Good and lasting change

Good and lasting change.  Those are the words of a prayer for Oklahoma schools that I heard yesterday as our staff gathered for our weekly meeting. I can’t think of a better challenge for our state leaders than that.  We need good and lasting change in our education system.  However it gets done, the people of Oklahoma are speaking loud and clear that it needs to happen.


They are speaking at the capital, with protest crowds of teachers, parents and students growing in numbers.  Buses leave every morning to take people from the districts to join in the demonstration.  Those going in our district are paying to cover the transportation costs. They are meeting with their legislators as often as allowed and reminding them that we have cut education funding in our state annually for too long. I know the teachers going on behalf of my own kids have had a pivotal role in their lives, but many of them face daily obstacles in helping students flourish because of lack of funding.  They are advocating for support staff who make such a huge difference every day in school transportation, lunchrooms, differentiated learning opportunities and school offices to name a few. Many of these roles do not pay a reasonable living wage.

They are speaking in communities by filling the gaps. I see churches, organizations and businesses all over Tulsa stepping up to help feed and care for students who are out of school. Last week, our church partnered with at least 7 other organizations to host a day camp for over 100 students in an under-resourced neighborhood.  The volunteer work included feeding students breakfast and lunch, providing early care for working parents, a daily program of hip hop, percussion, vocal music, recreation, arts and crafts and ukulele classes. They put it together in a matter of days and it has continued into this week. And that’s the incredible effort being put forth in just one part of our city.  It’s happening everywhere.

As I follow the details of the teacher walkout that began April 2, I have varying opinions about how that can get done. Some bills that are being considered or debated I agree with the idea.  Some I’d rather see a different funding source considered.  But I will support good and lasting change! Here’s the deal–most teachers I know became educators because they wanted to make good and lasting change in students’ lives!  But, we must see a visible difference in how our legislature responds to education needs to believe that they too, want good and lasting change for our students and for the system charged with this amazing privilege to teach. Friends in the legislature, there are ideas coming your way every day on how to reverse course. Everyone in our state is speaking loud and clear.  You are officially empowered to get it done.


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You are there, and there, and there…

An excerpt from my Labor Day sermon on Psalm 139.  This section is talking about verses 7-12:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.


My summary of verses 7-12:
You’re there. You’re there. And there. Over there. Still there. And, yes, even there.

When I decided in 2nd grade that I wanted to follow Jesus and really had no idea what that meant, he was there.

When I was starting my senior year at my 3rd high school, he was there.

When I met Gary McKinney and knew I liked him, but refused to admit for quite some time, he was there.

When I mourned my 1st and 2nd miscarriage, he was there.

When I held Lanie and Garrison for the first time, he was most definitely there.

When I visited my 100 year old grandma for the last time and she kept asking, “now who are you?”, he was there.

When I make a remarkable mess of my life, he is there.

When I led the funeral for a 6 week old little girl who was born with 1/2 a heart, he was there.

And in the midst of the last 3 years of my life, which have been the hardest for a couple of of reasons, God has been there.

Jer 31:3 reminds us “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

David Benner in The Gift of Being Yourself boldly announces that he is “convinced that God loves each and every one of us with depth, persistence and intensity beyond imagination.”

Oh, if we could leave this place today believing that no matter where we go, God is in it with us….



New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Always Fear the Porta Potty

Friends, here is a short running story I shared with Oklahoma Sport and Fitness for their September/October publication.  Enjoy!

Always Fear the Porta Potty


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Sometimes Joy Tastes Terrible

denise's intro pic

I recently had a seminary assignment to write about a food memory that has had an impact on my faith.  Once finished, it seemed like a story worth sharing.  Enjoy!

As a little girl (I am in the middle on Daddy’s lap!) I learned that from the fellowship of a meal, joy can flow from the most unlikely circumstance. My siblings and I still reminisce at family gatherings about the dreaded day of the month when my mom would prepare liver for dinner. Absolutely no one liked it, and the moans and protests would begin as soon as we all caught a whiff of liver fumes escaping the kitchen. Those dinners were awful and hilarious all at once. On these nights, usually an entire bottle of ketchup was used to smother the liver steaks so that we could bear to chew, swallow and repeat.

On one particular night in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, there was a liver uprising. My parents fostered children in state custody who for a variety of sad reasons, could not go home.  So, there were 8 or so of us at the dinner table. As we all sat around the table attempting to eat what we were told starving children would happily consume, one of the kids said, “Hey, something just hit my leg!” Then it happened again a few minutes later. It wasn’t long before my parents figured out that one liver culprit was tossing liver under the table to the dog, but a few pieces did not hit their intended target!

Although eating our entire dinners was serious business in those days, it wasn’t long until my mom gave up the liver crusade and we breathed a collective sigh of relief to return to steak, roast and ground beef portions of the cow. And, I cannot think of another meal in my family that has generated as much laughter, exaggerated retellings and sense of joy at family gatherings for our own kids to hear. Who knew that God could use a sliver of liver to bring levity and belonging to a family with children who needed more memories around the dinner table, even if it tasted terrible.


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Learning to live Shalom

A little bit about my own journey towards a richer life of peace.

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Being vulnerable when I am angry

Last Sunday, I gave a message in our Vulnerability series on anger.  At first glance, anger and vulnerability seem to be strange cohorts in our emotional lives, but digging a little deeper shows how vulnerability helps us express anger in a healthy way.

Here are a few highlights and the link to the podcast.

  • God is big enough to handle whatever emotion we feel.
  • Emotions aren’t bad, they are a part of being human
  • It’s not actually anger that trips us up, it’s how we navigate it.
  • Practicing vulnerability in our anger means being willing to go make things right….sooner than later.
  • There is a relational cost to allowing our anger to fester.
  • Sometimes anger masks the real emotion we are feeling.

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What we are called to do



I can hardly watch any news channel for more than 10 minutes these days.  It’s as if opposing views have dug in their heels and are entrenched on one side of our polarizing social and political climate or the other.  The polarization only increases when an assumed Christian position becomes enmeshed with a particular political view.  My fear is that for Christians, we have allowed this political coloring of our worldview to short-circuit some of our most sacred ideals.

As a pastor, here is the question I keep coming back to: “What am I called to do?” When a person or group are being maligned or mistreated for whatever reason, how does my response reveal the way I have been taught to live out my faith?  When vulnerable, powerless people cannot find relief in their circumstance, how does my faith inform my response, regardless of my political view?  So, in light of these questions I continue to wrestle with personally and in conversations with some folks who agree, and plenty who disagree, here are a few things I humbly offer for us to consider:

We are called to be peacemakers.  This goes for inside and outside the church.  We are exhorted in Ephesians 4:2-3 to always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  Several times in Paul’s letters to churches, he pleads with those embattled with each other to work out their conflicts so that their light in the world would not be diminished.  I have been so disheartened by the way words have been used as weapons in social media and online platforms.  I can’t even express how strongly I believe that the apostle Paul would be feverishly blogging, preaching and challenging us to bind ourselves to each other in peace today.

As Jesus travels toward Jerusalem in Luke 19, he laments: How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.   I think his sadness is twofold:  they will miss out out on peace pouring into their lives and flowing out into the lives of others, because they have become blind to what peace really looks like.  We of all people should understand this way to peace, but who is going to miss out on experiencing that peace because we have become blind to what real, tangible peace looks like?

We are called to welcome and care for the stranger. This includes the vulnerable orphan and widow, as well as our perceived enemy.  It doesn’t mean we roll out the welcome mat for obvious danger to overtake us.  But, we have all at some time labeled a group or person as our antagonist when in reality, it’s just that we have allowed our differences to become divisive.

Over and over again in scripture, God challenges his people to hit the reset button on who we say is out that he says we should welcome in.  There are two incredible women in Jesus’ family tree who were strangers and outsiders.  Rahab the prostitute was a Canaanite who likely ran a brothel and came from a people group who were a source of constant conflict with the Israelites.  Yet, she took an enormous risk to hide Israelite spies, and helped them escape, which basically saved their lives.  Ruth came from a family that worshipped other gods and when her Jewish husband died, she was told to go back where she came from, but then was welcomed because of her loyalty to his family.  I can’t shake the similarity with those Iraqi translators and support staff who have risked their lives to help the U.S. in combat, and who now need to be welcomed to the safety of U.S. soil.

In the early church, Peter initially would not welcome the Roman officer Cornelius because he was considered a pagan worshipper, yet God speaks to Cornelius’ heart directly and assures him his prayers and offerings on behalf of the poor have not gone unnoticed.  And Jesus kind of shocks his listeners when he throws down the challenge that by welcoming or rejecting strangers, we could very well be welcoming or rejecting him–because he identifies with the one who needs help, not the one who wants a pat on the back for having more undeserved power or resources.

We are called to do something.   Too often, the Christian pilgrimage has become a static exercise in going nowhere.  But, believers in the first century were called people of The Way for a reason.  They made extending peace a way of life toward everyone they met, even though they were often in danger and even gave up their lives for it.  God invites people to come to him when they are weary and burdened, restores them, and then tells them to go so that others will also be invited to come.  It breaks his heart when we think it’s our job to edit the guest list.

So, doing nothing and arguing that millions of innocent, endangered people are not our problem seems in direct conflict with God’s heart.  The scriptural opportunities to be a peacemaker and extend welcome in this humanitarian crisis are everywhere and none of them can be categorized by any political leaning:  give financially, offer resources, acknowledge hidden prejudice towards Muslims, break bread with people who believe differently, advocate for the foreigner, the child and the oppressed, be a good neighbor by helping a refugee get their life started in the U.S.  Doing something may look different for each of us, but doing something in any way that demonstrates God’s unfailing love is the way we are called to live.




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