Category Archives: Reflections

The Lady Houdini

During one of our adventures at the Tulsa State Fair a dozen years ago, we stopped by to see the magic show of Ridgeway and Johnson.  This husband-and-wife team have become world famous for their large and dangerous illusions.  While Kevin Ridgeway is the master magician and showman, his wife, Kristen Johnson, is the star of the show. He waves the sharp blades around; she gets in the box that is sliced down to a small cube then pierced through with five swords. She gets out of the box unharmed. She is hung upside down by her feet, while strapped into a straitjacket, like Harry Houdini. She wriggles out of the straitjacket and repels down to the floor.

Best known for her underwater escapes, Kristen has become The Lady Houdini. Draped with locked chains, handcuffed with her feet shackled, she lowers herself into a glass tank of water, which is also locked on top. Holding her breath in full view of the audience she proceeds to try to pick the seven locks and escape. Watching her do this takes your breath away. As a former Christian magician, I know some of the science behind the dangerous illusions, but Kristen still must hold her breath underwater for about three and a half minutes while picking the locks. That is not an illusion. Their timing must be perfect. Their trust in each other must be absolute. But most of all they need to love what they do and do what they love. She has nearly died in that tank of water on three occasions. 

They were almost killed in 2017 by a distracted (texting) driver. She had broken ribs and a punctured lung. Kevin was severely injured and in a coma for five weeks before slowly healing from his surgeries, accompanied by months of physical therapy. They then chose to resume their career. At the end of July this year, Kristen fell nearly 30 feet while descending from her straitjacket performance breaking a leg and her wrist. This week, if all goes well, surgeons will remove the three plates, 16 screws and the rod in her wrist. They persevere and feel blessed.

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

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The Queen’s Funerals

The first of Queen Elizabeth’s funerals was held in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. I watched the whole service and was grateful I was not officiating. One of the historic ministers of the church was John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformed Church (Presbyterian.) The service was a simple and traditional Christian funeral with familiar Scriptures and music, and a brief message. The second funeral was in St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The state funeral will be at Westminster Abby in London, then on to Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel for the Committal Service. The Queen regularly attended these churches, and faith played a significant role in her daily life. Her death also marks a new beginning.

The new King Charles and I share the same birthday, but in different years. He has been “next-in-line” for 70 years, becoming the oldest person to ascend to the throne. We have not lived parallel lives.  I’m sometimes asked “How many people have you married?” I have learned not to give the right answer unless I really know the person asking the question. The right answer, of course, is one, but most people seem confused or slightly miffed at that answer. What they are asking is how many weddings have I officiated. That is a harder number to say.  The first wedding I ever performed was for my younger sister, Denise, in June of 1969. She and Bubba were married 36 years until his death in 2005. The hardest were the ones where I was also the father of the bride. With just a general sense of the weddings through the years, I have officiated around 250. Weddings mark a new beginning.

I have a more accurate number of the funerals. The very first funeral, where I was assisting, was in 1966 for an 18-month-old boy. He had gotten behind his 18-year-old uncle’s car. It is still one of the saddest funerals I have ever witnessed. Over the years I have saved notes and materials from most of the services. I have probably misplaced several of the services, but reviewing these notes, I have saved the stories of around 500 people who have touched and shaped my life through the years. 

Weddings and funerals are beginnings and endings. The people involved move from life before the wedding, or funeral, to the beginning of all that lies ahead. Endings and beginnings are rarely easy, no matter how many funerals may be involved.

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

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Ike’s Chili

When the recent cold snap suddenly dropped the temperatures into the lower 80’s, I decided that would be a good day to get some chili for lunch. I drove down old Route 66 (11th Street) west toward downtown, looking for the new home for Ike’s Chili. I had been there once in the before times.  After passing through the massive construction zone at Lewis Avenue, I found myself entering a nearly unrecognizable stretch just past Utica. The construction there was creating new stores, restaurants, and touristy-type businesses. I was so disoriented by it all, I missed Ike’s altogether and had to go way out of the way to get back to where I was headed. After parking in back, I noticed Ike’s was preparing for a celebration.

The posters were inviting everyone to their Anniversary Party and Cruise, which seemed a little much for a place that serves bowls of chili. Ike’s is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Tulsa. September 10th will mark 114 years. There will be a big party on Saturday, including an invitation to “cruise” Route 66. Ike Johnson, who died in 1928, started his “chili parlor” in 1908 at 2nd and Boston. I was most familiar with the location on Admiral towards Sheridan, where it stood from 1966-2014. The current menu has a copy of the Tulsa World article from 1936, which tells the backstory. Included is a story of the time entertainer Will Rogers got to Ike’s too late—everyone had gone home. From its beginning Ike’s customers regularly included some of the most prominent people in Tulsa—unusual for a place that basically serves chili and hot dogs. Million-dollar deals have been brokered by people sitting at the counter on bar stools trying to keep the chili off their ties. Ike would be surprised that a regular bowl of chili now costs nearly $8.00, and a coney the same. I ordered my favorite—three-way chili and a coney. More than enough for anyone. Of course, when I stepped back outside after lunch, the weather was a humid 92˚.

Ike Johnson stuck with a good thing, and so have four generations in his family.  Anyone from any station in life is welcome to sit down for a simple meal, have a good conversation with a friend or stranger, and continue their day, satisfied and full. That is worth celebrating.

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

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You Can Know God

I have written before about the power of a daily devotional time. Today I wanted to share with you a quote from Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. The following was originally written in her book, Just Give Me Jesus. She developed a 365-day devotional book called The Joy of My Heart, where she excerpts passages from each of her books. This one spoke to me this week.

If Adam knew God as a beloved Father,

if Eve knew Him as the original Homemaker,

if Noah knew Him as the Refuge from the storm,

if Abraham knew Him as a Friend,

if Moses knew Him as the Redeemer,

if Rahab knew Him as the gracious Savior,

if David knew Him as his Shepherd,

if Elijah knew Him as the Almighty,

if Daniel knew Him as the Lion Tamer,

if Mary Magdalene knew Him as the Bondage Breaker,

if Martha knew Him as the Promise Keeper,

if Lazarus knew Him as the Resurrection and the Life,

if Bartimaeus knew Him as the Light of the World,

if John knew Him as the glorious King upon the throne,

surely you and I can know Him too!

You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him

if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4:29 NKJV

Copyright by Anne Graham Lotz

This is simple, direct, and true. Thank you, Anne Graham Lotz, for reminding me that each of us can know God in a way that transforms us.  All of us have a friend that needs to hear this message. 

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

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Shared Experiences

I’ve have flown on quite a few airplanes. An airplane trip is always a shared experience, whether we know anyone onboard or not.  This fall travel season is expected to be the most crowded and delayed since the pandemic (ended?). If airline flights were a church gathering, the opening routine would be called a ritual. The actual flight always begins the same way. The music stops and the leader of the group welcomes everyone aboard and asks that everyone watch and listen to the safety instructions. Bigger airplanes have video presentations that show you what the stewards are also showing you. They always demonstrate how to use a seatbelt. I always wonder “who on this plane still does not know how to use a seatbelt?” Then it is on to “In Case of an Emergency.” They point to the exits and tell about following the lights. If the oxygen masks drop down “put yours on first before helping others.” They do not say why that is important. Then there is usually a follow-up about “water landings” and floatation devices, even if your aircraft will not be flying over any significant body of water. As a wrap-up, you are referred to the instructions in the seat pocket in front of you, just like Bibles in church. 

On airplane trips everyone does everything together. Check-in. Go through the security lines. Empty stuff out onto the conveyor belt and have your body scanned. Sit and wait. Hurry to get on board with everything you could possibly need. Put it all somewhere. Sit and wait for the beverage cart. Hopefully there will be a beverage cart. Fly and read/sleep/wait. Prepare for the landing. Land at the destination. In unison now, turn on cellphones, jump up and try to open the overhead bins, remembering things may have shifted. Stand and wait to get off the plane. 

We identify with each other through our shared experiences. Whether it is a ballgame, a movie, a family gathering, a road trip or anything else, we long for shared experiences. There is a reason for the biblical admonition not to “forsake meeting together” at church. It is up to us to keep our worship experiences fresh and vital, for God is always present, seeking to nourish our very souls as we worship our Lord with each other.

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

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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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