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Woman Defends Tom Brady In Her Own Obituary

By Dr. Mark Denison — They are the three issues that threaten civilization: world hunger, unrest in the Middle East, and “deflate-gate.” I can’t help with the first two, but let’s talk – one last time – about Tom Brady and “deflate-gate.” The footballs were deflated for the big AFC title game. The question America collectively asks is, “What did he know and when did he know it?” Millions have come to Brady’s defense. But count Patricia M. Shong, of Auburn, Massachusetts, as his chief apologist. Ms. Shong went further in her defense of her favorite player than even Brady has gone himself. She defended Brady in her obituary. That’s right – her obituary!

Here’s what happened. The 72-year-old woman knew she was dying, so she wrote her own obit, to be published after her death. It reads, in part, “Ms. Shong enjoyed scrapbooking, weekly card night, and spending time with family. And she would like to set the record straight. Brady is innocent!” Well, there you go. Case settled. I never had the privilege of knowing Ms. Shong, but I have one observation. I’m guessing that anyone who was so passionate in defending her football hero as to publish it as part of her own obituary didn’t wait until she died to defend her man. I’m sure she got in the face of every Brady critic and consistently stood up for her beliefs. But it was her last words that carried the most weight. Last words matter most.

I remember the last words my dad said to me, six days before he died. I remember the last words my mother said to me, seconds before slipping away. Last words matter. Let’s consider the last words of the man whose words still echo through the corridor of time. I’m talking about a man who never wrote a book, never owned a business, and never gave more than one recorded public address. He is a man who never traveled sixty miles from where he was born, never visited a large city, and never conducted a single media interview. He came from meager beginnings and died a meager death. He never married and had no children. He died in his early 30s and was laid to rest in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. But he is still the most quoted man who ever lived. But it is his last words I leave with you today. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Jesus’ last words were not to a magistrate or world leader. His words were not given to family or lifelong friends. His words were not given to the masses or offered for public discourse. Jesus’ final, most important words were offered to his closest followers. You see, Jesus’ goal was not to impress, but influence. And he knew that the best way to change the world was not by impressing the masses, but to charge a few radicals with the task of sharing the Good News. That strategy is still in place today. Last words matter. May thee last words of the King of kings and Lord of lords affect us, challenge us, and change us. Believers, we have our marching orders. It’s time to go to work.

Swallowing Goldfish

By Dr. Mark Denison — Though most fads seem to spring up from nowhere, the art of goldfish swallowing can be traced to one individual and one specific date. On March 3, 1939, Harvard student Lothrop Withington, Jr. swallowed a live fish to win a $10 bet. Days later, not to be outdone, a college student in Pennsylvania downed three fish seasoned with salt and pepper. When a fellow classmate upped the ante to six goldfish, the gauntlet had been thrown down and the fad spread like wildfire on campuses across the country. Before the goldfish craze faded a few months later, thousands of goldfish had met their collective demise and even coeds had taken up the challenge.

Now, I love seafood as much as anyone. I love shrimp, catfish, scallops, trout, oysters, and crabmeat. I even like the “fish” they sell out of the chain restaurant named after a pirate. But I draw the line at goldfish. But Lothrop was like a lot of us. He was willing to swallow anything, whether it was good for him or not. We are told that we are winning the war with ISIS and the war on poverty. We are told that more money equals better schools. We are told that gay marriage is a matter for the federal government, despite what it says in the Bill of Rights. We are told that electing the right President will solve all our problems. We are told that global warming isn’t real, while others tell us global warming is our greatest threat. But many are swallowing more important myths. Happiness is about what happens to us, rather than what happens in us. You can work your way into heaven. There are certain things you can do to make God love you more. There are certain things you can do to make God love you less. If a couple lives together first, their marriage will be better. Children don’t need a dad at home. All roads lead to heaven. Though the stuff you have now doesn’t make you happy, having more of it will.

An old friend of mine from Gainesville, Texas said something I have never forgotten. Johnny Leftwich often said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” There are times we need to take a stand. We need to investigate, then embrace the truth. I am not a believer because I was raised that way. I am a believer because that is where my pursuit for truth led me. I believe in the three pillars of The Proud Americans: God, family, and country. There is a lot of “stuff” being propagated in today’s world. That doesn’t mean you have to swallow everything that comes along. Stick to goldfish.

Shooting in Waco

By Dr. Mark Denison — A Sunday meeting between five rival biker gangs seeking to settle their differences at a Waco Twin Peaks restaurant turned into a brawl that escalated to gunfire, leaving nine dead, 18 taken to hospitals, and 170 booked by local police. Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton said all involved were gang members. What began as a meeting to discuss their issues quickly escalated to a fistfight, then involved knives, chains, and firearms. The scene that resulted was “the most gruesome crime scene I’ve ever seen in my 34 years of law enforcement,” Swanton said. Witnesses reported hearing 100 rounds fired from 30 guns. Here’s where it gets interesting. Swanton said that over the past few months the police were aware of rival biker gangs causing issues at the Twin Peaks restaurant. “We have attempted to work with the local management of Twin Peaks to get that cut back, to no avail,” said Swanton. “They have not been of much assistance to us.” Jay Patel, operating partner of the Twin Peaks Waco franchise, posted a statement on Facebook saying, “We are horrified by the criminal, violent acts.” He told local media, “Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police.” But Swanton said the management has not cooperated with authorities in addressing concerns about the gangs and called Patel’s statement a “fabrication.” Further investigation into the incident seems to confirm the police version of the story.

Lessons abound. My focus will be on the meeting the gangs set for the purpose of settling their differences. While their intent may have been good, they made one mistake. They failed to leave their knives, chains, and guns at home. While they wanted peace, they brought weapons to the negotiating table. I’ve learned a few things about conflict management through the years. Hurting people hurt people. The issue is never the issue. The list goes on. But I’ve also learned that when we pursue God’s Plan A with our own Plan B in our hip pocket, we are not all in with Plan A. And when God’s Plan A becomes difficult to carry out, we do what we know. We fall back on our own Plan B, so familiar to us. Life brings challenges. It is possible that you will never be in a biker gang. But life still brings challenges. And life brings conflicts. I bet, if you tried really hard, you can think of someone with whom you are in conflict right now. God’s Plan A is clear – go to that person in gentleness and prayer. Confess your own shortcomings. Go in peace with forgiveness already granted. Leave your Plan B at home. The lesson of Waco is the lesson of all human conflict. When we settle our differences our own way, carnage results. God has a better plan.

Coca-Cola

By Dr. Mark Denison — In 1997 one of the finest business leaders in the world died. His name was Roberto Goizueta, and he was the chairman and chief executive officer of the Coca-Cola Company. A few months before he died, he said, “A billion hours ago, human life appeared on Earth. A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged. A billion seconds ago, the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. And a billion Coca-Colas ago . . . was yesterday morning.” He told an Atlanta newspaper he had no plans for retirement. Six weeks later he was dead. And so was Coca-Cola. Or was it? Normally, when the CEO suddenly goes away, the company goes in the tank. But not Coke. Goizueta had grown Coke from a $4 billion company to a $150 billion company. But he did something more important than that. He groomed Douglas Ivester to take his place, if and when the need would arise. Goizueta taught Ivester everything he knew, just in case. And “in case” happened. It always does.

You see, the key to your success in any venture is not what you do, but what you prepare others to do. Paul mastered this concept, and he told Titus to do the same. He understood the importance of finding good men and training them to lead the next generation. To young Titus, Paul said, “An elder must be blameless, entrusted with God’s work” (Titus 1:6). You probably spend a lot of time working on doing things better. Start leading others to do things better. That is the secret of Coke. That is the secret of life.

Tiger Woods – Lindsey Vonn Breakup

By Dr. Mark Denison — Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn announced the end of their relationship last week. The legendary golfer and skier had been dating for three years. Vonn announced, “After nearly three years together, Tiger and I have mutually decided to end our relationship. I will always cherish the memories that we’ve created together. He and his beautiful family will always hold a special place in my heart.” That sounded benign enough. But is there more to the story? When you look up “the man who had it all” in the dictionary, you will find Tiger Woods’ picture there. He has won 79 PGA tournaments, including 14 majors. His net worth is $600 million. He was married to swimsuit model Elin Nordegren, and has two gorgeous kids. But all that came unraveled under mysterious circumstances outside the couple’s home in Windermere, Florida when he drove his SUV into a fire hydrant November 27, 2009. Tiger later admitted to serial infidelities and sought treatment for sex addiction. He moved to Jupiter Island, Florida, where he shares custody of Sam and Charlie, ages eight and six. Having completed treatment for his addiction and committed to Lindsey, Tiger’s world was coming back together, if not his golf game. Then Tiger and Lindsey “mutually agreed” to break up. Tiger has admitted to sleepless nights since. He is not happy. And several media outlets, including ABC News, have reported there is more to the story. Woods was playing in the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego in February. After 12 rounds he withdrew with back pain. That night, he was spotted with another woman and eventually admitted this relapse to Lindsey under the stress of the story becoming public. A friend of the couple said Woods “had a relapse in the sex department. Lindsey found out about women again, always while he’s on the road. Just like when he was with Elin.” I’m sure more of this story will soon come out. Sorting fact from fiction won’t be easy. But finding lessons from the Woods-Vonn breakup is. When hearing of such an event, the easy thing to do is joke about Tiger, criticize him, and mock him. After all, how can a man with $600 million, a gorgeous wife (and now girlfriend) toss it all away for a “faceless, nameless woman” (as described by the family friend)? Let me offer some humble advice. First, don’t criticize another person until you have your life 100 percent on track. (In other words, don’t criticize another person). Second, recognize the only perfect people are the ones you haven’t met yet. Third, addictions are real. Some psychiatrists estimate there are 150 legitimate addictions, and the average person has 1.3 of them. Fourth, the sin of Tiger Woods is not that he is addicted to sex. I’m sure he did not choose this addiction. The sin is not getting satisfactory help with it. If the stories are true, Tiger is among the high number of addicts who relapse, estimated at 90 percent by some studies. Fifth, the battle is not won in a day, a week, or even a year. There is no easy fix or pill to take. Recovery is hard work, and success is found only in the crucible of daily commitment and reliance on a loving God. Sixth, your addiction does not define you, nor does it make God love you less. And seventh, some addictions are good, such as serving God. Paul praised some believers who “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:15). Why does the media go nuts when a star falls? Because we hunger for that kind of stuff. When others fall, we feel better about ourselves. Sure, it’s easy to judge Tiger Woods for his infidelity and addictions. It’s easy to criticize him for throwing it all away for a brief thrill. It’s easy to discuss his faults, and those of others. Celebrities like Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen, Lance Armstrong, Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson, Gary Hart, Matthew Perry, and Lindsay Lohan are easy targets. It would be easy to criticize those who died at the hand of their addictions and/or drugs, such as John Belushi, Chris Farley, Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, and Janis Joplin. Nothing would be easier than to criticize Tiger Woods as he suffers in the depths of his addictions and depression. And I will be the first to pile on. Just as soon as I have everything 100 percent right in my own life. Until then, I’ll let someone else throw the first stone.

American Idol – Nick Fradiani

By Dr. Mark Denison — And the new American Idol is . . . Nick Fradiani. The winner of the 14th installment of the Fox hit is a 29-year-old rocker from Guilford, Connecticut. Fradiani knocked off Clark Beckham of White House, Tennessee in the finals. “This is amazing,” Nick told host Ryan Seacrest. “This is the best day of my life.” Joining Idol alums such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Kris Allen, Fradiani is set to receive close to half a million dollars in benefits for his trouble. “I can’t even think right now,” said the newest Idol. The show will bring its final installment next year, confirmed Fox executives, as its Nielson ratings have plunged from 30.3 million viewers to 9.15 million in 2015. Nick Fradiani is a big deal . . . today. But in a few weeks, only the most astute Idol fans will remember his name.

That’s how it usually works with idols. Think about some of your celebrity idols from years gone by. My childhood idol was Willie Mays, the “Say Hey” kid, and best baseball player of all time. As a young musician, I idolized jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. As a football fan in Houston, I came to idolize Earl Campbell, the greatest player I ever saw. I would later idolize Ronald Reagan. As far as comedians go, my idol was Bob Newhart. But it’s funny. None of these men really affected my life. Mays never hit a ball with his bat or Ferguson a note with his horn that changed me. Campbell, Reagan, and Newhart did nothing that altered the trajectory of my life. But I’ll tell you who did. His name was Elga Steward. His name was Jim Trevathan. His name was Cecil Sewell. And his name was Gene Wofford. You won’t find their pictures in People or their stories in Newsweek. But they were my idols. They did change my life. In order, these men were my eighth grade English teacher, senior high band director, pastor, and college professor.

John Maxwell had it right when he said, “You impress people from a distance, but you influence them up close.” I confess. I watched the last part of the last episode of American Idol. Nick Fradiani is a rare talent. But I will never be able to spell his last name from memory and I won’t remember his first name tomorrow. He impressed me, but he didn’t influence me. American’s Idol is not my idol. You can have Nick. I’m sure he’s a fine young man. But as for me, I’ll stick with the men who have proven themselves over the course of time: Elga, Jim, Cecil, and Gene. They are difference-makers. They are my mentors. And in the best sense of the word, they are, and will forever be, my idols.

Tom Brady Suspension – Is It Fair?

By Dr. Mark Denison — Four-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady has been suspended for four games by the NFL, in punishment for “Deflategate.” Additionally, the Patriots were fined $1 million, lost two draft picks, and two equipment managers were suspended indefinitely. Was the suspension fair? Why did Brady do it? Did Brady do it? In the history of NFL suspensions we find names such as Ray Rice, who beat his fiancé, Adrian Peterson, who beat his son, and Michael Vick, who sponsored dog fighting. Does Tom Brady belong in this group? Let’s go back to December 17, 1925, the date of pro football’s first suspension. The player was Art Folz, quarterback for the Chicago Cardinals. In what became known as the Cardinals-Badgers Scandal, Folz paid his old high school football team to replace the Milwaukee Badgers in the Cardinals-Badgers game, so his Cardinals team would have an easy win, positioning them to unseat the defending champions, the Pottsville Maroons. Folz won the game, but lost his career to a lifetime ban.

But Tom Brady doesn’t belong in a list that includes Rice, Peterson, Vick, and Folz, does he? Certainly don’t mention him in the same breath as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Lance Armstrong. But the NFL found that it was “more likely than not” that Brady instructed the equipment personnel to deflate the balls to a preferred level, and that he did it more than once. What are the lessons of Tom Brady? I see three. First, we are never satisfied. Brady already had three Super Bowl titles and two Super Bowl MVP awards. He was already considered one of the very best to play the game. He already had the fame, fortune, and family. His worth is estimated at $120 million and he makes $27 million a year. As for the game in question, they were playing the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title. The Patriots were huge favorites, and went on to win, 45-7. They didn’t need to cheat. But we are never satisfied. History is littered with people who had it all, but for whom “it all” wasn’t quite enough. Second, we learn that actions have consequences. That is a law of the universe. We need look no further than David and Bathsheba. We get to choose our actions, but we don’t get to choose our consequences. Brady’s defenders argue that he wasn’t guilty, that all evidence was circumstantial. They miss the point. Actions have consequences. Clearly, the balls were underinflated. Clearly, that benefited the Patriots. Clearly, someone did that. And clearly, the balls were under the supervision of Tom Brady all week. (Each quarterback receives twelve balls to work with the week of the coming game.) The buck stopped with him. Someone had to be held accountable. If Brady did not personally order the balls to be deflated (an unlikely scenario according to league officials), he supervised those who did. Actions have consequences. Third, the problem is always the cover-up. Before the NFL suspended Brady, they made him an offer. They invited him to talk to them and explain his side of it. They asked to see his emails and text messages to the men handling the balls. They even allowed him to decide which emails and texts to share with them. He declined all offers. The league officials came to a pretty logical conclusion. Mr. Brady can face a four-game suspension and $1 million fine, or he can show us the clear evidence that completely exonerates him. He decided it was in his best interest to hide that information. He decided the texts and emails were more valuable than $1 million. To them, that sounded like a cover-up. It’s hard to read it any other way.

Either Brady had incriminating information he chose not to share, or he wanted to bless the NFL with $1 million of Patriots’ money. Clearly, this appeared to be a cover-up to league officials. It is still too early to tell if the suspension will stand. Brady can protest this, an arbitrator can be brought in, and the penalties may be lessened or even eliminated. But the lessons will still stand. You don’t have to be an NFL star and multi-millionaire to learn these lessons. They go to the heart of who we are. When we rely on the things this world has to offer, we never have enough. Actions have consequences. The cover-up is always the worst thing. Whether you are a fan of Tom Brady or thought we was the brother of Marcia Brady, let this be a learning point. Life is a lot better when we can learn from the mistakes of others before we make them ourselves.

Babe Ruth – 100 Years Later

By Dr. Mark Denison — One hundred years ago, the New York Yankees arrived at the Polo Grounds to begin a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox. The year was 1915. They had no idea of what to expect from Boston’s rookie pitcher, George Herman Ruth. While they were preparing to face the young left handed pitcher, the last thing they thought about was his bat. The game was scoreless when he stepped to the plate in the top of the third inning. Pitcher Jack Warhop was on the mound for the Yankees. It was Ruth’s 18th major league at-bat. No one could predict what was about to take place. Ruth swung at Warhop’s first pitch. The 8,000 in attendance gasped at the crack of the bat. The ball landed in the right field bleachers. Wilmot Griffin wrote in the New York Evening Journal, “Mr. Warhop of the Yankees looked reproachfully at the opposing pitcher who was so unclubby as to do such a thing like that to one of his own trade (a fellow pitcher).” Babe Ruth collected two more hits that day, while pitching 12 1/3 innings in an eventual loss to the Bronx Bombers.

While his amazing home run career was just ahead, the 20-year-old rookie was then known for his pitching. It wasn’t until 1920 that he was moved to the outfield fulltime in order to bat every day. The Great Bambino would soon re-write the record book and lead the Yankees (following a trade from Boston) to four World Series championships. One hundred years ago, they thought of Babe Ruth as a pitcher. He would become the greatest power hitter of all time, amassing 714 homers over the next 20 years. But it all began on May 6, 1915. With one swing of the bat and one column by a sports reporter, his fame was launched.

I wonder how many of us are just one word of encouragement from our greater path. Launching his 2016 presidential bid, Mike Huckabee said, “Where you are from does not have to determine where you end up.” That is true in all parts of life. Babe Ruth was a pitcher. But he would go on to become baseball’s greatest star . . . all because he refused to let his past define his future. We all have a past. I don’t know your past, but I do know mine. And I know that where you have been and where you are today does not have to dictate the path you take tomorrow. God has a better future. So step up to the plate and start swinging.

Friends

By Dr. Mark Denison — None of us is really equipped to deal with the death of loved ones. That’s why this day in history, eleven years ago, was so hard for millions. It was the death that affected 52 million of us. I’m not talking about Philip Kapleau, the American educator who died May 6, 2004 at the age of 92. I’m not talking about Barney Kessel, the American composer who died May 6, 2004 at the age of 81. And I’m not talking about Virginia Capers, the American actress who died May 6, 2004 at the age of 79. No, I’m talking about the death of Friends, the NBC sitcom that ended on May 6, 2004 at the age of eleven.

There were 52.46 million viewers who made this the fourth most watched finale in television history. For eleven years, millions followed the antics of Jennifer Anniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, and Matt LaBlanc. Just the title of the series was enough to pull us in. Everyone loves to have friends. But there is bad news when it comes to friends. The March 18 edition of Time included a survey that asked, “How many close friends do you have?” The most common answer was “None.” Psychology Today says we can handle up to 150 friends at one time. But David Oragui, author of Build a Better Life, claims the optimum number is three. How many friends do you have? (Acquaintances don’t count!) By “friend,” I mean someone who knows your darkest secrets, has walked with you through life’s deepest valleys, and who stands with you, not because you’re right, but because you’re wrong.

The Bible tells of a man who “gave his life for his friends.” His name was Jesus. I could never say it as well as Joseph Scriven, who wrote these words in 1855.   What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!   Are we weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge, Take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.   I remember when Friends signed off. But I have a Friend who will never sign off. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Whether you have 150 friends or just three, make sure you have the Friend who never fails. Say it with me! What a friend we have in Jesus!

Walmart’s Answer to 2,200 Laid Off Workers: No Chocolate

By Dr. Mark Denison — Walmart abruptly laid off 2,200 workers in five stores in early April. Executives for Walmart say the issues are bad plumbing and needed upgrades. They plan to reopen the stores in six months. But don’t feel sorry for the employees. Walmart notified the workers of the impending layoff a full two hours before it occurred. So, the workers had plenty of time – two hours – to find a new career. But Walmart went even further than that. Each employee was given a handout offering “stress management tips” in view of their sudden joblessness. The handout specifically advised them to avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and chocolate. “Care for yourself by eating well, exercising, and resting when needed,” the memo suggested. And they were encouraged to seek help from a professional counselor to help them through their transition. Finally, the workers were warned that “difficulty sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of being ‘hyper-alert’ are common and will likely diminish in time.”

Walmart is to be commended for offering a full two hours of notice of the layoffs. And they are to be praised for offering wise counsel. But no chocolate? Are you kidding me? In a time of crisis (losing one’s job would qualify) we need more chocolate, not less! Counseling and rest and caffeine avoidance are all fine. But no chocolate? Now let’s get serious. The average American worker will have seven jobs in the next 15 years. That means a lot of stress. And in times of stress, we turn to a quick fix. That is where chocolate comes in. But Jesus taught us that what matters is not what goes into a man, but what comes out (Mark 7). Chocolate, alcohol, and caffeine offer a quick fix in times of need. But if you want a permanent fix, try the One who said, “I have come to give you life, and life more abundantly.” As much as it pains me to admit it, chocolate is not the permanent fix we need in times of crisis. Walmart prepared a paper for those being laid off, in their time of need. God produced a better manual. It’s called the Bible. And it offers promises greater than what even chocolate can provide.