Thoughts and Meditations from verses and stories through one guy's head and heart... Psalm 124:7
Friday, November 30, 2007
The kids at Thanksgiving. Last-Minute Tactics
My dad coaches a high school football team in West Tennessee and they are currently plowing their way through the state playoffs, which is Dad’s favorite place to be in late November! Last week they were minutes away from losing the quarterfinal game when some drastic measures paid off in a big way…
There were only about two minutes left in the game and not only was Dad’s opponent up by a touchdown, but they also had possession of the football. Now, if you don’t know football, that basically means that this opponent was sitting in the driver’s seat to win the game. There’s not a whole lot you can do when you’re down by a touchdown and the other team is eating up the clock by running the ball a few yards at a time… In those waning minutes, the coaches decided to go for a long shot; an unprecedented play call that had basically no chance of doing very much good. They called a safety blitz, which means that the last guy in the line of defense would rush the offense to get into the backfield as soon as the ball was snapped to try to make the play fall apart in some way.
The teams lined up, and as the opposing quarterback began his cadence, Dad’s free-safety started running toward the offensive line, trying to time his blitz perfectly with the snap of the ball… BAM! It was over as soon as it started… the second the ball was snapped to the quarterback, this safety was in his face. The ball went through the quarterback’s hands, bounced off his chest and was pulled out of the air by the blitzing defender! After getting the ball, he was (as Dad always says) off to the races… Can you believe it?! This free safety stole the bobbled snap from the middle of the air right in front of the baffled quarterback and scored a touchdown while everyone on the opposing team stood around scratching their heads. Dad’s team kicked their extra point giving them the one-point lead that won the game! It was the kind of thing that only happens in the playoffs…
When you’re at the end of the game, (and the end of the season) you sometimes make the calls that seem crazy… the calls that seem like they won’t work, because you’ve got to do whatever it takes. I’ve been reading 1 Peter this week and one of the things he talks about a lot in this book is the fact that we are at the end of the game… there are only a few minutes left on the clock, so what plays should we call? How should we live in light of the fact that we’re almost done? Well, in chapter 4, Peter says, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Sometimes it seems like a long shot… a play call that has no chance of doing any good, but hey, we’re at the end here, so love each other. And not just love each other, but love each other deeply… For some folks, this is an unprecedented call… the one that has no chance of working, but Peter says it’s the most important thing. “Above all else,” he says, “love with all you’ve got.” Love the hard-to-love folks, the hateful folks and the folks who would never love you back. Love deeply. You never know… it may just be the play that wins the game.
Norah's typical afternoon outfit: A bridal gown, wings, and though you can't see them, rain boots... The Gateway
Well, another Thanksgiving is gone and it was awesome! I think I’m still pretty full actually. They say the average American consumes around 5,000 calories during Thanksgiving dinner, and it feels like I definitely did my part to keep the national average up there… I ate piles of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, rolls and even some fruit! And not only was the food awesome, but the football was great too! We watched the ancient Brett Favre (he’s really only 38) throw 20 consecutive completions for 342 yards and two touchdowns on the day. All in all it was a great day of enjoying the three ‘F’s of Thanksgiving, which are, of course: food, family and football.
As we were driving to Nan’s house Anna said it felt like we were going to heaven… We thought this was pretty interesting, so we asked her why, and she said it was because we were going a long way… but, as Christy pointed out, we were going to a feast, so maybe Anna was onto something after all. The more I thought about it, the more like heaven it seemed: tons of food that is too good to be true, tons of family loving each other and a spirit of thanks in everyone’s heart… Now, I know heaven is going to be way better than any holiday here on earth could ever be, but there is something about Thanksgiving that is very heavenly.
Psalm 118:19-21 says, “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.”
I think that from an emotional standpoint, Thanksgiving is the most powerful holiday there is, and it may be the day when more people are closer to Christ than they even know. You see, gratitude has power. It has power to change a person’s emotions, to lift us out of our selves… out of self-focus and into a place where we can think about others. Saying thank you is a big thing because when a person says “thank you,” they are admitting that they needed help, needed someone else. It is admitting that we’re not self-sufficient and that we can’t make it on our own. Gratitude is an essential element in the Gospel… in fact, gratitude is the gateway to heaven.
You see, thankfulness is the difference between knowing Jesus and every other religion in the world. Everything else is about self-improvement and self-qualification but faith in Christ is different. See, the truth is that there is nothing we can do to improve ourselves or qualify ourselves to earn heaven or righteousness, but everything that is required has been done on our behalf by Christ. He offers all that we need for free. He offers us charity and all we do is accept and say, “Thanks.” This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. It’s why Thanksgiving is probably the most like heaven of all of the holidays: a big family, gathered around a feast with thankful hearts… heaven.
Norah is now almost two years old. One thing this means is that every day she gets a little better at talking. I love having a baby at this stage because they are always up for trying new words on for size, which means I get to tell Norah to say things like, “What’s up, yo?!” There is hardly anything in the world cuter than hearing a little baby voice say the words, “Peace out homies.” The bad thing about this stage is that Norah is not really used to asking for things in the English language… she is used to fussing and crying when she needs something. Whether she’s hungry, hurt, tired, sick, uncomfortable or just frustrated, all we hear is this “Waaaaaaaaaaah…” Sometimes it’s a low, slow and bothered whine and sometimes it’s a loud and proud scream. The problem is that when she does this we don’t know what she needs. As a result, we are constantly training her to use her words rather than fuss when she needs help.
Christy said it best: “It always seems like we are just trying to get her to come to us for what she needs rather than just throwing a fit.”
In Mark 10 when Jesus was leaving Jericho on His way to Jerusalem someone started screaming His name. It was a blind man named Bartimaeus sitting on the side of the road and when he heard that Jesus was passing, he just started screaming, “Son of David! Have mercy on me!” People told him to shut his yapper, but that just fired him up all the more! Finally Jesus stopped and said, “Call him over.” The other folks standing around grabbed Bart and led him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Are you kidding me Jesus? The guy is blind! He’s crying out for mercy… what do you think he wants you to do, tie his shoes?! I mean, to me it’s pretty obvious that the blind guy asking for help wants you to fix his eyes… on the other hand, how many people are really aware of what’s wrong with them? How many people out there could actually tell you where they most need help? If Jesus asked you, “What do you want me to do for you?” would you have an answer? Most people tend to think they’ve got it all together and don’t need anything, but when something bad happens they fall apart and don’t really know why…
I know that I have a tendency to do that… like Norah, I just whine and throw fits without using my words…the only problem with that is that I am not 21 months old! Lately I’ve started making a list every day or so of the four or five things I just can’t handle and want Jesus to take full ownership of and responsibility for. It’s my ‘weakness’ list. It’s me, using my words… telling Jesus exactly what I need Him to do for me, and you know what? He reads that list and is taking care of everything.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”
Last night Christy and I were watching a movie that had a middle school science fair in it… remember the middle school science fair? Why is it that they always have the same exhibits? You know what I mean… dioramas of the pre-historic earth complete with dinosaurs eating each other, foam board diagrams of the water cycle and of course, the mini-volcano. When I look back on middle school science class, all the projects and experiments we did were kind of like that min-volcano… small and manageable versions of something you can’t really get too close to, in order that you might understand it better.
Lately during my time with the Lord I’ve been reading about prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel... boy, talk about a tough job! Those guys had it rough! I remember hearing stories about some of the terrible things they went through when I was a kid, but I always assumed that all of those things happened because certain people who were in power didn’t like the prophetic message and punished them as a result. Now, this definitely did happen to them… like Jeremiah being chucked into a cistern filled with mud for a few days, but as I’ve read their stories, I’ve discovered a surprising thing: Tons of the really awful things those guys experienced were at the command of the Lord!
Those guys were kind of like science fair projects… their lives were living examples of what would happen to the entire nation if they didn’t turn and walk with the Lord. At certain times the prophets were like actors living out what would soon be for all eyes to see. It’s why God told Isaiah to take off all his clothes and walk around naked for three years in Isaiah 20… now, I’ve seen shocking and even awkward ministries, but nothing like that! This week I was reading Ezekiel 12 and the Lord gave him a strange ministry… “And the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, eat your bread with quaking and drink water with trembling and anxiety.”
What kind of ministry is that? Can you imagine holding your double cheeseburger and just working up a good tremble before taking a bite? Before slamming a milk shake, Ezekiel would have to have a good bout of the shakes himself! God said that when people asked, he was supposed to tell them that he was a sign to them… a warning sign that troubled times lay ahead when meals would be eaten with fear and anxiety.
You know, we don’t have prophets quite like those guys anymore, but in a way, we can be like them. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We are supposed to live our lives in such a way that we are like signs pointing not to impending destruction, but to the possibility of a joyful, hope-filled, beautiful life. When you walk with Jesus, just trusting Him for your stuff, thanking Him for His grace and love, you’re gonna look way different than most folks! I want to be like that… like a science fair project... an observable example of what life can be like when you trust in the love and mercy of Jesus, and how you really can have a sweet marriage, a peaceful home, a content heart and clean conscience before God.
Here's a video of Joe and Robert being... well, Joe and Robert. (with a little help from John Williams)
We took the kids trick or treating... Norah was a chicken and Anna wanted to be a duck... it was a foul Halloween...
How many times has something bad happened in the middle of your day and the first thing you do is think back on your recent sins in order to figure out why this bad thing is happening? You know what I mean? You get a flat tire or get caught at a red light when you’re running late and as soon as you ask yourself, “Why is this happening?” You remind yourself of how you talked about so-and-so behind their back yesterday and you figure, “Well, this stinks, but you’re right God, I deserve it.” When I was in high school and found myself staring down at some pop-quiz I was clueless about and would surely fail, I went through my mental rolodex trying to figure out which sin I was being punished for.
The really bad thing about exercising this particular bit of whacky theology is when you reverse the process… Basically, that’s where you decide whether or not you’re going to commit a certain sin by trying to figure out in your head if this moment of rebellion will be worth the resulting punishment God will surely bring down upon your head. Now, not only is this impossible because we are incapable of appraising the value of our own sin, but it’s just downright anti-gospel! It is just another way for us to feel like we can do something to even out our record with the Lord… as if bad weather or poor driving conditions were an even trade with anger or lust.
The crazy thing is that I know the Gospel! I know I can’t earn credit with the Lord by suffering for my sins! I know He doesn’t owe me anything like sunny days and a big, fat tax return; and yet, when the new episode of House got canceled because of a stupid baseball game, I just knew I deserved this and my mind started searching the vast catalogue of sins for that one that roughly weighs the same as suffering through disappointing television… I don’t think I’m alone either. In fact, I asked our high school kids this very question the other night and a bunch of hands went into the air… we know the Gospel; and yet, there are times when we don’t… that’s why we need to hear it all the time.
This morning, I was reading Psalm 103 which says, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
Isn’t that awesome!? See, if God punished us for our sins, we would be dead! Lost! Without hope! If God gave us what we deserved, we would be hosed! Getting your wallet stolen or breaking your wrist isn’t an equal punishment for telling a little white lie or complaining about your insurance premiums. The truth is that we could never pay for our wrong stuff and live to tell the tale! God paid for us in the person of Jesus. If you have believed in Him, He paid for all of your wrong on the cross so that the punishment for your sin has already been taken care of. Jesus was punished for my sin and because of that, God doesn’t punish me for it, and He never will.
We don’t know why bad stuff, frustrating stuff or even tragic stuff happens to us, but it’s not because we’re being punished for our sins. God isn’t punishing you and He never will! So, the next time you stub your toe, drain your battery or get a bad cold at just the wrong time, don’t think about your old sins… just pick your feet up when you walk, get out the jumper cables, grab some Sudafed and thank God for the blood of Jesus.
Here's a pic of Rosie at the zoo... sitting on a gigantic, painted stone frog