Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 - time marches on

The changing of years is an artificial thing. It just happens to be the day on a calendar when we reflect the fact that our planet has a 365-day cycle. For the Chinese calendar, a new year starts around our February. The Hebrew calendar rolls over in September. In our culture, the new year begins a few hours from now. No matter when it is, it's a chance to reflect and to look forward. And so that's what we do.

2012 was quite a year. It contained all the challenges I wrote about a year ago, and then some.

Just a few highlights:
  • I broke my leg near my ankle in early February, my first broken bone ever. That was interesting. 
  • There were indeed big changes at my company. I got a new boss in the middle of the year, and our president retired in December and a new one took office.
  • I took a Visiting Orphans team to Ethiopia and once again my heart was moved to continue reaching out to the children there. I made new friends as part of the trip, friends who now mean a whole bunch to me.
  • My niece Haley graduated from Alabama.
  • My very dear Aunt Odell passed on into the Lord's eternal care. 
  • I read several books that expanded my vision of what God is doing in the world and what my role should be. 
  • Countless experiences with family and friends, ranging from travel to just sitting around enjoying being together. Never underestimate the significance of these.
  • I could go on and on (but I won't).
It's amazing how fast that went by. It really seems like only yesterday that I was in the Superdome watching the Crimson Tide win its 14th National Championship. And now that time is upon us again. Indeed, time does march on. So, as another year arrives, what do I want 2013 to look like?

First, I acknowledge that I have no clue what God holds in store. Any planning I do will be helpful, but there will also be many surprises. That said, here are a few things I want to focus on:
  • I want to make sure that my focus is on relationships and not just accomplishing tasks. I want to grow in my closeness to God of course. But also I want to develop deeper relationships with my family and friends, focusing on things that matter.
  • I want to pray more. I have become more and more aware that the real results in the building of God's kingdom will be accomplished by him. I am doing work that makes a difference, but neither I nor any other human (or collection of humans) can bring about his purposes in our own power. So I want to pray more.
  • I want to successfully navigate the changes as my nephew and nieces progress into adulthood. I want to always be there for them, but in ways that are helpful to them and not for my own benefit.
  • I want to continue to make a difference with the children of Ethiopia, and build awareness of their needs in my world. To that end, I am going back to Addis this summer. If you want to go with me, find out how in this link: Manis Team - June/July Ethiopia
  • I want to be a leader at work, bringing about God's purposes through how I treat people and the quality of work I do.
That's a handful. No way I can do it on my own. So I go back to prayer. By me and for me. Thanks in advance.

2012 was a great's hoping that 2013 will be even better. Regardless, there are only a few years to work in this lifetime. Let's make the most of this one.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Where is my hope?

The end of the year is approaching. The New Year holiday is normally considered a time for new beginnings, resolutions to do better, the putting behind of the mistakes of the previous year. But this new year comes with a shadow looming over it - something called the "fiscal cliff."

It seems to me as I followed the last election and the news of the day that everyone has financial security on their minds these days. Conversations with friends and work colleagues certainly support this. How do I process all this anxiety as a Christ-follower? Enter the prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk lived at one of the most discouraging times any nation ever faced. Israel had been blessed by God, beginning with Abraham's call, continuing through the Exodus and the establishment of a kingdom in Palestine. But now they were facing disaster. God's judgment was coming through the invasion and occupation by the Babylonian Empire. For years it was easy to be thankful to God and bless his name. But now things were getting hard. How to react?

As Habakkuk pondered this, he finally prayed to the Lord in chapter 3 of his book. He told what he saw, and was very open about his fear:
I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear. My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror. (v. 16)
But then he uttered these amazing words, words that can transform one's attitude toward trouble, and the fear that accompanies it:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! (v. 17-18)
And there it is.

Habakkuk's hope was not in the crops and the cattle; in our terms, it was not in his wealth or financial security. He's nervous sure, he expresses that fear. Nothing wrong with facing that human emotion head on, and telling God how he feels. But in the midst of that, he rejoices! He is happy! Why? How? Because his hope is not in those things. He says that God can allow every single one of them to be taken away, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because his hope is in the Lord, not the things of the world.

I have seen first hand that what Habakkuk says is true. I have worshipped with believers in regions of the world where they cannot even imagine the lifestyle we have. You know, the lifestyle that we not only take for granted, but actually get defensive when it's threatened as if it were our right. And you know what? Those Christians have every bit of the joy and contentment in Christ that we do. Maybe even more, because they have not tasted the fruit of material prosperity - fruit that can so easily become a poison to our spiritual health. Compared to us, the "trees have no blossoms" and "there are no grapes on the vines." But they have joy.

So I'm going to pray for the strength not to worry. Our economy may survive the current stress; if that happens, I will continue to be thankful for God's blessings and use the resources he trusts me with to build for the Kingdom. It may not; if that happens, I will rejoice that the Lord is all I need and depend on him to get me from day to day. I'm not going to determine my beliefs (personal, social, political, or otherwise) based on what is best for my lifestyle; I'm going to base them on what is best for God's kingdom.

The fiscal cliff may be a long, hard fall. It may not. Either way, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I was interested to read this article on Tim Tebow and the flap over his reaction to not starting for the Jets this past Sunday:

No Letup in Attacks on Tebow

Now, it's no secret that I was glad Greg McElroy got the start. It's great to see a Bama man get his chance, and I thought it was fitting that he be chosen over the guy that Bama tried to recruit before "settling" for Greg.

But the writer has a point. Tebow has been a model of character ever since he was thrust into the public eye. He often turns the other cheek to vicious comments. He works in overseas missions for the oppressed at every opportunity. He honors God's command to save himself for marriage. I think he lives a life of service to the King of kings to the best of his ability.

But he is human. And thus he is a sinner. And, as the article points out, the vultures are circling - waiting for their chance to say, "See? Fake! Fake! Fake!"

Because that's what happens when light shines in the darkness. The darkness can't stand it and wants to put it out. If I can show the light to be imperfect, maybe it'll have to go away.

And so they pounced this week. Tebow probably didn't handle the situation perfectly. I know I couldn't navigate that mine field. But wow, what an overreaction!

And, as the writer points out, they will continue to circle. Waiting for the next slip up.

And so it is for all of us who endeavor to follow Jesus. There are forces out there who don't want to believe it's real. And so they watch. And circle. Waiting to devour us if we falter.
And so it has been and so it is written / On the doorway to Paradise / That those who falter and those who fall / Must pay the price. (Javert in Stars, Les Miserables)
 No room for grace.

But we are children of grace. We will fail, and God is there to pick us up.

I pray for Tim Tebow. He is in the spotlight, and rightly or wrongly some will judge the validity of the Christian faith by watching him.

And I pray for you - because somewhere there is someone watching you in the same way. And so please...pray for me too.

Hang in there, Tim.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas card

Since I haven't mailed Christmas cards out, like, is your Christmas card. Is this something a wife is supposed to make sure I do? If so, that explains it. Maybe I'll try next year.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all my friends! Love y'all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Joy to the World

In 1719, Isaac Watts published a set of hymns based on the Psalms. Of all the hymns in that collection, this one is probably the best known:

It was pointed out to me recently that Watts really wrote this song about the expectation of Jesus the Messiah's triumphant return at the end of history rather than about his entry into the world as a baby in Bethlehem. After all, there are no mentions of mangers. Or shepherds. Or wise men. Or Mary. Or reindeer. (Just checking whether you're paying attention, ha!)

He did base the song on the last half of Psalm 98:
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for he comes to judge the earth, with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.
But to me the wonderful thing about the song is that it is a near perfect expression of the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures (AKA the Old Testament) the story of redemption was wrapped in a paradox. YHWH promised that he would rescue the whole earth from their sin and rebellion, and he would do so through his people Israel - not just for them but through them. And it also was filed with a promise that the God would one day exercise his right as King over everything. But...the promise contained interwoven passages of a triumphant reign and the fact that the Messiah would suffer to bring it about.

Israel's king but also king of the world (no Titanic jokes please)? Coming in power to rule but also coming in humility to suffer? Huh?

But both were (and are) true! God entered the world in a tiny town as a little baby. He lived, taught, and suffered in order to rescue his people from sin and begin the reign of God's kingdom. And he will come again to bring heaven and earth together, setting everything right once and for all.

So, as I read it, there is no reason to separate Christmas from his future Glorious Appearing. It's all part of one wonderful story that we are privileged to participate in. To insist on Watts' hymn being about one or the other is to make the same mistake the religious leaders of Jesus' time did; to do so is to miss the fact that the triumphal return in dependent on the mission of Jesus. It's one unified plan.

So joy to the world! The Messiah has come to initiate his kingdom, through his suffering and death. He reigns today through the subjects of his kingdom and he will come again to set everything right. Psalm 98 is not about just one part of that, and neither is the hymn.

The Savior reigns! Let heaven and nature sing with joy! Let men their songs employ. He does rule the world with truth and grace. And - in today's world - he does make the nations prove the glories of his righteousness.

Joy to the world!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Yes, it's true

So there it was, and I couldn't take it back:

I left an Alabama game early once. 

 I was just having a little fun with whole Mayan apocalypse thing. You know - the end of the world that didn't happen today. Thought that would be a funny little line to throw out in the pretense of last confessions. But jusging from a couple of tweets, I shocked a few people:


 me ashamed. 

 what?!'s the story. I did the right thing, I promise!

Alabama was playing in the inaugural Music City Bowl in Nashville, and my good friend Lee was living there. His girlfriend had a friend who was, well, a prospect for me in her mind. And so the set-up was on. I would pick up the young lady in Athens, AL, meet the other couple in Nashville and we would hang out all centered around the football game.

She was nice. She was very attractive. And I thought we got along pretty well. Not a bad date. And then we all headed to the game.

If you are an Alabama fan, you probably know that night as an unmitigated disaster. If you are a Hokie, it was a glorious night. The Tide got crushed 38-7, and it wasn't that close.

The weather was miserable. It was around 30 degrees, very windy, and wet. A very oppressive rain/sleet mix was falling and we were freezing our tails off. The third quarter ended, already 38-7. Minutes ticked by. Our half of the stadium emptied. And there the four of us sat.

And suddenly a light bulb went off underneath my thick skull. Are these people as crazy as me - all three of them? Sure, I never leave a Bama game early and I'm not planning to now. I always stick it out (thus the shocked tweets above). But I got it.

So I turned and looked past my date and asked Lee, "Is the only reason nobody's mentioned leaving is that you told them I wouldn't leave no matter what?"

"Yes." Laughter. Shivering laughter, but laughter.

So I caved. I said something like this: I can't bring myself to do it, but if y'all leave I'll go with you.

And thus it happened. I was trying to be considerate to my date. But of course it was too late for that  - probably about a quarter too late. We got along 'til the end of the date and I still think she was nice, but the idea of us seeing each other again never really crossed our minds.

And so that's it. My "end of the world confession". I did leave an Alabama game early once. Once.

Roll Tide.

Monday, December 17, 2012

From weeping to rejoicing

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men's report of the star's first appearance. Herod's brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "A cry was heard in Ramah - weeping and great mourning.Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead." (Matthew 2:16-18, NLT)
Can you imagine? Can you imagine the grief, the devastation, the utter despair that must have been felt by the mothers of those children? Unfortunately, we can all imagine it just a little better today than we could have four short days ago. Because we have seen it on TV, as we've watched in horror the scenes from Sandy Hook Elementary School and its community. There is nothing more heartrending than the death of children, and when it's deliberate, cold-blooded, and totally senseless, that makes it so much worse. I know all our prayers tonight are with those families and their friends.

The fact that it occurred during the Christmas season does not make it any more horrible, but I think it some ways it may seem so. This is the season of celebrating childhood and its innocence, and that has been cruelly ripped away from the people close to Sandy Hook forever. Maybe that's part of why it struck me. It struck me that a devastating tragedy - an eerily similar one - was part of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus.

You know what happened, but there's a good chance that you've never attached yourself to it emotionally. Because it was so long ago. In a foreign land. Happening to people you know nothing about.

So can you imagine? As you think about Sandy Hook, sure you can. Believe it or not, the numbers are probably similar, according to this source which extrapolates the probable number of deaths at around 20 based on the population of Bethlehem. Around twenty children murdered - not by a deranged madman but by an intentional act of the government. Chilling...and heartbreaking.

So how do we make sense of it all? Where do we find our comfort in times like these (and those)?
After this interview [with Herod] the wise men went on their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! (Matthew 2:9-10)
Filled with joy. Unbeknownst to them, as they left to see the child Herod was setting in motion his evil plot. They rejoiced because, whatever else was going to happen, the promised King had been born.

This is the one who was coming to fulfill the promises made to mankind throughout history through his people Israel. One day, all the evil in the world would be defeated. One day, God would reign as king over the world. One day, he would come to rescue people from the world's system, the forces of evil, and their own corrupt selves.

It wouldn't be by force. It would be through suffering, through a cross that defeated death and sin, and a resurrection demonstrating his power and his plan to free us all from death. But make no mistake, he came to reign over the world and it is his.

It's hard to understand why bad things happen. Why is suffering part of God's plan to bring his kingdom on earth, spreading justice, grace, and mercy? Why did children have to die as part of the Messiah's entry into the world? Why is there still so much suffering today?

I confess: I don't know. But I do know the God who is over all and loves us so much, and I trust him. I know that through all the pain in my life he has been right there, extending love and mercy and comfort. I know that he has a plan so big I can't even begin to fathom it.

And I know that's the message of Christmas - it's why the wise men rejoiced. Maybe we needed to know the horror of Herod's action to understand that Jesus' mission was not about providing easy answers. It's about love coming down to suffer in our place, bringing joy not instead of suffering, but in the midst of it.

Joy to the world! Let earth receive her King!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Congratulations, Haley!

I am so proud of my niece Haley as she prepares to graduation tomorrow. It is bittersweet because she will now begin a new phase of life, and change is never easy. But it is also exciting! I can't wait to see what God is going to through her in the world!

As we prepare for the big day, here are just a few pictures that help remind me how special she is...

Early bowl game (Music City or Independence?) Brodie probably still remembers this.

Family reunion on Lake Murray

On the way to the Bama-FSU game

With soldier at the Roman Coliseum
Say "famaggio"

Florence (not Alabama)

Don't let go, Haley.


Remember the Rose Bowl.... #13

And #14

And I could add a hundred more.

Love you, Haley! Looking forward to the rest of our life journey.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A tradition

Tonight I continued a fairly new tradition. This is the third year that I've made a point of experiencing Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God. It is the most amazing thing. Through music, it tells the entire story of history - the story of Jesus who came to rescue us as God had promised. I can't put into words how he does it, although I took a shot two years ago. A weak shot.

What I do know is this: It is now an essential part of the Christmas season for me. When it ends, I feel I can celebrate the birth of the King of kings with the right perspective on why he came. That's the brain part. But I also am standing there in awe of the One who created me, loved me, and came to rescue me. That's the heart part. Combined, there's nothing left to do but worship.

This year, the fact that jumped out at me was that it was the God of Israel who came in the person of Jesus to fulfill the promise of the Passover for all people. And as I realized that, I could hear myself praying along with the children of Israel,

Lord, let your judgment passover us
Lord, let your love hover near
Don't let your sweet mercy passover us
Let this blood cover over us here

As you celebrate the season, may you experience the joy of knowing that, through the Messiah Jesus, God's judgment can pass over you, leaving nothing but his mercy and love.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


The moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all they tears wash out a word of it.
-  The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

As I look back over my life so far, a big thing I notice is that it is not one long, continuous story. Yours isn't either, is it? There are definite phases, periods of time where there were specific things God wanted to do for or through me in very specific ways. Some transitions were easy to see (like graduations) and others I can only tell looking back. And really the breaks are often muddy. But a few that seem obvious looking back:
And so on. In addition, there are friends that move in and out of your life, and others that last and last through all seasons. I have a friend who has pointed out to me that this part of God's perfect design - some he wants to use during a season of your life and others become like family for life.

Am I rambling yet? Let me stop. Here's where this is all coming from: big changes seem to be happening for people who are close to me. I have a niece graduating from college and others who will have to adjust to the fact that she has graduated. My good friend (practically a brother) had a daughter move off to college out of town this fall. Two pairs of friends both had a third child within the last few weeks - causing child raising to shift from man-to-man to zone.

And on it goes.

Here are two things I want to say if any of these friends and family happen to read this:
  1. The end of a phase may seem sad, but I have found each phase to be better than the one before it. Yes, it is painful to leave people and things behind...incredibly so. At those times, it is probably true that things won't ever be the same again. But I would not trade my life for anything. Why? Because God has used every one of those experiences to draw me closer to him and help me see my purpose in life. There is no point in regret. No matter how I got here, I am more excited about the future than I have ever been!
  2. Those phases move awfully fast. Treasure each one of them...each day, each hour, each minute. The Bible is right when it tells us that our life is like a vapor. Trust me on this, my younger friends and family, it only moves faster. Don't wish you life it!
Here's how Five for Fighting said it:

I'm blessed to know all of you. I look forward to the rest of the journey. Every phase.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One for the ages

The Crimson Tide of Alabama now has SEC Championship #23. And it's on the a quest for National Championship #15. But it was not without a "dawgfight." A few weeks ago, I wrote about the LSU game and tried to put it in perspective with the best Bama games I have been blessed to attend. I was not wrong - it was an amazing game and contained that one moment you can look back on if you win a championship. But what I saw Saturday night..well, it was at another level. Let me explain...but first, let's take a moment to enjoy the key moment:

So I've been asking myself, "What makes this one so special?" At the risk of overanalyzing, I've come up with this: All the great games on my list contain at least some key elements that make a game memorable. Elements like:

  • An exciting finish, with the outcome in doubt until the final horn,
  • Tremendous intensity from both sides throughout the course of the game,
  • A handful of plays from both sides that were turning points,
  • Multiple changes in momentum,
  • A refuse-to-lose mentality from both teams,
  • High stakes, and
  • A packed house and an amazing atmosphere from the the fans.
As I look back on all the games I've attended, a few stand out - as I mentioned in the previously linked post. But as I looked over the list, I noticed that most of them were amazing because of some of the items on this list. For example, the 1985 Georgia game had everything except the high stakes - there were no championships on the line. Or the 2009 SEC Championship Game:  it had the high stakes and will always be a wonderful memory as a Bama fan, but Florida did not do their part to make it an all round classic like this one.

But this! Everything on that list - everything! - was there. Back and forth, back and forth. Big plays. Turning points. Teams in the brink of disaster but somehow rising up to fight again. A finish that will be talked about for decades. And stakes up there with the highest - the championship of the sport's best conference and a chance to play for the big prize.

And finally, one of the best examples of mutual respect I've ever seen between two fan bases.

What a day! Roll Tide! And, because they earned it...Go Dawgs!