In the weeks following my high school graduation my parents and younger sisters moved to Birmingham, Alabama. The next year I moved to Birmingham to live with the family and a newborn baby sister, Dawn, and finish college. After graduation, I moved to Ft. Worth, Texas. Two weeks later my family moved to Atlanta, except for my sister, Denise, who had married in Birmingham. I had never been to Atlanta, so finding their house that Christmas was a real challenge. When I graduated from seminary my family moved to Greenwood, South Carolina, except for my sister, Diane, who had married in Atlanta. A pattern was emerging; every time I graduated my family moved further away. Dorothy and I had this running conversation about me never really knowing the way to my own parents’ home. Over their 20 years in Greenwood, my parents and youngest sister lived in at least three different places. Mom and Dad made the move to a small town called Pelham, Alabama for their final years.
Dorothy’s parents, on the other hand, lived in the same house for 52 years. The highways between Tulsa and Waco, Texas were the problem—always under construction. They were constantly littered with multiple detours and by-passes. The map lady at AAA became our friend. If we had only bought stock in that orange barrel company. Dorothy and I tried to alternate visits with our parents every other year to spend as much time as we could with our families, who lived hundreds of miles in opposite directions from Tulsa. We came to learn that home, for us, is less about geography and more about deep connections. It’s less about place and more about relationship. It’s less about destination and more about shared love.
During this season of disruption and confusion, you may know someone who is having trouble finding home again. They may feel like they are lost in a maze with broken connections, broken relationships, and broken hearts. Listen to their stories. Introduce them to the family of faith. Share the gift of grace. Invite them home to God.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Find the way home. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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I was expecting better than this in 2022. There are still no flying cars. We were supposed to have robots that would serve us breakfast in bed. By 2022 we were supposed to have rid the world of hunger, cured the worst of the diseases, and be nations working together for peace and security for all. America would be a united and “shining city on a hill” for all the world to see how democracy really works. I thought if I ever lived long enough to see 2022, the world would know of Jesus and Christians would be the salt of the earth. But here we are. The future is today, and we are still a mess. As someone recently put it, “We are all going through similar storms, but we are riding them out in very different ships (dramatic pause) or floaties.”
I was expecting better than this about Covid-19. Here we are again, only it is still 2,000+ Covid deaths per week in the U.S., even with this “milder” variant. Omicron is “milder” mostly for the vaccinated. Out of an abundance of caution, as the disclaimer everywhere says, we have closed in-person worship until the end of January at least. In our somewhat older congregation, too many have reported being exposed and quarantining themselves. I take my lead from the area school districts who are making the open/closing/virtual decisions only for about three days at a time. Positive cases of Covid are racing through our schools, students and teachers alike. Yet above all, we have a faithful God who shelters us, heals us, and is with us even to the end of it all.
I was expecting better than this in 2022, but here we are. We live in a sinful world with some of sin’s consequences painfully visible to all. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. The wages of sin, sin’s pay day, is close at hand. Paul calls the wages of sin death. But we have the gift of God, His son Jesus. Undeserved, unearned, unmerited in any way. The theological term is salvation—gracious forgiveness. We are empowered by God’s Spirit and guided by His word. We are His disciples because we obey Christ’s teachings to love, heal and forgive unconditionally. Christ expects better of us. The future is today. The Good News is real. Everyone around us was also expecting a better future. Let them see Jesus.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Tell the Good news. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.
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How are you acting and reacting to others in this on-going pandemic? As Christians, we are challenged to live according to the ethical standards of Jesus. This is not as easy as it might sound. Daily applying the biblical lessons we have learned is a rigorous test of our faithfulness and love. Life has grown even more complicated in our time of Covid. What is the greatest ethical teaching according to Christ? Luke 10:27, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
I was confronted with my own set of ethical Covid challenges this past week. On Friday I was notified that I had been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19. I had spent prolonged time over a few days with the person who had taken ill on Wednesday night. Now what are we supposed to do? The general rule is to be prayerfully honest with yourself about your situation. Tell anyone you had close contact with to allow them to assess their own circumstances. Direct exposure is different than indirect exposure, depending on the length of time spent together (over 15 minutes), masked or unmasked. Next, decide if you should be tested and when. My last long exposure had been on Wednesday, now it was Friday. In a preacher’s world, Sunday is coming soon. Dorothy and I both got tested later that afternoon. We exhibited no symptoms, but that was little help in this situation since even asymptomatic persons can be contagious. The results were expected on Saturday. They did not come through on Saturday.
Here is where the temptation to take unethical next steps gets stronger. The right thing to do was to isolate until we knew what we were facing. We rationalized, we could go to church Sunday, stay in the office, and only come out to for the worship service, and not speak to anyone up close. It is a big room after all. Or we could do the ethical thing—isolate until we knew what we were facing. We prayed, notified the appropriate people, printed a new service bulletin, and swallowed the pride of our self-importance. We learned late Sunday that we had both tested negative. Here is my unasked-for advice: get your mask back out and wear it in public until this wave passes by. It is the ethical way to love Him—heart, body and soul.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Love your neighbor. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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Dorothy thawed the stew meat we bought early in December. She is preparing her famous homemade oven-baked beef stew recipe for dinner tonight. There is a chill in the air. Tulsa broke a 90-year record for the warmest December ever. It was 1931, during the dust bowl era, when the record was set—the average temperature for the month was 47.3 degrees. This year we averaged 52.2 degrees. We had 11 days with temperatures over 70˚ and three days when we officially reached 78˚, December 4, 11 and 24. It was even a beautiful day for New Year’s Eve. Naturally we had to cancel church on January 2nd because it was a frigid 16 degrees when the wind wasn’t blowing!
The hardest part of winter for me is the Sunday Snow Day decision. This past Saturday, New Year’s Day, it rained off and on, and the temperatures dropped into the upper 20’s. Weather forecasts told of freezing temperatures and strong winds for Sunday morning, with a chance of snow, maybe a light dusting or less. “Less than a light dusting of snow,” when translated from the original Greek, means “we have no idea.” I do not take canceling church lightly. I selfishly think about all the service preparations and printed bulletins. I think about the safety of our older members. I know that even when we try to call everyone, someone will come to church having not gotten the message. We called off the service on Saturday afternoon, allowing word to reach most everyone. Turns out we all needed a Sabbath day of rest. It has been a rough two years for everyone.
My thoughts turned to looking ahead in the 2022 calendar. Only because I am a preacher by day, Easter is on my horizon. It falls on April 17 this year. Also, some years ago I promised the grandchildren an in-person trip to Washington D.C. someday. They think Spring Break would be a nice time to visit. It remains to be seen. The only thing harder than calendar planning in the Era of Covid is making predictions about the future. Flexible is my word of the year. I ate an extra helping of the stew.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Stay warm. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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I have never had much success with New Year’s resolutions about diet and exercise. I’ve tried but something always comes along, like breakfast, lunch, a coffee break, or the weather, so there is just not a good time to get around to my resolutions. Also, I do not like to be nagged by my inner resolution keeper. Finally, I may have found a more helpful way to have a happy New Year.
I thought about blaming God. He made me this way, right? Then I considered blaming other people, but they want to pressure me to go along with them. I tried being angry at myself and agitated with the world at large, but that was exhausting. I blamed the devil, but he just grinned. Changing the subject is only a temporary fix. Finally, I discovered the bliss of denial, but somehow even denial does not give me a happy new year.
I have discovered a simple way to fulfill a year’s worth of resolutions with one word. Pick a word for the year and live it out every day. Choose one attribute from Galatians 5:22-23 and you will have nine years’ worth of fruitful living. Everyone is different, so find your own word to express each day. Choose joy or peace or kindness. Choose love or gentleness or patience. Choose self-control or faith or goodness. Then show up each day with your word on your mind. It is a way to allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart.
Based on Romans 12:1-2 and the blessing from Ephesians 3:20-21, I seek to follow this pattern for each day. (1) Confess by name my weakness and seek God’s strength for the day. (2) Honor God with my body. (3) Honor people in my speech and actions. (4) Practice openness and generosity. And (5) pray, pray, pray. Life is a daily walk, not a list of things to do or not do. Life is built on loving, open relationships as we share our stories and dreams. If you need a resolution list, I suggest that you commit to a spiritual growth step in one word, and never stop saying “Thank you” and “I love you.”
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Have a Happy New Year. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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I am thinking about Christmas Present today. Our family attended a dress rehearsal presentation of A Christmas Carol by Tulsa’s American Theatre Company last week. This was made possible for us by Circle of Care Ministries. Circle of Care provides foster care and benevolent ministries through churches across Oklahoma. This is the ATC’s 44th season to present this classic story. The actors and scenery at Tulsa’s Performing Arts Center were delightful. I am always struck by the theme woven by Charles Dickens showing how money and materialism can destroy true joy and the best that life has to offer. The ghost of Christmas Present stole the show.
This is the time of year when we dwell on traditions and memories for our Christmases past, those both white and blue. The white Christmas memories involve smiles and wonder. Blue Christmases reflect loss and melancholy. We can have both kinds mixed together. It is the power of Christmas Present that we often overlook until it is too late. Are we open to the Present in the present moment, or are we too stressed and preoccupied? Is Christmas Present about the presents or something more important? Dickens’ point about Christmas Present is—it will change our Christmas Future. Our futures are always shaped by our actions of today. The treadmill of the holiday season can be wearisome. Friends, relatives, and strangers can be treated unkindly or taken for granted. Blessings of today can be overlooked in the rush to an illusive Christmas mirage. Take time for Christmas Present. Relax, breathe, and take in all in. Listen to the ones you are with. Share with those who have less. Spend time with the Christ of Christmas.
In this year’s production, Christmas Present would sprinkle pinches of colorful glitter on the dower and grumpy and suddenly they would bubble over with joy and delight. Even old Scrooge acted silly when the glitter came his way. He saw he could experience a joyful Christmas. But, of course, it was the dreadful Christmas Future that he had created for himself and everyone around him that brought Scrooge to his knees in repentance of a life wrongly lived. He wanted a second chance to do things right. He begged for a chance to change his future and the future of everyone around him. That’s what a genuine Christmas Present can do for us.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Open the Present. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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Early in our marriage I told Dorothy one of my life goals was to minister on all the continents of the world, based on the great commission of Jesus to “Go into all the world…” By allowing God to lead at His pace, I have been blessed to minister on all seven of the continents of the world, including the sub-continent of India. I have found these short-term experiences to be refreshing and renewing personally. Through the years I have discerned that I bring a spiritual gift of encouragement to the missionaries, pastors, and believers in each of the places I have been privileged to serve. Missionaries can find themselves in a lonely outsider kind of place emotionally. I remember going to Africa in a dominant Muslim area where the three missionary families told me I was the only non-fulltime missionary visitor that had come to spend time with them in over three years. They were starving for encouragement. God moved in a mighty way that week.
These opportunities have given to me a sense of perspective on the world at large, our church community in Tulsa, and my place in it all. With the events of September 11, 2001 and the rise of brutalism throughout the world, frontline international missions have changed drastically. Add to this global financial instability and a world-wide pandemic, our global missionaries find themselves facing unimaginable challenges. Still, global missionaries trust the God who has called them to go forth.
The costs of livable wages and housing for full-time missionaries, plus life and health insurance risks in a foreign land, while also providing for their retirements, have necessarily shifted the realities for all missionary-sending organizations, Baptists included. Long-term missionary teams have grown smaller as their regions of service have grown wider. Short-term mission projects and teams have of necessity carried much of the weight for the mission fields. Global missions now focus on three primary areas for ministry: indigenous church planting and leadership training, mass migration relief, and natural disaster recovery.
There is a new urgency to support our missionaries. Our Lottie Moon Global Missions Offering this Christmas is a worthy and vital opportunity to support our efforts as a church to be a Great Commission people in a hurting and suffering world.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Pray for our missionaries. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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This is from a study I wrote this week for the Center for Congregational Ethics based on the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, from Luke 1:68-79, Malachi 3:13-18, and Philippians 1:18b-26.
What makes your heart sing? That is a personal question with a multitude of answers. It has been another dreary year for many. Too much anger. Too much grief and loss. Thanksgiving Day already seems long ago. Let’s rephrase the question: What does your heart sing when you are feeling blessed, burdened down, or conflicted? Let’s start with the easy one.
Luke is the most music-filled of the Gospels, reporting the heart songs of Mary, Zachariah, the angelic host, and Simeon. Zachariah and Elizabeth echo Abraham and Sarah’s story. Zachariah sings of scriptures being fulfilled in his presence and a blessing to John, his first and only son. “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him…” A son of promise has been given. What heart songs do we sing when God gives grace so lavishly?
Malachi, the last of the prophets until John the Baptist, calls out the wayward pharisees of his day. In the name of the Lord, he accuses them of failing to meet the basic teachings of a life of faith by corrupting the essence of a godly life. These weary religious leaders proclaim futility instead of hope and ritualism instead of joy. In their eyes, the Lord’s accusation continues, the arrogant become the blessed, and evildoers become the winners because God lets everyone escape judgment. Then suddenly the expected pattern of the people rejecting the prophet’s words takes a remarkable turn. Authentic conversations begin among the formerly faithful. Pride is set aside. Hearts and minds publicly change to repentance. A new way forward is noted by all. What heart songs do we sing when God smiles upon us?
Paul seeks to lend pastoral care to the church at Philippi from the remoteness of a jail. Majoring on the minor things always is a temptation for believers. This passage reveals his conflicted attitude about his circumstances and his ambivalence about pressing on. In his anxiousness for the future of this church, he remembers his call: Preach Christ. As he works through his situation, he seizes on the major theme—For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. His heart song becomes the prelude to the song of the Glorified Christ in the next chapter. What heart songs do we sing when God brings clarity to the moment?
What is your heart song today?
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In December of 1750, Benjamin Franklin had an idea for a tasty turkey dinner. He speculated that electrocuting a turkey might make it juicier to eat. It did not go well. Franklin was experimenting with electricity long before the famous kite test. According to a recent article by Timothy J. Jorgensen in the Smithsonian Magazine, Franklin was working with an invention called a Leyden Jar, which was a forerunner of the capacitor and the battery. Static electricity was transferred into the jar and stored until it could be discharged. Jorgensen writes, “One day, while performing a demonstration of the proper way to electrocute a turkey, (Franklin) mistakenly touched the electrified wire intended for the turkey while his other hand was grounded, thereby diverting the full brunt of the turkey-killing charge into his own body.” It was a near-death experience which probably saved his life two years later. Try not to hurt yourself—turkeys can be dangerous.
Ben Franklin coined such terms as current, positive charge, negative charge, discharge, conductor, and battery. According to the article, Mr. Franklin was embarrassed and humiliated by the incident. His pride was wounded. After he regained consciousness, he felt excruciating pain and saw his blistered hand. It turns out traditional ways of killing a turkey have prevailed. Mr. Jorgensen speculates in his article that the turkey incident prepared Ben to take better precautions in 1752 when flying his kite in a thunderstorm holding a wet string with an iron key attached to it. Franklin tied a length of non-conductive silk to the string, separating him from the electric charge, which he captured through the key in his own Leyden Jar. I have a personal theory that most the ills of our modern world can be laid at the feet of our pride and all things electronic.
Benjamin Franklin is not alone in experiencing disaster getting a turkey ready for dinner. You might have your own story. I call those stories—The Revenge of the Turkey. There’s the story about the weary mother getting up at 4:30 in the morning to put the turkey in the oven, setting the timer, but forgetting to turn on the oven. Or the one about the deep-fried turkey volcano in the kitchen, or the ever popular, “Mom, the dog is eating the turkey.”
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Beware the turkey. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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(This is an abbreviated ministry update sent out by Kevin Avery, our Missionary in Residence.)
Hi, everyone! As Thanksgiving approaches, we want to say again how grateful we are for your support and encouragement. This year has been beyond challenging, but we enter God’s presence with great hope, knowing his plan is truly good, pleasing, and perfect. It never ceases to amaze me how he chooses to use us (as followers of Christ) to be an extension of his goodness and mercy to the nations.
My physical health is still our biggest concern. I long to be able to minister to others in person again on a daily basis, but my body is not ready – at least not yet. I need to use several hours a week seeing doctors or rebuilding my strength and balance with physical therapy and exercise. Restoration also requires a lot of prayer to know which treatment to pursue. Different opinions abound, but we sincerely believe God will restore me. We just have to listen and faithfully follow his plan. And of course, we pray fervently for miraculous grace.
In the time needed before I’m able to return to full-time ministry, I believe the Lord is able to use my weaknesses for his glory. I have started a YouTube channel (called Broken Yet Full) to increase awareness about our faith in the midst of disability, weakness and brokenness. I welcome you to follow – even subscribe to – my videos. It is a very transparent look at my life, and it is all free. We pray the Lord profoundly uses it.
I will continue to help edit Joni and Friends’ Disability in Mission blog, and I serve as the Communications Liaison for Lausanne Movement’s Disability Concerns. Both of these roles are also volunteer. I hesitate to emphasize any of this because I don’t serve to glean kudos. I serve because it brings me such joy. I only write this bio to show that despite my inability to serve in China, I am still ministering – and thank the Lord I can even minister at all.
These months have broken me in numerous ways, but thank the Lord that the weaker we are, the stronger he can shine. Thank you for allowing me to share all of this and thank you for walking alongside us for all these years.
Broken Yet Full YouTube Channel ~ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChWG_dLn6H4aG6pE9vMQAjw/featured
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