Thursday, November 28, 2013

Seven days of grumpiness

Okay, so what's deal? All through your Facebook news feed you have been seeing your friends share the things their thankful for. It has become a November tradition for many to publicly thank the Lord for all the blessings in life. I think it's a wonderful thing, and I've done it a couple of times.

So why did your weird Facebook friend Donnie decide to list things he's grumpy about? After all, the preacher tells us we need to "move off Grumpy Street and onto Thanksgiving Avenue." Aren't I thankful? What good does it do to complain?

In case you missed it, here are the seven statuses that were strewn through my timeline over the last week:

Day 1: Today I'm grumpy about religion and religious leaders that are a hindrance to God' kingdom by getting in the way of true faith, humility, and a relationship with God.

Day 2: Today I'm grumpy about the fact that I have this sin monster in me that keeps rearing its ugly head. I know it's dead and defeated, but it still keeps getting me to do and think things I hate. Ughhhh!

Day 3: Today I'm grumpy that I'm using this ticket - the last home ticket from the 2013 season ticket package. Football season is waaaaaaaaay too short.

Day 4: Today I'm grumpy about death and the devastation, heartbreak, anger, and emptiness it lays on those who are left on earth. Death stinks.

Day 5: Today I'm grumpy that the wicked and corrupt have so much wealth and prosperity.

Day 6: Today I'm grumpy that my knowledge and capacity to understand is so limited. I love to learn and wish I could solve all the mysteries of the universe.

Day 7: Today I'm grumpy about the plight of the disenfranchised of the world - the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the oppressed.

And now it's Thanksgiving Day.

So why grumpiness?

I guess the first thing I was doing was trying to get out of the box. The thankfulness list has become so common that I wanted to do something a little different. That's the rebel in me coming out. But then I thought, this has potential. Maybe by listing some things that make me grumpy, I can create a contrast with the overwhelming thankfulness that permeates my life.

Second, I really do think I need to guard against using this season to be thankful and then go back to complaining the other 11 months. Thanksgiving is not just a day…or it shouldn't be. It should be the way I think about life every single day. So I was sort of saying this: Instead of getting my thanksgiving our of the way in November and going back to being grumpy, why not get my grumpiness out of the way and go back to being thankful?

Third, there are some things God is grumpy about. Grumpy, and downright angry. Hypocrisy. Oppression. Neglect. Poverty. Sin. I think the things that make God angry should make me angry too. So I've got to say it felt good to express those. And in all likelihood I'm not nearly as grumpy about those things as I should be.

(Note: Clearly, Day 3 did not fall into this category. :) )

So I listed them, and I'll let you in on a little secret: It was hard for me to just do that and not explain why. But I'm glad I did, because now - on Thanksgiving Day - I can tell you that I am so thankful for the blessings God has provided. I am thankful for life, health, creation, and for redemption through Jesus.. I am thankful beyond words for my friends and family. But I'm also thankful for blessings related to every complaint:

Day 1: I'm thankful Jesus came and called the religious establishment on its bluff, stripping away the hypocrisy and showing us how to live in relationship to the living God.

Day 2: "What a wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 7:24-25)

Day 3: I'm thankful for football season and the enjoyment it gives me as I spend time with family and friends for a few short months each year.

Day 4: I'm thankful that through the death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus, death has lost its power and no longer has the final word.

Day 5: I'm thankful that God's justice ultimately prevails, and that I enjoy fellowship with my Creator - something the wicked, rich or otherwise, will never know.

Day 6: I'm thankful that I have a God who does know everything and I can trust him completely. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Day 7: I'm thankful that God loves the disenfranchised so much that Jesus announced there coming of the Kingdom as good news specifically for them. (Luke 4:16-21) And I'm thankful that he has called me to be part of the solution.

So there you have it. Seven days of grumpiness. May the things that break God's heart break mine too. And may I be filled with thankfulness all year, not just one day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

One play at a time

As the Tide pursues an historic third straight national championship, it has come down to the final regular season game. Win this one, they go to the SEC Championship. Win that, they go to the big one…where they can wrap up the quest.

But that's thinking way too far ahead. This program has learned that you win championships by winning the next game. And you win the next game by winning the next play. Not one game at a time, but one play at a time - that's how it's done.

And so this week Bama faces another team with big aspirations, and as a result this is being billed as like, the biggest game ever. And from a two-sided perspective, yeah, it is. But for the Tide, they need this game the same as they needed it last year. There is no difference in how important it is to them. They needed to beat a 3-8 Auburn last year as badly as they need to beat a 10-1 Auburn now. They can't meet their goals without it. It's all - all - about the championship.

So it's a big game for the media and most fans because it matches two highly ranked teams from our state. But it's a big game for Alabama…because it's the next one.

Roll tide.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Catching Fire: Yes, it's that good

When you anticipate anything for as long as fans have waited for this movie, there is always a great risk of disappointment. You can build up something in your head to where there's no way to live up to it.

This is not one of those times.

Last night I saw the premiere of Catching Fire, the movie adaptation of the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. It was amazing.

First, the pacing was outstanding. The movie ran over two hours but it seemed like about half that time. I know a movie is good when I don't have the slightest inclination to check the time. Last night? Not even once.

The casting for this series continues to be outstanding. I cannot even imagine anyone other than Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. But that's true now for all the major characters from the first movie. I would make special note of one though. Donald Sutherland embodies the subtleties of President Snow's character in a way that I can't even describe. Slight changes in the his face's muscle tension communicate as much as lines of dialogue would. It's a pleasure to watch.

The new characters are very well cast too. They are are all so good. But with very limited lines, Jena Malone's Johanna Mason just about stole the show. I loved her portrayal.

As for the story, I could write for pages about places where this movie made the story come alive, giving us just the right blend of drama, humor, and action - at just the right times. Since the movie only came out last night, I'll avoid details that would be spoilers. I'll just say that I fully experienced the evolution of emotions in a group of people as they realized that they were being drawn into something greater than themselves.

Book adaptations are tough. There is so much material and so little time. If you are a fan of the books, you will undoubtably have a favorite part that you will miss, be be slightly disappointed. That was true for me as well on a couple of my favorite details. But remember, mine are probably different from yours. So I will make this bold statement: This is one of the best adaptations I've ever seen. They were faithful to the story, the spirit of the book, and many more details than most adaptations.

Do you want to see a story about tyranny, freedom, oppression, human dignity, power, courage, and, most of all, fear vs. hope? Then this is your story.

Check it out.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Catching Fire: In just a few hours

If you know me, you know I love great stories. Especially ones that make me think and inspire me. You also know that I love big events with lots of hype. And you know I love hanging with my friends and family. So this is one of those days where it all converges - a perfect storm if you will. In a few hours I will be heading to the cinema with friends for the opening of the movie Catching Fire:

For a detailed discussion of why I love this story so much see this previous blog post (but not if you haven't read the books - it contains major spoilers):

The Hunger Games…what's all the fuss about?

The local AMC is doing something cool. They will be showing both the previous movie and Catching Fire back to back, to allow us to experience the story continuously. It's going to be awesome!

So after about 5, yeah, I'll be in up to my neck in the story. See you on the other side.

Tick tock.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What is praise?

It's all through the Psalms…in fact, it's all the the Bible. Praise the Lord. Over and over, there are not only expressions of praise toward God, but exhortations to praise him? Why? Is it an obligation? Another rule we're supposed to follow if we want to please our Creator? Or maybe something else?

On a seemingly unrelated question, why do we post what we post on Facebook? What compels us to share certain things with our friends?

For some awesome thoughts that I think apply to both questions, check out this link (and then come back):

Praise: The Consummation of Joy

So, condensing and paraphrasing, God wants our praise not because he needs our approval, but because it is the expression of the fact that we get it. We understand just how awesome he is and how much he's done for us, and so of course it spills out. If it is not my natural inclination to praise him, it's a sign that I really don't understand.

So, it's natural for us to say things like

  • That was the best movie ever!
  • I couldn't put that book down!
  • Did you see that game yesterday? It was amazing!
  • You've got to try the new Thai restaurant!
And, if you're really experienced it,

  • God is so awesome!
And that's the essence of true praise. Not something we do because we're supposed to. But something we do because it spills out.


This also helped me understand why social media blows up when something happens that fills a lot of people with joy at one time. It could be a TV show that captures the imagination. Or a movie that a lot of people have been waiting for. Or, yes, a spectacular football game.

It's natural to want to share joy; it's not natural to keep it to yourself. And so now there is a place where we go and share it. I think it's cool.

So when the Lord blesses me - when I see his handiwork in nature, when he shows me something in his Word, when I think of how Jesus came to bring me life - it's natural to share it. And so, the Psalmist would say, go ahead.

Share it.

Long and loud.
Praise the LORD, all you nations,
extol him, al you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.  (Psalm 117)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Learning from history

About 33 years ago on a Saturday in November I was at YoungLife weekend camp. Fortunately (I thought) we had free time in afternoon and so I was listening to the Alabama game on the radio. Alabama was the two-time reigning national champion (familiar?), ranked #1 (familiar), and had a 28-game winning streak. On the road at Mississippi State. And then this happened:

Maybe the most stunning upset of the Tide in my lifetime. And it was not fun to listen to.

And so as I head to Starkville today, I am wary. Take this thing seriously. Don't let it happen again.

Roll Tide!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


It was Tuesday, and a very hectic day. I had gone through a series of meetings and was running a little behind on some work that was due. AS 3:30 approached, I was about to pick up the phone to keep a call appointment I had made.

And the phone rang.

I picked it up, and I was immediately stressed. It was a call about about an important business decision and I needed to explain the current status carefully. But I didn't. I was thinking about the person who was waiting for my call...I got in a hurry...and I bit the head off the coworker on the phone. I was short, irritated, and, IMO, rude.

As I hung up, I looked down at my wrist and saw this:

Yep, it was a wristband I got at church recently, one to help remind me that life is about Jesus. As the other side says, "All Jesus All the Time."

So after my call, I got ready to go see the coworker, apologize, and start the conversation over. And, like any self-respecting Christian who just got caught falling short, I pushed the wristband way up my arm under my sleeve so it wouldn't show. i was embarrassed.

How silly of course. Because I don't claim the name of Jesus just by wearing a wristband. I talk about him on a regular basis and everyone knows that I consider him the King of the universe who came to bring us back to God.

Wristband or no, I represent him. And wristband or no, I fail. Every. Single. Day.

Fortunately, his plan, purpose, and Kingdom don't depend on me being good enough. It's because he is worthy that I want friends and family to follow him. Because he is, not me.

But I do need to remember - I am wearing his mark everywhere I go, and people are watching. Thank God for grace that works in peoples' lives despite my failings. But even more, thank God for grace that works in me to make me more like him as I submit. And hopefully, through all my goof-ups, friends can see that he is changing me a little at a time, and so he can change them too.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Red light

Are red lights a bad thing? I tend to think so; when a light is red, it keeps me from getting where I want to go as quickly as I would like. When used symbolically, a red light is anything in my life that tells me to stop. I generally don't like being told to stop. Do you?

Yesterday I was in a car traveling from a service celebrating the life of my friend's mother, and we had a couple of cars that needed to stay together. Unfortunately traffic caused us to get separated and so we were a little concerned that the car behind us might not know how to find my friend's house.

As we pulled up to the next intersection, the light changed on us at the last second. That usually frustrates me - I almost made it! But in this case, Steve slowed, stopped, looked for the car behind him, and said, "The red light may have brought us together."

I think that in life we see a purpose to red lights sometimes. We know that things are bad for us and God puts red lights to protect us. But this was a purpose I never thought of. What if sometimes the red lights in our lives are God trying to slow us down....slow us down not because of any bad thing we're headed toward, but to let our friends and family catch up to us?

For example, I can think of a time when I was in a hurry to jump into a career and move away from my hometown. God put up red lights, and looking back I can see that it brought me together with my family and countless friends who have built me up as a person. The red light brought us together.

So I think next time God says stop,  it will be time to look in the rear view mirror for people he may want me to be with. The red light may be bringing us together.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Last Saturday I was in Tallahassee. I thought I was here for one thing, but I was wrong. I was here presumably to see the big football game between Florida State and Miami. I often come to see an FSU game when Alabama is off. But God really had me here to be with my friend Steve and his family as his mother Karen went to be with the Lord.

I won't even try to describe how wonderful she was as a mother to my friend and his sister. I'll leave it to her family who wrote the extended obituary in the link:

Yes, she will be missed terribly. But as I reflect on her life tonight, I know that she lives on in two important ways:

First, her character lives in everyone that took time to let her into their lives. God has put each of us on earth to make a difference, and each of us will change the lives of those around us, for better or worse. For Karen Elyea, it was so much for the better. Her husband, son, daughter, grandchildren, and yes, friends (like me) are different and better people because we knew her.

Second, she literally will live forever. This is the hope that was brought to fruition by Jesus when he died and rose from the dead. Death is the enemy; don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise. It is not just a peaceful means to pass into eternity. But it is a defeated enemy. When Jesus was resurrected, death lost its power and we no longer need to fear it. 

So when we say goodbye to Karen at her service tomorrow, we can and will be sad. But we will also be flooded with hope, the hope that comes because Jesus lives. Not only is she in God's presence now, but one day she will rise like him and participate in the coming together of heaven and earth for eternity. And so will we, if we put our faith in Jesus.

And that makes all the difference.