Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reflections on College Softball

This spring I have had the privilege of relationship with several college fast-pitch softball players at our university. I have been to a number of their games through February and March and took some notes about the things which characterize this game and its culture. Most of them are things unique to softball and some to this particular team.

· They play with an optic yellow ball, 12” in circumference with raised seams.
· They swing bats made from a composite material which are very light and extremely hard. It feels like swinging a feather made of titanium.
· They chant all manner of nonsense from the dugout. Some chants are related to the game situation, others to their teammate’s name, still others are related to the ball/strike count and some I don’t even understand.
· The pitchers throw rise balls, curve drops, fast balls, knuckle balls and straight changes. Some pitchers throw as many as five different pitches.
· The players have pony tails and hair ribbons peaking from beneath their batting helmets.
· Their uniforms start bright and clean, but are usually streaked by mud, dirt, grass stains and sweat by the third inning.
· Their bases are sixty feet between and rather than having a mound like baseball, they have a circle on the same level as the plate.
· The fences are 190 feet down the line and it’s 240 to straightaway centerfield.

After having breakfast and conducting a chapel with several of these players every Sunday morning of home games, I could see past all the details mentioned above and the obvious differences between their sport and baseball. I could see in their hearts the powerful desire to compete and to excel. I could hear in their voices the passion for their teammates and their coaches. I could see in their eyes the drive to be champions.

I saw them playing their hearts out when they returned to the field that day. This is who they really are and where they want to be. They are most at home in those uniforms, with gloves on their hands and that optic yellow ball in flight. They are at their very best when they see the ball on its way to a violent meeting with their bats, knowing an extra base hit is about to be.

Play your heart out and join these lovely young ladies in their pursuit of victories and the fulfillment of their lives’ great passion.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Email Conversations

Below are a couple of email responses I sent recently to a college baseball coach when he asked me, “Does the Bible have anything to say about failure?”


I’ve been thinking through the issue of failure and the Biblical examples of it, they’re all over the place.

• Moses failed by committing murder and was exiled for 40 years, but came back to Egypt and was used of God in a powerful way.

• David the king failed by committing adultery with Bathsheba and conspiring to have her husband killed, but was restored and was used of God in a powerful way.

• Peter the apostle failed by denying that he knew Jesus three times, but was used of God in a powerful way.

• Judas failed by betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and hung himself in despair.

• Three utter failures who were restored and one failure who lost all hope and was destroyed.

These were Jesus’ words to Peter, even before he was to fail later that same night, "Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start."

The point seems to be that failure is the human condition, but that we can press through it, we can be restored and emerge better than we were before the failure. That has certainly been my experience through 53 years. I have failed plenty, but I trust God to make me better through the experience.

Baseball is built on failure and recovery. A hitter goes to the hall of fame if he fails 2/3 of the time. Hitting is one player vs. nine, a perfect design for failure. It takes 4 balls to walk, but only 3 strikes for an out. Just throwing strikes is terribly challenging for pitchers.

It seems that the ones who deal best with failure are the ones who don’t treat it as an enemy, but as an ally. They strongly pursue success and excellence, but know that short-term failure is inevitable and they learn from it and improve. The batter who strikes out his first three at bats can come up in his 4th and get the game winning hit. Suddenly successful in the midst of failure.

Coach’s reply:

Thank you so much, Roger. I have read this, and I am going to save it and reread it on occasion. I have to remind myself that failure in baseball is inevitable. I just do not like it; and because of that, I take the losses way too personally and way harder than I accept the wins. Thanks for caring.

My reply:
Sadly failure is not only a part of baseball, but life in general. I also take losses in sport personally and feel them at the heart. To do otherwise feels like betrayal to me. I feel I owe it to my teammates to care deeply and to feel the sting of loss as acutely as I feel the exhilaration of victory.

I believe that's a part of what Christ Jesus has done for us, to give us hope beyond the failure and to fuel our hearts for competing our hearts out again in the next game, the next day, the next treatment.
Let's both commit ourselves to pressing through life's failures to experience Christ's gift of hope and faith.
I believe the Lord uses such communication, simple and direct, in a similar way to the way He uses epistles in the New Testament. Paul wrote to his disciples and churches he had founded very directly, whereas he was much more gentle when face to face. Let’s prayerfully consider the power of the written word as a way to communicate God’s heart for the people of sport and then we can follow up those words with face to face, compassionate and caring relationship building.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Resources for Ministry in Sport

The Bible - Learn to see Sport in its pages:
· Coaches and Competitors
· Relationships
· Competition / training / intensity
· Adversity / joy / excitement
· Struggle / victory/ defeat
Sports Ministry books
· Focus on Sport in Ministry by Lowrie McCown and Val Gin
· Real Joy by John Ashley Null
· What the Book Says About Sport by Stuart Weir
· Transforming Lives in Sport – a Guide for Sport Chaplains and Sport Mentors by R. Lipe
Coaching books
· Faith in the Game by Tom Osborne
· The Carolina Way by Dean Smith
· Coach Wooden One on One by John Wooden and Jay Carty
Leadership books
· Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney
· Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels
· Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders
Web sites
· (German)
Email networks
Roger Lipe’s network -
· Weekly Devotions
· Weekly Sport Chaplain / Sport Mentor notes
Bill Houston’s network –
· Sports Spectrum Radio -
· Sharing the Victory Radio -
· Movies
· Clips
· Bluefish TV -
· God Tube -
· Network of chaplains
· Coaches
· Pastors
· Former players
Where to find resources:
· (many free downloads)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Five Years of Pain

Just prior to the start of a November, 2008 pre-game chapel a football player stopped by my table and said that he’d like to talk with me. I said we would talk after the pre-game meal. As most of the room had cleared I walked to his table and asked him what I could do for him. He began to tell me of the five years of regret he has suffered because he didn’t tell his grandmother that he loved her prior to her untimely death in their home on this very day.

Tears were running down his face as he told the story. It seems his every waking moment is haunted by these five years of regret and the only free moments he has are as he’s playing football as it requires his full attention. He’s feeling pressure now because he knows he’s running out of football games. I assured him of his grandmother’s love and respect and we talked about how to move this grief process along. We talked about some short-term things to do today and a few more to do in the coming days and weeks. I prayed with him at the table and then turned him loose.

After leaving the dining room I walked to the stadium to pray for the players and coaches. As I walked up and down the field, I prayed for each unit of the team and their responsibilities as well as for the coaching staff. As I was praying and walking, I could see my grieving friend sitting quietly at the top of the stadium and I knew he was doing one of the things I had suggested just minutes ago. I was praying that his heart would be free to compete at his best and to release the regret that has plagued him for years. As I was leaving the stadium I spoke to him on the field and he said that he felt great.

The player’s sanctuary of freedom and relaxation was faithful to him again, but today he played with even greater liberty due to having dealt with his painful regret. He played his heart out and rushed for 256 yards and two touchdowns on the day. More than any achievement on the field that day, he has broken through five years of torment and sorrow into freedom and confidence. Now he can feel free and forgiven on and off the field.

Just a couple of weeks ago this player made a commitment to Christ at a local church and was baptized a week later. I have to believe that the release of his five years of regret and selfimposed guilt had truly freed his heart to trust Christ Jesus for all of his life. In a recent conversation he said that it was time to take this step in his life.

Let’s all trust the Lord with the daily events of our ministry. Sometimes we’re paving the way for a player or coach to trust the Lord with his or her heart, but they may not make that commitment in our presence or even under our guidance. Let’s let the Lord have room to draw people in His time through His multitude of servants. To force the issue or to manipulate a person to pray may be counterproductive to the Lord’s purposes.