Sunday, September 30, 2007

Be Back Soon!

Last Monday, my father went in for major surgery. Thanks to all my friends and family for your prayers, words of concern and offers of help, meals, etc.

Because of the time I spent with all that activity, I had to sacrifice the blog time. Bummer. But, stay tuned. Dad came home yesterday and I will be back in the blogosphere tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Simple, Yet Profound Lessons From...A Daughter.

Monday night we three Brooks' ate dinner at Zaxby's in Johnson City. I really enjoy their wings and fingers. After much soul-searching, Ellie finally opted for the grilled cheese kids meal as opposed to the chicken finger kids meal. I, on the other hand, decided on the Wings and Things platter. It had a nice mixture of wings and fingers along with a heaping helping of french fries. Paige went with the Chicken Zalad (yes, that's right, they don't just have salads at Zaxby's they have Zalads. And be careful not to throw your Zalad bowl away or else they may dispatch the zoldiers to come and arrezt you.)

Anyway, after retrieving the food, we all sat down and started the pre-feast arranging of the food. Mom had her zalad with her bleu cheeze zalad drezzing and she was ready. Much to Ellie's dismay, she only had 1/2 a sandwich rather than the whole thing which was quite troubling for her as she can easily eat a whole one. Along with the 1/2 a sandwich (or was it a zandwich,) she had roughly 9 french fries. My food was virtually falling over the sides of my platter. I had the requisite chicken items and fries PLUS a few carrot and celery stalks. Bonus food! To allay Ellie's fears of hunger, I shared my bonus food with her, as well as my ranch dip. Zaxby's also has a handy dandy ketchup pump you can use to fill those small little paper cups which makes for a nice fry accompaniment. I gallantly pumped a handful of cups and returned to the table with the spoils of my condiment pilgrimage to the delight of all.

Finally we started eating. As I waded through a few wings, I noticed that Ellie was watching my well-practiced eating routine-- strip a wing, toss it to the side, dunk a fry, bite, double-dip, bite, take a swig of drink, and repeat. After a few minutes of this, Ellie takes one of her remaining few fries, dunks it in ketchup and hands it across the table to me. I said, "Honey, thank you, but I have a whole plate full of fries and you only have a few. I don't need one."

"I know, Daddy, but I just want you to have one of mine," she responded with a huge smile.

Of course I quickly took it and swallowed it whole.

In the moment, I was really proud of her selflessness, as I know how, quite often, 4-year-olds tend to be the opposite. Now as I think about it, I am almost overwhelmed by the simple, yet profound lesson of giving demonstrated by Ellie's simple act. We serve a God who owns it all. By His very nature, God has need of nothing. The 50 cent theological word is aseity. God does not depend on anybody or anything to meet a need, He is self-sufficient. Yet He delights when His creation selflessly and joyfully gives unto Him. We are not to give to God because we think He needs it, or even because we think His word prescribes it. We are to simply give in response to the wonderful ways in which He has given to us.

Thank you, Ellie, for reminding Daddy of a very important lesson.

* Photo courtesy of Audra Livergood, Photographer Extraordinaire

Monday, September 17, 2007

Big Guys, Little Guys and a Man called Jesus.

Sunday evening we had a children's event at our church. It was a carnival of sorts. We had a bunch of kids running around. Most of them were "my kids," but we were blessed with having a number of kids from the surrounding community whom I had not had the pleasure of meeting. It is inevitable when I am playing around with younger kids some of them become inquisitive about my size. They want to be picked up, slung around and like to treat me like a jungle gym.

While I was walking around and doing my thing, one young man asked me what it was like to be so big. I laughed and gave him some curt answer but it caused me to think about some things. Being a big guy has its advantages and disadvantages. Maybe you have some middle schoolers who won't listen to you. They tend to listen to me. Got a heated game of Red Rover coming up? I'm your man. Do you need to take a walk down a dark alley in a bad part of town? Who ya gonna call? You say you made way to much chicken and dumplings and need to get rid of it? I'm there.

On the flip side, the only reason I go to the mall is to watch Paige shop. The only thing at our mall that fits me is a booth at Italian Village. I have to pay three prices at Bubba's Big and Tall in order to have clothes to wear. Sure, kids listen to me, only because I can scare them to death. I hate flying because the only seats that I can afford come in extra small. I don't test drive cars or trucks, I try them on to make sure they fit. It's not all peaches and cream to be a big guy.

Being a big guy has as many limitations as being someone of smaller stature. We each can do things and accomplish things that the other cannot. Our weaknesses are the other's strengths in many respects. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, has no weakness. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 what Christ revealed to him. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Although Paul had a lot he could have bragged about, he went on to say that he boasts all the more gladly about his weaknesses so that Christ's power would rest on him.

I have no problem letting you know that this big guy has many weaknesses. Paige can send you a list that has been alphabetized and collated. But I know a man who has perfect strength and I would love to tell you about Him. After all, who do you think I call when I find myself in life's dark alleys?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Meaningless Melancholy

I sit here in the Big Daddy chair after a long, strenuous Sunday, and I have time to reflect on the weekend. As I do that, I become aware of something. At the ripe old age of 37, I think I have finally defeated the meaningless melancholy. Allow me to elaborate.

On a recent blog I admitted that this is my favorite time of year in large part because football season is in full swing. I love everything about football. It has been a passion of mine ever since I was a small child going to Tennessee games and Dobyns-Bennett games with my dad, well before I strapped on my first helmet at age 8. When I was younger and seasons started out like this season is starting out, it would really affect my mood and personality. You see, my high school team has uncharacteristically lost 3 straight and my college team just got taken to the woodshed by an arch nemesis and has a losing record going into week 4. There were times in my life when I would actually get worked up into a rage in the midst of watching my team in a losing effort. Even as I type that, I feel embarrassed to admit it.

What is so disconcerting is the knowledge that these "life-altering" events are is a GAME! By definition and by their very nature sports and games are supposed to be fun and a release of tension. The thought of allowing something like a football game to cause depression is where I got the idea of meaningless melancholy.

For you it may be different. You couldn't care less about a football game, but, perhaps you are like my wife, Paige. She gets depressed when the laundry piles up. It's a pile of fabric? Meaningless melancholy. Did you get bent out of shape cause you bought your iPhone two months ago and spent an extra $200? Meaningless melancholy. Whatever the motivating factor may be, if you get your undies in a wad over something that most of your peers would agree amounts to horse apples...that is meaningless melancholy.

Face it, life is too short to lose your joy over low priority issues. If you suffer from meaningless melancholy, pray that the Holy Spirit would help you place value on the things in life that are valuable. When you get right down to it, events, calendars, meetings, products, and other "stuff" are not valuable. For more on this, read what Solomon says in the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes. The most important things in life are your relationships- with Christ and with others. When you get your mind wrapped around that concept, you will be surprised how liberating it can be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Salty and Sweet

Last night I flipped on the TV just before calling it a night and landed on the Food Network show Unwrapped. For those of you that don't know, Unwrapped is a show that shows how all kinds of familiar candies and treats are made and the history behind some of our favorites. For instance, last night's show was entitled Salty and Sweet and one of the highlights was how they make one of my all time favorite candy bars, Snickers.
Also on the show was a boutique chocolatier named Fran's Chocolates. Apparently Fran has hit quite a nerve with her chocolate marvels. Her specialty is sea salt caramels. She makes a rich, creamy caramel and dips them in a luscious dark or milk chocolate, whichever is the preferred. The kicker is the final touch. The pièce de résistance is the final placement of a pinch of sea salt on top of each one. According to the website, these little wonders have taken home plenty of hardware from some competitions. She is pretty proud of them too. One box of 15 will cost you $22. Fran says, "The salt brings all the other flavors to the surface, making the overall effect of the candy even sweeter to the taste."

I could not keep my mind from running wild with this concept in light of what God's word says about salt. The correlations are many. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus is teaching and begins to use a parable about salt. He says, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." This is a rather strange concept. Christ-followers are salt of the earth. It is bizarre only until you consider what salt does.

First, salt is a healing agent. For eons salt has been used as a safe and effective substance to clean and sterilize wounds when no other method is close at hand. Secondly, and closely related to the first, is the usage of salt as a preservative. Meat has been cured in salt for centuries so that it would keep longer, well before refrigeration was a possibility. To this day, I love a good salt-cured country ham.

Finally, salt is universally used as a spice to bring out the flavors and kick food up a notch. A little girl was asked once for what purpose salt was used. She said, "Salt is what spoils the food...when it is left out."

Now think for a moment about how Christ-followers are salt. They are God's healing agents in a lost and dying world. They preserve a Godly ethos in a world overrun by selfishness and other sinful attitudes that threaten to spoil the joy and grace that Christ wants to show us. And they add a spice to life because Christ's working through them is one of the ways He provides an abundant life on this side of heaven (John 10:10). In much the same way as Fran describes her sea salt caramels, we, as Christ-followers, are to magnify Jesus and exhort those around us, making life a little bit sweeter for all.

Have you lost your saltiness? Are you positively contributing to the lives of those with whom you come into contact? Remember, salt is not a passive substance. The very nature of salt is an aggressive proactivity. So go out there today and in the words of another Food Network icon, "Bam! Kick it up a notch."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Your Life...In High Definition.

I love football! It may be because of football that my favorite time of year is the fall. It also may be because of cooler temperatures (PLEASE!), or the colors, or possibly a wardrobe that is more favorable to my figure (did I just say that?).

This weekend I had the rare opportunity of having a few hours to vegetate in front of the television and watch some of the premier games on the tube. Maybe I had forgotten, but it became apparent to me once again, just how awesome football games are in HD! Discovery Channel in HD is impressive. Movies in HD are amazing. But watching a football game in HD is spectacular. The colors of the jerseys pop. The green fields (or blue if you are Boise State) are beautiful. It does have its drawbacks, as well. A full screen image of Joe Paterno's face in HD is enough to cause nightmares, but it is worth the chance. The sound is better too. Being able to watch something with such clarity of picture and sensational sound almost makes one wonder why one would ever pay to go to the game...almost.

After watching something in HD it is hard to go back and watch a non-HD broadcast. The Vols were on pay-per-view Saturday. Turning from the brilliant picture of the South Carolina vs. Georgia game to the pay-per-view channel was like getting out of a Ferrari and getting on a moped. It was almost painful.

It is a funny dynamic. People who don't have HD and who have never seen anything in HD, scoff at the thought. "I can see just fine. Why would I want to pay more money to see the same thing? That is foolish." It is very much like the differing dynamics between being a Christ-follower and not being a person of faith.

When Christ takes up residence in your heart, it is as if the blinders are lifted. Life makes much more sense. There is a clarity that was just not there before. 2 Corinthians 3:16 even eludes to this, "But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." People who have not turned to faith are as those with veiled faces. Things of the Spirit make no sense to them. It is virtually impossible for Christ-followers to describe a faith-filled life in a way that makes sense to a non-Christ-follower. Just like the non-HD broadcast viewer, they see a cost that they are not willing to pay for the kind of life that, to them, is confusing.

If you are a follower of Christ, pray that the Holy Spirit would interpret your words and actions in a way that communicates Christ's love and grace to others.

If you are reading this and you do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, trust me, you do not know what you are missing, but you can.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Spiritual Heartache

I took my dad to the doctor yesterday. He is preparing for major surgery later this month (you can add that to your prayer list if you would), but this visit was to prepare us for what to expect. One of the things he has to do is the dreaded colon prep in advance of the operation. He has to drink that terrible “liquid plumber” all day before the procedure. It reminded me of an event that occurred in my life in the winter of 1998.

Over the course of one weekend, I began experiencing some chest pains. On that Sunday morning, as I sang in the choir, I found myself struggling to take deep breaths. Following church, Paige forced me to go to the emergency room to make sure it wasn’t something really serious. Well, if you have ever gone to the ER complaining of chest pains you know that you immediately are taken back and given a battery of tests and x-rays. As it turned out, I was suffering from a simple case of acid reflux.

In order to make sure of what I was dealing with, my doctor made an appointment for me to have an “Upper G.I.” For those of you who have not had the pleasure of undergoing this fantastic procedure, allow me to elaborate. First of all you are invited to a dressing room in which you disrobe and are given a lovely green gown to wear that, in my case, greatly accentuated my voluptuous figure and made the colors of my eyes dance. Then they serve cocktails. The house special has a foamy, chalk base with really interesting aftertaste. Apparently I lucked out and hit it right at “Happy Hour” because they served me about four of these luscious beverages and said there was more where that came from. After a while Mandy, a lovely, young nurse, who happened to be married to a friend of mine, led me into the x-ray room. She explained the “dance” we were about to perform. I was to lie on this table and the nice doctor would manipulate my body so as to take the “pictures” he needed to take. I will never make fun of supermodels again. Here I was a 6 foot 5 inch, 310 pound man (at that time) rolling around on a slab, trying to keep my dress from riding up while this doctor is sounding more and more like a fashion photographer saying things like, “That looks good, now turn to the side…beautiful.” All the while, Mandy is standing there telling me she is sorry but I have to drink another “Wellmont Wallbanger.”

I had never experienced anything like that before. As humorous as I have tried to make this sound, I was not in very good humor going through it all. When I was sitting in the ER that Sunday thinking about the possibility of having heart problems at age 28, I became very scared, something that does not happen very often to me. When I was rolling around on that table doing the x-ray dance, I was ashamed at how bad out of shape I was and how much weight I had gained over the years. That is when I decided to lose weight, start eating right and get my life back in order. Now, years later, 1 out of 3 ain’t bad.

Many times in our spiritual lives we find that, if we are honest with ourselves, there are many things that need to be changed. Maybe our spiritual diet is missing some things we really need to stay in shape like regular prayer, Bible study, or real worship. Maybe we are “ingesting” some things that are weighing us down more than they should. Don’t wait until you have spiritual “heartache” to decide that you need to get right with God. Perhaps that first one will be the “big one.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Awesome Youth Group Skit...

Many people have seen this video, but it is well worth my promotion for those who may not have seen it. As I understand it, this particular performance was at a large youth conference in Tennessee and is performed by a youth group from Florida. The music is by the group Lifehouse and the song is entitled Everything.

As minister to youth, I have seen the battle that is portrayed in this skit take place too many times. My heart breaks for young people who get lost in a lifestyle that started out just being "something fun... no big deal," but then escalated into something that consumed their life. That is why I continue to do what I do. I pray everyday that my kids would develop such a rock solid relationship with Jesus Christ that they can avoid experiencing some of the more painful ramifications of their sin.

Feel free to share this with friends and others who could stand some encouragement.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Amen!

Monday, September 3, 2007

21st Century Crayons

Happy Labor Day! I hope this blog entry finds you doing well. The Brooks' are gearing up to send Ellie back to preschool tomorrow. At least for one more year she gets to start school AFTER Labor Day as God had intended it to be.

Today, Mama 'Rie (maternal grandmother) surprised Ellie with a back-to-school gift, a set of new, state-of-the-art crayons... Crayola Twistables. Now, you may already be familiar with these little wonders but Big Daddy has never seen them. They are more closely akin to Paige's lip liners than the crayons I grew up with. They are encased in a plastic cylinder that can be twisted to give more crayon as needed. The awesome thing is that you always maintain a nice point with which to draw.

Remember when you got a new box of crayons and you used them until the points all dulled and you had to tear the paper and then utilize a sharpener? They were never the same. Not anymore, my friend. These things are so cool.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

It's Football Time In Tennessee!

I received this in an email yesterday from a friend. It was too good to pass up the chance to share it with you on this momentous Kickoff Saturday. Enjoy.

I am Tennessee . . .. . .I am Tennessee. I am the 30 year old couple coming back to campus for the first time with both little ones in tow. One wears her orange and white cheerleader outfit; the other wears #16 even though he's too young to understand why.

I am the 50 year old man who hoped no one saw tears in his eyes when the T was formed by the band. I was too choked even to sing "Rocky Top." For a moment I felt foolish and then I didn't care. God, I love this place.

I am the 60 year old woman meeting her freshman granddaughter who is now the 3rd generation of UT students in our family. Despite my age, I'd strap it on Saturday and hit someone if it weren't for my gender and this blasted arthritis.

I am Tennessee and I have always believed I was different. You can see it when you look up into the stands. My orange is not the same as Florida's or Auburn's . But the differences go much deeper than my colors.Read my creed. What other school has one? I genuinely believe in these things. To be a real Tennessee man or woman speaks of character, not of geography.All are welcome to walk though my gates, not just the wealthy or the elite.

Georgia and Alabama may have their nations, but we have always been family. Make no mistake, we loathe defeat, but even in defeat, we would rather be a Tennessee Vol than anything else.We are family and you are the sons of Heisman, the sons of Majors and Neyland. You come from a long line of brothers who names include White, Gault, Wilson, Manning, Shuler, Nash and Mahelona. It is a great heritage.

So this Saturday, when the warm ups are over and the prayers and amen spoken, when you hear my thunder growing in the stands above you, when you stand in the tunnel and the smoke begins to form, listen for my voice when you run onto my field. Behind the frenzy of the shakers and deafening roar, I will tell you something in a whisper you may miss. I will be telling you that you are my sons and I am proud of you for the way you wear the orange and white. I am telling you that you are my sons and I love you.

Tennessee is so much more than a state or a school or a team or a degree. It is something that, once you have experienced it, will live inside of you forever and become a part of what makes up who you are.

It is driving into town on a game day. You may have come from hundreds of miles away and as you get closer and closer to the city limits, you feel it rising inside of you. Other cars on the highway proudly display their Orange and White flags or magnets or car tags, and you honk and wave at them, because, for that one day, you are all on the same team.

It is the smell in the air and the ritualistic act of tailgating...catching up with old friends, making new ones, and invitations from perfect strangers to try their ribs or watch their satellite TV showing all of the day's important match-ups...of course, all being secondary to the one that will occur in the great cathedral of Neyland Stadium later that day.

It is the Vol Walk...where you might just see 300 pound men overcome with emotion and weeping with pride, because you have come there to cheer them on. As they walk by, you might exchange a glance with one or two of them, and you can see it in their is going to be their day.

It is that lump that rises in your throat when the band plays Rocky Top as the "T" is formed.It is walking around on a "foreign" and sometimes hostile campus. You are easily identified (Tennessee people always are) and the enemy jeers and shouts things at you to mask their feelings of intimidation. But just then you happen upon a friend you have never met before. You know they are your friend by the colors they wear or the shaker in their hand. You exchange a "Go Vols" and a confident grin, because he/she knows what you know.

It is when your heart leaps with every touchdown, field goal, sack, and interception...because those are our boys. And win or lose, they will always have our undying support. After all, it is those boys that you are really there for and not a coach or a logo or a trustee or a president.

It is the complete and utter exhilaration of walking away victorious over a worthy opponent...that feeling of pride and accomplishment as if it were your own feet that had crossed the goal line scoring the last points yourself...that feeling of wanting to scream "Go Big Orange" at the top of your lungs and hug complete strangers...and then there is the ultimate high of defeating your most hated foes from across the state. No words can describe what this feels like, but you know because you have experienced it.

It is the sheer agony of defeat as the last minutes tick off of the clock and you realize that all hope of a victory is gone. You feel like crying and maybe you do...then you hear the faint sounds of a cheer that grows louder and louder...."Its Great To Be A Tennessee Vol."

It is knowing that year after year, no matter how things change in our hectic lives, you can always come back to "the Loveliest Place on the River"...the place where you came from...your home. It will probably look a little different and there will be new names on the backs of the jerseys, but deep down, no matter what, it is still the same. You still love it as much as you always have, because Tennessee is as much a part of you as your arms and your legs and the orange blood that runs through your veins.

And, finally, it is the feeling you have right now as you read these lines....the anticipation inside of you, because you know its almost time....Its about to start all over again...but then it really never goes away, does it?


-author unknown