Friday, March 19, 2010

“What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”

Part 7 – Integrity related to Coaches’ and Athletes’ Contracts

“This is just the way business in sport works now.” “I owed it to my family to pursue the best opportunity.” “The club’s management was not negotiating in good faith.” “There were a lot of problems with this contract as it was written.” “That contract was full of loopholes.” “God would want me to be in the best position to be successful.” “We have no real security outside of what we can negotiate.” The mind justifies.

The headlines of the sports pages of newspapers around the world are cluttered daily with stories about coaches and athletes who choose to leave one club for another and thereby violate the terms of their contracts. Coaches in the USA, some Christians, often bail out on long-term contracts when a more lucrative offer appears and seemingly do it without a single pang of conscience. Club management will sometimes slander a coach or a player in the media in order to create public pressure for resignation or renegotiation of a contract when he or she has “underperformed.” Some players have publically demanded renegotiation of their contracts shortly after signing one, especially if they’re suddenly more productive. Some coaches and competitors will negotiate in the media for a new contract, when they are in fact being carried by the success achieved by their teammates. The will chooses.

We see the headlines and hear the reports over the radio, but what is at the heart of this issue? I believe it is a heart which loves security. Sometimes it looks like greed to us who earn much less in a year than the player may earn in a week. Sometimes it looks like control to we who work without a contract and the coach’s agent works on the details of a contract for six months only to have the coach violate the contract after the next successful season leads to offers of more money and prestige. However, underneath all those impressions is often a heart which feels terribly vulnerable and desperately needs security. Coaches and competitors are painfully aware, though seldom speaking of it, how brief and insecure their careers are. Further, when most of their self-worth is tied up in the success or failure of their efforts, they are even more insecure and searching for stability. The heart loves.

A Biblical example of two men who were deceitful in making contracts is found in Genesis chapter 29 and verses 18-27. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, "I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel."
19 Laban said, "It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me." 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her."
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. 24 And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?"
26 Laban replied, "It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work."

Jacob had been deceitful for most of his lifetime, but his father-in-law, Laban, beat him at his own game. Suddenly the deceiver is deceived. Laban violates his contract with Jacob and justifies himself by appealing to local customs, disguising his heart’s love for security. He needed both of his daughters to have a strong provider for a husband, thus providing him security in his advancing years. Ultimately everyone loses in such negotiations and violation of agreements. Trust is broken and relationships are strained.

The Proverbs are full of simple instruction regarding God’s view of business ethics and even principles which can guide our approach to contracts. Three such proverbs are below.
Proverbs 21:2
All a man's ways seem right to him,
but the LORD weighs the heart.
No matter how we try to justify our actions by rationalization, the Lord knows our hearts.

Proverbs 20:10
Differing weights and differing measures—
the LORD detests them both.
Duplicity in our standards for business practices is detestable to God.

Proverbs 16:11
Honest scales and balances are from the LORD;
all the weights in the bag are of his making.
The Lord is concerned with how we conduct business and how we negotiate contracts and fulfill them. The ethics for God-honoring business are items of His making.

If we are to be Christ’s representatives in the world of sport, we must go against the current of business practices which violate God’s way. We must be willing to honor contracts, even when they are not in our best interest. The call to love our neighbor as ourselves includes the club manager, the team president, the player and the coach. Let’s honor our Lord by seeking security in Him, rather than in the lines of a contract. Let’s trust Him with our future, rather than the legal acumen of our lawyers and agents.

“What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” This statement was spoken by my friend and colleague in sports chaplaincy, John Ashley Null, in summary of the 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer's writings. Dr. Null has been translating Cranmer’s work from Medieval Latin shorthand into contemporary English.

Friday, March 12, 2010

“What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”

Part 6 – How Faith Becomes Divisive in a Sport Team

“The gospel is an offense to those who are perishing.” “The Lord knows those who are truly His.” “We are doing ministry the right way.” “Jesus came not to bring peace, but a sword.” “The real believers attend out study.” “The highly committed players go to our church.” “If he was a real Christian he’d be working with our ministry.” The mind justifies.

Books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and even television reports have recounted over the last several years the divisive nature of some Evangelical Christian ministries in the locker rooms of Major League Baseball, college and NFL Football, college and NBA Basketball and other sports. The division appears when one ministry seeks to elevate its work above another, when one set of players treat non-believing teammates as second class citizens, or when the ministries give extra privileges to those who attend chapels or Bible studies. Division is created when Christian players shun other believing teammates who are connected with “the other ministry.” Faith divides a team when the Christians imply that religious activity leads directly to greater success on the field of competition. Christians are divisive when they treat yet-to-believe teammates as outsiders. Christian ministries, chaplains and others are divisive when they manipulate players into making religious decisions. Sports ministries are divisive and often counterproductive when they use their relationships with the players and coaches to solicit them for donations. The will chooses.

It’s easy to identify the activities and attitudes which divide teammates and even highly committed Christians within a sports club. What is harder to discern is the source of the division. What lies at the heart of such division? I would contend that the issue is power and it is evidenced by a lust for influence, for followers and further a longing to earn God’s approval. If we’re seeking God’s approval and we believe that pleasing Him is ultimately shown by how many people we influence, how many we can get to our Bible study or how many times I we can share the gospel, we will do whatever it takes to earn His favor. Such misguided motives can easily lead us to attitudes and actions which become divisive as we drive headlong toward our “ministry goals.” If I have an insatiable hunger for ever expanding influence, a growing number of followers and the need to earn God’s favor; power is what my heart loves.

A Biblical example of this kind of divisive ministry is found in I Corinthians 3:1-6 where the Apostle Paul writes, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

The infantile disciples in Corinth displayed their divisive hearts’ longing for power and influence as they chose to separate themselves and then justified their actions by invoking the names of their leaders. Sadly, many of us do this in the world of sport today and we justify ourselves by invoking the names of various sports ministries, churches or religious leaders. I’m sure the Apostle would correct us as he did these believers in Corinth. What is FCA? What is AIA? What is Champions for Christ? What is ___________ Church, ____________ Ministry or Pastor ____________? You fill in the blank with your “brand” of ministry. One plants, another waters, but God makes it grow.

A healthier attitude toward ministry in sport is found in Ephesians 4:4-7 where the Apostle writes, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” We must grow up a bit and recognize both the unity in Christ and the plurality of giftedness and distinctiveness He has apportioned to each of us. It is the heart which loves power that would squeeze unity into unanimity. The power hungry heart will squelch the diversity of Christ’s body by manipulating everyone into one narrow approved expression of faith.

Let’s take the minimal risk to allow others the freedom to wear Christ in the grace which He has apportioned. It’s not likely that everyone on my team will trust Christ. It’s not even guaranteed that all the Christian players will want to attend my Bible study. It’s not necessarily true that the most highly committed coaches will want my counsel or that they’ll confide in me for prayer. These realities must not move my power hungry heart to manipulate or to cause division. Let’s be the ones whose redeemed hearts are free to love all those we are called to serve and allow them the freedom to love and serve Christ regardless of their affiliations.

“What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” This statement was spoken by my friend and colleague in sports chaplaincy, John Ashley Null, in summary of the 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer's writings. Dr. Null has been translating Cranmer’s work from Medieval Latin shorthand into contemporary English.

Friday, March 5, 2010

“What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”

Part 5 – Abuse of Players

“This makes him tougher.” “We’re breaking his will to then build him back up.” “This is really good for her.” “She needs this discipline to rid her of foolishness.” “We’re a winning program, but he’s a loser.” “You don’t deserve to win.” You’re not worthy of wearing this uniform.” “This team is for winners. You’re a loser.” Such language is used by some coaches and even fans to rationalize their abuse of the competitors with their programs. The mind justifies.

Many of us who have had abusive coaches know the pain of playing for them. Occasionally abusive coaches and their tactics appear in the media. Some of their attempts to toughen, to discipline, to motivate and more take these forms:
· Running them until they vomit, dehydrate and even convulse.
· Locking a player in an electrical closet for hours (from this past fall in the USA).
· Depriving them of sleep.
· Withholding food or water.
· Forcing a wrestler, swimmer or gymnast to use supplements to lose weight.
· Using verbal abuse, shame and emotional manipulation as motivation to prod the player to higher performance.
· Twisting the powerful coach/player relationship for sexual purposes.
The will chooses.

Lying just under the surface of such abuse is the heart which loves control. The controlling heart will use any means to get the results for which it lusts. A heart which loves control will reject all the Spirit’s prompting toward compassion or mercy in favor of its own power to determine the results and the process which fulfill its desires. The heart loves.

A Biblical example of the controlling heart is found in 2 Samuel chapter 11 and verses 10-15. 10 When David was told, "Uriah did not go home," he asked him, "Haven't you just come from a distance? Why didn't you go home?"
11 Uriah said to David, "The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord's men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!"
12 Then David said to him, "Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back." So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David's invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master's servants; he did not go home.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die."

David tried to manipulate Uriah to cover for his own adultery. That didn’t work as Uriah demonstrated incredible loyalty to his teammates at the battle front. David took another shot at covering his sin by getting Uriah drunk and sending him home to sleep with his wife, but he slept outside. Ultimately, David’s attempts fell flat and he resorted to sending Uriah, one of his 30 Mighty Men, to the front where was to be withdrawn from so he could be killed. David’s attempts to control, to cover up his sin, to manipulate his subject and teammate, ultimately led to Uriah’s death.
Many coaches work under a model which sees their relationships with players as Employer/Employee, Supervisor/Worker or even Master/Slave (though most would never admit to that, the attitude is evident in how they coach). Many value control of the sport process and even the results as their highest priority, thus their hearts will do whatever it takes to maintain their dominance.

I would like to challenge coaches who claim a relationship with Christ to change the paradigm. Let’s adopt a Shepherd/Flock relationship among Coaches and Players. Let’s view the competitors in our charge as Peter viewed his church in I Peter 5:1-4. 1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Rather than seeking control and manipulating those under our care, let’s serve as overseers, willingly, not greedy, but eager to serve. Not by lording it over those entrusted to us, but by being examples to our flock. We can trust the Chief Shepherd to reward us appropriately, regardless of final scores or season records.

“What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” This statement was spoken by my friend and colleague in sports chaplaincy, John Ashley Null, in summary of the 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer's writings. Dr. Null has been translating Cranmer’s work from Medieval Latin shorthand into contemporary English.