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Confirming the Call

As I continue to reflect on this 50-year-mark as minister here at Braden Park, I am thinking today about those first few months after we moved to Tulsa in response to a call from God and a call from the church. My assignment was to be assistant minister in charge of the education and youth ministries. I was also asked by Dr. Bob Willets, senior minister at the time, to preach either the morning or evening service each week to help him fully recover from a time of depression. We decided not to announce who would be preaching when, to keep from getting into a fixed routine. I was preaching through 1 Corinthians. One Sunday in November Dr. Bob was out of town. The next Sunday he returned to the pulpit and announced that he had accepted a call to pastor a church just outside of Washington D. C. His last day would be December 31. Dorothy and I were taken by surprise, and we had questions.

Those Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were a flurry of church activities, family and friends visiting us, and celebrating our baby’s first Christmas. We were out of town that first week of January when the Music Director was asked to resign. Tensions were high and we received conflicting advice about how to proceed.  We made a quick trip to Ft. Worth to talk with our former pastor and other mentors. A Pulpit Committee was formed, and I agreed to become the interim pastor on condition I could have occasional guest preachers to give me some time for discernment. In late January I brought a “State of the Church” message which challenged the church to decide who they would become. In early March, I attended a most valuable conference in Dallas, that emphasized the power of personal management in church ministry. It clarified for me an understanding of myself and my call to service. It gave me tools to help lead others through conflict and to take personal responsibility for managing the programs of the church. Apparently, the Easter message I brought gave a sense of unity to the congregation, and soon afterward the pulpit committee asked me to consider becoming the pastor. Through that whole process I continued to sense a strong calling to lead this congregation. I officially became senior pastor on Mother’s Day 1974. I was where God had called me, and still am to this day. 

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

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Moving to Tulsa in 1973

It was nearly midnight on October 1. Dorothy and I felt a bit like Mary and Joseph after being turned away by all the old Route 66 motels on Tulsa’s 11th Street. Our baby was six weeks old. We had spent the whole day helping movers load the moving van and then we unexpectedly learned that they were going to drive overnight to Tulsa to unload the van first thing in the morning at our little duplex apartment at 14th and 73rd East Avenue. That’s when the scrambling began. We filled our trusty ’64 Rambler with the baby and the rest of our worldly goods and left Ft. Worth behind. But now it was midnight. We stopped at the Desert Hills Motel, where we had stayed before, but something called the Tulsa State Fair (not Tulsa County Fair, I learned) was in full swing less than a mile away, so every room was taken. We eventually found a room on the seventh floor of the downtown Holiday Inn. What a short night!

Very early the next morning we had to load everything back into the car and get across town to the new place. The moving van was already waiting. We spent the morning unloading and setting up the place. Eventually Dorothy said that we needed to go shopping right then. Why? We had this little baby, and our place had no washer, dryer or refrigerator, and there was something about babies and laundry and eating that needed tending to. So, on our move-in day in Tulsa—it was a Tuesday—we bought the appliances and had them delivered the next day. Wednesday night I was welcomed by Dr. Bob Willets and the church people to the evening prayer service. I delivered my first sermon as a minister of our church on the first Sunday morning of October 1973. The Scripture was taken from 1 Corinthians chapter 1. That day I began a verse-by-verse study of that book which lasted into the following February.

I am in a reflective mood about these 50 years together. Thank you for inviting us and allowing us into some of the most sacred moments of your family’s life. Thank you for welcoming us and giving us room to mature as a pastor and as a family. Thank you for loving us.  Thank you for ministering to us and helping us raise and teach our children, and their children, the holy things of God. You are loved, and Dorothy and I are so blessed and grateful.

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

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This was written for the Center for Congregational Ethics on-line Lectionary to Life Series and is based on Psalm 103:8-13; Genesis 37:12-36; and 1 John 3:11-16 for September 14, 2023. 

When the unpleasant befalls us, we may lament, “It’s not fair. Why me? Why this? Why now? I do not deserve this.” Our passages for today outline a few examples of lamentable, undeserved actions. In Genesis 37:12-36, the plot by his own brothers to kill Joseph and say an animal did it was altered to his benefit, but Joseph did not deserve to be sold into slavery. And their father Jacob did not deserve decades of inconsolable mourning for Joseph. 

In 1 John 3:11-16, the writer points to Abel who, while living righteously, did not deserve to be murdered by his brother Cain. It was an evil betrayal of the bond of love. In the same way, John goes on to caution that believers should not be surprised by undeserved persecution and hatred.

It is in Psalm 103:8-13 that we confront our own sins toward God and the people we encounter each day. Do others deserve the sins we commit against them? Just as Joseph showed grace when he later confronted and forgave his brothers; just as God showed compassion to Cain and marked him with a sign of protection; so too we do not deserve God’s abounding love and mercy. Yet the psalmist sings, God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

 How then should we, whose sins have been removed from God’s sight as far as the east is from the west, respond?  Let us meditate this day on our own undeserved love from God. Let’s give those we encounter today undeserved compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  Undeserved.

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

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Driving with the Blue Angels

I found myself going down the proverbial social media rabbit hole into the world of the Blue Angels. I have always been fascinated by the precision flying of the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels. I watched a couple of videos of these pilots putting on their air shows; one was the view from a pilot. I watched as six fighter jets took off in pairs and immediately went into formation. I counted five rearview mirrors mounted around the cockpit. Everyone must know where everyone is at all times, as well as their own speed, altitude and position. These pilots fly their planes upside down and sideways while timing their special effects and arial ballet within yards of each other. It is an amazing display of skill and courage.

It all reminds me of the stress of driving down the Broken Arrow Expressway (posted speed limit 60 mph) just before peak rush-hour traffic and the first crash at 75 or 80 mph. We are quite conscious of driving in Tulsa since we have two young drivers in the family. Deacon turned 16 in May, earning his full driver’s license, and Molly turns 16 this week and expects to have her license in a week or so. They both are certain they are not yet ready for the Blue Angel drivers on the expressways. Driving safely is an adventure in mind-reading. It would be nice if more people used their signal lights properly and turned them off occasionally. Distracted drivers are fiddling with their drinks, phones, and faces. They drive too closely even when they are daydreaming, replaying the last argument or just sleep driving. Sleep driving is when you wake up behind the wheel of your car, wondering how you got there when you cannot remember the last few traffic lights. I know you know the feeling. Stress and boredom are a dangerous combination.

The first recorded rush-hour traffic jam is found in Nahum 2:4, although there was a major pile-up recorded in Exodus 14. Both are good stories to read to learn of God’s concern and provision for His people. How are you handling the stress these days? The pilots I observed were focused on the details so they could respond with safety and accuracy. While they perform and practice the same things each day, they do not let the routine lead them to distraction.

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

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J Ray and Ola Smith

He made it through the seventh grade before he had to drop out of school to help support his family in rural Arkansas. Born in 1901, J. Ray Smith plowed his fields and learned to build barns. He married his wife of 60 years, Ola, in 1922. He began working as a laborer for a lumber yard, learning the intricacies of home building. He once told me that the hardest thing he ever did was sell his team of mules and move to Tulsa. He formed the Commercial Lumber Company at 12th and South Lewis and began supplying lumber in the prewar years of Tulsa’s expansion. They joined our church in 1941 where he served as a deacon.  Following the war, J. Ray and Ola organized a young adult Sunday School class that drew the young men from Spartan School of Aeronautics and the young ladies from all around. At that time he invested in the little community of Owasso, seeing the growth potential for low-cost housing to support the working families near the airport and American Airlines. He became a director of the First Bank of Owasso, and eventually opened the Owasso Lumber Company to meet the housing demands of the 1970’s. 

In 1972 the Smiths offered 60 acres of his Owasso land for the site of a new Baptist Children’s Home. A few years later they donated 60 more acres for the addition of the Baptist Retirement Village. Ground was broken for the White City Cottage in 1973 and our church hosted the dedication and reception on June 2, 1974. Ola Smith organized and taught our Lighted Candles class for special needs children. J. Ray was a founder of the Tulsa Baptist Laymens Corporation, which secured Tulakogee Conference Center and the Baptist Student Union building at the University of Tulsa. He served as a director of the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma and as a Trustee of Oklahoma Baptist University. He told me that he never imagined that he would be part of leading a university. At the time of their excitement with the unfolding of the children’s home, J. Ray suffered a stroke. He bounced back quickly but took up walking with a cane.  He was always sharp and used the knowledge that he appeared to be disabled to his advantage, surprising many with how savvy he really was. He succumbed to a massive stroke in 1983. Ola passed away in 1996. Although J. Ray and Ola Smith never had children of their own, their legacy has grown and flourished through these last fifty years. This September 7, a “Super Cottage” will be dedicated. It is built like a duplex; one side will be for boys and the other for girls.

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

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