Friday, August 2, 2019

An Embarrassing Story about Preaching in a Presbyterian Church

Before becoming an ordained pastor I was a Gideon and often spoke in various denominational services. When invited I would be asked to give a brief Gideon presentation or present a “full service,” meaning I was expected to deliver a sermon as well as a short Gideon presentation.
One Sunday I was assigned two morning services at two Presbyterian churches in the same small town named Old Presbyterian and New Presbyterian. I was to preach a “full services” at 10:00 a.m. to the New Presbyterian church, and at 11:00 a.m. to the Old Presbyterian church.
“Don’t be confused when you arrive at the buildings,” I was told. New Presbyterian is in the old building downtown. Old Presbyterian is in the brand new facility at the edge of town.”
“Was this a church split,” I asked. The answer was yes.
“Was it over building a new church facility?” I asked. The answer was yes with the explanation that the younger members wanted to stay in the old facility, and the older members wanting to move to a new location and build a brand new building.
“And yet,” I replied, “they still cooperate on occasion such as having a Gideon speaker come in the same day by staggering their services.”
“Oh no,” I was corrected. “That is their normal respective worship times.”
“Was the meeting time another point of contention in the split?”
“No, not at all. They have to stagger their services. Both congregations still use the same pastor."
The pastor was away when I showed up to the New Presbyterian in the old building. A deacon met me at the back and asked, “You do know, you have the full service, right?”
I nodded took my seat. Minutes passed as a I reviewed the order of service. I’d never been to a Presbyterian service before so I was interested in all the various prayers and scriptures in the litany. One caught my eye: The Prayer of Illumination. I wondered what this was.
More awkward minutes went by, and no one gave any announcements, no opening prayer was given, and I snuck back to the rear of the church and asked the deacon, “Am I supposed to invite someone specific to pray or say something before the church leaders begin?”
“I didn’t think you understood. You have the full service.”
“Yes, I know, I am preaching as well as giving a brief Gideon presentation.”
“Full service!” he insisted.
“You mean ALL the prayers?”
“Yes. Full service!”
“On the back of the program. Full service!”
Stunned, I asked trembling, “What about leading the music?”
Both of us in unison, “Full service.”
I slowly walked to the front, contemplating my predicament, then suddenly rushed back to him and whispered, “I’m so sorry, but you must tell me. What is a Prayer of Illumination?”
He explained with some exasperation that it was just a prayer that God would illuminate our hearts and minds, and not a specifically worded prayer.
I was terrified. I took the pulpit, made the announcements, opened with prayer, read the assigned scriptures. I said a Prayer of Illumination, read additional assigned scriptures and finally came to an item I recognized: The Lord’s Prayer.
Still trembling, knees knocking, I asked everyone to close their eyes and bow their heads and join me in the Lord’s Prayer as I began, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want….” Long pause. Oh my, I thought, I’ve started on the 23rd Psalm instead of the Lord’s Prayer. I’m so stupid.
But my mouth continued, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” Pause.
I can’t stop. I must start the Lord’s Prayer.
For the life of me, I could not remember the Lord’s Prayer. All I could think of was how embarrassed I was and how I hadn’t even preached but had already lost the congregation. A longer pause...
Suddenly a voice from a tiny little woman in the back pew broke the deadly silence, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
We all joined her but as we said, “amen,” I could hardly stand to open my eyes and see the looks of bewilderment and lack of confidence the congregation had in me. I was mortified.
I finished my sermon, the Gideon presentation, and leading all of the songs, none of which I’d ever heard in my own Baptist church upbringing. Mercifully, the service ended.
I drove to the new building that housed Old Presbyterian. An old deacon met me in the new sanctuary,
“So you’re our speaker today?” I smiled and answered yes. “Now, you do know, you have the full service today?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I assume you mean I have the announcements, prayers, scripture readings, and I’m leading the music plus preaching and giving a Gideon presentation?”
“That’s right. Full service!” he replied. "You know a lot of speakers don't understand what's meant by that?"

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Short Retirement

I only thought I was ready for retirement… 

Providence has allowed for me to return to my first love (professionally) of teaching in an endowed professorship this fall.  I will serve as the John Massey Professor in Business at my undergraduate alma mater, Southeastern, in Durant, Oklahoma. 

In addition to teaching duties, I will develop and build networks between the John Massey School of Business and corporations, entrepreneurial firms, and organizations including Conscious Capitalism, leadership development companies, and Spend Life Wisely affiliated firms. 

I’m looking forward to teaching, preaching on weekends, researching, writing, and the scholarly side of life in the academy. Prayers are appreciated as we relocate to where Dana and I met, where all four of our sons were born, and where my faculty career was launched in 1985.  #backtothefuture 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

May we strive to live up to the high ideals espoused in our founding documents. Let's be honest. As a nation, we've not always done so. Our founders were imperfect. The writer and signers of our Declaration of Independence were flawed. Slavery attests to this. Even our Declaration refers to, "merciless Indian savages..." 

The European conquerors were flawed peoples from imperfect countries. The First Nations of North America were flawed peoples and at war with each other, conquering and being conquered for ages before those of the "Old World" discovered the supposedly "New World."  First Nations, Pilgrims and immigrants and the new nation birthed in freedom in 1776 may have held lofty and noble ambitions, but they were far from perfect. Far from pure. Such is the case of fallen humanity. We are all sons and daughters of Adam.  

But the ideals. Freedom. Equality before God. Rights. Liberty. Those are worthy goals. 

I thank my Creator today for a nation that seeks those ideals. I do so with eyes open to her mistakes and ugly sins but with hope that with time and Divine intervention we will persevere as a nation of rights and liberty.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day 75th Anniversary

Remembering my favorite Uncle, Bob on this 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Just a teenager when drafted during WWII, Robert Whitlock trained for two months then was sent into the battle theater first in North Africa then in Italy serving in the 5th Army, 91st Infantry Division. His awards and decorations include EAME Theater Ribbon, three Bronze Stars, Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart, World War II Victory Ribbon, Distinguished Unit Badge. During his time in the war, he was wounded three times, airlifted to an Army hospital in Rome, then shipped back to the front each time. Thankful for him and the countless others whose lives were put on the line to protect us and preserve our freedom.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Goodbye, OBU

Goodbye, OBU. Thank you for ten years seven months of wonderful memories. Students, I am so proud of you and am anticipating watching and hearing of everything you will accomplish. Please stay in touch. Be men and women in the arena with faces marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strive valiantly... who know great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spend yourselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if you fail, at least you fail while daring greatly, so that your place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat (T.R.).

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tree Planters

In Genesis 21:33, we read that Abraham planted a tamarisk tree after ratifying a treaty with King Abimelech. Tamarisk trees are known for stamina and long life. Mature tamarisks can live more than 100 years and their dense leaf cover provides shade from the sun and heat. Because of their salty secretions, few other plants and trees can compete with the tamarisk making it extremely hardy. Planted by the well that Abraham had dug, this tamarisk and its offshoots would in the future produce a wonderful oasis, a grove of shade and rest, in addition to serving as a witness to the oath that was made there.

There is something admirable about a tree planter.

Tree planters do their work for the benefit of others. They are people not given to instant gratification, but who take delight in future enjoyments, even the future enjoyments of those they may never know. Abraham planted a tree that was hardy, nearly indestructible and long-lived. What kind of person plants a tree like that? Someone with a vision. Someone whose eyes were not on the present but fixed on the future. Someone who has an eternal perspective. Someone who points others to God. Planters of trees care about their neighbors and care about the next generation. They are people with a vision for the future. 

Let us be planters of trees.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Lebanon Impressions

‪On my trip to Lebanon, I saw churches and mosques, met children, educational and political leaders including a member of parliament. I attended a university program featuring Muslim and Christian students performing side by side dances like the tango and cha cha.  ‪This group of students from Lebanon, Syria, and the greater Middle East were singing the music of Bob Dylan, Alicia Keyes, and traditional Armenian melodies. Women were leaders in the school systems and the parliament member I met was a woman. All of these professionals were proactively dedicated to bettering their nation, particularly through education. The cities were a mix of tradition and modernity. Fashions were like any you’d see in most U. S. cities. The people were warm and gracious and I left having made many new friends from Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. There is nothing like travel to dispel preconceived notions and false assumptions. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”‬ 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Surreal Moments

I often find myself in the middle of such surreal situations. Several months ago in South Korea with the famous evangelist Dr. Billy Kim (see?), I found myself in the middle of celebration in Seoul to honor the outgoing president of the country. President Hwang Kyo-ahn had just completed serving as Acting President of South Korea following the impeachment of the previous President. In the midst of the ceremony I was added to the program and unexpectedly invited to the stage to bring greetings and comments on behalf of the United States. With news crews taping and cameras clicking I managed to make a few comments and shake the President’s hand without causing an international incident.


Two weeks ago, the Emmanuel Theological Seminary and Bishop Samuel Thomas in Kota, India awarded me an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. Among my fellow honorees and those I was privileged to meet were human rights activists, a physician, actor and screenwriter Anupam Shyam of Slumdog Millionaire, Bollywood actor Kuldeep Sareen, and Bollywood songwriter Abhilash Ji. On our long drive from Delhi, I saw some of the heaviest traffic and driving that seemed to disregard any semblance of staying in one’s lane, or even on the correct side of the road. I witnessed traffic consisting of cars, tuk tuk auto rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, large trucks, pedestrians, horses, carts and wagons, camels, and elephants crowded on the streets and highways.


Last week I was with Bishop Noble Odai in Ghana dedicating a village well, distributing mosquito nets, and visiting schools in the bush. Often I was hiking through the bush in a suit and tie. We visited with Ghanaian Members of Parliament and the Ministers of Education, of Health, and of Civil Service.  Transportation along the overcrowded and traffic jammed streets and highways was facilitated by a police escort at high rates of speed dodging all manner and means of transport—often in the oncoming lane, or on the shoulder of the oncoming traffic. It was as close to being in a video game I’ve ever been. Then a few nights ago I was ushered into a television station where the Bishop’s Maranatha Television network broadcast nationally and across several African nations a one-hour live talk show with me as a guest.


Life has been a series of unexpected experiences and experiences for this kid from Wayne, Oklahoma.