Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Would you like to update?

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in church, preparing to hear some words of encouragement from the pastor.  As he began his message, he asked us to turn to thge Scripture passage for the day to read along.  Being the 21st century guy that I am, of course I pulled out my BlackBerry.  No, not to check facebook or twitter during the message!  But to look up the passage on my Bible app and follow along.

(Note: Yes, I am sure that somebody in the church was judging me at that point.  They probably thought that I really was checking email or texting or something else.  But I'm not there to please them, am I?  You know what?  This is a good subject for a whole different blog post...so never mind.)

So I selected the appropriate icon from the screen expecting my app to kick in.  but what I got was this message:
An update is available.  Would you to replace version with version 2.6.1?
Ok, does this strike anyone else as funny?  Of all the things to update...the BIBLE??  I mean, this is the word of God. Eternal. And God-breathed, equipping us for every good work. Also living and active, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  How can there be an update?

Of course, it was a software update, not an update to the Scriptures themselves.  I am sure it contains new and improved search features, maybe a faster engine, uses less memory...all the things that are typically included in software updates.  A change in the environment and presentation of God's word, to make it better and more user-friendly.

And it got me thinking.  Isn't this the challenge we face in this ever changing world in which we live in? (Yes, those are lyrics from Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die. If you caught it, gold star for you. :))  We have an unchanging message of Good News that give meaning an purpose to life for everyone.  We need to stand firm proclaiming that it is true and life-changing.  There is a God who created everything and loves us; we have turned away from him; he came into the world in the person of Jesus to show us what he was like and to reconcile us to himself through his death and resurrection; he wants us to accept that and live in a relationship with him; and at the perfect time he will come again to make everything right.

But how we present it...that is our "app".  That is software than can and should be updated to speak to our time.  Just as the gospel needs to be presented in language that can be understood (good luck if you think you'll get it done speaking English in Russia), it also needs to be presented in the context of culture.  Paul did this throughout his ministry (e.g., see Acts 17:16-33).  Most of our hymn tunes were bar tunes of a previous century, used to reach out to the people who knew them from hanging out at pubs.  And today, we need to constantly look for new and fresh ways to get the word out to as many people as possible, in ways they can relate to.  Without changing the message.

So "I stand by the door."  I keep up with movies...current music...TV shows...news events...and use them in conversations, gospel talks, and blog posts.  So the church uses music and media to relay the message, and rightfully uses a multitude of worship styles to reach the maximum number of people.  (Please read this blog post about making worship friendlier from a friend of mine.)

We do all this because the message is too important and life-changing. When it comes to iPhone, Droid, or BlackBerry apps, it's true: if the software get out of date, people will stop using it.  Can we afford to assume our message requires less diligence?

It was surprising to see an update message for Bible software.   But I downloaded it anyway, because I wanted to have best presentation of the eternal word of God.  May we always do the same.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Last night (really this morning) the strangest thing happened.  I woke up at 3:30 am, and I heard voices from my den.  Yes, I live alone, so that was NOT good!

Let me back up.  Last night I fell asleep in the den, which probably happens to me once or twice a week.  It happens when I'm watching TV and don't realize how tired I am.  Well, when I woke up I turned off the TV and headed to bed.  I was very sure I did this, because my dog Elphie headed toward the bed when the TV went off.  She always does this.

So, it's about 3:30.  I am suddenly awakened by the sound of voices.  Down the hall I see light -- light that I am sure I didn't leave on.  You can bet the adrenaline kicked in!  What do I do?  Do I quietly call 911 on my cell phone?  Do I get up and challenge the intruders?  Do I "play dead" and let them take my stuff because I don't know whether they have a gun? 

So I lay there.  Thinking.  Listening.  And as I did I got my wits about me and realized that the conversation was very relaxed for someone breaking into a house.  Yep, you got it -- I was hearing voices from the TV, which was on for some reason.

I turned it off.  I know I did.  Elphie is my witness.  So I stood there wondering...why in the world did someone break into my house, find the universal remote, turn on the Control 4 system, select TV from the remote, turn it on, and then leave, locking all the doors behind them?  Cause that must have happened!

Either that, or my TV system has gremlins.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Homecoming 2010 - slide show

We had an awesome time Saturday at Bama's homecoming game.  In addition to a big win over the Ole Miss Rebel Black Bears, we cooked out at "the Hackshack" and just hung out with friends and family all day. (and I mean all day, thanks to the 8:15 pm kickoff!).  Here is a slide show of pics from the day created by a friend.  Thanks, Kris!

It's Tennessee week!

It's Bama-Tennessee week and I am ready!  They have traditionally been the Tide's most fierce rival especially when it comes to for championships, with their 13 conference titles being the second most behind Bama.  Some of my best memories as a football fan have come against the Vols.  Last's year's "Rocky Block" by Terrence Cody being right at the top.  It was the key moment in the Crimson Tide's national championship run.

So, as we countdown to Bama-Tennessee, here is the classic youtube video from several years ago; it's hilarious and it never gets old:


Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall..."

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. (Revelation 5:1-4)

 Last night I went to see a performance of Pink Floyd's classic album The Wall, performed by former member Roger Waters.  If you don't know, The Wall is a two-record set that tells a cohesive story from song to song, and when it was released the band did a tour where they performed it as a whole, in two acts.  This was a recreation of that.

It was a fantastic experience, with great music and sets.  A real trip back into the 70s.  My nephew and I had hoped for a rumored appearance by Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour, but it was not to be.  So the band did not reproduce the original sound (as Hunter, the Pink Floyd expert in our family, explained to me afterwards), but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  A great night!

If you don't know, the backdrop for The Wall is the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the American climate at the time.  It is about the journey of one man who finds that fear, hate, injustice, war, and the pursuit of pleasure and money have  built a huge wall separating him from his fellow man and from a life with any meaning.  (During the song Another Brick in the Wall - Part 2, the schoolchildren in the case all wore t-shirts that said "Fear builds walls".) All through the first act, the crew is building a wall on the front of the stage which eventually obstructs everything.  The last brick is put in place as the act closes.

Here is the classic song Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 from the first act, performed live by Pink Floyd:

So, at intermission, Hunter and I talked about how this wall was a perfect picture of a life desperately crying out for meaning.  A life being lived contrary to the abundant life that God created us to have (John 10:10).   As the second act progresses, the album (and thus the show) works through the consequences of having built the wall.  Emptiness (Is Anybody Out There?).  Alienation and grief (Nobody Home).  Broken relationships and bitterness (Vera). Resignation (Comfortably Numb).

And then comes the defining moment in the live show.  As it draws to a close, our protagonist is fed up with that life.  He's had enough.  Something's gotta change.  so he, along with the audience begins to chant:
Tear down the wall!  Tear down the wall!  Tear down the wall!  Tear down the wall!  Tear down the wall!  TEAR DOWN THE WALL!
I had chill bumps as I shouted with the crowd.  This is what we all want.

And then it falls, and on stage it was an awesome sight!  Magically.  Because we said so.  But here's the thing: what has changed?  Where does a new and different life come from?  Just deciding to live differently by the force of our own will?  Indeed, "who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?"  Who is worthy to tear down the wall??
Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."...And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:5,9)
What an awesome answer!  The One who made us and went to the cross to defeat our greatest enemy can tear it down.  And has.  Amen!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Glee: "Grilled Cheesus"

Among my favorite things in life are... Music. And stories. Pop culture.  Laughter.  So I enjoy shows like Glee that give a glimpse of what our society is thinking while being fun at the same time.  But like everything else in our culture, I constantly think about how it relates to the truth: God reaching out to us through the person of Jesus.  Sometimes, our culture tries to directly address these issues. Such was the case last week.

So as I settled in with my pad thai to watch last Tuesday's episode of Glee, I was apprehensive. The previous week’s Britney episode was a weak plot with weak music, and I was not thrilled with the promos for this one because they showed a plot where Finn burned a grilled cheese sandwich and believed it produced an image of Christ with magical powers. They called it a "Grilled Cheesus" (GC). Now I don’t expect the world to present a Christian world view and I think it’s important for me to know what they ARE saying (especially as a YoungLife leader working with teens)…and I do enjoy the show…so I watched.

I was very uncomfortable and even offended with the GC plot…but I have to reluctantly admit it was funny at times. But you know what? If there was any plot in the show that presented truth, it was the one that was intended mostly for comedy: yes, the GC! Surprised? More on that later.

In the more serious thread of the show, Kurt's father had a heart attack and in the aftermath we discovered that he does not believe in God.  Now some think the show was promoting an atheist agenda; I disagree. It was presenting something even more contrary to the Gospel – the idea that true faith is inclusive of all religions and that it does not matter WHAT you believe; it only matters that you do. We saw this as Kurt’s hard line on atheism softened as he went to church with Mercedes. And as Sue shared her reason for hating religion with Emma, but at the end (after a heart-to-heart with her sister that softened her bitterness) was ok with the religious stuff and let Will off the hook.  And at several other points.

So, to me, on the question of atheism vs. faith, the show sided with faith. Good news, right?  However, it sided with faith without an object. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as helps you. If someone you love is sick, have three friends of different faiths pray to their respective gods so that you have them all covered. Sing songs that are not about Jesus, but a “God” so general that he has no power. The key conversation to this world view was the one between Sue and Emma. She (and the writers) proclaimed it to be arrogant to believe in a God who would send people to hell for believing the wrong thing - a definite distortion of the Gospel.

I guess I noticed this so much because it is symptomatic of the biggest lie that is being promoted in our culture today. The lie that there is no such thing as objective truth. That it only matters that your beliefs help you. I think way too many people today (even many Christ-followers) have forgotten that truth is truth.
Something is either true or it isn’t. For example, either Christ bodily rose from the dead or he didn’t. To try and break through this mentality, I’ll often point out that I could be wrong about that, but I am either right or wrong. It is not possible that I am right and they are too. Amazingly, most people have difficulty processing this.

So that, not the irreverence, was my biggest problem with the episode. On the positive side, it did graphically illustrate this world view. And it did ask the right questions. I loved the fact that it ended with Joan Osborne's song asking the question, “What if God were one of us?” It's the right question and the answer is, "He was - in the person of Jesus!" As a group, the Glee kids (and even Sue) were brought right up the point of asking the questions that could lead to a relationship with God. A place where (if it were real life) the Holy Spirit could speak to them about how their longings and questions are answered in the person of Christ. I firmly believe that God works even through those who are against him, and he could use this episode as a springboard for conversations that would actually lead to the truth. But I would never recommend watching it to a young Christ-follower or to one who had not studied the Bible enough.  I always need the solid foundation of the Scriptures as context to interpret culture.  Always.

Oh…the Grilled Cheesus plot. Believe it or not, I thought this irreverent plot line was a wonderful picture of how we all mold Jesus into our image, one that is convenient for us. We construct our own faith system that justifies our lifestyle and our daily choices, instead of letting God mold us. Finn protected his idol and used it to promote his own selfish desires. Aren’t so many of our prayers like that? I thought the plot was brilliant in that it used absurd prayers that even the biggest skeptic knows no true God would entertain – winning a game (ok, I’ve done that one), helping him with his sexual promiscuity, and knocking out his QB competition. Here’s the deal: the "God" that the world rejects is often the one we have created, not the true God. And the world sees that hypocrisy -- it's no wonder they say "no thanks". Just as Finn eventually was disillusioned and ate the sandwich in the closing scene.   But isn’t it great that we serve a God who will never fail us? I pray that God will chip away the parts of my faith that I’ve made up myself and leave only the truth. I need him to help me throw away my Grilled Cheesus and serve the real Jesus.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall Saturdays

Yes, I love college football.  Today is a great example of how much.  As I write this, I am sitting in my uncle's Columbia, SC living room.  And I am watching Nevada play San Jose State.  Not much of a game. Teams aren't very good. Everyone else went to bed over an hour ago.  My team lost today.  I should be tired of this...but I'm not.

For one thing, road game weekends are my favorite right now, as I talked about here.  That's true win or lose...another weekend with my nieces is awesome.

Also, you should have been there today.  The energy as a stadium hosts the top-ranked, reigning national champions is fantastic.

The ebbs and flows of being at a game are addicting, and I could even appreciate the joy in the place when they actually pulled off the upset.  (Didn't like it, but I could appreciate it.)  We actually stood there for about 10 minutes and watched the celebration.  Now THAT's joy -- when they can do what only they believed they could do.  They didn't just come close - they beat us. Congratulations to South Carolina!

So I sit here.  Watching football and blogging.  Only one quarter of this game is left.  Can't wait for next week!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Are you for real??

We've all asked this question, right?  It means "Is that really true?".  It is pretty much synonymous with "Are you serious?"...or "Are you kidding me?"...or "Seriously?"  But its literal meaning is a deeper question -- one that strikes at the heart of who I am.

This hit me square between the eyes yesterday morning at church.  I was attending a service at Calvary Baptist in Tuscaloosa.  After some awesome praise music, the pastor said something like this (I wish I could remember the exact words): "It's our goal that you see someone from Calvary, they're the same person no matter where you run into them."

Wow!  What a tremendous picture of Christ that would be for the world.  Imagine someone seeing you at work.  At the ball game.  With your family at home.  At a concert.  With your friends on Friday night.  At church.  And no matter where they encounter you, they see an authentic person living life without pretense or a shred of hypocrisy.  A fellowship of people like that would be so attractive that everyone would want to be a part of it.

For you see, we all expect masks.  And we are sick of them.  We know that we have a face for our friends, a face for our family, a face for Sunday morning...even an online face for facebook and twitter.  Jesus used the word "hypocrite" which was not meant to be an insult...it was simply the word for "actor".  He was talking about living your life as if you are an actor on a stage, playing a part.  Which is no way to live.  Which is why we consider it a derogatory term.

The concept is all through our culture.  A key song in Phantom of the Opera (where a mask is almost a character in itself) is sung by the chorus at the opening of the second act.  It says, in part:
Masquerade!  Paper faces on parade.  Masquerade!
Hide your face, so the world will never find you!
Masquerade!  Every face a different shade.  Masquerade!
Look around - there's another mask behind you!
Yep, it's all around us.

This is the beauty of the life Christ brings us.  When we connect with the source of life, we can live the way we were intended to.  We don't have to pretend.  It's so awesome to know God wants to know ME!  Not some image that I've created because I think it's what he wants.  The real me, warts and all.  and then he wants to transform the real me into the likeness of his Son.  Amazing!

One final thought:  God wants us to help each other on this journey.  We can't do it alone.  And the only way that will happen is if we are real with each other.  If I go to church and put on my church mask, or act differently around my Christian friends than I do other places, those masks will keep me from being what I was meant to.  I can't say it nearly as well as Casting Crowns, so take a listen:

Are you for real??

Friday, October 1, 2010

Two for one...

Birthdays are a big deal in my family.  As long as I can remember...cake, ice cream, pizza, dinner at a favorite restaurant -- you name it and we have done it to celebrate a birthday.  We had parties when I was a kid and we still have parties.  (This probably is just another example of the fact that I have not, and do not intend to, grow up.)  Some people think of birthdays as something for kids.  We don't.  When a birthday approaches, we check everybody's schedule to see what day that week is the best for a party.  As busy as everyone is, it can be difficult, but it's awesome (I love my family)!

So this weekend is a treat.  It just so happens that my sister Kay and our Dad (pictured here together) have the same birthday - October 3.  So how in the world are we going to get everyone together?  It's easy this time.  We will all be in Tuscaloosa tomorrow for the big Alabama-Florida game!  And since that is also where Kay's daughter and nieces (Dad's grandchildren) are in school, it makes it even more perfect.  Party in T-town!

So tomorrow we will gather like many fall Saturdays.  We will watch ESPN College Gameday.  We will "Eat Mor Chikin".  But most importantly we will have some birthday cake.  And cards.  And gifts.  And we'll celebrate the birth of two very important people at the same time. What great timing!

And oh...then tomorrow night we'll have so Gator meat for dessert.  Roll Tide...and happy birthday Dad & Kay!