Category Archives: Uncategorized

Wrestling is dumb

Before this gets too far along, I know pro wrestling is scripted. I know that, above all else, it is entertainment, and in that sense, is not a true “sport.” So I’m not the middle aged guy standing up in a high school gym and telling an indie wrestler “It’s still real to me, dammit!” That’s not me. I also know that I’m 30, almost 31, and I should probably just give it up. But I don’t think that’s me, either.

I’ve always been drawn to it, though. I’ve always hooked on to the guys who were telling what I thought was my story. I remember when, as a seventh grader who felt like an absolute loner, I saw Sting for the first time. Besides just looking really freaking cool, I could relate – all of Sting’s friends turned on him and he was fighting, alone, against a gang of bullies. Sure, I liked a lot of other guys – Rey Mysterio, Jr. always put on great matches, Goldberg was a sight to behold, and Chris Jericho was the kind of annoying brat that made watching TV fun. And fun it was – until Sting showed up. Then I locked in. It was more than just fun, it was more than pro wrestling. It felt like someone understood my life and was attempting to explain it, even if it was beefed up, dressed in black spandex and white face paint, and carrying a black baseball bat.

Yeah, it sounds kind of lame, but I was in 7th grade. What else was I supposed to do?

I quit watching wrestling around the time WCW folded, which was April of 2001. I loosely paid attention, but the Monday Night Wars were over, the Attitude Era of WWF safely behind us, and I was growing up. But somewhere around 2010, I got sucked back in, and shortly after that, I met another guy who was telling my story.

Daniel Bryan wasn’t anything special. He was an average guy who didn’t have the look of anybody else on the WWE roster. But the dude could wrestle and the dude connected with the fans. That’s one of the cool things about pro wrestling – it gives people the chance to connect with their favorites. And for whatever reason, I connected with Daniel Bryan, especially his run up to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXX.

Every so often, pro wrestling stories intersect with real life, and that’s exactly what happened with Daniel Bryan. He was the classic underdog – the on screen characters Triple H and Stephanie McMahon didn’t want him to succeed, so they threw roadblock after roadblock at him. But you also got the sense that the people who made the decisions behind the scenes didn’t want him to succeed, either. He didn’t have the look. He wasn’t a big powerful guy. He wasn’t particularly great cutting a promo. But he was one of us. And so we cheered him and cheered him and cheered him until the cheers couldn’t be ignored anymore. We’ve all been there – we feel like we’ve had teachers, or bosses, or people in other influential positions who didn’t want us to succeed. Stone Cold probably made that storyline famous, but there were a lot of us who didn’t want to respond by beating everyone up and drinking beer. We wanted to respond simply by just doing what we loved and doing it well.

And so, at Wrestlemania XXX, in front of 90,000 people, he held the championship belts high above his head. We chanted “YES! YES! YES!” along with him.

And now, it’s over.

Shortly after winning the title, he got hurt. And he stayed hurt, so he had to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He tried to come back, and he did, winning the Intercontinental Championship.  But that was short lived, and finally, this year, he had to retire. Forever.

The news hit me hard, in much the same way I expect Peyton Manning’s inevitable announcement will hit me. It hit me the same way that losing Michael Scott and the rest of the crew from The Office hit me, and the way that the ending of Parks and Recreation hit me. Daniel Bryan is, in a lot of ways, a hero to me. I may be done with wrestling after this.

A lot of people have written better thoughts about this than me. No one will read this, and that’s fine. It’s just my voice, shouting into the silence, saying that yeah, wrestling is dumb and scripted. But Daniel Bryan is proof it’s not fake, and I think it’s safe to say the business is forever changed because he was in it. Yeah, it’s dumb and scripted, but I felt a connection with The American Dragon.

Thanks for the memories, Daniel. And we’ll always have New Orleans.

Landscapes

I haven’t written much in a while.  I’m not exactly sure why – busyness at times, laziness at others – but I haven’t.

Lately though, I’ve been wanting to write, and a Facebook post a friend of mine wrote has made me think deeply about landscapes, specifically how they are used in Scripture.

Oceans, the wilderness, mountains, forests, rivers…wherever they’re mentioned, they’re mentioned for significant reasons.  They carry both physical and spiritual meaning.  So over the next…however long, I want to write about them.

It’s kind of a project, I guess.

HOT SPROTS TAKES: SEC Quarterbacks

I am starting to realize more and more that I really don’t have much to say about important things.  I’m still learning so much, so outside of some very limited-in-scope thoughts about things I am not qualified to speak on, I haven’t had a lot to write about.

Then I realized the SEC Network drops in 10 days, and it’s going to be available on the International Space Station.  SEC football.  In space.

As a red blooded southern male, I am beside myself in anticipation for the upcoming football season.  In 24 days, I’ll make the trek to Atlanta to watch the Rebs take on Boise State.  The time between now and then will be filled with studying for ordination exams, writing lessons, and kicking off another semester of ministry that, honestly, I am quite looking forward to.  But in this moment of down time, I really, really want to write about sports.  So here we go:  My totally unscientific and largely uninformed ranking of the 14 SEC quarterbacks.

Before the list, though, it needs to be mentioned – there are only 5 returning starters in the SEC.  LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are all gone.  That’s a lot of star power gone, which means there are a lot of unknowns coming into the year.  So what I’m going to do is rank the five returning starters (Dak Prescott and Maty Mauk not included, because they weren’t full time starters), and then try to make heads or tails out of the other 9.  Here we go:

Returning QBs:

5. Maxwell Smith, Senior, Kentucky – Maxwell Smith is a returning starter, but of the returning starters, he’s the most likely to lose his job.  I don’t really know why, but he missed three games, and he split time with Jalen Whitlow, who transferred.  So Smith is more or less the starter by default.  He completed 57% of his passes for 1,276 yards, 9 TDs, and 1 INT.  Those aren’t awful numbers, but Kentucky went 2-10, so it’s not hard to see him losing that job.  Patrick Towles, a redshirt sophomore, is apparently a pretty real threat to Smith.  I can’t see Kentucky winning more than 2 or 3 games again, so it might not matter all that much.

4. Brandon Allen, Junior, Arkansas – Allen isn’t #4 on this list by default.  He’s entrenched as a starter, but he completed less than 50% of his passes for 1,552 yards, 13 TDs, and 10 INTs.  He missed the Rutgers game, but Arkansas lost their last 9 games.  They’ll have a strong running game, so he won’t have to go out and put up Manziel numbers, but if they’re going to improve, he’s going to have to be better.  He did seem to improve as the year went on, at least on paper.  He finished the year going 47 for 78, 485 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU.  So maybe he can keep improving some?  Bielema isn’t known for his great passing offenses, and while that’s not entirely fair, that reputation probably won’t change this year.

3. Jeff Driskel, Junior, Florida – Driskel is an enigma to me.  The talk is always how talented he is, but his best season was pretty pedestrian.  2013 didn’t give us much to go on, either, because he got hurt in the third game of the year, but he was off to a 2 TD/3 INT start.  But he’s right here because he’s better than whatever UK or Arkansas will put out.

2. Nick Marshall, Senior, Auburn – I flip flop between Marshall and Wallace, but Marshall just isn’t a good passer.  He completed a shade under 60% of his passes, which is good, and he threw for 14 TDs and 6 INTs, which is also really good.  He’s a great trigger man for Auburn’s offense, and he’s probably most effective as a runner.  If you take away three plays from their season – the end of the game against Mississippi State, the ridiculous play against Georgia, and the shenanigans surrounding the Iron Bowl, then we’re talking about what a nice story Auburn was, going from whatever their crappy record was to 8-4 and a nice bowl game.  But while Allen and Smith would be at the very bottom of the league, Marshall would be at the top because of how effective he is running that offense, even if he isn’t the best passer.  If their ground game can produce like it did last year, Marshall should have another strong year.

1. Bo Wallace, Senior, Ole Miss – Wallace completed 65% of his passes for 3,346 yards, 18 TDs, and 10 INTs.  Bo’s the best returning quarterback in the SEC statistically.  It’s a bit more impressive considering he hasn’t been fully healthy since getting to Ole Miss.  The end of the regular season left a bit of a sour taste in Rebel fans mouths, with the offense only generating one offensive touchdown in two games, but the season was capped off pretty nicely against Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl.  The question for Wallace, and the entire Ole Miss offense, is the offensive line.  Laremy Tunsil is the best LT in the conference, and if Aaron Morris can stay healthy, LG should be pretty solid, but the right side of the line is up in the air.  Gone is Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan, but Laquon Treadwell, Vince Sanders, and Evan Engram come back.  So if Bo’s really healthy, like they say, and the OL can get him some time, Dr. Bo should be able to lead the Rebs to another solid year.

New QBs:

This is a bit of a crap shoot, but two guys stand at the top of this list – Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.  So beyond that, who knows?  Three of these are “situations,” because I have no idea what is happening in any of them.

9. Tennessee’s situation – Tennessee just isn’t going to be good.  They recruited well, but I just don’t know that they’re going to be good any time soon.  Justin Worley is probably the best of their options, but he’s not all that impressive.  Josh Dobbs finished the year when Worley went out with an injury, but he wasn’t great either.  So…who knows?

8.Vanderbilt’s situation – I’m kind of assuming Patton Robinette wins this job, but apparently there’s a legit 4 way battle going on.  Stephen Rivers is an intriguing prospect, because of his brother and because he’s huge.  Robinette has experience, but Rivers apparently has the talent and only one year to play.

7. LSU’s situation – As I just mentioned, Stephen Rivers is gone.  Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are competing for the job.  Most people seem to think that Harris has the edge, which wouldn’t surprise me, but going into the SEC with a true freshman quarterback is a scary thing, even if he was a highly sought after prospect.  LSU’s quarterback play has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, so…again, who knows?

6. A&M’s situation – Kevin Sumlin knows QBs, and Kyle Allen should be a really good one.  He lacks the mobility of his predecessor, but then again, so does everyone.  My bet is Allen gets the nod, but I base that on nothing.  But I have faith in Sumlin as an offensive coach, so he’ll have one of those guys ready to go.  I also think that the biggest loss is Mike Evans, but we’ll see.

5. Hutson Mason, Georgia – Mason is this high because he was forced into action last year and looked pretty good.  He’s kind of a rare breed in the SEC this year, as he’s a true drop back passer in a true drop back system.  Georgia’s situation is pretty similar to Alabama’s in that there are some great running backs around their QB and a great OL in front of him, so whatever his weaknesses are will be masked in some ways other QBs weaknesses won’t.

4. Jacob Coker, Alabama – To me, Coker is the most intriguing potential starting QB in the SEC.  Apparently he and Jameis Winston had a pretty legit QB competition at Florida State, which Winston obviously won, so Coker transferred.  Alabama still has the best OL in the country, a phenomenal defense, and a stable of great running backs.  He doesn’t have to be the most talented guy out there, but he may actually be the most talented guy out there.  I don’t really like Alabama, but I am looking forward to seeing how he does as a starting quarterback in the SEC.  Of course all of this is irrelevant if Blake Sims wins the job.  Sims has some experience, but not much.

3. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina – Thompson got a decent amount of reps 2 years ago, and played sparingly last year.  He seems a lot like Coker and Mason, who have a lot of talent around them.  That’s really all I have to say about him.

2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State – Prescott and Mauk could be changed out here, but Mauk gets the nod for reasons I’ll discuss in a second.  Prescott is a great runner, but he’s a pretty average passer.  If he’s going to be the guy State fans are hoping he is, he’s going to have to get better throwing the ball.  He’s also going to have to stay healthy.  He missed two games, and with a quarterback who embraces contact like he does, injury is always a concern.  State ended the season with some momentum, so the hype surrounding him is totally understandable (though I think way over the top).  He’s got some weapons – Jameon Lewis is really good and the SEC’s returning leading receiver, De’Runnya Wilson has a great name and has shown flashes, and Marcus Green is a really good tight end.  Health, accuracy, and the offensive line are the major concerns here.

1. Maty Mauk, Missouri – When James Franklin went down last year, I think everybody thought Missouri’s run was over.  And they did lose the South Carolina game, but Mauk was lights out in those games.  Keeping a championship run alive and staying healthy are why I put him here over Prescott, but you could pretty easily argue this gets flipped back because Missouri lost 4 of their top 6 receiving targets.  Mauk also did it as a true freshman.

This is a really hard list to come up with.  Every single one of these guys has major question marks, and several of these jobs won’t be settled until well into the season.  Coker, Marshall, and whoever LSU trot out will have a chance to lead their team to the SEC championship from the west simply because of the talent around them.  My bet is on Thompson and South Carolina representing the East, but I wouldn’t sleep on Mason and Georgia, either.  Florida may pull it off, but it’ll be more on the defense than Driskel.

24 days…

Thomas the Twin

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by Thomas in the Bible.  You know, the guy who we’re taught to pretty much hate in Sunday School?  We walk away from the Bible knowing him only as “doubting Thomas,” as if doubt is some fatal thing that no good Christian should ever experience.  Then again, the story of Noah was always presented as this happy children’s story, and completely devoid of Noah getting smashed and everyone on earth dying.  So…going back and re-examining children’s Sunday School stories is usually a good thing.

Anyway, I was reading through John, and John 11:19 struck me.  This is the part where Jesus heads to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Then John 11:19 happens:

“So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.'”

This stood out to me as kind of funny.  Thomas’s reputation is that of a doubter, as I mentioned above, so to see him say something courageous surprised me.  That prompted me to see what one of my favorite writers, J.C. Ryle, said on the issue:

“On each occasion he appears in the same state of mind, – ready to look at the black side of everything, – taking the worst view of the position, and raising doubts and fears…Here he sees nothing but danger and death, if his Master returns to Judea.  Yet He is true and faithful nevertheless.  He will not forsake Christ, even if death is in the way.  ‘Let us go,’ he says to his fellow-disciples, ‘and die with our Master.  He is sure to be killed if He does go; but we cannot do better than be killed with Him.'”

“Let it be noted that a man may have notable weaknesses and infirmities of Christian character, and yet be a disciple of Christ.  There is no more common fault among believers, perhaps, than despondency and unbelief.  A reckless readiness to die and make an end of our troubles is not grace but impatience.”

Then, this:

“Let us remember that this same Thomas, so desponding in our Lord’s lifetime, was afterwards the very Apostle who first preached the Gospel in India, according to ecclesiastical history, and penetrated further East than any whose name is recorded.  Chrysostom says, ‘The very man who dared not go to Bethany in Christ’s company, afterwards ran alone through the world, and dwelt in the midst of nations full of murder and ready to kill him.'”

I don’t really know why that stood out to me.  Maybe it’s because we’re never really told “the rest of the story,” but letting the story end with “well Thomas doubted and that’s bad so don’t be a doubting Thomas” is doing a great disservice to the guy.

Holy Week Thoughts

I don’t exactly know how to say what I want to say here.  This is really just kind of a ramble, which I guess fits in with the title of this blog, as opposed to a well thought out argument (which I usually try but may not really successfully pull off).

It’s “Holy Week.”  I woke up this morning (I started writing this on Palm Sunday, I don’t know when it’s actually going to get posted), and pretty much everyone I know who’s a Christian and posts Christian things on their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram had posted something about it.  Our call to worship this morning was from Zechariah 9.  Those things were great.  I, in no way, want to criticize that.  It served as a wonderful reminder of the significance of this day.

But this week, a lot is going to be made of Easter.  There will be Maundy Thursday services (I’m preaching one), Good Friday services, and sunrise services Sunday morning.  These are good things.  After all, Easter is the very reason Christianity exists.  No resurrection, no Christianity.  Pretty simple.  Easter is a big deal.

I know lots of pastors, and they all share similar frustrations of the pattern many people hold of going to church on Easter and Christmas and pretty much no other time.  That is frustrating, but I kind of wonder if it’s not, at least in part, our fault.

I grew up in a weird church.  There were lots of great things about it, and there were lots of weird things about it.  That’s the best way I can sum it up here.  During my time there, I saw it go from your average Southern Baptist church to something that bordered on Pentecostal to something attempting to be super trendy.  But the one constant was the big deal that Easter was.  Growing up, we had a huge passion play.  Then for a few years we rented out a livestock arena and had a service where about a million people showed up and we had shuttles coming in and all that.

Like I said, Easter was a big deal, and we treated it as such.

But my thing is this – and this may be feather ruffling, it may not be though – I wonder if we put too much emphasis on Easter (please notice I said Easter and not the resurrection).  I wonder if part of the reason people only show up on Easter and Christmas is because we make it seem like those are the only days worth showing up.

I mean, my church was a pretty normal church – passion plays and having big services aren’t anything unique.  Other churches do crazy stuff.  I’m sure there are many levels between.

But why?

Why does Easter get such special treatment?

Is Jesus any less resurrected on a Tuesday afternoon in August than on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox?  If He is, then Christianity is lame.  If He’s not, then why do we act like it?

The amazing thing about preaching the Gospel is that week in and week out, we get to proclaim Christ crucified, buried, and risen.  Every Sunday.  The apostles saw the resurrection as such a big deal that they centered Christian worship around the Lord’s Day, Sunday, as opposed to the traditional Sabbath.  We celebrate, or we should celebrate, the resurrection every single Sunday.  That’s also the point of the Lord’s Supper.  We take it, or at least we should take it, on a regular basis, as Jesus said, to remember Him.

Everything we do has consequences, intended and unintended.  When we make a spectacle out of Easter, whether it’s dressing up way nicer than you normally would or giving away cars, flat screens, and iPads, you may be sending the message that this one Sunday is special.  You may also be sending the message that the other 51 of the year…aren’t so special.

So celebrate Easter this Sunday.  But celebrate Easter every Sunday, too, because it’s just as big of a deal next week, the week after that, and all the other weeks after that.

Wrestlemania XXX

On April 6, 2014, I got to go to Wrestlemania XXX.  I love pro wrestling, and while I’m not this guy (though I likely sat by one of his relatives), it’s one of my favorite pastimes.  So when we found out Wrestlemania XXX was happening in New Orleans, Leah and I decided to go.

I say this without any qualification:  that was one of the most fun things I have ever been to.

It’s hard to exactly define what it was.  Professional wrestling is equal parts drama, production, and, yes, sport.  And you just can’t understand how big of a deal it is until you take it all in.

The size of the event alone was ridiculous.  There were 75,000+ in the Silverdome Superdome, which…is a lot of people.  For reference, Super Bowl XLVII had 71,000.  The set was unbelievable – it was MASSIVE.  I couldn’t really get a good picture of it because of where our seats were, but it just dwarfed everything.  And any time you have 75,000 people who are there, locked in, and energetic, whatever the event is will be awesome for that reason alone.

It’s also pretty cool to see such a huge production in person.  Watching on TV, you don’t notice everything that goes into the production.  On TV you see a close up shot of the wrestlers walking to the ring.  It’s fairly simple.  But live, you see the camera crew of like 12 guys walking backwards as one unit to give you the great shot you see on TV.  Although it’s not always as cool – the Wyatt family’s entrance is awesome on TV, and it was still pretty cool in person, but it was kind of funny to see Erick Rowan dragging Bray’s rocking chair behind him.

But the thing I appreciated the most about the event was how good those guys are at telling a story.  When you go to a live event, you don’t get to hear the commentators (which actually is awesome, because WWE’s announce team sucks), and you don’t have a play by play guy in the stadium calling out what happens. So when you’re watching live, you’re depending on the guys in the ring to tell a story.  And that they did.

From a wrestling and storyline standpoint, I loved the show.  It was the payoff of a year’s worth of storylines, and for Daniel Bryan, four years worth of hard work and frustration.  From a production standpoint, I was absolutely amazed.  I have to remind myself sometimes that the WWE is a billion dollar entertainment company, but after seeing what I saw, I get it.

Overall, though, it was an amazing night.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance to see a WWE event live again, but I do know that chanting “YES!  YES!  YES!” with Daniel Bryan and 75,000 other people is something I’ll never forget.

 

All these Christian movies…

Most of these musings have been spawned from reading the Christ and Pop Culture blog.  It’s good, they’re better writers than me, and they’re smarter than me.  So read it.  

I have no interest in any of the Christian movies that are coming out this year.  Not Son of God, Heaven is For Real, God’s Not Dead, or Left Behind.

I am, however, interested in Noah.

I don’t want to see it, because I’m generally not a fan of Russell Crowe, and because I think it’s likely to be a major flop, but I am immensely interested in Noah, and the reason is simple.

Noah gives us a sincere look at how people who don’t believe the Bible view the Bible.  Kind of like the prayer scene in Talladega Nights.  You get people who don’t necessarily believe the Bible, or not in the sense that Christians do, expressing their views about things essential to Christianity.

Darren Aronofsky, the director of Noah, seemed to go out of his way to make sure he represented the story fairly.  From everything I can tell, he didn’t, but he at least tried, and gives us some solid insight to some things.  From a pastoral standpoint, it shows that people have and are interested in questions about the Bible and all that.  So that’s a good sign.

So, to re-state my argument, I’m interested in Noah because it’s an honest look at how a person who isn’t a Christian views one of the most famous stories in the Bible.

I’ve been asking the question of myself, though – why am I so interested in Noah, but completely uninterested in all of the others?  And “because they look dumb” isn’t a good answer.

My problem with all of these other movies is that they’re misrepresentations of Christianity by Christians.

Take Son of God for example.  Second Commandment issues aside, the people who made the movie are professing Christians.  But they get the story wrong!  They leave out major details, they oversimplify things, and from all the reviews I’ve read, they turned the most interesting story in the world into a crappy movie.

Or God’s Not Dead, possibly the first movie to be based on a chain e-mail.  Let’s be clear about something – 17 year old version of me would have LOVED God’s Not Dead.  I mean, what wouldn’t I love about it?  You have the evil atheist professor picking on the heroic Christian kid.  Cameos from major Christian celebrities.  But something changed between 17 year old me and 29 year old me.  I actually met an atheist.  Several of them.  And you know what?  They’re decent people.  More decent than me in most cases.  I disagree with them, sure, but they weren’t and aren’t jerks.  In fact, I had an in-your-face atheist English professor at Ole Miss who was such a jerk out to disprove everything the Christian students believed that he wrote a seminary recommendation for one of my friends.  I realize that’s not everybody’s experience, and I realize there are militant atheists out there, but there are a ton of Christians that are the same way.  CAPC actually has a piece on this that sums up my thoughts perfectly.

And this isn’t even to mention the serious theological flaws in Heaven is For Real (read the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16) and Left Behind (really, just read the whole Bible).

I don’t buy into this whole idea of “well, Jesus is on the big screen, so it has to be a good thing.”  If the Jesus that’s being portrayed isn’t the Jesus of Scripture, if the characters in these movies are nothing but stupid caricatures that really aren’t based in reality, or if these movies cast doubt on the sufficiency of Scripture (because, let’s be honest, that’s all Heaven is For Real does), then they aren’t worth it.

I’ll probably watch Noah at some point down the road.  The others?  Nope.

 

The Scarlet Cord of Grace

It seems like I always do this, but let this start with a confession that I wish I wrote more.  Life gets busy and it kind of falls to the wayside because of my own all-or-nothing tendencies (I’m either in full blown reading/writing/studying mode or veg out/watch wrestling/play video games mode…I’m working on it).  At the moment, though, I’m roughly 48 hours from being done with this semester so maybe the time will present itself.  Maybe.  

We’re going through a series in December at our church called “The Mothers of Jesus,” which is taking a look at the women listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.  It’s been interesting, to say the least, but it’s also been amazing and very encouraging in a lot of ways.  I mean, I heard a sermon on Tamar.  That’s one of the ugliest stories in the Bible – death, incest, injustice, prostitution…and yet it still points us to the cross.

But then there is Rahab.  Rahab is a story I’m familiar with.  She’s in Joshua 2, and she also has a pretty ugly story.  As we talked about Rahab’s story, though, one thing hit me that hadn’t ever hit me before.

If you don’t know the story, it goes something like this:  The Israelites are about to start their conquest of Canaan.  Joshua sends out a couple of his men to scout out Jericho, and they go and start checking it out and they find themselves talking with a prostitute.*  They talk, and the scouts tell her that if she ties a scarlet cord to her window, she and everyone in her house will be spared.

I’ve always approached that story like this:  “Oh, neat.  They found this thing in her house that she could tie on to her window and be saved.  Isn’t that neat and convenient?  God sure is cool.”  And then went about my merry little way.  But I was missing something big.

Why would a prostitute have a scarlet cord?  Well, it’s not like she had a sign outside of her door that said “A Prostitute Lives Here” – that would be pretty obvious.  It’s like the idea of a Red Light District – you put a red light in your window to let people know that’s where prostitutes live.  So Rahab is using something that is a tool of her trade – and a trade she was apparently well known for, considering the king knew to talk to her – to protect her.

It dawned on me – the very thing that identified her as a prostitute was the very thing that identified her as a person who was to be spared from the coming judgment on Jericho.  The very thing that should have disqualified her from deliverance was the thing that guaranteed it.  I haven’t been able to get past that thought.

That idea just nags at me.  Honestly, there are times that I feel like God’s pretty lucky to have me on his team.  There are times that I find myself, like the Pharisee, thanking God that I’m not like those other people.  “Thanks, God, that I’m not (insert vice or social stigma here).”  But what if those things that I hold on to, those things that would make my students, elders, and fellow church members say “oh, he’s a pretty solid guy,” are the very things that keep me from truly receiving grace?

What if, like Rahab, all of that shame and guilt and nasty stuff didn’t disqualify me from God’s grace, but was the very thing that qualified me?

This is one of the things that I have grown to appreciate about expository preaching.  It doesn’t avoid the warts in Scripture.  Growing up, I heard all of the Bible stories kids hear.  David killed Goliath.  Moses parted the Red Sea.  Samson was a strong dude.  Those stories are easy if you just focus on one little part.  You can kill your giants if you have faith!  God will provide a way if you just believe!

The problem is this – looking at those stories that way puts the focus on me.

But when you put the focus on Rahab, you find a person who doesn’t want the focus.  She knows who she is and what she’s done, and her only hope is the mercy of a just and mighty God.

That scarlet cord served as a reminder of who she was and what she had done, but I have to think that after her deliverance, it served as a reminder of who God was and what He had done…and what he would do, even if she never knew it, with one of her descendants, a long time from then.

*Another thing I’ve never thought about – why were the scouts hanging out with a prostitute?  Maybe they get the benefit of the doubt, but the possibility that they went into the city and got swept up in…indiscretion…is very, very possible.

How to be a Sports Fan: Lesson 3

This is a post I wrote for a friend’s blog that is also running today.  Check it out at The Greatest Blog of All Time.

I have been around sports for years.  I’m 28 now, and I remember waaaaaaay back when as a little kid playing T-Ball.  I don’t know when that was, but it was a long time ago.  I was never good at sports, but I have played, and probably more importantly, watched them for years.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of these years, it’s this:

In order to be a sports fan, you must overreact to everything.

This manifests itself in many different ways.  Fans do it, announcers do it, and talking heads do it.  And then after you overreact to everything, you have to get mad at ESPN for creating a culture in which we overreact to everything, essentially absolving yourself of any and all blame.

Make sense?  No?  Good.  Let’s look at it more specifically.

Fans Do It

This may be the easiest one to grasp.  Lose a game?  Fire the coach.  Win a game?  Sign him to a lifetime extension.  It’s really easy to do, and it honestly is a lot of fun.  It’s especially magnified in rivalry games.  A few years ago, my alma mater beat its in-state rival 45-0.  After the game, tons of fans (and I may or may not have been one of them) declared our rival program dead and poised to move up a tier in our conference and begin competing for conference championships.  Know what happened the next year?  We lost to our in-state rival, and the year after that (and the year following that) we lost to them again (making it 3 in a row) and went 3-9 and 2-10.  But you know what happened during that time period?  Our in-state rival won 3 rivalry games in a row and took over almost the exact same position we were in.  After a 31-3 beatdown last season, they had left us in the dust and weren’t ever looking back.  They were poised to compete for a conference championship.  Then…we beat them.

Another great example is recruiting.  I am admitting this as a full-blown recruiting addict.*  At times, recruiting overreaction borders on the creepy.  I read a message board post from a guy who had hired a sitter and was taking his wife out on a date to the bar that the recruits were visiting.  Maybe overreaction isn’t the right word for that, but it does deserve to be mentioned here.  On the flip side, when your rival school recruits well, overreaction gives you a great coping mechanism – they recruited well?  Well, they obviously bought the recruits cars or prostitutes or gave them hundreds of thousands of dollars.**

A third, and final, example, is Twitter.  Twitter is both the best thing in the world and the worst thing in the world.   There are many different ways you can go with this.  A recent example would be the Miami Heat’s win streak.  Miami won 27 games in a row, falling just short of the NBA’s all time record of 33 games in a row.  When the Chicago Bulls beat them, Twitter exploded.  The reality of the situation was that the Miami Heat, the best team in the NBA, won 27 games in a row and then lost to a really scrappy Bulls team who, despite some injuries, is a pretty good team.  If you read Twitter that night, though, Lebron James is the worst player in the world, the Heat suck, and the Bulls are great.  It’s really easy.

Announcers Do It

This one is more awesome.  All you have to do is watch any game Gus Johnson has ever called and you know this to be true.  And we LOVE Gus for it.

Craven and I spend a lot of time playing the NBA 2K series.  We’ll be playing, going back and forth, and one of us (usually Craven) will get a fast break and throw an alley-oop.  The announcers, though, will have a series something like this:

Announcer 1:  You know, last season, this team 16-10 at home.  They really need to…

*alley-oop thrown*

All the announces:  SOIEHGOWIEHFPIUWHEIUNWEOIWEOHEOIUFHWEOFHPWJEBV JDOIWEHFUIWBE IJBWDIUNWIUEB WUIEBF UWEBIUFBWE IUHG WOEIFOIWENCIUWEN CUIBWE UGWE IVE NEVER SEEN AN ALLEY OOP BEFORE

One of my favorite real-life examples of an announcer overreacting (an an example of clueless announcers) is in this video:

Now, overreacting is not always a bad thing.  Take this example, from this NBA season as well, of the Houston Rockets announcer:

This is a regular season NBA game in December, so it’s essentially meaningless.  BUT this announcer’s overreaction gave me one of my favorite sports phrases of all time.

Talking Heads Do It

So fans and announcers get a pass.  Fans often*** have invested much into their teams.  They attended school there, grew up going to games, whatever.  It runs deep.  Announcers are selling an experience, and they typically have the best seat in the house for the greatest moments.

But the talking heads (I’m looking at you, ESPN) are the worst, and they get no pass.  Every little thing is picked apart and analyzed and rash statements are made all the time.  I really don’t have to go back that far to find proof.  A couple of weeks ago, something bad happened to both Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant.  ESPN exploded.  And all of that happened before we got to the First Take cycle.****

Another example is how the analysts have talked about college basketball (and I’m guilty of this one too).  College basketball is being ruined, it’s losing viewership, and everything bad is happening.  Wait…what’s that?  This year’s NCAA tournament was the highest rated in years, and the national championship game was the most attended of all time, and it was a phenomenal game to boot?  You mean that maybe the sport isn’t ruined but these things just have a natural ebb and flow to them?

NO THE GAME SUCKS NOW COLLEGE BASKETBALL IS RUINED NO WAIT NOW IT’S SAVED FOREVER!!!!!!!!!

The problem is, and I’m cutting it short because it’s getting wordy at this point, ESPN does these things because we, the fans, watch it.  We vote in all the stupid polls they run, we contribute to the madness.  So, in theory, if we want it to stop, we should just stop.

But we don’t, because we love sports too much.

Which isn’t a bad thing.  But I have to end this – today’s round of NBA games just ended and I have to go Tweet about how this is the [insert best/worst here] playoffs in history and how the game is being destroyed.

*My recruiting addiction goes like this – I start to get the urge to read everything written about it around August.  I largely ignore it, just taking a look here or there once or twice a week.  By October, I am all in.  Come February, I am eating, drinking, and breathing recruiting (and college basketball), and the day after signing day, I collapse into a post-recruiting haze, swearing it off forever until August rolls back around, then the cycle repeats.  It’s vicious.  

**These are ridiculous assumptions unless you’re talking about Miami or Cam Newton.

***I say often because Alabama fans exist.  If you know any Alabama fans, they probably aren’t from Alabama, didn’t go to school there, and can’t name you a single Alabama football coach besides Bear Bryant and Nick Saban.  And if you told them “hey, Alabama has a pretty good softball team, too!” (which they do) they would look at you and say “ROLL TIDE what’s softball again? ROLL TIDE”

****First Take is the worst thing to ever happen to television.

A Life Well Lived

This is a rare week.  Two posts!  But this one is more important that what will come out tomorrow.

This week, my grandmother Ruth Evelyn Rowlen went to be with Jesus.  I’m not sure exactly how old she was – full disclosure, I can’t ever remember how old anyone is.  I have to continually remind myself that I’m 27, and I know my parents are in their mid-50s.  That’s all I got.

But this has been a strange experience.  She has been in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s for the last several years, and even before that things were deteriorating.  So I can’t say that it’s a sad time.  I mean, there definitely is an aspect of sadness to it, but it feels much more like relief.  Alzheimer’s is a terrifying disease, because it completely debilitates you.  And knowing that my grandmother loved the Lord, it made me long to see her relief finally come.  And it has.  Death, where is your victory?  Where is your sting?  It is but a release into the actual, physical, real presence of our Lord.  And that’s amazing.

But the thing about death, and especially the death of a believer, is that it brings about a time of remembrance.  I have really enjoyed sitting with my family, playing with all the kids, and hearing my dad, my uncle, and my aunts tell funny stories – stuff I never even knew.

I see our family, I see the people that my grandmother impacted, and tonight I’ll meet a bunch of people who I’ve never seen before but they’ll insist the knew me when I was *this* tall.  And maybe they did know me back then.  I wouldn’t know any different.  But I’m thankful for the opportunity to tangibly see what my grandmother meant to people.

We’ve kind of known this was coming for a while now.  Especially in the last 2 weeks or so.  And since then, the last verse to the hymn “Jesus I My Cross Have Taken” has been stuck in my head.  It’s such a beautiful picture of what death actually is, for those in Christ. So I’ll leave you with it:

Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.
Heaven’s eternal days before thee,
God’s own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Faith to sight.  Prayer to praise.

Come, Lord Jesus.