Fighters and Sinners All!
According to my nephew who has done extensive research on the ancestry of our family, somewhere in our past generations we were kicked out of Ireland for fighting. That’s right, the “fighting Irish” threw us out because we fought too much. It probably seems ludicrous to you that people who have fought over nearly everything, for thousands of years would throw out the Givens’. But you likely didn’t spend time growing up with me and my fighting cousins and brothers.
My grandfather was a boxer, and at one point landed in jail during the depression for killing a man in a boxing match. His nine sons were used to fist fights. My dad loved boxing and had fist of iron. Though he was short in stature he was strong in determination and had a good bit of anger that was often un-harnessed. My parents owned a little restaurant all my life. The story goes that dad was given his first industrial stove and refrigerator by a restaurant owner in New Orleans who saw dad hit a man so hard he flew across the room. This poor flying man had made a pass at my mom… for the last time I suspect! The restaurant owner, a friend of dad’s was so impressed by his power-packed punch he donated some equipment to dad to start the Chriton Cafe in Mobile, AL.
I remember as a kid, going to grandpa’s farm at Stateline for family reunions and visits. Anytime grandpa would get angry about something, my dad and all my uncles would step back just a bit. I later learned they were getting just outside grandpa’s arm range.
Both of my brothers inherited the Givens’ DNA for fighting. Over the years I’ve witnessed several poor souls who insulted one of my brothers, or their girlfriends, or a car, or my mom or our dogs and got themselves beaten to a bloody pulp. Remembering scenes from the HULK might help you have necessary imagery here. Even I pounded a couple of elementary kids in my day, left them with bloody noses, bleeding teeth and wound up writing 100 sentences of I will not fight on the play ground at school, one hundred times on a chalk board.
It’s in our DNA. There’s no denying it when it flares up. Even I, though deeply influenced by my mother’s temperament, can feel it surge in my blood at times. I saw a little six year old boy intentionally try to hurt my six year old son on a basketball court years ago, and if referee’s and parents hadn’t intervened, and a great outpouring of God’s grace had not come to help me, I would likely not be a pastor today. DNA was strong that day.
So now you know that deep within my gene pool is a marker for fighting and sinful rage.
Flesh Verses Spirit
This summer in the Dominican Republic, my little brother’s family, a church friend and I set out to build some outdoor bathrooms and showers in the village of Munoz. The Caribbean Islands are warm this time of year, very warm. The humidity was high. On our third morning of work, an arrogant young boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, came by the work sight and practically demanded he be allowed to share in our snacks. Our missionary intern told him that if he would help with the work he could share in our snacks and have some of our water. He refused to help and even told us he would just steal some later. We noted his threat, but continued to work hard on building the frame. When our team went to lunch at the hotel, my brother Mark and I stayed behind to keep the work going and build some relationships with the local workers. During this time, the team is not there to help watch our tools and snacks. I heard some hammering near our tool bag and looked over in that direction. The arrogant young man had returned. He was clutching a small hammer and was building a wooden box. As I was pointing him out to my brother, to let him know that we need to keep and eye on him, the boy reached into our tool bag, took out a large roll of leveling string, shoved it deep in his pocket, and started to walk off.
DNA time! My voice was timed perfectly with my brother’s, although his was much louder and more demanding than mine.
“HEY!!” “NO!!” we both shouted. My brother’s “coaches” voice caused the entire village to stop. Birds, crickets, ants and all the people I could see were frozen in their tracks. And this arrogant little boy had the gall to say he wasn’t stealing it. He was just “borrowing” it. He sheepishly put it back into our tool bag, as the village men stood nearby and scolded him in native Creole. With his head down in what I believed was a false shame, he walked about 15 yards away toward the river and began working on his little box again.
I was outraged! Maybe the heat and humidity had ramped it up a notch, but my DNA was activated and like the HULK all I wanted to do was smash that boy. Who did he think he was stealing from us? Did he not care that we traveled a thousand miles and spent thousands of hard-earned dollars to come down to his miserable little village to build a bathroom for him? We bought the materials, we brought the tools, we arranged the work . We were sweaty and sore from hauling cinder blocks and timbers, cement and gravel. What if we had just packed up our stuff and taken the last four days of our trip as a Caribbean vacation? The beach was less than twenty minutes away. The arrogance and foolishness of that crazy kid was boiling my blood. I was trying to decide how I could lure him behind one of the tin shacks and get him across my knees and show him how the Givens take care of such foolishness.
Yes, me, Pastor Stan, alleged man of God, serving God on a mission field to show the glory and kindness and grace of God, was plotting how to beat that arrogant child and teach him a “lesson.” The Flesh was strong in me when that boy took our stuff.
Then I heard the battery powered saws and I looked to see my little brother (who has same DNA as mine) cutting some tiny pieces of wood to help the arrogant boy build his box.
If you don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, you are going to have to concoct some crazy personality disorder explanation for what was happening. My little brother, who in times past would have made his no-longer-Irish-ancestors proud, was showing grace to the kid who, mere minutes before, had stolen from us. Then, with the help of a village translator, Mark told the boy, “If you want to borrow some tools to build your box, just ask.”
Grace was the lesson of the day! Grace was what might possibly change the boy. But my flesh was so busy figuring out how to beat him that the Spirit was paralyzed.
But here is what was so awesome in that holy moment: It wasn’t my brother Mark, it was the Spirit of God alive and working through him. I saw God in my 6’4″ “little” brother. Grace flowed stronger than our DNA. The Spirit was strong in “Grande Marc” that afternoon. I was humbled and blessed to see God keeping me out of trouble and my brother became the minister for the day.
Grace was actually what I needed to witness in my soul and heart. Maybe the boy needed it too, but God wanted me to re-engage with the real HOPE that we are called to bring to a lost and hurting world. It is the message of grace, like my brother Mark displayed, that will change people in every country. We are to love God and love others with all we have. We are to love those who take advantage of us. Grace is for everyone.
Grace is always stronger than DNA!
Aren’t you glad?!!