Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hamburger Helper

I made a trip to Walmart last weekend - a fairly rare occurrence for me. I'm not a huge fan of the store, mainly because they never seem to have enough check-out lanes open. I'm usually zipping in to get something I need and wanting to zip back out with it. Seldom happens.

Anyway, as I entered the Walmart through the door on the food side, I saw the following display:

That's right - one of the staples of quick, easy-to-prepare meals: Hamburger Helper.

Now this brought back a flood of memories, and they were not good. In fact, as I walked past the display, I was surprised at myself. I had looked straight at the boxes of HH without getting nauseated.

You see, way back in my college days, my friend Steve and I shared a trailer and neither one of us had very much in the way of income - after all, we were in college. In the summer, we would run the air conditioner one day a month just to absorb the luxury of a cool trailer for a few hours. So HH was one of the ways we could eat without spending much money. A little hamburger meat, a box of the seasoning and voila - dinner!

But one November evening, we finished our Hamburger Helper meal and then it happened. I can't remember whether Steve or I started to feel sick first. but within an hour or so we were both sick as dogs. I can only remember one other time in my life where I felt that bad. I will spare you the gory details, but you can imagine. I didn't eat for days.

Now here's the thing: I don't know to this day whether the food had anything to do with it. I kinda think it didn't because I found out later that there was a stomach virus going around. but it didn't matter. From that day forward, if I saw a box of HH I would feel sick at my stomach. If you mentioned it...nausea. And Lord help us all if I actually smelled any of it cooking. I couldn't stand the thought of it.

Have you ever had anything like that? A food associated with a bad memory that makes you sick to think about? Or a song that reminded you of a bad break-up and you would get depressed every time you heard it?  Of course it works both ways - our senses are very powerful carriers of nostalgia both good and bad. There are songs that still make me think of specific periods of my life. Smells and tastes that bring back memories. That's just the way we wired.

But if you have songs you just can't stand to hear, or places you can't stand to see, or - yes - foods you can't stand to smell, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to last forever. God's grace is strong enough to help you put those behind you. Christ came to give us a brand new start. Yes, from our sin and rejection of our Creator. But also from the pain that comes from living in a fallen world. If I can walk past that Hamburger Helper display (and write about it!!), then it can happen.

And oh, I grabbed my travel size shaving cream and walked to the check-out stand. Believe it or not, there was an employee waiting to check me out. No line! Yes, it was a miraculous day...no nausea and no line at Walmart. I sure hope I wasn't dreaming.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Practical Universalism

Well, the book is out. And based on the reviews and interviews with the author, it appears to be what it was promoted to be.

Of course, I'm talking about the highly controversial book Love Wins by Rob Bell. I wrote about it in my blog a few weeks ago, and you can read what I said (as well as watch a promotional video) here.

Like I indicated, as I watch Mr. Bell being interviewed I think it's pretty clear he believes that people who reject God's love in this life will eventually give in to God's love post mortem and be saved. He rejects the label "universalist", but a label is just a label. The idea that our eternal destiny can be determined by choices made after death is, as Bell says himself about life after death, speculation. And it is speculation that I believe is contrary to Scripture. But...

Yes, there's a "but". And the "but" is what this post is really about. I saw a tweet earlier this week referring to David Platt's comments on the subject. And it stopped me dead in my tracks.

You see, the question for those of us disturbed by Bell's book is this: are we practical universalists? What does that mean? Just this: if we insist that God's justice demands an accounting and that Christ has been provided as the way to the life God intended (both here and forever), do we live as if it matters? Do we really believe what we're saying? Or is it just words?

If we really believe it, it will break our hearts to see people rejecting God's love. We will want to do something about it. And we will work our whole lives to bring God's kingdom here on earth, by 1) loving others as God loved us, 2) meeting the the needs of the poor, the widows, and orphans, and 3) by working to reconcile those in our sphere of influence to God.

I object to theological universalism, because I believe a loving God must deal with injustice and that the choice to accept God's love or not in this life matters. But I know that as I live my busy life, practical universalism creeps in all the time. God grant me the sense of urgency I need. Because people matter.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Very seldom does a television show rise to the level where I want to recommend it to all my friends. Alias was such a show, although it kinda lost its way toward the end of its run. Probably The West Wing. And my all time favorite show (which will probably never be surpassed), LOST.

Two of these shows are from the Bad Robot production company, creations of JJ Abrams. And so it, in my opinion, no coincidence that by far my favorite show currently on TV is Fringe.

(Note: I blogged a couple of months ago about this - I do remember that. But the show is just getting better and better so I thought it deserved a more detailed post on why it rocks. I will probably post on individual episodes in the future.)

Fringe was created three years ago by Abrams among others. It's smart, thought-provoking, centered on extremely interesting characters, and even funny. The acting is superb, led by a previously relatively unknown actress named Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham). Because of the plot, Anna has played at least 5 different shades of characters, and makes each one come alive - amazing. John Noble (Walter Bishop) is an awesome actor, and the most well known actor, Joshua Jackson (first known from Dawson's Creek) has created a deep, flawed character (Peter Bishop) that it's impossible not to care about.

The show uses a science fiction background to tell wonderful stories about a group of people who are eternally interconnected, and whose actions have enormous consequences. It's a story about choices, and how all our choices are important and affect people in waves we can't even begin to understand. It's not just science fiction - it's people.

It is a serial story and if you start watching on Fridays you'll kinda be in catch-up mode. But I almost guarantee that if you give it chance, you will want to go back and catchup on previous seasons.

Here is a fan-made trailer for the current season:

Fridays, 8 pm CDT. Give it a shot.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Brackets 2011

In just a few minutes, college basketball season will begin. Well, not really - it has been going on since November. But when the NCAA Tournament starts to day, it begins the only time when the sport achives interest and popularity that approaches football. For three weeks, people who haven't watched as much as two hours of basketball all year will be mesmerized by the drama. It's alot of fun.

One of the reasons is that filling out your own bracket and seeing how close you came has become a national pasttime. So, not wanting to be left out, here's my bracket, for all the world to see:

(It's definitely small and hard to read, but if you click on it you can see a larger image.)

Yep, I'm putting it out there for everyone to discover how little I know about college basketball. It includes logical picks, picks from the heart, and a few shots at trying to be the one who predicts the big upset (and there will be at least one, count on it).

As it goes along, feel free to let me know how much better you did than me.

Let the fun begin...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


It's been a few days since I've posted...anyone notice that? Well, it's not for a lack of interesting material, funny happenings, or controversial topics. (It's certainly not from the latter...plenty of that around!) It's just this - the time I've spent on here lately needs to be - at least temporarily - devoted to the most dreaded word in the English language. That's right...homework.

So that's right, all my high school and college friends who follow this blog - you can laugh at me now. I. Have. Homework. Not work that do by taking my laptop home so I can get away from the office. Not working extra hours. Homework. As in a reading assignment. And questions that I have to fill out and turn in.

So this is the book. I know I'll get alot out of it and I'll learn some things that will help me do my part to make our company serve people better. And next week I'll actually get to hear the author speak. Should be interesting.

In the meantime, back to my homework. And of course, filling out my NCAA bracket. A man's gotta have priorities.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

I just left the gas station, where regular octane gas was selling for $3.45 per gallon. Prices are spiking and with current international unrest (convinced with the approaching summer season), this is likely to last awhile. So, I give you the Smart car...being towed by an RV.

The picture above was taken on I-85 somewhere between Atlanta and the Alabama state line. The irony is striking. Or maybe the inconsistency. Yeah, I know - when you're planning to park your RV somewhere you need a car to get around in. It's all over the place when I go to college football games.

But an RV...and a Smart car? Yes, this is a fantastic idea. Let's travel, oh say, 500 miles in a guzzler that gets about 5 MPG so that we can park and run around to restaurants in a car that gets 60! Yep, $350 to get there, and oh, probably about $3 to scat around town. It made us laugh out loud.

But wait - am I pointing a finger only to have four pointing back at me? Or is there inconsistency in the way I live my life too? Yep. I'll drink Coke Zero to wash down a huge steak and cheese fries. And lots of other stuff like that.

When you think about it, a consistent life is a most difficult thing to do. In fact, it is so difficult, I think my only hope for approaching it is to depend on the only One who ever achieved it. The One who said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8) Pure...undivided...consistent.

The RV pulling a Smart car was a funny sight. Some inconsistencies are not so funny. I pray for wisdom to see mine, so they can be rooted out. Step by step, moving toward purity; that is, consistency.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why the whole Lent fast thing?

As midnight of Fat Tuesday approaches (and will have passed by the time I finish this), I just finished my last bowl of ice cream for a long time. I had a pint of Blue Bell Cookies and Cream, so at least it was a good one. The next time I partake, it will be Easter Sunday. Why? Because I am participating in an ancient Christian tradition of a Lent fast, or "giving up _____ for Lent".

Why do this? Is it just some sort of legalism, trying to impress God or your religious friends? Or does it have some real spiritual value?

Lent, as most of you know, is a season on the Christian calendar, one where believers are preparing for celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus, the most significant event in history. (If you're not familiar, much more is contained in the link to the word Lent.)  In many more liturgical churches (such as the Roman Catholic Church), it is expected for members to conduct a Lent fast. But in my church and other Protestant denominations, participation is on an individual basis and is often surprising. ("You're not Catholic, are you??") But it's a tradition that has great value in my opinion. So here are reasons why I do it:

  1. This is a time of year to contemplate Christ's sacrifice. Every time I want ice cream and say no, I think about the cross. Now wait - not because I'm comparing my sacrifice to his! (Hope you didn't think that!) But because I think, "Why am doing this? Oh yeah." And when I do, I think about the season and what he did for me.
  2. It gives my brothers and sisters something to hold me accountable for. Accountability is good.
  3. On a related note, we don't give up or wait for nearly enough in our microwave society. It doesn't hurt to exercise a little discipline once a year.
  4. Ok, the next one is tricky. Sometimes the refusal of something I love causes people to ask why. I can then tell them about Christ and what he means to me. This is a very, very fine line, because Jesus cautions us against doing acts of righteousness to look spiritual. But with much prayer, I believe it can be done reflecting the glory to him and not me.
  5. Finally, Easter rocks even more when I do! Christ rose from the dead, giving hope for life to us who were destined for death. To me, getting something that I've been "dead to" for so long is a great symbol of that.
So it's Ash Wednesday morning. The first day of Lent. Is this something that appeals to you? If so, go for it!

Oh...ice cream? No, thanks.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


So, one moment I'm sound asleep in my bed in Tuscaloosa, and the next...

...I'm standing in the parking area under our building looking at these cop cars. 2:16 AM. Yep.

There is nothing like the sound of a fire alarm. It is loud, piercing, and very annoying. Much more so than even my very annoying cell phone alarm clock. That's what you want of course, because you want to wake up. When there's a fire.

But there was no fire last night. Instead, one of my building neighbors was involved in a domestic dispute. As we stood under the building, she explained to the police that she didn't have a phone and so she pulled the fire alarm to get the police to come.

It worked. And I learned something: the police cannot turn off the fire alarm. We had to wait for the fire department to arrive, and they had to inspect the building before we could go back inside.

So I was back asleep by 3 AM. Was that a dream?

Nah...just another night at the edge of a college campus. Never a dull moment.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's the big deal?

College is a wonderful place, isn't it? It's a place where young people get prepared for the rest of their lives, and for most a place where they develop their independence. It's the first time they've been away from their families, and so it's where they can develop their own identity.

So what can we expect from them? Is it inevitable that they will all sow their wild oats? Is that a good thing? Do we just chalk it all up to hormones and the idea that kids will be kids? Or is it possible for college to be a place where a young person grows in every way - including spiritually?

This question has been thrust into the national spotlight by the recent suspension of Brigham Young University (BYU) basketball player Brandon Davies. Have you been following it? If not, you can get up to speed with this link to an article from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Short version: BYU came into the week ranked #3 in the country and has a chance to be a top regional seed in the NCAA basketball tournament. They are a legitimate contender for the the national title. And then within the last couple of days, one of their key starters (one averaging 11 points a game who is also a great rebounder) was dismissed from the team for breaking the school's honor code. The offense? He had premarital sex with his girlfriend.

Has it hurt his team? Well, their one game since his dismissal was an 82-64 loss to New Mexico. Ouch!

The reaction is predictable. Some are writing that it's refreshing for a university to have a disciplinary code and stick to it. Others are saying that he's a college student for goodness' sake! What is college about? Well, according to many, beer and coed dorms are the sacred cows of college life. If you don't exercise your freedom with alot of drinking and partying, you're missing out on the experience. So how in the world can this kid be criticized? Doesn't everybody do it? Especially if they're in a committed relationship. Right?

Well, it is certainly a challenge. The pressure is tremendous and few are able to stand up. Just spend a weekend on a college campus (as I often do) and you know that. Swimming against the tide is very, very difficult.

But you know what? It is possible to live your faith on a college campus - even one with the party atmosphere of most major college campuses. My late sister Kim went to Alabama years ago and experienced incredible growth. Her independence was a chance to make her faith her own, and she did. A scholarship in her name has sent many students to Tuscaloosa over the last few years, following in her footsteps. And I know many current college students at Alabama and Auburn who are standing strong.

But, like I said, it is very difficult. This is why my friend Tommy has started a ministry called the TransMission. He has a burden for helping high school seniors make a healthy spiritual transition from high school to college. If you are (or know) a high school senior or college freshman, you should check it out. Learn more about it here.

So this kid is off the basketball team, and his team's chances of winning a championship will suffer. Fair? Well, sure, he knew what he was signing up for. In fact, he is extremely remorseful and understands it was wrong. But I'm personally rooting for grace to prevail here...grace greater than all our sin. But more than anything, I do not want to sell this kid short. It's insulting to him to say that he couldn't help it, as if he did not have choices. I give him alot more credit than that.

He made a mistake and he knows it. I believe he will learn from it. I pray that's how it goes...for him, and thousands of other college students. Thank you, Tommy and other college ministers, for committing your life to helping them on the path.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I give up

That's right...I give up. I give up trying to figure out how the human body works when it comes to gaining and losing weight.

If you follow this blog, you may remember two posts since the end of the year. First, I wrote about how I was serious about getting into shape. Then, last weekend, I shared little bit about how this past weekend I was getting over a cold. Well, needless to say, those two don't mix. If you're sick, working out is not very practical.

In fact, I was stupid last week and made things worse. I worked out at least twice after I should have stopped, and I think it made things alot worse.

So today I was finally ready to get back with the program. Enough with using the congestion as an excuse to procrastinate on exercise. Enough with the idea that I needed to make sure I was eating enough to help my body recover. Back on the wagon!

It was time to step back on the scales. For the first time in over a week. I was not looking forward to it. After all, I had worked for six long weeks to get into better shape, and the result had been a whopping 5 pounds of weight loss. (I do believe I've added a little muscle too - but still, it was a little discouraging.) So now it was time to see the result of a week's slouching. Would I be starting over?

Heck no! I had lost four more pounds. Four. MORE. Pounds. How could that be??

Don't get me wrong  - I'm thrilled. It's good to jump back on the program knowing I'm not starting over. I just can't figure it out. Maybe it's a delayed effect from the previous work. Maybe it's the body shedding some weight from being puny. I don't know.

But I do know this - I'm going to double down on my work. I'm going to count it as a blessing and keep on keeping on. The lesson? For me it's this: keep doing the right thing and don't worry about the results. They will come.

This is what Coach Saban teaches about football. Don't focus on winning, focus on the process...the wins will come. It's a great lesson for life too. God doesn't call us to be successful, he calls us to be faithful...success will come from him. Well I guess it applies to good health as well.

So look out, I'm back at it. But I'm not going to ever make sense of it. So I give up...on that.