Thursday, May 31, 2007

Back to the Basics

I love history. Which is one reason I love to travel and see museums and read historical plaques like the one above. Before leaving Salado Monday afternoon I took this picture outside the 1st Baptist Church which is right on the main drag. Susan and I had gone by there the evening before while on a walk. I was so fascinated by what I read on this plaque. (Please read it before you read my coments).

A few questions come to mind as I ponder this lesson from church history:

Can you imagine that revival down by the riverside mroe than 150 years ago? Must have been a scene like the baptism scene in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The gospel was preached, people came to faith in Christ, and confessed Jesus at their baptisms.

What would it be like to have gone to Brazil for mission work back in the 1880's? No jets. No long furlough trips. No e-mail. What amazing sacrifices this couple made!

What if today churches shared one building even though we were part of other denominations?

Do you think the believers back then were bothered by the name "Salado Baptist Church of Christ?" Were they more unity minded back then, not having splintered yet into Baptist and Church of Christ camps? Why can't we have that same unity in diversity today?

Why is it that Christians so often are motivated to start colleges? (Note all the connections of this church with Mary Hardin-Baylor College.) Later that day Susan and I went on a walking tour of Baylor University, named after a judge/preacher who gave the first $100 to establish a college in Waco. Is there something about our redemption in Christ that causes us to want to learn and better ourselves and help young people get an education and be productive citizens?

I love history. And I think it's so interesting what lessons we can apply to today when we read a sign like this one outside 1st Baptist Church. And don't you hope that one day when someone reads a history of your life they'll be inspired to live a life of deep significance in Christ?


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A field near Jarrell, Texas, south of Salado

Since last Friday, our internet server has not worked our office. Finally yesterday afternoon our tech support figured out that our router was bad. I felt so cut off from the world in not having the means to send or receive e-mail, and not being able to send my blog post. In fact, yesterday I had to go to all the trouble of actually calling a board member on the phone, rather than sending her an e-mail. Could you imagine that! Such inconveniences! : ) There are some advantages, however, of being disengaged from technology. Every weekend I take a break from blogs and e-mail. This practice gives me more time to talk with Susan and to read more extensively.

Over Memorial Day weekend we were blessed to go to Salado, Texas for three days and a couple nights at a B & B. Saturday morning, even when we were just a few miles out of town, heading south on Highway 84, we felt such relief in disengaging from our work. Susan had a particularly tough semester, including the death of her colleague of 17 years. And I always could use a break from the people-intense work that I have. I love my work, but do need to get away from it periodically.
I thought of how valuable it is to disengage from our routine. It's so refreshing for a marriage. And it has a way of clearing our minds and getting us to think through some issues of work and family. Spending time at a Starbucks Sunday afternoon in Georgetown was especially helpful. I spent a long time re-reading a chapter from Ruth Haley Barton's excellent Sacred Rhythms. Susan is reading it these days and told me that this particular chapter would speak to my soul. She was so right. I felt God speaking to me through her Barton's words as she guides the reader through a meditation on Psalm 139. You may think, "I can't afford to get away for a weekend. We don't have the money. Our kids are too young. My job needs me." But I would say that for your mental, spritual and relational health you cannot afford NOT getting away from your daily routine at times. Even if it's an afternoon at a park. Several hours at the library. Or an evening at Starbucks with a good friend. Jesus got away regularly to have times with His Father. He took His disciples away periodically from the crowds to spend time alone with them. I've found that if there is going to be any depth in my soul, any deep listening to the Father, I have to occasionally disengage from the crowds (and technology) in order to let Jesus speak into my life. To slow down and allow Him to remind me of His love, His will and that He is in control...and not me. Jim

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Tuesday night I was blessed to attend the wake of Brenda Van Dunk, a long-time Social Work professor at ACU. She succumbed to cancer after a seven year battle. One person told me after it was over, "Now I know the difference between a wake and a visitation."

At a visitation there is mainly socializing, viewing the body and hugging on the family. At Tuesday night's wake, it was a combined praise service and testimonial time. The Highland singers sang some hymns and we read some Scriptures. One friend of Brenda's sang a solo. The bulk of our time, however, was taking turns standing up and telling the crowd of how Brenda had impacted our lives. Social workers, fellow professors, nieces, professional colleagues, her students -- a variety of folks who were deeply influenced by Brenda's life had something positive to say. And most of them mentioned her deep faith in the Lord. One of my favorite testimonials was from a woman who went on and on about how Christ lived in her friend and then she said, "Brenda taught us how to die."

The next day was the funeral, held at New Light Baptist Church -- Brenda's second church home. It lasted two and a half hours. I loved it. I had never been to an African American funeral before. The choir and preaching and piano and organ music while Scripture was being read -- it was all good.

The last preacher (there were four of them) delivered a riveting message from John 14 - where Jesus tells His disciples of the new commandment He is giving to them, to love one another as He loves them (and us!). This preacher said that Brenda told him, "Don't talk about me at the funeral. Talk about love."

This morning as I reflected on this funeral and all the testimonies about how Brenda's faith in Jesus impacted so many people -- students, colleagues, young black girls she mentored, the community -- I realized that when someone dies we tend to realize what really matters in life.

What if at our own funeral they showed a Powerpoint presentation displaying the front of your house, the car we drove, our closet full of clothing and a balance sheet displaying our retirement and savings account? In contrast, what if the Powerpoint consisted entirely of photographs -- photos of people impacted by Jesus through us?

Children who grew up in Christian orphanages homes that we supported

People's faces of different color from various nations who heard the gospel and were saved because we supported missionaries that shared Christ with them.

Men and women who were once trapped in the grind of poverty but were able to escape because we gave to ministries to the poor.

Isn't that the kind of legacy that you want to leave behind? Makes me want to live in a way where I'm consumed with doing the Father's will -- every day.

I heard a song on my CD player on the way to work this morning that put a capstone on what I experienced these past two days at Brenda's wake and funeral:

"This is what I'm glad to do
It's time to live a life of love that pleases You

And I will give my all to You
Surrender everything I have and follow You.
I'll follow You."

Amen. Thank You, Father, for showing us the way of love in the Name of Jesus through the life of Brenda Van Dunk.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Overcoming Discouragement

At the end of an especially busy and stressful week at work, a friend of mine handed me a one page article titled, "12 Ways to Overcome Discouragement."

Saturday morning during a long quiet time I spent several minutes pondering this counsel in how to combat discouragement. Here are a few that I especially liked:

1. Know yourself.

What is it that replenishes you? To be with people? To go into solitude? Whatever it is that nourishes and replenishes your soul, take time to do so regularly. (For me, it's long periods of time alone -- reading and praying. This is one reason why I like to camp out at Starbucks periodically -- no e-mail, no phones, no interruptions!)

2. Reach Out for the Help of Others

My ego-drivennness keeps me from asking for help often enough. I must practice healthy delegation. And I need a spiritual guide with whom I can be gut level honest. This proverb really grabbed me the other day:

Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success."
-- Prov. 15:22.

As I heard John Maxwell once said, "Reach out and ASK someone."

3. Write Down Your Expectations

What do you expect for yourself, your children, your spouse, your church, etc. Then consider: Are these expectations realistic? Which are under my control? What are the highest in priority?

As someone once said, "For peace of mind, please resign as master of the universe."*

* Adapted from Renee S. Sanford, Tough Times

I think it's also important to recognized the source of discouragement. One of my favorite professors in a Bible school I attended 25 years ago once said, "The devil has all sorts of tools in his tool box. But his favorite one is discouragement."

I pray that if you are presently experiencing any sort of discouragement, you'll take the time to be replenished by the Lord, let your cup be refilled, and get realistic about your expectations.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. -- Romans 15:13


Monday, May 21, 2007

Staying Together

After attending two weddings on Saturday and then driving 7 hours back and forth to Dallas on Sunday for our niece's graduation, I've been reflecting on the power of long-term relationships. It was so cool to see the many Highland people attending both weddings -- for Adam Lott and Cami Porche, who grew up at Highland. We were then blessed to attend the graduation at Dallas Christian for Stepani Hutcheson, the youngest daughter of Susan's sister, Vanette. Afterwards we gathered at Vanette's house with lots of family members and a scrumptious meal from Pappasito's.

When you stay together in a nuclear family, extended family or local church, you reap so many benefits. You learn from the Lord how to forgive one another and receive forgiveness for how you hurt others you love. You see Christ at work through long-term commitments. The Holy Spirit refines us and transforms us into the image of Jesus in the rough and tumble world of shared joys, working through conflicts and mutual encouragement.

The idea of staying together especially has been on my heart lately because of some conflict we had to work through last week at the Service Center. We made some major changes in our receiving room which led to a bit of conflict, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. But praise be to the Lord, He is helping us work through these changes and stay together in love. And I believe we're becoming stronger after passing through this storm.

All of this makes me think of one line from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life. He stated that in a community of faith, we're going to inevitably hurt one another and sin against each other -- at times in unintentional ways. That's why we need to continue to forgive each other.

What a blessing that we are not only commanded by Jesus to continually love and forgive each other, but also promised the power of the Holy Spirit Who enables us to live this life of love.

And just think of how staying together in a Christian community -- even though we don't always agree and keep offending or being offended -- displays the beauty of our Savior's love.


Friday, May 18, 2007

This Side of the Cross

As I read a couple articles from the new Pray! magazine (one of my all time favorite journals) it got me thinking about the power of the cross in our interpersonal relationships.

The theme of this quarter's Pray! Magazine is "Better Promises," -- praying from this side of the cross. I had never thought of this before -- that prayer is so much different now when done so at the foot of the cross. God hasn't changed since He established the New Covenant. And yet our hearts certainly change when we enter into that new relationship with God.

Before going to bed I read one article about praying for our enemies, following our Lord's example. The writer pointed out that in the Old Testament "righteous men of God responded to their enemies with prayers of judgment and vengeance." But now, because Jesus "bore the full weight of our sin on the cross, we now have an understanding of mercy that believers under the Old Covenant did not... Because He who was without sin extended forgiveness to us, sinners all, we now have the grace to offer it to those who are against us."

And when we receive that grace in Jesus Christ, we now have the power of the Holy Spirit to give us the ability to love our enemies, forgive those who sin against us, and pray for those who have caused us harm.*

As I fell asleep thinking of how everything changes because of the cross, I felt such peace as I asked Jesus to forgive me of any resentment that I hold against others and to empower me with His Spirit to pray a blessing over those I need to forgive.

I'm just wondering how harmonious our relationships would be - at home, at work, in our interactions with the body of Christ -- if we allowed the lubricating oil of the Holy Spirit to transform us so that daily we would forgive and receive forgiveness from one another.


* "To Bless Instead" by Alice Bridge (Pray! Magazine, March/April 2007), pp. 34-35.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Complimenting the Living

As I was pulling out of the parking lot at ACU after our board meeting yesterday, I received a phone call from a friend. He asked if I heard the news: that Jerry Folwell had died. My first words to my friend were, "He stood boldly for the Lord and his convictions."

I noticed in the paper today how several people were quoted in the wake of Folwell's death. They all said something positive about him, even though they didn't agree with him in everything. Even the porn king, Larry Flynt, told of how he and Jerry met years after the lawsuit trial and became friends.

One of the stories that came to me immediately was what I heard Jim Bakker say. After his scandal with the PTL club that led him to a prison term, he received a visit from his friend Jerry. Jim told of how Folwell ministered to him so deeply.

I wasn't a big fan of Folwell's politics, but I did like to see and hear him preach on T.V. His focus was on Christ and he always urged people to accept Jesus as their Savior.

All of this brought this question to my mind: Why is it that too often we wait to say something nice about someone until they die? Why can't we compliment the living more?

It's so easy to be a critic and look for the bad in others. Quite frankly, it makes me feel proud when I criticize others. That is the snare of criticism. It can so easily lead to the sins of pride and

But to find something good to say about someone comes from a humble stance. And helps us take the high road of staying positive.

So I thank the Lord for the tremendous impact that He had through His servant, Jerry Folwell. And I pray that I'll look for the good in everyone around me so that I'll affirm them while they're still living...and learn something good from everyone I meet.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Wonderfully Made

Yesterday we had to be a bit creative for Mother's Day. Aaron was working all day Sunday as a waiter. Shannon had her tearful good bye with her boyfriend, Al, early in the morning after we made him breakfast.

After church we decided to join Aaron at work -- to let him wait on us at Outback Steakhouse for Mother's Day. Even though Susan didn't have both of our kids at the table, we were in a sense all together. And her heart was so full of joy.

During the meal we had a chance to catch up on Shannon's semester. She's finished her second year of pre-nursing and this fall enters the toughest part of this marathon as she spends her next two years at the nursing school next to Hendrick Hospital. Before our steaks came I casually mentioned something about salt in our diet. Shannon said, "Dad, do you know why salt causes high blood pressure?" She then launched into this detailed description of how the kidneys function and how salt attaches to water and impacts the blood stream and puts pressure on the blood vessels and thus impacts the heart.

I then asked her to tell Susan and me about what else she learned this semester in Anatomy and Physiology. She mentioned the various systems in our bodies -- skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive. The more she talked about the human body the more I was in awe of what complex creatures we are. And of course, the more in awe I became of our Creator in how He makes human beings. We truly are wonderfully made, as the psalmist says.

Very early this morning I woke up thinking of our amazing bodies and of how amazing the Lord is. Just think of all the things happening in my body right now as I tap away these words on this computer. My brain is directing my fingers to touch certain knobs on the key board while the optic nerve sends signals back to my brain.

And then to think that this amazing, Almighty God humbled Himself and became one of us. And then took our place on the cross so that we could one day live with Him forever in fellowship with Him -- in new, eternal, everlasting bodies. Wow!


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Praising Him While Reading His Word

As I thought more about the 20 minute worship challenge while doing my Bible reading this morning, the Lord drew me more into worshipping Him. While reading John 6, I found myself doing more than just rationally absorbing the contents of the story. Instead, I praised Jesus while reading of His miracle of feeding the thousands "Lord, You are the great miracle worker, You have all power in the universe" And then while reading of Jesus walking on the water and calming the hearts of His terrified disciples I praised Him for how He has the power to do anything...even calm our anxious hearts.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Twenty Minutes of Praise

Every once in a while I read an article that grips my soul and stays with me for several days. I usually copy such articles and pass them around to others since I want them to share the blessing I received from what I read. It happened again last Friday.

When my new copy of Discipleship Journal came ( my favorite journal along with Leadership), I quickly soaked up two articles. One of them has impacted me deeply the last few days. It's called "The 20 Minute Worship Challenge." Becky Harling tells of a major health scare that blew into her life with hurricane force... and how the gentle wind of a friend's words gave her some amazing peace amidst the storm. Becky writes:

"Becky, before you even open your Bible for morning devotions, will you offer God 20 minutes of worship?" That simple challenge...changed my life...The first morning, I put on some worship music, got down on my knees, and allowed the songs to prompt thoughts of praise to the Lord. To my surprise the 20 minutes flew by, and I found myself excited to worship again the next morning. In the second morning, I praised my way through the alphabet, worshiping God for His attributes that correlated with each letter...

As I intentionally incorporated praise into each day, I began to change. I grew more hopeful and less fearful. I experienced a deeper sense of God's love and goodness. Worry was replaced with calm, and anxiety with faith.

The day after reading this article, I took up Becky on her worship challenge. Quite honestly, I felt a little uncomfortable diverting from my routine of reading a portion of Scripture from my One Year Bible and then going through my prayer list. I wasn't used to beginning my day with worship. But then it hit me why I felt this way -- one reason was pride. The second reason was it took the attention off of myself. I felt the Lord convicting me of how my pride and self-centeredness (which are so closely entwined) had kept me from exalting Jesus in my prayer time. Too often my prayer time has been "give me" prayers: "Lord, please help me with this problem. Father, please do so and so in my children's lives."

But for the last few days I'm focusing on the majesty and glory and holiness of the Lord. And like Becky, I feel the Lord changing my heart. Life isn't all about's all about Him!

The last few mornings I've been using some Psalms to focus my attention on God and His worthiness to be praised. The first one I prayed was Psalm 92, which begins with these words of praise:

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening...

This morning at our devotional at the Service Center, I read portions of this article, and then led us in praise as I prayed portions of Psalms 92-93. It was a holy moment as we spent our prayer time totally focused on the majesty of Almighty God.

May I invite you to join me in this 20 minute worship challenge? If you decide to do this, please let your fellow bloggers know how the Lord gave you a vision of His awesome nature, and in doing so how He changed your heart.

He truly is worthy to be praised.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Best Friends...Priceless

Gasoline -- $30

Parking -- $12

Ticket to the Game -- $53 (paid by a friend)

Food, Bottled water, coffee -- $10

Spending 10 hours time with my dear friend, Randy Becton -- Priceless.

Even though we had to drive through a heavy thunderstorm, arrive at our seats on the third base line for the Ranger- Yankees game before the officials announced that we needed to head to the basement for over an hour due to a huge storm that hit the ballpark, and finally headed home after the game was postponed until the next day, we still had a wonderful time.

Sharing with other our memories, challenges, funny stories and dreams -- while riding in a car for a total of 6 hours -- really made it all worth it for Randy and me.

There's something about leaving town for a few hours to spend some windshield time with either your spouse or a good friend that just can't be matched by time spent in the daily routines of life.

Yes, we were disappointed about that game being rained out. And yet any time spent with a close friend is always, well, priceless.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Extending Grace to Ourselves

I recommend that you read "Balmanza"'s comment on my last post -- "Knee Deep in Prayer." Great story!

What is it about how we tend to punish ourselves when we do something wrong? I have a bad habit of what my wife calls "self-castigation." It happened again this morning. Noticing that I was late getting to work, I tried to carry a glass, empty bowl of cereal, a plate and my coffee mug from the bathroom to the kitchen sink. As I started to place all these items on the counter, the plate slipped out of my hand and shattered on the floor. This made me even later...and mad at myself for trying to do too much at once.

The same thing happened a week or so ago when I lost an envelope of money with about $20 in it. After going back to the two stores where I had been, then scouring through my truck looking in every nook and cranny, I found nothing. When I got home that night I told Susan how stupid I had been in losing that money. Susan, in the grace-filled way she is, said, "Jim, it's only $20. Please don't punish yourself over a few lost dollars."

Do you struggle like I do being pretty good at extending grace to others and then being so hard on yourself when you fail, when you sin? Why do we do this? Is it a desire to be perfect? (which is so unrealistic) Do we want to put on this image before others that we appear to have it all together (which is so prideful)?

Jesus isn't hard on His children. He doesn't punish us at our slightest step out of bounds. He doesn't shame us for not having it all together. Though He does not approve of our sin, He continues to wash us clean and accept us because of His amazing love and His atoning sacrifice for our sins. He has taken care of the punishment of our sins on the cross. So we certainly don't need to try to atone for our sins through self-punishment.

I guess I need to keep believing that my Savior, my Father, my friend continues extending grace to me, His beloved child...and that He loves for me to not only give grace to others but accept it for myself.

And I just have a feeling that when we let those around us see that we're not hard on ourselves, that we accept the fact that we're imperfect, and that even as a saved person we still sin some and yet trust in His forgiveness, we're letting them see a powerful witness to the grace of God found solely in Christ.