Category Archives: Reflections

The Preacher

I was browsing in the local Cokesbury bookstore, before it closed a while back, when I came across the most recent release of a favorite book of mine. I was impressed that sixty years after it was first published, this book is still being used by countless aspiring preachers as a guide in communicating the Gospel message. This book was written by Dorothy’s second cousin, Charlie Koller. He was born in 1896 in Waco, Texas.

He grew up as a member of Waco’s German Baptist Church now called Central Baptist. Dorothy’s grandmother, Elise Koller Niederer, organized the Woman’s Missionary Union at that church in 1910. Her grandparents were so impressed by the dedication and faithfulness of this man that they named two of their sons after him. Charles William Koller went to Baylor and studied law before following the call to preach and earning his Doctor of Theology degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He later served as the professor of preaching and president of the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago for more than twenty years. Dorothy introduced me to him once at a church anniversary in Waco. 

The book, now titled How to Preach Without Notes, provided the framework for understanding expository preaching, which is basically reading the Scripture, relating the background of the passage and the application of its meaning for today. He emphasized how deeply one must study and prepare before standing to preach. By preaching without notes rather than reading from a prepared manuscript, the preacher could take what was in his head to his heart before speaking it to the people. The book is his seminary course on preaching. The chapter on how to file sermons in folders and manila envelopes has saved many a preacher’s Saturday night. The last half of the book contains 15 of his sermons. I had wonderful preaching professors in college and seminary, but Dr. Koller’s book shaped me profoundly, and I am grateful. The preacher’s watchword is found in Paul’s admonition to Timothy: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim. 4:2)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Hide God’s Word in your heart. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.

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Winter Is Coming

It took a long time to happen, but the colorful fall foliage was gorgeous for about two weeks before the windy cold front chased it all away. Winter is coming. The neighborhood leaves are making their way into our yard, as always. I was able to bag some leaves to keep them dry for next spring’s compost before the rains on Tuesday. “Winter is coming” is also an ominous warning from a popular book series. I saw it being used as a caution concerning the double dangers of the coronavirus and influenza. This is the year to get a flu shot and the pneumonia shots, whether I want to or not. (Check with your doctor’s office for their recommendations for yourself.) 

Updates on the coronavirus show glimmers of encouraging breakthroughs and alarming sirens of rising danger all around. The news of a possible two injection vaccine with a 90% effectiveness rate, sent Pizer stocks soaring. Reports indicate that, following the scientific review process, the vaccine could be ready for first delivery around the end of the year. There is still the whole manufacturing, distribution, and inoculation issues involved in providing a vaccine throughout the world, twice. On another hopeful front, an anti-coronavirus vaccine nasal spray has shown great success in animal tests. That sounds easier all around if human trials prove safe and effective. Keep praying. Meanwhile, our situation in Oklahoma keeps getting worse each week, with record hospitalizations pushing our intensive care bed limits. Add to those pressures a growing number of fatigues, burn-out and resignations in medical staff and support personnel, and we are facing a possible deep crisis in all of our medical and health facilities.

I am more than ready for this season of sickness and precautions to pass. I am more than ready for us to get back to meeting together, and singing together, and eating together. But we must persevere in keeping each other safe from this disease. We must persevere in checking on each other, looking out for our neighbors, and not growing weary in prayer and encouragement. This is the season of gratitude and thanksgiving. Count your many blessings. Name them one by one. Prepare for the coming season of our lives.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Winter is upon us. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.

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Expect the Best

My father taught me “to expect the best and to prepare for the unexpected.” My father was a railroad man for the Seaboard Airline Railroad, now CRX, for 33 years. He spent years as a switchman until he decided he wanted more for his life and career. He got ahold of the Dale Carnegie book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He was so inspired that he enrolled in the Dale Carnegie Course. He found a way to impress his bosses by drawing a detailed map of all the unmarked rail spurs that went behind warehouses and manufacturing plants throughout the Miami-Dade County area. He was soon promoted to Assistant Yard Master. He joined the Toastmasters International organization, not to give speeches but to gain self-confidence when talking with people. He became Yard Master. Then in 1965, the unexpected happened.

This all came to mind when I came across a quote from Dale Carnegie this week, “First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” That seemed a little grim to me. I liked my father’s admonition better. Expect the best in people, opportunities, and circumstances first and foremost. Likewise, be prepared for the unexpected—the unpleasant surprise, the disappointing result, or the unimaginable experience. In 1965 my father received a call from the railroad company’s office in Birmingham, Alabama. He was offered a new position with the railroad to negotiate contracts with new companies needing to ship their goods. One requirement the company had of him was to learn to play golf. One requirement he had of the railroad was for him to keep his seniority if things did not work out. After four years, he decided to give up golf and go back to the railroad yards. He became General Yard Master over the Atlanta yards, eventually becoming a Terminal Train Master overseeing South Carolina. 

There is a difference in our starting points—best or worst. We are a people of hope. We expect to see the best of life now and in the future. Others are a people of worst-case scenarios. They expect the worst outcome and plan accordingly, hoping against hope that something better happens. I prefer Paul’s prayer for us in Romans 15:13.

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

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For my whole life I have successfully avoided quicksand. What happened to all the quicksand? I have never even seen a quicksand pit. My mind went down this profound rabbit hole while studying for last week’s sermon based on Psalms 9 and 10. In those psalms, David writes of falling into a pit set for the prey. I grew up in a time where quicksand was everywhere, according to movies and tv shows. There was quicksand in the jungles, on tropical islands, in the desert, in the deep woods and in the old West. I think even Lassie had to rescue Timmy from the quicksand once. Someone should have kept a better eye on Timmy. The plot was always the bad guys would stumble upon some quicksand and use it to catch the good guys, or for a damsel to become distressed. Someone always showed up to pull them out of the sinking sand. The damsel was always rescued, and the bad guys were trapped in the quicksand until they were arrested or drowned. 

While I’ve never seen quicksand, I have seen sinkholes. Sinkholes and quicksand sort of work on the same principle—agitated water undermines the ground soil. I have also learned that quicksand, sinkholes, and pits are metaphors for the traps we get ourselves into. Take social media, like Facebook and Instagram, for instance. We join in the fun of seeing family and friends, but we can quickly find ourselves sucked into the sinking sands of reposting sort of funny stuff. If we are not careful, we may find our selves “doom scrolling” through some dark alleyways, ridiculing embarrassed people caught (or set up) for shame, or just plain gossiping about people, whether they are famous, family, or friends of friends. Many of those pithy, satirical political posts, and artful humble brags are really designed to undermine other people’s self-esteem and tangle them up in faulty logic and false equivalencies. 

Any time anyone posts something that begins, “I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it is…” is gossiping. Clever gossip is still bearing a false witness. Paul reminds us that we are to be careful (even on social media), for we are witnesses to God’s truth. Read Ephesians 4:25-32. The old hymn reminds us every time we hear it, “From sinking sands He lifted me. With tender hand He lifted me.” 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be careful around quicksand. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart. 

. Bro. Darryl 

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In Psalm 3, King David is upset with his son Absalom for staging a coup to dethrone him. David had to flee for his life from the palace in Jerusalem. David prays, Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. He was upset. What a painful thing to pray, even if the wicked deserve it. Broken teeth are no laughing matter. 

When the missionaries learned that it was my 50th birthday weekend, they took me to a moderate restaurant near downtown Ndjamena in Chad. They ordered pizza and cautioned me not to eat the salad. During the dinner conversation I cracked a tooth on an olive pit. It was Saturday night. I was upset. I was scheduled to preach the next morning in the largest church in that capitol city. With much prayer and a couple of aspirin, the service went well. After church they drove me to a small village where they asked the American dentist to have a look. He took me to his small house where he had a vintage 1960’s dental office. He patched up my tooth and sent us back to town. I was thankful. I had to have a crown on the tooth after I returned to Tulsa. One stressful year I told my dentist that I was resigning from his “crown of the month club.” I had four crowns in five months that year. He told me my teeth were getting old. 

During this year of COVID-19, dentists are reporting a major spike in cracked and broken teeth. Not only are their patients not having their regular appointments (and they can understand why), but people are clenching their jaws so strongly, day and night, that their teeth are breaking. People are upset. We are upset with our circumstances, cancelled plans, the state of our politics and the condition of some of our relationships. 

David was honest when he prayed. God can handle our emotions, clenched teeth and all. There are so many of these prayers in the book of Psalms that scholars have given them a name—imprecatory prayers. The name comes from imprecation—to call down a curse, misfortune, or judgment upon someone. Jesus came to show us a better way to live, act and pray. Read Matthew 5:33-48 and trust His way. 

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

Bro. Darryl 

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We Can Do Better

I had a recent conversation with an acquaintance who shared her feeling of great loneliness during these months of coronavirus. She lives alone and was used to having a full routine of places to go, things to do, and people to meet with. She said she did not mind the break of routine for the first few months. As a senior adult she has some moderate health risks. She also has a lake house that she can go to when she needs a change of scenery. She does not understand why there has not been an all-out effort to help keep everyone safe with enough medical supplies for our seniors and those who have to go to work every day. She has some friends who are out and about as if nothing is different than before. She worries daily about them. She said the one thing she has learned from this experience is that she is comfortable with herself. By that I take it that while she misses others, she does not mind being alone with herself—she likes who she is as a person. 

I think it is unconscionable what has not taken place to keep the people of this nation safe. Take, for example, the Greatest Generation, a term coined by Tom Brokaw in defining those born in the 1920’s and early 30’s. They suffered the hardships and poverty of the Great Depression yet answered the call to serve and sacrifice for their country during World War 2 and the Korean War. They created the American Dream. Yet today, many are on lockdown in nursing homes and assisted living centers, unable to have their loved ones near them. A full 40% of the COVID deaths in Oklahoma have come from our nursing centers. Our nursing centers are undersupplied in medical equipment and understaffed with nurses, aides, and support personnel. The residents and staff are rarely tested, and only then after someone reports a contact with someone else who tested positive. There should be a great mobilization effort on our part as a tribute to and for the sake of the Greatest Generation and their children. What happened for it to be perfectly acceptable for elected leaders to take no personal responsibility for the health and welfare of our citizens? Waiting for a magic pill or vaccine to make it all go away is not acceptable. The Greatest Generation is having to spend these precious days in enforced loneliness. 

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

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Great Trees and Great Souls

The whole world is grieving under the weight of the losses of this year. The coronavirus has reached every place on earth except Antarctica. In our country, it is the 3rd leading cause of death, with about 1,000 souls a day. Millions of acres of forests, farms and towns are burning in California, Oregon, and Washington. Hurricanes and repeated flooding threaten even more people. Financial, racial, and political tensions have up-ended families, churches, and communities. So much grief, and no real opportunity to properly mourn together. I came across this poem this week by Maya Angelou, who was raised in Sparks, Arkansas.

When Great Trees Fall 

When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety. When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die, the air around us becomes light, rare, sterile. We breathe, briefly. Our eyes, briefly, see with a hurtful clarity. Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid, promised walks never taken.

Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us. Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened. Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away. We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.  Copyright © 2015 by The Estate of Maya Angelou.

Isaiah reminds us that our Messiah “is a man of sorrows who knows our grief.” By faith I believe that one day we will gather at church again to worship, pray, sing and even share our accumulating grief. Until that day, weary as we have become, we press on, step by step. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. You are a great soul. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while apart.

Bro. Darryl

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The Averys Move to America

If all goes smoothly, the Avery family will arrive in Houston, Texas about 2:30 this Sunday afternoon, September 13th. They will quarantine in Houston until the end of the month. Kevin’s parents live there, so they will spend much time with them. We talked to the Averys on Sunday evening, which was Monday morning in China. September 7 was Molly’s 13th birthday. The whole family was recovering from Molly’s birthday sleepover. They are down to the final packing of everything into eight suitcases to bring with them. Everything else they own in Shenyang is being given away. There have been farewell parties, visits with many of the families they have been ministering with, guests from other parts of China, and last-minute work meetings to finish up all the details.

Kevin, Dayna, and the children are scheduled to move to Tulsa around October 1st. The gracious people of Arrow Heights Baptist Church in Broken Arrow are providing their furnished Mission House for them through the end of the year. This will give them time to find a suitable place to live. Their mission efforts will continue as Kevin assumes the management of the mission organization, Serving Humanity in Crisis (SHIC), headquartered here in Tulsa. Kevin will continue his work in Shenyang through Zoom and other virtual platforms, much as he has done since the pandemic began. He is also negotiating the publication and distribution of his Chinese book, Needs to Be Seen, throughout China. Mission and autism centers in other areas of the world seem interested in his book also. The Averys mission efforts to children with disabilities and their families continues, with just a change of address.

On a personal note, I would like to thank you for your prayers and financial support of our daughter and son-in-law, Dayna and Kevin Avery. Your support for these missionary volunteers has enabled them to touch countless lives for the Lord. And the work they have begun will continue far into the future. In addition to safe and smooth travels, you can pray for Kevin’s health and stamina for the journey. The trip will take them about 35 hours, flying on Delta from Shenyang to Shanghai, then on to Seoul Korea, to Detroit, and finally to Houston. They will be wearing their N95 facemasks and distancing from others as much as possible on the planes and in the airports. By the way, they have a family motto: Averys can do hard things, because nothing is impossible with God.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Know that God provides. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while apart.

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Summer is the time to imagine the future. I was promised there would be flying cars by now. I do not exactly remember who made that promise. What a difference a flying car would have made for how we might have spent this summer of confinement. Then there was the imagination of Oklahoman Chester Gould, who in 1946 equipped comic strip detective Dick Tracy with a telephone watch with a tv screen. There was this implied promise that technology would make our life more comfortable and convenient. The original Back to The Future movie was released to theaters 35 years ago this summer. In the movie sequel the story ended up in 2015, which promised flying skateboards, hoverboards, if you will. Of the three, we got the watch, which is probably the most practical of the promises.

Sitting on the porch in the summertime brings out the smiles, the memories, and the imagination. We lost more than we realized when suburban architects moved the front porch to the backyard, and then installed “privacy” fences. Part of the joy of the front porch was watching the neighborhood come to life before your very eyes, waving at friends and seeing the children at play. Porch-time is good for the soul. Sit on the porch during a summer rain and feel the world change. Witness the cleverness of a squirrel raiding the bird feeder. Taste the luxuriousness of a fresh ripe peach or a homegrown tomato. Watch the fledgling sparrows learn how to fly. With a glass of iced tea at hand, read a Bible story, sing softly of God’s love, listen to all creation praise His name. Imagine the impossible, dream the incredible and relax in peace and grace. It is perfectly acceptable to relax into a nap or become inspired to write out a few new ideas. Do not wait for flying cars, or even self-driving cars, to make your life better. Enjoy the best life there is today. The only promise of tomorrow that we can count on is that God will be with us whatever tomorrow may hold. I recommend reading all of Psalm 118 today. Flying cars are not mentioned, but the image of an open gate for us to walk (or run?) through stirs a holy imagination in us.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Enjoy the porch. Let’s experience the love and power of God together while apart.

Bro. Darryl

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Armored and Ready

A few years ago, I wandered around the Army Navy surplus store looking for a good deal on something. I was open to what that might be. They tried to interest me in some body armor—a bullet-proof vest. It was camouflaged with multiple pockets and places to attach my survival gear. Wearing that vest, they told me, I could face down the bad guys when all the bad stuff starts to happen. What stuff? You know robbers, looters, zombies, that kind of stuff. Here, try it on. It’s only $140.00 and like new. I looked it over. They were right. I did not see any bullet holes anywhere on it. Of course, this particular vest must have been worn by someone much bigger and in better shape than I ever was. It was not a good look for me.

The experience quickly brought to mind David, when he volunteered to challenge the giant Goliath in a death match. Everyone stopped laughing when they realized David was deadly serious. The well-intentioned king decided that David needed to wear the best armor available, so David put on the king’s armor. It is too much, too big and too heavy. “David tried walking around, because he was not used to them. …I cannot go in these. . . So he took them off.” (1 Samuel 17) David used his own armor: faith in God, a slingshot, a stone and a plan. I also remembered the story’s lesson, be true to who you are; do not wear someone else’s armor. 

Lately, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect facemask. I have discovered two that seem to work best, the blue medical one and a double layered washable black one with a long shoelace type cord that goes over my ears and around my neck. That means it can hang at my neck when I take it off. It can also serve as a stylish bib. 

God provides the custom-fitting armor that each of us need for the spiritual battles that we face every day. “Put on the whole armor of God,” admonishes Paul in Ephesians chapter 6. Hiding behind someone else’s armor will never work. Face the day ready to meet the test with the grace and strength of God’s love and power. With all the bad stuff we face each day, armor up, do not be afraid, for our God is with us.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Wear your own armor. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while apart.

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