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!

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.

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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.