Sunday, April 29, 2012

Life as a preview

Does that clip get your blood pumping? It does mine. I can't wait for that movie!

We call them movie trailers, or previews, and they are everywhere. Traditionally, they are played before a movie in the theater, usually causing the movie to start about 15 minutes after the announced time. Now, they are on websites. We can watch them on our mobile phones. And yes, sometimes they are embedded in a blog page.

They serve one purpose. They are designed to whet our appetite for an upcoming movie. They give us the best of the movie so that perhaps we will want to buy a ticket to see the whole thing.

This morning our pastor Tim Thompson pointed out that Christ-followers are a lot like movie trailers. We give the world a small preview, a taste of what God is like. That is our role in the world.

How do we know? Well, it was a major theme of Jesus' parables. At one point he said outright, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

So we need to show the world the best. the best of what God has to offer by living lives that reflect his light. So maybe then they'll want to buy a ticket to the real thing.

But there's the good news! See that guy over there...the one on a cross? He's at the window, buying your ticket right now. So we get in free. Just take the ticket and go in. Go in to experience life with God like we never imagined.

But first, the world needs to know it's worth it. They need to see the preview. So let's roll the projector.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27: Life, Death, and Eternity

Just time for a few words before I head to the service. I am in South Carolina to remember and honor a wonderful woman, my aunt Gladys Owensby, whom we called Aunt Odell for my entire life. She lived to be 86 years old, and all those years were filled with love. She will be missed by so many people, but she is now in such joy that we cannot even imagine it.

I think it's fitting to honor and remember her on April 27. Because this is a date that will always represent the fine line between life and death, joy and tragedy, building and destruction. For one year ago today, an unprecedented number of tornados ripped through the South - and one hit very close to home. Thankfully, it basely missed the house and dorm where my nieces lived while attending the University of Alabama. But for hundreds of others, it didn't miss. and that community will never be the same. Yes, out of our scars come growth, so I think that it will be a better place than it was before. But the healing continues.

Part of that healing is a huge memorial service today in Coleman Coliseum. So on the same day, I will be in SC remembering my aunt. And I also remember the victims of April 27, 2011. In both cases, we can see the awesome hand of God as he moves to heal, restore, and love those who are hurting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Googling the brain

Olivia: "I'm missing something; I know I am, Walter."
Walter: "Then I suggest you sleep on it. The brains are remarkable instruments. They can process evidence even when we're not conscious." 
 -- Fringe, Episode 4.18, The Consultant 

I had a strange dream a few nights ago. I'm not sure why I was dreaming about this, but I was in a conversation with a friend about music and we got stumped to remember a song. It was something like, what is the name of the last song on that album? (What album? Not sure - you know how dreams get fuzzy with time.)

Anyway, in the dream, I did what the 21st century man always do when we can't remember something; I pulled out my iPhone to google it. Now here's the interesting part. In real life, I would have sone a search on the album, seen the song list, and voila! The answer. There is almost nothing we can't look up these days.

But in the dream, my iPhone browser failed! No matter what I did to try and find the answer, it was unreachable. I could not find it. When I woke up, my only conclusion was that the answer to that question was buried so deep in my subconscious - or just plain lost - that it could be retrieved even in a dream. Even using Google.

There is a theory that we never lose memories. That they are all in there, waiting to be unlocked. In the above quote from Fringe, it was reflected in the idea that if you just sleep on it, you can process the answer. In the movies, hypnosis is sometimes used to try and pull them out. And it almost always turns out that if the hypnotist gets into the object's dream state, the memory can be pulled out. Many a fictional crime has been solved this way. An maybe some real crimes.

But I'm not so sure. Because in my dream, the iPhone should have been a tool to pull out what was "on the tip of my tongue". But it wasn't. Something I knew in real life - and had forgotten - was really gone. Couldn't even pull it out in a dream.

What does all this mean? I'm not sure. The question fascinates me, and I would love an answer. I have mostly bought into the "deeply buried" theory of lost memories. I have tended to believe what Walter said about what the brain is capable of while we sleep.

But now...who knows? What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012


And in just a moment, it was gone...shattered into a million pieces.

The BCS Trophy, commonly referred to as the crystal football, is not an easy thing to win. But it is, obviously, easy to break. And this past weekend the 2011 trophy belonging to the Alabama Crimson Tide was accidentally knocked over by the father of a player. He placed it back after holding it, walked away, and the rest is history. And so is the trophy.

The mishap has spawned all sorts of observations, humorous and otherwise. The best was summed up on this banner:

With 14 championships, the most in college football history, there are definitely a lot of trophies. But this is an exaggeration. I know because in January I did trip in Tuscaloosa. I broke an ankle, but not a trophy!

As I reflect on the broken trophy, a couple of thoughts run through my head. Might as well let you in on them, right?

  • The trophy may be gone, but the championship isn't. Nothing can take that away, and I plan to enjoy every minute of the Tide's reign. And I an hopeful that they'll extend it another year. The trophy is just a material thing; the thing it represents endures.
  • More importantly, the trophy is just a thing and it will pass away. In fact, the championship will too. As the song goes, "Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there's something about that name."
The name of Jesus gives us hope of something that will last a lot longer than trophies. Or houses. Or land. Or money. You see, it doesn't matter if our trophy breaks, or my house burns, or the stock market crashes. Or even if they take my life. Those things won't last anyway. But because of Jesus, life with God dwarfs those things. And will never pass away.
So shatter the trophy. Have your fun. Take everything I own. But I have the last laugh, because the Creator of the universe has me in his hands.

And nobody is going to trip and shatter that.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Holding a Grudge

Bitterness runs deep, and for a long time.

Check out this scene from the ABC drama Once Upon A Time (OUAT):

This story has created a world which mirrors our human dilemma in a powerful way:

In our story, we were created to live in relationship to the living God - but we have an enemy who enticed us to do things our way, breaking that relationship. Now most of us live oblivious to the fact that there is something so much greater to live for than simply functioning.

In OUAT, the story parallels our situation. There was once a world where characters lived "happily ever after". But the evil queen (Regina in the above clip) found a way to break the spell and sentence all the characters to being trapped in a city where they have no memory of that world. And, like the real world, everything is messed up.

Everything is messed up, including the capacity to forgive. In the scene above, Snow (yes, Snow White) is in prison unjustly accused of murder, and she wonders what she did to warrant the viciousness shown by Regina. We learn as the episode progresses (SPOILER ALERT!) that, way back in the pre-cursed existence, Snow was unable to keep a secret for Regina. Snow was just a little girl of around 10 and was tricked into revealing the secret. But it didn't matter; it ruined Regina's life and so she has been holding a grudge ever since. This grudge has shaped pretty much everything she's done since then, and is now culminating in revenge. Revenge that, as you could see in the clip, has Regina giddy.

Revenge is a major theme in so many stories. There is an ABC drama airing currently by that name. The desire for it comes from a deep feeling of being hurt. It blossoms into bitterness and ultimately into rage. It is such a human reaction that Jesus commented on it frequently. For example, he said,
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39)
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45)
Yes, the natural tendency is to hold grudges. And wait for that day when we will have a chance to get even. But Jesus calls his followers to a higher standard. We are to leave vengeance in the hands of the One who is in control of the whole universe. He will make sure that justice prevails, so we don't have to. We are called to love our enemies and leave the rest in God's hands.

Easy? Heck, no. That's why it requires the supernatural power of Christ in our hearts. But it is so, so freeing. Because you know what grudges do. They eat up your insides and dominate your thinking, while the object of the grudge lives their life oblivious as to how much they are hated. (Remember, in the scene above Snow asks what she ever did to deserve this.) So who gets hurt? The grudge-holder. What sense does it make to let a cancer eat away at your life because of what someone else did to you? If you let that happen, they have hurt you twice.

I'm anxious to see how this storyline in OUAT turns out. I suspect the revenge will fail and so Regina will be left with the bitterness of her grudge. I know that, more often than not, that's what happens in real life. For us, whatever it is that is eating away at us, it's time to let go. God will take care of it. And we'll be a heck of a lot happier.

3 am and thankful

I have never been more thankful for the mercy of God. I am unbelievably grateful that Jesus came to bear the penalty for my sin.

And why now? Well, it's simple. It's because I've never felt more keenly what the agony of hell must be like. As I lay here in my bed for the last three hours, my tooth has been throbbing with pain. I have taken as much pain medication as safety permits, and it still hurts. Bad. I really can't remember experiencing anything like this. And so of course I can't sleep.

I normally wouldn't burden you guys with this - and that's not my intent. Rather, I want to share what I have been thinking about while trying to sleep. So here it is: I started thinking about whether I could bear this until Monday, when my dentist can see me. And my next thought was, well, of course I can - 'cause what if it wasn't 'til Monday, but forever? What if there were no dentist, no remedy, nothing but pain, pain pain? Forever?

Of course, a throbbing tooth is only a fraction of what hell would be like. And 36 hours is only a fraction of eternity. But it's enough to get my attention. More than enough.

And so I am doing my best to turn this agony into a positive. Instead of dwelling on how long it is 'til Monday, I'm focusing on how soon Monday is compared to eternity. And I am thankful that because of Christ, I don't have to worry about that.

Thank you, Father!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Missing the Resurrection

This morning I overslept. I woke up about 6:30 and saw the light coming through my window. I knew I had overslept because I was supposed to be up before daybreak. I don't know exactly how it happened, but somehow the alarm did not wake me up. If you've heard my alarm, that will amaze you. It's really, really loud.

Not to minimize the importance of anything else in my life, but I hated oversleeping today more than any other day of the year. Every year I look forward to the Easter sunrise service. There's something about being outdoors with other Christ-followers to help me focus on the anticipation of what happened at sunrise some 2,000 years ago. I can almost visualize it as the service begins, and I never miss it. Never. Well. now I guess it's almost never.

I had a great Easter anyway. Two great worship services beginning at 8:00. A wonderful lunch with my family and hanging out with them most of the afternoon. Even the 21st century addition of rejoicing in the Good News with my friends online. But I still hate, hate hate that I missed worshipping at sunrise.

I am just so glad that I only missed a worship service. For it would be so easy to miss the Resurrection itself. To live my life in such a way that it doesn't even matter that Jesus rose from the dead. For if he did indeed rise from the dead, that changes everything! I can laugh at death. I am free from the chains of fear, sin, death, money, power, and broken relationships.

You may not have been at a sunrise service this morning. Odds are, you didn't even plan to. But regardless, I encourage you - miss a service, but don't miss the life changing power of the Resurrection.

It makes all the difference.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


And now we wait.......

What are you waiting for? Waiting is a fact of life, part of the nature of time itself. Everything can't happen at once so there will always be things that we have to wait for.

We wait for the weekend. We wait for a planned vacation. We wait for games, concerts, movies and other events that we know we'll enjoy. Not too long ago, there was a countdown clock on this page for The Hunger Games movie, and before too long you'll probably see one for the start of Alabama football. Or something else.

We wait for other, more serious stuff. Some of us are waiting for there start of a career, to get out of school. Others are waiting for a career to end, to retire. Some are waiting for their future spouse to come along. Some are waiting for loved ones to come home from Afghanistan. Yes, waiting is a fact of life.

On this Holy Saturday, waiting is brought into the spotlight. It is the day between the crucifixion of Jesus, and, well, something else. Something that he had predicted many times during his ministry. He said that he would conquer death, that he would rise from the grave.

And so his disciples waited, in anguish. His enemies waited - we know because they posted a guard at his tomb to make sure nobody perpetrated a fraudulent miracle (see Matthew 27:62-66). The angels is heaven waited.

In fact all creation waited. The earth, the sun, the stars, and the whole universe were suspended in anticipation of the most important thing that would ever happen. The conquest of death and defeat of the sin curse, all rolled into one glorious event, was just hours away.

And so we wait.

If I may be so bold, let me encourage you to take full advantage of this day. Allow yourself to feel the anticipation. You and I both have deep longings, things we wish would hurry up but they won't. If nothing else, we long for the barrier of death between us and and our loved ones to go away. Today, meditate on those thoughts. Imagine how all of creation felt while the Lord of the universe lay silent in a grave. God's countdown clock ticking away.

Wait. Wait........................................   Wait.

Sunday's coming.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How much is it worth?

Today I got this email from Apple:

I got it because I indeed was the owner of an iPhone 4. If you haven't heard, there was a class action lawsuit because of some problems with the model's antenna. It was recently settled, and as a result, I could easily get $15. But...

But if you read the email a little closer, I have to do something to get my settlement. Look closer:

Yeah, you have to send in a form, and one of the things you have to say on the form is that you "experienced antenna or reception issues" with the iPhone 4.

How many chances do we have to cheat the system a little bit?
Nobody's looking. Nobody can prove whether I had issues or not. So we grab. They're a big company and they'll never miss that money. They've probably cheated me at some point anyway. And so on.
But that's exactly what character is. It's what you do when nobody's looking. When nobody will ever find out. When nobody can prove anything.

I'm sure alot of people did have trouble with the iPhone 4. And they should send in their form. Not feel guilty about it. But if they didn't....well, they will learn a little something about themselves.

I don't know what integrity is worth. I think it's priceless. But for dang sure it's worth more than $15.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dachau: A matter of perspective

Two years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the beaches of Normandy.

It was an amazing experience, with an overwhelming sense of history. To realize that so many, many people gave their lives to punch a hole in the Nazi defenses was sobering. Without that offensive, who knows what the world would be like now? As a friend of mine said, we might all be speaking German.

But I've got to say, I did not fully sense the significance until this last Saturday. Oh yeah, I knew how important it was. I knew that victory in World War II ended the monstrous reign of Adolf Hitler. But I didn't really feel it. Not until Saturday.

Why? Well, this last Saturday I was in Munich, Germany at the end of a business trip. And being so near Dachau, we decided to visit the former concentration camp.

I cannot even put into words what I saw over a period of about three hours. We walked the grounds where tens of thousands were mistreated in unimaginable ways. They lived without adequate sleeping facilities, adequate food, or adequate human interaction. When they died from these intolerable conditions, they were cremated en masse without a shred of dignity. Toward the end of the war, many of them were led into gas chambers to be executed.

Note: I took a lot of pictures because I never want to forget what I saw. I considered putting them here, but I've decided not to (with one exception below) for two reasons: First, I don't think the pictures do justice to the true horror that was Dachau, and second, I couldn't get past the fear that posting the pictures would trivialize and/or sensationalize the pain of those who died there. I want to do the memory more honor than that.

Here is the thought that has stuck with me since the visit: I feel like I understand what I saw at Normandy so much more. Why did those men give their lives? For their country? Yes, of course. But in this case it was so much more than that. They died so that the atrocities at Dachau and other such camps would end. They died to free the captives, captives who suffered as much or more as any group of people in history. As I walked, sat, and prayed on the grounds of Dachau, my mind kept going back to Normandy. and to those great young men who bravely advanced so that at some current and all future victims of the Third Reich could be saved.

Rows of crosses at Normandy...

...led to the destruction of rows of barracks at Dachau:

And that's a good, good thing.

As I reflect on these two experiences, I can't help but think about what we are celebrating this week, Holy Week. Friday we will meditate on the cross of Jesus, and how he paid the price for our sin. He set us free and made a relationship with God possible. But like the sacrifice at Normandy, we can't fully grasp the meaning without understanding what he was rescuing us from. We were totally lost, a victim of all the evil the world can pile on us. We may not have realized it, but our situation was desperate. If we don't' see that, we can't see how great the death and resurrection of Jesus. So my prayer for myself is that I will see myself as I really am, so that I can fully appreciate what Christ did for me.

Just as I now more fully appreciate what the heroes of Normandy did. Context is everything, isn't it?