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Governor Stitt Aims for Oklahoma’s First Top Ten Win . . . In Firearm Deaths

Our new Governor laid out his goal to make Oklahoma a top ten State. Who would have thought that before education, justice reform and healthcare that Oklahoma would pass legislation with the promise of the Governor’s signature that will surely propel Oklahoma into the top ten of states with the highest rate of firearm deaths?!

According to the CDC, Oklahoma is currently at number thirteen for States with the highest rate of firearm deaths. If the statistics from other states that have passed permitless carry legislation inform what we may expect in Oklhaoma, Governor Stitt will get his dream of making Oklahoma a top ten state sooner than later.

What defies common sense, and surely the common good, is that permitless carry was not one of Governor Stitt’s platform planks. There is no outcry from any majority for this legislation. More than 80% oppose this. The Oklahoma Legislature has run House and Senate Bills so fast that Law Enforcement has not had time to weigh in. And, it looks like it is too late.

Many people have hoped that Governor Stitt would undo eight years of Mary Fallin. Who knew that he would undo one of the best acts she undertook when she vetoed this legislation just last year? The Governor is not up for re-election. Even The Oklahoman’s Editors noted what a waste of time this is. Who cares that Representative Echols checked with the NRA. What about Oklahomans?

There is hope. Maybe Governor Stitt will be called upon by religious leaders who follow a King who said to Peter, “Put away your sword.” Gathering for a prayer service to the God of Jesus Christ at the outset of his term might need to be followed with a commitment to the Prince of Peace.

Today I was invited to speak to this issue as a representative of Oklahoma Faith Leaders. Who knows if this will make the news. I offer it here in hopes that maybe, just maybe the Governor will keep his eye on his top ten list that would make us proud, not more bloody.

My oldest grandson, Cohen, will turn sixteen in seven years. His Dad, Craig, is a Driver’s License Examiner. There is no chance that Cohen will be allowed to get behind the wheel of an automobile without training, license and insurance. Not only would his Dad not allow it, neither would the State of Oklahoma. Putting a teenager behind the wheel of a potentially deadly weapon without training has made little sense to anyone. Requiring training and a license helps protect the common good from those untrained, unprepared. Why would we offer a 21-yr old to carry a gun, an intentionally lethal weapon, without a permit or training? Even an 18-year old on the grounds they serve in the military.

Craig supervises the DPS station in Chickasha, he is recognized as one of the best. He insists that teenagers pass written and driving tests before sending them on to a Tag Agency to obtain their much coveted license. Craig also has made sure that those who drive semi rigs over the roadways maintain their CDL’s. None of us would have any confidence should a would-be driver take to the highway with a heavy load behind an 18-wheeler. No. The State requires training, licensure and driving logs for professional drivers. We would not dare let loose untrained drivers to carry goods across the Country, risking the lives of others. It’s not that we dare not do it, we don’t do it.

My congregation represents a cross-section of opinions. Some of our folks possess conceal carry permits. Others frequent or work gun shows. We, even me, are not opposed to guns. We, not me, are not looking to confiscate guns. But, it is clear permitless carry is not legislation intended for the common good. What sort of common good is it that our State would make intentionally lethal products available to untrained young people, the most frequent demographic subject to gun violence. 

There is a likelihood that my presence today will startle friends, even church members. It could be some will object. They will wonder why couldn’t I just leave politics to the Legislature. I wonder what it is that makes our current, liberal, gun laws require the Legislature, with the promise of the Governor’s signature, to pass high risk legislation to satisfy a minority on the promise of more money for re-election. Who’s common is that good for?

My church members should not expect any less from their pastor than to suggest the way of peace does not include greater access to deadly weapons, particularly without training and regulation. To ask the pastor to stay out of politics at this point is to request he ignore Jesus’ message of peace.

Cohen, Max, Fox and Marlee need not worry that others their age will drive a car without training and permits. But, they need not grow up in an Oklahoma where they will wonder if their peers are carrying an intentionally deadly product without training and permit.

Can’t Drain the Swamp

Luke 4:21-30; Jeremiah 1:4-10

Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, it is easy for us to get tied to things as they are. After all, it is what we know and have known. We admit that we really like Jesus’ message of planting and building his Kingdom. We do find it hard that Jesus also challenges our idols. We fear what we might lose. Help us, Lord, to see that grace is greater than all our sin. And all God’s people say, Amen.

Ecologists tell us that it is not good to drain the swamp. Plant and animal life need the available water to survive. Remove the water and there is a rupture in the ecosystem. Things die. Rebecca Harrington noted in a piece for the Business Insider, written in 2016, that the practice of draining swamps was popular when malaria was a problem in the U.S. and Europe. Keep the mosquito population down and maybe you could reduce the incidence. 

If there is anything we know, we have not rid the planet of mosquitos. Do you really think we could? 

Human beings cannot drain the swamp, you know, the one Ronald Reagan called for in 1980. Reportedly it had been found that there was $424 billion dollars of waste that could be cut from the Federal Budget. Drain the swamp. Reagan appointed the Grace Commission. After the report was combed through, it was learned that the writers had included in their numbers items that were necessary, not wasteful. The recommendations were never implemented.

The phrase stuck. Anytime you need to rally voter sentiment in one direction or the other, just shout, Drain the Swamp. I suspect that had the phrase not been first used in 1903, it may well have been floated in Israel. Think about it. Over the course of 208 years, Israel, even if divided between North and South, suffered through 38 kings. Of those 38, 33 were considered evil kings and only 5 deserve the description righteous, or good. Human begins can’t drain the swamp.

What is it? Well, Washington, or Jerusalem, seem like handy scapegoats. Blame those leaders for all the ill in their respective countries. But, before you decide to do just that, remember, those swamps are filled with people just like us. Don’t forget, Israel asked for a king. With all the sadness he could muster, Samuel relayed the words from God. He told them what would happen should they get a king,

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.  He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.

For more than 200 years the people lived most of their time under the rule of kings that gave them what they wanted. Or, maybe it would be better to say, they served under kings that produced for them the sort of leadership that magnified their own faithlessness.

Have we learned much?

Before Israel’s captivity in Babylon, Jeremiah heard a call from the Lord. YHWH, Israel’s God, had given the young man a commission. For 40 years his voice could be heard. Jeremiah describes God’s actions and the content of his message,

Then the LORD reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me:

I have now filled your mouth with my words.

See I have appointed you today

over nations and kingdoms

to uproot and tear down,

to destroy and demolish,

to build and plant.

If you are keeping score, that is four verbs that describe demolition and two verbs that paint the picture of renewal. That is a 2 to 1 ratio of words that foretell loss. Some get distracted. They think this is about Jeremiah. What we find in the Scriptures is that Jeremiah is God’s object, not his subject. That is, the story is about God renewing and restoring. He describes God’s activity. Before there is building and planting, those things in the way of faithfulness must be torn down. Focusing on Jeremiah would reveal a prophet of little success. Jeremiah was saddened. No amount of positive thinking would change the very real landscape of a people who could not drain the swamp. They could not see they helped create the swamp. 

Jeremiah is often referred to as the Weeping Prophet for he exclaimed,

If my head were a flowing spring,

my eyes a fountain of tears,

I would weep day and night

over the slain of my dear people.

Compare these words of Jesus,

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

Nearly six centuries had passed between the fall of Jerusalem and the time of Jesus. Yet, the message given Jeremiah rings in the words used to describe the Messiah.

He has done a mighty deed with his arm;

he has scattered the proud

because the thoughts of their hearts;

he has toppled the mighty from their thrones

and exalted the lowly.

He has satisfied the hungry with good things

and sent the rich away empty.

And these words,

Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed – and a sword will pierce your own soul – that the thoughts of many hearts many be revealed.

A sign that will be opposed – the hearts of many will be revealed.

Uproot. 

Tear Down. 

Destroy. 

Demolish.

Jesus had just stood to proclaim the very words spoken about him by his mother had come to pass,

Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.

Quickly the crowds buzzed with enthusiasm. The idea that the LORD had sent someone to change the system, topple the institutions of oppression, to break up the monopoly of power energized the crowd toward Jesus. Luke records, 

They were all speaking well of him and were amazed at his gracious words that came from his mouth;

Even in their praise of Jesus, the witnesses to his work in Capernaum, and the way he handled the Scriptures, they could not get beyond what they saw,

Isn’t this Joseph’s son?

Firmly stuck in the world as it is, the people poured cold water on their own enthusiasm. Did you get that? Gracious words of deliverance. Amazing words of promise. Despite the hope in Jesus’ words, they built a wall and dared Jesus to scale it. And just like that, Jesus did not opt for positive thinking. He began to uproot their ideas of what is. He called attention to the sort of thinking that needed to be destroyed. He spoke in such a way as to demolish their dependence on more than the very words of God. Jesus demolished their reliance on their own judgement. He exposed the swamp.

And to be a sign that is opposed – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

We not only hear the themes of Jeremiah’s words in Jesus’ preaching, we witness the living out of those words in the life of Jesus. Rather than evoke images through words, God made clear in Jesus what filled the hearts of people. Try as we might to paint a better picture by downplaying the walls we build and emphasizing our confidence in human potential, human history does not lie. 

And that is what Jesus does. He tells them history does not lie. When the people were faithless, God sent the prophet Elijah to a foreigner, some outsider, a widow. When people were faithless, God sent Elisha to Syria, to an outsider. Plenty were hungry in Israel  during famine and many were afflicted by leprosy in Israel, but their lack resulted in God showing up elsewhere. Lest we think God only shows up among us, that we can wall God into our tribe, our group, these stories demonstrate how God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Telling the people their story did not convince them. Instead it exposed them. Rather than own their faithlessness, they became engaged at Jesus. They drove him out of the synagogue – for us the church – and brought him to the edge of a cliff and intended to hurl him over the cliff and be rid of him. 

But, it was not his time.

Hear me please. Jeremiah was given words that pointed to the creation of a new community – one built upon the faithfulness of God amidst the faithlessness of people. Jesus embodied those very words and plants a new community built upon his faithfulness to do for us what we cannot. We don’t rely on human beings to drain the swamp, we trust in Jesus who by his death and Resurrection drain the swamp of its power and influence over us. In fact, if you like a more vivid picture of the Gospel, Jesus entered the swamp and took all of its infectious parasites that represent the Power of Sin that build walls, structures and institutions that keep us sin sick, to borrow from the old evangelists. In his body he bore the disease that kills us and suffered death that comes from our exposure to those parasites. Then to demonstrate the power of God over our disease, in the Resurrection, Jesus tore down, uprooted, demolished and destroyed our enemies so that in us He may create a new community of hope.

Often I take a manuscript into the pulpit. The preached sermon will vary. Here is a link to the preached sermon.

On the Other Side of the Ash Heap

There is not going to be a return to things as they were. Or are. Think of it as the notion that to step into a river at the same place, does not mean you are stepping into the same water. The water in which you stepped in downstream.

It is not hard to become captive, enslaved, to things as they were. Marriage counselors often hear, “We would like to get back to the way we were.” While the sentiment is appreciated, it is not possible. The way you were is what led to where you are. But, what about mental illness? Is there a better on the other side. After all, we are not in absolute control of our brian chemistry.

Trust the Process

On this episode of Patheological my friend Scott Curry, who self-describes as a *lifer* when it comes to depression, encourages us that even with the chemistry we cannot control there is a process that may lead to something better on the other side of the ash heap.

We continue mapping onto the experience of depression the story of Job. Scott fell in love with Hebrew Wisdom Literature and in turn the book of Job. While wrestling with his own experience with depression, he noticed some helpful if not future altering connections that led him to exhort those who might be battling depression to trust the process. There are similarities to what we might suggest to those battling addiction.

Courage?

Scott does not offer a self-help remedy. He does insist the move to life after the ash heap, after working with mental health care professionals in light of one’s self-awareness there is an issue with ongoing depression, calls for courage. One teaser. Often we read the end of Job and are not sure what to do with the description Job receiving double what he had before. Given the poetic nature of the literature, Scott prods us to think of the way we feel after such a low time – the pain and suffering with depression – as life is twice as good.

Give the episode a listen. This is really a culmination of three podcasts that stretch from last year to these past two episodes. The most recent may be found here.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

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Katy’s Long Obedience In the Same Direction

Sister Mary Katherine. No, not Sister Mary Clarence. Katy was no Sister Act, not an undercover nun. She was my first grade Sunday School teacher.

Only in more traditional Baptist churches did you hear women referred to as sister. Don’t let we Baptists know that Roman Catholic women, given to simple vows, have been referred to as sisters longer than there has been a Baptist Tradition. We would quickly adjust our confessional statements declaring such a designation anathema if we knew.

About two weeks I drove my Dad and Mom to Portland Avenue Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. That sentence sounds like it is such a long trek. It isn’t. We went to the funeral for my first grade Sunday School teacher I knew as Mrs. Kilman. Spellcheck changed it to  Kidman. Not kidding.

The funeral folder reminded us that Katy influenced many in her 56 years at the Crestwood Baptist Church, the church of my childhood and youth. I will be 56 in May. She spent another 25 years at Portland Avenue Baptist Church. If you are keeping score, that is 81 years. I have some to go to get my 81 year pin. Katy not only taught me in Sunday School. She also taught me in Training Union, think Baptist discipleship for children. 

One Sunday evening, I was maybe 6 or 7, we covered the story of King David and a descendant of King Saul. David and Saul are pretty simple names. No trouble with pronunciations. Saul’s grandson, Mephiboseth, received kindness from the new king. It was an act that ran counter to the practice of most new power families. When I heard Saul’s grandson’s name I giggled. So did Randy and maybe even Jimmy. It was the sort of funny that you could not stop. The more we realized we were laughing at a Bible name, and the momentary guilt that we might somehow be acting sacrilegiously by thinking the name was funny, could not overtake our belly laughs. Katy’s husband, John, saw it humorous even as he tried to settle us down to listen.

We weren’t scolded. We were loved.

Over the years of my childhood, Katy taught in Vacation Bible School. She had the voice of an angel. Beautiful alto harmonies added to the Ladies’ Trio of which she was a part. She sang in the choir, in the alto section. Katy and my mother worked with our church’s Senior Adult group – The Jolly Elders. They may have been the initiators of the ministry at Crestwood. Katy’s mother, Grace “Nanaw” Peterman, was my first lawn mowing customer when I was 9 years old. Katy’s daughter-in-law,Mary, taught in our Youth Department when I was in high school. Katy’s grandson Ryan was the ring bearer in our wedding nearly 36 years ago. To say this family holds a number of special places in our own family is an understatement.

One of my favorite books is Eugene Peterson’s, The Long Obedience In the Same Direction. Centered on the Psalms of Ascent, Peterson’s reflections key in on life as journey. The songs were sung on the way, during pilgrimage. We make much of achievement, of accomplishment, the arrival at a destination. Teaching children the Bible is less an achievement and more a journey. First graders move on to Second grade and on to the Third. A Teacher shows up to do it all again. It would be easy to see how over time we must adopt a different vision since a year in elementary Sunday School is not accompanied by finals, exit exams as it were. What is being taught is that we are not alone in our journey through life. God is with us. So are his people.

Ron, Katy’s oldest son, led us in congregational singing. He encouraged us to sing the parts. I sat next to my Dad and we sang the bass line. The gathered family and friends sounded like a church choir. Sitting near me was Maria. We grew up at Crestwood. We graduated from high school and college together. We sang in the Youth Choir. I saw adults I had not seen in more than 30 years. The memories were rich that day.

Thirty years. 

Sitting in the service and reflecting on Katy’s faithfulness to family and faith and God’s faithfulness to her, I realized that in January of 1989 I began serving my first church as a full-time pastor. The church that put up with my novice attempts and had faithfully provided young preachers a place to begin. I am not sure I achieved the average tenure in its history. Reading the list of their pastors put the average at between 2-3 years. I served about 16 months. 

It was not happy feet or a forced departure. I had been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The move to a church closer to the seminary would make me more available to Patty and the girls should a need arise. Otherwise, I would be gone during the week for four weeks at a time, three times a year. A five hour commute every day would have made it largely impossible to succeed in the program. I commuted for three years in college but the drive was less than an hour.

This summer I will have served Snow Hill for 25 years. When I graduated with my MDiv in 1988 the average tenure was somewhere between 2-3 years. Using that figure, I have pastored somewhere between 8-12 terms at one place. My predecessor served for 25 years. In fact, since 1968, Snow Hill will have had just two pastors. God willing, I may be privileged to spend the rest of my time as pastor right where I am.

Some days I wonder what influences have led me to think a pastor may, if possible, remain at one place for a long time. Brother Justice pastored at Crestwood for more than 20 years before retiring. Brother Carpenter, our Bible History teacher in high school, was pastor of a small congregation in south Oklahoma City for a long tenure. Brother Emery pastored at Snow Hill from 1968-1993. I know there are others.

Maybe it was Katy, and those I knew/know like her. Today, many look for the day when they can retire from serving in a local church. Know this, young boys and girls remember those who taught them in Sunday School when they were children. Sometimes it even sticks that despite the ups and downs of church life, the highs and lows, helps them weather their own experience of the highs and lows faithfully at one place for a long time as adults. Sure, what we are physically able to do over time may change. Serving others may last a life time. It did for Katy.

The practice of a long obedience in the same direction haunts my memories and provides hope for my future.

A Depression From Which You Cannot Run

No matter what you have been told, there are things you may not pray away. The Apostle Paul noted that he had prayed three times for a thorn in the flesh to be removed. It wasn’t. Three times may be a euphemism for over and over and over again.

“I’m a lifer,” Scott Curry. Pastor

New Year’s Day for many is a time to reset, restart. It provides the occasion to think about what could be better, different in the coming year. Disappointments and difficulties give way to possibilities, to potential. For many, though, New Year’s Day is none of that. According to research out of the U.K., New Year’s Day is the opposite for many.

My friend Scott Curry joins me for another conversation on Job. We had this discussion in September. I thought the episode was forever lost. After editing the podcast I am inclined to think it more timely today than then. You be the judge.

Scott has been pastor at the First Baptist Church, Gruver, Texas, for 23 years. His interest in Hebrew Wisdom Literature began long ago and has led him to his work on Job. Scott also suffers from depression. He noted that there is a depression away from which you cannot run. He talks about his own experience with depression through the lens of Job.

You Are Not Alone

Too often the Church has not known what to do with mental illness, mental health. Depression, for many observers, seems counter-intuitive to the claims of faith. Many have been wounded by the words of friends. “If you would just,” may begin many a well-intended word of encouragement. Empathy does not begin with what the sufferer needs to hear from the encourager. Most often that is simply protecting the encourager from facing his or her own internal questions.

If the Church has not known what to do with depression and the depressed, it surely is flummoxed when the pastor suffers depression. Fear and anger often result and no one is helped.

Pastor, or pastoral care provider, you are not alone. Listen, you are not alone. Should you need someone to talk with and are not sure where to turn, email me: doc.todd@gmail.com.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.