Dinner and a Movie

Dinner and a Movie

Part 2 of 3 in the John 13 series

[readolog_blockquote ]Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:38[/readolog_blockquote]

Movies have a way of transforming us instantly.   We watch a James Bond movie and leave the theatre noticing every detail about everyone around us, ready to jump into action at the first sign of danger.   We watch a war hero selflessly sacrifice his life for the sake of those around him.   Then we leave ready to do the same, certain that we are prepared to answer just such a call.

This was Peter after his last meal with Jesus.   He had been caught up in the drama playing out around him.   “I will lay down my life for you,” he tells Jesus.   But Jesus knows better.   This was no movie.   This was all too real.

“Will you really lay down your life for me?   I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

Ouch.   Talk about busting your bubble.   It’s easy to watch from a distance and consider ourselves worthy of participation.   But when we are the main characters, life seems anything but cinematic.   Peter left the theatre ready to risk it all.   But as Jesus predicts, his first test ends miserably as he in fact disowns Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.

What Peter promised was not a bad thing.   The problem was in his motivation.   He was more focused on his own glory than the necessary sacrifice that would have to be made.   Certainly, there are moments in life when we are called to do the right thing, the hard thing.   But those moments are anything but glorious, let along Oscar-winning performances.

In short, we can be in the movie, or we can watch the movie.   But we can’t do both.   The choice is up to each of us.

Disciples Didn’t Go To Day Spas

Disciples Didn’t Go To Day Spas

Part 1 of 3 in the John 13 series


[readolog_blockquote ]Then [Jesus] said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as’Teacher’ and’Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.
John 13: 17[/readolog_blockquote]

Disciples didn’t go to day spas, and they didn’t wear New Balance.   Most theologians agree on these points.   And since we’re also fairly certain they didn’t drive Mini Coopers, it’s safe to say they walked . . . everywhere.   The unfortunate conclusion of these historical certainties is that disciples had dirty, ugly, smelly feet.

But so did everyone.   It was in the fine print when you signed up to be a Biblical character.     And so upon entering one’s house, most people compensated as would you or I by washing their feet.   And feet being what they are, you can imagine that this was a pretty personal thing.   In fact, to wash another person’s feet was considered so demeaning that the laws forbid a Jewish slave from being forced to do it.   You had to call in the “B” team, the Gentile slaves, for something like that.

So you can imagine what the disciples must have thought in John 13 when Jesus got on his hands and knees and began to wash their feet.   Other than Gentile slaves, this kind of thing was only done by wives for husbands or children for parents, and maybe disciples for teachers.   But it was never done by teachers for disciples.   And yet there Jesus was, kneeling, washing, and teaching all at the same time.

Peter (typical Peter) protests Jesus’ action. But Jesus says, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”

That statement goes a little deeper than the bowl of water on the floor.   Jesus was getting ready to endure humiliation that would make washing feet seem like a walk in the park.   But without it, humanity would be lost, and He loved us too much to let that happen.   The tough part for Peter, and perhaps for us, is in realizing that to be a part of what Jesus did and is doing, we too must learn about true love and be willing to humble ourselves enough to serve one another.

“I’ve laid down a pattern for you,” He said. “What I’ve done, you do.”

So the next time someone shows us their dirty, ugly, smelly feet (or any other part of their anatomy for that matter), perhaps we should consider this story.   As Christians, perhaps we  should be the first on the scene to do the jobs that must be done but  that no one else wants to do.


Getting Old

cane_edited.jpg“Dad?” RileyGrace is sitting in the back of our Ford Windstar gazing out the window.  

 “Yes, ma’am.”  

“How many years is a person when they start to get old?”   I glance at her in the rear view mirror.   Her posture is perfect as she sits atop the last car seat she’ll ever need.   Her head is tilted inquisitively.   Loose strands of angel hair dance in front of her face, glowing in the afternoon sun.   My last little girl is growing up so fast.   She smiles, awaiting an answer to her question.

“Well, it depends,” I offer. “Some people get old very early.   Others really never seem to get old.   I guess it just depends on the person.”

She considered this for a moment.   I  am proud of my response.   Not too much information, but enough to answer the question accurately.   It is a secret aspiration of mine that my kids will one day look back and reflect on the great wisdom of their father.   I bask in visions of the three of them as adults sharing Thanksgiving coffee around the family table, marveling at how good ole’ Dad could take even the most complex of subjects and put  them in terms that even a child could understand.

“Dad?” RileyGrace interrupts my delusions of grandeur.

“Yes, honey.”

“How many years were you when you got old?”

Clearly I have done my job.


The Thunder and The Cup

There are  times in life when the clouds  over “Brandon  World” part and the light of  reality breaks through, even if for a moment.   These are times when, for whatever reason, I am quiet enough, still enough,  or weak enough to experience God and His Word.   This is one of those times.

To Lead  Like Thunder
I didn’t know until recently that Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder.”    Apparently, these two brothers earned that name by being bold and  head-strong,  even to a fault.   They were movers and shakers, leaders among their peers, make-it-happen kind of guys.   We all know people like this, people who are  really good at getting results but that  are  so goal-oriented that things like sensitivity, or fairness,  or  . . . oh, I don’t know . . . other people,   just seem to get in the way.

The Sons of Thunder were famous for tripping over their own goals.   There’s a great story in Matthew 20 where James and John  use  their mother to  approach Jesus with a special request. In verse 21 she says, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Stop the truck!   What?   When I first read this, I thought,”That sounds just like a couple of  God Squad  wannabe’s.   Always  trying to sit  next to the most popular guy in school.”   I mean, really.   They  can’t even ask for themselves?   They have to get  their mother  to do it?    And when the other disciples weren’t around?   How calculated!   Then I looked in the mirror.  

I hate to say it, but my reflection looks an awful lot like this story.   I too have been concerned with where I might sit in the grand scheme of things.    I too  have become so goal-oritented  and ambitious that I failed to see the big picture – a picture that included the feelings of those around me.   But I still can’t say that my actions have ever been purely selfish.   Nor  should we assume this for James and John.   Who wouldn’t want to spend eternity next to Jesus?    These guys were being who God made them to be.   They were seeking their place.   And they felt they had found it next to Jesus.  

Unfortunately  their actions, like my actions,  sound an awful lot like thunder.   Loud, but that’s about it.

To Drink from the Cup
cup_cropped.jpgDon’t get me wrong.   To lead like thunder can be effective.    But  sometimes it’s only in the  lonely echoes of failure  that the whisper of  Truth can be heard.   This Truth is as humbling as it is powerful.   When it speaks of leadership, it makes no promises of success, or acceptance, or of thrones at the right hand of God.   Instead,  it warns that to lead is  to be misunderstood, distanced,  or even despised.

What does Jesus say to James and John’s request?   “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them (not to their mother). “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

Can’t you just see James and John standing there like Forrest and Bubba in front of Lt. Dan?   They look at each other, then back at Jesus, blank stares and blind confidence, nodding  “Uh huh.”  

The scene had to be similarly amusing for Jesus at first.   But I can’t help but wonder if His face grew sad with the thought of what was to come for these Sons of Thunder.   I say this because as He was setting them straight on who makes the seating chart in Heaven, He also  says to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup.”

Fourteen years after this story takes place, James becomes the first of the disciples to be  martyred.   His brother John, while living longer, does so in exile on a remote island, a prison camp, where he  sees how the world  will end.   The true cup of leadership is often not at all what we envision.   It is more a responsibility than  a privilege.   And its taste  is often bitter at best.

It’s later in this story that we find one of the most profound statements of leadership ever recorded in history.   Speaking to the disciples of  James and John’s request, Jesus says, (28)   “. . .  the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And so for modern-day Sons of Thunder, there is a profound lesson to be learned here:

Leadership is not about where you sit.   It’s about the cup you drink from.


Something to say . . .

Dr. Bellows wore plaid shirts without fail.   I remember this because the shape of his round belly played tragic games with the stripes in the pattern.   The result was something like latitude and longitude markings on a lumpy globe that orbited the room at least twice during each class.   I had decided from the first day that I would not learn much from Dr. Bellows.   After all, I was a national finalist in one of the most competitive speech contests in the country.   This was a “gimme” class.   I needed an easy “A” to make up for the dismal prospects offered by “Dr. Pass-Me-If-You-Can” in Music History.

By the end of the semester, I had managed to pass Music History (through much prayer and fasting).   It was instead Speech 101 that presented the biggest challenge.   In the end, it was Dr. Bellows, a walking globe with  headlight-sized horn-rims and a  hair cut reminiscant of Nicholas from “Eight is Enough” who almost failed me, and in doing so taught me perhaps one of the most important lessons of my young adult life.  

The speech was on the business of song writing.    Being a music business major, material on the subject was plentiful.   The delivery was artful, if I do say so myself.   It had humor.   It had drama.   It earned me a standing ovation.   Excuse me while I move to the head of the class.   That’s right.   State Public Speaking Champion coming through.   Yes, it’s a gift.   No, I’m not sure autographs are appropriate right now.    Perhaps after class.

Now, I’m being silly.   I actually only gave one autograph after class,  and that one  just basically committed me to bring something salty to the next Band Social.   Shortly thereafter, I made my way to Dr. Bellows, who was seated on his  axis at the rear of the room.   I had yet to receive his certain praise, and I swelled at the prospect.   What wonderful words might he use to describe my eloquence, my mastery of the oratory?   Perhaps he would even ask me to teach the class next week while he took some time off for that long overdue visit to the barbershop.

“Mr. Abbott.”   He beckoned me forward.   “Have a seat Mr. Abbott.”   Wow, this was gonna take some time.   I must have been better than I thought.

“Brilliant speech, Mr. Abbott.”

“Thank you, sir.”   I  said, waiting, hoping  for more.  

“You’re clearly the best speaker in the class.”

“Thank you, sir.”   Man, I love that part.

“I almost hate to fail you on this speech.”  

My mind hit the rewind button.   For a moment, I thought he said “fail.”   No, he must have said, “hail,” as in “hail you as the magnificent speaker you are.”

“I’m sorry?”  

“Mr. Abbott.   You can’t BS a BS’er.   Your delivery was wonderful.   But no one cared, because you said nothing.   I actually know less now that I did before I heard you speak.   Your reliance on rhetoric is alarming.”

The gaping whole that was my mouth invited all manner of flying things to enter at will.  

“Next time, Mr. Abbott, I want you to remember one thing.   How you speak will mean nothing unless you actually have something to say.”

I turned 34 the other day.  And like my age, real life has descended upon me like Sitting Bull on Custard.   Yet as I  reflect upon the sweet chaos that is my world, I have started  seeing things I’ve never seen before.   I hear sounds I’ve never heard before.   I feel weights I’ve never felt before.   And from all of this I am learning (thanks to Dr. Bellows) how to say things I’ve never said before.   I have finally stopped obsessing over how I speak.   I have finally started focusing on what I say.

And to my surprise, I really do have something to say.


Sisters for $400, Alex.


McKenzie (9) :   “Hey RileyGrace, I bet you don’t know the capital of Japan.”

RileyGrace (6) : “Yes I do!”

McKenzie: “OK, smartie pants.   What is it?”

RileyGrace: “J.”

For more profound statements from RileyGrace, read this and this.   For those of you who are too embarassed to ask, the capital of Japan is in fact Tokyo.   (Yes, I had to look it up.   What’s your point?)


Papaw’s In A Pickle


I called home yesterday to wish my grandparents a happy Valentines day.   My grandfather, who I’ve known my entire life as “Papaw,” is known much more for his ability to fix  things than his reliability at remembering special occasions such as Feb. 14.   So, I called him up, just to make sure he hadn’t forgotten.   After all, there have been more than fifty Valentines Day’s since he and Mamaw were married.

“Paw,” I said, (that’s short for Papaw in Alabama), “did you remember what today was?”

“Yea, I remembered.” He was less than enthusiastic.

“Well, did you get Mamaw anything?”

“No, not really.”

“Well, did you at least tell her you loved her?”   I willed him to answer yes.

“Son, I told her at least two or three times today.”   Whew!   That was a relief.   Long pause, then he continued.

“But I don’t think she believed me.”   Uh oh.   Sounds like trouble.

“Well,” I offered, “you better let me talk to her then.”   I heard some rumbling of the receiver and a faint “Hilda!”   A few  slow moments later, I heard her voice.


“Hey Maw.” (Again, short for – well I guess you got that now).   “Happy Valentines day.”

“Thank you sweetie!”   I was apparently still in good graces.   So I decided to cash in some of this equity to help out the old man.

“Papaw said he told you he loved you two or three times today.”

“Uh huh.”   She retorted.

“But he said you didn’t believe him.”   I waited for a moment.   Then came her response.

“Well,” she pondered aloud, “he lies a lot.”

Oh well. Sounds like my poor Papaw is in a pickle.   Next time, I may just have to help him out and send something on his behalf.   If you’re new to this blog, you can learn more about Papaw here.


A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose

rose.jpgThe advantage of running a blog with an incredibly small group of readers is that  I actually know  many of you.   I watch you day in and day out as you do life.   I  rejoice in your successes, and I share in your struggles, just as you share in mine.   So, this Valentines Day, allow me to share with you a profound piece of encouragement that has lifted me above my circumstances many times over the last few years.   You might  have heard  the song by Susan Ashton.   If not, you need to.   Check it out when you can.   In the mean time, keep reading and remember you are made in God’s image.

“A Rose Is A Rose”
Written by Wayne Kirkpatrick

You’re at a stand still. You’re at an endpass.
Your mountain of dreams seems harder to climb.
By those who have made you feel like an outcast.
‘Cause you dare to be different. So they’re drawing a line.

They say you’re a fool. They feed you resistance.
They tell you you’ll never go very far.
But they’ll be the same ones that stand in the distance
Alone in the shadow of your shining star.

Just keep on the same road, and keep on your toes.
Just keep your heart steady as she goes.
And let them call you what they will.
It don’t matter. A rose by any name is still a rose.

The kindess of strangers, it seems like a fable.
But they’ve yet to see what I see in you.
That you can make it if you are able
To believe in yourself the way I do.

Just keep on the same road, and keep on your toes.
Just keep your heart steady as she goes.
And let them call you what they will.
It don’t matter. A rose by any name is still a rose.

‘Cause a deal is a deal in the heart of a dream,
And a spade is a spade if you know what I mean.
And a rose is a rose is a rose.

To deal with the scoffers, that’s part of the bargain.
They heckle from back rows, and they bark at the moon.
But their flowers are fading in Time’s bitter garden,
And your’s is only beginning to bloom.

So keep on the same road, and keep on your toes.
And just keep your heart steady as she goes.
And let them call you what they will,
And remember a rose by any name is still a rose.

A rose by any name is still a rose.


Should I Wear A Dress To Church?

As my family and I were discussing whether or not we should move to the Sunday PM Worship service at our church, my nine-year-old daughter asked if she would be required to wear a dress?   (Currently, Sunday mornings are for dresses, while choir on Sunday night calls for more casual attire.)

My daughter’s delima (as it turns out) was rooted in her belief that the Bible explicitly commands us to dress  our best  when we go to church.   So I posed the following question to my wife . . .

Why are we to dress our best when we go to church?

Her reply . . .

“Our bodies are God’s temple.   We should treat them accordingly.   This also means dressing our best and being holy before God.”

To which I offered . . .

“But John the Baptist was holy, and he looked like crap.”

Her [final] response:

“Yes. But I’m not John the Baptist’s mother.”

Next Sunday, I guess we’re all wearing a dress to church.