Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Refresh

Refresh. During a recent FCA Camp for collegiate student-athletes, I was privileged to facilitate a group for the FCA Chaplains and FCA Campus Ministry Directors who brought the athletes to camp. Rather than have these adults lead the groups for the collegiate athletes, the camp director asked me to lead this group so as to refresh them. I was thrilled to have this privilege for the second consecutive year.

In one of our small group discussions, we chatted about how their souls are refreshed. We all have our souls worn down by busyness, urgency, disappointment, demands, and the more draining aspects of ministry in sport, but what refreshes your soul? Let’s consider what it is to be refreshed and how we may experience that regularly.

Dictionary definition:
Refresh - verb (used with an object)
• to provide new vigor and energy by rest, food, etc. (often used reflexively).
• to stimulate (the memory).
• to make fresh again; reinvigorate or cheer (a person, the mind, spirits, etc.).
• to freshen in appearance, color, etc., as by a restorative.


Think for a minute about the people, moments, foods, drinks, books, movies, music, and places that refresh your soul. Go get some of that, soon.
The Apostle Paul wrote about how his friend, Philemon, refreshed the souls of people in Colossae at Philemon verses 4-7. “I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers,5 because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; 6 and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”
Philemon verses 4-7.
Ø The prayers of your mentor. Do the prayers of your mentor(s), and the mention of them in a letter refresh your soul as they surely did Philemon’s?
Ø Love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints. Does the development of these matters refresh your soul?
Ø Growing understanding of all we have in Christ. Do you find refreshment in sharing your faith as Paul told Philemon to expect it?
Ø Joy and comfort from love. Do you provide joy and comfort to your friends, mentors, and colleagues? If so, you are refreshing their souls.
Ø Refreshing the hearts of the saints. Philemon did this, do you? Who provides that sort of refreshment for your soul? Get some time with them.
You may have thought of refreshing places, foods, drinks, situations, or other things. I hope you also thought of refreshing people, groups, and occasions. Expect your heart to be refreshed by nurturing relationships with mentors, with peers, and with those whom you serve. Therein is new vigor and energy. They will stimulate and refresh your memory as to God’s faithfulness and goodness. They will reinvigorate and cheer your mind and your soul. They may even freshen your appearance, your color, and act as a restorative to your whole countenance. Refresh.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Read.

Read. Please, pick up a book and read it. We, as a people group, are not the most literary people in Christendom. Most of us are big on “go and do” and not so big on “read and think.” I would like to challenge you to read more. It helps to have a plan, and I am pleased to share with you the sorts of books I read and why I read them. I find them to greatly enhance my service of Christ Jesus in sport, my life as a man, son, husband, father, and grandfather.



1. Read your Bible. (Duh.) “The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130 Your Bible will neither give understanding nor light unless you unfold its pages to read. I recommend a simple devotional reading plan, supplemented by more intensive study. I also recommend reading from various translations to keep things fresh and to gather insights from different translators. I particularly enjoy reading The Message translation devotionally.

2. Theology and Christian Living books. There is wisdom and insight to be gathered from these books; get some. I owe a debt I can never repay to the friends I made in my twenties as they introduced me to C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Oswald Chambers, John Stott, Brother Lawrence, and other good authors. Later in my adulthood I began reading authors like Phillip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, Os Guinness, G. K. Chesterton, and others. Regardless of your level of scholarship, you and I both stand to learn from these authors.

3. Psychology books. These books help us to think differently. They help us to understand people and why they do what they do. Just recently I read, Deep Work and found it to be remarkably helpful to my own thinking and personal disciplines. Other books (decidedly non-academic) like Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, Mindset by Carol Dweck, and Soul Keeping by John Ortberg (read last weekend), and several books by Malcolm Gladwell have also been very insightful. My mentor says, “Psychology is a good tool, but a terrible god.” Keeping this in mind brings perspective to my reading of psychology books.

4. Sports biography books. These books allow us inside the lives, minds, and hearts of people in the sporting world. Often, these are very insightful and occasionally quite painful to read. Among the best I have read are: The Man Watching by Anson Dorrance, Open by Andre Aggasi, Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson, and several by John Feinstein (not all are biographies, but all are helpful). This is especially true for those of us who find our service of sportspeople a little cross cultural. If you did not grow up as a competitive athlete, you may find the people you serve quite odd. These books can unlock their mentality for you.

5. Leadership books. Whether they want to be or not, sportspeople are leaders. Coaches want to be leaders, but they often don’t know how. To read leadership wisdom equips you to serve them well and loads your mind with a bank of knowledge they can access. We are leaders by our very nature. Let’s sharpen our leadership swords with some good reading. I suggest these as a starting point: Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft, Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels, Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, and Legacy by James Kerr. “We are all leading, and we’re leading all the time. The question is whether we are doing it well or poorly,” is a quote from Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership and it is directly on point. 

6. History books. It is of tremendous help to anyone serving Christ to understand the context in which he or she is serving. Reading the history of a team, a club, a community, a region, a nation, a continent, or the entire planet is key to understanding the people and how they view their world. This sort of reading has been transformation to my service when I travel abroad. Reading books on Central American, Cuban, Ukrainian, and Eurasian history were profoundly helpful to the development of ministry in those regions.

7. Culture. These books are of great value as one seeks to ride the stormy waves of societal change. Over this weekend I will turn sixty-one years of age. It would be so very easy to retreat to the culture of the 1970s and to become the curmudgeonly old dude, but I refuse. To have any grasp of societal and cultural changes I must read about it. Books like Millenials, Hillbilly Elegy, Outliers, Soul Tsumami, A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Food Café, and others have transformational to how I approach cultural matters.

8. Business Management. If you think strategically or analytically, the authors of these books have something to say to you. Among my favorite authors in this genre are: Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, and Jim Collins. Some of my favorite titles are: The Starfish and the Spider, Good to Great, Great by Choice, Originals (read in April), and others.


Do yourself a favor, read a book. Do those you serve a favor, read a book. Whether you do it old school via paper and ink, or on your portable electronic device (I read on both), read a book. Commit to learning for a lifetime. For what it’s worth, I read faster and with greater comprehension at 60 than I ever did at 20, 30, or 40. 


By reading good authors, we welcome mentors into our lives from across the centuries. I regularly receive counsel from John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, Brother Lawrence, and other brilliant men of God who have passed from the earth years, decades, or centuries ago. Read.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Rest

Rest. For many of us it is a mysterious, confusing idea. For others it is as elusive as a unicorn. For others it is something we have trouble embracing as our compulsion to work drives us to work more hours, more days, and to leave vacation days unused. Rest. It’s important. It’s imperative. It’s a commandment of God.

A few years ago during an FCA Sports Chaplains conference, a speaker verbally punched me in the nose. He said that, morally speaking, to fail to Sabbath is equivalent to committing murder. Each is a violation of one of God’s ten commandments. Ouch. I was immediately deeply convicted. I had to confess and repent of my ridiculously consuming work schedule that had far too little margin for rest. While still sitting in the auditorium, I opened the calendar in my phone and blocked open every Sunday with a long green bar titled, “Sabbath.”

The commandment is stated rather simply, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.” Exodus 20:8-11 MSG

Before you lose your mind about legalism, Sunday vs. Saturday Sabbath, and more, take a breath. Focus on the second sentence, “Work six days and do everything you need to do.” The Lord God rested 1/7 of creation week, who are you to think you should not? Sabbath is blessed by God. Sabbath is set apart for God’s special use. Sabbath is good for you. Remember Jesus’ words about the Sabbath? “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but you don’t know how much I have to do.” That’s exactly how I tend to rationalize my failure to Sabbath, to rest. The problem is that when we fail to rest, we remove most of the margin in our lives that allows us to think clearly, to spend time with family, to enjoy life, and to experience God at an unhurried pace.

You’re probably thinking, “How am I supposed to do this?” This is the most difficult part of the process, beyond the simple decision to do it. For me, it was a simple choice to schedule for Sabbath. I set a recurring appointment for all day Sunday, each week, forever. However, life is seldom that simple. Sometimes my life requires that I work and/or travel on Sunday. When that occurs, I immediately schedule for rest in that same week on another day. It’s a matter of personal discipline. Rest restores your body, mind, and spirit.

Below are some simple ways to build rest into your weekly, monthly, and annual calendars:
·        Schedule a day weekly for rest. At least one. Most of us have a five day work week. Rest.
·        Schedule one day per month for quiet and contemplation. (Thank you John Stott for this idea.) Guard that day from busyness. Use it to read, to plan, to contemplate, to pray. Rest.
·        Schedule your vacation days well in advance and use every one of them. Urgency will pressure you to leave some unused, but if you plan well in advance you can maximize their effectiveness. Use every personal leave day you are allowed. Rest.
·        When you embark on your days or weeks of rest, maximize their benefit. Shut down your social media. Silence your phone. Surround yourself with people whom you love and who help you relax. Rest.

The Lord who created us knows how we function best. He says to rest 1/7 of our weeks, our months, our years. (We haven’t even opened a discussion of sabbatical years or years of jubilee.) Trust Him more than you trust your Protestant work ethic. Trust Him more than your obsession with your calendar. Trust Him more than your performance based identity. Trust Him and rest, as He did.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Chapels for Visiting Teams

This Sunday morning I will have an opportunity that I have been trying to apprehend for a number of months. I will lead a baseball chapel for the visiting team of Sunday’s college baseball game, the finale of the weekend series. I have prepared a handout for each player in attendance. It is identical to the one I’ll use for our team that same morning, except for the team specific information and photo. It contains an excerpt from my devotional book, Heart of a Champion, a prayer from, The Competitor’s Book of Prayer (adapted to baseball), and some contact information for me and for the new F.C.A. Director in the visiting team’s community. The handout is shown below.



This is very common in professional baseball as Baseball Chapel (http://www.baseballchapel.org) has the home team chapel leader to conduct chapels for both the home and the visiting teams. They are usually done consecutively in each team’s dugout or in another convenient area for the players. In years past I have arranged for chapel speakers for visiting college football teams. Either I would speak with them or I would arrange for a trusted friend and colleague to speak with the team. I have also done this with visiting women’s basketball teams when they come to our community to play our university’s team.

Many of our colleagues in other settings have done similarly, but I would urge you to consider the opportunities that may be at your hand. It took a few minutes to research the head coaches’ names and email addresses, and to then send an email offering to lead a chapel for their players. Of the four I emailed, two responded, and only one agreed to arrange a meeting room for his players. It may be that the simple arrangement of a chapel may spark interest in the visiting team’s players or their coaching staff for having a sports chaplain to serve their team. It could lead the players to investigate F.C.A. or another ministry on their campus. It could lead to some investigating the claims of Christ Jesus. It could simply be a moment of encouragement for a team battling toward the end of a disappointing season. I’ll aim to be faithful and will trust the Lord with the results.

Please consider taking a little time, a little risk, and the discomfort of walking into uncharted waters to serve selflessly and to love extravagantly.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Leading Millennial Sportspeople

Back on November 25, 2016 I wrote a reflection about serving Millennial sportspeople (http://sportchaplainsportmentor.blogspot.com/2016/11/notes-on-serving-millennial-sportspeople.html?m=0) , and the issue of how to serve, to lead, and to coach this group has only intensified since then. I recently saw a Facebook link to a video about how to manage Millennials and found it to be quite insightful. Here is a link to the video featuring Simon Sinek. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MC2X-LRbkE

Just a couple of hours after watching the video I had some time to contemplate its implications. I wrote down four coaching points that can be used by coaches and/or sports chaplains in working with Millennial sportspeople. They are below. Please consider using any or all of them with your teams.

1.   Create “phone free” spaces. Much of the reason for this group’s inability to speak with people face to face or to build relationships is that they are fixated by their mobile phones.
a.   Team meetings – require that no one bring his or her phone into team meetings. Leave them in the locker room or in your car.
b.   Team meals – if your team eats meals together, require them to not bring phones to the meals, ever.
c.   Position group meetings – require that your position group not bring their phones into the meeting space. Insist that they be 100% present to learn.
d.   Selected bus travel – I know one college basketball coach who collects all the team’s phones in a drawstring bag for bus travel on game day. It eliminates distractions and enables the players to focus on the task at hand. She returns the phones to them after the game.
2.   Create opportunities for making an “impact.” Many millennials want a sense of having made an impact on their world, and simply going to class, to practice, and to games may not scratch that itch.
a.   Provide opportunities for recurring community service - make it a regular service project in the same place with the same people so that relationships form and develop. This is where they will experience genuine impact.
b.   Mentoring of younger teammates – connect the eldest players with the youngest to learn their way around campus, to understand how the school works, to grasp the culture of the team and the community.
c.   Spotlight drill – select one player to be “spotlighted” and ask the other players to tell how the spotlighted player has made an impact on their lives, on the team, or on their community.
d.   Write thank you cards – distribute cards on which the players can write notes to thank their parents, their high school coach, their high school principal, or a donor to their sports program. Help them focus on people who helped them be where they area.
e.   Serve people who could never repay them – choose some from your community. It might be a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a women’s shelter, an animal rescue facility, or anything where they can see beyond their privilege and sense an impact upon others’ lives.
3.   Celebrate achievement, not simply participation. This generation grew up receiving participation medals. They were rewarded for simply showing up. This not only devalues the awards given, it also diminishes the true value of genuine achievement.
a.   Make a list of minimum expectations for everyone involved. These are not to be celebrated, they are the bare minimum.
b.   Make a list of achievements that will be celebrated. Celebrate these strongly.
c.   Make the two lists widely different.
4.   Help them declare independence from their parents. We’ve all heard the stories of “helicopter parents” and many of us have lived those stories. Help your players declare their independence, cut the apron strings, grow up, and find freedom. Help them compose a letter with ideas such as these:
a.   Dad and Mom, thank you for helping me to grow and to find my way to this team.
b.   Please, now allow me enough room to compete, to succeed, and to fail.
c.   Please affirm these expectations for both academic and athletic performance that come with being a part of this team.
d.   Please celebrate with me as I achieve in the classroom and on the field of competition.
e.   To simply participate is not good enough at this level. I must meet the minimum expectations and strive to really achieve.
f.     Thank you.

These are just some first thoughts from this excellent video. We must find new and creative ways to push through the counterproductive and often annoying traits of Millennials as we coach them. We must find ways to lead, to inspire, and to encourage them to be all that God created them to be.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Week - Global Perspectives

One of the joys of having traveled to various parts of the globe is to observe and learn from different Christian traditions. To see the varying cultural expressions of Christian faith enriches my own understanding of Christ’s transforming work in my life as I see it through the prism of a new culture. There are remarkably different emphases given to various parts of Holy Week. A few simple, but important areas of emphasis follow.



At the time of this writing, it is Thursday of Holy Week, Maundy (Commandment) Thursday. I had never even heard that term until the late 1980s. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church and everything was focused on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It was a joy to welcome a new point of emphasis during Holy Week as we celebrated with the remarkably rich scriptures which occurred on Thursday of that week in Jesus’ life. We found new significance for communion as we celebrated with the apostles and saints across the ages. We spent more time in quiet contemplation, in reflection, in confession and in repentance. After this experience, each Maundy Thursday rings with Jesus’ words,  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 My sporting friends who embrace Maundy Thursday find its benefit as they build deeper relationships with their coaching colleagues, with their players, and among their teammates.

In the Western Church, the normal focus of Holy Week is Good Friday. The atonement for sin is the major emphasis. We heartily sing, “The Old Rugged Cross” and other cross themed hymns and focus on Jesus’ sacrificial death in our place. The ministry with which I serve gives us Good Friday as a paid holiday. For that I am thankful. The university where I serve the sporting community is very secularized, but when I stand in a conspicuous place on campus on Good Friday with a twelve foot tall cross, hand out nails with a card attached, or simply read scripture and pray, it is received well because it’s Good Friday. The Christian sporting community that emphasizes Good Friday will focus on the grace of God in Jesus as experienced when their sin is exposed by the passions of sport. We find the mercy of God sufficient as we remember that Jesus has covered our sin and shame, and has restored us to right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

I was in my late thirties and reading Phillip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, before I had any grasp of how other cultures viewed Jesus. Further study revealed the fact that the Eastern Church, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and others, places more emphasis on the resurrection, Easter Sunday, than on Good Friday. For them, the emphasis is on Jesus having risen from the dead, His victory over sin and death. The obvious implication is that we are in Christ and therefore free from the power of sin. Rather than simply living in a cycle of sin, confession, repentance, returning to sin, and repeating the cycle. The Eastern Church emphasizes victory over sin through Jesus’ power over sin because of the resurrection. My sporting friends who embrace Easter Sunday find that they live in sport with joy, freedom, and shameless enjoyment of their lives.

Regardless of your faith tradition, please embrace the beauty, the pain, the passion, the silence, and the glorious victory of Holy Week. Please also welcome the sportspeople you serve into your experience of Jesus’ love, grace, and mercy. This weekend is the perfect time.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Job, Career, or Calling?

Once again this week I am sharing an insight from the FCA Coaches Ministry event in Springfield, Illinois (USA) back on March 11. It pays to hang out with insightful people.

A statement made in passing by that day’s featured presenter, Dr. Jeff Duke, was that some people who work in sport do it as a job, a way to make money. Others have sport as their career, demonstrating sustained excellence across time. Still others treat sport as a calling, having a strong sense of purpose for life. I’d like to develop those thoughts, one at a time.

We all know people for whom sport is their job, nothing more. This surely applies to the player who tolerates practice, travel and all that sport requires. We probably know coaches whose primary interest in sport is the paycheck. This even fits the administrator, vendor, equipment manager, or physio who has a job in sport like they would have a job in a bank, a restaurant, or driving a truck. They measure things like hours, money, and maybe productivity, but nothing deeper than that.

It is likely we know people for whom sport is their career. They have excelled in at least one facet of sport and have found it to be more than just a job. They find it to be fulfilling and more rewarding than just their paycheck. These people tend to work longer hours with less complaint that those who just have jobs. They tend to commit more deeply to the people and to the institutions they serve. They tend to stay longer in the service of one university, high school, club, or team than others. These people measure achievement, long-term relationships, terms of service, and value continuity.

Many of us know, and more of us are, people who live in sport as a calling. We are vocational about sport. We have heard God’s calling to the sporting world and to sporting people. We believe we were uniquely chosen, equipped, placed, and are sustained for life in sport. We trust God with situations and relationships that are beyond what career or job oriented people would ever engage. We measure things like conversations, discipleship relationships, hours of investment in players, teams, coaches, and families. We think in terms of decades, and even generations.

If you have a job in sport, good. Be great at it and it could become a career. If you have a sporting career, I hope it brings you rich fulfillment and reward. If you find your heart desiring even more, you may have a calling. If your calling is to live in sport, you are divinely ruined. Nothing else will satisfy your soul or engage your mind. One can quit a job or make a career change at almost any time. But one cannot quit his or her calling. God will protect His divine investment in your heart until it is fulfilled.