Trash Talk and Thanksgiving During Rivalry Week!

Thanksgiving Week is perennially a time for major trash-talking in the state of South Carolina. This is the week year in and year out that Carolina and Clemson sometimes literally slug it out on the football field, and unfortunately repeat the same scene in the stands or living rooms. This week will be even tenser because both teams are in the top ten in college football polls. In all our years of playing football this has never happened! This week’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium could be one for the ages. My hope is that it’s for all the right reasons. I have been hearing and participating in the banter for years. “Fear the Thumb!” is my favorite quip this year. Since the USC Gamecocks have won 4 in a row, the thumb represents number 5!

Pretty much wherever you live in the US this is Rivalry Week for your favorite college football team, and it couldn’t come at a worse time: Thanksgiving! On Thursday we will gather as family, friends, and loved ones and share a common meal, but more than a few people will raise their smack talk to a higher level and back it up with small or large wagers on Saturday’s games. There’s enough stuff to divide families that we have to add football, too? Rivalry Week becomes sibling rivalry and more – ad infinitum.

I live in a divided house myself. I graduated from South Carolina and rarely miss a game. Cindy graduated from Winthrop University, but was born at Clemson when her parents were there. She was baptized at Clemson Methodist Church, and when her Dad went back years later for another degree, she was confirmed at the same church and got her driver’s license at Clemson, too. Although she did get a Master’s degree in counseling at USC, her blood pretty much runneth orange. However, she does feel sorry for poor hurt animals and underdogs. That typically means that she has pulled for Carolina over the years. I am grateful for her Christian sympathy and USC has usually earned it.

My kids are really mixed up. Narcie graduated from Winthrop and Candler School of Theology and is a natural Carolina fan, except that she is the Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Florida and says, “Go Gators!” Her UF hat she was wearing last night got interesting stares in a local grocery store. Our middle child was raised right, but, thanks to his maternal grandfather’s influence and a scholarship, Josh graduated from Clemson with an engineering degree, though he’s now a UM minister. Caleb, our youngest, is the only one besides me with a USC degree. Thank God for Caleb! He helps even the odds.

Narcie and Josh did recently go to a USC game and Narcie talked Josh into humoring her and allowed her to put a Gamecock logo on his cheek. He caught heck for that from a lot of his Clemson buds. He was just being kind to his sister and loves Clemson, but the photo below is more than a pretty sight for me because this Thursday I will definitely be in the minority.

Our extended family is overwhelmingly Clemson! This Thursday when we all gather together for Thanksgiving the trash talk will be out of control. Point spreads and smack about the differences between the ACC and SEC will abound. Of course I like the SEC better! It makes sense to me, “I love God, sweet tea, and the SEC!”

But how do we get through Thanksgiving without a family squabble? How do we handle the trash talk of Rivalry Week without losing our cool or our kin? It all comes down to the use of our tongues and love. There was a conversation between a 4-year-old boy and the mail carrier about the child’s little sister. The mail carrier asked, “Can she talk yet?” “No,” the little boy responded, “She has her teeth, but her words haven’t come in yet.” This Thanksgiving will prove that a lot of us have teeth in our conversation, but the right words aren’t there yet! The frightening thing is that our bitter words may not just be about football. I’m afraid that most of our trash talk has little to do with football and is about underlying jealousies or tensions.

Now here’s a challenge: Try to make it through Thanksgiving Day without saying anything negative or derogatory about anyone or their team. Also take note if you say something about someone who isn’t present. Keep track when others say something negative and what your reactions are. Notice whether you rebuke the verbal attack, or invite people to spill all of their “dirt” about the other person. Watch your speech and ask the Lord to bridle your tongue.

Foremost, let us season our speech with lots of love. Remember and put into action the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 4:29-5:2, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Be a R.E.A.L. family this Thanksgiving: RespectingEncouraging AffirmingLoving. I hope your Thanksgiving is more about God than goal lines. Everybody calm down and take a deep breath! I’ll try, too!

Image

Advertisements

Knowing Right From Wrong – Christ the King Sunday

A friend sent me a quote recently from the author Oswald Chambers: (Satan) “does not come to us on the premise of tempting us to sin, but on the premise of shifting our point of view…” How true for me! The premise also seems to be true for lots of people. We have become so confused about what’s right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. Like scotch tape yanked away from a piece of paper, we have picked up more of the world than the world has picked up us.

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday and if Christ really is King then we who are the subjects of the realm have usurped the throne! Does it appear that Jesus is in charge of our lives? Doesn’t anyone take responsibility anymore? I’m around clergy and parishioners as a District Superintendent who are often in conflict, and it seems everyone says its somebody else’s fault. I remember the old hymn that says “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord – standing in the need of prayer…”

We need to take responsibility and personally put Christ on the throne of our lives every day! As United Methodists we use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to do theology and determine if something is kosher, orthodox, or sinful. The Quadrilateral, a matrix used by our founder John Wesley, is a good determinant for right and wrong: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. Where I get fouled up is when I put Experience before anything else. The United Methodist, even Christian reality, is that Scripture is primary and is informed by and informs Tradition, Experience, and Reason. We get into trouble when we think of the Quadrilateral as an equilateral, as if all 4 components are of equal value. It would be much better from an orthodox point of view to think of the Quadrilateral as a three-legged stool with Scripture as the seat with Tradition, Experience, and Reason as legs. I would avoid so much sin in my life it I started with Scripture, recalled the teachings (Tradition) that the church has valued over the centuries, checked my actions via the lens of Experience, and finally asked if what I’m doing or about to do is Reasonable; i.e., “Rationally, what are the consequences of my actions?”

I remember hearing about 2 preachers who were talking one day. They usually rode past each other on their bicycles but on this occasion one of the ministers was walking. The other asked, “What happened to your bike?” The other responded, “I think one of my parishioners stole it.” His fellow minister said, “What you ought to do is preach on the Ten Commandments next Sunday and really bear down on the part about ‘Thou shalt not steal’- You’ll get your bike back.” The next week the 2 preachers met up and both were on bikes. The one who had given the advice said, “It looks like you did what I said and preached on not stealing and got your bike back.” His colleague said, “Not exactly. I did preach on the Ten Commandments, but when I got to the part about not committing adultery I remembered where my bicycle was.” Ouch, big ouch!

I think most of us would be hard-pressed to name the Ten Commandments, much less live them. We need to have a firm understanding that Scripture is more important in our ethical decision-making than experience or anything else. There is a cartoon which I’ve seen in several places. It shows a crucifixion scene, and depicts Jesus saying, “If I’m O.K. and you’re OK, then what am I doing up here hanging on this cross?” As much as we seem to hate to admit it, “We’re not O.K.” We need a Savior. We need Jesus and we need to drop our rationalizations and pretense of false innocence.

There was a big burly lineman for a NFL football team who really liked to sneak out of the confines of his motel room on the night before games. Despite the club’s curfew he would try to fool his coach as he made his rounds to do bed-checks. He would pile things under his blanket so that it looked like he was in bed. At one motel, however, he couldn’t find enough things to stuff under the covers so he stuck a floor lamp in the bed and took off. When the suspicious and wise coach peeked in way after curfew and flipped on the switch for the light you can guess what happened – the bed lit up! Our sins have a way of finding us out! We may think they are hidden, but the light of judgment is coming!

Christ the King Sunday reminds me that there is only One to whom I owe allegiance and it’s Jesus, not my own desires and wants. If Jesus is Lord and King, it’s high time we acted like it. Don’t let evil shift your point of view. Some things are wrong.

Thanks-Giving!

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in the upcoming Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. Yes, the last few years as a Gamecock fan have been beyond my highest expectations – Steve Spurrier has tied Rex Enright for the most wins; this senior class has won more games (36) than any other in USC history; the Gamecocks have won 11 straight home games, a new record; the baseball team won back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011, and was runner-up this year. It’s been great but can we beat Clemson in football 4 years in a row? That is what’s on the line this coming Saturday. I feel like I’m being greedy because I would have settled for one in a row not too long ago.

Need I say more about praying for sports teams? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine, especially with Connor Shaw limping and Jadeveon Clowney gimpy, too. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. Gosh, We’re 9-2! The same could be true for Clemson folks at 10-1, too, and perhaps for fans of about every team except Kentucky and Tennessee. I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, but more so as a human being.

There are so many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do. My biggest thanks is that Narcie is two and half years away from Brain Tumor surgery on a oligodendroglioma and she is doing great! Please keep praying for her!

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? In a village in Denmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.

Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.”

A Biblical model for prayer starts with Adoration, praising God for who God is. Next is Confession as we repent and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving comes after confession as we express our gratitude to God for what God has done. Lastly, Supplication is when we ask God to supply the needs of others or ourselves. This A.C.T.S. model for prayer works if we end with supplication and begin with praise and thanksgiving.

This Sunday is a time for us to express these altruistic sentiments. It’s not only Thanksgiving Sunday, but it’s also Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian Year. There’s no better day to get ready for Advent and Christmas when we especially need to remember the Guest-of-Honor at His own birthday! As I think about churches trying to catch up on their budgets and connectional giving responsibilities, I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $10,000.

“What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $10,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???”

Count and account for your blessings!

A New Week and a Tired Soul

It’s a new week and I have a tired soul. The body isn’t holding up too great either. “Now do it again, with feeling!” says the conductor or teacher. How often I wake up on a Monday morning in ministry and find myself wondering what happened to the weekend. I’m about to do “it” again with another week of ministry, but the “feeling” is just above empty on my physical and spiritual gas gauges. Clergy hardly have any Sabbath rest. Our offices are often called a “Study,” but with the tyranny of the urgent that we face every day, there is precious little time to actually study. I know what my schedule pretty much looks like for the rest of the week and I am already looking forward to the weekend. Sad, and I wonder how many other clergy and people in general feel the same way. What are we working for? Who are we working for? What is the meaning of life and where does it come from?

Some answers to those questions are found in the word “relationships.” My prayer focus this morning is a derivative: Companionship. “Com” is Latin for “with,” and “Panis” means “bread.” Breaking bread with one another has been and continues to be a sign of fellowship and hospitality. Jesus fed the 5,000, broke bread with his disciples on multiple occasions before and after his death, and with the fellows on the Road to Emmaus after the resurrection. Breaking bread with family, neighbors, and the poor is a sign of community, shared purpose, and common meaning. When Christians celebrate Holy Communion they give thanks to the one who redeems and makes us one: “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body.”

So I face another Monday morning to offer and receive companionship. It is not just another day in a long litany of days. This day is an opportunity to break bread with someone, many someones – to sit at table and enter their story. Isn’t that a calling to embrace and not dread: to hear and be heard, to commune with a fellow straggler on the journey and meet Jesus who always walks along and breaks bread with us?

As a United Methodist District Superintendent this is that time of year when I spend time at each church or charge and hold annual meetings. In my seventh year people’s names are known quite well by now and we share personal history. We have become companions, sometimes literally. I was at one church the other day and they gave me some bar-b-que and hash to take home. We ate it for two nights and it was delicious! We also just had our seventh District Clergy Retreat on top of Mt. Mitchell and shared bread and hearts as we ate together, discussed together, and shared prayer for one another. Gosh, when I go back and think of all the times of companionship in recent days I am inundated with companionship and its positive influence on my life. It has occurred in church, with seat mates at football games, and in my office as I have listened to the hearts of dear lay and clergy.

Therefore, I embrace the ways that Jesus will come and break bread with me this day through others, and pray that I will be spiritually prepared to welcome the opportunity. Someone once told me the story of a person who was invited to visit heaven and hell. In heaven he saw people holding 4 foot long chopsticks and before them was spread a banquet table loaded with delectable treats. In hell he saw the same thing: people holding 4 foot long chopsticks sitting at a sumptuous banquet table. The only difference was that the people in heaven looked well fed and happy, joyfully conversing with one another. The people in hell were bitterly quiet, emaciated and starving even though there was ample food laid before them. The person asked St. Peter what was the difference. St. Peter said the people in heaven used the 4 foot long chopsticks to feed each other, while the people in hell were impossibly trying to feed themselves.

Companionship is less obsessed with feeding one’s own appetite for attention or self-interest, and more engaged in communing with the Jesus in those with whom we break bread today. Feed yourself and starve. Feed another and be well-fed. God bless your week with encounters with Christ. This is how God made us to enjoy life and find both help and meaning. Feed yourself and go hungry. Feed another, and thrive!

Armchair Quarterbacking and the Church

Armchair quarterbacking isn’t just a description for sports fanatics who party hard and offer unsolicited advice to coaches and players. The church is full of the same kind of couch potatoes, too. So many people try to enjoy the benefits of Christianity and the church without contributing anything themselves. I’m a bit tired of hearing churches complain about their pastors, when they themselves don’t offer to do anything to help. I also tired of pastors who say that they didn’t do such-and-such because that wasn’t what God called them to do as clergy. Give me a break! Being a follower of Christ pushes us past our comfort zones. If not, then our Christianity and our call are called into question. Jesus said, “If anyone would be my disciple, he or she must take up a cross and follow me.” There is no comfort in cross bearing.

Being Christian certainly places demands upon a person. Church is not a spectator sport. Like fall football games, one has to get into the game and contribute to earn a letter. The church throughout the ages has been called to be active players for Christ. In our United Methodist vows for membership people are supposed to uphold the church by their prayers, presence, gifts, service and, newly added, witness for Christ. Being a witness for Christ should have been assumed all along, especially since, in Acts 1:8, Jesus said that we would be His witnesses from home to everywhere. The scary part is that the Greek word for “witness” is the root of the word, martyr. For centuries, Christians knew that their faith was synonymous with martyrdom, a willingness to die for Jesus.

How unlike today, we might assume. Yet, Christians are still put to death for their faith in places like the Middle East, Sudan and India. Self-sacrifice and cross-bearing are happening in the U.S., too. At charge conferences I hear how individuals and churches have been witnesses. I have seen real discipleship. I have heard reports about mission trips to Colombia and Nicaragua, Salkehatchie Summer Service, support for Killingsworth Home for Women, Epworth Children’s Home, Sistercare, Oliver Gospel Mission, countless food pantries and so many more ministries. The list could go on and on!

However, the 80/20 rule does bother me. A common theme is how so few do so much in our communities and in the life of our churches. The 80/20 rule states the obvious – 80 percent do 20 percent of the work and 20 percent do 80 percent. Authentic Christianity is defined by the 100/100 rule. By virtue of our baptism every Christian is called to ministry. One hundred percent of us are called to do one hundred percent of the work, with one important qualification. We are to give and serve according to our abilities. Not all of us can go overseas or preach a sermon. Not all of us can give thousands of dollars to the work of the church. But, we can all give and do our fair share as God has blessed us. Therefore, we should give and do as God has given and done for us!

I’ve got some churches and pastors freaking out about metrics. I’m not a personal fan of them myself if they are used against a church or pastor. I think that they are great if they help a church gauge how it is doing and then reset their priorities, goals, and strategies. I like what Bonnie Ricks said, “Our actions are a reflection of our faith, not a report card.” Frankly, though, they are a little bit of both. They are a reflection of our faith and faithfulness and should be a report card spurring us on toward love and good deeds. Halfwayness and mediocrity is killing us! We need people to be all-in for Jesus!

Several children were bored until one of them suggested that they play church. They played for a while, but were soon bored again. Then, one of the little boys said, “Hey! I got it! Let’s play Jesus!” The other children asked, “How do you do that?” The boy said, “Well, first you would be mean to me, and tie me up. Then, you would pretend to hit me, and spit on me, and call me names.”

The children decided to try it for a while, but they quickly felt repulsed by their own actions. They stopped, uncomfortable with this game. The boy playing Jesus was especially anxious to quit. He said, “Let’s not play Jesus any more; let’s go back to playing church!”

Do you want to play church or be the church? It ain’t for the faint of heart!

Advent’s Inoculation

It’s Cyber-Monday and many of us feel the crunch to get busy with Christmas shopping. Some of us barely survived Black Friday or Rivalry Football games. This is a season of urgency and it should be a season of great pause! How do we handle the onslaught of the holidays? The answer to me is turning them back into what they are meant to be: Holy Days!

United Methodist Bishop, William Boyd Grove, former pastor of Bethel Park UMC just outside of Pittsburgh has suggested that there are certain words that deserve to interrupt all other words and conversation. Words like “The house is on fire!” or “The war is over!” or “Your hostage brother has been released!” These are, in his provocative words, “startling, interrupting proclamations that change everything. If the house is on fire, you run! If the war is over, you dance! If your hostage brother is released, you leave everything and go to meet him!” During Advent we prepare ourselves for another set of words that change everything: “Jesus Christ is born.”

 God whispers these words to us in every candle and carol, every card and crèche. Most of us are not very ready to hear these words that cause all others to cease. We are just too busy or overwhelmed by life. That is why Advent season precedes Christmas, to help us get prepared, to enable us to hear God’s voice of hope. This mystery of Advent, as poet Elizabeth Jennings puts it, is this: “… It is a mystery/How God took time and entered history.” It is a grand mystery that gives us hope, hope in a God that loves us so much that He came to be one of us.

 Oh, how we need hope. With loved ones absent from the Thanksgiving table last week and the terrible truth that their absences won’t be less gaping in four short weeks, but actually worse, and with worries on the battlefronts of the world: recession, unemployment, domestic violence, terror, poverty, debt, and ill health, we know all too well the need for a friendly God, a benevolent Jesus, a comforting Holy Spirit.

 You may be where a lot of people are right now after learning the truth that Thanksgiving celebrations are terribly efficient ways for families to spread germs and vermin across the miles.  Who knows whom passed the bug around first, but I know that there are plenty of people who caught something over the weekend. “What a horrible time to be sick!” is what many have been thinking. But truthfully there couldn’t be a better time. Nothing quite like illness makes us pause and reflect.

 Advent season isn’t an illness, but it can inoculate us with just the right soul-saving amount of reflection that may help us survive the holidays. I heard about one church that invited a guest preacher at the beginning of Advent. In the bulletin was this announcement: “The church is glad to have with us today as our guest minister the Reverend Shirley Green who has Mr. Green with her. After the service we request that all remain in the sanctuary for the Hanging of the Greens.”

 Many churches begin Advent season with a “Hanging of the Greens” service. Others are hard at work on special music or projects. Chrismon trees and poinsettias will grace sanctuaries all over Christendom, but more important than the preparation of our homes and houses of worship will be the preparation of our hearts. Therefore, here’s another but more appropriate Advent bulletin blooper: “The Word made flesh and swelling among us.” May the Word swell in your life this Advent season! Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

Thanksgiving!

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in next week’s Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. In 117 years of football, South Carolina has only won 8 or more games three times. Need I say more? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. The same could be true for Clemson folks, too. USC is 8-2 and Clemson is 9-1! Wow! So, I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, and more so as a human being. Narcie just got her latest MRI results on the brain tumor and PRAISE GOD it isn’t growing!

            There are SO many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do.

            What are you thankful for this coming Thanksgiving? In a village inDenmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.

            Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.”

            A Biblical model for prayer starts with Adoration, praising God for who God is. Next is Confession as we repent and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving comes after confession as we express our gratitude to God for what God has done. Lastly, Supplication is when we ask God to supply the needs of others or ourselves. This A.C.T.S. model for prayer works if we end with supplication and begin with praise and thanksgiving.

            This Sunday is a time for us to express these altruistic sentiments. It’s not only Thanksgiving Sunday, but it’s also Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian Year. For a lot of churches this is the wrap-up for your stewardship campaign. In that vein I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $50,000.

            “What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $50,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???”

            Count and account for your blessings! Give Thanks!

Paterno’s Blind Side

I don’t quite know what to think of the scandal at Penn State and the demise of Coach Paterno’s coaching career. He is 84 years of age and is the winningest coach in football history. One mistake or chain of mistakes did him in. A person can do all the good in the world but a false step, a poor decision, a blind eye and it all ends. In part I sympathize with “JoePa” but a greater concern is for the victims of a pedophile. Joe Paterno had to go. All the good memories in the world cannot erase the negligence that perpetuated the horrible things done under his nose.

Theologically I recall Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter after his denial of Christ. I can ponder Jesus’ words of assurance to the thief beside him on the cross who wanted to be remembered in Paradise. Both situations had grace offered, but not without consequences. Peter was told how he would die and the thief was crucified for his crimes. In Bonhoeffer’s words, “There is no cheap grace.”

It makes me all the more dedicated to live a holy life, and I have a long way to go! I have to be diligent in the means of grace; praying, serving, devotional life, Scripture study, and doing whatever it takes to be a friend of God. I have to be a friend to everyone else to be a friend of God.

As I think of Paterno’s situation I am reminded of investing in the lives of the least of these on a consistent basis. Jesus ever sought the best for the least, the lost, the lowest, and the last. On top of a self-helping goal of improving myself I cannot abrogate helping others. The message of the Penn State scandal is to make sure you look out for the vulnerable. Paterno’s personal faith is evident. His investment in his football program is fantastic. His failure came from disregard for those he thought weren’t somehow worth it. A disconnect? Mine, too, sometimes. If my life’s story is to read well then I better be remembered for doing the right things.

Thank God I had a mother and father who excelled in this. Thinking of my Dad, I used to thoroughly enjoy going to auctions with him. My middle brother was usually there, too. Both went to the same auction school in Indiana and were partners. Although livestock auctions were the family’s main emphasis, we also did land and estate auctions.

One of those auctions sticks out in my mind as I think about my life story. I can’t remember the exact estate or town, but I know that it was in Georgia somewhere below Augusta. One of the tasks delegated to me was to go through the dilapidated out-buildings and find anything of value. If anything seemingly worthwhile was found, I told my brother or father and the item went into the sale. The old house was definitely antebellum. The barns and sheds around it were ready to fall in upon themselves. There was old stuff everywhere.

I had frightful visions of snakes and giant rats ready to pounce as I went scavenging through the buildings. There were old chifforobes, combinations of wardrobes and chests of drawers. In this case they were like the family’s safety deposit boxes. I was pretty scared as I began to open them up and pore over their contents. They were like time capsules. There were plenty of pieces of antiquated clothing turning brown or to dust with age.

Then I found the mother lode, the treasure, the things that made me forget about the rats and snakes. There were old pocketbooks. Some were made out of what appeared to be chain-mail. Others looked like real carpet-bags. They might very well have been because one of them had Confederate money in it. There were also a few coins. I plundered the bags with the anticipation of an Indiana Jones. I hurriedly told my brother and Dad what I had discovered.

I spent the rest of the day exploring each building. By the end of the day I felt like I had been privy to the family’s history. I noticed the trunks with the travel decals pasted on the sides indicating where these folks had vacationed. I found hat boxes filled with letters from distant loved ones. One had a son’s letters from overseas during World War II. There were receipt books and ledgers from what must have been an old country store located on the premises. The prices of things were astoundingly low. There were ration books from war years when essential items were doled out. I can remember their green money-like feel.

The official business of life was intermingled with the unofficial business of life. It was as if I was had been allowed entry onto hallowed ground. Everything I saw and touched spoke volumes about life, but also about death. Estate sales usually occur when there’s been a death. They suggest a sense of finality, a realization that life on earth ends, and you can’t take anything with you. In many ways that day in those barns and buildings I came of age. The lesson learned: A seven-by-four feet chifforobe can speak volumes about what we valued, but it’s only a whisper compared to the legacy of our lives themselves.

In our he/she-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins world, perhaps we should dare to leave our most treasured possessions in other people. Everything else deteriorates or gets sold. Heaven is the ultimate chifforobe, the very best safety deposit box. Let’s prove our faith by making memories in people. Joe Paterno will not be remembered for his tenacity at Penn State but in letting down a bunch of young victims. I pray for better. Our values will be revealed, exposed, celebrated, or berated. In the words of Rev. R.G. Lee, “There’s going to be a payday someday.” God help us all.

United Methodist Leadership and Football

Whether you are a Blue Hose, Paladin, Bulldog, or Terrier fan, you have got to admit that Clemson and South Carolina’s football teams have made dramatic improvements over the past several years. Why? The players are much the same, so what’s different? Both schools have lost a few headliners as specialists, but the big difference to me is in the coaching staffs. South Carolina has added John Butler as Special Teams Coordinator and Shawn Elliott as Offensive Line Coach. Clemson has added Chad Morris as Offensive Coordinator. All three of these are known to have proven success, vision and the ability to articulate it so that their players are motivated and enthused. Both teams are in the top 25 and are 4-0!

Leadership matters whether we’re talking about college football or the church. Lay and clergy leadership from bishops to the pew is so very important. It’s more than just showing up! It’s having expertise for sure, but in my mind it’s mostly about relationships whether with coaches and players, bishops and the annual conference, or clergy and local churches. Leadership has to be real, relational, and relevant.

Take Bishop Francis Asbury, for instance. I’ve been reading John Wigger’s biography of Asbury, American Saint, and I’ve noticed that Asbury wasn’t known for his preaching but for his time spent with people. African-American Harry Hoosier was the better preacher and got a better response than Asbury. What Asbury did well was stay in people’s homes and share the Gospel in authentic relational ways. He was a great story-teller and he met people where they were. This is one reason why, up and down the eastern seaboard, there are homes with Bishop’s chairs, Bishop’s rooms, and Bishop’s tables in them. People remembered him for his presence in their homes and their lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if coaches and current church leaders had that kind of feel for people’s pulses? Talking about being relevant! It would take motivation to a new level, wouldn’t it? Charles Schwab, former president of U.S. Steel, had a mill manager whose men were not producing their quota of work. “How is it,” Schwab asked, “That a man as capable as you cannot make this shift turn out its quota?” “I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I have coaxed the men, pushed them, but nothing seems to work. They just will not produce.”

This conversation took place at the end of the shift, just before the night shift came on. “Give me a piece of chalk,” Schwab said. Then, turning to the nearest worker, he inquired, “How many turns of the furnace did your shift produce today?” “Six,” he said. Without another word Schwab chalked a big figure “6” on the floor, and he walked away. When the night shift came in, they saw the big “6” and asked what it meant. “The boss was here today,” the day shift said. “He asked us how many turns we made, and chalked it on the floor.” The night crew talked among themselves, “We can do just as good a job as those guys, even better!” The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again and noticed that the night shift had rubbed out the “6” and replaced it with a big “7.” That inspired the day shift not to let up, so by the end of the day they left behind an impressive “10” for everyone to see.

Shortly, the mill which had been lagging way behind in steel production was turning out more work than any other company plant. Without yelling a word or making any threats Schwab had made his point. He said, “The way to get things done is to stimulate a desire to excel.” Good coaches inspire others to dream big and get the job done. My hat’s off to Clemson and U.S.C. Would Jesus “tip his hat” for us as church leaders? One has to be real, relevant, and relational!

Questions:

What is your dream?

Is it God’s dream for you?

What is your strategy to fulfil your dream?

How do you connect with people?

Flying the Team Flag

>

How ’bout those Gamecocks! Most of your know that I’ve been a frustrated University of South Carolina Gamecock fan forever. I say “frustration” because they have been worse than hapless, but I was in Omaha for the College World Series when we won the national championship and I was there this past Saturday when we knocked off the vaulted #1 Alabama in football. I still can’t believe it. You’ve probably heard someone say to someone else’s mix of glee and doubt over the next shoe dropping, “You can’t stand prosperity.” I never quite got what that meant until now. I’ve never been here before.

Now football matters and next week’s USC-Kentucky game is looming large when I never really cared that much before. Wow, what a difference a big win makes. It adds jubilant joy and more than a tinge of sheer fear. Expectations are taken up a notch, and the absolute magnitude of the event is staggering. Do I yell, do I walk away and say “I’m good. It doesn’t get any better than this so I’m not watching next week,” or perhaps, just perhaps, I get so jacked that I am willing to make a road trip to Kentucky? Hey, people, driving to Lexington ain’t nothing compared to driving all the way to Omaha, Nebraska, and I’ve done that 4 times to watch USC play.

Wait a minute – Ah, now I get a sense of the see-saw of the disciples after the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Go back to Galilee or to the ends of the world? Stay on the Mt. of Transfiguration or go down into the valley and tell everybody about the Jesus team? I don’t own a USC car flag, but somewhere somehow today I’m going to get one, and I’m going to fly it! Who knows, maybe someone has a Jesus flag, too.