Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sing It Through

                     Sing It Through

When morning awakens yesterday’s fears
And light fades behind clouds filled with your tears
Let hope fill this moment with His promises true
Just open your heart, let His Spirit sing through.

Let His love shine brighter than what lies ahead
And light today’s journey without sense of dread
Each step brings you closer in faith to renew
Just open your heart, let His Spirit sing through.

We’re never alone when our trials we face
He’s living and loving in a heart bought by grace.
We share Him with others in all that we do
Just open your heart, let His Spirit sing through.

The Son is the source of the praises you sing
You offer them freely to Savior and King
He inhabits your voice and His love shines in you.
Just open your heart, let His Spirit sing through.

For Mary LaFrance
Nancy K. Sullivan
April 22, 2016


Tuesday, April 19, 2016


May 3, 1999 Near Anadarko, OK

          On May 3, 1999, a spring day turned into a nightmare as an EF5 tornado ripped through the lives of Oklahomans. It showed no mercy. Forty-four lives and more than 300 homes could not escape fury’s path. Surely, it was the tornado that would never be equaled – at least that’s what we thought.
          We were proven wrong on May 20, 2013, as another EF5 plowed much of the same area and left splintered lives dazed in unbelief. Twenty-four Oklahomans, including nine elementary students became our latest heartache. The speed at which the skies boiled into one deadly cloud left little time for even the most savvy weather watchers to find cover. Sixteen minutes was their allotted time to read Mother Nature’s mind and get out of her way.

May 20, 2013 Moore OK by Wikipedia
          And, as disaster relief workers from around the state and the nation were settling in for weeks of recovery efforts, May 31 became another page in our history books.
          An EF5 tornado that measured 2.6 miles wide and carried winds of 295 mph became the largest tornado ever recorded worldwide. More lives were lost. An infant and her mother, three experienced storm chasers whose study of the storms have saved countless lives, and a family of seven were among the victims. The trail of destruction differed only in the names of the highways, streets and structures affected and the flooding brought on by record-breaking rainfall. Rain that hid the beast from its victims until it was too late. The rest of the sad scenes filling media reports were much the same.

Photograph by Mike Bettes     El Reno, OK  5/31/2013

          Why Oklahoma? We’re a small state in the heartland that, absent tragedy, rarely grabs a headline from national and world-wide news.
          According to our local weathermen, the tornado that struck the area east of Oklahoma on April 19, 2013, could easily have been pegged an EF5 had it not been in a rural area. It wiped out a mobile home park, many additional homes and took two lives. On April 19, 1995, it was hatred that used our state as a personal and political site and literally put us on the map.
          Dr. Ronnie Hill is an evangelist from Ft. Worth, TX. On May 26, 2013, he was the guest speaker in our church. First Southern Baptist Church was a command post after the May 3, 1999 tornado. Dr. Hill's powerful message followed the path of the tornadoes, but with healing rather than destruction.
          When he shared Job’s story, I followed along and was surprised that I had never noticed how Job’s children died. One of several messengers bringing bad news to Job that day reported the most heartbreaking:

“…'Your sons and your daughters were eating and
drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house and behold,
a great wind came from across the wilderness
and struck the four corners of the house, and it
fell on the young people and they died, and
I alone have escaped to tell you.’”
(Job 1:18,19,NASB)

          Why Oklahoma? Why not? The tragedies that are becoming part of our history seem out of proportion to the size of our small state, but we’re certainly not the only ones in America who are hurting in the face of natural and man-made grief.
          We are learning to “bear one another’s burdens” as we mobilize our man power and resources and rush to the aid of our neighboring citizens, and as they do the same for us. Fellow Americans are never too far away and the need never too great to cause one second of hesitation in reaching across the miles.
          Pastor Dave Evans of Highland Baptist Church in Moore watched on May 20 as the monster tornado took dead aim for the church. As he drove about a mile east to flee the path, he prayed for God’s will. Willing to accept either the church’s demise or the responsibility of ministering to the community, he watched God work.
          The tornado lifted away from the chosen campus, then resumed its path. Later one of the members would point out the date inscribed on the plaque commemorating the day of dedication of the church. It was May 20, 1984.
          On the heels of the May 20 tornado, Operation Blessing was literally driving through Moore asking God for His direction. All heads were bowed (except the driver, of course.) When they looked up, they saw their answer. The sign that read “Highland Baptist Church” told them they had reached their destination.
          Our son-in-law, Ken Kniskern, joined the staff at Highland as a bi-vocational worship leader a few months prior to the outbreak of violent storms. He chases and photographs tornadoes and was literally on the heels of the storm. He and the pastor arrived at the church very quickly. They would be there for the next several days and nights working with other volunteers, doing what they could to see to the immediate needs of Moore, OK residents. Ken’s full-time position at the University of Oklahoma graciously gave him over to the church for those days because that’s where he was needed most.
          At this writing (one week to the day) the church is still operating with generators. Classrooms now house truck loads of kindness from around the nation. The sanctuary has been transformed into a dining room for upwards to 1,000 volunteers who have come and gone and for those who arrive daily. (That number would grow to more than 5,000 with more volunteers showing up daily.) One young man, Hugo, traveled with a group from Texas and when they had to return to their homes last week, Hugo stayed. Oklahoma welcomes her newest resident.
          On May 25, the morning service gave way to living the scripture as teams were dispatched into adjoining neighborhoods to deliver food and essentials and to continue the monumental task of cleaning away the ruins.
Photo by MacKenzie Cage 5/23/2013
          That evening, the worship center was staged outdoors for a community service. The church sits on a beautiful hill overlooking the pain, yet the hope, that resides in her view. One of the members looked up during the service and saw a cloud formation of a cross. Many pictures of rainbows appearing over us that week have been shared through social media. Highland Baptist Church is but one of so many churches and organizations doing exactly the same things for Oklahomans. Churches out of the area partner with the ones that have the best accessibility to the wounded and homeless.
          Our daughter, Mandy, walked through Highland’s parking lot and counted 15 different out-of-state license tags. Food, water, and clothing – all essentials are being brought in by cars, trucks and semis from around the country. The generous cash donations enable families to address their particular immediate needs.


          WHY, Oklahoma? Why do we stay in a land known as “Tornado Alley”? We know the storms are coming, yet we never know exactly where their razor-sharp tailwinds will strike. There are certainly more beautiful and serene places to live. But Oklahoma roots run deep.
          We appreciate the quality of life and the quieter pace. For many, those roots are deeply grounded in our faith and in knowing that God is sovereign and that His time is measured in eternity, not in our limited perspective of the temporal.
          As horrible as the scenes we relive with every news cast are from this side, we know that the innocent children are in a place of unimaginable beauty and forever protected from another moment of pain or sadness. They didn’t leave this world alone. They were accompanied by the Jesus who loves them to that special place He had prepared for them before the first hail stone fell from the sky or the circular winds began to blow.
          We have the opportunity to show others, not the Oklahoma Standard, but God’s Standard. We are just the messengers of His love and provision as we reach out to others and as we accept their incredible love and support when the need is ours. We show that our hope is not misplaced as lives are healed and homes are rebuilt.
          It is our prayer that, through it all, hearts will be changed and that many will come to know the Jesus we serve and the One who loves them enough to die for them through His sacrifice for our sin. Then their perspective will be forever changed from the temporal to the eternal.
          May we be found as faithful as Job and as willing to accept that which we cannot comprehend or attempt to explain:

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
(Job 1:20b, NASB)

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you,
which comes upon you for your testing,
as though some strange thing were happening to you;
but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,
keep on rejoicing, so that also on the revelation of His glory
you may rejoice with exultation.”
(I Peter 4:12-13, NASB)
© 2013

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Draw Me

Photography by Mid Stutsman

Draw Me

Draw me through my tears
  Embrace me in my fears
In the stillness of the night
  Draw me

Draw me through my doubt
  Use truth to draw me out
When lies of the world deceive
  Draw me

Draw me into Your joy
  Use praises to employ
Your mercy and Your grace
  Draw me

Draw me to new heights
  Lift me with Your might
To Your ways higher than mine
  Draw me

Draw me through the skies
  To Your glorious home on high
Forever in Your light
  Draw me

© Nancy K. Sullivan    
    February 4, 2014

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Baker's Dozen

    During the holiday seasons cookie recipes fly through cyber space and land in kitchens waiting to be mixed, baked, decorated and displayed. But only the kitchen-tested, most uniform, and perfectly baked will survive long enough to be presented to guests. The ones that are a little too brown around the edges or broken will be tossed or used to appease the appetites of those who could care less about the irregular appearance of the warm, tasty dough.
     Have you ever been in a church service on a day the congregation was “tested” for its compassion? You know the one. An unkempt man or woman enters and moves noticeably to the front pew as the congregation reacts. Some may stiffen with the awkwardness. Others may show downright indignation. More often than not, at least one tender soul will do exactly the right thing to welcome the person who is obviously in need of pastoral care and prayer and who, like the broken pastry, might otherwise be cast aside in favor of one more suitable.
     What about the more discreet differences. Perhaps the person standing next to me is more demonstrative in their worship than I. Or maybe I know the political bent of a fellow Bible Study class member, and I don’t feel it lines up correctly with scripture. A more timid or reserved attendee may come across as aloof or unfriendly, while someone with an outgoing personality who is ready to jump in and tackle any service project or need the church may have could intimidate a more laid-back approach to church life.
      Few of us would nestle comfortably into a “cookie cutter” form of Christianity. What would that look like anyway? Who would get to set the criteria for that batch of believers? Hopefully, not most of the original New Testament congregations:

“But to what shall I compare this generation? 
It is like children sitting in the market places, 
who call out to the other children, and say, 
’We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; 
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” 
(Matthew 11:16,17, NASB) 

     God’s personal messenger, John the Baptist, chosen to prepare the way for the Messiah, couldn’t even please them:

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’” 
(Matthew 11:18) 

     And how about those scruffy disciples? A reformed persecutor/murderer, tax collector, a doubter, even a spy-turned-betrayer (and his replacement) rounded out this Baker’s dozen. Not a great public offering from a worldly view.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 
'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, 
a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” 
(Matthew 11:19, NASB) 

      Jesus didn’t fare any better than the others in the Pharisee’s eyes. It’s time for us to lose those cookie cutters and throw open the doors of our sanctuaries --- while we still can --- united and with the invitation that comes from the King of Kings. Thankfully, Jesus had His own standards for His church family imprinted on His nail-scarred, outstretched hands:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart, 
and you will find rest for your souls. 
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 
(Matthew 11:28-30, NASB)

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