Friday, April 26, 2013

Patient vs. Pushy

This is another in the series of reflections which will juxtapose two values which are held by people serving as sport chaplains and character coaches around the world.

Patient vs. Pushy

The tension between being patient or being pushy in my role as a sport chaplain is constant. I regularly wonder if I’m being patient enough with people or if I would simply push a little harder, I might see more immediate results. Am I being too passive with this one? Am I coming close to being manipulative with that one? Should I be patient or pushy? I probably lean toward being more patient after 19 years in this role. Let’s consider some of the aspects of each.

• To be patient is to be respectful of the process God is using in drawing people’s hearts to Himself.

• To be pushy may be to manipulate rather than to trust God’s grace to lead.

• To be patient is to steadily appeal to people to follow Christ Jesus.

• To be pushy is to emotionally appeal to people to love God, now.

• To be patient is to communicate that trusting Christ is very important.

• To be pushy is to communicate that trusting Christ is very urgent.

• To be patient is to trust the Spirit of God.

• To be pushy is to trust one’s evangelistic method.

• To be patient is to affirm the importance of relationships based on trust.

• To be pushy is to affirm the importance of relationships based on compliance.

• To be patient is to focus on long-range results which are hard to quantify.

• To be pushy is to focus on immediate results which are easy to quantify.

I would encourage you to prefer patience to pushiness. Though you may squirm sometimes as you think, “If I just pressed a little harder, he would have prayed…” you’ll not be as likely to alienate those whom you serve. If you patiently wait for the Lord to draw them, He’ll bring them to you at just the right time and the wind of the Spirit will blow through your life and regenerate theirs. Jesus knew this and practiced it with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. Give it a read and then listen for the wind of the Spirit. “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Extravagant Love vs. Benign Tolerance

This is another in the series of reflections which will juxtapose two values which are held by people serving as sport chaplains and character coaches around the world.

Extravagant Love vs. Benign Tolerance

One of the values held in highest regard in US culture is “tolerance.” We are implored from every angle, in the media and in the schools that we must tolerate everything and everyone around us. This value is extolled as the highest form of human virtue and should be applied to not only ethnic and religious differences, but to every form of behavior and even to those engaged in foolish, abusive or self-abusing lifestyles. I beg to differ. Tolerance is simply too benign, too soft, too passive to be reflective of Christ Jesus’ Church. I believe He wants more from us than benign tolerance; He wants us to love people extravagantly. We who serve the men and women of sport are surrounded by many who are easy to love and others which we find at least distasteful and maybe even repulsive.

Here are some simple thoughts which contrast extravagant love and benign tolerance:

• Extravagant love takes risks for people. Benign tolerance is safe and secure as it keeps people at a distance.

• Extravagant love embraces people and their imperfections. Benign tolerance puts up with people we find distasteful or odd.

• Extravagant love is very costly as it pays the price to seek others’ best. Benign tolerance is cheap and requires little of the one tolerating the others.

• Extravagant love is active and seeks out those whom we love. Benign tolerance is passive and feels relieved when those tolerated are not around.

• Extravagant love expects the best from others and hopes persistently. Benign tolerance expects little from others and simply hopes to not be disappointed.

• Extravagant love invests deeply in others. Benign tolerance invests shallowly, sharing only what is required.

• Extravagant love honors Christ as it directly reflects His nature. Benign tolerance honors no one as it is purely self-centered and self-protecting, honoring neither the tolerant or the tolerated.

The obvious problem for all of us is that some people really annoy us. Some people’s habits, lifestyles, behavior or cultural trappings may tear at the very fabric of our convictions and make our flesh scream for relief and distance from these people. Tolerance offers you a low cost, risk free solution to your dilemma. It is, however, not worthy of our Lord. Extravagant love is what our Lord modeled for us and has even empowered us to demonstrate. His grace is given to each of us in sufficient measure to love even the most repulsive people in our circles of relationships.

My challenge to you is to press through the easy, cheap, secure, low expectations of tolerance and take the risk, pay the cost, actively and deeply, even extravagantly love the people around you. Coaches, competitors, physios, equipment managers, club officials, athletic directors, support staff, the foolish, the perverse, the profane, the abusive, the rebellious, all of them. Jesus’ blood was shed for each of them and His grace, in you, is sufficient to enable you to love them beyond your wildest imaginations. Let’s love extravagantly and serve selflessly.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Present vs. Prominent

This is another in the series of reflections which will juxtapose two values which are held by people serving as sport chaplains and character coaches. If your toes don’t get stepped on a little, you’re probably not paying attention.

Present vs. Prominent

Many people who seek the role of sport chaplain or character coach see it as a place of prominence in their community. Some believe that being attached to the high profile team or individuals in their sporting fantasies allows them a measure of reflected glory and that would enhance their standing in the eyes of others. While this could in fact be true, it is also quite selfish and could carry a number of unintended consequences. If our hearts lean toward prominence we’ll seek opportunities to be very visible in the media, we’ll seek out television cameras, we’ll ask to be put in the team’s media guide or on the web site. We’ll hang around the sports reporters offering quotes for the newspaper or blogs. The prominence seeking chaplain will find ways to accompany the head coach or the star player at big public events. Some of these situations come to those who are not even seeking prominence.

Prominence seems to reward us for our role with the team, especially when the team is winning and enjoys the favor of the community. However, when the program is surrounded by controversy, shrouded in scandal or crushed by losing, prominence takes a less favorable turn and can bring shame to all those associated with it. Be careful. Watch your attitude and your hunger for fame. Being prominent is not always helpful to your ministry aims.

Being present with the men and women of sport, especially in the situations which are out of the spotlight is a wise and powerful aspect of ministry for character coaches, sport mentors and sport chaplains. While lacking the glitz and glamour of the press conference and the post-game interviews, simply sitting with a player prior to and after his knee surgery has an immeasurable impact upon your relationship with him. Talking quietly with the coach in her office about resolving conflicts among her coaching staff does not do much for your public profile, but can be of tremendous value to the coach and everyone related to the team. Feeling the grief and loss with a player whose father was just murdered, a thousand miles from where the player is in school, is neither fun nor immediately rewarding. Meeting with a young player who is homesick and contemplating leaving the team and quitting school to discuss his options as you drink a cup of coffee at the corner coffee shop doesn’t feel all that spiritual, but could impact the trajectory of this young person’s life and his family for generations to come.

Presence is a powerful force. When we walk in the room, onto the pitch, across the floor, or step into the dugout, we carry the living, active and powerful presence of Christ Jesus with us. His Spirit inhabits our every moment and by our simply being there He catalyzes the process of redemption. Before we think of anything clever to say, before we gesture or assume a holy posture, He is acting in the hearts of those we serve. It is the Lord’s work to draw men and women to Himself and to nurture their lives in relationship with Him. The great news is that He’ll often engage us in the process if we will simply choose to be present with them, more than we choose to be prominent before others.

Your presence is dynamic and revolutionary, because Jesus has made you that way. Show up where the men and women of sport are and you’ll find your prominence is really in the Kingdom of God. That matters eternally. The local, regional, national and international media, not so much.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Service vs. Superiority

Over the next weeks I will make some sharp contrasts between sets of values which are prevalent in the sporting world. I will strongly advocate one set and strongly discourage another set. I hope they serve to challenge and to encourage you in your service of the men and women of sport.

Service vs. Superiority

In the world of sport, the centrality of competition leads to constant comparison and to alternating feelings of superiority and inferiority. Everyone involved in sport can tell you his or her record, ranking, standing in the league, etc… These are always in comparison to others. Those on top feel superior simply because their performance has been superior to the others. While this is a regular part of the sports world’s economy, it is also a terrible trap for those of us who serve as Christ’s representatives in it.

If we, while serving the teams at the top of our divisions, conferences or federations, bask in the achievements of our teams and take on an air of superiority, we stand on the brink of terrible foolishness. Our attitudes are in jeopardy and our ability to serve well is in danger. If we find ourselves making comparisons between ourselves and others who serve teams at the other end of the standings and infer that our position in the rankings is due to the effectiveness of our chaplaincy, we are simply deluded.

Christ Jesus’ way of leading was to serve. See John chapter 13 for a graphic example of how the greatest leader in history led his followers and how he challenged them to lead in His absence. A strongly held value for service of others prevents one from making foolish comparisons and keeps feelings of superiority at bay. It’s really hard to project an air of superiority while picking up trash after practice. One’s attitude is kept in check more easily as he performs the tasks no one else wants to do. We are infinitely more likely to please the Lord while serving quietly and consistently across seasons of winning and losing than when we capriciously ride the wave of success with the highest profile team available. Make the conscious choice to serve, to take the lower place, to eschew the privileges afforded the superior and you will keep your heart in its proper form.

Let’s be mindful of the Apostle Peter’s injunction to his friends, “…and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Let’s choose service over superiority and thereby consistently reflect the heart of the Lord Jesus in the world of sport.