Thursday, December 8, 2016

Copyright: rashevskiy / 123RF Stock Photo
This post is from last year’s Service of Consolation. Join us this year for this special service on December 14, 2016, at 6:00 pm in the sanctuary.


A quick scan through the radio dial this season may leave a grieving soul with the impression that there is no room for the sorrowful during the holiday season. This is, after all, a holly-jolly season. It is the most wonderful time of the year. If the television commercials are to be believed, everyone appears to be happy, hopeful, and honestly thrilled to be celebrating another Christmas. Sad people apparently are not included.

In our sanitized versions of the Christmas story, even the folks in the nativity scene seem to be absolutely beside themselves. Mary and Joseph, after the minor hiccup with the hotel arrangements, end the evening with a happy, healthy, baby. The Shepherds get free admission to the very first Christmas cantata. Even the wise men, after a long and arduous journey, found their way to the Christ child while bearing gifts that were sure to upstage almost all others. Most shops in Bethlehem sold out of gold, frankincense, and myrrh on Black Friday.

It all seems so sentimental, so serene, so superbly blessed that it’s tempting to think that whereas at that first Christmas, there was no room at the inn for Jesus, now, two millennia later, with all the tinsel and the toys, all the laughter for girls and boys, there’s no room at Christmas for those who are grieving.

I have good news for the sorrowful. While there may not be room for you in a Hallmark version of Christmas, there’s all sorts room for you in a New Testament Christmas. I know this because right there in the pages of the New Testament, we learn that a grieving heart had a front row seat to the arrival of the Messiah.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Doggone! Waiting on the Lord is tough!

I have a problem. Actually, I have two problems. One is a Shi-Tzu named Gracie. The other one is a Shi-Tzu/poodle mix named Aggie. Like most families, we love our dogs. We love our dogs because they love us. Hence the problem. My dogs love us so much they can’t bear to be apart from us. When we leave each day for school or work, they begin an excavation project under the fence in an effort to escape the confines of the yard and find their people. Most of the time, this is not too big of a problem, because I come home at lunch and drop rocks or bricks in the holes and thwart their efforts. Unfortunately, the rains have softened the dirt and made an escape possible with just a few hours of digging.

I am grateful that neighbors keep finding my dogs and returning them to me, but I can tell that this cycle of dig-escape-find-my-people is negatively reinforcing my dogs’ bad behavior. In their doggy brains, their efforts at finding us prove successful over and over again. I can tell they think this is working because they are now digging with even more gusto! It does not matter how many rocks/boards/step stones I drop in their holes; they just keep digging. I know that their efforts reduce the likelihood that they will see us at the end of the day. We will always come home to them if they are patient. Some day, they may get lost if they keep digging out. I just can’t figure out how to convince them of this!

The saga with my dogs struck a chord with me while listening to a sermon by my friend Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, TX. His sermon, based on Matthew 6:25-33, touched on the fact that we can often be as clueless as my dogs when it comes to worry. Time and time again we find ourselves in situations in which there is nothing for us to do but wait patiently on the Lord. Steve gives an example of a child playing sports. We can make sure that our kids have the proper safety equipment and know the rules. But, if we are going to let them play, then we have to acknowledge that whether or not they get hurt lies beyond our control.

We have trouble admitting that we don’t have control over something in our lives. We especially don’t like not being able to do anything to alter our circumstances, so we worry, which feels very much like doing something. We do love to be doing something. When what we worry about does not happen, we negatively reinforce the act of worrying. Subconsciously, we believe that our worrying helped prevent some great evil from occurring. In actuality, our worrying did nothing to prevent trouble from coming our way. Instead, worry added unnecessary trouble to our lives. Studies show that perpetual worry adds undo stress to our lives and threatens our health.

Most of the time, when we simply wait on the Lord, trusting in his providential care, things will work out just fine. Not worrying will save us from all manner of trouble in the meantime. If the bad thing we are worried about does happen, worrying will not make us better prepared on that day. It will simply have robbed us of the joys we could have experienced up to that point. Better to simply trust that not everything in this world is up to us. The things that are, let us do with grace and skill. Those that aren’t, let us turn over to God, trusting he cares for us.

Now, if I could just convince my dogs not to worry about me when I’m gone.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? – Luke 12:25-26

Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday Photo: Baseball at Sunset

John Curtis's baseball team has had a great year. They finished third in the pre-season tourney, placed 1st in their league play, 3rd overall in the combined city standings, and play tonight for the City Tournament championship. I've had fun taking pictures of the games. This was in the semifinal game a couple of nights ago.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Making Room

When Alyson and I moved into our house a couple of years ago, we were thrilled with the fact that it had a really nice shed in the back of the property. OK, I was thrilled with the shed. It was big enough to hold all of my tools, the lawnmower, and still have room for a nice workbench. I had visions of all sorts of projects taking place in that space. Right from the start, however, it became the place we put things when those things had no place else to go. Two years in, I not only couldn’t access the workbench, I couldn’t even access most of the stuff stored in the shed. Just trying to retrieve something I needed from the back of the building pushed me over the edge. What good is a shed full of stuff if you can’t get to any of it?

Many of our calendars look a lot like my shed. They filled to the brim with activities, tasks, and responsibilities. There’s baseball, dance, civic boards, PTO meetings, that volunteer opportunity down at the church. God is in there somewhere, too, but who has the time or energy to find him? By saying “Yes” to too many things, we end up exceeding the limits of our humanity. By committing to more things than we have the time, energy, or ability for, we reducing our capacity to enjoy any one thing to the full. We get frustrated with the stress and fatigue and angry at the fact that our lives are not as we think they should be.

What is the remedy? We have to say “No” far more often than we do in order to create the space necessary to embrace a few key opportunities in our life. Like my shed, our lives can only hold so much. Like my shed, we can cram every available space with something, even something good, but when we do, we actually impede our ability to live our lives as God intended them to be lived. We are to have both activity and inactivity in our lives. These moments of inactivity give us the room necessary to think, reflect, rest, and recuperate. All necessary tasks in this life of work, worship, and play.

It took Alyson and me an entire day to clean out the shed. We ended up giving or throwing away 75% of what was in there. Now, there is plenty of empty space in the building. There’s even room to dance a little jig, which I may or may not have done when we finished. If I did dance a little, it was because I realized how much less stressed I was in that space. I also understood, this reduction of things actually increased the chance that I’d be able to enjoy the things that remain like that workbench. If creating space in my storage shed can bring this much joy, just think what it could do for the more important spaces in our lives.

What is something you might need to give up in order to better enjoy the things that remain? What might you need to say “No” to in order to say “Yes” to the Lord?

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” - Psalm 16:2

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Photo: How full is your bucket?

Northern Oak Hairstreak, San Angelo, Texas - Photo taken May 21, 2016 by Taylor Sandlin.
In his book, Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul, Bill Hybels uses the metaphor of a bucket to describe the state of our lives. We all have practices in our lives that drain our bucket. We also have practices that fill our buckets up. Life includes both kinds of activities. It is not noble or good to do only those things that drain us. We must also do those things that fill us up.

One of the activities that fills me up is nature photography. I came to this activity unexpectedly. When Alyson and I purchased our present house, we were delighted to discover that the previous owner had planted a wide variety of butterfly-friendly plants in the back yard. At times in the summer, we will have as many as fifty butterflies flying around the backyard at once. It is an amazing experience to sit out there and watch them. Somewhere along the way, I started taking pictures of them. I had more fun doing this than is easily explained. I had stumbled upon an activity that fills my bucket.

Now, on my day off, you will often find me in one of my cities' many gardens, snapping pictures of butterflies, birds, or whatever else comes across my path. I take the pictures for the sake of my own soul, but I also have fun sharing them with folks who enjoy looking at nature photos, hence the new weekly post, "Friday Photos." If you like the photos, you can follow me on instagram @revtexag.

What is something that fills your bucket?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is it summer yet?

Is it summer yet? Alyson and I need it to be summer. Between the baseball games and ballet recitals, the school parties and the awards assemblies, we need summer. We need summer because we need life to be simpler. In our minds, summer equals simple. My guess is that we are not the only ones who long for life to be a little less hectic.

Everywhere you look people are overscheduled, overwhelmed, and downright exhausted. No one I know likes living this way, and yet, few of us seem to know how to get off the hamster wheel. It is notable that God did not set up life this way. He did make us for work, but God’s aim was never for us to work ourselves silly. God made us to work and rest. Six days you’ll work, he said, on the seventh day you will do no work. As a kid it seemed strange to me that God would have to command people not to work. Now, as an adult, I get it. Sometimes we have to be told, “Stop. Put the hammer down. Close the laptop. Turn off your phone. Stop working. Rest.”

Sabbath rest sounds so good, but how do we practice it in our lives? We are so bad at resting, so bad at saying no to lesser things for the purpose of saying yes to the best things. Such disciplined living doesn’t happen by accident. We have to consciously work at living simpler lives. We’re going to explore how to do just that this summer during our summer book study. Stating June 1, we will work our way through Bill Hybels book, Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul. You don’t have to have a book to participate in the study, but we have them available for purchase if you want one.

Summer Book Study: Simplify by Bill Hybels
  •  Wednesdays, 12:10-12:50 in the Multipurpose Room. Starts June 1.  
  • Bring your own lunch. Tea is provided.
  • Books are only $10 if you get them from the church. The paperback is $9.54 on Amazon, $9.06 on Kindle. You don’t have to have a book to participate in the study.
  • If you want to come and need childcare, please let the church office know (949-9633).

 My prayer is that this won’t be one more thing on your to-do list, but will be a helpful step in finding God through simplified living.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him – Psalm 62:1


Related Links
  • Worst End of School Year Mom Ever – The Today Show has reposted a Jen Hatmaker essay from a few years ago about her end of the schoolyear struggles. Super funny. Read, laugh, and enjoy. My kids are past the learning to read phase and all I can say is, “Praise God.”
  • Simplify by Bill Hybels – Preview the book on the book’s website.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Get Dressed Up

When you woke up this morning, how long did you spend getting ready to head out the door? Did
you take a while trying to pick out what to wear? Are you one of those people who picks out their clothes the night before? Did it need ironing? How long did you spend on your hair? Makeup? Shaving?  Making oneself presentable can take a little while, can’t it? That’s especially true if you’re trying to make a good impression. Who of us hasn’t agonized over which shirt or dress to wear on a date? I admit that I spend a little more time getting ready on Sunday mornings than I do on Saturday mornings. 

For all the effort we put into our physical appearances, the apostle Paul writes we should put even more effort into our spiritual appearances. He writes to the Christians in Colossae that we are to “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience . . . and over all these virtues put on love.” What a beautiful image. Every morning, just as we put on our physical clothes, we are to clothe ourselves with those virtues that make us look like Jesus. Paul’s words remind us that wearing this clothing is often a conscious effort. If I don’t choose to wear kindness today, I’ll likely be mean spirited. If I forget to consciously choose to put on humility, I run the risk of being caught in public wearing only my pride – far worse than being caught in your bathrobe if you ask me!

But how do we choose such things? Well, just like it takes time to get physically ready in the morning, it also takes time to get spiritually ready. James reminds us that God’s Word acts as a mirror for our souls (James 1:22-25). Spending time reading our Bibles helps us to be ready for the day. Spending time in prayer asking God to dress us up for the day can have the same effect. You can even do both at once. You could memorize Colossians 3:12-14 by writing it on a note card and putting it on your bathroom mirror. Then use it as a centering prayer as you get ready every morning. That is, repeat the verse in the form of a prayer over and over as you comb your hair and brush your teeth and take a shower as a way of getting dressed up in these virtues.  And as you head out the door, don’t forget the most important part of all, throw on that coat of love which binds up the whole Christian life in one beautiful ensemble.

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature – Romans 13:14.

Online resources
  • – This is a free Bible program for your phone, tablet, or computer. It allows you to sign up for daily Bible readings and will help you develop the holy habit of staying in God’s word.
  • – This is another app / website that offers free access to many versions of the Bible. It also has several reading plans you can sign up for.
  • – This is an online devotional that’s simple, well done, and helpful for starting the day well. They have an app for your mobile device as well.
  • – This is the web version of Our Daily Bread, a devotional resource that has been around for ages. You can even download the devotionals as a podcast to listen to in the car or on the go.