On Joe Staley, writing scripts, and discerning gifts

San Francisco Offensive Tackle Joe Staley wasn’t always an offensive tackle. He was one of the players who tried to avoid getting tackled, after he caught the ball. In high school he played wide receiver. 

But everything changed in college.

I started out as a skinny 200 pound wide receiver coming out of high school,” Staley said. “I was a sprinter and all of that stuff. I was really fast. I ran a 21 in the 200. Then I got fat. I went to college. Brian Kelly came in my sophomore year. Played tight end my freshman year in college. Brian Kelly came in and said ‘We do not use tight ends in our offense but we want to keep you on the field in some way. We are going to move you to tackle.’ I cried my eyes out. I am not afraid to admit it. Almost transferred but then stayed, gained weight, busted my butt and got drafted.

He was a first round draft pick and is now playing a prized position Left Tackle, in the Super Bowl. Not exactly how he would have “drawn it up,” but I don’t see him having any problems with the “script.” Here are a few thoughts.

1.) Sometimes, or rather quite often, the scripts that are written for us by God are far different than the scripts we draw up for ourselves. But they are always better. Not better in a more lucrative, more high profile way (although they may be sometimes like this one), but better in a redemptive way. God will always make the script redemptive, and He will do it in at least two ways. First of all, He is redeeming you from the power of sin and using your situation in unique ways, which may not (I can’t prove this part but I think its true) be the case in a different situation. But secondly, and sometimes this is actually easier to see, your script is redemptive for others. This perspective is more easily forgotten.

In II Cor 1:3-11, Paul explains that his affliction (not the way he would write his script if he had a say), opens the door for God’s comfort, which can be experienced in all situations. But his afflictions and the comfort which follow has become part of Paul’s script SO THAT others can be comforted. The script God writes for individuals is not only for individuals but FOR OTHERS. My depression, and back surgery at young age, were/are intended not only for my comfort and redemption/sanctification but for the comfort, redemption/sanctification of others.

I’m aware of individuals coming to faith simply because of the affliction/comfort of another. Affliction/comfort is evangelistic at times. Our scripts aren’t over. We know the end. We just don’t know the middle, but we know that God has our good-and the good of others through us-in mind more than Brian Kelly had Joe Staley’s best interests in mind.

2.) Transition from the front to behind-the-scenes. No position in football is less glamorous then offensive lineman. They are usually fat, wear knee braces, and no one knows their names unless they give up a sack or get a penalty. No position is more glamorous then wide receiver. Running backs don’t last that long. Receivers get more miles, and thus more publicity, and contract extensions. Yet few positions are more important than offensive lineman. They can make QB’s and running backs look good. They can make wide receivers look good because they give them time to get open. 

Sometimes public spiritual gifts are more valued today, as they were in Corinth. Preaching is important, but without evangelists bringing folks, who would there be to preach? To go from a public ministry like leading a bible study to something more behind-the-scenes can be tough. I love this honesty.

I cried my eyes out. I am not afraid to admit it. Almost transferred but then stayed… 

It was hard. He cried. He almost left. I wish there were more “almost’s” in churches today instead of the quick flight to somewhere else that “truly appreciates me and my gifts.”

Now this transition may just be for a season. There may be new opportunities and gift development. Or it may be for a career (like Joe Staley). But remember behind-the-scenes-gifts are every bit as important.

3.) Gifts are best discovered and developed in community. It took someone else to recognize that Joe Staley wasn’t going to be a productive wide receiver at the college level. It wasn’t Joe. He wouldn’t have made that choice. Spiritual gifts inventory tests can be quite helpful. But they are no substitute for asking someone, “Where do you see me best serving and being used?” Other people are fallible. But so are you and I. The more folks involved in discerning spiritual gifts, the less fallibility (as a general rule).

I’ve never been a fan of Brian Kelly. But I’m thankful, as I’m sure Joe is, that he loved Joe (or perhaps the success of his offense) enough to tell him the truth and get the most out of his gifting.

Victor Cruz and entering into suffering

While listening to the Dan Patrick show the other day I heard a more-than-heartwarming story where N.Y. Giants Wide Receiver Victor Cruz visited families and children in Newtown Connecticut. Apparently one of the victims, Jack Pinto, was a very big Victor Cruz fan, so much so that he was buried in a number 80 Giants jersey. Somehow word got out this child loved Cruz and so Victor felt this was a good place to start.

Here are some of my thoughts on the story and interview:

Cruz entered into instead of avoiding suffering

After one of my grandfathers died (and I honestly can’t remember which one), my parents called one of his surviving relatives (I can’t remember the relation either) to inform him about the funeral. But one thing that I will never forget was his response: “I don’t do funerals, they are just too depressing.” To declare that “busch-league” would be the understatement of the year, akin to saying Notre Dame simply lost in the BCS final; it was a massacre. To ignore suffering and death is inhuman, but to intentionally avoid and refuse to death and suffering is truly counter-Christian. 

Cruz mentioned that he came to do the best he could to try to bring a little distraction. He didn’t intend to come with words but to come and be a presence.

Jack Pinto was among 20 children who lost their lives Friday in Newtown. Several elementary school-age children played touch football in the front yard of his family’s home on Tuesday. Many wore Giants jerseys or Newtown football or wrestling shirts as they laughed, smiled and hugged.

About 45 minutes later, Cruz left the home in an SUV and an escort of five police cruisers, sirens blaring. He later tweeted that he has “much love to the entire Pinto family. Great people with huge hearts.”

Presence more important than your words

In the interview Cruz told Patrick that he spent time specifically with the Pinto family, so that his stay was about 2 hours. That time included speechlessness and hugging sobbing parents. How hard is that? To be around such sadness and not be able to fix it? Words can’t fix, but a simple presence reminds folks that we know that, even as we wish it weren’t so.

Sharing the sadness

On his drive home he left with a burden that was originally not his own. Now he carried it. He couldn’t simply turn that heaviness on and off.  Now, in some small way it was his. Sadness can stick to you like a b.o. when you enter into the sadness of others, but that is never a good reason to refuse to enter into the sadness of others. Cruz models well the command found in Galatians 6:1, “To carry each others burdens and in this way, fulfill the law of Christ.” Burdens slow you down, and they make you sadder for carrying them. But Jesus says to carry them, so something makes me think He’ll take care of us in that process.

More than family 

As I watch shows like Parenthood, I see family members making sacrifices all over the place. Whether it be watching kids, picking up the slack at work because another member has cancer or allowing a mother who has fallen on hard times to move in for a season. Why do you do this? The mantra is “It is family, and this is what we do with family.” But what about when its not family? We don’t have any aphorism, or motto for that. 

Cruz entered into the sadness of those outside his family. He didn’t have to. He could have ignored this scenario, since they weren’t really a “priority.” It involved going out of his way. That’s another reason why I found this story so compelling, heart-warming, and challenging.


Cruz is know for his salsa touchdown dance, but I will know him more for his modeling.  He mentioned faith in God, and that it would be hard to let his one year old daughter out of his sight. But that he would have to do so one day. I don’t know what kind of grasp Cruz has of the gospel; I couldn’t tell from the short interview, and I missed the first part. But in looking at his example of entering into suffering, suffering that could easily have been avoided, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that he certainly models a gospel response I would hope all Christians (including myself) have with their neighbors.

For the Christian, Jesus entered into our suffering, by suffering himself, for us, who are responsible for the suffering here on Earth. He didn’t just come and lament with us, he suffered because of us, and on our behalf, to redeem us and purchase us out of hopeless suffering. Now we suffer but we do so with the hope, power, and joy, of a suffering servant (for-the time), but now ruling and conquering King. He himself is our motivation. 

Yet we should never neglect the power of seeing the gospel modeled before us. Just as seeing people temporarily get pleasure out of doing things they shouldn’t do can tempt us to follow, so can the reverse be true. Seeing other folks entering into suffering can “tempt” us to follow their godly examples.

I know that Cruz wanted to honor Jack Pinto by winning that next game against the Ravens (they lost), but as is usual, what athletes do off the field has much more impact than them winning games or playing well.

Brady Quinn, Real Relationships, and Aunt Bessy’s Hemarrhoids

I have to say I never was much of a Brady Quinn fan. First of all he came from Notre Dame, and then there was some weirdness with he and Tebow in Denver. But after yesterday, count me among the converted.

In case you didn’t hear, Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide at the Chief’s complex this past Saturday. The Chief’s then turned around and played the next day without their starting linebacker and beat the Carolina Panthers.

What “converted” me was not his ability to help lead his team to only their 2nd victory but what he said in the post game comments. Comments that had nothing to do with football but instead everything to do with relationships.

“The one thing people can hopefully try to take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people,” Quinn told reporters after the game.  “I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently.  When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it?  When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?

“We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us.  Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”

Here are some of my thoughts on his comments.

1.) First of all, I love how he is willing to try and learn anything from this malfeasance without assuming blame. Several folks noted that they deemed nothing wrong with Belcher or his relationship with his girlfriend. But obviously there was something wrong with Belcher, if not with Belcher and his girlfriend. And it is clear that someone knew about these problems and was seeking to do something about it. Apparently…….

That detail was among the troubling revelations about a relationship that had more problems than previously realized. According to Kansas City Police Sgt. Richard Sharp, the team knew about their issues and was “bending over backward” to help.

And so it cannot be construed in any way to be the fault of Brady nor any of his teammates, nor anyone else that Belcher followed through on such machinations. In my mind he avoids the “We can’t learn anything from this” and the  “It was our fault and his blood is on our hands,” response that comes with situations such as this. Yet why not try to learn from the situation?

2.) In regards to “what we can learn,” his wisdom exceeds his age (and career touchdowns) by a wide margin. More specifically as how it relates to truth in relationships.

When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it?  When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?

A. Do you mean it? I appreciate his challenge to ask and answer questions with a deeper concern for the truth. We could all do a better job at that. As Christians who live in the time after Jesus’ first coming and before His Second Coming, we experience both the joys of redemption accomplished and applied to us now, and but still groan and long for the final redemption of our bodies in new world then (Rom 8:18-27). So we can say, “Yes I’m doing well,” or “No life is rough right now.” Both are consistent of our Christian experience now

B.Truth WILL ONLY be divulged in safe relationships. The deeper and more personal truths will only be revealed in really safe relationships.  Surface relationships will lead to shallow truth about someone. What you will/can tell about yourself and what they will/can tell you about themselves is probably only going to happen, at least on a regular basis, if you and they engage in deep and safe community. And deep and safe community only results when folks make time and commitment to be in such a deep and safe community.

C. Deep relationships don’t necessarily lead folks to know you. 

I’ve been in community groups where I’ve come to know stuff about people. Sometimes more than I wanted to know (though I’m glad I did). I’ve been in community groups, as well, where I’ve known next-to-nothing about others. In such cases if they were to divorce or murder or commit suicide, or become depressed, I would have no idea. And that is sad but true. Deep relationships and community may be available and offered but just the presence of such a community does not mean folks will automatically take advantage of it. You and I may be in place to share our lives but stay silent or on the surface.

On the flip side you or I can be a part of a deep and safe community, but others may not divulge any poverty of spirit, material, joy, etc….Some folks, even despite deep and safe community, will divulge nothing. And it will be to their great loss.

D. Deep relationships and community always involve you taking the lead.

If you want to take seriously Brady Quinn’s concerns, and he’s only reiterating what it means to love your neighbor (you probably have heard that one before), then there is something you can do which may foster others being honest about their struggles. Someone has to take the lead. Such deep and safe communities/relationships don’t automatically spring up. People will only go so far as you lead them. Yes there are exceptions for the guys/gals who wear hearts on their sleeves (or jackets for this time of year), but as a rule, people have to be led to share truth. And often they will only share something that is on the same level as that which has already been shared. For instance if you share, “I need prayer for Aunt Bessy, because she has hemarrhoid surgery,” then don’t expect to get back an, “I’m struggling with my child right now, as he is in a very difficult phase in my life, and I need prayer to love him through this, because right now I don’t.” Aunt Bessy’s hemarrhoids will be covered in prayer, but the struggle of a parent to love his/her child will not. You won’t even know that problem exists until you take the lead in sharing your personal struggles first. And this is hard. Very hard.

Deep relationships and community take time of course. But time alone is not enough. No one makes the “jump” unless you first lead them.

E. Technology and actual relationships don’t naturally coexist. They don’t appear to fight like cats and dogs, but the latter slowly loses that fight unless we intentionally value and prioritize real relationships. Emails and facebook can be very helpful, but they are at best only supplemental. You don’t know someone, nor are you known by status updates. You know and are known by spending time together. The question is, “Is it worth it?” Brady says yes, and I think the “one another” passages in scripture suggest he didn’t say it first. Again this is hard, and we have to get creative amidst certain seasons of life (and no matter how creative we get, some seasons don’t afford much community/relationship development), but well worth it in the end.

We could all benefit from Brady’s advice to intentionally put ourselves in the path of potentially deeper relationships not only to know but also to be known. Who knows what good could come? I would say a lot.

Consider me a Chief’s fan for the rest of the season.

Dealing with cricism: Lessons from Jeremiah Trotter and Paul

Like it or not, I’ve had a number of chances to watch the Philadelphia Eagles this year. And they look the opposite of good. Not just from my vantage point but from the view of Philly fan, and Philly fan is in a league of his own (Phillies and Eagles scored number two on GQ’s worst sports fans just behind WVU) Several weeks ago in their home loss to the Falcons, defensive end Jason Babin believed they crossed the line and became quite upset. 

Former Eagle Jeremiah Trotter (and inactive Buc for one season) had this to say about Babin’s complaint:

“Dude, get a grip, this is football,” Trotter said, via Phillymag.com. “You’re a man. Why are you worried about what people say anyway? I understand that players have feelings, but you’re a man. You’re playing a gladiator sport, and you’re running around worried about what fans are talking about? Even if I did feel a certain way you would never hear me say it because number one, you are showing your weakness right there. You’re playing a gladiator sport, dude. Go play ball.”

There may be some sort of symbiotic relationship with players and fan when it comes to sports. Ultimately if fans don’t like the team, and its players, then they can choose not to come. If they don’t come, the team could eventually move. Hopefully this won’t be the case with the Bucs.

So to ignore the fan completely is probably not wise. But neither is being controlled by the fan. Jeremiah Trotter couches his response to dealing with criticism in the very identity of the individual.

You’re a man. Why are you worried about what people say anyway?

Men aren’t supposed to care what people say (true or not, there is something Trotter says needs to be remembered). But even more specifically, he reminds Babin that not only are you a man-as if that weren’t enough-you are a football player (yes there is a women’s football league so maybe that’s why Trotter started with “man” first.) Football players have feelings too, but they are supposed to be in control of them. Based on your identity and based upon your job, this kind of stuff shouldn’t bother you as much as it does. 

I think old Trotter may be on to something. He does eventually tell Babin to do something (“play ball”) but he gives him an indicative (you are), and reminder of his mission/job (this is what you do) before driving home the imperative (so go do it).

When dealing with criticism, the apostle Paul points us in a similar direction. We can’t by-pass the gospel because 1.) we never should by-pass Jesus 2.) it won’t work 3.) we will either listen too little or too much to criticism 4.) we worry about the wrong things.

Because there is no more condemnation for the Christian (Romans 8:1), he no longer has to fear false accusations from anyone (you’re not doing a good job). But he also need not fear things said about him/her that may actually be turn out to be somewhat-true (you may not be doing as good a job as someone else), yet don’t disqualify him/her from that job. Providentially we are where we are for a season, and so for that season, we can plow ahead. When the season draws near to its end, we can evaluate whether or not God would have us in the same job/position/opportunity in the future. Therefore, if we believe this precious truth about our shameless identity, we don’t have to respond to, nor be enslaved to unnecessary or semi-accurate criticism.

But there is also a mission connected to this identity that further helps in dealing with criticism. What helped Paul is more than those words he wrote to others in Romans, but also words he wrote to others in the epistle of Galatians.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. -Gal 1:10

If you want to try to please man, there is another line of “work,” although the irony of that is that it is impossible to please man but possible to please God through the work of Jesus. A servant of Christ inevitably brings criticism and disapproval. That is part of the job description. I often forget that.

Paul grounds his refusal to capitulate or be moved by this obviously wrong criticism in his identity and mission. The two are inseparable. A servant serves his master. His master’s opinion is the only opinion that ultimately counts, and pleasing others is not the servant’s goal.

Trotter is just doing what Paul has done 2000 years before him. As a servant of Christ, one’s goal is not to please people, but to honor his master. And if your master has already approved you, based not on what you’ve done, but what he has done, doesn’t that free you to care less what “fans” think of you?

Micheal David Smith concludes:

Babin may be right that some of the fans crossed the line by saying vile things about players and coaches. But Trotter is also right that if the players are worried about what the fans are saying, then they’re worried about the wrong things.

We often hear the voice of “fans'” displeasure over us instead of the voice of our Lord’s pleasure over us. His Spirit reminds us that we are shameless servants who need not fear. If we believe our very identity, and our mission connected with that identity, we won’t be worried about the wrong things. When we start to worry about the wrong things, the answer is not to “toughen up” and be a “man” or “woman” but to believe who God has recreated you to be.

Jay Mohr on "suffering"

Jay Mohr played a dirtbag agent Bob Sugar in the movie Jerry McGuire. From what I can tell after hearing him numerous times guest hosting the Jim Rome show, I don’t think he had to “act” too much for that role. Actually I have never enjoyed him filling in until a few days ago. 

Mohr referenced someone complaining, “We’ve suffered through years of bad quarterbacks and we finally have a good one now.” 

He responded, “Oh, so you personally suffered during the bad quarterback play? What, did you go without a coat all winter? Were you evicted from your house? Did you have no place to live? You suffered because of bad quarterback play?”

I’m sure I’ve said similar things. A good reminder in regards to words we use to describe sporting events. We don’t really “suffer.” Even long suffering Browns and Bucs fans.

But he wasn’t done. Mohr went on to fairly accurately describe the way some folks view their sports teams. We slave 40 hours at a job we hate with a boss we dislike to check out for 3 hours and have something to really live for.

I guess you can see why some folks use the word “suffer.” Not a good way to view sports. But when there is no alternative bigger picture other than sports, success, family, it makes sense. And when Christians forget the bigger picture of the gospel, we can very quickly revert back to our old form.

I may never say this again, but, thank you Jay Mohr.

Coach Schiano’s son and what do with "fatherly embarassment"

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has been, and will be under much scrutiny this year. First of all, he is a first year head coach. But more than a first year head coach, he is a first year head coach who came from Rutgers. Most college coaches don’t make good NFL coaches (and there was a good one last year, so the “law of averages” is not in his favor). Then he makes news in his second game of the season by implementing a college play (trying to cause a fumble during the “victory formation” kneel down). Then come reports of Schiano being a bully to folks visiting Rutgers.

Now the most recent story is his linebacker son at Berkeley Prep getting suspended for the rest of the season. Apparently vulgar language can come from coaches but not from players using such words in anger toward the referees. 

According to a FHSAA report obtained by The Tampa Tribune, Schiano was ejected from the Lennard game for using profanity at a referee. The conduct is considered a “Level 2” unsportsmanlike conduct, which carries a six-week suspension.

This is somewhat ironic in that Coach Greg Schiano preaches discipline. According to respected player Ronde Barber, “he even has rules for rules.” But his son was obviously playing by another set of rules.

Here are a few takes:

1.) A son’s behavior, particularly when it swims against the current of his father’s core teachings, reflects poorly on the father. Now it doesn’t mean that the father has done a bad job of instilling discipline. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a bad dad-although how one can be a good Dad AND good football coach is either a mystery or impossibility. But it really does dishonor and embarrass the father. When our kids do cuss out refs, or don’t shake hands after games, it really is embarrassing. I think that’s probably OK. But what we do with the embarrassment is where we can get into trouble.

2.) Regardless of the fact that it does embarrass the father (I’m sure I’ve embarrassed my father the same way my son’s tantrums embarrass me) I don’t think my embarrassment can EVER be the reason  why such a behavior is bad. Now for shame based cultures without the gospel, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s normal. Don’t screw up because you bring shame to the father. And if you do, you have to bear that shame somehow through atonement or suicide. But if the gospel reminds us that there is no shame for those in Christ (Romans 8:1), then parents can’t play the, “you embarrassed me” card. God doesn’t do it to us, so we can’t do it our kids.

3.) It’s natural to be embarrassed. But have you ever asked yourself, “Why is this so embarrassing for me?” Often times it is because we lose approval points. We don’t look like we know what we’re doing (which is only an illusion anyway). No one will give us the proverbial “parent of the day” award. And you know you want it. I do, and that’s why my child’s bad behavior is so embarrassing.

4.) While sins affects more than just the person sinning such as the parent, team, or community, the ultimate offended one is God. Schiano may have rules for rules, but God has laid out a perfect design for us to follow. And it is him whom we have offended. David reminds us of this when he says, “Against you, you only have I sinned Lord….”(Psalm 51:4) The sin of cussing out a referee or refusing to shake the other teams hands is not primarily an offense against the ref, the other team, or the coach, but against the Lord.

5.) It doesn’t hurt to read and re-read, and re-hash in our minds the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The younger brother, due to his sin and selfishness brings shame to the father. In a shame based culture, this is a bad idea. Bad Idea Jeans for sure. But the father meets the son outside of town, embraces him, and brings him back into town to remind everyone that he is covered. The father covers the sons shame while taking the sons shame upon Himself. How great is it to hear that God is not embarrassed or ashamed to call us his sons, nor is Jesus ashamed to call us his younger brothers (Heb 2:11). I hope I can remember this the next time I’m embarrassed by my son’s actions.

What the Packers and Seahawks teach us about grace

For those who opted to stay up late to watch the Monday Night Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks game, you were rewarded with perhaps the worst call since the infamous Bert Immanuel catch (#5 on the NFL’s most controversial calls,which mind you, prompted a rule change; the “tuck rule” was never amended after Tom Brady’s fumble that wasn’t). 

If you didn’t see it, Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings came down with the final pass of the game in his hands. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had one hand on the ball but was rewarded with the game winning catch. Things got so bad that some packers considered drastic measures like kneeling down every play until the replacement refs are sent back to the high school and Pop Warner fields from whence they came. 

To make matters worse, Golden Tate blatantly shoves down another defensive player, completely taking him out of the play. That is called “offensive pass interference” in most people’s “books,” though admittedly is rarely called at the end of games.

So Golden Tate was rewarded with the touchdown, even though someone else secured that possession for him. Tate received something good, because of the work of someone else. He received the fruit and credit for the labor of another.

Not only that, but he clearly disqualified himself by pushing down another defender in order to try and secure possession of something that was clearly out of reach. He should have received a penalty. Instead he is rewarded and blessed.

Does this sound like something that has happened before? It should.

It’s the gospel. It’s grace. Getting something good when you deserve something bad. Getting something good because the real winner chose to lose and take the bad for you.

Philippians 3:9

“….and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

 Colossians 2:13-14
   13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 
The Seahawks clearly were the recipients of grace in some form.

In a Jim Rome interview, one player felt particularly angered. But anger boiled up in this man not primarily because of the bad call, but because of the Seahawks disdaining the grace bestowed upon them. Instead of owing the victory to grace, several Seahawks claimed that this was simply the result of hard work, dedication, and drive.

Quarterback Russell Wilson claimed someone “made a play.” Coach Pete Caroll affirmed that it was the right call. Golden Tate wouldn’t fess up to his shoving the other defensive back to the ground.

That’s what angered this player so much. Taking credit for something it is clearly grace.

A few thoughts:

1.) Grace does make people mad, particularly those who think they’ve earned something. The older brother in the Prodigal Son story was angered by grace. He didn’t get anything good despite how “good” he thought he’d been. If you believe grace, preach grace, show grace, you will make people angry. If you tell them that they need grace, or still need grace, you will make people mad. We’re a messed up bunch, but we don’t like to hear that!

2.) On the same note (“G” for Grace), when you recognize your own need for grace, folks will find something offensive, much more attractive. It would have done much to disarm the situation if several Seahawks simply said, “Yep, we were given a gift tonight.” Grace was offensive, but it would have disarmed a lot of angry people to admit they needed it. If we preach grace to “people like you, people that really need it, people like _____,” then we will inevitably get an angry “You think you’re better than me?” But if grace is for people like “us,” well then, that goes a long way. It’s good theology as well. Romans 3:23.

3.) We ought to get as upset with ourselves as the Pack did with the Seahawks when the latter denied the grace that had been shown to them. It made me sick to see how much credit Seattle took for their victory. Does it bother us as much when we forget that any spiritual victory is the work of Christ in us? It’s His work in us that we celebrate. He has taken possession of salvation for us and now puts the “ball” in our hands. Only we rejoice with Him who has taken possession of what we could never hope to possess.

Leadership Cutlery: How not to use it

The Chicago Bears offense looked great two weeks ago (of course the Bucs defense looked great two weeks ago, so a week can make a big difference!). This past Thursday, they looked terrible. But they had to and have to deal with more than a loss. Quarterback Jay Cutler got physical and berated one of his offensive lineman. 

While there are 52 other players on the roster, the QB is often the main leader, the face of the team. So the leader of the team, or at least someone in a prominent leadership position, blamed his failure to complete passes to his team’s inability (he did complete a number to the other team) to protect him. It wasn’t his fault, it was their fault.
I don’t claim to be the best leader in the world, but I think most of us can smell bad leadership a mile away. Some of his teammates really don’t like that smell. Count Cornerback D.J. Moore among them.

“I don’t think you can act like that, though. To make it seem like it’s just my fault or what not, I think it’s just wrong, though honestly,” Moore said, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I would feel a certain way if he did me like that, to make it seem like, ‘Well, the reason I’m having a bad game is because is what you’re doing and not about me taking accountability for myself because I’m throwing these type of passes and doing these type of reads.’ It’s a tough situation.”

One thing that I’ve learned as a pastor, and I wish I had learned more than I already have learned (if that makes sense), is that there are certain things you just can’t say or do as a pastor. There are certain things you just can’t say or do as a leader. As a parent, as a teacher, as anyone holding any leadership position. Often times you just can’t share how you feel. You don’t have the same freedom as someone not in leadership. That is something you forfeit when you say “yes” to any leadership position.

Cutler claims passion and drive as excuses for such behavior. In fact, it seems as though incidents like these are simply fueled from these normally positive emotions.

“I care about this,’’ Cutler said of the incident with Webb, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “This isn’t just a hobby for me. If we’re not doing things the right way, I’m going to say something. If they want a quarterback that doesn’t care then they better get someone else.’’

As a leader you should be open and honest, but you cannot be open and honest about everything and to everyone. Remember Tom Hanks’ line in Saving Private Ryan, “Gripes go up. I don’t gripe to you?”

Let’s learn from Hanks and Cutler. Tell another leader when folks let you down. Tell another leader when you feel it is primarily the fault of another. You can be open and honest about most everything with other leaders, even those leading you, but not with those you are trying to lead.

And when you eventually say or do those things which leaders just cannot say or do, remember to repent. Sometimes it will be too late to undo the damage. I’ve been there. But God is honored with the repentant leader.

Leaders who recognize their flaws are leaders worth following. I would guess Cutler’s teammates would give him another shot if he would just repent. But I like the chances much greater when leaders regularly preach grace and then recognize their actual and present need for grace. Those are the kind of leaders I get behind. Leaders that watch their mouth, and when they forget, they watch the cross.

Only fumblers can speak to fumblers

Last year the NY Giants won the Super Bowl courtesy of a timely play or two, and a timely mishap from the Patriots that could have ended the game. Some folks may not remember why they were able to play upon such a stage. But certainly not Kyle Williams will never forget: his two fumbles provided the Giants the needed opportunities to overtake the San Francisco 49ers.

People don’t necessarily recover from such mishaps. Think of Ray Finkle from Ace Ventura. Mishaps on such a big stage can almost define a person’s career. Think of Bill Buckner who let a routine grounder go through his legs. Think of Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in the Super Bowl (also against the Giants). Sometimes it’s not just careers defined by one or two mishaps, but entire identities. 

Whether concerned about career or identity, two other famous fumblers (Earnest Byner and Roger Craig) took it upon themselves to go directly to Kyle Williams. Apparently the 49ers have been supportive, but supportive isn’t the only thing someone like this needs. I mean, the 49ers didn’t fumble the game away, Williams did. The 49ers didn’t deal with the personal feelings of worthlessness, experience personal threats, anger, and all of the other stuff that goes along with such a blunder. Only those who’ve had famous, or perhaps in-famous fumbles, can speak sympathetically to such famous fumblers. 

Fumblers can also speak more authoritatively to fumblers than non-fumblers. They have the existential knowledge that other non-fumblers just don’t have. 

Let me posit several lessons for the church:

1.) Only sinners can speak to sinners. If you speak of sin in the past tense, you have nothing to say to the struggling Christian (because you aren’t struggling yourself-and how could you not be  anyway?) nor do you have anything to say to the non-Christian. 

2.) Fumblers listen to other fumblers. Sinners will listen to other sinners, particularly those who are self proclaimed, self-titled sinners. 

3.) The church is full of people who have “blown it in a big game.” Maybe you’ve been a bad dad, bad parent, bad husband, bad kid, bad sport, bad _______. A pastor, parent, or friend can still speak authoritatively and point you to Christ and his forgiveness because God’s word is authoritative. But never underestimate the authority and influence of the existential/experiential perspective. Don’t let your mishaps (unfaithfulness, depression, anger, pornography, criminal record, background) drive you away from the church but toward Christ and other people. Fumblers listen best to other fumblers. I’ve fumbled games away and it hurts. I battle depression/anxiety and have dealt/still deal with different doubts. But I can speak more sympathetically and authoritatively now with people who struggle in those specific ways. In the end, I feel more than ever that fumbles can be incredibly redemptive, not only for myself but for my church community. I hope that will be the case with you too. We band of fumblers. 

Tim Tebow’s meekness

When one thinks about a Christian athlete, one who works hard and plays tough, he can’t get around Tim Tebow. Clearly this guys is as tough as beef jerky.

However many in the media, besides Skip Bayliss (who is a huge Tebow fan), critique or rather criticize Tebow for his inability to throw a crisp spiral and complete more than 50% of his passes. 

It’s hard to find great examples of meekness in today’s culture, and I’m not willing to nominate myself either. For good reasons. But I think Tim Tebow gives us a more than a picture of strength, but one of meekness. And I think this is helpful, because we usually think of meekness as weakness or timidity. But I really think meekness flows from a poverty of spirit and expresses itself in an unwillingness to defend oneself. Your strength is used to defend others and you simply let God or others defend you. At least that’s the picture I see in Numbers 12 and Matthew’s Beattitudes. 

Yet another media personality and former QB Boomer Essiason-those guys seem to be the greatest of the Tebow haters (remember Bronco’s Hall of Famer John Elway got rid of Tebow)-has spoken out against Tim. I’m OK with people who don’t like Tebow, for any reason. I really am. But it has become almost cliche to pull against this kid. Kind of like the word “interesting” or the expression “It is what it is.” I expect a little originality.

Here is a good display of meekness in action:

“I’ve heard nothing but great things about Mr. Esiason,” Tebow said, in comments distributed by the team. “I know he was a great player here, and I just wish him nothing but the best in his announcing and God bless him.

No need to defend.

Tebow later goes on to explain that he’s heard all of this stuff before in high school, in college, and now in the NFL. In other words, “I disagree with him, and I have reason to disagree.” But I don’t need to defend myself or attack him; instead I’ll let God make this guy look prophetic or idiotic. He’ll take care of it and He’ll take care of me.