Category Archives: Reflections

The Promise of Frustration

This was written for the Center for Congregational Ethics is based on Psalm 146 from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, for March 22, 2023. 

As God was walking the couple out the Garden gate, God promised a lifetime of thorns and thistles, pain and sweat. Or as we politely call them today, frustrations. In my theology, the promise of frustration is another form of God’s justice. Sin hurts. 

I had seen it done in countless movies and TV shows all my life, but I had never done it. Looking through the shop window, I suddenly realized I wanted to have a barber give me a shave – in the old barber chair, all lathered up, with the old-fashioned straight razor. I had not shaved that morning. The whole process took about 30 minutes. It was a very good shave. When we were finishing up, I asked the barber what he might have learned from shaving my beard. He said my skin was sensitive and he graciously gave me some after-shave oils to try. Then he pointed to the places that were hardest for him to shave and said that this is where I needed to be very careful. I knew those things: the sensitive places will always be sensitive, and the hardest places will always be the most difficult. For me the promise of frustration includes knowing I am tempted with the same temptations, frustrated by the same frustrations, and will face the same conflicts again and again. 

The Psalmist sings the Hallelujahs as he reflects upon the steadfastness of God compared to the religiously political around him.  Our frustrations are not solved by princes or politicians. Justice is not found in a bigger sword or a better budget. But in a people who can sing Hallelujah, praise the Lord, to the God of Jacob, our God, whose trustworthiness is unwavering. Some elevate their frustrations to angry outbursts and manipulative bullying. Others grow hard and cold, vowing vengeance or retribution. Most will work to move past their frustrations, making the best of things. Unless countered by such trust in God, our frustrations can turn inward and lead to a depressing sense of hopelessness.

This Psalm proclaims: our Creator is always faithful and trustworthy, advocating for the oppressed; providing for the hungry; liberating the captive; illuminating the blind; lifting the heavy burdened; loving righteousness; protecting the outsider; sustaining the vulnerable—but frustrating the ways of the wicked.  This is the promise: Justice through frustration.  Our world is broken. Our traditions, systems and structures are fracturing. Constant wars, political upheavals, and disasters are overwhelming, yet, hallelujah, there is—justice. Trust in the Lord will not be frustrated.  

I still must shave most days. 

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Four-Letter Words

A quick internet search tells me that there are about 149,000 English 4-letter words. The Official Scrabble Dictionary allows about 4,000 of them. I think we may have a problem with our everyday language. Why does it seem to take weeks and weeks to teach a child to say, “please and thank you,” or “Yes, ma’am, or No, sir,” and only one time for a misplaced ugly word to be instantly memorized and endlessly utilized by that same child?  This is not a new problem. It is well past time to upgrade our use of the four-letter word. 

A few decades ago, after completing the macramé phase of my life, I turned to a pastime of cross-stitch, with an occasional venture into needlepoint. After all, you can only make so many hanging flowerpot holders for all of your friends and relatives. New friends and more relatives were gifted with my artistic pictures, sayings, and Christmas stitchery. Some were graciously received. I stitched one piece that not only turned out well but spoke fittingly to me. It is a 24” by 10” framed piece that hangs in my office over the area I reserve for conversations and counsel. It is about four-letter words. The words are colorfully stitched and subtly illustrate their subject.  (I have had to reformat their appearance to fit this printed column.)

“Four Letter Words that Change the World”

Love. Hope. Care. Help.

Heal. Work. Play. Feel.

Duty. Home. Good. Kind.

Pity. Rest. Seek. Pray. Live.


It reminds me of the biblical admonition: A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

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

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Construction Woes — 2023

New road construction projects are the dandelions of our city streets.  It seems to me there will always be a construction project in my way, forcing me to find a new way around; or giving me lots of sitting time in my car, watching others contain their dismay. Some are not very good at it. I have in the back of my mind the phrase “We are Christians under construction” as I seek a spiritual application to the construction woes of the week. 

When Dorothy and I were first married, our church in Ft. Worth, Texas hosted a Lay Renewal Weekend. Trained teams of lay couples from other cities trained some  of us to lead small groups within our church. Emphasis was given to sharing our testimony, prayer, and personal devotional study. The weekend worship services were filled with personal stories of how these practices transformed individuals, families, and whole churches. A part of the transformational process included asking the Holy Spirit to identify the persistent sins and habits that needed to be removed, the relationship barriers of grudges and envy that needed to be torn down, and the new spiritual practices that needed to be developed. Out of that experience Dorothy and I hosted, for a couple of years, a monthly group of young couples at our apartment where we prayed together and encouraged each other in discipleship. 

After moving to Tulsa, I found in some of the Lay Renewal Weekend materials a reference to a Sunday School program called Christians under Construction. I ordered the whole thing for our church. It came with rolls of yellow “Caution: Christians under Construction” safety tape, yellow caution signs, and plastic yellow construction hats for the boys and girls. This proved a useful image for the Christian life. Does everything in your life seem under construction? Are there roadblocks and detours all around? God’s Word contains the blueprints and the instructions for living a fuller and more meaningful life. For a vision of a better life to become a reality, someone must dream a new future, invest in quality work, follow the blueprints and deal with the obstacles. That includes you and me. We are, after all, still under construction. 

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

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Compassionate Conversations — 2023

As believers we often find ourselves holding compassionate conversations. These may be divine appointments, where you are the right person to bear witness to a receptive person at just the right moment. Often, believers find themselves involved in conversations that may be delicate or difficult. We may want to help but are hesitant because we do not know how, or do not want to make matters worse. Many of these conversations center on medical issues or personal relationships. Here are my six guides for holding compassionate conversations:

Meet people where they are, not where you think they should be. Compassion starts with respect and dignity.

Listen to their story. Be slow to talk or give advice. Let them unburden in the moment. Listening is the time to keep quiet. Then seek to restate to them what you just heard. This helps you both understand the issue.

Remember, you are not their doctor. Even though medical, psychological or other symptoms may be expressed, or your opinion sought, you are not their doctor.

Set reasonable time and place limits. With deep issues, some people can be overwhelming in their need for conversation. Compassionate conversations are best when held in appropriate places, for agreed upon lengths of time. For example, if you have only 15 minutes for a conversation, agree upon that time frame at the start, or set a better length of time for later. 

Offer an in-the-moment prayer. Ask them how best to pray. Do not always assume that you know what prayer you should offer on their behalf. Ask them, and then pray that request right then.

Leave them with a word of hope and grace. Conclude your conversation with encouraging words of hope and grace. Point them to Jesus.

Galatians 6:2 reminds us to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Compassionate conversations are not always easy, but they can ease the load, bear a light in the darkness and provide a friend for the journey.

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

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But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?

In a discussion on a recent Wednesday night, I referred to a sermon that has lived deeply in my heart: A. J. Gossip’s But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?  Arthur John Gossip (1873-1954) lived in Scotland his entire life. He served churches as pastor, ministered to the Scottish Highlander soldiers as chaplain during World War 1, and later became professor of  Theology and Ethics at Trinity College of Glasgow University.  After one bitter battle during the war, Gossip held the funeral for 100 of his Scottish soldiers. At age 54, while pastor of a church in Aberdeen, his wife suddenly died. The Sunday following her funeral, in his grief, which still included so much pain from his war experiences, he stood in the pulpit to tell of his hope in the darkest times of his life. Based on Jeremiah 12:5, he proclaimed in part:

I do not understand this life of ours. But still less can I comprehend how people in trouble and loss and bereavement can fling away peevishly from the Christian faith. In God’s name, fling to what? Have we not lost enough without losing that too? If Christ is right—if, as he says, there are somehow, hidden away from our eyes as yet, still there, wisdom and planning and kindness and love in these dark dispensations—then we can see them through.…If Christ was right, and immortality and dear hopes of which He speaks do really lie a little way ahead, we can manage to make our way to them. But if it is not so, if it is all over, if there is nothing more, how dark the darkness grows!  You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else.

Further in the sermon after quoting Paul:  True, I can tell him where death’s sting lies. Ah! It is the constant missing of what always used to be here; the bitter grudging every second of the dear body to the senseless earth, the terrible insecurity, for one is never safe—anything, nothing, and the old overwhelming pain comes rushing back….To us it will be long and lonesome: but they won’t even have looked around them before we burst in….I don’t think you need be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail; and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely. But we have a wonderful God….

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

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The View of the the Artist

The church doorbell rang late one afternoon a few yearsago. A couple in their seventies waved when they saw me coming to the door. As always, I took a couple of mental guesses as to who they were and what their need might be. I was wrong,again. The gentleman introduced himself and his sister. He asked permission to show her the stained glass windows. So I offered to take them around so that they could enter the sanctuary down the center aisle. I did not turn on the lights as the stained glass is best viewed in natural light. The glass gleamed in its richness; the architect had designed the shape of the building to receive the full light.

​The man then told us his story of labor and love of the windows on the north and south walls. Most people focus on the Good Shepherd window above and behind the pulpit. He wanted to talk about the other windows, for he was one of the men who had stained the glass into the various colors over thirty years earlier. He had fired the colors into the sheets of glass. He had been a part of the team that had cut the glass, dipped it in a black wash, hand rubbing every small piece with a cloth, being very careful not to leave any fingerprints, then firing all the pieces one final time. It was the largest, most complicated stained glass project of his career. Then came the assembly of the panels, putting lead around every individual piece of glass and iron supports for the longer pieces, always double-checking that he was following the patterns precisely. His sister and I were impressed as he showed us how the texture of the glass, in addition to the colors, transformed the room into a holy place. He said he now lived out of state and wanted to see, one more time, his artistry in its glorious setting. I saw the windows from the view of the artist.

​We talked a little while, then I left them alone to reflect and remember. I have to be careful about my assumptions of people or situations. Sometimes I can be too quick. I am so glad I listened to his story. Each week we have the opportunity to worship in the wonder of the artist’s stained glass.

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

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Into Each Life a Mouse Shall Come

Into each life a mouse shall come. One Sunday morning during the holidays, Dorothy reported that she had startled a mouse in our pantry. Sunday morning before church is not a good time for a mouse hunt. I told her the mouse would be fine and that we would take care of it after lunch. We mentioned the mouse at lunch and one of our daughters asked if we would be using a non-lethal mousetrap. She offered us one of her slightly used humane traps. After a couple of days, I noticed the bait was missing but no mouse was trapped inside. We tried again with the same result. The little spring door on the trap was broken. Time for more severe action. Two traps were set. It took a few more days for the mouse to meet a sudden end. We moved on with life, keeping a trap set.

Into each life another mouse shall come. It has been very cold of late. While working at the kitchen counter one evening, I thought I saw a flash of silver. I looked in the pantry, everything looked fine. I set another trap, this time with a raisin. When I checked the next morning, the raisin had been moved out of the trap. I set the trap with some smelly cheese. That worked. I thought it might be time to clean out the pantry. It is amazing what can be stored in a pantry, just in case it might be useful, maybe, one day. We cleaned the floor and the first shelf then half of the second. We saw why the mouse did not need to venture far. One shelf contained an empty mouse-eaten bag of cholate chips, and a partially eaten bag of other stuff. A trip to the store for fancy containers ensued. All was well again.

Into each life still another mouse shall come.  A few more days passed before I saw an empty bag of crackers and debris on the pantry floor. It had fallen from the half-cleaned shelf. Time for another deeper cleaning—all the way up to the top, new shelf paper, restocking the pantry, and more cheese. Stuff dating to 2006 tossed away, and 30 big and little glass jars recycled. Two more traps were set. One more mouse passed over the rainbow bridge, or wherever. Pantry tours are now available at a very reasonable price.

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

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Thunder Sleet Week

You know it is going to be an interesting week when the temperatures dip below 20 degrees with light precipitation and daylight brings a few hours of Thunder Sleet with occasional lightning, followed by Sleet Showers. Tuesday was quieter with just Light Sleet accompanied by deep cold. We were all ready for the Big Snow last week. Groceries were bought. Gas tanks were filled. But, alas, the Blanket of Snow (“up to 6-inches in some locations”) turned out to be no snow for the Tulsa area, also known as “the Donut Hole” in the blanket, as one weatherman mixed his metaphors. As of this writing, area schools will have at least three Snow Days this week, and a strong possibility of a fourth. Some businesses are closed, sort of. Hourly wage earners are missing work. Automotive body shops are incredibly busy. Insurance companies are saying, “Send us some pictures.” Some have taken these days to rest or catch up on a few things. Others have taken these days to fret, worry and be anxious about everything. Long anticipated medical appointments or procedures have been canceled and need to be rescheduled, causing further delays. For many, these days of being shut in are just like every other lonely day.  

We had Thunder Sleet one March Sunday in 2014. That winter we had to cancel one service each month for four months in a row because of the bitter weather. If I were the one in control, the weather would always be beautiful on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights. God and I have had this discussion for years now. Mostly I talk. God doesn’t say much about it. All I ever get is, “It rains on the just and the unjust alike.”  You would think that God would make it as easy as possible for people to go to church.  Most likely God does not micromanage the weather at all. It’s probably more about strengthening our character, stretching our faith, and learning to depend on God through whatever comes our way. We have been here before. This coming Sunday, February 5, is predicted to be sunny and 60 degrees (or not.) 

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

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The Adventurous Journey

(Turkey Mountain High)

Once again, we’ve embarked on a brand-new year. Are you ready for your adventurous journey ahead?  Is 2023 a year with a special birthday, anniversary, graduation, or class reunion? Is this the year you complete that project, get that new job, or move into a new season of life? What are your goals and dreams? Where would you like to be spiritually on this journey called life? What are the challenges that will shape and sharpen you in the days ahead? What is the very next step you need to take? 

Tulsa River Parks announced that multiple phases for enhancing Turkey Mountain are well underway. They are adding a Sandstone Staircase that will lead to more adventurous hiking trails through the dense forest. The Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area now covers about 600 acres and is adding 5 more miles of “difficult to moderate trails for the hikers who desire a more challenging experience.” There are already 11.5 miles of pedestrian and bicycle trails. An additional 15 miles will be built in the near future. When on the mountain, it is suggested you wear sturdy shoes and carry a cellphone with GPS. Dogs must be on leashes, and horses should be acclimated to steep, rocky trails, overhanging trees and the occasional snake. I suspect some adventurers may take a sudden interest in prayer. The summit is 300 feet above the Arkansas River, which may not sound like much unless you have made it to the top—the Turkey Mountain (adrenaline) High. 

What is the adventurous journey, the big challenge, that you are facing this year? Are you entering a new season of your life? Will your challenge come from family relationships, medical issues, a new role as caregiver, or even great sorrow? Preparation for the journey is vital. These life adventures can catch us by surprise and disrupt everything—there are, after all, big rocks, slippery slopes, and the occasional snake.  A wise man once said, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

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

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The Duck Pond Incident

This is a reposting of The Duck Pond Incident from June 2009. 

This is the accurate, true account of the day Deacon was fished out of the Duck Pond.  It was a hot and humid day, Father’s Day ’09.  Deacon’s parents had gone to the church that afternoon to take care of some unfinished tasks. Deacon and his older brother were spending quality family time with their grandfather and grandmother. It should be noted that his Mama D, as she is fondly called, had filled her grandsons with the excitement of walking the fifty yards or so to the very small Duck Pond “to feed the ducks.” The prospect of feeding the ducks at the neighborhood pond brings her a daily joy and satisfaction like no other. Papa D also went to the pond that day.

There are about 25 domesticated, semi-domesticated, wild, injured and convalescing ducks generally hanging out at the pond year-round. Some people apparently feed these ducks regularly so they will not ever go to the big pond two blocks away. The geese do come and go. The Duck Pond is not very clean. That afternoon we found the ducks, including a new mother with 7 ducklings, luxuriating along the shaded banks of the pond. Some ate a little bit of the bread, but most were too hot or too full to bother with it. A crippled goose, though, did come close to Deacon and eat small pieces of bread he was thrown. This delighted everyone.

Soon Mama D focused mainly on the ducklings, and some of them began to eat her bread. Deacon and Carter followed their grandfather over to the shaded benches to try their luck at feeding the fish. This was very successful. Papa D sat on the short little rock bench and handed bread to the boys. The older one skillfully threw the bread stirring up the fish. Deacon was having a harder time getting his bread to land in the water when he lunged forward with a big step and mighty throw. He lost his balance on that steep bank falling on his right side, then rolling ever faster down into the pond.

If this had been a movie, the stunt double would have stepped in to take Deacon’s place. The downhill roll would have taken place in slow motion. Papa D would have been quick as lightning to stop the rolling 2-year-old before he landed in the water. But, alas, it was not so. Deacon sputtered with surprise as his half-submerged head came up out of the water. His grandfather got down into the water and pulled the soaked boy out. He checked Deacon’s algae-covered face and limbs for any signs of injury, wiped his face fairly clean, and held him close while taking him back to the road and on to the house. Mama D noticed that Papa D and Deacon were all wet and asked why. Deacon never said a word.

After a fun bath, Deacon enjoyed a pleasant evening with his grandparents and brother while waiting the return of his parents. They noticed Deacon’s clothes were different and asked questions.

(Used with permission from Deacon Enos, who is now licensed to drive.)

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