Category Archives: Reflections

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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Mountain Climbing

I have never been too keen on climbing mountains as sport or personal recreation. My thinking is if God had intended us to hike up a mountain, God would not have created asphalt roads and motorized vehicles. Although I have been known to walk to the top of a mountain ridge or peak for the view, I enjoy the journey down more. I like the brooks and streams and the shade of large old trees. Yet here I was at the end of July, on a day-long tour of the ruins of Pompeii which included climbing to the top of Mount Vesuvius. My first question was how long has it been since the last eruption? (March 17, 1944)  My next question was how high do we have to climb? (1,000 meters) That did not help at all. Fortunately, the tour bus did take the winding, tiny two-lane asphalt road slowly upward to the passenger drop-off point (which needs a better name).

We were handed little paper tickets, told to look for the tour bus in about 90 minutes, and by the way, restrooms were not available. We smiled grimly. Mountain climbing is not straight up. That 1,000 meters up was a zig-zag path of crushed lava and dust. The temperature was a cloudless 96ᴼ. I pressed on. I started up the quiet volcano with my traveling adventurers Bryan and Deacon Enos. By the time we reached the first switchback rest area, I was feeling weary from the long flight, busy morning, and the altitude. I knew it would be best to go back down and find some shade. On the way down I noticed that an ambulance had quietly pulled up and parked beside the trail. Nice touch. Fortunately no one seemed to need the ambulance while we were there. Bryan and Deacon pressed on near the peak. The top of a volcano looks like a rock-strewn mountain with an edge. We reconnected and headed for the air-conditioned bus. We may have dozed off.

More than two million people, counting on an extensive evacuation plan, live in the shadow of Vesuvius today. I took advantage of my time up there to take in the view of mountains and towns in the valley down to the sea. I thought about mountaintop experiences good and bad, of beautiful times and tragedies mixed all together. It is good to know what mountain you are climbing.

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

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Better Butter Makes a Batter Better

This Reflections was originally written in July 2015.

The little tongue-twisting ditty was a mainstay in high school speech class. It was an exercise in agility and concentration. It warmed the vocal cords and tuned the diction. It prepared us to face the most fear-inducing moment of anyone’s life—giving a speech in front of an audience. Recurring dreams and nightmares are made from speech class. Picture standing in front of a group of your peers, being handed the little card about Betty Bauder and having to read it out loud in front of all of those snickerers.

Betty Bauder bought some butter but she said “The butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter; but a bit of better butter—that would make my batter better.” So she bought a bit of butter better than her bitter butter, and she put it in her batter and the batter was not bitter. So ‘twas better Betty Bauder bought a bit of better butter.

But like most budding orators, I wondered about Betty. Who was Betty Bauder and why was she making batter? What was she making that needed fresh batter—a cake, a pie crust, fried chicken? Who tastes the butter before putting it in the batter to know if it’s bitter? Was she able to trade her bitter butter for some better butter at the store? Is this a true story?  What are the theological implications of a better batter? 

I’ve decided the Betty Bauder Story is a parable of preparation. Betty knew it only takes a little bitterness to spoil the whole thing. It’s all about the quality of the ingredients we are pouring into our minds and hearts. If the batter represents the stuff of life, then being ever vigilant to spot the bitter butter in our attitude will foster grace in all of our relationships. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15  Is today’s batter better?

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

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Every Great Adventure

Every great adventure begins with an invitation. Possibly an improbable or unexpected invitation. The invitation may arrive through a still, small voice or a thunderbolt of realization. The invitation is always appealing, risky and costly, although not necessarily financially expensive. The invitation may awaken a long-hidden dream or be a call to action. The invitation always expects a response. Choose wisely, not every invitation to adventure is appropriate or right for you.

Every great adventure is filled with challenges, delays, and frustration. True adventures include wrong turns, dead ends, and anxiety. Setbacks may include deceitfulness, thievery, and jealousy.  You might get sick or injured. You might get separated from others or lost in the crowd. Know who to call and how to call for assistance. Carry contact information so others may help you. Let others help you when you have a need.

Every great adventure is a team effort. Great adventurers share the journey with someone else. Even if you must journey by yourself, others are vitally involved. Others dream with you, plan with you, equip you, and pray for you. Great adventures have interesting characters, encouragers, and overcomers who show up along the journey. Listen to them. Ask directions. Make new friends along the way. Pack light and save room for mementoes. Wear good shoes and take care of your feet. Eat right and wash your hands. Drink lots of good water and breathe deeply every day. Always carry a hat.

Every great adventure ends. Most great adventures end at home. A truly grand adventure gives you a better perspective of yourself and the world. Share your adventure story with others, in moderation. Invite others to share their adventures with you. Together become encouragers to family, friends and neighbors who are embarking on their great adventures of life.

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

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Living in the Interruptions

What a day this has been. At one point I thought tomorrow must be Saturday. Today is still Tuesday. I had planned to do other things. I have so many things on my To Do List, I just need to take the time to do what business leaders call a brain dump. A brain dump is the act of emptying your mind of all the stuff you have in your head. The process encourages you to take a legal pad and write down every little thing that you need to accomplish, covering all personal and professional chores. Every nagging deadline plus all the other things you have committed to do for others. Everything until you can think of nothing else—that is until you take a walk around the block. Then do it some more. I find it a helpful way of seeing what is important. 

I once visited a man who was working in his home workshop in the backyard. I noticed his wall calendar was from 1963. Every few years the calendar matched the exact days of the current year. He said that the old calendar was good enough. He was retired. My life does not seem to work that way. I carry a journal with a handy multi-year calendar where I map out future sermons and reminders. I have a calendar in the car to record my daily mileage and note special trips. I work with the church’s master calendar of scheduled events and building usage. I have three electronic calendars for everyday commitments and appointments. Those calendars do not talk easily with each other. So I’m trying to develop a Master Calendar of Everything, but my low-tech self is still trying to schedule a day to start it.  I am still learning to embrace the interruptions of my perfectly planned days. 

I take my clue from Mark chapter 5 which chronicles one day in Jesus’ ministry. His schedule for the day was to take a boat ride across the lake, visit some of the villages, then head back. It turned out to be one crazy day of interruptions “as He was going.” I am also mindful of the story Jesus told of the religious leaders who were too busy, too clean, or too important to stop and help an injured man on the side of the road. They ignored their interruptions and failed to even acknowledge the presenting need. Jesus valued people above schedules, and relationships above calendars. 

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

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Weathering the Storm

The Tulsa area continues to deal with the aftermath of what I am calling The Father’s Day Eve Windstorm. Just after midnight that Saturday night, gale force, then hurricane force winds and rain came sweeping across the state. Tulsa recorded Category 2 Hurricane-like straight winds of 90 to 100 m.p.h. The damage has been heartbreakingly sad for the lovers of the hundreds of fallen and broken trees. The trees fell on roofs and fences. Winds tore away chimneys, awnings, metal covers and outbuildings.  Power poles snapped or fell over, pulling other poles and lines nearly to the ground. It took a full seven days for the power to be fully restored. This level of destruction has not been seen here since the great Ice Storm of 2007. Looking over the damage to the trees, I noticed many of the large broken trunks were hollow or rotted inside. Others, that were completely blown over, exposed the earth underneath and their shallow root system. There is a sermon illustration from this event about people needing deep roots and solid faith that I may have to preach one day. 

This all brings to mind the story of a famous elderly violin maker from the last century who took his apprentice on a long journey to get some wood to make more violins. They began by walking through a forest of rich and stately trees. The apprentice spotted the perfect tree, but the violin maker said, Not yet. Soon they started up the mountainside which was covered with tall pines and oaks. Surely one of these thought the young man. Not yet. As they climbed higher and higher up the mountain the trees began to be fewer and shorter. There’s a good one over there, said the old man.  The apprentice did not think it looked good at all. He asked, “Why this one? Why not a bigger, taller one like back in the forest?” The violin maker replied. These trees up here have weathered the storms. They’ve faced bitter winds and snow and even drought. They will not break under the pressure of bending their wood. These trees, made stronger through adversity, will make the most beautiful music.

I have heard that some insurance adjustors are cautioning home and business owners to wait until September before replacing their roof. They are predicting more severe weather is coming this summer. It may just be they are trying to spread out the insurance recovery costs. I do know more adversity will come our way, so let’s make the most beautiful music we can together.

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

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