Thursday, October 29, 2009

When knowledge doesn't equal wisdom

Have you seen the commercials for one of the new search engines available on the internet? There’s a whole series of them, and each address the problem of information overload in this information age. In one, a wife asks her husband if he’s booked the tickets to Hawaii yet. Instead of answering her, he begins rattling off useless trivia about our fiftieth state. It’s a funny commercial. You can watch it here. It’s also reality. Who of us hasn’t attempted to find some bit of information only to be buried by the torrent of data available online?

When the Bible speaks of knowledge, it almost always connects it to wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge to righteous living. Every generation needs wisdom, but perhaps none so much as ours. How do we sort through the mountains of different opinions, the oceans of data, and the unending streams of new information in order to make our way wisely in this world?

Better search engines may help, but they’re hardly the final answer. What we need is perspective. What we need is a little distance – so that we might see the forest for all the trees. Of course, confined to our own little perches, we have trouble getting high enough to get such a glimpse. And then we remember, there is one who stands above it all. One who knows all things. While we may never fully gain his perspective, he does invite us into his presence, which just might make all the difference.

The trouble is, we hardly take our eyes off our screens long enough to look up and look for him. Fasting has often been a way people connect with God’s presence. This usually involves the giving up of something valuable in order to seek something even more worthwhile – like the giving up of food in order to use the time normally set aside for eating for seeking God’s presence in prayer. New technologies might demand new fasts. What would it look like to unplug for a day? What if during that day, every time you felt the urge to check for messages you stopped and said a prayer?

You might experience a little information withdrawal. You might miss some piece of news others receive. And you might, just might, find a little wisdom instead.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding – Proverbs 9:10.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mr. Sandlin goes to Washington

Today is a pretty special day for the Sandlin clan. My dad, Rick, will be speaking before the United States Congress sometime around 10am (Washington time). He will be speaking to the Research & Science Education Subcommittee about the elementary school he principals in Texarkana, Morriss Elementary. The school emphasizes math and science education through their curriculum, through regular encounters with engineers, and with hands on experiences. On campus the school has a windmill (from San Angelo!), solar panels, high powered telescopes, and much more.

Needless to say, my dad is a little nervous. Last week he had to turn in 55 copies of his testimony. He’s been given strict instructions regarding his allotted time, who can attend with him, etc. If you’ve ever been to D.C., it’s a city that’s build to be impressive. You can get a little nervous just visiting the Capital. Sitting in its halls answering questions fielded by congressmen has to be somewhat intimidating. My guess, though, is that they’ll go easier on my dad than they did on Roger Clemens! Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure my dad will be glad when this is all over.

For as excited as we all are, it’s pretty easy to keep this all in perspective. My family has been walking the halls of power for a long time. Oh, not the halls of D.C. That will be a first for us. But I’ve watched my father (and my mother) enter the halls of the Almighty all my life. They have come before his throne of grace in prayer. They have entered his courts with praise and worship. They have walked with him in obedience and faith. They were the first to help me realize I had an audience with the King, as well.

The great truth of the gospel this morning is that you do, too. You may be ignored by the power brokers of our land, the kings of our day. But the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has extended an open invitation to you (one without time limits!). The question remains, though, will you take him up on his invitation?

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need – Hebrews 4:16.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When answers aren't what we need

Almost all of us at one time or another have gone to the Lord in prayer asking for guidance in some upcoming decision. Lord, is this the person I’m supposed to marry? Lord, should I move my family across the country and take this job? Lord, should I stay home and care for our parents or should we put them in the nursing home? And when I say we’re looking for guidance what I mean is that usually we’re looking for answers. We want God to tell us in ways that we can clearly understand “Yes” or “No.” Often, not always, but often, we leave such prayers as frustrated as when we started for God doesn’t show up in burning bushes nearly as often as we’d like (I can only remember one instance in all of history. And Moses hadn’t asked God anything. God just showed up.)

When I read the New Testament, I become even more frustrated. I realize that Jesus wasn’t that good at answering questions either. Half the time when somebody asks Jesus a question he asks them one right back (see Luke 10:25-26; 20:20-24). On many of the other occasions Jesus’ answer seems to go in a totally different direction. Someone asks him to settle a dispute and Jesus tells them to watch out for greed (Luke 12:13-21). Another asks Jesus about the cause of a tragedy and Jesus tells the questioner to repent (Luke 13:1-5). Throughout the pages of the Bible it becomes apparent that answering all of our questions isn’t one of God’s main goals in this life.

Does this make God cruel? That’s one way to interpret it. As a believer, though, I trust that God cares for me. If he doesn’t give me an answer to my questions, then there must be a reason (and a reason rooted in his love for me). I think of my own children. Do I always answer all of their questions? No. Some I don’t answer because I don’t know the answer – this obviously doesn’t apply to God who knows all things. Other times, though, I refuse to answer a question because I know refusing to give them an answer is for their benefit. Take for example, Sophie’s homework. She’s just in kindergarten, so I still know all the answers to what she’s working on. But does it help her if I just fill in the blanks for her? Of course, not. Part of growing wise is learning how to figure things out on her own. I don’t abandon her. I’m there to encourage, to provide her with resources, to make sure she has help when she needs it. But ultimately, for her to grow in wisdom, she must make decisions on her own.

Perhaps, this is one of the reasons God doesn't always answer our questions. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). Sometimes that includes the answers to our questions, sometimes not. Because the truth is, God wants us to possess more than the answers to our questions. He wants us to be wise children who know how to discern his will and not simply copy down the answers from some heavenly cheat sheet. He wants us to grow up to be like him. While we might not like this arrangement, I hope we trust that it is for our ultimate good.

Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
For wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her – Proverbs 8:10-11.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No sex slaves from this house

I love my church. There are lots of reasons. The main one is that it's full of people who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind. They're not a people who sit on their hands waiting for their pastor to tell them what to do. They're a people on the move - taking the love of Christ to the furthest ends of the earth and calling back to me to keep up. That thrills my soul.

This past Sunday I was out of town on vacation. Matt, our youth minister, gave a powerful sermon on God's heart for the poor and the need for connecting our words with our actions. Then on Monday, I received this e-mail from Terry Waller, our staff missionary and director of Water for All. Terry is wonderfully long winded which results from a true passion for telling the stories of the least of these of our world. I've only presented you with a portion of the e-mail. I hope you'll read it and get a small glimpse of his ministry but also of the truth he communicates - our small churches, our small lives, can make a big difference in others' lives and in this world:

Dear Friends

I wanted to share what WFA is doing right now. But first the other day I was watching a program on TV on human trafficking. It was just horrible. Little girls, my girls’ ages, sold into slavery, sex slavery. Some are as young as 7 or eight. Most are from poor rural families, desperate for money, usually tricked into sending their little girls away to work. I had to turn the channel, it upset me so. Rural poverty is terrible. People are desperate for a better life. People seem to never have enough food, or water, or money and it happens all over the world. What in the world is the answer? Yesterday at church Matt, our youth minister ,preached on God’s concern for the poor. How part of sharing the Gospel is the deed part. He gave a figure that said a billion people are hungry each day in our world. I have a figure that shows 6,000 babies die each day because of water related problems! Stop and pause, children sold into sex slavery, a billion people hungry, 6,000 kids dying per day because they don’t have enough water or clean enough water!!!!!. WATER! Something as simple as water!!! Selling kids into SEX SLAVERY!!! What in the world are we to do? How are we to even approach the problem? One can get political I guess, or go to concerts. I have seen those on TV. That might do something.

Jesus gave a suggestion. Go. Go and one person at a time, one family at a time, share the Good News, in word and deed and love people and redeem the situation. Love them like your brother or sister, or child. Do everything you would want them to do for you if you where in their shoes. That is my interpretation of Jesus’s approach to the sad problems of this world. Go, (or send someone) to live, engage, solve problems, teach and preach face to face, life to life. Don’t just sit there, GO (and in Jesus’ day that meant probably not coming back alive!) Jesus’ approach was to go and get at the root of the problems, the sin problem, right out there mixing and mingling where the poor live and die, and do it one person and one family, and one neighborhood and one community at a time.

Now this seems preposterous. How can that make a difference? Surely individuals or small groups of people going out is not very efficient. Surly the UN or a University or an international conference should be able to solve the problem at arms length. I don’t know. But it made me think of the 2,070 or so family wells drilled now and I hope maybe, just maybe, it made a difference to some of the 2,000 or so families. Maybe it helped some to make a better living and maybe not have to sell a little girl into slavery. I still remember Cristiana Sandolval’s from our Cotoca church, telling Kathy and I how her mother was sold to man for two bottles of whiskey. Maybe a couple of the little rural churches we helped start has provided fellowship and love and taught them not to do stuff like that.

Right now in San Julian, next door to our little church, is a family whose no count dad deserted his four beautiful little girls and a couple of boys and left them in dire poverty. Then their house burnt down with absolutely everything in it. Our little church, small and unimportant as it seems in this big mega world with mega concerts and mega everything, reached out. Josefina and her girls and boys now live in the little neighborhood meeting place next door, they come to church, they have an extended family now (the church) that looks after them. Water for All helps them a bit each month, we also give the teen age boy an after school job. Church members help with groceries. No sex slaves from this household.

The little church has backyard bible clubs for 150 kids each week. Some of those will be affected and kept from harm, coming to know Jesus.

Also the women helped by Hope Bolivia have the extra income they need and sex slavery is not necessary for their survival. It seems like little things but they add up!!

There is another family I know. Don Ciriaco. His wife died and he raised 5 or six kids by himself. He works like a trojan and is worn completely out, and now hard of hearing. His youngest 14 year old boy, Candido, helps him, no school for Candido. Candido is a perfect candidate for suicide (a big problem in rural S. America) or alcoholism. He has no prospects and no future and is sick of the drudgery and hard work his father demands. Now he has a future! He and his dad now have a well, a pond, a windmill and fish and Candido has prospects of prosperity. He realizes this now and has blossomed every time I see him. I can’t wait to get back to Bolivia in November and see him and his Dad and see his new pond again and see how the fish are growing.

I know another family, Joesefa and Armando and all their kids. They are living on the edge and always have. He told me he is too tired to keep looking for day work. Just worn out. Then there are 50 students at a very poor rural boarding school just down the road from us. All of these and the kids are candidates for the tragedies you see on the TV shows. We just finished family wells and windmills and fishponds for Armando and Ciriaco and Candido and Teofilo and the boarding school. Also we just finished a windmill and well for another village, San Juan de la Cruz. The windmill water system will serve their school and they will be more likely to attract and keep a school teacher. They are in the “sticks” and school teachers are hard to come by. Having access to abundant clean water helps keep school teachers in the communities.

. . . .
Seeing the program on rural poverty and human trafficking and Matt’s sermon reminded me why in the world we are doing all this. Why not just quit and do something different I have asked myself many times. Matt’s sermon reminded me why. We depend on all of you for your prayers and support to do this. We are a tiny ministry but couldn’t do any of it without you! I know it isn’t much, doesn’t seem like much in the face of the tremendous need all around the world, but it is something.

Pray for us. We live on your prayers.



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Table Manners

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. This observance began with the Presbyterians way back in 1936 as a way of celebrating our oneness in Christ across denominational lines. The table reminds us that God's mercy is the source of our unity since not a one of us deserves to be there. There isn’t a secret handshake or denominational ID card we have to show. No, each of us is able to gather at the table because Christ has invited us there in his grace. His sacrifice on the cross has opened the way for all of us to have a seat at God’s great banquet table together.

The table stands as a mighty symbol of both Christ’s invitation and God’s hospitality. God not only welcomes us in but, also, takes care of us once we’re there. These two actions, inviting and extending hospitality, go hand in hand. As God’s people we must both invite people to be a part of God’s family and make room for them when they show up. It doesn’t do any good to put out the welcome mat if there’s no substance to that welcome when our neighbors come inside.

Hal Warlick, former pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco once told a story (then retold in a sermon by Joel Gregory and now retold by me!), about an encounter with the wealthy Harvard professor and administrator, Dr. Ralph Lazarro. Each year, Lazarro would host first year students in his impressive home for supper. He would recruit second year students to help with the hosting. The year Warlick was one of these second year students, the dinner got off to a rough start. A first year student, nervous already because of the surroundings, fumbled her demitasse (a small, expensive coffee cup – I had to look it up!), and it crashed to the floor. Understandably, there was an awkward silence.

All of the sudden, the professor hurled his own cup into the fireplace and said, “I am glad someone started the Lazarro family tradition of the breaking of the cup.” He then eyed Hal Warwick to do the same. Hal threw his cup into the fireplace, followed by another second year student, and eventually by all the new students. They all just assumed it was some strange tradition among the extraordinarily rich. Then Lazarro changed the direction of the evening by saying, “Now we can move on to the next Lazarro family tradition, telling the most interesting thing that happened to us this summer.”

Later Hal Warlick asked his professor about he evening. Lazarro explained, “Those cups are valuable, but not nearly as valuable as a person’s spirit. I hope there is nothing I own or ever hope to own that would not be worth breaking for a person’s spirit.” True hospitality requires sacrifice. Jesus gave his very life that we might be welcome at God’s table. What might you be willing to give up to make another feel at home in the family of God?

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. – Romans 12:12-13.