Why I think we need more Christian coaches

Redeemer will be making its bi-annual trek to the Modgnik (Kingdom spelled backwards) retreat in a week and half. I’m thankful for the few students attending and for our two leaders willing to sacrifice their time and sanity for a weekend of discipleship, fellowship, fun, and shared experiences with some teens.

I’m a little saddened that we we don’t have more youth going. The culprit is not apathy. The culprit is athletics, at least in part. Now retreat attendance isn’t mandated from Mt Sinai. I get that. Christian parents of athletically involved children may never be able (although that’s probably getting loose with the language) to send their youth on retreats simply because of year-round sports. Now they may raise their child to fear the Lord and use their athletics to bring honor to Jesus. I get that (I wonder how many retreats Tim Tebow went on..?) and have seen people do it.
 
But I really don’t see this athletic issue going away. If anything it will get worse, as coaches demand more and more. And parents demand more and more, hoping for scholarships to reward their investments.

Yet I do think there is a solution, or maybe just a band-aid. But band-aids still help stop the bleeding. I think we need more Christian coaches.

Several of my youth couldn’t go on this fantastic retreat because the coach wouldn’t let or want them miss a game or a track meet. At the least, the youth didn’t want to disappoint their coach. That was simply not an option.

Yet what if the coach would simply say, “Go on that retreat, as that is actually more important than you running or playing baseball.” What if he would be counter-cultural and say such a thing? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Since kids and parents either are not willing or don’t feel such a conviction, this is probably the only way kids in athletics will be able to participate in such “extra-curricular” activities.

Now compare this with a Christian friend of mine, a track coach. He has prayed for his “trackers” to approach him with gospel-centered questions and the Lord has opened the door for good conversations. What would happen if a kid requested to miss one track meet or one baseball practice in a season?

We really do need more Christian coaches. I’m thankful for those out there and hope to see more.

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Blades of Glory and Shame

Perhaps the highlight of the Olympics last summer for me was the performance of the somewhat mythical “Blade Runner” Oscar Pestorius. A double amputee fitted with synthetic blades proved a tough opponent for the the first heat of the 400 meters. He didn’t make it to the finals but he made South Africans everywhere proud as he competed and beat two full-legged athletes. He made his fellow competitors proud as one winner exchanged numbers with him. The whole experience of watching this unfold made you simply proud to be a human. Animals don’t usually do this sort of thing.

We were mesmerized by what training, dedication and science/technology could accomplish. We saw a glimpse of what the Psalmist marveled at in Psalm 8.

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Dominion. Rule. Taking the chaos of amputated legs and bringing through the creation of prosthetics that grip the track just right. Honor and Glory. How people honored this man. How we cheered for him. What a success story.

Then last week he is arrested for murdering his girlfriend. From high to the lowest of lows, taking another life, robbing it of the dignity endowed by God. Removing the crown of glory and honor through anger and violence.

These verses are also true of Oscar. It is really true of all of us, though by God’s grace we don’t fully express our anger in such ways.

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.” 

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

A few thoughts:

1.) People are always capable of doing this. I feel betrayed. How could the one who performed with such grace, and was shown grace by other athletes, display such malice? How could he display wrath instead of grace? Because that’s what sinful people are capable of doing, no matter how nice they appear. God’s common grace often keeps people from being doing what they are capable of doing. But this verse still reminds us that Pascal’s greatness and wretchedness principle is spot on.

2.)  We are all capable of doing this, so let’s deal with our anger NOW. I don’t know what anger issues Oscar had. I don’t know if folks called him “Oscar the Grouch” (probably Sesame Street wasn’t big in South Africa). But we do know he had issues and allegedly there were incidents. Maybe I have anger fresh on the brain since my sermon a week ago, but this is a good reminder of what we are all capable of doing. I’m sure most people who shoot their spouses/girlfriends probably would have at one time said, “I’d never do something like that.” I’m sure most people who love them would would likewise say, “He/she is not capable of doing such a thing.” Well since both beliefs have been proven wrong time and time again, why not change the belief? Why not consider that we are capable of great evil? Why not instead begin to deal with all anger now?

3.) Esteem the ordinary people around you. I admit I have elevated athletes, particularly Christian athletes before. Not all athletes will let you down like Oscar, but I would dare say many would do so, and do so quite often if we really knew them. Just like your normal relationships. But what if we began to esteem our normal friendships like we do our celebrities, heroes, athletes? What if we considered looking at them through the lens of Psalm 8? That God has crowned them with glory and honor. How might that transform our relationships? I’m pretty sure they’d appreciate it and I’m pretty sure that kind of thinking is consistent with Philippians 2:3 “….count others more important than yourselves…”

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.

The Complexity of Pilate, Lance Armstrong, and Humanity

 
This year I’m trying to follow Redeemer’s New Testament bible reading plan. Not too long ago, I came across a very familiar passage where Pilate is depicted as reluctant to hand Jesus over to be crucified. This is the Pilate we have all come to know and love. This is the only Pilate most of us know. He seems somewhat sympathetic, at the least very hesitant to hand over the seemingly innocent Jesus.

But this is not the only Pilate “we” know in history. In fact the Pilate we know in history, was quite the opposite. He was ruthless. He killed numbers of people. In fact Jocephus even records that he was sent back to Rome because he too harshly suppressed a Samaritan uprising.  Now I don’t know if its fair to put him in Herod the Great category (that dude killed plenty of family members), but he was not an “LOL” type of guy for sure.

Numerous scholars have treated the biblical accounts as inaccurate because of what we “know” about Pilate in the “real sources” (albeit few in number). Despite the fact that Jocephus has just as much of an agenda as the biblical writers, seeing as he was the quintessential “Benedict Arnold”-I know Jocephus came first so it should be the other way around-I don’t think that there is any real contradiction. I personally, and obviously, place more weight in the God inspired scriptures, but I think both pictures of Pilate are probably equally as accurate.

Would a ruthless dictator go out of his way to wipe his hands of the death of an innocent man? Isn’t this out of character?

The answer to the former is yes and the latter is no. Here are a few reasons why I think so. By the way, this type of thinking also comes into play when scholars try to discern which letters Paul actually wrote. 
 
1.) Motivation
 
Underneath every behavior is a heart motivation. We are not simply reflex creatures. So when anger overtakes a man because his kingdom (literally, though we could use it metaphorically since most of us aren’t governors or prefects I presume) is threatened, he might respond in an over-the-top harsh manner. By the way, if a Roman governor is removed for harshness, that is really saying something. But consider what is important: his kingdom and protecting that kingdom. He could be fearful of losing His kingdom, and what is one way of saving it? Punish severely any uprising. In another instance, fear could prevent him from doing the just thing (releasing Jesus). Fear could make him want to pacify the crowd and prevent any uprising. He’s afraid to do the right thing. Fear could also drive him to say, “This dude is innocent, and if it comes back to bite you in the butt, then remember my response!” 

The same fearful guy can be ruthless to many, and hesitant to order a single execution. Pilate is actually acting quite consistently with his heart idolatry (his literal kingdom) which leads to a heart motivation (fear), and then the concomitant actions (prevent uprising, crush uprising).
 
2.) Complexity
 
One thing we know about people from the bible is that they are incredibly complex. They are broken because of sin but redeemable and beautiful. This is true not only in general but also in specifics. David murdered people and committed adultery, yet wrote most of the Psalms. Abraham had faith and was bold enough to leave his hometown of Ur, and willing to sacrifice his only son, yet in one situation he also was too scared to admit his wife was actually his wife (He claimed it was his sister-not a prescription for a healthy marriage). He had both faith and fear. Radical faith and radical fear. 

One the thing we know about people from simply observing them is that they/we are incredibly complex. Humanity is flat out complex. Blaise Paschal called this the “greatness and wretchedness” principle and it is included in his apologetic work Pensees. Humans are capable of great good (obviously in relation to humanity not God) and also capable of great evil. Not in general, but specifically. The same people who do great things, do great harm. Preachers can bless their congregations but with their tongues chastise or neglect their families. Parents can sacrifice for their children, yet really only do so because of what their children will bring to them via sports, relationships, scholarships. Athletes can be charitable, caring about the good of humanity through cancer foundations, yet be completely self absorbed as well. 

In an interview with Dan Patrick, one sports writer astutely recognized this complexity in Lance Armstrong. When asked who is Lance really, the writer simply responded: both are true of him. He cares about others but at the same time is completely self-absorbed. In 2000 years, could anyone look at history and say, one depiction is clearly wrong?

We Christians can encourage people at one moment and say the meanest things the next. Humanity is complex because we are made in the image of God and yet fallen because of sin’s curse. And that is completely observable!

That people question the scriptures’ authenticity because “Bible Pilate” looks different than “Secular Pilate” is quite ironic. Christianity recognizes this complexity, offering an anthropology (theology of mankind), that is completely consistent with observable sociology. That is one of Pascal’s arguments.

For a religion to be true it must have known our nature; it must have known its greatness and smallness, and the reason for both. What other religion but Christianity has known this? (433)

If people were simply monolithic creatures, thoroughly predictable, and without any sense of complexity, then these two accounts of Pilate are completely inconsistent. But because of what we know about biblical anthropology, which fits like a glove with what we can observe sociologically about mankind, we can affirm both depictions are accurate and consistent. We are complex.

People are incredibly complex. In the words of Eric Clapton, “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.”

Oprah, Lance, and judgments

It has been well over a week since Oprah v. Lance. Not quite as big as Roe v. Wade, but big. I actually just saw snippets here and there on SportsCenter, since I, like most of the world, doesn’t have or watch Oprah’s network. And of course I heard sports talk hosts banter around some of the ideas, respond to what was said, as well as to what wasn’t said.

In the end, here are some of my thoughts in a very unorganized/steam of consciousness sort of way.

What if Lance had responded this way?
 
Oprah, doesn’t this sound like a judgment? Aren’t you judging me? Isn’t that what you are all about?

The reality is that it is not too difficult to judge Lance. The dude cheated, as probably most folks on the tour did, by the use of performance enhancing drugs. Then he consistently promoted the lie and sued numbers of people who questioned his “drugless” performances. He sued so many people, that he couldn’t remember exactly who he sued. I’ve never sued anyone, and hopefully never will, but I’m pretty sure I might stop after losing track of my victims. Hopefully, but pride does come before the fall…..

And Lance doesn’t do himself any favors by coming off as fairly-extremely unlikeable. 

People used to love Lance. He even had a powerful cameo in Dodgeball. But now I’m thinking he wouldn’t be asked back for a potential sequel. People don’t love Lance anymore. 

During Oprah’s interview with Lance, it was clear that she was not simply gathering information, but gathering information with the intent of making a judgment. Now judgment looks differently for different people. Perhaps its verbal. Perhaps it appears as judgmental frown or look of disappointment. I think the statute of limitations had run out in regards to any perjury statement, so he’s OK there. But Oprah clearly sat in a expressive posture of judgment: you did wrong Lance.


But why? What gives her the right to pass judgment? And if you still don’t believe Oprah’s interview was judgmental, then what about the millions of people angered by the “truth” that came out?


Oprah has always advocated being true to oneself. So if that is the ultimate ethical standard, can you blame someone for cheating? What if he is a cheater? What if he “has” to win?  How can that be considered wrong? No one can live consistently with the “don’t judge me” religious conviction. At some point, we feel wronged when we are regularly lied to. We feel duped. And thus we say that person has done wrong. And we are right.

It is impossible to live consistently within that worldview. You can’t just be true to yourself, because if you do, you will wrong other people. Tons of them.

I wish Lance would have turned the tables and asked her what right she has to condemn. I would have loved to see her response.

In the end, we don’t like to be lied to. We don’t like it when others cheat-but we hold on to hope that they aren’t cheating. 

Oprah couldn’t express why Lance was wrong, but it it is not because she doesn’t believe it. In part.  Oprah and the legions of people angry with Lance, have suppressed the belief in God deep down (Romans 1:18-19). But that belief can only stay down so long. It comes up from time to time. And it manifests itself through righteous judgments: the simple conviction that certain things are just wrong. Not because cycling authorities say it’s wrong. Not because the Supreme Court says it’s wrong. Not because we feel that it’s wrong. Simply because it is wrong. That comes only from God, and belief in God, whether or not people agree that is in fact from Him who forms their belief. He is directing and exposing their belief in Him.

The gospel frees us from the “all judgments are wrong” category (that no one really lives out), but it also frees us from becoming judgmental. Lance didn’t sue me. If he did, I would probably be mad at him, and I would try to recoup that money. But for the most of us whom he didn’t sue, we don’t need to look down upon Lance. 

The Law brings us to our knees because we all fall short. Everyone. You, me, Lance, Barney-or at least the guy who plays Barney. The gospel, as Luther reminds us, reminds us that we are still sinners and at the same time, righteously declared Saints. How can a messed up sinner tell another messed up sinner he is in fact a hopelessly messed up sinner? How can a messed up sinner tell another messed up sinner the real problem is how far another has fallen short of his low standard, when it is God’s standard which we all fall short?

The gospel avoids the pitfalls of a judging and tolerating/excusing that which is clearly wrong.

I’ve never been a Lance fan, just like I’ve never been a Micheal Jordan, or Tiger Woods fan. I tend to pull for losers. But there’s plenty of room at the head table for more sinners like you me, Lance, and Barney. As a great hymn writer reminds us, “All the fitness he requires is that you feel your need of Him.”
 

Don’t waste your clout: a high school QB and a gal with Microcephaly

Sometimes athletes, particularly in high school can really be jerks. And sometimes, being a jerk is what they do on a nice day. Yet every so often, one hears (now you can hear-if you hadn’t seen this) of a story where the athletes aren’t the bullies; they are the defenders of the bullied. The story can be found here, and you’ll want to read this one. I know I always say things like that, but this one is a heart warmer. It really is.

A mentally handicapped (microcephaly) gal named Chy was getting made fun of, for guess what, being mentally handicapped. Cue blood boiling…..So her mother resorts to faculty, principal, militia? Nope. She goes to the quarterback of the football team.

Now that Carson Jones agreed to do something about it, he would probably just bully the bullies? Right? Not this Mormon.

He started asking her to eat at the cool kids’ lunch table with him and his teammates. “I just thought that if they saw her with us every day, maybe they’d start treating her better,” Carson says. “Telling on kids would’ve just caused more problems.”

It got better. Starting running back Tucker Workman made sure somebody was walking between classes with Chy. In classes, cornerback Colton Moore made sure she sat in the row right behind the team.

Just step back a second. In some schools, it’s the football players doing the bullying. At Queen Creek, they’re stopping it. And not with fists — with straight-up love for a kid most teenage football players wouldn’t even notice, much less hang out with. 

1.) Don’t waste your clout

This Carson Jones fellow had been given clout. A QB has clout. He has influence. Instead of using that influence to advance his own agenda, Jones used his clout to see that this young gal was enfolded into the “cool” group. There she could find refuge from the bullying, acceptance, and love. Popularity, clout, influence, in and of itself, is not bad. You can use your clout for good. You can use your clout to advance Jesus’ Kingdom purposes. I think more important than this kid being a QB was this kid simply offering himself in relationship to someone who needed it. When people are in need of relationships, and you choose to offer yourself to those oppressed and hurting, that’s all the clout you need.

2.) Fighting with love 

If I were the mom, who knows what I would have done? I can’t imagine someone mistreating my child and not ordering the high school equivalent of a “hit,” something like an atomic wedgie, toilet swirly, paintball raid. But this kind of sentiment is only partly correct. We should be outraged and angered at the evils perpetuated through words. And we should fight back. But the question is how? The Taliban blow themselves and others up, but I heard one missionary describe our redemptive activity in the world as “suicide bombers of love.” We fight back with love. We don’t fight fire with fire, but with water.

Not a sappy sort of love which simply laments or votes against injustice, but one which actively moves into the world of the oppressed. Something costly. Bringing those oppressed folks into a new relationship. Our relationships. There is always a cost when it comes to bringing someone into our relationships. Relational dynamics change, and that’s a cost. The cost of taking on the smell (smelly kids/adults tend to have fewer friends), the risk of loss of reputation (will we be as liked when associated with ___?), time, money, convenience etc…

3.) The cost is still worth it. 

But what about next year, when Carson probably will be on his Mormon mission and all of Chy’s boys will have graduated? Not to worry. Carson has a little brother on the team, Curtis, who’s in Chy’s class. “Mom,” he announced at the dinner table the other night, “I got this.”

Just because something is costly, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the cost. Jesus instructs us to count the cost (Luke 14:28), but what we get is a joyful treasure (Matthew 13:44). The younger brother saw the cost, but deemed taking care of this gal very much worth the cost. Many times the cost of sacrificial love scares us away from, well, love. But consider the fact that the cost may be worth it. Whether it be as simple as sticking up for the unlovely, or as sublime as adoption, we can’t forget that the blessings of following Jesus do not only start in the life to come (Mark 10:30).

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.