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Welcome to Convocation Chapel for the fall semester of 2013. My thanks to all who have made this event possible: faculty, staff and students. We are glad you are here, and we’re looking forward to a productive and meaningful school year.

It is a time of beginnings…

Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel was entitled Angle of Repose. At one point in the book, he places these words on the lips of the wheel-chair bound narrator, Lyman Ward, regarding the new beginnings of the fall:

That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air… another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.

Maybe that’s how you feel today: last year’s mistakes have been wiped clean by the summer.

It is, indeed, a time of new beginnings.

The word “convocation” is defined by Webster in the following way: “An assembly or meeting of the members of a college or university to observe a particular ceremony such as the opening of an academic year.” That is why we are here—to initiate a new opening, a fresh start, a beginning.

We try to do convocation right at Wayland. The faculty and administration are in what we call academic regalia. Pretty, isn’t it? And I get to wear jewelry—this medallion. It is about the only time men get to play “dress up”!

These garments and even the colors used on our robes and hoods symbolize the academic degrees we have earned which have prepared us for this educational calling. Well over 90% of the full-time professors who teach at Wayland have earned what is called a terminal degree: the highest academic certification they can obtain in their chosen field of study. The rest of our faculty have a master’s degree or its equivalent.

So why do we dress up in these robes for this occasion?

Partly, it is to acknowledge that this is a significant moment in the life of the university. We also wear regalia at graduation/commencement which is also, obviously, a time of great celebration for us. Regalia reminds all of us that this journey of higher education is significant and important and potentially truly life-changing.

But I believe there’s another reason we wear regalia. It is really not so that we can brag about our academic accomplishments. It isn’t that we believe that we look attractive or handsome in these robes. (The truth is, these things are hot and most of us will need some Gatorade after convocation is over!)

No, we wear this regalia because we want you to know that we have done the very best we can to get ready for this wonderful and important responsibility of teaching students. God’s call to teach has and continues to consume the lives and hearts and minds of every faculty member, every administrator seated behind me on this stage.

And while it took most of us some years of pretty hard work to be able to dress like this, I am confident that the primary focus of every teacher in this room is this: we hope and pray and believe that the academic experiences we have had enable us to teach you more effectively. Whether you realize it or not, students, you are our calling—our very life. You are the reason Wayland Baptist University exists. That is why we dress this way—it is an illustration of our commitment to you.

Wayland is a teaching university. That means that while we cherish and celebrate research and discovery efforts by both our faculty and our students, our primary institutional focus has been and will continue to be effective and compelling instruction within a classroom setting. We want you to learn and grow and expand both your life and your heart.

Convocation is a celebration and an acknowledgement of the fact that we are starting a new semester.

Beginnings…

Have you ever thought about the fact that the Bible begins with a single verse that is both simple and yet incredibly profound? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message the verse reads: “First this: God created the heavens and earth—all you see, all you don’t see.”

There are some interesting things about this verse of beginnings I would like for you to think about.

The definite article “the” is not in the original Hebrew language. Literally, the verse should read “Beginning, God created…” That’s why Dr. Peterson states it: “First this: God created…”.

One implication of this phrase: there was never a time when God was not. He stands outside of linear history as we know it. Yet this creator God—who is over and in and also outside of history—has invaded history to offer Himself to us by way of a personal relationship: a relationship which begins the moment we place faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Another insight provided by this verse: God is ultimately the source of everything that is. Whatever processes God used to form the world into the life rich environment that it is today, he was the source—the beginning—the initiator—the creator. He hurled the world and the universe into existence by his unique and distinctive and sovereign authority and power.

The word used for “created” (bara in the Hebrew) is also significant. The Old Testament uses this word uniquely and solely to describe the activity of God. Only God creates. Only He has that kind of power, potential and possibility.

This is the idea Paul expresses in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Dr. Peterson in The Message expresses it this way: “…anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons!”

Making the universe and its worlds is something only God can do. Making any individual a new person—an entirely new creation because of that’s person’s faith in Jesus—is also something only God can do. The power of God is something Wayland affirms and embraces. Many of us believe that that power is the only real hope for our world.

Permit me to share an analogy—not perfect but perhaps helpful.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a general principle which states “In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.” Ok, let’s put it another way. This is the statement made by Regina Bailey (who wrote one of the ‘Idiot’s Guide to…’ books on science and so explains things a bit more simply): “When energy is transferred, there will be less energy available at the end of the transfer process than at the beginning.” This is also referred to as entropy.

Here’s an example: an old windup watch runs on the stored power of a tightly wound mainspring. Energy is released until the spring has unwound and that energy has been expended. That’s entropy.

The only way to re-energize the watch is to wind the mainspring.

But notice this: such action can only happen when an outside force of energy invades the mechanics—the system—of the watch to wind the mainspring again. An outside source of power is needed if the watch is to work as it was designed.

The only way to solve entropy is to have a power outside the closed decaying system invade that system with a new source of energy so that change can be effected—in essence, so that the system can be recreated.

Sin brings spiritual and personal entropy into our lives. The only solution for the decay of sin comes from outside ourselves in the person and work and power of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When I trust in Christ, spiritually I become a new creation—changed by something and someone outside of my self—and it’s something only God can do.

So from a biblical perspective, the act of physical creation (of our universe, for example) is something only God can do. Likewise, lives decaying because of sin can only know new life i.e. spiritual recreation, if a transforming power comes from outside the inner “system” of our own existence. Recreation comes only through Christ. Only God can change our lives and hearts.

So both creation and recreation are actions God alone can accomplish.

Over the last school year, Wayland has focused and throughout this school year will continue to focus on the importance of civility—treating each other with respect and love. This year at Koinonia, we talked about connections—between one another and with God.

How can this happen in a world of entropy and decay? How can we—the imperfect and flawed and entropic human beings that we are—be what God really wants us to be?

It can only happen through an invasion…an invasion of our lives by the very person, love and power of Jesus Christ.

So I hope you learn a lot this year. I hope your mind expands and grows as you explore this wonderful world with all of its complexity, beauty and entropy.

But I also hope you heart is changed and transformed this school year. I hope you will be open to that which only God through Christ can do in your life and heart. It is called regeneration, and it simply means being recreated by the power of Christ. And this miracle of recreation begins with a heartfelt prayer of repentance and faith. It is, to put it simply, turning from your sin and trusting in Christ. If you don’t understand what that means or how that can happen, there’s a whole host of folks around me on this platform who would love to walk beside you in this part of the journey of your life. You see, the faith moments of your pilgrimage are the most important moments of all.

So this is my prayer for you—that today and this entire school year will be a time of new beginnings. My prayer is that these fall and spring semesters at WBU will become opportunities for change in your life—a time of new beginnings. I want you to be transformed—both by the growth of your knowledge and by the invasion of your heart by Jesus.

Creation is something only God can do. With all of my heart, I hope you learn that personally and existentially this year.

I hope this is truly a time of new beginnings…

I close with a passage from Jude:

“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen”

In a moment, I will ask you to stand for Wayland’s alma mater and for the benediction. After the benediction, please remain at your seats while the platform party and faculty exit the auditorium. Thanks for being here today, and for listening so well.

Please stand.

Heritage chapel is a time of remembering.

George Santayana, the philosopher and historian, is perhaps most remembered for his statement: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” He also believed in the importance of history. He once observed: “A country without a memory is a country of madmen.”

I agree with Santayana: it is important to remember our history. Ideally, you see, history can help us to reflect and to learn and to grow in the arena of human relationships and progress.

Wayland Baptist University’s alma mater, written by Guy Woods, has as its concluding line “Pioneering Wayland, hail thy blue and gold!”. The fact that Wayland has been a “pioneering” institution of higher learning is true for a wide variety of significant reasons—not just because of our mascot (pioneer Pete). Let me share just a few historical examples with you of why this is true—why Wayland is, indeed, pioneering.

Dr. Bill Marshall became president of Wayland in 1947. Dr. Marshall did many good things for the university. In terms of student recruitment, he brought a decidedly international flavor to the school.

Perhaps his most notable achievement was accomplished in 1951. As Dr. Estelle Owens notes in her article on Dr. Marshall in the Summer/Fall 2003 edition of “Baptist History and Heritage,” Dr. Marshall’s awareness of and opposition to racism began early. When he was eight years old, he witnessed a cousin striking one of his African-American playmates during a game. That event made an indelible impression upon Bill, and it made racism obnoxious to him. As a teenage boy, Marshall worked at various odd jobs: selling newspapers, working on the family farm, becoming a soda jerk at the local drugstore. All during his young life, Bill maintained his friendships and relationships with minorities, Native Americans and African-Americans. To Dr. Marshall, all people were the same—made in the image of god.

In 1951, an African-American teacher from one of our surrounding communities made application to attend Wayland so that she could enhance her teaching credentials and retain her position. Dr. Marshall brought her request to the Board of Trustees. Largely because of the president’s quiet yet strong leadership, the board voted not only to approve her request, but also to allow any other sincere students, regardless of race, to enroll at Wayland. This meant that Wayland Baptist University was the first school in the states of the former Confederate South to voluntarily integrate. These decisions were made at Wayland some 13 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed educational discrimination.

Marshall and Wayland received extensive publicity for the decision. Ebony and Time magazines published articles on the school’s action. We have in our archives 90 pieces of correspondence Dr. Marshall received in response to the school’s new policy. Eighty of the notes praised Wayland, the board, and Dr. Marshall for their courage. Ten were critical. Many of those negative letters passionately vilified both the president and the school for the action and several were, incidentally, unsigned. As Dr. Owens observed in her excellent article of 2003, it is interesting to note that one of the ideals advocated in the 1950-51 academic catalog for Wayland was “Maximum Christianity, Applied as well as Advocated.” In that moment of Wayland’s history, this university was true to that ideal.

Permit me to share another example of “Pioneering Wayland” with you.

From the earliest days of her history, Wayland has emphasized and embraced the right of women to participate in athletics. Eventually, this moved beyond an effort to encourage the ladies of the university to be part of the intramural recreational program of the school. Wayland came to believe and recognize the fact that women should be able to compete, as men do, for national athletic awards, achievements, and recognitions.

Dr. Estelle Owens, University Historian, tells me that the earliest mention of women’s basketball she has been able to find was in the Hale County Herald edition of October 14, 1913. “Wayland college girls won from Floydada by a score of 23 to ___ at basketball.” The paper of November 10, 1914, reported that “The Wayland college boys and girls are playing basketball now in practice games.”

We have pictures of women’s basketball teams in 1916 and 1922 but no particular details about their schedule or competition.

The turning point for women’s athletics and, particularly, women’s basketball, came when Harley Redin was employed as the athletic director and men’s basketball coach of the school in 1945. The next year, coach Redin became the “tutor” of the women’s program.

In 1947-48, the Harvest Queen Mill sponsored the women’s basketball program, giving rise to the name Wayland Harvest Queens. At that time, Sam Allen was the coach and the team finished 6-0. The next season, Allen led the team to the AAU national tournament, where they lost in overtime in the second game. In 1950, however, the queens made a return trip to the national tournament, this time finishing in second place.

In 1951, the Harvest Queens changed their name to the Hutcherson Flying Queens after Claude and Wilda Hutcherson’s Flying Service became their sponsor. Claude was a 1926 Wayland graduate. The move helped put Wayland on the national map because the Flying Queens traveled around the country and internationally in Hutcherson’s fleet of Beechcraft Bonanza airplanes. The Flying Queens became the premier women’s basketball program in the nation for decades.

In 1953, the Flying Queens began a winning streak of 131 games, a record that will, I predict, never be equaled by a female collegiate basketball team.

In 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957 (four years in a row) the team won the AAU National Championship. The members of that team will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 8th of this year in Knoxville, Tennessee. They are being honored as “Trailblazers of the Game,” and join the distinguished company of only three other women’s teams: the “All American Red Heads,” the “Edmonton Grads,” and the “Former Helms/Citizens Savings/Founders Bank” team.

Harley redin began coaching the women’s team in 1955. During his career, Redin also became a catalytic force in changing the women’s game from a 12 person half court experience to a full court 5 on 5 contest—just like the men’s game has always been.

As the parents of two daughters who played basketball in high school, Duanea and I are grateful for the trailblazing Flying Queens who have helped to affirm and develop the importance of women’s collegiate athletics.

Just two more brief illustrations of Wayland innovation:

Wayland was a pioneer of external and military education. For example, in 1918, at the end of the First World War, Wayland opened her doors to military students to teach them both general education courses and “military science,” a euphemism for drill exercises. In 1945, Wayland was one of the first institutions to offer education to World War II veterans. In 1948 Wayland began a language school in Mexico, one of the very first collegiate external education efforts. In the early 1970’s, teaching centers were opened in Lubbock and Wichita Falls for law enforcement officers and their training. The university began teaching at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls in 1974, marking Wayland’s first teaching center on a military base of the United States armed forces. Now, Wayland teaches in 14 locations around the word. About 40% of our external campus enrollment of well over 4,000 students is active servicemen and servicewomen. Our external education program even extends to the nation of Kenya in eastern Africa. We truly have gone into the whole world with the light of the Gospel and the discovered truth of our world, as our university seal challenges us.

Early on, Wayland came to believe that taking education to where people in need of that education are would become the wave of the future. God has blessed that effort in a special way.

One last example:

Around 1985, Wayland began a remedial educational program called “Academic Achievement.” We were one of the very first institutions of higher learning to initiate such a program.

Ac-Ac is designed to help students who need to sharpen their skills in study habits and practice, reading comprehension, writing, spelling, mathematics, English proficiency and academic and/or personal confidence. For students who dream of a college education and yet lack some experience in one or more of these areas, Ac-Ac has been and continues to be a great gift and blessing. It has enabled a significant number of individuals to fulfill their educational goals and to become fully qualified and academically proficient students and graduates. The program was birthed for a simple reason: Wayland is more interested in helping students succeed than watching them fail.

Incidentally, remedial education is now a legal requirement of every state university in Texas.

You are part of a very special family—a creative, nimble and synergistic university undergirded and strengthened by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A school that believes that the reason it exists are two in number: our students and our Savior.

You are part of school which has historically and repeatedly been courageous and committed. You are part of pioneering Wayland.

Have a great semester.

Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you each and every one throughout the remaining days of this school year.

Discussions in Washington in light of the impending “fiscal cliff” have floated new ideas for generating additional revenue. One of the proposals deals with limiting or eliminating the income tax deductibility of charitable financial gifts. Several organizations in Washington which represent the independent sector of higher education have expressed grave concerns about such a change in policy. The Association of Governing Boards, of which Wayland is a member, has written ranking government officials expressing their opposition to this proposal. I plan to do the same. The content of my communication will be as follows:

Dear________:

Our university and its leadership carry you in our thoughts and prayers daily. Although we face challenging days in so many ways, we are all hopeful that significant progress can be made regarding those issues which threaten to impact the future of our great country.

As the discussions continue regarding possible solutions to the “fiscal cliff” we are facing, my Board, administration and I are gravely concerned about the suggestion that the search for needed revenues may lead to limits on the federal income tax deduction for charitable donations.

Respectfully, we would like to request that you think long and hard about the consequences of restricting or eliminating the deduction for charitable contributions. Our university faces unique financial challenges because of the economic downturn in our nation. The decline in our endowments we have experienced over the past several years limited our ability to respond effectively to many of these challenges. Add to these facts the current and proposed reductions to state and federal aid to our students, and the picture seems very bleak.

Gifts from individuals and families, particularly from those who itemize their tax deductions, add significantly to the excellence of our university. For institutions like ours which are facing more than their share of economic challenges, charitable gifts are critically important for maintaining financial viability and stability. At our university, private gifts fund student financial assistance which backfills federal and state assistance programs. The tax incentive which the deduction provides also encourages private gifts to help build facilities and/or take advantage of the latest innovations in educational technology. Other gifts underwrite student service and ministry projects. Wayland Baptist University is also blessed with a large number of first in family college attenders who simply must have significant institutional aid if they are to start and continue their education. Dollars from charitable giving support all of these necessary activities and save governments billions of dollars of additional support and underwriting.

Colleges and universities received $30.3 billion in charitable gifts in 2011. With each passing year, these gifts grow in importance. The decline in charitable gifts which will likely result from any limits in the federal tax code would hurt our students, faculty, and our academic and service programs. As you and the government move through the important conversations of the coming days, we strongly urge you to protect the charitable giving deduction allowed by the current tax regulations.

I will be glad to visit with you at any time about these issues.

Sincerely,

Paul W. Armes, PhD
President
Wayland Baptist University

Trustees: (names will be listed)

I hope this proposal does not gain traction. It could have a significantly negative effect on Wayland’s fund raising efforts.

Grace and peace…

August 29, 2012    

Welcome to Convocation Chapel for the 2012-2013 school year at Wayland Baptist University. All of us who serve on the university’s faculty and staff want to welcome you to this new semester. When I went to college years ago, an interesting phenomenon seemed to unfold in my own life every semester: after one week of classes I felt like I was four weeks behind. I’m sure you’re doing better than I did!

This year, my address to you will be a little briefer than usual. Because this year I would simply like to start a conversation with you and between you—students, faculty and staff. Although Dr. Hall could not be with us this morning, he is the one who visited with me initially about the idea we will be discussing throughout this school year. I want to thank him for his concern and insight. I have come to believe that beginning this conversation will be very important to Wayland Baptist University and her future effectiveness.

Have you read that Southern California Saddleback Church pastor and Purpose-driven Life author Rick Warren, recently cancelled a civil forum originally planned for August 22nd with President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney? He held a similar event in 2008 featuring then-candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Warren reported that he cancelled this year’s event because he believes discourse between the two campaigns has become so uncivil that a polite exchange for two hours would seem hypocritical. Rick observes: “The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling, but that is not the climate of today’s campaign. I’ve never seen more irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads, and I don’t expect that tone to change before the election.”

We live in a time of great polarization, don’t we? In many ways, particularly in the public arena, civil discourse is dead. One of the reasons we don’t make progress on the important issues of our day in Washington is the fact that politicians don’t seem to be able to speak with both conviction and respect. In terms of my lifetime, incivility has never been more pronounced or prevalent than it is now.

It has always been a challenge. George Washington, as a boy, wrote out by hand “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Based on a 16th century set of precepts compiled for young gentlemen by Jesuit instructors, his written rules of civility were one of the earliest and most powerful forces to shape America’s first president according to historian Richard Brookhiser. Here are just a few of these rules:

-every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those who are present.

-if you cough, sneeze, sigh or yawn, do it not loud but privately, and speak not in your yawning, but place your handkerchief or hand before your face and turn aside.

-show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

-speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

 P.M. Forni suggests 25 rules of considerate conduct in his book Choosing Civility. Examples include:

 Pay attention

Acknowledge others

Think the best

Listen

Be inclusive

Speak kindly

Don’t speak ill

Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale law school whose book is simply entitled Civility, suggests 15 rules to follow, samples of which include:

Our duty to be civil towards others does not depend on whether we like them or not.

Civility requires that we sacrifice for strangers, not just for people we happen to know.

We must come into the presence of our fellow human beings with a sense of awe and gratitude.

Civility requires that we express ourselves in ways that demonstrate our respect for others.

Civility requires that we listen to others with knowledge of the possibility that they are right and we are wrong.

Kent Weeks has written a helpful book entitled In Search of Civility: Confronting Incivility on the College Campus.

In the book, he describes some of the civility initiatives being undertaken by universities in every region of the country.

He also addresses civility in university realms like the classroom; college athletics; and residential life. He correctly identifies cheating and plagiarism as a form of incivility. He writes about professors, students and staff members who demonstrate a pointed lack of respect and appreciation for others.

He notes, particularly, that student incivility towards professors is increasing. Teachers complain that students disrupt class by carrying on running conversations, texting, reading the newspaper, eating, watching television, and not turning off their cell phones.

The individuals behind me (the faculty of Wayland Baptist University) have given their lives to teach effectively. Our staff works hard on your behalf. All of us want to help you grow and learn and thrive and believe.

So how do civil human beings carry on a conversation when a difference of perspective is involved? How do we treat and interact with those who look different and/or believe differently from us? Does civility mean that we have to give up our faith or personal convictions?

These are some of the things I want us to visit about during the coming school year. These are issues of human identity and relationship. They form the very core of who we are and what we are called to become.

It is interesting to me that the most scathing words of denunciation which ever fell from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ were directed at the so-called religious leaders of his day. His criticism was that they knew much about the details of the law, but nothing of the relationships the law was designed to enhance. Justice, mercy and faithfulness were being neglected. Could the same thing be said about our own day? The core elements of human relationships—justice, mercy, faithfulness, even faith itself—are being neglected, if not ignored.

Think about the Apostle Paul in Athens at the Areopagus (Acts 17). There, he visited with individuals who were very different in their beliefs when compared to his deeply personal faith in Christ. Yet he listened patiently and respectfully to their viewpoint before stating his own with clarity, conviction, and passion.

So when he writes to the Galatian churches about the “fruit of the Spirit,” he knows what he is talking about. Dr. DeSoto read the passage earlier from the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter to those churches. I like the way Eugene Peterson depicts the passage in his translation called “The Message.”

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

In many ways the fruit of the Spirit, visible in all who truly know Christ, is about civility: a respect for others who, like us, have been made in the image of God.

What is civility? Perhaps it is many things.

It is treating others as we would want them to treat us. It is, according to Kent Weeks, a combination of considerate conduct toward others and a very real and compelling civic duty and responsibility to the community. Stephen Carter describes it as an orientation of one’s very soul. P.M. Forni has a complex definition which he summarizes in three words: respect in action.

Perhaps by the end of this school year we can have a Wayland definition of civility.

Whether you call it civility, respect, the golden rule, a basic human responsibility or the fruit of the Spirit, it is one of the most important discoveries we can make in this journey of education.

So let’s talk. With each other and with God, to see what it is He would have us to do and how it is He would have us to live. Together, let’s begin to think about the venues and forums in which this conversation can take place.

Thanks for your attention. Have a wonderful school year.

Grace and peace to you, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

            Theodor Seuss Geisel was the author of an extensive series of children’s books which were written under the pen name “Dr. Seuss.” When my children were growing up, Dr. Seuss books were everywhere in my house. I honestly think I can almost recite the entire book Green Eggs and Ham from memory. You remember “Sam, I am,” don’t you?

            One of my favorite Seuss books is entitled On Beyond Zebra!, and it was published in 1955. Although it may seem a little strange, I want to share part of the book with you this morning.

 

Said Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell,

My very young friend who is learning to spell:

“The ‘a’ is for ape. And the ‘b’ is for bear.

The ‘c’ is for camel. The ‘h’ is for hare.

The ‘m’ is for mouse. And the ‘r’ is for rat.

I know all the twenty-six letters like that…

…through to ‘z’ is for zebra. I know them all well.”

Said Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell.

“So now I know everything anyone knows

From beginning to end. From the start to the close.

Because ‘z’ is as far as the alphabet goes.”

Then he almost fell flat on his face on the floor

When I picked up the chalk and drew one letter more!

A letter he never had dreamed of before!

And I said, “You can stop, if you want, with the ‘z’

Because most people stop with the ‘z’

But not me.

In the places I go there are things that I see

That I never could spell if I stopped with the ‘z’.

I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends.

My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!

My alphabet starts with this letter called ‘yuzz’.

It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz.

You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found

Once you go beyond ‘z’ and start poking around!”

Then Dr. Seuss begins to write about nineteen other letters, like wum, fuddle, glikk, and my personal favorite: yekk.

This is how Dr. Seuss finishes his book:

The places I took him!

I tried hard to tell

Young Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell

A few brand-new wonderful words he might spell.

I led him around and I tried hard to show

There are things beyond ‘z’ that most people don’t know.

I took him past zebra. As far as I could.

And I think, perhaps, maybe I did him some good…

Because, finally, he said:

“This is really great stuff!

And I guess the old alphabet isn’t enough!”

Now the letters he uses are something to see!

Most people still stop at the ‘z’…

But not he!

            I think one of the points Dr. Seuss is making is that you and I need to be willing to explore new possibilities and opportunities. We need to push beyond the limits of our current knowledge and world view to find and see and delight in new discoveries and new knowledge. Think about it. Every great scientific breakthrough has happened because scientists and researchers were willing to push beyond the zebra of current understanding to new vistas of discovered truth and knowledge.

If you think about it, that’s part of the reason you are here at Wayland: to study, learn, grow and move beyond the zebra of yesterday’s world of ideas to a new and exciting world of broadened comprehension and expanded possibility. That is what a university education is all about.

But I think Dr. Seuss, a devout and practicing Lutheran all of his life, may be suggesting something else, too.

I believe he is also talking about the importance—the necessity, even—of faith. So often we are limited in our understanding to what we can see and taste and touch and hear. That is the world that ends with zebra.

Yet there is a whole other world which exists in creation. It is a world beyond zebra. It is the world of faith.

So is Archie Bunker right? He said: Faith is believin’ something nobody in their right mind would believe.

He may well be right…

The writer of Hebrews (11:1) in the New Testament described faith in this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

From my perspective the writer’s main point is this: we can’t really touch or taste or see faith, but we know that it is real. We know that it is real because as we place faith in Christ, Jesus changes our lives forever.

That faith even shapes and changes the institutions we love—like Wayland Baptist University.

Permit me to illustrate.

It was faith that led Dr. James Henry Wayland, a circuit riding High Plains physician, to donate $10,000 and 25 acres of land for a Christian school in Plainview, Texas. That little school has become an educational family located in 14 geographical points on the map, including the nation of Kenya in Africa. Additionally, dozens of Wayland teaching points extend around the world. Our largest campus is now our virtual campus—students experiencing the faith-based teaching of Wayland over the internet as they explore and learn their academic disciplines. All because a simple man of faith was willing to travel on, beyond zebra, and make a gift which would birth a great university.

In the darkest and bleakest days of the depression, the bank in which Wayland had deposited its fall, 1932, tuition dollars closed and all the money was lost. It was faith that challenged faculty members like Blanda Woodward and many others to remain at Wayland and work without any guarantee of payment for their services. In fact, every faculty member except one chose to move beyond zebra into that special realm of faith and trust and commitment, and the university survived. All because folks were willing to walk by faith, and believe in Wayland.

It was faith that inspired President Bill Marshall to recommend to the board of trustees that Wayland welcome all students, whatever their race, to this university to pursue their education. The board courageously voted to accept Dr. Marshall’s proposal. This meant that Wayland Baptist University became an integrated college in 1951, years before the national civil rights act was approved by congress. We were the first liberal arts school in the states of the former confederate south to voluntarily welcome students of all races, including large numbers of international students from every corner of the globe. Today on our Texas campuses, minority students actually comprise about half of Wayland’s student body. All because Dr. Bill Marshall and all who have followed him: the trustee leadership, several administrations, and a long line of faculty and staff who have served over the past 60 years have believed with Marshall that every person is deserving of an opportunity to learn and grow and become all that God desires. When it comes to race, Wayland moved into a land beyond zebra many years ago. It’s still a great place to be.

Yet the story goes on and on.

It was faith that led us to become a pioneer in women’s athletics, to create a remedial training opportunity for core course requirements, and to develop external, military and online educational programs.

Faith led us to identify one person as our campus minister because we want our students to be challenged to move, spiritually speaking, beyond zebra.

Faith stirred us to start a Wayland Baptist University Missions Center. From the inception of the Center, this program has been designed not just to teach mission theory and practice, but to immerse participants in the work of the kingdom at locations all around the world. How God has blessed and continues to bless that effort.

Faith in God’s plans for our future has enabled us to begin new and dynamic academic programs and offerings, a student leadership program, football, a new men’s dorm. All have been initiated because Wayland is willing to move beyond zebra.

It will be faith that enables us to build a new Bible building and missions center and to expand our music and fine arts facilities.

The truth is, in the days and years to come, our dream will continue to be that faith will shape and empower all that we do as a Christian institution of higher learning. Our history has taught us that belief and trust are not just matters of what you see and taste and touch. Faith is really a matter of what God says to your heart about your place in His plan.

Please don’t misunderstand. Wayland hasn’t always done everything perfectly. But I do believe this school has sincerely sought to live out, as best as we can, that faith which birthed us—the faith of Dr. James Henry Wayland. It is that faith which defines who and what we are. It is the very DNA of our existence.

Faith has led Wayland to live beyond zebra. And to be honest, that is an exciting place to be.

But as I conclude this morning, I want to place a personal challenge before you, as individual students.

Don’t stop with the letter z. Don’t trust only the things you can see and taste and touch and hear. Move beyond discovered truth to encounter the revealed truth of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Trust the voice of Christ. He’s calling you to a wonderful adventure in an unknown land—a land beyond zebra. It is a land of faith, not sight. It is a place where the love of Jesus intersects the need of all humanity. It is where you and I have been challenged to serve in the world by the One who created this world.

My prayer for you is that you’ll never be satisfied with just 26 letters in the alphabet. My hope for you is that you’ll move past ‘z’ to find the purpose and plan and power of Christ for your life. I hope you’ll embrace the Christian adventure by moving on, beyond zebra! It’s not always easy, but it is the most fun you can have in life…

Grace and peace to each of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Wallace Purling

One of my very favorite Christmas stories was told by a writer named Dina Donahue many years ago. It is about a boy named Wally.

For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one annual production of the nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in the town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, his class, all of whom were smaller than he, had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.

Most often they’d find a way to keep him out, but Wally would hang around anyway – not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who’d say, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.”

Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lumbar, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s yearly extravaganza of beard, crown, halos and a whole stage full of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbar had to make sure he did not wander onstage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

“We seek lodging.”

“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead, but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and we are very weary.”

“There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“Please good innkeeper, this is my wife Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

“No! Be gone!” the prompter whispered from the wings.

“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Be gone!”

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside the inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, and his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

“Don’t go Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others- many, many others- who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants that they had ever seen.

So what about you and now? Will you let the Spirit of Christmas touch your heart this year, just like it touched Wally’s many years ago?

I really do hope so!

Grace and PEACE…

1 can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk

1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

Ritz crackers

Mix the Eagle Brand, vanilla and pecans in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the mixture is thickened. Go slowly because the milk will scorch easily. When the mixture is thick, remove from heat. Spread about a tablespoon of the mixture on (what Duanea calls) the “pretty” side of a Ritz cracker. Put the smacks on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a 325-350 degree oven until the mixture begins to brown on the top. Remove and allow to cool and then enjoy!

Personal note: when I was young, my siblings and I used to fight over who would get to lick the lid of the Eagle Brand can. If you do the same, please be careful of the sharp edge of the lid. Trust me on this, that edge can do some damage…

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