What Others Say

"Thank you for the words of wisdom in today’s Abilene Reporter News. In the midst of wars violence and pandemics, your words were so soft spoken and calming."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween 10-29-2009

This Saturday night miniature ghosts, goblins and super heroes will emerge from houses at dusk to comb the streets in search of treats. I always enjoyed taking our kids trick-or-treating in our neighborhood, watching children hold open hopeful bags, peering into their dark recesses trying to determine what luck they might have had at the door. A costumed ghoul that jumped from the bushes once convinced our five-year-old that he had enough candy for one night.

I still enjoy little ones ringing our door bell. I enjoy trying to guess who is hiding behind the princess mask, what little boy is growling in the Ninja Turtle costume. I especially like to have ET and Yoda drop by for a visit with their pet ghost-dog. Most of them are very polite ghosts, goblins and super heroes. They almost always say, “Thank you.”

Halloween, of course, has its dark side. Our anonymous neighborhoods, nightly news reports of abducted children and maps dotted with sexual predators have erased the naïve world of Halloween past. We are more aware that we live in a dangerous world where evil is real and present.

Many churches are more than a little uncomfortable with Halloween. After all, it has definite pagan roots. On the one hand, it is enjoyable to celebrate community with imagination, fantasy and neighborly generosity. On the other hand, there are demonic and destructive forces at work in the world that kill and destroy. It is one thing to celebrate fall and harvest and indulge in imagination. It is another to celebrate the occult, witchcraft, the devil and demons.

Many struggle with addictions and impulses they seem unable to control. They find themselves on a collision course with destruction, both their own and the destruction of those they love. Our world needs the deliverance from evil that Jesus offers.

Jesus once met a man who was outcast from his community. He lived among the tombs of the dead, often cutting himself with sharp stones. Local citizens tried to control him by putting him in chains, but he broke the chains and escaped back to his home among the graves. When Jesus ordered the demons that were destroying the man to leave him they entered a nearby herd of swine that immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned. The man was healed. When his neighbors found him, he was in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, no longer a threat to himself or to them. But it scared them. They asked Jesus to leave their country and not to come back. I guess forces that we cannot understand or control always scare us.

We can celebrate Halloween as an occasion to enjoy our children and their imagination. We can celebrate the turning leaves, dry corn, pumpkins and harvest. Halloween can also serve as a reminder that in our struggles with the unseen forces of good and evil, both in our hearts and in the world, we have a deliverer.

Encouragement Factor 10-21-2009

We have all seen it, the power of encouragement. It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” The length of every football field is 100 yards, every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard. But one thing is different. One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t. The cheers of encouragement that fill the stadiums for the home team make a difference. People perform better when they are cheered on.

We also know the ravages of discouragement. Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a deadly downward spiral. Some remarkable people have the ability to resist discouragement and retain their focus. Tiger Woods has it when he has hit a series of bad shots or finished a bad round of golf. He keeps his spirits up. But most of us are more vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without.

The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt. But God always encourages us, just as Jesus encouraged the heartbroken father whose daughter had died, “Stop fearing, only believe!” (Mark 5:36). God is our constant encourager. He believes in us. He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). Moses’ success depended upon how well he encouraged Joshua. (Deu.1:38, 3:38).
During his father’s funeral, Ted Kennedy Jr. recounted the turning point of his life as a twelve year old boy. He had just lost his leg to bone cancer. He says, “ … a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington D.C. And my father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer, and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway.
And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. And it wasn't easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick. And as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice. And I started to cry and I said, “I can't do this. I said, I'll never be able to climb up that hill.”
And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget, he said, ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.’
Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top. And you know, at age 12 losing your leg pretty much seems like the end of the world. But as I climbed on to his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK.”

Encourage someone who needs it. It might be the most important thing you will do today, this week or in your lifetime.

Beyond Religion 10-14-2009

A young friend of mine recently wrote on his facebook page, “Religion is still the opiate of the masses.” He got some interesting responses. One person agreed with him. Another wrote, “It can’t be. If it was, I would take it for recreational purposes.” Of course the statement originated with Karl Marx when he was developing the Communist Manifesto, the philosophical foundation that would eradicate religion in Russia for seventy-five years. When I visited Moscow and Lenin’s tomb nine years ago the hopeless despair left in atheism’s wake was palpable.

My first inclination, like many, is to jump to the defense of religion. But that might not be the most thoughtful response. After all, religion killed Jesus. The Roman government reluctantly carried out the crucifixion only after Pilate had repeatedly tried to release Jesus concluding, “I find no fault in him.” It was the religious leaders of Jerusalem who incited the crowds and demanded Jesus be crucified.

Mankind is incurably religious. Every culture on every continent has spawned religion. And, more often than not, the results have not been good. 9-11 and the Twin Towers serve as a monuments to the deadly effects of Islamic Jihad. The Hindu caste system of India consigns millions to poverty without hope.

The Christian religion can often become corrupt, self serving and self absorbed. Perhaps Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, found credibility with so many because they suspect that religious systems can become politically vicious when their survival is threatened. Religion can become sick so that the mentally unstable justify atrocities against the innocent. We cannot forget the 909 people, including women and children, who voluntarily drank cyanide out of religious devotion to Jim Jones in Guyana. We shudder when we read the emerging story of Phillip Garrido who abducted Jaycee Dugard 18 years ago and claims to be a Christian.

Religion can become a poison, not just an opiate.

Jesus, on the other hand, makes people less selfish, more generous, fills them with hope and leads them to sacrificial efforts to help others. Jesus transformed a little Albanian girl named Agnes into Mother Teresa who spent her life living among the poor of Calcutta and caring for them. Faith in Jesus made William Wilberforce the leader of reform in England to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Faith in Jesus Christ changed a backwoods playboy from North Carolina into Billy Graham who preached grace and forgiveness to millions. Faith in Jesus Christ catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr from the backstreets of Atlanta into the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. The list is almost endless. Religion can be an opiate or a poison, but faith in Jesus Christ transforms the world into a better place.

State Fair 10-7-2009

Oprah shined the national spotlight on the State Fair of Texas this year. I have been visiting the State Fair since I was a kid, wandering the sprawling grounds that circle the Cotton Bowl, birth place of the Cowboys, site of the Texas OU shootout and the Grambling game. There is something about the State Fair. Maybe it’s Big Tex, standing at the entrance where he has stood for generations, welcoming all comers with his Texas drawl. Maybe it’s Fletcher’s corn dogs smothered in mustard and ketchup, or cotton candy, sugar sprinkled waffles, roasted turkey legs and the deep fried “whatever” that reflects the Texas motto, “If you can fry it, you can eat it!”

Maybe it’s the midway with barkers promising prizes for a ring toss, a plastic duck plucked from the pond, a water balloon filled with water guns or the bell rung by a powerful blow with the sledge hammer. It could be the rides rotating with screaming and squealing kids. Or maybe it’s the pig races, the animal barns with blue ribbons or the tastiest jams and jellies. It could be the bird show, hawks launched from the ferris wheel swooping low over our head to the crowd’s applause. It could be the auto show where the Mustang was introduced in 1964, where today’s cars are on display with gleaming chrome and glistening paint.

Most of all, I think, it is the people, people who come together to laugh and celebrate family, heritage and culture. I like to see parents pushing babies in strollers, children dancing with excitement, grey haired men and women smiling at private memories, and lovers lounging on the grass beside the reflection pool.

God loves people, and he must like laughter. If the laughter of our children thrills us, how much more does our laughter thrill Him. God likes to see people coming together to enjoy one another. That may be why Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast, providing new wine when the wine ran out. It may be the reason His teaching is filled with references to banquet feasts and parties, like the fatted calf killed and cooked to celebrate the prodigal’s return. Heaven is described as a great banquet feast, a mansion with many rooms, a place where all the peoples, cultures and languages of the world gather in celebration and joy.

The State Fair, of course, isn’t heaven. It certainly isn’t perfect. But Heaven is. Our moments of celebration and enjoyment are dim glimpses of what God has prepared in Heaven. The Bible says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” (Rev. 21:3-4). This, of course, is why Jesus came, so that we might experience glimpses of heaven here, and eternal life with Him in Heaven when we die.

Winning the War on Terror 9-30-2009

The failed attempt to bomb Fountain Place in Dallas last week brought back visions of the twin towers in New York. It also brought the war on terror closer to home, a stark reminder that we live in a different world since September 11, 2001. A year after 9-11, my wife and I visited ground zero in New York, stood in silence and pondered what happened there. Ground zero has become a pivot point in history. It is sobering to realize that there are now children in the second and third grades who were born after 9-11. They have never known any other world.

For every generation there are a few dates and places that stand as markers, places where the world as we knew it was altered. For my generation it was the assassination of JFK at Dealey Plaza, Neal Armstrong’s first step on the moon, Watergate, and 9-11. For my parents’ generation it was the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, D Day, Hiroshima and Nagasaki..

When the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, all our old securities collapsed with them. Prior to that moment, we lived with a sense that we were protected from the dangers and atrocities that plagued the rest of the world. All of our wars since the Civil War were fought on foreign soil, thousands of miles away. We watched images of Vietnam and Desert Storm, but they were distant places that did not threaten our neighborhoods or our work place. With 9-11, the security of two oceans that protected us from the enemy vanished. The whole idea of a “star wars” protective shield from missile attack became obsolete. Our world became far more dangerous than we had ever known it.

Every generation has lived with the threat of war, injustice and terror. When Jesus was born at Bethlehem Herod’s henchmen ransacked the city stripping infants from the arms of wailing mothers, dashing their sons to death upon the stones (Matthew 2:16-18). Jesus’ death by crucifixion was an act of terror. The Roman army created crucifixion as a gruesome public torture to strike fear and terror into the hearts of its citizens. Under Nero, Christians were burned upon crosses where they were crucified in the streets of Rome..

The resurrection of Jesus broke the grip of terror because it broke the grip of death. Early believers knew they were going to heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. Even Nero’s attempts to strike terror into their hearts could not stamp them out. Faith in Jesus Christ prevailed until three centuries later it permeated the Roman Empire.

The war on terror is ultimately won or lost in our own hearts. When we live in fear, terrorism wins. When we live with confidence and faith, it is defeated. Jesus said, “In this world you will have terror (tribulation), but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Dog Theology 9-23-2009

Last week I introduced my dog, Buddy, to you. I thought that this week, I would let you in on a few other things Buddy is teaching me. It could be called “dog theology.” It might sound strange, even sacrilegious to a few, but Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison have developed whole seminars and books around “cat and dog theology.” (www.catndogtheology.com). Put simply, cats say, “You feed me, shelter me and care for me. I must be god.” Dogs say, “You feed me, shelter me and care for me. You must be god.” If you have ever had a cat and a dog you know what I mean. Cat theology is me-centered. “What can God do for me?” Dog theology is God centered. Here are a few things I am learning about “dog theology” from Buddy.

Buddy trusts me. Whenever I get in my truck he jumps in and takes his place, ready to go. He doesn’t know where we are going or what we are going to do. But he believes that if I am driving it is okay. I need to be more like that with God. I always want to know where we are going, when we are going to get there and what we are going to do once we arrive. I need to jump in the truck with God and give him control of my life.

Buddy wants to be with me. He doesn’t care if he is at the lake running, splashing and rolling in the mud, sitting in a chair next to me on the patio or in my study lying at my feet while I write. He just wants to be where I am. He even follows me from room to room in the house. I need to spend time with God. What made the early disciples different was the fact they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Buddy follows me. Whenever we go for a walk in an open field I let him off his leash and he runs free. But he keeps an eye on me. He has developed a radius of his own, about thirty yards from wherever I am. Within that radius he feels comfortable exploring smells and marking trees. Occasionally he gets out of eyesight. But, when I call his name he comes running. Not real fast, but as fast as he can. After all he is a Corgi. It reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples, “Come, follow me!” “My sheep know my voice.”

And, he is teaching me patience. He will wait on me forever. If I am writing, he lies down, rests his head on his paws, keeps one eye on me and waits. If we are walking and I stop, he sits down with his tongue hanging out and waits. If I go to the store, he waits in my truck until I return. Buddy never complains about waiting on me. He never gets in a hurry. Maybe I should be more like that with respect to God and those I love.

Learning From Buddy 9-14-2009

A few months ago we adopted a dog. Well, I guess “I” adopted a dog. My wife finally gave in. But he won her over and now he is “our” dog. Across the years we had pets, mostly mutts and strays, that wandered into our lives. They helped us raise our kids. Each was different. “Punkin” was our first. I brought her home for Christmas. I was too busy to give her much attention, but the boys loved her. She grew old, blind and died before our daughter was born.

Rascal was a stray gray-and-white kitten our boys picked up off the street. He was part of our family for fifteen years and made the move with us from Texas to Minnesota. We picked up a puppy we named Max from a Minnesota farm. We thought he would be a small dog, but in six months, he was bigger than our daughter, had eaten all the furniture and dug up the back yard. We offered him to a good home. One interested lady tried to take his picture and he ate her camera. Finally a young couple with a farm adopted him. We threw in his crate, dog food and anything else we could think of. We last saw them chasing him down the street.

So we went back to cats. My wife and daughter found a cute black and white kitten that our son named “Fido.” Our daughter loved Fido. But, Fido was apparently insulted by our move back to Texas and ran away. When our daughter left for college we found ourselves in an empty nest, the kids grown and the dogs and cats gone. It was peaceful. I guess a little too peaceful. After awhile I realized I missed having a dog.

A few months ago we found Buddy. He was picked up starving off the streets of Fort Worth by Corgi Rescue. When we first met him he was skinny and sick. But we instantly knew he was right for us. Buddy and I have bonded. He goes with me just about everywhere I go. He is helping me put my life in perspective and teaching me some things about God.

Buddy is teaching me to live in the moment; to celebrate each day as a gift. So often I spend time reminiscing or regretting the past and dreaming or worrying about the future. But Buddy takes each day as it comes. Of course it is good to cherish memories and learn from the past. And it is good to dream and plan. That is part of what defines us in God’s image. But I am prone to miss the moment. Jesus said, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself …” ( Mt 6:34). “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24).

Living With Respect 9-11-2009

The flap over President Obama’s address to students has raised some interesting questions. Perhaps most significantly, it causes us to ask, “Can we honor and respect our elected officials?” It seems that the response is, “Yes, if we voted for them.” When President George H. W. Bush spoke to students in 1991, Democrats complained that it was paid political propaganda. When President Obama announced a speech to students Republicans cried foul. Bush’s speech can be found among his presidential library papers online at www.bushlibrary.tamu.edu. Obama’s speech can be found at www.whitehouse.gov. Both President Bush on October 1, 1991 and President Obama this week focused on the need for students to stay in school, be responsible, get an education and have a future.

We need to step back and think about what we are teaching our children by our attitudes and actions. Our youth and children need to see us as adults demonstrating respect for elected officials and one another, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent. Too often we have been disappointed by elected officials who manipulate the system, seek their own self interest and disappoint us with their private moral behavior. Of course, we have a remedy, which is not to elect them back to office. But, respect for one another and for those we elect to serve our cities, our state and our nation is important. The way we conduct ourselves toward one another and our elected officials teaches something to our youth that cannot be duplicated in the classroom.

Speaking about attitudes toward government officials, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13:1 NAS). “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3 the Message). If Paul could give these instructions to Christians living in a corrupt Roman Empire during the first century, how much more do they apply to us living in our American democracy.

We need to demonstrate to our youth how to disagree with one another with respect. We need to show them how to rise above name calling and derision. We need to pull together to encourage our youth to stay in school, pursue an education and have a future. They need to know that we believe in them. That this is one thing we agree on. The days when mere muscle was enough to get someone by are gone. More than any other era in history, the increasingly technological world of the twenty-first century demands an education.

Labor Day 9-2-2009

Labor Day is a great holiday, especially in Texas. The scorching heat of summer has broken. The air is invigorated with the first breath of fall. Kids are back in school. Friday night football is here. Frisbees fly in parks where hamburgers sizzle on the grill. The lakes are still warm enough for skiing. Fishing is good. The Cowboys are playing and the Rangers have a shot at the playoffs. It is a great weekend to gather with friends and family and relax.

Underneath all this lies the significance of the day, a time to step back and celebrate the importance of labor. It is the core of our culture: the value of hard work, perseverance and discipline. Most of the time we fawn over celebrities. But on this day, the common laborer takes the stage.

I think of my father, a blue collar worker who started out trimming grass around telephone poles and worked thirty-five years for Bell Telephone before his death at age fifty three. I always admired his example of honesty, generosity and hard work. He taught me something about Jesus, who chose to spend most of his adult life working in a simple carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Jesus’ life elevated the role of laborers and craftsmen for eternity.

In our current economy many are taking jobs that are not their first choice. Some who have trained and studied for years to launch a professional career are finding themselves in the position of accepting jobs that differ from their dreams. It is important that whatever job we find, that we give our best. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Alexis de Toqueville visited America in the 1830’s in search of the secret that enabled the young democracy to succeed. At its root, he discovered what would come to be known as the American work ethic founded upon Christian faith. It was not, he observed, merely hard work that made American Democracy successful. It was the other values along with it that made work meaningful: honesty, integrity and generosity.

Many Americans are discovering, after decades dominated by greed and materialism, that the value of labor is never truly measured in monetary return. The way we choose to invest the labor of our minds, our hands, our hearts and our energy will produce fulfillment when the object is not our own self gratification but the service of others. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).

Lessons From Korea 8-25-2009

No one is promising quick fixes to our current economic crisis. As we look for the “long term” corrections that will make a difference for the future, we might learn some lessons from Korea. Euna Lee and Laura Ling’s four month ordeal in a North Korean prison brings into stark focus the differences between the two Koreas. Fifty-five years ago the conditions in North and South Korea were almost identical. Today the gap between the two is huge.

A few years ago my wife and I boarded a plane at DFW and landed sixteen hours later in Seoul, South Korea. We found a prosperous modern city in a growing economy. We rode efficient subways in complete safety while visiting the city. At 6 AM one morning, we attended a prayer meeting in one of the churches where more than one thousand South Koreans gathered to pray quietly with friends and family. Today South Korea sends out more Christian missionaries than any other country except the United States. It is the fourth largest economy in Asia and it is referred to as the “Miracle on the Han” because of its remarkable economic progress in the last fifty years. South Korea has one of the smallest gaps between the rich and the poor in Asia.

North Korea, by contrast, is poverty stricken. It’s economy is a fraction of that in South Korea. Ruled by a strict Communist regime, its only hope for economic improvement rests in global nuclear intimidation. In 2007 the U.S. and other nations sent more than 1 million tons of fuel oil and other benefits in exchange for an agreement to dismantle its nuclear facilities. However, in 2009 North Korea conducted its second underground nuclear test and boasts more than 1,000 missiles that can strike as far away as Hawaii. More than 3 million North Koreans died of starvation in the 1990s in what some have called the “last slave society on earth.”

Clearly much of the difference between North Korea and South Korea is found in the contrast between Communism in the North and a free market Democracy in the South. But at a deeper level lies the difference between a nation where faith in Christ is illegal, punishable by death, and a nation where many embrace faith in Jesus and His teachings. Democracy, in and of itself, can neither set people free nor guarantee prosperity. Only faith that creates people of honesty, integrity, character, generosity and hard work can do that. We ourselves are learning hard lessons about the ravages that greed, corruption and short-cut economics can cause.

Perhaps the most helpful thing we can do to hasten the long term health of our nation and its economy is to follow Jesus so that we live our lives with integrity, honesty, generosity and faith. Jesus said, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.”

Back To School 8-19-2009

Children and youth are headed back to school. Summer break is ended. Silent buildings and empty playgrounds roar to life with classroom lectures and children’s laughter. It is a time to put away the lazy days of sleeping late, tv, video games, camp and vacations to wake before sunrise and wait for the bus. The smells of erasers, crayons, markers and freshly painted classrooms, along with tax free weekend and the rumble of yellow buses mark an annual rite of passage. It forms the rhythm of our lives, as surely as the first crisp scent of fall and the turning of green leaves to gold. We wake up to the echo of school bands, coaches’ whistles and the smack of shoulder pads practicing for the big games to come.

It is a time of deep emotion filled with conflicting currents of freedom and fear, opportunity and obstacles. Younger children are finally old enough to follow older brothers and sisters off to school with their own backpack of books. College freshmen are finally off on their own, away from home, their heads spinning with dreams and doubt. Babies become children, let go by weeping parents. Houses that vibrated with teen-age noise surrender to the silence of an empty nest. And college freshmen are shocked with the stabs of homesickness. It is, of course, the stuff of life: joy and sorrow, celebration and challenge, learning and growing.
I am a fan of public schools. I like the fact that, in our imperfect system, every child has a chance to learn. I love movies about public school teachers and the difference they make in students’ lives, like Freedom Writers or Mr. Holland’s Opus. My wife is a career public school teacher. Across the years she has taught high school, third grade and kindergarten. She now teaches pregnant and parenting teens with a ninety percent graduation rate. She is on the front line.
Even though public schools take summer breaks, school is never out. Children and youth are always learning, and sometimes the most important lessons they learn are the moments when parents and adults are least aware. They learn honesty, generosity, courtesy and faith by watching us in check-out lines, in traffic and in the home. They are always watching and always learning, even when we think they are tuned out.
Last week, I was visiting with the seven year old granddaughter of one of my best friends. She is very bright and entering second grade. I said, “You are very smart. But it is important as you grow up to be wise.” I asked, “Do you know the difference between being smart and being wise?” “Sure,” she said, “smart is knowing that 3 + 3 equals 6. Wise is doing the right thing.” I think she nailed it.
No person ever lived that was as wise as Jesus. Jesus concludes his most famous message by telling the story of two men who built houses, one on the sand and one on rock. When the storm came, the house on the sand crumbled and the house built on rock survived. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them,” Jesus said, “may be compared to the wise man who built his house upon the rock.” (Matt. 7:24). If we would be truly wise we must hear what Jesus said to do and do it.

Josh Hamilton's Confession 8-10-2009

The sports headline last week read, “Hamilton had January relapse.” Of course the reference was to Josh Hamilton, the star center-fielder and batting champ for the Texas Rangers. Everyone, I guess, knows his story, a top drafted player who hit the skids due to drugs and alcohol, then, through a deeply spiritual faith experience with Christ and his grandmother’s love, made a comeback to major league stardom.

When Hamilton hit thirty-five home-runs in the home-run derby before the All Star game last year, my mother claimed him as family …”Maybe a long lost cousin,” she said, since her mother’s maiden name was Hamilton. My mother is a baseball fan. At 87, she almost never misses a televised Rangers game, even when they are on the west coast and play until 2 AM. When her vision started to fail this year she chose to have cataract surgery so she could watch the game.

I guess I am a baseball fan too. When I was fifteen I followed every home run by Mantle and Maris in their race to break Babe Ruth’s record. I could shag flies and grounders all day in the Texas heat and go back for more. I resonated with Field of Dreams, and watched it over and over. I’ll probably watch it again.

So, Hamilton’s story caught my attention, not just because he is a gifted ball player, but because he represents everyone who struggles with addictions and weaknesses. He says his relapse last January started with the thought, “Maybe I can just drink one.” Of course, that is the way the sins that seek to destroy us always start.

He had learned something along the way as a follower of Jesus that makes this relapse different than his earlier demise. He immediately confessed it where it needed to be confessed, to his wife, Katie, to his family and to his employers. Now that it is public, he is confessing it to us. The Bible says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13). And James states, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed..” (James 5:16). Whenever we sin, we should confess it to those who are closest to us and those it directly affects.

I like the way Hamilton’s teammates responded. Ian Kinsler said, “We don’t need an apology. That’s his battle. We’re here to be his friend and love him as a teammate.” It sounds a lot like the way Jesus wants His churches to work. I suppose it was the way Peter’ s friends responded when he told them about denying Jesus at the trial.

I recently picked up Mickey Mantle’s autobiography at a used books store in Terrell. According to Mantle, he always struggled with excessive drinking. Mantle did not grow up in church. He attended prayer meetings convened by his teammate Bobby Richardson for awhile, but never learned “church speak.” He concludes his story by saying, “I guess we are all on the same team now … It’s even like Casey [Stengel] is running it. I might not know what he is saying all the time, but if he tells me to bunt, I’m going to bunt. If he tells me to swing away, I’m going for the fences.”