Friday, April 18, 2014

Good News On Good Friday

When my wife was a little girl she had the opportunity to spend a few years in Africa as her parents were called to serve in the mission field. Over the past 10 years I have heard numerous stories (many of them more than 10 times apiece) about their time there but one of my favorites involves Lori’s grandpa. Lori’s grandparents weren’t about to let an ocean separate them from seeing their beloved grandchild grow up so they made arrangements to visit for an extended time. It was in their preparation for this journey that they discovered something funny. Lori’s grandpa had been celebrating his birthday on the wrong day for close to 60 years! Grandpa Joner was a twin and they just happened to be born on opposite sides of midnight. Unfortunately his sibling died at an early age and, somewhere along the way, the birth order of the twins got mixed up. Family members regularly comment, "What someone won’t do to have 2 birthdays!"

He’s not alone in birthday mixups. My dad was born in 1937 and is one of 13 kids. Trying to keep all of those birthdays in order was a bit of a challenge and along the way his got goofed up. While celebrating as a youngster on what he thought was his birthday his older sister came home to visit and was wondering why they were celebrating on that day. She insisted his birthday was earlier in the week and after checking the birth certificate the mistake was undeniable.

Most years I celebrate my 2nd birthday on the wrong day. My first birthday is easy to remember because it is a ‘day that will live in infamy’. (December 7th, 1978) I never get confused about that birthday. My 2nd birthday (April 17th, 1992) is always trickier for me to remember because I associate it almost exclusively with Good Friday. Most years it doesn’t fall on Good Friday but I prefer celebrating my birthday on this day because of what happened on the first Good Friday. So instead of doing a birthday post yesterday, I’m doing it today.

April 17, 1992 is simultaneously the worst and most amazing day of my life. Three days earlier a classmate and friend took his own life and he was laid to rest on Good Friday. On Tuesday we had a track meet and the last event was the 4x200 relay which we were both on. Except for that meet. He was ineligible because of one of his grades. Instead of running the 3rd leg of the relay and handing off to me on the opposite side of the track he simply sat on the bench a few feet from me while I waited for someone else to do his leg of the race. I can’t remember what we talked about as he sat and I waited for the race to start but it probably had something to do with school break that started on Wednesday. A couple of hours later he was gone.


Following the funeral three days later I sat in my room alone with all of my unanswered questions. I had plenty of questions. Why did he do this? What could have stopped him from doing this? And on and on the questions went. When it dawned on me that it was Good Friday I asked one question that did not go unanswered. I thought, "This is the worst day of my life! What possibly could be good about THIS day?" I didn’t expect an answer because quite honestly I didn’t think there was an answer. The answer was simply this, "I know how you feel." This realization/revelation did not come about because I sat around pondering the Easter stories I heard growing up. Never before had a Sunday School teacher connected Jesus’ suffering with my suffering. Until that day the Easter story revolved around the good news of his resurrection and eternal life. But on this day the good news of Good Friday was crystal clear. I was not alone. God was no stranger to suffering and loss and death because of what happened on Good Friday. In that instant God was no stranger to me.  


 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Uninvited: March Madness and the Church


Is your bracket filled out? My bracket is completed and looks nice until I have to start marking out my failed picks. My wife and I do a little bit of wagering on who can fill out the best bracket and this year was a little more exciting making our picks when the NCAA bracket was released. As I have mentioned before, my wife and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage this month and so we will be enjoying an Elite 8 game in Indianapolis as a fun way to celebrate. We are both fans of college basketball and both of our favorite teams (Duke and the University of Kentucky) happen to be in the Midwest Region which will be played in Indy. Hopefully, one or both of us get to see our teams play live for the first time!

The big first step for our teams was getting the invitation to the ‘big dance’ as it is so often called. Sports analysts often make comments about getting their dancing shoes ready or about whether Cinderella’s shoes will fit the particular team hoping to be in the tournament. Since Lori and I cheer for a couple of the top programs in the history of the game we rarely have to worry about getting an invitation. Each year there are teams on the ‘bubble’, unsure of whether they will get an invitation or not. Analysts give their list of the last 5 making it in and the last 5 who missed the dance altogether.

There are 351 Division 1 NCAA teams but only 68 get the chance to play in this tournament. There is, however, another tournament that the rejected teams have a chance to play in called the National Invitational Tournament, or just NIT. As you can probably already guess, even if you’re not a sports enthusiast, this isn’t the tournament that teams were hoping to play in at the end of the year and NIT gets a negative connotation added to it. Fans who want to let an opponent know they are a step down from ‘their beloved team’ need only chant ‘NIT, NIT, NIT’ to get in a cheap shot. Fans also have their own names for that tournament using the NIT initials. This is an excerpt from wikipedia:

"
Because the post-season NIT consists of teams that failed to receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT has been nicknamed the "Not Invited Tournament", "Never Important Tournament", "Nobody's Interested Tournament", "Needs Improvement Tournament", "No Important Team", "National Insignificant Tournament," or simply "Not In Tournament". It has also been called a tournament to see who the "69th best team" in the country is (since there are now 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament)."

Not Invited. Nobody’s Interested. Needs Improvement. You get the feeling. Have you been that team? Have you been that person who is left out? It hurts to be uninvited and unchosen. There is something special happening and you don’t get to be a part. I had this happen to me recently which is why the topic of being uninvited is on my mind in the context of March Madness and Easter.

Prior to the bracket being released, analysts critique the resume¢ of teams on the bubble. They use criteria such as a teams Rating Percentage Index (RPI) so you know how tough of a schedule they had. They look at wins against ranked opponents, losses to bad opponents, non-conference schedule, and on down the line as they evaluate whether a team has earned an invitation. The apostle Paul gives us his tourney resume¢ in Philippians 3:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.—Philippians 3:4-6


There is no question that this guy falls into the ‘Invited’ column if you’re looking for the most qualified Israelite, and by the looks of things he’s getting a #1 seed. In Genesis we see an invitation given to Abraham and his offspring to be God’s chosen people. Paul comes from a long line of invited people and his pedigree is spotless.

But what about the rest of us? What about us Gentiles (non-Jews) with no pedigree whatsoever? What about the uninvited?

I don’t want to jump ahead past Easter. It’s easy to do and there are many, like my wife, who prefer to do just that. Skip past the solemn Good Friday service so we can celebrate resurrection morning. I get that. No one wants to remember what it was like to be uninvited prior to the invitation that comes through Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago a huge proportion of today’s church folk would have been the ones on the outside. We would have been the uninvited. The early church started with a bunch of Jewish followers of Christ trying to figure out what to do about these previously uninvited Gentiles that were coming to faith in Christ. There were some that thought Gentiles needed to get circumcised and give up bacon so they would better fit the profile of an invited Jew. "If you want to be ‘in’ the church then you have to go through these hoops." There were others, like Paul, who opposed putting barriers in the way of unbelieving Gentiles. He even opposed Peter to his face! (Galatians 2:11-14)

Peter, the Rock, had trouble figuring out how to interact with people who had previously been uninvited and unclean and so he found himself acting one way with his invited buddies and another with his newly invited buddies. It was awkward to say the least. Circumcision conversations generally are. Despite the difficulties, the early church managed to plow on through toward unity in the power of the Spirit.

We still have a few weeks until Easter and reconnecting with church history means reconnecting with what it means to be uninvited. That’s where the story for a majority of us starts. We were not God’s people. He was not our God. And along comes Jesus proclaiming good news to the uninvited.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bless the Lord O My Throat.....

Here in a couple weeks my wife and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage. Over the course of our marriage I have ruined countless songs by changing the original words in my attempt to be funny or flirty. And so, when a song that I have altered comes on the radio or is being sung in church, my wife immediately looks at me and shakes her head with a smirk on her face.

Anybody else do this sort of thing? There are plenty of people who make horrible mistakes because it may be difficult to pick up on the actual lyrics when listening to a song on the radio. I recently saw an episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon where he shared failed lyrics to popular songs and it got me reflecting on my adaptations. While most of mine are intended to be funny or flirty there is one lyrical change that I do for the ‘soul’ purpose of it being helpful imagery as I sing.

The lyrical switch that I make is to sing the word ‘throat’ in place of the word ‘soul’. One of the more popular and recurring songs in worship services for the past year has been Matt Redman’s "10,000 Reasons". This song is a perfect place for such an exchange of words because it conveys one of the specific purposes of a throat and soul.

Bless the Lord, O my throat
O my throat
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my throat
I’ll worship Your holy name

 

Our throat is an important organ of communication. While our throat is not the only way in which we communicate with others it is by all means the first one that we use as little babies crying out. And while our throat is the organ that we use to cry out in our need it is simultaneously the organ by which we receive the very things that we need. Our throat cries out and our throat is the way in which our bodies receive what it needs. This dual purpose of crying out and being filled are two purposes we see connected to an Old Testament understanding of a human ‘soul’. Time and again in scripture we see our souls, our throats, as the vessels crying out to God in our emptiness and singing praise to the God who fills these earthen vessels.

We are thirsty and cry out through our throat. 

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.--Psalm 42:1


My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.--Psalm 84:2

It is the Lord who fills, refreshes and strengthens this throat.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.--Psalm 23:1-3


 
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.--Psalm 62:5


Our throats sing praise to the Lord who filled us.
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s--Psalm 103:1-5



Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.--Psalm 146:1-2


 
My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul.--Psalm 108:1

 
What I find most interesting about the use of the word ‘soul’ in the Old Testament is how consistently it is used in the context of weakness and frailty. The soul is in anguish. It is downtrodden and thirsty. It is weary and sorrowful. That is the state of our souls apart from the God who fills us. The sorry and weak nature of our souls is the reason we cry out to God in our emptiness. All praise be to the God who hears those cries and fills us, but he doesn’t just fill us to the brim. He fills us to the point of overflowing and it is out of the abundance of God’s grace that our cries of anguish turn into cries of praise.

Bless the Lord
O my throat
And all that is within me
Bless his holy name

Friday, January 31, 2014

Baby Steps into the Light


One of the more popular games for kids to play is ‘Hide and Seek’. You don’t need any equipment like traditional sports and you really don't need many other kids in order to play. One of the best, and scariest, times to play is when it is dark outside. The number of places to hide increases significantly when it is dark and the ‘seeker’ is limited in their ability to find you. My favorite experience playing ‘Hide and Seek’ was when I was at a retreat with a group of teens and we were staying in a decent sized lodge. With the windows completely covered and with it being nighttime outside, the inside of the lodge was completely dark. My trick as a seeker was to be extremely quiet and listen for someone breathing or make fart noises and see if anyone laughed. My guess is that many of you have some fun and funny experiences playing this game as well. I also imagine that many of you, like myself, have also experienced the not so funny version of this game.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"—Genesis 3:8-9

The game that we play, even as adults, is nothing new. Our instinctive response when we’ve done something wrong is to hide. Whether we, ourselves, are hiding or we are just hiding the evidence of what we’ve done, there is a natural tendency to hide. And just like our childhood game, the best place to hide is in the dark. We keep the doors and windows to our lives closed in order that we may have an element of secrecy to our inner workings. The least little crack in our exterior can be pierced by light in a way that makes us vulnerable and so we are vigilant in our efforts to keep things in the dark.

Chances are, if you were a part of a youth group in the 90’s you are pretty familiar with the DC Talk song I’m going to mention. While "Jesus Freak" was the favorite of many of my peers, I was attracted to "In the Light". I went from "I wanna be like Mike" as a basketball junkee to "I wanna be in the light" as a follower of Christ. In 1995, when this song was released, I had been trying to figure out this Christianity thing for about 2 ½ years and this song spoke to the inner desire of my heart to be more like Christ. In order to be more like him, I needed light to be shed on my life in a way that revealed everything I had been hiding. The things in the darkness were not like him in the least. Almost 20 years later this song still resonates with me for a couple reasons. First, I still desire to be more like Christ. Second, I still have to deal with darkness.

According to Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, to be 99% known is to be unknown. The 1% of our lives that is in darkness, the 1% that is hiding, is what makes all the difference in our lives. I would imagine that many of us are hiding much more than 1% of our lives from the view of others and whatever that percentage is for you, it’s time to drag it into the light. Here’s why:

That 1% or more is keeping you from the realization that you are truly loved. There’s a reason why people hide things from others. It’s the sense that they wouldn’t love me if they knew what I’ve been through. They wouldn’t love me if they knew what I’ve done. They wouldn’t love me if they knew the 1% I'm hiding. And so, people go through life 99% known with the heavy burden of thinking that they wouldn’t be loved if they were 100% known. The options get boiled down to being unknown and loved or known and unloved. The possibility of being fully known and fully loved seems unrealistic but that’s exactly what we see in scripture. 


But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? –Galatians 4:9

Even when we were living in darkness, in hiding, God knew everything about us. In our own silly and childlike way, we thought we could hide from God. Like Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes, we think that God really doesn’t know where we are. The message of the cross is that God knows us and God loves us. 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.—Romans 5:8

Our sin is not hidden from his sight and yet it did not keep Him from loving us. Paul’s appeal to the Galatian church is that it would not instinctively go back into slavery, into hiding. Their lives had been brought out into the light where they can be free, so why would they want to enter back into a life where they are enslaved to all of the things that go along with living in darkness? I’ll reference another DC Talk song from the same album: What if I Stumble? Each and every time we stumble there is a temptation to return to a life of hiding. It’s awkward to stumble in the daylight. People see us fall and it can be uncomfortable and defeating. The bigger the fall, the bigger the desire is to hide it.

Stepping into the light isn’t easy. Trust me. I’ve spent the good part of 3 years taking baby steps (What About Bob?) in my own life with my 1%. (It’s probably closer to 15%) With each step that I take in the direction of being known, the next step is a bit easier. Being known isn’t as scary as it used to be or as scary as I thought it would be. I am so thankful for the providential relationships, as Andy Stanley would refer to them, in my life. They are the folks that God has placed in my life at the time when I needed them. They were the loving and supportive people who sat through my first awkward baby steps into the light. Who are those people in your life and how can you start to take those steps into the light with them? If you are in the light, stay there. No matter how bad you stumble, trying to hide is unhelpful. In the darkness you will stumble again and again, but in the light you will see more clearly the obstacles in your path so that you can keep in step with the Spirit.


Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. –Galatians 5:25

 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Coaching Lessons


For those of you that participated in high school athletics, I hope that you never had ‘that parent’ at your game.  Every athlete knows the parent I’m talking about. The parent that is yelling at the referee…..and the coach……and their kid. Pretty much, the parent wanting their voice to be heard. I didn’t have ‘that parent’ because my parents didn’t think it was their job to do anything aside from cheer for me. It was my coach’s responsibility to yell out directions and it was my responsibility to try and follow them as best I could. A majority of the time coaches have to yell simply to be heard because of the immense noise during a game. Fill a gym with opposing fans and there is quite an obstacle for a player trying to hear his coach and so it’s important for a player to know his coach’s voice. His voice needs to stand out or you may be led astray and confused by the wrong voice. The time spent in practice prior to the games and the crowds allows a player to become familiar with his coach. The guiding and directive voice heard for a couple hours a day, 4 or 5 days a week, has a way of standing out from the crowd and turning down the volume of the ‘that parent’ and the fans.

Last week was the start of the basketball season for the kids I work with. One thing I regularly remind the kids during practice is that if they’re not looking me they’re not listening to me. This has a twofold purpose. First, it lets me see that they are indeed paying attention to me and not distracted by something or simply letting their mind wander. I need to know that they are listening. While they may argue that they don’t have to see me in order hear me, the fact of the matter is that they do. The second purpose for them looking at me when I’m talking is that they get to see what I’m doing. I’m a pretty demonstrative person, which is necessary when coaching almost any sport. When explaining something like ‘setting a screen for your teammate’ I am not just saying what they need to do. I talk with my hands and feet just as much as with my mouth. While talking I am showing them how to do it. While running through an offensive rotation, I don’t want them setting a screen on an imaginary defender so I stand in as an example. This allows me to see that each one is setting an appropriate screen or give them guidance if something needs to be improved upon.

Isn’t that what we see Jesus doing? His ministry did not consist of simply telling us what we need to do. Jesus didn’t tell us to pray for those who persecute us and then leave us wondering what that looks like. Instead, we see Jesus on the cross praying that his Father would forgive his persecutors because they don’t know what they’re doing. What he taught and how he lived provides us with a complete lesson necessary for us to become like him.

Over the 6 years that I played organized basketball, from 7th-12th grade, I had 4 different coaches. While the basics of basketball didn’t change with each new coach, there were some philosophical or systemic differences that affected which type of offense or defense we played. What we did, or attempted to do, on the court was a reflection of what our coach taught in practice. What I find funny is that there are many aspects of what I do now as a coach that is a reflection of how I was coached. I may not remember which specific coach taught me particular things but I do know that I didn’t come up with them on my own. I resemble my coaches in what I say and do with my kids on the court.

What we say and do in this world, as believers, is a reflection of our Coach. I know that there were many times, especially early on as a player, that I wasn’t a good reflection of my coach because I was young and very inexperienced. Now, as a coach myself, I know at the onset of another season that this new group of kids will look nothing like me at first. There is a lot of coaching to do, but my hope is that by the end of the season they will have developed as individuals and as a team. Maybe they will even look a bit like me when all is said and done!

"When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice."—John 10:4

When it comes to our Christian walk, do we know our coach’s voice? Does it stand out in the midst of competing voices because we are deeply familiar with it or is it drowned out by the noise of the crowd? A shepherd and his sheep are familiar with each other because of the time they spend together. In order to be familiar with the voice of our Coach we need to be together.

"..wisdom is proved right by her deeds."—Jesus (Matthew 11:19)

When it comes to practice (Yes, Allen Iverson, I’m talking about practice.) are we giving our full attention to the Coach? Are we watching as well as listening? While it is easy to put a special level of importance on the ‘Red Letters’ (Jesus’ words) in the gospels, they ultimately find their value in what Jesus does.

"But Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen."—2 Peter 3:18

And lastly, how much do we look like our Coach? Fortunately, as Christians, we don’t have a new coach every so many years. The goals and objectives are not moving targets and so each year we have the opportunity to continue growing in the same direction. That is, growing in Christlikeness.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

#SorryNotSorry

I know you’ve done this yourself. If you have little kids you’ve seen this happen before your very eyes. When a Hollywood movie star does it, you stand and applaud their Oscar winning performance knowing full well that it’s a sham. We all know how the ‘Sorry, not sorry’ works. Whether it’s apologizing for hitting a sibling or apologizing for the most recent offensive thing to cross the lips of an athlete or celebrity, we all know a false apology when we see one. They may be sorry that they got caught, or sorry that you were offended, but it is not the kind of sorrow they are trying to portray or want you to buy. Slow movements. Keep your head down. Lower your voice a few decibels. "I’m sorry for throwing my toy at your head." Ten minutes later the apology is forgotten but you have learned a lesson. You didn’t learn ‘your’ lesson but ‘a’ lesson. Don’t get caught next time or at least have an excuse ready if you do.

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul does his own ‘Sorry, not sorry’ and then tells us about another kind of ‘Sorry, not sorry’:


Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.—2Corinthians 7:8-10

If you know anything about the church in Corinth you already know that it was MESSED UP! A young guy is sleeping with his stepmother, people are gorging themselves on the Lord’s Supper so that some don’t even get any, and there are divisions everywhere. The letter Paul refers to was probably tough to write and even tougher to read or listen to. He is sorry that he had to send that letter because he doesn’t know how they will respond. Earlier, in chapter 2 he says:

Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.—2 Corinthians 2:8

He sends the letter off, unsure of how things will go, but here in chapter 7 we see that Paul’s regret turned to happiness because of what actually happened in the church that he loves. The people in Corinth are sorry! But not just any kind of sorry, they are ‘Sorry, Really Sorry’ and that true kind of sorrow leads to repentance and salvation.

 
Before we get to our New Year’s Resolutions I want to suggest that we start with a big ‘R’ that we see in scripture: Repent. As we kickoff 2014 take a look at how Jesus kicks off his ministry.


From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."—Matthew 4:17

Jesus’ opening message has us dealing in a very particular way with our past as a way of preparing for the coming kingdom, and that is the way of repentance. Before we can step into something new (a new year that is on our doorstep) it is important that we adequately and honestly address where we are coming from (a year that is in the books). Many times we look back and see a year that has some missed opportunities or things we wish we had done different. We can look back in a way that fills us with regret for past actions or keeps us from being hopeful about the future. However, Paul is clear that Godly sorrow leaves no regret and Jesus is clear that this coming kingdom is something worth hoping for. The sorrow and repentance that they are talking about lead to something worthwhile.

Did you host any gatherings during this holiday season? If you did, I’m pretty sure you did a decent amount of cleaning before anyone arrived. If you’re a bit on the OCD side like myself you probably had a nice little checklist to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Get things clean before people can come in. Repentance isn’t about cleaning ourselves up first. Isn’t that what most New Year’s Resolutions are about? We list our intentions to get ourselves straightened out and cleaned up so we are presentable by this time next year? Repentance is about inviting someone into the mess we’ve made. Isn’t that exactly what we celebrated last week? Christ entered into our mess before we cleaned up. We didn’t even have a room ready for him.

Repentance is hard to do. Either we don’t want to admit there’s a mess or we don’t want to let someone else try and fix it. Have you ever seen how tough it is for people on the show Hoarders to let go of things? They are afraid to let others clean things up because of what they may lose in the process, so they fight to be in control of the cleanup. How crazy is that! In the midst of the absolute chaos that they created they want to be in control! How easy is it for us to have that same posture towards God when it comes to getting our lives together?

Being sorrowful and repentant frees us up for Christ to take residence within us.

Jesus,

Sorry for my mess. Thank you for coming anyway.

Love,

Ryan

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fowl Ball: America's Pastime Meets Duck Dynasty

I know that many of you may still be wondering how this NFL regular season is going to finish up but did you know that MLB Spring Training is only 2 months away? I am not much of a baseball fan but I know a few people who are counting down the days to a new season. One of the most exhilerating aspects of America’s pastime is the long ball, the home run. Back in the late 90’s I was one of those people drawn in by the home run chase of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The hoopla surrounding their home run slugging was about as juiced as they were, and we ate it up. As that season and the next went along, the only stat we were following was the home run total. However, with big beefy guys swinging a bat as hard as they could, it was inevitable that they were also going to swing and miss. A lot. And so it’s not surprising that many of the top homerun hitters also lead the league in being struckout. While homeruns are exciting, being struckout can be embarrassing, especially as wildly as some of these guys swing at the ball. In generating power, they lose a bit of their control and there is a tendency to swing hard at almost everything.

The best pure hitters in the game know how to wait for their pitch. They are excellent at reading the pitch and knowing when it’s a good thing to swing at. A pitcher can throw a myriad of pitches and not every batter has the same level of success with certain pitches, so it’s vital that a batter know what they’re good at and what they’re not. They pick their spot and try to get in a good situation where they can get a good pitch and a good opportunity to get on base. They may not hit as many homeruns, but they rarely find themselves embarrassed by a pitch. Homeruns can energize a crowd but players with a high OBP (On Base Percentage) are what help win games and pure hitters have a smart swing and a keen eye for getting on base.

Another aspect of baseball I’d like to mention before getting to the recent situation involving Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson is the perspective of the fans in the stands. Even though I’m not a big baseball fan, as I earlier mentioned, I do enjoy going to a White Sox game from time to time. I love the smell of the food and the evenly cut grass with straight lines makes my OCD heart content. I’ve been there enough times to know that different sections can have very different perspectives. Sitting in the upperdeck and close to homeplate means that almost every high flyball looks like it just may be a homer. You stand up in anticipation but it didn’t even make it out of the infield. It isn’t until the ball actually lands that you see where the ball was heading. Sometimes you are certain that the ball is "going going gone" only to find that the ball trajectory was curving or the wind was pushing/pulling the ball until it lands foul. Our perspective can be flawed.

This past week statements made by Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty patriarch, caused quite a firestorm on media outlets and the interwebs. As soon as I caught wind of what happened I knew it was going to be a doozy of a week and attempted to stay off of facebook as much as possible to avoid getting drawn in. I was mildly successful and had enough time away from the online activity to really process things a bit. And so, instead of posting a comment here or a comment there and ending up in all of the emotionally charged back and forth that so easily happens, I’m doing this post.

Let me first state that I’ve seen quite a few episodes of the show. We don’t have television programming at home but there always seems to be a marathon of Duck Dynasty going on when I’m spending a holiday with family who do have cable. So I’m familiar with that aspect. I’m also familiar with their personal testimonies shared outside of the actual show. This past Father’s Day, my redneck pastor interviewed 3 of Phil’s boys as a way to talk about fatherhood and the role of faith within their family. They shared their lives with all of their imperfections along with the redemptive work of God every step of the way. And lastly, I’m familiar with the unbelievable amount of marketing that has it’s fingerprints on everything it can get a hold of. I’m guessing that if you’re not a Duck Dynasty type of person, you can’t possibly stand going to Walmart. Their merchandise is everywhere. All that being said, "Here. We. Go."

In his interview with GQ magazine, Phil swung at a pitch and hit the ball hard and far. With every tweet, status update and shared meme this ball went further and further. All across my newsfeed I saw Christians jump out of their seats and start to applaud this pivotal and game changing homerun. But it wasn’t a homerun. Not even close. I’ve seen Phil hit homeruns. Many times! Each and every time he shares his story, and how God intervened to make it His story through the redemptive work of Christ, Phil hits a homerun you can’t deny. "You can put it on the board……Yes!" as Ken Harrelson says for each White Sox homer. When Phil swings at an opportunity to share God’s work in his life and that of his family, it results in a ridiculous amount of glory to God, rather than a bunch of ridiculousness. The opportunity to share about God’s work in our lives is a pitch down the middle of the plate that each of us as followers of Christ ought to hit with great success. Unfortunately, I don’t think we swing at that one nearly as often as we should. You can still strike out even if you didn’t swing the bat and I think many of us do just that every time we fail to share what God is doing in our midst.

In this case, however, Phil did swing and did make contact but this ball went ‘fowl’. We may disagree on how ‘fowl’ this ball went (some say horribly offensive and homophobic, others say he was crass or was just the way he says stuff) but when it comes to baseball a foulball is a foulball. It doesn’t matter if it was just a couple feet from the post in the outfield or spins back into the backstop wall. It’s still foul. Even after a ‘fowlball’ Phil is not out of the game and will have other opportunities to swing. I just hope he saves his swing for ‘his pitch’.

There are pitches that every batter should be able to hit and there are opportunities that every Christian should swing at. However, batters can gain experience in hitting pitches that fall just outside the strike zone. Some may be able to swing at ‘high and tight’ or ‘low and away’ with success if it fits with who they are as a batter and with enough practice. A pitch that may be tough for one batter may be a piece of cake for another. In swinging at a pitch about the definition of sin during an interview with a men’s fashion magazine representative I think Phil was swinging at a loaded pitch. The pitch had something on it and he went for it. He’s a smart guy and maybe he knew it and swung anyway. Homerun hitters think they can hit everything and so maybe pride was an issue in tackling this question. He thought he could handle it fine. Regardless, in my opinion, the swing looked horrible. I know plenty of people who could have at least got on base safely on that pitch. I know others who could have hit that pitch over the left field, center field, or right field wall. That’s because it’s their pitch. They’ve seen that pitch before and they’re more than capable of a smooth swing. This didn’t look like Phil’s pitch.

This is not to say that a Christian has to have a personal experience or superior depth of knowledge about the issues Phil addressed in order to swing at an opportunity like he had. For example: There are followers of Christ who have drug addiction in their past or even their present which is a part of His story and theirs. Their experiences give them an ability to swing at things pertaining to addiction and faith with a tremendous amount of courage. What’s funny is that I can swing at some of the same pitches they face even though I’ve never dealt with substance abuse addiction and honestly know very little about drugs. I have spent the last 10 years working with teenage guys struggling with addiction, broken homes and all that goes along with growing up. I can take a swing at some of those questions whereas others probably shouldn’t.

My overall sense of things is that this just wasn’t Phil’s pitch. He shouldn’t have swung as wildly as he did for one simple reason: He didn’t have to. When I ask someone a question it is usually because there is something I don’t know and I venture that most people knew where Phil stood on this issue long before this pitch. The way in which he went about giving us an anatomy lesson was unhelpful and unnecessary. I can’t speak for what his experience is on this issue but maybe there was something that made him feel qualified to do what he did. Maybe there wasn’t. Regardless, he needs to go back and ‘watch the tape’ on this swing. Where did it get us? Right back in the middle of another divisive debate. He needs to wait for his pitch until or unless he is able to make a better swing at issues of sexuality. There are other batters who may be better equipped to take a swing at this one. By waiting for his pitch, the one that allows him to share his story and His story, he can advance the runner and advance God’s Kingdom. Put that one one the board…….or newsfeed.