Reflections of a Dawg Fan

“Glory”
(Played after a score)

Glory, glory to old Georgia!
Glory, glory to old Georgia!
Glory, glory to old Georgia!
G-E-O-R-G-I-A.
Glory, glory to old Georgia!
Glory, glory to old Georgia!
Glory, glory to old Georgia!
G-E-O-R-G-I-A.
-University of Georgia Fight Song
  
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth;
break into song; sing praise.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy to the King, the LORD.
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell there.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy,
Before the LORD who comes, who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.
-Psalm 98
 

I am a huge fan of college football, especially the Georgia Bulldogs. I’ve loved football since I was old enough to run around with a ball, and even when I lived in Ohio I cheered for the Dawgs.  As anyone who has visited our red walled living room knows I proudly display my support…especially at this time of the year when Georgia plays Florida.I happen to feel that if Divine Preference is involved, then God probably loves UGA football more than UF’s program. I have no real evidence, but it feels good to me.Perhaps my experience is a revelation of a greater truth. Let’s use Saturday’s game (incredibly disappointing!) as an example:On Saturday Georgia got beat by Florida (in overtime!) . The game was intense and close.  As I watched “my team” go down in flames, I was more and more frustrated. I started fiddling with my computer while only partially paying attention. 

As I watched, I saw many of the things I’d seen so many times: cheering and elated fans for the winning team while the losing team had people crying and holding each other from the loss.  I watched fans with their hands together, looking up at the sky, as the final seconds determined who would win.  I watched kickers point to the sky after making a field goal and look to the ground when they missed.  And I listened to the QB for UF, give an interview after the game in which he first praised God for the joy and the thrill of the victory. What I’m talking about is nothing new in the realm of sports.  We’ve watched baseball players do the sign of the cross as the come up to bat, we’ve seen keepers kiss and “bless” the posts before soccer [football] games…the use of prayer and religion on the field is nothing new.  I tend to be understanding of this: if they are praying for strength to overcome adversity.  While a sport often has an opponent, the drive most athletes have is to perform at their best, be mentally and physically prepared, and to block all things from their mind except the task at hand.  I pray for many of those things each day, except I don’t go play 60 minutes of professional soccer or football afterwards. What I question is the intentions of fans, myself included.  Watching football can be a means for disconnection within the family, or a way to spend a day in front of the TV instead of doing something productive or active.  In this country, the popularized view of a football fan is an overweight middle-aged man who looks too out-of-shape to ever play the game again. Whether I cover myself in paint, tail-gate to every game, or am able recite my team’s offensive statistics for the past 4 seasons, I don’t really know “my” team.  They are just big guys in pads-when the game is done, I go back to my life.  And perhaps that is my biggest concern with the energy put into the game.

 Looking at how I and others watch our beloved teams, there seem to be 4 key elements:

  1. A personal investment, emotional or otherwise, in the success or failure of the team.
  2. A display of commitment to the team, personal or public…especially in times of great success or continuous loss.
  3. Public witness or defense of the team; (Last year I watched Georgia vs. Georgia Tech at a bar full of drunk Tech alumni.)
  4. Support of the team can be a focal point for energy. In spite of other issues going on, team support can override everything else, especially if one has a lot of personal investment.

A person who fulfills these guidelines with regards to sports is often considered a “die-hard fan.” In spite of the eccentricity, their “sometimes crazy” devotion is accepted. A person who fulfills these guidelines with regards to the poor, marginalized, and underclass is often considered a “bleeding heart liberal” or maybe a “Socialist.”   Those especially eccentric are often written off as idealists.  Before I get too political or preachy, the overarching problem I saw was the sense of solidarity for a fleeting game (evident even within myself) versus those issues that exist within our community. And maybe I am reaching to make a parallel.  Comparing my undying devotion to the UGA football team is a different matter than my relatively low concern with sex-trafficking and child labor around the world.  Watching every Georgia game is on my calendar, but I have no idea what needs exist for the local homeless/hungry contingent in Athens.  One set of events is not on par with the other…are they? I offer, if only as a self-reflection, that the investment I have in  any  event can be seen by how I feel.  I’ve wanted to cry when I see “my team” lose…just as I’ve wanted to cry when I watched a friend “fall off the wagon.”  I felt a disconnected kinship with the players as they embarked on their season, just as I’ve felt that same kinship with visiting missionaries or inmates at the jail.  But most of all, I’ve felt the exhilaration of listening and being involved with the victories…and I can remember something about every one of them.

I am not bashing sports.  I’m just reflecting that how different I would be if I were a fan for the poor, the marginalized, the hungry, and those that have been cast aside by society as much as I am a Dawg fan.

Worship?

Over my 28 years at UGA CCF I often dealt with students who were dissatisfied and considering leaving our fellowship.  One common answer to the question “Why are you dissatisfied?” was “CCF is just not deep enough.”  I remember one such occasion when the student complaining  was expecting me to commiserate with him about the lack of depth in our small groups and in my teaching.  But he happened to be the straw that broke the camels back that day so instead of sympathy he got truth.  I said rather forcefully to him, ” You are from a Christian family, have been in church all your life, and have been a baptized believer for almost 10 years, so don’t you think it is time you do some feeding, rather than complaining about not being fed yourself?”  Needless to say he was not at all pleased and my challenge did not cause him to change his mind and he left.  He went somewhere else, seeking a deeper experience of God.  Sad, but all too typical.

What he was looking for really was not “depth” but an experience of God, which he would know had happened because of some overwhelming internal feeling, similar to a drug high (not that I would know what that feels like).   So instead when we challenged him to offer himself  to God, to give everything he did and all that he was to God he felt cheated.

The church today is so consumer oriented that it is danger of designing meetings to produce an internal high that is exhilarating.  Is this wrong?  Not until we attach to this feeling the appellation of “worship”.  Worship is living the life of a Christian for Christ, no matter what you are doing, and regardless of how you “feel” about it.  Worship is done 100% to the honor and glory of God. Worship is work and play when done to and in homage to God.  True Biblical worship is other-centered, God-centered, definitely not self-centered.  It is never what we experience, but instead what we give to God.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying worship never creates experiences or feelings, for indeed it does. What I am saying is that in true worship any experience  is the result of God’s gift to us, not a demand that He must be meet or an expectation to be sought after and most assuredly, not the purpose of what we are doing.  To use an old analogy “it is the fruit, not the root”.  To strive to produce a feeling that can be identified as experiencing God turns everything upside down.  If we are seeking the experience of God, then we have distorted our pursuit of God into a nothing more than a fix for our experiential, existential habit.  That is not worship, that is addiction and it is not to God but to our own self-centered experience however it is produced and maintained.

If you think I am wrong and that you haven’t worshiped until you have experienced God emotionally , that’s OK, I love you anyway and so does God.  But I challenge you to show me a scripture that calls the church to produce emotional, experiential-based worship.  For my argument I ask you to read  Acts 2:42. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Hmm…  Where is that ecstatic worship in the overwhelming presence of God that we find so essential?

Are you ready to think seriously about what God may or may not want from you as true worship?

Weakness and Strength

No life is without its fair share of problems.  Being a Christian, no matter how committed, doesn’t change that fact. 

I got out of the hospital 12 days ago and I must say these 12 days on home health care and physical therapy have been much easier than the 23 days I spent in the hospital. But they haven’t been without problems: I push myself too hard and get achy muscles; my wonderful wife Sheila needs respite (although she denies it); my gout keeps flairing up; I miss driving.  And, of course, there is always the nagging fear of another heart attack that is right on the edge of consciousness.  I’m learning first hand the truth that it is not the problems that determine the state of your mind, it’s your attitude towards them.  But I’m finding “attitude adjustment” much easier said than done. Here are some things I’ve learned so far while persevering through a major life challenge:

Maintaining your sense of humor when confronted with a problem automatically reduces the size of the problem.  Giving into despondency is so easy so I try to cultivate the attitude of a warrior, to stand firm and not let my negative thoughts rule me. For me, that means laughing at my weakness sometimes. I find that I seem to gain strength when I remember times that make me laugh.  Energy and vibrancy come easier in laughter than in tears.

Determination, stubborness if you prefer, like any other positive quality can be cultivated and increased.  When I am feeling afraid of what the next step will be it strikes me in the pit of my stomach.  When I get that feeling I know that it is time to pray until I have once again acknowledged that my future is better in God’s hands than in mine.  Once this is done I ask God for the determination and resolve not to let the sheer magnitude of the long recovery ahead worry me.  Practically I find that it helps to break it down into smaller tasks and to just focus on getting them done one at a time.  

Resolve is maintained through inspiration.  Scripture reading, inspirational stories, motivational movies, listening to other people tell their story all let us know we are not alone and that our problems are not peculiar to us.  God has placed within the human spirit the quality of resolve.  I try to surround myself with as much inspiration in the form of Scripture, books, music, movies (DVD’s from Catalyst are a great source of inspiration) and people as possible. On the other hand I try to remove myself from influences that discourage me from reaching my goal.

  • Inspiration comes from strange places some time.  I found the movies “Whip it” and “9” inspirational in wildly different ways. 

Self-doubt may be the greatest obstacle of all.  After all I got myself into this mess so what makes me think I can really change?  Negative self-talk like this is counter-productive so when it invades my thoughts I know I need to increase my faith in myself.  However, even as a Shadowlander, I know that faith in myself is a dead end unless it is tied to faith in God to work His will through me.  He gives me the power to conquer self-doubt but I have to accept it and put it to use.   When a doubt returns I have learned to ask myself if this doubt really has any basis in reality; most of the time it does not.  On a practical level even accomplishing some small task  restores my faith that God has given me all that I need to follow through to the end.  Self doubt often is really God doubt!

Paul records in II Corinthians 12:9 that in response to his appeal to have his weakness removed that God says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I have never been this weak.  Physically, spiritually, emotionally weak.  My weakness brings this passage to life for me:  God’s grace is sufficient for me!  His power is made perfect in my weakness!   Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me!

I am alive because of the grace of God.  I should have died 35 days ago but God miraculously rescued me.  While my circumstance is pretty remarkable the same truth applies to us all: WE live because of God’s grace! 

May God give us the grace to persevere and conquer all obstacles in His name and to His glory!

In Times of Trouble

I thank God for my life.  He has answered so many prayers during this present health crisis, not the least of which was to open a space for me to get into the best Surgical Rehab facility in Athens.  I’m writing this at 7:30am on day 15 in the hospital.  I have had a heart attack at St. Mary’s, another at Athens Regional and now I’m back at St.  Mary’s in rehab.  (One of my grandson’s asked his parents if Papa had a drinking problem since I am in rehab) 

Before this crisis there have been others – and not all have been physical.  God has been very patient with me over the years but He has kept me strong through all my faith struggles – and I struggle a lot.  He has provided not only His Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the church as lifelines to cling to in hard times but also significant people to be with me in the trenches.  The most significant person is my wife.  Other than my salvation the most gracious act of God in my life was to lead me to Sheila June Sewell and to open her heart to marry me 42 years ago. (Honey,  I’m sorry that I’ll be in the hospital over our 42nd anniversary but I’m just grateful to be alive and for every additional minute I get to spend with you.)

I thank God for all these things I remember, but I wonder how much of what He has done I actually remember or was ever aware of.  Thanking God for  what I see is easy, but what about what I don’t see?

I was a willful child who became a willful adult.  So naturally I prefer to follow my own lead, I know better and have learned to overcome my willfulness and submit my will to my heavenly Father.  But when I go my own way I find well-disguised traps I happily and willfully walk right into without a second thought. I hate to admit it but I am often tempted to think I can handle every situation that arises.  One of the many truths I’m learning from nearly dying (again, but that is for another day)  is  that I can’t handle any of them on my own.  All of life needs to be  submitted to Jesus if we want to live abundantly. 

When I submit my will to my Father and follow His lead, He keeps me from walking into some of those traps. Sometimes He pushes me to the side of the trap quietly.  God’s modus operandi is to work behind the scenes so we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.  Sometimes He lets me walk into the trap but He has already provided a way out, if I’m willing to take it.  This is God’s scarry way of doing strength training.

Psalm 91:14-16 says “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honor him.  With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

My love for God is so weak that I know that His promise of rescue and protection come into play not because of me but because of Him. Please keep praying for me and my family that we will cling to God’s promise of long life, satisfaction (contentment), and knowing His salvation.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honor him.  With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Are you a “Seeker”?

Spiritual SeekerA seeker is someone looking for something.  A spiritual seeker is someone who is looking for Truth. To be a seeker in the spiritual realm is to seriously consider-or reconsider-what God means to you.  Most of us are seekers.  Being a Shadowlander and being a seeker go hand in hand.

Maybe the success you’ve enjoyed in your life isn’t as satisfying as you thought it would be.  Maybe the fun is starting to feel routine.  Maybe things you used to deal with are starting to deal with you.  Maybe you just want your “good” life to be good at a deeper, more meaningful level.  Whatever the case, if you’re trying to discover ultimate Truth, you’re a “seeker”.  Do you qualify?  I do.

As seekers, it is important to be open to the possibility that God might be real and able to make a definite difference in our lives. If you are looking for something more, you have to stop pretending to have it all together. That makes sense doesn’t it?  I mean why look for something more if you already have it all together?  So you know that you don’t know-but you know that you want to know.  That is the essence of a seeker.  Those who are content do not seek.

Maybe you have tried other religions and still find something missing.  Maybe they didn’t work because you are looking for a religion that is based upon relationship instead of works or ritual or formula.  Have you tried Christ?

“Yes, I tried Christianity before and it didn’t work either”.  That’s not what I asked.  Have you tried Christ?  “What’s the difference?” Lots.  How?  Jesus is serious about us whereas “Christianity” often displays itself as you being serious about God.  Jesus is all about grace.  Without grace Christianity can look a lot like every other religion.  If what you tried was a list of do’s and don’t’s that you had to follow to be a “good Christian” no wonder it “didn’t work”.  That kind of Christianity focuses on you not on God no matter how good our motives.  Without grace rules, regulations, and rituals will always fail because your ‘baggage’ will get in the way.  Try Jesus and you’ll get grace and grace never disappoints. 

What is grace?  Grace is simply God’s unmerited favor, in other words, grace is being loved by God because of Who He is not who we are. Grace is God sending His Son Jesus to be sin for us because to love is His nature.  Grace is amazing! I live by grace.  Set your sights on grace.

Jesus said Jesus is Truth“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” John 14:6 (NASB). I understand that these words sound very exclusionary. But here is the Good News-anyone (yes, anyone) can choose to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Maybe I just jumped way too far ahead for many seekers. You have way too many questions that need to be answered before you are willing to make such a commitment. I understand. I just want you to know that there is another seeker willing to listen, answer questions, and help you find what you are seeking.  I’m a seeker and a Shadowlander who God has touched with his amazing grace.  I’m no better than you but God’s grace is the most significant event in my life and I would love to share that grace with you.  God loves you and so do I.

The Jazz Paradigm

My relationship with God is like the relationship in a Jazz band where, I am the improvising soloist and God is the rhythm section.

If I, the soloist, ignore what God, the rhythm section, is doing I am not going to sound good. By the same token the rhythm section does not dictate what my solo will sound like either. No matter how badly I play there is nothing the rhythm section can do to fix it. If I play exactly what the rhythm section is playing it will sound bland at best. What will sound best is when I am in tune to what the rhythm section is doing and I am able to freely and creatively express myself.

As a soloist in a Jazz band there is no requirement of obedience, and there is more than just the freedom of playing alone. There is more than freedom there is harmony.  There is the freedom of synergistically creating a sound with the rest of the band that is more beautiful than the individuals by themselves.

This is how I think our relationship with God works. Instead of the usual power paradigm of obedience or freedom, I like the paradigm of harmony or disunity.

What is your paradigm of your relationship with God?

Deux ex machina

I just read an article by Andrew Strom called “The Nine Lies of the Church”. It is a rather angry article overall.  But one of the great things I like about angry articles about the church is that they get us thinking about things we normally avoid thinking about.  

Strom’s “lies” include the observations that “asking Jesus into our hearts” is not in the Bible and that Jesus doesn’t talk about “prosperity” (Strom is not a fan of “The prayer of Jabez”).  Although I would have put much of his “lies” in the category of “false assumptions” there is still a lot of food for thought in the article.  

However, I found it really interesting that Strom’s response to the “lies of the church” is a call for “revival”. Which after doing a quick word search in the NRSV, CEV, message, RSV and King James bibles I found no hits.  I guess that is one of Strom’s “lies”!

The way my Shadowlander brain works is strange but a call for “revival” often makes me think about how much Bonhoffer detested the idea of “deux ex machina”,  An ancient Greek idea often used in their plays where God comes in at the last minute and fixes everything up.

Revivals are quick and spectacular things, were God comes in and fixes everything up. I would argue that God is normally not like that. Jesus was born in a stable and died with a bunch of criminals, and when he did do miracles He asked people not to tell others. Jesus was anything but spectacular, and futhermore part of being Christians (the church) is that according to 2 Corinthians 5:20 we are God’s ambassadors on earth:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Since Jesus now makes “his appeal through us” it follows that the work of the church is not going to be as spectacular as a “revival” is assumed to be. Most of the time to quote Charlie Kaufmann’s movie Adaptation “there will be no deux ex machina!”.

Where am I going with this?  My point is simply that maybe instead of praying for a “revival” to change the world our prayers would be more productive if we started asking God to change US so that WE can change the world. 

Just food for thought.

Historic ACM 20/20 Summit

God has been stirring the hearts of leaders in the Association of College Ministries (ACM) with a common mission to strengthen campus ministries, campus ministers, Christian university students, and Christian university faculty by promoting excellence in campus ministry as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.  As a result, a week ago 20 ACM veterans with a combined experience of 500 years in campus ministry met near Louisville, KY for the “20/20 Summit”. 

These ministry leaders began a process facilitated by John Wassem of Emanuel Institutes of assessing  the strengths andweaknesses, opportunities and threats of the ACM.  At the same time 8 emerging campus ministry leaders were lead in a mentoring workshop by Bob Russell of Bob Russell Ministries. The meeting also included a lengthy discussion of, “What does it mean theologically to be a member of the ACM?” which included both veteran and novice campus ministers (no offense meant to either group!). 

No “official decision” has been made at this point as to how to follow up on this historic meeting.  Personally, I would like to see it become an annual event but for now instead, four groups designed in part to “plan and execute action points” have been formed.  Out of this I hope will come the ability to take the relationships, connection, and mutual support among our campus ministers to the next level.  Participants are excited, as I can attest by the number of emails I’ve gotten since the Summit ended! 

Part of the vision I have for the ACM is to move our members from “silos” to synergy— from many people and campus ministries doing independent ministry, to many independent campus ministries working together for the cause of Christ. I hope as National Representative to do more than just stand behind a booth at the NACC and the NMC.  I want to see the wisdom and vision of our veterans and the energy and vision of our younger leaders come together in a dynamic blend that will benefit both young and old and make all of us better at the work to which God has called us – demonstrating the love of God to young adults on colleges and universities around the globe.

Regardless of the outcome of the 20/20 Summit, and not to sound overly dramatic, it was a historic event.  And one worthy of prayer that God’s will would be done in the subsequent days as all participants prayerfully reflect on “next steps.”

Join the Conversation

What are your thoughts on the possible development of the ACM?

We Know Drama

Ever since I was a kid reading my favorite detective story, I’ve been a sucker for a good story. Now I read less, favoring good movie plots and TV series over books. As I’ve been studying Revelation recently, my attention has been drawn to the ultimate drama that God is working out to accomplish his glorious purpose.

Revelation has a well-earned reputation for fantastic imagery and horrific judgments. It also carries the central theme of the worship and glory of God. Before, after, and in-between sets of judgments in chapters 4-11 are descriptions of the heavenly hosts and the redeemed praising our Almighty Father and His Son, the righteous Lamb of God. It has made me yearn for that day when either our Savior returns or calls us into His presence. 

Great stories provide great drama capped off by a perfect ending. But nothing could surpass what lies ahead of those of us who have been rescued and restored.

Relevant Righteousness

It is very easy to waste a lot of time keeping up with pop culture. From the latest celebrity gossip, to blockbuster movies, to all the ‘good’ or cutting edge TV shows, to the latest cool gadgets that promise to make life more fun – we as Christians can easily slip into compromise as we attempt to be relevant with unbelievers around us.

Yet there are also lessons to be learned from pop culture and credibility to be earned as we resist the other extreme of self-righteous sheltered-ness. If we can consistently find the balance between being in the world but not of it, we can be the kind of salt and light Christ called us to in Matthew 5:13-16.

Take relationships for instance. With the exception of the ongoing tragedy in Haiti, two of the biggest stories right now are relationship-oriented.  One was the Tiger Woods scandal. The other, even more recent has been the huge dispute between NBC and their late-night talk show hosts.  Concerning the latter, some might write it all off to the nature of TV business. Sure it’s a business, but what an ugly, messy conflict. But for Christians in business, it is a beautiful opportunity. It almost goes without saying that Christian businessmen and businesswomen are called to a higher moral and ethical standard, whether it’s the TV business or the fast-food business. We can truly stand out and glorify God by conducting ourselves in a Christ-like way in the cut-throat world of business.

This relates to the problems Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul was righteously upset over their lack of Christ-like behavior in the midst of a dispute. Don’t miss the fact he reminds them of their identity in Christ at the end of that section:
“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (6:11)

The Tiger Woods story provides a similar opportunity for even more of the Church. Not everyone is involved in high-stakes business, but most of us can relate to relating to members of the opposite sex.  Christian marriages can provide a shining example in contrast to the train-wreck that the world’s greatest golfer has made of his marriage. The difference between that and our marriages, our dating relationships ought to be like night and day. Purity rather than affairs, sacrificial love rather than selfish lust, transparancy rather than secrecy, commitment rather than empty promises. Sure non-Christians can have marriages with all of those positive qualities, but there will always be a level they can’t reach without the Spirit of God at work in them.

Let’s be salt and be light. Let’s provide a night and day contrast for those who are having trouble understanding the difference.