Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Roundup 5 years later - I didn't know what I was getting myself into!
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

This week marks the 5th anniversary of TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, originally titled TBC Midweek Baptist Roundup. TBC published the first issue on Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

I didn't know what I was getting myself into - a commitment that I would need to fulfill every week before I could rest. And that's no exaggeration! I have published the Roundup from Hong Kong (in September 2011, when Joanna and I were there visiting her family); and Israel (in April 2012, when we went there with a group from Wilshire & Temple Emanu-El in Dallas).

From April-June 2013, following our son's stroke, I was spending 15-16 hours a day in hospitals, so I published the Roundup from a number of hospital rooms for those 2-1/2 months. In the stress of that trying time, the Roundup was my therapy, my 'salvation,' if you will. And many of you joined us in praying for Travis's recovery, and we are deeply grateful for your prayers and concern. Three years later, Travis is doing well and ready to go back to work (in other words, he's looking).

But it IS a commitment, one that I feel very keenly. That May 11, 2011, issue was opened by 482 people; at present, around 800 people are opening the Roundup every week, and about 1,500 open at least one issue every five weeks. Over the past 5 years, as I've attended conferences throughout Texas and other states, I can count on several people coming up to me during the conference to tell me how much they appreciate reading the Roundup every week. So I have a commitment to people who are counting on finding the Roundup in their email every week.

In those 5 years, the Roundup has evolved drastically in content and format, but then so has the world of Baptist news and opinion, especially opinion, as the number of Baptist bloggers & op-ed sites has grown by leaps and bounds.

By a quirk of scheduling fate, the May 11, 2011 issue and the 5th anniversary issue coming up this Saturday share an almost identical item - in May 2011, we promoted, in Upcoming Baptist Events, the Baptist History & Heritage Society Conference being held in Texas, specifically at Dallas Baptist University. So, too, here in May 2016, we are promoting the upcoming Baptist History & Heritage Society Conference to be held in Texas; this one will be May 23-25 at Baylor University's Truett Seminary in Waco.

I began the Roundup with the purpose of keeping the name of Texas Baptists Committed in front of a wide audience every week, but it quickly became much more than that, as I realized its usefulness as a forum for promoting the good things going on in Baptist life and various opportunities for Baptists both to serve and to be served in their time of need.

So I added Did you know . . . ?, in which we highlight various Baptist resources and opportunities; and sections of student news, both in Texas and beyond, to highlight what our Baptist students and schools are doing. Of course, from the beginning, there was Upcoming Baptist Events to keep people informed of events both in Texas and elsewhere and provide links to schedules and registration.

From time to time, I receive requests to promote a special event or other newsworthy Baptist item, and I try to fulfill those requests whenever possible. I appreciate the opportunity.

What has been most fulfilling to me, as I read upwards of 75-80 articles each week for inclusion in the Roundup, is that I have been encouraged by the good things that Baptists are doing - disaster relief; advocacy on issues that affect the "least of these," such as payday loans and human trafficking; mission efforts at home and far afield, meeting the most desperate human needs in the name of Christ; and in-depth theological education, to name just a few. And I've been similarly encouraged by the good things that Baptists are writing - opinion and analysis articles that challenge Baptists to carry out the Gospel of Christ, that challenge us to go deeper in reading Scripture, to go beyond the comfortable understandings of faith that we grew up with.

My wife and I are members of a Sunday School class in which we all push each other's buttons. We challenge each other's suppositions and presuppositions, and we usually come out with more questions than answers, but that's good, because we have something to chew on all week; the discussion sets us to thinking. The Opinion and Analysis section of the Roundup seems to picture a similar discussion. The disparate perspectives show us that Baptists can't be pigeonholed; the old saw that 'where two Baptists gather, three opinions sit between them' may be inadequate these days. And that's a good thing! It shows the Holy Spirit uniquely at work in each of us.

I enjoy bringing all of this content together - or 'aggregating,' which I was recently advised is what I'm doing - but the real work is done before I get started. The real work is done by all of those reporters, editors, op-ed writers, bloggers, and other news service staffers who prepare all of this content upfront. All I do is link to it. So TBC and I - and you Roundup readers - owe a great debt to all of these who do such excellent work, week in and week out, and I say thank you to all of them.

Finally, thank you to all who read the Roundup regularly and especially to those who have made a point of expressing your appreciation to me. It means a lot.

Now, on we go to the next 5 years!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Remembering Dan Williams: Vignettes from a friendship
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Dan Williams passed away last week, after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Any attempt to pay tribute to one who has meant so much to so many is bound to be feeble at best, but I need to try. I want to convey our friendship in "snapshots" of my encounters & experiences with Dan over the years.

Dan Williams was first and foremost an encourager who faced his share of challenges and met them head-on with faith, love, hope, and humor, qualities with which he blessed everyone he met.

I met Dan almost 15 years ago, and we became good, close friends in short order. In the fall of 2001, I heard that the Texas Baptist Laity Institute (TBLI) would be conducting training for "mentors" (TBLI's name for teachers) at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. Being interested in getting more actively involved in Baptist life, I thought this sounded like a good opportunity.

Dan Williams was TBLI's president and facilitated the training. After an opening general session, we broke off into workshops for training on specific courses that we were interested in teaching. I chose the workshop that focused on my greatest passion - Baptist Distinctives, which was led by Bill Pinson, who had developed the course.

One requirement to be certified as a TBLI mentor was endorsement by two ministers from your home church. That was no problem; I went to my pastor and music minister, and they were pleased to endorse me. However, when I showed my pastor the syllabus for the Baptist Distinctives course, he firmly instructed me, "I don't want you teaching that stuff about the SBC controversy here."

So I decided not to teach any courses at that church. If I could not teach ALL of the course, then I would not teach ANY of it.

Discouraged, I called Dan. He assured me that he would find me a place where I could teach freely. Discouragement had a short life in the presence of Dan Williams.

Several other visits with Dan spring to mind:
  • In the summer of 2004, Joanna and I left that church in Plano, where I had tried for 17 years to inform and educate people on Baptist principles and the dangers of Fundamentalism, with a spectacular lack of success. We wound up joining Wilshire in Dallas, where we are still members today. However, before deciding, we also visited First Baptist, Richardson, where Dan and Anita were members. We visited Anita's Sunday School class. Joanna and I had barely entered the room before Dan and Anita's son, Nathan, greeted us and made us feel more welcome than I've ever experienced in visiting a church for the first time. Nathan has that encourager "gene," too!
  • That August, Dan and I met for coffee. As we sat and talked, Dan told me that he had arranged for me to teach TBLI's Church History course at First Baptist, Richardson, in the spring of 2005. However, Dan also informed me that, though he had not yet made it public, he would soon be resigning as president of TBLI.
I taught two courses - Church History and Baptist Distinctives - over the next two years at FBC Richardson and Wilshire. It was a rewarding experience, and I came to appreciate the work that both Dan and his successor, Linda Cross, did through TBLI.
  • In late 2007, Dan was called as pastor to First Baptist Church, Shawnee, Oklahoma. Shortly before he and Anita left Texas, Dan and I met for coffee, and I gave this Baylor grad a quick "primer" on Shawnee and my alma mater, Oklahoma Baptist University, albeit from a perspective of 30+ years earlier. Not sure how helpful I was, but Dan enjoyed my attempt to educate him on the "OBU culture."
It was bittersweet, though, as Dan and I had met fairly regularly at this La Madeleine Cafe in Plano for coffee and conversation, and this would be the last time.
  • I went up to Shawnee in November 2008 for Homecoming; it was the 35th anniversary reunion of my 1973 graduating class. That Saturday afternoon, Dan and I met for coffee at one of his favorite Shawnee hangouts, McAlister's Deli. It turned out that Nathan worked there, though he wasn't working this particular afternoon. One of the young managers came over and told Dan that Nathan had been named employee of the month; Dan just beamed.
That evening, at the Homecoming Musical Gala in Raley Chapel, I sat with Dan and Anita; afterwards, Dan introduced me to David Whitlock, then only recently installed as OBU's new president.
The next morning, I worshipped at First Baptist (where I had been a member during my freshman year at OBU 39 years earlier). My best memory of that morning was Dan sitting on the chancel steps doing the children's sermon, and the children's obvious love for "Pastor Dan." Seeing the joy with which he bantered with the kids, I got the feeling that this might be just about his favorite part of pastoring.
  • In 2010, Dan and Anita were called to another place with special meaning for Joanna and me - Hong Kong. (Joanna was born and raised in Hong Kong.) Dan served International Baptist Church as pastor. In September 2011, we took a trip to Hong Kong to spend time with Joanna's sister, Betty, and her family.
On Sunday, September 11, Joanna and I visited International Baptist Church, and went to lunch with Dan and Anita afterwards. We had a great visit, with Dan and Anita sharing about their experience there, and Joanna sharing her own special memories of Hong Kong. We were pleased to hear that their experience in Hong Kong was such a positive one; they were loving that church, and the church loved them.
  • The last time I saw Dan was November 2014, when he attended our Texas Baptists Committed Breakfast at the BGCT annual meeting in Waco. He sat next to me, and it was wonderful to visit with him.
Earlier today, I went through our email exchanges from over the years. There wasn't a negative word about anyone in those emails, just a common thread of encouragement, love, and occasional flashes (some "hot," as you'll see) of humor.

A few nuggets:

  • Baptist life
    • "Diversity is a grand thing. Many Baptists used to know that. We have 16 nationalities at IBC." (International Baptist Church, Hong Kong)
    • "Tell the gang, in spite of being in Hong Kong I will always be a Texas Baptists Committed person at heart." ("the gang" refers to the TBC Board)

  • Family
    • (Upon sharing that, following a visit to Texas, he and Anita had returned to Hong Kong without Nathan, who had been accepted into an assisted living workshop for special needs adults) "I had no idea he would be accepted and move right in while we were in Texas. I am grieving because of our good relationship, and I miss him terribly."

  • His health
    • (In an email to a number of friends after his prostate cancer had returned) "Paul puts the way I feel this way in Romans 8: 26 ff. 'In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.' Thank you all for being the kind of friends and family we can call on and count on to pray for this process."
    • "I am on a hormone blocker, and the worst of the side effects is HOT FLASHES! All I can say is, 'Set my soul afire, LORD!' I told Anita in a moment of humor that she would be pleased in having a new soprano in the church choir! She laughed! We both did."

    This week, a friend of Dan and Anita's posted to Facebook a video clip of Dan, Anita, and their family singing The New 23rd Psalm only weeks before Dan's death. I've watched it several times, and I cry every time. It's overwhelming to see such faith lived out in the face of death. Watching them sing "Even when walking through the dark valley of death . . . valley of death . . . I will never be afraid for He is close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way," I see a living picture of the victory that we have in Christ, the hope that doesn't just "spring" eternal, it IS eternal.
    Tomorrow we will gather - family and friends - at First Baptist Church of Austin, to celebrate the life of Dan Williams and to mourn our loss. But our loss is only temporary. A reunion is in our future!

    Thanks be to God for the life of Dan Williams and for letting me know him as my friend for these past 15 years. Thanks be to God for the influence and example of Dan Williams, not only as a minister of the Gospel, but for the example he set as a loving husband and father, and for the wife and children who are his greatest testimony, as well as the many others whose lives he has touched through the years with Christ's grace . . . and for the way that he showed us to both live and die - with faith, love, hope, and humor. Thanks be to God!

    Discerning the Law (Mark 2:23-27)
    by Dan Williams

    (Dan Williams, longtime pastor and former president of the Texas Baptist Laity Institute, passed away on April 28 after a long battle with prostate cancer. Dan wrote the following as a Lenten devotional a few years ago while serving as pastor of International Baptist Church in Hong Kong.)

    A tornado was once spotted in West Texas. Two boys were missing. The search began. Finally, the parents heard noises coming from the washroom. Entering, they saw their sons in the tub splashing around. “What are you doing?” screamed the parents. The older brother reminded the parents of two rules in their home. One was never enter the tub without taking a bath. The second was when you hear the siren, find your brother and get into the tub for shelter.

    The Sabbath was pronounced a day of rest (Exodus 20:8) for the same reason a field was “fallowed” every seven years (Exodus 23:11). People and land need a break. Obedience requires discernment. Discernment helps us know when to hold on to the letter of the law and when to acknowledge the spirit, doing the right thing.

    For reflection:
    1. Are there mutually exclusive rules in your life?
    2. Are you tempted to hold others to the “letter” of the law, while enjoying the “spirit” of the law?
    Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for being such a powerful example of how to keep both faith and practice true, while being sensitive to particular situations and the greatest needs at hand. Forgive us for our lack of discernment.

    Saturday, April 16, 2016

    Remembering my baptism - 55 years ago tonight
    by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

    I was baptized 55 years ago this evening. April 16, 1961, at First Baptist Church, Richardson, Texas.

    55 years ago! To put that in perspective, here are a few things going on in the world around that time:

    • John F. Kennedy had been inaugurated less than 3 months earlier; an inauguration, by the way, that I watched on TV along with my classmates in Mrs. McClearin's 4th-grade class at Spring Valley Elementary School. (We all crowded around a TV wheeled into the room, probably a 13-inch screen. Black-and-white, of course!)
    • Only four days earlier, on April 12, Yuri Gagarin of the USSR had become the first human in space. It would be almost three weeks before Alan Shepard's suborbital flight on May 5 would make him the first American in space. Later in May, President Kennedy would announce a goal of reaching the moon before the end of the decade.
    • The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba would begin the very next day, April 17 (and end in disaster two days later).
    • Legendary actor Gary Cooper would die almost a month later, on May 13.
    I had walked the aisle to profess faith in Christ the previous Sunday evening, April 9. It was almost a month after my 10th birthday on March 14. I would have done it long before, but I was deathly afraid of water. To this day, I'm not a swimmer; took lessons at the YMCA when I was a kid, but I just never got the hang of it.

    Anyway, I had a nightmare the Friday night before that. Suffice it to say that the dream involved my family and me gathering with others to be taken up to heaven; at the last moment, I realized I had forgotten to bring my dog with me. (I had had her only a few months; her predecessor had been killed by a car out on the road next to our house, an incident that was obviously still fresh in my mind.) Yes, it made about as much sense as most dreams, which is NOT MUCH, but I woke up in a cold sweat and realized that I - not my dog - was the one who was going to be "left behind."

    Mother heard me screaming and came in to see what was wrong. As best I can recall, Mother helped me come to a decision that night that it was time for me to go public with my profession of faith. It was my decision, but she helped me think it through.

    So I walked the aisle on Sunday evening, April 9th. LLOYD CLOUD, our pastor, was away that Sunday, so a retired preacher in our church, BROUGHTON MORGAN, greeted me as I reached the front that evening. He did something I had never seen before that; since I was the only one responding to the invitation that night, he spent several minutes asking me about my profession of faith, and in essence letting me testify to the congregation. I thought that was kind of neat, and it made the experience more meaningful than it would have been otherwise.

    The following Sunday evening, April 16, Lloyd Cloud baptized me. And my fear of water betrayed me; my feet were supposed to be hooked under the stool at the bottom of the baptismal pool, but I must have panicked and flailed as he lowered my head into the water, because my feet wound up coming out of the water, causing not a few snickers from the congregation.

    In school the next morning, one my classmates who also went to our church announced to the rest of the class, "Bill got dunked last night!"

    Well, it's been quite a journey ever since:
    • Growing up in Kansas City, MO, with my world revolving largely around Youth Choir and other youth activities at church
    • Deciding, when I was around 14 or 15, that God was calling me into the music ministry; I was blessed with a music minister, JOE RUST, who encouraged me, gave me opportunities, and mentored me
    • Entering Oklahoma Baptist University in the fall of 1969 with a faith that was certain but shallow, knowing I had all the answers
    • Getting all that certainty - and faith - knocked out of me in one fell swoop one morning in Western Civilization class, in November of my sophomore year; one statement by a professor exposed all those doubts I had been suppressing
    • Abandoning the Church Music program, switching my degree away from ministry, and beginning a long, difficult search for truth I could believe in, a faith that was my own instead of my parents' or my pastor's
    It was a long way back to Christ, but my testimony is that God never gave up on me, and He helped me to not give up on Him. But it was a difficult struggle to learn the difference between certainty and faith.

    My parents never gave up on me, either. I know they were praying for me and they must have agonized over me, but they never pressured me. Daddy even admitted to me that he had gone through something similar when he was young, so he understood that this was something I had to figure out on my own.

    Friends in the dorm - especially RON RUSSEY and CARY WOOD - challenged me in late-night bull sessions and helped me to learn how to think through the very knotty issues of faith. Ron pointed me to the pastor at University Baptist Church across the street, JERRY BARNES. I went to see Jerry, was totally truthful with him - that at that point, I didn't believe in God, much less Jesus as His Son - and what do you think Jerry said? "Come join our church." Because Jerry knew I needed to be in church regularly, and his preaching challenged me to dig deep, like no preaching had ever done before. Once a semester, I would meet with him in his study, and he would help me with the next steps of my journey.

    It took over 5 years before I could again accept Christianity intellectually, but it was still a very gradual process from there - taking several more years - for me to be able to again make a true faith commitment.

    It's interesting for me to look back on it. I don't fully understand it all. But less than 10 years after my baptism, God saw that my faith wasn't worth much, and that such a shallow faith would lead to an unproductive, even counterproductive, ministry. If there's one thing I have no doubt about, it's that it was God who used that Western Civ professor, Dr. BILL MITCHELL, to knock the props out from under my shallow faith. Thanks be to God He didn't leave me where I was in November 1970.

    And the journey continues. Fifty-five years since my baptism - and over 45 years since that fateful day in Western Civ - God continues to reveal Himself to me in new and surprising ways. Though I never completed a degree in ministry (my degree is in music education, which I haven't used professionally, because teaching was never really what I wanted to do), and never went to seminary, God has seen fit to lead me along the way, deepen my faith, give me certain passions (such as commitments to Baptist principles and to Christian ethics), and then provide me with ministry opportunities along the lines of my passions. Remarkable ministry and leadership opportunities for which I could have never imagined myself suited, for which I never even knew to ask.

    Early on in that journey, God blessed me with JOANNA, with whom I'll celebrate 40 years of marriage in September. We've grown in faith together during those years, and I'm blessed that we are still making that journey together.

    Thanks be to God for His faithfulness, perseverance, and steadfast love.