Thursday, November 24, 2011

Champions Persevere

This is another chapel talk outline from just last week. It was a disappointing season for Saluki Football. Coming into this week’s game we knew our record could end up either 4 and 7 or 3 and 8. Neither one was very appealing and neither was what we had anticipated on August 6 when we started pre-season practices. Seventeen of our players also knew that by day’s end, they would be former football players as their careers in the sport would likely be completed. To top it off, we were to play a team over which we held an eight game winning streak, but that has seen a remarkable resurgence this year. They are nationally ranked and could make the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs if they were to win this contest. It would seem that they have more to play for than do the Salukis. All these factors led to my choice of subject matter and Bible text.

“Champions Persevere”

My introduction was the dictionary definition of “persevere.” “To persist in a state, enterprise or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition or discouragement.”

• This season you have persevered in spite of counterinfluences, opposition and discouragement.

• This afternoon’s game will require similar perseverance of you in order to succeed.

• Our seventeen seniors in the room today have persevered for years and I’m confident will continue to do so.

I asked for a volunteer to open the chapel in prayer and senior safety Mike McElroy did so.

The quintessential Bible text about perseverance is James 1:12. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (I read it aloud.)

• The man who perseveres is blessed – he is contentedly happy.

• The man who perseveres is proven – the process itself makes us better.

• The man who perseveres receives a reward – in this case it’s a crown, promised by God for those who love Him.

For the Salukis to compete like champions on this day, we must persevere.

• We must persevere through counterinfluences – those outside our team like weather conditions and a playoff hungry crowd as well as those in our own hearts and minds. Persevere!

• We must persevere through opposition. We face a good team today. Persevere!

• We must persevere through discouragement. There will be momentum shifts in today’s game which can overtake even the strongest hearts. Persevere!

• As we persevere today – we are blessed.

• As we persevere today – we are proven.

• As we persevere today – we receive a reward.

Let’s each and all persevere to the final horn of this season and then move ahead strongly into the next as we compete like champions.

I prayed to finish the chapel. I prayed in thanks for:

• The opportunity for each of these young men to play college football.

• The coaching staff for teaching and leading the players in football and life in general.

• The support staff for being consistent and loyal.

• The senior players who have invested years of their lives in this program and in their teammates.

• The returning players. Their best days are still ahead of them.

• Let us persevere like champions.

After 18 seasons of doing this I can occasionally see things coming before they happen. The weather conditions were less than ideal. There was a constant strong wind which wrapped around the east end of the stadium and swirled around making passing the ball difficult. The Sycamores were a much more skilled team than in past years. There were strong momentum shifts in both directions from our 21-0 half time lead, only to be tied at 21 at the end of the third quarter. Momentum shifted with turnovers and big plays, culminating with an interception by Mike McElroy at the one yard line to preserve the 35-28 win.

The team persevered through counterinfluences, opposition and discouragement. They were blessed, proven and they received a reward. This season’s reward was not in the form of a championship ring. My reward came in the locker room as I hugged a couple of players and heard them pour out their hearts into my ear. Even in disappointing, painful seasons there are moments when I feel immeasurably blessed to be given the opportunity to speak the truth of Scriptures and God’s enduring love with coaches and players on game day. It’s a tremendous privilege which I do not take for granted.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Love Extravagantly. Serve Selflessly.

Over the last several days I participated in an international sports ministry conference which included hundreds of people from over 150 countries around the world. Most important to me in the conference were the hours I spent with Sports Chaplaincy leaders from the United Kingdom, Australia, The USA, New Zealand and Germany.

We discussed many of the issues which are shaping this ministry around the globe, both related to ongoing chaplaincy with clubs, schools, universities, etc. as well as related to major sporting events like the Olympic Games. These are men I both admire and trust. The discussions were always passionate and sometimes a little contentious. Such is the case when people care deeply that ministry be done wisely, well and in a way that honors Christ.

After a few days for gathering perspective, it seems there is growth in this movement. Several individuals and groups are working to formulate training programs to better serve people in sport. People are working to refine a set of values and principles which can guide faithful service in sport. Still others are aligning themselves to foster growth of sports chaplain ministry in new countries and regions.

As a part of my presentation one morning I wrote these two couplets as the simplest expression of my understanding of this role as a “Sports Chaplain,” “Sport Mentor” or “Character Coach.” Love Extravagantly. Serve Selflessly. These two ideas resonated with several and I hope they can be simple reminders to you of the values which lie at the core of our service of Christ Jesus in the lives of the men and women of sport all across the planet.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sports Theology (Playing Inside Out)

Below is an excellent review of a book by my friend and colleague, Stuart Weir of Verité Sport in the United Kingdom. Upon Stuart’s recommendation, I have ordered the book and can’t wait to read it.

Sports Theology (Playing Inside Out), Greg S. Smith, Indianapolis, Dog Ear Publishing, 2010. ISBN: 978-160844-3-338

This is an outstanding book – one of the best I have read for years. It makes a serious contribution to understanding sport from a Christian perspective. It has 176 pages in ten chapters.

An early quote sets the scene: “Christian athletes have personal value, not from their own accomplishments, but because God loves them so much that he sacrificed his only Son.” The result is that “The Christian athlete is free from the need of temporal approval or the accolades from individual performance. Spiritually, these athletes are satisfied by God’s love and have plenty to give to the team.”

The author states: “The premise of this book is that Christianity can help athletic performance.” Don’t react negatively to that statement. It is as far as it can be from any sense of “God made me win.” What he is saying is rather than a Christian athlete who understands that his significance is not based their performance in the game is free to compete without stress.

A good example of how he argues against any kind of performance driven identity is: “Athletes who allow their performance to ‘mean everything’ are setting themselves up to perform out of fear. Christian athletes, on the other hand, know that their value does not come from performance. They know that God loves them unconditionally and that their value is demonstrated by the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. They perform to glorify their value, not earn it.” And again “Christian athletes are motivated to glorify God through performance; they are not forced (driven) to perform.”

In the UK there has been a concern among sports coaches that a player who becomes a Christian will lose his motivation. Smith nails that one too: “It would be a mistake to think that Christian athletes perform with less determination because they are pursuing spiritual fulfillment.”

He uses the example of a golfer standing over a three-foot putt, arguing that a three-foot putt is mechanically no more difficult if it is to win a tournament than in a practice round. It is rather that the pressure of what it means makes it seem harder. This is where the Christian has an extra dimension: “The Christian athlete plays with a sense of peace and contentment that does not rely on the outcome of a putt or any other play or shot. They are complete and fulfilled through God’s love no matter the outcome.”

We may be familiar with the concept of playing for an audience of one. Smith takes this a stage further as we are invited to understand that “Christian athletes do not just perform knowing that God is watching them; they perform with the Holy Spirit in them.”

To sum up the thesis of the book is that for the Christian athlete:

Winning is not about coming in first but rather is about competing as a representative of Christ:

Playing with the right sports theology allows athletes to see performance for what it really is and therefore allows them to play the game;

Sports theology enables athletes to understand that they are created in God’s image, which changes their view of themselves, performance and life.

This review does not do justice to the book. Get it and read it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Champions are Powerful - chapel talk

Each week during the last 18 seasons of college football (American Football in the USA), I have delivered a talk of similar form to the one outlined below. This one fits within a series on characteristics of champions. Please contact me if you’d like some ideas on how to communicate with competitors most directly, briefly and impactfully.

“Champions are Powerful”
Introduction –

Today’s contest marks an important milestone on the way to being champions. Our mental approach, our attitude today will greatly shape how well we take advantage of our opportunity. I have some simple thoughts about these matters

Prayer –

A player or coach voices a prayer.

Scripture -

Today I’m reading from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to his protégé, Timothy, at chapter 1 and verse 7. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (The text is read aloud.)

Let’s think about this simple and direct statement.

1) For the man who loves God, he knows that God has not given him a spirit of fear or timidity – no he can be confident and assured in any situation.

2) Rather, God has transformed the man’s spirit to be full of these qualities:

a. Power – the capacity to do all that is required of him.

b. Love – the capacity to seek others’ best, even at my personal cost.

c. Self-control – the capacity to make wise choices in any circumstance.

For today’s competition –

1) Our spirits will not be timid nor fearful in any situation. We can be strong and confident.

2) Our spirits will be full of power – we will have the capacity to do all that is required of us.

3) Our spirits will be full of love – we will have the capacity to seek the team’s best and the best for each teammate, even at our personal cost.

4) Our spirits will be full of self-control – we will have the capacity to choose wisely at every moment, in any circumstance.

Repeat the quote of II Timothy 1:7 - “7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Champions are powerful.

Closing prayer –

Please stand, take the hands of those at your table and let’s say, “The Lord’s Prayer” together.