It Is a Dark World Out There: Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm

It was 1939, just before the outbreak of what would come to be known as the Second World War.  Hitler was on the move, the dominoes were starting to fall.  The British government, facing what Winston Churchill would soon call “an ordeal of the most grievous kind,” needed to bolster the people’s spirits.  So the British government began producing a series of propaganda posters.

One of these posters, with a bold, red background, was to be used only in the event of an invasion.  That invasion never came, and so the poster was never used.  But the slogan on it has lived on, and it is particularly relevant today.

The message read: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

American society today, while not facing an immediate external threat, nevertheless faces cultural decay that is a direct result of our lamentable rejection of Christian values.  Our country works so hard to protect itself from the outside evil forces that could potentially threaten us that we don’t even realize that we are dying slowly from a cancer within our own borders.

Whether it’s the redefinition of marriage, continuing attacks on our religious liberty, the relentless push to undermine human dignity and the protection of the unborn, fears for what’s ahead politically, or whether it’s concerns about ISIS or Iran that are keeping us up at night, the fact is, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is an appropriate phrase at this moment in American history.

As a follower and believer in Jesus, it is important that I, and all other believers, must keep calm and carry on.  I see it as our duty.  If this moment in time has taught us anything, it’s that cultural power is fleeting.  In the old days, calling yourself a Christian was a sure route to respectability, whatever you actually believed in your heart.

While this is still true in some quarters, we now see that there are a lot more people in our society today who look on matters of faith with a jaundiced eye, and growing numbers of people aren’t even interested in the old American ideal of religious tolerance, let alone the idea of “One Nation under God.”  Yet for all these unhappy and undeniable trends, we’re still called to keep calm and carry on.  Christians need to keep standing for righteousness, come what may.  God still remains on His throne after all.

We already know how the story ends.  God will triumph over all the evil in the world, and evil, as we currently know it, will cease to exist.  Between now and then, God calls all His believers to act like Christians and that is exactly what we are supposed to do.  Act like Christians.

If you have never had the opportunity to read any of the works written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I would encourage you to do so.  He was a martyred hero who stood up for his beliefs in the most difficult of circumstances.  Dietrich, who in his own way fought the Nazis, counseled not to withdraw, but be engaged in a fallen world.  “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.” Bonhoeffer said in his book Life Together.  “At the end all of His disciples deserted Him.  On the Cross He was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.  For this cause He had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission, his work.”

And what is our work as exiles in a post-Christian America?

While we must always be open to God’s specific calling in our lives, let me suggest that we all recommit ourselves to some essentials of our own “life together,” wherever our culture happens to be.  The culture may be changing at warp speed, but out duty does not.

First, let’s commit ourselves anew to biblical faithfulness.  That means discovering what the Word teaches and holding onto that, no matter what.  If you are a person who reads the Bible regularly, that is great.  You are learning what the Bible teaches us about how we should live our lives.  The hard step is then living that way.  It is something that we will struggle with all the days of our lives.  That is Ok.  God doesn’t ask us to be perfect because He knows we can’t be.  The fact that we are trying to be as good as we can be is what is important.  If you are not a person who reads the Bible regularly, my question would be: How do you know what you should do?  The truth is at our fingertips, but it is our responsibility to discover that truth.  It’s not too late.  Commit yourself to reading from the Bible daily, even if it is for only a few minutes.  It will change your life.

Second, let’s display the beauty of the Good News in both our words and deeds, in evangelism and in acts of compassion to our friends and our enemies.  Sometimes people see being a Christian as being worthless because they see proclaimed Christians act like non-Christians.  Work to live a life like Jesus did and people will see Jesus in us.  We could help bring people to Jesus just by the way we live our lives.  We may not be able to argue our neighbors into the kingdom, but we sure can invite them.

Third, and finally, let’s recommit to prayer.  As God told the exiles in Babylon, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  Pray for yourself.  Pray for your family.  Pray for your friends.  Pray for your enemies.  Pray for your community.  Pray for your state.  Pray for your country.  Pray for your world.  There is nothing God can’t do, but it is our responsibility to talk to Him.  We do that through prayer.  God can do anything if we ask Him to.

So here’s the plan:

  1. Read your Bible regularly. (Learn)
  2. Display what you learn in what you say and what you do. (Do)
  3. Pray

And I might add, “Keep Calm and Carry On!”

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Fruit Naturally Comes From Faith

fruits of the spirit 1

Psalm 1(NIV)

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

 

The first Psalm kicks off this great Book of praise, worship, and prayers with a look at what makes a person happy.  A happy person avoids the path of wickedness, delights in God’s instruction, and takes pleasure in meditating on His Word.

These are still good principles to live by even today.  If we do these things, then we’re like the man described in Psalm 1: planted by a spiritual stream of water that assures us that we can grow deep roots, healthy foliage, strong branches, and a great harvest of fruit.

When we consider living a life with fruit, we see, from this passage that there are 3 keys to a faith that bears fruit:

  1. Avoid evil.
  2. Don’t scoff at godly things.
  3. Learn to enjoy studying and meditating on the Word of God.

In Old Testament times, living by those truths presumed that a person already had a relationship with God based on the Law, so they were well on their way to producing mature fruit in their lives.

Let’s take a look from a passage from the New Testament that talks about producing fruit in your life:

 

Galatians 5:16-25 (NIV)

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

 

In the New Testament, our relationship with God is based on our acceptance of Christ as our Savior.  In Galatians 5:22-23, the apostle Paul gave a perfect description of the fruit we should bear as a result of our decision to believe in and trust Jesus.  He mentions the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We should take aim at producing these fruits by planting our lives near the stream of the living water that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  Bearing fruit brings blessings to us and to all of those around us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it.  They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit.  They only know the power of Him on whom their life depends.”

As we reflect on the various fruits of the Spirit discussed in this passage in Galatians, I challenge us to ask ourselves 2 very important questions:

  1. Which specific fruit or fruits of the Spirit would you like to ask God to grow in you?
  2. What changes would you make in your daily life in order to bear more spiritual fruit?

I think that with a little self-examination, prayer, and intentionality, each of us could live a life that bears an abundance of fruit.  In doing so, those around us will notice and be moved by how we live our lives.  We don’t need to wait until we get to heaven to start living a full and abundant life.  Let’s start today!

Posted in Attitude, Change, Decisions, Fruits of the Spirit, God, Growth, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Love, Motivational, Opportunity, Prayer, Purpose, Reinventing Yourself, Relationships, Salvation, Thoughts/Mindset, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stepping Into the Great Unknown

Back in November, I had the honor and privilege to be the keynote speaker at our Upward Football end of the year celebration.  I have been coaching Upward sports for nearly a decade now and it has had a huge impact on my life.  I am not alone.  It has affected so many coaches, referees, volunteers, and athletes in such a positive manner.  It is an amazing program and I have been truly blessed to have been a part of it.  I am looking to coaching for many years to come and hopefully will get the opportunity to coach my son, Matthew in the coming years.

In this blog, I wanted to share with you the talk I gave at this event.  I hope you enjoy!

Welcome everyone!  It is such as special day as we gather to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our players, cheerleaders, coaches, officials, volunteers, and everyone else involved who made this 2017 Upward Flag Football season such a special season.  I want to say that I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to talk to each of you today.

I want to start by telling you a little about my story.  I was born just outside the small town of Hudson located in NE Iowa.  I was a farm boy and loved everything about farm life.  Working hard was instilled into me at a very young age.  Growing up, going to church each Sunday was a priority in my family and I was taught about God and the gospel message at a very young age and I don’t ever remember a time that I did not believe in Jesus.  I spent time in the Lutheran and Brethren churches.  For those of you who attend Christ Community Church and have been following our sermon series on the reformation, I would say that I was raised right in the middle of the crossover of ideals between Martin Luther, Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock and Felix Manz who all played a key role in the reformation.  The missing piece to my Christian education was that I was never really taught that you could have a close, day to day, relationship with God.  When I realized that later in life, it changed my life forever.

I was always tall for my age and a bit chubby as I was growing up.  I didn’t really like sports at a young age, but my mom thought it was important that I be involved with sports so there I was on many different sports teams, but not really wanting to be there.  I was not gifted with athletic talent and coordination was a real struggle for me.  I was never very good and was usually one of the last people picked for games at recess.  If any of you have ever been in that position, I can certainly relate.

When I was in going into Jr. High, I switched schools and did not really know anyone.  I was still involved with athletics, but was still not any good.  One day, I decided that it was madness to keep doing what I was doing.  If I was going to continue to play sports, I needed to get good at them.  I also thought it would help me be more accepted by those in school.  I decided that I was going to do whatever it took to get good.  I made a decision to step into the great unknown.  It started with basketball.  My grandma helped me set up a basketball hoop in the barn and I went to work.  I would practice hours and hours each and every day.  I was determined to excel.  I really put myself out there and did everything I could to improve.  I lifted weights early in the morning, I began running and doing different drills on my own each day, I attended football and basketball camps, I even got involved with some different AAU basketball teams. Slowly, over time, I continued to improve and by the time I graduated from high school, I had been a part of a state championship basketball team, a state championship football team, and was regarded as one of the best athletes Hudson High School had ever had.  I had also developed a great love for sports, which I still have to this day.

I was able to get a scholarship to play football at Iowa State.  I was highly regarded coming out of high school, but the adjustment to the college was very tough and I was no longer a star.  So I did what I knew how to do.  I continued to work harder than everyone else and I made myself into an all Big 12 player by the time my college career was over.  I was good enough to get signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams of the NFL.  I was able to be around and compete with the very best football players in the world.  The Rams had just won the Super Bowl just months before I arrived.

I do not mention these things with the purpose of boasting, but rather to show how much I was blessed by God to have experienced so much success at such a young age.  The problem was that I thought I had achieved all of that on my own through the hard work I had put in.  I would soon learn that this was not the case.

Up to that point my entire identity was wrapped up in the fact that I was an exceptional athlete and I could do anything if I was just willing to put in the work.  My football career in the NFL was short-lived and all of a sudden, I was no longer an athlete.  I had lost my identity.  I had returned to Iowa State and was in vet school studying to be a veterinarian.  I put all my efforts into excelling at that and that is what I put my identity in.  I was stepping into the great unknown.  Right after graduating vet school, I married a girl and was so in love.  I put all my identity in her and her acceptance of me.  After only being married a couple of years, she told me that she did not love me anymore.  She divorced me and left and I never saw her again.  This was devastating to me.  Once again I had lost my identity.  I went into a deep depression.  Over the next several years I fell into a deep, dark pit.  All the success I had achieved early in life did not matter anymore and I felt completely useless and did not feel worthy of anyone’s love.  I had a huge hole in my soul and nothing I did was filling it.  I even stopped going to church and turned away from God.  I finally hit rock bottom when I started to question in my mind what the point of living anymore was.  I was actually contemplating ending my own life.

It was Dec. 24th 2008 and I was home celebrating Christmas with my family.  This was usually a joyous occasion.  We were at Christmas Eve service, at the church I grew up in, and were singing Silent Night holding lit candles in the dark sanctuary.  My heart was not felling comfort or joy in that moment.  I felt only loneliness and emptiness inside my soul.  I didn’t know what to do.  I began to weep uncontrollably.  I had gotten to a place where no matter what I did or tried it did not seem to help.  Hard work had always worked before, but not this time.  In desperation, I cried out to Jesus and asked Him into my life.  I asked Him to save me because I couldn’t.  It was in that moment, when I was finally able to conquer my greatest enemy, myself, and truly give my life to Jesus.  I was stepping into the great unknown.

That was the beginning of my new life.  My life has not been the same.  Right after giving my life to the Lord, I was hungry.  I was reading my Bible each day, praying, and attending every bible study I could.  I was starting my great love affair with God and I just couldn’t get enough.

Soon after, I was approached by someone in the church about if I would consider getting involved with the Upward Sports program at the church.  They had been running a basketball program for a couple of years and they would be starting a flag football program in the fall.  This sounded like a good idea.  I loved sports and had a lot of experience when it came to the games of football and basketball.  There was only one problem and it was kind of BIG one for me: I didn’t feel comfortable around kids.  I did not like babies.  I had never held one and would never had even considered changing a diaper.  I didn’t really feel comfortable around older kids either.  I found their behavior kind of annoying and would do my best to try to avoid them.  How could I ever coach if I did not like kids?

If I was following the path I would set for my life, coaching Upward was not going to be something I would really be interested in doing.  The problem was that I had just surrendered my life to Jesus and told Him that it would be “His will” and no “my will.”  I could sense God continuing to try me to push me to step outside my comfort zone and do this.  It was as if He was saying to me, “Do this and I will help you.  You can do amazing things through me.”  I was still hesitant, but I decided to go ahead and do it anyway.  So I jumped in and became an Upward coach.  Not just for flag football, but for basketball as well.  I was stepping into the great unknown.  It was not easy at first and I did struggle a little bit with relating with the children I was coaching, but I could sense God helping me along the way and changing me from the inside.  A few years later, I even became an Upward official.  People would ask me all the time if my son was on the team I was coaching and I would say, “I don’t have a kid.”  A strange look would come over their face and they would ask me, “Why was I coaching?”  The real answer was because God asked me to and I was willing to say yes.

Now almost a decade later, I have been an Upward coach every year since then.  I have been on the dance team for the children’s Sunday school.  Most recently, after our family moved to Jewell, I got involved with volunteering for the AWANA Program at one of the churches in Jewell.  I take our son Matthew, who will be 2 in Dec., with me.  Even though he is still way under the minimum age, he is a Jr. Cubbie this year as I am helping out in the Cubbie room this year.  It can be challenging at times.  A few weeks ago, we had an autistic boy join our room and along with that comes great difficulties in trying to teach him about God.  Our teaching leader came up to me and asked me if I would be willing to work with this special boy because she said, “I was the best person in our room relating to little children and if there was anyone that could reach this little boy about God and the gospel message, it was me.”  In that moment a wave of clarity came over me, along with tears later that night.  It was in that moment I realized, not how far I had come in the past decade working with children, but how far God had brought me.  Over the past decade God has transformed me into a person who has no fear or hesitation in working with children.  He has prepared me to be a good dad.  It takes my breath away to think of the miracle he performed in my life and how he can do the same with all of us.  God really is a great God!

There are so many great things about the Upward program that really make it a special program and really a program that puts itself ahead of other youth sports programs that your kids could be a part of:

  • Players of every ability level get to play
  • Everyone gets equal playing time
  • Emphasis on treating coaches, teammates, opponents, officials, and parents with respect
  • Devotion time at each practice to focus on being a better person, not just a better player
  • Exposure to the Gospel message

I have always made it a big emphasis in my coaching to give each of my players a strong understanding of the basics related to the sport.  To become a good athlete, you have to start with the fundamentals so we really emphasize that.  On our teams we do not emphasize winning or losing based on the score of the game.  That score can be very deceiving.  I base our wins and losses based on how we played the game.  Did we play at a level that we should play at or did we sell ourselves short.  I define success as doing the very best you can with the abilities God gave us.  That can be different for every single player so the world’s definition of success is not very applicable to the teams I coach.  I figure that they have the rest of their lives to be judged by the world’s standards, but not while they are a member of our team.

This year was a unique year in that we had a coaching team of four this year.  For over 5 years now, I have had the honor of being a part of a small men’s discipleship group that meets every Thursday night.  We talk about God and our lives and how we are living them.  Are we living lives worthy of what God is trying to do in our lives.  This season, I asked Ward Leek, Bill Brannan, and Chris Akers (the members of that group) to join me as coaches for this season.  This made them step out of their comfort zones as well, but they did it and they did an amazing job!  I could not be more proud of these guys.  This also serves as a model for other small groups that are asking themselves what they can do to get more involved in the church or the community in general.  Coaching an Upward team is a really awesome thing to do and the kids give back so much to the coaches.  It really can be a life altering decision.

Our devotion time is the most important time in each practice.  This season we covered 3 different virtues that are really important virtues to implement in our lives:

Knowledge.  Knowledge is discovering something new so you can be better at whatever you do.

Contentment.  Contentment is deciding to be happy with what you’ve got.

Grace.  Grace is getting something great that you don’t deserve.

With this year’s team we decided that we wanted to get each member of our team their own Bible.  Coach Ward was kind enough to buy these for the boys.  We wanted to emphasize the importance of reading your Bible and learning what it says and then trying to do that in our lives.  I think this is a message that us adults need to remember as well.  We would all be a lot better off if we would do that.  Parents read the Bible with your kids.  Parents read the Bible for yourself in front of your kids.  As parents, we need to serve as models for our kids.  Don’t be afraid to read a Bible with a lot of pictures.  Maybe you want to get a Bible with pictures for yourself to read.  Those are usually the most fun to read anyway and if an easier version helps you to understand it better, that is even better.

In our final practice we were able to share the gospel message with the kids.  We learned that we all are sinners and that the penalty for sin is death.  Because we all sin and that the penalty for death is sin, we all deserve the punishment of death.  But because God loved us so much and did not want to see us go out like that, He sent His Son Jesus to Earth as a man.  Jesus lived a sinless life so He did not have to die, but because He loved each of us so much, He choose to follow God’s will and take each of our sins for us, and upon taking those sins, He had to die on the cross in our place so that we did not have to die.  Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, as He said He would and He returned to His Father in heaven.  Because of this great sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, if we are willing to admit that we are sinners, confess our sins to God, and believe in Jesus and that fact that He died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead three days later, we too can be saved.  That means when we die our physical death here on earth, as we all will, we will be brought back to life and live in heaven for all eternity.  We do not have to earn our way to heaven.  We could never earn it on our own anyway.  The price was already paid over 2,000 years ago.  We just have to accept that gift.  What an amazing message the gospel message is!

We had several kids who gave their lives to Christ during the course of this season.  That is awesome!  We have many others who have not taken that step yet and that is great too.  I would urge you to keep learning more about God and what He has done and can do in your own life.  As I have found in my life, even when you are running away from God, He loves you so much that He still pursues you and eventually, you will have to decide if you will let Him in.  Parents, don’t be afraid to take this journey with your children.  Maybe for some of you, it is time that you stop trying to do life the best you can on your own, and let God take the wheel and see where He can take you.  It might be places you could have never imagined.

I want to encourage everyone here, who is not currently involved with the Upward program, to consider getting involved.  Consider being a coach, an official, or volunteering in some other way.  You don’t have to have any prior experience in any of these areas.  We will help you and give you all the tools you need to be successful.  If you are still unsure, I can bring you on as one of my assistants and I will teach you everything you need to know.

Dads, this program is a great opportunity for you to connect with and spend time with your children.  The same is true for Moms.  Even if you don’t currently have children, get involved, like I did.

For all of the current players, as you get older, strongly consider giving back to this program that has done great things for you.  I know I have several players on my team this year who, at different times, wanted to coach our team and make some decisions on what positions people play and what calls we should run.  Seriously, come back and be a coach in a decade and then you really can call the shots.

God has the ability to do amazing things in our lives, if we give Him the space to do that.  Sometimes that means we have to step outside of our comfort zones to experience that.  What are you giving your time and energy to in your life?  Maybe God is pushing you in the direction of getting involved with Upward and maybe He has some great things waiting for you if you will just say “yes.”  Maybe it is something other than Upward.  Maybe God is asking you to step into the great unknown.  Don’t be afraid to step into the great unknown.  Don’t give up on that opportunity just because you were too unsure of yourself.  Remember, you are not by yourself.  God will be with you at every step and He will lead you into greatness.

I have made the decision on several different occasions during my own life to step into the great unknown.  They were all scary and each time I was unsure of myself.  But God was with me each time and through that process, He has changed me from the inside out and made me into a person I never would have ever gotten to on my own.  He has taken me to places I never could have imagined going in my own scope of where I thought I could go.

God can take you to places that you never could have imagined you would ever be at too.  God can transform you into a person that you never knew was even possible.

Sometimes you just have to be willing to step into the great unknown!

In closing, I would like to end with a poem I heard several years back that I think brings the whole thing into the proper perspective.

 

Pedal, Pedal (Charles Swindoll)

At first, I saw God as my observer, my judge.  Keeping track of the things I did wrong so I was to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I died.  He was like the President, I recognized his picture when I saw it, but I didn’t really know him.  But later on when I met Christ, it seemed that life was more like a bike ride.  But it was a tandem bike and I noticed Christ was in the back helping me pedal.  I don’t know just when it was that he suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since.  When I had control, I knew the way.  It was rather boring, but it was predictable.  It was the shortest distance between 2 points.  But when he took the lead, he knew delightful long-cuts.  Up mountains and through rocky places at break-neck speeds, it was all I could do to hang on.  Even though it looked like madness he said “Pedal…pedal.”  I worried; I was anxious and asked him, “Where are you taking me?”  He just laughed and didn’t answer.  And I started to learn to trust.  I forgot my boring life and entered into his adventure.  And when I said “I’m scared,” he’d lean back and touch my hand.  He took me to people who had gifts I needed, gifts of healing and acceptance, and joy, they gave me gifts I needed to take on my journey.  When we were off again he’d say, “Give those gifts away, now, they are extra baggage, too much weight.”  So I did to the people we met and found that in giving, I received.  And still our burden was light.  I didn’t trust him at first.  In control of my life, I thought he would wreck it.  But he knows bike secrets.  He knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners.  He knows how to clear high rocks.  He even knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.  And I’m learning to shut up and pedal.  In the strangest places and I’m beginning to learn to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face, and my constant, delightful companion Jesus Christ.  And when I’m sure that I just can’t do anymore, he just smiles and says “Pedal…pedal.”

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Never Too Old To Go Back

A couple of Fridays ago, most of the members of our 1993 State Championship Basketball Team came home to our hometown of Hudson.  It has been 25 years since that amazing season and our school honored us at halftime of their varsity boy’s basketball game.  The Pirates and the Cyclones were doing battle that night in the old gym we used to call home and even though the game had a lot of importance to this year’s Hudson Boys Team, it was not the focus for us or for many of those who came to remember the magic created by that team 25 Hudson teams ago.

Honestly, I did not know what to expect leading up to that night.  I was not really sure how many of the guys were going to actually make it back for that night.  Obviously, that season was very special to each of us who was a part of it, but life has a way of taking you away from home.  After 25 years, most of us have wives and kids now.  We have our own families.  With that comes a lot of responsibilities and expectations and it can be difficult to get back sometimes.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there would be 11 of us players from that team that were able to make it back.  I guess you are never too old to go back.

That morning I had gone down to the basement of my house and pulled the Hudson shooting shirt that we wore for warm ups off the hanging space where I keep all of my old Hudson stuff I wore when I was an athlete for old Hudson High.  It was my hopes that I would be able to wear it for that night.  Despite the fact that I have recently lost 40 lbs., it was still too tight on me to wear in public.  I shouldn’t have been surprised since I had gained 100 lbs. since I had last worn that shirt.  I just had to laugh silently to myself and place the shirt back on the rack.  Maybe it will fit me for the 50th reunion.

On the drive home to Hudson from Ames that night, my mind was filled with so many memories from back when I was a basketball player.  Life really was a lot simpler then.  I thought back to how bad I was at the game of basketball when I started and how I made a decision that I was going to make myself a good basketball player and I did ultimately do that, but it took a lot of work.  It took so many hours shooting hoops up in the barn.  I remembered how I would show up early for games and shoot baskets and work on my game for 1-2 hours before games and then for another 1-2 hours after each game.  It was just me, the basketball, and an empty gym.  That is when the real progress was made, when no one was watching.  I shouldn’t say no one.  I can remember the janitors that would be there after games cleaning up the gym.  I can remember Henry cleaning everything three times, not because it needed it, but because by doing that, it allowed me more time to be in that empty gym, working on my game.  Eventually, they would have to make me go home because they had to lock up.  Later one of the janitors had a copy of the key to the gym made and gave it to me so that they could go home after cleaning and then I could stay as long as I wanted.  I just had to make sure the door was locked and all the lights were turned out when I did finally leave.  It was kind of like in the movie Rudy.  That could have been a huge liability, but they trusted me and I never broke their trust.  I never spoke of that until now because I never wanted that janitor to get in trouble, but I think we are OK telling the story now.  The statute of limitations is up on that one.

I thought about Grandma Rose and our shared love of basketball and that Hudson team.  She went to every single game that season home and away and would always wear her pair of luck blue rain boots that became one of our good luck charms as the tournament approached that season.  She supported me so much and there were many days when I felt that she was the only other person in this world who understood me and my drive to make myself a better basketball player.  She always encouraged me and gave me the space to do what I needed to do to reach my goals and that really meant the world to me.  She would have absolutely loved to have been there on this night, but unfortunately, she just missed it by less than a year as she passed away last spring.  Even though she would not be there in person, I could still feel her spirit there and that brought a smile to my face.

When I arrived home at the farm and joined up with my mom, Jill, who would be with me the rest of the night.  It was fitting that she was the one with me.  Mom has always loved me unconditionally and I honestly owe my love of sports to her.  She pushed me to try sports, even though I did not like them, and later discovered that it was one of the great loves of my life.  She too, was at every single game that season and I loved that she could be with me on that night to look back and remember together.

When we entered the gym (it is the same gym we played in), we saw that they had a section reserved for the players and families of that State Championship team.  We found our seats and as the game started, I found myself talking with my old teammates more than I actually watched the game happening in that gym.  I guess that was appropriate for us on that night.

At halftime, they brought us out on the court and recognized us to the fans.  Each of us had a chance to take the mike and introduce ourselves and where we live today.  It is interested to note that after 25 years, there were a lot of people in the stands that I did not know.  It was like my hometown, but not fully.  There were enough people there that I did know though that I knew I really was home.  Those people who were in that gym that night that had been there 25 seasons ago still remembered and that was good enough for me.

When I think back to the 1992-1993 basketball season, I was only a sophomore.  I really looked up to Coach Dober, the other coaches, and my teammates.  I was still at a point where I was learning how to play the game of basketball effectively.  I can say that I developed more as a basketball player over the course of that season than any other season that I played basketball.  I experienced great growths both physically and intellectually as to how the game should be played.  I had some great role models, but I especially took the lead of Brian Hemesath, who taught me so much!  He meant more to me than he will ever know.

As I look back now to that tournament, we really had no business winning a state title that season.  The teams we played, especially Winfield-Mt. Union and Boyden-Hull were more talented athletically and physically than we were.  But the one intangible factor was heart and we had the heart of a warrior that season and we were determined that we were not going to lose.  The whole state thought we would lose to Winfield-Mt. Union, but someone forgot to give us that message.  That 48 hour period of knocking off Winfield-Mt. Union (one of the biggest upsets in the history of the boy’s state basketball tournament) and then following it up with another monumental upset of Boyden-Hull the very next night was the stuff of legend.  It happened so quickly and honestly was a blur to me.

The thing I will remember more than anything was the relationships.  The relationships we had with our coaches who coached us to look deep within ourselves and bring out the best in us, even better than we knew we had, and guide us to places we didn’t even know we could go.  The relationships with my brothers (teammates) and how we pushed each other to do better.  Our silly little pregame rituals.  The silly times on the buses traveling all around Iowa on those cold dark nights.  The crazy moments in restaurants, shopping malls, and hotel rooms in Des Moines that year.  The quiet times in the locker room before entering the stage.  The BIG stage with all the lights and screaming fans with everyone watching everything you do.  The relationships with all the parents and how they loved and supported us through all the wins and losses.  Fortunately, the losses were so few.  The relationships with all the fans of Hudson.

There is something so special about a small town and how they wrap their arms around a team.  Their support of us all that season was amazing.  There were times when we would go to away games and we would have as many fans as the home team.  When state came, the whole town of Hudson pretty much closed down and came to the barn in Des Moines to support us.

I remember the elation, by everyone after winning the first basketball title ever for our school.  I remember how the Grundy Center fire department led our bus through Grundy County on our way home from state.  This was so amazing to me because they were our bitter rival, but not on that day.  I remember the Hudson fire engines waiting at the county line and the two fire departments trading off and our own Hudson Fire Department leading us back home to our beloved town.  I remember the parade and pep assembly.  Such pure joy by everyone!

Small towns are so special and state championships in small towns are even more special.  The fact that we were a team that season that no one outside of our town thought we could win a title, yet we did anyway, is something that is straight out of Hoosiers.  I have not lived in the town of Hudson since 1995, but Hudson has never left my heart.  With age, life changes you and memories fade, but that team and what we did that season, will never leave the collective soul that makes up our great town of Hudson!  I am just so grateful that I was able to be a part of that special moment in time.

Following the game that night, some of the players had to go home to their current lives so we said our goodbyes to them.  Some of us were able to travel to Peppers, in Cedar Falls, to have a couple of drinks and talk about what we are doing now and the memories we had from that special season so long ago.  The time went quickly though and soon we all had to say our goodbyes and head back to our lives of today.  For that brief night, we were able to find a way to stop time and step back in time to that time of our youth.  It was great to visit there again, even if it was for only a brief time.  As the midnight hour struck, like Cinderella, we too had to step back into that time machine and return to our own realities of today.  We all have our own lives, but being a part of that team, in that time, changed each of us and helped make us who we are today.  We each carry that experience with us in our hearts wherever we go and like a great magnet, that experience draws us back together, even for the briefest of moments.  I guess you really are never too old to go back!

 

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How to Finish Well

finishing well

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NIV)

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

 

There are many people who see the last years of their life as an opportunity to relax.  But this does not fit with God’s purpose for us.  God wants us to serve Him all the days of our lives.

If we look at the Apostle Paul’s journey, we can get a better picture of what it means to finish well.  He spent his time pouring into others until the very end of his life.  Consider the letters he wrote to Timothy from prison prior to being executed.  The verses above come from one of those letters that Paul wrote Timothy.

In every season of our lives, God calls each of us to serve others.

Notice how, when writing about his life, Paul chose words descriptive of battle.  He understood the human struggle against sin as well as the challenges of pain and persecution in the trials we all face in our lives.  These trials come to each of us at some time or another, even if we are doing kingdom work like preaching Christ to a fiercely resistant society.

This godly servant’s life was also marked by surrender.  Paul’s mindset is obvious in these following words:

Romans 12:1(NIV)

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Paul was clearly not afraid of the Roman emperor Nero, nor was he struggling to stay alive.  Paul trusted God to determine everything about his life, including where he would go, what he would do, and when he would die.  Death did not scare him, because he knew he would dwell with Jesus forever.

God doesn’t require us to have perfect lives in order to finish strong.  We can live abundantly and still be ready to meet God by surrendering to Him, walking victoriously with Christ, and serving others.  The question is, if Jesus called you home today, would you, like Paul, be confident that you live well until the very end?

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This Story Has a Name

Luke 2:1-7 (NIV)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 

The story of Christmas, like all epic stories, begins with a problem.  How can a holy God reveal the solution to man’s evil ways?  No one doubts evil.  It send prodigals to run off to far countries, compels ruthless dictators to slaughter infants, and fuels jealous kings to grasp for power.  Our world suffers under the destructive hand of evil and its merciless consequences.

What we see in that manger is the revelation of a God who knows what it’s like to be a Father.  Parenthood draws us closer to the highest joys and the deepest sorrows of God.  We’d do just about anything for our children.  Bethlehem and Golgotha are proof that a holy God would do the unthinkable for you.  That’s what love does.  That’s also what makes parenthood so scary.  Parenthood is a blessing, but sometimes it feels like a gamble as well.  No one can guarantee that your kids will love you.  God knows that all too well.  The same evil that drove Jesus to the cross causes heartbreak, destruction, disease, and pain.  We live in such uncertainty, and yet we can know for sure that God understands.  He too has felt grief and pain over our erring ways.

Ultimately, this is the story of a Redeemer who loved us so much that He refused to let us die in our sin.  In the midst of our pain and desolation, joy rises, and we can celebrate once again.  This is the story grace and truth that helps us move forward.  There is a star.  There is a heavenly hose.  There is a song.  There is a Son.  This story has a name.  We call it Christmas.

G.K. Chesterton, the “prince of paradox,” once said. “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

I would urge each of us to take some time this Christmas, to reflect on the story of Christmas and really think about what God really did for us on that day over 2,000 years ago.  Reflect on that great sacrifice He made on our behalf.  By thinking about that, we should ask ourselves how that can change our hope for 2018.  How can we share that reflection with our family during this joyous season?

I want to wish each and every one of you and all of your family a very Merry Christmas!  It really is an amazing story when you really think about it.

Posted in Attitude, Bible, Christmas, Communication, Decisions, Dependence, Forgiveness, Giving, God, Hope, Inspirational, Jesus, Love, Opportunity, Parenting, Purpose, Reinventing Yourself, Relationships, Sin, Thoughts/Mindset | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And Then He Was Two

I can hardly believe that this Saturday my little boy Matthew turns two.  Where has the time gone?  I can still remember the day he was born clear as day.  I wrote a blog then and if you did not get a chance to read it then, you can read it here.

Oh how the memories of his birth flow back to me like a river released from a dam.  The feelings of being a new father and knowing that this new life, which you help bring into this world, will be shaped and formed by the person you are.

Making life fills you with humility, balls, arrogance, a mighty manliness, confidence, terror, joy, dread, and love, a sense of calm and reckless adventure.  It is a complete bag of different emotions.  Isn’t anything possible now?  If we can populate the world, can’t we create and shape it?  Then reality and diapers and formula and sleepless nights and child seats and yellow custard crap and cream cheese vomit set in.  But…oh, these are the blessed needs and fluids of my boy and at the end of each headachy, tiring new world of a day, we are exhausted but exalted by new identities, Mom and Dad!

At home, we take alternating shifts.  I walk my boy lost miles across our tiny bedroom floor until his eyes go from full to half-mast to…sleep.  Sitting back in the recliner chair with Matthew upon my chest, I watch him rise and fall with each breath I take.  I listen and count each and every exhalation of his lungs, his breaths still so few as to remain countable, a prayer to God, Matthew’s ultimate Creator.  I inhale his baby smells, secure him gently in my hands, synchronize our breathing, and I drift to sleep in peace.

The endorphin high of birth fades, but its trace remains with you forever, its fingerprints indelible proof of love’s presence and daily grandeur.  You have offered up your prayer.  You have vowed service to a new world and laid a bedrock of earthly faith.  You have chosen your sword, your shield, and where you will fall.  Whatever tomorrow brings, these things, these people, will be with you always.  The power of choice, of a life, a lover, a place to stand, will be there to be called upon and make fresh sense of your tangled history.  More important, it will also be there when you waver, when you’re lost, providing you with the elements of a new compass, encased within your heart.

From here on, the hard gravitational pull of the past will have a formidable challenger: your current life.  Together, Stephanie and I made one and one equal three.  That is God’s miracle.  That is life.

This new life revealed that I was more than my life had ever previously been.  It was more than any song, any story, any night, any idea, any truth, any lie, any shadow, any question, any answer, and any moment could ever bear.  All of these were just a restless figment of my own and others’ imagination.  Work is work and play is play, but life is life, and life trumps everything else.

Matthew, these past two years have been the greatest years of my life.  Anything I have ever done or accomplished pale in comparison to what you have given me.  You have given my life a new purpose.  You have made me see the world in a completely different way.  You have shown me God in a way I had never previously known.  Matthew, you have redefined who I am as a man and that is really the greatest gift anyone could ever hope to get.

I know that this is not the end.  There are so many days (God willing) to come, so many memories to write unto my heart, and so many things I still want to teach you.  I just wanted to take this moment in time to pause and tell you what you mean to me.  You are my little boy and I am prouder of you than I will ever be able to express to you in words or actions.  I am proud of the little boy you are today and I am proud of the man you will become one day.  Each day I get to spend with you in my life is a gift from God and I cherish each moment.

You truly are the best part of me Matthew and I hope you enjoy your day.  You deserve it!

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