Breaking Down the Alabama Defense

ESPN.com does a great job of breaking down the numbers on the Alabama defense and makes the case that this could be one of the best in college football history.

Win two more games and they can argue their case.  Lose one of the next two and it won’t matter.

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Living by Faith

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there were several things I’ve learned this year that have helped me to cope with fear.  In the post, I only mentioned two of them:

  • The passing of time.  As time passes, the things we fear tend to move by us.  However, this doesn’t work well if more fear causing things line up in front of us.
  • Take no counsel from fear (or arrogance).  This was the main subject of yesterday’s post.

But there is a third thing that I’ve learned this year that has helped me to cope with fear and many other things:  learning to live by faith.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago something that I heard from James Macdonald:

Everything is a test of faith.  Everything.  Therefore, everything will either grow our faith or shrink our faith.

Letting this permeate my being has been huge.  I also discussed this in a post a couple of weeks back and wrote this:

When we believe this, it changes how we see the things happening in our lives — i.e. we see things as being allowed by God — and that change[s] the way we react to things. If we view events as us vs. life, our reactions can be hostile and volatile. But when we see things as being allowed by God, we are more likely to respond in a way that pleases God (or at least our chances better).

I haven’t lived this out perfectly, but I do live better and handle things better when I do remember this.

 

Never Take Counsel From Fear…Or Arrogance

“Never take counsel of your fears.” – Stonewall Jackson

This past Sunday, our pastor delivered his final sermon of 2016, “Four Fears Banished by Christmas.”  In this message, he detailed four times in the Christmas story where people encountered fear:

  • Luke 1:12 – Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who is overcome by fear when an angel visits him to give the news he will soon have a son.
  • Matthew 1:20– Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, also encounters fear as he ponders the situation of he and Mary.
  • Luke 1:29-30– Mary experiences fear as she encounters the angel Gabriel.
  • Luke 2:9– The shepherds were filled with fear as the angel visited them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.

Our pastor pointed out that fear is a God-given emotion, so experiencing fear is not always sinful.  But like anger, fear can either be used sinfully or righteously.  For example, it is appropriate to fear the Lord and we are told that experiencing this is the beginning of knowledge.  In the four examples above, the people experienced fear, but they are given perspective through their encounters with the angels.  This new perspective includes a reminder of where they are in God’s plans and thus their fear is transformed into faith.  Accordingly, it is very important how we process fear.

To be clear, the sermon wasn’t about “how to deal with fear,” like some sort of self-help seminar.  It was about the gospel.  Jesus Christ has come and He is coming again.  But living in Christ is supposed to change everything, and that includes how we view things.  Accordingly, it changes how we handle fear.

That’s where this intersects with me.  You see, for me, 2016 has been the year of living in fear.  And to be clear, I haven’t handled it very well.  Sleepless nights, gut-churning with acid, mind-racing.  All the good stuff related to not processing fear properly.  That’s been my year.

On the surface, it’s easy to say, “You’re not trusting God.  Trust God and do not fear.”  But in reality, it’s a lot harder to process.  As I’ve told Sweet Wife over the last several weeks, it’s like my insides are shaking all of the time with because of the stress and fear.  As a Christian, I know that this response has been wrong, but it’s just been hard to constantly regain perspective when you have to battle the fear and anxiety all of the waking hours.

But over the last few weeks, several things have happened that have really helped me.  First — and this is an easy one — some time has passed.  As time moves by the events that create fear also pass.  If they pass and nothing takes their place in the fear line, then things tend to get better.  My improvement has been somewhat because of this.

But on the other hand, there always seems to be something lining up to cause fear.  During 2016, it has been a seemingly daily, weekly and monthly thing.  If that sort of pace is always at play, then fear is always something that has to be handled.  And that brings me to the quote from above, “Never take counsel of your fears.

When I heard this, it immediately clicked with me because I have been taking counsel from my fears.  My fears have been giving me my marching orders.  In my line of work, I have to make a lot of decisions and I have to plan for things.  For most of the year I have just “hoped” that 2016 would be better because time is passing, yet I also realized recently that as things continue to pop up and go wrong that I am making decisions from a place of panic and fear, rather than from solid data and experience.  When I heard this quote, I realized what I was doing wrong and realized that I needed to stop this practice immediately.  And so I am trying.

The reality is also that some of the problems that have occurred in 2016 have also happened because of arrogance.  For a long time, things have gone really well and when that happens one tends to think that everything they touch will turn to gold.  And when that happens, the fundamentals of decision making can go out the window.  I can recall one specific situation where I simply made a bad decision in 2014 (out of arrogance) and now that chicken has come home to roost.  So instead of dealing with a situation back in 2014, I arrogantly proceeded with my own plans and this year I’ve been fearfully dealing with the problem.

There has also been one other major game-changer for me in relation to processing fear, but I hope to touch on that before this last week of the year is finished.

So as I ponder 2017, I am looking forward in hope.  I know that Jesus has saved me and that an eternity with Him awaits.  All other things offer no comparison at all.  This should be my all-time perspective.  We are reminded in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love casts out fear.  Ultimately, this world and its fears and trials and struggles will pass away.  For those in Christ, a new world and an eternity away.  Those struggles of today won’t be in that future perfect eternity.

As I stand in the present and make decisions, those decisions need to be made with a clear head and a pure heart.  That cannot be done when taking counsel from fear.  And that cannot be done when standing before the mirror of arrogance.

The Day After Christmas

Well, our family successfully navigated through the Christmas holiday. of 2016. We stepped through a very busy Christmas Eve and continued a good pace through a Christmas day that included family time, church and a trip to see Sweet Wife’s family.  All in all it was a very good couple of days and we consider ourselves very blessed.

Now comes the day after Christmas.

This day will hopefully include the repackaging of all of the Christmas ornaments and decorations back into their respective boxes and the placing of those boxes back into the attic.  I’m very much looking forward to this!

But the day after Christmas also brings something else for me: a burst of renewal as I sense the arrival of a new year.  I’m not sure why this happens with me, but it tends to happen every year.  As the flipping of the calendar approaches, I just sort of get revived.  It’s a new beginning, a new start.  It’s a time to start new things and to end others.  It’s a defining moment in time that sort of naturally allows for new patterns and beginnings.

This year, for example, I decided to try to post something to this blog every day.  In years past, I’ve done things like started a project to journal every day or to read through the Bible in a year.  It just makes sense to start something like this on January 1.

This year, I don’t plan any regular activities like these.  Instead, for 2017 I just feel a general renewal type feeling.  I have complained regularly that 2016 has been hard, but what I’m ready to do in 2017 is to start again with renewed energy and apply the lessons that I’ve learned this year.  What are these lessons?  Well, that’s something that I’ll hopefully comment on in a day or two, but I am happy to have learned these lessons and I’m ready to apply them.

Sunday Worship: Merry Christmas

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

This is one of those special Christmas days that actually falls on a Sunday.  And because of that, many of us will get the opportunity to gather and worship in a church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  (For others, this may pose a dilemma as the rigors of celebrating the birth of Christ get in the way with the actual worship of Him.)

But one of the neat things about Christmas the holiday — even in the USA circa 2016 — is that this holiday points us right to Jesus.  No matter what a person’s religious background may be, no matter what stage of life, no matter where a person is, Christmas (like a couple of other holidays) points people right to Jesus.  Whether we love the holiday or loathe it, at some point, the question will cross our minds, “what is this all about?”

The answer to that question is Jesus.  Good news of great joy has come — for all people.  A Savior has been born and given to us.  This is important because we’re all sinners and we’ve all sinned against God, who is perfect and wants nothing to do with sin.  But God, in His state of perfect love, made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus.  And that is what Christmas is about. It’s about Jesus making that journey to us so that we could be reconciled to God through Him. 

Another blessing is that we don’t just worship God once a year. We actually get to worship Him whenever and wherever!  But today, as we wake up on the Lord’s Day which falls on Christmas, let’s especially worship Him.  


“Sunday Worship” is a weekly series that can hopefully be used to help prepare our hearts to worship God Almighty.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.

A Christmas Message for John the Baptist and Us

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:1-6 ESV)

One of the things I find neat about the Bible is that there are real people in it.  By that, I mean that the human authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, didn’t whitewash people or their stories.  If someone had a flaw or question, it was there for all to see.  Take for example Moses as a murderer and David as an adulterer and murderer.  And, also, take for example John the Baptist.  What did John the do wrong?  Well, it wasn’t what he did wrong, it was that he asked a question.

Remember, John the Baptist is Jesus’ earthly cousin and did a Holy Spirit inspired leap in his mother’s womb when Mary, with baby Jesus insider her, visited his mother.  This is the John the Baptist that was used by God to prepare the way for Jesus by his preaching of a message of repentance.  This is also the same John the Baptist that baptized Jesus in the Jordan at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.   Yes, this is that John the Baptist.

As this passage notes, John is now in prison.  And despite all of the things he’s done and seen and felt, he now has a question:

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

When I would read this question earlier in my Christian life, I have to admit I would sneak in a condescending thought about John.  “What?  You are John the Baptist!  You baptized Jesus and told people to repent!  And now you’re having doubts?”  But now, as an older Christian, I read this with a lot more empathy and it now strikes me as one of the saddest verses in the Bible.

John is in prison and not the cushy federal kind where he gets to play cards and golf all day.  No, he’s in a prison and in the not too distant future, he will beheaded based on the whim of a leader.  He’s in prison.  He may be all alone or he may be in the company of his society’s worst and meanest.  The conditions are probably deplorable and at best he’s separated from friends and companions.  And it’s in this dark moment that he sends a question to Jesus: “Are you the one?”

To someone with an accounting background (like me), a more succinct answer may have seemed the better option.  “YES!” Instead, Jesus answered in a different way.  Instead, He said this:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus didn’t answer like an accountant, “Yes, John.  The Holy Spirit told you in the womb!  You should know this!” Instead, He gently reminded John of the truth.  Jesus told the messengers to go and tell John what they had seen and heard:  the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news.

Can you see how this message and the delivery of this message would be an encouragement to John’s faith?   The messengers would go and say, “We’ve seen these things!”  And John would likely tell himself, “Yes, and I’ve seen them to.”

John asked the question even though he knew the answer.  John wanted to hear again the answer to the question, “are you the one?”  Jesus, are You the messiah?  Are you the One who was promised?

Jesus’s answer to Him was essentially the Christmas message.  Yes, Jesus is the One.  Jesus, God’s Son, has come to us.  He is God with us, Emmanuel.  And no matter who we are or where we are, we need to hear this Christmas message too.  If we are long-term followers of Christ, we need a reminder of the gospel.  Or, if we’re that lost soul staring at Christmas, we need to hear the message.

As James Macdonald reminded his listeners this week, during this time of year, the gospel message is being pumped through malls and stores and through radio stations and through music services!  The world is being told that Jesus has come!  Every year, regardless of how crass or over the top with consumerism the Christmas season seems to be, God is blessing us by using this holiday madness to prime others to hear the gospel.  We have the opportunities to either ask the question “what does this mean?” or we have the opportunity to be the ones who explain what we’ve seen and head.

 

What’s The Statute of Limitations on Paddling?

After reading this story, I may need to call someone:

Attalla Police Chief Doug Walker said Ayers was arrested following an investigation that began in September related to a “paddling incident” at Etowah Middle School, where Ayers works.

I’m kidding, of course, but there’s nothing funny about this story.  Either a child was really and truly abused, or a teacher has been accused of a felony over a paddling.

Up through the sixth grade, getting a “paddling” was the stuff of nightmares.  I was scared of getting into trouble, scared of the pain that would be induced by the paddling and scared because my parents had promised to duplicate the punishment at home if I received a spanking at school.

I used the word “scared” above because I was scared.  I feared the process and everything that was involved, therefore, I stayed away from the process.  But “scared” here doesn’t mean I feared being abused, a situation where punishment is received way in excess for some real or imagined fault.  No, I just feared the justly deserved pain and I feared letting people down by getting into trouble.

Once I hit seventh grade, though, things began to change.  I guess this had something to do with going through the paddling process and making it through and finding out my fear exceeded what actually happened.  About that time, I found out that getting into trouble — i.e. getting paddled — was a way to create street cred (ha!) and have some fun with my friends.  Later in school, I remember conversations with classmates that went something like this, “Hey, you want to try to get paddled this period?”  And then a paddling was likely forthcoming.  We also did our best to get other classmates caught up in the paddling fray.

But we did have our limits.  We did not want to get paddled by certain coaches or teachers, though this couldn’t totally be avoided.  I remember distinctly during my senior year in the gym before a pep rally, when one school administrator — who now happens to be the father of one of Alabama’s best all-time football coaches — lit a younger student up with a baseball bat paddle.  This paddle was bat sawed in half long ways.  And lit really isn’t a good enough word to describe how this young man’s backside was sent into orbit when he was hit by this instrument of torture.

I do have to say, though, that any of the paddlings received by my classmates or myself were justly deserved and, in fact, we probably deserved a few more.  We weren’t bad or mean kids (for the most part), but we were disrespectful and we did cause trouble and we did deserve punishment.  In hindsight, a far greater punishment would have made a greater impact on us at the time.  Had we been suspended from school or had there been some sort of punishment that affected our athletic playing time or our grades, then I’m sure all or most of the raucous behavior would have ceased.  But it didn’t and we received the punishment of the day:  swats with a board.

These swats didn’t harm me long-term and they didn’t harm my precious self-esteem.  They did likely leave marks — after all I was hit with a piece of wood — but my fleshy backside is no worse for the wear today.

So when I read an article like “teacher arrested for paddling,” my reaction is that society continues to go nuts.  But I’m sure the reality is much different from my reaction.  In reality, that sort of punishment is generally frowned upon in school’s today, so when it happens a teacher may be considered to have gone rogue.  Also, teachers and school systems today do all sorts of nutty things and parents often find themselves doing extra work to protect their kids from these teachers and systems.  In my case, my parent’s would almost always have sided with a teacher, but today that same grace can’t always be given.

Ah, the times we live in today.  Aren’t they interesting?