Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Advent Thought: What do you want for Christmas?

As a child, people were constantly asking me what I wanted for Christmas. Back then, I always knew. A bicycle. A basketball goal. A remote control car. Nowadays, not as many people ask me that question. And that’s ok, because as an adult, I’m not always sure.

After all, what do you want out of this advent season? Do you want to get all your Christmas shopping done early? Under budget? Do you want to see friends? Family? Maybe you want to avoid certain family. We probably each have our own secret wish lists for this season, and if you’re like me, it doesn’t have much to do with gifts.

Jesus once asked a blind man what he wanted. The man was quick to answer, “I want to see.” He had a single desire. Oh, it wasn’t that there weren’t other things on his list, but they seemed as nothing compared to this one great need. “If only, I could see,” he probably thought, “everything else would fall into place.”

I wonder, might Christ be asking us the same question? “What do you want me to do for you?” Might my answer need to be the same as the blind man’s? I want to see. I want to see You, the one who came as the Christ-Child, the one who will one day come again. In the shopping, among the friends at parties, in the carols, and through the scriptures, Lord, more than anything else I want to see you.

What do you want this Christmas? Simply Christ.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God - Matthew 5:8.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Would you attend a Baptist convention?

Monday and Tuesday of this week I attended the BGCT’s Annual Meeting. For preachers, conventions are a great opportunity to see friends, hear some good sermons, and do some networking. They are also a great time for all of us to hear from the various ministries that our offerings support. I can assure you that Texas Baptists are doing lots of good in the state of Texas and beyond. Today, I’m headed to Waco to participate in one of those things, the Texas Hunger Initiative, which is an attempt to make Texas food sufficient by 2015. San Angelo is one of the pilot cities for this initiative.

For all the good things the BGCT facilitates, there are concerns about the future of the convention. The reasons for this are many but one of the concerns that keeps popping up is the lack of attendance at the annual meeting. Now, over two thousand people attended this week (just under 1500 messengers and over 600 guests). That’s not a small number for a mid-week meeting in the fall, but it used to be much higher (say, around 5000). Of course, the most attended meetings were during the height of controversy. I don’t know about you but I’d rather have small numbers and peace than high numbers and fruitless controversy.

That being said, it is good to ask, “What could we do to involve more people in the process?” This year the question was asked in a formal way. A committee will spend next year attempting to discern if a different format or time table would encourage more attendance in the future. Praise the Lord I’m not on that committee. But I am asking you – not just what would it take to get you to come to a convention meeting – but rather, is there any religious meeting you would take days off to attend and if so, what kind? Examples include but aren’t limited to content based meetings like marriage enrichment meetings, mission trips, conventions, etc. If you would attend such a meeting what time of year would be best? Pass your answers on to me and I’ll pass the thoughts on to those in charge. Thanks for the help!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ – Ephesians 1:3.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Our lives our not lived in vain

Like many of you, I’ve spent a lot of time this last week thinking about the tragedy at Ft. Hood. To think about the families who are now grieving the loss of a son or daughter or a mom or dad is enough to cause any of us to experience all manner of emotions – anger, sadness, fear. To think of the lives that these men and women had built, the plans they had formed, the dreams they still held onto that very morning – all gone in a moment – it can lead you to despair. Does God love us? Is he really in control or will evil simply have its way forever? Is there any reason to try and do good in this world around us?

In a very strange way, the tragedy itself, or rather the response to the tragedy, reminds us that evil has not yet won the day. That we get angry at such events (and many other smaller incarnations of evil as well) reminds us that there is something deep inside of us that recognizes that the world was not meant to be this way. The great Desmond Tutu, who has witnessed his share of evil, once wrote, “It is only because we believe people should be good that we despair when they are not. Indeed, if people condoned the evil, we would be justified in losing hope. But most of the world does not. We know that we are meant for better.” We were meant for better, indeed!

The Bible tells us that we were meant for God and for one another - that our lives were meant to bring glory to our creator and to bless our neighbor. Our efforts to do so, however, so often seem in vain. Our small acts of faithfulness or mercy seem to be a drop in the bucket compared to the selfish bullying that happens around us. My guess is the world has always seemed that way. Until that one day, when the world awoke to find an instance in which the darkness could not shut out the light. Until that one morning when the executioner’s work failed to keep righteousness at bay. Until that day when God raised Jesus from the dead. And that “better” that we were meant for was put on display for all to see.

The Bible describes this cataclysmic event as an advanced sign of what God is doing in the world. Paul calls Jesus the firstborn from the dead meaning that someday, we too shall follow in his footsteps. Those who are in Christ shall be raised! No matter what tragedies may have happened in our lives, no matter what evil has seemed to have prevailed, we shall live! And none this “sitting in the clouds playing harps” kind of life that you see on TV, that may make for good commercials but it’s not what the Bible talks about when it talks about eternal life. No when the Bible says, we shall live again, that’s what it means. We shall live, physical (though radically transformed!) lives. Evil will be undone and by the same power that God raised Jesus from the dead, he will make a new heaven and a new earth and the world will be as we have always known deep down that it should be.

This is our gospel hope. And far from escapism, the gospel calls us to persevere in goodness today. For we trust that one day evil will be a thing of the past, but goodness and mercy and love will have prevailed in Christ. This is why Paul, after expounding on our future resurrections, told a beleaguered and persecuted group of believers, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I need you!

Bedtimes at the Sandlin household have become quite difficult these days. John Curtis just doesn’t want to go to bed. Oh, he’ll sit in the bed, but every five minutes he’ll cry out, “Dadda, I need you!” Actually, he’s not so good with ‘y’ sounds, yet, so it really sounds more like, “I need ‘ou!” Now, by 8 or 9 o’clock at night, all I really want to do is sit in my recliner and watch TV or read a good book. My idea of a relaxing evening doesn’t include bouncing up to answer an endless round of requests So usually, before I get up, I’ll shout back to his room, “What do you need?” Sometimes he needs that classic drink of water. Sometimes he needs to go potty – this is almost always a good way to call Dad’s bluff for I have been badly burned for refusing to meet this request on occasion. Sometimes he wants me to get him a special toy.

But most often, his reply to my question, “What do you need?” is to repeat his initial request, “I need ‘ou!” Truthfully, this is what he has wanted all along. He doesn’t care about the water or usually even going to the potty, he’s just not ready to be alone. He wants me. He wants my presence. John Curtis likes company, especially if that company is Mom or Dad. I’ll admit, “I need ‘ou” is a pretty difficult request to turn down. I know, someday soon, he won’t need me anymore – or at least won’t request my presence as often.

Often I feel a lot like that Dad in Jesus' parable that even though he’s a sinner knows how to give good gifts to his kids – the best gift being the gift of being present. Very often, as I sit next to my son in the quiet of the night, my heart turns away from whatever I’m missing on TV to the God who loves us both. I find myself grateful for a heavenly Father who’s never too lazy or too preoccupied to answer his children’s most basic prayer, “I need you.”

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. – Psalm 145:18