"An Inside Perspective"

December 2007

My dear family in Christ,

Ever-precious greetings in the name of our LORD Jesus Christ!

By the grace of God, I have always been athletically inclined. As I have shared in the past, I love playing basketball.

Early on in my prison stay, I met a Christian man with all of his front teeth gone. In the course of our fellowship, he told me that he had lost them playing basketball by being accidentally elbowed in the mouth. I reflected on what he had said because I valued the smile the Lord had blessed me with. It caused me to vow to myself that I would never play basketball again without wearing a mouthpiece.

Finding a mouthpiece in prison was a challenging task. Shortly thereafter though, as providence would have it, the recreation department began to supply them. I guess they figured it was cheaper to give our mouthpieces than dentures! Ha!!

Nonetheless, I acquired one. I have since worn one religiously every time I play---except once! I played almost every day from 1991, when I was only thirty-four years old, until now, two months short of fifty-one. Make no mistake, prison basketball is fun, but it is not for the faint hearted. It has become a hybrid, kind of a cross between basketball and football.

They give out free sweat suits to the winning teams; therefore, the men will do anything to get one. Cheating and playing dirty is the norm. It has been my prayer to be a witness in the midst of it. As you may guess, that is no small feat.

In 2007, the Lord began to deal with me about a particular habit in my life. And to be honest, I justified myself to Him. I began to wrestle with the Lord in my heart, yes; I even rationalized my stubbornness to Him. I tried to out-wrestle the Lord, imagine that! Just ask Jacob! It was as if He was saying, "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way Philip, whichever way you want." Sadly, I chose the hard way.

On a wonderful spring afternoon, as I was walking by the basketball court, I was asked to fill in for "a minute" as a substitute. I had my mouthpiece in my bag, but I did not go get it. Since I was only going to play for "a minute," I wouldn't need it, right? Wrong! As I came down with a rebound, I was elbowed right in my mouth. I felt the tooth snap, splintering the bone in my gum. It was still in, but it would have to come out.

The Lord immediately had my attention like never before. All of a sudden I was very submissive. Suddenly, the gravity of my stubbornness came home like the proverbial cows to the barn!

This incident allowed the exposure of a deep-seated vanity that I had no idea was in my heart. It was uncovered as I contemplated leading worship in front of the whole congregation with no front tooth! I was smitten. I didn't even want to come out of my cell. Then I thought, "What will it be like to go out on a ministry fellowship visit with no front tooth?" My stars, family day is right around the corner!! Sister Debbie is bringing up all the troops to visit the brothers and me! Gee-wiz Lord, this wasn't even the habit we were wrestling about! Crush . . .crush!!

I went to the dentist to try to get it fixed before family day. I was told that the prison does not give cosmetic partials. Woe is me, I am undone! As the mercy of God would have it, in the couple of months between the first dentist visit, and the second, the D.O.C. changed that rule. When I asked the dentist why, he said he did not know. I boldly told him that I had prayed about it and he just laughed at me. I knew in my heart the Lord had done it!! No one was going to tell me otherwise! I was the first prisoner in NJ to get this done! I was the trial balloon. No pun intended! Get it, trial? (smile)

Mind you the tooth had not fallen out yet, but it was very loose and badly infected. I asked the dentist if he could leave it in until after family day? He graciously agreed. To my horror, that which I feared the most came upon me. The tooth fell out a couple of days before family day! I simply bowed my head. I ended up both playing my guitar in church, and going out on the visit with no tooth! The Lord was teaching me---the hard way!

Like Jacob with his hip, reminding him of his wrestling match with the Lord, now, every time I look in the mirror, I am reminded of my stubbornness, and more so, of the Lord's grace.

Do you know that when you wrestle with the Lord you will never win? I was trying to hang on to something that I loved, all the while; the Lord was prying it out of my hands. Is there something in your life right now that the Lord has His finger on? Bow your head now beloved, because like me, you can do this the easy way or . . .

"The Hard Way."

Joyfully in Jesus,
Fisherman Philip