The Racial Divide In America


If you aren’t an American or a sports fan you might not be aware that President Trump made a comment recently about the National Football League players who chose to kneel during the national anthem. A small number of players have done what then San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing last year as a way to protest current racial treatment of minorities.

I don’t know what prompted Mr. Trump to bring up in subject in a speech, but he doesn’t seem hesitant to say what he wants when he has a crowd he believes will agree with him.

Sadly our President used inappropriate language when talking about people with whom he disagrees. Even more egregious is his advocacy of punishment for people who exercise their Constitutional right of free speech.

In part, here’s what Mr. Trump said that stirred the pot.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still frustrated that the Supreme Court ruled that actions, such as burning the American flag are protected “speech.” An action and speech are two different things, and they carry two different impacts on the people around them. But that bridge has already been crossed.

The question the President raised is, should that small number of NFL players who chose to kneel during the national anthem be fired?

Such a response is not Constitutional.

It’s odd that President Trump should say such a thing because here in California, at least, maybe nationally, a child can refuse to say the pledge of allegiance. But grown men can’t take a knee during the anthem?

The real problem is this. We no longer care more for what unites us than for what divides us.

That’s not true in my church.

It’s not true in sports stadiums, either. The color jersey you have on is far more important than the color of your skin. Why? Because regardless of your race or ethnicity, you share a love for, a rooting interest in, the same team. You have a bond, at least for those hours that you are in the stands, yelling and screaming for Your Team.

Church goes deeper. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is greater than being a fan of the Dodgers or any other team. Why? Because we don’t simply admire Jesus or take pride in His accomplishments. His life changes us. And every believer has had the same essential experience. Sure, the details vary, but we all know we are family. And unlike the NFL players who will often say their teammates are their brothers, the family of God is eternal.

I got a wrong number phone call a few weeks ago. The woman started to leave a message to “Mary” about praying for her daughter who was in Florida. I picked up the phone and told her I wasn’t “Mary” though I was happy to hear she was praying for the daughter. Her next question was, are you a Christian?

We talked for at least ten more minutes, and she prayed for me before we hung up, happy to know that one day we will be in God’s presence together. I never thought to ask her what color her skin is. She didn’t ask me if I was of a particular ethnicity. We shared a bond simply because we both love our Lord and Savior.

That’s a unity that is unshakable, that no organization or President can bully into existence. No need for any coercion. True Christians are family because something far more important unites us than anything this world says should divide us.

The apostle Paul spelled it out to the church in Colossae:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col. 3:9-11, ESV)

OK, so there’s a little more to Christian unity than simply having a shared belief. We also have a shared new nature. That’s the part that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness.

Of course we aren’t finished products, so Christian brothers or sisters can still sin against one another. But anger and resentment and revenge are sins, too, and we know that answering a wrong with another wrong helps no one.

In that regard, I think the NFL players handled their response to President Trump fairly well. But I think Christians have a chance to show the nation and the world what true unity is all about.

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Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hope Isn’t Wishful Thinking


AdventWreathLitLast Sunday night I hoped the Denver Broncos would defeat the New England Patriots in a National Football League game. (They did! 😉 ) I had no certainty that they would. Yes, the game was played in Denver (home field is always a big advantage in the NFL) and yes, New England (as the announcers interminably reminded the watching audience) had a number of offensive players hurt. And yes, the Patriots were playing at altitude on a short week of rest. But those factors did not guarantee Denver a win. I still hoped, not knowing how it would all turn out.

In many respects, you could say my position was one of wishful thinking. Not that my wishing could have any bearing on the outcome, but I had no certain knowledge and merely wished that the result I wanted would be the one that prevailed.

Happily it did!

But my hoping for a Denver victory on Sunday night is about as far from the hope a Christian has as possible, given the similarity in the dictionary definitions. The Bible links hope and faith in Hebrews 11:1 and both have nothing to do with “hoping against hope” or wishful thinking.

Rather, the writer specifies that faith is tied to assurance and hope to conviction.

Assurance. Conviction.

There’s a certainty about both those words. They remind me of Elisha’s position when his city was surrounded by an enemy army and he told his servant not to be afraid.

Uh, seriously, Elisha? I think there’s good cause to be afraid.

Except, Elisha saw what his servant didn’t—the host of heaven amassed against the enemy. So Elisha wasn’t making a foolish statement, and he wasn’t hoping against hope that things would turn out all right. He wasn’t exercising wishful thinking in the face of insurmountable odds. He was, in fact, exercising faith. He had the assurance that God’s army outnumbered the enemy. He had the hope built on conviction that God would not forsake him.

Even though outwardly nothing had changed. From where his servant sat, their situation couldn’t have been worse. They didn’t have the arms or the men to fight against the enemy and they didn’t have the resources to withstand a siege. All seemed lost.

It’s that “seemed” word that makes all the difference, because how things seem apart from God aren’t actually how they are.

Things undoubtedly seemed bleak to very-pregnant Mary when she had to follow Joseph to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, running for their lives with her little son. How could she know that for centuries people all across the globe would read about those frightening, uncomfortable, dangerous trips and give God glory because of His protection and care, because of fulfilled prophecy, because of the evidence of the humility of God’s Son, born in a manger, on the run before He could even walk.

Did Mary have hope? Did she envision herself raising her infant to become a man? To become the Savior of the World? That night I imagine she had hope despite the pain of childbirth. After all, the angel had told her she would bear a son. He wouldn’t lie. So she had assurance that this birth, even in a stable, would bring little Jesus into the world. And yet, she still had to bear the pain. She still had to run for her life when the angel told them to flee to Egypt. And she still had to witness her son die on a cross.

Hope is not wishful thinking. And it is not assurance that all will be without trouble or pain. But hope, when placed in God and His Son Jesus, gives what we all need: assurance that our sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, that God has adopted us into His family, that we are no longer under condemnation, that God has given us His mercy and grace, and that we have a future to look forward to.

There’s a verse in Jeremiah that all too often is misused. Jeremiah is assuring the people of Judah who have been exiled to Babylon that God has not forgotten them, that they have a future and a hope despite the fact that they’ve been captured. This is not a promise of perfect health and untold wealth as some assume. But Christians can claim this promise for what it is: God’s declaration that our destiny is in His hands.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

We may face “captivity” in the here and now, but we have the hope of heaven—the assurance of things not yet seen, the conviction that He who promised is able to bring it to pass.

Published in: on December 4, 2015 at 7:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Deflategate


Pittsburgh_sign_(2981919088)The day after Championship Sunday, football fans were talking about “Deflategate.” By Thursday night the story was the lead on our local news and we don’t even have an NFL team.

If nothing else, the US takes our sports seriously. Football, which had so recently ascended to the top of the heap, replacing baseball as America’s game, has been struggling. 2014 was the year of disaster for the NFL, but the problems went back further.

What was it, 2007 when Spygate dominated the talk shows? New England (yes, the same team involved in this year’s debacle) broke NFL rules by filming an opposing team’s sideline during a game as their coaches sent signals to their players. A big deal? Most people didn’t think so, but it was against league rules.

Then in 2012 the New Orleans Saints were caught in the bounty scandal. Reportedly as many as 24 defensive players were paid for hard hits on opposing quarterbacks. The head coach, Sean Payton, received the stiffest penalty—a year’s suspension—because he knew about the program and did nothing to stop it.

A number of pundits, however, claimed that most teams had some similar program in place, but the Saints were the ones caught, and the League wanted to send a message to the others by the harsh sanctions.

Need I mention the Ray Rice mess that took place this past summer—domestic violence caught on camera, and the League suspended him for two weeks. When cries of protest arose, then Commissioner Roger Godell backtracked and handed down a tougher penalty. But when another video came out, the longer suspension was turned into an indefinite suspension, which Ray Rice contested, and won.

Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson came under fire because he took a switch to his young son. He received the full wrath of the commissioner’s office—they weren’t going to pull another Ray Rice.

Once the season got started, things seemed to quiet down—only a few drug suspensions, the $70,000 Ndamukong Suh fine for stepping on Aaron Rogers, purposefully—just average stuff.

But now, with deflategate, we’re back to the issue of cheating, specifically the charge that someone on New England’s sideline deflated the game footballs in the AFC Championship, reducing the pressure by two pounds in 11 of the 12 game balls. Under inflated footballs. The way Tom Brady likes it.

Is this really such a horrible crime, fans ask, especially those hoping for a Patriot Super Bowl victory. I mean, no one got clocked on camera, no pictures exist of bruising on a child’s body. No money exchanged hands at the expense of purposeful bodily harm. And no one was intentionally stepped on. What’s the big deal?

Add in the fact that no one thinks the Colts would have own the game if those balls had been properly inflated. In other words, the Pats cheated, but they would have won anyway.

So does that make cheating, not cheating?

And is cheating a big deal?

Well, in some schools, if you cheat you get kicked out. What if the NFL adopted that policy? If you cheat—take performance enhancing drugs, spy on the opponent, put a bounty on another player’s head, deflate footballs—you get kicked out of the League.

Which would elevate cheating to a level higher than domestic violence.

It’s not really an easy thing to determine. On one hand, we have a tendency to say, It’s just a game. Lighten up. But the reality is, pro football is big business. Not only are the players contracted for huge sums of money, the teams are raking in the green with their ticket prices and all that goes with attending games. Then there’s the league with all the merchandising and TV deals. And then we come to the real money connected to the sport: gambling. As my brother reminded me, millions of dollars are tied to NFL games, sometimes on the over-under of game scores. What have deflated balls (because who knows if the Pat’s quarterback would cheat in the Championship game, he hasn’t been cheating all season?) done to the scores and to the win/loss of millions of bettors?

But let’s pretend for a second that cheating didn’t cost anybody anything. It just gave one team a slight edge which they didn’t need anyway.

Is there really nothing wrong with them sending the message to every kid out there, Do anything, even break the rules, in order to win.

We’ve been sending that message for some time. Al Davis, when he coached the Oakland Raiders, used to say, Just win, baby. His teams did all they could, including things that weren’t legal, to win games. In fact, some of the rules the NFL has now were put in to stop some of the shenanigans the Raiders pulled (like fumble the ball forward or bat it forward to get the necessary yards for a first down, or to score a touchdown).

And now it’s the Patriots. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, no matter what happens afterward, the message will be clear—cheaters do prosper.

But we’ve been sending that message through other avenues than sports—corporate greed, for example, and government corruption. CEOs can lead their companies into bankruptcy and still collect million dollar bonuses. Lobbyists can bribe, uh grease the palms, no give payola, how about, gift legislators who they wish to influence, and the process is “legal.”

Maybe it’s time we say enough with the cheating. People need to play fair. Hard work, not hard cash or who you know or how much you can get by with, should enable someone to get ahead.

So I say, throw the book at the Patriots. They have a history of cheating and of walking as close to the line as they can get when it comes to playing by the rules. Just ask Baltimore about the six eligible receivers stunt the Patriots pulled the week before deflategate.

Cheaters ought not prosper, and if the NFL commissioner’s office doesn’t see that and doesn’t take action, more than “the integrity of the game” will be lost.

Published in: on January 23, 2015 at 6:28 pm  Comments Off on Deflategate  
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Ray Rice And Forgiveness


Tony DungyTony Dungy, former NFL coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and before that, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spoke out yesterday about Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice who made headlines this off season when a video surfaced showing him drag his unconscious fiancée (Janay, now his wife) out of a hotel elevator. Reports surfaced that he had knocked her unconscious.

Both Rice and Janay were arrested, with Rice eventually indicted on aggravated assault charges. Her charge of assault was later dropped.

Rice pleaded not guilty, then applied for and was accepted in a program for first-time offenders which, among other things, required him to attend regular counseling.

The NFL responded to the incident by suspending him for two games. Two. Games.

Many people were irate, and even those with no interest in football and no feminist ax to grind thought it was ridiculous that a man could knock a woman unconscious and receive a lesser penalty than someone who tested positive for a banned substance. The message seemed to be, it’s not good to hurt others, but it’s twice as bad to hurt yourself.

The NFL commissioner quickly saw the error of his decision and created a new policy for domestic abuse.

And then the public saw the punch for themselves. Ever-helpful TMZ aired a video of Rice and Janay inside the elevator which showed him delivering a blow that sent her against the railing, knocking her unconscious.

For some reason, seeing him hit her ignited a mob mentality against Rice, as if what people saw on film was a new and different incident from the one they witnessed after the fact, with him dragging her body off the elevator.

Rice’s team released him and some people are suggesting the NFL should give him a lifetime ban. As it is, they suspended him indefinitely.

Enter Tony Dungy, who happens also to be a Christian and is currently working as a football analyst for NBC. In an interview with WFLA, he was asked if Ray Rice deserves a second chance.

“He doesn’t deserve a second chance yet,” Dungy said. “Second chances come to those who show that they have changed. Now to me, if he does that, then yes, we should give them a second chance. I’m not one to say one mistake is the end of your life.” (EXCLUSIVE: TONY DUNGY ON RAY RICE: “He does not deserve a second chance – yet”

I have to say, the latest events baffle me. I personally found the most disturbing part of this story to be Rice dragging Janay’s body from the elevator. How lacking in compassion. If one of his teammates was lying unconscious on the field, would he grab hold of him and drag him to the sidelines?

The NFL has all kinds of protocols for head trauma and neck injuries. How did Rice know Janay didn’t have a serious, life-threatening injury? Instead of caring for her, though, or calling for help, he dragged her off the elevator.

To me that act was unconscionable.

But guess what? Her body sprawled on the floor of the elevator had a cause. The arrest and subsequent charges, followed by Rice’s decision to apply for the first-time domestic violence offenders program, made it clear she didn’t spontaneously drop to the ground. In fact, Rice was the cause.

So why was everyone shocked when the video came out showing that yes, Rice was the cause? Now that people can see it with their own eyes, is the act somehow worse? Worse than him dragging her body along the floor and out of the elevator?

Ultimately, Tony Dungy is right, though. We all need a second chance, though we don’t deserve one. The only thing that qualifies us for a second chance is change. But Dungy pointed to the fly in this NFL messy ointment: “Hard thing is, how can you prove you’ve changed, changed the way you live.”

Truth is, people can change on the outside, but their inner nature remains the same. Alcoholics who enter treatment learn, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. However, those who recover determine not to act according to their nature.

So much sinful behavior seems to have this addictive component, if the experts are to be believed—pedophilia, drug use, domestic violence, pornography.

So where does forgiveness fit into all this? And second chances. I suspect Tony Dungy was answering the question in the interview from a pragmatic perspective. But as a Christian, he knows change not only doesn’t come over night, real change doesn’t happen as a result of self effort.

Instead, Ray Rice needs a fundamental change. He needs to lay aside the old self “with its evil practices,” as Paul put it in Colossians, and put on the new self who is being renewed “according to the image of the one who created him.” This is the fundamental change of new birth—spiritual birth.

Peter makes the process of this change clear:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

Later in that chapter, he makes it clear that the tool God uses to bring about this change is His word:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-15)

In reality, forgiveness precedes change, but it’s God’s forgiveness that He initiates because of His mercy and through the work of His Son, a forgiveness that we learn of through the preaching of His word.

Then, and only then, can lasting change, fundamental change, take place.

Published in: on September 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off on Ray Rice And Forgiveness  
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