Thursday, March 28, 2013

'Looking Out'- A Maundy Thursday Message

We had a terrible tragedy in Birmingham recently where a giant, free-standing flight information sign at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport fell onto a woman and her children- killing one 10 year old boy and severely injuring the others.

There is nothing anyone can do to take away that loss and the grief of such an event. And the impact is far reaching and inexplicable.

But there was a simple act of mercy yesterday in the aftermath of such darkness that added a sliver of light and a seed of healing.

The Bresettes' special visitors pose with Sam (in chair) during their visit. Source: Comilia WilliamsThe Bresettes' special visitors pose with Sam (in chair) during their visit. Source: Comilia Williams

Marcell Dareus (L) holds Tyler Bresette during the visit. Source: Comilia WilliamsMarcell Dareus (L) holds Tyler Bresette during the visit. Source: Comilia Williams

Some former Tide players helped cheer up a family dealing with a heartbreaking tragedy.
Luke Bresette was killed last week when a flight status board fell on top of him, his two brothers and his mother. His mother, Heather, is in fair condition at UAB Wednesday night. Sam Bresette, 8, was discharged from Children's Tuesday and Tyler Bresette, 5, was released from Children's Sunday.
To help cheer up the siblings and give the family a distraction from their pain, a group of Tide players made a special visit last Sunday. Marcell Dareus, Jerrell Harris, Marquis Maze and Antonio Langham chatted with the family, signed 8-year-old Sam's leg cast and posed for pictures.
"Just looking at the kids' faces, looking at the tragic incident [they were] still in good spirits. [I] felt overwhelmed being around them," Dareus said.
Comelia Williams is Dareus' personal assistant and arranged for the players to visit.
"My heart just went out to them. I tried to just keep myself together," she said.
Williams said the family was happy and appreciative for the support of the players.
Langham let Sam wear his championship ring and those present said Sam enjoyed that. The players also gave Sam an autographed Alabama picture, hat and football.
Talk about being worthy of a big "Roll Tide"...
There is a connection of this and an important ministry message going on at the University of Alabama. I credit Dr. Kevin Elko, for instilling a very important attribute among the Crimson Tide community. There are many schools around the country who employ chaplains and 'character coaches'- and you cannot credit Dr. Elko alone in this work- indeed Comelia Williams effort to organize the visits is to be deeply commended.
Dr. Kevin Elko
But if you listen to Dr. Elko's message- like I do frequently on Monday mornings subscribing to his Monday Cup of Inspiration- you hear a gospel awareness that turns outward; responding to God's goodness by serving others.
It is an important part of the gospel that we tend to miss- being filled up so that we can fill others.
When we first respond to God's grace, it is expected and understandable to turn inward. We see ourselves as God sees us and we begin to experience the joy of being filled and ministered to.
But an interesting thing happens along the way.
If we stay turned in- things become stale. Grace is like manna- it is good to be used daily for our needs, but cannot be stored without spoilage.
To whom much is given, much is required. In other words- we cannot keep it all for ourselves. As soon as we are filled, we need to turn outward and live lives that minister, free, lift up, soothe and heal others.
Have you ever battled depression as a believer in Jesus? A fast route out is to serve someone else.
That is what is so cool about being a follower of Jesus. The best way to receive an energy explosion from God's Spirit is to become employed in His service. I have personally experienced this on mission trips- there is almost a 'high' you feel by reaching out to others.
When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well- this idea is emphasized- John 4:
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
So many college football players live lives where they are served and glorified. One of the smartest things a spiritual mentor can do is to charge them to live unselfishly, joining others and committing to service. It becomes liberating- it becomes life changing- and it is a key component to living as a champion- giving yourself to a cause bigger than yourself.

AND that is the idea of 'MAUNDY THURSDAY"- Maundy (mandate)- the command to 'love one another'- and the example of Christ's love... He gave it ALL for us.

He humbled Himself- He washed feet- He gave his body and blood- and when He says, "Do this in remembrance of Me " could He be implying more than just a meal...but a lifestyle built on giving rather than consuming?

Can you imagine the transformative power if God's children... so full of grace and so satisfied in Jesus.. loved one another with passion and that love spilled out to loving even the 'least of these'?

It is happening all the time- that is why there are orphanages, hospitals, shelters, clinics, well diggers, and medical missionaries in some of the most destitute places on the planet.

And I am sorry if this hurts..... but these bear the name of Christ, these places lift a rugged cross- very few (if any) of these missions of mercy have been inaugurated in the name of atheism.

When we reach out this way... it doesn't explain the 'why' of a fallen sign- but it does point to a 'WHO' to cling to when it does fall.

There will always be a need to turn in- that is a part of what Sunday Worship is about.

But as soon as we are refreshed- the very best thing to do is 'turn out'.


I heard a speaker one time paint a mental picture of hell.

He said think of a dark room and a table where starving men are sitting around a large table. They are chained to the chair and long wooden spoons are fastened to their hands. A large bowl of tasty porridge is in the middle of that table. Sadly, the spoons are too long- they reach the bowl- but no matter how hard they try, the men cannot bring the spoons to their mouths to eat.

Then he said... here is heaven.

Same room, same bowl, same spoons- but the huge difference is that the men use the long handles to feed one another.

On this day before Jesus went to the cross..... may we find the initiative and joy of going to one another ... in love..... in humility.... in service.

That is an Easter resurrection waiting to happen!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

If There Is No Meaning in Marriage- Why the Fuss?

The definition of marriage is now in the fire of the culture war as the Supreme Court weighs legal challenges to the very definition of marriage, who is eligible to be married, and what all of society must accept as the law of the land once the decision is announced this summer.

A deeper issue is the quest for gay and lesbian Americans to continue their desire to see sexual orientation as the new civil rights struggle of the 21st century.

This is such a tough topic to deal with- almost impossible to present it as a social issue Biblically because the entire fabric of such a debate is included in the entire Christian world-view of sin, redemption, grace, freedom, Scriptural authority, and the mandate to 'hate sin' but 'love the sinner' application of the entire system, pulled in tow by Jesus' reminder to 'pick out the plank' out of our eyes before judging the speck in others.

We have to be careful here- because there can be no doubt that gay and lesbian human beings have suffered unjust treatment by some- both in the past and currently. I am often touched by the compassion that especially our young people feel when anyone suffers at the hands of others and applaud that empathy.

If we single out any homosexual as 'more sinful' or 'hideous' than other sinners- we have lost an essential concept of the gospel narrative.

But equally important- if we say any sin is OK which God has communicated is not OK- we are ignoring the Biblical surety of consequences built into the activity itself. Whatever a man sows....he will also reap- and empathy can be harmful if we do not lovingly, but boldly state the truth.

I think the hardest part of the entire debate for 'the Church' is that we haven't protected the covenant of marriage within our own walls. Our actions have demonstrated no real value to marriage, so why do we  even feel we have ground to defend it. I know we do and that it is an institution of God- but it is hard to stand firm for something that we let go of so easily.

The saddest stance of all is when officials who say they are ministers of the gospel twist and pervert the Scriptures to OK lifestyle decisions in an effort to seemingly avoid conflict.

Have you ever paid attention to what Jesus said on the subject of marriage?

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9, ESV)

I have always been intrigued about this concession or compromise allowed by Moses. In Deuteronomy 24 an allowance was granted- but what were the circumstances there?

The divorce rate was so rampant at this time in Mosaic history- that the allowance was an attempt to restrain or 'reign' in rebellious sin. That is why Jesus says it was 'because of hardness of heart'- man is going to do it come hell or high water- but this is not the creation mandate or God's design.

Bible believing Christians are in no legitimate grounds to compromise as such- but what if we did?

Would this compromise work?

We will allow same sex marriages if all of society would declare adultery and sexual immorality 'wrong'. All sexual relations would be experienced within a consummation of a lifelong, monogamous marriage vow and divorce would only be granted for reasons of adultery or desertion of an unbelieving spouse?

Of course it would not- it is not a fair fight. Those who desire equal ground desire all the benefits but none of the limitations.

For the Bible believing Christian, there is never going to be a fair fight in the process.

When a protest was called against Chik-Fil-A by the Gay and Lesbian lobby- conservative people rallied from all different motivations to 'undo' the boycott. The large numbers who showed to buy chicken up were criticized by those on the outside and on the inside. The outside argument was this was a show of hate and homophobia. The inside attack was that it was a poor demonstration of love and understanding- clouding the message of mercy by taking a stand that was perceived only as condemnation and hate.

Yet, when the CEO of Starbucks suggests that supporters and shareholders leave his company because they refuse to support same sex marriage- hardly a word is mentioned and the same critics will find fault with anyone who now boycotts the coffee based on a religious belief or moral conviction.

Some will see my stance as 'hate' even though I advocate no violence against any person- I ask that all people be civil in debate and loving in responses- and desire no harm to come to anyone in the process.

The only civil right in this quest is the quest for ultimate autonomy.. I am my own God, my own church is my own opinion- get out of my way even if you are the Creator Yourself!

A bigger question is: where should the line of restraint be drawn, if it is to be drawn at all?

What would be the bottom line, common denominator, consensus of all of American society when it comes to standards of sexual morality?

How old? How private? How much? How little? I don't have much hope that we find a happy medium within the workings of state. By the much pressure will the state place on churches to perform and recognize SSM's? It will be some of the same oppression that the health care law is having in the area of abortion rights.

This is why Christianity never really fairs well in the arena of hypothetical or theoretical ethics. It is hard to win on one social argument or another- we are part of a different kingdom with a different assessment.... a judgement of the heart first and actions second. A judgement ultimately reserved for God Himself, even though He has granted great authority to His Church on earth.

There are Biblical principles- rock solid ones- and we have broken every one of them.

The only assurances in the Bible believing world are the gospel message based on Biblical promises and Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
Godly law rooted in Biblical mandates.
And the promise that we will all stand in judgement...either an ally of the Lamb of God or offering our own stained record of sin and rebellion to the Holy Creator of the Universe.

There is a marriage of meaning that all marriages are a limited shadow of- the wedding of the Son of God to His Washed and Pure Bride. All paid for and promised by the groom.

When the Son returns, there will be a joyous wedding feast- and others outside weeping and gnashing their teeth.

So the real issue is where do you stand with the offer of the Son?

And have you considered what He says about marriage, divorce, and immorality?

"You who are without sin, cast the first stone"- to the religious.

"Go and sin no more"- to the adulterer.

See how He challenges all of us?

And the only response is a universal cry for mercy............

By God's grace, my wife and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage on April 2- but fewer and fewer are getting to such milestones.

I have great friends... much BETTER men and women than me.. who for various reasons saw an end to their marriage... this is not a post about heaping guilt on the hurting and there are Biblical warrants for divorce. But the rise in the divorce rate has had an impact on our society in tangible ways.....

So what of my marriage? My wife of 25 years is my best friend- the godly mother of 3 amazing girls. We are walking out a promise made to God, in front of witnesses, to join together for the purpose of living a life of joy and celebration which glorifies God. Though we struggle and fail, we cling to the good news promise of salvation through faith in Jesus the Christ.

This covenant agreement was officiated by a minister of the gospel who also believes in the Biblical promises of God. We have persevered sickness and in health and not looking forward to ' til death do us part'.

What God has joined together... let no man separate.
Conversely- what God separates... no man may join... even if he passes laws to the contrary.

In oral arguments today, Justice Roberts asked if this argument is just over the term 'marriage'

about -- it's just about the label in this case 
 MR. OLSON: The label is -­ 
have every other right, it's just about the label.
 MR. OLSON: The label "marriage" means
something. Even our opponents -­ 
tell -- if you tell a child that somebody has to be
their friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, 
this is my friend, but it changes the definition of what 
it means to be a friend.

In the long run- the 'term' may be added to a couple- 'married'- but based on where we seem to be headed in this society... I'm sad and afraid that the 'label' won't be worth much........... 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gospel Grace at Peyton Place

Totally happy being bored last night. Are you old enough to have found that kind of bliss?  Flipping through things and saw where the 1957 movie Peyton Place was showing on Old Turner Classics.

No clue what it was about, except from time to time in my life someone would make an allusion to Peyton Place and I would shake my head like I understood the connection but had no clue to the reference.

Now it all makes sense, and Peyton Place is a little, as Shakespeare would say... 'saucy'. In fact, I imagine that it was on the edge/controversial movie for 1957 and my understanding is that the popular book that the movie was based on was downright scandalous.

It plays out like a New England version of a Faulkner novel. You have a small town just outside of Boston, proud, church going, sanitized... but all that is a veneer hiding the dark secrets of shame and sin underneath.

The adults know the real story at Peyton place, gossip is the main addiction and the town passes it around like organized Dons.

And what is the overarching symptom of such a dysfunctional community? Most who stay are stifled by fear and suffocating oppression. Some even live years behind lies of their true condition- they would rather experience the daily torture of personal pain than live in the the community courtyard of shame.

And you know in this- religion is going to get sucker punched. So there is a lot of emphasis in the movie of the ritual of church attendance, but little ministry, service, or change is shown. We understand this- but most of the time this rap is born out the human default mode of gospel misfires and error.

Peyton place is no different than any place or any person. No one has to look far to find the ever present dominion of darkness. If I just open my eyes a little, I see it residing in my own whitewashed heart.

The movie was classic 50's funny...campy by our standards... but the setting and story line were spot on. A large part of the early movie were seniors- planning proms and too self absorbed in raging hormones- to realize that their small world was about to be ripped open by WW2. Decisions they agonize over in their over dramatic lives result in fights with family members who desperately want them to avoid the poor choices that they made and now live with- long after the mood is gone.

And the heart pain is real. Divorce, death, adultery, abortion, suicide, rape, deceit, Machiavellian power plays, and murder all leave the litter of wounded and broken lives scattered among the wake.

The movie culminates in a final courtroom battle where a step daughter has murdered her step father who had been abusing her. The town doctor, the one who has heroically and pragmatically maneuvered through the mess finally decides it necessary to break an oath, put his own career in jeopardy, and bring truth to light and justice..not without a little sermon to the whole town about the burden they all suffer under.

Dramatic music, over acting (? how would I know)- and I can only imagine that as the movie was showing in real life America, what type of culture war was being raged about the virtue of giving money to such a movie and the questions regarding the agendas of the movie makers. Did someone pay their ticket, sneak in the back and watch just to glimpse at what was at the time forbidden or castigated?

The problem is that humans can miss this on both sides. The moralists cry foul and unwittingly support the system of suppression. The hedonist wants to push the envelope of social acceptance without realizing the consequences of sin.

The hedonist thinks, "If we can remove the stigma of sin, if we can erase the shame of sin- then people can live out in the open and be free. No more moral suppression- let's break the yoke or meaningless morality and let the hormones rage."

The moralist thinks, "How we are headed to the gutter. I long for the golden age of purity and must keep hitting sin hard to prevent all the pain that results from waywardness."

And...both are right.. but both are also dead wrong. Both have advantages to their zeal- but in the end both sides fail. 

The Bible has it right. Jesus had it perfectly right. 

Jesus's harshest words were to the moralists. He called them vipers. Any belief system that suppresses under the moral superiority of human virtue(though it is the human default mode of religion) only pushes pain and illegitimacy underground. It creates a sanitized Peyton Place- but the raw sewage under the painted fences and manicured gardens rots away any hope of real peace and freedom.

But you will not find a stamp of approval from Jesus on sin either. He would say, 'Go and sin no more'- not to make Him look good or because God capriciously requires robotic responses- He and we know the real truth- the consequences of sin are built in the acts themselves. Can adultery take place without any pain of regret or broken hearts? Can you steal without offense? Can a child be mistreated without suffering? God did not hold a finger in the air and invent some laundry list of do's and don'ts... He is a God of love and love blossoms in relationships. The first part of the 10 commandments are about our love relationship with God- the last part of the 10 commandments are about our love relationship with others.

You can take those off of a school house wall and call them restrictive. You can ban them from being shared in society in the name of tolerance but you cannot remove them as laws and you cannot ignore them without dire consequences.

Remove God's law from Peyton Place and you won't do anything but grease the tracks toward skid row.

So what are we to do?

We have to preach to ourselves and everyone we can over and over- to each other because we move from it so quickly- the GOSPEL. We need the gospel before we become believers in Jesus.. we need it more AFTER we come to Jesus.

The gospel does not wink at sin. In realization of broken hearts and pain, within the cries for justice and vengeance, amidst the backdrop of broken people suffering under a broken world...Jesus died an excruciating death. It could not be clean or easy. He had to pay. He had to experience betrayal, and thirst, and thorns, and pain- because all of human history in getting pummeled under the curse of sin. Our sin.... my sin....

But the story should NEVER end there...that is where the moralists/legalists stop- judging and punishing sin- like God is a COSMIC WHACK-A-MOLE hitting you over the head every time a sinner lifts His head.

Jesus rose from the grave as a God-stamped payment approved and eternal life validating offer of hope and renewal. 

And this is where the hedonists/licentious people err. This is not an eternal shower to keep running into the cesspool- this is opportunity after opportunity to quit doing the things that cause pain and shame. Not to wear a badge that says, "I'm holy and you are not" but a living testimony that God is good enough to be trusted in everything.

You see, a true Christian is a peculiar person. He points to a solid standards of truth regarding the penalty of sin. He often fails at these standards. At the same time, he clings to the greatest truth of God's good story and message of mercy. When the sinner mocks him and walks right into the very behavior he is being warned about- the Christian does not condemn him because he realizes that he too sometimes does that very thing to God.

And here is the real kicker- when the consequences of sin come tumbling down- The true Christian is the first one on the scene to help and support. He does not say, "I told you so" he says "I love you, see the risen Christ, be drawn to Him in repentance and faith. I am not better than you- God is the only good One- don't leave Him over some desire to do the things that only bring regret."

I am saddened by what we have done as an American church to lose sight of the gospel. For the most part we preach God's grace, but we seem to have abandoned God's law.

Take divorce for instance. There are Biblical warrants for when that can take place, but God clearly says, "I hate divorce". But we loosen the reins thinking it will ease the pain but then shocked when we see the nation in such disrepair. 

It is NEVER too late for Peyton place in God's gracious gospel timing. In a revived Peyton Place, people would be free to share their secrets and find healing and understanding. Crime would have consequences... but Jesus's most startling statement in my opinion is found in Matthew 25:36 'I was in prison and you came to me.'
No doubt, in man's justice system there can be innocent people in prison. But I see this as statement celebrating the one who goes to the guilty to offer grace, forgiveness, renewal, and healing.

The gospel DOES NOT say... "aww it's not that bad". No the gospel says, 'This is worthy of eternal death, but look to the One who has died that death so that you may live."

We call it as God calls it- both in standards of virtue and offers of mercy.

What if we started doing that authentically today? Living unencumbered lives of freedom to the love and glory of God. Not afraid of condemnation or being ostracized because we fall short of some societal expectation?

Would there be less children hurt? Would there be a better quality of life? Would hearts be a little more open to hope and love? Absolutely.

I would love to see God's grace rain down a true gospel transformation one more time so my children could see what that looks like. It will not be easy, in fact it is impossible without God's Spirit.

We taste the fruit of past gospel awakening- in fact all of Western civilization basks in the benefits of Biblical application- in its gospel light of understanding. But the light is dimming.....

I am closing with two thoughts:

I tried to find (but failed to do so) the quote that says something like 'The church gave birth to prosperity, but the child ate the mother'- but the principle is that we are benefits of world wide gospel expansion- and the gospel victory lap continues around the globe- but we(I) have drifted off course and are more tantalized with consumption than service. We(I) live out 'compare and compete' rather than give and go.
We try to soothe by becoming more secular when our souls thirst for God. We think we can improve by switching from freedom of Judeo-Christian ideals to freedom FROM Judeo-Christian ideals. We need to repent of this nonsense.

Finally, how do I know if I am in the center of gospel awareness and not off course? I think it is in proportion to the answer to these questions as you walk the streets of Peyton place. Do I hold up all of God's good standards without looking down at anyone? Am I willing to see and hear truth yet respond in mercy and love? Even when the hammer of justice falls- can I still spread and cling to the message of forgiveness and grace? Not for me to look good, but for HIM to look great? Am I willing to not spread rumor or gossip which is Satan's weapon of confusion and misunderstanding? Am I willing to spend time in God's Word knowing that I am so prone to wander away? Can I pray for all? Can I serve all? Is the gospel good enough for all?

Thank you for forgiving me Lord, I have failed again and again. Please do not remove your Holy Spirit from me. Help me see the truth...Help me live the truth- we need You!

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, jthen he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him kwill be gathered lall the nations, and mhe will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates nthe sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then othe King will say to pthose on his right, ‘Come, you qwho are blessed by my Father,rinherit sthe kingdom tprepared for you ufrom the foundation of the world. 35 For vI was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and youwgave me drink, xI was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 vI was naked and you clothed me, yI was sick and you zvisited me, aI was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And bthe King will answer them, c‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these dmy brothers,1 you did it to me.’41 “Then he will say to those on his left, e‘Depart from me, youfcursed, into gthe eternal fire prepared for hthe devil and his angels.42 For iI was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, jyou did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away kinto eternal punishment, but the righteous kintoleternal life.” Matthew 25

Friday, March 22, 2013

Oak Mountain Trails- One of God's Good Gifts

Birmingham has some beautiful outdoor destinations, each with its own therapeutic power to soothe away the heaviness of the world.

Since I have been back in Birmingham these last 2 years, it has been fun to reconnect with the hiking, fishing, and running routes that keep me mindful of all the good things God has given us while we walk our journey on earth.

The hardest part about the Oak Mountain trails are that they aren't loops. The hiking and biking trails are straight lines where you walk as far as you want and then turn around and I have never liked that as a hiker or runner.

So a key piece of enjoying the trails is getting familiar with the trailheads and connector trails that allow you to do more of a loop and make it like an adventure.

We have some small loops, medium loops, and large loops that are really fun. It's not hard to map one out and using a GPS on your smart phone can help (mapmyrun or everytrail apps are free).

Oak Mountain Trail Map

I am not an expert at Oak Mountain Trails- but I am becoming more familiar with what each trail offers.

Here is a link to another hike (7 miles) Melissa and I did: President's Day Hike

BLUE TRAIL: Is a climb to the ridge and follows the southern mountain range of the park boundary. It has some beautiful overlooks to the south. If you do blue from the North Trail Head- you will climb fast, take your time and check out the Eagles Nest Overlook and other such overlooks along the way.
Once you get to the ridge, it is a fairly flat hike that eventually hits Peavine Falls (after 6.7 miles). So this is a great trail to traverse the southern edge of the park.

WHITE TRAIL: I love the white trail- it offers and amazing variety of terrain and sights. It also runs from the North Trailhead to the Falls. On the Southwest end of the trail (South Trail Head- Peavine Falls Parking) the white trail is flat and follows a mountain stream- but you soon climb going Northeast and have an amazing part where you are on the ridge of a mountain with beautiful views off both sides.

YELLOW TRAIL: A full Yellow is long and winding (over 8 miles) and (it always seems to come on the stretch where I am tired) it can be sneaky tough. It is a rolling trail with a couple of up and overs that will get your heart rate up. My favorite part of yellow is where it goes around "Old Lake" and the spillway there.

GREEN TRAIL: Short (1.9) somewhat of a conector trail that traverses white and yellow trails.

I haven't mentioned RED because red is more of a mountain bikers trail and less of a hikers trail. Red is fun to ride, but not as fun to walk.

So- pack a lunch- put some water bottles in - and take off- it a beautiful time of enjoying God's creation and the rejuvenation of nature.

Oak Mountain offers more than a day hike- there is golf, boating, etc. But the hike is rather nice!

Top of the blue trail

Peavine Falls Gorge

A Major Connector Intersection
White/Red Connector North

Top of Peavine Falls

Friday, March 15, 2013

Far Away and Close- A Father's Prayer Life

I have a 17 year old daughter getting on an airplane at noon today headed for Managua, Nicaragua and a medical mission trip.


Ever need an incentive to improve your prayer life?

I was so blown away by her prayer last night- she is so excited. She can't wait to speak to someone in spanish about the hope we have in Christ. She wants to serve and love and she knows in the end, she will be the one who is changed in the process.

I have always been intrigued by the verses in Psalm 127:

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

God has blessed me with children and they are like arrows. And at some point these arrows are going to be delivered to a target.. and my prayer is that the bullseye is home safely in the hands of Christ. As they are on the way- my prayer is that they are flaming arrows, full of the light and hope of the gospel- shining for God in a dark world in need for Him.

So Lord- please put Your gracious wings over our children.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

We live in a world of increased danger. Our default mode is to add layers and layers to ensure safety. There is nothing wrong with working hard to make things safer.... but in this life, there is no such thing as safe.

In some ways I am sad that children have grown up in a world without diving boards, PE rope climbing, freedom to ride their bikes all day long as long as they are home by supper. But it makes sense that we have learned.... and wearing seat belts is a good thing.

But what price? Is there a loss of strength or endurance because our children for a large part haven't experienced temporal suffering or failure? I never wish any of that to happen- but we know the verses in Romans 5 is true:

3Not only so, but wec also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.


Even though my child will be far away from a week- I am more impressed with how close this world actually is to gospel truth and possible revival.

The closer we are in communication technology and the universal human condition is in full view- and the inadequacy of the world's system to satisfy is plainly seen- the greater gospel access we have.

Once this group leaves Atlanta- it won't be long until they open the door to an entirely different culture with the same access to heaven through the death of the middle-eastern God-man who died and rose 2 millenium ago. And whose story has swept the globe since.

If it takes allowing my daughter to go out of the country to help spread this message of hope... then I am humbled to trust God to carry her there and fill her and bless her efforts.

Please join me in world-wide gospel proclamation- we want the whole world to embrace this love. peace, and hope!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Draw of Downton Abbey

My wife and I spent a good portion of the Christmas Break and various long weekends to catch up on the world wide sensation- PBS's  Downton Abbey.

Just a note: We saw all the seasons for free!- 30 day trial Netflix- then 30 day trial Amazon Prime- then got current on PBS app on my ipad. It was impossible to get at the library and even 2nd and Charles wanted a pretty penny for a season on DVD!

In some ways, it is a typical soap opera... reminded me of Alabama football players who got into General Hospital back in the 80's.... (am I admitting that?).

Not one for spoilers- but the last show of the last season has come close to doing us in- as far as how the show left seemed too much 'Down" in Downton and not much 'Up".

But I have a curious idea as the WHY this has been such a big hit. I mean it has been the RAGE of some close friends.... it has been widely reported that season 3 ended with 8.3 million viewers.

One thing is for sure- it has a stylistic appeal. The house, scenic gardens, and fabulous clothing relevant to the setting of the early 20th century... and who doesn't love a good British accent and wit?

But I think it has struck an even deeper cord.

Downton Abbey is one of the few narratives left that is rooted in a Christian world view. It is not a Christian story per se- but the writers have not been afraid to see Biblical practices engaged in the everyday lives of servants and this family of noble heritage.

There are Scriptural references, prayer, church attendance...... even theological discussions at dinner.

Of course there is juicy sin and scandal- but it is scandal because of the sacred canopy of gospel understanding. God's good news is birthed within man's bad news. The moral characters in the show are grounded in gospel hope and the providence of a God who actually exists without endless debate.

What the show truly represents is like finding an oasis in the dessert.

You are tasting water and suddenly realize you have been dying of thirst.

In a world where moral chaos has been in place most of our media life- someone rarely writes and produces in a way that reminds us of the moral compass that dispels the darkness.

The marketplace without God's law is dark and empty. There is no direction or hope. Life is reduced to chemistry and meaning is lost in a sea of frenzied activity; violence for entertainment and consumer addictions as ultimate pursuits.

Rarely is God's name even spoken in modern television, unless it is a statement of profanity.

But Downton Abbey is saturated in a culture where, though dimming, God's light still anchors the soul.

In this world view- a servant is as honored as much as the aristocrat because worth and dignity is seen in living to God's glory and honoring virtue despite one's circumstances.

Not every character is a Christian, nor should they be- art should imitate real life- but what we long for in watching Downton Abbey is not the fancy mansion.... it is the background belief that God still reigns in heaven. 

It is what we all really desire- that right and wrong would still be based in the Creator and not in the opinion of men who only do right by their own whim.......

And that is not a longing for the past- it is my hope for the future when the King comes again.