Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hate Verses

Posted by Michael

Some people I have spoken with over the years have a “life verse”, that is a verse or verses from the Bible that especially motivates and encourages them. It may be a verse that helps give their life clarity and direction. I’ve never really found a life verse, but it seems like a wonderful thing. On the other hand, I have found several “hate verses”. These are verses that especially exasperate me, or give me trouble. Ok, hate may be a strong word, but you see what I’m getting at. One such verse can be found in a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Paul told them that at some point all Christians are going to find themselves in a place in life that leaves them perplexed. Everyone. 

I hate “perplexed”.

Perplexed means that you are confused, that you feel stripped bare, and may even feel exposed or embarrassed. Perplexed is what happens when you can no longer find neat, easy answers that bring immediate comfort. I had hoped that following God would put an end to all of life’s perplexation (I’m not sure that’s a word). Paul said that not only would it not end the perplexosity of life (ok, I’m completely confident that’s not a word), but that being a Christian would guarantee that at times we would be perplexed. So, if there are questions in your life that you don’t have answers for, relax, this is all part of the process. Having seasons of doubt and struggle doesn’t mean you aren’t a good Christian, it means that you are on the right path. Wrestling with God-sized thoughts with our human-sized brains never works perfectly, but it leads to a humble, fragile, and beautiful life. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Posted by Tony

Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias”

“SPOILER ALERT” if you haven’t seen the Breaking Bad, Sept 15 episode, “Ozymandias”, don’t read any further. Stop what you’re doing. Go watch it immediately.

This episode was the finest hour of one of TV’s best shows ever. It brings to a culmination story lines that have been developing over several seasons and ratchets up the intensity of an already intense final few episodes.

The beginning of “Ozymandias” leaps back to the first episode showing Walt and Jesse at their first meth cook. It is light hearted and almost comic. It shows the na├»ve beginnings to a disastrous path for both men. The scene also includes a sweet conversation between Walt and Skylar. This was before the lying and intrigue became the centerpiece of their relationship. In that first episode, chemistry teacher Walt tells his students, that chemistry is about “growth, then decay, then transformation.” Little did we know at the time that the decay and transformation of these characters lives would be so profound and unsettling.

After this beginning, the scene shifts to the present in the same desert location as that first meth cook. Hank’s Partner Gomez is dead and Hank is wounded. This brilliant scene shows the almost immeasurable acting ability of Bryan Cranston. He takes Walter White from sympathy, to cruelty, to despair in such a convincing journey that the viewer can barely catch his breath.

The rest of the episode features scene after scene of superb acting and directing. The action and pace vary from slow and torturous (Walt slowing rolling the barrel of money through the desert while the western ballad "Take My True Love By the Hand" plays in the background) to fast and furious (the inevitable physical confrontation between all the members of the White family.)

Everything about this episode was brilliant.

I can’t wait to see where the final two episodes take these characters.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When You Are Travelling Through Virginia...

Posted by Michael

Few places on the planet could be more relaxing and enjoyable than Charlottesville, VA on a fall college football game day... 

On our way into town for the game, Tony and I stopped for breakfast at a place called Silver Diner. I love diner food. It’s a guilty pleasure. In fact, I already had my order ready…

"Greasy eggs and grits please"

I tend to go with whatever breakfast meat I smell first. The Silver Diner was a bit different though. They source their menu from local farms and provide surprisingly healthy options (which makes them a very sneaky diner). I opted for the Local Farm Raised Bison Huevos Rancheros: Chorizo and bison hash, farm fresh over easy eggs, peppers, salsa roja, scallions, cilantro, goat cheese, and chunky avocados. 

It was a complete and total home run. It was just spicy enough and cooked to perfection. So, if you are ever travelling through Virginia and see signs for a Silver Diner, pull over immediately! Don’t let the lack of greasy eggs discourage you, you will be more than pleased with the meal you receive. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Your Unfinished Story

Posted by Michael

Do you have a story that you would rather not tell? Are there things from your past that are so painful that even the telling of them brings back waves of pain and shame? If someone were to ever write the biography of my life, I would definitely want editorial rights! There are in my life (and maybe yours as well) memories that are so plagued with guilt and embarrassment, that the simplest recollection of them causes me to cringe. The same seemed true of a woman from the nation of Samaria that Jesus encountered near a well. One of Jesus’ disciples named John recounted the story in his mini biography on the life of Jesus. (John 4: 1-42)

I’ve heard many teachings over the years on this story, and most (including a few of my own) have been pretty hard on this woman. I feel now that we have gotten her all wrong. The thought has been that when Jesus revealed the truth of her past that she was shown to have been sexually promiscuous and an adulterer. She was exposed to have had five past husbands, and was now staying with a man without being married to him at all. The reality is, however, that women who lived during that time period of the New Testament were not allowed to leave their husbands, and divorce was completely out of the question. If somehow they were miraculously able to be granted a divorce, no Jewish man in town would dare marry her, because his reputation and standing in the community would have been ruined. What seems to be more likely is that this lady had experienced the death of five husbands. She had felt the heartbreak of becoming a widow, the hope of a rebuilt family, and then heart-crushing loss all over again. She was the center of attention and pity at five funerals. At the end of all of her grief, she had become an outcast by living with a man that was not her husband. Whether  it was she who would no longer risk marriage, or he who refused to marry her is unclear. What is clear is that the story of her life was filled with blinding pain, doubt, and loss…

…at least until she met Jesus.

The story spins forward and we find this broken woman back in her hometown telling her story to anyone and everyone who would listen. She talked of her past husbands and of her current living situation with a strange new hope that hadn’t been there before. The pain wasn’t gone, but now there was optimism for the parts of her story that still lay ahead. The truth she found is just as applicable to us today and comes in two simple pieces:
1)Time with Jesus reminds us that our story isn’t over yet

2)With Jesus, the darkest parts of our past are often just the beginning of our greatest joys in the future

So, if your story isn’t shaping up the way you had hoped don’t give up just yet, the greatest parts may be just a few pages away…

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Plans and Presence

Posted by Michael

Few leaders in history are as admired and respected as Moses. The challenges that Moses faced as a leader are too many to count, among them: How do you change the thinking of a people who have experienced only slavery for hundreds of years? How do you keep them together as you travel across the desert to their new home? How do you calm them after you’ve told them that God hasn’t really told you the exact location of where you are going yet? If Jewish dietary laws would have allowed Moses to eat pork, he would have been a heart attack waiting to happen. So, how do you handle these sorts of massive challenges and all of the stress and uncertainty that comes with them?

Moses asked God for details.

That makes sense. If somehow he could just know where they were going, how they were going to get there and what to do in the meantime, then maybe he would make it. The answer that Moses received back from God wasn’t what he had in mind, however. God did not offer a detailed travel itinerary complete with maps and a book of easy recipes for how to cook for 40,000 of your closest friends and relatives. The answer Moses received was, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33: 14 ESV)

I’ve asked God for details before. Ok, to be honest, I ask God for details every day. What am I supposed to write about? Can I trust this relationship? When should I expect this all to work out? And thousands of other questions just like those. I storm into prayer or the Bible looking for answers as if a new set of answers is what I really need. Mercifully, God knows me better than I do. God doesn't hand out blueprints for our individual lives (no, I wouldn't call the Bible, God's Blueprint for Life), He actually gives us something better. He gives us His company. He offers to walk the road with us.  I’ve found that God being with me on uncertain dark roads is a thousand times more satisfying than any  perfectly planned and predictable life ever could be. There’s still a part of me that stubbornly holds on to the idea that having a good plan and being well-informed is the key to life, but deep down I know better. I’ve had thousands of plans in my life, and some were downright brilliant if I do say so myself. As I look back, however, all the things I’ve done and all the places I’ve been as a result of careful planning have never been as important as who I’ve been with in those moments. The most important questions in life aren't the what, where, and when's, but who. When I have plans, I may have predictability, but I don’t have rest. I can only rest when I know that I’m not alone. Thankfully, that’s exactly what God promised Moses back then, and that’s what He promises us today.