Monday, September 11, 2017

The Providential Purpose of Storms

Well…here we go again.  As a resident in Tallahassee, Florida I have just experienced another hurricane. 18 million people in the southeast part of the United States were officially under hurricane warning.  Many of these millions of people heeded the officials warning and evacuated to safe havens. 

It is so logical to evacuate when a storm is coming to your area.  However, when reading Scripture, I noticed that Jesus not only referenced storms, but also frequently sent His disciples into storms.  

When did Jesus reference storms, and why did He send those closest to Him into something that the majority of normal sane people try to avoid?  For Jesus, storms were not events that just brought inconvenience or destruction, but were opportunities to teach his disciples lessons about their commitment to God, their character, their attitude and their faith.

For the last couple of days, as I have watched the Weather Channel more than I ever imagined humanly possible, I have also read three of my favorite passages of Scripture that involve Jesus and storms. Here is what I have learned, and I hope it helps you appreciate the purpose of enduring storms.

The first passage of Scripture is where Jesus referenced a storm in Matthew 7:24-29. Let’s read: 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

In arguably what is His most famous and important sermon, Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a reference to storms.  He teaches it is absolutely essential that we build our lives on obedience to God’s words.  The storms come to reveal whether or not we have built as wise builders or foolish ones.  The lives of wise builders are not destroyed when they face trials or tribulations.  The foolish builders suffer a different fate.  The storms of life crush them. As I hunkered down for Hurricane Irma, I was reminded that my main goal should be to build my life on the truth of God’s words.

The second passage of Scripture tells us that Jesus sent His disciples in a boat on a lake during windy conditions in Mark 6:45-56. Let’s read: 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Have you ever hosted an event or party where you had to feed people?  If so, I bet you were pretty exhausted afterwards.  How about feeding five thousand people?  To make matters worse, all you possess to feed the five thousand is five loaves of bread and two fish. It’s late in the day, no catering services are open, and the people are really hungry.  Wouldn’t it be easier to cancel the event and send the people home?

This is exactly what the disciples tried to do.  They wanted the people to go away and Jesus wanted his disciples to feed the multitudes.  The disciple’s fatigue and negative attitudes caused them to only see their lack.  Jesus wanted them to understand His ability to do a miracle when it comes to meeting people’s needs.  Jesus multiplied the five loves of bread and two fish and ended up feeding all five thousand.  There were even left overs!

I find it interesting that Jesus sent his already worn out disciples on a boat ride to the middle of the lake when inclement weather was approaching.  Keep in mind the disciples had spent the whole day ministering to a large amount of people.  Jesus used rough weather to deal with hard hearts and teach them a lesson they would never forget.  People matter to God and they should matter to us also no matter what the circumstance.

The last passage of Scripture we will look at is where Jesus sent His disciples into a storm in Mark 4:35-41. Let’s read: 35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

As many of you know, I have three sons.  I am constantly trying to think of creative ways to teach them important lessons of life.  I have never considered using a storm as a teaching lesson.  However, Jesus had his disciples get into a boat and go to the other side as a furious squall was approaching.  As the squall intensified Jesus fell asleep in the stern.  After the disciples woke Jesus, He rebuked them for their fear and lack of faith in trusting the all-powerful God to keep them safe.

As Hurricane Irma makes it way through the southeast part of the United States, I am reminded that storms serve a providential purpose in God’s plan.  Storms stop us from our everyday routine, and make us think about important things we don’t normally spend a lot of time thinking about. Storms force us to evaluate our current situation, and make sure things are in order.

Most people retreat from storms, but Jesus sent His disciples into storms.  Why?  He wanted to teach them the most important lessons in life.  What lessons can we learn from storms?  First, nothing is more important than building on the truth of God’s words.  Second, God expects us to care about people in the same way we care about ourselves.  Lastly, no matter what the circumstance, we are not to fear, and we are never to lose faith in God’s omnipotence.

I pray that all those who were in the path of Hurricane Irma are safe.  I also pray that Hurricane Irma would remind us all that God uses the most powerful storms to teach us the most important lessons in life.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Have a Heavy and Happy New Year!

Lifting heavier weights makes people stronger.  When I was working as a strength and conditioning coach at Florida State University, I had the opportunity to apply this very simple truth every day on the job. In fact, our strength staff used to challenge our athletes with the following words: Go Heavy or Go Home!

While working out the other day in the gym, I approached the dumbbell rack to do my last set of shoulder press for the day.  The rack holds 3 lbs. dumbbells all the way up to 50 lbs. dumbbells.  I arrived at the rack at the same time as an elderly gentleman.  After examining the dumbbell rack, we looked up and made eye contact.  Then, the elderly gentleman smiled and asked me this question: “Which set of dumbbells do you want?” 

Smiling back at him, I said, “The 3 lbs. dumbbells.”  Then, I told him there was a more accurate question he should have asked me.  I said, “You should have asked me which dumbbells are you going to use?”  After making my statement to him, I pointed to the 50 lbs. dumbbells, reached down and lifted them up and began doing my final set of shoulder presses.

As I left the gym, I couldn’t stop thinking about my earlier interaction with the elderly gentleman.  It’s always human nature to want to take the path of least resistance. With the passing of each year, the voices in my head grow louder to lift the lighter weights.  I know it will be no different in 2015.

I once read that maturity does not come with age, but with the acceptance of responsibility. I agree. We begin to mature when we learn to carry our own load. We fully mature when we learn to carry each other’s burdens.  The Scriptures are constantly exhorting us to embrace the maturation process of God with a good attitude.  Mature people persevere and finish the task God has assigned to them.  God uses the trials of life, or in other words, the heavy weights to mature us. 

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Mature people not only take care of their own responsibilities, but they have the capacity to carry the burdens of others.  By doing this, the law of Christ is fulfilled.  Mature people are secure people who do not have to compare themselves to others.  They know why God created them, what gifts they possess, and they know how to use them to bless others.  Mature people are not selfish people.  They take delight in sharing all good things.

Galatians 6:2-6 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.”

Jesus Christ was only 30-33 years of age when He ministered to people, but He was the most mature person to ever live.  How do we know this?  We know it by his ability to carry our sins in His body on the cross.  The weight and responsibility of the cross would have crushed any person trying to bear this burden. Jesus Christ is no ordinary person; He is the omnipotent Son of God.

Jesus accepted the responsibility of being wounded so we would be healed.  That takes some maturity! 

1 Peter 2:24 says, “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”

My New Year’s resolution is to continue to choose the heavier weights.  I know a new year brings with it the temptation to take the path of least resistance, but I am going to choose to embrace the burdens the Lord has for me to carry.  I will take His yoke and learn from Him.  I know I can’t do this in my own strength.  I have to rely on Jesus for strength.  I know I will get tired as the year progresses, but He will give me rest as I come to Him. 

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus gives us this instruction, “28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

Finally, I will constantly remind myself that the 3 lbs. dumbbells represent my flesh, and the 50 lbs. dumbbells represent God’s Spirit.  I will sow to please the Spirit now matter how loud the voices in my head scream for the lighter weights.  I will live by the Spirit and seek out the good deeds God has prepared for me to do in 2015.  I will Go Heavy or Go Home!

By doing this, I trust in the Lord that I will not grow weary, but will reap a harvest if I do not give up.  I pray 2015 is the proper time!

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  Galatians 6:7-10

Have a Heavy and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 05, 2014

It's Not How You Start; It's How You Finish!

Standing behind the dugout during one of my son’s baseball games, I heard the first base coach make the following comment to a parent standing next to me: “This world has gone crazy”.  The first base coach was referring to the recent shooting incident in the library on the Florida State University campus.  After pondering his comment on this one example, I must admit that I concur.

Even the world of college football has gone crazy.  It’s not how you finish; it’s how you start!  Right?  No, wrong, but in the crazy world we live in today this seems to be the new philosophy.  The college football playoff committee seems to have adopted this philosophy while deciding the rankings of the top four teams in the country. 

Do you know how hard it is to win 28 straight games?  Have you ever, in any league at any age in any sport, won 28 straight games?  After 28 straight wins, and being the only undefeated (12-0) team in the nation, the FSU Seminoles find themselves ranked fourth in the country.  This is unprecedented in the history of college football rankings.  Never has a defending undefeated national champion team had three teams with one loss ranked ahead of them.

Why are the Seminoles ranked fourth?  They are ranked fourth because in today’s world its all about how you start instead of how you finish.  Even though they haven’t lost, the committee doesn’t think the Seminoles win good enough.  They don’t like the way they start.  I had to laugh at Coach Fisher’s comment when asked about the ranking of the Seminoles.  He said, “The object of the game is to win; it’s not figure skating.  The object of the game is to win.  You know, it’s not judging, it’s wins and losses on the scoreboard.”  Coach Fisher is saying the Seminoles ranking shouldn’t be based on how they look, but on whether or not they accomplish the objective of winning.  I concur.

It is true that the Seminoles have trailed in most of their games this year.  In fact, in their game against a 6-5 Boston College team, they kicked the winning field goal with seven seconds remaining in the game.  The Seminoles may not start well, but they sure do finish well.

What do the college football playoff rankings indicate about our current American culture?  The rankings reveal to us that we value the show over the substance.  We value the gloss over the grind.  How you look is more valued than getting the job done.

Dr. Ed Cole, who built a worldwide men’s ministry before his death, taught men the importance of character.  He used to tell a story about how he learned an important principle while shopping for furniture.  The polish they apply to it covers up the lack of quality in cheap furniture.  Dr. Cole reminded us that the higher the gloss the cheaper the merchandise. 

It seems the Seminoles don’t win with enough polish or gloss to be ranked number one.  The character and will it takes to come from behind, and finish games with a victory, seems to be irrelevant.  These character traits of the Seminole football team this year certainly aren’t reflected in the rankings in a positive manner. A pretty loss is more rewarded than an ugly win.

Legendary Coach Bobby Bowden offered his comments on the committee’s rankings. Coach Bowden emphasized the importance of finishing.  He said, “How many times have you heard a Coach say," We didn't finish"? Coaches harp on it continuously, finish, finish, finish! Coaches emphasize each practice, "finish your block", finish your Tackle, finish your run, finish the last quarter". Every team in the Top Ten failed to 'finish' their game at least one time, but not Florida State. One thing they have done is 'finish' the game. They have 'finished' 10 straight times this season and the last 28 games in a row. All the Polls now are just speculation and opinions. 28 finishes in a row is not an opinion!”  Once again, I concur.

In church, we constantly have people sign up to volunteer on one of our Impact Teams.  Our Impact Teams, which include children’s church, worship, sound team, cafĂ©, first impressions, and facility, are essential in helping us facilitate a Sunday worship service with excellence.  Without exception, we frequently have people who sign up with enthusiasm, and never follow through to finish their commitment. It’s obvious they are influenced by philosophy of this age: It’s not how you finish; it’s how you start.

How many couples opt for divorce, or cheat on their spouse, and don’t finish by honoring the covenant they made before God and with their husband/wife?  How many parents abandon their children and don’t finish raising them to fulfill their God-given destiny?  How many kids don’t develop certain skills to succeed because they don’t finish when the going gets tough?  How many believers in Christ lose the power of their witness because they backslide, and don’t finish strong in their faith?  The answer is the same for all four questions: Too many!

The Bible instructs us that it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.  It teaches we all start poorly, or in more biblical terms, we are all born into sin as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (eating the forbidden fruit) in the Garden of Eden (Romans 5:12).

The good news is that mankind’s poor start is not the end of the story.  Jesus Christ came to earth to save us from our sins.  When we repent of our poor start in sin, put our faith in Christ to save us by His grace, get baptized and receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, we have Christ’s power to finish strong.  In fact, God is faithful to make sure we finish strong by completing the good work He began in us.  Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Apostle Paul is a perfect biblical example of “it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish”. As Saul of Tarsus, he was one of the main persecutors of Christ followers.  After his conversion on the road to Damascus, where he was blinded by light during his encounter with Jesus, he became Apostle Paul.  As an apostle of Christ, he would become one of the greatest church planters in history.  He went from church persecutor to church planter.  He experienced firsthand it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.

After writing his first Epistle to Timothy, Paul was arrested again, in Greece or Asia Minor, and hurried back to Rome, this time as a criminal (2 Timothy 2:9).  While waiting in the Roman dungeon for “the time of his departure,” he wrote his last letter to his beloved son in the gospel, Timothy. 

The second imprisonment was very different from the first.  Then he had his own rented house; now he was kept in close confinement.  Before, he was the center of a large circle of friends, accessible to all, but now he was alone (2 Timothy 4:10-12).  Before, he had hoped for freedom; now he was expecting to die (2 Timothy 4:6).  Being uncertain whether Timothy could visit him before his death, he wanted to give him his last words of warning and encouragement so Timothy would endure to the end.  His main goal was to make sure Timothy finished strong in his faith.

Apostle Paul had finished his race, and now it was time to hand the baton to Timothy.  What ground had he covered?  Note every city or province and island in answering this question.  To how many thousands had he preached his Christ, do you suppose, in those at least thirty different localities?  In how many languages had he testified for Christ?  How many of his letters have found a place in the Christian Bible?  Are these letters still being read today?  Countless lives have been impacted by the testimony of Apostle Paul because it’s not ultimately about how he started; it’s about how he finished.

Consequently, Apostle Paul entered into eternity with confidence, contentment and expectation knowing he had finished his course.  He said, For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  2 Timothy 4:6-8

How many times do you have to sin to be a sinner?  That’s right…one.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  The wages of our sins is death (Romans 6:23). Left to our own solutions, there is nothing we can do about this fatal predicament.

The justice of God demands a sacrifice for man’s sin.  Jesus Christ became that sacrifice and paid the penalty for our sin at the cross.  Since God is holy, righteous, and just, He could not allow sin to go unpunished.  Since He is loving and compassionate, He did not want all of mankind to be eternally separated from Him.  The divine solution to this problem was for Jesus, God’s only Son, to become the sacrifice for sin.

But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.  Hebrews 9:26-28

What exactly happened on the cross?  Through His death on the cross, Jesus took our place and our punishment and became our substitute.  He exchanged His righteousness for our sin.  He took our curse and gave us His blessings.  Because of His sinless life, Jesus was the only one qualified to pay the penalty for man’s sin and to bridge the gap between God and man.

Entrusted with the mission of saving human beings from sin, death and eternal damnation, never in the history of the world has finishing a task been so important. All of Jesus’ ministry on earth would have been in vain if he didn’t die on the cross.  While hanging on the cross, after taking His last breath, Jesus said: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

It is so easy in today’s world to start something and not follow through on our commitments.  In fact, unfortunately, it is now the norm instead of the exception.  Signing up is not the same as completing the task.  Good intentions are derailed by a lack of discipline.  It’s impossible to develop discipline without learning how to persevere.  Perseverance develops character, and character gives us hope (Romans 5:3-5).  Without hope, we will eventually quit and not finish well!

If you want to become all God’s created you to be, if you want to make the most of your life on earth, if you want to develop into the kind of person who can impact others in a positive way, if you want to possess an eternal perspective, if you want to grow and mature in God’s purpose for your life, and finally, if you want to bring your Eternal Father in Heaven glory on earth, you must finish!

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  Hebrews 10:36

At the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus boldly declared: I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4) How fulfilling and how rewarding to know you finished!

No matter where you are in life, I’ve got some good news for you.  Are you ready?

It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Battling Prejudice and My Many Imperfect Thoughts About Ferguson.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!  How did you spend your Thanksgiving?  I hope you spent it eating your favorite foods.  I hope you are spent it with family and friends you love.  I hope you spent it taking time to give thanks to the Lord who is always so good to us.

I spent my Thanksgiving trying to do all the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  However, I found my mind active and my heart grieved with the events in Ferguson.  As a pastor of a church, I have learned that this is the burden of the Lord.  As a follower of Christ, you can’t control when the Lord’s burden hits you.  I wish I could have spent my Thanksgiving Day relaxing and thinking happy thoughts.  I couldn’t.  The burden of the Lord for peace, justice and reconciliation was stirring within my soul as I gave thanks.  So, I must write this blog to you.

What good is any writing, blog or article without total transparency and truth?  I must admit that I have been hesitant to comment on the events in Ferguson because I was born white.  Who am I, as a white guy, to comment on a young black man getting shot by a white cop?  Who am I, as a white guy, to comment on a black community looting their own city?  This is the voice I heard in my head, and these were the questions in my mind, as I was trying my best to ignore the Lord’s burden.

Then, I heard a voice, saying you must comment because you are a man of God.  You are my son, my child, one who I have saved, called and chosen to minister the Kingdom of God to people and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I chose you not based on the color of your skin.  I chose you not based on your ability to communicate.  I chose you not based on your knowledge, wisdom, athleticism, accomplishments, abilities, etc.  I chose you because of what I have done, not what you have done.  I chose you because it is My will for you to witness for Me!

Isn’t that what we all really desire?  Isn’t this what the ongoing conversation about Ferguson is all about?  We all want to be loved, looked at, treated a certain way, used for a purpose, not based on the color of our skin, or what credentials we have to offer, but simply by who we are determined by our Creator.  I believe only Jesus can do this perfectly!

As a man who has walked with my Lord Jesus Christ for over 24 years, I have learned to discern the voice of the devil and the voice of my Lord.  Yes, I believe in the devil (which I will comment more on later), and yes, more importantly, I believe in Jesus Christ.  I will choose to obey my Lord’s voice. 

Also, I had to remind myself that people are always going to view me from their own perspectives and presuppositions. I never have been and never will be able to control this fact.  As a fellow human being, I get this, and I have grace for people.  All I can do is simply obey the voice of my Lord and live to please Him.  In writing this blog, I once again choose do this very thing.

Before I offer you my imperfect thoughts on Ferguson, I feel the need to give you some background about myself.  As I stated earlier, I was born white.  This is another fact that I can do nothing about.  As a person who has lived in Florida for most of his life, I personally wish I were born with darker skin, or a “better tan”.   The Lord chose to make me white, so I celebrate my whiteness.  The Lord has taught me how to be secure and comfortable in my white skin.  Only Jesus can provide this type of security.

I have also learned to trust in the sovereignty and providence of God.  Sovereignty means the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign, royalty.  I believe God is sovereign and He is in complete control of this world and my life.  Providence means the foreseeing care and guidance of God over the creatures of the earth, especially when conceived as omnisciently directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence. I wholeheartedly believe God is guiding us and cares for us.  The real question is: Do we listen and obey?

All that to say I am cool with being white no matter what any person thinks about it.  There is nothing I can do about it anyway.

The sovereignty and providence of God had me born into an athletic family.  My father was a professional football player.  Why is this important?  It’s important because I grew up playing with many teammates who were black.  As a young kid, I remember never thinking less of my teammates and friends because they were black.  Later on, however, I began to be introduced to prejudices of black people by older white men.  These were men I respected and looked up to as a young kid.  So, unfortunately, I bought into some of these prejudices.  These prejudices weren’t really my own convictions; they were more like ideas that I carried with me in the back of my mind as I grew up. 

The sovereignty and providence of God also led me to be a basketball player.  I played football, soccer, baseball and basketball growing up, but finally settled into basketball during my sophomore year of high school.  I continued to play baseball until I graduated from high school and accepted a scholarship to play basketball at Mercer University.  I played my freshman year for Mercer and then transferred to Florida State where I would live out my childhood dream of shooting hoops for the Noles.

My basketball experience didn’t further validate the prejudices of black people that I had adopted and lay dormant in the back of my mind.  Certain white people had taught me, that black people were born with more athleticism.  Then, I met Bob Sura, a white guy who could run and jump better than any of our black teammates.  Certain white people had taught me that black guys weren’t as smart as white guys.  Then, I met many scholar athletes who were black at Mercer and FSU. Certain white people had taught me that blacks were not hygienic people.  Then, I met black teammates who were well groomed and the best smelling and sharply dressed guys on the team. In fact, the sloppiest, messiest, and least hygienic teammate I ever had was white. 

More importantly, over the years, most of my black teammates had become some of my greatest friends in life.  We had suffered, rejoiced and bled together during our pursuits of becoming champions.  Every event in my life such as traveling together, living as roommates, competing at teammates, and studying as classmates were experienced with black men.  I learned firsthand that they were no different than me.  Sure, we all had different gifts, abilities, backgrounds, etc., and yes, we had different skin color, but they were just like me.

I also learned that certain black people had prejudices against white people.  As a minority on all of my basketball teams, I had to endure certain prejudices and stereotypes from my black teammates.  For example, white people weren’t suppose to be as athletic as black athletes, should always make good grades, and can’t really be trusted because of the color of their skin.  Some coaches held our white players to a different academic standard than our black players.  Some black guys thought most, if not all white people, had a lot of money.  Our basketball teams taught them the reality that not all white people make good grades, many white people are very athletic, and not all white folks have a lot of money and are out to get black people. 

No matter how real our experiences were as white and black people doing life together, and no matter how those experiences served to break down presuppositions and prejudices about people of different skin color, it still did not eliminate those thoughts from our minds.  It seems we allowed them to stay in the back of our minds and lay dormant.

Then, I met Jesus Christ.  During my junior year at FSU, I began attending the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting on our campus.  After the message during one of those meetings, I repented of my sins, and received the grace of God by putting my faith in Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior.  Immediately, I began learning about his teachings in the Holy Bible, and His impact on the world. 

Jesus changed forever the way we are supposed to view our fellow human beings.  Unfortunately, we judge people based on their ethnicity, abilities, accomplishments, socioeconomic status, etc.  Jesus teaches us to value people based on the fact that they are made in the image and likeness of God.  My favorite Scripture about how we are all children of God in Christ Jesus is Galatians 3:26-28.  It says:  

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Finally, I had something to anchor my own convictions and life experiences in regards to people’s prejudices.  No longer would stereotypes about black people lay dormant in the back of my mind.  They were forever removed by the truth about people found in Jesus Christ.

After spending my whole life in athletics, God would lead me to pastor a church.  In His sovereignty and providence it grew to become a church with people from many different ethnic backgrounds.  As we celebrate and worship Jesus on Sunday mornings as one people in Christ, we often laugh and joke about the prejudices and stereotypes we bought into when we were less enlightened.  We laugh and joke because we know people who break these stereotypes.

In our church, I’ve met white people who like church with gospel music and black people who prefer a more conservative music style.  I’ve met white people who dress like black people and black people who dress like white people.  I’ve met white people who like rap music, and black people who prefer country music.  I’ve met white people who have big rims on their cars, and black people who drive trucks.  Many times the poorest people in our church have been white, and the biggest givers have been black.  

I know white people who are democrats and black people who are republicans.  I know white people who voted for President Obama and black people who didn’t.  I witnessed white men marry black girls, and black men marry white girls.  I’ve personally watched their children grow into some of the most beautiful, talented and educated young people in our city.  I know black guys who avoid being out in the sun because they want lighter skin, and I know white people who can't stay out of the sun because they want darker skin. It's funny and sad how we negatively look at other people based on the color of their skin when we are constantly trying to change the color of our own skin.  

Once again, through my life experience, I have learned that our prejudices and stereotypes are more about our personal insecurities, and incorrectly labeling a group of people based upon a single individual’s behavior.

My whole life experience has been with black people.  So, with that in mind, here are my own imperfect thoughts, in no particular order, about Ferguson.

Thought Number 1.  As a father of three boys, my heart breaks that a young man and son, Michael Brown, died in Ferguson.  What if I received the news that one of my boys had been shot to death by a cop?  It’s so hard to think about the unthinkable!  I don’t want to ever experience that moment, but I can imagine it would be the worst one of my life. I remember watching my wife’s parents bury their youngest son just a few days after being killed in a car accident.  It was horrific and tragic and indescribably emotional.  There is nothing worst on earth than a parent mourning the loss of a child.  I grieve for the life of Michael Brown; I grieve for his parents, friends and community that were negatively impacted by his unfortunate and untimely death. 

Thought Number 2.  Please don’t write about or speak about Michael Brown and Ferguson without exuding empathy and sympathy for this situation.

Thought Number 3.  Please don’t write about or speak about Michael Brown and Ferguson until you have had a chance to calm down and comment on it from a more rational perspective.

Thought Number 4.  I have a gratitude for people who serve our communities in law enforcement.  I can’t imagine having to deal with difficult scenarios like the one in Ferguson that end in the loss of life. I’ve personally watched law enforcement officers in Tallahassee deal with thieves, looters, homeless, drug addicts, murders, etc.  Their job is not easy, and the majority of them do it with a responsible sense of duty to protect the innocent and punish the evildoer.

Thought Number 5.  Title, outfit, claim or message does not validate godly people! They are identified by their ability to bring peace. Don't be fooled by opportunistic false representatives that prey on people's emotions and serve their own selfish agendas during moments of tragedy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9) Praying for the real peacemakers to arise in Ferguson!

Thought Number 6.  I wish the media would just report events like the one in Ferguson and not use it as an opportunity to increase their ratings by stoking the fire of adversity.  Don Henley’s song Dirty Laundry sums up our current media culture.  The first stanza says:

I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something
Something I can use
People love it when you lose
They love dirty laundry

Thought Number 7.  I wish people weren’t so enamored watching others air out their dirty laundry.

Thought Number 8.  I don’t know exactly how things went down between Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson.  I wish the tragic event never happened.

Thought Number 9.  I don’t think Officer Wilson encountered Michael Brown with the hope or intention of shooting him and killing him.

Thought Number 10.  The true ministers of reconciliation need to be deployed to Ferguson.  They need to get Officer Wilson and Michael Brown’s parents together and begin administering healing and forgiveness.  They also need to conduct prayer meetings and worship services with the community.  They need to help the Ferguson community learn from this incident and avoid similar mistakes in the days ahead.  They need to encourage the justice system in Ferguson to review video footage and bring all the looters to justice.  They need to help them discover God’s will and get His vision for the future of Ferguson.

 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Thought Number 11.  When we allow or expect our government to do everything, they won’t do the one thing they exist as an institution to do well.  Government’s main, and really only responsibility, is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish those who break the laws.  Ferguson should have been much more prepared to deal with the looting and destruction of their city after the verdict.

Thought Number 12.  I will use this moment to teach my boys to not do drugs, rob stores, and I will teach them the importance of respecting laws and those who serve to uphold them.   I will remind them that deviant and defiant behavior can lead to death.

Thought Number 13.  I will not use this moment to feed or fuel presuppositions, prejudices and stereotypes about people of different ethnicities.

Thought Number 14.  I didn’t mention the words black or white once in any of my thoughts.  There is a devil that rules the kingdom of darkness whose primary mission is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10).  There is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who rules the Kingdom of Light, and defeated the devil and his kingdom of darkness by His death on the cross and His resurrection.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Hebrews 2:14-15

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  Colossians 2:15

Even though he is defeated, the devil still wages war against human beings, and will do so until the second coming of Jesus Christ. We witness the kingdom of darkness manifest in situations like Ferguson.  As always, it takes the citizens of the Kingdom of Light to bring hope, healing, justice, reconciliation and restoration.

The devil is also our accuser.  His main weapon to cause division and strife is accusation. His favorite way to bring accusation is to feed people with prejudice thoughts about people in regards to the color of their skin.  We succumb to his kingdom when we take the bite.

Thought Number 16.  Revelation 12:10-11 says: For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

This passage of Scripture tells us how to defeat the devil.  We defeat him by the cross, communication, and care.  We accept responsibility for our own sin by repenting, and we trust in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to cleanse us from our sins.  We communicate to others how Jesus has changed our lives and how He removes our prejudices and stereotypes from our hearts and minds.  We care about people with different skin color like they are part of our family.  When we do this we win over sin and defeat the devil and his schemes!

Thought Number 17.  I agree with this statement from Ben Watson of the New Orleans Saints.  He wrote: "I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope."

Thought Number 18.  I am thankful for my athletic and church experiences that have taught me to love and appreciate people who have a different skin color.

Thought Number 19.  When talking to people who disagree with your point of view about what happened in Ferguson make sure you take the time to listen and don't get angry with them.  We never accomplish anything positive when we continue to speak to one another out of anger.  Also, don’t just try to make your point.  If you disagree with something they are saying, let them finish and then ask them a question instead of giving them your opinion.  If you do this well, people will ask for your opinion and be much more willing to listen to you.  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (20) because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  James 1:19-20

Thought Number 20.  Make sure you take the time to do your best to ascertain the facts before you write or comment on situations like Ferguson.  I know this can be difficult in complex scenarios like Ferguson, but we must practice this discipline if we want truth and justice to prevail.  It is not productive when we form our opinions on the sound bites from people being interviewed on the news stations. 

Work hard to get to the truth by using the 4 R's.  This process of researching, reasoning, relating, and recording ("4 Ring") is the best way to discover truth.  We must research the topic of interest to correctly identify what is the correct information.  As we are researching a subject, we must continually ask ourselves (reason) what is consistent and what is trustworthy content.  After researching and reasoning, we must also relate the truths uncovered to our own lives, other people and the situation at hand.  The principles and truths uncovered and related must be recorded or written down to accurately and permanently preserve them.

Remember, truth is powerful because it sets people free, it is the foundation of trust and justice, and it helps bring closure.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:32

For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  2 Corinthians 13:8

Thought Number 21.  If Michael Brown hit Officer Wilson, resisted arrest, and aggressively charged him, I don't have a problem with Officer Wilson using his gun to restrain Michael Brown. There are some lines you don't cross in life, and in my humble opinion this is one of them.  I certainly teach my kids the importance of respecting and revering authority, even when you think they are wrong. Respecting authority is not the same as letting authority abuse you.  Hitting an officer, resisting arrest, and aggressively charging him is not the appropriate way to respond if you think the officer's conduct is unjust.  Maintaining respect, humility, and self-control are better responses when being confronted by an authority figure.  

One of the greatest lessons my father taught me in life was to respect and revere authority. This lesson, more than any others that he taught me, kept me out of trouble and saved my life. Respect, especially for authority, is one of the three core values I teach my three sons.  It is a non-negotiable standard that is expected in the Miller house.  Respect begins with children obeying their parents in the home, and then obeying the governing authorities in the community.  If parents taught respect and reverence for authority diligently to their children, many would be spared from experiencing unfortunate and untimely deaths.

If Michael Brown was compliant to Officer Wilson's requests and did not resist him, then I have a problem with Officer Wilson using his gun to kill Michael Brown.  If Michael Brown was innocent, Officer Wilson should be indicted by the grand jury for murder, have to turn in his badge and suffer capital punishment in my humble opinion.

Again, I wish Michael Brown was still alive, and I grieve over his death.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  Romans 13:1-5

Thought Number 22.  Don’t be quick to judge other people’s prejudice thoughts until you have first dealt with your own.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:3-5

Thought Number 23.  I don't think there is anything more shallow and cowardly than to falsely or negatively judge an individual based on the color of his or her skin.

My Most Important Thought.  Now that Thanksgiving is over and we eagerly anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I want to remind us one final time why Jesus was born and what He would accomplish.  I want you to meditate on this thought every day until Christmas.

Jesus came as the answer to the question: What is wrong with the world?  The problem with the world is the fallenness of men and women.  It is the depravity of our nature due to our sins.  All the heinous events we witnessed in Ferguson are a result of the sinful nature of men and women.  Sometimes the sinful nature is subtler in its manifestations, and sometimes it displays the full effects of humanity's fall like we saw in Ferguson.  The whole topic of Ferguson forces us to deal with the hopelessness of the human condition, without the Kingdom of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ ruling and reigning in people's hearts.

Not only does the birth of Jesus Christ tell us what's wrong with the world, it tells us how to remedy the problem.  We must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, get baptized, and receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit.  When we do this, Jesus Christ's Kingdom rules in our hearts and minds, and the result in society is peace.  My favorite Scripture during Christmas tells us this truth that peace, justice and righteousness can only come from Jesus Christ's government ruling internally in our hearts is Isaiah 9:6-7.  It says:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.  

Final Thoughts.  My church pays Leon County Sheriff Officers during our Sunday morning services to help make sure our congregation is protected if any person tries to do something unlawful during our worship time together.  Some of the officers are white and some of the officers are black.  I expect them to do whatever is necessary to protect us from any deviant person acting defiantly during our service.

I often teach Biblical worldview on the roles and responsibilities of the three divine institutions (family, church, and government) God gave us to implement His purpose on earth.  I teach that in the family, parents have the first responsibility to raise their children righteously and as law-abiding citizens.  I teach that the church produces godly families by helping individuals repent of their sins, put their faith in Christ for salvation, and be filled with God’s Holy Spirit so they can walk in His righteousness.  Righteous individuals build healthy marriages, healthy marriages produce godly families and godly families are the best environment for children to learn what is right and what is wrong. 

When the church doesn’t fulfill its roles and responsibilities the result is a negative impact in our families.  When the families don’t fulfill their roles and responsibilities, the result is a negative impact in our communities.  Government is the institution ordained by God to deal with the citizens who break the law in our communities as a result of these negative impacts.

To hammer home my point when teaching this topic, I always ask the officer on duty to come stand with me on stage.  I remind my congregation that if you don’t listen to me, you’ll eventually end up dealing with him.  I tell them I carry a Bible to help teach you to live right; he carries a gun to make sure you do live right.  I implore all to repent and believe in Jesus, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, so one day you don’t have to get shot.  It’s a powerful illustration reminding them that deviant and defiant behavior will lead to death.

I spent my whole Thanksgiving Day, with the exception of eating my Thanksgiving meal, writing these thoughts to you.  These are my imperfect thoughts about Ferguson.  I hope they bring healing, understanding and reconciliation to all who struggle with prejudices or have experienced the harmful effects of these hellish thoughts.

Thanks for listening to me.  I’d love to hear from you!