Category Archives: Reflections

Whispered Secrets

This Reflections, Whispered Secrets, was published by The Center for Congregational Ethics for the daily devotional reading based on Luke 11:53-12:3 from the Revised Common Lectionary Year A for June 24, 2023.

Juries and trials are part of the everyday news. Lawyers make their best case, judges guide the process, juries decide. When called up to serve, I mistakenly thought I would be dismissed from jury duty because I was a Baptist minister. During jury selection, the federal judge commented he wanted “a true cross-section of citizens.”  I served on one of those secret federal grand juries for 18 consecutive months. We set a record for the most days in session in the Northeastern District of Oklahoma. I learned that whispers in secret can become embarrassingly public and sometimes deadly.

The U.S. Constitution requires that any charge made against someone by federal law enforcement must be reviewed by a jury of their peers. Of the original ten constitutional amendments called The Bill of Rights, Amendments 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, address juries and trials. All types of federal crime came before us, ranging from simple possession of drugs to corporate fraud, and public corruption to violations of international sanctions.  We were serious and pushed back against the prosecutors when we felt they were not making their case.  For me, the experience was sad in many ways.

Facing the fear in the eyes of the disciples and the hate in the hearts of the religious leaders, Jesus turns to give a personal word of realism to those nearby:  Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. This is a word of understanding for the believer and practicing hypocrite alike. Character matters. Truth brings light. Hypocrisy is infectious. Guard your heart.

Darryl S. DeBorde is pastor of the Braden Park Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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Prayers God Always Answers

I was asked last Sunday to provide the list of Prayers God Always Answers that I talked about in the morning message. This is a summary based on Psalm 119:145-152.  The opening verse, I call with all my heart; answer me O Lord, and I will obey your decrees, sets forth the issue of unanswered prayer. I have felt that the traditional response that God answers with Yes, No or Wait, while true, rings inadequate and unsatisfying to many. I shared a brief sermon I preached called Three Prayers God Always Answers: Forgive Me, Save Me, and Use Me. Each of these prayers cut to the heart of our relationship with God and others. 

I have concluded that God is listening to every prayer, for God knows the motive of our hearts. Here are other prayers God always answers:

Hear Me Prepare Me Bless Me

Help Me Equip Me Comfort Me

Show Me Lead Me Fill Me with Your …

Guide Me Strengthen Me   Spirit, joy, peace, 

Teach Me Empower Me Heal Me

Most of our praying, though, consists of a grocery list of things we want from God. Oswald Chambers is quoted as saying: “As long as we get from God everything we ask for, we never get to know Him; we look at Him as a blessing machine. Your Father knows what you have need of before you ask Him. Then why pray? To get to know your Father. It is not enough to be able to say. ‘God is love.’ We have to know that He is love.” The psalmist requests in verse 149, Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, O Lord.  Jesus’ example in the Garden teaches us to pray, Thy will be done. 

The hardest questions are always about the prayer Heal Me. God does answer that prayer. Many people confuse biblical healing with being cured. The healing we most need may be far deeper than a dreaded diagnosis. Jesus healed multitudes of people, but all of them have died. For the believer, death is the ultimate healing.  All of this, by the way, can become very self-centered if we are not careful. That is why we should intercede on behalf of others, by name if possible. The prayers of the righteous avail much.

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

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Eating Our Mistakes

This is a reprint from the time of Covid, April 27, 2021

As the designated adventurer at our house, I am the grocery shopper for more than a year now. I have learned that pimentos are never located on the olive aisle and that Velveeta cheese is located wherever the last tired stocker set them down because it is not a cheese. I have learned to eat my shopping mistakes. Try as I might, apparently chocolate dipped ice-cream bars do not qualify as a shopping mistake. The actual worst of my grocery mistakes was just a few weeks ago. My assignment was to get a can of old-fashioned quick cooking steel cut oatmeal. I honestly thought I did. But I didn’t. I got old-fashioned steel cut Irish Oatmeal in a can, 1 pound and 12 ounces net weight. It did not say quick cooking or fast cooking or 10-minute quick oatmeal. Dorothy noticed immediately. It was decided that we would press ahead. There was a winter storm in the forecast.

Upon reading the fine print on the back of the can we learned that the shortcut method was to boil water in a pot, add the oatmeal, stir and boil for 5 minutes. Cover the pot and store it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, put the pot back on the stove, bring it to a boil and stir it for another 9-12 minutes. By my estimation, the quick-cook method takes about 25 hours. We opted for the traditional method—30 minutes on the range. I also noticed that the recipe kept referring to this as porridge. I remember porridge as something Little Orphan Annie had to eat, with a big frown on her face. Porridge is oatmeal, flax and other bird seeds boiled in a big pot, which is stirred constantly until you are done. It suggests you add buttermilk or honey and brown sugar suitable to taste. Our pot of porridge lasted for days. We tried syrup and apple sauce with cinnamon on it and we tried smothering it with various flavored yogurts. Our final attempt was to use a large amount of pumpkin pie filling. That actually tasted best. By the way, porridge diluted to a thin, watery state is called gruel. It was used to help the sick get well. It tastes worse than it sounds.

We make mistakes. We try to hide them, own them, or make up for them. The best policy is to admit them, deal with them, and learn from them. We still have a pound or so of the oatmeal left in the can. It will keep.

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

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The Robots Are Here

I went to Will Rogers High School for an after-school meeting today. As I approached the receptionist’s desk, I noticed a teacher walking his big black and yellow dog without a leash down the main hall. The dog was prancing around all curious about everything but stayed out of trouble. I visited with the receptionist who I’ve known now for six years. I made it to my meeting room and found the dog was entertaining those who came early. 

The dog was a robot. You may have seen pictures of these robot dogs used by scientists and police in other states. This one was on loan to the school for a few days from the University of Tulsa. I asked if the dog could take some papers out of my hand. Of course it could. It walked over to me, sized up the situation, opened its mouth, and took the papers from my hand. I moved away and it followed me and returned my papers without a wrinkle or a tooth mark. The robots are here, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is in the news.

Fear not, we have had one hundred years of science fiction books and movies preparing us for life with robots possessing more knowledge than we could ever fathom. So I did about two and a half hours of research last week on the current state of AI, leaving me totally prepared to face the future. I listened to discussions about AI. I watched a person build an app for his computer using step by step AI. That was tedious, even for him. AI is only as good as the person who uses it. The difference with today’s AI is the speed with which it makes its calculations and the vastness of its information base. 

The Hollywood writers are on strike in part because AI can use any writer’s creations, without credit or compensation. Teachers are worried that students will just let AI write their essays and research papers, effectively cheating their way through school. Today’s AI is another disruptive force for society to deal with. All advances in any technology are disruptive. All have been misused and have the potential to hurt people, like nuclear energy or your cellphone. AI will reveal the true character of a person. Will you be honest, or will you cheat? Will you be authentic, or will you be an imposter? AI is not the issue. Our sinfulness is.

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

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On Reading the Bible

I took a university class entitled, Reading the Bible as Literature. Our textbook was a Bible that had no chapter numbers or enumerated verses. Some of the books of the Bible had been edited to eliminate repetitious material. Overall, though, the point was to read and study the various books of the Bible just as if these were novels, short stories, or poetry found in an advanced English literature course. It was an English course, not a course in Religion. Our professor was Dr. Joseph King, a man who was well into his 70’s at the time. His enthusiasm and keen wit kept me fascinated with his insight into the styles, structures, and metaphors of this diverse book we honor as The Bible.

Dr. King cautioned the ministerial students in the class to be careful when handling the biblical material. He believed a sin of the “religious” was to just “study the words as a duty,” but never truly experience the stories as masterful art and beauty. None of the books of the Bible were originally written with chapter numbers or verses. These were added as aides to corporate worship and personal reference. All the letters of Paul were just that, letters. They were read out loud in their entirety before the congregations that received them. I tried that in church one Sunday. Some people were kind in their comments. 

Psalms and Proverbs are one kind of literature—wisdom, the Kings and the Chronicles another—history. The Gospels tell the stories of Jesus while Daniel and The Revelation tell of the last times. Jeremiah and Amos call God’s people to repent while Isaiah and Hosea demonstrate God’s faithfulness and mercy. Each of the books of the Bible can stand alone as expressions of God’s story and our story. Sin and sorrow, pain and death are hard taskmasters. Anger and revenge, pride and power destroy us from within. But redemption, repentance and love offer a tender path worth walking each day. 

There is a special power that comes with reading the Scriptures out loud and listening to it read by someone else. Faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 NIV)  

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

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The Gifts of Graduation

I’ve been thinking about graduation gifts. Graduation is one of life’s rites of passage, literally and figuratively. A person passes the tests and completes the required course work. There is a commencement. A commencement is both an ending and a beginning. The graduate will soon discover they have advanced into the “what’s next?” of life. All of that hard work deserves recognition, commemoration and validation. A graduation gift is always in order. When I graduated from high school, my grandmother gave me an Avon toiletry set for men. I still have remnants of that set to this day. The giver wants the receiver to be pleased. 

I’ve also been reflecting on the gifts of graduation that shape my life to this day. Reading, writing and arithmetic head up my gift list, although there are some questions about my subsequent math skills. Music and imagination, science and discovery, history and literature, all were gifts I received at my graduation. The power of preparation, the patience of persistence, the satisfaction of success were all given to me at graduation by my teachers and mentors. I was a solid C high school student. As I neared graduation, a Sunday School teacher handed me a little devotional book called Meeting the Test: A Book of Devotions for Young People. That book challenged  me to find other books where I learned how to study and deeply learn about any subject. It pointed the way to life-long learning and my grades improved substantially in college. What a great gift!

As I explored my call to ministry, I found my way back, time and again, to the insights of Meeting the Test.  One lesson was about getting the most important “degree” of all—the A.U.G. Degree. Last Sunday’s message was based in part on this early life lesson. This degree is found in the King James Version of 2 Timothy 2:15. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Approved Unto God. I’m still working on that degree. It’s the graduation gift worth living for. One day there will be an eternal commencement for us all. It’s not too late to cram for the Final, yet. What might your diploma say?

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

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Coronation Day

The non-stop coverage of the Coronation of the King of England begins soon. He is already the king but will officially take his oath of office and receive his crown on Saturday, May 6. King Charles III is the oldest king to ascend to the throne of Great Britain. He was 73 at the time of his mother’s death. The runner up is Queen Victoria’s son Albert, Bertie as he was called, while he was Prince of Wales. Albert Edward became King Edward VII at age 59. The US television coverage (on all major channels) begins at 4:00 a.m. Central Daylight Time. Charles and Camilla will be crowned in a two-hour service in Westminster Abbey beginning at 5:00 a.m. The new King’s crown was made for Charles the II in 1616. Have fun watching it all. You can tell me about it someday.

Who should crown a king? Whoever puts the crown on a sovereign’s head implies an authority above the King. For centuries the Pope, representing God Almighty and with the personal power to condemn people to eternal punishment, crowned the European kings. With the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s, and a general move towards religious separation, the Pope became less important. In fact, one King of France snatched the crown from the hands of the Pope and crowned himself, proclaiming no one was above the King. Religious libertarians, like Baptists, proclaimed the separation of the church from the entanglement of the state. We have but one King—Jesus. Baptists helped write the first amendment to the Bill of Rights. Men like James Madison recognized that state endorsed religions promote a heavy-handed oppression of the free expression of faith.  Some Baptists today have abandoned their principles on this matter. 

After Henry VIII broke from Catholicism and established the Anglican Church, tradition there holds that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the church. In that role the Most Reverend Justin Welby will anoint the King with holy oil (viewers are not allowed to witness this ritual) before placing the crown upon his head. Those countries which still have kings and queens, including Great Britain, are all constitutional monarchies and are pledging an oath to their governing constitutions. The kings and queens of today’s world are symbols of a nation’s heritage and carry the role of advisors to their nation’s leaders.  They have the title but little authority.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Christ is King. Let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Remarkable Jim Niederer

Jim Niederer called Dorothy on her birthday last month but got her voicemail. Without any preliminaries, he sang Happy Birthday completely in German, then hung up. It was an unexpected call from her father’s younger brother, especially since it was in German. Jim’s parents, Dorothy’s grandparents, immigrated to Waco, Texas from the German-speaking Appenzell, Switzerland in 1907. The family became part of the Central Baptist Church, a former mission of First Baptist, Waco, to the German immigrant families. Jim’s mother organized Central’s WMU in 1910. Jim was born January 6, 1921. He served in World War II from 1942-1945. When he married Ella Marie Gossen in 1947, a very young Dorothy Niederer was their flower girl.

Jim Niederer has a remarkable story.  After intensive training, Jim’s unit sailed to north Africa to fight the Nazis in Europe. Under the command of General George Patton, he participated in the invasion of Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio in Italy. They then fought their way through Italy to France and Germany. Because Jim could speak German, he could eavesdrop in various places and pick up what was rumored to be happening. Once Jim was able to get a brief leave to meet up with his younger brother Charlie, whose unit was also in Italy. Later, Jim witnessed General Patton’s death from about 50 feet away. His unit came under the command of General Dwight Eisenhower, whom he talked with on many occasions.  As the war was winding down in Europe, they freed towns across Germany and on to Austria, where Jim’s unit liberated the Dachau concentration camp. Jim was awarded six bronze stars. 

The Intentional Lifegroup of Preston Road Baptist Church, Dallas, has as its mission the video recording of the remaining WWII veterans to preserve their stories. Even though Jim’s family counts Park Cities Baptist Church as their home church, the Lifegroup filmed Jim’s story and combined it with actual war footage and newsreels of Jim’s experience. You can watch Jim recount his experiences on You Tube. Search for Jim Niederer: 102 Year Old World War II Veteran. The complete documentary is 50 minutes and contains many brutal scenes from the war. 

Jim is a remarkable man who still lives in his own house. His son Ken comes over each night to help him get ready for bed. His daughter Kay drives in from Round Rock to spend most weekends with him. Others check on Jim daily. He greatly misses Ella Marie, who died in 2020. And he reads The Evangel faithfully each week. Thank you, Uncle Jim, for your faithfulness in prayer for the church’s ministries and your sacrifice for liberty and democracy.

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Assumptions Matter

Assumptions about others do not matter unless they are wrong. This week 16-year-old Ralph Yarl rang the doorbell and was shot twice through the front door of Andrew Lester’s house. Yarl had been asked to pick up his younger twin brothers. He was at the right house number, but on the wrong street one block over. Yarl assumed he was at the right house. Lester says he was “scared to death” and assumed he was being robbed. Yarl’s wounds were not fatal, but his life has been forever traumatized. Mr. Lester has been charged with two felonies: assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. 

This week I have been exercising, also known as walking, at Tulsa’s upscale outdoor shopping center, Utica Square. On Monday I also got my afternoon coffee. On Tuesday, Dorothy and I met for a late lunch. I also watch people and admire the spring flowers planted everywhere. I remember being at Utica Square one November many years ago. The place was filled with holiday shoppers and parking was at a premium. On my way back to my car I saw the most beautiful automobile I believe I have ever seen outside of a car show. It was a stately silver Rolls Royce adorned with highly polished silver trimmings. As it passed in front of me, I saw there was a chauffeur driving two people who were seated in the back of the car.  I made two guesses as to who was inside: a wealthy elderly couple or the Lady Dowager Duchess of old Tulsa Town herself (whoever that might be) with her personal assistant. I got in my car and drove around the block to see where the Rolls Royce took the passengers.

The chauffeur stopped at the front door of a store, but from my position I could not tell which store it was. He got out, dressed in a full charcoal and gray uniform with the hat, and opened the car’s rear door. Out stepped a dark-haired young lady dressed in stylish causal clothes. “Ah ha,” I thought, “the other will be the Duchess.”  But when the other woman stepped out of the car she looked as young and stylish as her friend. They could have been sisters, or a mother and daughter or just good friends. I discovered that they had gone into the Pottery Barn. Maybe they won the lottery and rented the Rolls Royce for the day just to impress people like me. Maybe that is how they go shopping all the time.  I just do not have enough information to know the real answer. My first assumptions were wrong.  The hard lesson is that almost every time I assume, or presume upon a person or a situation, I am wrong. Just ask my wife. 

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

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The Goose and the Gander

There was something different about my neighbor’s lawn ornaments. I got home from work in the late afternoon about a week or so ago. As I went to check the mailbox, something caught my eye in the neighbor’s front yard. Our neighbor has a brick-edged flowerbed circling a maple tree. On each side of the flowerbed stand two three-foot-tall ceramic deer. That day there stood a motionless goose beside one of the deer. Then I spotted another Canadian goose behind the tree. I took a picture of the four lawn ornaments. This is unusual for our part of the neighborhood. The geese tend to stay over at one of the ponds on the next street. The next morning the geese were still there. Later I noticed one of them standing on the roof of a white pickup truck parked across from my neighbor’s house. My neighbor sent me a text asking if I had noticed the geese. I called them his new lawn ornaments. He corrected me by saying one had become a hood ornament for the truck. Then he mentioned that they would probably be with us for a month. The goose is nesting in the flowerbed. The gander stands on patrol. 

As the temperature has warmed, the gander has taken to guarding both of our houses, retreating under the truck only to nap. The truck owner has not noticed that the gander can no longer stand on the truck due to the unpleasantness on its roof. The geese choose to use our driveway and sidewalk when they need to stretch. I find that the snow shovel works well, but it is noisy. Maybe that is why the geese decided today to alternate their breaks in the relative privacy of our front stoop and on the welcome mat at our front door. Only three weeks to go.

Cleaning up the mess is a chore that needs to be done, whether we like it or not. I wonder sometimes what God thinks of the mess I make of things. In Biblical language confession leads to cleansing. Admitting I am responsible for my own sin is step one. It is much easier to point to others’ messes. Confessing someone else’s sin, while self-satisfying, does not lead to personal cleansing. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.

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

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