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…..

Saturday, August 18, 2018

38 Years Ago- A Gift and Glorious Road

[11] And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son
[12] Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life
[13] I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:11–13)
Do you remember having your eyes opened to the gospel- the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ?
My parents were good to get me in church a lot growing up. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Bible sword drills all began the process.
I remember, Jack Rutledge, father of Alabama QB Jeff, putting his arm around me and quietly asking me to give my heart to Jesus. I tensed up and was unwilling… little did I know that those faithful seeds were going to root in time…. ( I was excited to tell him years later of my conversion).
My first ‘experience’ with God was at the age of 8 when I was baptized at Ruhama Baptist Church in Birmingham. It was during a revival and I felt like I was ‘supposed’ to go down the aisle. I remember a Pastor meeting with my mother and me. During this meeting, he showed me a Good News Bible and pointed to a picture of a shepherd and sheep. I just shook my head “yes”. I really did not know what I was doing.. no understanding at all!
The baptismal ceremony was performed in freezing cold water because the water heater was broken. It took my breath away as I went under. In later years I laughed that this was a little humor from the Lord about my “cold” baptism.
I tried to be a good boy for about 2 weeks but eventually regressed to being the same ole me.
All of these were important experiences with God… but it wasn’t the ‘eye opening’ experience that precedes conversion. I do, however, vividly remember that initial time of understanding….
It was in 8th grade, I remember a Sunday School teacher explaining the gospel in a way that I actually understood it. My sin was real and Jesus’ sacrifice made complete sense in bridging the separation I had with God.
Even though the good news had been presented maybe hundreds of times before that.. I did not understand.. it did not ‘click’. But that day.. it made so much sense..I was in sin… Jesus was the substitute for sin… but it created a PROBLEM!
I vividly remember thinking I’ve already been baptized, so I can’t tell anyone that I’m not a real Christian And I lived in conflict off and on for a long time. I knew I wasn’t living for God and I believed that I was going to hell. It disturbed me whenever I thought about it.
I was playing a video game in the mall and a little girl came up with a gospel tract. I treated her very rudely, but inside I still felt condemned.
Another time a girl I knew well told me that I couldn’t be a Christian because of my behavior. I told her that I had been baptized. She said that baptized or not, I lived like I was going to hell. Deep in my heart, I knew she was right.
Getting to high school actually provided escape from these thoughts and found that I was hardening to the idea that I was not a believer. Sports were a great diversion and offered some reward as an idol. I received recognition and relationships and I experienced a lot of success.
Spring of 1980
My realization about eternity abruptly came back up in the summer before my junior year. An acquaintance of mine was tragically killed while robbing a convenience store. He was with a group who was doing it just for the thrill. I was heartbroken and our school was in despair!
I remember receiving this news from my mom as I was coming home from Sunday School. I don’t know why I went to church that day and remember nothing from the visit.
All of the students were grief stricken and I was confronted once again with the idea of death.
We had a student gathering at a home and I was very impressed by the message. It was my first experience with Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. A minister, Tom Caradine, gave a clear gospel presentation along with Biblical answers for grief and loss. I was stirred immensely.
After the meeting, a college student who had been an athletic role model for me, Benny Parks, found me and shared a gospel tract with me. The tract had a drawing of two lives (see below) and I knew that my life was not being directed by Christ.
self directedThe above image was me… and I wasn’t happy with my life at al!

Christ Directed
This is what I desired… and it led me to a desire to get it right with God!

I went home and re-read the tract and knew it was time to make a choice. I got on my knees and prayed that God would forgive me and take me back. At the time, I thought I was re-dedicating my life to Christ. I now know from thinking through Scripture that this was my actual conversion.
Right after that prayer, I got up and went to sleep..no smoke or fireworks. But when I woke up the next morning..I remembered and I knew something was different.
Some immediate changes took place. I told my mom and a few friends that I had re-dedicated my life with Christ. This was a big step for me. I also began to read the Bible with great interest. I read the whole New Testament in about 2 days and the words seemed to burn in my soul. I have not had that sensation since, but it was a really cool moment.
I had a friend of mine make a poster for me to put in my football locker. I wanted coaches and teammates to know that I had made a change.
I also had a real sensation of peace with God. My anxiety about eternal destruction was completely gone. I have had this peace for so long now, that I have almost forgotten what the stress of condemnation was like.
 Looking back in the light of Scripture like Romans and others, I now see that prayer night of my Junior year as being my conversion. And though there were times I did not live like a believer after that, I know that that was the moment of repentance and faith. And I now have been with Jesus for over 38 years! I have failed Him many times since then.....He has never failed me!
My prayer is that right now... anyone reading this will think back and consider your journey and whether you believe you have the Son or not....
He is only a prayer away... a simple request.... Lord, I don't want to be in control, I want to humble myself, admit my sin, and ask that You forgive me and help me.... 
And then walk in faith and peace... as you read His word and grow.... you will never regret it!