Saturday, March 10, 2012

Our Living Portraits Update

                                        Jim & Virginia as Luther Rice and Annie Armstrong
Our ministry through "Living Portraits" is beginning to "rev-up" for a season. 

We've just appeared as 19th and 20th century missionaries Luther Rice and Annie Armstrong at a senior luncheon at Valley Springs Baptist (Arkansas), with a return invite this coming Wednesday for a "rerun" before the congregation.  Of course, this is the time of year for Southern Baptist congregations to take an Easter Offering for North American Missions, and as its namesake - Miss Armstrong, is one of Virginia's persona, she begins to be in demand. 

As Luther Rice, I do a bit of first person prelude and introduce her.  We do enjoy this part of our ministry together, as we "lace" together various missionary personalities to further the Great Commission's mission message.  Luther Rice was one of the first foreign missionaries to be sent out from the U. S. to Asia in 1812.  He along with Adoniram Judson and 3 others sailed through French blockades and other ocean threats to become America's first mission advance.  Arriving in Calcutta, India, they met and were aided by English Baptist Missionary William Carey.  It was then, as the Judsons went on to Burma to open the work, that Rice returned to the U.S. to spend the rest of his life as the "rope-holder" for his colleagues, establishing missionary societies and ultimately, laying the groundwork for the establishment of the Southern Baptist Convention and its Cooperative Program for funding missionary advance.

Sharing her arrival on the scene 14 years after Rice's death, I introduced Miss Annie Walker Armstrong to take the floor and relate her story.  Born in 1850 in Baltimore, Maryland, this lady grew up to become a passionate force for missionary advance in the United States.  Beginning with local leadership in teaching children, she became involved in a wider circle of mission influence on the state level, and finally became the Corresponding Secretary of the Woman's Missionary Union, serving in that position from 1888-1906.  She traveled across the U. S. and challenged churches and individuals regarding missionary support, supplying them with information on needs, and kept contact with missionaries through her tireless correspondence.  Besides this, a passionate writer, she wrote years of Sunday School material that were published and used throughout the nation.  Her spirit and example led the organization to give the special offering her name a number of years later.

And the beat goes on....
Besides these two, this spring has already found us booking both impromptu, as well as, some long range schedules.  As a member of the local Writer's Group at North Arkansas College, where I am an adjunct instructor for Old and New Testament courses, I was asked to share with the group on the subject of RESEARCH for writing.  I decided to do so in another persona, as author and humorist Mr. Mark Twain, a favorite role for some 12 years.  Blending materials from those of knowledgable expertise on the subject with that I've used from my character studies of Mr. Twain, I pray we were able to bring new insight into the minds of our group of blossoming authors.

April will see Virginia and I again resurrecting our well used personas of George and Martha Washington, characters we have portrayed together since 1996 in and variety of venues.  We have a schedule to perform at two schools in the area on the same day, requiring us to drive between them in costume.  It occurs to me each time we do such, that if stopped by reason of our unusual "appearance" in wig and dress, if we might be cited for driving without a license that resembles us at the moment.  Needless to say, we do get the stares when people see us stopped at traffic lights!  Ah, the joys and humor we find along the way!

As I close these few lines, let me share with you what you can do to help us in our ministry.  Obviously, we are open as we have time available, to accept other invitations, and we welcome that.  However, we covet your prayers for us most of all.  We feel deeply that this ministry gives people a first-hand "touch" with some of the greats of our Christian heritage.  Even Mark Twain and his wife Olivia have challenging words for consideration, and as such, a ministry to share through our portrayals.  So, pray for us as we continue on mission for our Lord! 

As always, I pray we have been an encouragement to you today!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


We're leaving tomorrow for another "dramatic" weekend.  This time our traveling companions are George Mueller and Lottie Moon.  For those new to us I must explain.  Virginia and I have, since 1996, been involved in a personal ministry called, "LIVING PORTRAITS".  We portray different historical personalities in a variety of venues, every place from public schools, to community events, to church and Baptist convention events.  Our repetoire includes George and Martha Washington, Mark and Olivia Twain, as well as, a group of missionaries and Christian leaders from the past, and have even put together special character presentations on request.  William Carey, Luther Rice, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Fanny Crosby, John Newton, Horatio Spafford and George Mueller are our most frequently used. 

Lottie Moon was one of the first single missionaries appointed by our denomination to the country of China - 1873 to 1912.
She gave her life to that work until she became very ill from malnutrition (sharing her food with her Chinese friends) and started home, only to die aboard ship in Japan.  A Christmas time offering for world-wide missions was given her name and so remains today.  Virginia portrays this lady very effectively to promote those offerings and the missionary spirit that is needed in every Christian's life.  We love traveling with "Lottie".

George Mueller is our other "traveler".  George was a Prussian who, after his conversion, moved to England to ultimately follow a call to begin the first Christian orphanage in that country which was experiencing many deaths from plagues, with resulting orphans with no care.  He began the first home in 1835 and was still involved in it when he died in 1898.  His claim to fame came because of his intense passion for prayer and his unswerving faith in God to provide for his needs and those of the children in his care.  His challenge was to pray based on the mind and will of God.  Studying and meditating upon God's will, maintaining an upright heart and conscience, not shrinking from that which tried his faith, and letting God be the redeemer were his well-used tools to discover God's mind.  Yes, George is also a good traveling companion!  As I step into his character, it is always my prayer that such character will stay with me when I remove the costume and return to my own century.

Pray for us as we travel to spread faith, prayer and missions to others who need such a call.

Be encouraged, my friends, in your faith, in your prayers, as you, too, move into a spirit of missions!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


                                                    "The New Jerusalem" in Pastel Chalk

Preaching through Revelation has been a great challenge, especially with the descriptions that John uses in sharing his vision of those things which earthly language cannot hope to adequately portray.  When I reached Revelation 21's passage on the New Jerusalem coming down, I knew I'd met my challenge.  There is nothing quite like the Scriptures alone for doing it justice, so I opted to build a sermon around the reading of the Word, music related to the theme, and art in the form of pastel chalk on textured mat board.
I "painted" my interpretation of the descriptions while the Scriptures were being read by selected members, and as....

...coordinated congregational hymns and special music were presented.  In this way, the whole congregation was a part of the experience.

For music, the songs "The Holy City" - "Heaven Came Down" - "When We All Get to Heaven" - "Heavenly Sunlight" and "Jerusalem" were used to highlight the service. 

It was my first attempt at a chalk drawing before a group in a confined time, but I found that the drawing I opted to use fit the normal time I usually plan for my sermon on Sunday mornings.  The response of the congregation?  Well, my planned-for experience was not disappointing - their comments indicated that the different approach and visualizing the Scriptures was a refreshing change of pace.

As I told the congregation in my introduction to the service, there was no way to fully describe the New Jerusalem on the small sheet, so I selected just a portion of the corner of the "city" wall.  Imagine trying to paint the whole of John's description on one canvas!  Revelation 21 describes this magnificient city of the redeemed of all the ages as being 1500 miles long, 1500 miles wide and 1500 miles high.  (To get an idea of the size, imagine a city that stretches from Arizona eastward to almost the Alantic coast, and from the Canadian border to almost the southern tip of Texas!)  And it's walls w 240 feet high, with 12 gates, 3 on a side, will each be attended by an angel.  Now that's a city to look forward to!

One commentator's evaluation indicated that given the projection of the numbers of believers from all ages who will reside there, each might have the equivalent of 75 acres, "cubed", as their "room" in the forevers of eternity.  Jesus did say that in His Father's house are many mansions or rooms and that He was going to prepare them for His disciples. (John 14:2) 

In the words of the songwriter of "Jerusalem":

"Jerusalem, I want to walk your streets that are golden
And I want to run where the angels have trod
Jerusalem, I want to rest on the banks of your river
In that city, city of God!"

Consider this.  This world with the calamities of nature's rebellion against the curse brought by man's sin gives many little hope of life without fear. Couple this with the outright damage man brings to man and the earth through his continued rebellion against the God Who gave him life and a pristine world to dominate (not destroy), and life becomes for many an impossible task.  It is in this, however, that God's Word gives us a hope that can conquer every fear and be a source to overcome every task.  Can we not take joy each day in the coming new creation God has promised to those who would trust Him and accept His grace-filled gift of eternity in His New Jerusalem?

It is my prayer that you will.  Be encouraged, my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ!  I'll see you here, there, or in the air on the way!  Praise the Lord Who promises!

Monday, May 2, 2011


Ever since I was a youngster on the farm, and perhaps before, I can recall one pasttime that I truly enjoyed.  It was drawing or painting things from my imagination or from what I saw around me in nature.  As I grew older, this delight never left.  I took painting in college and almost completed an Art Minor.  Since then, I have tried to continue this passion, though for long periods of time I was so wrapped up in other tasks in my calling as minister and missionary, I've hardly done a brushstroke at all.  With retirement, though tasks seem still a'plenty, last year I began picking up a brush and trying my somewhat older hand at putting color and shapes on canvas once again.  My results, though perhaps not on a measure with many who've plied the trade for years, have given me a new sense of satisfaction in being able to create and in so doing, portray what our Creator and Master Artist has so beautifully painted in the world around us.  I humbly put before you three pieces that I've put in a local Art show for the month of May.  I trust they will be a blessing and share a message of encouragement with you.
                                                         BEEING YOUR BEST SELF
The title of this piece is somewhat obvious.  I posted the photo I took of this a few posts back, and then decided to paint it.  It's an Israeli Bee on a flower I saw while in Ceasarea, Israel a year ago.  It spoke to me about the importance of BEING rather than DOING as representative of who I am and should be each day.  The basics of who I am should not be governed by what I do as much as who "I Be" if you will pardon my grammar.  What I do should be a reflection of who I am and not the other way around.  Consider, if for some reason I cannot continue "doing" certain things for whatever reason, will I cease to be?  Not logical.  In the light of this, I have determined to BE what God has purposed for me to BE.  The BEE of the painting is BEING itself, as it has been purposed by God.  What it does comes from what and who it is, doing it with the very best of its ability.  That's what I want to BEE, as well.

The next canvas was painted from a photo I took in our backyard during one of our heavy snows a couple of years ago, minus the "eight-pointer" I added for effect.  I call it:
                                                              "THE SENTINEL"
As I considered the large knarled tree that stands so resolute amid its smaller fellows on the slope behind our house, I noted first that it certainly older than all others around.  Secondly, its limbs and branches had evidence of withstanding the violence of many winds, at times breaking and losing a little of itself each time, however, still standing strong.  As the snow fell and I was compelled to reach for my camera, I saw yet another scene come into play.  It was as though the whiteness of heaven was given to it like a king's robe and crown.  It's steadfastness of patient watchfulness had won for it that which would grace its massive and sometimes broken form.  I added the "buck" with its antlers as an added symbol of the tree-like SENTINEL character of the tree.  My own life has been planted in the soil that God has prepared for my task, too, for you see I am called to be a watchman, a sentinel to warn of the dangers which may be near.  I am called to be patient, and regardless of my increasing age and lessening "limberness of limb", I am to be a steadfast and faithful SENTINEL of Jesus Christ, my Lord.  I am told that one day that as a faithful servant, I too, will be given a white robe and crown!

The last painting I show you comes from a passage of scripture I have long remembered from a sermon I heard an evangelist preach many years ago.  I call this painting:
                                          "CONTENDING WITH JORDAN'S HORSES"
The passage of Scripture is Jeremiah 12:5, "If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?"  I have found a rich resource in studying horses over the last few months and have painted two other pieces featuring them.  There is something very majestic in what God has designed in these animals.  I recall an illustration that uses the horse to describe the essence of submitted will.  A horse that is tamed still has every bit of its power intact, however, it has chosen to yield to the master who holds the reins.  Now the passage here reveals horses that are still yet untamed and therefore fully in charge of their power, which with a herd, is sizable indeed.  Jeremiah's question rings out to those who are growing weary already in life's race, and as yet have only faced the challenge of other runners.  I confess that I feel that way often myself, however, the race is not yet completed.  And considering the last phrases of the passage, in comparison to what may lie beyond my sight, my life has been in relative peaceful conditions.  Now the serious question is ask!  When the race is levered up to the speed and power of horses, or when the waters of strife rise higher, how will I cope? With Paul I must confess, "I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters! We can run the race! And I have read the back of the Book and we WIN!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Living Lord's Supper

A 2011 Portrayal of "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci

For the fifth time, three times in Bangkok and twice here in my church, we have coordinated the dramatic presentation of "The Last Supper" as painted by Leonardo da Vinci.  Last evening's event was held in the midst of a stormy Ozark night.  Despite the weather, one hundred persons attended, and all expressed how much the experience helped them to catch a vision of what happened almost 2000 years ago, as our Lord entered His last few hours prior to His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.  Indeed, the drama portrayed is in reality a drama in which we still participate today.

Like these disciples who sat with Him and heard His strong and strange words, we, too, recognize that His life purpose goes beyond just having life in this world filled with good times.  His was a objective motivated by love for man and the Father's will for man's redemption.  It was toward this end that His focus was concentrated.  Because of this, our acknowledgement of His Sonship, death, burial and resurrection, and our repentance and faith in Him enables that objective to be realized in us.

It is my prayer that this Easter's celebration of His resurrection will draw many into the life-drama that He lived, bringing about His life in many.  Be encouraged, fellow believers, He Who was raised and ascended into Heaven, will truly come in like manner as He left.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Friday, April 1, 2011


Ah, APRIL FOOLS' DAY! A day where lies and liars abound, where would-be "court jesters" let their proverbial "hair" down! A day of practical jokes and pranks that, hopefully, will be forgotten and forgiven when the 2nd of April makes its appearance! 
                                                           In our front yard, no foolin'!

A few weeks ago, three of our grandsons were spending a week with us, a time we truly enjoy.  These boys know that their grand "POOHPA" is prone to practical jokes, April 1st or no! I decided that since the boys would not be with us on this special day for such, I would do an advance.   Knowing their inbred proclivity to all things "deer hunting" and such, and because our yard is a favorite hangout for creatures of this nature, I went into the den, their hangout, which overlooks the backyard, and exclaimed excitedly, "boys, there's an 8-point buck behind the house!" 

The scramble was on as they ran to the windows.  "Where?" they exclaimed in unison. 

"April Fool!" I cried. 

"It's not even April!" they responded. 

I told them, "I'm saving up for when you won't be here!"

What is the old adage? "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."  Well, I decided to push the envelope, thinking surely they would not take the bait.  I waited a while, then went back and repeated the same excited information. "Boys, there's an 8-point buck in the backyard!" I expected a typical reaction of disbelief - "Oh, Poohpa!"  But I didn't expect the repeat scramble to the windows again!

"Where?"  they repeated.

You see, I didn't do the "hunter's math" that says, "keep your eyes open and don't miss a shot!"

I just hope I haven't ruined my future prospects of getting them to believe me the next time I spot something that's really there! That's the chance one takes when you don't play by APRIL FOOLS' RULES.  I think there's another old tale of the boy who cried "wolf!" once too often! Enough said?

Now, I've said all of this to get to my point, so here it is, and it's not an April Fool's joke.

Most folks try their best not to appear FOOLISH, me included.  We try to wear what will not make us the subject of ridicule.  Our communications are so guarded that we won't be caught saying something that will be dismissed as ignorant, uninformed, or worse, crude and rude.  We behave in a way that will not draw attention to our imperfections.  We are careful to only go where our presence will not be held in question by those seeking to cast a shadow of doubt upon our character.  We abide by the law so that our lives won't gather the reputation of being without conscience. To this litany of lifestyle detours of safety, we could add multiple others, all whose purpose is to protect our lives.

The WE and ME FOLKS I refer to? Obviously not the whole population at large! APRIL FOOLS' DAY notwithstanding, a large part of citizenry would like to believe that they are pursuing a lifestyle that is perceived as worthy of respect.  Commendable and a worthy goal!  I would that more would find this path the best to trod upon.  For one very good reason, it would provide a grand example for the new generation that follows, to follow!

There is a problem, however, that lies within everyone, good folks, good ole' boys, as well as, those not so good! It is the problem of sin, and a heart that is not so good, as the prophet Jeremiah points out in 17:9: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"  We'd like to believe that we know our own heart, but I suspect we even fool ourselves at this point.  In fact, I'm sure we do, or we would not believe ourselves to be so "holier" than the other person most of the time.  No, there is One Who truly knows our heart, and He is the same one Who can fix it! No fooling!

David knew Him and wrote this Psalm of desire to have his own heart fixed: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)

So friends, when this day of light-hearted trickery has drawn its last breath, and the new day of heart pursuits faces the new dawn, take the Psalmist's lead and have He Whose heart never tricks nor fools, but guides you into all of His truth which will set you free, free indeed! (John 8:32; 36; 14:16-17)

Be encouraged!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Friday and Saturday our town had a business expo that drew hundreds of interested of people to its lineup of local businesses, many of which gave away prizes and food, in addition to their own particular spiel about their service or products.  Grand prizes were to be given to those who returned on Saturday for the drawing.  Having invested some time to visit the booths on Friday, we decided to go all the way and be there for Saturday's finale.  When we showed up we weren't surprised at the numbers who returned.  There was a general air of expectancy, coupled with a good time connecting with friends also in attendance.  When we arrived, we immediately encountered another fellow pastor and his wife and proceeded to just "hang out" and enjoy the crowd and each other.  As the time for the drawing came near, we moved to a central location in front of the announcer who was at a mike on the balcony above the room.  The press of the crowd left little walking room so we stood together, looking up to the action taking place above us.  Following some preliminary announcements and gifts thrown out for people below to catch, they were ready to begin drawing the names.  Before the first name was drawn and read, the announcer called out my wife's name and told her to go to a nearby booth where her name had been drawn for a prize.  Surprised, she obeyed while we waited for her to return, which she did in moments, bearing her new blue digital camera.
Only moments earlier, as we spoke to our friends, they had mentioned the pastor's wife had won three prizes from individual booths the day before, and the pastor laughingly commented that they'd returned so she could be drawn for the new set of tires he wanted.  Needless to say, when my wife's name was called, it renewed the amusement over the wives being the "lucky" ones.  Within moments the announcer had the first name for a major prize.  Imagine our added surprise when an elderly lady standing next to me raised her hand to claim it! This added to our amusement as we waited for the next name to be called.  This time we were shocked to hear my pastor friend's name called, though not for the tires he wanted.  The winner's circle around us was widening! Finally, the name for the tires was drawn.  You'll not believe it! Another man standing within six foot of us raised his hand in response! Out of five names drawn, three were within touching distance! Truly mind blogging, er, bogging!
We laughed all the way home about the shock on our pastor's face! It was truly a photo moment, but the wife's new camera battery was not yet charged!

As I reflected on the day's amusing turn of events, I was struck by the spiritual applications.  As God's children, indeed we are in THE WINNER'S CIRCLE!  The Scriptures tell us that our names have been written down in the Lamb's Book of Life, if we have, by faith had our sin's forgiven, and have invited Jesus Christ into our heart and life.  In effect, we've "signed-up" for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  And it is no "luck" of the draw when we "look-up" to hear our name called to come away with Him to claim the prize.

As we stood there in the crowd, two called pastors and their wives, so close to the hundreds that surrounded us, I was further struck by the "calling" of God that puts us "in touch" with a world who need to know the Lord as we do.  As physically we stood, almost touching the other winners of grand prizes, our spiritual "winner's circle" of "gospel touching" influence came into clear perspective for me.  All too often we do not realize the impact for the gospel that we may have upon the crowds where we walk and live each day.  We truly have a "winner's circle" of influence to enlarge with every day's encounters.  And oh, the blessed joy that results will cause all of the world's passing prizes to pale in comparison.  Now that will be a true "photo moment" to capture! Just be sure that your spiritual batteries are fully charged!

Note this passage about the High Calling of God:  "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 3:12-14

Be encouraged toward such a prize, my friends!