We need to teach this lesson.”
I don’t cast it that way to say I was right and Sam was wrong. That was just the way we were approaching the situation, and looking back, I think we both had valid points.
But for the first time in our lives, we were barely speaking, and when we did, it was Mom saying, “Hey, don’t you want to speak to your father?” She would then hand the phone to Sam and force us to talk.
Well, I was off at my denomination’s General Assembly. This is when the teaching and ruling elders from across the country gather for worship, information, and some manner of business. Within my denomination is a pastor named, RC Sproul.
As Sam was doing research to interact with me over areas of theological disagreement in seminary, he began to read Dr. Sproul. Sproul made a huge impact on Sam, and in areas where I could not articulate certain theological positions well, Dr. Sproul could. In fact, any changes of conviction on Sam’s part were much more due to Sproul than to me.
So at General Assembly, I was walking around the vendor floor where a million books are sold. Standing in the middle of the walk way was Dr. Sproul. He was surrounded by about ten guys who were lapping up every word that he spoke. I took my place among the circle and waited. Eventually, the business of General Assembly renewed, and one by one, the sycophants all left.
Dr. Sproul turned to me as I was the last man standing.
Sproul has this amazingly gravel, smoke-tinged voice that helps give his wise words authorative weight. He realized that I had been standing for a long time and had said nothing.
So he asked, “Can I help you, young man?”
I told him that he could. I told him that my father, Dr. Thom Duncan, was an avid reader of his book and greatly enjoyed his writings. I then asked Dr. Sproul my favor.
“If I called my father, would you be willing to speak to him for a moment? It would mean a lot.”
He agreed, and I immediately called Sam on my cell phone. Surprised at my call, Sam asked if everything was okay. I said, “Yeah, everything is fine, but there is someone here who would like to speak to you.”
I handed the phone to Sproul, and he said, “Dr. Duncan, my name is RC Sproul. You must be really proud of your son here.” They spoke for maybe five minutes, and Dr. Sproul handed me back my phone.
When I returned to speaking with Sam, he had an excitement in his voice similar to a kid who got to meet their favorite football player. When I got home, we talked about the incident, and our tension was gone. We brought up the conversation about interacting with the sick family member, but this time, all of the tension was gone. We were able to speak in a way where care for the person was more important than winning the day.
Thanks, Dr. Sproul.
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The original piece was a self-portrait my father did years ago. It was a painting of a picture from his senior piano recital. In his passing, I uncovered and recovered the photo with which Sam used to paint himself. Both that photo and the first version of that painting were intensely black, dark and mysterious.
The painting came to me around my junior year of college. Sam was cleaning out his office and asked me if I wanted it. I of course did. But Sam warned that it was in bad shape and to be careful with it.
So here I was in my dorm room with this moody, dark painting of my father. My good friend, Jonathan Grauel, was also interest in it, and when he learned it needed restoring, he offered to adapt it, change it, reinterpret it. I jumped at the opportunity.
What resulted is this deep, rich portrait of my father that has been cared for and transformed through the deeply talented eye and hand of my friend.
I couldn’t imagine a better cover for this book.
Then I had another idea. I am a terrible graphic artist, so Jonny as I call him often works on my book covers for me. But this time, I wanted to surprise and honor him as well, but I lacked the ability to design a proper cover using this portrait.
Enter my other good friend John Brenton Phillips. John is also an artist and a friend from ECU like Jon Grauel. John and I were friends in our freshman dorm, but as life would have it, we lost touch for nearly twenty years. Then one day, John gives me a call out of the blue, we grab dinner together, and our friendship is rekindled.
When I ask John to take on the cover photo, he jumped at the task, and the result is nothing less than amazing.
So as you approach this book, the cover gives honor to my dad, the eye-popping color is due to my friend Jonathan Grauel, the graphics are the work of my friend John Brenton Philips, and the words are mine.
Sam brought together friends from across various backgrounds and a bunch of years on this one. I hope you enjoy the visual art as much as the art of words.
If you would like to explore Jonathan’s art more, you can find his online studio at http://www.bluestudioonline.com/, and if you would like to learn more about John’s graphics’ business, you can find them at http://waxingdigital.com/
Thanks to the so many who inspire and encourage me.
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At the age of five, my father sat down to a piano and picked out a piece of music by ear. He naturally had a gift and immediately became a child prodigy. We have a copy of his Senior Recital. It is insane to hear how talented he was at age eighteen.
Insanely talented. So talented that he eventually headed off to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He stayed there two years but returned because he wanted to get married to Mom.
Going forward, Sam could play any piece of music you put in front of him, he could pick anything out by ear, and he took great joy in teaching. Throughout my entire childhood, Sam taught piano.
He eventually designed his own method, created two piano books, and taught a host of kids how to play. And out of his five kids, you know how many learned to play?
One became a talented singer, two of us play drums, and I primarily play the guitar. But none of us learned to read and play music.
When I was seventeen, Sam gave me a very nice electric keyboard. At that point, I was playing drums and guitar. He said, “Listen, I know you aren’t going to take lessons, but can I show you just a few things on piano, and I bet you can play.”
With that simple approach, Sam showed me how to make majors, minors, and sevenths. He taught me how to do that with sharps and flats, and even taught me how to create chords. An hour later, he left the room, and I figured out how to plunk my way through the keyboard.
Looking back, that event amazes me. I’m sure he wanted me to know the piano as he did, but Sam also knew my interests were different. So he appealed to my personality, made both a financial and time investment, and taught me just enough to get me going.
I will never be a piano player like my Dad, but I can find what I need and muddle through if necessary.
Years later, when I brought my beautiful wife, Amy, to the house, Sam discovered that Amy was a brilliant pianist with over twelve years of experience. Sam’s arthritis was setting in pretty badly then, but Amy and Sam sat down and played the piano together many times.
It gave me great joy.
It gave Sam greater joy.
Amy felt assured in the family and grew in affection for Sam.
Sam’s talent today, and the avenues available for making and performing music would more than likely lead him down the road of recording and being a popular musician.
Instead, he played, performed, and taught in anonymity. But those who knew his talent were always amazed.
These and other stories can be found at
Somewhere in the mid to late 60’s, my father packed up the family (I was not born yet) and moved to California. Reportedly, Dad did this for two reasons: my mother’s asthma would improve on the West Coast and Dad wanted to be an actor.
Hearing these stories and looking at the pudgy, balding man who told them, I always scratched my head.
Actor? Are you kidding me?
But he gave it a shot. Though he doesn’t have an IMDB profile, he did some modeling (???) and had a few gigs. But one of the things his agent told him was that he had to change his name.
Thomas Duncan was taken.
Thom Duncan was taken.
For a while, he went by the name Duke Duncan as we had an uncle who played pro baseball by that name, but his agent said that Duke was John Wayne.
So my father became Gordon Duncan for a period of time.
Legend has it, my parents were at a swanky dinner party one night, and over the course of the evening, Mom called him “Thom”, “Duke”, and “Gordon”. She couldn’t keep up.
At this point in the storytelling, Mom would always say that she was sure that everyone at the party thought she was some floozy that Dad picked up because she didn’t know his name.
Dad always smiled at this and kept telling stories.
Well, the acting career didn’t work out, and the Duncan clan moved back across America. A few years later, I was born. They named me Gordon.
I am my Dad’s stage name.
I’ve always thought of it as something pretty cool, but somewhere in my twenties, I realized that my naming was something that I needed to live up to and not just be nostalgic about.
Honoring my father meant honoring the name he gave me. It meant joyfully living out some of his dreams. Now, my father never pressured me into any job or endeavor.
Never. I mean it.
He didn’t place on me the “Be a pastor like me” or “Be a musician like me” or any of that. I was free to be who I wanted which is pretty rare these days.
But as I matured, and I saw God draw similar lines in my life like He drew in my father’s, I gladly walked in paths that my father frontiered.
I am gladly my Father’s stage name.
I ask God to enable me to honor both my heavenly Father and my earthly father in the doing.
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In the past six months, I have lost both of my wonderful parents. My Father (affectionately known as Sam) passed after a lengthy stay in the hospital where his lungs just finally quit working. My mother passed suddenly as a result of a horrendous car crash. I loved them both dearly, and perhaps no child has ever been loved as well I was by them.
Soon after my Father’s passing, I began editing this little book about persevering trials from the Epistle of James. Much of what you will read was gathered in from my sermon notes from my James series that I preached at Sovereign King Church. So re-reading and understanding these teachings have been a comfort for my soul. However, the initial push for the book faded within two months of my Father’s funeral.
But recently, I walked through a season of trials like none that I have ever experienced. Following my Mother’s sudden and shocking car wreck, my car broke down with a flat tire. I got poison ivy so badly it was on my eyelids. My children were soon suffering from fevers of over 103 coupled with nausea and vomiting. And oh yeah, around that time I announced that I was resigning from Sovereign King to move to Spotsylvania, VA to plant a new church.
Trials? I knew them well. Enduring them well? That was yet to be determined.
So I returned to this little document trying to see if I knew anything about suffering when I originally wrote it. I couldn’t have imagined when preaching that series that I would have to experience such trials, but as I reread these words, I could see that at least God had prepared me well.
But please know that this is not a book purely about trials. James lays out three things for us at the end of Chapter One. First, he wants us to thank God when we do endure suffering because we know that His loving, sovereign hand is behind each one. Secondly, he wants us to then live out Godliness in our relationships (these usually suffer during hard times). And finally, he wants us to trust God, believe that He is true, and then live out wisdom as we suffer and love one another.
I hope these words are helpful. Writing them innocently and reading them after much suffering experience has been good for me.
I pray the same for you.
You can find “The Gospel Protects Us” for download at
and in paperback at Lulu
I’m excited to announce that the second in “The Gospel…” series, “The Gospel Protects Us” will be available at Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, and Lulu tomorrow, Tuesday October 2nd. And the best news is that it will only be $.99.
Throughout the week, I will be posting clips and chapters from the book, but for now, let me explain the cover choice. The following is from the intro of the book. I hope you enjoy it.
I don’t know if the cover of this little book makes sense at first glance, and the fact that I’m explaining it may very well mean that it doesn’t. But this picture gives me great joy and explains a great deal about this book.
Inside, you’ll find my musings on the Book of James’ teachings about taking joy in trials, navigating relationships, and seeking the wisdom to handle them both. In there, I hope to emphasize that the Gospel of Jesus protects us through those things.
The cover image picture comes from an Egg Hunt our church put together for the Garner Police Department. Pictured are all three of my girls. You see Meredith in the middle looking out for Landry on the left. Landry is looking out for our youngest, Emma. They were protecting each other, and the image reminds me of how God does just that for us.
I hope you enjoy the image and the words that follow it.