Merry Christmas!

merry-christmas-2016So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
…”—John Lennon

I don’t often quote John Lennon in a positive way, but as I prepare this “Christmas Letter” it seemed appropriate. This is the second year in a row in which we didn’t send Christmas cards out, but as the Facebook relationship status sometimes says, “It’s complicated.” We do the best we can, and learn to appreciate God’s grace at work during the complicated times.

It is Clifton’s first full calendar of retirement. The year has been a challenging one, but Dixie and I have both said again and again throughout 2016 that the decision for me to retire was the right one. I miss preaching and teaching, but I am needed here with my family, at least for the immediate future. Sunday in and Sunday out we are reminded by people that they are praying for us, and that is what the Body of Christ is all about. You may think that saying, “I am praying for you” is trite, but it means the world to us and helps keep us on our feet. I am probably experiencing the best physical health that I have experienced since high school, so I count my blessings and keep riding the “stupidbicycle.”

Dixie’s year has had its physical challenges with her battles against cholesterol, TMJ, all the other ailments that often test a woman who is entering her fifties, but I think that she has liked having me around after years of sharing me with the rest of the congregation. We manage to get out together most Thursdays to spend some time alone, and that has been a wonderful blessing for us.

In August Reed began his second year of working at Dairy Queen. While it probably is not necessarily good for someone with Type 2 Diabetes to work at a fast food establishment (temptation everywhere), he works for good bosses, with good co-workers, and is learning how to deal with a public that is not always at the apogee of good behavior. He has also enjoyed his weekly time at Tyrrell Park Stables learning from Deanne about the care of horses, and spending some time on horseback.

Caleb has spent the year working at Sonic (we Rankins have the fast food establishments in Sour Lake covered), and going to the Lamar Institute of Technology. He is sorting through what he wants to do with his life, and hopes to come up with some answers in the coming year.

Josh and Kristi are still in Texarkana, Texas, where he coaches football and track at Texas High and she works at the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons of Northeast Texas. Yesterday (Dec. 21) their youngest, Delani, celebrated her first birthday. Kesh is now fifteen, Koen is thirteen, and Kya eleven. The “times, they are a changin’.”

Life in a fallen world is not easy, but it is precious. We don’t know what the Lord has in store for this next year, but we pray that He will be glorified in all that we do, say, and think.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas and all through the New Year.

Tuesday Hymns: “Father, I Know That All My Life”

anna-waring

Anna Letitia Waring was born on April 19, 1823 in Wales to a Quaker family. She was later converted and baptized as an Anglican in 1842. She never married and spent her life visiting the prisoners of Bridewell and Horfield prisons. She described her ministry as “watching by a filthy gutter to pick out a jewel here and there, as the foul stream flows by.” She published a collection of her hymns in 1850, and another collection in 1858. Her most well-known hymn is our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Father, I Know That All My Life.” (Thank you, John Carroll, for suggesting this hymn)

It is often sung to Charles Steggalls’ tune, Morwellham. Her hymn is a prayer to God, asking Him to equip her to live a life of sacrifice for His glory in all that she does. She died in 1910.

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come,
I do not fear to see;
But I ask Thee for a present mind
Intent on pleasing Thee.

I ask Thee for a thoughtful love,
Through constant watching wise,
To meet the glad with joyful smiles,
And to wipe the weeping eyes;
And a heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do,
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.

Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoe’er estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate;
And a work of lowly love to do
For the Lord on whom I wait.

So I ask Thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
And a mind to blend with outward life
While keeping at Thy side;
Content to fill a little space,
If Thou be glorified.

And if some things I do not ask,
In my cup of blessing be,
I would have my spirit filled the more
With grateful love to Thee —
More careful — not to serve Thee much,
But to please Thee perfectly.

There are briers besetting every path,
That call for patient care;
There is a cross in every lot,
And an earnest need for prayer;
But a lowly heart that leans on Thee
Is happy anywhere.

In a service which Thy will appoints,
There are no bonds for me;
For my inmost heart is taught “the truth”
That makes Thy children “free;”
And a life of self–renouncing love,
Is a life of liberty.

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”–Joni Mitchell

clouds

I remember the years when I was a young buck in the pastorate. There were several of us in our local Baptist association who would eat together, laugh together, and would usually end up on the losing end of votes together (because we were the crotchety theological conservatives). One day, one of my young pastor friends commented, “I sure would make a great church member. I would support my pastor wholeheartedly.” None of us actually believed him (because he could be pretty head strong and cranky) but now I have realized that I get the opportunity to do just that.

I have been “honorably retired” (Don’t you love Presbyterian Church in America lingo?) for a year and a half, and I am now on the other side of Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As I submit to the elders that the Lord has placed over me several things come to mind (this is coming from a Presbyterian polity point of view):

(1) I don’t have all the information (and I don’t need to have it). I remember those years when I, being on the session, was aware of words and actions that had taken place, and I had to keep information to myself to protect “innocent” individuals and even to protect the “guilty” who had repented of their sins. When church members would come to me “fishing” for information from time to time, I would simply have to say that I could not comment.

(2) I need to remember that the elders spend long hours meeting, discussing, and praying about decisions (many of which consist of not what is “right or wrong” but of “what is best for now and for the future”) that could affect the congregation for years to come. I need to appreciate their sacrifice and trust their judgement.

(3) I don’t have to agree with everything they do. There were times when I was on the session when I didn’t agree with every decision that was made, so I don’t see why it should be any different now. I don’t have to get my way all the time (or so my wife says).

(4) When I hear the Word of God preached, it is not for me to say, “Well, I would have handled that text differently.” I need to simply receive the Word of God with joy and humility for I am not always right (my wife tells me that, also).

(5) I need to be faithful to worship with God’s people. We have family challenges at home, so that is not always easy; but even when Dixie and I have to split up, and one go on Sunday morning, and the other go on Sunday evening, it is important for us (and the congregation) that we attend each Lord’s Day for we need to experience the ordinary means of grace. I don’t go in order to “feel good,” I go because I need to (and it is a command of God to not forsake the assembling with our brothers and sisters for worship).

(6) I need to give God’s tithe and my offerings each week for the work of God’s kingdom. If I disagree so strongly with the direction of the church that I am tempted to withhold God’s money, it is time for me to find a congregation where I can give that full financial support.

(7) And, most of all, I need to pray for the elders that God has placed in authority over me. Their task is time consuming and difficult, and they need to know that I am approaching the throne of grace daily on their behalf.

There are many other things that I should do as a member of the Body of Christ, and I should do them all in a way that the elders can watch over me “with joy and not with groaning.”