My cup overflows
I cannot describe
I do not deserve.
My cup overflows
I cannot describe
I do not deserve.
By Mike Patrick
Evelyn Bailey became a well respected artist in San Antonio. Her father deserted the family for another woman and left her mother to raise the children. In addition to enduring that difficulty, Evelyn (as well as one of her sisters) contracted polio as a child. Following experimental surgeries, she had a severe limp the rest of her life. In spite of these hardships, she chose to be grateful.
Though Evelyn had no children and her abusive husband left her, she never complained nor showed resentment. Evelyn didn’t attend church, enjoyed smoking, yet she had a joyful spirit, accepting and understanding others.
She became a commercial artist for a San Antonio department store in the day when ads were drawn by hand rather than generated on a computer. With her limp, she climbed to the third floor every day to work. She eventually displayed some of her art in a gallery on the River Walk. She loved painting all the Spanish missions in the area.
Evelyn taught this attitude of gratitude to her nephew who lived next door. She painted his portrait as a 10 year-old boy with his beagle Kit at his side.
Today that nephew is a minister in Abilene who recently shared with his congregation Evelyn’s story and her impact on his life. He is Dr. Phil Christopher, senior pastor of First Baptist Church. He learned from Evelyn that gratitude is a choice.
Mike Patrick retired as Chaplain and Ministry Education Coordinator after 27 years at Hendrick Medical Center.
By Danny Minton
I Am Resolved…
As I stepped on the scales this morning, the LED screen came on, flickered a little, then went blank. Maybe it needs a new battery I was thinking, so I stepped off and then on again. Nothing. But the battery isn’t that old was my thinking, so I tried it one more time. This time it worked, but when it stopped at my weight, I was positive it needed a new battery since the number, obviously inflated, couldn’t be correct!
It’s that time of year again. Everyone is making New Year Resolutions. Mostly I see the same ones in some form or fashion: lose weight, get in shape, quit some bad habit, read the Bible daily, get organized, get out of debt, keep in touch with family, etc. The list goes on and on; same lists, new year.
They aren’t resolutions, but admirable goals. You see, a goal is something we want to achieve. It’s something to shoot for and keep in our sights. If we don’t reach it, we’ll try again. Every year I set goals, most of which I fail to kept to the one hundred percent level, but only in part. I can only remember keeping one New Year’s resolution in my life.
A resolution, on the other hand, is the way we approach our goals. We are looking for “reSOLUTIONS” to areas we feel we are lacking. We’re trying to find a way to solve them and make ourselves a better individual. To be resolved means to make up your mind that you are going to be successful. To be resolute carries the meaning of being firm, stubborn, steadfast, tenacious and unwavering.
The reason we don’t keep our resolutions is primarily that we don’t have a resolute attitude. Many of us start out and then get what Zig Ziglar called the “loser’s limp.” You know what that is, don’t you? You’ve seen it. You watch a race and see an athlete who sees that he is going to lose, usually in an embarrassing way, so to save face he reaches back and grabs the back of his thigh as if he’s pulled a muscle or maybe she starts hopping on one foot as if she turned an ankle. The crowd responds with empathy, and the athlete doesn’t look so bad for not fulfilling his or her goal. They were saved by the “loser’s limp.”
Paul wrote to the Corinthians “Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” As you consider your goals, if they are worthy make them true resolutions. But make the first one to be like Jesus. Then, when you have achieved them you can be as Paul when he said in a letter to Timothy “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
As I sit here writing this and sipping on my cup of black coffee, I‘m reminded of the only New Year’s resolution I ever kept, made some 35 years ago. No more sugar or cream in my coffee. Not a biggie, but it does show that anything we set our minds to can reach accomplishment if we make an effort.
Have a great New Year. As for me, my resolution is changing the battery out of my scales today.
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ
By Larry Baker
I caught myself acting on a childhood lesson on a one-way street.
I walked from a building and headed toward my car across the street. At curbside I stopped, as a voice in my head instructed, “Look both ways!” I looked first right, then left, and caught myself chuckling. “Why?” I wondered. “Traffic’s only coming from one direction.” That lesson had directed me for decades, and now barked its orders as I started across a one-way street.
“Look both ways!” As I write, I am looking at a calendar about to say, “I have done my job. Get another one.” Only a few days remain in 2017. Another annual trek almost over! Here comes next year, a time to “look both ways.”
The Bible wants us to be thoughtful, discerning, and mindful about our lives. “Consider” is a high-profile word in the Old Testament and New, in Jesus’ teachings and in the prophets.
Year’s end is a good time to look backward. Someone contended, “Strong and well-constituted persons digest their experiences (deeds and misdeeds) just as they digest their food, even when they have some tough morsels to swallow.” A longtime friend will sometimes end part of our conversation with a brief statement, “Well, I think I understand that better now.” Looking back can offer new understanding.
In midlife, another friend lost his wife to a rare cancer after a valiant battle. On Christmas he wrote, “We are experiencing Christmas in a sea of great joy and gratitude, while never being outside the looming shadow of debilitating grief.” He continued, “We…all of us, live on Dichotomy Circle.”
Before ending his lines, he observed, “We are not alone and neither are you! Yes, there is this ….all of us are always living within earshot of the Baby cooing and crying in a manger. Emmanuel, God with US! There is always this. Thanks be to God!”
Standing on the banks of tomorrow, we can look backward and see ways God guided us and blanketed our lives in goodness. Our backward survey will chronicle God’s loving kindness and tender mercies. We will recall happily those occasions when God met humankind and pulled us heavenward.
Such memories can help us live in the present. Memory can keep us in touch with who we are as well as our purpose and goals. Now one year prepares for the sleep of history and the other readies itself for birth, and I catch a new glimpse of the importance of looking back.
Year’s end is a good time to look forward. We can look, not with anxiety but with assurance. We can look, not with apprehension, but with anticipation. As we look ahead, we cannot be certain about much, but we know all we need. My calendar already contains notes – reminders, names, appointments, and signals, all tentative. As I think ahead, I remember a colleague who often ended a conversation with “I will see you, God willing.”
We know the Bible is chock-full of visions of good things coming. Promises of wonderful and exciting things in store for God’s people saturate the Bible. Read carefully, watch for the word “shall,” and remember the word runs in front of something good that will happen. God promises things to look forward to, even when skies are dark and life is daunting. That is what “anticipate” means – to look forward to, to await eagerly, and to foretaste.
Standing curbside and looking both ways, we might take a fresh look at some words from the psalmist: “I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago….I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:5, 12, NRSV); good for God’s 21st century people as for the ancients. We might recall Moses’ word: “….it is the Lord your God who goes before you’ he will not fail you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NRSV); true then, true now. Jesus’ words assure us, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV) — even in our turbulent, unpredictable time.
On second thought, there are good reasons for looking both ways!
Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University.
By Loretta Fulton
For your Christmas enjoyment, here are some last minute stocking-stuffers from Spirit of Abilene.
These little gems are sure to bring a smile and make you grateful for the spirit of Christmas. The top photos are from the Christmas party hosted Dec. 19 by Hillcrest Church of Christ for refugees experiencing their first Christmas in Abilene. The church worked in conjunction with the International Rescue Committee and families who sponsored the refugees for Christmas.
The second group of photos were taken at Global Samaritan Resources, where on Dec. 20, students involved with the Taylor County 4-H Club delivered stuffed animals for Global Samaritan’s Someone Cares Campaign. Global Samaritan collects the stuffed animals to donate to first-responders so that they can give them to children in stressful situations. Kit Horne, county extension agent for 4-H and youth development, and Ashlyn Patton, district delegate and council officer, were in charge of overseeing the “Holiday Stuffed Animal Drive” that netted 301 toys.
The bottom photo and video were shot Dec. 22 at the home of Victor Ramirez, a deacon at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church. His home served as the location for that night’s Las Posadas (Inns), a tradition in Mexican and Hispanic cultures. Each year, Dec. 16-24, a scene is re-enacted at someone’s home or at the church telling the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a room to be the birthplace of Jesus. They are denied until finally someone lets them in.
Ramirez, the leader for the evening, opened the re-enactment with this welcome, “Sisters and brothers, in this celebration of the Posadas, we prepare ourselves to receive Jesus, who will be born again in our hearts. These Posadas remind us that Jesus came into this world and was not received by many people. We receive Jesus in our lives as we put into practice what he taught us.”
The evening also include music and refreshments. Lupe Garcia, who plays guitar for the Spanish language services at St. Vincent, played for the Las Posadas. Hosting one evening of Las Posadas is a tradition at the Ramirez home.
“We’ve had it so many years,” Ramirez said, “we’ve become accustomed.”
By Larry Baker
During the middle of worship recently, I asked myself, “Why did it take so long?” Mentally I underscored “so long?” Two carols triggered the query: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” God’s ancient people lived, and died, with the promise unfulfilled for what seemed like an eternity. I know: Paul declared the promise became reality “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4, NRSV), but I still wonder, “Why did it take so long?”
We know questions. Question marks play a leading role in the script of living and occupy a prominent place in the grammar of life. The question mark is one of our punctuation marks because questions are part of the lives of every one of us.
Questions have a central place in the Bible. The God of the Bible is a God who asks questions. Jesus himself is a man of questions. The people of God we meet in the pages of the Bible also know how to ask questions.
Nevertheless, questions seem out of place during Advent. This is the season for celebration and joy. This is a time for announcement and affirmation. These are days for parades and parties, for happy hearts and laughter. These are days of “Joy to the World” and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” Questions have dogged our lives before Christmas and are sure to come beyond Bethlehem; but, for now, they seem out of place.
But there is good news. We don’t have to lay aside the questions that plague us when Advent breaks. We don’t have to hustle them off into the back rooms of our lives as though we are embarrassed by their arrival at the family reunion. Instead, Christmas invites us to bring our questions to the cradle of Bethlehem and ask them there.
Take another look at the birth stories in Mathew and Luke. You will discover that the Christmas story has its questions too. Before ever the heavenly courier speaks to Joseph in a dream, the carpenter questions the most fitting way to deal with Mary. Mary, a chaste teenager living her life in commitment, devotion, and hope, is stunned by the angel’s announcement and asks, “How can this be since I have no husband?” In turn, Zechariah, already a member of the AARP, and Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin, ask questions. When the forerunner of Jesus is born and Zechariah announces the child’s name, the people ask, “What then will this child be?” Magi and Herod alike ask questions.
I, for one, am relieved and encouraged by those questions planted firmly in the Christmas story. Here is a God who is not embarrassed by questions. This God does not say to me, “No. No. You shouldn’t ask that.” Rather God takes my questions seriously because God takes me seriously.
God is like the mother who says, “Katelyn, go ahead, ask your question. We will see if we can find the answer.” Or God is like the teacher who says to a student, “Thomas, that’s a good question. Let’s put together an answer to it
Many of us come to this Advent season with questions. For some, familiar landmarks are gone. Institutions we have counted on have tumbled. People in whom we have trusted have failed us.
Values we cherished have been discarded by many around us. The maps we used for our living do not match the countryside in which we now travel.
Some of us are feeling the harsh power of the hard blows of human experience. Death has taken cherished loved ones from us and Christmas will be tinged with tears and sadness. Disease has riddled the bodies of some of us and broken health has taken up residence in our own bodies. Our love for others has given birth to hurts and disappointments that nag us constantly. Some of us feel the power of the old cliché, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all. We come to Advent filled with questions.
Back now to the music of worship. The mood shifted from longing to announcement: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” This one “dispels…the darkness everywhere….from sin and death He saves us….lightens every load.”
Advent brings good news. It comes wrapped in swaddling clothes and crying under the night sky. It comes in the unusual birth of a remarkable baby.
Listen again to the music of the season: “Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing.” Here is the way through our questions. Christmas invites us to bring our questions to the cradle of Bethlehem and ask them there. Advent assures us that we can bring our questions to the God who came among us and ask them, with no hesitation and without embarrassment.
Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University.
By Darryl Tippens
One might suppose that a Christmas concert in Abilene, Texas, would be a very different thing from what one experiences in London; but for me, the experiences are similar. Last Christmas my wife Anne and I traveled to London to attend a Christmas concert in Royal Albert Hall. But it was more than a concert; it was also a rousing carol sing-along with thousands of voices joined together.
Royal Albert Hall is one of the great performance venues of the world. At Christmas each year it becomes this astonishing location for some of the greatest Christmas music imaginable—with full orchestra and renown vocalists. Yet the performance is punctuated with moments when the conductor turns to the audience and invites everyone to join in the singing. The English dearly love their Christmas carols. There’s nothing quite like joining in with all these 5,000 hearty souls to sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”
Anne and I love the experience of singing carols in Royal Albert Hall. We have done this twice, and I hope we’ll manage to do it again sometime. Yet we’ve found a similar experience right here in Abilene. Every advent season, the ACU Music Department conducts its Christmas musical vespers at First Baptist Church. As in Royal Albert Hall, attendees are treated to extraordinary vocal and instrumental renditions of great Christmas music; and as at Royal Albert Hall, the house lights come up at certain intervals, and the conductor turns and leads the audience in rousing renditions of glorious songs.
What I love most about the Royal Albert Hall experience is how participatory it is. It’s not just about listening. It’s about joining in. Everyone sings. Oddly, in many churches today congregational singing is fading away. It’s dying in part because churches have chosen complex melodies people don’t know or can’t easily sing; in part because musical notation is no longer taught nor made available; and in part because the decision has been made to amplify and spotlight the voices of a few over the congregation. But singing at Royal Albert Hall and at ACU’s vespers service is different in that the people are not relegated to darkness and silence. These are concerts of the people, not just of the practiced professionals.
Last year at Royal Albert Hall the conductor did something simple at the beginning of the program. He asked everyone present, all 5,000 of us, to turn to others sitting nearby—perfect, ordinary strangers—and to tell them what wonderful voices they had. Stranger turned to stranger and complimented their beautiful singing voices! It was an odd exercise, but effective. Strangers, Brits and foreigners alike, melded into a choir of harmonious, vibrant voices. No one cared about my average, unprofessional voice. Everyone’s voice was an important part of this instant mass choir. As the shared singing washed over us all, we were transformed. Royal Albert Hall, though normally a “secular” space, became that night a sanctuary.
I wish everyone could experience Christmas carols in Royal Albert Hall, or a midnight mass at Westminster Abbey, or a Christmas day service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. But the truth is you don’t have to travel 5,000 miles to enjoy such experiences. At this time of year, they happen all over Abilene—at First Baptist, at Church of the Heavenly Rest, at First Central Presbyterian, at Highland Church of Christ and countless other places throughout the city—as churches, university choirs, orchestras, and their directors invite the people—all the people—to sing. You don’t have to go to London to experience this seasonal transformation. All you have to do is show up. And sing.
Darryl Tippens is University Distinguished Scholar at Abilene Christian University.