Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Should you pray about it?

Yesterday, Urban Meyer was named the new head football coach at the Ohio State University. It was not a surprise, but it has created quite a buzz, because one of the most storied football programs in the country has now hired a coach with two national championships on his resume. Yes, quite a big story.

There are all sorts of things that I could write about this story; as a college football fan it interests me in so many ways. But one part of his introductory press conference grabbed my attention. It did so mostly because of the ridicule it provoked from a sports columnist I read weekly.

When discussing the future of his predecessor, Meyer announced that Coach Luke Fickell would be retained on his staff. Most people expected that. But here is Meyer's statement about how he arrived at that decision:
"Shelley and I prayed about it. We talked about it. We took our time. Next morning, we woke up. I looked at her again - she’s a better judge of talent than I am - and there’s no doubt I wanted (Luke Fickell) to be a part of this team."
Now, that makes perfect sense to me. Well, not perfect sense because I'm not sure how I feel about deciding on a man's career by going home and getting your wife's opinion. (My lack of understanding there may derive from my singleness.) But the idea of praying about an important decision...of course!

Well columnist Pete Fiutak doesn't feel that way at all. Here is what he said about that in his weekly Calvacade of Whimsy column:
This is just the kind of crap the powerfully stupid laps up, and it’s the precise reason why so many confused people start to see football coaches as more than just guys who teach people how to block and tackle....This means that if you’re an assistant coach and you’re not hired for the Ohio State coaching staff, it’s because God, I mean, Meyer, I mean Shelley, I mean God, doesn’t think you’re worthy. 
Well, his opinion is just the kind of...well, it's nonsense. He ridicules the idea of praying about decisions by making the giant leap that in doing so you are telling the world that your decision has divine authority. In other words, he obviously thinks Meyer is saying, "Don't question my decisions - they're from GOD!"

I pray about decisions all the time. Probably not as often as I should, but I do. When I pray about something related to work, that doesn't mean that I'm going to walk into a meeting and declare that my thoughts are final because they're God's. no, it just means that I live my life in a personal; relationship with my Creator and I want him to be part of everything I do. Can I pray about something and still get it wrong? Sure. But I believe I am a better employee, son, brother, and friend because I do pray.

I don't know anything about Urban Meyer's spiritual life. I don't know how often he prays. I do suspect that he learned an awful lot about it from being around his team's QB Tim Tebow for four years. (Tebow is another football star who is a target of those opposed to public displays of faith.) But I know this: he doesn't deserve to be ridiculed because he prays about decisions.

I've never been a fan of Coach Meyer. Still not really. But after that press conference, I have a little more respect for him. And a lot less for Mr. Fiutak.

It will be interesting to see what happens at Ohio State over the next few years. But like anywhere else, a little more prayer couldn't hurt.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The reason for the, for everything

As I begin the first day of the Christmas season, this helped remind me not just of the "reason for the season" but the reason for everything. May my life reflect the reason for my existence today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Expressing Thanksgiving

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)
Reading this Scripture, the very word harvest conjures up images of Thanksgiving, doesn't it? Something about the roots of this uniquely American holiday: Pilgrims, American Indians, fall, and yes, the harvest. How does the hymn go?
Come, ye thankful people, come, 
 raise the song of harvest home; 
 all is safely gathered in, 
 ere the winter storms begin. 
 God our Maker doth provide 
 for our wants to be supplied; 
 come to God's own temple, come, 
 raise the song of harvest home.
Yes, Thanksgiving is clearly about thanking God for supplying our our needs. For the early settlers, most of whom got their food from their own farming, it was thanking him for the harvest of the fields. Today, he supplies those needs through an amazing supply of goods and services that we can access with a little thing called money.

So, how should we express our thankfulness for the blessings God has provided? Directly to God through prayer...yes. Expressing appreciation to family, friends, first responders, the military, farmers, our employers, teachers and pastors...yes. Saying thank you is always appropriate and we cannot do it enough.

But I would suggest that the passage at the start of this blog gives us a specific way that God expects us to express our gratefulness for his blessings. I refer to it as the Principle of the Leftovers. According to this passage, God had blessed his people with such a bountiful harvest that when they reaped it, their tools could not gather it all in the first time. There would always be stalks of corn (for example) that were left behind. Or olives left on the trees. Or grapes left on the vine. Now human nature is to go back and glean every last drop from the harvest. But God said no. He said that his people were to gather all they could the first time through (and use it for the needs of themselves and their families) and then leave the rest behind. Why? Why?

Well, he says why. There will always be those that are not blessed with the fields to plow or the olive trees or the vineyards. God loves them to and wants to supply their needs. How? With what is left behind. To go back and take it all is to take what God has set aside for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. So how were his people to express thankfulness? By leaving something for those who were not so blessed.

Most of us don't have fields to plow, trees to shake or vines to pick. Less than 1% of the US population are now farmers. But we have our own fields. We have money, and things, and plenty of food. Even when we struggle through a recessionary economy, we have so much more than most of the world.

So how can we exercise the Principle of the Leftovers? Well, I think we all know that just being generous is one way. We  can express our thankfulness by giving to causes that help the needy. And how about this - if your income is far beyond that of your server at a restaurant, tip generously. That way you are leaving some of your "harvest" in the field for someone else. Just develop a spirit of generosity - it will show God how grateful you are.

And here's one more way that seems to me to be an almost exact replica of the act of leaving grain in the field: do something good with money that you had already considered gone and you suddenly can get it back. What do I mean? Here's an example:

Suppose for example you bought concert tickets six months ago for next week's Adele concert. But now you find out that your sister is moving and she needs you to help; you can't make the concert. So you find a friend who wants to go, and sell him the tickets. But here's the thing: You paid for those tickets months ago! You never thought you would see that money again. In fact, you had planned not to see it again - after all, you wanted to go to the concert. So here's a radical idea: sell the tickets and give the money away. Give it to some ministry or organization that helps "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). That money is like the crop that was left behind in the field. You don't need it because it was gone leave it for the fatherless and the widow. Like the extra crops. Just an idea.

Are you thankful? Tell God. Tell those you love. And show it by being generous with the blessings for which you are thankful. If you do, I believe you will experience even more blessing, and thanksgiving will reap more thanksgiving.

So...Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Larry Munson 1922-2011

I was at a YoungLife leadership weekend up at the lake. The year was 1980, and we had a break in the evening. You would not be surprised to learn that, it being a fall retreat, I used some of that free the to try and keep up with what was going on in college football. That was the first time that I heard the voice of the Georgia Bulldogs, Larry Munson.

There was no live streaming...or satellite radio. Or dozens of games on TV. No, I was trying to listen to a clear channel station out of Atlanta through static. The game was Georgia-Tennessee. And it was Herschel Walker's coming out party. One of Munson's calls from that night is now famous, as it proclaimed to the world the emergence of one of the greatest running backs of all time. Listen to it: "Oh, you Herschel Walker"

But the call from that night that made me a lifetime fan is not anywhere that I can find it. I remember it like it was yesterday. Georgia blocked a Tennessee punt and Munson described it as "rolling, rolling, rolling" toward the end zone. Finally he could stand it no longer and he exclaimed, "GET ON THAT BALL!" That kind of unabashed enthusiasm for his Bulldogs was so much fun to listen to. It was always "we" and "us". But at the same time, he painted a wonderful picture of the game - he wasn't just a fan on the radio, he was an artist. It was an awesome combination.

And now he has passed on and we will only hear that voice in audio streams and YouTube videos. We will miss him; he was one of the all time greats.

Finally, for those of you who never had the privilege, here are links to some of his most famous calls. Enjoy:

1980 UGA-Florida: the miracle play

2001 UGA-Tenn: Hobnail boot (my personal favorite)

2002 UGA-Alabama: lying on his whatchamacallit

2002 UGA-Auburn: "Touchdown, oh God, a touchdown"

Rest in peace, Larry.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

State champs!

Friday night, the Leon High School volleyball team captured the Florida 6A state championship. (Read all about it here.)

I am so happy for my friend Rebecca Elyea, the team's setter, and her father, my long time friend (more like a brother) Steve. Rebecca has worked toward this moment a long time and she deserves it. It will be a lasting memory as this was her last game as a senior. What a way to go out!

I will always remember getting to be there in person for the big semifinal win. It was awesome hanging with her family and watching the match with them. And then celebrating afterwards with a meal at BWW as they prepared for the championship. It was an amazing, fun 24 hours.

I had to get back before the final, but through the miracle of modern technology, I was able to watch the championship match live online. And I was pacing around the room nervously like I do for Bama games. What a night!

Yes, I was able to watch the whole thing, and it is still up for viewing here.

It sounds good so I'll write it one more time: Leon Lions, state champs! Congrats, Becca!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What it's all about

Last Saturday morning my usual football Saturday routine was disturbed....disturbed by the sudden presence of some watery substance welling up in my eyes. Here's why:

I am sure than almost all of you are aware of the Penn State scandal, so I won't rehash the details. The fact is, I don't have the stomach for the details. I couldn't even get past the third page of the grand jury report (and no, I'm not going to link it) because it turned my stomach and also was beginning to get into details that I don't believe I should be letting into my mind. But the things that happened there are abominable, and it is hard to see how anything good could come from it.

But the God of the universe is bigger than even this and he is sovereign. He can make good out of anything. Scripture after Scripture reveals how he makes all things work together for good, which is to say, to bring him glory. I don't know all the ways he is going to work in this situation, but I know one.

So...Saturday morning. I was watching ESPN College Game Day as usual, when suddenly they began making their picks at around 10:30...15 minutes early. What's up with that? And then Lee Corso donned the Stanford headgear (btw, great pick coach!) at 10;45 and they were done. I checked every clock in the place - I was confused.

And then I knew why. They cut to Penn State to cover the pregame festivities because it was, after all, the biggest story in the country. My first thought - a little morbid to do that. Well, after a few minutes of coverage, they showed the most amazing thing I have ever seen on a football field. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, please watch:

As the stadium went quiet and everyone - everyone - on the field gathered for the prayer, my eyes welled up. It wasn't just a show of religion on a football field; we see those all the time and it's hard to know what's real and what's show. This one was obvious. In the face of great adversity, God showed up. And it was powerful.

One more video hammers the point home. This one is raw footage from on the field where we can actually hear the prayer being led by a Nebraska coach. (The fact that it was led by the visiting team makes it even more remarkable to me - he was praying for his suffering brothers.) This was no formality, or... You know what? I'm going to stop rambling and let you watch:


"Father, thank you for being a God who loves us despite all our failings. Thank you for the comfort, hope, and love you give when we are hurting most. I know that there are thousands of your children in State College who are hurting because of the things that happened in their midst - some of them are friends of mine. I pray for the children who were the victims of the atrocities, and also for the entire community. Thank you for taking just a few moments Saturday to show them that you are there, you love them, and you will bring healing. Amen"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Penn State situation

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

It is a sad day for many of us, for many reasons. We have learned that an institution that we respect has been tainted by the most insidious of crimes for many years. And we have learned that people in powerful positions who could have done more to stop it...didn't. And they have paid with their jobs and their reputations.

I have dozens of thoughts running through my head, most of them filled with anger and outrage toward the perpetrator. But some of them serve as a warning...a warning that we must always be on our guard to do the right thing. Not just complying with the law, but doing the right thing no matter what the cost.

  • First and foremost, my heart is with the children who were hurt and their families. I cannot imagine the damage that has been done over the years to them. That is the most important thing here. I can only pray that they will experience God's unconditional love and healing over time.
  • Turning to life lessons, you can erase a lifetime legacy in a single failing of character. There is no disputing how much positive influence Joe Paterno had on young people over the last 46 years. He has been considered a beacon of building a successful college football program the right way. But from reports (including his own statements and grand jury testimony) it seems he became aware of an unspeakable evil and stood by doing nothing. He did what the law required, but apparently he did not use his power and influence to make sure it stopped (or - perhaps - to dig into how serious it was; this is part of the responsibility when you have been put in charge of young people). How will he be remembered? Sadly, for this. For all of us, when we face that moment where we can take the path of least resistance (inaction) or do the right thing, we must do the right thing. If we don't, we risk losing a lifetime of building a good reputation.
  • As the announcement was made tonight that Paterno and President Spanier had been dismissed, I thought about the Scripture at the top of of this post. When you take on the responsibility to be a leader, the bar is raised. Any of us who want to lead people, we need to count the cost. If we want to lead young people, the bar goes even higher. I think that's why the PSU Board had to move.  Not because we know all the facts; it's possible we'll learn later that the coach was incredibly naive. But because regardless of how the whole thing is resolved legally, the leadership in the face of this evil did not meet the high standard of James 3:1. And that had to be addressed immediately.
I am sad for my friends in Pennsylvania who are part of the Penn State family. I have so many friends there who I met over the summer and my heart hurts for them. I cannot even imagine how I would be feeling if this had occurred here in Alabama. If you are reading this, please know I love you and I know that the pockets of evil do not erase all the good things about your university. As a friend posted this afternoon, "We Are...more than this scandal." We know that. And we know you will come through it strong.

A era is over. It's sad.

Children have been injured. It's outrageous.

God is sovereign. And I can rest in that. But it's not easy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Alabama-LSU...random thoughts

Some random thoughts in the aftermath of the big game:

  • Of course we Bama fans are very disappointed. It is difficult to express the feeling in your gut when your team loses a game with so much on the line. The mood around our place after the game was somber, as one would expect. Three thoughts that put it in perspective for me though:
  1. When your team loses regularly, losses don't hurt this much. The fact that it did is a sign that we have a premiere program that expects to win every game. That's a good thing - even if it makes the hurt deeper.
  2. The possibility each game of a night like last night is what make the wins sweeter.
  3. Most importantly, there is real hurt in the world; this is something I do for fun. Just thinking about my friends in Korah puts it all in perspective. By a mile.
  • We got there Thursday night and experienced the most amazing big game atmosphere I've even been around. And that includes the six national championship games I've attended. The whole campus was buzzing all week, ESPN was constantly broadcasting with bigger and bigger crowds present, and inside the stadium, well, the stadium was full and loud an hour before the game. It was SO much fun! For just a taste, here's a link to a video tweeted by LeBron James (who was there) from just before kickoff.
  • There were so many opportunities for the Tide, and they seemed on the verge of establishing dominance all night, but it never happened. Twelve men in the huddle. A key block in the back. A ball wrestled away by a DB, preventing a TD. 
  • All these missed chances make it just ridiculous to blame a kicker. (For more thoughts about the kicking aspect, check out this excellent blog post from former Bama kicker Leigh Tiffin.)
  • Finally, tonight we discover that Alabama only dropped one spot in the BCS standings, to #3. This thing is far from over! But the Tide must take advantage of the opportunity and play well against Mississippi State this weekend. Yes, we now have other teams we need to root for. But first things first: beat State!
Sometimes after a tough loss, I want to scream, "I hate football!" But I don't. It is the best sport ever, even with the lows.

Roll Tide!