Last Sunday, February 23, was an historic day in the life of our church. There was a positive, energetic and prayer-filled spirit. There was a strong attendance for our very first 10 o’clock worship service. The new monitors worked like they were supposed to, Dr. David Willets brought an excellent message, and the new Pastors’ Class was well received. Our 11:15 Sunday School hour more than doubled our Bible Study attendance. The Monte Los Olivos congregation filled the two center sections of the Sanctuary for their 11:15 worship service. About 40 children and teenagers were welcomed to their new Sunday School classrooms. To God be the Glory.
In 2012, by faith, we invited GracePoint Church to minister with us. The People’s Pantry was relocated to our building and our Clothes Closet ministry was reestablished. Last year we began a deeper Wednesday evening ministry with the Pantry and our neighbors. Ben Shepard offered to provide a Wednesday evening meal for anyone who participated in the Pantry ministry. The effort has expanded with a number of faithful workers coming along side to help with the meal for our neighbors. We work together delivering Meals on Wheels, singing in the choir and worshiping together. On Wednesday evenings Monte Los Olivos has added a 7:00 p.m. Prayer Service, and Youth and Children’s Bible programs. Great things He has done.
There continues to be lots of preparation work behind the scenes to allow God to use our church to proclaim a greater witness to our community. 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 any church names. We are networking together. We are working alongside each other to promote our common ministries and mission efforts. We are launching more intentional discipleship training and evangelistic efforts across the congregations and into our neighborhood. So loved He the world that He gave us His Son.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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 at our little duplex first thing in the morning. 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 need tending to. So on our first full 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 from 1 Corinthians chapter 1. That day I began a verse-by-verse study of that book which lasted into the following February.
So I have been in a reflective mood this week about these 40 years together. Thank you for inviting me and allowing me 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 I am so blessed.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. And let’s continue to experience the love and power of God together.
Our church has a ghost, according to some. We have this large multi-storied building with lots of rooms and closets, two full basements, machinery rooms, hiding places under stairwells, two interior towers with hidden access points, a vast attic and at least four underground tunnels. Some of the tunnels have lights; one of the towers has a third level hidden look-out over the entire sanctuary. Youth overnight lock-ins can generate all kinds of eerie sounds and wild imaginations. The ghost story, though, is probably my fault.
In the late 1970’s there was a felt need among some of us to modernize the choir loft and pulpit area and to extend and lower the front platform to provide room for large weddings and musical programs. New, moveable choir railings were built with detachable handbell tables that could be added for special occasions. The work was all accomplished by the people of the church. During that period I verified a story about Rev. Pat Murphy that I had a hunch about. I was preaching from Nehemiah about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The completion of the church building was Pat Murphy’s dream. My question was simply “Did he use the biblical names for his opponents of the church building project, from Nehemiah?” “Oh, yes,” was the answer.
In the late 1990’s we embarked on a project to change the sanctuary lighting fixtures. It was a massive undertaking considering the ceiling is nearly forty feet high. I used the metaphor that the spirit of Pat Murphy was everywhere in the building and that I regularly asked him questions, most of which began “Why in the world…?” I was speaking metaphorically. Some took the story literally—that the ghost of Pat Murphy haunts the church and that I have seen him. I used to try to correct the impression of those young people, but now, some 16 years later, they have families of their own and should know that the influence of all people lives long after they have passed away. It does not mean they hang around as ghosts. It means that each of us is shaping someone else’s future, not just our own.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Bless the future. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
Vacation Bible School brings to mind old images of marching around the church with flagpoles and a big Bible, of popsicle stick crafts, songs, Bible stories, and red juice and cookies. Once upon a time at our church VBS was scheduled from 9 to noon and it was two weeks long; or was that two long weeks? In the ’70s, we shortened the VBS to end on Wednesday of the second week with a Parents’ Program that evening. In the ’80s and ’90s, we changed to an evening format, Sunday night through Sunday night. The late 1990s brought Bible School Sunday through Friday evenings. These last two years we offer it Sunday through Thursday night. Every year VBS is very much the same, yet every year it is completely different. Young lives are impacted, memories of God and church are made, and the workers discover moments of joy and energy, even as their bodies grow tired and weary.
This year we are learning how to “Stand Strong.” God’s love helps us to stand strong. Family and friends help us to stand strong. Prayer helps us to stand strong. Trusting God helps us to stand strong. The Bible helps us to stand strong. Did you notice how much help we all need everyday to stand strong? During this VBS I am wondering how much the pride of self-sufficiency keeps me from recognizing all the resources available if I would only ask.
There will always be a place for something like Vacation Bible School, yet the trend seems to be that fewer churches are providing the VBS experience. Some churches are exploring alternative formats like three-day schools, or five Sunday evenings. Others are replacing VBS with sports camps and enrichment programs. Part of the issue is the cost of materials, part is the availability of workers, and part is the full schedules that boys and girls have in the summertime.
The overall goal is to assist in the spiritual formation of young lives, and the spiritual transformation of families and communities. And we always learn a lot from the children.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Help some one to stand strong. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
I attended parts of the Episcopalian prayer retreat held at our church last month. The good people of St. Luke’s church were there as part of their spiritual preparation for Easter. Their focus that day was on the Good Shepherd as found in Psalm 23, John 10 and other scriptures. During that time, Father Georges donned his vestments as they gathered around for communion. There was much time for reflection and prayer. A simple sandwich lunch was followed by a group discussion and more silent meditation.
Some remarked that they remembered a time when neither Baptist nor Episcopalian would have considered holding a prayer service in the other’s church. Our churches have partnered together for nearly 35 years with Meals on Wheels.
The window was why they asked to hold the retreat at the Baptist church. Our church sanctuary is a second home to me. I’ve seen the first light of day illumine the darkness as the sun rises behind the stained-glass Good Shepherd window. The setting sun casts its light through the angled southern windows painting the walls with reds, blues and yellows. Walking into our church sanctuary for the very first time usually elicits a “Wow.” The size and grandeur of the window is awe inspiring. I am told that our window is the largest religious work of art of its kind in Oklahoma. Centered above our choir loft, the window is 18 feet wide and 25 feet tall. The traditional picture of Jesus holding a shepherd’s staff and lamb, with a ram and ewe walking beside, is bordered with a Native American beadwork motif.
Sometimes I can get so used to seeing and handling the sacred things around me that I take these blessings for granted, or no longer notice them. Seeing the meaning that these neighbors found in the beauty of our sanctuary reminded me to open my eyes to see the sacred, and not just at church. It is springtime. Look at the sacred beauty of new life all around us. Open your eyes to the sacred moments. It’s awesome everywhere.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Discover the Wow. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
The Children’s Message is a time fraught with great danger and unexpected delight. Sunday’s dialog with the children was one of those occasions. I began with the ordinary observation that many people were wearing green, followed by, “Do you know why?” I was anticipating, “Because it is St. Patrick’s Day.” I was not expecting the boy’s response, “So you won’t get pinched.” Now that I was slightly off balance, he pushed it further with a discussion of “leprechauns cannot see people wearing green, so they can pinch those who aren’t, but people do it for them now-a-days.” “How do you know that?” I inquired. “Because we Googled it up.”*
I tried to steer the conversation towards the story of Patrick, the pirate-abducted teenager who answered the call of God to become a missionary to the people who had enslaved him. “His name was Maewyn Succat,” replied the confident voice. I did not remember that and was not even certain how to repeat his name to the congregation. “It’s one of the Veggie Tales stories.” There was a time I could at least appear to be smarter than a 2nd grader. The children’s message may be the riskiest part of the worship hour. Adults tell me they enjoy it–possibly just to see what might happen next. Worship services can become quite predictable, but danger and delight can suddenly appear when children are involved. Most sermons are one-sided conversations. It is safer for the preacher that way.
On any given Sunday morning I can look out and see people engaged in Smartphone Praying—heads slightly bowed texting, reading, gaming or looking things up. Not too much different from coloring, doodling, passing notes or searching pockets for candy. The reality today is that anyone can check the accuracy of anything a minister says, quotes or asserts. I believe that is good for the minister and good for the people. It keeps the sermonic conversation honest.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Google it up. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
*This story was used with permission from the 2nd grader and his mother.
Memories and stories can transport us anywhere. I stopped for a sandwich in Oklahoma City Monday. As I stared out the window, I saw the Eiffel Tower sitting on the roof of a strip mall across the street. Odd place for the scale model tower I thought. Parked cars blocked some of the view of the building. Then I noticed the French flag flying stiffly in the wind. All of this triggered memories of Paris and lunch with Dorothy in the restaurant located on the second level of the Eiffel Tower.
The view of Paris from the restaurant is amazing. We were there because of the generosity of our church family. In recognition of our 30th anniversary as pastor of Braden Park Baptist Church, we were provided the funds and two weeks vacation time to travel to Europe. Dorothy and I visited Italy, Switzerland and Paris. The time together was inexpressibly delightful. We walked almost everywhere in Paris. We even walked back to the Tower one evening to experience the nightly light display that makes it the beacon for the city.
I finished my sandwich and stepped outside to see that the little strip mall was home to La Baguette French Bistro and Bakery. The owners want their place to become a landmark of its own. Then it struck me that the date was October 1st, the very anniversary of our arrival in Tulsa in 1973. Suddenly I was flooded with more memories and stories of a dedicated and faithful people who have allowed us into the most sacred moments of their lives. In turn, these precious people have shaped, nurtured and loved our family through all of our own sacred times. What a blessing!
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Celebrate your memories. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.