Category Archives: Reflections

On Roller Coasters and Parachute Drops

When we were courting, Dorothy and I rode a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas. I had never been anywhere like a Six Flags in my life. She kept mentioning that it was an unusual day because there were no lines for any of the rides. We saw some shows, wandered throughout the little shops, and rode just about any ride whenever we wanted. We stayed that day until the park closed. It was as if the time together at the park was tailored just for us. Later we learned most people stayed home because of the record-breaking July heat (107°).

Dorothy and I rode only one other roller coaster together after we were married. She quit riding after watching people ride the Zingo at Bell’s Amusement Park at the Tulsa Fairgrounds. Dorothy quietly said to me that I could ride as many coasters as I wanted, but she never wanted a newspaper headline to read, “Pastor’s Wife Dies on Roller-Coaster Ride.”

She has not wavered, even when our family, along with Dorothy’s parents, spent another day at that same Six Flags—the day her 80+-year-old father rode both a roller coaster and the parachute drop! My last roller-coaster ride was at Branson’s Silver Dollar City in December 2019. I strained my shoulder on that ride by holding on too tightly. I had forgotten the rule for riding all carnival rides. The secret to an enjoyable ride is to relax, lean forward and trust the operator of the ride. That is hard to do when your brain and all the voices around you are screaming, you are going to die!

2020 has been a current-event roller-coaster ride that just keeps on going, now into 2021.  In fact, there are multiple roller coasters going. Many of us keep trying to get off one ride only to find ourselves on a different ride. I am not alone in thinking I might be going a little frazzled because of it all. We are all on life’s roller coaster running full force for this season. This too shall change. Don’t let the ride scare you away from faith and hope and love. Let your headline read, “Faithful Through It All.”

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Lean forward and trust the Operator. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while apart. 

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Homer G. Lindsay, Jr. was our pastor when I was licensed to the Gospel Ministry. He was a heavy man and admitted he was big even as a boy. Whenever he was preaching and got close to Galatians 6:7, he would tell the same story. Being able to tell the same story repeatedly as if it were the first time is an artform passed from generation to generation, and not just to preachers. He would recount being assigned one hot muggy day to plant seven rows of corn in the backyard garden. The rows were already tilled. He was given the bag of seed corn and a round measuring stick. The assignment was to poke a hole in the soil, place one seed in it, then cover it over. He was to lay the stick down and poke a hole at the other end, and so on until all the rows were planted. To hear him tell it, he thought he would die after the third seed (not row, seed.) He was sweating, he was dirty, his knees hurt, and his back was beginning to ache. By the time he got to the top of the third row, he was through, but not with the planting. He made up some excuses to go in, but his father sent him right back out to finish the job. He made a couple more half-hearted attempts to sow his seed, then sat down at the top of his row by the fence. Young Homer was leaning on the back fence when he got the idea. He would plant the first 3 or 4 seeds at the front of the remaining rows and bury the rest of the seed in a hole in the back corner. His parents were so proud of him. He was so proud of himself for getting away with it.

The seeds he planted that day were exceptionally good seeds. The stalks would grow tall and provide sweet corn for the dinner table. But it only took a couple of weeks for his deception to be discovered by his father. The gardener always tends the details—looking for bugs and weeds and mischief. Homer Sr. noticed the empty rows behind the tender shoots of corn. It was a mystery. Were there hungry birds or animals raiding his garden? Eventually he saw the messy clump beginning to sprout by the fence. A time of questioning, a time of confession, a time of repentance and discipline; judgment day arrived for Homer Jr. (See Galatians 6:7-10)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. We reap what we sow. Let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.

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Those Who Lie

Those who lie to others first lie to themselves. Those who lie to themselves lose the truth.  The Bible has much to say against people who lie or bear false witness. We have seen the sinister effects this week of those who lie to others. The seditious actions of those who would destroy the hallowed halls of our democracy and attempt to assassinate our Vice-President and our Speaker of the House, or anyone else who would get in their way, makes my heart ache. To the insurrectionists, the lie was so true that the “others” deserved to die. Killing someone in revenge because you do not like how they vote is still murder. Doing it as a righteous crusade is blasphemy.

I am saddened by the effects this violent discourse has reflected on the witness of Christianity and people who say they worship Jesus as Lord. Have we not learned anything from history? When the Church embraces the Nation State, or the State embraces the Church, the result is always violence and corruption. That is why a major distinctive of Baptists throughout history has been the separation of Church and State with religious liberty for all. Because of Baptists like Roger Williams, Isaac Backus and John Leland, we have the first amendment to the Bill of Rights. 

The musical The Man of La Mancha is a complicated story-within-a-story featuring Don Quixote. Quixote is a delusional character who sees windmills as giants to be fought. No one knows what to make of Don Quixote. The Don Quixotes of today post and repost, e-mail, and explore the dark alleys of the internet. They are psychologically manipulated, immersed in convoluted conspiracy stories, and financially preyed upon by cynical “true believers.” In the musical, the people around Don Quixote try to guide him toward the truth that is obvious to them. He is staying at an inn, not a palace. It is an old rag Dulcinea tosses to him, not a silk scarf. He is a fool who thinks he is a knight. But then they begin to see his humanity. They see his need to be treated with respect. Not every modern Don Quixote is noble, but all should be treated with kindness. Remember, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” Treat people with grace. Answer with respect. Always speak the truth in love. 

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

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Press On

As we have entered this new year, a two-word directive keeps coming to my mind—Press on. As the pandemic continues its rampage—press on. As threatened violence and political unrest continues—press on. As the winter grows colder and we grow older—press on. The image of a hiker staying on a narrow path through forest, hills and valleys to reach the mountain’s summit stays before me. Paul’s words from Philippians 3:14 are in my heart: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Press on.

I went ahead and bought a planning calendar for 2021, even though last year’s calendar was mostly unused. I’m in the process of mapping out a church budget, sermons and Bible studies, and looking for ways to be more effective in our mission efforts in the coming weeks. I anticipate one day returning to in-person services. Will Easter or Mother’s Day be too soon? Until we see more clearly, press on. The response to our on-line services has been excellent. Can we plan to keep doing that as we one day add going back to church? Will people be able to step forward and safely serve? Meanwhile there are still a multitude of big and little details that need to be fixed or maintained around the building. Our Hispanic church family has stepped up in sacrificial ways to support these efforts. Press on.

Hebrews 12 speaks of running the race set before us. Press on toward the prize. In 2 Timothy, Paul calls to mind these trustworthy words from an early church hymn, or maybe a sermon:

  • If we die with Him, we will also live with Him.
  • If we endure hardship, we will reign with Him.
  • If we deny Him, He will deny us.
  • If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is.

Everyone is watching how we conduct ourselves through these days. Will we try to cheat, or be half-hearted, or leave the race altogether? We must press on toward the mark of the high calling of God.

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

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The 2020 Christmas Star

Trend setters are calling it the 2020 Christmas Star. It is a celestial event set for December 21, the long night of the winter solstice. But it is not even a star. It is the night that the planets Saturn and Jupiter kiss. Even though they are hundreds of millions of miles away from each other, from our perspective, they have been getting closer and closer all fall. They are said to kiss when they are at their closest before their orbits begin to separate them again. Their last kiss like this one was in 1226, nearly 800 years ago. In 1226, Genghis Khan was busy conquering parts of western Asia. Any evening now, if you look outside and it is not too cloudy, you will see the two largest planets in our solar system so close they appear as one bright star. Look above the southwestern horizon just after sunset, a little below and to the right of the soon-emerging moon. They will only be visible for about an hour or so before they drop below the horizon here in Oklahoma.  

The Original Christmas Star has never been seen again. There has been much speculation from astronomers concerning the kind of heavenly light that could lead the wise men from Persia to Jerusalem to Bethlehem to meet Jesus. There was enough Hebrew scripture remaining in the old Babylonian empire from the time of Daniel until Esther and Nehemiah, for these scholars to discern that biblical prophecy might be unfolding in their own day. They were so curious and expectant, they packed up their supplies and rich gifts to set out on the journey. They completed their mission and returned to their land to tell of their incredible experiences.  

In typical 2020 fashion, the so-called “Christmas Star” is a couple of kissing planets that most people will never even see. The biblical story is unfolding around us. The Good News of Christ is being fulfilled every day. Can we see the hand of God at work today? Do we have the courage, and yes, even faith like those wise men of old, to share the wonders of the true Christmas story? 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Look to the stars. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.

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The Hawk

We have lived in our house now 15 years. In the early years we were surrounded by open farmland and wooded hills. Overseeing this kingdom sat an old hawk on a telephone line. When other, smaller birds got too close, the hawk would stare them down and open his wings menacingly. They would move further down the line. One day machines tore down the old farmhouse and collapsed barn and began to excavate the fields. New housing additions, apartment buildings and a full hospital and medical complex rose in their place. 

Soon other machines began to cut side roads through the wooded hills. The old hawk moved to the top of a dead tree nearer to our house. Every day more of the wildlife was displaced. It became easy for the hawk to catch the fleeing mice and rabbits.  Each day as I headed to the church, I would watch the hawk watch the shrinking fields and severed woods. In the evenings coming home I would see him circling overhead. A few years ago, he moved on. Four or five younger hawks took over circling the area. The dead tree began collapsing, ever shrinking. The hawks began to rest on area roof tops. One day, just before sundown, I went out in the backyard to cover the faucets from the winter freezes. When I looked up, a hawk was looking at me. 

He was sitting on our back fence, just a few yards in front of me. I pulled out my phone and he posed for pictures. Even the flash did not faze him. Then he turned suddenly, opened his mighty wings, dropped down and took off with his prize. I mistakenly thought he was watching me. I was just a manageable distraction. Too many distractions and the hawk would come up short. He stayed on mission. It was getting dark quickly. The little creatures now live in suburban backyards and flowerbeds. The majestic hawk has learned to adapt to his changing world.

This has been a hard year with curtailed activities and distractions everywhere, but the church has stayed on mission. Since God’s people are the church, that means that you have stayed on mission—worshiping, praying, serving others in the name of Jesus. Thank you for being the church in this year of pandemic.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Keep your eye on the prize. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while still apart.

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The Angel at the Door

A stranger showed up one day at the church office, before this pandemic. He wanted to talk to the pastor. But this time it was different. Hundreds of strangers show up at church office doors wanting to talk to the pastor. Basically they all want help, as in money. It’s not hard to get cynical and skeptical. I have had to get philosophical over the years. I’ve decided that begging for money is a full-time job for some. Many times I have seen “shift change” at an area street corner where one person with the “Anything Helps” sign is replaced by another with the “Will Work for Food” sign. Going church door to church door is another full-time job for some. Discerning the true need from the really good story is not as easy as it sounds. I have found that the people who get angry and chew me out are the scammers. Most people in deep need are slightly embarrassed, not manipulative.  

The man at the office door wanted two things—a chance to listen and a chance to pray. Listen to what? Listen to God and listen to the pastor. I took him to a pew where he asked me to sit near by. I kept a respectable distance. He silently stared at the Good Shepherd window for a few minutes. Then he turned to me and asked me to talk to him. Thinking he wanted a counseling session, I tried to find his need.  “No,” he said, “Tell me about your walk with God.” Okay. So I began to tell my faith story, my call to the ministry and my daily spiritual “routine.”  We came to a stopping point and he told me “thank you.” Then he offered to pray for me, a sweet and genuine prayer. He said goodbye and a thank you once more. It reminded me that not all strangers at the church door want food and money.

That passage about Christian hospitality near the end of Hebrews encourages us to “entertain strangers,” outsiders, because they just might be angels. A stranger may have unwelcome motives, or they may be someone sent to bless your life. The only way to know the difference is to engage them in a conversation, and pray.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today.  Be friendly to all the angels. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.

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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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