Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Small Victory from a Great Loss

Six months ago, Paige and I decided that we needed to lose weight and get into better shape. The same day we unofficially started our journey, I went to get a haircut at a barber shop I had never been to before. I was looking to get a flat top and my old standby was closed. As I waited for my turn, I noticed a giant chart on the wall that read, The Barber Battle of the Bulge. Apparently, Jeff and Bobby, the principal barbers and rather rotund fellows in their own right, began a competition with each other to lose weight. Furthermore, they invited any customers who wanted to participate to make a donation to the American Diabetes Association, commit to weighing in once a month (no haircut required) and the customer who lost the most weight, by percentage, wins one year of free haircuts. What did I have to lose, but a ton of weight? I had already started it anyway. I told them to sign me up and I mounted the scales.  One thing is for sure, they secured themselves a customer.

On this Christmas Eve day the contest ends. I will go to the barber shop and weigh in for the final time. The funny thing is, even though I have shed 45 lbs. or so, I will win as a result of attrition. None of the other participants bothered to stick with it and did not maintain the once-a-month weigh in requirement. In the broad scheme of things, this is a very minor victory in my life-- the free haircuts that is. The weight loss, however, has been a pretty big deal for me. I still have a long way to go, but compared to the many times before, I have really enjoyed the accountability I have shared with Paige as we have been doing this. She looks fabulous and we both feel a LOT better. Oh-- and in case you were wondering, Jeff and Bobby combined to lose an amount of weight equivalent to roughly one Radio City Rockette. They have done really well.

Dr. Tom Rogers and his staff at Performance Medicine here in Kingsport (they have a Johnson City location, as well), were very instrumental in the early stages of our weight loss program. Now that we are better educated and have developed better habits, we have been able to continue to help each other lose weight and exercise on our own. I know that we are not alone and that weight is a big hairy deal for MANY of my friends and family. Know that I am praying for all who would read this who struggle in this area as we have. If this is you, please know that YOU CAN DO IT! Forget about making new year's resolutions and all that garbage. The best thing you can do- and the only thing that will ever work- is determine in your heart that you want to be healthier, pray for God's guidance and strength, and seek medical help if you need to.

I have learned much during this process. Much of what I have learned is about how I have related to food over the years. Some of it may resonate with you. I will try to share some of these insights from time to time in the days ahead.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

RE:view - Primal- A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity

Before I offer my review of Mark Batterson's latest book, Primal, I feel it necessary to put all my cards on the table. I am a huge Mark Batterson fan. I read both of his previous offerings (In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day & Wild Goose Chase), I follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@MarkBatterson) and, quite often, I listen to podcasts of his sermons from National Community Church in Washington D.C.  No, I'm not a stalker. I just appreciate great, visionary thinkers and I REALLY appreciate them when they are Christ-followers who've dedicated their lives to fulfilling God's call on their life.  With all of that said, you may not find it hard to believe that I am recommending that all my cohorts in full-time ministry, as well as, any Christian brother or sister who wants to fan the flames of faith which, for whatever reason, may have become little more than a smoldering coal. Primal should be the first book you read this new year!

Batterson and his publisher, Random House, were kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book to review. At first blush, there may be two reasons why a simple, cursory examination of the book may lead one to think, "Not another one!" First, the premise of the book revolves around the Great Commandment- "Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). Reading this on the jacket cover may give one the impression that this is another "formula book" in the vein of The Prayer of Jabez. No offense to Bruce Wilkinson, I liked Jabez, but this is NOT one of those.

Secondly, a quick glance may lead one to think that its another "church bashing book." While Batterson offers plenty of insight and criticism of certain tendencies within the body, this book seeks to encourage and edify the body by building-up the individual believer. We must be willing to admit that we are NOT living up to our full potential and that is something that can be universally agreed upon, I hope.

Enough with what the book isn't. Here is what it is: A FANTASTIC READ!  Batterson's contention is that the Great Commandment is "Christianity in its most primal form" and he masterfully leads the reader on a tour that it seems he just finished.  It felt like I was chatting with a friend over coffee and agreeing with everything that he was saying. After an intriguing prologue which sets the reader up for the journey that is about to commence, the remaining chapters look at The Heart of Christianity, The Soul of Christianity, The Mind of Christianity and The Strength of Christianity.  While each aspect deals with very familiar subject matter, there is a perspective and context that is extremely fresh. It is not very often that I find myself fascinated by a different take on the biblical text that I had NEVER considered, but that happened more than once.

Fans of Batterson know the combination of wit and wisdom that comes into play with his books and this one is no different. He clearly has a lifelong appreciation of learning and I am fascinated by the breadth of knowledge that he has on a wide variety of subjects.  He is at ease talking about and interweaving diverse personalities like Senator Bill First and C. S. Lewis or diverse disciplines like particle physics and theology. Through it all, I felt challenged, both as a vocational minister in the church AND as a Christ-follower like anyone else. "There is gold in that thar book" for everyone.  I have had numerous conversations with folks about some of the ills we battle as a church.  But I have never heard it as eloquently and convincingly stated as it is in Primal.

My friends know that I recommend everything from great ice creams and restaurants to great movies and songs. Hear my heart when I say- For the sake of the call God has placed on all our lives, pick up a copy of Primal today! You will be glad you did.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Two Cents on Tiger

Like most of you, I am way over the whole Tiger Woods thing.  Try as I might, however, I cannot escape it. It seems everyone wants to make a comment to me, especially, because we share a rather unique name. My standard answer when this comes up is, "I was first." I have been following that up lately with, "One more incident and I will seek action to have him change his name because he has besmirched my good name." After much thought and conviction over that last one, I have had a real change of heart.

The conviction process began as I was listening to a very popular, national sports talk program on the radio. I listen to this show from time to time because I like smart humor. I am a sucker for witty repartee. Many times, however, the host takes it way too far and his moral compass (or lack thereof) gets stuck.  This was one of those days. He was advocating that Tiger and wife Elin get divorced. He reasoned that the marriage was beyond fixing and was able to lend some experience to the conversation because he, the host, had also been in a marriage that was "beyond fixing."  The thought hit me so hard as I was driving down the road that I almost lost control-- "No one or no thing is beyond the redemption found in Jesus Christ!" I audibly said this to myself and my truck.

I certainly did not expect to hear that particular host on that particular program espouse anything other than exactly what I heard, but it saddens me to think about the millions of people around this country and around the world who think the very same thing.  I do not know anything about Tiger's faith background.  It would shock me to find out he was a Christ-follower given what I do know about him, but I am not his judge.  However, I do know that if Tiger would allow Christ to come into his heart and life, the Holy Spirit could, indeed, begin the redeeming process.  I am convinced with regard to matters of sin that no amount of therapy or counseling can change a heart that is not first given to Jesus Christ.

As I was pondering these things while doing my daily perusing of various and sundry blogs, I ran across a blog called People of the Second Chance (great and ironic name don't you think?). You can click on the link and see the blog in its entirety, but below I posted some suggestions they had for folks who don't want to contribute to the beat down, but rather commit to the build up:

As People of the Second Chance, here are a few of my suggestions: 
1. You have so many words that you can share in a day. Decide whether they will be about blessing or cursing someone.
2. When someone is caught in a scandal, I visualize two buckets that I can fill. I can add to the “Shame Bucket” or the “Second Chance Bucket.” Sometimes my first/easy/fun/human nature response is to fill the “Shame Bucket” so I have to work harder not to do that.  
3. For all you online peeps…write your articles, blogs, tweets, and comments as if the person in crisis (and their family) were reading it. Why? Because they do! And the jokes, snarky comments, sloppy facts and flippant remarks hurt people. Instead, devote your computer keyboard to the restoration of people.
4. Refuse to participate in the gossip session around the water cooler. Or better yet, jump in and turn the conversation towards grace and second chances. Btw, just plan on being called a “buzz kill” and not invited back to any more social functions.
5. Realize we are either part of the judgment problem or the grace solution. But we can’t be both. So choose wisely.

As a Christ-follower, I too often get caught up in the whole "group think" stuff.  I am just mean enough and want to make people laugh enough to dive in with all the jokes and comments.  Because of our own sinfulness it makes us feel better to tear someone else down further so we can look in the mirror and tell ourselves we are not that bad.  The Bible reminds that, yes, we are that bad! Though our sins may not be as public as Tiger's, none of us are righteous outside of the atoning sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. I mean-- who am I to think that Tiger Woods, alone, has besmirched the good "Tiger" name? In the eyes of the only One that matters, I have done plenty to sully my name. If we all made a determined effort to be the change we would like to see in others, then maybe the world would be a different place.  

I want to put as much effort into praying for Tiger and all who trod a similar path, as I have put into preying upon them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tis The Season For Momma's Fudge

Since I was a little boy, mom has made a variety of candy for Christmas. She has always saved me the leftovers- what didn't fit in the pan. I am 39 and, praise the Lord, she still does it.

What you see is the best peanut butter fudge you will ever hope to eat.

Merry Christmas!

-Tiger Brooks
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Posted via email from Tiger's (Pre)Posterous Ponderings

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Operation Christmas Child: Amazing But True

Sometimes I read things and think to myself, "I wish I could have written that." I did that tonight as I perused the blog of Dr. R. Wayne Stacy, the former dean of the divinity school from which I graduated. He always writes with great skill and intellect. He posted a great short story about Operation Christmas Child and since we are in the middle of the season, I figured I would share it with you. It is a short read and well worth it. Click HERE.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Ever and Never Changing Standards

Paige and I had a great opportunity recently.  The sixth grade child of some of our long-time friends had his first band concert. This is always a special thing for a kid, so we wanted to go and support him. The first thing you need to understand is that for 90% of the kids, this was their very first public performance with their instruments. Most got them four months ago and ALL of them did a great job. Please know this post has nothing to do with the performance of the kids, per se.

The first group to perform was the sixth grade orchestra. They began with a few familiar pieces that you would most likely recognize. If you have never been to a beginner's concert, understand that the kids are differently-abled. Some pick it up quickly while others struggle. I remember playing double-bass in the sixth grade orchestra in the very same auditorium I was standing in.  It can be a terrifying thing. There are always missed notes as little fingers struggle to find their places on the fingerboard. The bow being scraped across the strings can sometimes be as unnerving as nails on a chalkboard.  As the great Charlie Daniels once said, it can make an evil hiss. These kinds of beginner's mistakes are always expected at these types of performances. However, as I watched and listened, I picked up on a curious thing.

While I play a few instruments and sing a little, I am not a classically-trained musician nor have I the education in music that my lovely and talented wife has.  So in an effort to affirm my suspicions, I did what any good husband does in that situation--- I elbowed her in the ribs. Like a good wife, she nodded her head without even needing my verbal explanation. I was right. The conductor was slowing her tempo.  The natural tendency for the young musician is to play slowly, especially when mistakes are being made or are likely to be made.  The conductor, however, slowed her tempo in an effort to match the kids. The results were not pretty. The piece started much more slowly than the piece would normally be played and that is to be expected. But what started slowly became p   a  i   n  f   u   l   l   y          s     l      o      w.  If we had had a metronome keeping the beat, what started at about 60 beats per minute (bpm) was now somewhere around 40 bpm. Naturally, the sound produced by the orchestra became increasingly muddled as the kids lost the beat. While I am not the foremost authority on instrumental music pedagogy, I know enough to know the importance of staying on the beat.

In any kind of musical performance, the beat is paramount. It keeps everyone together. If you have a weak drummer in a rock band, you will have a weak, hamstrung band. Even the best musicians can't compensate for the loss of the beat.  The beat or tempo is the standard that MUST be maintained so that the musicians can stay together and make beautiful music.  Musically speaking, if you lower the standard and change the tempo, the quality of music will suffer.  As you can well-imagine, the ramifications of loose or ever-changing standards in any and all walks of life will have a detrimental effect on the end product.

I have observed this in many situations. In my humble opinion, some of the things I am seeing in our schools reflect a desire to allow the kids who are "playing more slowly than others" to catch up by lowering some standards and adjusting some methods.  In microcosm, some of these things seem like good ideas. But in the macrocosm, when these kids get out into the real world where 2+2=4, 2+2= 5 or 6 or something kind of 4ish will not cut it.  In most venues of life, close does not count.

It's Christmas. Despite all the efforts to the contrary, Christmas is celebrated for one reason only. To honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus. In Hebrew, He is the Messiah. In Greek, He is the Christ. Both of which mean that Jesus is the Annointed One, the Chosen, the Savior, the Redeemer, Deliverer. Jesus came to us (Emmanuel) to be the atonement for our sin. To pay the penalty that we could not pay. He declares about Himself in John 14:6, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  What does this have to do with the previous line of thinking?  Good question.

The standard acceptable to God for admission to Heaven is perfection. This standard is non-negotiable and never changes. The bad news is we don't qualify. The worse news is, in and of ourselves, we can NEVER be qualified. No matter how much good we try to do, no matter how much money we give, no matter what kind of life we try to live, we will never measure up. The GOOD news is, Jesus paid it all! Jesus qualifies us when we confess with our mouth that He is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10).

Don't lower your standards to believe what the world says. Experience all that Christmas means this year by experiencing the standard of living available only through Jesus Christ.

And in case you have been in school all day, or at work, or at the store, or at the mall, where no one was allowed to say it to you, Merry Christmas!