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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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