Goodbye Jackson

A week ago all was normal in our household. Then one morning Jackson the dog didn’t want to get out of his kennel. This is very unusual because the morning routine begins by going outside, coming in for the morning snacks, then going back out again. It’s been this way for a long time. But not that day. Eventually he came out and wandered around outside. He came in and laid in his bed – without a snack. I figured something was wrong and maybe he just needed some time to let it pass.

Throughout the day Jackson was more lethargic than usual, never eating. So the next morning when he wouldn’t come out of his kennel I took him to the vet. He has been there for a few days now. He’s not going to come home.

We had theories at first about what he might have eaten outside that caused the issues he was facing. He did eat a lot of buds and leaves off of a hibiscus bush. Was that the culprit? I theorized he may have eaten off of the oleander in the back yard, but the vet said it would have likely killed him quickly – and the bitter taste does not encourage eating. So I don’t think that was it. Significant liver damage is the ultimate reason. The cause? I don’t know. Maybe it’s been coming for a while and just now showed up … or the hibiscus was the last straw. It doesn’t matter. Our hearts are broken to say goodbye to our furry friend.

You can read about the day we suddenly and without preparation decided we wanted to bring him home HERE. That was in March of 2009. Kind of unusual, the way we came across him. He won us over quickly. Here’s a picture of Maggy and Jackson before we got back in the car with him.

I don’t think I ever told anyone this. And if it’s too weird for you, I understand. We found Jackson on March 21, 2009. On May 21, 2009 we were mourning the loss of our son one year ago that day. I know perhaps it’s not theologically sound, but I have always believed that maybe John Robert asked the Lord to lead us to such a puppy as Jackson. It was all so sudden and unexpected … but I do think one of Jackson’s purposes in life was to bring some comfort and healing to our broken hearts. From day one he was so mild mannered, loving, and sweet natured. Whenever we reached to pet him, he always winced down, as if someone had hurt him in the past. Maybe we were a comfort and healing to his broken heart as well.

Today it’s our tears that fall. He has been at the vet’s now for three days on an IV drip with no real improvement and some signs that his liver is not functioning. When we arrived at the vet this afternoon, his breathing was ragged and the fluid in his system causing each labored breath to rattle. To keep him alive would be to prolong his suffering and actually let him live long enough to increase it. We won’t do that to our sweet puppy. For eight years he has trusted us to take care of him and we have done pretty well. We will fulfill our duty to him and send him into the next world. Yes, I do believe that God gave us pets to enjoy in this world, so why not the next?.

I have shared that graphic with others who have lost their pets, so I suppose it is fitting to share it here for us. We are grateful (and amazed) at so many people who were praying for Jackson, and thus for us. Thank you.

We have developed patterns of life that relate to Jackson being in our house. We come by the house a few times each day to let him out.  We board him when we go on trips. We have a schedule of feeding him. At night when it’s time to go to bed it is my duty to get him to come and get in his kennel. For the past few months he hasn’t wanted to get out of his bed in the den to come…I’ve had to pick him up and get him out of the bed. I have though he was just wanting me to pet him a little before heading to bed, but now I wonder if this illness wasn’t coming on. We’ll never know. But usually he’ll follow me down the hall and get in his kennel for the night. He’ll use his nose and paws to arrange the blanket the way he wants it to be (come to think of it, he hasn’t done that as much lately either).  And tomorrow we’ll start over. Except not this time.

This afternoon with the compassionate help of his veterinarian (who is as pained as we are I think)… we will send him to sleep for one last time in this life. It will be painless and he won’t be hungry or hurting any longer (he hasn’t eaten in four days).  I trust the Lord that He knows what to do with these ones we love so much.

Rest well, Jackson. You came along at just the right time in our life to bring us comfort and unconditional love. May you receive the same.

Thanks for reading, JD.






Tulsa Workshop: Melancholy Memories

Part of a crowd some time at Tulsa Workshop

I have to admit to being a bit melancholy. Today I got a notice in my email from a calendar entry. It’s time to go to Tulsa for the Tulsa Workshop. Only, the workshop is no more. Anyone who knows me well knows I live for this yearly family reunion and revival all rolled into one. I don’t blame the leaders for letting it go… the vital signs have been headed downward for a while now. But it’s hard not to miss this. And the truth is that there isn’t anything in the Spring within driving distance that can replace it.

There’s a temptation to kind of slosh through a lot of old memories at this point but I’ll spare you. I’ve written about the International Soul Winning Workshop  so many times (see some links below).

John Robert on a snowy day at Tulsa Workshop.

So many of my Tulsa memories are blended with memories of my family making the trek to Tulsa. Maggy, Nicole and John Robert and some of his friends would often go to the workshop. Can you imagine that John Robert  had no problem missing most of the week of school to go? He didn’t mind at all. And we didn’t either. We placed a high value on his education, but the spiritual experience of the workshop was of great value to us and to him. Even so, there’s a long list of names I associate with the workshop. Not just the speakers, but the friends that we would only see once a year. That was especially valuable in the days before Facebook! Do you remember those days? Barely.

I’d just like to say thanks to everyone who helped make Tulsa Workshop the wonderful experience it was. Under the fire of critics and armchair quarterbacks, these men and women made sure it all happened. At the helm for so many years Marvin Phillips and Terry Rush led the way. I was in awe of them and I still am. We worshiped with such joy under the leadership of many, but none more than Jerome Williams and later Shane Coffman and those that sang with them. It felt healthy to see the older coaches step aside and see Wade Hodges and Shane Coffman and Jason Thornton assume the roles leading the workshop. I know each of them would recognize an army of volunteers and helpers but those were the faces we saw.

On those stages I heard some of the most amazing preaching I’ve ever heard. I would be wrong to try to list them – but I can’t help a little. In addition to Marvin and Terry are such memories. The night Stanley Shipp preached with such passion. Jimmy Allen made such a powerful speech under the influence of one of his well known headaches that he was interrupted several times … and some were unhappy with some things he said, but he said them with full assurance! I heard Richard Rogers’ last presentation at Tulsa. He died before the next workshop came around. Mid McKnight – oh I’m so glad I had a chance to hear him. Jeff Walling, how did he do that every-single-year? Jim McGuiggan said one of the most memorable things I’ve ever heard on a stage in the pavilion. Don DeWelt – thank God Marvin had the courage to tear down that wall and bring that brother (along with other Christian Church brothers like Bob Russell) to Tulsa. I still have a lot of tapes and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to put them to .mp3 so others can hear them.

Well now I’ve just started rambling with Tulsa memories so I’m going to close that down before this post gets out of hand. Yes, I’m a bit melancholy that I won’t be gathering with friends old and new and hearing the gospel with them … but I’m happy too. There are a lot of smiles and much warmth in the memories flooding my mind right now.

As I mentioned above here are some links to a few other posts where I talked about Tulsa Workshop on this blog in past years. Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your Tulsa memories in the comments if so moved.  JD

International Soul Winning Workshop – March 4, 2008

Sharing a Few Video Moments from Tulsa Workshop – March 29, 2008

Thursday in Tulsa – March 23, 2007

Friday at Tulsa – March 24, 2007

Tulsa and the Trajectory of My Faith Journey – April 8, 2014



My Friend Mike Riley

Me, Mike and Mignon on a happy day.

Below are the notes for the eulogy I delivered at the funeral of my dear friend and church elder Mike Riley on March 2, 2017 at Forsythe Church of Christ. There was standing room only and an overflow crowd to honor Mike and support his family. Kevin Riley offered the first eulogy and there’s never been a more fitting one. Every dad would love to have his son speak about him in the way Kevin did. An audio recording of the entire service is available HERE. jd


It has been a few days since we said goodbye to Mike Riley, but the reminders of what he meant to us will continue to persist throughout our lives. I am grateful that we are having this assembly today to honor him and I’m grateful that you are here to honor our friend and his beautiful family. 

I have no doubt that for the rest of our days members of  the Forsythe Church of Christ will hear the laughter, wisdom, and joy of Mike Riley throughout these halls and in this pulpit. I am sure that when we pass by a certain pew or sit down in a specific room we will have flashbacks of a time when Mike was right there beside us urging us on in our faith, encouraging us when we were low, sharing a story from his arsenal of interesting experiences. He paid attention to us, all the while he was battling cancer and other illnesses, but you wouldn’t really know that. 

I know that many of you know him outside of these walls. Lifelong friends, Rotarians, Real Estate professionals, medical professionals, and many others connect his presence with the times of your lives that you loved the most. Family members and friends alike have a nearly inexhaustible supply of stories and experiences with Mike Riley. He had a way of bringing life to every moment. We will miss that. 

Surely Mike had a natural disposition that drew people to him. There is no question that the foundation of Mike’s joy and spirit was his faith. Mike had a way of being a devoted Christian that didn’t make anyone uncomfortable. He loved the Lord and he loved his family and he loved people. He loved his church and the doors were never open that he and Mignon didn’t come inside. They came early enough to visit with anyone who was here. They participated openly. They served devotedly. Mike Riley, like his father Max, loved and served this church for decades as an excellent leader. 

Friends, family, church, community – they all were made better by Mike Riley’s presence. 

I believe this is because Mike found his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. How else can one explain the joyous demeanor of one who has lived for so long under the threat of cancer. He did not succumb to self pity (that any of us could witness), but even made sure to visit friends and associates who had cancer, often giving them a copy of Dr. Amy Givler’s book about surviving cancerHe took the most painful element of his life and used it to bless others. No wonder we loved him. He was a great example of the Lord in whom he trusted and followed. 

Yes, it was hope in the life-giving power of Jesus Christ that kept Mike smiling in the face of giants all of his days. He had hope. Hope in the Lord can carry us through the most difficult days. There is no greater hope than what is expressed in Luke 24.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

There is no greater hope than that which arises from the empty tomb. Jesus is alive. No amount of philosophical reflection can overcome that one historical fact. Mike had no greater hope than the hope that he received by following after Jesus Christ in his life, with hope for eternal life given by a Risen Savior. 

I pray that all of us would pursue a life of hope on this basis. 


In 1939 a preacher from another generation published a book of sermons. In one of them Clovis Chappell tells of the experience of the passing of his father. 

“Years ago, I watched my father pass … He had a good voice. He used to lead the singing in our village church. As the end drew near, he stretched out those once strong hands, that were very weak now, and sang, “Jesus, Lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.” He was joyously confident that the Everlasting Arms, upon which he was leaning as he pushed his tired feet into the waters of death, would sustain him through those waters, and on into the eternal yonder. …Therefore, we join our voices with that of Saint Paul, and shout, “the victory is ours, thank God!” (Clovis Chappell, Values That Last, 1939)

I have no doubt that Mike is shouting today, “The victory is mine, thank God!”

I offer to you one of Mike’s favorite blessings:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Because of hope, it is well with our souls.

(At this point in the service Tommy Inman beautifully led us all in singing It Is Well With My Soul.)

The Lord’s Prayer together to end our service. 

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: 

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.



October … What’s That Month to You? For me, it’s the month…

…That I most look forward to. It’s the gateway to the holiday season … the first really cool nights and days without the sun scorching the landscape.

… Of trees changing colors and then disrobing for the winter, only to reappear with much splendor come Spring.

… Of my Mother’s birthday. And let’s face it, if she didn’t have her birthday then the likelihood of my own existence would be in question. 

… Of Thanksgiving, well, in Canada. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends like Karen and Drew and Charlie and Linda. 

… Of Rosh Hashanah, when my Jewish friends celebrate a new year and eat a lot; And Yom Kippur, when they repent and don’t eat a lot…or anything for that matter.

… Of Halloween. It’s not my favorite day but it is a time when I reflect back to when I was a kid and prowling the streets of my neighborhood without fear (a relic of the past). When we’d get home my brother and I would lay out our candy between us and make trades. Nobody wanted those peanut-butter atrocities and filling-pullers wrapped in orange or black wrappers. I’d rather get rocks than those things. But unlike my friend Joel, all the candy corn I can get is good for me.

… Of Barry Manilow. Caught you off guard, didn’t I? He has a great song called When October Goes and I like to listen to it near the end of October.

Yes October is a marvelous month. But most of all it was a night late in October, on the 23rd to be exact, that my eyes beheld one of the glorious miracles that still takes our breath away. I saw my baby boy for the first time. He didn’t even have a name yet, but we knew him and that’s all that mattered. It was 1989 and the expectations of spending our lifetime with that boy seemed promising. Well, I suppose we have no choice but to treasure the 18 years we had with him. We miss him so. But there are now a different set of promises that we cling to. Those promises are from someone who also suffered and died before his time, as humans reckon things. He did something no one else could do. He arose, and with him arose hope. 

October … What’s That Month to You?





Happy Birthday Nicole!


Happy Birthday Nicole!

Today is Nicole’s 40th birthday! We wish she lived closer so we could see her and the grandkids more often, but she’s living where she wants to live. That’s one clue to the independent and strong woman that she really is. Through lots of life experiences she has learned how to be a survivor. I’m really proud of her because she demonstrates so many great qualities such as compassion, love, and hard work. Though she’s had some trials she never gives up. We seldom talk to her when there aren’t moments of laughter and joy. Nicole has never has a shortage of friends because she is someone that people enjoy being around. I hope it won’t be too long before we see her and the grands again (it can’t be too soon!).  We love you Nicole! Hope you had a happy birthday and many more to come!

Marvin Phillips Says…


My friend Marvin Phillips turns 85 today. In my mind there are probably four or five ministers of the Gospel who have truly influenced my thinking and served as models and mentors over the years. No doubt one of those top five is Marvin Phillips. Even these years later I cannot explain the feeling I had in my college days when Glenn Jarrett gave me a tape from the IBC Workshop of this guy I had never heard of … Marvin nearly blew my speakers out with his passionate evangelistic preaching. It is a privilege that I got to meet Marvin, but even more, to get to know him.

After Katrina Marvin encouraged the churches of the brotherhood … the damage was so massive … no one could fix it all … every church just pick one area and go help … then he said the words that still bring tears to my eyes, “I Choose Pascagoula.” He came several times and preached … he and his friends actually worked doing repairs in my house along with others. Marvin has had significant influence in the church as I see it.

He emphasizes UNITY while others pull apart. He emphasizes Practical Service and Loving Others while others criticize and put down. Today is his birthday, and today I Choose Marvin. Thanks Marvin Phillips. I love you and your family. Happy Birthday friend. and I thought I’d share some quotes from some of his books that have meant so much to me!

Soul winners must be praying people. … If there is any work on earth that needs to be fortified by the effectual fervent prayers of the righteous, it is soul winning. … Ask God boldly to help you lead some to Christ before you sleep that night. Let’s Win Souls Now, p. 7.

mphillips2Any church in the nation can be revived if it will rediscover its purpose from the Bible and begin preaching its message… the good news of Jesus Christ. And quit conducting it like a funeral service. A worship service is many things. It is the celebration of a risen Lord. it is a “Family Reunion” (notice all those Bible terms, “Child of God”, “Father”, “Born Again”, etc.) When you think about it, all those terms are down-to-earth terms. They spell out “FAMILY”. When a church discovers the “family spirit”, it is on its way to greatness. You Can’t Fly To Heaven in a Straight Line, p. 107, 108.

Life … is full of fantastic things to see, to learn and to do. There are things to enjoy, to play with; there are challenges and opportunities. There are goals to reach, and people to love. It is a wide, wonderful world out there. Yet many people step up to the counter of life and say, “gimme a half-gallon of ‘bland’;” “give me a double dip of mediocre;” “give me a double dip of mediocre;” “give me a cheap, boring sundae, covered with BLAH!” Life was meant to be zestful, adventurous and exciting! I look in the Bible, and the heroes there took life by the horns, and really had a time. Joshua and Caleb were the two spies who said Canaan could be taken, whereas the other ten spies spoke of obstacles, and taking the safe, sane way out. God finally was about to give them the land when, forty years later, folks finally decided to follow Joshua and Caleb’s advice. Even then, Caleb said, “I am 85 years old today. I am as strong as I ever was. Give me the land where the giants are. God and I can handle it” (Joshua 14:10-12). Ah, to have zest and energy like that. To believe, to challenge and act like that into old age, that would be great. No vanilla for Caleb! Put Peak in Your Week, pp. 53-54.

Fire has always been associated with the onward march of the church of God. I’ve been through a few fires in my time. I’ve started a few. I’ve been roasted, scorched, smoked out and barbecued. Churches need to get on fire for God. There needs to be some evangelistic flames sweeping over this lost world of ours. To be sure there will be opposition and obstacles. There is no victory without a little fire!  The Joy Factor of Church Growth, p. 138.

I seem to have misplaced my copy of Don’t Shoot: We Might Both Be on the Same Side! Great book. Anyway, nothing takes the place of hearing Marvin preach. But his books … they’re great encouragements.

Here’s the audio of a sermon of Marvin preaching in Pascagoula about 6 months after Hurricane Katrina. 

I love Marvin Phillips! Thanks for reading, John.