firmly planted

couldn’t even shoot ourselves
March 29, 2010, 3:01 pm
Filed under: NCAA tourney, UK basketball

The men’s basketball season is officially over for the Kentucky Wildcats! It hurts to say that, but it’s true. I thought about setting up a triage unit for emotionally battered Cat fans. Fact of the matter is the title of this post says it all as to why we lost to the West Virginia Moutaineers–we couldn’t even shoot ourselves (translation for all you non-basketball readers: we shot the ball very poorly and couldn’t seem to make a basket when we needed one.) Shot poorly? Understatement of the tournament: like saying Northern Iowa beating Kansas was a mild upset! 4 of 32 from 3-point range?! Missed 13 free throws! Ughhh! If it weren’t for the floor some of our shots might not have hit anything at all!

And still . . . the season was a revival of sorts. UK being back in the discussion of elite programs and the top of the polls (nice). Wildcat coaches being in the national spotlight for things other than alcohol-related incidents (refreshing). Highly-touted recruits who understand “team” and “chemistry” in ways they never had to in high school (sweet).

Yes, it’s been a great ride and the beginning of UK’s rise to regain prominence in the college hoops world. It’s hard to call this year a “baby step” but even if that’s what it is, this baby may grow bigger than Demarcus Cousins’ mammoth frame! Can’t wait til next year!

The entire Big Blue Nation (everybody’s fan-base is a nation, now) is awaiting the expected, albeit bittersweet, announcement from at least two of our freshmen (Wall & Cousins) that they will be entering the NBA draft. Not surprising, considering the fact that those two may be the top two overall picks. Whether they stay or go, this freshmen class has withstood a national media blitz, the withering expectations of such a highly-ranked recruiting class, and a horde of fans who are with them “win or tie.”

And even though we didn’t reach our ultimate goal of a national championship, and we may never see these young men play together for the University of Kentucky, and we have fans who can be just a wee-bit obsessive . . . thank God it’s not West Virginia (and I lived there for four years and have good memories and even better friends from the Mountaineer State).

Apparently, officials were relieved that the number of state-wide celebratory fires were down compared to the aftermath of recent milestone wins for WVU athletics. In a recent ESPN blog, Diamond Leung reported,

“According to WDTV:

Dispatchers over at the Monongalia County 911 center tell 5 News that there were ten dumpster fires, seven rubbish fires, and at least six other types of fires after Saturday night’s game. The number of incidents have dropped dramatically compared to the last elite eight game, where police made hundreds of arrests.

Celebrations went on into the early morning until Bob Huggins and the team arrived back in town, and fans shown in this video from WSAZ-TV seemed to be having a great time.

‘There will be some couch burning, but I don’t think anyone will get injured,’ one fan said.”

Well, that’s sweet; no one got injured–that we know of anyway. During the game, the Mountaineer team torched the nets in the Carrier Dome, I had no idea that the Mountaineer fans torched couches in their front yards! Maybe it’s good they won . . . no telling what might have been burned otherwise.


Going through life with blinders on
March 24, 2010, 2:38 pm
Filed under: spiritual development

A phrase that I heard at times growing up was, “going through life with blinders on.” Not that my parents, teachers, or contemporaries ever applied that to me . . . of course not! Anyway, I heard something on the radio this morning that reminded me of the saying from days-gone-by: apparently we blink approximately 17,000 times a day! That simple, often involuntary, rapid opening and closing of our eyes takes place roughly once every 5 seconds on average. What’s more, we spend about 8 hours/day, 56 hours/week, 240 hours/month and 2,920 hours/year sleeping. (Apparently, we spend one third of our lives doing nothing.)

Between blinking and sleeping, it’s interesting to think about how much of the life we live is spent with our eyes closed (not to mention the times we close them to avoid the horrors of scary movies, Joe Biden impromptu speeches, or Lady Gaga’s latest fashion statement). That means that only a percentage of the other two-thirds of life is spent with our eyes open. Meaningless statistic, you say; trivial trivia, you quip. Maybe.

However, a simple spiritual application comes to play here. The old phrase “going through life with blinders on” implies that someone has their eyes closed in a more metaphorical manner of speaking. Eyes closed to opportunity, to goodness, common sense, beauty, and hope. In a sense, the person having his eyes closed, lives irresponsibly as he ignores things he is supposed to see.

Scripture has something to say about this as well. Jesus said that some people had ears but would not hear and eyes but would not see. In II Kings 6:14-17, the prophet Elisha and his servant are surrounded by the Syrian army. The situation is bleak and Elisha’s servant begins to lose confidence–by the servant’s reaction, it seems the story chronicles the original diary of a wimpy kid. Elisha prays. His prayer is not for God to strike down the Syrians, or for an air assault over the enemy’s exact location, or even that his servant would transform into a hulkish, over-protective rock of a man to protect his blind side.

Instead, Elisha prays for his servant’s eyes to be opened. God answered. The servant then saw “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (v.17) God’s protection had been there the entire time but the servant, in effect, had his eyes closed and couldn’t see. By not opening his eyes and seeing from God’s perspective, he missed out on the strength and encouragement he could have had all along.

Moral of the story: open your eyes spiritually to see what God can do in and through your life. Don’t miss out on what He is doing and wants to do in you–it’s far more awesome than what you can do on your own. Or . . . buy stock in “No-Doze,” work first, second, and third shift in a packing warehouse, and stay awake the bulk of the rest of your life, hoping that you miss out on nothing! By the way, in reading this post, you most likely blinked at least 72 times.

March 23, 2010, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Jesus, NCAA tourney, UK basketball

Northern Iowa? Cornell? Saint Mary’s? Washington? You have got to be kidding me! Quick, name any of these teams’ mascots (if you’re not a current student or an alum of any of these institutions) . . . no clue, right? Didn’t think so. Needless to say, brackets all over the country have not just been busted, they’ve been hit harder than Joan Rivers’ profile! Oh well, I’m a pastor so it’s not like I’ve lost out on the office pool winnings (that’s how it is in most churches anyway).

It intrigues me how closely even the casual college basketball fan follows the NCAA men’s tournament. At some point, we root for teams because we like them while at others we shout loudly and cheer wildly because a win keeps out bracket firmly in-tact. Mild-mannered men and women transform into stat-spouting lunatics during a three-week basketball tournament. Jekyll may fill out the bracket but Hyde follows it passionately!

Here in the Commonwealth, UK Wildcat fans don’t need much encouragement to get excited about basketball. Springfield, Mass. may be listed on basketball’s “birth-certificate” as place of origin, but the sport’s permanent address reads “Lexington, Ky”!

I’ll never forget the local news media interviewing Cat fans at Bluegrass airport–where everyone thought Coach Calipari’s plane would arrive when he was hired at Kentucky. One excitable fan (who probably had an abundance of zeal and alcohol to boot) boldly proclaimed that John Calipari’s hiring as head coach–following the dismal Billy Gillespie experiment–was an act of God. He further asserted–growing louder the longer the camera lingered in his direction–that the merger was somehow orchestrated between God, beloved Kentucky basketball manager extraordinaire Bill Keightly, and iconic former UK head coach Adolph Rupp! Why is it that the camera always seems to “find” the Kentucky fan that provides the typical (and typically incorrect) stereotype of people having three teeth and even less sense?!

This is probably the same guy who is now living vicariously through his beloved Wildcats as they attempt to navigate their way to an eighth national championship. Linked in some strange symbiotic manner is the performance of twelve 18-21 year-olds and the emotional well-being and self-esteem of a rabid fan-base. They do well and we feel as though we’ve done well;  they perform poorly and somehow we feel as though it was our performance that was sub-par. They win, we win; they lose, we lose. A cager-version of the Corsican Brothers or an Avatar of the hardwood!

A big part of me wants to say, “Get a life.” I’m concerned that we already have one: the only problem is we’re living it through someone else. Paul says that when a person becomes a Christian, that person takes on an aspect of vicarious living as well. The difference here is that Christians are granted new life in Christ and share in His life, death, and resurrection. In other words, just as Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so we die to (quit living for) sin such as selfishness and pride. We then share in His life by the way His teaching and truth changes who we are. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Pretty intense thought. Paul clarifies, “the life I live now in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Living life vicariously through Christ takes faith yet brings hope, strength, and peace. And it also assures a life lived victoriously, which is a pretty cool way to keep your “bracket from getting busted.” Take that all you Panthers, Big Reds, Gaels, and Huskies!

why we need earthquakes
March 18, 2010, 12:41 pm
Filed under: earthquakes, God's sovereignty, Haiti, suffering

I recently read an interesting article by Dinesh D’Souza, entitled “Why we need Earthquakes.” In light of recent events in Haiti and Chile, you can imagine how this title is both provocative and enticing. We all struggle with the problem of “theodicy”–the concept of bad things happening to good people–and the age-old dilemma of how a loving God and a painful world can coexist. While the article’s content won’t solve the problem for everyone, it is worth discussing.

A basic summary is as follows:

  • Problem as seen by Greek philosophers like Epicurus: God is believed to be good but evil seems to have always existed. If God is not able to dispel evil, He is not all-powerful; if God is able to erase evil and doesn’t, He is not all-loving. Therefore, the all-powerful, all-loving God people pray to does not exist.
  • Potential solutions:
  1. man, not God, is the author of evil (Garden of Eden, Genesis 3). Moral evil, in this case, is the consequence of God granting humanity choices–inevitably mankind makes choices that cause head-scratching.
  2. This accounts for moral evil (moral or immoral choices) but does not account for natural evil (natural disasters). For natural disasters, Christians such as C.S. Lewis have contended that they can have good outcomes such as drawing people together for relief efforts or greater awareness of the need for Christian compassion.
  • D’Souza”s solution to natural evil: the anthropic principle (as found in Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee’s 2003 work, Rare Earth). Basically, Ward and Brownlee–“an eminent paleontologist and an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle”–argue that conditions required for life to exist on earth are suitable for natural disasters and the basic foundations necessary for natural disasters are the literal building blocks of our planet.

For example, earthquakes, seaquakes, and tsunamis are results of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics are apparently unique to earth and is necessary to “produce the biodiversity that enables complex life to flourish–without it, earth’s land would be submerged to a depth of several thousand feet.”  Plate tectonics also help regulate the earth’s climate–I’m sure they reviewed this in Copenhagen recently! It appears plate tectonics, a geological and scientific necessity for some natural disasters, is a prerequisite for human life to exist on earth.

  • Objection: God could have just made a universe that operated according to a different set of laws.
  • Response: Ward and Brownlee contend that is possible, and that world would produce life, just not human life. “Science tells us that our world has all the necessary conditions for species like Homo sapiens to survive.”
  • D’Souza’s conclusion: Our world is not the best of all possible worlds, but the best of all feasible worlds–from a human perspective.

I realize this is deep for some people, yet, at some point, we have to consider the discussion on some level.  Further, this is not an argument that is outside the realm of debate. The world hurts and we struggle at times to figure out why; especially when Christians and other people of faith talk about a benevolent, awesome God whose power is beyond measure and who loves beyond compare. Some answers require faith to walk side-by-side intellectual investigation, which makes this article interesting food for thought. It is D’Souza’s hope, at least, that while the anthropic principle “will not stop people from bemoaning the next earthquake, . . . it should at least stop us from blithely assuming that the Creator could have done a much better job.”

rules, regs, and ridiculously cool music
March 11, 2010, 7:11 pm
Filed under: coffee, entertainment, Israel Houghton, music, Starbucks

Blogging two days in a row . . . this is a whole new world for me! Let’s get right down to business: Do you follow rules when there are rules to be followed? Do you stop at a red light? go at a green light? speed on through at a yellow? Are you one of the many red-blooded Americans who actually counts to see if you have more than 15 items before you walk up to the Express Checkout at the grocery store? Do you make sure that what you toss in the recycle bin is actually recyclable? Do you order a meal as it is described on the menu at McDonald’s or do you ask for new combinations that cause those behind you to contemplate changing the name to “slow food restaurants”?

The answer is very important because if you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then you will relate completely differently to this blog than those who answered “no.” I am a stickler for rules . . . for the most part. I pretty much “tow the line” when it comes to following regulations and I expect others to do the same, if only out of courtesy for people like myself. For example, I have been going to Starbucks near our daughter’s school for the past few weeks. After I drop her off, I wheel into the coffee shop’s drive through lane and eagerly await my morning Americano (as all conscientious ministers do!).

When I pull in, I follow the directions on the drive through sign that tell me to pull through the parking lot from one side to reach the properly designated drive though entrance on the other side of the lot. However, if I were so inclined, I could ignore that directive and simply “cut” line and enter the parking lot through the “exit” and quickly get in line for the drive through window.

This is problematic for me because I see how easy it would be to skip the proper channels and jump in line; except that I can’t bring myself to do it and I get aggravated by people who do! Yes, I should have gone into the military (rules, regulations, running to stand in line; right up my alley!). In my estimation, the people who “jump” in line are the same ones who pass you in the “right turn only” lane and then quickly get over in the left lane, cutting you off in the process! Probably the same folks who “save” seats at the theater . . . in groups of six! You know who you are; God’s judgment will rain down some day I’m sure!

Fact is, if I had my way, there would be a police officer at the ready (preferably parked out of plain view) who would have one objective: arrest any of these drive through violators and prosecute them to the full extent of the law–which is probably little more than a “hey, stop that.” It would be cool if the punishment went a little further. I mean at least a publicly humiliating lecture from the officer as he/she stood at the driver’s window with the squad car lights flashing and all the rubber-neckers straining to see what’s going on. If you’ve ever gotten a ticket for any traffic violation you know the desperate feeling of sitting in your car while being viewed as a hardened criminal by every other motorist who passes by!

Fact is, that will never happen and now you know why I was kicked out of the police academy.

At least I have some cool music to listen to while I’m sitting in line, waiting behind all of those hard-hearted, cruel, insensitive, law-breaking, line-jumping gotta-have-my-latte before you people at the drive through. If you haven’t checked out Israel Houghton (pronounced hoe-ton) and New Breed you need to. Recently, our worship leader . . . Fred (I’m using an alias here in case his witness protection issues have yet to be completely satisfied) introduced my family to this awesome blend of gospel, jazz, and intense energy. If you like gospel or Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, or any combination of these styles of music, you’ll love Israel. Several of his albums are cuts performed live–the energy levels are palpable and it must be awesome to see this group in concert! However, his latest release “The Power of One” is a studio project that brings a fresh approach to his brand of gospel-praise.

As I listen to cuts from this cd, I hear the influence of Andrea Crouch (literally on “My Tribute”), Phil Collins, Morris Day and the Time, and soothing jazz sounds that take me back to growing up in New Orleans. Yes, I typed “Morris Day and the Time”–I wasn’t always a pastor; just listen to “Saved by Grace” and then re-evaluate the reference. Israel takes it to another level (New Breed fans will understand the play on words) in his collaboration with Toby Mac, “You Found Me.” Let’s not forget the 70s style funk that pounds away through “Better to Believe”–I still can’t listen to that without having flashbacks of “Rubberband Man.” All-in-all, the message of the music is uplifting and biblical: the power that God gives to one person is awesome enough to change the world because the power of the One person, Jesus Christ, did change the world. Check him out for yourself:

Enough for today: there’s music to listen to, work to be done, coffee to be drunk, and a gospel to be shared.

back on line
March 10, 2010, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As odd as it both sounds and feels, I am blogging again! Only took three years or so off–pacing myself! Of course, by now, I am very far behind the times on electronic means of communication. Facebook has supplanted Myspace and Twitter is the rage and I participate in none of these. Oddly enough, I remember when bag phones were cutting edge and beepers meant you were way more important than the average guy or gal (great! I’ve graduated to the “I remember when” stage of life).

Anyway, since I’m not completely back in the loop technologically, it’s at least nice to be back near it. I still have trouble understanding some of the true benefits to all of the advancements, however. Facebook and Twitter, for example, major on the minors. You can post any tiny, otherwise obscure aspect of your life for public consumption. I mean you can update your Facebook status to let everyone know you are “awake but uninterested” or you can inform your peeps that you are standing in line at Kroger getting ready to check out (I’m not sure if “peeps” makes me sound hip or once-again behind-the-times. Okay, I just answered my own musing by typing the word “hip.”)

Part of me thinks this is a fairly interesting advancement in inter-personal communication and part of me thinks it is ludicrous (the adjective, not the artist). Why in the world would anyone care about my status? Who could possibly be concerned with whether or not I just bought an Americano from Starbucks (I did earlier and plan to again soon) or a New Moon poster (I didn’t earlier and never plan to as long as I live)? Fact of the matter is most of the information we share through these avenues is fairly insignificant in the vast scheme of current events and world-wide affairs. So, who cares, right?

Not so fast. Someone obviously cares because people read and respond to the posts. Semi-interested to interested parties check up on the tweets. Someone somewhere seems to follow just closely enough to motivate us to continue. Amazing but true.

All the more amazing is that God cares so much more than that and follows me more closely than any cyber-friend on a computer-generated list. He tells us in His word that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He goes so far as to be “near those who call upon Him” and takes pleasure in those who “reverently fear Him and hope in His mercy.” (cf. Ps. 145:18; 147:11) Considering the fact that the Almighty has a loving concern for His children, makes me ask along with the psalmist, “who is man that You are mindful of him?” What significance does my life have that Almighty God is concerned with me? What impressive thing could I possibly do that causes Him to take pause in heaven and focus on my day-to-day activity?

Fact of the matter is that my life is fairly anonymous and obscure by most estimations. I live and breathe in a world that concerns so very few people compared to the billions who will never know my name. Yet, I also live and breathe in a world where God cares about my living and breathing! He cares enough to call me to Him in prayer; He cares enough to offer His presence as a comfort; He cares enough to reveal Himself through His word and His Holy Spirit. And all of that motivates me to continue: continue to live for Him, to learn and let others know about Him. God in heaven cares about me and follows me more closely than anyone else can or will. Amazing but true!

Someone stop the pain!
November 28, 2007, 9:42 pm
Filed under: family, government

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!”: a sentiment passed on from one generation of parents to another, almost as a right of passage into the adult world of semi-senseless cliches. The statement is filled with emptiness and ranks right up there with other parental verbal anomalies like, “Because I said so!” Parents who utter sayings like this, train another generation to accept them as children and then use them as adults (whether they ever understood them or not). From the viewpoint of many children, the aforementioned statement is a lie! This is because the “gonna hurt me more than you” quip is usually followed by a spanking! Whether your parent’s instrument of discipline was a hand, a belt, a switch, a logging chain, rubber hose, wet banana peel, or a ribbed dryer vent, it ALWAYS hurt the kid more . . . physically anyway.

Have no fear, children! Your legislative champion has arrived to insure that your generation and those to come will no longer have to endure parents who care enough to establish boundaries for, and consequences to, your actions. Kathleen Wolf, a Massachusetts nurse, and Mass. Democrat Rep. Jay Kaufman, are presenting legislation that would ban spanking and enforce punishment to parents who use corporal punishment. The Mass. State House is debating the issue today and I have yet to read the results of their discussion.

The point behind Wolf and Kaufman’s action is that parents, in their opinion, too often overstep their boundaries when instituting the discipline of spanking; therefore, no parent should have the right to abuse the parental privilege. In other words, they want to set the limits according to extreme abuse and then govern to the same abusive extreme! They apparently assume that because some parents do go too far with their physical punishment, that all parents will always go too far. Sounds ridiculous but that’s what they’re submitting.

Also, Wolf and Kaufman (and their many supporters, I’m sure), assume that all parents have the same criteria for what behavior deserves a spanking. Different parents have different standards, yet, not so in Wolf’s world.

I suppose if either of these individuals has any children, they have always been on their best behavior and never needed much discipline. Or, perhaps, their kids always responded well to simple, deductive reasoning–a calm chat over an ice cream cone must have quelled the savage beast! Unfortunately, in the real world, children are not cerebral enough between the ages of two and twelve to understand adult reasoning and, at times, need to be reigned in by the swift hand (or belt) of parental justice. Children often act like . . . well, children! And children don’t need child psychiatrists or adult buddies who happen to live with them; they need parents! Children need parents to set parameters and uphold rules, not meant to squelch personality but to build character.

Interestingly enough, in the state of Massachusetts, where sexual orientation is defined by “alternate lifestyles” and abortion is based on a woman’s choice, this legislation, if passed, will establish a foundation for an unprecedented right of government to dictate how a parent chooses to discipline a child–the state government telling the people what to do in a state whose residents are infamous for not wanting government to tell them what to do!

Yeah, kids, don’t you worry! Uncle Kaufman and Aunt Wolf are going to come in and collectively save the day! You won’t have to consider punishment anymore; no consequences to any action; you are officially your own parent! All your Mom & Dad are responsible for is feeding you, clothing you, and providing shelter, while you determine everything else that takes place in your life! And I wouldn’t worry too much about being grounded, having the car keys taken away, or for you younger children, the infamous time-out. I’m sure if Wolf and Kaufman have their way, those forms of discipline will soon be wiped out as well. So, do what you want and plan on doing even more . . . the pain of those mean ol’ spankings is about to stop and the freedom will begin! God help us all!