Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Richest Man I Know

While preparing to deliver a talk on leadership for a set of interns studying and working in international sports ministry, I was struck right between the eyes by a new angle on a scripture which I have read for decades. As I have talked with these interns over the last few days I have been struck by how free they are. Many had gone to college and had completed their degrees without a dollar of debt due to their athletic scholarships and they are now contemplating a life of service to Christ in countries which they could not spell just a month ago. I was inspired by their liberty and took some time for personal reflection about my own pilgrimage over the last decade.

Mark 10:28-31

Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You."

Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first."

Peter and the disciples had all left their businesses and much more to follow Jesus. Until yesterday I had heard Jesus’ reply to Peter’s statement with little understanding or personal impact. That changed right away. I focused in on Jesus’ assertion that the disciples would receive these sacrificed items 100 times over in this present age (and persecutions as well), plus eternal life in the next.

After the last ten years of travel abroad investing in the sport chaplain and sport mentor community, I better understand this promise. The disciples were about to embark on exciting, perilous journeys and would follow Jesus’ instructions about how to travel, where to stay and how to receive hospitality (Matthew 10). They each, no doubt, wound up with homes all over their world as they carried the gospel of Christ from house to house, city to city, nation to nation. They, no doubt, found multiplied hundreds of people whose relationships with them were as dear as mothers, brothers, sisters and children. They, no doubt, also encountered persecutions which eventually took their very lives.

My wife and I live very modestly in an apartment in Carbondale, Illinois. We have two cars with over 100,000 miles on each one. My wardrobe is the subject of affectionate teasing as most everything has a logo on it (FCA or SIU), meaning I didn’t pay for it. Many of my contemporaries seem obsessed with the accumulation of wealth or at least the stuff which makes on appear to be wealthy. A few of them are truly wealthy and they have found that the wealth brings along a new set of stresses and problems.

As I sat at a picnic table in the early morning mountain breeze I realized that I have received gracious hospitality and have found homes in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. I have a home with my friends in Kingston, Jamaica. I have been welcomed, like I was home, in numerous states of the USA. In Melbourne, Australia I was made to feel as if I owned the place. The same has been true in Cuba, Singapore, Greece, London, Wales and now in Italy. I am the richest person I know!

As I have traveled internationally these last ten years, I have developed relationships with people on six continents and I cherish them as dearly as I do my brothers, sisters, my mother, father and my son. These total well over a hundred times as many relationships which have been lost to my pursuit of Christ’s call. My brothers and sisters speak Spanish and Chinese, Vietnamese, Patois, Farsi, German and French, Portuguese, Hindi, Thai, Swahili and many speak English with a wide variety of marvelous dialects and lovely accents. One lady who is as dear to me as a mother speaks Afrikaans and my thousands of children (in Christ) are scattered across the USA and abroad having come through sixteen years of Saluki Football, Basketball, Baseball, Softball, Track and Field, Volleyball and more. I have received of the Lord an immense, global family.

The remaining item which gives me sober pause is that I have yet to be visited by significant persecution. At most, I have been inconvenienced, misunderstood or resisted. Persecution has yet to cost me even a drop of blood (though it almost did in San Pedro Sula in 1994). The Lord’s faithfulness to the promises of multiplied possessions and relationships must be also applied to the sure to come persecutions. I trust that, upon their arrival, they will be seen as less than nothing as compared to the gracious gifts which the Lord Jesus has lavished on me over just this last decade.

I challenged the interns to charge strongly into their futures, casting caution to the wind and trusting Christ to fulfill His promises. I would challenge you and the man I shave each morning to do the same.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Defining Moments

This has been a big week in the global world of sport. In the USA, the NBA finals wrapped up with a game 7 win by the Los Angeles Lakers over the Boston Celtics. Across the rest of the earth, the World Cup of football has dominated the last week and will the next three weeks. During those contests and more so in the post-game shows has been a steady stream of analysis, opinion and pontificating about who’s among the best of all time, comparisons between Kobe and MJ, historical comparisons between teams of eras gone by, nationalistic disgrace or pride and defining moments for players, coaches and game officials. Such moments are the subjects of often repeated replays, from multiple angles and with seemingly limitless opinions and second-guessing from self-appointed experts.

• Sports talk radio knuckleheads worked feverishly to find a defining moment for Kobe Bryant’s career to rival that of Michael Jordan’s jump shot over Craig Ehlo for a championship.

• Football commentators wondered if a defining moment for Wayne Rooney would appear so as to overcome his red card in the last World Cup.

• Many in the UK are hoping for any kind of moment which can overcome their melancholy feelings toward their side’s manager.

• Football fans and even casual observers in the USA are hoping their side is not defined by a disallowed goal in the game with Slovenia.

• I am sure that the referee who made that call also hopes that does not become his defining moment.

• Robert Green, the England goalkeeper is surely hoping he gets another chance in goal and can overcome his unfortunate moment from the game with the USA.
Whether player, coach, official, sport chaplain or sport mentor, we all encounter defining moments in our careers. They either enhance our lives like a beautiful piece of jewelry or they hang from our necks like the proverbial albatross. Such moments linger like the warmest memories and fondest relationships or they dog our hearts and minds like Cujo, snarling at our heels and reminding us of our failures.
We who love and serve the people of sport must find ways to keep such definition at bay. Rather than simply going with the flow of popular culture and sports media, we are uniquely qualified to help these people be defined by other matters. The world wants to define them by their performance in sport; we can help them realize their lives are defined by the infinite worth of Christ’s blood which was shed for them. SportsCenter wants to define them by a single moment of either success or failure on a court, pitch, field or mat; we can help them be more strongly identified by the life of Christ which they intrinsically exhibit at every moment of every day. Let’s faithfully serve the men and women of sport and let’s not fall into the trap of foolishly defining the ones we love by moments of success or failure. Christ’s performance through life, death, resurrection and ascension, on their behalf and ours, is a truly defining moment which endures beyond the memories of fans, media and even videotape.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I’m watching the Uruguay vs. France match in the World Cup of Football and thinking about how the sports world, especially the sports media, lives in the world of superlatives. Everything is spoken of in the loftiest or most base terms. Extremes rule the world of sport. He’s the fastest, the tallest, the richest, the heaviest, the strongest, the smartest, the most cunning, the best, the most famous, or the brightest. She’s the least, the worst, the most horrible, the slowest, the worst teammate, the most foolish or the last chosen. I, on the other hand, am Hyper-average.
Hyper-average – as a competitor in sport, my skill level never matched my desire. When I look in the mirror or step on the scale, I see a very average person. In height, weight, speed, skill, strength, intelligence, income and such I am extremely average.

Mega-normal – My lifestyle, marriage, extended family, blue collar work ethic and community make me and incredibly normal person for my age in the USA.

Ultra-medium – I live in the center of the country, work with “mid-major” university sports teams whose coaches’ salaries are median and whose student-athletes are ultra-medium in athletic and academic achievement.

Extremely-central – It would be hard to find anyone more extremely central than me in terms of political sensibilities, theological convictions and cultural opinion.

Super-mundane – Much of my life seems tremendously dull, marvelously pedestrian and phenomenally lackluster. Wow.

Upon closer inspection, I have found that these characteristics of my life are okay with me. I’m content with being Hyper-average on the outside, if I can be something more than that in heart. If my spirit is free to pursue Christ’s call on my life, I can live with a Mega-normal body. If my heart is empowered to live faithfully in the world of sport and all its extremes, I’ll be happy with a rather Ultra-medium IQ. If it’s pleasing to Jesus, I’ll stay in this Extremely-central position. If I can trust God to accomplish His purposes in those whom I serve, I’ll be pleased to run along this Super-mundane path.
I am committed to a God whose power is without limits, whose knowledge is beyond measure, whose grace reaches the lowest (even me), and whose love never fails. I will leave the superlatives to Him and will continue along the course of the Hyper-average, the Mega-normal, the Ultra-medium, the Extremely-central and Super-mundane.

Friday, June 4, 2010

“I’m Straight Rog.”

It was a cool, overcast day in Springfield, Missouri during the late 1990s when I witnessed one of the gutsiest athletic performances of my lifetime. Karlton Carpenter was in the process of setting the single season rushing record for the Football Salukis of Southern Illinois University.

Karlton had a deep thigh bruise in one leg and his participation in the game was doubtful. As we gathered for chapel that morning, the room was full of bruises, broken thumbs, strained ligaments, sprained ankles and more. My friend and two time parachute accident survivor, Sergeant Bill McDonald, was speaking at chapel that day and I asked him to pray for our guys to experience the Lord’s healing hand. As Sarge prayed, I laid my hand on Karlton’s thigh and prayed with all that was in me for his restoration. We left for the game not knowing what the day would hold.

As the game started and Karlton carried the ball several times during our first possession, I was anxious to hear how he was doing. I walked down the sideline, put my arm on his shoulder and said in his helmet’s ear hole, “How you doing Karlton?” His simple response was, “I’m straight Rog.” That’s all. I said, “Run hard, son.”

I asked him again at half-time and again he said, “I’m straight Rog.” I again encouraged him to run hard. The same scenario played out in the third and fourth quarters as Karlton ran for 212 yards on the day, leading us to a hard-fought victory.

My heart is grieved by the knowledge that this was one of the last good days for Karlton. A number of health issues have led to a steep decline in Karlton’s life and I sit here helpless to make it better. I cling to this memory of Karlton’s simple trust in his teammates, the power of prayer and how it led him to play his heart out on the football field.