Tulsa Workshop: Melancholy Memories

Part of a crowd some time at Tulsa Workshop

I have to admit to being a bit melancholy. Today I got a notice in my email from a calendar entry. It’s time to go to Tulsa for the Tulsa Workshop. Only, the workshop is no more. Anyone who knows me well knows I live for this yearly family reunion and revival all rolled into one. I don’t blame the leaders for letting it go… the vital signs have been headed downward for a while now. But it’s hard not to miss this. And the truth is that there isn’t anything in the Spring within driving distance that can replace it.

There’s a temptation to kind of slosh through a lot of old memories at this point but I’ll spare you. I’ve written about the International Soul Winning Workshop  so many times (see some links below).

John Robert on a snowy day at Tulsa Workshop.

So many of my Tulsa memories are blended with memories of my family making the trek to Tulsa. Maggy, Nicole and John Robert and some of his friends would often go to the workshop. Can you imagine that John Robert  had no problem missing most of the week of school to go? He didn’t mind at all. And we didn’t either. We placed a high value on his education, but the spiritual experience of the workshop was of great value to us and to him. Even so, there’s a long list of names I associate with the workshop. Not just the speakers, but the friends that we would only see once a year. That was especially valuable in the days before Facebook! Do you remember those days? Barely.

I’d just like to say thanks to everyone who helped make Tulsa Workshop the wonderful experience it was. Under the fire of critics and armchair quarterbacks, these men and women made sure it all happened. At the helm for so many years Marvin Phillips and Terry Rush led the way. I was in awe of them and I still am. We worshiped with such joy under the leadership of many, but none more than Jerome Williams and later Shane Coffman and those that sang with them. It felt healthy to see the older coaches step aside and see Wade Hodges and Shane Coffman and Jason Thornton assume the roles leading the workshop. I know each of them would recognize an army of volunteers and helpers but those were the faces we saw.

On those stages I heard some of the most amazing preaching I’ve ever heard. I would be wrong to try to list them – but I can’t help a little. In addition to Marvin and Terry are such memories. The night Stanley Shipp preached with such passion. Jimmy Allen made such a powerful speech under the influence of one of his well known headaches that he was interrupted several times … and some were unhappy with some things he said, but he said them with full assurance! I heard Richard Rogers’ last presentation at Tulsa. He died before the next workshop came around. Mid McKnight – oh I’m so glad I had a chance to hear him. Jeff Walling, how did he do that every-single-year? Jim McGuiggan said one of the most memorable things I’ve ever heard on a stage in the pavilion. Don DeWelt – thank God Marvin had the courage to tear down that wall and bring that brother (along with other Christian Church brothers like Bob Russell) to Tulsa. I still have a lot of tapes and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to put them to .mp3 so others can hear them.

Well now I’ve just started rambling with Tulsa memories so I’m going to close that down before this post gets out of hand. Yes, I’m a bit melancholy that I won’t be gathering with friends old and new and hearing the gospel with them … but I’m happy too. There are a lot of smiles and much warmth in the memories flooding my mind right now.

As I mentioned above here are some links to a few other posts where I talked about Tulsa Workshop on this blog in past years. Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your Tulsa memories in the comments if so moved.  JD

International Soul Winning Workshop – March 4, 2008

Sharing a Few Video Moments from Tulsa Workshop – March 29, 2008

Thursday in Tulsa – March 23, 2007

Friday at Tulsa – March 24, 2007

Tulsa and the Trajectory of My Faith Journey – April 8, 2014



Book Review: I Died Last Night

I Died Last NightI Died Last Night by John Orr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I DIED LAST NIGHT is a fictional account of a regular church member who dies and finds himself in an eternal state of torment. The descriptions of the experience in hell are quite detailed and graphic (if you’re squeamish, just move along to another book). Scripture references are supplied in case one might think that hell is not that bad, which would be a mistake. Following a quite miserable perusal of the kinds of thoughts one might have while being tormented by demons, the souls of those we hated in this life, and ultimately Satan himself, we are asked to examine our commitment to the Lord and ask ourselves the question of the title: Where would you be if you died last night? It appears to me that this book is not written for the non-Christian, but for the church member who has become lax in their commitment to Christ.

I’m not 100% sure what this book is supposed to do … reading other reviews and the conclusion itself I see the words “wake up call”. I do agree that many in the church need to be awakened to a greater level of faithfulness and love for the Lord. I’m not sure that when I read this book that’s what I get. I will allow that there might be some for whom a fear-driven religion will keep them on the straight and narrow. But in both the beginning and end of the book the author reminds us that only a few are going to make it without waking up in hell (and I assume the author counts himself among the few!).

Aside from reading it for myself, I don’t know that I would hand this book to anyone with the hopes of igniting a greater love for Christ in them. The two main culprits of the narrative that lead us to an afterlife in hell seem to be the false teachers who have led the lost person to believe something wrong and the idea those who lived under the illusion that we can just be a good person and that will be enough to save us.

To quote the departed theologian Jerry Clower, “I have made arrangements to miss hell.” I’m sure I don’t understand all there is to understand. I’m certain I fall short in performing the duties of Christianity at times (I added ‘at times’ to make myself feel better). I don’t doubt that in God’s hands in the afterlife I will realize that some of the things I thought I knew were totally wrong. But I don’t think any of those things will cause me to be lost, for the blood of Christ is a powerful cleanser and it continues to flow in my life. And, to me, that’s what’s missing in I DIED LAST NIGHT. God’s greatest desire is to save me, not to send me to torment. My largest impression from this little book is that if I don’t get my knowledge and deeds all squared away, too bad – off to hell I go.

If this book really does make someone ‘wake up’ in their Christianity or decide to repent of some practice they know does not please the Lord … or even begin doing some things they’ve been neglecting…well, then good. Yes, it made me squirm a bit (I’m certain that is an intention of the story), and that’s not all bad. But I do think if I give this book to someone who really struggles in daily life, they are more likely to give up than to persevere.

That’s because I’m not sure that grace has a place in this book. The preacher who was grace-full, writhes in the fire along with the main character. In fact the character asks him, “What happened to all your grace?” That, to me, was the most offensive thing I read in the book. I expect that Mr. Orr believes in grace. I don’t want to suggest he doesn’t.

I can see from the other reviews that it impacted some in a more positive way. Good. That wasn’t my experience. I did give it two stars for creative presentation of the experience of hell by the author and the graphic art by Stewart Yeakley that was, indeed, graphic. I also liked the cover art by Josh Feit and the general design of the book. Start2Finish books always have a professional appearance to them. I would not discount anything else written by John Orr, as he has a way with words and I’m sure he has a lot to offer should he dedicate himself to another volume.

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Book Review: The Five Times I Met Myself

The Five Times I Met MyselfThe Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Story Where We Can All Meet Ourselves

It took me a little while to warm up to this story but I am glad I stayed with it. Redemption is such a big word… and we often feel we are beyond it. What character Brock Matthews finds out is that putting the ‘code’ in place poses a remarkable power to set things right. But getting to that code….well, it’s quite an adventure.

The relationship between Brock Matthews and his brother, father, wife, son and even himself all are impacted in this story. If you have ever felt that you wish there was something you could change about your past that would impact your future, I think you will get a lot out of this book.

This book is Christian Fiction. The ‘Christian’ element is not so heavy handed that it sounds like a sermon. Well written in my opinion. I look forward to reading more from James L. Rubart.

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My Friend Mike Riley

Me, Mike and Mignon on a happy day.

Below are the notes for the eulogy I delivered at the funeral of my dear friend and church elder Mike Riley on March 2, 2017 at Forsythe Church of Christ. There was standing room only and an overflow crowd to honor Mike and support his family. Kevin Riley offered the first eulogy and there’s never been a more fitting one. Every dad would love to have his son speak about him in the way Kevin did. An audio recording of the entire service is available HERE. jd


It has been a few days since we said goodbye to Mike Riley, but the reminders of what he meant to us will continue to persist throughout our lives. I am grateful that we are having this assembly today to honor him and I’m grateful that you are here to honor our friend and his beautiful family. 

I have no doubt that for the rest of our days members of  the Forsythe Church of Christ will hear the laughter, wisdom, and joy of Mike Riley throughout these halls and in this pulpit. I am sure that when we pass by a certain pew or sit down in a specific room we will have flashbacks of a time when Mike was right there beside us urging us on in our faith, encouraging us when we were low, sharing a story from his arsenal of interesting experiences. He paid attention to us, all the while he was battling cancer and other illnesses, but you wouldn’t really know that. 

I know that many of you know him outside of these walls. Lifelong friends, Rotarians, Real Estate professionals, medical professionals, and many others connect his presence with the times of your lives that you loved the most. Family members and friends alike have a nearly inexhaustible supply of stories and experiences with Mike Riley. He had a way of bringing life to every moment. We will miss that. 

Surely Mike had a natural disposition that drew people to him. There is no question that the foundation of Mike’s joy and spirit was his faith. Mike had a way of being a devoted Christian that didn’t make anyone uncomfortable. He loved the Lord and he loved his family and he loved people. He loved his church and the doors were never open that he and Mignon didn’t come inside. They came early enough to visit with anyone who was here. They participated openly. They served devotedly. Mike Riley, like his father Max, loved and served this church for decades as an excellent leader. 

Friends, family, church, community – they all were made better by Mike Riley’s presence. 

I believe this is because Mike found his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. How else can one explain the joyous demeanor of one who has lived for so long under the threat of cancer. He did not succumb to self pity (that any of us could witness), but even made sure to visit friends and associates who had cancer, often giving them a copy of Dr. Amy Givler’s book about surviving cancerHe took the most painful element of his life and used it to bless others. No wonder we loved him. He was a great example of the Lord in whom he trusted and followed. 

Yes, it was hope in the life-giving power of Jesus Christ that kept Mike smiling in the face of giants all of his days. He had hope. Hope in the Lord can carry us through the most difficult days. There is no greater hope than what is expressed in Luke 24.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

There is no greater hope than that which arises from the empty tomb. Jesus is alive. No amount of philosophical reflection can overcome that one historical fact. Mike had no greater hope than the hope that he received by following after Jesus Christ in his life, with hope for eternal life given by a Risen Savior. 

I pray that all of us would pursue a life of hope on this basis. 


In 1939 a preacher from another generation published a book of sermons. In one of them Clovis Chappell tells of the experience of the passing of his father. 

“Years ago, I watched my father pass … He had a good voice. He used to lead the singing in our village church. As the end drew near, he stretched out those once strong hands, that were very weak now, and sang, “Jesus, Lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.” He was joyously confident that the Everlasting Arms, upon which he was leaning as he pushed his tired feet into the waters of death, would sustain him through those waters, and on into the eternal yonder. …Therefore, we join our voices with that of Saint Paul, and shout, “the victory is ours, thank God!” (Clovis Chappell, Values That Last, 1939)

I have no doubt that Mike is shouting today, “The victory is mine, thank God!”

I offer to you one of Mike’s favorite blessings:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Because of hope, it is well with our souls.

(At this point in the service Tommy Inman beautifully led us all in singing It Is Well With My Soul.)

The Lord’s Prayer together to end our service. 

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: 

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Book Review: Jesus and the Disinherited

I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, but they blessed me in a huge way.

Jesus and the DisinheritedJesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An amazing book. I regret I did not read this as a younger man. The insights into the lives of the ‘disinherited’ and the life of Jesus were eye opening and challenging. The final chapter presented hope and a path. I wish it were required reading for every college freshman or even high school seniors.

As I look back through it I highlighted much of the book. I especially appreciated the viewpoint of Jesus as someone who could be viewed as one of the ‘disinherited’ … living an impoverished life under the rule of a foreign power that did not identify with his race. Sometimes in exalting the Son of God perspective we can lose sight of the man Jesus of Nazareth who lived in a particular setting and time with challenges that were enhanced by the powerful Roman establishment.

As I read this and considered what Mr. Thurman was presenting I wondered how this book could have been written today with the refugee crisis in mind? A lot to think about. The answer, as Thurman rests his case, is love as taught and demonstrated by Jesus Christ. But he doesn’t suggest it is easy or uncomplicated.

Very grateful to have spent time with this book and Im sure I will return to it.

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Insights into the Quaker Way

A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons In Simplicity, Service, And Common SenseA Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons In Simplicity, Service, And Common Sense by Robert Lawrence Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading Philip Gulley’s Harmony series I was interested in knowing more about the Quaker approach to life and God. I found this entirely refreshing and enjoyable. The subjects are interesting and offer insight into a people in world who are committed to peace and spreading the joy of being good neighbors to all.

If for nothing else, I think the simple philosophy of this book provides a good outline for Christian living, even if one doesn’t agree with all of the particulars. The writing style is warm and leaves one thinking that spending an hour with Robert Lawrence Smith would be like spending an hour with an old friend.

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