Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It was a great year...

...thanks for being a part of it.

Yes, it seems everyone on Facebook is sharing about their 2014, mainly because Facebook has written code that compiles pictures and makes it really easy. In some cases, it has even caused some unintended heartache. But it's definitely the thing to do.

Well, while I'm not going to click the button for one of those automatic slideshows, there is some value in looking back over the last year. Life is short, and what happens to each of us in a given year has incredible significance. Sometimes good, sometimes bad...but definitely loaded with significance. So, as we come to the end of this year, what stands out about 2014 for me?

There were definitely events and activities that I will remember, both fondly and otherwise. Trips to other parts of the world, exciting sports events, a few days skiing, and a short trip to my favorite big city in the USA. Those were awesome, and they are are the kind of things we usually use to "bookmark" years. ("2014 - It was the year that I.......")

But there are four things about 2014 that make it a remarkable year for me. Two of them are events, and the other two were more of a pattern:

  • The graduation of my niece Brooke from nursing school at the University of Alabama. As watched her walk across the floor of Coleman Coliseum, I was so proud of her. It may be the moment from 2014 that stands out.
  • The engagement of another niece Macy, and watching her go through the preparations for the wedding. In a way it's hard to realize that these young adults whom I've loved for about 25 years are moving so fast into the world of work, marriage, and building of their own families. But any melancholy is overshadowed by happiness for them. Macy's wedding will certainly be on this list for 2015.
Now, the more subtle:
  • I have had such a good year of learning and growing in my knowledge of God and his purposes for the world. I read several outstanding books that expanded my view of salvation, the nature of the universe, and just how big and awesome God is. There has been a growing appreciation in the areas of the work of creation, God's ultimate plan for his kingdom, and my role in it. I am not looking up at the night sky the way I did a year ago. Books, videos, and long talks with friends have opened my eyes to a new sense of wonder.
  • And I have had a wonderful year of experiencing the sense of community that God has blessed us with. Regular time with family and close friends, visits to close friends who don't live so close, and developing deep friendships while serving in Ethiopia - I can't even put into words how much these things mean in my life. It's like they are sacraments - means of grace where God speaks to me and draws me closer to himself. I don't mean to put this on a level with the Eucharist. But it does seem to have a similar effect. Every time I get to bask in the glow of people who I know love me with the love of Christ, I am renewed. Even when I go through the struggles of life alongside others - helping and being helped, praying and being prayed for - I am renewed. There is no doubt, I have been blessed with a lot of renewal this year. Thankful.
Yes, to quote the Facebook phrase, it was a great year. One great year - just one. May God grant that I will sense his purpose in 2015, as I did this year.

Happy New Year!

Here we go...the playoffs

So college football has a playoff. Not a single championship game, but an actual playoff structure. In the words of Coach Jim Mora...

Yes, playoffs.

So here we go. Let's do this, Bama. Two more games on the Road to 16.

Roll Tide!

Friday, December 26, 2014


Peaks and valleys. The euphoria of a long-anticipated event, and the crash. I know there's a biochemical aspect to it, part of how God has made us. Knowing helps. But it still kinda stinks. I call it a "camp" adrenaline rush.

So many times it happens. From my teen days, youth camps where I felt so close to God, and then the emotional crash when coming back to the real world. Young Life camp, where I would get really close to a bunch of people, and then it was over. Working on plays, where I was with a cast every single day for two months - and then the last curtain dropped. Mission trips - it's hard to describe the empty feeling in my gut when I part ways with friends I have been with 24/7 for a week or more.

And Christmas.

We do so much to build up to this extravagant holiday. A lot of it is hype, alot of it is ridiculous commercialization - no question about that. But that's not the part that gets me. There is something about traditions with family and friends, as well as the church rituals, that work together to produce the "camp adrenaline rush" in me. And so then there's the crash. I went to a movie yesterday after we finished our family Christmas dinner, and that postponed it. But there it was last night, just like most every Christmas, trip, and big event. Just a mild case of the blahs: Ughhh, it's all over. And here I sit.

And that's another reason I am thankful for Jesus. He came to give us joy and peace - joy and peace that's deeper than the fluctuations of our emotions. When I'm in my sweet spot, serving with friends in Ethiopia or gathered with my family around the Christmas tree, he provides joy deeper than the rush. And when I'm sitting at home after it's all over, wondering why I can't shake a blah feeling, he provides joy stronger than the crash.

He entered history 2,000 years ago, and showed us how to live through the ups and downs. He has been through everything we have, and is there to stand with us. Whether it's some temporary case of the blahs, or dealing with real hurt and sorrow - as I know some of you are - he's there. And he understands.

Hallelujah, what a Savior! So Donnie,

Rejoice! rejoice!
Has come to thee, O Israel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Candlelight 2014

Christmas Eve candlelight services have become very popular, and for good reason. On Christmas, those of us who follow Jesus actively look for ways we can worship. I think most of us, regardless of how close we feel to God on a daily basis, want to take some time for worship. In the midst of the bustle of Christmas, we want to remember the holy birth. And lighting candles in a dark auditorium to a song like Silent Night has a reverent tone that moves us.

So tonight there I was, singing in the choir at our church's service. It was awesome. As we sang about coming to worship the king (O Come All Ye Faithful) and what God was doing that night (Silent Night, O Holy Night), it was easy to overflow with thankfulness and love.

And then, the message took on a deeper meaning. For some reason, as the gospel story of Jesus' birth was being read (Luke 2:1-20), I looked around the sanctuary. There were well over 1500 faces looking up at me in the choir loft, and they all looked so similar. They were listening, nodding, smiling at times, and all seemed to be glad they were where they were. But I realized they were not similar. Every face was a unique individual, with their own story, with their own reason why the gospel resonates with them.

With that many people there, I know that almost any life situation you could imagine (at least in our American culture) was represented, although we all hide them very well. I looked around and imagined...

  • That one has cancer, and he's scared to death.
  • This one in front just lost his job, and doesn't know how he will support his family.
  • Over there...she just wants someone to listen to her but nobody pays any attention.
  • See him? He just went through a divorce, and it's killing him.
  • This one is going to the hospital after the service to see her husband.
  • The one to the right has children who won't speak to him anymore.
  • That one thinks he has everything he needs, but his life is empty.
On and on and on and on...1500 people, and all of us are broken in some way. You don't even want to get me started on my brokenness. Are we just whistling in the dark? Are we going to church, pretending that everyone is alright, when we are dying inside?

Well, the fact that we are not identical, that we are all broken in our own ways, is why the good news of Christmas is so powerful. The Creator of the universe knows everything about our world, about the broken societies we've built, and the struggles of each one of us. But instead of holding his nose and walking away, he decided to mix it up with us. To come down into the middle of it, suffer through the mess of being human, and bring us healing by his own suffering.
 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV)

And so we gather. And light candles. And sing. Not just to God, but to each other. To remind ourselves that while we are broken, God loved us anyway. So much that the Son entered time and space to live among us, serve us, suffer, die, and rise from the dead.

It's not surface. It's as deep as it gets. Have you experienced this healing, the healing that God sent us at Christmas? That's my prayer for you...and for me. Have a blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Andrew Luck's "trash talking"

Did you see the article about Andrew Luck and his reaction to hard hits?

If you don't know, Luck is the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. He was a top contender for the Heisman trophy as Stanford's QB in 2010 and 2011, and is now one of the NFL's top stars.

So today, we learn that Luck compliments defensive linemen when they sack him, saying things like "Good hit!" And it's freaking them out. Here is a link to the whole story:

Andrew Luck: The NFL's Most Perplexing Trash Talker

I love that he is doing this, and I love that it is so puzzling to his opponents and the sports media.

I don't know Luck's motivation, and I can't find any public material as to whether he is a Christ-follower. But his reaction is exactly what Jesus taught his followers to do, and I think the reaction is exactly what one would expect...because it's so countercultural.

Our culture teaches us to get our revenge. To not let anyone push us around. To give back as good as we get. If someone hits me hard, I need to strike back - physically if possible, but at least with words.

But the Scriptures are full of admonitions to love our enemies, to treat people better than they treat us, and to show kindness in response to cruelty. It doesn't make sense, but it's what we are called to do. For example,
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all...Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To he contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17, 19-21)
 I've seen it work - kindness can be so perplexing that it freezes an enemy in his tracks.

Luck, intentionally or not, is practicing this principle. And it's generating a lot of buzz, which I love.

How do you think it would affect people if you and I did it? At work. In our families. I think it would change the tone of our lives.

It's certainly changing the tone of some NFL games. And that's awesome.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Congratulations, Brooke!

Today my youngest niece graduated from the University of Alabama. I cannot even begin to tell you how proud I am of her. As of today, Brooke is a nurse. She has decided to spend her life working with very sick children, which is to say that she will be the hand of God to them at the time of their greatest need. What an awesome thing.

I must say I am not surprised; I have seen the heart that led her down this path her whole life. As a child, she talked about getting into medicine because of how she could help people. When she graduated from high school, she asked me to take her on a mission trip instead of a vacation, and led me into the heart of Africa. Everything you see in this blog about my love for the children of Ethiopia started with that trip. I never ever would have set foot in Africa without her nudge - a nudge that I'm convinced was directly from the Lord.

That two weeks in Africa will always be special. It was a time when I got to know her more deeply, because it was the two of us and a bunch of new friends we had just met. We talked about a lot of stuff, and I'm richer for it.

The last 22 years have flown by. And especially the last five. During that time I have admired Brooke's study habits and her dedication to the profession she was working toward.

But we've also had a lot of fun. Trips, family outings...you name it. It has been awesome.

And so, we now turn Brooke Hansen loose on the world. Look out world - you're going to be changed. And like me, for the better...

Love you, Brooke! And congratulations!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Summing it up

It's easy to bow reverently at a nativity scene, and feel wonder at the mystery of the Incarnation. But what does it mean for how I live?

This month, we celebrate the coming of the Messiah Jesus to the earth he created. A little over thirty years after God took on flesh, he found himself in the Temple, chasing out the money changers and declaring that it had become a total distortion of what his Father had intended it to be.

Not long after that, a religious scribe came to him and asked what might have seemed a strange question. He asked Jesus what the most important commandment is (Mark 12:28). How very odd. After all, if a commandment comes from God, doesn't that make it important by definition? How can one be greater than another?

But Jesus answers by quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, first from Deuteronomy, then from Leviticus. And his answer is the basis for the philosophy you'll see the to the left of this page. First, love God with all your heart. Then, love your neighbor as yourself.

And then, the scribe who came to ask the question agrees...and expands. And the expansion is what's really interesting. He says, yep, good point. Those are the top commandments. But then he makes a comparison - he says that those commands are at the top because they are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Why is that significant?

Because of what Jesus had just finished doing! He had gone into the Temple, overturned tables, driven merchants out, and basically declared by his words and actions that they were missing the whole point. They were all about sacrifices, but were totally missing the love of God and neighbor.  So Jesus used the opportunity to say, this is what's important. Not that...this! The kingdom of God was arriving and it was a matter of the heart.

And the scribe agreed. And thus was, in Jesus words (Mark 12:34), "not far from the kingdom of God."

What does it look like to experience this heart change? Listen to the words of theologian N.T. Wright, from his book Mark for Everyone:
(T)his comes as a considerable challenge for contemporary Christians. Would anyone looking at us - our churches, our lives, the societies that claim in some sense to be 'Christian' - ever have guessed that the man we claim to follow saw his followers as being people like this? Or to put it another way: when the crisis comes, what remains solid in your life and the life of your community? Wholehearted love of God and neighbour? Or the mad scramble of everyone trying to save their own skins?
Ouch! Wright is saying that the way we react when we are bumped tells whether we are taking seriously the words of our Lord. When someone pulls the fire alarm, so to speak, are we all about loving God and those around us? Or are we desperately trying to get out the building no matter who we might step over along the way?

So, as a Christian, what is my first thought when...

  • When there are cutbacks at our place of work. "What will happen to me?" Or "How can I be servant to my coworkers as we go through this together?"
  • When a tornado rips through my city? "That was close! But at least I'm alright." Or "Wow, people are hurting all around me...how can I show them the love of Christ?"
  • When we hear of a deadly disease killing thousands overseas. "How can we keep it away from us so we'll be safe?" Or "My heart is broken for those affected...I need to pray for them and look for ministries to lift them out of it."
Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that the self-preservation instinct is unnatural. It is of course the natural first thought of the human mind. But that is what's so powerful about the cross of Christ. Through his death and resurrection, he has brought about a new order where God can dwell in our hearts and make us think differently. So that, by his power, our hearts can become more and more inclined to think of his glory and the welfare of others first.

Love God. Love people. When that happens, the world will see that God has made his dwelling on earth through his people. 

And that is the good news of Christmas.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sugar Bowl 2015: Going Back

It was Christmas Day 1977. As I opened my presents that morning, I got what may have been one of the best surprises of my life. My parents had bought me tickets to the Sugar Bowl.

One week later, my sister Kim and I were sitting in the lower bowl of the almost new Louisiana Superdome. It was a spectacular sight, my first indoor game ever. Coach Paul Bryant was roaming the sidelines minus his famous houndstooth hat - because his mama had taught him not to wear a hat indoors.

And Alabama was playing one of the great names in college football tradition...the Ohio State Buckeyes. It was my very first bowl game.

I will never forget that night. It has been a springboard for a lifetime of memories with families and friends watching Alabama play in bowls. There have been seven more in the Superdome. And now there will be another.

Against Ohio State. For the chance to play for the national championship.

That will be an intense, competitive night. There will be a lot on the line for our team. I'll be focused. I'll be wearing my game day Bama cap (forgive me, Coach Bryant.) But I'll also take time to pause and remember the night it all started, and I may be a little misty. Remembering when Alabama played Ohio State in the 1978 Sugar Bowl, and I couldn't believe I was actually there.

Alabama vs Ohio State. 2015. Bring it on. Roll Tide! 

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Walking Dead: We Ain't Ashes

One of the great things about a continuing tale like the popular TV show The Walking Dead is how characters are developed. You see a person coping with something as overwhelming and unlikely as the zombie apocalypse, and you wonder how they got to be who they are. And then there's an episode like Consumed (aired November 16, 2014), where through flashbacks and dialogue, you get to see inside their soul a little. Such was the case with Carol.

(Note: For the Dead fans, yes, I know a midseason finale loaded with meaning aired last night, and it screams to be written about. But this post has been on my mind for about two weeks, so here we go.)

For the uninitiated, Carol is a woman who has been through an abusive relationship that affected both her and her daughter. Then early in the apocalypse, her daughter was lost and subsequently turned out to be dead. As the group sought shelter in a (nearly) abandoned prison, she tried to reinvent herself into one who would cope with the new world, teaching the children how to protect themselves. But alas, even that fell apart.

And so we see her and Daryl, whom she has just been reunited with, discussing who they are and how they got there:

Everything is magnified in the apocalypse, but I believe it's an amplification of the struggles we deal with every day in this broken world. As you look back on your life, can you identify with Carol at all? She speaks of the time with her husband as another Carol that got burned away. Then she thought she had found refuge and a purpose in the prison...nope. Now, she is in despair. Is there any hope? What happens when everything you had trusted in is burned away...consumed?

Her world is bleak. It doesn't seem like it even matters who she is anymore. But her friend Daryl reminds her, that whatever has been burned up, it's not her. What really makes Carol, Carol is still there. Through all the hardship and the feeling of being consumed, they're still there. As Daryl says, "We ain't ashes." We've survived.

This reminds me of something the apostle Paul wrote to the first century church at Corinth. He points out that life is exactly like that. Trials are a fire, meant to refine us and burn away what's worthless, leaving the best - glorious creation that God intended us to be. Here's what he said:
For no one can lay any foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1 Corinthians 3:11-14, ESV)
 Wood, hay, straw - they all will burn up. What won't be consumed is gold, silver and the like. So the question for me is, what will I lay on the top of the foundation which is King Jesus?

Love? Peace? Patience? Forgiveness? Caring for the poor and oppressed? Considering others better than myself?


Bitterness? Hatred? Selfishness? Lust? Greed? Rage?

The trials will flame up and burn what is flammable. The latter things will go up in a blaze of glory. But the former, the character that God would have me build, it'll last.

In this fallen world, I pray that God would help me develop character so that I will not be consumed. I don't want to leave a pile of ashes. Do you?