Monday, January 28, 2019

Ode to Tony Romo (aka What If?)

Twenty-three years ago today - January 28, 1996 - the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. It was the Cowboys eighth appearance in the "big game," their third win in four years, and their fifth Lombardi trophy... at the time, an NFL franchise record. (The Steelers have since won their sixth championship, with the Patriots playing for their sixth this coming Sunday).

Things were looking pretty good for Big D.

Now, for those who know me even just a little, you know that from this point on in this post, there will be no more praises for large men wearing stars on their helmets, because I am an avowed "Anti-Cowboy."

In fact, in the almost twenty years I played fantasy football, I only had one rule when drafting:

Never draft a Cowboy. 

And I never did.

So, it is with complete dry eyes that I share the news that over the last twenty-three years, "America's Team" has been to a total of zero Super Bowls.


(By the way, the Patriots have been to ten of 'em during the same period of time... just saying.)

Not only that... they haven't even been to a single NFC title game for the chance to get to the Super Bowl.

Now, I don't pick my friends based on their team allegiances. It might influence whether we watch the game together, but never my friendships. So, over the last twenty years, I have heard quite a few "what ifs" from my friends who are, if nothing, loyal fans.

(Please be sure to read the following with some passion in your voice, if not also a bit of whining.)

"What if Jerry Jones (owner) and Jimmy Johnson (former head coach) had both just set aside their massive egos and learned how to love one another... or at least live together? How good could the Cowboys have been?"

"What if Tony Romo hadn't fumbled the snap on the potential game-winning field goal against Seattle in the 2006 NFC semi-final?" (This, along with Jessica Simpson and the next "what if" would, I believe unfairly, define Romo's career.)

"What if Dez Bryant's 'no catch' against the Packers in the 2014 playoffs had been ruled what it actually was... a catch?"

I agree completely. No doubt about it. It was a catch. (Oh, my goodness! Please tell me I didn't just say that out loud.)

"What if?"

You know, I have my own "what-if's" about the same date in history, and they have nothing to do with football. On January 28, 1996, I didn't even watch the Super Bowl.

That's because that was also the day my dad died.

Twenty-three years ago today... the day after his 60th birthday... four days after the doctor had told him that he had "six months or less to live"... while I was preaching a sermon in Reidsville about "Jesus and the Hurting" less than fifty miles away, my father passed from this life... and with him, my greatest earthly influence.

Again, I have a collection of "what ifs"?

"What if my father had been successful in one of his many attempts to quit smoking in the years before he developed lung cancer?"

"What if, after his diagnosis and ensuing surgery, his follow-up treatment had included any type of chemotherapy or radiation?"

"What if he had lived long enough for his grandchildren, including my own son, to know him and his incredible influence?"

But my greatest "what if" is easily, "What if I had just left the church when I got the call that morning (even though there was nothing to suggest that he would die that day, much less in a few hours)? Why in the world did I stay?

It wasn't because the church didn't give me the opportunity to leave. They did.

But I didn't.

And so, by the time I drove the hour to Forsyth Hospital, my dad was gone.

Twenty-three years later, I am stilled plagued with the "what ifs."

Only recently... surprisingly, only recently did it dawn on me where these "what ifs" come from.

They come from my accuser. They come from the one who not only accuses me of my sin before the Father (Revelation 12:10), but who also whispers (and sometimes even shouts) at me the accusations of "What if?"

This coming Sunday, I am teaching about Jesus' three temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). While Satan never accused Jesus with a "What if?" from His past, he does begin the first two temptations with a question: "If you are the Son of God..."

In other words, he tries to get Jesus to doubt His own identity.

Doesn't he do the exact same thing to us with every "Woulda, shoulda, coulda?" Every time Satan gets us to focus on our past, our mistakes, and our failures, in part, he causes us to forget who we are.

We are loved. (John 3:16)

We are accepted. (Romans 15:7)

We are forgiven. (Colossians 1:13-14)

We are shown grace beyond anything that we deserve. (Psalm 103:10-12)

Any accusation that tells us otherwise is nothing but a lie.

It's natural to regret our mistakes... to want to go back in time and change things, or fix things, or do things differently... but we can't.

We would, if we could... but we just can't.

Thankfully, the One Who holds not just our present and future, but also our past, He calls us to...

"... focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us." (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT)

And trust me, that's a prize beyond anything that's going to be handed out on Sunday!

Side note: I'm really looking forward to Tony Romo's color commentary this weekend. He did such a great job last week, seeming to know exactly what play was coming next, that I was sort of surprised he didn't win more games as a quarterback.

(Oops, did I say that out loud?)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Where Did This Change Come From?

Seven strange little coins. If you do the basic math, sixty-four Euro cents. That's what I had in my pocket when I landed in Delhi, India, with absolutely no idea where they had come from.

Let me backtrack just a bit.

In January 2006, I traveled to India with a good friend of mine. Our reason for travel was to join with eleven others from across the United States for a two-week trip to India with Central India Christian Mission. While our specific goal was to be involved in the dedication of the church building that our church had raised funds for in 2004, our general duties were to help and encourage the mission and the people in any way that we could.

My friend (whose name is withheld because of our differing views of the facts) had worked out the flight from the US to India, via Amsterdam, and had calculated that if we slept from Detroit to Amsterdam, then stayed awake on the next flight to Delhi, our bodies should adjust to the ten and a half hour time difference and be ready to sleep again after we landed.

My question: "How in the world are we going to sleep on the flight from Detroit when it's only 5:30 PM?"

His answer: "I've got something that will help us sleep." (At this point I should probably mention that he's a doctor, so it was legal.)

My response: "I don't take medicine very well."

His rebuttal: "Don't worry. It'll be alright. Trust me."

So, when our flight left Detroit, we took the "sleep aid" in preparation for our Transatlantic snooze. However, almost as soon as we were in the air, the flight attendants brought us dinner... and here's where the discrepancy in our stories comes in.

His account: "You (that'd be me) told me (that'd be him), 'Hey, we just ate a meal. I think I should take another.'"

My account: "He told me, 'We just ate a meal. You should take another.'"

Now, regardless of whose recollection is more accurate (and knowing me, I'm pretty sure his version of the story is the correct one), the end of the story is the same.

I took another.

And, as a result, I have no memory of Amsterdam.

None whatsoever.

Now, I understand that there are a number of people who are in the same boat - they don't remember their time in Amsterdam either - but I'm guessing their reasons may be a little bit different than mine.

Thirteen years later - still nothing.

I was told later that there was a question as to whether I was even going to get off the plane, and that when I did, I would have made a great "walker" on the AMC show. I was also told that while in the airport on our layover, I got a massage and I took a shower.

News to me.

Oh, and apparently, I bought something. What I bought, I have no idea, but obviously I spent some money there because I've still got the change.

It will probably be the only time in my life when I have change without knowing where it came from.

Because you see, change, and now I'm speaking about "the act of becoming different" as opposed to "coins," change doesn't just happen.

That's one of the main reasons why we make resolutions, right? We know that the change we want to see, for it to really happen, we must do something.

To that end, I personally have set a few goals for 2019. Now, the goals are not really the goals, but hopefully measurable ways to get to the goals.

This year, some of my "goals" are to...

1. Read 30 books
2. Walk/run/walk 365 miles and ten 5K's
3. Maintain my weight within in a five-pound window
4. Have lunch with a non-Christian friend at ten different hot dog joints
5. Stop biting my fingernails
6. Start/finish some of the home projects that I have neglected
7. Be more thankful

So, fifteen days into the new year... now's a good a time as any to take stock:

1. Nothing yet (but I'm in the middle of three)
2. 18 miles and one 5K
3. Every day but January 1st (so I'm cutting myself some slack)
4. Had one lunch and some very tasty hot dogs - please pray for me and my influence
5. To date, I have been able to get my protein from other sources. I now have this weird white stuff on the end of my nails that seems so foreign.
6. See #1
7. ??? (I know I'll be thankful when this post is finished!)

Here's the thing... and I will try to wrap up this lengthy treatise. Thanks so much for staying with me this far.

When I make a list of goals, I tend to think that I'm the one who's in control. In other words, if I do the things on the list, then I will see the results I want.

Maybe... but the reality is, for most changes, I have no control.


Oh sure, I can crawl out of bed at 4:30 AM to walk/run/walk in the cold January air, but ultimately, I don't even have control over waking up that morning, much less the health that is required for me to get up and move.

I can eat what I believe are healthy foods, but I still have no real understanding of metabolism and thermogenesis (Googled it!), much less any control over them.

I can have a monthly meal with a friend and ask God to use me in his life, but in the end, He is the One Who changes hearts... not me.

In fact, looking back over my list, keeping my fingers out of my mouth may be the only thing that I really have complete control over (which means I'm doomed!)

As I referenced in a recent sermon (or is it upcoming? This snow/ice has got me so mixed up!):

[Jesus said] ... apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

Kind of humbling, isn't it? And yet, so very encouraging!

When God led John the Baptist to call each of us to "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8 ESV)," He knew that we could never make those changes on our own, not completely.

That's because God and God alone is in the change business. He calls us to be a part of the process... He allows us to be a part of the process... but in the end, He is the only One Who can do more than we could ever even ask for or imagine... around us, and in us.

That's the kind of change we want.

That's the kind of change we need.

And there's no question where that kind of changes comes from!