Forgiven?

Tiger Woods' nationally televised apology last Friday has been highly criticized.

You didn’t think I was going to leave this untouched, did you?  A week after Tiger Wood’s nationally televised apology regarding his affairs, I know many are exhausted with the Tiger talk.  But, frankly it doesn’t get that much bigger than this and despite all the reports, blogging, opinion polls, & radio programs, I still haven’t heard what I was hoping to hear. 

I’m not sure a public apology has ever been disected like this before.  Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal in ’98 was obviously huge, but the internet and communication capability in general then wasn’t what it is now.  This could very well be the biggest.  I’ve heard/read many who’ve analyzed the apology.  Most are unsatisfied.  Some take issue with the fact that Tiger read his statement.  How is it that a Stanford graduate who has spent the past 10 years with a microphone in his face can’t, with 3 months prep time, put together a 12 minute speech about how he feels?  Others defended him by saying it would have been too emotional of a moment to stay focused and that this was not the time to slip into rambling and say something stupid.  Some have criticized the fact that Tiger didn’t show enough emotion.  Confessing the many women he’s been with and the suffering he’s caused his wife, it didn’t appear as though a genuine tear came to Tiger’s eye.  Then again, keep in mind, this is a robotic character to say the least.  Sure, he’ll pump his fist after a great shot, but have you ever heard him talk before?  He’s C3PO in a Nike polo.  The guy even admits that his golf swing contains 30 plus points of concentration that he repeats in mechanical sequence time and again.  The point is, he seems like a robotic man, so I wouldn’t expect his apology to be anything less.  Some people simply show their emotions in different ways and we can’t necessarily fault him for not crying here.  Another criticism of Tiger’s apology was that it was too much of an infomercial about himself.  A former public relations director for the New York Yankees, Rick Cerrone, suggested that Tiger came off as “arrogant” and was simply trying to promote himself.  To a certain extent, I’d agree.  This forum was probably not the place for his comments about his foundation for helping children, or to address claims about him using performance enhancing drugs in golf, or even for him to criticize the paparazzi & media for claims of domestic violence.  Tiger actually spoke the words “these are issues between a husband and a wife” in his statement.  Really!?!?  So is a sexual union.  No one forced you to become the most successful professional golfer of all time.  No one forced you to sign public endorsements with the likes of the largest athletic gear marketer in the world.  The day you allowed such things, you opened a door.  I certainly wouldn’t defend the cutthroat media, but I’m also not going to allow Tiger to convince me to believe he’s a victim here in any way.  Right or wrong, the media (and our world) sees this stuff as fair game and the price of fame. 

There’s a number of other things people didn’t like about Tiger’s apology.  But whether you or I liked it or not really isn’t the big issue.  In fact, whether his wife Elin liked it or not, although a much more important factor than you, I, or the media, isn’t even the biggest issue.  Whether or not God saw it as legitimate repentance would be the issue that’s not going to affect Tiger for just 50 or so years (like marriage or a media relationship).  This is an issue that’s going to affect him eternally.

And so, I was fascinated to hear Tiger incorporate religion into his speech.  Referencing his upbringing in Buddhism, this is what Tiger had to say: “Part of following this path (to recovery) is Buddhism.  Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security, and it teaches me to stop following every impulse and learn restraint.  Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.”  Buddhism, practiced by over 300 million people around the planet tends to not get caught up in concrete concepts.  Forgiveness of one another is recommended so that we’re not dwelling on negative thoughts that hold us back from achieving our state of nirvana.  If I do, I will be reborn with that obstacle against me.  Bitterness, rage, grudges, none of it jives with the “enlightened path” as laid out by the Buddha.  Now I honestly don’t know what religion, if any, that Elin practices.  But, I just can’t see the “Honey, please forgive me cause if you don’t you’ll have this negative energy surrounding you that will carry over into your next life when you’re reborn” argument being all that satisfying.  Seems a bit shallow, right?  Sure, Tiger says he’s going to try his best to be a better husband.  And honestly, I believe him.  I don’t really question his sincerity.  I believe he’s truly sorry, that he wishes he never would have had these affairs, and that he hates himself for the pain this has caused his loved ones.  That’s not exactly repentance though.  That’s contrition — sorrow over sins.  For biblical precedence, Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver was contrite for his sin.  He was not repentant though.  It’s no accident the account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and Peter’s denial of Jesus are adjacent to one another in the Gospels.  One offered true repentance.  One did not.  Anyways, the fact that Tiger even said, “I have a lot to atone for” is a good indicator to me that Tiger Woods still doesn’t get it.

If you haven’t discovered this yet, Christianity is vastly different from every other religion on the planet.  I rediscover this all the time.  Christianity promotes a unique humility that recognizes that “I personally can’t atone for any of my sins.”  Our pride prevents us from calling ourselves “not good people” though.  Consequently, mankind has invented lots of religions (even some that slip through the cracks under the guise of “Christianity”) that suggest that there really is no “sin” but only positive or negative energy, or that if there are some objective standards of right or wrong out there, well, I can atone for myself,  or that maybe if I happen to be better than most, than I have a better than most afterlife awaiting me.  These are the concoctions of a wounded soul that knows God’s out there, knows he’s got standards, knows I’ve failed to meet those standards, and yet the pride is so great that it refuses to let God help or the apathy towards God’s Word (the Bible) is so great that it refuses to let him share his good news with me. 

So, alright, high and mighty pastor, what would have made Tiger’s apology up to your standards?  Glad you asked :).  Granted, the acceptance of our verbalized repentance before God is NOT based on the perfection of that repentance, but on God’s mercy and love.  But, particularly as Lent just began, what I was really hoping to hear come from Tiger’s mouth (and yet would have been shocked along with the rest of the world if it did) was to hear him say:

 “I’m sorry for my sins.  I’ve sinned against my God.  I’ve sinned against my wife.  I wish I had never done these awful things.  But I know my Redeemer lives.  God’s Son, Jesus, died on the cross for my sins so that I wouldn’t have to suffer eternally for them.  God accepted his punishment in my place.  So while many have suffered as a result of my mistakes, most unfortunately, my wife, by God’s grace a time will come when Elin and I won’t ever have to think, worry, or suffer for them again.  Christ nailed these mistakes to his cross.  In thankfulness for what he’s done for me, I rededicate myself to my wife, loving her every day like Christ loves his church, so much so that he was willing to live every day for her, and finally even die for her happiness and glory.” 

Can God really forgive such mistakes, just like that?  He already has.  And if I’m ever tempted to doubt my Savior’s forgiveness for my many mistakes, my personal favorite place to turn in God’s Word is 1 John 1:9.  John begins in the prior verse, verse 8, by reminding us that we’re all sinners (in other words, those who want to outright condemn Tiger or anyone else, remember, we’re all in this same sinking “sin boat” together).  Here John writes “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  John then goes on in verse 9 to describe the solution to our problem of sin.  He says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”   It really is just that simple on our end.  We say we’re sorry to God and others.  We trust that Jesus really did take our sins away on the cross.  The result =forgiveness and salvation.  Sound too simple?  Well, you could concoct yet another religion that complicates it and leads further and further away from the truth or you could take God at his Word.

From what I can tell, Tiger is totally lost and desperate for answers and relief.  I can only imagine what Elin is going through.  I pray someone loves them enough to let them know what forgiveness in Christ is – that it’s not what we do, it’s what he (Jesus) did for us.  And if they believe that, well……….. I can’t tell you how their marriage turns out.  Will leave that reporting to Entertainment Tonight and TMZ.  But I can tell you where they’d spend their eternity.

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Lose Control

Not sure this picture makes perfect sense, but hey, go ahead and try to tell me that animals who think they're people isn't the cutest thing.

 I’m kind of a control freak.  It’s the way I’m programmed.  I’m sure everyone in my life gets annoyed with my micro-managing of the way I want things done (i.e. my perceived “right way” to do things).  Well, any expression that’s ever had the terminology “freak” involved carries somewhat of a negative connotation with it.  “Control freak” is no different.  If you’re a freak like me, you know how frustrating it can be to feel the need to control everything. 

The last great hurdle for me in this was when I first became a pastor.  Go figure.  Called to a congregation with a 50 year history and two established pastors, I recognized both of these aspects as blessings.  However, it meant that I had less control.  I would also learn that I was helping to manage a congregation of hundreds of souls that I couldn’t control.  Also difficult.  For instance, it doesn’t matter that every ounce of everything I ever learned in my 12 years of education in preparation to become a pastor says that “faith generated and is sustained by regularly hearing the message of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), because I can tell people this till I’m blue in the face, I can beg and plead and practically pay people, but I can’t “force” anyone to come to church.  I don’t have that control.  I can assign passages to learn, I can try to explain biblical concepts from all angles, I can love them like my own, but I can’t force a single one of my confirmation students to confess their Savior.  I don’t have that control.  I can walk people through Matthew 6 and tell them how Jesus himself PROMISES that he will provide for ALL of their needs – clothes, food, shelter, and our greatest need, forgiveness for our sins – but I can’t force people to not love or worry about money, let alone use it to spread God’s Word.  I don’t have that control. 

I guess none of that should have surprised me.  Think of God’s people historically – the children of Israel had the presence of God himself visibly and tangibly in their midst.  They saw his power.  He was a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night as they wandered in the wilderness.  He miraculously provided manna for them every day to eat.  He parted the Red Sea for them and destroyed Pharaoh’s army.  At times God sent down fire from heaven or opened the earth to swallow up those who openly practiced immorality or rebellion against him.  However, none of it made God’s people any more faithful.  The point is, if all that didn’t “force” people to give their hearts over to God, if all that didn’t force people into belief or faithfulness, clearly my flawed self can’t do it. 

It’s a little frustrating for a control freak.

I don’t have any kids, but, in a strange way, regardless of age, I feel a little fatherish to my congregation.  I can’t imagine what biological parents who are control freaks go through.  Grades, proper diet, medicines, curfews, clothes, dating, college, etc.!  I’m fairly certain I’ve already driven my non-existent child insane.  I know a number of parents who beat themselves up because they raised their children in faith and they grew up and fell away.  Well, no one is a perfect parent, and yes there are different degrees of faithfulness.  That’s all true.  But, the reality is this – your job as a parent isn’t to piggyback your kid to heaven.  You don’t have that control.  Spiritually speaking, a parent’s job is simply to give their child every opportunity to grow in faith (which, again, comes from being exposed to the message of Jesus). 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply push all the buttons and make the life we want – make everyone’s decisions for them – dictate the universe – play God?  Well, in one sense, maybe.  In another sense, probably not. 

Surprisingly, one of the best illustrations of this I’ve ever seen was in the 2003 Jim Carrey film “Bruce Almighty”.  Okay, so, yes, you can debate at what point it crosses the sacrilegious line.  The role of God is a stretch even for Morgan Freeman.  And Jim Carrey, well, let’s just say you only need to see a man crawl out the back end of a mechanical rhinoceros once before you begin to lose respect for his collective body of work (cf. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls — no, I don’t recommend it, and no, I will not provide a YouTube link.)  All that said, it does a pretty remarkable job of making the profound point that we don’t truly want as much control as we think we want – that we should allow God to be God and that we should follow in faith, understanding that he’s in control, and understanding that he’s going to do what’s best for us.

And when we allow ourselves to “lose control” of the things that we don’t really have control of in the first place, it’s one of the more liberating feelings in the world.  I have no idea where I’m going to be in 10 years.  I have plans.  I have goals.  I have hopes.  Ultimately though, I realize I’m not completely in control.  I can make wise decisions and work hard and all of that is fine and good.  It’s important.  But there are so many variables that go into simply getting safely from my home to my work every day that I have to realize the small amount of control I really possess. 

Some good wisdom literature from the Old Testament, Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”  I wouldn’t want it any either way.  A God who knows all things (John 21:17) and promises to work all things out for my good (Rom. 8:28)………I’ll take that any day over my own flawed thought process.

Country superstar Carrie Underwood won the Grammy for “Country Song of the Year” and was nominated for “Song of the Year” in 2006 with the hit “Jesus, Take the Wheel”.  Beautiful as the song was, theologically, to be super nit-picky, it was a little inaccurate.  God already has the wheel whether we “allow him” to take it or not.  We can pretend like we’re in control and worry ourselves to death, or we can enjoy the freedom of not having to run the universe.  We can let God be God and simply have the joy of a child – his child.

Crystal Ball Not Necessary

Now divorced - Jenny & Gov. Mark Sanford

Let me begin my saying that ever since Ozzie and Harriet were the first couple on TV that America saw in the same bed back in the 1950s, it’s clear, as a country, we’ve been WAY too fascinated about what’s going on in other people’s marriages.  Today, celebrity gossip shows and even mainstream media have no qualms with sticking their noses in the sordid business of America’s icons (cf. Tiger Woods).  This is all my way of saying, I don’t want to further the issue by digging into someone’s love affairs.  Nonetheless, this one’s already out there and probably worth learning a valuable lesson from.    

You may recall the very bizarre story that broke last year of the disappearance of South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford.  After a few days, Gov. Sanford was “found”.  Actually, he never really was lost.  He was simply on an adulterous rendezvous to meet his mistress in Argentina.  Sanford would later make public comments talking about love as something he fell into with his mistress and how he was hoping to once again fall in love with his wife.  If you can’t tell, this is one of my least favorite expressions for loving relationships, as though love is merely an accident or an unstoppable force or some ride that we just go along on and have no say in.  I don’t like it because it totally flies in the face of how the Bible defines love — as a choice that involves a willingness for sacrifice, and yes, also often produces emotion.  Not surprisingly, Gov. Sanford’s marriage has now ended in divorce.  

Last week, Jenny Sanford, his ex-wife added a couple interesting wrinkles to the story.  The most fascinating detail of her interview with Barbara Walters was the detail that some 20 years ago at their wedding, Gov. Sanford had insisted that the “promise to be faithful to you” portion of the wedding vows be removed from the ceremony.  There’s no catch here.  He simply refused to speak the words “I promise to be faithful to you (my future wife)”.  Sensing in the interview that this perhaps sounded like something that should have been a major red light in a marriage, Jenny Sanford claimed that she was young and “in love” and had hoped that this love would overcome any doubts that he/she had.  The reality was that she was a 27-year-old Georgetown alum and successful investment banker.  The “young and stupid” excuse probably doesn’t work here.   

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am by no means saying that Gov. Sanford’s infidelity was anybody’s fault but his own.  No doubt.  But come on, Jenny Sanford.  While I’m certainly sympathetic to any woman (or man) in this situation and the incredible pain they go through, this comes across as a naïve move to say the least.  While I’m not in her shoes and know how easy it is to criticize from a distance, especially in hindsight, but should she not have seen this coming?  If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, guess what?  Probably a duck.  And if, in essence, it says in the wedding vows, “Hey, I’m a duck!”, well, his mistakes, although inexcusable, were perhaps completely avoidable.  

This brings me to my point for writing today.  A number of my teens at church are reading my blog now.  I care about them deeply and pray about them regularly.  There’s a couple things I’m sure they get sick of me saying, but that won’t stop me from saying them again and again.  One of these redundancies is simply this: when considering marriage, find someone who shares in your love of Christ; as you grow in loving your Lord together, you will grow in your love for one another.  God instituted marriage with this in mind.  And if there’s any doubt about believers making poor decisions in the spouse department, check out what happens to the wisest man to ever live, Solomon, when he make’s “worldly wise” but not “spiritually wise” decisions in the wife department.  Marrying a foreign (and therefore “unbelieving”) wife was a good political move, as the marriage functioned as somewhat of a treaty between nations.  However, foreign wives meant foreign gods, and Solomon lost his way in faith as a result.  Let me put it a different way: so what if he’s a doctor?!  Who cares if she’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever laid eyes on?!  If he/she is not a partner in Christ, you have to think long and hard about whether or not this is truly wise.   

In speaking with a Fatherly tone to the Corinthians Christians, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?”  Yes, Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors.  He did not hesitate to express Christian love to all mankind.  But who were his closest friends?  People who loved the true God and loved him as the Son of God.  Sinners, yes.  But repentant sinners.  Marriage is universally one of the most important decisions anyone of us ever makes.  Consequently, it’s all the more important that our heads be on straight and our priorities in line.   

But wait, what if you’re someone whose past decisions have united you with someone who perhaps doesn’t share that same faith that you have?   Take heart.  The Bible has some good advice here too.  Check out 1 Corinthians 7 and the powerful influence that the Apostle Paul says a godly spouse can have on an unbelieving partner, simply by living in faith.  Your spouse may wonder why you still love them despite all their faults.  And you can tell them, “Because Jesus first loved me and forgave me for my faults.  He inspires me to love you the way I do.”  

Let me close by saying that I’m under no false impression that I have all the answers about marriage or that I’m some husband extraordinaire myself.  Far from it.  At times I get selfish and self-absorbed.  I act like a baby.  I’ve yet to be accused of being overly romantic (I’ll never wrap my brain around why Pizza Hut is not a viable option on Valentine’s day, particularly when I spring for bread sticks).  So I ask God to forgive, trust that he does, and ask him to help me be more of the husband that I know he wants me to be, more like Christ is to his Church.  All I’m hoping to do here is share the wisdom of God’s Word on an issue that studies indicate society gets wrong over half the time and growing.  Kids, I hope you’re listening 🙂

Bye Week

Argh.  You’ve got to be kidding me?!  I just finished another blog and tried to publish it without saving it first.  Well, the publish didn’t take and I was left blogless.  Hate that feeling.  You didn’t miss much – basically a spiritually edifying rant on how Beyonce should never have won the Grammy for “Song of the Year” for Singles Ladies (Put a Ring on It).  The point was……………eh, frankly I don’t have the energy to describe the point.  Very well could have been for the best.

That’s the way life goes sometimes. 

Anyways, I apologize and will be back next week.  God Bless!