Posted on Mar 15, 2013 in Devotions, Religion | 0 comments
The following is a devotion I wrote for Brentwood Baptist’s Daily Walk. I have a few more rolling out throughout the year. Until then, here is the devotion from March 15. Be sure to subscribe by email to these devotions with the link above. All devotions are written by Brentwood Baptist and Church at Station Hill members.
Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow.
Oh How He Loves You and Me
Mom once told me how she’d stay up all night crying, worried how she was going to buy groceries the next day. She would sit in a rocker and hold me in her arms. I was her center, her reason to try again tomorrow. To this day, my mother is my best friend.
So when I read about a widow who was crying in the street as they ushered her only son’s body out of the city, this stopped being just another Jesus story for me. I thought about my mother and how she might feel. This could just as easily be her story—MY story.
I can’t imagine the grief of losing a child. Naomi lost her sons, and she expressed her grief passionately. “Call me Mara,” she said, “for the Lord has made me bitter.”
In 1 Kings 17, the widow of Zarapeth had already accepted the inevitability of death from starvation for both herself and her son. But by providing for Elijah, she miraculously maintained a supply of food, only for her son to perish anyway.
“She said to Elijah, ‘Man of God, what do we have in common? Have you come to remind me of my guilt and to kill my son?’” (1 Kings 17:18). But Elijah prayed, God listened, and the boy came back.
“Then Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. Elijah said, ‘Look, your son is alive’” (1 Kings 17:23).
And so now, in Luke, we have yet a third widow grieving over the loss of her son. But this time, God is there in the flesh. The text says Jesus “had compassion on her.” The original word is actually “splagnizod,” which is a turning over of the insides, a visceral, physical reaction to what He saw.
“Don’t cry,” He told her. What an incredibly touching moment this must have been, even if the widow didn’t fully understand why. Here was her Creator coming to her in a very real way during a very real time of grief. He was right there, in the midst of her pain to wipe away her tears. “Don’t cry.”
Why was Jesus so moved by this woman and her circumstance? Did it invoke images from the ancient days of Naomi or the widow from Zarapeth? Or maybe when He looked at this woman, He saw His own mother in the days to come.
The whole thing shows a beautiful side of our Savior, the Creator side. We’re His people. He loves us, deeply, splagnizod. And while that particular word may never be cross-stitched on a pillow (and for good reason), the ability of the one who was fully-God and fully-man to relate to our suffering in a very real way is permanently etched across our hearts.
This Jesus who approached a widow in her time of need is the same Jesus who no doubt wrapped His arms around my weeping mother in the middle of the night as she held her only son and waited on God’s faithful provision. “Don’t cry.”
I love this Jesus, and I know that He loves me.
- How has God loved you this week? It may be hard to see Him through the crowds. But perhaps He was right beside you.
- What loss are you grieving? A loved one, a relationship, a job, or maybe even a dream?
- How honest are you with God (and yourself) about your feelings? We’re not told the widow asked for Jesus’ help, or even that she believed. He was moved by her grief. Whatever our answer to question 2, how have you expressed that grief to God?
Posted on Feb 24, 2013 in Devotions, Religion | 0 comments
The following is a devotion I wrote for Brentwood Baptist’s Daily Walk. I will have two more rolling out in mid-March. Until then, here is the devotion for February 23. Be sure to subscribe by email to these devotions with the link above. All devotions are written by Brentwood Baptist and Church at Station Hill members.
Matthew 9:9-13 | Mark 2:13-17 | Luke 5:27-32
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Have Mercy On Me, A Tax Collector
Next month, I visit my accountant to file my 2012 tax return. He’s very good at his job, and he seems to somehow enjoy it, which I can’t help but find a little strange.
Each year, I sit across the desk from this guy and wonder how he does it. Not that my taxes are that difficult. But there’s no way around the fact that he’ll have the unenviable task of telling someone (hopefully not me) that Uncle Sam needs more from them this year than they anticipated.
If beautiful are the feet that bring good news, how ugly are the ones that deliver a big, fat tax bill? Consider, for a moment, what it might be like if those people had to pay him directly for their taxes. Better yet, what if he raised the amount so he could keep a little (or a lot) for himself?
To take it one step further, what if his very existence was their constant reminder of an occupying government that took their freedom and used him, a traitor to his own people, to make their lives as miserable as possible? That would make next month’s appointment much less enjoyable.
The Bible tells us about a guy just like that. His name was Matthew. And he was a disciple.
It’s not at all unlike God to use the most human of people to do the most heavenly of things. In our weakness, His strength is made perfect. So He uses people who are at the end of themselves to begin the things that only He can do.
The Pharisees in this story didn’t get that email. They were all about their own strength. And they had lots of rules to prove it. Spiritual acts like sacrifice were less about obeying God and more about showcasing their knowledge and capacity to keep the law. They were spiritual rock stars, not at all like that slacker guy Matthew and his sinner friends at the tax booth. Boo!
I guess that’s why, in Matthew 9:11, they thought it strange to find Jesus kicking back and breaking bread with half of the Roman IRS. Matthew was throwing a dinner party for Jesus. He’d even called a few buddies over and introduced them to his new friend.
So the Pharisees asked the disciples (not Jesus directly), “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
In all three Gospel accounts of this story, we see Jesus offer a fairly straightforward response when the Pharisees question his association with these people. “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do,” Jesus said.
OK, fair enough. The Pharisees could sort of get this one. To say the tax collectors and sinners were spiritually sick was not out of bounds with their way of thinking. But in Matthew’s account, Jesus takes it a step further. “Go and learn what this means,” he begins. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”
This is my new favorite part of the story. “Go and learn what this means” was what a rabbi of that time would say when he quoted a text. In other words, “Take what I say and go think about what God is telling you.” By saying this to the Pharisees, Jesus was speaking to them as an authority.
What text was he quoting? Hosea 6:6: “For I desire loyalty (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
So why does God value mercy for a sinner over the sacrifices of a saint? Perhaps it’s the same reason we might rejoice at the healing of someone who’s terminally ill over the continued well-being of someone who’s healthy. “Those who are sick don’t need a doctor, but the sick do.”
Enter Matthew, or Levi as he was known in Hebrew circles. Who better to tell us this part of the story than the one who experienced the miraculous mercy of Jesus first-hand?
Matthew most likely had no idea how his life would change when he left for work that morning. But what started out as just another ordinary day at the tax booth ended when Jesus uttered two words—the same two words that have been changing lives ever since—“Follow me.”
Jesus continued, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The Bible says there’s no one who’s righteous, no not one. I’m guessing the Pharisees weren’t counting themselves among the tax collectors and sinners. But in reality, their question could’ve been rephrased to ask, “Why does your Teacher eat with us?”
Does mercy have a seat at our table? Or have we made our own rules about who can and can’t join us for dinner?
Are we prepared to accept others as Jesus accepts them, without condition? Or have we exchanged mercy for something more comfortable and less controversial?
Lastly, when He asked us to follow Him, did we consider the places He might go?
Posted on Jan 24, 2013 in Family, Life in General | 1 comment
I’ve blogged about Ray and Hilda before. They’ve been married for more than 61 years. In that time, they’ve faced many challenges, met many struggles, and have overcome them all together. This week, though, fate threatened to do the one thing its never been been able to do before . . . keep them apart.
On Christmas night, Hilda was rushed to the emergency room. She had become unresponsive due to what would eventually be diagnosed as a combination of pneumonia, COPD, and congestive heart failure. At 79, her little body was simply worn out. Ray, the ever-devoted husband, never left her side through the entire ordeal. For 29 days he sat and slept in a vinyl hospital lounge chair right beside Hilda’s bed.
On one of those days, a routine check of his heart showed his pulse had bottomed out at 38. Though he felt fine, the number was great cause for concern, especially for an 81 year old man. Luckily, the ER was literally an elevator ride away. Within minutes, he was processed, evaluated, and admitted to a room three floors above and a world away from his wife.
After a day or so, his condition stabilized. Eventually, I wheeled him back down to check on her.
As soon as he walked in the room (he would not enter in a wheel chair) the usually-despondent Hilda lit up like the Christmas tree she never got to enjoy this year. Her first words . . .
“Where have you been?”
Instantly, my brain hit the play button on the Kathy Mattea song. Wow. Does life really imitate art?
“They’d never spent a night apart.
For sixty years she heard him snore.
Now they’re in the hospital
In separate beds on different floors.
. . .
“He held her hand and stroked her head
In a fragile voice she said,
‘ Where’ve you been?
I’ve looked for you forever and a day.
Where’ve you been?
No I’m just not myself when you’re away.’”
Excerpt from “Where’ve You Been
Words and Music by Jon Vezner and Don Henry
As I write this, Hilda is getting settled into a rehabilitation facility while Ray adjusts to his new pacemaker and the discomforts that it brings. And while I haven’t talked with him this evening, I’m quite certain he’s already claimed his spot at the bedside of his bride.
Ray and Hilda only had one child, a saint of a woman who is frankly the only reason their both still with us today. And that woman had me. This week, she and I witnessed the purest, most precious gift God ever gave the world . . . true love.
Sleep well, Ray and Hilda. And get well. We love you very much.
Posted on Jan 24, 2013 in Life in General | 0 comments
I just read this . . .
“Despite his public declaration a few weeks ago that he was not interested, J.J. Abrams will direct the next “Star Wars” chapter after all . . .”
Rest of the article here
Looks like #7 will be here in 2015. Following these rumors will be a nice diversion given the end of the college football season.
The Power Pit of Potential
When I walked onto campus, I had yet to acquire the inevitable freshman fifteen around my waist. Yet I was already too big for my britches. I arrived on a full tuition scholarship to play drums, and I was fairly certain my presence would change the course of college life forever.
I knew this because I brought with me something more powerful than talent, more promising than scholarships. I had . . . potential. I loved my potential, and I carried it everywhere. I’d been carting it around since the 6th grade, nurtured by well-intentioned teachers, preachers, and family members.
That all ended when I met Dr. Ed Jones. As the Director of the UNA Pride of Dixie Marching Band, Dr. Jones sported a handful of eccentricities. Among them was a take-no-prisoners pragmatism wrapped in a flaky crust of common-sense colloquialisms and served with a gravy-thick, south-Alabama accent.
He was like Glenn Miller meets Foghorn Leghorn.
On that first day, he told me something I will never forget, largely for its emasculating effect on me as an over-confident young upstart with delusions of grandeur.
“Listen up, you confound namby pambies,” he poured out in our first rehearsal. “Don’t come in here thinking you’re something special. Sure, you got potential. But potential just means you ain’t done nothin’ yet.”
And THAT’s when I started working on that freshman fifteen.
Potential? Oh yeah, I got it. In fact, I’m buried in it.
So I’m at Barnes and Noble, and I see the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And it occurs to me that perhaps one of those seven habits should be actually READING the book once you buy it. The problem is that I love owning books. I love knowing they’re on my shelf. I love knowing I can just pick them up and read them anytime I want. I fact, I plan to read many of them one day. Furthermore, I plan to be very smart as a result of reading them one day. They create for me potential beyond my wildest dreams.
And so I have amassed a small library that is actually more like a crypt, or rather a great big pit of potential. This could be valuable one day, kind of like black crude from Jed Clampett’s back forty. But that day never comes. Instead, I sit in my pit and ponder its potential.
And I’ve always been this way, a prince of potential – most likely to succeed at being most likely to succeed.
So, you come here often?
Oh, come on. It can’t just be me. Surely some of you are also princes of potential. Does any of this sound familiar?
- You spent so much time dreaming about college that you totally missed high school.
- You started six projects last year, and didn’t finish any of them.
- Your current job is just until you can do what you REALLY want to do, if you just knew what that was.
- You’d rather day dream about who you could be than look in the mirror at who you actually are.
That’s what it is to be a prince of potential.
The problem with potential is . . .
Potential makes you hopeful, prideful, and it gives you a false sense of already being ahead of the game, even superior to others. Potential tells you that you don’t have to try. Good things will come to you, because you have potential.
But potential breaks down when the guy next to you, who wasn’t supposed to even graduate, finds his place among the truly successful people of the world. It breaks down when you start realizing that you’ll never be the absolute BEST at anything, because no one really ever is. Then you start to wonder what your potential was ever worth. Those well-intentioned affirmations on which you once hung your future are now folding up like that load of laundry when I forgot to add the fabric sheet. That’s when you know for a fact that potential has passed you by.
Jane, get me off this crazy thing!
So how do we move past the false promises that potential can place in our way? How do we climb out of the pit? The answer is simpler than we might think. We go back to square one, to the beginning. We determine what it is we want to be. For some of us, potential is (if nothing else) a great marker or indicator of where we might devote our time and our efforts. But the reality is that we have to start somewhere. And while potential is a lousy barometer for success, it’s actually a fairly good indicator of one’s strengths and talents.
Tales of a fourth grade slugger slug
When I was a kid, I played softball. I was slow, overweight, and lacked any degree of raw athletic ability. But I could spit real well. And that came in handy. My real problem was hitting. I tried to kill everything. No ball was too high, too outside, or too short to keep me from trying to de-thread it with my aluminum hammer. Consequently, I struck out a lot. Too many swings at too many balls, all of them ill-advised.
Then I had breakfast at “The Club.” Unfortunately, it was twenty-five years later and far too late to affect my softball game. But it was helpful all the same. I sat with my boss across from a Welsh gentleman who had invited us as his guests to one of Florida’s more exclusive golf resorts. The man was the epitome of success. He even had the cool accent (not unlike Dr. Jones.)
What left an indelible impression on me that day was not the fine linens, the incredible scenery (I’m almost certain I saw Tiger Woods), or even the cool little breakfast quiches in the filo cups. Instead, it was what the man said. “Brandon, I tell every young man I meet this same thing. So hear me, please. Choose what it is that you do, and do it well. One, maybe two things, but no more. That is all. Focus on those things, and you will go far.”
Like my frustrated softball coach, this man was telling me that I can’t swing at every ball, and I can’t stand there letting every pitch whiz by either. To climb out of the pit of potential and actually do something, I have to choose. I have to find my pitch and take my swing. If I hit, I hit. If I don’t, I wait for the next one to come my way. I only need one, maybe two, but no more. Focus.
To move, we have to start putting one foot in front of the other. The next step, therefore, is to simply act. If like me you tend to buy books and stick them on the shelf, then by all means take one down and read it, cover to cover. Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven, that doesn’t make them biscuits. Books on our shelves will not make us smarter until we READ them. So let’s take down that book and read it, one page at a time. Let’s pick one thing we’ve been putting off and do it. It might just make us want to do more. Wait, is that daylight I see ahead?
Um, dude? I’m still here in the pit.
To take a “next step,” there has to be a “first” step. But a pit is dark. We can’t see, so we don’t know. And if we don’t know, we won’t go. Put more succinctly, where there is a lack of knowledge, there is fear. Where there is fear, there is inaction.
How many home improvement jobs have we let sit around for months or even years only because we weren’t really sure how to begin? The job was too big, or so it seemed. Our garages were cluttered with all kinds of potential just wasting away. But then, we started. Just started. We asked a guy. We watched a video. Then we said (to ourselves of course – never to our wives), “Wow, if I had known THAT’s all it took, I would have done this thing months ago.”
So how do we turn on the light and start climbing out of the pit? We plug the holes in our brain. We eliminate the lack of knowledge. Knowledge leads to action which usually leads to more action. And that’s when potential becomes reality. To find our way out of the pit of potential, we have to see where we’re going. The first step, the one we usually miss, is to find the answers, to fill the gaps in our knowledge and our understanding.
Potential can be a great catalyst for success. It moves us, gets us going. But it’s a thin veneer of motivation that soon wears and exposes the eternal truth so poignantly expressed by the great Dr. Ed Jones . . .
“All potential means is that you ain’t done nothin’ yet.”
Well, Dr. Jones, I just wrote this post. I did something. And that’s a step in the right direction. So thanks for that.
A Confound Namby Pamby
Posted on Jul 21, 2011 in Family, Life in General | 0 comments
Just over 18 years ago . . .
. . . I heard one word that changed my life forever. The word was “yes,” and it came from the girl I loved when I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me. The days that followed were exciting and challenging. They were filled with laughter, tears, lots of joy, and plenty of anxious moments.
Today, I was reminded of one such moment. On the night of our wedding, my bride was determined to have her picture made in her gown on the steps of the Opryland Hotel’s Magnolia Lobby. This would have been fine, except that our wedding took place at the First Baptist Church in Cullman, AL. That’s roughly 153 miles from church altar to hotel steps. Since the complexities of getting into her dress prevented the option of simply changing clothes, we were stuck in our matrimonial best for the duration of the trip.
Furthermore, while we left the church in a spacious limo (thanks again Mike and Melanie), the bulk of our journey took place in a two-door Nissan Sentra. The train of Darlene’s dress alone contained more fabric than the entire interior of this car. Nevertheless, my two eyes peered through a sea of white satin as we made the perilous journey toward those fateful steps and on to the rest of our lives.
Now, I told you all of that to tell you this. I dropped Darlene off at the entrance of the Magnolia lobby, along with all of our assorted bags, suitcases, and ancillary items. Then I set out in search of a parking space, which I eventually found somewhere in the neighboring city of Hendersonville. When I finally returned, I found Darlene in the lobby out of breath and frantically gathering our things around her.
Apparently, it was only after I left that she realized there was no good way to get through the revolving door in her dress. And once she was in, how would she get back to all of our bags? She saw no staff to ask for assistance. She was stuck. So she waited, and waited, and waited. But since I was walking back from the next county, it took a while.
In the mean time, people began noticing my lovely bride in her sparkling cathedral gown. Even now, I can hear what they were thinking. “Oh look, Henry. That poor girl has been abandoned on her wedding night, and in such a lovely dress. What a shame!”
Eventually, a few well-intentioned bystanders learned of my wife’s plight. Suddenly and without warning, they grabbed our bags. They took Darlene by the arm. They propped open doors. And in less time than it took us to say “I do,” they ushered my new wife across the threshold . . . without me.
She still talks about the fear and panic that set in immediately as all of those people, some she had just met, some who were total strangers, began swarming her and taking our things. The flurry of good intentions left her disoriented and scared.
Almost 18 days ago . . .
. . . I heard a word that changed my life forever. The word was “cancer,” and it came from the girl I love as she suddenly wondered about the rest of her life. So began the anxious moments. But this time, I found myself standing at the threshold. It was my job to get Darlene, along with our children, along with everything in our lives, through that door despite the huge obstacle in our way. There were all these things I was responsible for. And so I waited . . . and waited. I stood there not knowing what to do next.
That’s when it happened. The people around me began picking up my stuff. They began taking me by the arm and ushering me forward. But wait! I don’t want to go through that door. I’m not ready. Put my stuff down. I can carry it. I just need time to figure this thing out first.
Fear and panic set in as all these people began swarming me and carrying my things. The flurry of good intentions left me disoriented and scared. That lasted a couple of days. That’s how long it took me to realize how to do what only I could do. So I reached out and took my wife by the hand. And with the help of our family and friends, we’re now walking across that threshold . . . together.
This is a special note of thanks to all those who have suddenly grabbed a bag or gathered a gown or opened a door. There are so many of you. And you are so good . . . so God. Thank you for loving us during this time. I can’t say that it’s easy to let you do these things. But this is simply a journey we can’t take alone. We love you.
Arab was not a large city. I don’t believe it is now either. But at the time of my childhood, we boasted a population of approximately 8,000 people. As it turns out, 2005 estimates place it around 7,500. So it seems we might have been a bit ambitious some two decades ago.
But I gotta say that I love it when people ask me where I’m from. ”Arab,” I say. Of course I pronounce it appropriately. Not like /ˈarəb/ as in “Arab Muslim.” Most of us were Baptist or Methodist. But /āˈrab/ as in “a rab-id coon bit my dog and now I have to shoot ‘im.” There’s always an odd silence that follows. Once I savor that moment, I continue. ”It’s a little town just south of Huntsville.” At this, I almost always get one of two responses.
Some just shake their heads. But most – and I do mean most – will say, “Oh, sure. I know Arab.” How so many people have come to be connected to Arab is beyond me. Sometimes they have relatives there. Sometimes they recall having sold such-and-such to so-and-so (who is usually related to someone in the first group). Regardless, it’s one of those freaky rules of nature, like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Almost anyone can be traced back to Arab in six steps or less.
Don’t get me wrong. Arab is not without its famous events and people. For starters, there’s the annual Poke Salat Festival. But perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that the short list of hometown successes (according to Wikipedia) includes actress Monica Potter (Along Came a Spider et al). I should note that I find no other evidence of this anywhere online. But regardless, she joins my friend Jill King (Country singer and songwriter) as the only two mentions.
I am predictably NOT on the list. Apparently they don’t consider winning the University of North Alabama “Ugly Walk” Competition worthy of recognition. Well, I’m not bitter. But I would also like to point out that I was the star of the brief-but-popular morning radio segment “Breakfast with Brandon” on AM 1380 – WRAB (Your Friend and Neighbor). That listening audience spanned from Joppa to Scant City. So it was a pretty big deal.
Regarding the name, (and this could just be the product of myth – but one which also eventually found its way to Wikipedia) I’ve always understood it to have come from little more than a clerical error. The city’s founder was also it’s first postmaster, Stephen Tuttle Thompson. His son’s name was Arad. Yes, that’s A-R-A-D. When the city decided to incorporate in 1882, three options were given for the name: Ink, Bird, and Arad. Apparantly, we went with Arad, but a tragic typo in the process of incorporation deemed us forever . . . Arab.
I’m glad they went with Arad. If one of the other names had been chosen and misspelled, I might have ended up being from Jnk. I can only guess how we would have pronounced that one. Or we might have been known as Bord, which was what most of us were anyway growing up in that town.
Make no mistake. Arab is, and forever will be, at the very top of my list of favorite places to grow up – and that’s not just because it’s the only place I grew up. I love that city. Ask any one of those
8,000 7.500 people, and they’ll have their own stories, their own history, their own notable people, places, and things.
Got a good Arab story? Click “Read More” and post it below. My friend Jackie works for Otelco, so I know they have internet now.