Serving people in the name of Christ

Yesterday, I asked my Sunday School class to join me in prayer. I’ve been teaching this wonderful class for almost eight years. I have a sense that it’s time for me to say goodbye to this responsibility, that our current study of the Gospel of Matthew should be my last.

I really haven’t finally made up my mind, and I really do value prayer. I did a similar thing in Virden, Illinois, when I thought my time as co-pastor was coming to an end. I just believe that decision regarding church service should be participated in by the community involved.

We stand alone before God in ultimate responsibility for the lives we live, but we stand together as community in seeking to live this life faithfully.

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‘Redemption machines’ for Texas?

I received the following e-mail from Weston Ware, of Texans Against Gambling, yesterday [his bold]:

“It’s Day One [of the legislative session], and so far, at least <strong>11 gambling bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature</strong>, including Senate Bill 309 and House Bill 75, to legalize slot machines (or, as the bill calls them “Amusement Redemption Machines”). They are joined by House Bill 73 and Senate Bill 311, which clear the way for video slots or video lottery terminals (VLTs) by redefining what’s currently legal or allowed in Texas.”

What really caught my attention was the ridiculous euphemism, “Amusement Redemption Machines.” The gambling industry wants to make a killing in Texas, and they’ll do just about anything, including spend a fortune in lobbying, to get the chance to reach deeper into Texas pockets.

Why keep fighting these big-monied interests? 1) It’s bad for the people of Texas and tears at the moral fiber that holds a society together, and 2) We’ve been winning this battle against the spread of gambling and these are still winnable fights if we stay aware and communicate with our representatives.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

Beyond the work

The past few days I have written things of a different nature. They’ve been more about living life for Christ and not just about the things of our work together. I did this for two reasons.

First, I was away from work recovering from knee surgery, and it gave me time to think about other things.

Second, I think it’s important that while we talk about our work, we also talk about the reason for our work.

We Baptists have become guilty at times of becoming too busy for our own spiritual good. Jesus knew better. He only had a three-year ministry; and while He worked hard to teach and prepare people for life in a truly new world, He always took time to pray and rekindle His own relationship with the Father.

Let’s keep alive His work and His way of working, with our spirits ever turned to the Spirit behind all things.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

Recalling the call

I’ve been away from work for a week now; well, at least I’ve been out of the office. I’ve found through the years it takes about a week away for me to get re-centered. Yes, all ministers know that “the ministry,” while uplifting, can be draining.

When I’ve been away from “the work” for a bit I tend to remember the things that God did inside of me to move me in such a direction. Through others, the Bible and my own thoughts God moved me to make this crazy, youthful commitment to “do whatever He wanted with my life.”

It’s been an interesting  ride that took me out of Texas, beyond my family’s wishes, and involved using a strange ministry career called journalism, at least for most of the time.

When I get tired, I start wondering about the plans I had, the things I wanted to do before the call. But then, when my body has time to rest and my spirit has time to reconnect with my Lord, I remember the calling. I realize the great blessing of service to our Savior and His church.

The Christmas holidays are a busy time of ministry, but I hope our vocational ministers will take some time alone to recall their calling, to rejoice in the joy of that service.

And maybe we can pray more fervently that God will call out others, including our own children. Isn’t it great to live life with a greater purpose than one’s own success.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

Life in a song

How does grace flow to hurting people? For me, it often flows through the earplugs connected to my iPod. Music, God’s music, is a powerful tonic.

There is one album of music that seems to connect with my soul more than any other, at least it has over the past year. It’s <em>Lifesong</em> by Casting Crowns. It’s simply about the reality of life — the pain — and also the blessing — the gift of God in Christ.

One song hit me especially strongly tonight, “Love Them Like Jesus.” It speaks first of the pain of a broken marriage then of the pain of a couple losing a child. I’ve never walked that first path, but I have walked the second. It was 22 years ago, but it’s still there, part of my life today.

The writer of the lyric, Mark Hall, offers a chorus that speaks to all of us who would speak to others who are hurting.

“Just love them like Jesus, carry them to Him / His yoke is easy, His burden is light / You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions / just know that He loves them and stay by their side / love them like Jesus.”

Such good words. As we think of sharing the hope of Christ with all in Texas, I think these are good words to direct us.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

Another person for whom to be thankful

Last night I wrote an e-mail to Dr. Ellis Sandoz, who had been head of the Political Science Department at East Texas State University in Commerce when I attended there. He changed my life by introducing me to some of the classics of literature. As I wrote in the letter:

“You surprised me when I took the Intro to Political Science class. I thought it would be about American politics, but you took us instead to the classics and that is why I have been thankful for your impact on my life.

“I did not grow up in a rigorous educational environment. I had been an average student with average work habits, and my reading habits were even worse. My parents wanted me to go to college so I could get a better job someday, the kind of job that my dad could never get because of his lack of a degree.

“When I entered your Intro class I had never read any of the classics, not even the English ones. I thought the ancient writers would be out of my league. Then, because of you, I read Aristotle’s Ethics. It was like an epiphany. I actually could understand what he was saying and loving it. I found myself wanting to underline every sentence, because each one seemed to contain so much insight. Not only did I fall in love with the classics, but I realized I could pursue learning that I had previously thought was beyond my mental reach. In short, I realized I was bright enough to stay with the smart people.”

Here’s one other paragraph from the rather long e-mail:

“And there was one other way that you influenced me. When I was in college I did not attend church regularly, but one Sunday I attended First Baptist Church in Commerce and you were there. I don’t know anything about your religious beliefs then or now, but your presence at church said a great deal to me. It said that if a man with a mind and an education like Dr. Sandoz can have a place for God in his life, then I, too, can have a healthy life of both the mind and the spirit. That dual approach to seeking to understand reality has served me well. It has made me a bit of an oddity at times in either intellectual or religious circles, but it has been a wonderfully fulfilling way to approach life.”

I never had a close relationship with Dr. Sandoz, but it’s amazing the impact that a teacher can have on the lives of his or her students. Maybe this post will inspire someone else to say “thank you” to a teacher.

Much for which to be thankful

The fog has been heavy this Thanksgiving morning, but it is now beginning to lift and we expect a beautiful day with the temperature reaching into the 70s. I am thankful for so much this year; here are a few:

— The election of Barack Obama as president. It’s not just that I agreed more with his policy positions than his opponent John McCain’s; I love his basic message that all the varied groupings of Americans must come together and function as one nation if we are to move forward as a continued beacon of political hope to the world. I also am thankful that our nation has progressed to the point of being able to elect an African American as president. I think back to attitudes that surrounded me in my childhood and to the images on the television, and this is truly amazing. I recall the conversations at our dinner table as I was growing up, and my sister, who was four years older than me, beat the verbal drum for racial equality. We have come a long way.

— That I have a good and satisfying job. I enjoy my work, and I get paid a good wage for it. So many at our office have lost their jobs over the past few years, and I hurt for their loss; but I am confident God will care for them as He did for me in past when I didn’t have a job. I pray that we can move through this economic down time quickly, learn some lessons as a nation, make some changes in our regulatory policies and move forward toward healthy prosperity.

— Health benefits at work. I have had one surgery (vocal chords) and am about to have another (knee); Trese had a close brush with death and spent a few days in the hospital; and Meredith got stepped on my a horse. The expenses were high, but we made it thanks to my health benefits at work and our new Health Savings Account.

My wonderful family. We all love each other and enjoy each other’s presence. Circumstances brought some real challenges, but we move through them well together. Trese is a wonderful wife and mother; Tiffany and Darren, Tabitha, Landon, Meredith, Cameron, Shawn, Skylar, Savannah, Madison and Tristan are the joys of my life; Mom and Dad are still a blessing to us and I thank God for every day I have with them; and Kathy and her family moved closer and that has been very nice. I love my family; they are God’s greatest blessing upon my life.