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: