Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Can't look away

I was reading an article today that was all about the magic of college football. It captured the spirit of the game and why it is that so many of us love it. It's rather lengthy, but it got me thinking about why it is that it captures me - why I can't look away. This quote really summed it up for me:
College football is the world's biggest insiders' club, a sport with too many inane, insanely enjoyable traditions to count. It is off the beaten path. It is messy and absurd. It is nonsensical. It is wonderful. It is always changing, and it never changes.
What a wonderful description. It seems that at least once a week there is a game - not involving my team - that makes me say, "Wow, I love this game." One of the truly marvelous things about the sport is that on a football Saturday it seems like the whole country is in one place. Radios are tuned, TV's are hooked to satellite dishes, and scores are announced. It's truly not just about your team's game - it's about the entire picture, with each Saturday being its own work of art.

But one particular point of the article grabbed my imagination. The author talked about that moment each of us has when college football grabs hold of us. When we realize that it's something that will hypnotize us every fall, making the days of the season fly by like a speedy freight train. And making the days of the off season drag like a tortoise.

And so I thought back to my childhood, looking for a moment when I knew that loved the game - not just Alabama football (that moment would be the first time I walked into the stadium and saw Kenny Stabler lead the Tide to victory), but college football. The game, the pageantry, the whole picture.

It's the first time I remember building a day around watching a non-Bama game on TV. I was ten years old, and the hype was at an all-time high. Two undefeated teams, playing for #1. President Richard Nixon was there, and was planning to present a championship plaque to the winner after the game. And what a game it was! Arkansas jumped out to a....

You know what? Watch this 6 minute highlight video - I don't want to spoil it for you!

So, wow, right? If you didn't watch it, Arkansas jumped out to a 14-0 third quarter lead and looked to be in total control at home over the top-ranked Longhorns. But quarterback James Street (who passed away earlier this year) led an amazing 4th quarter comeback, which included a 43-yard touchdown run, a two-point conversion on the option, and then a long pass on 4th and 4 to set up the winning touchdown. It was dramatic, it was riveting, it was exciting. And it didn't even involve a team I cared about. I was hooked.

Yes, it is a wonderful thing. And it's going by way too fast. It doesn't matter that it's a Saturday like this one where the Tide has an open date. It's college football. And it is awesome.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday musings

Just a few random thoughts on a Monday night....

  • In football, things are getting really interesting right now. The Crimson Tide sits atop the standings and probably just need to keep winning. If they do, they'll have chance to play for their third straight BCS Championship. That would be amazing. They seem to be getting better every week, but LSU is coming up and that will be a huge test. In the meantime, Oregon and Florida State are neck-and-neck for the second spot. Right now it looks like we are headed for controversy, but I have a feeling some folks are going to lose before it's all over. It may even be the Tide. So much fun to follow - the best time of year!
  • I have the best family and friends in the world. No stories supporting that, just stating the facts. Sometimes it just hits me - today is one of those days.
  • Finally, we are 23 days and change from THIS:

Tick tock.....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Keep me on the path please....thanks

Accountability. It's not a word we like, is it? We live in an individualistic society. Each one of us must carve his own path...set his own standards...worship God his own way. I don't need you to tell me how I'm supposed to live.

And we often quote the New Testament in support of this. We like to find every passage that tells us not to judge. But I came across a passage tonight that shows how I (and maybe you?) have a tendency to pick out the ones I like and discard the ones I don't.

The context is something pretty distasteful. There was some sexual immorality in the church of Corinth and it's clear the people and leaders were ignoring it. "Live and let live." Who am I to judge?" And so on...

Here's the chapter in its entirety. Read it slowly, maybe twice. Read it for context, trying not to take individual verses out of context:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator, slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
 [ 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, NIV]

What are we to make of this as we try to live life in community with each other and with the Messiah Jesus, who came to bring God's love and mercy? 

Than answer is pretty clear: We have taken the judging commands way out of context. Instead of a one dimensional view of judging, we can see from the entirety of God's word that:
  • Judgment belongs to God, so the standard should always come from God rather than our opinions. Cheating, lying, oppressing the poor, sex outside of marriage, jealousy, hatred, racism...the list goes on. These things are not to be a part of the Kingdom and it is the right thing to say so. Paul did, in several places. So did Jesus.
  • There is no point for a follower of Jesus to hammer nonbelievers about these things. Why should we expect them to adhere to a code of behavior that they have not signed up for? Jesus didn't come to give the world a set of rules. He came to change hearts. Even the passage above says, "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?" We are to love people and invite them to a relationship with Christ.
  • Finally, and most important, I need to open my heart to the correction of my fellow believers. Can I do that with you right now? Keep me on the path please. When I stray, when you see things in my life that do not bring glory to God, please help me. I need you. And if you are earnestly seeking to follow Jesus, you need it too. 
It's time for a new attitude in the 21st century church - one where we welcome and even solicit correction. Using a few isolated Scriptures about judging to tell people to leave me alone serves no one - not God, not my neighbor, and not me. If we are to change the world, we need to let the Gospel change us...and we need each other for that.

[ For more, check out this article from Relevant Magazine - good stuff!]

Monday, October 21, 2013

And here we go....

So another week passes, and the Crimson Tide dominates another opponent. But this week is different. Why?

Because the first BCS standings were announced last night. And here we go.

Here we go with the endless speculation about who deserves the second spot. With discussions of whether the current standings will hold up as the season progresses. With constant reminders of how the computer formulae don't make sense and the human polls are the result of people not watching games.

But we go with the question, Who can beat Bama?

As a fan, it's fun being on that end of the speculation. Some of my friends are upset that the Tide is hated; I'm not, because I know it's a reflection of how good they are. It's hard to get it to sink in sometimes, but when the rest of the country watches my team, there is a mixture of SEC fatigue, Alabama fatigue, and boredom. Being the gold standard is lonely.

But I'm also very cautious. It's about this time last year that many of us thought Bama was unbeatable. Nobody had given them even the slightest competition, and we wondered whether anyone could hang with them. Then came LSU - and a last minute rally to come from behind and win. Then Texas A&M - and that story is all too familiar.

Yes, they got help after that and rallied to win their third championship in four years. But they can't count on that happening again. They need to take care of business week by week. If they do, the pieces will fall into place.

Get better every week. And start by beating Tennessee.

Roll Tide!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Tapestry

There is something new online. And I'm excited about it. It's called Tapestry Online, or I guess you could simply say, The Tapestry.

Basically, it's a series of video talks and conversations about some of the most difficult questions of the Christian faith. It deals with them honestly and frankly, recognizing that it's our nature to approach such questions with doubts. Scripture, reasoning, and tradition are all brought to bear on the meaning of life and why we're here in a fresh way that I believe will often have you seeing God's truth almost as if it were the first time you've heard it.

There's a link to it here, and also over to the right of my page under the section "Cool Links." That link will always be waiting for you when you return to my page.

Check it's worth it.

Friday, October 11, 2013


While on our way to see the Bama-Kentucky game tomorrow, we stopped in Nashville tonight and saw the movie Gravity:

Having seen this trailer weeks ago, I had looked forward to seeing it very much, and I was not disappointed.

I expected a thriller with the suspense of whether the astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney could survive. But it went way beyond that. It addressed questions like...

  • How does our life experience affect us when we encounter a crisis?
  • What would I think about if I believed this was the day I was going to die?
  • What is it that makes us want to keep fighting when everything is against us?
  • Do you and I have something like that in our lives?
All these questions addressed against the backdrop of lonely souls high above the earth. Throughout the movie, you could see the earth below, a mass of water, land, and clouds. And it made me think about the billions of stories going on below, all obscure and of little importance to our characters.

While those stories are unknown and in the background, the desire to be part of the earth's big story is at the heart of all of us. Gravity, drawing us back to earth. 

Not a bad night at the cinema. Now...on to Lexington for some football.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Psalm 47 and national health care

What do we do when we get frustrated with life? How about when we are frustrated with the world and the power structures that seem to have dominion over our lives? There seems to be a lot of that lately, and it has exploded onto the pages of Facebook and Twitter. National health care, government slowdowns (called a shutdown, but let's face it - the government has not stopped), and politics in general.

One place we can go is the the Psalms, referred to by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the "prayer book of the Bible." And one Psalm in particular showed up in my reading plan this morning - I think just in time. Read it carefully, slowly, digesting every word. Let it sink in where the real power is. Psalm 47:
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
For the LORD Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.
He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet.
He chose our inheritance for us, the price of Jacob, whom he loved.
God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.
God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God, he is greatly exalted. (Emphasis mine) 
 What a marvelous Psalm! In it we see that the God of Israel is not just the king of the chosen people; he is the King of all the earth. Every king, every power, every authority has been made subject to his rule. There is no power that exists outside of his control. Pharaoh's Egypt. Nero's Rome. Stalin's Russia. Idi Amin's Uganda. Who was in charge?

God. God reigns over the nations...the kings of the earth belong to God.

So when I'm tempted to get bent out shape about earthly powers, I can come back to this prayer, this Psalm.

Will everything turn out like I want it to? Will my health care remain affordable for me? Will government provide every service I need? Will I continue to experience the lifestyle I've grown used to?

Maybe, maybe not. Probably not. But it doesn't matter, because life is not about my comfort, my needs, my happiness. It's about bringing glory to the only true God, whether in plenty or want.

So I will sleep well tonight, knowing that YHWH is the King over all the earth, and above all kings. Whatever they do to me, it will be for his glory. Bring it on.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Prisoners - addendum

I left out an important point in my blog post last night. (Before finishing this post, please read it here.)

Multiple times in the movie we see Keller Dover reciting the Lord's prayer. There is little doubt in my mind that the faith-based depiction of evil is intentional. So it was powerful when Dover was sitting outside the room of the man he was torturing - the man he was convinced had kidnapped his daughter - and started praying again.
Our father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses, as we.....................................
At which point he broke down. Because he could not forgive the one who, in this horrific act, had trespassed against him.

So this is the essence of the kingdom of God. Jesus came to enable us to do the impossible. Anybody can forgive those they love. But this kind of forgiveness is beyond natural - supernatural - and comes from God.

So how does evil triumph? When we stop short in praying the prayer. Forgiveness - that's where the power to defeat evil comes from.


[Note: When you are done reading this post, please click here to read an addendum. Thanks!]

Last week I went with a friend to see the movie Prisoners. It's a very intense movie and not exactly family fare. But a couple of things stood out that were worth sharing in this space.

For those of you who are not familiar, here is a brief plot summary:
When Keller Dover's daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?
The first thing that was striking, really disturbing, was watching the lengths to which Keller (played by Hugh Jackman) would go. I think we can understand it, and those of us with children certainly can, But as I watched the evolution of the character from a grieving father to someone who was so desperate that  nothing - and nobody - else mattered, I could see what evil does to us if we let it. The forces against which Keller Dover was fighting were as dark as they come. But evil is insidious - it wins by transforming us into itself even as we fight it.

As I watched, I was reminded of Mr. Jackman's most recent acting effort, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.  In that performance, he played a character where the opposite happened. Valjean encountered an ultimate display of grace and forgiveness shortly after being released from prison, and it changed his life. The two films released in less than a year gave Jackman a chance to show both sides of the coin - how giving in to grace or to evil can determine your path.

There was a scene about halfway through the movie that pretty much defined the theme. A priest who had encountered a notorious child murderer quoted the murderer as uttering this phrase: "I'm waging a war against God." And he was. Not just by doing evil things, but by doing things that would cause people to question God's goodness and to respond with hate. This is how evil has always waged war on God. How do we beat it? Not by responding in kind, but by putting into practice the words of Romans 12:21 (Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.)

Prisoners. The movie title referred to the children. And to the alleged perpetrator that Keller tortured. But it also, I believe referred to Keller and to all of us who allow allow evil to capture us in its web. What do I allow to imprison me?