Category Archives: Commentary

Grave Crisis

They are running out of room. At cemeteries around the world, space for burials has been a real problem. In New Orleans, the additional problem of a high water table has made it difficult to keep up with the number of graves needed. In Arlington National Cemetery, more plots are needed to honor America’s fallen. In London, a newly instituted practice called grave sharing has been implemented. Graves are opened, caskets are removed, a deeper hole is dug, the first casket is reinterred, and the second casket is placed on top. Many countries have been dealing with this problem for over 200 years.

2000 years ago, a new tomb was needed. A wealthy man in Jerusalem owned a family plot. Someone needed a grave. A man had come to a violent end, another victim of the barbaric Roman form of execution – crucifixion. On many occasions, bodies nailed to a cross were just left there as a grim reminder to anyone who dared oppose the Empire. Sometimes the dead were thrown into the city dump, a place called Gehenna, to make room for the next condemned to die. But on this occasion, the wealthy man appealed to Roman governor Pilate. He had an unused tomb. Could he have permission to bury the battered body in his family tomb? Permission granted.

A borrowed tomb. Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb. It was  temporary loan. When you borrow something, it is expected that you return it. He wouldn’t need it for long.

From The Message: “Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Direction

This definition doesn’t sound very technical, but it communicates: “A first responder is someone who is trained to run toward trouble, not away from it.” Even with sophisticated training, people still have to respond appropriately.

The collapse of a 350 foot section of I-85 in Atlanta could have been tragic. 250,000 cars travel that stretch of highway every day. The billowing dark smoke raging from the fire underneath obscured the vision of startled motorists. Collisions seemed inevitable. Once the roadway began to disintegrate, vehicles could have plunged into the gap. People should have been hurt or killed. No one was.

Atlanta Fire Station #29 is located two blocks from where the calamity occurred. Fire personnel responded immediately to assess the danger. A number of them stood under the bridge to determine the extent of the damage while the fire was still gaining strength. As it was becoming certain that the intense heat would be too much for the concrete and steel structures, fire officials ordered their teams to move away … just in time. No one was hurt, no one was killed.

Above on the interstate, Georgia State troopers and Atlanta police had already halted traffic. Risking their lives as cars and trucks kept coming they prevented any possibility of injury and death by their quick action.

Col. Mark McDonough from the Georgia Department of Public Safety was one of many officials who tried to describe the scene for the public. His first words were directed to the first responders. He thanked law enforcement and fire department personnel and then he looked sky ward and thanked the Lord. No one was hurt, no one was killed.

Atlanta is in a mess and will be for months. A poster I saw months ago had a picture of that same highway crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic. The heading of the poster read: “Thinking of moving to Atlanta?” At the base was this comment: “We full.”

“Inconvenience” does not begin to describe what life will be like in a city already infamous for its traffic congestion. For small businesses in the affected area, the months ahead can spell doom.

Going forward will define direction … not just alternative routes to travel but the attitude we demonstrate. Adversity reveals character. I would love to think that we would see the best in people when difficulty comes our way. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Okay, reps. Time to show up.

One little letter

They sound the same. They are spelled the same … except for one little letter.

Mourning and morning. Mourning is about grief, about the recognition of loss. You cannot love without loss. That’s where the one little letter comes in.  “U” stands for each of us because each of us has known and will know what it means to lose something that or someone who matters. The “u” can also refer to us. Grief can drive us apart or bring us together. We may mourn privately but our healing usually comes in community. We can be overwhelmed by our personal sadness but we can also be surrounded by those who will bear our griefs with us.

And yet there is more. How does mourning turn to morning? We are approaching Holy Week. In order to arrive at Easter we have to pass by the cross. The blackest day in history calls us not to pass by, but to linger and mourn – mourn the death, mourn the devastation of sin, mourn our responsibility. But we cannot linger long because Sunday’s coming.

On the morning of the third day, the power of sin and death and evil was broken. In the morning the stone was rolled away. In the morning the perfect sacrifice who suffered a cruel death left the grim reaper in the dust. In the morning He turned mourning to joy.

Within the span of a few days, the deaths of two remarkable women named Debbie have given us reason to mourn. Our hearts are broken for the families who have suffered loss. But we are people of hope as they were women of faith. Our mourning will turn to joy because of that morning two thousand years ago. One little letter … For God so loved “u” that He gave His only Son. Mourning turned to morning.

Now, who am I?

Ah, spring is in the air! For many of us, that means pollen season. Oh, joy! With a wacky winter soon behind us, our thoughts turn to budding trees, blooming flowers … did I mention pollen season?

It is almost time for baseball to begin again. The 162-game schedule will stretch into early November – over seven months to watch a handful of teams contend for a title while the rest try to reach .500. A 20 year-old stadium was ditched in Atlanta so that people in Cobb County will have something to gripe about for years to come. The new stadium has a shelf life of at least two decades, right? Night games will have to start at 9:00 so fans will have a chance to negotiate the I-75/285 traffic.

Baseball has its twists and turns. According to history.com: “On March 12, 1903, the New York Highlanders were given the go-ahead by team owners to join baseball’s American League.” The team had recently relocated from Baltimore, where they were called the Orioles. In their new home, fans began referring to them as ‘Yankees’ and the name stuck. In 1913, the team got its new identity – the New York Yankees. Teams relocate and players get traded. The Braves started in Boston, moved to Milwaukee, then landed in Atlanta. Keeping up isn’t simple.

Sometimes it’s hard. Consider the case of Joel Youngblood. Youngblood made baseball history by getting a hit in two different cities, for two different teams, against two Hall of Fame pitchers, all on the same day in 1982.

To understand baseball better, you need to watch the classic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” routine. Any confusion you may have should be cleared up soon.

Identity can be a challenge for a team or a player. In life, we need more, something deeper. Henri Nouwen wrote: “Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved daughters and sons of God.”

Creature finds himself in relationship with Creator, discovering the most exciting answers to two crucial questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my purpose?’ Paul knew where our identity should be found: “For to me, to live is Christ.”

Rich!

We’re rich! Can you believe it? We just got this very personal letter from a guy in Nigeria, who I am sure is destined to be a really good friend. He wants to give us $3 million. $3 million! He is doing this out of the goodness of his heart because he wants us to be happy. I can be happy with $3 million, can’t you? The details are a bit fuzzy … something about needing our financial information so that the transfer can be handled without any problems. I am so excited just thinking about all the things we can buy with that money!

Oh, you’ve heard from him too. He must have lots of friends and lots of money. What a guy!

Somebody must have taken the bait. Somebody has had his/her bank account drained by this scam. I hope they catch the guy and all the rest just like him … but they won’t.

I only know one get-rich scheme that works. There was this other guy wo sent me a letter. He spoke about treasure and inheritance and abundant life. He wasn’t trying to get into my bank account; He was trying to get into my heart. He promised me something money couldn’t buy and I couldn’t earn. It was worth far more than any earthly wealth could acquire.

His letter wasn’t a scam letter; it was a love letter. He didn’t just address it to me. He wanted everybody to read it. He wanted everybody to know it was meant for each of us.

I am rich. I am a joint heir with the King of kings and the Lord of lords. I hope you are, too.

Slow is good

In 1989, Carlo Petrini launched a global, grassroots organization “dedicated to preventing the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteracting the rise of fast life and combating people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, and how our food choices affect world around us.” Slow food … they have a chapter in Atlanta and involve people in 160 countries around the world.

Slow is good, right? In a hurried world, it makes sense to do more than just take your time eating well. We were not designed to live at this pace. The price tag for our mile-a-minute lifestyles is staggering. Suffering from information overload, we find it increasingly difficult to process what we need to know when we need to know it. The ravages of stress and pressure take their toll, and that’s just with our kids! 72% of adults say they feel stressed most of the time.

Here’s a test: Complete this statement – “I don’t have time to ……”

Often the answer has to do with sleep, exercise, choosing and eating food, time alone, time with friends or family, time to focus on spiritual matters.

Fatigue is not our friend. The physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strain wears us out. We are more susceptible to depression. The lack of motivation for needed change leaves us feeling sad and hopeless. Our brain function is impaired. Feelings of guilt, resentment, and agitation grow.

I’m no psychiatrist and I haven’t spent a night at a Holiday Inn, but I do know we don’t have to live on this treadmill all our lives. The psalmist urged us to cease striving, be silent and remember who is God (Psalm 46). Why is that important? Because “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Because Jesus invited us: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Because Paul wrote to the Philippians: “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

It makes sense. The One who made us knows exactly what we need.

What a mismatch!

Udonis Haslem has had quite a career. While a senior at Miami Senior High School, he led his team to two state titles. He played at the University of Florida where he was a significant part of four UF tournament teams. After a year of professional ball in France, he signed with the Miami Heat of the NBA. The Heat have won three NBA titles while Udonis has played for them. He now has thirteen years with the team, a remarkable achievement in a not-for-long league.

Before moving to Miami to finish high school, Udonis attended Wolfson High School in Jacksonville. He was a formidable presence in a really good high school basketball program. My oldest son and my nephew were on those teams. They also played on a youth church league team when rules allowed such things.

So use your imagination. Think of your average youth church league basketball team and envision one of those kids dribbling down the court to face a 6’8” guy waiting for him in the paint. David and Goliath come to mind … only every time David shot, Goliath swatted the ball into the bleachers. What a mismatch!

The classic story of the shepherd boy against the giant of Gath is known by almost everyone. What a mismatch! Goliath never had a chance. David didn’t just come to the battle armed with a sling and 5 stones; he came in the power of the God he represented.

Sometimes we can be overwhelmingly intimidated by our opposition. We may feel we have no chance for success. Who wants to go into challenge with no confidence of a positive outcome?

The David and Goliath story reminds us of a great truth. You plus God makes a majority, no matter who or what is standing in your way. When Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” he wasn’t relying on his own might. He knew better. I hope we do, too.