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Way Down to Cocoa...

So here's the long story's trailer. I am Florida-bound. Praise God. I've been 11 years in the wilderness of Mississippi, now I'm headed back to the Promised Land.

Youth Ministry. Nathan Chapman. Florida. 1 hour from Orlando and the Magic. And an overwhelming peace and at the same time exhiliration to be going where I know I'm supposed to be. Live your heart. Love life. Be what makes you come ALIVE. Amen.

To God be all glory.


Mustard Seed Size It, Please

So God has been at work so evidently in my life of late. He always is at work, but so often, at least lately, I hadn't seen it. Maybe because I couldn't believe without seeing and maybe I wasn't seeing because my belief was so miniscule. More so, I just think it was a season when God, in His truly infinite wisdom, to build my faith and revive my spirit, was slow to show Himself more clearly. But I've seen even a mustard seed the size of a period (.) is enough. God is so patient, not just with our sin, but with our doubts. Like Gideon or Thomas or Moses or Lot, He's patient with our doubts, with our hesitancies, with our excuses. I didn't question God's being, nor am I saying I'm wrong if I had. I just came to a point so far removed from a Spirit-filled life, so much more consumed with my ideas of who I am. And for years I have been miserable.

Not suicidal miserable. Joyless. Clueless. Lost. Alone. Burnt-out. Tired. Rebellious. Bored. Confused. Rejected. Unworthy. Worthless. Pointless to a God sovereign on one hand yet powerless to rescue me with the other. Sure I had head-knowledge of His grace and power and love. But all I could cling to was that head-knowledge--and it doesn't go far. Head-knowledge is rational, not intimate. I longed for a connection with the One who died so I could have it. "Where are You?" I remember crying to sleep. "I don't know what to pray, but You do. This is all I've got. These tears. Mini-prayers I guess from the deepest part of me. Spirit, You intercede for me." Something to that effect, it was a little emotional.

In this time I craved finding out who I am, what I'm to be, where I'm to be, why, when and how. I worked in Psychiatry, contemplated grad school in Psychology and med school in Psychiatry. Right now I'm in research in the field of neuropsychology. I worked as a Youth Minister and left burnt-out and somewhat angry. I very nearly entered a Congressional race (what?!) and contemplated Law school, an MBA, and/or financial advising. Currently, I want to teach maybe high school history, and I want to one day teach Bible classes at a public university from a Christian rather than Atheistic, excuse me "scholarly," perspective. But none of these define us. They occupy entirely too large a portion of our lives, but we aren't college professors or doctors or lawyers or research assistants in neuropsychology. "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created beforehand for us to walk in." (Eph 2.10)

I'm not implying a legalistic approach to doing/being/living "good works." But we are His workmanship. 1st, He made us. 2nd, we are His. 3rd, we are defined by that. Our whole existence hinges on the reality that we are created by God and we are His. 4th, whatever He's made us ultimately "to be," whatever we are as His workmanship (obviously it involves glorifying Him), it's so much better than what we concoct and drudge up from our own insecurities. God made us each an integral part of His plan and of His body. Pride stems from insecurity. I'm convinced of this. Not that our insecurities are sinful or prideful or even fully conscious, but they lead us to pride. It's us seeking, striving, longing to complete ourselves and resolve our raging insecurities in a manner independent of God. Instead of trusting His grace and acceptance and plan, we look to heal our own wounds. Sometimes we do so to feel worthy before Him, other times because we feel worthy enough without Him.

I've always struggled with humility. Most likely because of my insecurities in whatever. And also because I didn't want to see myself, whom I consider fairly intelligent and somewhat gifted in many areas and very much interested in many things, reduced to something so much less than I felt was my "potential." But humility isn't contentment in being or achieving nothing. It's being content in your role. It's the opposite of pride in that we are completely secure in our purpose, in who we are as people, and that being solidified by who we are in Christ. We all have roles and goals, hopes, dreams, talents, gifts, and purposes in the body of Christ. We aren't all to be the magnificent mascara or shimmering earrings or even the welcoming hands. Indeed, we aren't all created for that. Some of us are, and some of us are maybe the inner parts, hidden from fame and glory, approval and attention, Church votes and theological debates. I don't know enough about the human body (no med school, remember?) to even begin to accurately correlate our body parts to our Christ-centered roles in His body. But I'd venture that my insides, say my guts, are just as important as my Antonio Banderas "ah yes, how do you say" good looks. But I'd also venture we don't go on dates based on the state of the other person's guts either.

Our roles in Christ are equally important, and we are all graciously equipped and created for those purposes He's intended; however, they are seen and appreciated differently by folks. That's where humility resides. We can rest content that our purpose in the body of Christ, our role in Christ's furthering His kingdom, is sufficient by His grace and significant by His plan. We are all a perfect complement to His perfect plan. Sure we're flawed, but His strength can be manifested through us. And there's no place for us to boast. Pride, again, stems from our insecurities. Yes, though we boast when we are successful at something, we feel compelled to prove and declare to others our success instead of letting it stand on its own. Pride is the root of all evil, no doubt. It makes sense. It's independent of God, and even at its earliest stage, it's planning an exit from humility and our roles in God's plan.

I pray for the grace to trust in God's plan, not just a chronological plan, but His plan within us. As who we are. I pray we see our roles and embrace the joy that's found in living who we are, in chasing with all our heart He who makes us come ALIVE.


I Believe in Magic

O Holy Night, Orlando could very well make the playoffs. I've been hesitant for several reasons to post something about them, but I can't help it now. I didn't want to jinx them, and I didn't want to look entirely foolish when they returned back to old form. But my oh my, 5 in a row, 9 of their last 10, 13 of their last 17, 10 straight at home (after Monday Night's win over Atlanta). Are you kidding me? They were 20-40 just 17 games ago, that after going 2-18 through a 1 month stretch (Jan 27th-Mar 6th) where they wallowed in losing streaks of 4, 8, and 6 games respectively. Yes, that's correct; they won 2 games in the month of February. I was pulling for all losses the rest of the season (kinda crappy I know), so we could land a money lottery pick (you know to make up for the one who disappeared in the middle of summer to the middle of Spain for 4 years and $10 million). Then they won a couple and aggravated me because they were screwing up their draft ranking potential. Then a few more wins and I started to think good things for next year. Then they talked of needing to win 10 in a row to close out the season to have a shot at making the playoffs (including games against Dallas, Miami, Detroit, and San Antonio). When Jameer Nelson said, "Who says we can't win our last nine games [10 overall]? That's not unrealistic at all. I tell people all the time, I played on a team in college that won 27 straight. 9 is only a fraction of that." Then I believed.

It's like the old days. I actually got to see them play the Hawks Monday on Fox Sports South (thankfully Turner South or something carried the Braves), and it was beautiful. I mean beautiful. I haven't been that excited watching and cheering an Orlando Magic team, let alone an Orlando Magic game, since 1997 or so when Penny Hardaway scored 40+ every game of the playoffs. Wow it was magical. They are a team again. No prima donnas (sp?), no ball hogs, no fuss. And apparently I'm not the only one believing. The Orlando Sentinel is believing, and I think maybe even the actual people of Orlando. They need help from a few teams though, and New Jersey already isn't. They win 14 in a row and can't beat a 9th seeded Chicago Bulls team. Ouch. Washington didn't beat Philadelphia. They (Chi and Phi) both need to be losing if Orlando is going to gain ground. Indiana and Milwaukee are thankfully nose-diving. The question is whether they have enough losses in them to completely sabotage their playoff chances.

It's a completely different team now without Steve Francis, or heck Kelvin Cato. Ode to Otis. He's proving to be the best GM the Magic have had since John Gabriel brought Penny Hardaway to Orlando (the first time). Darko blocked Josh Smith the other night and was called for a foul. It wasn't. It was Mutumbo-like. All ball. Arroyo is a great complement to a young and quick team, and as invaluable an asset to the community as Grant Hill. Grant who? I do hope he gets well soon. Hedo is the X-factor in my mind, well he and DeShawn. They're both key to this team's success. Of course Howard and Jameer are critical, but these two fellas have stepped up and played consistently through this current streak. And this Trevor Ariza, he may be something special. These boys are playing like a team, with role players and all. Detroit showed you can do it that way, and we showed Detroit (for one game at least) how it's done.

The Magic are 3rd in field goal percentage on the year, 1st since the All-Star Break. They're this year's Denver Nuggets, streaking to the very end. They've been giving up some spurts to their opponents because they get inpatient on offense. But Brian Hill can be a real coach again for the first time since Shaq left Orlando. He has guys who want to win, however that needs to happen. 4 point guards? Perfect example. Dooling, Arroyo, Diener, and Nelson are competing in a healthy way for playing time. Orlando was down 9 early to Atlanta, so Brian Hill benched some folks and made some changes. He can put in guys who want to hustle and win.

So they play the (Chris Bosh-less) Raptors tonight at home and the Spurs tomorrow in el San Anton. They can afford a loss in San Antonio if they get some help from some Eastern Conference teams. The Nets could start playing like they had the past two weeks and spank Philly. Boston could knock another loss to Indiana. Washington could start playing like they deserve to be in the playoffs and beat Milwaukee. And Atlanta can play like the Hawks who beat us twice this season, and hand a loss to Chicago. Yet most importantly, the wins against Dallas, Detroit, Miami, and hopefully San Antonio are most meaningless if the Magic lose tonight against Toronto. They haven't beaten them yet this year. Now's a better time than any. Come on fellas. You can do this. I believe in Magic.


Do a Little Irish Salsa

So I've decided to embrace my heritage. I've been half-Mexican my whole life, and the other half of me is white. Yeah, I'm striped like a Zebra. Well recently I learned that "white" isn't even a race or heritage--pretty much just a color. Then St. Patrick's Day rolled around and I wished I were part Irish. Turns out I am. So I think that means I don't have to wear green on St. Patrick's Day anymore, and now I can wear "Kiss me. I'm Irish" T-shirts a wee bit more legitimately. Yeah, the "wee bit more" was supposed to be read with an Irish accent. I'm not completely half-Irish though; apparently I'm a mut. I have Welsch (sp?), Irish, English and Scottish-ness in me. Actually, I'm surprised I'm as dark as I am.

My MLB predictions since it's the cool thing this week:

AL East:
NYY-is there really any doubt? 8 in a row and 9 of last 10. Let's make it a 9-peat. And I probably should go trademark that. 9-peat. Boston? Everyone who thinks they'll even be competitive is foolish. Manny and Ortiz are huge, but no one else. It's neat that they produce a champion every third generation or so. I'm really ok with that management strategy. 80 some odd years to go and they'll be back. Look at it this way, after this season, that's two of the 86 out of the way...

AL Central:
CHW-Detroit Pistons' fans dream of the what ifs with Carmelo Anthony or Dwayne Wade and most agree it's scary-after the nausea subsides. Thome for Rowand? And lose the Big Hurt's Big Attitude, Big Salary, and Big Injury Issues and you're looking at repeat division champs.

AL West:
LAA-The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I pick them almost so I can root for the absurdity that is a two citied team. I hear the A's are looking into becoming the Oakland Athletics From Just Across the Golden Gate Bridge. Honestly, I don't like any of these teams. The A's always seem to make a run at the Wild Card, and I guess that's their only chance this year.

AL Wild Card:
OAFJAGGB: In two years, I'd say Tampa Bay. Cleveland's pitching is suspect to me, and Oakland never seems to lack despite losing studs to major markets.

NL East:
PHI-Honestly, Jason. I like their team. Braves look good, and yes they've done this a zillion times before. But the streak may be over, and not because I'll be rooting silently for as much. It's just bound to happen sometime, and I pick this year. New pitching coach, young players, aging players, Ted Turner selling the team. It was a nice run, but they'll be joining the Red Sox in returning to reality.

NL Central:
STL-Albert "I am a man amongst boys" Pujols. Enough said.

NL West:

NOO-That's NOONE. Are you kidding me? Theses teams give credibility to the "expand the playoffs" crowd. Houston, Atlanta, New York, Florida, even the Chicago Cubs, stand to be left out of the postseason because a sub-.500 division champion will take their place. Let the record show I want an exemption to the Wild Card. If a runner-up to the Wild Card is 7.0 games up on a division "leader," they can go instead. I dont know, alphabetically: Arizona. Sorry Jeff.

NL Wild Card:
ATL-Well if MLB had adopted my exemption policy, I'd still have the Braves in the Wild Card, but Houston and Florida could duke out the NL West's playoff spot. But alas, Atlanta slips into another post-season; and yes, expect the same result. One streak ends, another grows: playoff appearances in a row without winning another title.

NYY over LAA in 5
ALCS: NYY over CHW in 7

NLDS: STL sweeps ATL
PHI over Arizona in 4
NLCS: STL over PHI in 6

World Series: STL over NYY in 7

AL Cy Young: Halladay
NL MVP: The Man
NL Cy Young: Jake Peavy