Category Archives: Reflections

Love Gives the Best

“Anyone can give without loving, but no one can love without giving.”  Dr. James G. Harris.  My model and mentor for being a pastor was Dr. Harris, Senior Minister of the University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. I was a member of his church, taught a 5th Grade Boys Sunday School class and sang in the choir. Dr. Harris counseled Dorothy and I as we prepared to marry. Together Dorothy and I taught the Junior High Youth Class on Sunday evenings and helped in the young adult department. Dr. Harris led my ordination council and sent us forth to Tulsa in 1973. 

The story is told about an elementary school holiday program called Christmas Love. If you have ever been to one you understand the excited nervousness of the children, and the audience. The program was proceeding pretty well until the final song. This was the time a row of young children stood in front of the rest of the group holding big posters while awaiting their turn to reveal each card. One youngster was enjoying herself, bouncing along to the music, when she realized everyone was watching her and giggling. She dropped her card and they laughed. She picked it up and danced even harder, dropping her card again. Suddenly it was time for the children to turn their cards around.  At the director’s signal, the children turned their card over to spell the title of the program, only her card, the M, was upside down. Some laughed but then came the applause. The children had spelled CHRIST WAS LOVE.

As messed up, off the mark and downright mean as our world has gotten, Christmas continues to remind us that no one can love without giving—even God. “God so loved the world,” the familiar verse says, “that He gave His only Son that we might have eternal life.” Dr. Harris gave his all to God and the church. He died on a beautiful early Sunday morning in January 1975, as he jogged around the high school track, preparing his mind, body, and soul to preach of God’s love gift that day. His memorial service became a true spiritual and church-wide homecoming as hundreds of us returned to say thank you to God for giving us the gift of James Gordon Harris.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Love gives the best. And let’s experience the love and power of God together. 

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Words Matter

This was written for the Center for Congregational Ethics, an on-line resource for pastors and lay-leaders. This brief devotional outline was based on Psalm 76; Isaiah 60:17-22; and Ephesians 4:25-5:2, from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, for November 14, 2022. It is suggested that you read each passage first, as you reflect on the focus verses. 

I am always interested in reading the devotional selections on my birthday, which is today, November 14, most likely to see what special word from God I might discern. But if I’m not careful, it can become an exercise of reading what I want to read, to get the special message I want to hear. Not that different from a fortune cookie or horoscope. It can become fatalism wrapped up as a birthday present, tied with a bow of self-centeredness. Words matter.

Psalm 76 points to judgment and salvation in the power of God. God establishes justice. Everyone, from any life circumstance, will one day stand in awe of the Lord. Verse 11 declares the cautionary word: Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them. 

Isaiah 60:17-22 points to hope and salvation in the promise of peace. The world is made whole as justice and righteousness transform the people of God. Verse 22 admonishes us to be patient: I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 points to conduct and salvation in our daily relationships. Paul’s guidelines for living just and righteous lives, everywhere every day, empower the witness of the church, one person at a time. Verse 5:1 presents the imperative, Be imitators of God, therefore…

My words matter. I found a simple prayer that often helps me: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord. (Psalm 19:14)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Our words matter. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

Bro. Darryl

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Healthy Churches

I have been to a great many Baptist meetings this year, including in-person and by zoom. Last November, at our Tulsa Metro Baptist Network (TMBN) annual meeting, when I was again elected to serve as the Clerk/Secretary of the Association, I reported that I would serve one more year.  I desire less meetings. Tulsa Baptists have been in the middle of an intense self-examination as a network of churches, and I wanted to finish my commitment to that process. At this year’s meeting on November 1, most of the findings were presented and well received. I would like to share with you some of the framework of the efforts.

In church leadership circles the question is often asked: If your church closed today, would anyone in the neighborhood notice?  A more positive question that we addressed was: If the churches of today were to invent an association, what would it look like? We have been working on this “simple” topic for two years now, led by a national church development group in partnership with a half-dozen similarly sized associations from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Washington. We’ve redefined who we are: We are a network of leaders helping one another fuel the mission of the local church. A key discovery was found in the personal pain and conflict many of our congregations, and their key leaders, are facing. Healthy churches require healthy pastoral leadership. Our group outlined an overall vision and strategy: Encouraging Leaders; Forging Partnerships; and Planting, Replanting and Strengthening Churches. To this purpose, we have organized the work of the Network into three working teams: a Church Health team, a Leader Care and Development team, and a Church Planting team. This is a work in progress and is being refined as we go forward. 

I want to personally thank Dr. Charles Cruce, Missions Director, and the Officers and Administrative Leaders of the Tulsa Metro Baptist Association for allowing me to be a part of this reshaping effort. At the annual meeting, I was recognized for over 40 years as the TMBN Secretary with a plaque and a gift certificate for Dorothy and I to spend a few days in Branson. I think they are suggesting the time away may help us model a healthy relationship.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Model healthy. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Old West, and the New

I had a hankerin’ for a western, so I read the Louis L’Amour book Rider of Lost Creek. Louis L’Amour wrote 120 books before he died in 1988. All of his books are still in print. The struggles of the Old West (1870’s to 1890’s) still resonate with us today for a reason. I saw a glimpse of what he was really writing about—the cowboy, the cattle drives, the free range were being replaced by a new Fenced West (1890’s to 1920’s) of ranch hands, cattle trains, and barbed wire. In the Old West, outlaws were deputized as lawmen and lawmen turned outlaw, if the opportunity seemed worth it. L’Amour wrote briefly about Watt Earp and Bat Masterson as good guys and gunslingers. I remember the old Radio and TV shows about the Old West—The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke and Wagon Train, and those of the Fenced West—Bonanza, Roy Rogers, and Hop-a-Long Cassidy. All those shows were about righting wrongs and making a new start.

The real Wyatt Earp retired from the old west, moved to Alaska to find gold, then eventually went to Hollywood where he became a motion picture consultant to Tom Mix, William S. Hart and a young actor named Marion Morrison, who became John Wayne. Wyatt Earp died in 1929.  Bat Masterson, who reportedly killed more than 26 men before he was 30, died in 1921 sitting at his typewriter in New York City as the sports columnist for the New York Telegraph. The  Old West and the Fenced West became the Wild West in the imaginations of the storytellers. The cowboys who lived through those changing times constantly reinvented themselves. They learned the power of a new start, a new beginning.

I remember once, when visiting a church in the East, our daughters were asked, “Do Indians live in teepees in Tulsa, Oklahoma?” The Wild West, Hollywood-style, lives on in our collective stories. It is a new day. Today’s cowboys have hardly driven cattle anywhere unless the cattle were in their trucks. It is a different day for life on the range. Do you need a re-start, a reinvention, and transformation of your life today? God is the One who said, “Behold, I make all things new.” It is never too late for a fresh start.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Start anew. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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An Alarming Situation

Dorothy and I were enjoying a leisurely breakfast this past Thursday, when we were startled by a loud, pulsing siren-like sound. We thought our home alarm system had been triggered. Not seeing or smelling smoke but alarmed that every smoke detector in the house was screeching, Dorothy called 911 and asked the fire department to send someone out to determine the cause. There was no smoke or fire anywhere that I could see. My next thought was that it might be carbon monoxide that set off the alarms. I opened the front and back doors to let in some outside air. The freeze warnings and steep temperature drop had caused us to turn on the heat on Monday night. I went to the garage, opened the attic and looked up. Still no smoke or flames. I went outside to look at the roof, front and back. All was quiet. While the firetruck was on its way, I moved the cars out of the garage and out of the way, while Dorothy waited outside as the fire department personnel had ordered. 

The first cold week of the season is a dangerous time for house fires and carbon monoxide poisonings. Heaters, fireplaces, and furnaces have been sitting unused for months, getting dustier and rustier. A tiny gas leak, a worn-out electrical cord or connector, or a failing fan motor can do a lot of damage. When the firemen arrived, they spread apart to assess the whole house. They were each wearing carbon monoxide detectors, which were indicating everything was normal. Soon they found the source of the problem: the smoke detectors had malfunctioned. I did not know that smoke detectors have an expiration date of about 10 years. Ours are 17 years old. Not only are we to replace the batteries when needed, but also the smoke detector units themselves after 10-12 years. One fireman patiently showed me about our units, how they were connected and the kind to buy. They suggested we replace them all. Fortunately, I was able to find the same model on-line. Before they left, they told me to call them when we got our new units; they would gladly install them for us at no cost.

After that alarming experience, we warmed our coffee and food as best we could and talked about it all. We are thankful for alarms that work and firefighters that are caring and patient. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Check your alarms. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Reading Life

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1439 and the world has never been the same. Gutenberg’s big project was to print the entire Bible in his native German. It was a good place to start. The printing press revolutionized the world.

In my life long ago, I served as the full-time Serials Librarian at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That’s serials with an “s” not with a “c.” We did not serve breakfast. Serials are periodicals, magazines, and annuals. I had a staff of eight people to supervise and over 4,000 different titles to keep catalogued and filed. It was an amazing and diverse job with the opportunity to help students, professors and Biblical scholars research the most current materials available in religious studies. I am continually grateful for the skills I learned in that position. I learned about the budgeting process and living within its constraints. I learned about managing a staff and scheduling. I learned how to read quickly and accurately, and how to research current topics through periodicals. 

Many years later, I went to the library of a local theological seminary to check out a couple of books. I had not been in an actual theological library in a long time. Over the years my personal library, the church media center and the kindness of friends has seen me through. I was researching a sermon series on Jesus and his relationship with the women who followed Him. I needed to find very specialized books and articles. But I needed help. The card catalog had been recycled long ago; now everything is found by computer. The student librarian patiently showed me how I could find and check out anything that I needed in this library from any computer in the world!

C. S. Lewis once wrote of how the power of reading opens our perspectives: We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. Many people never go to a public library anymore, although the library is cheaper than a bookstore, and more technologically advanced than many homes. While there will always be a place for holding a good book in your hand, you may be reading your favorite author from a hand-held tablet already. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Keep reading. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Encountering the Hobo

Do you remember your first job, the one with an actual paycheck? I remember opening that first pay envelope and seeing a check for about $30, big money for 1963. Yet I was disappointed to see what they had taken out of my paycheck. I was told it had to do with death and taxes. It was Railroad Retirement and union dues. I was the fill-in-where-needed summer vacation relief Yard Clerk for the Miami railyards of Seaboard Airline Railroad (CSX today). I was working there because my father was one of the Yard Masters.

The railyard is where incoming and outgoing freight cars get sorted out and sent off to their various destinations. My job was to inventory every box car, flat car, tank car, hopper, engine, and caboose on more than a dozen tracks. I listed the cars on a form sheet in exact order, by numbered track. My job also included climbing on top of box cars and over to refrigerator cars to check the level of ice they contained before they left the yards. It also meant I learned how to step up on and jump off a moving freight train to save me walking to the other side of the yard. This is harder than it sounds at 3 a.m. on a moonless night. 

The only time I was really frightened was one afternoon when, lost in thought, a voice inside a box car suddenly shouted out, “Hey, boy!” I jumped. There, right before my eyes, were three grizzled hobos. They wanted to know the time. I had never seen a real hobo in person. I had heard about them and even watched Red Skelton play one many times on TV. We call them the homeless today, but a hobo was supposed to be someone who traveled the rails in search of work and a place to build his family. People provided extras for the hobos: extra food, extra clothes, and a place to spend the night between train rides. Some hobos took advantage, but most were genuinely grateful. 

Times changed and the emotionally wounded, physically afflicted and financially insecure have found themselves with fewer trains to ride. Our Wednesday night outreach to our community provides emergency supplies—bags of groceries, extra clothes, a listening ear and promise of prayer. I invite you to join us as a volunteer in prayerfully ministering with our neighbors and those who may be passing through. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Get on board. And let’s experience the love and power of God together. 

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Planting Churches

One of the true joys of faithful churches is found in the opportunity to plant new churches. Our church has been blessed to help organize three strong churches: Belview, Southwood (1976), and Monte Los Olivos (2000). But it all began with Belview. In 1951, as the contractors were pouring the concrete for the foundation for our current church sanctuary, an opportunity arose for us to begin a new mission. I can only imagine the conversations when the Tulsa Baptist Association approached the pastor and this congregation to start a new work when they had just launched a huge building campaign. The association was encouraging the establishment of new neighborhood churches as the boon of post-war housing additions had spread across the city. A possible site was secured on some property about a mile north of our church on Yale Avenue. New houses were being built on both sides of Yale, and a public school was in the works. The homes were canvassed, and a tent revival was held. Feeling led by God, the church voted to plant a new church.  Our pastor at the time, Rev. Pat Murphy, asked for volunteers to go and start the new church. Records indicate about 30 of our families committed to spend a year working to establish what would become the Belview Baptist Church. What a fellowship!

Our church led the organizing council in October of 1952. Some of those pioneering families became charter members of the new church, while many returned to continue the work of building the sanctuary here. Rev. Tom Branch has been their faithful pastor now for 37 years. Tom has a long and meaningful relationship with both the Tulsa Police and Fire Departments, serving for decades as one of the lead police chaplains for our county. Belview has always been known for its community outreach, providing hospitality with food and clothes, a place for families to do their holiday shopping in the Jesus Christmas Room, and as a lighthouse of wise counsel for those needing salvation and renewal. With the aging of some of their faithful volunteers in 2019, Belview gave The People’s Pantry all their remaining food and clothing supplies. In addition, they contribute monthly to our Pantry from their budget, as a meaningful way to serve this area. This Sunday, October 9, Belview Baptist Church will celebrate its 70th Anniversary. What a joy divine!

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Lean on Jesus. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Blister Makers

I have been annoyed by it for years, then I was just plain frustrated for a while. It was the same problem week after week. I didn’t know what to do about it. It stopped during the pandemic. Now it has started up again. It is a mystery to me. It is a “blister maker” if I am not careful. Someone is not being responsible, and really, someone is just not being kind to me at all. Sounds like I’m starting to take it personally

Someone is throwing their cigarette stubs in my driveway. It used to be three or four times a week. None of our neighbors smoke, yet a cigarette stub lands in my driveway or front yard a couple of times a week.  My neighbors do not have this problem. We live in the middle of the block. Our street is so wide that there is a median designed to hold twelve parked cars in front of our house. And none of our neighbors host that many parties. I have drawn up a very short suspect list: the mail carrier, the newspaper carrier, or the UPS guy. One other possibility would be someone who might regularly walk around the neighborhood. Most people who are walking for exercise do not smoke while walking and the newspaper carrier never stops when throwing the paper. I am down to the mail carrier or the UPS guy. The UPS guy changes all the time, so now I am left with the mailman. Does he always light his cigarette at the same place, at the same moment so that he is always ready to throw it away at my house? Doesn’t seem likely. I’ve never seen him smoking. Ever. The mystery deepens. 

If I can’t fix it, change it, or confront the culprit, all I can do is face it, deal with it, and wait for the culprit to change. Waiting for someone else to change so my life will be better means I have to change my attitude. If I don’t, it could become the little burr that makes a blister that becomes infected and cripples my walk and makes me sick. Anger and grudges are tricky like that. The only way to stop the blister is to remove the burr. How do I remove the burr? I must stop waiting for someone else to change, but rather check the condition of my own heart when these aggravations occur.

  Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Check for burrs.  And let’s experience the love and power of God together. 

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The Lady Houdini

During one of our adventures at the Tulsa State Fair a dozen years ago, we stopped by to see the magic show of Ridgeway and Johnson.  This husband-and-wife team have become world famous for their large and dangerous illusions.  While Kevin Ridgeway is the master magician and showman, his wife, Kristen Johnson, is the star of the show. He waves the sharp blades around; she gets in the box that is sliced down to a small cube then pierced through with five swords. She gets out of the box unharmed. She is hung upside down by her feet, while strapped into a straitjacket, like Harry Houdini. She wriggles out of the straitjacket and repels down to the floor.

Best known for her underwater escapes, Kristen has become The Lady Houdini. Draped with locked chains, handcuffed with her feet shackled, she lowers herself into a glass tank of water, which is also locked on top. Holding her breath in full view of the audience she proceeds to try to pick the seven locks and escape. Watching her do this takes your breath away. As a former Christian magician, I know some of the science behind the dangerous illusions, but Kristen still must hold her breath underwater for about three and a half minutes while picking the locks. That is not an illusion. Their timing must be perfect. Their trust in each other must be absolute. But most of all they need to love what they do and do what they love. She has nearly died in that tank of water on three occasions. 

They were almost killed in 2017 by a distracted (texting) driver. She had broken ribs and a punctured lung. Kevin was severely injured and in a coma for five weeks before slowly healing from his surgeries, accompanied by months of physical therapy. They then chose to resume their career. At the end of July this year, Kristen fell nearly 30 feet while descending from her straitjacket performance breaking a leg and her wrist. This week, if all goes well, surgeons will remove the three plates, 16 screws and the rod in her wrist. They persevere and feel blessed.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Keep on keeping on. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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