Category Archives: Reflections

Overcoming the Ruts

​Pastors are a whole lot like people. If I am not growing as a person, then the church cannot grow beyond the limits of my leadership. If I am not growing as a pastor, the church cannot grow. If I do not stretch myself each week, the congregation and our ministries cannot take healthy steps forward. The temptation is to always stay in the worn paths, also known as, the ruts. A key life-verse for me is 2 Timothy 15, which begins “Study to show yourself approved unto God.” (KJV) Twenty years ago I took the suggestion of a noted church leader and began to purposefully randomize my reading and my experiences. That simply meant exploring outside the smooth and familiar ruts of faith, work, and family. On the front of a Schlotzsky’s personal-sized bag of chips, the following words appeared: Sandwiches need chips, shoulders do not. Fast food theology.

​At first, I started reading books in different fields. Later, I started listening to Ted Talks and audio books on subjects with which I had no experience or understanding. I also began reading the Bible and studying the Scriptures in unfamiliar ways, like reading a letter of Paul with the last chapter first, then the second to the last, etc. I increased my reading sources to include people I always disagree with, to better understand my own ideas. Social media is a black hole from which many never seem to recover. I have limited my time on social media for my own spiritual health. I take time each morning, if possible, to read three different newspapers. On my tablet I discovered that I could follow multiple subjects for free through aggregate feeds on a program call Flipbook. I have observed that the pastors who get in trouble, many times have grown bored with their own repetitions or burned out with the constant expectations of ministry. Giving myself permission to be random has opened my outlook to hearing the Spirit nudge me forward in creative ways.Some Dove candies come wrapped in interesting sayings. One of Dove’s words of wisdom include the mandate to “Trust with your heart not with your mind.” Truer words were never spoken about chocolate. Proverbs 3 qualifies this for people by saying, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

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

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An Update from Kevin Avery

 Our Missionary in Residence

Despite still suffering from MS nerve damage. I (Kevin Avery) am quite grateful that opportunities to minister have been steadily growing. When 2021 ended and 2022 first began, I kept asking the Lord what he wanted me to do since my mobility was limited. In response, he answered, “Trust me.” I was thankful he answered my question, but for several seconds, I thought perhaps I needed to have asked my question in a different way. Maybe I should’ve asked, “Lord, what ministry would you have me do in 2022?” or “What am I to do to financially help my family?” But before I could verbalize either thought, the Lord told me again, “Trust me.” I paused but then nodded and asked him to empower me to do this fully. After all, it was clear my level of trust was less than I had thought. 

As weeks continued, I was uncertain about the future, but I never stopped pursuing the Lord through Scripture and prayer. Also, a few days after Russia attacked Ukraine, I began to lead Prayer for the Nations Zoom meetings every Tuesday night. We are now on our 23rd week. Further, I kept doing what ministry I could, whether I was preaching occasionally or helping write for Joni and Friends or the Lausanne Movement begun by Billy Graham. I continue to serve in these ways. In addition, I was asked to write a chapter illustrating James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” I did write this chapter (which is now chapter 3 of the recently published book “Mature and Complete: How God Uses Trials, Brokenness, and Wilderness Times for Our Good”). 

In recent weeks, though, I better understand why God would embed the idea of “Trust Me” within me before showing me what ministry he would have me do. The Lord has begun leading me to pray with and to write alongside ministers in third world countries, especially with those in English-speaking areas of East Africa. Like Aaron or Hurr helping Moses in Exodus 17, I am serving in support roles. I am virtually helping ministers who cannot pay me back, at least not financially. For instance, I have started helping a South Sudanese pastor named Peter serve refugees with hearing impairments. Specifically, I’m helping Peter prayerfully brainstorm and write out ministry and business plans. In other words, I am again raising support so that I can support the global church through prayer and writing.

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A Cat Story for the Summer

This is a “summer rerun” of a cat story I shared here in 2014. 

If a story begins, “it seemed like a good idea at the time,” it probably wasn’t. I’ve written before about our cat, Doll (1996-2016). I received her as a Father’s Day gift in 1996. I believe her to be part cat and part squirrel because of her tendency to climb great heights around the house, and then take great leaps of faith. She rests during the day so that she can hunt for her toy mouse after we go to bed, and then when she has found it, she brings it to us with triumphant howls around midnight, or later if she has difficulty locating her prey. A very close relative of mine began rewarding this effort with a flashlight shining on her victorious capture and with words of praise. She loves words of praise in the middle of the night.

So when this close relative saw there was a free cat game available for download to a smart phone or mini-tablet, it sounded like fun. The game, by the way, is for the cat. Just as partaking in word and skill games is supposed to keep aging minds active, this cat game is designed to help elderly cats stay alert. Doll loves to play her game. All she has to do is tap the moving red dot on the screen and she gets 100 points, and a beep, for as long as she wants to play. If this sounds like something your cat would enjoy, I have two suggestions: make certain your cat has been declawed; and, have a tight-fitting case for the occasional screen licking. Doll loves this game so much she wants to play it whenever her humans get out their electronic devices. This can get annoying.  

This all reminds me of that Bible verse in Galatians 6 which points out that people reap what they sow. This passage cautions us to be mindful of our actions, for we must live with the results. And sometimes the results may keep us up at night.

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

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Seeing Ourselves

Lucy and Charlie Brown are going through their psychiatrist-patient routine in the old Peanuts comic strip. She only charges 5¢, you know. Charlie asks about his dreams and why they occur. Lucy matter-of-factly replies, “The dreams of the night prepare you for the day that follows. At night when you are sleeping your brain is really working—trying to sort out everything for you, trying to make you see yourself as you really are.” Charlie Brown gets up and as he turns to leave says discouragingly, “Even my brain is against me.”

Who wants to see themselves as they really are? I would rather like to see myself as the hero of my life, faster than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. You know, Super Me. Turns out I am more flawed me than I would like to admit. Charlie Brown found himself living each day somewhere between hope and despair. His hopes were always high, but his reality always seemed to bring him to despair. Is that why we like Charlie Brown so much? Is there a bit of Charlie Brown in each of us?

When it comes to “trying to make you see yourself as you really are,” my first inclination is, “I’d rather not.” Yet that seems to be the pull, not only of our brains, but also of the Word of God, which is like a mirror before our souls. The spiritual truth is, when we hear or read the Scriptures, we see ourselves the way God sees us—sinful and not very strong at all. That might even lead some people to say, “Even the Bible is against me.” We need our sleep so our brains can process our lives. We need God’s Word so our lives can mirror God’s grace. Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors. (Psalm 119:24)

Read a few sections of Psalm 119 to see the power of reflecting on the Word of God. As you remember, in the original Hebrew, Psalm 119 is poetry set forth as an acrostic. The psalm is divided into equal sections according to the Hebrew alphabet. Each section has 8 verses. The first word of each verse starts with the same letter that heads the section.

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

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Ugly Peaches

You may have noticed that it is hot—triple digit hot, as the weather guessers like to say.  Also, it has not rained for over a month now. Dorothy and I took a little excursion to Porter, Oklahoma over the weekend to buy some of the best tasting peaches anywhere. I have family in Georgia and the Carolinas that can brag about their peaches too. Except I can truly say this year that we bought the sweetest ugliest peaches ever. I last wrote about Porter peaches in 2018, a year that was very hard on the peach tree farmers. Last year was a hard year because a late April freeze destroyed most of the budding fruit. This year is hard because of a massive hailstorm and excessive rain followed by this heat wave and drought. Farming is hard work and dependent on good weather. The peaches are beat up but still juicy. The prettiest peaches are sold in the grocery stores and on display at the peach festivals. The rest show the bruises, scars and gouges left by the hail. Ugly peaches are the cheapest. Ugly peaches take a little longer to carve out the damaged areas and cut up. Our ugly peaches are beautiful on a bowl of vanilla ice-cream, baked in a cobbler, or sliced on a bowl of cereal. 

It is always about 103 when Dorothy and I travel to Porter. This year we skipped the festival and went straight to the Livesay Orchard. We always remember Six Flags. Near our first wedding anniversary, Dorothy discovered that I had never been to Six Flags over Texas. We skipped work and enjoyed an afternoon together, but she was amazed that there were no lines of people waiting for the rides. There were other people there, but no one seemed in a hurry. It was only as we were traveling home to Fort Worth, that we heard on the radio that the temperature that day had reached a high of 108. In those days the heat index had not yet been discovered. Even though it was a hot day, we still had a great time.

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

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Woe—Big Trouble

(This is an adaptation of my article for the Center for Congregational Ethics for July 6)

The editorial cartoon in the Tulsa World (July 12, 2022) shows a night sky over tombstones with the words in the sky saying: Too Many Things That Loom. The tombstones read: Fuel Crisis, Food Crisis, Climate Crisis, Housing Crisis, Mass Shootings, Nuclear War, Ukraine War, Homelessness, and Worse Inflation. It is a crowded cartoon. Our woes run deep and our fears are wide. 

I have been trying to make my peace with this little word “woe.” Is it self-pity or is it a curse? Woe is Me and Woe to You. I have found some insight through the Cambridge English Dictionary definition for woe—big trouble, or big sorrow. In the biblical context, the meaning is two-fold: 1) An exclamation of current trouble; or 2) A prophetic word of future trouble, both with an implied “unless…”  Unless we change direction, unless we re-frame our days, unless we are gentle with ourselves and others, our lives will be lived out as one long tale of woe. Big trouble.

The Bible readings are a portrait of the woes of despair, Psalm 6; the woes of circumstances, 2 Kings 6:1-7; and the woes of warning by Jesus, Luke 10:13-16. The psalmist exclaims his big trouble as he finds himself fearing death and surrounded by people he cannot trust—unless he prays God would intervene. The workman exclaims his big trouble when the borrowed axe he uses cutting down trees flies off its handle into the Jordon River—unless he turns to Elisha and the others for help in recovering the iron blade. In His commissioning of about six dozen followers sending them “to every town and place where he was about to go,” Jesus gives the warning woes of big trouble coming for the individuals who might reject the message of the kingdom of God—unless they listen and repent. We are in a world of woes—big trouble.

Our daily world of woes come in all sizes of pain and grief. On the days our own list of woes has quieted down, someone always seems to amplify the greater woes besetting the nation, the earth, or the dangers down the street. Some tales of woe are anxiety inducing, others are just plain gossip. All could use a measure of compassion.

Neighbors and strangers alike are looking for faithful and trustworthy people to share the burdens of their multiplying woes. Big troubles are everywhere unless, we, too, go where Jesus is about to go, sharing words of grace, hope and God’s love.

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All God’s Creatures

I’ve been thinking about family pets lately and came across this old narrative:

If you can start the day without caffeine, If you can get going without pep pills, If you can resist complaining and boring people with all your troubles, If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it, If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time, If you can overlook it when something goes wrong through no fault of yours and those you love take it out on you, if you can take criticism and blame without resentment, If you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him, If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend, If you can face the world without lies and deceit, If you can conquer tension without medical help, If you can relax without liquor, If you can sleep without the aid of drugs, If you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion or politics, Then, my friends, you are almost as good as your dog.

It is simply amazing how attached we can become to our pets, whether dogs or cats or even little birds. We can simultaneously delight in their antics and clean up their messes. We love them in our laps or at our feet. We smile when they are happy and cry when they are in pain. Our grief is all too sharp when we lose one. I called my first dog Nickel because his mother’s name was Penny. Nicky listened to my troubles, chased mice and other critters and ran beside me when I rode my bike. I do not know if our animals go to heaven when they die. I do know that the Bible indicates that heaven is filled with all manner of animals and creatures beyond our imaginations. If we can love our creatures so deeply, how much greater is God’s love towards us today?

The Psalmist wrote a song we sometimes call “Creature Praise.” In Psalm 148 all of God’s creation and all of His creatures, including people, are encouraged to praise the Lord. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. (v. 13)

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

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Planting Is Hard

Planting is hard. Maybe not the actual placing of the seed or plant into the hole in the ground, but planting is hard. Because of the crazy weather every day since November, our winter pansies were still doing quite well when we unceremoniously pulled them up at the end of May. It’s been raining or blowing or freezing or something every day this year. By my estimate we’ve probably had a record 14 beautiful days since November 2021. This week, when it has not been pouring down rain, the humidity rests at 98%.

Our backyard has a partial moonscape look to it. The heavy rains over these past couple of years have washed away layers of sod and soil, exposing just under one million multi-sized rocks, pieces of concrete, and broken bricks from when the house was built. I once paid a grandson a nickel for every rock he could gather. He quit after 200 rocks. We just moved them to the fence line. The wet ground does make it easier to pull the grass and weeds from the flowerbeds. This year we are experimenting with different kinds of flowers. In the front we planted Vista Red Salvia and White Lobularia. That’s what I said—what? We also purchased a couple of yellow and red Coreopsis plants plus a few Petunias, for old times’ sake. 

While God was digging in that first garden, the one we call Eden, God scooped up some clay and made a man. God breathed into man life and understanding, becoming a living soul. God gave mankind one assignment—tend the earth. Adam walked with God every evening until he did not. Man’s rebellion and sin is why everything is so hard. So Jesus suffered death for us that we might walk with God through eternity.  Preparing the ground, removing the rocks, weeds, and grass. Digging in the soil, adding a little compost and maybe some coffee grounds. It is all worth it, though, for the beauty and satisfaction of a well-tended flowerbed. In times of uncertainty and chaos I recommend finding a creative way to experience a sense of focus and control. That is why people have hobbies, gather collections, hunt for bargains, make things or visualize their ideas. To gain a sense of control in your life, do something creative—or perhaps, try gardening.  

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Tend to your soul. Let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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If I Should Die

As a child I was taught the bedtime prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. You may have prayed this prayer, or a version of it, as a child. Children have been praying this bedtime rhyme for a few centuries. As a youngster, the “if I should die” part of the prayer did not bother me, I did not know anyone who had died. I did wonder about the keeping and taking of my soul. What is my soul? Where do I keep it? And why would the Lord want to take it somewhere? That was heavy theology to ponder before going to sleep at night. I discovered that this prayer was probably born out of the anguish of high infant and children mortality during times of smallpox and other plagues. 

I eventually decided that the prayer was a metaphor, like the other children’s rhymes that we learned to say or sing, like Rock-a-bye Baby in the treetop, when the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle, and all. It is always sung sweetly to little children, although its imagery is terribly disconcerting. What kind of people put a baby in a cradle in the top of a tree? Later I learned that this song was probably a metaphor using bird nests and hatchlings blown away by the storms as the image. This all comes to mind today as the first of the little children are being buried in Uvalde, Texas.  How well are you sleeping these nights? Little children and all their friends and relatives in the whole county and beyond are forever traumatized, souls taken, lives broken. Robb Elementary School will be torn down to be replaced. Why do we do this to our children, over and over, decade after decade? Or maybe we should just start singing a new lullaby to our babies? Now I dress and go to school, I pray the Lord my soul to rule. If I should die inside my classroom, Lord forgive the ones who took no action.

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

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Brokenhearted

My heart hurts right now. I have been working my way through the nearly 300-page report authorized by the Southern Baptist Convention last June that details the systematic and purposeful deceit of our convention leadership to perpetuate predatory sexual abuse in our institutions and churches. I can see why these leaders were so unwilling to even let the study begin. Let me say this is not a problem of a few employees and elected leaders committing adultery. This is far worse.  This is a report documenting how, for at least 20 years, victims and survivors of sexual aggression, male and female, were demeaned, lied to, and falsely characterized as charlatans or harlots, including young children. The call for a database of reported abusers has been turned down starting in 2007, by stating that because of the autonomy of the local church, it was impossible to create such a database. The newly revealed SBC in-house database that was established years ago is being released this week, highly redacted. There are some links provided below for you to see the scope of the problem for yourself. 

As I have been trying to write this heartbreaking story, I learned of the mass shooting at the Uvalde, Texas elementary school. Why is it republican legislators can ban books deemed inappropriate for children, or prohibit certain subjects to be taught to children, but not the weapons of war being used against children and their teachers in school, or people shopping in a grocery store, or worshippers at church?

I am heartbroken at the level of greed that routinely drives preachers, politicians, and corporations to immoral and unconscionable actions. The “lone gunman” never acts alone. He, and they are mostly a He, have been radicalized, preyed upon, or encouraged in their evil actions. It is more than a mental health issue, it is perversion of all that is right, moral, and honorable. Leaders without a moral center have no qualms about doing wicked things in the name of Jesus. They take courage in gathering other smooth-talking hucksters into their circles of greed and perversion. (See Psalm 1) While we are all sinners in need of forgiveness, in times like these I take comfort in Scriptures like Galatians 6:7-10, and Psalm 147:3-5.

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

SBC REPORT ON SEXUAL ABUSE RELEASED

Here are three website links that are helpful in understanding the Southern Baptist Convention’s authorized investigation.

The full Report – https://www.sataskforce.net/updates/guidepost-solutions-report-of-the-independent-investigation 

An Analysis – https://baptistnews.com/article/guidepost-report-documents-pattern-of-ignoring-denying-and-deflecting-on-sexual-abuse-claims-in-sbc/#.Yo2u9KjMLIV

A Rebuttal  – https://baptistnews.com/article/sbcs-former-law-firm-sharply-disagrees-with-sexual-abuse-task-force-report/ 

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