My Fig Leaves

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Now that I have your attention…in publishing my blog my objective has always been to be transparent in confessing personal faults, failures, challenges, etc. so that maybe one or two readers might be spared the pain of learning lessons others have already benefited from. Some weeks are more difficult to post than others depending on the subject matter or the freshness of the wounds or hurt.  This may be one of those weeks.

We all have heard the story countless times.  God tells Adam to stay away from just one tree but instead he yields to a tempting Eve and disobeys a directive meant for his benefit.  Genesis 3 reads that Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and sewed together fig leaves to cover their exposure.  But then something deeper happens that we often overlook.  When God is calling Adam out of the garden Adam’s reply is that they were afraid and hid so that God would not see that they were naked.  However, Adam and Eve had already created and were in fact wearing their fig garments when they heard God’s voice.  So we must ask if Adam was afraid of exposing his genitalia or was he hiding something much deeper?

The fig leaf has always been used figuratively as symbolic of covering something up that may be distasteful or embarrassing. In more recent times the fig leaf is used metaphorically as an attempt to cover up something that is only a token gesture as the object being covered is still obvious and for the most part exposed. Fig leaves can be as long as ten inches and as wide as six inches.  However when they are cut from the tree they exude a sticky gel like substance that can be quite uncomfortable when coming in direct contact with skin.  To go to the lengths of covering up one’s “nakedness” with something so uncomfortable must somehow relay the desperation of attempting to hide something really ugly or shameful.

I am a shirt guy.  I buy shirts like women buy shoes. I have easily 200 shirts in various closets.  I’m a shirt whore. But I also have some fig leaves that I wear in certain situations so that my faults and failures are not overly exposed.  Allow me to explain. The mother of my sons and I divorced in 1996.  Say what you may about the reasons that led up to that painful decision, the divorce for me represented a failure-something I lost control of and did not cultivate enough to save.  It was perhaps my first fig leaf.

I have been blessed with three young men as sons who are unique and individual whom I love dearly.  But I was not a great father. I worked too much, I was absent for certain events, I didn’t spend nearly enough quality time with them, and I could go on.

Three fig leaves.

I was blessed with an opportunity to own my own business but in less than two years was forced to give it back to the creditors because of fierce industry competition and mismanagement on my part.  I am still paying the price for that failure and increasing my fig leaf wardrobe. Through obstacles and life challenges I have not handled well I have developed or rather allowed to surface a deep resentment, a sometimes bitter attitude, an unexplainable anger and deep feelings of frustration and doubt even when trying to rely on my faith in God’s grace and strength as my only recourse. Yet another fig leaf.  I could relay many similar stories of past mistakes, miscues and missteps that have added to my hidden fig leaf closet. I have much to hide, much that I fear admitting to the world and much I am ashamed of for fear of being exposed. My loins, my legs and most of my torso are covered in unseen fig leaves.

When God called out to Adam He knew exactly where he was hiding and why.  And as Adam had tasted of the tree of he Knowledge of Good and Evil, he most likely knew God was on to him.  Any attempt to cover his nakedness before God was futile.  It was just a token gesture of modesty before a God who sees everything beneath.

Jeremiah 23:24; “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I don’t see him?  Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?”

Hebrews 4:13: “There is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

God knows us inside and out, our fears, our lusts, our hurts, our doubts-nothing remains hidden from Him.  Any attempt to cover ourselves is futile.  But perhaps what is more significant is the thought process or reasoning behind our fear of being exposed to Him. Through the sacrifice of His Son and the dispensation of unending grace through our belief in the same we are set free from the chains of guilt and shame of our shortcomings.  While our approach should be one of humble reverence and confession, our lifestyle should not resemble sackcloth and ashes, or sticky fig leaves.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God”…Romans 5:1

“My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly (and not hide behind fig leaves) about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Some of us may be in a season where we are not only covered in fig leaves but are hiding in the belly of a dark cave.  We may be facing questions with no answers, situations with no solutions and a future where we can’t see any ray of light because of present darkness. The tears may be uncontrollable, or you may have few left. The intangible faith in an unseen God may be a real struggle for some, but the hope and the promises of a loving and merciful God can not be withheld from us even when we hide.  Clothing  trends may come and go but fig leaves have never been fashionable.  Be clothed instead in grace and mercy, an ensemble that all believers share and is never out of style.

 

 

 

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My Safe Place

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Most of us tend to have that certain special place we can run to where we can escape or just decompress.  For some it may be a cabin deep in the woods surrounded by nature.  For others it might be a hike up to Emerald Lake in CO. For me, it’s easy and has always been the same since I was just a young boy. I Love the Beach! I go every year to my favorite beach on the Pacific Coast and in fact was there just last week.  For me there is nothing more relaxing than playing in the waves during the day or more breath taking as the sunset at night, as I attempted to capture in the image attached to this post. It is my safe place.

While I enjoy corporate worship and my private alone time, I am never more close to God than when I am on the beach.  I am in awe of the power of His creation.  When I try to comprehend how the powerful surge of the ocean waves become humbled and silenced by the tiny grains of sand that make up the beach, I short circuit. I am reminded of God’s response to Job in the same book when He asks “…who commands the waves you can come this far and no further…”. When I sit and witness that natural phenomenon I am left speechless. I feel very tiny and insignificant in comparison, but here, it’s ok. This is my place and I don’t have be concerned with my worth or my worthiness.  Here I am not this party or that party, red or blue, upper, lower or middle. Here there are no labels, no hatred or biases, no trending social issues or systematic barriers.  Here there is a sense of a much higher power who values us even more than the creation that we marvel at.  My safe place.

But when I’m on the beach there is more going on than simply the awesome display of a creative God. I can find a sense of restoration or readjustment here. I am a man of many mistakes, many failures, many bad decisions. I am imperfect by definition and in daily need of reconciliation. Truth be known I should be on the beach every week and not just once annually, just for this reason alone. For me the waves and the ocean have a very significant and symbolic effect on my imperfections.  There is a peaceful calm that occurs with watching the tides.  It’s almost as if each wave that comes to shore removes a bit of my imperfection and takes it back out to sea, far away from me.  Indiscretions, out to sea; bad choices, out to sea; feelings of failure, out to sea. The healing can’t be described or fully understood. Yet again, however, I am reminded of scripture that deals with this very notion of sin and sea.  In Micah 7:19, the Prophet says “He will turn again and have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities and will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”.

As I usually do I waded in the shallow water looking for any cool sea shells I could retrieve for my grandkids.  The water would only be clear for a few seconds to reveal what was lying on the sandy bottom.  And then a wave would come to shore and wash everything back out to sea-where there were many shells just a few seconds ago was now a cleared sandy floor.  I get it. Just like that everything was washed out to sea.  To think that our sins are likewise cast into the deepest parts of the sea where man can’t even reach is comforting and healing.  But to actually see it displayed like shells that were so plentiful just a few seconds ago and are now completely removed really drives home with power and magnitude the incredible lesson of forgiveness and redemption. What a refreshing contrast in reading about the sea’s role in the removal and disappearance of our imperfections and in seeing played out in nature.  If only all Biblical lessons were as easily revealed.

My safe place doesn’t magically make everything and every issue go away.  I still have to deal with me when I leave, and I am my biggest challenge. But just the few days alone in my place does more good than the best counselor or psychiatrist money could buy. I wasn’t born on the beach but I’m convinced I was born to spend time there. It is the only place where I feel somewhat whole and at peace.  My Heaven, the Throne of Grace, surrounded by the soft whispers of worship of calm waves washing up on the sandy beach, set against an eternal California sunset. My never ending safe place.

 

 

I’m Truly Sorry

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A famous Pop artist once wrote a hit song entitled Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. When offered up in genuine humility and remorse it can be a difficult word to cough up.  When withheld due to pride it can be the cancer that costs us the very things or people we hold most dear.  And if pondered too long it won’t bring the onlyremedy that will heal us.

Speaking purely from a man’s perspective-well, we can be pig headed at times and downright oblivious at others. We are often given way too much credit for being clairvoyant or all knowing.  Sometimes the pain we cause is immediately apparent but sometimes we simply have no clue until it’s too late. And while a sincere apology goes a long way in eventual forgiveness, the damage done is sometimes irreversible.

The best grandpas often times were not the best dads, as was the case with me.  It took years of mistakes and miscues as a father to learn how to be a beloved Papa.  The years spent in error as a dad can not be recaptured.  Grandchildren become the benefactors of a life long learning process full of blunders they never know of. Smart men take full advantage of this second chance and relish in the perceived image that we know is not always fully disclosed.

The best spouses were not born that way. It comes with years of trial and many errors, grace and forgiveness, humility and servanthood and selflessness that few possess, least of all me. The simple words “I’m Sorry” spoken in sincerity are the best remedies for damage control in any committed relationship, as well as a good sense of timing. Great men master this process quickly in their relationships-good men take a little longer but eventually get it right before it’s too late. Foolish men sadly never acquire the skill before differences become irreconcilable, and only after they are left alone with their thoughts do they realize that indeed, they are truly sorry.

The Apostle Paul showed us that even he, the author of the majority of our New Testament, didn’t always get things right.  He openly confessed that he didn’t do the things he knew he should do, and often did the things he knew he shouldn’t, referring to his acts as despicable. Sometimes we are held to such unattainable standards that failure is eminent. In Christ there is grace, patience and forgiveness but in life we are sometimes left sitting in the ashes. The sooner we can grasp the concept of humility and remorse the sooner we can reduce the collateral damage left behind otherwise.

Jesus taught us in His prayer that asking for forgiveness should be a part of every prayer.  The notion that our grace covering eliminates our need to have a humble and contrite spirit when approaching Him is simply bad teaching.  This same principle of humility and self-awareness of our actions will also serve us well in every day life.  You can stand on false principle and withhold your apologies when they are deeply needed the most, or, you can spend the rest of your life apologizing to people who are no longer around to hear.  It’s your choice-choose wisely.

 

The Healthy Fear of a Sovereign God

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As a young boy much bigger for may age than average, there was little I was afraid of, at least from my peers. I got into very little trouble growing up. It might have been that I was in church so much there was little down time to get into any mischief. Or it may have been the one thing I did fear-those six words that evoked the fire of God whenever I heard them-“just wait until your dad gets home”. You see, at 6’8″ and 300 lbs my dad too was bigger than average! For greater impact I would hear my mom relaying the details of my latest waywardness to my dad when he called while on break, so I knew he would be planning my punishment for several hours before ha came home and played the role of disciplinarian. In every single case the wait was more dreaded and effective than the punishment.

As a believer I am grateful for a God who we can approach as Abba Father-one who is often described as loving, gracious, merciful kind, forgiving, patient-all attributes which are scriptural and true. We are told and can bet our life on the scriptures that tell us nothing can separate us from the unconditional love of God.  But, I wonder if the church, both the institutional church and the body of believers that make up the church, have so embraced the message of grace that we have completely disregarded the unchallenged sovereignty of God. We don’t want to consider the Old Testament God of jealousy , vengeance and wrath because it doesn’t fit into our 2015 definition of a more tolerant, sociable, politically correct, changing with the times God that we have created to better fit our conscious-one that allows us to fit in and be more widely accepted and considered for office, for promotion and for more likes on our social media outlets.

It’s ironic that those who oppose or deny the concept of God are first to point out accurately that God killed people in the Old testament simply because they did not follow His commands. The Mega-churches have apparently lost that section of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong-I believe that those who are looking for the truth and for eternal hope should not be scared into salvation at the thought of an angry God just for eternal insurance purposes alone. The message of the cross is one of forgiveness, of hope, of reconciliation and restoration of a sinful people to a loving, caring God whose desire is that none should perish needlessly. But to properly appreciate the loving and merciful side of God one must balance it against the judging, jealous and total rule of the same God who created a race of people to worship Him and Him alone and to fear Him who has no equals.

The stories of God’s wrath against an unruly people are too numerous to list. There were complete cities destroyed for their shameless disobedience. The armies of Israel were often decimated when they turned their backs on God.  Even Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised land because of a procedural error.  God was and is a stern God who demands fear, allegiance and obedience-nothing has changed in His expectations.  The difference today is God’s gift of His Son who took our sin punishment on the cross and acts as our advocate by covering us who accept Him with His righteousness so that the wrath of God is thwarted before being administered.

We are living in a time of great arrogance and brazen boldness as a church in general and as a nation as it relates to the issues and spiritual challenges of the day.  In order to boost attendance and keep our nonprofit status we have put forth a God who more resembles a Disney character than a God who is described in Revelation having hair white as wool and eyes blazing like fire-with feet like burning bronze and a tongue like a double edged sword. When I was younger and in church I hated always hearing sermons about hell-about how you could leave the church building and be struck by a car and enter into eternity.  The message left me uncomfortable and uneasy about the true motive for following in the path of Christ.  But the message was and is that God can’t be ignored forever just because His ways and laws are inconvenient to us or socially irrelative to the current culture.

In Him there is a life of abundance. But outside of Him, there is danger-there is peril-there is judgment. Some might ask “why would God do that” or how does a loving God allow this or that”. And my answer would be simply, I don’t always know.  He is God, I’m not. He’s in charge-I’m under His loving rule. I don’t try to argue with God.  I have many questions, but who Am I to demand answers or justification from God. I accept my role and love the promise of what is waiting.  And yes, I fear God.  Not in a panic fear but in the realization that apart from Christ, I am worthy of no less than the punishment I read about in the Old Testament.

We are living in perilous times. The Word of God is being dissected and voided of all hateful appearing verbiage. The Government is trying to tell us how we can interpret and practice our faith in complete defiance of the first Amendment to practice without interference. The entertainment, educational and political systems are lining up against the church in what will eventually play itself out as a major war for the saints that may change the face of the church as we know it now.  It is time like never before to have or develop a healthy fear of God, His word, His commands and His judgment.  The popular t-shirt is so right on-“Only God Can Judge Me”. What a horrible notion for those living in opposition to His nature and His sovereignty.

Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down

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If you are one of those who are always on top of your game, you wake up and kiss the sky and your kitchen sings to you while you make breakfast, this post isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us who don’t live in Disney World, those who strive to live a positive life but still battle the demons of failure, sin and worthlessness-real people.  I am one-I’m with you-those days when you wonder if you really matter, if you are really loved, if you would be missed if you were gone, if you are having any positive impact on those you love and pray for. Those small doubts become large gaping holes of opportunity for attack. Each day is a new war to wage against the dark, spiritual and tangible forces that are well trained at knocking us off course.  If you aren’t the target of such attacks, you aren’t fully engaged in life or your faith. The following are excerpts from a sermon I wrote years ago but still as relevant as it was then.  There are key weapons at our disposal to aid us in our daily battles against weariness, depression and discouragement.

“There are times in our faith walk when we find ourselves in a spiritual funk.  We are on a straight and narrow road, running this race-running like Forest Gump-running and running and running. There comes a time when I just want to stop running.  I see a little spot off the beaten path and I pull off the road just to stop running.  The place I find myself in here isn’t necessarily attractive-it’s isolated-it’s disconnected-it’s quiet.  It’s not lively, it’s not dead-it’s just hereHere is a place where my prayers don’t seem to travel far.  Here is a place that is under the radar from the dark forces of life.

Eph. 6:12 reads “For we fight not against people made of flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in heavenly realms”.

The enemy is highly trained to target those who are engaged in their faith.  But as long as I’m here, no one cares.  As a Christian, I know all I need to do is call on Jesus for help and get back on the road.  I can even see the road from here, but it is just easier to stay here.  This is my spiritual funk.

Now that I’ve painted you a picture of spiritual funk, how many of you have been here too?  How can we get there from here?  I have come up with 5 easy but vital steps for Christians to follow to avoid these funks.

Step 1-Guard your thoughts.

We are so easily led astray by our own thoughts.  We haven’t mastered the art of bringing every thought into captivity. I have struggles with reassurance issues.  In my mind, I tend to put myself up here more than I should.  The problem is that it doesn’t take much of a parting shot to knock me down to here-an unhappy customer, something the kids say, a series of unlucky events, any form of rejection.  If I believed in blind luck, I would be the one person he can’t see.  When things don’t go your way, or the people around you point fingers, you start to believe that maybe you are the problem. Job’s friends told him he was the reason for all the calamities God allowed in his life, and Job tended to believe them.  We completely disregard every positive thing scripture has to say about who we are in Christ. This is the ultimate trick of the deceiver-he wants to remind us of all our past mistakes, all our failed relationships, all our closet skeletons, and we buy right into this trick.  The result is a feeling of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness, all contrary to what Christ thinks of us.

Philippians 4:7 says this; “Tell God what you need and thank him for all he’s done.  If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  (Vs 8). Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. 

Step 2-Seek out positive nourishment

There are several good sources of Christian nourishment available to us.  One of my favorites is Christian music.  I’ve always loved music-it is the one medium that can completely change your attitude or actions.  For example, when the classic rock song “I can’t drive 55” comes on, amazingly, I really can’t drive 55.

Music can be uplifting-I’m always amazed how a piece of music that was recorded years ago on electronic media can still become a worship experience in your car.

Our brains are complex recorders-we can recall every good or bad thing we’ve seen or heard in the course of a day.  If that’s the case, we should expose ourselves to positive influence, whether music, or a good book or a good TV program.

Romans12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  This is a daily process if we are to avoid spiritual funk.

Step 3-Choose your friends wisely

This one is interesting to me.  I don’t personally believe that as Christians we are only supposed to hang with other Christians.  That’s not the model Christ gave us.  In fact Jesus, according to scripture, was quite a party animal. But his closest friends were believers.  When we socialize it is important to spend time with those who share your faith-they will become a great help and support to you when you’re in trouble.  And be very careful about those you hang with who are not Christian-they can easily lead you down a different path.  Our non-believing friends need our influence, but we must not yield to theirs.  It is too easy in the course of having a good time to let your guard down or compromise your core values after prolonged exposure.  The friends you confide in will ultimately be advising you.

Psalm 1:1 reads “Oh the joy of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.”

Step 4-Know your weaknesses

I have weaknesses.  I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian, we all have kinks in our armor.  The enemy always knows your weakness.  For some maybe it’s lust, for others maybe pornography.  Some may have a substance addiction-maybe you gossip-maybe you eat too much-maybe you have a gambling problem-maybe you’re just plain crazy.  Having a weakness is not necessarily the problem, especially if you’re honest enough to admit it to yourself and to God. However yielding to your weakness over God’s strength  can put you in your own spiritual funk.  Putting yourselves in situations where you could stumble is just not responsible as a Christian.

1 Peter 2:11 says “Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here.  So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very soul”.

What does this mean?  It’s simple really-if you can’t hold your liquor, you should stay out of bars.  If you have an eating disorder, the Carnival Buffet is not for you.  If you can’t get on the internet without migrating to a porn site, stay off the computer.  If you’re down to your last $3, don’t spend it on Megabucks.  If you like spreading rumors, don’t listen to any new ones.  Are you starting to get the picture?  Don’t give our enemy any advantages against you.

1 Peter 5:8 says “Be Careful. Watch out for attacks from the devil, your enemy.  He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for some victim to devour”.

Step 5-Spend time alone with God

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when you’re in a spiritual funk is to spend time alone with God.  Part of being in this place is the feeling of disconnection you feel.  When you cry out to God, it’s as if you hear the echoes of the canyons, but when you pray, you almost feel the prayers bouncing back off the ceiling.  It is in these times that it is most imperative that you habitually seek God out, remembering he hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we don’t feel his closeness.

James 4:7 says “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.  (vs. 10).  When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.”

Sometimes our path is dark and cold and each step is just another step of faith into the unknown. But God promised to be with us in the valley of shadows and death, not to take us around it as some might suggest but to be our guide and companion until we can navigate through the density and the turns. Our yellow brick road to Oz may seem more like a muddy trail through an endless swamp but in Christ, we can be sure that our final destination will be worth the hazards of the journey.

 

Thou Shalt Love thy Neighbor,,,Unless

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Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I’m too idealistic, or as my black brothers have often implied, I just don’t get it because I’m white. So I went to the local Christian bookstore to buy the White Bible.  Couldn’t find it-maybe they were just out of stock,  So I looked instead for the Black Bible. Same thing. I asked the clerk to check stock for me and she laughed at me. “I’ve never heard of the Black or White Bible”, she exclaimed. “Why would you believe there was such a thing”, she asked. “There has to be”, I replied. “We aren’t all reading the same thing”.

My heart aches over the rhetoric of hatred being spewed on both sides of the recent Ferguson shooting. I’m not shocked by the violence of those who don’t live a lifestyle of brotherly love.  Hell, cities burn when a major Sports Championship is won. What saddens me most is how some of the religious leaders have, in lieu of taking a stand against hate and reminding their congregations of the words of Christ, turned their pulpits into platforms that have only served to widen the barriers between races. Love thy neighbor, unless they are a cop, unless they have a different skin color, unless they have more money or drive a nicer car or attend the wrong church or have the wrong political sign in their yard. I’m amazed at the disclaimers we have added to God’s word because surely He must have accidentally left them out.  In many of my dialogues with my black Christian brothers, many of whom are clergy, I have been relegated to an unsympathetic and out of touch white man who couldn’t possibly understand discrimination or challenges because of the color of my skin.  There will always exist an element of racism and hatred because of sin-I can’t deny the ugly existence of racism and I would never intentionally dismiss as foolish the incidents made known to us that display blatant racist behavior. But to dismiss my concerns because I’m too white to understand is by very definition, racist. I too have had my share of issues because of the color of my skin.  While I don’t wish to draw comparisons, allow me to share some of my experiences.

I grew up on the west side of Indianapolis during the onset of bussing kids into school districts for racial balance in the 60’s and 70’s. I was always the tallest white boy in the school, so naturally I became a target to the blacks who wanted to show superiority, especially since I was, well close, to their girlfriends. On a specific day it was made known to me that I was going to “get me ass kicked” after school off premises.  I asked a few of my closer friends to have my back but all declined. True to their word I was jumped about 4 blocks from the school by a gang of black schoolmates wielding bricks, masonry blocks and belts. When the police arrived I was put into the back of the squad car because I appeared to be the aggressor.  I also took the blunt of the punishment by the school because an example of “fairness” to the entire community needed to be displayed.

In High School I was the starting center on our basketball team and third leading scorer. I lived and breathed basketball.  In my Junior year I was cut from the squad and replaced by a black student who couldn’t dribble out the side of his mouth or hit one free throw out of 20 attempts, because the Catholic school needed to show some “diversity” on the squad and to the teams we played on our schedule. I was devastated and to this day remember the feelings of being cut to make room for someone else because of skin color.

In my early adult years I had decided to pursue my dream of becoming a police officer in Indy.  The testing process was hard but I studied and passed the test with flying colors, only to be informed I wasn’t going to be accepted.  Chin up, I took the test again when open hiring was announced. Same scores, same results.  I went through this process one more time only to be told by the recruiting officer that I was wasting my time. Affirmative Action required that racial quotas be established in law enforcement departments and that I, being white, did not stand a chance of being hired as a result. Once again I was discriminated against due to my skin color-sounds familiar.

Upon moving to Las Vegas with my young family we rented an apartment on what turned out to be the wrong side of the city. We always tried to look out for our three sons.  I was informed that there was a drug pusher working the apartments giving out free drugs to kids and teens.  One day I spotted them, just feet from our oldest son and I gave chase to them, a truck load of blacks who in turn fired back at me with loaded handguns. Luckily for me their aim was much like that of many metro officers-they missed.

Most recently as a business owner in Las Vegas dealing with the largest gaming corporations in the world I was once again discriminated against in bidding on large contracts.  Seems just like I experienced in the 80’s, racial diversity needed to be displayed in vendor selection, and even though I had the best products, the best pricing and established relationships, my company was overlooked in favor of minority owned companies. I was too white.

Are these fair comparisons-maybe, maybe not.  What is common is that I was targeted because of the color of my skin and have legitimate reasons to be biased because of that discrimination.  The difference is that I have not let these incidents define me or my character.  Am I just a good Christian-hardly.  Most who know me will say I’m a gentle giant but my wife will tell you I’m an angry and impatient man with many issues. But I can’t escape my knowledge of the things written in scripture that deal with love, hate and true faith. Regardless of your individual life experiences, the Word of God is very straight forward and transparently clear when it comes to love and forgiveness:

1 John 4:20 ESV 

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 3:15 ESV 

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

Leviticus 19:17 ESV 

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

John 13:34-35 ESV 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

1 John 2:9 ESV 

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness

 

“But Joe, you don’t know what we’ve been through.  You can’t understand how I feel and how I’ve been wronged”.  Well maybe you are right.  All I can do is defer to Scriptures regarding forgiveness.

 

Ephesians 4:32 ESV 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Mark 11:25 ESV 

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Matthew 6:15 ESV 

But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:21-22 ESV 

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Luke 6:27 ESV 

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Colossians 3:13 ESV 

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Luke 6:27-36 ESV 

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

 

Maybe my friends are right about me.  Perhaps I’m too naive in my beliefs that Christians should be the torch bearers that heal racism instead of the fuel that keeps the flames of racism burning bright. Maybe the deep seed of prejudice is just too much for the common man to overcome, even in Christ. And most assuredly there is too much water under the bridge of racism to believe that somehow some way Christians can begin to live in a Kingdom fashion while still inhabitants of earth. But of all the words that have been used to describe me, stubborn stands out.  I will continue to hope for better, pray for better, live for better and speak up for better while it is within me to do so. None of us can play God, but none of us can deny God’s words or His commands because our life experiences justify our disobedience. Christianity isn’t a black or white man’s religion, but God’s word is clearly Black and White. Peace.

 

It Takes Balls-Golfing and Christianity

titleist-hvc-golf-balls

It takes balls to golf the way I do-lots of them!  When often asked what my handicap is, without a thought I tell them-Golf!  I love to play, even if only once or twice a year.  There is a sane madness in trying to knock a small ball into a hole located four hundred yards away with a club that has a mind of its own. There is no more humbling sport to an otherwise natural athlete than the game of golf.  If you don’t believe that watch one of the Pro Ams sometime when pro athletes team up with pro golfers-it can be amusing to see a millionaire athlete shank a shot into a tree or worse, a spectator. And there may be no other sport in which the name of God is evoked more often!

I find that the tiniest of sand traps appear to be the Mojave Desert from the tee, and the smallest of water hazards may as well be Lake Superior. No matter how hard I try to avoid them, they become magnetic fields seeking small white round objects with a force much greater than my aim. This past week my son turned thirty so I thought it would be fun to do something memorable for the occasion.  I took him and his younger brother, neither of whom had played on a golf course before.  I was wise enough to reserve the last tee time so as not to be a hindrance to players behind us.  They would have been playing through us on every other hole. Being the experienced golfer I was I went first and drove a beautiful drive that landed right down the middle of the fairway-that is the fairway of the adjacent hole we weren’t playing. I haven’t sliced like that since I was a meat cutter on the west side of Indianapolis. Being the great leader I am the boys followed suit and we all agreed after the first hole that keeping score was not going to be beneficial to our esteem. But they will never forget how we celebrated a milestone birthday!

I have been a Christian much longer than I have been a golfer, but I wonder sometimes what my true spiritual handicap would be considering my game. There are those times when I feel like I could knock it in the hole from five hundred yards away-I feel blessed, I feel like I’m walking upright and doing the things I need to be doing to develop my Christian game.  And then there are those days when I knock it on the green only to three or four putt-nothing seems to be working.  The harder I try the worse my score and the greater my handicap.  I’m sure each of us if truly honest could say much the same thing.

I know in my life those things that are to me sand traps or water hazards-the things I need to avoid that draw me in.  But just like on a golf course, seeing and recognizing hazards does not always equate to staying out of them.  The harder you try the more balls you lose-the deeper the trap the closer to the edge you land, making it impossible to hit your way out of it. And even if you are fortunate enough to avoid the hazards on your way to eventually hitting onto the green, the cup can appear to be nearly the same size as the ball, much like the hoop and over-sized basketball at a traveling carnival-impossible to sink.

Unlike golf, God has given us an unlimited amount of mulligans in the form of grace.  He knows my game and that left to my own ability, I could never finish the course.  He doesn’t make the drives any straighter or the hazards any smaller-He doesn’t make the cup the size of a crater like that commercial on TV.  He just doesn’t keep track of how many strokes it takes us to sink it-He’s pretty forgiving that way!  And with God, those who finish well under par and those who, well don’t, receive the same prize at the end of the day-the victor’s crown of life to those who remain faithful and remain in the game, even with soggy sand filled shoes to show for it.

The Apostle Paul said “I have finished the course”.  He too must have been a golfer.  Paul gets me.