Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pre-season thoughts

Today is the day - the beginning of college football 2012. It's like Christmas! As we prepare to unwrap the presents, beginning with SC-Vandy tonight, here are five quick hits...just some pre-season musings:
  • Alabama. There is no doubt we are in a golden era, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 70s. It has been a fun ride. With the current coaching, strong recent recruiting classes, player development, I think they should be right in the thick of things this year. But the Tide has a young secondary and it takes time for that phase of the game to gel. Watch out for Michigan - they are talented, have alot of confidence, and maybe the most dangerous player in America. A big hurdle.
  • The SEC. It's gonna be fun to watch how things develop with our two new members. Missouri has very talented skill players, but most analysts think they may be weak in the trenches. That's normally not good news in this physical conference. Texas A&M has one of the bright up-and-coming coaches in the country. I don't know how much of a threat they will be this year, but watch out of them over time.
  • USC. Sorry, I think they're way overhyped. The country wants them to be good, so that someone can challenge the LSU's and Bama's of the world. They are extremely taltented, but Lane Kiffin is their coach. Can he coach a championship team? I'll have to see it to believe it.
  • LSU. I don't think the departure of  Tyrann Matthieu (also called - way too often- the honey badger) will affect them as much as i'm hearing from others. He was a big play specialist, and those can come and go. What I do wonder about is how much stock they're putting in a brand new QB. Yes, Zack Mettenberger is talented. But untested. We'll see.
  • BCS. I'm one of those who don't think the current system is so bad. Unlike some other sports, we are guaranteed to have two deserving teams play for the championship every year. Yes, sthere are usually other teams with good arguments, but the two that play are clearly elite. Unlike college basketball where two years ago the EIGHTH place team from a conference won the national championship! Well, we've got two more years and then it expnads to four teams. That's fine, because the top 4 are pretty elite too. Just don't keep expanding it beyond that.
That's about it, and it's almost time for kickoff. Enjoy the season - it'll be way too short.

And oh....

Roll Tide.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The speed of twitter

I came across this tweet today:

RT : Ohio St. confirms the Twitter policy @ Buckeyes press conferences has been lifted

I found it remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, I saw that something had been lifted that had only been announced a short time earlier. Basically, reporters assembled for the Urban Meyer press conference and were told that they would not be allowed to tweet while it was in progress. Before Twitter could even blow up over it, tweets were out that the ban had been lifted!

Such is the speed of today's news cycles. Last week the social media was hit with news that a local Tuscaloosa area (Northport actually) bakery had been told to cease and desist from making treats with Alabama's script A. Twitter and Facebook blew up over it, and an apology was issued by the end of the day. Such a thing would not have been heard of a few years ago.

So keep up people! THe world is changing. Unless it stopped changing while I wrote this. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is forgiveness...really?

To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. - C.S. Lewis

This quote, from an essay written by Lewis in August of 1947, was eye-opening for me. If you had cornered me a week ago, I would have defined forgiveness in terms of letting go of things that had been done to harm me. But Lewis points out a very important distinction in this essay. If what you did to me has justification, it does not need to be forgiven. If you had very good reasons and it was excusable, letting go of it is not forgiveness - it's just fairness. Why should I hold something against you that was ok to start with?

Of course, most actions of humans are not that clear cut. Unless you're pure evil, the offense may be partially justified but also poorly handled because of the flesh. So I should forgive you of the portion that was without excuse, and excuse you for the part that was justified. How do I know? I don't. And that's the beauty of God's forgiveness. He knows our hearts, and knows exactly what comes out of our corruption and what was done because it was necessary or justified. And he gives us just the right amount of forgiveness when we come to him and accept it.

I saw a great example of this as I was watching a movie tonight with a couple of friends. It was Wall Street, Money Never Sleeps. In the scene linked below, Gordon Gekko (the symbol of how greed leads to a fall) is talking to his daughter, who blames him for the suicide of her brother. Embedding is disabled for this video, so please watch it at this link.

What struck me is that Gekko's plea for forgiveness was a mixture of real admission of guilt ("beat myself up", "mistakes I made as a father") and also giving some reasons that he was not really responsible ("it's like he had cancer", "you cannot blame me"). But ultimately he pleads, "Try to forgive me."

Based on this one scene alone (and yes, I saw the rest of the movie), did he need forgiveness? Or fairness? Probably a combination of the two. His greed made him a bad father and landed him in prison - that was on him. But he was not responsible for all the demons his son faced, so it was probably unfair to hang the suicide on him. But there was plenty that needed forgiving!

Seem like I'm splitting hairs? I don't think so, and here's why: How many times have you thought that something was unforgivable? Maybe it was someone who hurt you and it was so vicious that there's no excuse for it. Or maybe they hurt someone you love. Maybe you think you've done something so wrong that God could never forgive you.

Here's the good news: the fact that it's inexcusable is exactly why it forgivable. If it's excusable, no big deal...what's to forgive? But if it is so "out there" that you see no justification, it's time to forgive! Because that's what forgiveness is, and that's what God has done for you through the Messiah Jesus.

Thanks be to God for his great mercy. May I pass it along!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Number Fourteen

With less than nine days remaining, just a little musical recap to get us ready for the pursuit of number fifteen...

Thanks to Bo Latham. Roll Tide!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A hope and a future

One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
 It proclaims a wonderful truth. The Lord - the God of Israel, the Creator of the universe, our Father - has a master plan for all of us, one that gives us hope in any circumstance and a future of mercy from him.

But I must confess that most of the times I have read this verse, I have lifted it out of context. Big time. Reading it alone, without looking the context of the passage leading up to it (and without the historical context) can give a false sense of what the Lord is saying through his prophet Jeremiah. I know it has for me. Out of context, we could easily conclude that God is promising bounty, riches, and worldly success for me. And sooner rather than later. But this is not the promise at all.

You see, this chapter comes on the heels of 28 chapters where Jeremiah is sharing some tough news with God's people. He is telling them that they have turned from his ways, and that as a result, the empire of Babylon is going to invade their land, kill many of them, take the rest of them into captivity, destroy their sacred Temple, and impose their false religion on them. It is going to be 70 years of misery.

(Side note: God loved these people; so did Jeremiah. Sometimes love means delivering a hard message that needs to be heard - quite different from one definition of love floating around social media these days.)

So, after delivering this hard message born of love, Jeremiah turns to the promise. The promise that there is hope. There is hope when God's people turn back to him. Hope and a future. That future is 70 years away. It's not coming now...or next year...or even this decade. Seventy years from now. Hear verses 10 and then 11:
This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
A little different, isn't it? Will there be hard times? Yes. Does God promise an easy life or easy success? No.

He promises that, no matter what you're going through, there is a future. He has a plan, and if we will put our lives in his hands he will bring about a glorious end. It may be a long, long time from now. But he is an eternal God and the big picture is what matters, not our momentary happiness.

That is a hope and a future! Not immediate happiness. Not something I can see with my mortal eyes. But a plan I cannot even fathom, where God's eternal purposes are for my good.

And that's so much better!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Another year passes

Today is August 15. I absolutely cannot believe how fast the years are going by. This is the third August 15 since I began blogging. So as I was preparing to write this, I looked back over my previous posts of this date.

Why this date? It's the birthday of my oldest sister, and also the anniversary of the accident that took her life 16 years ago.

So, as I wrote two years ago, today I remember. And as I shared last year, each year I take this day as an annual reminder of her and other loved ones that have gone on before me.

So on this 8/15 of 2012 I will reflect. And pray. And give thanks. And rest. And, most of all, look forward to the day when I join here and the others in the presence of the King, to reign forever.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Our changing language

Words matter.

Tonight, I was at a wedding, and the time came for a time-honored tradition: the tossing of the garter followed the bouquet.

So we were sitting there and we heard this announcement:
"Will all the single men please come forward?"
My niece looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. She said that she thought all the guys were supposed to be part of it. Well, since the one who catches it is supposedly the next to marry, it can't be all the guys right? Only the unmarried ones.



Not single.

You see, the word single doesn't mean what it used to. Right?

 Yep, the picture above is from my facebook profile and it says "single". Yes, of course I'm unmarried. But it also means that I'm not in a relationship. It's a distinction that the current generation considers natural, and yes, it has changed the meaning of the word "single". To be truly single, you are not in a committed romantic relationship. And so the announcement was confusing. He wanted all unmarried men to come forward.

(Note: I stayed in my seat, regardless of the definition. Pretty much didn't want to be standing there with a bunch of twenty-somethings. Awk-ward.)

Language changes over time. That's why a version of the Bible translated in 1611 no longer communicates effectively to most 21st century English-speakers. Not because there's anything wrong with it. But because it uses lots of words that mean something different today than they did then. If it can happen within my lifetime (like "single"), imagine what has happened over the course of 400 years.

It's a major reason that new translations of the Scriptures are necessary as time passes. Because truly, the language being translated into is different for one generation than the next. Everyone deserves to hear the word of God in their own language.*

And the same is true in our daily conversations. We need to share the good news of the Kingdom with words and illustrations people can relate to. Jesus did. If we want to make a difference in our world, our message must not sound like something stale from ages past. God's life is always new, always fresh.

Words matter.

* For much more on this subject, I recommend the preface to N.T. Wright's translation, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (2011). It's a great narrative on the need for fresh translations, and the translation itself is one I like.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Not this time

I order my steaks medium well. Used to be it was always well done, but at some point I got a little less picky. Either way, I like when they actually cook meat. Raw meat is great for animals, and alot of people like rare steaks. But for me, that's why they invented cooking.

Today I ordered a filet, medium well. For some reason, many chefs at steak restaurants take offense at this. They think you are ruining a perfectly good steak and they resent it. I'm pretty sure that was the case today.

I usually can tell when this occurs. I end up with a piece of meat that is of pretty low quality. Streaks of fat that just should not be in that cut of meat. What happens, I've been told, is this. There's some meat in the kitchen that is not up to standards. Some fool like me orders a steak that is (to him) overcooked. So why waste good meat? Send the gristle out to the guy who doesn't know how to order a steak.

So today, I recognized it. And, in a very tactful nice way, I asked them if this was their usual cut of filet. I didn't say why or accuse them of anything. Just asked. And you know what? The chef came out, looked at the steak, and apologized.

By the way, the replacement filet was awesome! One of the best steaks I've had in a while.

No lessons or parallels here. Unless it's this: It is possible to ask for quality service and be kind at the same time. As they say, honey catches more flies than vinegar.

This restaurant handled the situation great. If I'm ever in San Antonio again, I'll return. "Well done", folks.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A nugget from C.S. Lewis

A two hour flight is a great time to do some reading. Today, for the first time, I read C.S. Lewis' famous sermon/essay The Weight of Glory. I love C.S. Lewis; he is one of the great writers of the past 200 years, and probably in history. But I had never read this relatively short work. I encourage you to read it - if you want to, a copy is in the link above.

The whole essay is awesome. But there was one thing he said toward the end that I wanted to share. The context is this: he is talking about the eternal nature of God's highest creation on earth, human beings. Beings created in his image for his glory, and who are destined to one of two destinies: to be exalted to reign with God forever, or to be excluded from his notice forever. He is making the point that everyone we meet - prince or pauper, rich or poor, funny or dull, and so on - is that important. And so we should take that responsibility seriously, recognize the incredible worth of every person we meet, and remember what's a stake in our relationships.

This is, as he calls it, the "weight" of glory. How imposing is that?! Talk about pressure. And if he had stopped there, what a solemn message it would have been.

But he doesn't. And in that context, here is the quote I wanted to share:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal...(I)t is immortals we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner - no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
This is a profound, concentrated statement of so much Biblical truth. So much so that I had to read it a few times for it to sink in. (You may want to do the same.) Of course, I expect nothing less from Lewis.   These words, spoken first in June of 1941, ring down through the decades and challenge me as a Christ follower. If I am to be part of spreading God's kingdom, I must do so with a daily knowledge of how important people are. They were created for eternity. And my love must be costly, not self-serving. And real, not a parody.

And that is God's model for his people. May I never forget it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

16 years and 4200 miles

It was the summer of 1995, and the anticipation was building. The Olympics were coming to Atlanta and we could not wait. I was talking to my sister Kim and she was talking about how great it would be if we could see the most popular event in person - gymnastics.

Well, we didn't win the drawing for those tickets, but we did find a way to get some. I never will forget going to Atlanta with her family and watching volleyball, track & field, baseball, and yes...gymnastics. We saw the qualifying rounds and the women's all-around competition. I remember sitting at a table in the CNN Center and talking with my sisters about how it was so special - a once in a lifetime opportunity. We saw the USA team that won a rare gold person. They were called "The Magnificent Seven." What a memory!

A month later, Kim went to be with her Lord in an unexpected accident. As I continue to miss her and her daughter Holly, I think back on that Olympics, and I'm so glad we got to share that before she went ahead of the rest of us. I will never forget it.

So it probably not surprising how much I have enjoyed the last three nights of the London Olympics. A long 16 years and 4200 miles away from those Atlanta nights, a US gymnastics team has repeated the feat. No, they have gone farther - winning the team gold medal and then following it up with Gabby Douglas' all-around gold.

As I have watched, pride and patriotism has enveloped me. Watching the joy of those young ladies who worked so hard to get there is almost overwhelming. But I can't help but think back to Atlanta. and to my departed sister. How much we enjoyed those games, and how she would have enjoyed watching this team.

So forgive me if I get a little carried away with this once-in-four-years sporting event. It's personal. and I love it.

U. S. A.