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Love Gives the Best

“Anyone can give without loving, but no one can love without giving.”  Dr. James G. Harris.  My model and mentor for being a pastor was Dr. Harris, Senior Minister of the University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. I was a member of his church, taught a 5th Grade Boys Sunday School class and sang in the choir. Dr. Harris counseled Dorothy and I as we prepared to marry. Together Dorothy and I taught the Junior High Youth Class on Sunday evenings and helped in the young adult department. Dr. Harris led my ordination council and sent us forth to Tulsa in 1973. 

The story is told about an elementary school holiday program called Christmas Love. If you have ever been to one you understand the excited nervousness of the children, and the audience. The program was proceeding pretty well until the final song. This was the time a row of young children stood in front of the rest of the group holding big posters while awaiting their turn to reveal each card. One youngster was enjoying herself, bouncing along to the music, when she realized everyone was watching her and giggling. She dropped her card and they laughed. She picked it up and danced even harder, dropping her card again. Suddenly it was time for the children to turn their cards around.  At the director’s signal, the children turned their card over to spell the title of the program, only her card, the M, was upside down. Some laughed but then came the applause. The children had spelled CHRIST WAS LOVE.

As messed up, off the mark and downright mean as our world has gotten, Christmas continues to remind us that no one can love without giving—even God. “God so loved the world,” the familiar verse says, “that He gave His only Son that we might have eternal life.” Dr. Harris gave his all to God and the church. He died on a beautiful early Sunday morning in January 1975, as he jogged around the high school track, preparing his mind, body, and soul to preach of God’s love gift that day. His memorial service became a true spiritual and church-wide homecoming as hundreds of us returned to say thank you to God for giving us the gift of James Gordon Harris.

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

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Words Matter

This was written for the Center for Congregational Ethics, an on-line resource for pastors and lay-leaders. This brief devotional outline was based on Psalm 76; Isaiah 60:17-22; and Ephesians 4:25-5:2, from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, for November 14, 2022. It is suggested that you read each passage first, as you reflect on the focus verses. 

I am always interested in reading the devotional selections on my birthday, which is today, November 14, most likely to see what special word from God I might discern. But if I’m not careful, it can become an exercise of reading what I want to read, to get the special message I want to hear. Not that different from a fortune cookie or horoscope. It can become fatalism wrapped up as a birthday present, tied with a bow of self-centeredness. Words matter.

Psalm 76 points to judgment and salvation in the power of God. God establishes justice. Everyone, from any life circumstance, will one day stand in awe of the Lord. Verse 11 declares the cautionary word: Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them. 

Isaiah 60:17-22 points to hope and salvation in the promise of peace. The world is made whole as justice and righteousness transform the people of God. Verse 22 admonishes us to be patient: I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 points to conduct and salvation in our daily relationships. Paul’s guidelines for living just and righteous lives, everywhere every day, empower the witness of the church, one person at a time. Verse 5:1 presents the imperative, Be imitators of God, therefore…

My words matter. I found a simple prayer that often helps me: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord. (Psalm 19:14)

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

Bro. Darryl

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Healthy Churches

I have been to a great many Baptist meetings this year, including in-person and by zoom. Last November, at our Tulsa Metro Baptist Network (TMBN) annual meeting, when I was again elected to serve as the Clerk/Secretary of the Association, I reported that I would serve one more year.  I desire less meetings. Tulsa Baptists have been in the middle of an intense self-examination as a network of churches, and I wanted to finish my commitment to that process. At this year’s meeting on November 1, most of the findings were presented and well received. I would like to share with you some of the framework of the efforts.

In church leadership circles the question is often asked: If your church closed today, would anyone in the neighborhood notice?  A more positive question that we addressed was: If the churches of today were to invent an association, what would it look like? We have been working on this “simple” topic for two years now, led by a national church development group in partnership with a half-dozen similarly sized associations from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Washington. We’ve redefined who we are: We are a network of leaders helping one another fuel the mission of the local church. A key discovery was found in the personal pain and conflict many of our congregations, and their key leaders, are facing. Healthy churches require healthy pastoral leadership. Our group outlined an overall vision and strategy: Encouraging Leaders; Forging Partnerships; and Planting, Replanting and Strengthening Churches. To this purpose, we have organized the work of the Network into three working teams: a Church Health team, a Leader Care and Development team, and a Church Planting team. This is a work in progress and is being refined as we go forward. 

I want to personally thank Dr. Charles Cruce, Missions Director, and the Officers and Administrative Leaders of the Tulsa Metro Baptist Association for allowing me to be a part of this reshaping effort. At the annual meeting, I was recognized for over 40 years as the TMBN Secretary with a plaque and a gift certificate for Dorothy and I to spend a few days in Branson. I think they are suggesting the time away may help us model a healthy relationship.

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

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The Old West, and the New

I had a hankerin’ for a western, so I read the Louis L’Amour book Rider of Lost Creek. Louis L’Amour wrote 120 books before he died in 1988. All of his books are still in print. The struggles of the Old West (1870’s to 1890’s) still resonate with us today for a reason. I saw a glimpse of what he was really writing about—the cowboy, the cattle drives, the free range were being replaced by a new Fenced West (1890’s to 1920’s) of ranch hands, cattle trains, and barbed wire. In the Old West, outlaws were deputized as lawmen and lawmen turned outlaw, if the opportunity seemed worth it. L’Amour wrote briefly about Watt Earp and Bat Masterson as good guys and gunslingers. I remember the old Radio and TV shows about the Old West—The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke and Wagon Train, and those of the Fenced West—Bonanza, Roy Rogers, and Hop-a-Long Cassidy. All those shows were about righting wrongs and making a new start.

The real Wyatt Earp retired from the old west, moved to Alaska to find gold, then eventually went to Hollywood where he became a motion picture consultant to Tom Mix, William S. Hart and a young actor named Marion Morrison, who became John Wayne. Wyatt Earp died in 1929.  Bat Masterson, who reportedly killed more than 26 men before he was 30, died in 1921 sitting at his typewriter in New York City as the sports columnist for the New York Telegraph. The  Old West and the Fenced West became the Wild West in the imaginations of the storytellers. The cowboys who lived through those changing times constantly reinvented themselves. They learned the power of a new start, a new beginning.

I remember once, when visiting a church in the East, our daughters were asked, “Do Indians live in teepees in Tulsa, Oklahoma?” The Wild West, Hollywood-style, lives on in our collective stories. It is a new day. Today’s cowboys have hardly driven cattle anywhere unless the cattle were in their trucks. It is a different day for life on the range. Do you need a re-start, a reinvention, and transformation of your life today? God is the One who said, “Behold, I make all things new.” It is never too late for a fresh start.

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

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An Alarming Situation

Dorothy and I were enjoying a leisurely breakfast this past Thursday, when we were startled by a loud, pulsing siren-like sound. We thought our home alarm system had been triggered. Not seeing or smelling smoke but alarmed that every smoke detector in the house was screeching, Dorothy called 911 and asked the fire department to send someone out to determine the cause. There was no smoke or fire anywhere that I could see. My next thought was that it might be carbon monoxide that set off the alarms. I opened the front and back doors to let in some outside air. The freeze warnings and steep temperature drop had caused us to turn on the heat on Monday night. I went to the garage, opened the attic and looked up. Still no smoke or flames. I went outside to look at the roof, front and back. All was quiet. While the firetruck was on its way, I moved the cars out of the garage and out of the way, while Dorothy waited outside as the fire department personnel had ordered. 

The first cold week of the season is a dangerous time for house fires and carbon monoxide poisonings. Heaters, fireplaces, and furnaces have been sitting unused for months, getting dustier and rustier. A tiny gas leak, a worn-out electrical cord or connector, or a failing fan motor can do a lot of damage. When the firemen arrived, they spread apart to assess the whole house. They were each wearing carbon monoxide detectors, which were indicating everything was normal. Soon they found the source of the problem: the smoke detectors had malfunctioned. I did not know that smoke detectors have an expiration date of about 10 years. Ours are 17 years old. Not only are we to replace the batteries when needed, but also the smoke detector units themselves after 10-12 years. One fireman patiently showed me about our units, how they were connected and the kind to buy. They suggested we replace them all. Fortunately, I was able to find the same model on-line. Before they left, they told me to call them when we got our new units; they would gladly install them for us at no cost.

After that alarming experience, we warmed our coffee and food as best we could and talked about it all. We are thankful for alarms that work and firefighters that are caring and patient. 

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

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