Friday, October 26, 2018

Serving in Strength and Winning

There are days, months, seasons, or even eras when all is going well, the team is winning, we are enjoying favor widely, and all seems right with the world. These moments are even sweeter when they have been preceded by losing streaks, pain, or clumsy transitions. Such was the expression of the psalmist in Psalm 126.

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
    it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter,
    and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
    “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy!

What joy, indeed! We can almost hear the laughter, the shouts of joy, and the music bumping in the locker room when reading these verses. The newspapers, television commentators, on-line sports outlets, and even social media is full of praise for our team. Those with perspective even give the Lord credit for having blessed the fruit of their labors.

After the immediate rush of emotions, we eventually calm down and begin to look ahead. The psalmist does similarly in the second half of Psalm 126.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest.

With renewed perspective and a forward look, the psalmist seeks the Lord’s blessing for restoration. He reflects upon the recently completed and continual process of painful and occasionally grievous preparation, followed by joyful and bountiful harvest reaping.

Such is the process experienced by the men and women of sport. May we be a source of godly perspective for those we serve, even as we experience both the pain of preparation and loss as well as the joy of strength and winning with them.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Chapel Talk - Men are Needed

On Saturday morning, October 13, 2018 I delivered a chapel talk to the Southern Illinois University Football team and coaching staff. Its title was, Men are Needed. Our head coach wants the entire program to be built on the foundational idea of, “Be a Man.” I have been entrusted with the task of defining terms in this process. A large majority of our young men grew up in one parent families, without their fathers in the homes, thus making the idea of being a man more than a little difficult to grasp.

Friday night, as I was preparing, I sent a text message to many friends, colleagues, and my mentor asking for prayer. I could already feel the weight of this message for these young men. More than some sort of hype message, or a pregame rah rah talk, I intended to speak to their hearts about the value of their being the men they were made to be.

I began by asking the men to think about this question, “Who are the important men in your life?”

Secondly, I asked them to consider when they need those men. I offered suggestions like:
·        When making big decisions.
·        When in trouble.
·        When confused.
·        When in need of guidance.
·        When achieving greatly.
·        When failing.
·        When feeling thankful.
·        When needing affirmation.
I said, “Men are needed, by all of us in the room, and by all those around us.”

I asked one of our leaders, a junior running back, to pray.

I introduced and read the day’s scriptural text, Philippians 1:21-24.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
I explained that the apostle was ready to leave this life and to be with Christ in Heaven. He was very aware, however that his friends in Philippi needed him. He, therefore, was committed to stay where he was, for their sake.

I then stated the following ideas with strong conviction and a commanding tone of voice:
·        Men are needed by their friends.
o   When they need someone to trust.
o   When they need someone to encourage them.
o   When they need someone to believe in.
o   Men are needed by their friends.
·        Men are needed by their parents.
o   For their lives to have a legacy.
o   For security.
o   For a sense of family pride. “That’s my son.”
o   Men are needed by their parents.
·        Men are needed by the women in their lives – mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives.
o   For security.
o   For provision.
o   For comfort.
o   For stability.
o   For courage.
o   For direction.
o   For confidence.
o   Men are needed by the women in their lives.
·        Men are needed by their children.
o   Your children need you. Hear these statistics:
§  63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
§  90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
§  85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes.
§  71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
o   My son is 41 years old. He still needs me and I need him.
o   Men are needed by their children.
·        Today, Men are needed by their teammates.
o   To compete.
o   To battle.
o   To overcome.
·        We are men. We need each other. Let’s compete like champions. Let’s be the men we were created to be.
·        I prayed to wrap things up and to bless our pregame meal.  

I was pleased with how things turned out, and I sent a thank you text message to those who had prayed for me. I pray that this message had its designed impact upon our coaches and players, and I pray it is some value to you and those you serve as well.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Raise Your Game.

It was a unique privilege to be invited by Sports Chaplaincy United Kingdom CEO, Warren Evans, to speak at their annual conference in Bradford, England earlier this summer. Throughout the conference the attendees were challenged to “Raise their Game.” I talked with the gathered men and women about what it is to inspire and to be inspired. I then spoke with them about how we challenge and receive challenges. Lastly, I spoke with them about how sports chaplains must stretch and be stretched to serve effectively. Below is the outline from each talk. No frills, no stories, just the essentials.

Raise Your Game.
Ø Inspire
Ø  Challenge
Ø  Stretch

I n s p i r e
·        Who inspires you?
·        Context for inspiration: Fear, ambition, & jealousy. Mark 10:42-45
o   Inspired to be great? Serve.
o   Inspired to be first? Be everyone’s slave.
o   Inspired to be like Jesus? Sacrifice.
o   To what are you inspired?
Ø To be great?
Ø To be first?
Ø To be like Jesus?

C h a l l e n g e
·        Elisha is challenged to follow.
o   I Kings 19:19-21
o   II Kings 2:1-2
o   II Kings 2:8
·        Elisha requests a double challenge.
o   II Kings 2:9-12
·        Elisha receives a double challenge.
o   II Kings 2:13-14
·        Serving as a sports chaplain is very challenging.
·        Accept the challenge!

S t r e t c h
·        To Raise Your Game will require you to stretch and to be stretched.
·        Stretch by holding tightly to your faith.
o   Hebrews 10:23
·        Stretch by stirring up your colleagues.
o   Hebrews 10:24
·        Stretch by gathering for encouragement.
o   Hebrews 10:25

Raise Your Game.
Ø Inspire
Ø Challenge
Ø Stretch

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Source of Joy

During the days of 17-20 September, I was in Havana, Cuba to train 100+ men and women as sports chaplains. They were very hungry to learn and we spent two full days discussing how this role of ministry can be of greatest effect in Cuba. We wrapped up the training by praying for their Cuban and FCA ministry leaders, then commissioning them all into service as sports chaplains.

At the end of the trip we took a ride to the Jose Marti airport. My colleagues and friends, Eric Anderson, Alex Roque Martinez, and I were discussing the source of joy for people's lives. My contribution to the discussion, now expanded, follows.

It is my observation that the closer one is to death and dying, day to day, the simpler life is, and that life requires fewer entanglements to have joy in living.

Inversely, the more remote death seems to be, daily living requires more stuff to produce a sense of joy, and one's life becomes increasingly more complex.

When asked, "What brings joy to your life?" my friends from the USA usually trot out a list of creature comforts, foods, drinks, or electronic devices. Their daily existences require a massive amount of support, both emotional and electronic. 

My friends in the more impoverished and daily perilous nations of the world simply say, "Jesus." Their relationships with the risen Lord supply all the joy necessary to navigate their precarious journeys through life with abundance in their souls.

As I have walked with USAmerican friends and family through battles with terminal disease and the immediate prospect of death, they begin to apprehend the simple and unencumbered joy experienced by our less prosperous global brothers and sisters. They too can reply, "Jesus", when asked about their source of life-giving joy and fulfillment.

Let us join them. Let's unclutter our lives. Let's protect and clarify our springs of joy. Let's reject every rival to Jesus' centrality as our soul's river of living water.