Going Under the Hood

Posted: November 29, 2013 in Inspirational

I’m not talking about the hood of a car. If you know me at all, you know the last thing I should do is to try to repair a car… or even open a hood. No, I’m talking about going under the replay hood. In the NFL, when a call on the field is questionable, they review the play via instant replay. The process goes something like this: the referee announces that the call on the field has been questioned and then he walks to the sideline and “goes under the hood.” He puts on a special headset, which gives him an open line of communication with the press box, which is situated far above the action on the field. Then he ducks his head underneath a cover (the hood) to look at a special video screen. First of all, the hood shuts out the other noise and distractions, allowing him to focus. Second, underneath the hood, he has access to the view of every camera in the stadium, giving him entirely different perspectives from the one he had on the field. On the field, he can only see from one angle, and he is very close to the action… meaning there may be elements involved which are hidden from his view. Another aspect which makes the official’s job difficult is the speed of the play. World class athletes are competing and colliding at nearly inhuman rates of speed. This means that he only has a split second to make a determination about what he thinks he saw. Underneath the hood, the referee also has the luxury of slow-motion, and now with HD video, he can even use what is known as “super slo-mo” or he can completely stop the action on a single frame of video (to see if a player’s foot is in bounds or on the line, for example). To the TV viewer, it can seem like these replays last forever… almost like the official doesn’t want to come out from under the hood. Can you blame him? In the middle of an afternoon of violent collisions; thousands of screaming fans… some of which are for one team, others are for the opposite team – so you can’t please both of them; and immense pressure to make the right decisions the referee gets to spend a moment with only one voice in his ear and he gets to slow everything down for just a second and get a different, crystal-clear perspective on things.

I had an “under the hood” moment, today. We keep our house somewhere between brisk and “I can’t feel my fingers and toes” at night, so when I first got up for my prayer time, I wrapped myself in a quilt. As I sat talking to God about the violent collisions, the screaming voices, and the pressure in my daily life, I pulled the quilt up over my head and said: “God, just give me a glimpse of Your perspective.” For just a few minutes everything slowed down. The outside noise seemed to stop, and I only heard one voice in my ear… a voice that came from far above the action. My perspective changed. Suddenly I could see a bigger picture and all the different angles and factors involved. . It reminded me of the way Jewish people use their tallits, or prayer shawls… often covering their heads when they pray.

To be honest, I didn’t really want to come out from under the hood, either. How about you? Could you use a little time “under the hood,” today?


Do you have to go to church to be a Christian? That question is repeatedly debated, it seems. When confronted with “the question,” many of us in the regular-attending camp whip out Hebrews 10:25, which tells us not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves.” That is our go-to response. Now for those in the “you should go to church” camp who are especially crafty (and some of us are pretty crafty), we will begin to list all the reasons that going to church will help you. We might talk about what you’ll learn (or to be spiritual-sounding: “how you’ll be fed”) or we might talk about how you’ll be comforted in times of need. We might even go for our big guns and mention how you will experience the presence of God. Those are all legitimate reasons; however, none of them have anything to do with this verse. In reality, Hebrews 10:25 gives us an altogether different reason for attending church. Sadly, it is one that is rarely ever used in this discussion.

Now, for a quick refresher on elementary school grammar (which Ms. Costello, Erwin, et al will be glad that I actually remember): sentences begin with a capital letter, and do not end with a comma. Armed with that powerful bit of knowledge, let’s look at the verse in question: not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,” (Heb. 10:25a – NIV). Since it is the middle of a sentence, why don’t we look at the entire sentence? It begins in the preceding verse: 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24,25 – emphasis mine) Did you catch the difference? While many of us use this verse to espouse the personal benefits of coming together for worship, this is entirely out of context with what the writer of Hebrews is endorsing. While we talk about the benefits to you, this sentence tells us that the reason we should not neglect meeting together is for the benefits our presence there provides to others. Our presence “spurs one another toward love and good deeds,” and “encourages one another.In addition, while the invention of TV, internet, etc… has made the gospel more accessible (thereby, seeming to strengthen the argument against church attendance), this passage tells us to be even more committed as time goes on. Committed to what? To having our name on the roll? To hearing a challenging message? Committed to reaping all the benefits we can receive from a good church service? No… committed to one another: to motivating one another to love and do good things, and to encouraging one another. In other words, the one who suffers when you “forsake assembling together” isn’t you; it is me… and every other “one another” that sure could have used some encouragement and motivation. So, next Sunday, when you are debating on whether or not to attend church, remember: we sure could use you!

What’s Blocking Your View?

Posted: June 25, 2013 in Inspirational

Debbie and I recently returned from vacation in New England. This was the third time in the last four years that we have chosen to go there. There isn’t any one particular place we go; in fact, we have gone to different parts each year. There is just a quaint, small, isolated feeling about the whole area. As we were driving through Maine, along Interstate 95, I was remarking about how much it felt like you were part of your surroundings… even on the interstate. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was scenery and wildlife. There were rocky coastlines, sprawling farms, and grand mountain vistas. I realized that all of these things exist in the south, where I live. I live just a stone’s throw from the Great Smoky Mountains. I pass farms on a daily basis; and I am barely a half-day’s drive from the ocean. Yet, it doesn’t feel the same… I don’t notice these things, or appreciate them in the same way. As I struggled to put my finger on the difference, it hit me: there were no billboards along the road! Billboards have been banned in Maine for 30 years, now. The last ones were knocked down in 1984. On the other hand, on my daily commute I am inundated with opportunities to sue people who make bad medicine, go get some fast food (because my “fry gauge is almost empty”), choose the Chattanooga Airport for all my transportation needs, sleep at Hampton (or La Quinta or Holiday Inn Express), and to “eat mor chikin;” just to name a few. The best I can determine, billboards serve two major purposes: they block our views of the natural beauty around us, and they distract us from the main purpose of our trip by inviting us to stop and do something entirely unrelated (i.e. grab a Frosty).

I have realized I have billboards in my personal life. They are distractions that produce the same undesired results in my own life: they block my view and they lead me on rabbit trails that divert me from my main purpose. Some of the billboards in my life scream out the things I don’t have: a new house or car, a better job, more money, the right mate (just an example… right honey?). The problem is, these perceived needs block out the view of all the things I do have – the natural beauty all around that God has placed in my life: the ocean of love, forgiveness, and grace He has given me; the sprawling farms of family and friends with which I am blessed; and the mountain peaks of joy and success that He has provided for me. I find myself unable to look past the billboards of what I don’t have to enjoy the scenery of what I do have.

The second thing these billboards do is they knock me off course. These are the billboards of the urgent… the things we think have to be handled right away. Some of these are good things (like a Dairy Queen Blizzard), but they rob us of the best. The urgent is often the enemy of the truly meaningful. True happiness in life is not plucked from the tree of instant gratification; it is grown in the soil of a life of purposeful living. We are most fulfilled when we invest ourselves in a truly significant cause. Billboards of urgent phone calls and demanding text messages scream out their message of “it must be done now” or, “your fry gauge is almost empty.” However, the things that truly matter whisper their words: “this is why you left home in the first place.” I think it is time to knock down some billboards… care to join me?  


Hello Lord,

It’s me, again. I talked to you earlier today. You may remember… I said some pretty profound sounding stuff, if I do say so, myself. Well see, the thing is: I just had a shouting match with a steak knife. Well, to be fair, I was the only one shouting, the knife never raised its voice. Sad to say, but it behaved more like an adult than I did. What started it was that I cut my finger. Now, to be honest, it wasn’t a very big cut; it just set me off. The cut wasn’t really the thing, at all; it simply threw gasoline on the coals that were smoldering just below the surface – the coals of frustration. Frustration with where I am in life; with the feeling that I should be doing more… that there must be more to life. This innate sense that there is something within me that wants to get out – that NEEDS to be realized. I have this vague notion of what could be… of what should be! Yet, it simmers, just out of reach. Sometimes, my frustration boils over onto those around me, causing me to direct my feelings toward them. That happened yesterday, actually.

I am not the only one who feels this. Right now, it is 4:44 AM and pitch dark, outside; and the lady next door just came out on her porch to smoke a cigarette. She feels it, too; I think. I don’t know her well enough to say that, I just know the signs – and she is exhibiting them.

So, I wonder… did You ever have days like this while You were on earth? Days where something just set You off? I wonder if the day You grabbed a whip and ran everyone out of the temple was one of those days. Maybe not. I tend to think that all of Your actions were well thought out, not reactionary or arbitrary. But You had to feel it sometimes, right? Like the time You healed the man with the withered hand, and all that the religious people could talk about was how You shouldn’t have done it on the Sabbath; or the time You raised up the crippled guy who was lowered down through the roof; and instead of celebrating, the Pharisees criticized You for the way You did it. Or… how about the time that bunch of hypocrites dragged that immoral woman out to You and wanted You to condemn her to death and to congratulate them for their great piety. Your words fairly dripped with disdain when You called them hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Wow! You even called them sons of hell and white-washed tombs!

The religious leaders must not have been the only ones who drove You nuts. How about the time that You were in the upper room about to share the last supper with Your disciples, and You had to break up an argument among them about which one of them was the greatest… woah! And then, there was the time that they had already seen You feed thousands of people from one little boys lunch, but they were worried that they might starve to death before they could cross the lake on their boat. I have to be honest; I’m glad You didn’t leave those days out of the Bible. I am really glad to know that, at the very least, You understand this feeling; because at times, I wonder how in the world You could think it was a good idea to ask me to become a pastor.  I’m also glad You gave us a good picture of the people that were around You (warts and all). Even though there are moments that I wonder why the people I try to lead don’t “get it;” when I look at the folks You dealt with, I have to say that, on balance, my partners on this journey are pretty great!

So, where does that leave us? What did You do in those times? It looks like You phoned home. You got away from everyone else and got centered on Your mission, and Your Father, again. Maybe that is good advice for me. You promised that You wouldn’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. I appreciate those promises, right now, because that is kind of how I feel… bruised and smoldering. From those words, I also gather that I am not the first (or last) person that deals with the smoldering wick of frustration. In fact, it seems like You may have designed us this way. Ecclesiastes 3 says that You have placed eternity in the human heart. So, there it lives, this brilliant bird struggling to be set free. Restrained by time, restrained by human limitations, restrained by fear; yet, while its presence in our hearts leads to frustration at what should be; its brightness lights the way to what could be. Otherwise, we are satisfied with what is, and never reach what can be… what must be.  In my message yesterday (or was it the day before), I asked our church if they were satisfied, and if not, were they dissatisfied enough to do something about it. Maybe now I am.

It’s dark again, next door. My neighbor’s cigarette is finished; and so is this rant… for now. Stay close, though. I may need to talk again, soon.



From Where I Sit #12

Posted: October 14, 2012 in Inspirational

I am up early this morning… this is rare for me. As I watch the sun rise over the Smokey Mountains, it occurs to me that today is Sunday. Any other day of the week, I am more likely to see the sunrise before I go to bed, rather than after I wake up (old musician’s hours, and all…), but not on Sunday. For the past fifteen years, or so, I have had the privilege of leading the church in worship on Sundays. That means 15 years of early morning rehearsals and getting up in time to not sound too much like a frog when I sing. The last three years, I added pastoring to my activities, which has meant even earlier Sunday mornings to put the finishing touches (or sometimes, the frantic first touches) on the message for that day. This all means that I have seen a lot of Sunday sunrises. Today is different, though. I am on vacation. I have been on vacation all week, and on no other day did I wake up this early. It seems that I must have some sort of internal, Sunday-only, alarm clock. That’s okay, I have time this morning to reflect on just what a tremendous honor it has been to spend the last decade and a half starting my Sundays alone with God and then getting the undeserved, and absolutely indescribable opportunity to lead God’s kids into an audience around His throne. History’s greatest worship leader must have been grappling to find the words to describe his feelings when he wrote things like: “better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere;” or, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” This morning, I sit by the fireplace in my cabin while someone else leads God’s people to His throne; but rest assured I’ll be back at it next week. I think I’ll let that great worshiper, David sum up my feelings: “My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”  (Psalm 108:1-5)Image

  • From the department of “duh” – On the front page of the Money section in USA Today, the main headline screamed these words: CEOs had better watch their steps to keep their jobs – Greed, bad judgment, lack of results can increasingly get them ousted! Is this news? I don’t know about you, but in my job, “greed, bad judgment, and lack of results” surely would lead to me “being ousted.” In fact, I can’t really think of any jobs right off the top of my head that list greed, poor judgment, and unproductivity as requirements for employment. Upon considering this headline further, though, I have decided that it is headline material. The fact that the words “can increasingly” are in the sentence makes the topic newsworthy. They would suggest that, heretofore, “greed, bad judgment, and lack of results” did not get you ousted from CEO positions. Actually, the words “can increasingly” infer that it still isn’t a given that “greed, bad judgment, and lack of results” will get you fired. Seeing as how I am capable of all three of these qualities, where can we sign up for some of these CEO jobs?
  • A few years ago a series of movies came out which were called Men in Black. The premise of these movies was that there were aliens living among us, undetected by most of us. While I was initially skeptical, I have recently begun to be more open to the possibility; and today I think I found compelling evidence that this concept is factual. You see, I went to Subway for lunch. It started out well enough. Even though it was the middle of the noon hour, there was only one being in front of me in line. It seemed like she was a typical young female… until she began to try to order. She had no idea what kinds of foods they had. She needed to see the different types of bread which were available, and she didn’t know that you order condiments after the meat and cheese are applied. Now here’s the thing: Subway is the LARGEST food chain in the WORLD, recently having surpassed McDonalds – with over 33,000 restaurants worldwide, 24,000 of which are in the US (Which is where I was attempting to order). It would be a statistical improbability that she had never encountered a Subway restaurant before, given her apparent age of 20-something years. To corroborate my findings, this sort of thing happens with increasing frequency. You find life-forms in line at Burger King or McDonalds asking things like: do you have a combination meal that includes fries and a drink? Or, do you have kids’ meals (hello, Happy Meal)? These are perfectly logical questions… IF YOU JUST LANDED IN A SPACESHIP FROM MARS! There is also another, more subtle sign that I have observed: some of these beings will stand in a line for 5-10 minutes at a fast-food restaurant and then when their turn arrives at the cash register, they begin to study the menu above the cashier’s head, as if they are totally unaware of the fact that the menu has been there for the entire time that they have been in line. For years, I dismissed these aberrations as just that – aberrations… abnormal behavior from lower aptitude humans, but I can’t ignore the mounting evidence: there is a growing army of aliens infiltrating our planet. However, all hope isn’t lost. They will probably all starve to death trying to figure out how to order their food.