Sunday, December 28, 2008

When Sports Get It Right

Often in America, we get sports all wrong. Here are two instances in which players, coaches, and fans all got it right.

  • Last spring, senior softball player Sara Tucholsky, who had never hit a homerun in her entire career, finally knocked one over the fence for her Western Oregon team. In her excitement, however, she missed first base and when pivoting to go back and touch it tore her ACL. She couldn't even crawl around the bases. Any help from her team would result in an out. If she could crawl back to first, her team could put in a pinch runner but the only homerun of her life would go down as a single. What happenned? Find out in this article, also from ESPN: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/columns/story?id=3372631.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

God as a toddler?

He so loved us that, for our sake,
He was made man in time,
although through him all times were made.
He was made man, who made man.
He was created of a mother whom he created.
He was carried by hands that he formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy,
he the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.
— St. Augustine

My youngest will turn two tomorrow. Two is already proving to be a tough age. For the last couple of weeks our once happy-go-lucky baby has increasingly become a frustrated and upset toddler. I think the reason is plain enough. His doing and thinking are progressing faster than his speaking (or at least faster than his parents’ ability to interpret his speaking). On numerous occasions John Curtis will say something which makes perfect sense to him but to my adult ears sounds something like “blah-blah” (think a reversal of Charlie Brown’s teacher here).

I’ll ask, “Do you want a drink?”

He’ll respond, “No” – a word he articulates clearly – and then say again “more ‘blah-blah.’”

I’ll try something else, “A snack?”

“No. More ‘blah-blah.’”

“To sit with Daddy?”

“No! More ‘blah-blah.’”

“To go back to bed?”

“NO! MORE ‘BLAH-BLAH!’”

I can understand why the boy gets frustrated. I get frustrated for him (and in weaker moments with him). I’d like to comfort him with the thought that he’ll soon outgrow this particular limitation. He will, but the truth is, there will be others. So goes the constraints of our humanity.

As I pause this Advent season and think once more of the incarnation I wonder what it was like for God Almighty to be God-the-toddler. Was it frustrating for the God who spoke the universe into being to be forced to learn to use lips and tongue to form the most basic of requests? Did he get frustrated when Mary and Joseph looked down at him in their own frustration, not having a clue what he was talking about? Like any two year old (but unlike any of them, as well), I’m sure he did. Why did God submit himself to such troubles and many more? St. Augustine put it well, because he loved us.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – John 1:14.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Give a goat to Jesus this Christmas

Last night the children’s choirs did an excellent job presenting the story of Christ’s coming to a packed house. It’s not easy to stand up in front of a bunch of people and sing songs or recite lines, so congratulations to all the children on such a wonderful concert. In their singing, they reminded us that Christmas is ultimately about the incarnation. It is about the God-on-high becoming God-with-us. It’s about the one who was and is and is to come showing up and being born. God now has a birthday. Remarkable!

As with any birthday, it is right and good to celebrate. For as grand as our Christmas celebrations may get, they probably all pale in comparison to what Christ deserves. What do you do to celebrate the birthday of the king? We, of course, give gifts to one another. This isn’t as bad as it seems. A gift given in love to a friend or family member surely pleases God, but certainly giving gifts to one another, especially to those who already have so much, is not all there is to celebrating God’s birthday. Jesus once said something like this, “You want to give a gift to me? Give it to the least of these. A cup of cold water, a meal, some clothes, a visit – give to those in need of such things and it’s just like you gave the gift to me” (see Matthew 25:31-46).

It can be pretty embarrassing to show up to a party without a gift. And yet, when we make Christmas all about ourselves, our family, and our friends that’s exactly what we do. We give everyone a gift but Jesus. So, if you want to be prepared for the party this year, you better get to shopping on behalf of the least of these. Here are three places you could do just that (obviously this is not an exhaustive list).

  1. Our church – give to the Christmas Offering. All gifts go to benefit the ministry of Water for All, a ministry of Southland Baptist Church led by Terry and Kathy Waller. Terry and Kathy serve the Lord in Bolivia, but their ministry of digging water wells for the world’s poor takes them around the world. Your gift this Christmas will go a long way in helping place a cup of cold water in the hands of the least of these of our world.
  2. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Store – Browse the online catalog, pick a gift, send a check. An easy way to give a gift to the least of these. If you can’t get this to work online, we have catalogs in the office.
  3. The World Vision Catalog - Browse the online catalog, pick a gift (they have goats, chickens, you name it), send a check or pay online. Another easy way to give a gift to the least of these.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me – Matthew 25:40.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dr. Frank Pollard passes away

Dr. Frank Pollard died this past Sunday at the age of 72. Dr. Pollard was one of my preaching professors at Truett. While his student, Dr. Pollard and I quickly discovered several connections. Dr. Pollard was my in-laws' pastor in Jackson, MS when my wife was born. Dr. Pollard and I both attended Texas A&M (he played second base for the baseball team - I did not, although I did live in the athletic dorm). We also both served as the janitor of the Baptist Student Ministry. I find some pleasure in knowing that my first paid job for Baptists was the same as that of Dr. Pollard. His are not bad shoes to follow. I pray that my career may look even a small bit like his. For all the accolades Dr. Pollard received through the years (he was once named by Time magazine as one of the top seven preachers in America) his career was nevertheless one marked by great humility. He had a gentleness about him that made you feel safe and loved in his presence. In every class, Dr. Pollard displayed a strong commitment to effective preaching, a deep love for the church, and a passion for Christ's gospel. I'm grateful the Lord let me know Dr. Pollard if only for a couple of years. My prayers are with his family during these days.

Go stick your head under a tree

The other day I walked into the living room and chuckled. Out from beneath the newly decorated Christmas tree stuck two little bodies. The heads of those two little bodies were tucked deep underneath the evergreen branches. Sophie and John Curtis looked up mesmerized at all that glittering, sparkling Christmas glory. I joined them. It had been a long time since I’d stuck my head under a Christmas tree just to enjoy the view.

Aided by the eyes of my children, the tree was as beautiful as I remembered my own childhood tree. After all, my brother and I used to do the same thing. We’d stare into the depths of our tree for hours finding an ornament we’d never seen before or one we’d long forgotten about. Every day the tree seemed to reveal some new view. It didn’t matter that we stared at that tree for twenty-five straight days, it never got boring. It had more beauty than could be exhausted during the month of December.

The scriptures that tell the Christmas story capture my attention in much the same way. At first, as I pull these passages out for another look, I think to myself, “I’ve seen these before. We read them last year and the year before that.” But as I stick my head beneath the branches of these stories of fearful young teens comforted by heavenly host, of a tyrant of a king and some wily star gazers, of patient old prophets and a baby who is God-With-Us, inevitably I see something I hadn’t seen before or something I’d long forgotten. God speaks to my heart once more and it is beautiful.

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” Matthew 1:21.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Southland Staff Christmas Hoedown!

video

One of my favorite Christmas songs



This fun song is from one of my favorite songwriters Andrew Peterson. It's on his Christmas album Behold the Lamb which in my humble opinion is the best Christmas album ever. Called "Matthew's Begats" it's from the oft overlooked portion of the Christmas story, Matthew's genealogy of Jesus.

Here's a "classic" Thought-for-Thursday from the days prior to blogging in which I reference Andrew's CD. Enjoy the Thought for what it's worth.

---------------

Generally, I don’t like making music recommendations to folks. There’s something very vulnerable about encouraging a friend to go spend $15 bucks on something you like but they might not. But, hey, even preachers need to step out on a limb once in a while. So, if you’re feeling a little adventurous in your holiday CD collection this year, I encourage you to check out Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Alyson and I discovered Andrew back in our college days and have followed him ever since. Andrew’s sound is best described as folk-rock and his songs do include a great variety of folk instruments: the mandolin, the hammer dulcimer, the guitar. But it’s his songwriting that keeps me tuning in to his work. I’ve owned a copy of Behold the Lamb for a couple of years now and it has become my favorite Christmas album. You’ll hear none of your Christmas favorites here. Behold the Lamb is a sweeping, songwriting adventure that tells the whole broad salvation history narrative from Abraham to Christ’s birth. Every time I listen to it, I’m humbled by the magnificence of God’s glory and the wonder of his grace.

Whether or not you check out Andrew’s CD this Advent season, I hope you’ll remember to sing boldly the songs of our faith. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a pastor in Delaware, asks the question “When we come before God in worship, why do we sing rather than merely think or talk with one another?” I’ve used Carolyn’s question and answer in worship before, I think. But I’m a firm believer that good quotes should be used more than once – just like a good song should be sung more than once. Carolyn answers her own question, “We sing because music is a gift from God. It is a language that God has given us to express our deepest longings, our greatest joys, and our most profound trust in the One who created us and loves us unconditionally. Like all gifts from God it is one that God calls us to use with gratitude.”

Isn’t that true? When we need to express that which is inexpressible, when we need to capture the inner moving of our hearts, isn’t it a song that most often does the job? That’s why music, a gift from God, is so important in preparing our hearts and our homes during this advent season. A good Christmas song has the power to penetrate our defenses and then explode upon our souls the reality of God-With-Us. I challenge you this year to take some time with your family to listen to and sing some of our sacred songs together. Not only is singing together great fun, it’s also one of the very best way to communicate God’s love to our hearts.

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” Psalm 98:1-2.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Some days I don't like being a preacher

There is great danger in being a preacher for one simple reason - you so often go on the record. Take my last post for instance. Out of my own mouth (ok - my own keyboard) I spoke about the difficulty of learning to be content with what we already have and advocated that we all spend time learning to be content in God's presence. Then I went to my parents for Thanksgiving and watched their new 32" HDTV. Then I went to my aunt's house and watched the Cowboys on her 60" HDTV. Then I flipped through all those circulars that come out in the Thanksgiving paper - you know the ones - Best Buy, Sears, etc. I've come to the conclusion these advertisements are basically the pornography of consumerism. I found myself, discontent.


I floated the idea to Alyson that I think it's time we get a new TV (not the first time I've done so). She gave me one of those looks that let me know she thinks I'm an idiot. After all, hadn't I just said to all the church that I didn't need more stuff to make me happy? Darn it. Sometimes I don't like being a preacher.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A piece of the pie

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet but we’ve already had plenty of folks lining up at the table this week trying to get their piece of the federal bailout pie. It was quite disheartening to hear that the CEOs of the big three car companies didn’t have enough sense to realize that travelling to DC by private jet at a cost of around $20,000 a piece probably wasn’t the best PR move one could make when asking for a $25 billion dollar loan from taxpayers. A first class seat on a commercial flight from Detroit to D.C. would have been around $800, not only monetarily less expense but a whole lot less costly in the court of public opinion. I wonder at what point flying commercial stopped being good enough for these three guys? At what point did life require flying on a private jet to be complete? Do they now have enough? Obviously not, now they need $25 billion more of your money and mine.

Contentedness is the art of being satisfied with what we have or even with less than what we have if that's what's required. Learning to be content is a tough lesson even for us non-CEOs. We have so much, but often continue to focus upon the things we do not have. We think, “I know I have this car. It runs. It’s paid for (or almost paid for). It’s ok, but if I just had that car, then I’d really be happy” Or perhaps we lament “I have this job. It’s alright, but if I just had that job, then everything would be better.” Maybe such thinking even invades church life: “I know our church is doing ok today, but if we just had that program, then we’d really be on our way.” We’re thankful for what we have but think true happiness resides right around the corner.

Life should have taught us already that what we need will never be found around the next corner. I mean, has anyone ever found happiness around the next corner? How could they? The next corner by its very nature is always out of our reach. No, if happiness or better yet contentedness is to be found, it must be found today. Where do we find enough for today? In God alone. A song by the band Switchfoot prayerfully requests of the Lord, “Let me know that you love me and let that be enough.” One of the prophets puts the sentiment this way, “I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’” (Lamentations 3:24). Life with God teaches us to differentiate between what we think will make us happy and what will really make us whole. Jobs, things, even people come and go, but the Lord can be ours forever. So, as you dole out the portions of your mashed potatoes, stuffing, and turkey this week., pause to thank God for the countless blessings he has already given you. Then take a moment to confess to him that regardless of the size of your piece of the pie, with the Lord as your portion, you are confident that you will always have enough.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” – 2 Peter 1:3.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What would you do with $46 billion?

What could the church in America do with an extra $46 billion? That’s how much extra money the authors of the new book, Passing the Plate, say the church would have if just the “committed Christians” tithed (they define committed Christians as those who attend church at least a few times a month). For starters, notes Ron Sider who recently reviewed the book for Books & Culture, the church could send 150,000 new missionaries next year. Or they could decide to provide theological training for 50,000 pastors in the developing world. Or perhaps they might decide to provide food, clothing and shelter for all 6,500,000 current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East combined. Or they might decide to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide. When I think of the story of the loaves and fishes, I think, who knows, if we simply gave what we had, Christ might take that, bless it, break it, and give it out in such a way that we could do everything on the authors’ list.

When I think of God's judgment as outlined in passages like Matthew 25 and realize that God often judges our sins of omission more harshly than our sins of commission - I shudder to think what judgment will fall on a people who have simply failed to share $46 billion with the least of these in this world. People often ask why God allows so much suffering to exist in the world. We might start by asking why do we? What suffering might be alleviated if just the church in American began to give in generous ways? I attended the Baptist General Convention of Texas Annual Meeting earlier in the week and one of the challenges coming out of the convention was to more than double the Offering for World Hunger this next year to $2 million dollars (this is the offering we take up at the door on the way out of church on Sundays in which we observe the Lord’s Supper). What would it take to achieve this goal? Have every Baptist worshiper in Texas give just $1 dollar next week. That’s it. A one Sunday offering where everyone gives a dollar would meet this “bold” goal. Truth be told, Texas Baptists should be giving $10 million, $20 million, $100 million to fight world hunger.

Our church is a generous church. Very likely, for the second year in a row, we will set a new record for offerings received. God has used these offerings in a variety of marvelous ways. Meals have been served to the hungry, visits have been made to the prisoner, care has been extended to the hurting. The gospel has been taught and modeled to hundreds of people in San Angelo and beyond. That beyond has included just this past year, Mexico, Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Ethiopia. We’ll give away through Cooperative giving, through the Wallers’ Ministry, through other partnership ministries and designated gifts, over $300,000 to ministries outside the “walls” of our own church. And yet, I wonder, what else might have happened, where else might we have gone, if we as a church collectively tithed?

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough to receive it” – Malachi 3:10.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More choices to make

Whether you are excited or disappointed with the election’s outcome we must all face the truth that just because the voting is over doesn’t mean there aren’t choices still to be made. Voting alone does not mark the grand total of our responsibility as citizens of the United States. It certainly doesn’t stand as the only choice necessary for those of us who also claim to be citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

Some other decisions we must now make –

In relating to my opponents, will I choose kindness or mean-spiritedness? If my guy won, can I be gracious in victory? If my guy lost, can I be gracious in defeat? Can I forgive the hurts caused during this election? “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

In relating to our new president-elect, will we as Christians do more than simply give lip service to the idea of praying for our leaders? The presidency is a complex and dangerous job. The pressures Obama faces are unimaginable. Whether or not we’re excited by his election or disappointed by it, he needs more than our emotions. He needs our prayers. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

In relating to God, will we put our hope in men or in God alone? While we are to pray for our leaders and wish for them the very best (for when they succeed, we succeed), as Christians we continually remember that our ultimate hope, our redemption, our salvation, comes from Christ alone. As Paul put it in his letter to the Colossians:

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

“He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross
” (Colossians 1:15-20 The Message).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The limits of can-do

Americans tend to be a can-do people. Rarely do we face a problem and deem it insurmountable. Instead, we quickly set to work looking for an answer through economics, or politics, or the military, or through technology, or by better educational opportunities. It’s a part of our national ethos to believe that if we just think hard enough or work long enough we’ll figure out almost anything life can throw at us. Just look at the language of both political parties as they address today’s greatest challenges. They may disagree with one another on what the answer to those challenges may be, but both boldly assert that there is a political solution to every crisis we face as a nation – from the slowing economy to the threat of terrorism.

In many, many ways, this can-do attitude is a product of what we call the Protestant work ethic. It is the idea that work is essentially good and that our work can be fruitful. It’s true – work need not be seen as drudgery or obligation. Work can be done for the glory of God. After all, God gave us six days to do what? Work. But what keeps our work and our understanding of work’s potential from tipping over into idolatry (that is, the misguided belief that our work has no limit to its potential)? The Sabbath. God may have given us six days to work, but he has also given us a day to rest, to worship, and to wonder.

William Willimon put it this way, “Sabbath keeping is a publically enacted sign of our trust that God keeps the world, therefore we do not have to. God welcomes our labors, but our contributions to the world have their limits. If even God trusted creation enough to be confident that the world would continue while God rested, so should we”[1]. As we shall see in this week’s sermon text, some challenges in life defy our own ability to overcome them. Some rivers are just too big to cross on our own. In such cases, the solution comes not from doing so much as it comes from waiting. For our God is poised to do “amazing things among you” if we’ll just be still long enough to hear his voice and see him move. How do we practice stillness? By keeping the Sabbath.


Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10


[1] William Willimon, The Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashvile: Abingdon, 2000), 329.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Aaaah!!! Attack of the killer dust bunnies!

It’s moving day at the office. I’m still sitting at my old desk in my old office typing this devotional, but I’m looking out towards where my couch used to be. Javier and Louis just took it out and moved it to my new office across the way. You know what I notice? Dirt. It’s amazing what type of dirt resides beneath our furniture. This doesn’t surprise me. It’s a scene I’ve witnessed many times before. In college, I can remember at the end of the semester being forced to move all the furniture out of the dorm room and discovering dust bunnies the size of well, bunnies.

Every time I find myself moving furniture and being confronted with dirt and dust and crumbs that are in danger of taking on a life of their own I think to myself – how do I live this way? It’s so gross. Well, I live this way, not because I never clean (OK – Alyson will say I never clean, she does. But since we are one flesh, we are collectively clean people). No, I live this way because it’s easy not to notice the dirt that piles up under furniture that never moves. It takes change to expose the areas in desperate need of cleaning.

Life can be much the same way. Most of us do a good job of cleaning up the areas of our lives that are exposed to view. At least we discover ways to make those areas seem clean. But what about the places in our lives that reside in the unnoticed corners of our hearts? Heartaches that have been pushed under the furniture so that they’re out of sight; unresolved anger that’s been slid behind the dresser; sin that’s been swept under the rug. It’s amazing how long we’ll put up with such things. We think we’ve created clean lives until something happens that shuffles the furniture of our heart around. Maybe an illness or a job loss or the surprise of our own mortality shakes things up and we notice for the first time in a long time there are places in our lives that still need cleaning. When that happens we have a couple of choices – quickly push the furniture back in place or seize the moment as an opportunity for a deeper cleaning from God’s hand. One choice protects our comfort and our self-esteem. Once choice saves our soul.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting. – Psalm 139:23-24

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To vote or not vote

As the political race draws to a close (it will close won’t it?), I’ve found politics entering the conversation almost everywhere I go. Now, I think there’s been some misunderstanding about my view of politics based on previous posts or comments I’ve made from the pulpit. I’m not anti-political or even apolitical. I’m simply against pastors being partisan from the pulpit. I have political opinions. I will vote for one of the two candidates nominated for president. I’m just not going to let you know who that is. Even if I don’t tell you to vote for that candidate from the pulpit, my de facto endorsement of the candidate may cause some people to think that I believe that all Christians should vote for my candidate of choice. I don’t, but I don’t even want to give that impression. When a pastor starts preaching or implying that one party or one candidate is the only “Christian” choice all sorts of bad things start happening both for government and for the church. That being said, I’m all for Christians engaging in the political discussions of our day and voicing their opinions.

I recently had a conversation with someone who said they weren’t going to vote because so many people mistakenly think that voting for this candidate or the other is going to save the world. He rightly noted, “Only Jesus is going to save the world.” While I agree with his theology, I disagree with his choice not to vote. We as humans often attempt to correct other people’s mistakes by making the opposite mistake. That is, we don’t like some of the things liberals do so we become ultra conservative (or we don’t like what conservatives do so we become ultra liberal). In this instance, we rightly recognize that far too many Christians worship America and think that if they just get the right person to run the country everything will be perfect. We rightly reject that type of thinking. No country, no political party, and no politician will prove to be the savior of the world. But we shouldn’t then fall off the track on the other side by saying, “Well, since some people make idolatry of this country or of politics I’m not going to participate.” Someone’s misuse of something shouldn’t cause us not to use it. The proper response to the misuse of one of God’s gifts is not to stop using the gift, but rather to receive the gift and use it properly.

Think about so many of God’s gifts (food, love, sex). Lot’s of people make an idol of these things. They misuse one or more of God’s gifts. Does that mean I’m going to stop participating in those gifts just because other people misuse them? Of course not. Out of thankfulness to God and as a signpost pointing towards his coming kingdom, I’m going to do my best to make proper use of his gifts for his glory. Having a voice in our government at every level is a wonderful gift. Should we worship the gift? No. But should we fail to receive it? In my opinion, equally, no.

To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. – 2 Peter 3:18.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The cost of our confession

Often in our Bible study each Sunday, we encounter as we did this week, the New Testament's confession that "Jesus Christ is Lord." We usually spend some time, as we did this week, discussing about the cost of that confession for early Christains. In a world that declared "Caesar is Lord" standing on the confession that "Jesus Christ is Lord" could cost you your relationship with your family, your job, your possessions, even your very life. It's easy for us to think that those days have passed. They have not.

"Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee."

"Violence in Mosul Forces Iraqi Christians to Flee"

Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in both Iraq and India. Let us stand firm with them resisting the temptation to bow to false lords.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Going for a nature walk on a city bus

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, invites believers to fill their minds with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable . . . you get the picture. When I hear his admonition I think of getting away from the hustle and bustle of life. I think of soul-exposing art or music, or perhaps to a soul-humbling vista in the Rockies or at the Grand Canyon, or even to the soul-lifting stars that blanket a crisp, clear west Texas night. I don't think of people. At least not everday people. And yet, if I listen closely to the testimony of scripture I discover that even people, regular, ordinary people – the kind we bump up against and become aggravated with everyday – display the glory of God’s hand if we’ll just look for it there.

Eugene Peterson tells the story in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places about one of his students who took a crowded bus to school each day. One day, he looked at his wife as he was walking out the door and said, “I’m just going to go out and immerse myself in God’s creation today.”

She thought that was pretty weird but let it pass. Maybe he was stressed out and needed a break from school. Maybe a day in the park would do him some good. Only, the next day, as he headed out the door for class, he said the same thing. She let it pass once more, but was growing worried. On the third day, when he again told her he was going to immerse himself in God's creation, she stopped him and said, “Don’t you think you ought to go to class today? A couple of days of walking in the woods or on the beach is okay, but don’t you think enough is enough?”

He answered, “Oh, I’ve been going to class every day.”

“Then what,” she said, “is all this business about immersing yourself in creation?”

“Well, I spend forty minutes on the bus each morning and afternoon. Can you think of a setting more thick with creation than that – all these people created, created in the image of God, created male and female?”

“I never thought of that,” she said.

“You mean you’ve never read Genesis?”[1]

Very often, when we think of things that are noble or lovely we think of anything but people. But the scriptures tell us that we, humanity, with all our foibles and missteps, are nevertheless the culmination of God’s creation. So, your neighbor who always wears her pants up too high – nobility in the pantheon of God’s creation. Your coworker who’s so shy it’s almost painful – a lovely work of God’s hand. The homeless man standing at the intersection asking for change – as true a part of God’s creation as the most beautiful flower – and so are you - if we’ll look and see.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set into place, what is man that you are mindful of him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor – Psalm 8:3-5.


[1] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 82.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Digging for Diamonds

A few weeks ago, Sophie, Alyson, and I were having one of those random conversations that can only happen with young children. We jumped from one topic to another until somehow we centered into talking about diamonds – about how they’re formed and where they come from. Using my best Dad-knows-all-things voice, I explained, “Your Dad’s even been digging for diamonds.” I made it sound quite adventurous as I told her about a place in Arkansas not too far from where I grew up where anyone can pay a small fee and go dig for diamonds. Her eyes got really big and she asked if she could go dig for diamonds someday. I said that sounded like something we could do when we visited her grandparents – or better yet, something she and her grandparents could do while mom and dad do something else.

Sophie is now convinced that she is going to find a diamond and a big one at that. Her enthusiasm makes me laugh, because I remember my own eagerness as a child as either my family or scout troop would make a trip up to Murfreesboro to camp and to dig for diamonds. I dreamed of bringing home a big one. Unfortunately, all I ever brought home was some quartz I purchased in the gift shop. Needless to say, I’ve grown a little skeptical of finding a diamond in Arkansas. The diamond fields have become a little picked over. Oh, we’ll take the kids someday. It’s a fun family outing, but my expectations have definitely changed.

Almost.

My mother called last week knowing that we had been talking about this and said, “You’ll never guess, but the newspaper is reporting that a man discovered a four carat diamond up at Murfreesboro this week. Be sure to tell Sophie.” I will, but she’s not the one who needs the encouragement. I’ll tell myself. I still don’t think it’s probable that we’ll find a diamond in Arkansas, but I’m reminded not to give up hope on things so quickly. How many times in life do we write someone or something off because it fails to meet our expectations? How often do we leave our bibles closed thinking we’ve tilled those soils before to no avail? How frequently do we give up on church because we think we’ve heard it all before? All the while, great treasures await if we will believe and persevere.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened – Matthew 7:7-8.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

For peace and for pancakes

Well, the Sandlin household has had its first major religious schism. I for one am ready for it to end. Do I want it to end in order to restore family harmony? Not primarily. I need this religious schism to be healed for the sake of my hunger pains. You see, at every meal time, as we get ready to ask the Lord’s blessing, my children break up into two religious camps. The kitchen table has become the battle ground for the First Church-of-the-holding-hands vs. the First Church-of-the-folded hands.

In one corner sits Sophie the traditionalist. Well, at least she’s clinging to the tradition of our family, which is to hold hands while we pray. In the other corner sits John Curtis the iconoclast. I don’t know where he learned to fold his hands in prayer (my guess is at church), but he’s now decided that the folding of hands is the only proper way to pray. Usually, neither is willing to budge, which means Alyson and I sit in a holding pattern over our ever cooling meal while the young ones engage in their theological squabbles.

So far, we’ve not reached any lasting compromise. There are days when tired of waiting on agreement, Alyson and I pray with the children screaming at each other in the background. We’re a model pastor’s home. On other occasions, we reach a tentative peace by allowing John Curtis to pray with folded hands while everyone else holds hands. On a few blessed days, one of the children will lay aside their preferred form of prayer and actually suggest we do it the other’s way. It’s a picture of grace at work (and leads to hot food in my stomach).

My hope is that as my children grow and mature they will realize the importance of fellowship over form. My prayer is that they’ll so discover God’s presence in the corporate life of our family that they’ll gladly “give in” on issues of preference for the privilege of encountering God together. When I think about it, I’m pretty sure that’s God’s hope for his family as well.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men – Romans 14:17-18.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Want to take a class at Yale, Duke, Stanford, A&M?

The internet really is creating nerd heaven. Did you know that in the iTunes Store you can click the iTunes U tab and browse thousands of lectures from universities around the world? Ever wanted to sit in on a class at Yale, Duke, Stanford, or another one of their featured universities – Texas A&M (I’m not making this up. A&M was listed on the iTunes page as a featured university)? Now you can. I can listen to a lecture on quantum physics, creative writing, philosophy: you name it, you can listen to it. The best part is that it’s free. iTunes isn’t the only place you can find this type of information. The University of Texas has developed what they call the World Lecture Hall that, likewise, lets you download lectures, syllabi, and class notes from university classrooms around the world. Not since the advent of the printing press has there been such a revolution of information in the world.

Yes, the world has changed dramatically. It used to be that the people with the information had all the power. But in a world where anyone has access to information, it’s not so much the possessors of information who have the power as it is those who know what to do with that information. How do you sort through the endless opportunities for learning? How do you creatively and imaginatively employ that information in ways that transform the world around us? It’s the people who can answer questions like these who are the new power brokers in the world around us.

What’s become true for the fields of science, and art, and the humanities has always been true in the world of the church. At church, we give out a lot of information. If you are ambitious, at our church alone, you could attend four or more Bible studies/sermons a week. Add in other community Bible studies and I’m pretty confident you could probably attend at least one Bible study a day (if not more). Add in the internet and the possibilities seem endless. The question is not one of information. We have plenty of information. The question is what are we doing with that information? Or perhaps, better yet, what are we allowing God to do in and through us with that information? Are we allowing him to use it for our transformation?

Here’s some “information” from this week’s sermon text that should, if we allow God to work through it, lead to our transformation.

For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. . . Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – Philippians 1:21, 27

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Bug's Life

OK - this will seem weird to many of you. Alyson thinks it's weird.

I like to take pictures of bugs. No real reason except that I like the macro feature on the camera. And I think bugs are cool. All these pictures are from my backyard - either in Marlin or San Angelo (The bee picture, added after the others, was taken at a flower garden down the street from my house in Marlin). What a world we often miss! And yes, I know snails aren't bugs. So let's just say I like to take pictures of creepy crawly things.
















































Thursday, September 11, 2008

Can we forgive?

In 1943, Simon Weisenthal was taken from Lemberg Concentration Camp where he was a prisoner into town to work in the town’s army hospital. While he was working at the hospital, a mortally wounded SS soldier called the young Jewish man to his side. The soldier began confessing the horrific crimes he had committed against Jews, including the burning to death of more than 150 Jews locked inside a house. At the end of his story, the SS soldier turned to Weisenthal and begged forgiveness. Without saying a word, Weisenthal stood up and walked out.

Weisenthal retells this story in much greater detail in the first half of his book, The Sunflower. In the second half of the book, he turns his attention to the reader asking, “Was my silence at the bedside of the dying Nazi right or wrong?” Weisenthal asks the question open-mindedly. He tells of having genuinely struggled with his choice for many years. In pursuit of an answer he asks fifty-three “experts” to respond to his question. These experts include theologians, politicians, writers, holocaust survivors and survivors of other more recent genocides. As expected, there is no real consensus as to whether or not Weisenthal’s actions were morally right or wrong.

The book is a challenging read. Not just because of the atrocities it reports but because of the questions it poses. Who is qualified to offer forgiveness? What does it mean to forgive someone? Are some evils unforgiveable? Obviously, these are not easy questions to answer. Even if we come to an answer, or what we think is the right answer, those answers are even more difficult to live out. What does it mean, on this day, to forgive those who etched September 11th forever in our consciousness by the evilness of their actions?

We hear Christ teaching us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who’ve sinned against us,” or Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians, “Forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” We realize that such commands to forgive are on par with “Be perfect as God in heaven is perfect.” Forgiveness seems an impossibility. We, like Weisenthal, think we’ll just get up and leave (or better yet, hit back). But the gospel of Jesus Christ keeps unsettling us and calling us back to do that which we cannot do, reminding us that while many, many things are impossible for human beings, nothing is impossible for God. So we keep working at forgiveness, not because we can achieve it, but because God is achieving it in us. And we keep trusting, that while the wounds of our lives are bigger than anything we can mend ourselves, they are not so large that his wounds cannot heal.

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" – Luke 23:34.

Monday, September 8, 2008

30th Anniversary Photos / New Name for the Multipurpose Building





Last Sunday, Southland celebrated its 30th Anniversary. The dinner on the grounds was in our newly refurbished Multipurpose Center. The guys who worked on this not only did a wonderful job, but did it in an unbelievably short time. Thank you to each of them.

By the way, many people are now saying that "Multipurpose Center" doesn't seem to be the best name for this part of the church. People are starting to toss around suggestions for new names. What do you think? Should we rename the Multipurpose Center? If so, what should we name it?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

30 reasons to be thankful

This Sunday Southland will be celebrating thirty years of ministry and worship. I’ve only been here for two of those thirty, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful for the first 28 years. So for today’s thought, I give you thirty reasons I’m grateful for Southland (feel free to add your own). I’m thankful . . .

…that Southland is a place where each Sunday I expect to encounter God, because I’ve encountered him there so many Sundays before.
…that Southland is a place where my family feels at home.
…that Southland’s members are always looking for new ways to minister to our community.
…that Southland values ministry to children and students.
…for the ways those children and youth minister to the rest of us.
…for the nursery staff and volunteers – they’ve done a great job of taking care of my children (and the children of others).
…for Javier and Louis – they not only do their jobs well, but do them with kindness and love.
…for the ladies who volunteer their time to fold and label newsletters.
…for the men who’ve been working long days without pay to help get the remodeling of the Multi-purpose Building done for the big party this Sunday.
…for Terry and Kathy’s ministry – they constantly remind me of the largeness of God’s vision for our church and this world.
…for all who give generously to Terry and Kathy’s ministry.
…that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all feel comfortable worshipping at Southland.
…for Jill, Shelley, Matt, Gary, and Stephanie and the work they do that often goes unseen.
…that Southland is a church that puts hands and feet to God’s love – I specifically think of the Stephen Ministers and the Deacon body.
…for the musicians who bless us with their talents each and every Sunday. There are many Sundays I want to turn to you and say, “Could you play that again for us. I was so blessed the first time through.”
…for Martus Miley, Dan Williams, and Bill Shiell – their faithful service to this church has made my job so much easier.
…that Southland gives so much of its money away to local ministries, to state missions, and to foreign missions.
…that Southland is a place that takes Bible Study seriously.
…for Bob Conley. Most know of the thousands of e-mails he organizes for the church, but did you that he and Pat are the ones who get to the church early Sunday morning to unlock doors and make coffee?
…for the support staff, Angie, Dana, Suzy, and Suzanne and the patience they show towards the ministerial staff.
…for all the retired ministers who now call Southland home. What a wealth of experience and giftedness God has blessed us with in you.
…for Sunday School teachers who give up significant chunks of time and energy to bring God’s Word to life each week.
…for every member of Southland who gives someone else a ride to church. Though a small task here on this earth, I have to imagine it ranks as a large one in heaven.
…that at Southland we aren’t afraid to ask tough questions about our faith.
…that Southland is a place that wants to see our building used not protected.
…that Southland is a place where people are constantly asking me, “How can I get involved?”
…for the Sunday School classes that pray for me each week. Your prayers make a difference.
…for the many who pray for our church on a daily basis – your unsung efforts do more to keep Southland on the right track than anything else we do.
…that Southland is a place where God is moving and the baptismal waters are stirring.
…for you, for without you, Southland wouldn’t be the same.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people – Colossians 1:3.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hawaii, anyone?

Three years ago, Alyson and I attended the Baptist World Congress in Birmingham, England. For several days we worshipped with thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ from around the globe. It really was one of the highlights of my life.

The next Baptist World Congress is July 28-August 1, 2010 at the Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu, Hawaii. Alyson and I are seriously considering going. We'd love to have some of you come as well.

For more information about the Baptist World Alliance visit their website:
http://www.bwanet.org/

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who would Jesus vote for?

Ok. I’ve written and re-written this thought for Thursday a dozen times and I’m getting nowhere. Why? Because I’m trying to tackle a difficult topic and I’m having trouble getting any traction. The topic? Politics. The trouble? As a pastor, I do my best to stay out of partisan politics. The reason is simple. As a pastor some people look at me for direction as to what God would have a person do in his or her life. That’s reasonable, I guess, and it works for some areas of life but not for others. Why? Well, I’m not perfect so often I don’t do what God wants. Just as important, there’s not always one way to live out our Christianity in the world around us. Just because I decide to do or not do something, doesn’t always mean you have to do the same.

That is especially true in politics. Lot’s of people want to know, “Who would Jesus vote for?” That sounds like a good question. In many ways, though, it’s impossible to answer, at least in any definitive way. For one thing, Jesus never voted. He didn’t even have the opportunity to vote. And as difficult as it may be for our modern sensibilities he didn’t even address the topic. He spent zero time on suffrage issues. The few times he did address earthly political leaders, he was pretty dismissive of their false positions of power. Jesus was political, no doubt (he was executed as a political dissident), but he wasn’t political in the way we so often use the term.

Does Jesus’ lack of involvement mean we shouldn’t be involved in partisan politics? Not at all. We live in an entirely different situation from Jesus. We have the opportunity to have a say in our government - a say that can have a major effect not only on our neighbors here in America, but on people around the world. Such opportunities are no doubt a gift and a responsibility from God. But how do we, as Christians, employ that gift? How do we get from the world of the Bible, where voting was a non-issue, to modern day life, where we live and work and breath?

First of all, we make the move humbly realizing that when that much distance exists between the world of the Bible and our own world, very reasonable, dedicated Christians are going to come to different conclusions concerning how their faith will inform their politics. Just because someone chooses to vote differently than me, doesn’t mean they are less of a Christian. Let us treat one another with civility and love. Second, we approach the task with a healthy bit of skepticism. I don’t mean we should be cynical about politics – far from it. The political world, whether we like it or not, is where we make decisions in this country. Democratic (that’s little “d”) politics really are better than the alternative - there are no participatory politics in a totalitarian government. No, we shouldn’t be cynical, but we should be skeptical. The kingdom of God can’t be reduced to partisan politics. No political party, no politician, no political system will save the world. Politics can certainly make things worse or better, but only the gospel of Jesus Christ can make people whole.

Jesus answered [Pilate], “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Spiritual gift of being a woman or a man

I’ve been reading Jeanie Miley’s new book Joining Forces. Several of you at Southland make appearances in the book (all positive), so you may want to check it out. Jeanie covers quite a bit of ground in this book, talking about the many struggles we humans encounter as we attempt to live out our maleness and femaleness in this world and in the church. She starts where every discussion should start on this topic, with the great truth that God made both male and female in his image. In fact, when we read Genesis 1, we realize that a community only truly reflects God’s image when both male and female giftedness are allowed to shine.

The church has struggled with this for a long time, from many different directions. The most obvious is in the way the way the church has attempted to quiet feminine forms of leadership, whether openly or subtly. How many Spirit-filled sermons, how much pastoral care, how many wise decisions have been hampered through the centuries because well over half of the church’s participants have been refused a voice? On the other hand, while the church has emphasized male leadership through the centuries, it has often struggled to attract and keep male participation at the lay level (this has been true since the beginning days of Christianity when a Roman official described the church as a collection of “women and slaves”). Books about why men hate the church are the latest fad to hit Christian book stores. They seem to indicate that male ways of thinking and acting often feel out of place in current styles of worship.

It’s easy to turn these problems into an “us” vs. “them” situation. My gender vs. your gender. We’ve done this in the past and left injured and hurting people in our wake. But such gender warfare clearly misses the point of Christian community and the way of Christ. Healing begins when through the Spirit’s power we attempt to return to Genesis 1 and remember that we were created together to be God’s reflected image in the world. In the church, exclusively male ways of thinking will not suffice. Neither will exclusively female ways of thinking. We need one another in all our uniqueness, both male and female. Our coming together doesn’t mean giving up our maleness or our femaleness, but rather recognizing that our being a male or a female is itself a gift from God meant to be used for his Kingdom’s glory. We remember also, that my neighbor’s gender, especially if it is different than mine, is also a gift from God.

J├╝rgen Moltmann, the great German theologian puts it this way, “If we want to do justice to the fellowship of women and men in the church, we must therefore come to have a new understanding of the church based on the shared experience of the Spirit. There is one Spirit, but there are many spiritual [gifts] . . . To be a woman is a charisma [a gift], to be a man is a charisma [a gift].” How true. I hope today, whether you are male or female, you’ll know that you, with all your gifts, with all your idiosyncrasies, with all your uniqueness, are made in God’s image and are his gift to our church and to the world.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them – Genesis 1:27.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Baylor names David Garland interim president

The Waco Tribune-Herald is reporting that Baylor has named David Garland interim president. Dr. Garland currently serves as the dean of Truett Seminary. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Garland having studied under him while a student at Truett. He is an exceptional Bible scholar, a passionate preacher, and a man of the highest character. He has served as an administrator for the seminary (first as an associate dean, then as dean) for several years always to high praise. I stay out of Baylor politics, but do think this is a good move for Baylor during the transition between presidents - I'll certainly put Dr. Garland in my prayers and ask that you do as well.

See the press release here: http://www.wacotrib.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/communities/breakingnews/entries/2008/08/20/baylor_names_garland_interim_p.html

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Can't touch your toes? That's OK

Like so much of the world, Alyson and I have been glued to Olympics this week. Well, Alyson’s been glued. I make it until about 10:15 and fall asleep on the couch. I don’t know what time Alyson’s been going to bed, but it’s been late. We’ve been recording the gymnastics for Sophie. She loves the gymnastics. Sophie thinks she is a gymnast because she participated in Central High School’s kid’s gymnastics program last year. I asked Sophie if she thought someday she’d be able to do some of the flips and twists that the Olympians do. She said, “Yes . . . when I’m six.” Ah, the wide-open world of a four year old.

Reality is that the odds are stacked against her being able to do those things at that level even by the time she’s sixteen. As ridiculous as it seems, most Olympians have already been dedicated to the sport by Sophie’s age. Take the Chinese for the extreme example. They remove three-year-olds from their families and begin training them in special gymnastics programs. How do you spot gymnastics potential in a three year old? I’m afraid Sophie wouldn’t make the cut and it would be my fault. Neither her mother nor I can even touch our toes. But who knows? Maybe Sophie has some hidden recessive genes of flexibility.

In life, we’re always attempting to evaluate our own potential (and the potential of others) at some activity or another. Most of us don’t want to try an activity if we don’t think we’ll be able to succeed at it. Some of us, bound by perfectionism, won’t try an activity if we don’t think we’ll be able to be perfect at it. This can lead to a paralysis of life. That is especially true in the Kingdom of God. God asks us to do some pretty bold things as Christians. In fact, the things he asks us to do, like loving our enemies, serving the least of these, taking up our crosses – these things make the balance beam look down right tame. If we decide to act or not to act based only upon our own potential for success, we’ll never take even the first steps of obedience. Why? Because none of us have the potential to do such things. The good news is that God already knows that. He knows, and communicates to us, that the potential for obedience to his ways and purposes rests not with us, but with him. At church, we call that grace. Grace is what allows four year olds, thirty-four year olds, and eighty-four year olds to hear the commands of God and respond with a wide-open “Yes. . . I can do that . . . by God’s grace.”

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us – 2 Corinthians 4:7

Online Devotional

A good online devotional can be found at www.d365.org.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The worst word is not the last word

If you haven’t seen the interview Good Morning America did with Stephen Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth yesterday, you need to check it out (http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=5524419). Have a tissue handy. This is the first interview the family has given since the tragic death of their youngest daughter, Maria Sue. I was struck by the Chapman’s honesty and hope. They didn’t try to sugar coat the situation. They didn’t pretend they weren’t hurting. They didn’t deny that the death of their daughter had caused them to question God, their faith, you name it. Mary Beth’s confession that she didn’t care if this “helped” anybody else, she just wanted her baby girl back, brought me to tears.

It reminded me of a time in my own family’s life, when we had encountered a tragic loss. One of the least comforting things people would say was that this will make you a better minister – as if the highest goal God had for me in this loss was to “learn a lesson.” I would think to myself, “This may make me a better minister, but that can’t be God’s primary concern here.” It gets to a difficult question in our Christian lives – does God cause bad things in our lives in order to shape us into the type of people he wants us to be, to teach us a lesson as we say, or as he tends to us in our brokenness does he simply redeem (and not cause) the bad things in our lives that they may serve his ultimate purposes and our ultimate good? I don’t pretend to have this figured out but I certainly lean towards the latter.

There are bad things that happen in the world. Sometimes these bad things happen because we ourselves do bad things. Sometimes they happen because other people do bad things to us. Sometimes they just happen and no one is at fault. That God can use these bad things for our good and his purposes does not negate their tragic nature. The death of a child, a miscarriage, a murder, a divorce, any number of other tragedies – these things will be tragedies ten years from now . . . ten million years from now. We don’t have to pretend like such things are “good” when they clearly are not.

Hope isn't pretending that bad things are good. No, hope is believing that God is in the business of redeeming bad things for our good. What else is the cross, but God redeeming the worst we could do into the best he could do for us? Because of that, we can have hope. God says to us, as Richard John Neuhaus puts it, “The worst word is not the last word.” In the Chapman interview, you clearly see that they are presently encountering one of the worst words the world could speak, but you also see that they firmly believe the worst word shall not be the last word. Say a prayer for the Chapman family today – I can’t imagine having to go through such a tragedy, much less in the public eye. And say a prayer for one another, that when the worst words of life are spoken to us, we will hold fast to the truth that such words will not have the last say.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?. . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us – Romans 8:28, 35, 37.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bible Verses that Freak Me Out - A tribute to my friend Patrick Adair

I have a friend from seminary, named Patrick, who started a blog a few weeks ago that is absolutely hilarious and incredibly challenging. As I told him once, your brain is made for blogging – you can find him at wheregoodthingsrunwild.blogspot.com. He’s recently been posting a series of thoughts on “Bible Verses that Freak Me Out.” Did I tell you he’s a youth minister? Youth ministers can get away with so much more than pastors. I can imagine the discussion if I titled a sermon series that. Anyway, throughout these discussions he makes a couple of great points – one for honesty, one for humility.

On honesty – far too often we come to church and act like the Bible is an easy book to read. It’s not. There are places that are easy, and nice, and comforting. But there are just as many places that are difficult, or boring, and or even plain disturbing. When we pretend that the Bible is otherwise, we can create lots of frustration in those who are picking up the Bible for the first time (or who are trying to pick it up again for the umpteenth time). Our ignoring of the hard parts also allows us regular readers to dodge some things that might be good for us, even if they’re not easy or comforting.

That leads us to the second point Patrick makes – the need for humility. We need the humility to admit that we don’t understand everything in the Bible (Beware of preachers who claim they do!). We also need humility to admit that often we find the Bible difficult because through its verses God asks us to do things we would rather not do. Patrick puts it well:

To paraphrase F.F. Bruce in "Hard Sayings of Jesus", some verses are difficult because we don't know what they mean, and some are difficult because we know exactly what they mean.

As an experiment, I read through the Sermon on the Mount with the youth group, and asked them to mentally keep track of how many times they thought to themselves, "Golly, I hope Jesus doesn't mean that exactly like it sounded." We came up with about 20 - in just three chapters.

We all have our favorite Bible verses that bring comfort and meaning to our lives. But I think that it is a healthy exercise to confront those parts of scripture that make us distinctly uncomfortable.

I think Patrick’s right, and after reading his words I immediately thought of John 14:12. There Jesus was speaking to his disciples and said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Really? I’m supposed to be doing even greater things than Jesus? How can that be? What would it look like? Why am I not? Not the easiest of verses. Not one I completely understand. Not the only one I don't understand, but heaven forbid I ignore Christ’s words. For the time being, let me rest uncomfortably in my lack of understanding trusting that to know God I don't have to understand everything about him. But let me be uncomfortable enough to continue to seek God's wisdom by his grace.

So what Bible verses have you squirming in your seat or scratching your head?


Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near . . . “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6, 8-9.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Family Man" by Andrew Peterson



"Family Man" from Trevor Little on Vimeo.

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite songwriters. Somewhat in the tradition of Rich Mullins, though I think a better storyteller. This is a video of Andrew's song, "Family Man." The video was drawn by Trevor Little and put together by his church - I think they're out in Las Vegas. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Man, it's hot

If you haven’t noticed, it’s hot outside. I know it’s a dry heat here in west Texas, but 100 degree weather is hot no matter where you are. Alyson and I were laughing the other day because we realized that every time we stepped outside whether from the house or car or from shopping we’d say something to the effect of “Man, it’s hot!” as if the temperature was somehow a surprise. Alyson decided to start counting how many times we said it but quickly gave up – I think the heat sapped her energy. It’s sapping all of our energy these days. Today is supposed to be a little better, thanks to some cloud cover provided by hurricane Dolly. Is it bad to be grateful for a hurricane?

The oppressive nature of the summer heat shows up in the book of Psalms, chapter 32. The psalmist writes, “When I kept silent [concerning my sins], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Just like 100 degree heat can sap the strength right out of us, so can unconfessed sin sap the spiritual strength out of our walk with the Lord. Now, not all suffering is caused by sin (see the book of Job), but all sin does cause suffering of one kind or another. While as Christians we may be able to get away with sinful living for awhile, eventually, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, such living becomes oppressive. Our once joyful walk with God becomes distant and unfulfilling. Our relationships with others become strained and divisive. The fruits of the Spirit that should be present in our lives shrivel up from the heat of sin. For those of us who have known God’s presence, such a life of sin becomes miserable.

In many ways, this uncomfortableness in sin is a gift from God because like the heat forces us into the air condition, the oppression of unconfessed sin coaxes us into the refreshing breezes of God’s forgiveness. The Psalmist puts it this way, “Blessed is he who transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” Are you being oppressed by the summer heat today? Well, for true relief (not the temporary kind resulting from hurricanes) you’ll have to wait for autumn. Are you being oppressed by some unconfessed sin? True relief is only a confession away.


If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness – 1 John 1:9.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Water For All Drilling Class

All this week, our staff missionaries, Kathy and Terry Waller will be leading a well-drilling (and windmill making) class here in San Angelo. The Wallers, for those who are unfamiliar with their ministry, are missionaries who primarily are based out of Bolivia. There they have developed a low cost well-drilling method to bring clean water to villages across that country. On average, one of the Wallers' wells can be drilled for around $100. Obviously, the need for similar water wells around the world is very great. Water for All's ministry has expanded beyond Bolivia to include a permanent work in Ethiopia through a volunteer missionary Joe Stocker.
As word of this "Baptist Well Drilling Method" has spread, people from all over the world have asked Terry for information on how to drill the wells. In order to fulfill some of those requests, Terry is offering for the second time a well drilling class right here in San Angelo. Churches and ministries from accross the United States are here this week participating in this class.
I really can't even begin to explain how much I admire Kathy and Terry for their work. I am so glad to be called their pastor and it is a true joy to partner with them for the cause of Christ. Be sure to be praying for the class this week and the work God will do around the world because of it.
Check out their website at http://www.waterforallinternational.org/. Donations can be made directly to Southland Baptist Church and designated as Water for All - All such money goes directly to the work in Bolivia and Ethiopia.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Your turn

Today’s thought comes to you from Dallas, TX, where I’ve spent the week at a Stephen Ministry Leadership Training. For those familiar with Stephen Ministry Training, you know that this has left me with little time for thinking. As always happens when I’m away from Southland, though, I’ve been reminded of what a great church we have. Whether it’s our Stephen Ministers, or our Sunday School Teachers, or all those who helped with VBS (which I heard was fantastic!), we have a church full of people who love the Lord and look for ways to share his love in everyday life. Not every church is like that. So to you, the members of Southland, I say thanks.

Believe it or not, our church is coming up on its 30th anniversary. So I thought I might turn the tables a little bit and ask you to fill in the rest of the thought for today. How has God used Southland in your life? What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the people of God that call themselves Southland Baptist Church?

I'll start. One of my favorite things about Southland . . . is you. Many blessings, and I’ll see you on Sunday.


I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now – Philippians 1:3-5.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Journalist in our midst

Many cheers to one of our recent college grads, Carrie Joynton. Carrie has interned this summer with the Baptist Standard (and later with the BGCT) and has had several articles published. In this week's edition alone I counted five articles. You can check some of them out below (plus see the Standard's newly designed web page).

Doctor heals, gives hope in Middle East

Love in action enables church’s unconditional welcome

Book Reviews: Joining Forces: Balancing Masculine and Feminine

2nd Opinion: A microcosm of the body of Christ

Mentoring program helps ministers chart true course

Pencil marks on the door frame

This week Sophie turned four. Birthdays are magical when you’re four. You could see the magic in her eyes when she woke up Tuesday morning. Those dark brown eyes seemed to dance and sing, “I’m four today. The world will be different now, better, bigger, wider.” Convinced that this was so, she asked to be measured. The Sandlin household, like many households, has a door frame where we mark the vertical progress of our children. Sophie tugged me over to the closet that bears those marks. I planted her feet on the ground, placed the pencil on top of her head, and scratched a line onto the wood.

“That can’t be. Were you standing flat footed?” I asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said with a wide grin.

“Let’s do it again. Maybe I had the pencil angled upwards."

By this time Alyson made her way over and I re-measured Sophie. No mistake. She’d grown two inches since January. Alyson and I were dumbfounded; Sophie was delighted. She doesn’t know what an inch is, but she could see the large space between the two marks. She smiled and laughed and twirled. She said joyfully, “It’s because I’m four.” I realized that she thought she had grown two inches over night. Yesterday, she was three so she was small. Today, she’s four so she’s obviously bigger. I don’t think she bought my explanation that we grow gradually throughout the year. She would later add, “Next year, when I’m five, I’ll be really big.”

Those of us who have stopped growing physically (at least in the vertical direction) still can find ourselves thinking that somehow at the next milestone, the next big event, the next whatever, that we’ll somehow be better, wiser, kinder. Of course, those things are much harder to measure than one’s height. And the lack of visible progress can sometimes be as frustrating to big folks as the lack of physical growth is to a child. It’s easy to be discouraged as you wonder whether or not you’re becoming more like Christ. I know there are times in my life like that.

I like to think, though, that when I get to heaven, up there in one of those rooms God is preparing for me, there’s a door frame with my name on it and pencil marks revealing the growth that’s happened through the years. I’ll probably be surprised at some of the growth. May even think it came all at once. Perhaps after some great turn of events, certainly not while I was in some great valley. God will have to explain to me, “No, it didn’t come all at once. It’s been me, gradually working in you, your whole life long – through the good days and the difficult ones, when you recognized my hand and when you did not.” I imagine in heaven I’ll accept God’s explanation. I’m certain, like Sophie, I’ll smile, and laugh, and dance a dance of thanks.

[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus – Philippians 1:6

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lessons from the Lorraine

While in Memphis, Alyson and I took some time to stop by the National Civil Rights Museum. Built into the Lorraine Hotel, the location of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the museum does more than tell Dr. King’s story. In great detail it traces the struggles, the persecutions, the failures, and the victories of the civil rights movement here in the United States. Our visit at the NCRM proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. On one level, the very existence of the museum gives testimony to how far we’ve come as a nation. As we strolled past the exhibit of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, James Meredith applying to Ole Miss, Thurgood Marshall arguing before the Supreme Court, we saw families of all colors pointing out these brave folks to their children as heroes for all people, not just of one race. Also noticeable, were the looks of incomprehension on the faces of younger people as they watched old news reels of sit-ins and school integration. Their faces asked the question on my mind, “How could people actually think segregation was right? Was the God ordained thing to do?”

Such questions pushed me into the greater lesson of the museum: as grateful as we should be for the gains made in our country for the freedom of all people (and we have made great gains – from the writing of the constitution to this very day), we must constantly be on guard against the blindness caused by our own self-righteousness or the defensiveness caused by our own fears. The museum did a good job I thought of showing that such missteps occurred even within parts of the civil right movement. We are all such a mixture of good and bad motives. I left the museum asking myself, “What evils reside in me that I am simply unaware of? What evil do I excuse or ignore in the world around me in order to preserve my advantage, my comfort, my peace of mind?”


It’s always easy to see other people’s shortcomings. It’s somewhat of a miracle to see our own. G.K. Chesterton was once invited to participate in an essay contest for a newspaper which asked, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Chesterton, always the sharp wit and a faithful Christian, wrote back a two word answer – “I am.” You and I live in an amazing country. It has given us great freedom. It is a place where movements like the civil rights movement can happen and succeed. But as we celebrate our independence tomorrow, let us do so with grateful and humble hearts. No doubt in the world around us there exist horrific evils (terrorism, sexual exploitation, extreme poverty). As Americans we must use our resources to strongly resist such forces. But the testimony of scripture and our own history remind us that the evil in another person is never an excuse to ignore the evil in oneself. Even in America we can be blind to injustice, callous to the needy, ignorant of oppressed. So let us follow Paul’s command and use our freedom, not to indulge in the sinful nature, but to serve one another in love.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A thought from 30,000 feet up

Journeys have a way of bringing focus to life. They concentrate our attention on the present in ways everyday living does not. Think about it. I travel almost every day of my life – to work, to the grocery store, to church - most of the time without paying particular attention to the trip. But take me out of the familiar and put me in a new place on a “journey” and I’m noticing everything. No longer can I rest on my assumptions about the world around me. Danger (or at least a missed turn) seems to lurk around every corner. I find myself fully engaged in the now.

If that journey happens to include a flight on an airplane, then that heightened sense of the now takes over my entire body. I hear every noise. I feel every shake. Now, I’m not overly afraid of flying. I usually fly somewhere once or twice a year and actually enjoy the view from thousands of feet up. I know all the statistics – I’m more likely to die in a car wreck on my morning commute (which I do without thinking) than I am in a plane crash. But statistics can’t remove the truth that overwhelms me every time I buckle my seat belt and prepare for takeoff – I am no longer in control. I am at another’s mercy. Usually, a pilot I’ve never met.

So what do I do? I pray. Usually all the way through takeoff and then again through landing, I catch myself reciting a centering prayer I learned in seminary, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Again and again, I silently repeat the prayer; it calms my heart. It reminds me that I am always at another’s mercy – not just on the temporary journeys of this life, but on the journey that is life. I am not in control, even when I’m sitting behind the wheel of the car on my way to work and think I am. Sitting there, thousands of feet in the air, I promise to try to remember that simple truth even when I get my feet on the ground and the familiar once again dulls my senses.

I hear the Psalmist’s benediction to the traveler . . .

The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.


The Lord will keep you from all harm –
He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.


. . . and I find peace.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Greetings from Memphis

Greetings from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Annual General Assembly in Memphis Tennessee. I’m having such a good time that I missed that Thursday ended yesterday! Sorry about that. I did want to give you an update of what all is happening at this years Assembly. Besides visiting with lots of friends, seminary professors and making new friends, I have been very impressed and challenged by the call to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. I know that challenge is nothing new – Jesus himself commanded us to “Go and make disciples of all nations . . .” But it is always encouraging (and convicting) to hear from people who are doing just that.

Most startling was last night’s speaker, Lauren Bethell. Alyson and I have heard Lauren speak before. She is a gifted speaker. But her talent in the pulpit is eclipsed by her boldness in the world. She works as a human rights advocate who travels the world attempting to rescue children from sexual exploitation and slavery. Her calling takes her into some of the most frightening places in the world. Her stories are a mixture of incredible sadness mixed with the brilliant light of the hope of Christ.

Alyson and I also had the chance to have supper with two CBF missionaries who work with Kurds in Germany, Turkey, and Iraq. Their home base over the last few years has been in Germany. Over 600,000 Kurds now live in Germany. They spoke of the challenges of reaching Middle Eastern people and of the danger that still exists for missionaries working in that part of the world.

I also had time to visit with one of my seminary friends. He was a little ahead of me in school. He and his wife have spent the last five years as a CBF missionary in Indonesia. Three of their four children were born while in Indonesia. I’m constantly impressed by such folks who are willing to put their entire family solely in the hands of God’s care and follow him wherever he leads.

All of these encounters have reminded me of what one speaker said, “When the wind of the Spirit blows, it blows in one direction – out.” How true. God is at work in the world. His Spirit is blowing in the lives of people around the world as they join him in His work of redeeming the world. Where might the Spirit blow you?

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20.