Category Archives: Reflections

Divine Providence

With the assassination attempt on Donald Trump last Saturday evening, the world witnessed a divine moment of the closest kind—the split-second, millimeter away from death itself kind of moment. As horrific as the story unfolded, our nation was spared a nightmare of endless images of the moment of a bullet’s impact killing a former president. For that we are all grateful. This is the definition of a miracle for some, but just a “lucky break” for others. 

Those of us who have experienced miracles from near fatal instances know the life-changing impact such encounters have. Divine intervention at just the right moment is breathtaking. Many will use the experience to seek out God to discover next steps in a God-glorifying life; to discern what it means to have a more fulfilling life; or to discover a new humility before the wonder of God’s love. Sadly, others may take this as a sign of prideful invincibility or permission to be arrogantly self-sufficient. 

With this kind of experience comes the Why? Questions, such as, why are some spared and others not; Why me, Why this, and Why now? In Biblical understanding, this is all under the area called The Divine Providence of God. The why would God allow evil, sin and suffering questions. Why do the wicked prosper and many good people are sick or impoverished? I bring this up because many of us have friends who are masking their spiritual struggles right now by immersing themselves in secular politics in order to change the subject away from their own soul. Anger hides a multitude of pain. 

Most of us would rather avoid confronting the issues of God’s Divine Providence. Divine Providence speaks to the very nature of our Maker and Creator. Divine Providence compels us to face our own frailties and mortality. You see, the closer we come to the Holiness of God and the face of eternity, the more we sense the consequences of our sin and pride. When you find yourself standing on holy ground, bow down before Jesus.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Ask Why, then Listen. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Lessons For an Excellent Adventure

We are back from another excellent adventure. It was the Covid afterwards that slowed me down. This time I kept a mental list of the things that I might advise someone else on taking a trip to anywhere in the world. Top of the list: buy the best walking shoes that fit your feet perfectly. Also take flip-flops to wear in strange showers or anywhere else you do not need your excellent walking shoes. Let your feet rest each day. Good shoes are better than any outfit you will wear. When traveling abroad, take your best knees and hips. There are no elevators at centuries-old destinations. And by the way, air-conditioning is a luxury Americans take for granted.

Plan your journey well. Pray without ceasing. Always ask for help when needed. When flying anywhere these days, leave at least 3 hours between flights and connections. TSA is still picky with their rules. Reluctantly I say, wear a mask on the plane. Do not get sick at the beginning of your adventure, or any other time. Also, don’t fall down! Pack less than you think you will need. Leave room in the suitcase and space in your daily schedule to rest and enjoy each day. If you need something you did not bring, buy it there as a souvenir of your adventure. 

​Choose your travel companions wisely. While traveling alone is often necessary, someone to share an adventure helps keep us moving forward and focused on the good things. I also recommend, for those of us of a certain age, bringing a teenager or young person. They tend to have good ears, strong backs, and are wise in the ways of smart phones and the best apps fornavigating the way. Include a walk with Jesus each day.

​Always be gracious and generous. Never travel without candy. I prefer fun-sized M&M’s, individually wrapped mints, and packs of chocolate-covered almonds. They make friends ofstrangers and little beggars. On one flight we needed to trade a seat with a man to keep our little band together. Chocolate-covered almonds sealed the deal. Memories are more important than the perfect photograph. Look at what is before you with wonder in your eyes; then take the pictures you want.

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

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Today is Under Construction

Essayist Sheila Bender told a story about visiting a castle in Japan. During the tour, one of the areas she wanted to see was cordoned off to keep the tourists out of the big room. Rather than posting a typical “Closed” sign, the entrance to the room had a creatively translated sign that read: “Today is Under Construction.” Isn’t that an intriguing way to look at life?

My today is under construction. The minutes and the hours are the framework of my day. How I arrange the materials, spend the resources and allot the spaces of today shape the life of tomorrow. The mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights continue with an endless rhythm. Today is under construction; yesterday cannot be undone or remodeled, that work is left for today. My emotions, physical and mental health, and spiritual vitality help cement the day. Or are they just the wallpaper I want others to see instead of the real day I am building? Am I being honest with myself today? There are quiet spaces, but mostly noisy places accompanying my life today. My decisions and choices today carry my life into all my tomorrows. My relationships with others are the memory makers of the day.

I am a Christian under construction today. Knocking, asking, seeking, finding; listening, stumbling, learning, climbing. Today is under construction, so bear with me if things are not quite in their proper place. I have a Master Architect and an amazing Blueprint, but apparently, I am responsible for my construction projects today. For a vision of a better life to become a reality, I must dream of a new tomorrow, pay the costs, follow the plans and work through the obstacles. I could use a break or even a nap right now. I wonder what would happen if I asked you to help me with my today, and if I helped you with your today? I guess that might be risky—but something good could happen—let’s talk about it. 

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

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The Remarkable Jim Niederer

Updated for 2024

As the observance of the 80th anniversary of D-Day was approaching, Dorothy and I talked with the family war hero, Jim Niederer this past weekend. While he did not storm the beaches of Normandy, he did storm the beach at Anzio. On the day we talked with him, he had a session with his physical therapist in the morning and later went shopping with his daughter at a shoe store and Home Depot. He spends time each day in his garage/workshop, where he smokes a cigar. His most recent project has been building large outdoor ornaments wrapped in Christmas lights for his many friends. 

I told some of his story last year when a documentary about his war experiences was released. A group seeking to preserve the memories of veterans filmed Jim’s story and combined it with actual war footage and newsreels of his experiences. You can watch Jim recount his experiences on You Tube. Search for Jim Niederer: 102 Year Old World War II Veteran. The complete documentary is 50 minutes in length. 

Jim’s parents, Dorothy’s grandparents, immigrated to Waco, Texas from the German- speaking Appenzell, Switzerland in 1907. The family became part of the Central Baptist Church, a former mission of First Baptist, Waco to the German immigrant families.  Jim was born January 6, 1921. He served in World War II from 1942-1945. After intensive training, Jim’s unit sailed to north Africa to fight the Nazis in Europe. Under the command of General George Patton, he participated in the invasion of Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio in Italy. Because Jim could speak German, he was able to eavesdrop on the enemy. Jim witnessed General Patton’s death from about 50 feet away. His unit came under the command of General Dwight Eisenhower, whom he talked with on many occasions.  They freed towns across Germany and Austria, where Jim’s unit liberated the Dachau concentration camp. Jim was awarded six bronze stars and a bronze arrowhead.

A man of deep faith, Uncle Jim still lives in his own house. His son Ken comes over each night to help him get ready for bed. His daughter Kay drives in from Round Rock to spend many weekends with him. Others check on Jim daily. He greatly misses his wife, Ella Marie, who died in 2020. And he reads The Evangel faithfully each week. Before we said our goodbyes, he told us, “One good thing about being 103 is: you can’t get much older.”  Remarkable gentleman.

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# 487 – Birds in Church

The following is an excerpt from my imaginary book One Thousand and One Things They Don’t Teach at Preacher School.

There was a beautiful regal red cardinal sitting on the foyer windowsill. I was struck by his beauty, and at first I thought he was not real. He was, after all, perched on the windowsill in the church foyer just above one of the red couches. I walked over to him. He turned away and decided to fly out toward the trees. He did not understand the concept of plate glass windows. He was inside the church, not outside.

I have some experience handling birds in church. One weekday morning in the mid-1970’s I was heading up the north stairs to the third floor when I surprised three urban pigeons that startled me. An upstairs window had been left open. Pigeons are not clean birds. Various birds, even a bat or two, have managed to find their way into the building over the years.* I found a large apron, dampened it, and captured the birds one by one. A damp cloth thrown over them works every time. The cloth needs to be large enough to cover the bird completely. The dampness depends on the weight and size of the bird. The weighted cloth, along with the darkness of the material, disorients the bird sufficiently for you to scoop it up and whisk it outside, without getting bit or clawed or contacting any uncleanliness. The rules are simple: 1) close the doors to the sanctuary to keep the birds out of the biggest room in the building; 2) open the main doors to let them out if they would rather not wear the damp cloth; and 3) remember, they are more confused or panicked than you are.

I followed the rules for capturing the cardinal, less the cloth. After repeatedly banging into the window trying to get out, he was dazed and confused. I scooped him into my gloved hands (see # 35 – Items to Always Have in Your Desk Drawer), escorted him out by the trees, and released him. He never looked back. The flash of red against the clear blue sky was spectacular. Birds belong outside. People belong in church. 

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

*No creatures were harmed in these stories.

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The Graduation Speech

The university graduation scene this year seems to be in total disarray. The young people graduating from college are from the high school class of 2020, who had their graduating events and activities canceled by Covid. This year many private and public university graduations were disrupted or canceled by campus protests and administrative indecision. There have also been some notable and controversial graduation speeches. 

I have advocated for many years that no one should give a graduation speech unless they have personally sat through fifty commencement addresses by someone else. I say this on behalf of all students and their families. A corollary to this would be: a kindergarten graduation does not need a commencement speaker. Pop quiz: who was your high school, tech school, collegiate, or graduate school graduation speaker? Bonus question: What was the point of the address?

Last year I attended three graduation ceremonies. All three speakers were deeply experienced in the art of the graduation address: America’s teacher of the year, a long-termed local public official, and an Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice. They each were excellent, relatable, and moved rapidly to the point of their address.

My mother saved highlights from the lives of her children and grandchildren in large accordion folders. In the one marked for me she had saved my college graduation program as well as a newspaper article about the speaker. This is the only reason I now know that my college graduation speaker was a U.S. Representative and Baptist layman, John H. Buchanan. He was a last-minute substitute for Joseph Blatchford, Director of the Peace Corp, who had taken ill. Rep. Buchanan’s points were: “Follow the truth wherever it may lead you…change what is unjust or unworthy. Change does not mean ‘to destroy.’ Be a realist…and do something about the problem…but don’t be a problem yourself.”  Too many points for any graduation where everyone is seated on a football field, but on target for a meaningful life. I always find myself, on these occasions, thinking about our ultimate graduation. The Speaker will be our Lord, so I take the advice of Paul to Timothy to heart: Study (God’s Word) to show yourself approved unto God. (2 Timothy 2:15)

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

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What Time Is It?

I am always asking myself, ‘What time is it?’ That question ranks right up there with my other self-talk question, ‘What am I going to eat next?’ I wore a wristwatch for many years, except for that brief period during the post-hippie era when three-piece suits and pocket watches were all the rage. I was hard on my wristwatches. They broke or they cracked or clouded up with condensation. I resorted to having a Sunday or special occasion watch, and an everyday one. I have discovered that it is not really about the watch; it is the tyranny of the clock I am wrestling with.

​During my college days I served as song leader with Evangelist Bob Posey. We held revivals in small towns and in rural churches, mostly in Alabama. It is amazing how God puts unlikely experiences in our lives to help equip us for future service. We discovered one church that was dominated by the tyranny of time. It was an old country church near Phenix City, Alabama. (That is the correct spelling of Phenix, founded in 1830 as Girard, but re-named in the 1880’s after the local mill.) To an outsider it can be the most confusing place in America. The town proper is in both Lee and Russell Counties, Alabama, and intersects into Muscogee County, Georgia. Therein lies the time problem. Alabama is in the Central Time Zone; Georgia is Eastern Time. Crossing the street can put a person across the invisible time boundary. Phenix City tends to be on Eastern Time even though it is in Alabama. But many hardcore time purists stay on Central Time for the principle of it. When we announced that revival services started at 7:30 p.m. we had to clarify that meant 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Starting things on the half-hour was sort of a compromise in order to reach the community for Christ.

​I no longer wear a watch since I can always find the time on my cell phone. The drumbeat of time marches onward. Ephesians 5:15-16 teaches us to redeem the time, seize the opportunity, for the days are evil. ‘Hear my voice,’ says the Lord, ‘Now is the day of salvation.’ (see 2 Corinthians 6:2)

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

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Our Churches Doing Church

Today I am picking up the story of our churches from last week. I am also re-sharing some from my message during last Sunday’s Combined Worship Service. In 2017, GracePoint Church merged with us becoming Braden Park Baptist Church. At that time we also developed a working plan, that in God’s timing, Monte Los Olivos would begin to take on more of the expenses of the facilities, with a goal to be equal partners in ministry, but with their being responsible for the buildings and grounds, which would be a reversing of our current operational system. This also included recognition of The People’s Pantry Ministry as a vital part of our ministries together.

It appears that God is opening the way for us to begin implementing that plan from 2017. A group of us met to discuss our first steps. Present were Francisco Gaona, Rodrigo Urquiza, David Dryer, Donelle Enos, Armondo Urquiza, and both pastors. We outlined a few next steps like verifying that both churches’legal documents are current and in order.

We set a goal for July 1 to begin to phase-in a new bill-sharing plan to see how things would work. We are checking with our utility companies and major vendors to see their preferred ways of receiving payment from of our churches together. When things are clarified, both of our churches will need to review drafts of an Operational Agreement as an official starting point. By intention there are three things that we are not doing:

1) We are not merging churches.

2) We are not combining budgets.

3) We are not changing either, or both, of our church names.

We are working alongside each other to promote our common ministries and mission efforts. We are working to protect our churches from “wolves” who might seek to take over or destroy our churches, especially during a time when pastorsmay change. There needs to be much preparation work behind the scenes to faithfully follow God to use both churches to proclaim a greater witness to our community, together in service

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

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Departmento Salem

At the beginning of the year 2000, after the Y2K fears had subsided, our church was asked to consider meeting with Rev. Victor Orta, a pastor in our association of churches and leader of the local Baptist Hispanic network. He had a few families that were interested in starting their own church in our neighborhood. Rev. Orta knew that we had had modest Hispanic Bible classes during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. We met a few times for careful discussions and developed a plan for going forward together. With full congregational approval, we invited this group of about 25 or 30 people to begin meeting with us starting on Palm Sunday that spring. They organized themselves as Departmento Salem, with Ariel Benetiz as their pastor/leader.  

Our people volunteered to be certified to teach English as a Second Language and held weekly sessions for about 3 years. We were able to provide some workshops where experts taught the basics of church operations, age-graded classes, and the role of deacons. We also provided how-to sessions on immigration matters, citizenship, tax requirements and keeping documents current. The children, as they felt more comfortable, joined in our Sunday School classes and Vacation Bible Schools. We led in the ordination of Pastor Benetiz and the first set of deacons including their current pastor, Francisco Gaona, who is also an original member. Soon their attendance outgrew their department room. They gathered for worship in our Fellowship Hall during the 11:00 hour. By 2009 they were consistently overflowing their space and began dreaming of forming their own congregation and finding their own church facilities. They secured an older church at Pine and Harvard, debt free from the start. They fully incorporated in 2010 as Iglesia Bautista Monte Los Olivos (Mt. Olive Baptist Church).

By 2013 the Monte Los Olivos congregation had outgrown their church building. In the meantime, we had invited GracePoint Church in 2012, to have a similar relationship with us in our facilities. By 2013, Braden Park and GracePoint began holding all our services and activities together. By early 2014 our churches invited Monte Los Olivos Church to share our facilities once again. Three separate congregations approved a new arrangement where we would start our worship Sundays at 10:00 a.m. with Monte Los Olivos beginning at 11:15. Here we are, ten years later, stronger than ever. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Praise the Lord for growth and unity. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Taylor Swift and the Cultural Church

I do not understand Taylor Swift, but she understands today’s cultural environment. Last week she released The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, a double record album with 31 new songs. An unprecedented 1.4 million albums were sold within the first 24 hours at $15 each. The math on that is too high for me to understand. I am an older gentleman and catching all the words in her music is hard. This is her eleventh album, so there is a great deal of backstory in her music. I can listen to the album free right now. I do understand her sentiments in songs like I Can Do It with a Broken Heart, Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me? and Guilty as Sin? My novice assessment is that Taylor Swift is in the tradition of the confessional poet and her songs seem like a peek into her private daily journal. That is why they are so relatable to her fans, who come from all age groups. She seems to have a very strong work ethic and business sense. She understands our culture.

Seminarians are taught that for missionaries to reach any foreign people group, it is wise to learn the culture and traditions of the people as well as the language. Missions is hard because it requires work, patience, empathy and understanding. It moves us outside our comfortable ways into unfamiliar places seeking to build healthy relationships. Taylor Swift leads a cultural “church” where people gather by the thousands to sing her songs of pain and suffering, joy and love. All manner of groups gather to discuss her lyrics and piece together the timelines of her life and relationships. Her every move is watched because she has such a profound influence on a world-wide scale.  On a personal note, I believe there are parallels to Christianity which should not be ignored. The American church is in a Post Evangelical shift. The old wineskins of evangelicalism are breaking apart. The tenants of faith are being replaced by the tenants of secular politics. The confessions of faith are being replaced by the greediness of power and money. The good news of the gospel is being corrupted by meanness, cruelty, and exclusion directed towards sinners and outsiders. God loves us all. Jesus died for us all. Christ is Lord of all. Let’s always confess Jesus.

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

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