Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. Exodus 20:22

We were in Siem Reap, Cambodia visiting a museum that contained a thousand statues of Buddha of every imaginable size and make. I asked my grandson if he found them interesting, and his response: “No, it was boring. They are all statues of the same guy.”

Most in the western world don’t worship statues. Instead, we often worship other things, often unconsciously.

I remember the first group I led in Bible Study Fellowship. We studied Genesis. It was at a time when my Biblical knowledge was pretty skimpy as a new Christian.

The topic of idols came up in Genesis 31 when Rachel stole Laban’s household idols. When it came to the personal application of the passage, one of my group asked the question: “What are idols?”

My answer was that an idol was anything that you place ahead of your relationship with God. It could be anything: money, work, family, sports, or “even Duck’s Unlimited.”

Not sure why I added the latter. Afterwards, one of my group came up to me. He was a friend of mine who was known for being an outdoorsman and he loved to fish and hunt. He looked at me sheepishly and said: “You didn’t have to say Ducks Unlimited.”

Point taken.  But we can unconsciously have idols that we don’t realize. For me, it was my work. I was a workaholic at times, something that Solomon described in Ecclesiastes 4:8.

My work crowded out my roles as a husband and parent at times. I was always too busy.  Looking back, I regret that I my faith experience didn’t occur earlier in my life because I feel like I had a lot of missed opportunities.

I rationalized that if I was successful in my professional career, I would earn enough money so that I could enjoy life. As it turns out, I did taste wealth for a brief time only to lose all of it in an economic downturn in the late 1980’s. The lesson?  I learned that being rich was overrated and not worth chasing.

Family may be the idol that gets in the way. Just spend time on the sidelines of any kids soccer game and observe the behavior of the parents. Some of it is pretty unbelievable where parents go over the top and behave badly.

Those parents are vicariously living life through their child, and truly “lose it” when something goes wrong on the field.

The typical Christian, when asked, will say that their priorities are God first, family second and friends.  Sometimes their actions don’t match up, and in many cases, there is an unseen “idol” that interferes with those articulated priorities.

So, what’s your idol?  Have you thought about that, or ever examined what is so important in your life that it crowds out your relationship with God or your family?  Have you ever discussed your priorities with another and let them give you feedback?

When I meet with young men, I often ask  what really drives them and what they are passionate about. Sometimes I get good responses; sometimes not.

Some mentees are at a stage where they are trying to develop a vision for their life and then act on it. The vision is often tied to what they see as their purpose in life.  Once that purpose is identified, the next step is to see what is holding them back.

Put another way, what is the “junk in the trunk”? Or, “junk in the boot” in Africa”? It may be an addiction. It might be overcoming past wrong turn in life. Often, it may be that they have idols that they are chasing unconsciously.

Admittedly, I don’t know of anyone who ever had worshipped Duck’s Unlimited as an idol in their life. But, it can happen, almost without any real conscious effort. Our humanity permits us to rationalize all kinds of stuff.

The challenge here is that it is easy to “get out in front of our headlights” when it comes to idols. I love that expression, because it gives a word picture of how off course we can be when it comes to holding stuff or things out as important when, in fact, they aren’t.

The next generation needs guidance in this area. We all do, for that matter.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  A mentor is in a great position to help a mentee evaluate his or her  priorities and desires to make sure they align with what God wants them to become. It may be the most valuable input you can provide.

FURTHER RESOURCES:  Dr. Jolene Erlacher has recently published a book worth reading entitled “The Daniel Generation: Leadership in an Ungodly Culture” available at Amazon.  This is a sequel to her book titled “Millennials in Ministry.”

WORSHIP:   Listen to Michael W. Smith sing “There is None Like You” reminding us that God is the only true God.

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Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? The one… who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander and casts no slur on others; ….who keeps an oath even when it hurts, Psalm 15:1-4

 “Civilization” has as its root word civil” which comes from the Latin word civis or “civilized” in English. It is a “sense of human society in a civilized condition.” To be civil is to be polite and respectful, even if you disagree about an issue.

I have watched with dismay the breakdown of civil discourse in America.  David’s Psalm above puts a strong emphasis on language needed in this day and time. It is David’s clarion call for civility.

Millennials are in the crosshairs on this.  Their lack of reading hurts in many areas. They are headline readers from digital media. That means that they are poor students of history and don’t get into factual details or nuances.

Their understanding is just a millimeter deep. Slogans and epithets prevail.  As Peggy Noonan notes in the Wall Street Journal, millennials have too much information but “too little thought”.

They also are swayed by emotional appeals. Most make decisions based on emotions, not on facts, reasoning or logic. They have been educated for the past decades by a system that places a greater emphasis on feelings and self-esteem than critical thinking.

Human discourse, over time, has always had its ups and downs. Sadly, we are at one of those low points where headlines, epithets and name calling has crowded out real conversation. Democracy assumes that there is more than one viewpoint.  That’s what makes horse races – no one assumes that everyone is going to pull for the same horse.

Human conflict is not new. Even in a family context, eventually you encounter a face-to-face conflict. But the question remains: Are there are boundaries to that conflict? If so, when are they crossed?  Or, put another way, when does the conflict result in a confrontation that goes beyond the pale?

I would posit that recent uncivil discourse has crossed the line. Over time, people have attempted to dehumanize someone through language. As Brene Brown mentions in her research, “dehumanization always starts with language”.

Dehumanization is defined by Dr. Michelle Maiese as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.

As soon as one sees people on “the other side” of a conflict as morally inferior or even dangerous, the issue becomes one of good versus evil. Gee, does that sound familiar? That means that any language can be justified if the goal is to attack something one considers evil.

Eventually, the targeted group becomes morally excluded. They “fall out of the scope of who is naturally protected by our moral code” according to Bene Brown. During the Holocaust for example, Jews were treated as subhuman and referred to as disease-carrying rodents.

It started with language but then went much farther. The Nazis of the 1930’s and the   Rwandan genocide of the 1990’s are instances in history where language started a downhill slide to persecution or genocide.

It may be difficult to believe that we would get to the point of excluding people from equal moral treatment.  Unfortunately, as Brown note, we are biologically “hardwired to believe what we see and to attach meaning to the words we hear.”

Bottom line, we are all vulnerable to the process of dehumanizing.

We are on a slippery slope as a nation and a culture. In the past, differences were hammered out in the political arena, with both sides making their arguments on a given issue. Now, it is an all too familiar scene to see politicians and media check their brains at the door and resort to name calling and epithets.

Unless we recognize it and stop it. Sadly, social media platforms are a platform for dehumanizing behavior. We need some adult supervision here.

We have recently watched politicians in high positions advocating that members of the other party should be chased out of restaurants or other public places, and that, if they are white, then they are automatically racist.

In the case of men,  they should “just shut up.”  A recent Presidential contender said that “civility” to the other party goes out the window until “my party” regains control.

That’s effectively mob rule. Where a small mob of Antifa activists can take over a city street in Portland and harass innocent bystanders with impunity.  That’s not the America I grew up in.

The danger is that the younger generation watches all of this through the sound bites of social media. They perceive that it must be normal behavior just because it happens. They don’t know history or where dehumanizing can lead.

The challenge here is for leaders on both sides to step up and say this has gone too far. Unfortunately,  visible politicians have checked their moral code at the door and done little to condemn bad conduct or dehumanizing language. It is an “ends justifies the means” approach.  It is time to speak up on this issue because of the danger it poses to our society.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  As a mentor, you can provide valuable historical insights into what happens in cultures when dehumanization occurs.  Language matters in today’s culture.

FURTHER STUDY:  Brene Brown’s post on Dehumanization is an excellent perspective based on decades of research on the topic.

RESOURCES:  Dr. Jolene Erlacher has recently published a book worth reading entitled “The Daniel Generation: Leadership in an Ungodly Culture” available at Amazon. This is her sequel to her book titled “Millennials in Ministry.”

WORSHIP:   Listen to Natalie Grant sing Cleanwhich tells that there is nothing too dirty that God can’t make clean.

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George Jacobus


Why didn’t I listen to my mentors, or take my teachers seriously?” Proverbs 5:12 (The Message)

 Who is George Jacobus, you might ask?  In his day, he was one of the best teaching golf professionals in America. He was president of the PGA in the mid-1930’s.

As the head golf professional at Ridgewood Country Club,  George hired an unknown golfer as an Assistant Professional who went on to win 11 straight professional golf events in a row. It’s a record that stands today.

His assistant’s name? Byron Nelson.  A movie was made about Byron’s life and career titled “Byron Nelson: A Texas Gentleman”. He was also a TV golf commentator for many years and still has an annual PGA tournament named in his honor.

George worked with other golf professionals, including Gene Littler. He saw that the game depended on developing junior players, to whom he gave unlimited free instruction.

He was old school. I can still see him on the golf range dressed in a white linen jacket sporting an ascot and a panama hat even on the hottest and humid summer days. He was an encourager, always asking you after a round how you played.

George taught me and other juniors how to play golf.  He worked on my swing and gave me good swing mechanics for free. It is a game that I still love to do today.

But George taught more than golf. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now, 60 years later, I realize that he wasn’t just a golf pro teaching me good golf swing mechanics. He also taught me about life. He was a mentor to all he taught.

His first life lesson is one that I will never forget: “Remember that you are a gentleman first, and a golfer second. Don’t ever get those reversed.

The term “gentleman” has fallen out of use today.  Sixty years ago, it meant being civil, polite and honorable in all situations. Your behavior matters.

Golf can be a game that tries your patience. You can lose your cool if you aren’t careful. But your conduct as a gentleman is primary, not secondary. It keeps the game in perspective.

Losing your cool and throwing your clubs was not just frowned on; it was something you just did not do. It was a one strike situation. Lose your cool, and you would lose George’s support.

As a gentleman, you are to behave appropriately in all venues, not just on a golf course.  We need more gentlemen today, given our divided culture.

George died in 1965. I didn’t find out until sometime later because I was still in college at the time.  He left a big shadow in my life, and those around who knew him. One of those was A.W. Tillinghast, the architect who designed the golf course at Ridgewood Country Club, and worked on 400 others.

I ran across an article in a golf magazine about the design of Bethpage Black, a golf course on Long Island, NY,  which was selected to be the site of the U.S, Open.

The author had looked into the career of the architect who designed the course, A. W. Tillinghast. There was  a debate as to whether “Tilly” (as he was known) actually designed Bethpage Black.

I couldn’t find a link to the article, but I remember what it said. The writer described Tilly as being “down on his luck” at the time of the construction of Bethpage Black.  He had just had a divorce from his wife and was battling a drinking problem.

George, as the president of the PGA, hired Tilly to go around the country to help clubs redesign their golf courses.  It helped redeem him.

The writer went on to say that, because Tilly was traveling non-stop around the country, he couldn’t have spent much time at Bethpage Black. The writer concluded that, while Tilly did have a hand in its design, the local superintendent, Joseph Burbank, deserved more credit for the result.

The words about George Jacobus leapt off the page when I read the magazine.  He was reaching out from his grave to remind me what a gentleman did for his friends.

I was lucky to have a George Jacobus in my life. Maybe you had a mentor too, if you were lucky. It might have been a coach or an Uncle.  Someone that took an interest in you.  That’s what a mentor does, and it is why the process is so valuable.

The challenge here is that the next generation are searching for mentors, yet having a hard time finding someone to invest in their life. Consider stepping out of the stands and getting on the sidelines as a coach to someone younger. You don’t have to be a golf pro to do it.

 MENTOR TAKEAWAY: The demand for mentors by the millennials exceeds the supply. Consider not only mentoring, but also encouraging those around you to be a mentor.

FURTHER READING:  A biography of George Jacobus is posted on the website of the Ridgewood Country Club. A biography of Byron Nelson at Ridgewood Country Club is here.

WORSHIP:  For the second time in a row, I am linking to“Fall on Me”, a duet by Andrew Boccelli and his 20-year-old son. It is a picture of having someone in your life to depend on.

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“Christ .….through us, spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16 (NRSV)

 I love to garden. I can pretty much grow anything – vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and grass. About 12 years ago, I gave it up for a time when we moved into a townhouse with no yard.

My daughter got married shortly after we moved in to our townhouse, so we added a small stone patio garden in the back.  My wife mentioned that she had always wanted a rose garden. You might guess where this is going. I put in a small rose garden. So far, so good.

I went to the local rose store (no kidding, there is a rose store called Witherspoon in the Research Triangle) to select my roses. They sell premium hybrid teas. You buy what is called a “bareroot” which is a dormant rose plant with its roots during the fall or winter. Then, you plant them in the spring.

Witherspoon also provides a service to plant, feed, and take care of your roses all year-long for a fee. I figured this was the way to go. Low maintenance. My inquired about the maintenance service until she found out that they charge by the number of roses. The minimum was based on 20 roses and we only had 5.

When she returned, she told me of the high cost.  Then she added that she had a better solution. Witherspoon provides free rose maintenance classes and she had signed me up telling me “You’re going to love this!”

I was thinking to myself: “Not so much.” I attended the classes, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Turns out that growing roses is not much different from growing vegetables, although roses are highly susceptible to plant diseases, insects, and other pests.

In no time, I became a rose gardener par excellence. Unlike premium roses sold at Witherspoon, there is a variety of rose that has been bred to resist common diseases called “knock-outs”.  These are easy to maintain, but in the course of breeding them, they lost their fragrance.

What sets my special roses apart is their fragrance. I could take a single rose to my secretary, and it’s smell would permeate our office space. You couldn’t miss it, unless you had a bad head cold. The picture above is a rose from my garden last night.

If I had brought a knock-out rose, no one would notice it. The blooms are not as spectacular, and there is little, if any fragrance.

Paul uses “fragrance” in the above passage in describing the aroma of Christ to others.  Theologically, all believers have “Christ in us”. So, the question comes: “What’s your fragrance to others?”

My last post titled  Salt spoke of many churches and Christians that have lost their salt – their ability to be a seasoning to those around them. They don’t look any different from non-believers. Churches that are dying are full of members who have not integrated their life with their faith.

Using Paul’s metaphor, the churches have also lost their fragrance. Their members are like  knock-out roses which have no aroma. Why is this important? Well, in order to connect with the next generation, believers have to look like, act like, and yes, smell like Christ.  Millennials  distrust anything phony, so if your words don’t match your actions, you won’t be trusted.

My wife has a better sense of smell than me. If I have been working outside and come into the house, she quickly will tell me that I need shower. Often, I cannot tell I smell badly, just that I am sweaty.

We often can’t tell what our fragrance is to others. We might think we smell good, but others don’t think so. It can be a blind spot. That’s why having a mentor in your life – either a peer or someone older – is helpful. They can see you for who you are and have built up enough trust with you that they can tell you that you “smell” in ways you can’t discern.

The challenge here is to be open to having others speak into your life. Give someone the right to tell you that your fragrance is off – you might need more than a shower to wash off the aroma. You might need a course correction. We all need that, because we all have blind spots.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  A mentor can speak truth into the lives of others. We all have blind spots. We all need to have someone who knows you well enough to tell you that you might smell in our behavior when you aren’t aware of it.

WORSHIP: Listen to “Fall on Me”, a duet by Andrew Boccelli and his 20-year-old son that reminds us of being a positive “fragrance” to our children. When I heard it for the first time, I said “Wow!”

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.comSUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (  and entering your email address.