Monday, August 30, 2010

"Love to give away..."

Saturday night we celebrated the 40th anniversary of YoungLife in Montgomery and it was a wonderful evening.  Ever since I first walked into a YL club meeting as a sophomore in high school, I have been hooked.  I have spent my life connected to the ministry and the concept that when God wanted a relationship with me, he didn't wait for me to come to him; he entered the world in person of Jesus.  So for my entire adult life I've stayed connected to high school students because I have known that God wanted me to love them like he loved me -- unconditionally and by entering their world.  That's what YoungLife is about, and I believe it's the heart of our Father.

So it was great to see pictures, watch videos, and hear from my friends who have had their lives changed.  But Saturday was especially fun because we got hear the music of Allen Levi.  He is a longtime friend of YL and a great spokesman for its power in reaching kids.  His songs are stories, most of which help you think about how the gospel relates to ordinary things. I enjoyed the few songs he did the other night, but this post is about a song he did not sing.  Probably my favorite Allen Levi song, because it resonates deeply with my life story.  The lyrics are below and you can listen to it here.

i may never have a little boy to wrestle on the floor
Or walk the aisle to give away a daughter i adore
i might never cry the tears that fathers cry on special days
i’m a man who’s never married, i have love to give away.

i might never know the promise or the kisses of a bride
But i will not mourn the absence of the bed i’ve been denied
Is it destiny or choice, i’m not quite sure that i can say
i’m a man who’s never married, i have love to give away.

But there are worlds of joy inside this world of tables just for one
Friends and family help me on this journey that i run
i have found that if my eyes and heart are open everyday
i will never be without a place to give my love away.

My family name might perish when they put me in the grave
But i’ve learned it’s not the family name that matters anyway
There’s a stronger Name that covers me on every single day
i’m a man who’s never married,  i will give that Name away.

So don't worry that I'm lonely, please believe me I am not.
I'm thankful for the meaning of the moments that I've got.
And i will not spend my life afraid of things that people say
i’m a man who’s never married, i will give my love away.

Till i’m seated at the table, i will watch and i will pray
i’m a man who’s never married, i will give my love away.
(Copyright Allen C. Levi, 2001)

Every time I hear the song, I'm thankful for all the avenues that God has provided me to give love away. After all, that is what life is all about.  Jesus summed up all the commandments with "love God and love people".  It is really the purpose of marriage -- a lifetime committed relationship where you can pour your love into them and into the children that God might bless you with.  That is an important part of God's plan, and so he said "It is not good for man to be alone".  It may be his plan for me one day, and that would be awesome.

But up until now it's not, and that's awesome too!  I am uniquely created to love friends and family that are placed in my path just as I would if I had (as they say) a family of my own.  The most important words in Allen's song (to me) are in the third verse.  Yes, friends and family do help me on this journey.  But most importantly, I need to keep my eyes and ears open, so that I will indeed never lack opportunities to love people -- to be a source of joy, encouragement, comfort, and sometimes even correction in their lives.  That is a life full of meaning and purpose, every bit as powerful as the life of a husband or father.

There are temptations to make the single life something other than what God intended.  It can be selfish without another person to teach you how to live with others.  It can be a pity party if you let yourself think about what you might be missing.  You could add to the list easily, especially if you've been there.  But when lived in fellowship with the one who made you and with an outward focus, it can be source of endless joy, because you have scores of people to pour yourself into.  Just as Allen's song suggests.

So, I live my life with enthusiasm and joy.  I will pour myself into showing Christ to a few high school students through another year of YoungLife leadership.  I will spend this fall enjoying football Saturdays with my dad, sisters, nieces, and friends.  I will keep my focus on using my resources and influence to make a difference in east Africa through Project 61.  I will stay in touch with my nephew while he's at college, and go to concerts with him.  I will spend time with my dad.  I will make weekend trips to visit close friends who are like family to me.  I will stay in touch with friends through facebook and twitter.  I will look for ways to model a walk with Christ in my workplace.  I will be on the lookout -- constantly -- for ways and places where I can give love away.

And, oh!  I will spend Monday nights at my sister's house with her family and a small group of friends, because it's become a tradition (starting with watching 24) and it is totally in keeping with why we're on earth -- for relationships.  And I. am. late.  So I'm out.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just sayin'...

Russia 1999 revisited

Last night I was taken back to a time and place that seemed far, far away.  My friend Shell was in town -- my friend whom I had not seen for almost five years.  Michelle was born and raised in Australia, but her heart and soul have been in Russia for a long, long time.  And that is where she spends as much time as humanly possible.  But this night, she was in the U.S., in Alabama.  And a few of us got to see her again, and hear about what God is doing through her.  It was an awesome evening.

A little over ten years ago, I met Shell when I was part of a team from my church that went to her city in Russia.  It was my first experience in overseas outreach, and it was amazing.  For two weeks, she had led us in conducting an English camp for Russian students.  We spent every waking hour with them for over a week and poured ourselves into those new friendships.  I was so struck by the fact that, despite what I had grown up believing, these people were never our enemies.  Their government may have been before the Berlin Wall came down, but they never were.  And I fell in love with them as a people who were oppressed and needed to know that someone cared.  Since then, Leningrad by Billy Joel (watch the video below) has been one of my favorite songs.

So last night, some of us who had experienced that gathered to visit with Shell.  It was great seeing Brandi, Jenn, and Briana, with whom I had shared 1999.  And to see Jennifer and other friends who went in other years but shared the same bond.  We had a great time reminiscing...about how God spoke to us and changed us.  And about the funny times as when our team leader John tried to practice his Russian by ordering tea with milk, and ended up ordering tea with butter.  (Yeah, I had to be there.   Trust me -- it was funny.)

As the evening wound down, it was awesome to hear about how our foreign friends were doing.  But then God did an awesome thing -- he brought the evening back to something he has been teaching me all summer.  Michelle showed a video about her current ministry focus -- on the orphans of her city.  She then told us about the children she worked with, some of whom have gone through horrific treatment.  Unlike Africa, where the AIDS epidemic and other poverty has left millions of children with no parents, Russia has been devastated with untold numbers of social orphans - children who are alone because of parents who abused and/or abandoned them.  Hearing their stories hurt my heart.  I was reminded again of James 1:27.  As I have been all summer.

So even my first overseas outreach experience, an English camp for Russian students, has come full circle to where my friend is now an instrument of God's love of the fatherless.  This is his heart, whether in Africa, China, Russia, or right here in Alabama.  May I never forget that...may I pray, give, and love.

Thank you for your faithfulness, Shell.  May the Lord be with you every step of the way. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Grande nuestro Dios

Football season is less than two weeks away...if you don't believe it, see the counter on the right hand side of this page.  I can't wait!  But, that being the case, I decided to escape to the beach this weekend before beginning our traditional football weekends.  I met up with my friend Steve and we had some great down time on the agenda - good food, good coffee, a couple of know, just chilling.

When I arrived Friday night, Steve pointed out that there was a sign up that said "Christian concert on the beach".  (As a side note, I don't know why we have to label music as if God can or should be contained in a box...but that's a subject for a different post on a different day.)  Turns out that, among others playing this weekend, Chris Tomlin was scheduled to appear.  "Cool!" I thought.

So yesterday afternoon we exited a bad movie at Pier Park.  We heard the music and headed toward the beach, expecting to enjoy some great sounds and impromptu worship on a Saturday evening.  What I got was unexpected -- but it shouldn't have been.

There was a huge crowd gathered on the beach, as you can see in the picture above.  The music was great, the crowd was into it.   Then, as dusk approached, something amazing happened...the music reached into my soul and I was simultaneously standing on the beaches of Panama City and sitting is a dingy lobby of the Country Inn of Pallisa, Uganda.

As Chris led us in a magnificent singing of How Great is Our God, it hit me hard that just 47 days earlier I had been singing it in that hotel with 29 friends -- 28 of whom I had known for less than two weeks but who had become very dear to me.  As Chip led us that night, we could feel powerfully that we were in the presence of the One to whom we were singing.  Why was it so stark that night on the other side of the world?  There are many reasons, but two stand out to me:

  1. We were right in the middle of God's heart as we were doing our small part to care for children whom he loves so much.
  2. We experienced God's love as we grew closer to each other.  Jesus prayed for believers to come together and love each other, thus showing the world that he is real.   We had been doing so, and God was pleased. we sang with the band on the beach last night, I thought about the fact that the power was not in the tight music of such talented musicians.  Or in the large chorus of voices ringing out with praise.  Or even in the spectacular view that the Lord provided as a backdrop.  It was in the fact that the Creator of the universe was there and we were in fellowship with him and with each other.  And God was pleased.  He is there in the midst of Africa, and he is here in the mundane details of trying to live for him each day.

And so, as the sun began to set over the water...
...Tomlin shared that he had sang this song all over the world, in twelve different languages.  And then he began to sing, "Grande nuestro Dios.  Cantare...grande nuestro Dios.  Todos veran que gande es nuestro Dios."  And then in Russian.  And as we stood in wonder, I knew my friends in Ethiopia and Uganda were right there with me.  And that was an amazing feeling.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Tonight I got an unexpected treat.  I was attending a YMCA charity dinner with Coach Gene Stallings as the speaker.  I expected to enjoy seeing Coach Stallings - he's always interesting to listen to.

But there were many former Bama players there,and when they were introduced, I was surprised to hear the name Murray Legg.

Murray Legg played for the Tide in the late 70s, and wore #19.  That is the origin of the pin I and my family wears to Bama games in memory of my sister Kim.  He was her favorite player and from her college days on, she would (for example) sit in seat #19 or row #19, etc, if at all possible.

So tonight, I finally met him for the first time.  I got to tell him about Kim.  And I got this picture.

All in all, a surprisingly memorable night.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

LOST: The call

Locke: "Why do you find it so hard to believe?" Jack: "Why do you find it so easy?" Here is a short clip from one of the special features that will be on the LOST DVD release August 24 (I cannot WAIT!!). Take a look and then let's talk a little: As many of you know, I think LOST was the the pinnacle of television as an art form. In fact, if it weren't for football, we might could throw the dang things away now that it's over. (Well, maybe not - I get carried away.) It is a story full of mystery, but ultimately it was about people and thus it has themes throughout that are close to God's heart...a point eloquently articulated here: Why LOST Matters. Please take time to read it.

The clip above starts with this quote from Damon Lindelof: "The thing that resonates in the hero's this idea of 'the call'."

Out of the many themes in the show, this is one of my favorites. The idea that characters (and more specifically Jack) had something that they were called to do. You can resist it, you can deny it, you can try to run from it, but ultimately you have a decision to make: will you do what you were created to do?

Jonah faced this same choice. In fact, the parallels between Jonah and Jack Shephard are startling. Both found themselves drawn to a calling. Both resisted....angrily. Both ran from it, as far as possible, but in doing so their lives fell apart. They could run no longer and they finally did what they were called to do.

What is your call? What is it that God created you specifically for? Have you been running from it? Do you feel empty? For me, I know that he has called me to pour myself into teenagers through YoungLife. And recently he has distinctly called me to be a voice for children in Africa, and do what I can to make a difference in their lives. I can run from those things. And yes, despite the expression, I can even hide. But ultimately, you would hear me crying out in desperation with Jack Shephard, "We have to go back!"

I leave you with the words of Steven Curtis Chapman:

"We will abandon it all for the sake of the call.
No other reason at all but the sake of the call.
Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call."

What is your call?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Today I remember

49 years ago today, my oldest sister Kim was born. 14 years ago today was the last time I talked to her, the date of the pool accident that took her life...I am so grateful that I got to talk to her earlier that day. So today, I remember. And grieve. And rejoice.

I remember:
  • The fact that she gave me my family nickname, Bubba. It eventually turned into Uncle Bubba, and then, at the hands of my lovely nieces, Bubs. Every time I hear any of those names, Kim is there.
  • The love in our home as she, I, and our two younger sisters grew up together.
  • The fact that she grew stronger in her faith when she left for college. So many young people stray when they get away from home and encounter all the temptations of college. For her, it was the opposite -- I watched as her independence led to her making her faith her own.
  • The many, many Alabama football games that she and I attended together, starting when I was about 8 years old. Oh, I could write an entire book about our football experiences. We went to bowl games, championship games...we attended 25 consecutive Alabama-Auburn games. Maybe one year I'll dedicate a post just to this. Suffice it to say that her legacy is a major influence in my love for the game today - I'm cheering for two.
  • Watching her be a mother to two gorgeous girls. She poured herself into them so much that you can still see her influence in Haley, who was only six. Holly is with her now, and I know they are rejoicing over how their daughter/sister is turning out.
  • Thousands of other things, way too many to list. If you want to ask, I would never get tired of talking about them.

I grieve only for me and the rest of us who love her. That we don't get to see her smile and hear her laugh every day. There is no need to grieve for her - she is happy beyond imagination. But the grief for myself is deep. I miss her.

I rejoice:

  • That she is in the presence of Jesus, and waiting to see me. As John Ed has always said, "Christians never see each other for the last time."
  • That she taught me how alot about how to love our family...I pray every day that I can live up to that.
  • That she will continue to witness for Christ for years through a scholarship in her name for UA students who aspire to follow her example. I know that many people will be influenced through these outstanding young people.

So today, I do remember. By worshipping God with my church this morning. By rejoicing with my niece Brooke as she got some good news at college today. By continuing some personal traditions that help me get through this day. But more than anything, I celebrate her life.

Thank you, Kim. Roll Tide. :) And happy, happy eternity!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What does it mean to follow?

The other day I walked into a room where some of my family and a few friends were gathered. To my surprise, my sister said, "We were just talking about you." Oh really? "Yeah", said a friend. "We were talking about your blog."

Well, that could be flattering. Needless to say, I asked a little about the conversation. (Like most people, I'm one of my favorite conversation topics.) As we talked, my niece who is following this blog pointed out that she doesn't get emails when I post. What? What?? She's "following" me but still has to check in to know whether there's anything to read. Is that a mistake? No, as it turns out, Google does not send emails to my followers when I post. There's no setting to make that happen. So I ask...

What's the point of being a follower if it doesn't cause anything to happen?

So I was discussing this last night my friend Lori, and she said the same thing; she's following the blog but gets no notifications. Why? That makes no sense. And when I said that I should blog about it, she said something about there being a lesson somewhere in there. You know what? She's right.

I consider myself a follower of Jesus and I believe that following him is the key to life. He said as much: "Follow me." "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."

So...what difference does it make? Today it's so easy to want "faith lite". To say we follow Christ, but also do everything our way. To push Jesus' "follow" button but never check in on his "blog" (Scripture, prayer) to find out what he has to say about life. If there were a list of followers on his page, it would contain millions and millions of names and/or pictures. But like my followers, there's no guarantee that it means anything. Anything at all. The only way it means anything is if, as a follower, I actually read what he has to say and put it into practice.

Take a moment to read James 1:22-25. This is a picture of what it really means to follow. Read regularly, and then let it affect your life.

So I'm wondering: will Google fix things so there's a way to send emails to my followers? Probably not. I can do things like post links on twitter and facebook, but ultimately, anyone who really wants to follow this blog will have to remember to check in every so often.

That would be great...but it doesn't really matter. However, if you are following Jesus, that does matter. 

Check in. Read. And let it change you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Project 61 blog

I have added a new blog to my favorites to the left. It's the blog for Project 61, through which support and sponsorships for Africa are channeled. Check it out!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Another part of Africa

If you've been reading, you know how the children of Africa have captured my heart since my visit last month. In particular, children from a community in the dumps of Addis Adaba, Ethiopia are ever on my mind and in my prayers. Rest assured, I will continue to write about that. But God's love is waaaaaaaaaaaaay bigger than my dreams, and he is working all over the world...and yes, all over Africa. So tonight, I'm going to be a lazy writer. A friend recently returned from a visit to Malawi, and he has written a wonderful account of his time there. As I read it, I could just see, feel, smell, and taste what it was like. Part of that is due to my having similar experiences. Most of it was because of the writing. So to help you get a better feel for what God is doing and wants to do in Africa, I submit this link to my friend Rob's post. Enjoy. But more than that, be still and let God speak to you through this account.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


...yes, Brooke is Bama bound. Tomorrow. I am very excited for her of course, but also a little sad. For she is the last of our family's children to head for college and I will miss her.

Yeah, you would have thought that I should have been able to avoid these emotions. I'm single. I have no children of my own. So how the heck can I end up with a dang empty nest. When there was no nest. But there was. Just look at them: This photo from three years ago is one of my favorites. But I love any picture I ever made with any of them. They are like my own kids (and yes, my sisters, I know the uncle gets the fun part without the hard part). So much of my purpose has been about trying to be there for them and model a Christlike life for them. And I am so proud of all of them...I am starting to learn many lessons from them about living for Jesus in the 21st century.

This feeling is not new for me. A long time ago (not in a galaxy far, far away -- although it WAS about the time that phrase was coined), my oldest sister left for college, the first to leave the nest. I'm not sure I've ever told anyone this, but I cried in my room that night. I knew life would never be the same. Of course, it wasn't -- as it turns out, it got better. That night was the beginning of the formation of new, deeper friendships with my sisters as we became adults.

Time doesn't stand still, and each phase can be better than the one before. I know that now. I could not have imagined it then. And so, as I drive home from T-town tomorrow after helping her move in, I will rejoice. Because I know that my "kids" have now all begun their adult journeys. Three of them at UA, and one at Montevallo.

No, things are not the same as when they were all around all the time. But I know they will be better. I can't wait to see how Brooke matures in her independence, as her older cousins and brother are already doing. And I am so excited about the prospect of being their much older adult peer over next 20-30 years, and growing closer to them just as I did with their mothers.

Goodbye, Brooke. And hello!

It's coming...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A place where hearts converge...

One of the scariest prayers in the world (ranking right up there with asking God for patience) is "Let me heart be broken by what breaks the heart of God." Asking your heart to be broken is not a fun thing, but it's where us Christ-followers need to be. Tonight I reflect back a month or so to where this prayer was answered for me.

I have tried many times to write about the time I spent in Africa. But it seems that every time I would start writing notes of people, places, and events, it came across as generic missionary report. So I decided that I would leave detailed accounts to team members with better writing skills than myself. (Like this one - see what I mean?) So instead of narratives, posts about Africa will be snapshots of my thoughts, prayers, and dreams that God has placed in my heart from there.

Which brings us to the title of this post. In the prayer for a broken heart, it can only happen when our heart meets the heart of Christ. A little community in a large city of east Africa is where that happened for me. I saw God's deep abiding love for those whom man has discarded, and he planted that love in me.

There have been many times, that I have felt God's presence: when I first came to Jesus for salvation...when worshipping him in church or quiet the deep hurt of suddenly losing my sister to an accident and feeling his comfort...just when I obey him in my daily life. But it was an amazing thing to experience his love for children whom I didn't even know, and to feel his compassion for them welling up in my own heart. It was truly a place where I felt my heart meet his.

Make no mistake - God is working in the depths of Africa in ways we can't even imagine. I thought of this shortly after returning as I watched the movie Blood Diamond -- a movie that portrayed only a little of the deep need and desperation that exists there. Well, when Danny Archer (for those of you who've seen it, Leonardo DiCaprio's character) said, "Sometimes I wonder... will God ever forgive us for what we've done to each other? Then I look around and I realize... God left this place a long time ago.", I almost yelled at the screen, "YOU COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG!" That's what's awesome about our God -- anyplace the world thinks is God-forsaken is EXACTLY where he is. And he is there in all his glory.

As the Scripture says,

"Where can I flee from thy presence?...if I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there...if I say, 'surely the darkness will hide me...even the darkness is not dark to Thee." (Paslm 139:7-8,11-12)

Well, that's about as much as I can handle in one burst. I would like to leave you with a video I uploaded to youtube with pictures from our time. Many of you have seen it, but if you haven't, here it is. As you watch the slides, listen to what U2 has to say: Love...the love of Jesus through what will rescue them.