Friday, November 26, 2021

Selfies and Soul Deep Beauty

Forgive the title!


I sometimes think of the pushback that some people must have to all of us loons who post selfies with fish pushed out to the camera to enhance the view. In a world that for generations has called all fisherman 'liars' this may be the last gasp effort to include the genetic need to embellish the story.

But very few, except hunters and anglers themselves, understand what that pose has meant- going all the way back to your grandfather and his black and whites of impossible stringers.

BASS FISHING AND FAITH

2 Corinthians 5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 

Bass fishing is one of the ultimate joys of walking by faith. Even though there are small moments of 'sight fishing' (that has its own exciting reward), there is a pure deep joy of having life bump your lure as it sinks into the unknown abyss.

As you are working the lure, you do receive 'information'- current, a sense of depth, rocks, branches.... but suddenly there is a tap.tap of life. It is exhilarating.

In mere minutes, the angler responds to that sometimes subtle 'hello' with a rather violent and explosive hook-set that will result in 'game on' or the agony of defeat.

THE GOOD FIGHT

But that photo represents and even greater message- it is proof of victory. Bass fisherman in particular go through long lulls for sudden and swift battles to land the beast.

Years of experience and the expectations of competition can change the prolonged enjoyment of it all. In the past four or five years I have become better at using the rod and patience to enjoy the fight more than the landing.... but it is a core pleasure of the prize.

SOUL DEEP BEAUTY

Psalm 24
[1] The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
[2] for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

It would take a poet to truly capture the majesty of fishing. Wind, waves, clouds, birds, sunrise, deer... even the design of the fish and their lateral lines and muscular agility.... how can you capture a beauty that resonates deep in your innermost being?

Emerson came close.... (from Nature)- a few lines have been paraphrased....

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature....The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. 

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration.I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods (on the water), is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Creator circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, -- master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

The greatest delight which the fields and waters minister, is the suggestion of an hidden relation between man and creation. I am not alone and unacknowledged. The creatures nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

So next time you see me post a picture, smiling, and holding a bass..just know... it isn't narcissistic pride as it well looks like...

It is a poor expression of the worship and beauty of this rich experience that is more than therapy to me.


P.S.- I enjoy seeing your pictures and videos as well LOL

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Is There A Thanksgiving for the Hurting?


Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving.

Over the years, I have a way that I pray for people that may seem odd, and even possibly open to criticism. After a short silence and then some sort of pre-amble with the Lord, I just write down names. And as I write them down, I'm am giving their situation to God and pleading with Him to do what I can not do but He can. 

In these post Covid times, and possibly the fact that I am late 50's in age and tend to 'rub shoulders with the older', the lists grow long these days. The list today includes little babies in the hospital, and grieving families. It also includes a hurting nation with a landscape of division, strife, and want.

And you know well the foundation verse of the pre-amble- Philippians 4:5–7

[5] Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; [6] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

But there is a question at the top of this post.... can there be Thanksgiving today for those in pain? 

Those in grief? Those who are lonely? Those who would give the world to forget or those who would pay it all to remember and see one more time?

And the answer? For those who refuse to give up faith, hope, and love..... YES!

Even if there seems to be no relief in sight... Remember the example of Abraham in Romans 4:17–22

[17] as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. [18] In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” [19] He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. [20] No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, [21] fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. [22] That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (ESV)

I don't know when, who, where, how someone may read this short post today- but here is Thanksgiving for the hurting:

If your marriage is in trouble, grab your spouse look them in the eye and say, "I am thankful for you" and count those positive traits instead of the downward spiral of transgressions and failed expectations.

Is there a broken relationship with years of distance and regret? Use today as a way to say "love, forgiveness, and thanks".

Is this is your first holiday without a loved one and the bitterness is so raw that you can't see a way to go on?  Bend your knee in thanksgiving and faith as you say , "Lord, they are not coming back to me, but one day I will be with them" and then rise and know that God knows your pain and He is patiently awaiting that day as well.

At the table today... though it is quite Ok to be thankful for what you have. To me the smell and taste of my coffee this morning is something to be thankful for... be even MORE thankful for the PEOPLE  in your midst and tell them, "I am thankful for you".

When we say thanks, we are actively showing faith, hope, and love because an attitude of gratitude is the fruit of those amazing virtues sprouting roots in our sinful hearts that are always prone to wander.

I find it interesting that 'gratitude' is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and I believe that part of that is that gratitude is a response to a perspective, a way of seeing. Without the fruit of the Spirit there would not be a chance to show gratitude in the waste land of the works of the flesh including  "enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy" and the list goes on in Galatians 5:20–21and it is not exhaustive because Paul adds "And things like these"!

So there is a beautiful table today- one that has a Biblical perspective of God, His grace and mercy, and pain is seen as a reality under his Sovereign control to be put away at the close of days, and we still bow and say 'thanks' and are thankful for His people and His purposes- then that is a HEALING table of Holy fellowship. We believe in His promises... including eternal life in His Son.

There may be a place and time today that the table is just one soul, all alone, with meager means and little to eat. Yet that person bows with gratitude and hope and rejoices in the promises of God.

Perhaps another place today. Feasting and luxurious... prestige and power. But if there is no true divine perspective, it will be another disappointment as the day ends in disillusionment and emptiness.

May your table today be overflowing with thanks. 


Saturday, November 13, 2021

How the Wineskin Illustration Constantly Confronts Me

 I have written about this topic on other occasions, but I always come back to it when I think about HOW do we get the gospel to this next generation is a culture that is increasingly hostile to it?

Mark 2:18–22

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” [19] And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. [20] The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. [21] No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. [22] And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (ESV)

The Context: 

I love reading Mark  more than the other synoptic gospels for some reason. It may just be the flow of it....
but as we read to this point, we see growing crowds

1:37 “Everyone is looking for you”

1:47 “Yet the people still came to Him from everywhere”

2:2 “So many gathered, there was no room”

2:13 “A large crowd”

And the growing crowds always seem to increase the growing conflict.

These particular verses seem to indicate concern that the disciples of Jesus were not living up to the EXPECTATIONS of the status quo. The sin of the followers of Jesus is that they weren't going along with the rituals of everyone else.

2:18 “Now John’s disciples AND the Pharisee’s were fasting”

If everyone else was doing it- why not the disciples of Jesus... what is wrong with them?!

The Confrontation:

Speculation regarding the questioners
- ‘And people came ….” - human nature never really changes. Dishonest questions are as brutal now as they were then... were these people asking an honest question or was their question merely a cover for their already hardened hearts?

No- they are just constantly looking for a fight.

I can't help but read the tone of their questions as plain SNARKY!

“Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 
You think you are holy? You may think you are all that- but we live the Bible code... y'all just seem so laissez fare about the whole thing? When we were your age, we memorized the Bible and attended meetings, and didn't hang with sinners. We were tough... y'all are just lazy puddins' We used to care that people noticed our devotion! We were disciplined!

Jesus answers the questions by providing 3 illustrations:

Illustration 1- Wedding…… The Bridegroom will leave, hard times will come at their appointed time,  but don't live in the future...celebrate the NOW.

Illustration 2- Patching a garment- the age of the patch needs to match the age of the garment and an improper repair (application) can be a worse fix. The patch must match the hole.

Illustration 3- Wineskins……again, new versus old. The new wine will need to stretch under pressure of fermentation or the result will be a great loss.

All three illustrations together suggest a common principle.... the time for fasting will come, but the time is not now. Jesus is in process of something new and He didn't really care about what the Pharisees thought about it.

There are MANY principles from the passage: patience, authoritarian tendencies, ritualism... but I wanted to focus on how we respond in conflict and criticism and still maintain a posture for gospel proclamation.

The World of CONSTANT CONFLICT...

Unfortunately, we never escape THE FRAY... it is always there. The battle never rests and we live in a world of endless opinions. I don't know if you can see it or feel it..but it screams at me. The amount of negative emails and reports I get on a daily basis has tripled in the last decade. Since Covid-19 first hit in the early spring (Feb/March 2019), I feel like the anger, conflict, attacks are more acute.

Negative opinions brew in the dark, they are often spread in whisper campaigns!

The Lord of Time

As humans, we don't do time very well..... I have always quipped...“God is never LATE….. but He is seldom early”.  It is SO HARD to wait on Him. Can we embrace God’s sovereignty as it relates to HIS TIMING?

QUICK APPLICATIONS FOR ALL OF US:

Never Aid, Comfort, or Enable the Enemy.
 If you participate in whisper campaigns or believe that your right to know is an entitlement, you are helping negativity to sap life out of all that is around you.

Be Steady in the Storm…. And Celebrate THE GOSPEL! Jesus stood firm and stood above the fray. He was not naive... He knew the hearts of the critics... but He was never dismayed or knocked off mission by them

Ask God To Enlarge Your View of Him. It is OK to live with a God who operates on a 'need to know basis'... He is big enough to handle your waiting game

Never Underestimate the Power of the Status Quo. As a follower of Jesus, never be afraid to upset the apple cart in your allegiance to Him. Many will hate you for that, but God supports those whose hearts are set on Him.

NOW- WHAT ABOUT THE WORLD I MINISTER AND SERVE IN?

The teenage world is reeling right now. The entertainment streaming services, sinful adult role models, confusing gender and sexual messaging, music without morals, availability of use of banned substances, and social isolation has come full assault on those who are just trying to figure out their place in the world. 

This is a complex issue and I feel like we make them the bad guys when I blame the adults more than the kids... actually I blame myself- can't I see myself as more worldly - this culture impacts me!

Do we hear the call of Jesus in this passage? Don't PANIC! The gospel is still good, God's Word is still true, He is still the sovereign Lord, and what we need to do is find the conduit- we need to find the wineskin and he will fill it with new wine... and the fermentation will come in His timing.... not ours!

If we think we will win this generation with the old tactics... we will fade away.

NOW BEFORE YOU FREAK OUT... I am not saying we lower standards or compromise truth. We can't.. the mode of Salvation can not change- Saving Faith in Jesus Alone. And we can't water down the word... sin still kills even if we think we can play with it. God's love constrains us to teach God's holiness because the consequences of sin still wrecks lives.

Here is WHAT I AM PROPOSING: (1) We have to be clearer in our terms, (2) closer in our relationships, and (3) cautious in our judgements.

1) Clearer in our terms. In the 1980's I think you could simply tell a kid - Do Right and Don't Do Wrong and the general culture could guide that in a lot of cases. NO MORE. I found this out the hard way- I tell my students "Don't be stupid"- "Don't be inappropriate"- "Treat people right" and this is NOT clear enough. The average high school kid I work with compares himself to other students and thinks "I am not doing all they are doing"- "I am less sinful than that kid"- :"Our school acts better than that school" and wonder why I am disappointed in what they allow in their midst. 

We need to open the Scriptures and have honest dialogue about what inappropriate behavior looks like in real world terms, and we can't fall apart when we realize that they are engulfed in all kinds of things. I have teachers tell me what 4th graders are exposed to these days and the language they understand and sometimes use to sound grown up... don't fall to pieces... TEACH! And then CORRECT in love. Be patient in these discussions and be encouraging. Speak about honest struggles and let them understand consequences that are real... especially damaged relationships.

2) Closer in our relationships. How do some coaches get away from yelling at their team and others become enemy #1? It is the trust the players have that the coach loves them and working in their best interests. A distant authoritarian coach who uses the 'whack a mole" approach to getting the cats in order will get run off in a week these days. Keep swinging and before long there will be nothing left to hit.

But the teachers and coaches who TAKE TIME to know, listen, love, laugh, explain will over TIME win the trust of those they are trying to lead. Once they love you or maybe just trust you, they will allow you to push them hard. 

I still think a coach can get away with screaming at a whole team, but almost no coach can put an individual kid in a tongue lashing dog house. And I can't justify sarcasm anymore from an adult to a kid.. all you do is call their peers into their defense.

My personal challenge right now is "Do I really know them?" I never ask them the name of their girlfriend, what they like to do on the weekends, what are their favorite eating places, what do they order. I never ask them 'why' questions. If all I talk about is how to read this play against man free coverage... then yes, we are spending time together but I have no clue that they are wrestling with deep anxiety.

(3) Cautious in our judgements. This is the one that could cause the most misunderstanding. Transgressions to clear and reasonable boundaries have to get consequences. However, things are more gray today than ever. We live in a toxic soup of fast flying information, and the information has the speed of the internet and the accuracy of a weatherman. Does anyone preach anymore that lying and gossip are killers? Rumors are spread by demons to hurt everyone. There seems to be a lost art in our midst... we used to call it "the benefit of the doubt".

The Salem Witch Trials (1692) were set ablaze when young girls started telling lies (to hide their own transgressions) and the authorities started with the premise that it was true and the consequences were so heavy that soon everyone was telling lies, slandering, accusing, and believing the worst. And these men were Bible loving Christians... but they were in full panic mode! It did take wise Christian men with sound Biblical doctrine to END the mess... but the damage of that terrible time must always govern our temperate responses... be patient, trust God and protect people, not reputations nor even institutions. Don't be hasty to protect a brand. It is OK to admit that we have sinners in our midst and even sin in our own hearts.

 God wasn't panicking.

Satan loves it if he can cause division between parents and those who are employed in education, training, and development of their children. God wants both to be on the same page... it doesn't have to be 100% agreement- but the spirit is that we are all on the same team!

I looked back over the emails I send and receive- they are always about issues... I don't take enough time to tell people 'thanks' what they are doing right because I am so busy trying to correct all the wrong.

At the heart of all of this is a willingness to be humble, open, and wrong. You know what? I don't have to keep sanitizing and protecting my name... before long it too can become an idol.

I don't care if you think I am great, or holy, or skilled... all I care is that you know that God loves us and demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us. This allows me to listen, put down my defenses, and even say 'sorry' (and I am learning it is OK to say sorry if I don't feel like I did anything wrong). God and His Word defend themselves quite well.

Please pray for me as I still struggle with all of this... it is MESSY. There is a lot to get wrong here... but Jesus wasn't upset that His disciples weren't following the past paths... the truth never changes... but the vehicles and mechanisms have to change. And God brings along those culture changers from the very toxic culture ready to live unstained and fruitful lives.

Sin let's everyone down at some point. We never want our children to even be introduced to it. But the ministry of the gospel isn't that we won't encounter sin, it is the antidote to when we do. And it is the only hope we have to live through the experience. Sin smiles and lures, but it is not our friend. And it doesn't take long to feel it's sting and the built in consequences of either doing something God knows will destroy us or not doing something that will bring goodness and healing into messy situations.

Fasting will come... disillusionment greets everyone who attempts to live apart from Christ .. the key is have we shared where the true water is found and convince them that it can be taken from any humble and penitent sinner at any time? Or are we still whacking at moles?

I wanted to end that I am not discouraged in the fight... it gets wearying of course. But the gospel is too good and life is too short for us to be pretenders. I live in a great country and the culture who dreamed it, planted it, and nourished it with blood deserve my effort to stand for the truth and preach the love of Christ to the lost. But more importantly, I need to model the love of Christ for the sake of the lost as well. I am not trying to win arguments, I want to win souls and that is a spiritual battle.

And the best news of all.... Christ will be victorious.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Holding On When You're Slipping

 

I normally don't like to borrow someone else's great illustration, but this is the exact image I need to capture for the expressions of the moment. So I must credit Pastor, David Filson (Nashville, CPA) for the image because he was the first one I ever heard use it.

A friend was visiting his neighbor's pool with his very young son. Young enough to still have 'swimmies' on the arm. After a lot of fun with dad in the shallow part, the boy mentioned, and the dad coaxed, the lad to possibly try the deep end.

We aren't talking about the diving board, that was a boundary still too distant. This is simply a 'jump in from' the side to the arms of dad where the water was way deep over the boy's head. After several minutes of encouragement, the young boy, sans the floats, stood and trembled.

The dad stood in the middle, he had his arms open for the boy to leap to him and kept saying, "You can do it!" "Jump!"

And after minutes of stance and stops, almost jumping and retreats.... he jumped!

A big splash and underwater for a second, the panicked boy flailed at the dad.. and the dad just picked him up.

But the boy didn't feel secure...sunscreen, broad shoulders, and water have no handholds.

"DAD!" "Help me, you are so slippery!"

And I pause here with the promise to finish the quite common occurrence all through the summer season that we will all long for soon but grew tired of as well.

There are times that my father, my faith feels so slippery. I'm trying to hold on.

At times, faith feels like that stupid bar of soap I drop in the shower and curse the fact that I have to bend over again to wrestle with it.

And it is so weird where the help to hold on comes from. Scripture on the end times.

I first read Revelation when I was 17 and I hated it. It was weird, terrifying, and there was nothing about it I liked.

Now I read it at 57 and find it a healing and a hand hold as I once again have to look in the mirror and wonder aloud at pain, and suffering, and sin. The world's sin and my sin.

It isn't just Revelation.. the Bible is full of descriptions about how it is going to end. It has clear warning that our life is just a vapor and we are not guaranteed even one more heartbeat. There are people TODAY who will not have a tomorrow on this planet.

And the Bible is also very clear that there will be a day, one day, where the Lord will say "NO MORE DELAY" and the end will come with a sign in the east and a universal blast of trumpets and angels. The invisible will suddenly be visible. Faith exists without sight and the appearance of Jesus is the closing of the door of salvation based on grace through faith.

In my Bible reading today, I stumbled on the BEST of all apocalyptic messaging... the so called "Little Apocalypse" in Matthew 24. And I could put on my Eschatology glasses and explain my 'partial preterist' views of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and on and on and on.

But this morning... three stark statements jumped off the page at me:

Jump 1

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. (Matt 24:9,10 ESV)

I feel the chill of a cold fall... daylight saving time ends tonight... as the days get darker and colder I worry about the coming persecution to those who refuse to give up a simple belief in Christ and the truth of God's Word. The less the Scripture is read and proclaimed, the more likely that we will see this in our midst. It is there now, but it is getting bolder and colder.

I have accepted the fact that there are people who hate me just because I am aligned with Christianity.

But it doesn't mean I like it. It doesn't mean it doesn't bother me. 

What hurts the most is when the animosity comes from within. I don't want to ever see betrayal and hate on the inside... but at times it happens. And it is grievous. But I also have to admit that I can also be a problem and not a solution.

One way this truth helps is to realize it as a fact... this gets me to a place of forgiveness sooner.


Jump 2

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. [13] But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12–13 ESV)

Boy, this one will preach. Does anyone really know LOVE? I say "I loved that pizza we had for lunch" and then turn  around and say "I love you" to my wife, family, and friends.

Love, like pizza grows cold. And unconfined, unbridled, unconfessed sin hinders the tindering of love.

Love must be stirred, remembered, stressed, demonstrated.

Why does increased lawlessness make love burn down to embers? Because lawlessness is ultimately selfishness.

One of the saddest verses in the Bible is the last line of the Book of Judges.

 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25 ESV)

Look around you and see this reality with your own eyes. And it isn't true of just you or the 'world'... it is also true of me.

We have all kind of opinions and politicians on what needs to be done to turn our land from hate to love. Unless we bow to a King and dethrone self... love will continue to shrink.

But Jesus never ends on that last line, he adds the truth:

But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

"DAD!" "Help me, you are so slippery!"

Jump 3

 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 ESV)

When will the end be? For some it could be today. For a dear and loving man I know it was on Thursday and I am still hurting for his family.

But there seems to be ample Biblical support that THE END comes at the end of the plan of proclaiming the gospel, possibly when the last of the elect bows his or her head in obedience to faith, the curtain will drop and new beginnings of the eternal plan will commence.

So I am the relentless optimist who ends some days in clouds and gloom, but I arise to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.

"DAD!" "Help me, you are so slippery!"

You probably know the punch line by now..

Can you hear the laughter of the father and the joy in his voice.

"You are OK my son, I am holding on to you!"

If you are His Son, He has a bond sealed in blood, guaranteed by the Spirit, eternal GRIP on you.

And that is our only hope.....



Monday, October 18, 2021

Chaos, Complexity, Jon Gruden, and Comprehensive Control

This blog is fading into antiquity. I'm OK with that. I'm slowly fading as well (though I hope it goes real slow LOL). It is not without meaning or purpose. The purpose of why I write is always multifaceted- it is primarily a way to remember and record my thoughts for my children (and now grandchildren) to see parts of my heart and mind. 

I go back at times to see what I wrote and try to recall why I wrote it. And I laugh at some of the things... even regret some things. My blog started in Dec. 2004. Both the world and I have changed since then. But it is important to me to remember.

The way we live now includes less and less reading and remembering. We tend to now get things through images and media in this current state of life. The ease of information in this medium is understandable but limited. I worry that the less we read, the less we are actually developing a way to think and formulate the ability to truly understand. I am as guilty as anyone in this.

It is good to read. And in reading, find a flow of comprehension that follows logical patterns and we also develop a vocabulary that latches on to layers and layers of nuance and even contradiction.

In my early years, when I was reading literary criticism and theological discourse, I discovered an interest for complexity. Literary critics especially quickly denounced 'flat' characters. The best writers were able to stretch protagonists and foils into intricacies that made fiction seem to resonate with reality. A 'well rounded' character causes us to better understand ourselves.

And this is my greatest regret in current society. We have regressed and too quickly dismiss ideas or people to the terrible and dangerous trash heap: labels and stereotypes. Today, even real people are now 'flat'. The flatter they are, the easier it is to dismiss and discard them.

We now refer to people by short soundbites.... theses short 'quips' not only describe but they also contain a tone of judgement in the declaration.

This rash arena is as current as recent proclamations about Jon Gruden, and as old as prevailing attitudes regarding President Andrew Jackson. I will comment on the embattled former Raiders coach later, but the genesis of this post is about 'Old Hickory'.

I have been reading the excellent biography on Jackson by Jon Meacham entitled "American Lion".

I take a break from time to time and watch YouTube videos about Jackson and the content of the videos are typical for our times. Very few take the time to admit the inconsistency and ironies of the man. In the first 30 seconds of a 4 or 5 minute video, the judgement of the publisher is clearly evident. 

Few are willing to take the time or even to reserve final judgement on him. That is why I am always thankful to find honest wrestling.... such as the early biographer, James Parton wrote regarding Andrew Jackson:

"Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, and without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey his superior. A democratic aristocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint."

Would a modern day writer be permitted to wrestle and write in such a way these days without an avalanche of criticism or even 'cancellation'? 

The tone of American discourse today is cold and frightening. Almost any newsworthy event has to be covered immediately and quickly wrapped in a category of final verdict and sentencing.

Why is it darker and colder? Why are people afraid? Why do we shoot first and then survey the landscape? When did words become as dangerous as actions?

My concern is that the further we drift from the gospel, a message of love and forgiveness, a promise of restoration.... the closer we get to calamity.

No one is righteous here... including me. I can hastily post a tweet or press send on an email, without taking time to even pause and pay homage to a long departed virtue we used to call 'the benefit of the doubt'.

Before Jon Meacham wrote 370 pages on Jackson, he studied, and pondered, and interviewed. The book I have has 110 pages of notes and sources attached to it. So I am thrilled to read and ponder the man that Jackson was. And before long, it becomes clear that Andrew Jackson was above all else, a man. And like all men capable of the curious case of the incomprehensible dichotomy of sin and glorious image of God found soul deep within the same person.

Now to Gruden.

As soon as I read the content of the emails, I knew he was done for. And the content is inexcusable. 

And it isn't "inexcusable, But".... let me say it again.... inexcusable.

Inexcusable for him or anyone.

A side note.... I'm not happy with the rapid decline of language in our midst. For some reason, it seems to plague my profession as much as anyone. Any episode of Hard Knocks has almost every coach with R++ rated language throughout. It is so common that it seems to be meaningless habit. We need to be willing to hold the line and correct here.... if we eliminated profuse cursing and profanity, I believe the air of life would perpetuate more healing and  the world would seem less heavy.

And unfortunately, I have to include music lyrics in this. You know where I am going with this.... some get a pass and some get stones thrown at them.

Back to Jackson and Gruden.

There seems to be a sort of 'hit job' here. Gruden was terrible and in his terribleness, carelessness, and impropriety... he did something you never want to do... he gave ammunition to an enemy. 

Do you want to know why it happens so fast? The stone throwers have to distant themselves from the atrocity as fast as possible before the stones head their way as well. 

So it leaks. Condemnation and cancellation follow, because very few are willing to side with the brokenness and fallibility of men. Even fewer willing to point out the time that has passed. And fewer still to question why only these few emails appear in what was reported as over 650,000.

As for me, I'm not picking up the stone. I can say something is a sin and feel quite ok that I didn't require blood vengeance. I can seek to promote a society of peace, justice, righteousness and reconciliation without added atrocities and payback.

I'm leaving that up to the supernatural and miraculous acts of the Creator who is revealed also as a forgiving Father. He is our only hope. He is John Gruden's only hope. It is a tangible ands realistic hope.

Want proof? I take Jesus at His word: "For the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Look it up for yourself in John 3.

The picture at the top of this post is what I want to close with. It accompanies many articles regarding a concept called "Chaos Theory". The world we live in is a result of perfection spoiled with the stain of sin. I haven't helped... my sin has spilled and spoilt it as well. 

But the key of the 'chaos theory' is that it is still governed by principles that can be explained through physics and mathematics. There are still boundaries and so called 'natural attractors' of these unintended results from random actions.

Chaos theory applies here: Jon Gruden waved sinful butterfly wings in an email years ago and caused a tornado in Vegas last week.

Jesus knew this theory as well:

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. [3] Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12:2–3 ESV)

The good news though, is that the chaos is still governed under comprehensive control.

There is no darkness that can't be expelled by light. No wrong that can't be overcome by good. And no sin that can't be covered by the expensive blood of the Great, Once and For All. Atoner.

Is there evidence in my life that I know Him? Sometimes I worry about that. But then there are times that someone gives me a rock with every right to throw it with passion! I am given a bullet for my righteous gun!

And if I choose to not chunk it, when I lay down my weapons.... there is hope that maybe I understand it a little bit.

What about you? 

As for me and my house.... I will pray for all of the Jon Gruden's in my life and admit the Jon Gruden in my heart.

I hope he finds the path of Christ, I hope you do, I hope America does.... for the sake of my new granddaughter. I can't wait to tell her about Jesus. Let's pray and hold on to that hope!

I'm not writing much these days due to football and unrelenting AD requirements... but I do owe an Andrew Jackson series when time allows.

Peace Out.





Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Soul of The Lion- Updated

 

In 2012, I read an outstanding book by Willard M. Wallace called, "Soul of the Lion", a biography of the stellar Civil War hero, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

That book propelled Joshua Chamberlain near the top of my all time favorite heroes!

And it is what we are missing in our culture today- a man's man with an impeccable education, a love of literature and learning, but steely tough in morality and justice. He was a man rooted in his faith with such a sturdiness that he never wavered in intensity or purpose, regardless of circumstances. He faced fear and opposition with aggression and he produced a great harvest of progress over the span of his long life.

He was unique in that he could adapt to the climate- cool as an administrator and educator but a fiery, risk taker in battle.

So what follows are notes and quotes from this remarkable hero of our country:

He grew up an All-American boyhood- barn chores, wood cutting, plowing, planting- growing up in 19th century America the farm is a never ending tyrant. But he was close enough to Bangor that ship building and the visions of adventure were burned in his heart as well. His father taught him to fight with a broadsword, but he also learned to love music and sang in the choir. On top of all this, he was studious in the classroom- a military academy- where he learned Latin and French, as he practiced military drill.

His mother wanted him to be a minister, his father wanted him at West Point. MOM WON... for a while.

He went to Bowdoin College- 1st rank Greek- 1st honors French- received accolades for astronomy, math, chemistry, chosen to present orations at the Spring Exhibition, won 2nd prize his senior year for English composition- elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He joined two literary societies and taught Sunday School while leading the choir at a local church.

He entered Bangor Theological Seminary in the fall of 1852. He taught logic and natural theology. He was noted for having a fine sonorous singing voice. He was appointed professor of modern languages, filling a position that had once been held by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

He was extolled as an outstanding teacher. He held strong educational philosophies that were grounded in strong standards, but understood that teacher's needed to have a type of relationship with the students that allowed for implementing techniques which piqued their interest and motivations.

His views were out of step with most of his contemporaries, so he 'found himself walking a pretty lonely path among a distinguished faculty'.

The unexpected change came about from the changing conditions in the nation. He opposed slavery on Biblical principles and denounced the South's withdrawal as harmful to the prosperity and security of the Union. Again, most of the faculty remained quiet and neutral regarding these issues- but Chamberlain could not shake them- it effected him personally.

The people around him were more than shocked when he began to speak of entering into service. The Bowdoin College trustees moved heaven and earth to keep him and dissuade his decision.

They offered him a 2 year leave of absence in August of 1862 to travel and study in Europe at the college's expense. They felt that they could move him from the source of the conflict, temper his strong convictions, and keep their beloved teacher safe from the harms of impending war.

It was a strong temptation. Chamberlain tentatively accepted the more than generous offer- but his conscience soon took over and remained too strong.

When he announced his enlistment to defend the Union, he received abnormally harsh criticism from almost all at Bowdoin.

Adjunct General Hodson recommended him for service: "A gentleman of the highest moral, intellectual, and literary worth." He was offered a position as colonel, but turned it down. Chamberlain wanted to enter service in a subordinate position.

On August 8, 1862 Chamberlain was granted a commission as Lieutenant Colonel of the new 20th Regiment Infantry of Massachusetts.

"Thus began the active military career of one of the most remarkable officers and one of the hardest fighters to ever serve in any American army." (pg 36).

You would think that a man of Chamberlain's ability would be an excellent military leader from the start. But it did not take long for him to realize that his understanding to tactics and maneuvers was woefully lacking.

But like any great man of character, the assessment did not hinder him from engaging and driving himself to shore up and develop these areas of weakness.

There was one amazing trait that always helped Chamberlain when the bullets started firing and the cannons spewed fire and thunder- he had an uncanny calmness within the chaos. This ability to relax when others were in desperation allowed him to make great decisions and stirred great confidence in his men.

It was observed by many that no one worked harder than Chamberlain in studying the art of war, but he also equally worked to lift up and serve the people around him. The hard work and heart compassion made men respect and love him at the same time.

It did not take long for Chamberlain to realize how much better this new environment was for him and his unique skill set. Bowdoin had a great reputation, and it was a place he would love and serve- but the leadership he was under did not appreciate him. He was constantly criticized and second guessed because he did not walk lock step to conventional wisdom. His superiors didn't quite know how to handle that and his co-workers were never challenged in their assumptions and presuppositions.

This is a telling quote: "(In war/military) I have my care and vexations, but let me say that no hardship or danger ever makes me wish to get to that college life again. I can't breathe when I think of my last two years (at Bowdoin)".

I also cannot express enough that Chamberlain's deep faith served him so well. He wrote: "Most likely I shall be hit somehow at sometime, but all 'my times are in His hand' and cannot die except by His appointment."

The stories of all the close calls and bullets makes it hard to refute his assertion. He had his horse shot out from under him on at least 3 different occasions and escaped sure death over and over.

He also grew tougher. He learned to embrace 15 mile marches in all types of weather and over all kinds of harsh terrain. He wrote this to his wife, Fanny: "(I pull my tarp over me on cold and wet nights) However, I ENJOY it and I get up as bright as a squirrel and hearty as a bear for a breakfast of salt pork, or hard bread; with, maybe, coffee without milk and alas! without sugar."

But battles also ripped into his heart and soul. On one occasion he had to sleep between dead bodies. The cries of the hurting and the blood covered surgeons and the rotting smells all added up to the horrors to this conflict. He did not shrink back, however. He fought depression as valiantly as he fought the enemy.

After one battle he saw the juxtaposition of a beautiful river and across, on the bank, was a field strewn with dead soldiers in a sea of blue and gray. "Death-gardens, haunted by glorious ghosts- a splendid but unavailing valor."

I also have to remark that Chamberlain had a warrior's stubbornness. He was slow to anger, but when it finally kindled, he set his jaw and held nothing back. But is was always in defense of an ideal and he never lost his loyalty to those within his service and devotion.

DARK DAYS AND A HARSH WINTER: As is true of most narratives, Chamberlain had to endure a dire winter before his glorious victory at Gettysburg. In the winter of discontent, a man has to wrestle with deep doubts, health concerns, and a general lack of morale. Chamberlain was knocked to the ground with outbreaks of smallpox. His greatest concern was handling a broken 'espirit de corps' due to actions by his men that appeared mutinous. He stayed engaged, despite the grind and exhausting marches, weary and undone- he refused to give in and eventually the sun rose again bringing warmth and better health.

All of this leading up to a fateful July 2, 1863 when history would hang in the balance.

July 2, 1863 marked the famous Battle at Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest days in history, a fight of epic legend, and a landmark victory where inevitable momentum swung to the Union.

Little would Joshua Chamberlain know at the start of that day, that he would be the key player in such a grand narrative.

It was that moment where a leader of courage, character, and conviction found the fruit of his labor to know schemes and tactics, and discover that his leadership had created trust in his men to rally to his call and create a sudden surprise victory.

It began by Chamberlain taking a quick survey of the battlefield and discovering a weakness. He was the anchorman of the left flank and mentally rehearsed what would happen if the enemy captured a strategic position known as 'little round top'. His forward thinking and acquired military skill put his men in position to defend that valued plot of land.

And the enemy came in full frontal assault.

Five times that day, the south roared and rushed Chamberlain's regiment. It was primarily the Alabama 15th under the command of William Oates against the 20th of Maine under the direction of Chamberlain.

Chamberlain held firm, following orders to hold the position to the last man, at all costs.

Then came that monumental moment. Chamberlain was out of ammunition and would not be able to hold another attack. He had put every man in his disposal to fight: cooks, bandsmen, and guards. He had few options left. He calmly gave the order: 'fix bayonets'.

His brave men responded and went on the attack. Oates was pulling back and had to order retreat when he saw the attack approaching.

Here are a few noteworthy quotes and notes:

A soldier of the 15th had recognized Chamberlain and put him in his sights. He wrote, "I rested my gun on the rock and took steady aim. I started to pull the trigger, but some queer notion stopped me."

Both sides displayed fierce toughness and the admiration for one another lasted a lifetime.

Wallace notes it this way: "It was a magnificent feat of arms, rarely if ever surpassed in the importance of its accomplishment by any regiment in American military history."

Colonel Oates of Alabama wrote, "There never were harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine men and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top."

A Texas orator: "Hood had been victorious  on every field until 'God stopped them at Little Round Top'."

Fifty years after the battle, Chamberlain returned. Once a bloody day of scars and the dead was now a park of beauty and monuments. He walked around, climbed the summit, and sat there quietly until dark.

He was overcome by the thought that he was surrounded by the fallen. Those young men who did not know 'what were their lofty deeds of body, mind, heart, and soul on that tremendous day'.

The hills of Gettysburg had witnessed their valor and sacrifice.

The great man, Chamberlain, reflected on the moment. "(The graves at Gettysburg) shall hold the mighty secret in their bosom till the great day of revelation and recompense, when these heights shall flame again with transfigured light- they, too have part in that adoption, which is the manifestation of the sons of God."

On that ridge, 50 years earlier, bleeding from a leg wound that had taken shrapnel- Chamberlain had grabbed a moment undergirded by that hardened faith- and made a decision that made a difference.

The average man would have lain there and rested or given up the ghost- but not this mighty warrior of God. To give up or give in would mean a loss in vain.

May we all 'fix bayonets' when our time is called upon.

In studying all types of men in history- you find that most do not finish well. This is especially true of warriors, who find times of peace to be incompatible to their base nature.

I have blogged on this issue in the past: Warning to Warriors (2007)

But you cannot add Joshua Chamberlain to that list of those who fizzled out after their moment of glory.

His famous fight at Gettysburg was on July 2, 1863 (35 years old). He went on to live a fruitful and productive life until he passed away peacefully at 9:30 in the morning on Feb. 24, 1914 completing 86 beautiful years on earth. That is an extraordinary long life for a man in that time of history.

So what did he accomplish AFTER Gettysburg?
  • Promoted to General (that took a long time because Chamberlain did not promote himself)
  • Severely wounded in battle (a Minnie' ball slammed into his right hip-severed arteries-nicked his bladder- crushed pelvic bones- it took two discouraged surgeons who performed what has been called a miracle of medicine- but he suffered physically from that wound for the rest of his life).
  • returned to war
  • shot again in battle- a chest hit that was slowed down because it passed through his horse first.
  • An honor: Chamberlain was appointed to receive the infantry surrender.
  • The magnanimous gesture: Chamberlain received more acclaim and criticism for the honorable way he treated the confederates during the surrender at Appomattox. Instead of humiliating the vanquished foes, he had his men salute them.


I quote from Wallace:

As Chamberlain watched the remnant of Lee's once great army, perhaps the most effective fighting instrument of its size ever created by the American people, the significance of the situation profoundly impressed him. He had earlier resolved to recognize the moment by saluting the Southern troops and had so informed his his regimental commanders. He was aware of the responsibility he was assuming, aware, too that criticisms would follow, as indeed they did. But his chief reason, he said, 'was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. 
'Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood; men whom neither toils and sufferings. nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?'

When Gordon, the Confederate counterpart saw what was happening, his whole demeanor changed. He wheeled his horse toward Chamberlain and bowed.

This act was noted all throughout the South and Chamberlain became known as 'the most knightliest  soldier of the Federal army'.

A few days later, a confederate officer approached Chamberlain: "You astonish us by your honorable and generous conduct. I fear that we should have not done the same to you had the case been reversed."

  • He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor
  • He became a successful Governor of Maine
  • He became the President of Bowdoin College
  • He was a reformer in economics and education.
  • He represented American interests in France.
  • He transformed the Port at Portland.


AND WHAT KEPT HIM GOING?

This quote from a letter to his sister sums it up: "I always wanted to be  at the head at some enterprise to transform the wilderness into a garden both materially and spiritually- to be a missionary of civilization and of Christianity at once."

I highly recommend the biography by Wallace- but my deep prayer is that we find more men in the spirit of Joshua Chamberlain- it is our only hope!

Sunday, August 08, 2021

What Bobby Bowden Taught Me About Supporting Coaches Under Fire

 

I was sad to learn about the passing of Coach Bobby Bowden this morning. I have been praying for him and was even lead to say a short prayer last night before going to bed. Coach Bowden has been intertwined in my life, loosely, for many decades. Part of it is his connection to East Lake, Ruhama Baptist Church, Roebuck Golf Course, my friend Terry Warren who is with Jesus, and of course football.

In that time I had 6 or 8 brief meetings with him and I was fortunate to speak with him in longer segments 3 or 4 times. We had him speak to students in our youth ministry in the late 1980's where he told his famous 'missing 1st base' talk and spoke of God's grace and Jesus as the only name given by which we can be saved.

As I was reflecting on my talks with him over the years, I couldn't help but think about the last time I saw him and the 4 or 5 minute talk we had on the campus of Samford University on Saturday Sept, 21, 2013 as he was being inducted into the Samford Hall of Fame. I was there to see my daughter, Julie, cheer for Samford. I had just bought a Samford shirt at the bookstore and walked down the hall to change into it. As I stepped out, there was Coach Bowden!

He wouldn't know me enough to remember me- so we had a quick reintroduction.... East Lake, Banks, Briarwood.... I mentioned I was a high school football coach. He asked a few quick questions and we talked about Terry Warren, (one of his All-Americans who had coached with me) and I mentioned in passing that I had been 'let go' from a head job in Nashville just a few years earlier. 

Then he asked me how Coach Yancey was doing. Of course I told him how much I loved Coach Yancey and even then how I was sure he would be a Hall of Fame inductee down the road. But I also told him to pray for us, because the war drums of upset parents was beginning to beat.

We had gone 6-7 in 2012, and at that point in 2013, we had been beaten by Homewood the week before 38-14 and looked bad doing it. Even though the sun was shining that beautiful fall day... I was hurting. I was still hurting and recovering from being a coach who went through a public dismissal for lack of performance- and like a recurring nightmare, I was feeling those same things- upset parents, behind the scene conversations and criticisms, the spillover effect on the players, and the impact on preparation and performance. It is hard enough to win a football game, but almost impossible when doing it in contrary winds of doubt and division.

When I said 'pray for us', his whole demeanor changed- this was no longer a casual hello- Coach Bowden totally engaged and dug in. I think he may have seen my concern.

He put his hand on my shoulder, and spoke with great confidence with authority.

"Boy (he always called me that in almost every conversation), I sure will. Let me tell you something. There will alway be those calling for your job in this business. When you win, they are still there but can't be loud. But you start losing!

You keep loving kids, you keep trusting the Lord, and don't coach under pressure. The only pressure you need to feel is to coach for Jesus. Once you start coaching with pressure from the outside, you really aren't coaching well."

"Do you believe in Jesus, son?"

I replied with a smile- "Yes sir"

"Then you know that nothing can happen that He doesn't allow to happen. And all his plans are for good. Do you believe that?"

"Yes, sir"

"Good, I will be praying for you and Coach Yancey. He is a great man. You support him and y'all keep fighting the good fight."

And that was it. The picture at the top of this post was taken right after that conversation.

Here is the rest of that story. We finished a shakey 9-3 that year (isn't it interesting that 9-3 at BCS is not a good season LOL). In 2014, we went 4-7 and in 2015, we started 0-3 on the way to a 5-7 season record.

I got a phone call during that time from a parent who was steaming mad. He had just been made aware that a group of very prominent dads had had a meeting and were discussing that it was time to make a coaching change. Two men stood up and walked out of that meeting upset that the meeting was even happening. One of them called the dad who had just called me.

Instead of being mad and afraid... I just felt the peace of trusting God.

"Thanks for supporting Coach. We all know he is doing a great job. Keep praying and keep fighting the good fight."

And that is all I did.

I knew that nothing can happen that He doesn't allow to happen. And all His plans are for good. I fully believe that. This doesn't mean I support secret meetings or those who spread negativity. I match that with confidence and good words.

And our administration stood strong.

And what happened?

We went 12-2 in 2016

We went 14-1 in 2017

In 2017, Briarwood installed a new turf field. Very few people know that Coach Yancey never lost a home game on the turf field until he retired (14 straight home wins).

From the time of that parent meeting to discuss a coaching change- Coach Yancey went 35-6 and added a state runner up title. 

All of this has carried over to me as athletics director: I support our coaches. These are men and women who love the Lord, want to get better, and coach as a ministry. As long as they do that- I will support them, no matter the record.

I wish we would all support coaches... negativity and dissension work against a coach and their staff. Some coaches can get so beat up by the external talk that they are stripped of their power to lead and that is sad.

My general practice is to persevere and graduate the negativity and wait on the group that will embrace the positive values, practice a strong work ethic, and start new.

In the old days... a coach would come to a school and stay 40 years. During their tenure... they would have some winning seasons, some losing seasons, championships, and some really bad seasons. Back then, no one defaulted to firing the coach as the answer to issues. Not so today.

But thankfully, if you find a school who evaluates people and not records.... who believe in a staff approach, who champion coaching as a ministry, who believe in the sovereignty of God... a coach can be stable and supported as they go through trials of various kinds.

And that is my philosophy... not to say we don't push coaches to grow and improve... but they will always be given time and the decision to change a coach is made by administrators over many seasons, not parents... and definitely not a short cycle.

That is what Bobby Bowden taught me about supporting coaches under fire.

And he is with Jesus today.... free of pain, worry, doubt... that is the ultimate destination!

Makes sports seem almost insignificant......


Monday, July 26, 2021

The Only Way to Lose is to Quit

Monday's are tough- but this one seems tougher. All this rain and fatigue are working against me.

And I'm thinking about Samuel this morning. Of course, I can't help thinking about one of my joys as a dad, reading a little children's book to my daughters and having them laugh when I said, "SAMUEL" recounting the Lord calling him when he was 12.

Here we find Samuel...old.... years of frustrating ministry. He was against a King, but the people's stubborn will has prevailed. And Samuel has given them what they want- a tall, handsome warrior King named Saul. The people think 'Now we will be happy'- Samuel knows the outcome already, he has seen it over and over and over again.

SO here is Samuel's address to the people:

12 
1 Samuel 12
Samuel’s Farewell Address
[1] And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. [2] And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. [3] Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.” [4] They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” [5] And he said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.”
[6] And Samuel said to the people, “The LORD is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. [7] Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous deeds of the LORD that he performed for you and for your fathers. [8] When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the LORD and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. [9] But they forgot the LORD their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. [10] And they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ [11] And the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. [12] And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the LORD your God was your king. [13] And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the LORD has set a king over you. [14] If you will fear the LORD and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well. [15] But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king. [16] Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. [17] Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.” [18] So Samuel called upon the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.
[19] And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” [20] And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. [21] And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. [22] For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. [23] Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. [24] Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. [25] But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” (ESV)

This is a painful proclamation for the prophet.

It has to sting his pride as he sees the juxtaposition- He is 'old and gray' where Saul is young and vibrant. Samuel has lost. Samuel's sons- the ones he hoped would rule- are rejected.

Samuel almost seems negative and sarcastic- What did I do to end up in this state of humility? Did I defraud you ever? I was the miracle child- I am named "God has heard", I have led you well in peace and spiritual progress. Your decision for a King is not being made in Holy wisdom- it is sinful fear and envy.

But Samuel doesn't give up. He is found to be faithful. He doesn't like the situation that God has allowed- but he doesn't give up on God. He praises Him. He follows Him. He keeps fulfilling the work he has been called to do.

We have to admire this!

Have you ever been disappointed in the way things turned out? How do you respond?

It hurts. You pour your heart and soul into something. You pray continuously. You work according to all the principles that are right and good. Years of pressing and perseverance- and then..... it goes in a totally wrong direction. The prayers are finally answered- but the answer is NO.

So what do you do?

This is where Samuel is a hero. What did he do? He kept going.

His faith in God is not diminished. The painful circumstances are not attributed to anything deficient in his God.

He keeps his heart for the people. And I see a key reason why. If we ever serve people to get the motivation from the people, we will always be disappointed. Samuel ministered to the people as a service to God.

Notice that he does not water down the message- he stands boldly and firm in the same message he has given since he was a young prophet.

"Follow the Lord and he will bless you- turn from Him and you will suffer."

And history will show that Samuel was right and that God was right. The King that the people press for will cause much misery and heartache over time. Samuel is right.

But God is right. The King will make way for the next King... a man after God's own heart. And that King, David, pre-figures the King of Kings.

So what do we do when we feel beat down and all seems lost?

1) Keep serving and ministering and never cease praying for people regardless of the circumstances.
Love is the route out- keep loving and serving.

I think it is especially important to keep praying for people who intentionally or unintentionally hurt you. It is a sweet service to God to do so.

2) Trust the God is IN CONTROL. And He is trustworthy. "He listens and we are heard" which is what Samuel's name means.

3) Stay in the Word of truth. The message does not change in the up and down turmoil of life.

4) Bottom line: The only way to lose is to quit.

The path of victory is to try and fail and try and fail again.
The path to defeat is to try and fail and fail to try again.

This should pick me up on a Monday- I hope it helps you!


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Hollow Men with Heavy Hatchets


 To the paranoid, this has no relevance to any specific person or circumstance. It is simply a thought experiment and artistic expression. Why would I want to anger a man with screwdriver?

"To the man with a hammer, everything is a nail" often attributed to Abraham Kaplan.

"The English expression "a Birmingham screwdriver," meaning a hammer, refers to the practice of using the one tool for all purposes, and predates Kaplan by at least a century.

In 1868, a London periodical, Once a Week, contained this observation: 'Give a boy a hammer and chisel; show him how to use them; at once he begins to hack the doorposts, to take off the corners of shutter and window frames, until you teach him a better use for them, and how to keep his activity within bounds.' (wiki)



Hollow men with heavy hatchets
swing away, chop away, hack away

They pound with the power of judgement
and it must feel so cleansing to cut out the carnage of sin

That's what hatches do
They break, and maim, and remove
leaving chips, scars, jagged edges, and uneven stumps.

A heavy hatchet is easy and makes the work quite quick.
And if no cleanup is required, it is even entertaining at times.
Though nurses have to close up after the precision of the surgeon's scalpel,
A hatchet man just swings and walks away.

The best hatchet men block out the noise
and take no note of the wails of pain.
The glory is in the power to cut.
A weaker mortal may cringe at such a moment,
but not a hollow hatchet man,
His courage is in this blade.

Hollow men with heavy hatchets are always dead right
And they clean up so well.
They speak with the sobriety of sages,
But cut with the drunkenness of fools.
The hollow man with a heavy hatchet sleeps well at night,
As long as his back was strong and his blows were hard.

Hollow men with heavy hatchets band together
A fraternity with a common lust for blood.
And they dream of more efficient power,
A guillotine perhaps for the masses?

"When heads roll
Men are reined in vicariously
And the whisper campaigns never rise to revolution."

Hollow men with heavy hatchets, swing away
They do their job so well.
And there is always eternal need
to swing that hard in hell.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

War Terminology and Offensive Football

I was reading a book of war tactics and schemes and I couldn't help but notice some of the terminology fit my eye as far as how we scheme offensive football.

In some ways- we need to always apologize when using war references and battlefield tactics when speaking of football. The heroic men and women who guard our nation's freedoms and the sacrifice of limb and life are more honorable than a game.


However, the parallels of battlefield strategy, does have unique analogies to football. After all- football is a ground war employing formations and maneuvers.

So- let me use some military jargon and write a little about play calling:

Attack the center of gravity: I don't think that offensive play callers use formations, shifts, and motions very effectively. There are some defenses where you should move a lot and some where it is just a waste of energy. Some offenses do it to be cute- the best offenses move with meaning. This is where I think guys who call plays on the sideline are most hindered. But football is a numbers game- offenses block better with angles- some defenses work well when balanced and some are more exposed when balanced by personnel issues. When Coach Mathew Forester became the head football coach at Briarwood, that was the very first thing he challenged the offense to do.

 Counter attack: In football terms this means you have to know what a team is going to do to shut down successful plays and HAVING ANSWERS to what you do to counter their adjustments. This is where you can really gut a defense. Hit them in a hole, and counter it as a rhythm to hit them at the adjustment. The beautiful thing is when you change as they change. I always wanted to stop hitting a honey hole before the adjustment, so I could come back to it more often.

 Surprise attack: These are play actions and 'trickeration' plays. It also refers to knowing a tendency and using the defenses knowledge of that tendency against them. If you are 99% run on 3rd and 1- use that tendency against a defense at key times.

Ambush: Screens and Traps are a type of ambush. You draw the defenders in, make them think they have you and then cut their heart out with a planned attack. I don't think we do enough to sell our players on how these plays work- the better they act the better it works.

Flanking: This is my biggest gripe about offensive play callers- not using motions, shifts, or formations to out flank the opponent. And an out flanked defense is a dead defense. This is why the option game can defeat a more powerful defense. I was watching Lane Kiffin's first game against Alabama and he used tempo and unbalanced sets to get the Bama defense to misalign a number of times. One time, they just lined up in Trey X over, ran Duo, and the running back bounced it to air.... there was no one there!

Blitzkrieg: In football terms, this is starting a game or a half with all guns blazing. It is why we like to script and rehearse the first few plays. It has a rhythm and flow- We want to create panic! It is also why play callers will often call a shot after a turnover.

Firepower: Another pet peeve- if you have more power... use it. Many, many years ago BYU upset Miami in a game that should not have been close- but Miami stayed finesse the whole game and did not go to the power game. Sometimes you just have to line up and go..... nothing cute.

Seizing the initiative: After a turnover- go for the kill- it doesn't have to be a homerun throw (though I am shocked at how many fades and double moves I have called over the years that resulted in a 1 play drive for TD after a fumble)- it can simply be a fade comeback or dig- but try to hit them with a big play after the turnover.

Off-balance: I referred to this before- but all play callers are at their best by hitting a rhythm- inside, inside- out -in- short deep short, inside- outside, medium- screen, power, option, all to a beat. I also attribute this to attacking a 3-4 defense ( pass on run downs and run on pass downs).

Tactical Deception: You have to know what the defense saw all week as they prepared for you and you have to screw that knowledge up early. If they are signal stealers- you need to mess that up early as well.

Psychological Annihilation: You have to teach your players to ALWAYS show great body language and cues- in the 4th quarter, teach your guys to show energy and blood lust. Never get a losers lean!

Reconnaissance: You have to do your homework. And you need to chart early how the defense is adjusting to your stuff. If you know where they are- you can hit them hard.

Well, that was fun.... what other ones do you have?

Friday, June 11, 2021

What Are The 'Winning Edges'?

 

The term 'winning edges' was actually coined for me by Coach David Cutcliffe. He is the man who introduced me to the attitude and effort needed to compete well and the core values that support the effort in a sustainable way.

For me, 'Winning Edges' are 'little things'... details that matter and must be executed within the context of my faith in Christ and the truth of the Bible. Knowing my life is secure BEYOND my death is the ultimate 'winning edge' and it is a 'can't fail' .... even if I do. My sin is great, but HIS GRACE is GREATER!

I'm not sure if there is an order of these things.... they all need to be in place at once and will ebb and flow with the storms of life.

RELENTLESS OPTIMISM

I have never liked negative people, naysayers, cynics, critics, doomsayers, or people with 'loser's lean'. I'm not pointing this towards people who occasionally suffer the blues or go through hard patches. But negative people NEVER contribute towards winning.

I don't know where my endless hope comes from... but it has made me a really tough competitor ... because I feel like all I need is time and I will win. And I get up after a loss and believe I will find a way to get you eventually.

A come from behind victory when all looks like a loss is the most satisfying win of all.

I could write volumes on this.....

Every significant achievement in my life would have never happened if I listened to the naysayers in the midst of the struggle, personally and professionally. These voices get louder when the clouds roll in and the doubts and fears creep in.

Thankfully, I compete well against all of those and though they are ever present.... I have learned to press on in spite of the contrary winds of negativity.

THE LONG GAME

The 'long game' goes hand in hand with relentless optimism. It takes time to finally bring in the victory, especially those victories that seemed bleak and unlikely. It is the best part of my competitive winning edge... I may not beat you today, but you are going to see me coming back to try it again, and again, and again. Part of this success is not letting a loss be the end of the world. It hurts to fail... but if we embrace failure as a natural course of life that is meant to teach us how to be better, then a loss is just a rocky patch on our way to a championship. Significant success usually takes decades.... you can't measure it in days.

If you put 'relentless optimism" with 'the long game' you get one of my favorite Bible passages:

Romans 4:18–22

 In hope he (Abraham) believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” [19] He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. [20] No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, [21] fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. [22] That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (ESV)

We miss the fact that many of these Bible victories took an extraordinary amount of time. Twenty years is the minimum and 40 years is the average! Moses did a double forty year stretch of doubt to victory.

Winning Edges are so small... but they majestically multiply when consistently applied over long periods of time.

ENCOURAGING AND FORGIVING ALL PEOPLE

This is the most rewarding of the Winning Edges. For some people it is extremely hard, but I think it becomes easy when you really grasp what the gospel is really about. Again, this one could take an entire book to explore... and boy, do I have some stories!

Let's explore the opposite of this for a moment. If I choose to tear down people and hold grudges, I am really only destroying myself. Sadly, I have known too many people who show this trend in their lives and I don't have words to describe their torment and misery.

I call these people 'fist swingers'... they go through life punching every single person they meet with a flurry of venom and destruction. And the result? All they do is make enemies.... and they stay tensed up in conflict, and their minds constantly calculate the deficits... and before long, they crumble under the weight of it all.

When you chose to forgive.... you take all that weight off of you and you don't feel the lust of vengeance. When you choose to be an encourager, you adopt a mindset of encouragement. You actually 'self encourage' as you encourage others.

An encourager and a forgiver finds the opposite result of the aforementioned 'fist swinger'. Open hands are less stressful. The encourager loves.... and wins more friends than he has enemies. He isn't a victim because he doesn't dwell on the wrong suffered.

I am in tears as I write this.... I wish everyone could find Jesus. When He forgives, it releases all of the poison we hold and all of the weight of condemnation and it becomes actually quite easy to live out this 'winning edge'.

TAKING BLOWS 

Unfortunately, there is no easy path or shortcut here. Life will absolutely smash you in the teeth. It will beat you down with the intent to crush your dreams. My greatest fear in this generation, is we so protect out children that thy have no context to receive the inevitable blows of life- and they sometimes come in spades!

Of course, the greatest inspiration of this comes from a later Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa- 

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

Rocky Balboa ~

CAPTURING EVANESCENT 'SOUL DEEP' BEAUTY

So this one may sound strange.... but God wants us to take time to absorb the beauty and elegance of things. I have a  love for music and poetry. And I still get awestruck sunsets, mountains, and stars.

The William Wordsworth poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, captures this concept as much as any poem I have ever spent time with. It portrays a speaker who has encountered a field of daffodils waving in the breeze who seem to be 'dancing' in the breeze. The beauty of nature in that moment is so powerful that the image is burned into his soul. And later, all alone, quiet and even blue- he hearkens back to that moment as it 'flashed on his inward eye'

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

When I am teaching quarterbacks, I will stop a drill and make them notice a sunset. I tell my young anglers to stop and appreciate the beauty around them. I will say, "Look at that fish, see his shape and colors!" And they sometimes look at me strange when I say it.... but experiencing beauty at the core of your being is an experience with God as you contemplate that He is the great designer and artist.

All of this is a minister to me and it washes away fatigue, pain, and sorrow. The beauty of any rich experience that is more than therapy to me.

FIDO

Short for "Forget it, Drive on". This is a huge winning edge for competitors. WHEN you make a mistake, it is ok to learn from it, but DO NOT dwell on it. And never let a bad play or game beat you twice.

Every Qb I have ever coached has that 'STORM' moment in his career where the bad things happen in bunches... when it rains it pours- and all of a sudden it looks like all of the stars are align against you. It is such a spotlight position! You throw a pick six, then maybe fumble.... the crowd starts booing, the players are doubting you, and the coach starts to think you bet on the other team before the game... in those moments, you just have to play your way out of the crisis... one play at a time.. you HAVE to never show bad body language, you NEVER blame anyone else, you just make the next one. 

In fishing, I tell them, "Just put your head down and fish".

To me, how a young man responds in the storm means more to me that how he handles success- though both scenarios need coaching. FIDO works for wins as much as it does for losses.... you have to forget the past and move forward.

FIDO is a very Biblical concept:

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [15] Let those of us who are mature think this way.... (Philippians 3:13–15 ESV)

ONE DAY AT A TIME

Just as optimism and long game go together- FIDO and One Day at a Time go hand in hand.

To win a tough competition- you just can't get in the past or in the future. You just fight as hard as you can one play at a time! If you are in a life struggle one day at a time. If it is life and death... you just make it one more step, one more minute, one more hour.

Here is how Jesus said it:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34 ESV)

HUMILITY AND GRATITUDE

Humility is the hardest and most misunderstood virtue of the human experience. In the south, we have what I call an "Aw shucks" fake humility.... 

“ Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels…These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2:18,23)

Biblical humility is not self-deprecation, this so-called “aw-shucks” false humility resonates so emptily in relationships. You know that person. He is the one who can never take a compliment and always understates an achievement or accomplishment. “Aw shucks, I am so poor and lowly, and I am absolutely worthless.”

 I think the Biblical model of humility is selfless. It seeks to build God and others up, but not bring yourself or your institution down. True humility is not afraid of proper, Biblical boasting. Biblical boasting is an active desire to point out the Excellencies of the Father. It is a decision to give up a right or entitlement for the glory of God and service of others. 

“Thank-you for that compliment, but I couldn’t do it without the Lord, isn’t He great!” or “I am so thankful to be the teacher of the year, this award deserves to be shared with all my fellow colleagues. They give me inspiration daily to pursue excellence, as unto the Lord.” 

A telling sign of false humility is how one responds to questions of concern or criticism. A truly humble person is not reactionary, but patient and loving in conflict. A person of false humility cannot keep a gentle spirit in these circumstances. 

A person of false humility is generally negative, and leads complaints or dissensions. A person filled with false humility does not have very many deep or loving relationships. 

Our model of course is Jesus. The glorious passage in Philippians Chapter 2 teaches us that Christ willingly let go of His rights for us. A test for this humility is found only in by searching the inner man. How do you feel when a friend gets a reward or a break? How quickly do you defend a team mate if a student or a parent is criticizing him? How often do you get upset if it seems that you are not being noticed or you have to give up a privilege? How quickly do you volunteer to help a need, knowing it may cost you some time and effort? May the Lord grant to all of us through His spirit the attitude of submission and humble service to the Lord.

Humility and gratitude exist together- instead of being upset about what I don't have or that someone 'owes me'.. I learn to be thankful and count my blessings!

ETERNAL LIFE

[11] And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12] Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. [13] I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11–13 ESV)

[16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17 ESV)

Romans 6:23" For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)"

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV)"

Coach Bobby Bowden used to tell a great story about a time he hit an inside the park home run. He rounded the bases and slid into home plate... SAFE! But the other team appealed and asked the umpire to rule on whether or not he touched 1st base. And sure enough, he had missed it! The other 1st baseman, touched the base and the umpire called "OUT"!

Coach Bowden said, 'Men, Jesus Christ is 1st base. If you miss him, even if you win the whole world... you lose".

The ultimate and most important Winning EDGE is a personal relationship with Christ. A trust in Him for all things. And the security in knowing that Jesus is a sacrifice for your sin.  His blood was shed so that we can have life. We receive Him as a gift by faith. We acknowledge our sin and failures and trust in Jesus as our ONLY HOPE to be right with a Holy Father.

If you know Christ in this way... the other Winning Edges follow in time.... that is a process called sanctification. We are being set apart for God's glory. And one day, we will meet HIm... and that will be the ultimate win... glorification and restoration.

Are you ready to be a winner?