Blindsided by “The Blind Side”

We went out on a date tonight and decided to see the movie “The Blind Side.”  Laura decided what film we would see because I had no strong opinion; I probably would have picked “2012” or “Boondock Saints 2.”  I’m really glad she picked the movie, because it was an absolutely awesome time.

Probably the best part of the whole movie is that it is based on a true story.  Reading Michael Oher’s Wikipedia page tonight, it reads very consistently with the movie’s plot.  It is a wonderful and heart-warming story.  It’s not completely sappy, with enough genuinely laugh out loud humor to keep it from becoming cliche.  (Laura’s favorite is when Leigh Anne [played by Sandra Bullock] tells an old acquaintance of Michael’s who threatens him that she is in a prayer group with the DA, a member of the NRA, and is “always packin'”)

I love the way that Christianity is discussed in this movie.  I wasn’t expecting it to be an overtly Christian film and it’s really not.  This isn’t a story about Jesus but about this family and the son that God plops in their laps unexpectedly.  However, the high school in the film (and in Oher’s real life) is a Christian school.  Several times teachers, administrators, and coaches are asked if they really take the Christian commission of the school seriously, and admonished to act like it if they did.  The family prays over Thanksgiving dinner in a meaningful way.  Though the faith of this family is perhaps compartmentalized a bit, they nevertheless embrace Christ.  That is always good to see in a mainstream film!

My only gripe theologically is the sign on the arch at Wingate Christian School where Michael enrolls.  Its slogan is a misquote of the Bible…it says “with men this is possible; with God all things are possible.”  This is quite the mangling of Matthew 19:26, which says almost the opposite that “with people this is IMPOSSIBLE, but with God all things are possible.”  Christian school slogan FAIL.  I mean, really guys, you couldn’t run this by an aunt of the second assistant production manager who teaches 3rd grade Sunday School?  No fact checking, even an internet search?  Other than that, though, it was good to go.

Be careful of a bit of language (nothing major, but remember I was in the Navy so I am not very sensitive to language) as well as a scene near the end when Michael is tempted by some old acquaintances who offer him booze and drugs.  That scene is a bit intense and has some provocative sexual discussion.  Finally, at the very end of the movie Michael is headed off to college and a couple of pretty girls catch his eye.  At that point Leigh Anne tells him that if he gets a young woman pregnant out of wedlock that she will cut his you-know-what off. (but she actually says it…Laura will absolutely kill me if I put that term in my blog!)  It earned its PG-13 rating but is a great movie for teens and adults.

The movie is a really good story of redemption, love, and seeing past the first impression.

As unlikely as it sounds, there are several NFL players (among them pro bowler Keith Bulluck) who have similar stories.  They should always ring true in our hearts as Christians.  How many times do we see the risks when God sees the rewards?  How often do we stop to go past the exterior appearance to dig for the true person?  In the movie Michael begins with a 0.6 GPA and no social skills whatsoever, having bounced around to 7 foster homes and 9 schools; how many of us would give that kid the time of day?

It is the story of redemption, and one that we all need to remember.  It brought me back to a song that we sang this morning in worship (if you will forgive me one more embedded video).

Jesus paid it all for each and every one of us.  How often do I look at the outside and never get past what is to what could be?  Isaiah 55:8 tells us that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”  What a reminder that when we see someone who is an underachiever, or who comes from a different background or has baggage or sin in their life that they are a bearer of the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and worthy of us taking the time to let them know that they are important.

One of the great plot lines in the movie is that while everyone sees that the Tuohy family has changed Michael’s life, they agree that he changed theirs more.  Isn’t that the way God works?  When we step out of our comfort zone and share the love of Christ with others it changes and blesses us far more than anything we can give them.

The church I pastor just had 4 more foster children adopted into loving homes, bringing the total of kids to 27 if I count right in the last 5 or 6 years. (and for the record our church has an average weekly attendance of around 150, so it’s not like that comes from a megachurch)  I get to see this story told time and again by loving families who welcome kids with heart-wrenching stories and give them a place to belong and be loved.  We haven’t had a first round draft pick yet, but maybe one day!

For the record, the real Michael has not read the book and has no plans to see the movie.  I don’t blame him one bit, because even though it is close I am sure there is enough artistic license that it would drive him nuts to see.  It’s like me watching a Navy movie or a cop watching Cops on TV.

4 Inches From Eternity

It has been quite a day for personal reflection and consideration. You see, I was almost killed today, and that is no great exaggeration. In the process of narrowly avoiding death I was reminded of two significant truths that have been ringing in my ears all afternoon.

I greatly enjoy riding my motorcycle. I’ve been riding motorcycles almost my whole life; I got a little 50cc, no clutch shift dirt bike as a gift from my grandpa for my fifth birthday and have been riding ever since. I currently ride a pretty beat up Honda Shadow Sabre that I bought for a song a couple of years ago. It’s a great bike and it gets around 40-45 mpg, which is triple what my big ol’ diesel pickup gets. So I ride whenever I can and enjoy it.

Today I was headed to school and about to cross through an intersection I have driven through hundreds of times. It has three lanes in the direction I was going. The light was green in my direction, but the far right lane had a stack of cars piled up because someone was crossing in the crosswalk. The far left lane had 3 or 4 cars in it as well, some headed for the left turn lane. I was in the middle lane with no one in front of me, doing 45 and enjoying the cool of the November air. (it was probably in the low 60s this morning…gotta love Arizona)

Then things went bad in a REAL hurry. A car in the left lane decided to make a right turn. So he pulled into the center lane and stopped, then put his right turn signal on and waited for an opening in the right lane that wasn’t there because of the wait for the pedestrian. At the time I was, oh, 30-40 feet from his rear bumper.

I hit the brakes, but I was in the center of the lane near the intersection. (big mistake) There’s lots of oil in the center of the lane near the intersection, so my back tire promptly locked up. I’ve been riding for almost 3 decades and taken two defensive motorcycling classes, so I know that if you lock up the rear tire the thing to do is keep it locked up and slide to a stop. If you don’t you high-side the bike, (because you go over the “high side” of the bike) which looks like this:

The problem was that the second I realized that I was sliding I also realized that if I kept it locked up I would slide into the rear of the car at about 35 mph, which would probably be bad on my skeletal system! So I let the brakes go. The bike waggled a good bit but thankfully I didn’t go over the high side. I got control of it about 10 feet from his bumper.

Now I was really on the horns of a dilemma. (Remember, all of this is happening in under a second) I had a car stopped in front of me, cars stacked up to my right, and I knew I had a car to my left too. I just wasn’t sure if the car to my left was in my blind spot or had backed off. With no time to consider, I yanked my bike onto the lane stripe and wordlessly prayed that I could squeeze between the two cars.

I passed the moron careless idiot reckless driver at about 30mph; I missed him off my right side by about 4 inches, though I didn’t exactly have my ruler out to measure.

The funny thing for me is that right after I got back into my lane I thought about pulling over so that I could have the adrenaline dump that I knew was coming. Then I thought about it again and realized that my heart rate wasn’t even up! It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to be scared.

Instead I thought, “Well I should have died this morning…but I didn’t…that means it’s going to be a pretty good day!” I had a good time teaching this morning, a great lunch with my wife and a friend, and a great appointment with a man who is seeking a path to God and asked me for help.

I would love to tell you that I have mad riding skills and should have won the Monaco GP last year, but that is not reality. No, I understand what the real deal is, which Psalm 121 sums up well:

1 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;

From where shall my help come?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to slip;

He who keeps you will not slumber.

4 Behold, He who keeps Israel

Will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;

The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

6 The sun will not smite you by day,

Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;

He will keep your soul.

8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in

From this time forth and forever.

I know why I survived this incident and I have no illusions it was my stunning motorcycling skills. It is abundantly obvious to me that God’s not through with my life on earth! I was also reminded of what James tells us in James 4:14-16,

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

None of us gets a guarantee of tomorrow, or even the rest of today! Trust me, He has my attention.

Now to cook dinner, see my wife’s parents who are visiting, and play a game of chess with my son.

After I ride that motorcycle home.

The Internet is Great and All, But…

I am a Facebook nerd, there is no doubt. I have the Facebook app on my BlackBerry and communicate through Facebook a lot. It makes sure I remember birthdays and lets me know what happens in people’s lives. Believe it or not Facebook has even helped me in an emergency, as I used my BlackBerry app to find the phone number of someone who was able to get a student to the emergency room who was very sick. It has allowed me to contact old friends from the Navy, from school, and from our church families in Oregon and California.

As much as I love having this sizeable virtual community, though, it can’t possibly replace real, face-to-face relationships in my life. It’s great to write on people’s wall, to see what is going on in their family and interact with them. It’s really helpful to keep in touch with people who are having a hard time or are celebrating significant milestones.

There are just some things that require face to face contact; even the wonder of the intertubes has limits!IMG_0519 This Sunday we had a man come forward to be baptized. This is a beginning but important step of obedience in the Christian life, and one that is more than a little difficult to do in a virtual community. Our whole church celebrated this man’s obedience together during our morning worship services. It always amazes me when someone who grew up outside of the faith considers Christ and He calls them to Himself; it reminds the whole church that God is at work in our world and in our midst if we have eyes to see Him.

During our worship service we also had a time of sharing the reasons we were thankful this year, and praying over them. I was absolutely blown away by the many different reasons people had to be thankful, not the least of which was the nine-year-old boy whose thanks was because Jesus died for our sins and rose again. (he is the son of one of my very best friends who is committed to raising his kids to know Christ and serve Him) I was moved to tears by some of the thanksgiving. Several people mentioned how grateful they were for their church family, a thanks I echoed wholeheartedly.

We weren’t done there! Right after church we rearranged the worship hall and had our annual thanksgiving dinner.IMG_0526 We had probably 180 people come to celebrate what God has done in our midst in the previous year. I floated through the room and enjoyed the many wonderful ways that God has been at work in our midst! It was potluck (we’re Baptist after all!) and I enjoyed an amazing turkey dinner. We also auctioned off over a dozen quilts that our Comforters ministry quilted to raise money which would be used to make more quilts. We give the quilts they make throughout the year to people in the hospital and to families who have babies. It was a fun way as a church to provide for the needs of those who are sick, hurting, or rejoicing.

I totally got to experience the heart of the command that the author of Hebrews gives us in Hebrews 10:23-25 today:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

In being part of a baptism this morning I remembered that day in my own life and was reminded to consider again those areas of life that I need to become obedient to Christ in. I was challenged to “hold fast the confession of [my] hope without wavering.” Because I had a “real” (as opposed to virtual) church family, and because I was there today, I am so encouraged tonight to follow Christ and serve Him.

As hard as I try to follow an exhortation from the Sunday morning Bible study leader to use my Facebook to encourage others, there is no way that can compare with the day I had at church today. Even though I only “friend” those who I am friends with in real life (IRL in web nerd lingo), there is a big difference between contact through the internet and community in real life. In my opinion, there is no way that virtual networks can compete with honest-to-God family and friends.

That is why, more than anything else, I value my church family. They are the “spur” that the Lord uses to help me hold onto the confession of my hope, and they push me to love others and serve God.

That is the heart of biblical community and a real blessing in my life. If you have that community in your life, make sure to thank God for it and thank them too! If you don’t have that blessing currently, then make today the day that you start looking for that community. If you’re a member of a solid, Bible-believing church I would be willing to bet that it can be that community for you if you’ll commit to it. If not, make finding that kind of community high on your priority list and don’t rest until you’ve found it.

Adopting a Stray

So my soft side got the best of me again this weekend. I am a sucker for a stray! I went for my run on Friday morning, and on my warm-up I noticed a dog in the front yard of the neighbor’s house. It barked at me and came across the street toward me for a bit, which made me uneasy. So I watched it closely until I was well past it, then forgot about it on my jog.

On my way back home the dog was still there. The owners of that house had basically abandoned their home the weekend before. (welcome to the economy in 2009…we haven’t had a lot of foreclosures on our block thankfully) That’s not the end of the world, but the neighbors next door to the newly-abandoned house were outside with their two dogs, playing with the one that had barked at me earlier.

Well to make a long story short I found out that the owners had abandoned not only their home but their dog. They had sold another dog they had, but left this little mutt to fend for herself.

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Of course before doing anything I went home and talked to my wife. (I surprised her by bringing a dog home unannounced when we first moved to Phoenix…and learned my lesson!) We talked about it a little and ended up bringing her home for at least the weekend. After all, she would go hungry or get hurt in the street by herself.

Well the previous owner came by that afternoon and told us some particulars. She is only 8 months old…so she’s a puppy. (strike one!) She has not had her vaccinations and we have kids in the house. (strike two!) And she has not been fixed and is an escape artist. (STRIKE THREE!)

Wait, there’s more! Laura does not like dogs particularly, though because I like them she tolerates our 55 pound lab mix named Grace. We also have a cat and James just got a rat. Laura wasn’t at all excited about taking on more animals! We would have to feed her, and of course once she was part of the family we would have to take care of all of her needs financially. The first night she stayed in our back yard I had to get up several times because she was barking at who knows what. She scratched a lot, which probably meant she had fleas.

There was not much going for this little mongrel. She had no real redeeming qualities…

Except the kids absolutely loved her. I said she looked like a “Trixie,” and they instantly started calling her Trixie. (even after we found out her previous owners named her Emory, Trixie stuck) They played with her and loved on her. We talked as a family over dinner on Sunday about keeping her and all the headaches it would be, but the look in the kids’ eyes was enough for Laura to relent.

So the kids and I bathed her with flea and tick shampoo, and put some flea treatment on her. After that she came in the house… and promptly peed on the carpet in our bedroom. She is sweet but not too smart. She likes to jump on the couch which is a no-no in our home. But again, the kids love her (and I like her too).

This got me thinking about a passage in Ezekiel this week. I know, you don’t spend your days thinking about prophets and their connection to stray mutts; that’s why you read my blog, because I do! In Ezekiel 16:1-5 God shows His amazing grace to His unfaithful people not because of their worth but because of His grace. This is His description of how He found them:

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem, Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

There was nothing of value in them to bring God to love them or make a covenant with them. There was no intrinsic value in them. But God loved them anyway and provided for them in verses 6 and 7, giving them room to grow up. He then gave them everything they could possibly imagine in Ezekiel 16:8-14:

“Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord GOD. “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. “I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord GOD.”

There was no value or worth in Israel that caused God to choose them as His people. Yet because of who He is, He redeemed them from their worthlessness, provided them everything they needed to thrive, and gave them an exalted place at His right hand.

While this passage is first and foremost about God’s relationship with His unfaithful people, Israel, it also has application to me[1]. How many times I need to realize that when God found me I had nothing redeeming in me. There was only me and my sin, offensive to God and completely worthless. And yet God loved me anyway and sent His Son to die for me. He redeemed me and made me His child, then gave me everything I could possibly imagine to bring me up from that worthlessness He found me in. Now I am no longer that worthless wretch, but a child of God deemed royalty by the King of kings. (1 Peter 2:9) Yeah I still “pee on the carpet” occasionally[2], but He loves me as His and faithfully cleans up my mess.

Thanks, Trixie, for showing me again how much God loves me. Thanks for reminding me that it is not who I am who made Him redeem me; rather, my redemption is solely and completely because of His unfathomable grace. That alone is worth the price of keeping you around! (but stay off of my chair)

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[1] Application is different than interpretation. In biblical interpretation we seek to find the author’s intended meaning for his first readers; in this case, it is Ezekiel’s recording of God’s pronouncement to His people, Israel. However, the next step is finding how that original audience is like and unlike me as a modern reader, then finding the universal theological truth taught in the passage and applying it to my personal situation. This is the path to correct biblical interpretation taught by Scott Duvall and Danny Hays in their excellent book, Grasping God’s Word. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 2005.

[2] Metaphorically speaking of course! Laura has me pretty well house-trained at this point in my married life.

A Veteran’s Day Salute

November 11th…a good day for me. I served proudly in the US Navy for 8 years, and today is a special time of thinking back on my military service. It is a day to remember long hours, boring watches, good friends and wearing the uniform with pride and distinction.

It is a time to remember the service of those who wore the uniform and then returned to civilian life. The men and women you see around you today will include many veterans, though they may not shout it from the rooftops. Today they are retail managers, financial planners, security experts, stay at home moms, electricians, doctors, business owners, firefighters, and more. They are old and young, rich and poor, successful and struggling. All of them gave up their own rights to defend the rights of others, and for that I am grateful.

If you’re not familiar with the history of Veteran’s Day read the official history on the VA website. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 (November 11th, in other words) the Axis and Allies officially ceased hostilities. While the Treaty of Versailles was not signed until June 28th, still President Woodrow Wilson designated November 11th as Armistice Day, the day to celebrate the end of “the war to end all wars.” In 1954 Congress changed Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day to include the men and women who had fought in WWII and Korea.

Soldiering has a long and storied history, and is mentioned positively in many places in Scripture. Soldiering is used as a powerful metaphor for the Christian life by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:3-4:

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.

One of the more common titles for God in the Old Testament is the “Lord of Hosts” (it appears 239 times in the Hebrew Bible), which pictures God at the head of an angelic army. Paul also calls Epaphroditus his “fellow soldier” in Phil 2:25 as well as Archippus in Philemon 2. The early church picked this metaphor up, with the church father Cyprian (c. 200-258) using the metaphor of soldiering to describe martyrdom for Christ.[1]

Soldiering is presented as an honorable profession in Scripture when it is pursued with integrity and honor. So today I salute my fellow veterans.

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(yeah, that’s me…15 years and 50 pounds ago! Boot camp graduation late June 1995)

Take some time today and thank the veterans in your life. Their service defended the freedom that you enjoy today!


[1] Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. V : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997. Page 579. Cyprian, “On the Glory of Martyrdom”, Argument 26.