Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review: Jesus on Death Row

A small disclaimer - while I've never met Mark Osler, I do follow his blog, Osler's Razor, and he did have my brother as one of his students at Baylor Law School.

What do the life and death of Christ have to do with the way Christians approach the criminal justice system? The death penalty? More than you might think according to Mark Osler, former Detroit prosecutor and current Baylor Law professor. Far from settling for worn clich├ęs and easy answers, Osler presents a thoughtful, reflective look at the United States criminal justice system through the lens of the crucifixion of Christ in his new book Jesus on Death Row. In taking this cruciform look at how we try, convict, and punish criminals, Osler provides compelling insights into the ways Christians can bring both justice and mercy to the criminal justice system.

His insights alone are worth the price of the book, but I also see great value in exposing believers to not just the content of the book but also Osler's method. As a pastor, Osler does what I hope every believer in Jesus Christ would do, he takes the life and the teachings of Christ and applies them in a reflective manner to his daily life (not simply his devotional life). Christ's invitation to follow him is, after all, an invitation to follow him in every aspect of our lives. Believers from all types of professions would benefit from following Osler's example of allowing the life and death and resurrection of Christ to inform, question, and challenge their own professions and areas of expertise.

Not only do I encourage you to pick up and read his book, but I also encouge you to think anew about your own professional life from a cruciform point of view. What difference does your faith make to the practicing of your own profession?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Treehouse/Swingset - Weekend #2

Looks like we're headed into a third weekend with the treehouse/swingset project. This weekend proved to be a very cold one in San Angelo. We bundled up, though, and kept working. Alyson and I got the rest of the siding up on Thursday and Friday. Robert and James came over Saturday and helped put the roof on. Structurely speaking, we're finished, but I still have some trim work to do, some painting, and landscaping. The project's been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed working with Alyson and some good friends plus seeing something I sketched become a reality.
One of many pictures I'm sure James and Robert's wives won't like to see.

Taking a break from the work to try out the swings. They work.
We even put the little ones to work priming the inside of the house.

This is the house as we finished up late Sunday evening.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More than a smiley face

Lent, probably more than any other season of the church calendar, stands against the culture of our day. Its invitation to take up our cross and follow him displeases our modern sensibilities. Our society strives for a suffering-free existence. We want to lose weight without the pain of exercise. We want money without the tiring task of working for it. We want love, Hollywood style, without the selfless commitment marriage requires. We want life, comfortably – including our religious life. As a result, religion today often seems like nothing more than another late night get rich quick scheme, one more sure path towards the American Dream. Just say this prayer, read this book, donate to this cause, and you too can have the 2.5 kids and the three car garage. Think positively, and positive things will happen to you.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to sound too cynical here. Ours is a God of provision. “My God shall supply all your needs” writes Paul to the Philippians. But unfortunately, many people manipulate what this text actually means. They ignore the fact that Paul has just asked the readers to make a huge sacrifice for the less fortunate. Chuck Swindoll explains, “They tell us, 'If you want anything bad enough, you just claim it and God will give it to you. He's a good God, and He's certainly a prosperous God. He owns the cattle on every hill. He'll sell some and make it possible for you to enjoy whatever you really want in life.'" As a result, convictions, which always come with suffering and sacrifice, give way to convenience.

This me-ism seems to have little to do with the gospel of the New Testament. If it resembles anything in scripture, it has the feel of the prodigal son demanding “what’s coming to me” and demanding it now. Like the prodigal son, we miss the point that money is not what makes a life worth living. Instead, as the story reveals, being in relationship with the Father is what endows a life with meaning. But it’s not just that this popular health/wealth gospel misses the point of what is ultimately valuable – life with the Father – it also misses completely what that life is really like. Jesus told the disciples, “When the world hates you, remember it hated me before it hated you. . . . Do you remember what I told you? ‘A servant is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John, 15:18-20). Every life experiences suffering, especially a life lived with Jesus.

I admit, I’m an infant when it comes to understanding and enduring suffering. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly been persecuted for my faith. Even at the first sign of hardship, I usually go scattering for a rock to hide under. But even in my weakness, I connect to the truth of the gospel – the gospel that talks about weakness – the gospel that talks about suffering. This gospel speaks to me more powerfully than any preacher who simply tells me to think happy thoughts. I need a God who’s more than a smiley face sticker. I need a God who’s been to the darkest depths of this life and back again. We have that God in Christ Jesus who suffered and died and then . . . overcame the grave.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead – Philippians 3:10.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Swingset project - Weekend #1

I'm not sure how many weekends this project is going to take me - but it will at least take two. I'll keep you updated. Endless thanks to Joe Favor and Robert Eubank who lent their skills, their time, their energy and their tools to the project. Alyson has also put in her fair share of work. Here are some pics. The first is a good indication of about how far we got by Sunday evening.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Let's get this straight - You're not rich!

One of my favorite shows as a child was The Cosby Show. As a kid, I always found myself identifying with the Huxtable children. As a parent, I find my memories returning to familiar scenes from the show, but this time, with sympathy for the parents. Because of some conversations I had with my own children this week, into my head popped a scene in which Vanessa Huxtable is having a conversation with her dad, Cliff. Vanessa has gotten into some trouble at school. Apparently, some classmates were taunting her about being a rich kid. Vanessa complains to her dad that it’s not always easy being rich. Cliff’s face contorts, as only Cosby’s face can, and he responds, “Let’s get this straight. You’re not rich. Your mother and I are rich. You have nothing.”

I laugh even now at how closely such scenes mirror my own life both as a child and as an adult. How easy it for us to assume that everything we posses are things we can take credit for (and if we can take credit for them, then we can complain about them, as well). We so quickly forget that all of life is a gift. Even the money in the bank that we have earned through our jobs, we have been able to earn because of some other gift that God has given to us – the gift of life, the gift of ability, the gift of time.

The Psalmist is correct when he declares, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). We, my friends, are not rich. God is. Without him, like poor Vanessa, we have nothing. Fortunately, our God is a generous God and he shares with us from his abundance. Let us remember to be gracious and content. Let us, like our heavenly Father, be quick to share what we have received with others in need.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! – 1 John 3:1

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bedtime Stories and the Love of God

Bedtime has always been a favorite time at the Sandlin household. A time to enjoy each other’s presence. A time to catch up on the day. A time to impart the stories of our faith and to seek God’s face together. Lest it all sound too spiritual, I’m always happy for it to be over so I can get to some much needed Daddy down time. Lately, bedtime at the Sandlin household has gotten a little longer than I would like it to be. The routine is the same: we brush our teeth, read a story, read a devotional, say a prayer, and jump into bed – but it’s taking two to three times as long. Why? Well, instead of me reading a story to Sophie, Sophie has started reading a story to me. Now, watching and helping someone learning to read is a magnificent, fascinating thing – for about three minutes. Then it starts to make my head hurt.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a patient dad. I encourage. I offer supportive words. I help her with the toughest words. But inside, as my patience dwindles, I want to scream. It doesn’t seem like learning to read should be so difficult. We’ll read one line, sound out every letter, struggle to put those letters together, until it eventually clicks and the jumble of letters becomes a word. And then we’ll read the next line and struggle in the exact same way with a word we just read in the line before! Admittedly, I don’t recall my own path towards reading. I know that I went through an identical process to what Sophie is going through (I’m sure torturing my own parents along the way – thanks mom and dad). It’s just that I don’t remember any of that. Reading has simply become a part of my nature. Something I don’t even think about. And this makes it difficult to sit and wait on the slow process that is required for reading to become a part of Sophie’s nature, as well.

All of this has made me more grateful to the God whose nature it is to love and who waits patiently as he helps love become our nature as well. Circumstance after circumstance God walks with us as we struggle with what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. We wonder how much sacrifice is required or how long we have to keep showing kindness in the face of hostility or how often we need to forgive one who offends. Occasionally, in our struggles, it will click, and we’ll show love like God’s. And then, sometimes just a moment later, we’ll find ourselves retreating to the safety of hate or indifference. At least, in my life that’s the pattern. But I trust that God is patient (because I’m told in his word that love is patient). And I try once more to love others as myself, grateful to be learning in the arms of a loving dad.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another – John 13:35.