September 29, 2011


They called him "Sweetness." His real name was Walter Payton and he will go down in football history as one of the finest running backs to ever play the game. The trophy given by the NFL to the player who has shown the most prolific humanitarianism during the season is named after him. Now, thanks to a book by Jeff Pearlman, his reputation as a stand up guy could forever be tarnished.

In Pearlman's book, he interviewed people who knew Payton best and found that the NFL's poster boy for good works was a closet drug addict and philanderer. His life after retirement made him even more of an enigma. Reading these things about Walter Payton was hard for me to do. To me he was a hero. Now he's just another guy who messed up.

However, I still like football.

Hypocrisy is a difficult trait to stomach in people we deal with regularly. It is even harder to take when we have idolized the person who is guilty of the hypocrisy, all the time believing that they were as they all around good guy. This is why people outside the church find it difficult to deal with Christians who can at times be hypocritical.

If you are one of those people who have been disillusioned by the hypocritical acts of someone claiming to be a Christ follower, I want to challenge you to think of it this way: It's not about them, it's about Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He says this to remind us that the church is for seekers and disciples, but it is about (and belongs to) Jesus.

I haven't stopped enjoying football because a man who I admired turned out to be less than I imagined. Without the sport, Payton was just another guy. It's still about the sport, not the skill or character of the players.

I haven't stopped loving the church because people who have been my heroes in the faith have turned out to have clay feet. Without Jesus, we are all just another guy. It's still about him, not the imperfection of His followers.

If you are ever turned off to Jesus because one of His followers turns out to be a hypocrite, ask yourself this question: If a hypocrite is standing between you and Jesus, who is closer to Jesus? You, or the imperfect follower?

September 19, 2011

Mercy Instead of Justice

As we head into the home stretch of this year's Baseball season, I thought I'd share the story that caused me to no longer follow Major League Baseball.

It's 1996. It was a close call. One that instant replay could not justify. Maybe the umpire was lying. Honestly, most people will forget the circumstances of the moment as far as baseball is concerned. Fewer still will remember the accuracy of the umpire's decision. But what ensued after "the call" is impossible for me to forget (or forgive).

In the fracas that followed, Roberto Alomar began arguing with the umpire, John Hirschbeck. Davey Johnson, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, rushed over to get between Alomar and the Hirschbeck. Johnson came into the picture to keep his All-Star second baseman from being ejected, not to dispute the umpire's call. What happened next shocked the sporting world.

As Johnson continued trying to shield Alomar from the umpire, Alomar leaned over Johnson's shoulder and spit in the face of the umpire. It was uncalled for. It was unsportsmanlike. It was gross!

One sad part is that the umpire was unjustly abused. (Alomar was ejected and eventually suspended and fined). Another somewhat sad part was the league's apparent apathy toward the matter, allowing Alomar to continue playing in the American League Championship Series by stating that suspensions apply only to regular season games.

However, in my mind, the most sad part was that a young man who spent several years honing his skills to become a six-time Golden Glove second baseman, deservedly lost the respect of the sporting world in less than two seconds.

The Orioles eventually lost to the Yankees in the Championship Series. An extremely rare Alomar error played a major role in the loss. Some say that this is poetic justice. I say that it is no justice at all. He shouldn't have been allowed on the field. Simply by being allowed to make the error, he got better than he deserved. . .

. . . I now better understand the level of rage that I ought to feel because they spit on my Lord. Not just once, but repeatedly. He did nothing to deserve it. Unlike the umpire, he didn't argue or retaliate. He had only one recourse: to die for them and all of the folks just like them.

If that umpire had been my son, my first reaction would be to take a Louisville Slugger to Alomar's noggin. But the Heavenly Father doesn't operate that way! He delivered his Son to a spit-soaked, shame-drenched, sin-saturated death. Jesus washed the feet of Judas, blessed those that cursed Him, and died for those who did not deserve it...and that includes us.

Is this fair? No! Whether we admit it or not, we grieve God at times. But like Alomar, we are receiving an opportunity to live a life that we do not deserve. I think the Bible calls it mercy.