What we can learn from Brandon Marshall

After Junior Seau’s suicide two weeks ago, many folks have begun pondering what to do about it. How should we think about it? Is the primary problem the concussions or is that but a piece of the puzzle?
Troubled Bear’s receiver Brandon Marshall (formerly Bronco’s, Dolphins, and UCF) wrote a thoughtful piece for the Chicago Sun Times about mental health and the stigma. He thinks there is something to learn from brain study but recognizes the best treatment is to “start to treat the living.” Marshall offers some helpful insights into the whole question of suicides after football, though this is helpful for all people whether going through the darkness of depression or not. The whole article is brief and worth the read.
There are many people out there who are suffering and have nowhere to turn for help or are afraid because of the stigmas placed on mental health.
Even though so many folks are on medication for depression, that doesn’t mean there is still no stigma for those struggling in this area. As an athlete, Marshall feels and has felt that pressure. Real men shouldn’t feel depressed, right? Real pastors shouldn’t feel depressed either. But I have, and have felt shame over the stigma. Fortunately the gospel began to deal with not only my depression (and still does), but with the fear, stigma, condemnation that comes with treatment and even medication. Believing Romans 8:1, that there really is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, is tough but completely applicable here. I still feel some stigma here and there, but now I can, somewhat, boast of my weakness (II Cor 12:8-10). Because of it, I’ve actually had more contentment, not to mention opportunities to minister to those struggling with depression.
As I began to meditate more on Junior’s death, I began to think about this vicious cycle our world is in. The word ‘‘validate’’ started to run through my mind.
The cycle starts when we are young boys and girls. Let me illustrate it for you:
Li’l Johnny is outside playing and falls. His dad tells him to get up and be strong, to stop crying because men don’t cry.
So even from the age of 2, our belief system begins to form this picture. We are teaching our boys not to show weakness or share any feelings or emotions, other than to be strong and tough.
Is that ‘‘validating’’?
 What do we do when Li’l Susie falls? We say: ‘‘It’s OK. I’m here. Let me pick you up.’’
That’s very validating, and it’s teaching our girls that expressing emotions is OK.
I don’t think depression is a-physiological. Medicine can help. But working out or doing P90X, and taking medication will not completely deal with it. Sounds like Marshall is on the same page here. You can blame things on concussions and brain damage, which probably play a part in it all. However it’s only a part of the puzzle. 

While he doesn’t go back to the gospel (though he does admit prayer is a part of it), he does recognize there is more going on. Women can cry. Men are told not to do so. I tell my son there is no crying in baseball when you get out, but it is OK to cry when you get hurt. But try not to do that either. I’m beginning to think that telling him not to cry is more for my good than for his. And if he can only be “tough,” and never show emotion, weakness, is that a man I want him to become? Is that a man who believes the gospel, that there is no condemnation before God and others? Nope. This certainly gave me something to think about.
Here’s one last snippet where Marshall gets to the root of the problem. Sounds like Tim Keller could have written it!
As athletes, we go through life getting praised and worshipped and making a lot of money. Our worlds and everything in them — spouses, kids, family, religion and friends — revolve around us. We create a world where our sport is our life and makes us who we are.
When the game is taken away from us or when we stop playing, the shock of not hearing the praise or receiving the big bucks often turns out to be devastating.
Sounds like a fantastic description of an idol to me. You go to something for life, affirmation, purpose, and when that something is taken away, so is your life and reason for living.  Nailed it Brandon. Keep up the good work.

Kurt Warner’s concerns for safety don’t go far enough

 There has been much discussion amongst those in the NFL relating to player safety. The issue with the New Orleans Saints “bounty program,”and recent suicides of former players allegedly due to repeated undiagnosed concussions have brought two main questions to the forefront: what will life look like after the game of football, and do I want my kids to even play this game?

Kurt Warner, a former Superbowl winner (they beat the Bucs to get there in 2000 because of a terrible call which actually spawned a new rule), chose to answer the latter in the negative. He expressed concerns and even desires that his kids would not play football.

This drew the ire of a former teammate (for a year or two) named Amani Toomer and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge. Hoge called him “uneducated.”

Some have labeled Kurt Warner hypocritical. After all, it was the NFL (or at least the path to the NFL) that literally allowed him to stop working at a grocery store. But since Hoge has probably 10 times more concussions than I have had, he’s probably not someone I’d be taking advice from.

Kurt isn’t alone in his concern. Giants Osi Umeniora had this to say

“Kurt Warner is Right to think how he is thinking about his kids and football,” Umenyiora wrote. “Its an awesome game and has done a lot for me, but i know when im 45 there is a strong chance il be in a wheelchair. If i can avoid that for my son, i will. But if he wants to play i wont stop him.”

I surmise that my sons will be too skinny to play “tackle” football and am grateful for it. It is probably more dangerous than other sports; it’s hard to argue against that point. But parents today often steer their kids toward sports or away from certain sports with only physical safety in mind. While that’s wise, it is not wise enough.

Parents often do a good job of thinking through the long term physical effects of sports. Will my kid be able to walk after sports? How many surgeries will be needed? But what about our kids “spiritual walk?” Most Christians really don’t think through the long term spiritual damage which sports may bring.

If your kid regularly misses corporate worship to play sports when he’s under your roof, where will he “worship” when he’s in college? Probably Bedside Baptist or Pillow Presbyterian.

What is it that we really want for our children? Is it for them to walk with Jesus in college or simply the chance to get an athletic scholarship (do we realize how hard these are to get)? Sure we’d like both, but our lifestyles often prove which one is more important.

And kids aren’t stupid. They are smarter than they look. They really are. Even the ones I think are totally out of it see things in parents that amaze me. They are learning all the time. Like that old drug commercial which depicted the father asking the son where he learned such stuff, “I learned it from watching you, Dad.”

Many kids don’t connect to a church when they go to college. We wonder why not. But do not we parents play some part in this? I do fear that we have concerned ourselves with the physical safety of our children and ignored their spiritual safety.

I’m hoping professing Christian Kurt Warner attends a Saturday night church with his boys. Because his job, now on the NFL Network has once again continued the pattern of not going to church as a family on Sundays. To care about physical safety is just not enough. May he and all Christian parents wade through these waters with much prayer and in community in order to discern how God may use sports to further His Kingdom instead of our own agendas.

Open letter to Luck and RGIII, and perhaps to Church

On my way to pick up some roofing material this past Saturday evening, I alternated, as usual between sports talk and NPR. This time I’m glad I tuned into the latter more than the former. 
I caught the tail end of an interview with former Denver Broncos Tight End Nate Jackson. Not knowing remembering him during his playing days did nothing to diminish the impact of the interview. Jackson had recently written an open letter to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (the 1st and 2nd overall picks from the recent NFL draft). 
The letter eloquently warns these two superstars of what they can soon expect. But I think it can also be read, in some ways, as an open letter to the Church. My favorite snipped, shared during the interview is below:
After negotiating your contracts, you both will surely buy a house in an affluent suburb where no 22-year-old would be happy living. Your new neighbors will be rich as well, facelifted, lipo-sucked, Xanaxed and dripping in diamonds, simply delighted to welcome you to the neighborhood. You will commission an interior decorator, recommended by a neighbor, to furnish your home. This will guarantee it feels nothing like Home. And someday, when all of this is over, you’ll walk through and gaze upon the marble columns and the embroidered drapes like artifacts in a museum, wondering why you ever listened to that woman.
Probably some sage advice. Don’t pick the most expensive neighborhoods because you won’t be friends with your neighbors! But part of it actually reminded me a little bit of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. I believe it was in this book that I came across the “novel” idea that just because one makes 100,000 dollars a year, one doesn’t have to live off 100,000 dollars a year. Or whatever number you make. Yet that attitude is so foreign to not only NFL players-where it clearly makes sense NOT to live among folks in the same income bracket-but to suburbanites like myself. If you can afford a bigger house, you get a bigger house. You deserve it. 
Now again, there is nothing inherently wrong with a bigger house. Some Christians graciously use every square foot to bless others. But I fear many affluent Christians opt for such a house without thinking one second why or to what end would God have me use this house? Is it to bless others, offer hospitality, host small group bible studies, youth events, etc..? Or is it because we simply can buy this house? And because we simply can, we must. That’s more like slavery. I love Nate Jackson and John Piper’s advice. Don’t just spend money because you can; a good reminder to all of us.
My 2nd favorite snippet is below:

With all of this pushing against you, the role of friends and family becomes very important. There are people in this world to whom you’re just Andrew and Robert. Son, brother, lover, friend. You need to lean on these people when the Weirdos start to make sense. You need to run to the familiarity of genuine friendship. But even in this, there will be a loneliness, because, as a defense mechanism, you will have assumed a piece of your new identity, and your loved ones won’t understand it. Caught in between these two worlds you’ll drift. You’ll feast on the fruits of excess, and will only grow hungrier. You’ll dine with familiar faces, and find you’ve lost the taste. And so you’ll get in your Mercedes on your days off and drive to the facility and watch film. Ah yes. Football. That’s what this is all about.
There’s much to commend in this, but I’d like to just mention a few. Jackson wisely explains to these two lads that they will “feast on the fruits of excess, and will only grow hungrier.” What a prayer this would be for the Church! That we would lose our materialist appetites and hunger and thirst for that which satisfies: thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). That our clamoring for more stuff because we think we’ll be satisfied when we have it would leave us only more hungry and thirsty. Great reminder Nate. I need it.
Andrew Luck and RG III will find themselves torn between two worlds, distasting the extravagances and yet also forsaking the familiar faces of friends. Because of football, they will find themselves pulled back and forth. And it will be lonely.
But even in this, there will be a loneliness, because, as a defense mechanism, you will have assumed a piece of your new identity, and your loved ones won’t understand it. Caught in between these two worlds you’ll drift. 
There is a loneliness that comes from being a Christian on a pilgrimage to our New Heaven and New Earth (Rev 21), or as Jackson puts it “assuming a piece of your new identity and your loved ones won’t understand it.” A non-Christian will find solace and comfort-though temporary or illusory-in all this world has to offer. But just like T.S. Eliot’ Magi who found Jesus, and life immediately became harder, we fill find ourselves feeling uneasy in this present age when we return to our former “kingdoms.” There is a joy in following Jesus now, yet there is also a precarious uncomfortability which befits the Christian pilgrim. At times it will come to surface in an a subtle uneasiness. That’s good. At other times, it will be a dissatisfaction with arriving at an end you thought would make you happy and it didn’t; and you feel let down (as all idols do eventually). That’s good. Still other times it will lead to a deeper longing in a minor depression or homesickness for a place devoid of tears and physical presence of Jesus. That’s growth. 
But it’s in these times when you know you’re walking with Jesus. Just remember to look at him and hear him say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Let him have the final say in your journey. Amidst the sadness of the journey there is great joy and comfort to be found. We’ll forever be in this tension until the world we were made for comes down from heaven. Caught between these two worlds we’ll drift.

You can read the whole letter here. I really do think it gives the Christian as well as the NFL athlete something to ponder.

Ryan Leaf, good guy/bad guy and getting duped

I heard an inspiring interview about 5 months ago with Ryan Leaf and Jim Rome. If you don’t know  Ryan Leaf, he was the former number 2 draft pick (right behind Peyton Manning) for the San Diego Chargers. His career spiraled out of hand as soon as it started and he became addicted to pain killers. It became so bad that he was getting them from his players while a quarterback coach for some small college. 
Once regarded by many as simply a jerk, he seemed very repentant, broken, and well, likeable in the interview. I would have enjoyed meeting the guy. And then now, he’s been arrested twice in 4 days for burglary, theft, criminal possession of drugs.
That led to a dichotomizing discussion on the Jim Rome show today: was Ryan Leaf duping us all along, or had he simply succumbed to his addiction and fallen off the wagon?
Here are some of my “takes” from Jim Rome’s and his callers “takes.”
1.) Need for another category: Good guy with addiction or Bad Guy?
Those were the only two categories offered. Some called in and said he’s simply a bad buy, and lied to “us”when interviewed. He was only trying to sell books. By breaking into homes, we know for sure that he’s a bad guy. We all have demons, and don’t give in to them. That was one sentiment.
The other “take” was that he wasn’t a bad guy, but simply had an addiction, as though an addiction is something external and draws its victims in like a magnet. He was a good guy when interviewed, and legitimately meant what he said when he talked of turning over a new Leaf (actually he didn’t say that-but he could have….) and trying to be a better person. He still is a good guy, but just has a problem.
So which one was it? Everyone had to classify him as either good or bad. 

Instead of the good and bad distinction where we judge (as though we are better) or blame the addiction and not the person, here is a more robust anthropology.

  • All men/women are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Even sin does not erase that image (Gen 6; James 3)
  •  Sin does tarnish the image of God in man/women so we don’t reflect that image as clearly any longer.
  • Because we are made in God’s image, we will do and say things that are right and culturally good. Not all folks are drug addicts, murderers, thieves; many are in fact the opposite. They are nice, welcoming, will bake you cookies and help old ladies cross the street. We’re not as bad as we could be.
  • Regardless, deeds not done in faith are always considered sin (Romans 14). And that sin is like menstrual garments (Romans 3) and the natural state of man is that we are God’s enemies and  enslaved (Ephesians 2). Ryan Leaf is not a good guy in this sense; though neither are you and I. No one makes the cut. 
  • If you wanted to really categorize people into camps, it’s more biblically accurate to put them into three camps: Those who seek righteousness and standing before God and others by the good things they do (Leaf is bad and I’m good; or Leaf isn’t bad, he just has an addiction, so we’re both good), OR the bad things they do (Leaf in his drug habit robbing people to get a fix) OR those who rest in Christ’s righteousness by faith.
Without this third category, people either judge sinners or excuse sin. Without resting in a righteousness that comes from God, our natural instinct is to seek some form of it (Romans 10:3) and then judge/excuse others according to our own righteousness. The gospel is the difference maker.
2.) The need for a Judge.
While I think the question is illegitimate in some ways with some of its presuppositions, it does reveal to all of us a legitimate need: we need a good judge. It really doesn’t matter to me if Ryan Leaf duped me with the interview. He could easily have relapsed after having been drug-free the way that our fellow Christian Josh Hamilton has. Or has he been duping us all along and simply selling books? Was he legitimately broken before, or just faking it? What about now? Ultimately we’ll never know. Most people don’t care. But this kind of thing is important because many people do bad things, and sometimes bad things to us (and vice versa of course). Are they truly sorry and repentant? We can make an educated guess, but we don’t render their judgment. God does, and He’s a good judge. We can say this or that behavior is wrong. Yet we cannot know the heart with 100% certainty and often times shouldn’t attempt to arrive there. The discussion was in some way irrelevant, but clearly revealed a deep need illegitimately met.

3.) It’s OK to be duped

Paul argues in his first letter to the Corinthians for Christians to not take other Christians to court (I Cor 6). He tells them it’s better to just be wronged if they can’t settle it themselves. I would assume its probably better to just be duped than to adopt The Who’s attitude, “We won’t get fooled again.” I’m sure there are truly legitimate struggling drug addict believers in local churches. They may struggle till the day they die. Others may appear to struggle by faith, but truly just want their fix and use the church as a “cover.” But Jesus reminds his followers not to pull up the weeds with the wheat because by doing so, they would actually hurt struggling believers. I think its OK to be duped. We welcome drug addicts in the local churches, and we may get duped into thinking they really love Jesus (or that Jesus really loves them). We don’t excuse the sin or judge the sinner. Some may be believers. Some may not be. But we can’t assume every addict is the same. The gospel that saves them is no more miraculous than the gospel that saves anybody. And God’s grace is sufficient even when lives don’t change as much as would hope to see. No one is saved by his/her good deeds but by the good deeds of Jesus.

On Kyle Williams and Manning-up/Womanning Up

There were some great football games this past weekend for the divisional championship round games (winner goes to Super Bowl). Unfortunately for both losing teams, their losses are mired in the mystery and misery of mistake ridden final moments.
The 49ers lost to the giants in OT because kick-returner Kyle Williams fumbled the ball on his team’s side of the field. As a result, the Giants kicked the game winning field goal. Unfortunately for him, he actually received death threats via twitter (unfortunately its not just soccer where that happens).
The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Patriots due to a missed field goal in the final moments which would have sent the game into OT. 
Two games. Two goats. 
But each responded a little differently. 49ers Kick Returner Kyle Williams owned his own mistake. Ravens kicker seemed to do just that. But then he began blaming the New England scoreboard for not putting the correct down causing him and his teammates to rush. Given New England’s penchant for cheating, I’m sure that it was intentional.
However, two games, two goats. Two different responses. As Jim Rome said on his radio show today, “One guy manned up, and owned it. That’s macho.”
I’m always interested in what folks consider masculine, or in other words, what “real men do,” because even “Christian” masculinity seems to be cut and pasted from respected cultural norms. Then you can just throw a verse or two on top of it and canonize it.
But because man is made in the image of God, we shouldn’t expect everything held high in our culture to be completely devoid of biblical truth. Rome is on to something here. In part.
Right: It is “manly” to confess when you screw up. Men often run from their problems. We blame. Adam did it. But redeemed manhood does confess. And this can be hard because men are designed to lead and saying you screwed up seems to get in the way of leading. But part of leadership is being able to say, “I screwed up. I own it. It’s not YOUR fault. It’s mine.” People like that. Kyle Williams’ teammates did too. Of course this really can only be accomplished by a deep belief in the gospel that says, “I screwed up, but God loves me the same as He did before I screwed up. I don’t lose my opportunity to lead, but have the opportunity to recognize my need for grace. Ideally others will also see their need for grace too.”
Perhaps not as Right: While it is “manly” to confess when you screwed up, I don’t know that is is uniquely manly. Men do need to take the lead in this because, well, they are to lead. So maybe there is a primacy…Yet you could also just as truthfully deem this quality “womanly,” or feminine. You could just as easily say, “Woman up, own this, and move forward.” Adam blamed Eve. Then Eve followed his example and blamed the serpent. Just like the natural man, the natural woman, is prone to blame shift. But the redeemed woman, can also believe the gospel, and “woman-up,”  and display this “manly” or “womanly” quality.
Owning your mistakes and shortcomings is both masculine and feminine, if you have to put it in those terms. But truthfully it is simply living out the gospel. It is Christ-centered more than anything. 
The fact that some people appreciate this characteristic is but another example of the ways man/woman still images God. While I don’t know that this is SPECIFICALLY masculine, it is still part of godly masculinity. And it’s great to see this quality praised as opposed to what passes as “macho” in beer commercials. Maybe folks like Jim Rome will take the next step and say, “I screwed up because that’s what I do. I’m a screw-up. But Jesus loves screw-ups who recognize their need of His grace.”

Winning and Losing: God’s help and God’s involvement

This Sunday I preached on Philippians 4:10-23 which includes the famous or in-famous Phil 4:13 “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” The major theme of this passage is thankfulness, but the “sandwiched” truth in the middle is that we CAN be content in all situations: from bad houses to bad spouses, from losing to bad weather. Now I’m not saying I always believe that; I often don’t. But I think its more scriptural to say I CAN THROUGH CHRIST honor God and find contentment in specific situations than it is to say “I just can’t….” (which we all say from time to time, right?) and become angry, gripe, or run. The sermon can be found here.
I pulled for Tebow and the Broncos vs. the Patriots (I pull for anyone vs. the Patriots) but pretty much saw on the TV Saturday what I thought I might see: a clubbing.

But I’m very thankful for how far the Broncos went this season and the opportunities for Jesus to be talked about by secular sports talk show hosts that probably don’t even know or usually care too much for Him. Because of Tebow, pastors and theologians have also been given a platform as well. One such article, that I think is incredibly apropos for all sports fans, is the Atlantic Journal’s  “Does God care if Tim Tebow wins on Saturday.” How cool is it that The Atlantic Journal, read by all kinds of different folks from all kinds of different beliefs, has given those folks a chance to read about God’s Sovereignty, Providence, Secondary Causes, Calvin, etc…, and of course Jesus. Check it out, as it will be helpful not just as an athlete, fan, or parent, but simply as a person navigating this world with the hope of a Transcendent as well as Immanent Lord.

Whether winning or losing, we see a growing Christ-centered contentment in Tebow (as opposed to his crying after loss at FL), as well as the opportunities God has afforded many others through his faith, passion, service, and play on the field.

NFL Live, Authenticiy, and Tebow

The Denver Broncos, the team that my three year old sometimes calls the “Tebows,” backed into the play-offs this year by losing three straight games. Fortunately for them, the other teams in their division also lost. As a result they will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. 
Their QB Tim Tebow has played very poorly lately. He’s not shown the 4th quarter magic we’ve become used to the last month or two. I would imagine that as quickly as people have jumped on that Tebow bandwagon, they will jump off when/if the Broncos start losing again.
However, not all will jump off. The crew (Trey Wingo, Marcellus Wiley, Mark Shlereth) from NFL Live absolutely sang his praises several weeks ago, but it wasn’t because of his play; it was his personality. The word that they continued to come back to was “authentic.” They piled on with the usual expressions: what you see is what you get; he doesn’t change to fit some mold; he is who he is. And he doesn’t apologize for his personality, which is of course, largely shaped by his faith in Christ.
Authentic is perhaps the most over-used word in our post-modern world. Nevertheless, it is obviously still culturally apropos and it is a word-or at least a sentiment-that people cherish. 
Authenticity is really only cherished nowadays because of post-modernity. So this vague  post-modernness (still pretty hard to define) is not all bad, but the ever-cherished post-modern term brings both challenges and opportunities.
Some of these guys probably don’t share the same faith as Tebow. They may not-though I can’t assume one way or another-enjoy Tebow calling them to faith and repentance. But that is irrelevant. The content of his faith, or the fact that his faith shapes his personality is not important. So that can present a challenge when we share our faith. There is gospel content which needs to be embraced for one to be saved. Yet what is important to many is simply whether or not someone is authentic. If that faith makes you authentic, good. That’s the goal.
Authenticity is valued more than love. This shouldn’t surprise us at all. So Tebow can be authentic as well as love and respect others, while someone else can be authentic but say F*&$ you to anyone who anyone who threatens to constrain their autonomy. They are both authentic. 
In addition, it is in the name of authenticity, that folks feel the need to be true to themselves and so they justify divorce just as quickly as sending back cold food at Applebees.
Still, I think the opportunities that the ever popular “authenticity” brings far outweigh the challenges. For instance, here is a guy who is unashamed to mention Jesus’ name any chance he gets, and one of these lads actually uses the picture of he and Tebow as his twitter avatar. 
Authenticity will often give you a chance to at least be heard. Even though what people want is the authenticity more than the Christ who alone can free us to be authentic AND other-centered at the same time, the conversation can begin. The freedom to be who we are called to be, will often give us a platform. You don’t have to be a good quarterback. People listen to authentic people as well as crave to be authentic themselves. It is in Christ that we can speak of a freedom that is truly free but not autonomous and self-centered.
Authenticity appreciates brokenness over moral perfection. There are obvious blatantly hypocritical Christians who will not be heard by anyone. But these lads are not lauding Tebow’s moral perfection. They really aren’t. They aren’t saying he’s flawless. They like the fact that he is free to be who he really is. So if they see Tebow sin, it doesn’t destroy his witness to them. Authenticity admiring folks don’t need to see perfection. They need to see repentance. They actually give Christians more of an opportunity to fail. And that’s good. We can sin before others. 
Steve Brown recounts a story in his book Scandalous Freedom where a Christian woman slept with her boss and eventually repented before him, explained why it was so heinous, and led that man to Jesus. I think that kind of thing probably happens more in an authenticity craving culture. 

So postmodern catch words, or at least postmodern influence on culture, has shaped even NFL analysts. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, I it really does bring more opportunities than challenges.

Inconsistency and Insecurity from Keyshawn and Gruden

As a huge Tampa Bay Buccaneer fan, I’m always listening to what comes out of former Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden. And even more so now that he’s currently out of coaching (and no doubt somewhat muzzled because he is still receiving a check from the Bucs), yet involved with ESPN. Gruden took the Bucs to the Super Bowl, but after that, never won a play-off game. In fact the year after the Super Bowl, he actually told former Buccaneer Keyshawn Johnson NOT to come to practice anymore, ever. That was probably 8 years ago, and yet Keyshawn, aka “MEshawn” still talks about Gruden messing with his head.

“When your psyche is messed with, and you don’t want to be around the organization or team, you just want to do whatever you can to get out of there,” Johnson said. “And that   was the situation when I was under Coach Gruden in Tampa.”

Then, as men with egos always do, Gruden fired back.  

“I had a guy on SportsCenter say he couldn’t get along with me the other day on TV,” Gruden said. “So I know how it feels. You’ve got to have some thick skin, and you’ve got to know when things get tough there are going to be some negative things said.”

The commentary from this article is priceless:

 If Gruden’s skin were really thick, wouldn’t he just let it go?

How true is that? Does Jon Gruden really have thick skin? Not nearly as thick as one would, or should think, for a coach. Just another example of how our actions are always a better indicator of what we believe than our words. Whenever we see such inconsistencies with things we say, and then how we live, Christians have a place to run for forgiveness and change: the cross. It’s a place for the inconsistent to find the ONLY one who was/is/will be consistent. And it is a place where we can begin to change the belief, which will lead to changed actions and words (Colossians 2:6-7).

And regarding MEshawn Johnson, who actually wrote a book called Just Give Me the Damn Ball (I still can’t believe that-but at 22.95, not sure how many he’s actually sold), he’s a bit more fragile than advertised as well. It’s a good reminder that those who seem so outwardly confident, cocky, obnoxious, are probably just as insecure as the rest.

 This is incredibly helpful to realize in ministry and in life. If we can see this insecure person, as opposed to only seeing the Just Give Me The Damn Ball person, we’ll find loving them much easier.

When coaches attack

One of the highlights of the NFL, besides the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upsetting the New Orleans Sinners, or rather Saints, 26-20, was the questionable display of sportsmanship and concomitant retaliation for that questionable display. You can view the video here.

Yesterday, the San Francisco 49er’s coach Jim Harbough shook losing Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s hand. Then he “patted” or pushed, Schwart’z back. Problem. I guess you just have to stick with the hand shake because Schwartz took issue, and felt like he was pushing him out of the way. Then as Harbough tried to flee the scene and get to the locker room, Schwartz chased him down, bumped into him, and had to be separated.

The NFL will will probably be handing out a few fines to both coaches sometime this week. 

But the interviews and commentary after the incident intrigued me.


Jim Harbough claimed, “It was on me. I just came in to shake his hand TOO hard.” I appreciated his admission of guilt. However, I have a feeling that a football coach doesn’t take offense a hard handshake. Confession is great and can restore relationships. However, if that which we confess, isn’t exactly what offended the other party, it will go nowhere. Harbough appeared to be the humble one and take the high road, but in the end, his confession probably only increased the gulf betwixt these coaches. Now he may call Schwartz and they may later have a cup of tea, or pint of beer, or whatever they drink. But I’m simply responding to the interview. What you apologize for is as important as how you apologize.

Schwartz claimed Harbough’s “sportsmanship,” comprised profanity among other things, including the “push” as more than a pat. He on the other hand, was unapologetic. He ignored the “chase down.” While what offended him was left unaddressed by Harbough, he completely ignored his part: chasing down a coach and having to be physically separated. Often times folks do us wrong. It’s often more than a subtle (in my opinion) “push-pat” confusion. But our response to sin doesn’t have to be some form of blatant or subtle (cold shoulder, gossip, bitterness) retalliation. We can instead explain that such and such a move was either “busch-league” or whether it really was clearly sin. 

This is hard. I’d rather snub someone, than tell them they hurt me. Sometimes retaliation is blatant. Sometimes it’s the subtle response we need to repent from. And I hate it for myself, and you-as we often want to vicariously get people back through other people. But I don’t get a vote, and you don’t either.


The commentary was solid. Coach Dungy recognized that even though someone wrongs you, you can’t retaliate. Of course this only makes sense with a Christian worldview, where Christ ended the need for the “I got you last game,” with his once for all death for sins. As a result, we don’t NEED to get people back because Jesus took care of our sins. He is the peace offering, who has made the two groups who believe-Gentile and Jew, 49’ers and Lions, offender and offended-one in Christ (Eph 2:14).

Finally, Rodney Harrison, who regularly was voted the league’s dirtiest player, and handed down multiple fines for his illegal hits had this to say: “What will you tell you kids?” I found that a bit close to ironic. But maybe there is an on-field ethic distinct from an off-field (when game has ended) ethic. Having not played the game, I can’t make a call. Still, Harrison brings a great challenge to all those in leadership. Your teachings have to apply to you. For instance, you can’t tell your kids, “Its important to go to church,” and then go to church when its convenient for you. Believe me, somehow it will not be convenient for them when in college, or any time after that. 

Petyon Manning Syndrome

For the first time in the Colts last 227 games (you do the math-seriously, I”m not going to), Peyton Manning will not be playing the quarterback position. Perhaps even more amazing is Buccaneer defensive back Ronde Barber’s streak now takes center stage. Seeing as Ronde is actually in there tackling people while Peyton rarely gets touched, I’m more impressed with the former. He just happens to be a Buccaneer….
Peyton’s streak has been a blessing. But one would wonder if at some points it has also been a curse? Some wonder if this could spell the end of this Roman Empire-esque run for the Colts. But in this case, the problem is not Goths, immorality, infrastructure, or anything like that. It appears that if there is a collapse-and this is only a possibility-that one failure will stand out above the rest: failure to groom a successor for Manning.
In the article I linked to above, one aspect of a good employee/teammate is:


  ….a man’s true value to his employer is revealed by what’s accomplished when he’s not around. Well folks, it’s time to finally put that premise to the test.
On Sunday, we’ll finally see what happens when Peyton Manning doesn’t step onto the field. We’ll see what happens when a team only keeps 2 quarterbacks on the roster for years and doesn’t develop any new talent. But not all teams with Iron Man quarterbacks have fallen prey to the failure to address the need for new leadership. Green Bay drafted a quarterback you may have heard of named Aaron Rogers (fresh off a Super Bowl win-even though the Pack had the same record as the Bucs last year) and gave him time to develop before Brett Favre “diva-ed” his way out of there.
Peyton Manning Syndrome happens in churches all the time. Someone is talented at preaching, teaching, leading a small group bible study, playing music, evangelizing, etc….For years that person just does what he/she does best. But eventually that person will die, go to college, move away, or change churches. 
As pastors and church members, I think we always need to think a few years out. Who can I train to do what I do so that we’ll presently be multiplying ministry (as opposed to simply maintaining) as well as protecting ourselves for unseen transitions? Now I’m not referring to programs. Some programs need to die. I’m talking about people ministering the gospel to each other in in its various forms.
1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Who else has gifts similar to yours? Can be they be trained to assist or eventually replace you to pursue more personal ministry?

A pastor and member’s true “worth” (I’m not arguing some folks are essentially more important) to the church is probably seen more in their temporary absence (as they step aside and share leadership) than in their conspicuous presence. The church needs the gifts of its members. But in some way, the less dependent a church is on ONE person here and there-unless that person is the God/Man Jesus-the healthier and prosperous that church is and will be. 

Now most of this falls on the church leadership to think more like the Green Bay Packers than the Indianapolis Colts: to always be thinking 2-3 years down the road. Nevertheless, members can serve in the same way by trying to raise up replacements or assistants which will then open up new opportunities for them or for new-comers.