Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 - Bring it on

New Years' Day is one holiday that I have never seen as a huge deal. I mean, it's fun because I grew up watching lots of college football that day. And my mom would make sure I ate blackeyed peas. And everyone would remind me that it was a time to look forward and make resolutions about what you would do better the next year.

But I pretty much saw that last point as artificial - it's just when the calendar changes, but we can work on changing our lives any day of the year, right? And most of us never follow through on our resolutions. But as 2011 ends and I look forward to the next year, I have come to realize that we need milestones to order our lives. They help us reflect not he things we need to remember and to refocus our priorities for the future. Yes, we can do that every day, but there's something about a milestone that increases our focus. With that in mind, here are some thought on this milestone.

I don't think it was a coincidence that my Scripture reading this morning was Joshua 1.

In this passage, Joshua was ending a period of transition, and big things war about to unfold. He had followed his leader Moses around in the desert for 40 years; God had freed his people from slavery years ago and now they were ready to enter the land He had promised them. But Moses wasn't around to lead them Joshua was going to have to do it. What a daunting task for such a young man! A young man who, judging by the number of times he had to be told to be "strong and courageous", was  conservative, non-assertive, and prone to  hesitation.

But God made promises to him. He promised that he would go before him, go with him, and give him success at the thing he was being asked to do. What did Joshua have to do? He had to be strong and courageous, study the Word, and be obedient.

So as enter 2012, I feel in a lot of ways like Joshua must have. In alot of ways, 2011 was a year of transition and preparation for me. The previous year had brought changes in my life, especially as God had used my niece Brooke to introduce me to a passion for the people of Ethiopia and for orphans. How was I to apply that? Also, multiple changes began to take place at work, as some great leaders neared the end of their careers and the company began to focus on what the future might look like under new leadership. And of course, there was the tragedy of the April tornadoes and how that brought the need to share God's love with hurting people so much closer to home than just Africa.

So, I stand at the cusp of 2012 feeling alot like Joshua. 2011 was somewhat like the time in the desert: learning to obey God while waiting for him to bring some things into focus.
  • I went to Africa for the second time and worked alongside some wonderful young people from Pennsylvania. I feel that God used this confirm his calling for me to take a leadership role in taking some young people from a ministry called TheTransMission over this summer. (If you are a high school senior and interested in that opportunity, check out this link: TheTransMission to Africa 2012.)
  • Several major retirements in our company have been announced and a vision for the future has been scoped out. I won't lie, this is, at the same time, kind of scary and exciting. Much like standing on the edge of Canaan and wondering, "Can I do this?" There will be change, and in the change will be lots of chances to be dependent on God.
  • Among my nieces and nephews whom I love so much, at least two of them will be finishing education and moving into the "real world". Will God have a role for me in helping them make the transition? And how will my life change?
Yes, I can see that 2012 will be a year when great strength and courage will be required. I will need to stay connected to the Source. I will need to make hard decisions and be ready to withstand adversity. And I will need to stand up and be a leader so that Christ can be glorified at work, in Africa, among the young people he is preparing to go to Africa, and in my family.

Am I up to the challenge? No. Stinking. Way. Neither was Joshua. But the One who commanded him to go was. And he still is today.

2012 - Bring it on.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A football tale

Once upon a time, in a parallel universe, there were two football teams. Two physically dominating football teams, that won games by playing relentless football that wore down the will of their opponents.

One of them had been in the national spotlight for four straight years, having won the championship two years prior. There was only one opponent on their schedule that was able to stay within two touchdowns of them. They had a dominating defense giving up less than nine points per game and gave up by far the fewest yards of anyone. And on offense, they averaged over 35 PPG despite a low scoring game against another overpowering defense. They did all this while playing in the toughest conference in the country.

The other team also played in that conference. And they were equally overpowering. They opened the season by destroying an opponent who had played for the championship the previous year. Other than one game, their closest margin was 13 points. And like the first team, they held opponents to around 10 points per game while scoring an average of nearly 40.

These two teams played several common opponents, and the similarity of the score were uncanny. 41-17 vs. 38-14.  19-6 vs. 24-7.  41-11 vs. 37-6.  52-3 vs. 52-7. And so on.

And so it was destined that they were to meet. During the regular season. It was a classic, a physical clash of titans. Back and forth, back and forth. Finally it ended in a tie. 6-6.

But in this parallel universe, the NCAA never instituted an overtime procedure. Over there, games that ended in a tie, well, ended in a tie. And so it was never settled. Who was really the better team?

If only, as in our universe, there was a way to settle the tie. To decide who was the better team. If only...if only...

But they found a way! They were allowed to play again. At a neutral site. A 60 minute overtime for all the marbles. And so, in that universe, the tie was settled after all.

Who won? Well, tune in January 9 in our will see.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Painful to watch

Last night, after the Saints' rout of the Falcons on MNF was complete, I was flipping the remote before going to bed. I stopped on MTV and watched a little bit of a reality show called FriendZone.

I've got to admit it was fascinating. I think most of us can identify with the show's premise. You really like someone romantically, but you spend so long getting up the nerve to ask her out that you end up, like, best friends.

The name of the show comes from the expression for that dilemma - an expression that, as best I can tell, was coined in this scene, linked from the TV show (ironically) FRIENDS. (Embedding was disabled in YouTube, so you'll have to click the link to watch - sorry.)

The show last night was painful to watch, to be honest. However, as with a train wreck, I couldn't look away. I can see why it would might be a successful show. I found myself watching two whole episodes, which meant four scenarios. In each one, the person with the crush told their story, and then we watch as they scheme to set up a situation where they can tell their friend how they feel. ("This date is for you" seemed to be the thing each scenario moved toward.) In three of the four, the person did not get the answer they wanted - which seems pretty realistic to me, based on my own experience. (No, this post is not going there!) The tension leading up to the moment of truth was almost unbearable, because you could see the crushing moment coming from a mile away. Painful.

As I snapped out of my trance and headed to bed, I reflected on what I had just seen. You could almost see hearts breaking as these poor souls expressed their love to someone who wanted to be their friend, but to keep them at arm's length.

And I thought about God. I thought about how he loves me so much. He has made no attempt to hide that love, as he entered the world and endured the humiliation of the cross. Like the ones who risked it all on TV (who would do that, by the way???), he has laid it all out there. There is no mistaking where he stands.

How painful it must be for him to watch the way I respond to his love. How his heart must break.

How often do I want to be "just friends", including him in my life when it's convenient? Asking him to do things for me in prayer? In effect having all the trappings of a relationship without the real thing? In other words, am I one those described by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:5 as "having a form of godliness but denying its power"?

The Bible uses marriage as a picture of our relationship with God and refers to the Church as the bride of Christ. Brides are never in the friend zone. So I don't want to be either.

God, thank you for loving me. I love you too. I pray that I would live my life in close relationship with you - all the time, not just when it's convenient. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas, the winter solstice, and redemption

Merry Christmas! What a wonderful season, where we celebrate the birth of Jesus, time with family, and the spirit of giving. I am home from another memorable Christmas Eve, including a candlelight service where I experienced anew a sense of awe that the God of creation entered the world as a baby. And then time with family as we exchanged gifts and felt the joy of seeing how we made someone we love happy. Tomorrow? More worship time and a big family dinner. Good times!

It is a wonderful time, but also a time of tension for those of us who endeavor to follow Jesus. We want to keep the main thing the main thing - we want to keep the birth of Christ at the center of our celebration.  But it's not easy, is it?

As I was reflecting on this today, I thought about the origin of the Christmas season. We did not pick this time of year to celebrate Jesus' birth because we know when he was born. We don't. (In fact, it's more likely that shepherds would have been "abiding in the fields" in the spring.) It is primarily because Christians living in a pagan society wanted something sacred to celebrate while their peers were celebrating the winter solstice, one of the biggest pagan holidays around. The secular world around them had this huge party because it was the longest night of the year and now days would start getting longer again. Probably included a lot of lights and even the giving of gifts.  So instead of just refusing to celebrate, Christians decided that this was a wonderful to time celebrate the coming of the Light of the world. A wonderful idea.

So what does thins mean for us? First, I think we fret a little too much about society "losing the true meaning of Christmas". Why do I say that? Because I don't think they ever really had it. It's only those of us serious about following Jesus that have ever seen that as the primary reason. And that's because we are taking something that the world created, and through Christ we have redeemed it.

Yes, that's it! And it makes me marvel at the wonder of the Incarnation even more. In Jesus, God entered the world to redeem it. To bring life where there was death. To bring light where there was darkness. To bring forgiveness where there was revenge. To bring love and compassion where there was selfishness. In the person of that little child, God began his plan to redeem a fallen world. A plan that culminated with a cross and an empty tomb.

In fact, where Jesus appears, he brings a "Midas touch" of redemption. And so do his followers if we are living in fellowship with him.

And so it should not surprise us that he has redeemed a pagan holiday as well. Yes, there is too much commercialism. Yes, there is a danger of children (ok, adults too) getting selfish and thinking only about what they want for Christmas. Yes, there is probably too much partying, to the point of debauchery - both in drink and in overeating.

But there is also a warming emphasis on family. There is a spirit of giving, not only to the ones we love but to the poor and oppressed. And, for those of us who know Jesus and base our lives on following him, there is a wonderful celebration of the mystery that God could take on flesh.

And that, to me, is the definition of redemption. I don't think Christmas is a naturally religious holiday that has been corrupted by too much worldliness. I think it is a naturally worldly holiday that we have redeemed  by celebrating the birth of the Messiah. Just as we are naturally sinful people that have been redeemed by the presence of that Messiah in our lives.

And so I don't think I'm going to let myself get discouraged by all the trappings of commercialism. Instead, I will rejoice as I celebrate the holy birth. God becoming one of redeem me, to redeem the world, and yes, to redeem Christmas itself.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I've liked the Mission Impossible movies, although the second one was kinda all over the place. The third one, with JJ Abrams on board, took them to another level. This one, Ghost Protocol, is on a completely different altogether.

It had everything you would expect in terms of action, suspense, and international espionage. It had an amazing backdrop with portions filmed on location in Budapest, Moscow, India, and most spectacularly, Dubai. Definitely a great ride.

But this one was much more than a great ride. It had smart dialogue and a plot that kept me mentally engaged throughout. There was a great chemistry between the four members of Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) team, and even some humor. And, more than anything else, it had a major thread dealing with revenge, and whether it really satisfies. Heady stuff, handled in a way that really made me think.

Yep, fantastic film, very entertaining. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday night.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas favorites: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

In the category of hymns, here is my Christmas favorite:

That is a strong statement. There are so, so many beautiful Christmas hymns. Silent Night. O Come All Ye Faithful. Angels from the Realms of Glory. I could go on and on. But this one, written by Charles Wesley, is right at the top. Why? Why?

I have always been fascinated by the mystery of the Gospel. More specifically, I am fascinated by the mystery of the Incarnation. The idea that the infinite Creator of the universe could choose to live inside the world he created. That he would take on flesh and live as a human being. That a teenage girl - a virgin at that - carried around in her womb the King of kings. That he lay homeless in a feeding trough on the night he was born, showing the extent to which the Lord would lower himself to reach us. That he would die on a cross.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
  Who, being in very nature[a] God, 
   did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
 but made himself nothing, 
   taking the very nature[b] of a servant, 
   being made in human likeness. 
 And being found in appearance as a man, 
   he humbled himself 
   and became obedient to death— 
      even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
So, there it is. For me, more than any other Christmas hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing captures the mystery of the Incarnation and leaves me breathless. Lines like "Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die." And "God and sinners reconciled". But the heart of the song, and the reason I love it most, is contained in this passage:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the Incarnate Deity,Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
What a powerful statement of how God came to be with us. To show us his character, his love, and to bring us back into relationship with him.

Thank you, Charles Wesley, for putting into words the greatest mystery of all time. I am in awe.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas favorites: Three-in-one, songs from past posts

On Saturday I shared one of my favorite Christmas songs, Someday at Christmas. Before moving on to a few more new ones, I thought I would revisit three that I shared last Christmas. So here are links to the three blog posts from December 2010 with Christmas songs embedded:

Just for fun: Elf's Lament

The birth of the Christ: Labor of Love

A dedication and tribute to adoption: Merry Christmas


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas favorites: Someday at Christmas

I love Christmastime. I love the lights, the music, the presents, and the times gathered with family and friends. And I love the worship services and family traditions that celebrate the coming of Jesus. Tonight I want to begin a series of posts sharing about some of my favorite Christmas songs. There may be a post or two about some other favorite traditions as well.

I could start with one of my longtime favorite Christmas hymns: Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful....the list goes on and on. But there are other more contemporary songs that put me in the spirit - some about Christ, some about family, some about the peace Christ came to bring, and some that are just fun. Tonight, here is one of my favorite contemporary songs.

Someday at Christmas. A song written by Stevie Wonder, but recorded by other artists such as Jack Johnson, Mary J. Blige, and even Justin Bieber (which fortunately has not ruined it for me, haha). Here is a YouTube version of the original recording, followed by the lyrics and some comments:


Someday at Christmas men won't be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there'll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life's really worth
There'll be peace on earth

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas we'll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care

Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shining moment, one prayer away
From our world today

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Hate will be gone and love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime
Someday at Christmastime


It is s song that brings out so many emotions and thoughts for me. Hope. Joy. Compassion. Thankfulness. Challenge. It looks to a day when the world will be the way God intended it to be: no hate, war, hunger, or need. Plenty of love, hope, and giving. And I can't listen to it without thinking of my friends in Ethiopia and Uganda and how much God loves them.

The thing I love is that it puts Christmas in the context of those things. Christmas is about God coming into the world, and the Baby born in Bethlehem began his ministry by quoting this Scripture and claiming it as his own:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
   because he has anointed me 
   to preach good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
   and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to release the oppressed, 
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus came to bring about the things the song proclaims. May all of us who claim Jesus' name obey him and work to bring about the Lord's favor. Someday. At Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wo zai na li?

It was an early morning in a northeastern China city, a little over two years ago. I had spent about a day there visiting friends who were living there at the time. I was staying at a flat about 15 minutes away from theirs, and I had no idea how to get there. In preparing for the trip, I had learned a little Mandarin, but not enough to give good instructions to a taxi driver. So I was very dependent on my friends to make sure I could get back to them.

On this brisk August morning, Clark and I were going to catch a plane to Beijing to do a little sightseeing. He had arranged a cab to come and pick me up, take me to his place, and then take up both to the airport. So at 6:15 am, a van transportation. I threw my luggage inside and jumped it. I said "Ni hao" (hi) to the driver, but that was about it.

Well, after about 10 minutes we suddenly pulled into a parking place and stopped. We were in some downtown district and I had no idea where we were. Where were we? Why had we stopped? Where were my friends? Did I even get in the right cab? After all, it's not like the driver and I were able to discuss it. Dang!

I had no clue what to do. What to say. How to find out what the heck was going on. I was in a foreign country where I spoke very little on the language. So I blurted out the only thing I could think of. Amazingly, in Mandarin:

Wo zai na li?

That is, where am I???

I don't know exactly where that came from, but when I got over with the situation, I was pretty proud of myself. When I panicked and blurted something out, it was actually in the right language!

Well (fortunately), the rest of the story turns out not to be nearly that suspenseful. Turns out, the guy was stopping at his cab company's office to switch cars because he didn't need a huge van for just Clark and me. He called Clark's wife Laura (who speaks excellent Mandarin) and explained the whole situation to her and then handed the phone to me so that I could understand. We changed cars, picked up Clark, and headed to the airport. Beginning an awesome three days where I got to see:

...the Olympic Stadium...

...Tiananmen Square...

...the Great Wall...

...and many other awesome sights. We had a great time and I will never, ever forget it. I will also never forget that moment of panic, that moment when I realized that I was totally helpless and needed my "peng you" (friend) to rescue me. These kinds of adventures are the stuff life is made of.

Can't wait for the next one!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whose stamp is on you?

   Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
    But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?
    “Caesar’s,” they replied.
   Then he said to them, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. (Matthew 22:15-21)
Is this conversation really about paying taxes? Or something much more profound? Well...

A few weeks ago, I was in Tuscaloosa for an Alabama home game. As is often my habit, I attended Calvary Baptist Church on Sunday morning before heading home. On this particular Sunday, they had a guest speaker by the name of Dan Arsenault. Dan is a former atheist who has devoted his life to sharing the case for rational belief in God as revealed through Christ. This particular Sunday, he talked about the above conversation in a way I had never thought about it. I'll be interested to hear whether you have. Here goes:

Walking through the passage, first we see that the question being asked by the Pharisees wasn't sincere. There were simply trying to trap him because he was stirring up so much trouble for them. (Authentic faith always makes religiosity uncomfortable...but that is a subject for another blog post.) So they buttered him up with a lot of insincere praise ("We know that you are a man of integrity, blah, blah, blah..."). And then they put him on the spot by asking him, "Is it right to pay taxes?"

And then Jesus answers their question with a question. But, and this is the cool part, he doesn't ask an even more important question...but the second question is implied and means everything.

The question he asks is whose image is stamped on the coin. Easy. Obvious. It's Caesar, the sovereign ruler  of the Roman Empire. So Jesus gives them the rather simple answer that since the ruler's image is on the money, the money belongs to him. The property belongs to whoever's image is stamped thereon. And then...and then...

And then he goes beyond the answer to that question, answering another one at the same time. He says, give it to Caesar; his image is on it so it belongs to him. But he doesn't stop there. He says to give God what belongs to God. What? Who said anything about something being stamped with God's image??

They all knew - God did. In Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image,
   in the image of God he created him;
   male and female he created them.
Caesar's image is on the coin, and God's image is on us. So Jesus was saying to give the government what belongs to it and to give God what belongs to him. What? Ourselves.

God's stamp is all over us. It shows in the yearning for meaning in life. It shows in our self-awareness that does not exist in the animal kingdom. And it shows in our awareness that there is a right and wrong.

I had never looked at that passage this way before, but it is so obvious to me now. So what will I do with it? I think it can be summed up in the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts (who also wrote the Christmas classic Joy to the World):
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Well, then I'm gonna say no"

First...yes, it's been a while since my last post. Almost a year ago I promised that I wouldn't blog just to be blogging; I would make sure I had something to share. Thus the drought. Anyway, now I have something to share that that was pretty funny. At least to me.

So earlier this week I had to fly to Richmond, VA for work. I flew from Atlanta to Richmond on the same flight with my friend and fellow actuary Lee - we were both headed there for the same meeting. I had checked luggage and Lee (who had not) went to get a rental car while I picked up my bag. When I got to the rental car counter, he had a big grin on his face. I had missed a really amusing conversation.

The car was with Advantage Rental Car, a fairly small and low-budget company without many vehicles there to choose from. So Lee and the rep at the counter had agreed on a particular car early in their conversation. After having all that set, the guy asked him, "Would you like to add satellite radio for $5?" At which point Lee asked if it was in the car they had already selected. "Yes."

Amused, Lee responded, "We've already picked a car. What if I say no?"

The answer? Well, the car would have the satellite radio anyway. At which point my friend said, and I still laugh thinking about this, "Well, then I'm gonna say no."

How funny! You ask if the customer wants to pay for something that he's going to have whether he pays for it or not! Yeah, I think no was the correct answer. But the funniest part, according to Lee, was the look on the guy's face. Apparently, nobody had ever said that before. He didn't know what to say, so he just stared with a confused look on his face.

How often do you ask questions where the answer doesn't matter? I know I do it. A friend calls and tells me his car broke down and he's stranded. "Do you want me to come get you?" Well, duh! That's why he called me right? I'm sure you can think of your own examples. Maybe life would make a lot more sense if we would think a second or two longer before we spoke.

But maybe a little less funny.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Should you pray about it?

Yesterday, Urban Meyer was named the new head football coach at the Ohio State University. It was not a surprise, but it has created quite a buzz, because one of the most storied football programs in the country has now hired a coach with two national championships on his resume. Yes, quite a big story.

There are all sorts of things that I could write about this story; as a college football fan it interests me in so many ways. But one part of his introductory press conference grabbed my attention. It did so mostly because of the ridicule it provoked from a sports columnist I read weekly.

When discussing the future of his predecessor, Meyer announced that Coach Luke Fickell would be retained on his staff. Most people expected that. But here is Meyer's statement about how he arrived at that decision:
"Shelley and I prayed about it. We talked about it. We took our time. Next morning, we woke up. I looked at her again - she’s a better judge of talent than I am - and there’s no doubt I wanted (Luke Fickell) to be a part of this team."
Now, that makes perfect sense to me. Well, not perfect sense because I'm not sure how I feel about deciding on a man's career by going home and getting your wife's opinion. (My lack of understanding there may derive from my singleness.) But the idea of praying about an important decision...of course!

Well columnist Pete Fiutak doesn't feel that way at all. Here is what he said about that in his weekly Calvacade of Whimsy column:
This is just the kind of crap the powerfully stupid laps up, and it’s the precise reason why so many confused people start to see football coaches as more than just guys who teach people how to block and tackle....This means that if you’re an assistant coach and you’re not hired for the Ohio State coaching staff, it’s because God, I mean, Meyer, I mean Shelley, I mean God, doesn’t think you’re worthy. 
Well, his opinion is just the kind of...well, it's nonsense. He ridicules the idea of praying about decisions by making the giant leap that in doing so you are telling the world that your decision has divine authority. In other words, he obviously thinks Meyer is saying, "Don't question my decisions - they're from GOD!"

I pray about decisions all the time. Probably not as often as I should, but I do. When I pray about something related to work, that doesn't mean that I'm going to walk into a meeting and declare that my thoughts are final because they're God's. no, it just means that I live my life in a personal; relationship with my Creator and I want him to be part of everything I do. Can I pray about something and still get it wrong? Sure. But I believe I am a better employee, son, brother, and friend because I do pray.

I don't know anything about Urban Meyer's spiritual life. I don't know how often he prays. I do suspect that he learned an awful lot about it from being around his team's QB Tim Tebow for four years. (Tebow is another football star who is a target of those opposed to public displays of faith.) But I know this: he doesn't deserve to be ridiculed because he prays about decisions.

I've never been a fan of Coach Meyer. Still not really. But after that press conference, I have a little more respect for him. And a lot less for Mr. Fiutak.

It will be interesting to see what happens at Ohio State over the next few years. But like anywhere else, a little more prayer couldn't hurt.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The reason for the, for everything

As I begin the first day of the Christmas season, this helped remind me not just of the "reason for the season" but the reason for everything. May my life reflect the reason for my existence today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Expressing Thanksgiving

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)
Reading this Scripture, the very word harvest conjures up images of Thanksgiving, doesn't it? Something about the roots of this uniquely American holiday: Pilgrims, American Indians, fall, and yes, the harvest. How does the hymn go?
Come, ye thankful people, come, 
 raise the song of harvest home; 
 all is safely gathered in, 
 ere the winter storms begin. 
 God our Maker doth provide 
 for our wants to be supplied; 
 come to God's own temple, come, 
 raise the song of harvest home.
Yes, Thanksgiving is clearly about thanking God for supplying our our needs. For the early settlers, most of whom got their food from their own farming, it was thanking him for the harvest of the fields. Today, he supplies those needs through an amazing supply of goods and services that we can access with a little thing called money.

So, how should we express our thankfulness for the blessings God has provided? Directly to God through prayer...yes. Expressing appreciation to family, friends, first responders, the military, farmers, our employers, teachers and pastors...yes. Saying thank you is always appropriate and we cannot do it enough.

But I would suggest that the passage at the start of this blog gives us a specific way that God expects us to express our gratefulness for his blessings. I refer to it as the Principle of the Leftovers. According to this passage, God had blessed his people with such a bountiful harvest that when they reaped it, their tools could not gather it all in the first time. There would always be stalks of corn (for example) that were left behind. Or olives left on the trees. Or grapes left on the vine. Now human nature is to go back and glean every last drop from the harvest. But God said no. He said that his people were to gather all they could the first time through (and use it for the needs of themselves and their families) and then leave the rest behind. Why? Why?

Well, he says why. There will always be those that are not blessed with the fields to plow or the olive trees or the vineyards. God loves them to and wants to supply their needs. How? With what is left behind. To go back and take it all is to take what God has set aside for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. So how were his people to express thankfulness? By leaving something for those who were not so blessed.

Most of us don't have fields to plow, trees to shake or vines to pick. Less than 1% of the US population are now farmers. But we have our own fields. We have money, and things, and plenty of food. Even when we struggle through a recessionary economy, we have so much more than most of the world.

So how can we exercise the Principle of the Leftovers? Well, I think we all know that just being generous is one way. We  can express our thankfulness by giving to causes that help the needy. And how about this - if your income is far beyond that of your server at a restaurant, tip generously. That way you are leaving some of your "harvest" in the field for someone else. Just develop a spirit of generosity - it will show God how grateful you are.

And here's one more way that seems to me to be an almost exact replica of the act of leaving grain in the field: do something good with money that you had already considered gone and you suddenly can get it back. What do I mean? Here's an example:

Suppose for example you bought concert tickets six months ago for next week's Adele concert. But now you find out that your sister is moving and she needs you to help; you can't make the concert. So you find a friend who wants to go, and sell him the tickets. But here's the thing: You paid for those tickets months ago! You never thought you would see that money again. In fact, you had planned not to see it again - after all, you wanted to go to the concert. So here's a radical idea: sell the tickets and give the money away. Give it to some ministry or organization that helps "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). That money is like the crop that was left behind in the field. You don't need it because it was gone leave it for the fatherless and the widow. Like the extra crops. Just an idea.

Are you thankful? Tell God. Tell those you love. And show it by being generous with the blessings for which you are thankful. If you do, I believe you will experience even more blessing, and thanksgiving will reap more thanksgiving.

So...Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Larry Munson 1922-2011

I was at a YoungLife leadership weekend up at the lake. The year was 1980, and we had a break in the evening. You would not be surprised to learn that, it being a fall retreat, I used some of that free the to try and keep up with what was going on in college football. That was the first time that I heard the voice of the Georgia Bulldogs, Larry Munson.

There was no live streaming...or satellite radio. Or dozens of games on TV. No, I was trying to listen to a clear channel station out of Atlanta through static. The game was Georgia-Tennessee. And it was Herschel Walker's coming out party. One of Munson's calls from that night is now famous, as it proclaimed to the world the emergence of one of the greatest running backs of all time. Listen to it: "Oh, you Herschel Walker"

But the call from that night that made me a lifetime fan is not anywhere that I can find it. I remember it like it was yesterday. Georgia blocked a Tennessee punt and Munson described it as "rolling, rolling, rolling" toward the end zone. Finally he could stand it no longer and he exclaimed, "GET ON THAT BALL!" That kind of unabashed enthusiasm for his Bulldogs was so much fun to listen to. It was always "we" and "us". But at the same time, he painted a wonderful picture of the game - he wasn't just a fan on the radio, he was an artist. It was an awesome combination.

And now he has passed on and we will only hear that voice in audio streams and YouTube videos. We will miss him; he was one of the all time greats.

Finally, for those of you who never had the privilege, here are links to some of his most famous calls. Enjoy:

1980 UGA-Florida: the miracle play

2001 UGA-Tenn: Hobnail boot (my personal favorite)

2002 UGA-Alabama: lying on his whatchamacallit

2002 UGA-Auburn: "Touchdown, oh God, a touchdown"

Rest in peace, Larry.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

State champs!

Friday night, the Leon High School volleyball team captured the Florida 6A state championship. (Read all about it here.)

I am so happy for my friend Rebecca Elyea, the team's setter, and her father, my long time friend (more like a brother) Steve. Rebecca has worked toward this moment a long time and she deserves it. It will be a lasting memory as this was her last game as a senior. What a way to go out!

I will always remember getting to be there in person for the big semifinal win. It was awesome hanging with her family and watching the match with them. And then celebrating afterwards with a meal at BWW as they prepared for the championship. It was an amazing, fun 24 hours.

I had to get back before the final, but through the miracle of modern technology, I was able to watch the championship match live online. And I was pacing around the room nervously like I do for Bama games. What a night!

Yes, I was able to watch the whole thing, and it is still up for viewing here.

It sounds good so I'll write it one more time: Leon Lions, state champs! Congrats, Becca!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What it's all about

Last Saturday morning my usual football Saturday routine was disturbed....disturbed by the sudden presence of some watery substance welling up in my eyes. Here's why:

I am sure than almost all of you are aware of the Penn State scandal, so I won't rehash the details. The fact is, I don't have the stomach for the details. I couldn't even get past the third page of the grand jury report (and no, I'm not going to link it) because it turned my stomach and also was beginning to get into details that I don't believe I should be letting into my mind. But the things that happened there are abominable, and it is hard to see how anything good could come from it.

But the God of the universe is bigger than even this and he is sovereign. He can make good out of anything. Scripture after Scripture reveals how he makes all things work together for good, which is to say, to bring him glory. I don't know all the ways he is going to work in this situation, but I know one.

So...Saturday morning. I was watching ESPN College Game Day as usual, when suddenly they began making their picks at around 10:30...15 minutes early. What's up with that? And then Lee Corso donned the Stanford headgear (btw, great pick coach!) at 10;45 and they were done. I checked every clock in the place - I was confused.

And then I knew why. They cut to Penn State to cover the pregame festivities because it was, after all, the biggest story in the country. My first thought - a little morbid to do that. Well, after a few minutes of coverage, they showed the most amazing thing I have ever seen on a football field. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, please watch:

As the stadium went quiet and everyone - everyone - on the field gathered for the prayer, my eyes welled up. It wasn't just a show of religion on a football field; we see those all the time and it's hard to know what's real and what's show. This one was obvious. In the face of great adversity, God showed up. And it was powerful.

One more video hammers the point home. This one is raw footage from on the field where we can actually hear the prayer being led by a Nebraska coach. (The fact that it was led by the visiting team makes it even more remarkable to me - he was praying for his suffering brothers.) This was no formality, or... You know what? I'm going to stop rambling and let you watch:


"Father, thank you for being a God who loves us despite all our failings. Thank you for the comfort, hope, and love you give when we are hurting most. I know that there are thousands of your children in State College who are hurting because of the things that happened in their midst - some of them are friends of mine. I pray for the children who were the victims of the atrocities, and also for the entire community. Thank you for taking just a few moments Saturday to show them that you are there, you love them, and you will bring healing. Amen"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Penn State situation

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

It is a sad day for many of us, for many reasons. We have learned that an institution that we respect has been tainted by the most insidious of crimes for many years. And we have learned that people in powerful positions who could have done more to stop it...didn't. And they have paid with their jobs and their reputations.

I have dozens of thoughts running through my head, most of them filled with anger and outrage toward the perpetrator. But some of them serve as a warning...a warning that we must always be on our guard to do the right thing. Not just complying with the law, but doing the right thing no matter what the cost.

  • First and foremost, my heart is with the children who were hurt and their families. I cannot imagine the damage that has been done over the years to them. That is the most important thing here. I can only pray that they will experience God's unconditional love and healing over time.
  • Turning to life lessons, you can erase a lifetime legacy in a single failing of character. There is no disputing how much positive influence Joe Paterno had on young people over the last 46 years. He has been considered a beacon of building a successful college football program the right way. But from reports (including his own statements and grand jury testimony) it seems he became aware of an unspeakable evil and stood by doing nothing. He did what the law required, but apparently he did not use his power and influence to make sure it stopped (or - perhaps - to dig into how serious it was; this is part of the responsibility when you have been put in charge of young people). How will he be remembered? Sadly, for this. For all of us, when we face that moment where we can take the path of least resistance (inaction) or do the right thing, we must do the right thing. If we don't, we risk losing a lifetime of building a good reputation.
  • As the announcement was made tonight that Paterno and President Spanier had been dismissed, I thought about the Scripture at the top of of this post. When you take on the responsibility to be a leader, the bar is raised. Any of us who want to lead people, we need to count the cost. If we want to lead young people, the bar goes even higher. I think that's why the PSU Board had to move.  Not because we know all the facts; it's possible we'll learn later that the coach was incredibly naive. But because regardless of how the whole thing is resolved legally, the leadership in the face of this evil did not meet the high standard of James 3:1. And that had to be addressed immediately.
I am sad for my friends in Pennsylvania who are part of the Penn State family. I have so many friends there who I met over the summer and my heart hurts for them. I cannot even imagine how I would be feeling if this had occurred here in Alabama. If you are reading this, please know I love you and I know that the pockets of evil do not erase all the good things about your university. As a friend posted this afternoon, "We Are...more than this scandal." We know that. And we know you will come through it strong.

A era is over. It's sad.

Children have been injured. It's outrageous.

God is sovereign. And I can rest in that. But it's not easy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Alabama-LSU...random thoughts

Some random thoughts in the aftermath of the big game:

  • Of course we Bama fans are very disappointed. It is difficult to express the feeling in your gut when your team loses a game with so much on the line. The mood around our place after the game was somber, as one would expect. Three thoughts that put it in perspective for me though:
  1. When your team loses regularly, losses don't hurt this much. The fact that it did is a sign that we have a premiere program that expects to win every game. That's a good thing - even if it makes the hurt deeper.
  2. The possibility each game of a night like last night is what make the wins sweeter.
  3. Most importantly, there is real hurt in the world; this is something I do for fun. Just thinking about my friends in Korah puts it all in perspective. By a mile.
  • We got there Thursday night and experienced the most amazing big game atmosphere I've even been around. And that includes the six national championship games I've attended. The whole campus was buzzing all week, ESPN was constantly broadcasting with bigger and bigger crowds present, and inside the stadium, well, the stadium was full and loud an hour before the game. It was SO much fun! For just a taste, here's a link to a video tweeted by LeBron James (who was there) from just before kickoff.
  • There were so many opportunities for the Tide, and they seemed on the verge of establishing dominance all night, but it never happened. Twelve men in the huddle. A key block in the back. A ball wrestled away by a DB, preventing a TD. 
  • All these missed chances make it just ridiculous to blame a kicker. (For more thoughts about the kicking aspect, check out this excellent blog post from former Bama kicker Leigh Tiffin.)
  • Finally, tonight we discover that Alabama only dropped one spot in the BCS standings, to #3. This thing is far from over! But the Tide must take advantage of the opportunity and play well against Mississippi State this weekend. Yes, we now have other teams we need to root for. But first things first: beat State!
Sometimes after a tough loss, I want to scream, "I hate football!" But I don't. It is the best sport ever, even with the lows.

Roll Tide!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Iced maybe, but cold?

Ok, I think we all what they mean. This gas station/convenience store probably has started selling iced coffee.

But that's not what it says. For me, the sign conjures up images of a cup of coffee that's been sitting around on my desk for an hour or so. Ughhhh!

So here's a thought...if I want cold coffee, I can let it sit around on my desk all by myself. And it won't be very good.

Here's your sign....

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fix You - Glee

Fix You by Coldplay is one of my favorite all time songs.

Glee is a show that I love at times and hate at others. Many episodes deal with questions that Christ-followers like myself need to think about (like in this episode). It can be very heavy handed in promoting a world view that is very much out of sync with mine, but it also can deal with human emotions and struggles in ways that ring true. Not to mention it has good music.

The last scene of the episode "Asian F" created one of the moments that fall on the "love" side. And part of the reason is that it featured Fix You.

What is prayer? Yes, it's communication with God, but I believe Scripture teaches that it springs from total, utter dependence on him. As long as we think we can make it on our own, prayer has a tendency to be something we fit into a compartment of our otherwise self-sufficient lives.

That's why I love this scene. (If you want to watch the episode, it's here.) Here are two people who may not have a clue about a relationship with their Creator. One of them (Will) states that he has no idea. The other (Emma) says that she prays all the time but that God hears her better on her knees. But here they are at their wit's end, and prayer is where Emma turns. And where Will is willing to meet her.

Setting it up briefly, Emma's OCD has returned due to a traumatic experience caused in part by her boyfriend Will. He wants to make it right but doesn't know how. She kneels beside the bed to pray and he says, "I wish I could make things better for you, but I don't know how." Then he kneels beside her saying, "I don't have any idea what I'm doing down here, but I'm willing to try."

That is so where a real relationship with God has to begin - we have to know that we have no idea what we're doing. It's all him, none of us. That, people, is prayer.

At that point, Will breaks into song. (It is, after all, a musical show.) And for this Coldplay fan, it was powerful. Here it is:

Is Will still trying to figure out how to fix things on his own? Sure. But it's very clear he doesn't know how.

I don't know how to fix my life either. I had a very bad day Tuesday, one I am not proud of. I allowed my feelings of pride to overshadow my desire to glorify God. I was looking at me, not him. But the first step to overcoming that is prayer. Real prayer - a dependence on God that starts from a place of helplessness.

It's all through Scripture. And in corners of our culture if we're looking. I have no idea what I'm doing on my own. I can't fix it. But I know Someone who can. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Things that make you go hmmm...Oct 2011 edition

Ok, I know what you're thinking. What is so unusual about this sign and why does it rate a blog post. Well, it's not what it says, but where it says it.

So where do you think I saw this? I'll give you a moment to guess, and then you can scroll down to the answer.

Give up? It was on the inside of the door to the men's room in our hotel lobby Monday. Inside. The men's room.

So I see it and experience a moment of panic. Am I in the wrong restroom? Nope. I know New Orleans is a strange town sometimes, but I'm really hoping they don't have a problem with men being pregnant.

I'm still trying to figure out why it was there. Just as you're probably trying to figure out why I would take a picture in the bathroom. Oh well, I guess we're all a little strange.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tennessee Week 2011

Once again it's Tennessee week.

Traditionally the Vols have 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. Amazing memories as a football fan come from this series.
Not much more needs to be said. So, as we countdown to Bama-Tennessee, once again here is the classic youtube video from several years ago:

Roll Tide! Beat Tennessee!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Several years ago I read a book by Michael Lewis called Moneyball. A guy I work with recommended it to me for various reasons: It was about using advanced mathematics to make better decisions - which is my career. It was about applying those decisions to baseball - so it was the perfect book for a person who's both a sports nut and a math geek. And finally, there was a whole chapter devoted to the case of Jeremy Brown, a former Bama baseball player.

Great book! I learned alot of stuff that I have been applying at work ever since. And I've watched while major league baseball has been applying the principles more and more. (The Boston Red Sox are among the biggest users of the approach and they used it to break their 86-year championship drought in 2004.)

But I never - never - thought it could be made into a movie. When I saw the trailers for just that a few months ago, I thought, "What?" Good math, good story, but not one that had action or interpersonal drama to appeal to the big screen.

I was wrong. I went to see the movie Wednesday night and I was spellbound. You know, sometimes movies are criticized for changing the book too much. In case, it was the key. Unlike the movie, the story was built around the baseball season and the question of whether Billy Beane's (Brad Pitt) unconventional methods would succeed. And whether that would allow him to keep his job, including how his daughter was worrying about him. In short, the book was about the math; the movie was about the people.

And it did a masterful job of making the transition. I saw the movie at 10:00 PM on a weeknight - a weeknight of a very stressful week where I was exhausted alot. And yet I was hanging on the edge of my seat the entire time, totally absorbed in the story. Awesome acting performances, a great screenplay, and just the right pacing made for a great 165 minutes of entertainment.

Being a sports nut and math geek, I may be biased. But if you're looking for a movie this weekend, Moneyball would be a pretty good choice.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Best BBQ in the world

I am not kidding about this. Let's fat in the meat. Really, like ever. Homemade sauce that tastes incresdible - none of that SC mustard-based stuff. Thick and ketchup-based. Absolutely amazing!

This may not be the most professional video you've ever seen. Well, it definitely isn't. But the subject matter makes up for it. If you're ever traveling from Montgomery to Tuscaloosa, treat yourself. You won't be sorry.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Yes, I'm just that dumb.

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I was trying to "double task". I was packing and loading up the car for this weekend's trip to Tuscaloosa. Yes, another football weekend, and as always I was a little excited.

Part of the prep routine is getting the car ready to take my dog Elphie along. I have a protective covering for the back seat that hooks over the car's headrests, and it makes for a comfortable ride (I think; Elphie has never actually told me so) and protects the car. So I folded the back seats down and got ready to hook in the covering. But when I got ready to hang it over the back seat headrests, this is what I saw:

Where is the headrest?? Yes, the headrests were missing. How the heck could that be?

I looked in the floorboards. I looked in the trunk. I tried to figure out how in the world a pair of headrests could disappear. I don't even know how to remove them myself. And why? Did someone break into my car and steal the stinkin' headrests, all while leaving other valuables in the car? Not likely. And yet...where were they? I was almost late to work trying to figure it out.

I called my dad from work and told him and he was as puzzle as I. The word quickly spread amongst the family and the bewilderment was universal. I texted my niece who rode in the back seat on a recent trip, and she had no idea. 

And then, as I was telling a friend at work (I have no shame), it hit me. The picture from the morning entered my mind. and I felt like an idiot.

Here's the deal: The seat cover is designed to protect the seats, not the flat surface that's created when I fold the seats down. The reason the headrests were "missing" is that I had folded the seats down! And in doing so....duh, the headrests got folded down with them.

Yes, I can be just that dense. I're not laughing with me, you're laughing at me. And so am I.

So here are the seats, folded back up where they belong:

The mystery of the "stolen" headrests solved, and all is right with the world.

And Elphie and I are in T-town, ready for tomorrow's game. Roll tide.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post...

I had intended to post something different tonight. But it can wait. Because one of the icons of our generation has passed on, and it is only appropriate to pause...and mourn...and pay our respects.

Some 25 years ago I was thinking of buying a personal computer - a radical idea at the time. I walked into the house of my friends Sam and Steve (twins) and they showed me their computer - a product of the company founded by Steve Jobs. Apple.

It was a cool device with all sorts of graphical capabilities, but I ultimately decided to get a PC. I think it was mostly because of the spreadsheet program, something outdated called Symphony. While PC's served me well over the years, there was something missing; I think was at least partially the "cool" factor.

Over the next few years Apple got its butt kicked by Microsoft, until the early 2000s when Mr. Jobs got involved again and the world has not been the same. When I got my first iPod, I had never - never - owned a device as cool as that. All my music with the time. You know the, videos, downloaded movies, the iPhone, and most recently the iPad.

And yes, after years of owning PCs, I finally got a Macbook, I would not go back for anything.

So as I sit here typing this post on said Macbook, I think back a few hours to when I got the news of Steve Jobs' death...on my iPhone. President Obama said it very well earlier this evening:
And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.
Like I did.

Goodbye Steve Jobs. We are grateful and we will miss you.