Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wineskins, Witness, and Waiting: Jesus Responds to Critics ( Mark 2:18-22)

Mark 2:18–22

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” [19] And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. [20] The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. [21] No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. [22] And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (ESV)


The Context: 

I love reading Mark of all the synoptic gospels for some reason. It may just be the flow of it....
but as we read to this point, we see growing crowds


1:37 “Everyone is looking for you”

1:47 “Yet the people still came to Him from everywhere”

2:2 “So many gathered, there was no room”

2:13 “A large crowd”

And the growing crowds always seem to increase the growing conflict.

These particular verses seem to indicate concern that the disciples of Jesus were not living up to the expectations of the status quo
2:18 “Now John’s disciples AND the Pharisee’s were fasting”


The Confrontation:

Speculation regarding the questioners
- ‘And people came ….” - human nature never really changes. Dishonest questions are as brutal now as they were then... were these people asking an honest question or was their question merely a cover for their already hardened hearts?

I can't help but read the tone of their questions as plain SNARKY!

Jesus answers the questions by providing 3 illustrations:

Illustration 1- Wedding…… The Bridegroom will leave, but don't live in the future...celebrate the NOW.

Illustration 2- Patching a garment- the age of the patch needs to match the age of the garment and an improper repair (application) can be worse .

Illustration 3- Wineskins……again, new versus old. The new will need to stretch under pressure or the result will be great loss.

All three illustrations together suggest a common principle.... the time for fasting will come, but the time is not now. Jesus is in process of something new.

There are MANY principles from the passage: patience, authority, ritualism... but I wanted to focus on how we respond in conflict and criticism.

The World of CONSTANT CONFLICT...
Unfortunately, we never escape THE FRAY... it is always there. The battle never rests and we live in a world of endless opinions.

Negative opinions brew in the dark, they are spread in whisper campaigns

The Lord of Time
As humans, we don't do time very well..... I have always quipped...“God is never LATE….. but He is seldom early” . It is SO HARD to wait on Him. Can we embrace God’s sovereignty as it relates to HIS TIMING?

Applications:
Never Aid, Comfort, or Enable the Enemy. If you participate in whisper campaigns or believe that your right to know is an entitlement, you are helping negativity to sap life out of all that is around you.

Be Steady in the Storm…. And Celebrate THE GOSPEL! Jesus stood firm and stood above the fray. He was not naive... He knew the hearts of the critics... but He was never dismayed or knocked off mission by them

Ask God To Enlarge Your View of Him. It is OK to live with a God who operates on a 'need to know basis'... He is big enough to handle your waiting game

Never Underestimate the Power of the Status Quo. As a follower of Jesus, never be afraid to upset the apple cart in your allegiance to Him. Many will hate you for that, but God supports those whose hearts are set on Him.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

A Humble and Holy Hermaneutic

This blog repost is by request to analyze the principles of Biblical interpretation I use - formally referred to as 'hemeneutics'.

As always, I am a firm believer in showing my cards early- I come from a conservative, reformed tradition of Christianity.... but I firmly believe the Bible has guided me there... Scripture has shaped my theology much MORE than theology has interpreted my Bible.

There are two important hallmarks of any right reading of Scripture:

HUMILITY- this is way more difficult that anyone can imagine. 

1 Corinthians 8:1 "we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. (ESV)

A humble approach actually must be examined BEFORE we even open up the Bible. Without humility, we are not in a state to accept what the Bible will be saying to us.

I encourage you to carefully read the conversion of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in both of her two first books ..... she rightly acknowledges that her most grievous sin... the one keeping her from salvation... was not the sexual sin she was living in- it was PRIDE.

As I read critics and trolls of Christianity... I am not saddened by their statements, I am sad about the PRIDE they take in their opinions... we live in a culture where we have made OUR OWN MINDS our own GOD and truth is what we say it to be.

I encourage all readers of anything to create a context of HEALTHY SKEPTICISM of self... the smarter you are, the more you are in danger of ever discovering that you may be DEAD WRONG.

BY the way, the best antidote of pride is LOVE. A love where you are willing to sacrifice for another. I have quite a few friends who have radically different views of religion and politics... I especially pray for wisdom that I speak and post in a way that shows my love for them and I pray for them.

So, even as I write this post, I need to be aware that I may be incorrect in areas as well.

Thus HUMILITY has allowed me to discover the authority and beauty of the Bible. And if I read it with humility, it corrects me.... I do not correct it.

A second hallmark of my hermeneutic is simple: READING. I am reading literature and as I grow in my ability to read literature, I gain wisdom in analysis. 

I taught literature for almost 20 years. During that time I read and taught hundreds of classics... over many different genres.

The Bible is unlike anything else in this world..... so different than even the greatest works of all time.

The Bible is a supernatural document- transmitted in so many ways, protected, and delivered to a world in easy to understand fundamentals. God exists... so a communication from Him is not a stretch.

It reads like no other writing in history... even when I read the Book of Mormon or other religious texts... there is no comparison.

The original languages of Scripture is also important- it is so amazing to me to see that beautiful Hebrew poetry and figurative language of the Old Testament reads that same way in English. And also impressed that the GREEK of the New Testament has such a technically sound grammar and linguistic that you CAN"T make it say what you want to if you do honest analysis.

So over the past 35 plus years, as I have read the scriptures in an honest and humble way...  it is quite clear. Though I must always thank God for the Holy Spirit WHO I believe has provided that ability.


CAN WE MAKE MISTAKES IN INTERPRETATION? YES!

But if we continue to READ in HOLY HUMILITY false interpretations are melted away as we continue to see all of Scripture being hinged to one enduring foundation: Salvation by faith in Jesus Christ as a merciful gift to sinful and dying people.

BATTLE OF WORLD VIEWS

I first read "Christianity and Liberalism" by J. Gresham Machen in 1993 (it had been published in 1923) and I did a detailed study of it around 2010.
I got to where I couldn't read it at night, because I would lay awake until late haunted by the prophetic words Dr. Machen used in warning us about the sad consequences if the Orthodox faith slipped in our midst.

Sadly, I feel more and more like a dinosaur- his words are so powerful, but resonates so little in this current culture. Is there anyone who feels this pressing on them the way it presses on me?

I have copied his final few paragraphs of this very important work. Can there be some men who will rise up and once again proclaim the old time gospel? The true one? The one that sparked the reformation and changed the world?

From the last chapter, The Church:

The rejection of Christianity is due to various causes. But a very potent cause is simple ignorance. 

In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply because men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is. 

An outstanding fact of recent Church history is the appalling growth of ignorance in the Church. Various causes, no doubt, can be assigned for this lamentable development. The development is due partly to the general decline of education--at least so far as literature and history are concerned. 

The schools of the present day are being ruined by the absurd notion that education should follow the line of least resistance, and that something can be "drawn out" of the mind before anything is put in. They are also being ruined by an exaggerated emphasis on methodology at the expense of content and on what is materially useful at the expense of the high spiritual heritage of mankind. These lamentable tendencies, moreover, are in danger of being made permanent through the sinister extension of state control. 

But something more than the general decline in education is needed to account for the special growth of ignorance in the Church. 

The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity. But whatever be the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied. It must be remedied primarily by the renewal of Christian education in the family, but also by the use of whatever other educational agencies the Church can find. Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every earnest Christian man. 

Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is; and the fair and logical thing is to learn what Christianity is, not from its opponents, but from those who themselves are Christians. That method of procedure would be the only fair method in the case of any movement. But it is still more in place in the case of a movement such as Christianity which has laid the foundation of all that we hold most dear. Men have abundant opportunity today to learn what can be said against Christianity, and it is only fair that they should also learn something about the thing that is being attacked.

Such measures are needed today. The present is a time not for ease or pleasure, but for earnest and prayerful work. A terrible crisis unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith. And now there are some indications that the fiction of conformity to the past is to be thrown off, and the real meaning of what has been taking place is to be allowed to appear. The Church, it is now apparently supposed, has almost been educated up to the point where the shackles of the Bible can openly be cast away and the doctrine of the Cross of Christ can be relegated to the limbo of discarded subtleties.

Yet there is in the Christian life no room for despair. Only, our hopefulness should not be founded on the sand. It should be founded, not upon a blind ignorance of the danger, but solely upon the precious promises of God. Laymen, as well as ministers, should return, in these trying days, with new earnestness, to the study of the Word of God.

If the Word of God be heeded, the Christian battle will be fought both with love and with faithfulness. Party passions and personal animosities will be put away, but on the other hand, even angels from heaven will be rejected if they preach a gospel different from the blessed gospel of the Cross. Every man must decide upon which side he will stand. God grant that we may decide aright!

What the immediate future may bring we cannot presume to say. The final result indeed is clear. God has not deserted His Church; He has brought her through even darker hours than those which try our courage now, yet the darkest hour has always come before the dawn. We have today the entrance of paganism into the Church in the name of Christianity. But in the second century a similar battle was fought and won. From another point of view, modern liberalism is like the legalism of the middle ages, with its dependence upon the merit of man. And another Reformation in God's good time will come.

But meanwhile our souls are tried. We can only try to do our duty in humility and in sole reliance upon the Savior who bought us with His blood. The future is in God's hand, and we do not know the means that He will use in the accomplishment of His will. It may be that the present evangelical churches will face the facts, and regain their integrity while yet there is time. If that solution is to be adopted there is no time to lose, since the forces opposed to the gospel are now almost in control. It is possible that the existing churches may be given over altogether to naturalism, that men may then see that the fundamental needs of the soul are to be satisfied not inside but outside of the existing churches, and that thus new Christian groups may be formed.

But whatever solution there may be, one thing is clear. There must be somewhere groups of redeemed men and women who can gather together humbly in the name of Christ, to give thanks to Him for His unspeakable gift and to worship the Father through Him. Such groups alone can satisfy the needs of the soul. At the present time, there is one longing of the human heart which is often forgotten--it is the deep, pathetic longing of the Christian for fellowship with his brethren. One hears much, it is true, about Christian union and harmony and co-operation. But the union that is meant is often a union with the world against the Lord, or at best a forced union of machinery and tyrannical committees. How different is the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! Sometimes, it is true, the longing for Christian fellowship is satisfied. There are congregations, even in the present age of conflict, that are really gathered around the table of the crucified Lord; there are pastors that are pastors indeed. But such congregations, in many cities, are difficult to find. Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes into the Church to seek refreshment for the soul. And what does one find? Alas, too often, one finds only the turmoil of the world. The preacher comes forward, not out of a secret place of meditation and power, not with the authority of God's Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problem of sin. Such is the sermon. And then perhaps the service is closed by one of those hymns breathing out the angry passions of 1861, which are to be found in the back part of the hymnals. Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, And sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace.

Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus' name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.

My prayer is that we be found faithful in the humble reading and proclamation of His Word until He returns (and I hope soon!)



Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Story of 'Winning Edges'

We are literally days away from the 1st high school fishing team to debut on Jimmy Houston's digital network JHL.TV

The reality of this has been a wild ride and I am still look at the circumstances of this adventure with a smile and incredulity.

The very fact that I am a fishing coach period is quite a story.... but let's stick with the origin of the show.





LAKE CAROLINE AND BRENT CHAPMAN



It started as our fishing team met Brent Chapman as I was a part of his season 2 of Pro Vs Joe ( Coach Em Up ) in 2017 . We challenged Brent and he was familiar with that special lake in Louisville, AL. Getting to see a high quality show up close for filming was a beginning of this process.  We loved getting to meet Brent, his family, and his amazing film crew.

But again, it was fun to be a part of that- but I would not have EVER thought I was interested in doing ANYTHING like that. In fact, I was super impressed with how hard it is to do!

Meeting Brent was a special time and it resulted in 3 more episodes of his show : One with Jack Flemming, one with Grayson Morris,  and one with Aaron and Jordan Martens.

But the process was ahead.....It takes A LOT of time and planning to do a show right. And that doesn't count the equipment expense!

CONVERSATIONS ALONG THE WAY

I also have to link conversations I had with Coach David Cutcliffe, Brent Chapman producers Anthony Crivelli, and Tom Leogrande- and Montgomery, AL sports promoter, Doyle Powell all together about current culture, training young people,  and how hard it is to target teens with messaging. Each conversation put some thoughts in my mind of how I can get better as a coach and help elevate our fishing program.

JIMMY HOUSTON AND PAT TURNER

Doyle Powell called me about joining Jimmy for filming in Feb. of this year. We had an amazing time and Jimmy Houston is such an inspirational person. The guy still has such great passion for fishing and he understands it as a calling on his life.

That calling drives him to be an instructor and mentor of this sport he loves. Our similarities were not fishing as much as it is for educating and mentoring young people.

As we fished and filmed, we also talked about how to connect with teens- who really watch their peers on you tube more than connecting with a high profile 'star'.

Pat Turner, Jimmy Houston Outdoors producer, and I had a lengthy conversation about their network and his desire to create content to help young anglers.

The more we talked, the more I thought 'I don't know HOW I can pull this together, but we can do it."

WINNING EDGES IS BORN

When I got back to BCS in Feb, I talked with Coach Matthew Forester, the head of our school media class. Coach Forester and I had already been working together to use the creativity of his students to produce original content and graphics for our athletic programs.

The difficulty in producing our own show started with equipment- the quality we would want to produce wasn't gong to be cheap- so we put together a 'wish list' of audio, video, and editing needs.
The entire package was about $20,000. So immediately, the Lord was going to have to provide before we could even think about it.

GETTING OTHER SCHOOLS INVOLVED

We have GREAT anglers at BCS. These guys have worked hard to become great. But I also know that our area in Birmingham has some high school HAMMERS when it comes to competitive bass fishing- so I knew that I had to involve these students as well.

That has been my favorite part of 'Winning Edges"- being around some amazing kids at other schools. High School fishing in Alabama is pretty cool- competitive? YES- but there is also a friendship between anglers at other schools. Even the college guys help the high school guys. We have a GREAT SPIRIT in fishing right now.... if I can get some of the parents to join us, it would be the healthiest competition I have ever been a part of.

PREMISE OF THE SHOW

The main mission of 'Winning Edges' is 'hands on' educational and inspirational video content. It provides an opportunity for our students to be creative and LEARN. It is as much video training as it is fishing training.

It helps us to showcase WHAT IS GREAT about high school fishing- God, Country, Fishing...and the relationships between schools is very healthy. Watching these guys compete, but also SUPPORT one another is impressive.

We also have great support from college anglers who are teaching and training the high school guys as well.

High school, college, and professional fishing is a very positive thing in our country today! Nothing is perfect of course, but we could not be happier with the support of some great pros like Aaron Martens, Randy Howell, and Brent Chapman along the way.

Also, the manufacturers are starting to realize it is possible to market to this generation by jumping into social media using the young guys as representatives.

ISSUES, PROBLEMS, AND CHALLENGES

So we started... we travelled to Pickwick, Logan, Caroline, and Lay Lake with student film crews. I did start to get donations and we just went with it. We had audio issues, camera shaking issues, and we were filming in the summer during VERY TOUGH conditions.

When we downloaded the hours of b-roll and digital sound... we all went "OH BOY!"

But Coach Forester never wavered, we split the students up into editing 'teams' and just had the guys " Here is your show- get going!". The result was cool- each episode has its own look and feel.

I am very pleased with the outcome- you can tell a difference in the early shows and the last ones- we are all getting better.

We filmed a lot in the summer, so we haven't gotten in a variety of techniques...but our plan is to film a minimum of 2 shows each fishing season (fall, winter, spring, and summer).

WINNING THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

When Grayson Morris and Tucker Smith won the natty with JT Russell as their boat captain, it was super special.... AND all of a sudden...Wining Edges was going to have a chance to have a larger impact.

This was evident this past week where we were hosted by Shimano at the Bass Hall of Fame in Springfield, MO. Our guys were introduced  to major leaders and personalities in the world of fishing.


I was able to talk a lot about Winning Edges and solicit advice about the project.

 




It also helps that Grayson and Tucker stopped at Drake of the way home and  signed an apparel agreement with Drake Performance Fishing. We will be filming new shows featuring Shimano and Drake soon.


TV DEBUT- Mid to Late OCT 2018





So THIS will be up and going VERY SOON-



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Strange Ministers- Why 'Snowflakes' Need to Compete

We had an excellent chapel this week at BCS from Dr. Travis Coblentz who teaches in the UAB department of philosophy. His message was one that no one ever gives to teens.... why it is good that they embrace suffering. Suffering provides opportunities and direction to a life of meaning. When we spend our lives pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain, we end up with a rather uninspired existence. We do hard things and endure hard things for the cause of Christ and the pain is so worth the reward.

I'm not sure if it resonated.... we often waste the best literature and truths on the young- I hated these types of things as a 16 year old... if someone asked me "Why is there air?" my only answer was to "pump up footballs".

And speaking on suffering is dicey... there is so much HARD suffering around us and in the world that creates issues when we voice our 'problems' ... my suffering is nothing compared to the intense suffering around me.

So in God's good timing and providence, he sent me to the emergency room last night with a bout of diverticulitis that comes my way every decade or so. I have enough experience with it to notice the symptoms and if I get the diagnosis and antibiotics quickly, it is painful, but I can endure.

 A lot of pain in that ER... and my cold sweats and surges of pain did not give me much time to empathize or minister. I did however hear the voice of Christ... from my recent revisit to the Book of Revelation in prep for teaching...

[17] When I  (John) saw him (Jesus in His exalted state), I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, Fear not, I am the first and the last, [18] and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17–18 ESV)

Here is what is interesting to me about Jesus...he doesn't do relativistic comparisons.... He doesn't judge me that I am hurting but doesn't try to say, "But over there is real suffering"- at the same time , He is sovereignly in control of ALL issues- He has experienced them and He has a plan for them. I also need to be more aware of how I can minister to others in pain.... knowing that a student hurting because their parents are divorcing IS REAL PAIN.

At the same time, we waste a lot of energy trying to take all discomfort away from young people. I never want to inflict ANY hurt on anyone, but I also know a pain free life is a risk free life.

Pain WILL come though... and we all need to be trained to endure it.... even embrace it with a faith that says like Job "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face". (Job 13:15 ESV)- don't leave out part B to that verse...God can handle it.

The best training ground I have ever seen to train snowflakes into warriors is sports. Any discipline (work, fine arts, academic) works as well. But sports, especially those with contact, help train the muster it takes to make it.

Here is how Paul said it:

 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. [26] So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. [27] But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25–27 ESV)

As many of you know.... I do have a lengthy philosophy on competition....
Where and how competition fits in within the Biblical guidelines for people has always intrigued me.

A competitor is enhanced or held back by those he surrounds himself with.

And this may sound simple, but a competitor competes with others….

The natural instinct of any competitor is to get the energy drainers out of their way.

Often these ‘energy depleters’ are those who don’t want anything…. they aren’t hungry, they aren’t dreaming, they aren’t striving. It isn’t that they are content, it is simply they have become too complacent.

Competitors grow by surrounding themselves with passionate, confident, and motivated people….people who are unstoppable… and,to be honest, they are often illogical and unreasonable in the passionate power of their pursuits.
True competitors are the kind who dare to battle the demons of the status-quo and get a lot of detractors from doing so.

Competitors exude a passion to either conquer or die- they are ones who will push back against all conventional wisdom….. and enjoy going against the grain.

and, competitors often  achieve what was thought to be previously impossible.

When you read that kind of description- who could argue against that?… those are the winners of the world.

But the qualifying questions are: by what means and by what cost?

Ultimately, a Christ honoring life results in scars.... that is OK, Jesus kept His scars after the resurrection... think about that

I close with this.... I have always been intrigued by this statement from Paul:

" From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus". (Galatians 6:17ESV)

From the context, it is in part his reference, I believe, to his on going eye condition, being surrounded by detractors and imposters, and the nature of the glorious fight he was in.

He EMBRACED the aggravations and pain- and because of that, he lived in fear of no one.

If you want to delve into more thoughts on competition... visit this post http://www.jayopsis.com/2017/01/jacob-as-competitor.html

As a head football coach in Nashville in 2006, David Cutcliffe- my high school head coach and now Duke Head Coach- visited us.

He looked at our football coaches and said, "I need men like you to push my son in ways that I can't do as a dad." We weren't coaching his son, he was speaking metaphorically, but the point was well made.

Coaches are part of God's strange ministers to push and prod... it is getting harder and harder to keep the parental protections out of the mix... I never hold that against a parent by the way- I know parents love their kids!

But if you are a parent, let the sports arena be tough- don't wish pain... but allow the process to shape a warrior.


I firmly believe sports (especially football) is an important opportunity to develop a rugged disposition to fight. Putting on gear and experiencing fear, pain, exhaustion, victory, and defeat is an experience offered in few other places in society.
A coach pushes his players beyond where they think they can go and when they get there, they realize they could have even done more. These tough teachable moments can happen in the weightroom, in the film room, on the practice field, and in games. It is not easy as a parent to allow that ‘push/pull’ type of coaching to take place…. But young men NEED that grind under caring mentors that our coaches are always intending to be.

That is why I call it a 'strange minister'.





Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Strange Solitude

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35 ESV)


I never will forget the time one of my daughters looked at me as we sat around a meal, having a great time of fun conversation, and just blurted out the phrase... "Dad, we all know you are a highly functioning introvert."... fulfilling the proverb that many a truth are said in jest.

Even my habit of needing to write things out illustrate what I have always known but rarely considered- my withdrawal from all things and a fortress of solitude that lies deep within.

This solitude is both healthy and destructive and it is where God does great work, but also has had to do an even greater work to understand the dangers and hurts that can result.

I have debated how to flesh this out in a post... do I speak of the harm first? do I extol the virtue first? Do I volley it back and forth?

This topic could create a lot of misunderstanding.... much of human writing is a sort of self-justification... even leading with Mark 1:35 could indicate that I am proud of my powers to hide away and exist..but Jesus withdrew for all the right reasons and motives...and He used the moments to pray. I will confess right now- the solitude that Jesus lived in and the fortress I escape to are as different as night and day...though He is always working on that for me...and sometimes with me.

Here is one more introductory point of this issue- I actually lived much of my early years as an extrovert.... and some of this is being a first born son...but I was lead in plays, outspoken, a guy who 'hammed it up' in social circles from 5th to 12th grade.... but I now see parts of my true personality beginning to develop in my senior year and grew throughout college and solidified itself in my late 20's.


And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6 ESV)

So with this verse as a holding place... a hopeful promise.... let me start by confessing the problems of living an introverted existence.

UNINTENDED NEGATIVES OF MY FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE

STOICISM- Stoicism (little show of emotion) has its benefits. I have been called a rock in times of crisis, but it is mostly a suppression at best and an act at worst. One of the lowest moments of my life was having to tell various family members that my mom had passed away as they arrived at different times to the hospital - telling that story over and over and suffering the reaction together with aunts, brothers, and dad took months to recover from.

I had similar experiences in my 7 years as a Dean of Students and my role of  communicating consequences for school discipline. Though it never showed much on the outside- it was very painful.

Not sure why... no one taught me to be stoic. We didn't show a lot of emotions growing up... I grew up in a world where it was unmanly to cry... and though I rarely shed a tear in public, I am surprised how weepy I can become in private- I cry at movies a lot- even when they aren't sad.

And I am surprised by what brings tears and when they start... they ain't stopping.

Two quick stories of that... in 1996 we were 13-0 and got upset in the semi-finals on the road...I was hurting (like all losses) and one of my mentors came up with a big smile and beautiful words of encouragement- as he spoke great words, he patted me on my chest with a firm point of emphasis, and it was like turning on a tear faucet.....

Another time, I was speaking to a group of my football seniors and parents right before our end of the year banquet... I was speaking about being a lifelong competitor and how they inspired me that season... out of no where, emotions sprang up as I was making a statement about fighting a worthy battle and my voice quivered and the tears flowed.... and to be honest, it was awkward... to this day I think they must have thought "That was strange".

Another way a stoic persona helped me was as a QB on our football team. My calm demeanor in the heat of battle helped keep our offensive huddles poised and we performed well in pressure situations.

BUT IT COMES AT A COST......

Outwardly showing love has never been easy... and the coolness can seem machine like with those need more expression... mostly my wife and children, close friends... they know I love them... I hugged my girls and spent time with them...we loved each other, but I have wrestled most of my life about letting it flow easier.

It also has hurt me at times in positions of leadership. A calm demeanor cannot be beat in times of crisis...but followers need a certain amount of charisma.... and I followed a very charismatic leader when I took my first head coaching job, he was blessed with a magnetic presence and persona and a lot of our leaders today have a look and a presence that sends a lot of energy out.

I think a person like me will always need to surround myself with those types of people and work harder on the personal relationships needed to overcome the 'lack of aura'.

The good news is that I have really improved in both expressing love and finding/showing external energy.

STRANGE STRENGTH IN MY FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE

I just don't know if very people understand this next statement.... or explanation.

Loneliness is a desert of depression

[18] Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone;” (Genesis 2:18 ESV)

The saddest songs that have ever been written are about loneliness....

So it must seem strange for me to write- I never feel alone... In fact, when I am by myself, I have myself as a companion.... and God's presence in usually there with me.

My inner man is palpable to me- I have actual discourse with him... when I read, he lends a voice, when I think- he leads the discussion... when I pray, I hear my inner man speaking.

And at times, it is a different voice- God's voice has an authority that is unmistakable- it is often tender, but is also at times harsh... even sarcastic.

I notice this a lot when I am fishing.... total peace and total internal deliberation.

Even as I write this... it seems more like a mental disorder than reality...LOL.

But that is who I am.... alone, but never lonely.

This is why it is even more important to push this aside and come out and visit with others. If I am not careful I give out a message that "I don't need you' which would be a lie.

I am deathly afraid of where I would be without my wife, my children, my family, and close friends.

Probably content, but woefully ineffective and anemic.

Regardless, I know there will be seasons of 'turtle days' where I withdraw and meditate on things.

SO WHY WRITE THIS?

This blog is always directed toward my children primarily. They spend little time looking at it- but there may be a day when these words mean more and intended to bless.

As they wrestle with extroverts and introverts... even in themselves... they need to know it is messy but glorious.

"God limits our knowledge for two reasons: to humble us and to make sure that we have dealings with our fellows"- John Calvin

There is a glory and reward for understanding ourselves and others. An extrovert has a place in God's purposes, but so do turtles. One is not superior to the other.

And I laugh because God often puts to different types in a marriage- and though at times hard, it is a beautiful harmony!

So here is another published but not promoted blog post to those I love.

It is a powerful promise God gives me....

He loves me- demonstrated by the cross- but also that He doesn't leave me wallowing in the muck of selfish solitude- He visits me everyday and works on me. He lets me withdraw in various moods and moments and then gently pushed me out to love others.... I show love for God BY loving others.

I just want it to be more visible......

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Foul Dust of Autonomy

JUDGES 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This is the last line of Judges and it is so sad!
Indeed we see in our culture the ruin and fragility associated with doing what you want to, when you want to… without any allegiance to authority.
America was founded on rugged individualism. Even the revolutionary spirit was born out of the desire to throw off the British monarch.
But freedom without boundaries is pure chaos- our founding fathers knew that. That is why they drafted a constitution with a balance of powers and the rule of law.
Imagine what kind of productivity and civility we would have if all the red lights went out at rush hour!
Freedom from God means you become God… and if everyone becomes God.. who is right?
Friedrich Nietzsche understood what it meant to throw off God and become God…. he penned it in a parable called ‘The Madman’.
THE MADMAN
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”
[Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]
 Why do we do what we do? Do we ever not do something because we know God does not allow or approve? Do we ever feel the holy pressure to do right even if we don’t feel like it?
 Do you just do what you want to do and say, “Oh well, I am a sinner…God will forgive me.”?
 There are atheists for sure… men who have long forsaken any hope of God being there.
 But there are practical atheists as well… men who say God is there, but live life like there is no God.

Is there any real difference in the two?

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Revelation Refresher- A Shout Out to John

I have been spending a lot of time in the Book of Revelation preparing for a Sunday School Series I am teaching this quarter entitled "Meditations in Revelation". The content of this series was a result of almost 3 years of study that caused me to actually spend more time in the Old Testament than in Revelation.

The 'gist' of this study looks more at a devotional application rather than 'charting and interpretation'. It tends to put the book in its intended light, a message to encourage believers to stand firm when the going gets tough... to be ready for the Lord's return.

But in doing a fresh look at my notes and commentary, I noticed something I has missed before

One of the MANY ironies of Revelation is the the title of the Book means “To Reveal”.. or “Move the Veil”…. kind of a strange title for a Book clouded in such mystery.

In Greek.. the word Revelation is ‘apocalypse’… and God is in the business of revealing the mystery of His existence and the truth of His Word!

Let’s look at some important places where we find either a Hebrew of Greek use of this term:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV)

I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:25-28 ESV)


Don’t you love to solve a mystery? Don’t you love to be entrusted with secret information?

If we understood everything about God- would He be divine?

I find it more comfortable that I don’t understood everything about God!

There seems to be some things he holds from us in terms of timing and our maturity.

In his preface to Romans, Calvin said that “God limits our knowledge that we should be humbled and have to have dealings with our fellows”.

There is a mystery to God and He invites us to dig in to His mystery. In John 17, Jesus said that “This is eternal life…that they know You and Jesus Christ whom You sent.”

Jesus makes His truth known to some and it remains hidden for others. That is why we pray for people..that their spiritual eyes and ears be opened.

This Book is not as ‘mysterious’ as it seems to be. There is understanding in this Book for the PURPOSE of encouraging believers in Jesus to persevere and prepare for His return. It is a teaching to believe in Jesus in spite of the conditions of the world, which would appear to be hostile to the things of God.

BUT I MISSED SOMETHING..... SEE IF YOU 'SEE' IT
Revelation 1:1–9

[1] The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, [2] who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. [3] Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

[4] John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, [5] and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood [6] and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. [7] Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

[8] “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

[9] I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (ESV)

[10] I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet [11] saying, Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (ESV)

THIS BOOK IS A BEAUTIFUL TESTIMONY TO THE FAITHFUL WITNESS OF JOHN
.... A LIFE OF TESTIFYING AND WRITING ABOUT THE TRUTH OF JESUS
.... 'REVELATION' IS A FAITHFUL COMPILATION TO WHAT HE WAS TASKED TO DO
WRITE WHAT YOU SEE.......

And throughout the book we read: then I turned/ when I saw/ after this I looked/ then I saw/ I saw/ then I looked/ now I watched/ and I looked/ after this I saw/ I saw/ then I looked/ then I saw/ this is how I saw it in my vision/ then I saw/ and I saw/ then I saw/ then I looked/ then I saw/ and I saw/ after this I looked/ then I heard/ and I saw/ after this I saw/ .... and ON AND ON- from 1:12 all the way until 22:8

I worry we make too much of the Book if we don't understand that John is being faithful to what Christ is showing Him....

I have discovered that reading the Book and listening to the Book being read is a blessing- it is a comfort and blessing to read it, hear it, and it is a joy to try to be constantly ready.. and I do believe the time is near.
But we have to be so careful…what we do with prophecy is NOT what it is intended for. I have always been cautious to avoid the pitfalls that most fall into when studying the great work:

“When Modern prophets turn Revelation into a crystal ball, they turn their back on church history and have been wrong every single time.” Rev. Art Azurdia
I am also realistic… if the greatest Biblical scholars in the history of the world got the FIRST coming of Jesus wrong… am I foolish enough to believe we have the 2nd coming right?

As you read this Book of blessing…keep these things in mind:

If I Am Reading Revelation Correctly:
I will feel excited, encouraged, and energized to stand boldly for Christ in a world that seems to grow darker and colder.
I will feel personally challenged to continually stay prepared. This will cause discomfort from time to time.
I will see clearer lines of demarcation: Lion/Dragon- Lamb/Beast- Overcomer/Defeated
I will evaluate my circumstances in light of eternity
My desire and practice to worship will grow
I will walk and live as a champion- Victory is in sight

Pray for me as I lead this class into a joyful journey this fall quarter!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Fighting The Fade: Entropy of the Empire

26JAN
This post is part of my dedication to write about Coach Paul Bear Bryant every Jan. 26 in remembrance of him. I have a WordPress site that compiles my experience growing up in the Bryant era of Alabama football, which included m time as a walk-on QB during his last season- the fall of 1982. You can read all of the posts here: https://bearbryantmemories.wordpress.com/
“I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man”(1 Kings 2:2 ESV)
I have a calendar reminder every January to begin thinking about what to write on.
These days, it is almost impossible to not link Coach Bryant to the remarkable run by current Alabama coach, Nick Saban. But looking back, I have done that times ten (as have countless others).
For some reason this year, it has been about ‘fighting the fade’.…. and I have resisted this topic because it doesn’t sound as complimentary or as reverent as I intend to be. But it is a reality, nonetheless. Some of it is also about my personal competition with a body that is now 53 and requires energy and work to maintain.
JM Spring 1984
The ‘fade’ is evident
In the Fall of 1982, I could smell and feel that the Crimson glory was in decay. Things had been running on rewind. The buildings, the equipment, the weight room, the colors were fading. The support staff looked more like retirees than hungry and ambitious culture changers.
There were exceptions of course. Strength coach Al Miller had a hunger and newness to him. And even though the weight room was cramped, old, and outdated… he forged ahead ….
It was in that weight room one day, broken in pieces by a ‘light’ workout that I heard him wonder out loud “Was there any player left who knew or remembered what past champions had sacrificed to earn a ring?”.
And it scared me when he said that…because I was worried about that myself…and I knew that I had no clue (and was somewhat terrified if I wanted to know).
Now- before I am mis-understood…this is not a hit piece blaming Coach Bryant… I have experienced this over and over in life:
I went to Banks High School AFTER the glory of the 60’s/70’s
My time at Alabama – the ending of Coach Bryant’s era
But the feelings have been felt in other times as well….
I was at Tennessee a lot at the end of Coach Fulmer’s run (that decay happened really fast – it was new and vibrant ’93 to ’99… but I told a good friend of mine that ‘the orange is old’ in 2004- and it was more about the campus feel and how tired everybody seemed.
Is there a point to this ‘downer’ of a post?
Yes…. all glory as it relates to man has a shelf life- and it is no ones fault.
Moses wore a veil to hide the fading glory.
Poems and songs have been crafted to relate to the reality of the decay that precedes death.
The Bible states it this way:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. [17] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
And I believe, Coach Bryant shines in this area…..
Since all empires fade in the gravitational pull of entropy…. what do we do?
We fight and we constantly seek RENEWAL.
I don’t treat the end of Coach Bryant’s run as negative- I honor him for how long he sustained it- through all the changes that were demanded to stay fresh and relevant.
In his final speech to the team- he knew what was needed…. He told us “Because of current trends in football and rule changes….we have to start passing the ball more”
So here is what we have to do personally and even organizationally to promote longevity:
We have to expend the energy and drive to be refreshed and renewed.
We cannot rest long on any past success.
We have to be willing to battle to the very end.
In the end, we all end up in the same state…. but HOW we get there makes all the difference in the world.
Alfred. Lord Tennyson captures the zeal needed to fight decay in his classic poem, Ulysses.
The entire poem is worth the read- he is resting and enjoying the prosperity of past battles, but he knows he needs to be back in the battle.
Years ago, I took the last part of that poem and adapted it to a TEAM challenge:
It may be that foes will wear us down: 
It may be we wear championship crowns, 
And match past champions, whom we knew. 
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
And I guess that is my final remark- inspired by my heroes of the past… chief among them Paul “Bear” Bryant
My battle is with my team- we strive together- and it is a glorious fight!
And the team?
The team of my family
The team of my co-workers
The team of my faith
As we continue to fight the decay of life…. we become one equal temper of heroic hearts.
And in the end, we realize that that investment in others has great reward.
That attitude can even turn the trend of a nation…..