Monthly Archives: July 2010

Why I love football

People have a lot of bad ideas about what it means to be a man in this world.  We have a lot of ill-conceived notions of manliness that are wrapped up in self-aggrandizing notions of honor and toughness.  Little of what our culture tells us about being a man has any worth at all.

Being a man is not about who you can beat up.  It is not about how many women you can score.  It is not about how much alcohol you can handle.  Being a man is not about how much money you make, or how many toys you can buy.  It is not about the car you drive, the TV you watch, or the phone you carry.

Being a man (or woman, for that matter) is about a lot of things, but to me it is mostly about this: “How do you respond to adversity?”

When things aren’t going well, how do you respond?  We all experience adversity.  My adversity might not be on the same scale as others, but we all experience tough times.  We all have lonely nights when the dawn seems so very distant.  We all have relationships that need to be mended, and work that has been left undone.

The story of the Bible is full of people facing adversity.  It starts with two people left with a tough choice – follow God’s will, or do what we want and eat that fruit?  It tells the story of a family facing doom at every turn and at every generation.  It tells of a people under persecution and slavery.  It tells of a kingdom under attack, and kings under pressure.  It tells us of God’s Son, arrested, mocked, betrayed and crucified.

At every turn, the Bible is a story of people facing adversity.  How is it handled?  How do people respond?  Some fail.  Some eat the fruit.  Some pass their wife off as their sister so as not to endanger themselves.  Some worship idols.  Some run off, but get chased down by fish.  Some  take the easy way out.

Others find victory.  Some wrestle with the angel, and come out with a limp, but come out nonetheless.  Some wander in the desert, but persist and reach the Promised Land.  Some stand up to the giant, with nothing but God on their side and a sling in their hand.  Some preach the truth even when it is not popular.

And one found the final victory.  One found the lost, set the captive free and gave sight to the blind.  One healed the sick and fed the hungry.  One regarded honor as foolishness, and pride as folly.  One had the love in his heart to lay down his life for us all.  One cast aside the power of God to take his place on a cross.  And one rose again.

Being a man is about a lot of things, but God has taught me that it is really about one thing: responding to adversity.

And that is why I love football.  It is a game.  It is a foolish, violent game.  Yet it is a test.  Every time I put on the helmet, I know I will face adversity.  Sometimes that adversity comes in the form of a 300 pound lineman staring me in the face, itching to cast me aside and crush my teammate.

Sometimes the adversity is exhaustion.  Sometimes it is heat.  Sometimes it is a sore ankle.  Sometimes it is a lopsided score.  Sometimes it is in-team disputes.  But it is always adversity.  It is always a physical, mental and emotional struggle.  And everytime I get to answer  the ultimate question: “How will I respond to adversity?”

I don’t win every contest.  I don’t make every block.  I don’t always like the answer I get to my question, but I keep trying.  I pick myself up, look adversity square in the eye, and ask myself again, “How am I going to respond?”

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Pastor Dawg: My prayer

The Twin City Dawgs walk by Chenoa United Methodist Church during the Chenoa Fourth of July parade

We’re halfway through the season, and I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my adventure as a semi-professional football player.  It has been frustrating, exhilirating, sobering, and rewarding.  So far I’ve played in three games (one was an exhibition).  In two of them I was the starting right tackle.  Our team record is 3-2.  We started 1-2.  We have five games left, and still have a shot at the playoffs if we keep winning.

I’ve been frustrated by my body and my schedule.  I’ve missed three games.  I missed one for a wedding I officiated.  I missed another on the weekend I was ordained (Yes, it’s officially Rev. Dawg now).  I missed a third because of an injury.  The whole season I’ve gone from one annoying ailment to another.  Right now  I feel relatively good, and I’m looking forward to five straight games without a bye starting on July 10.

I want to share a little about what goes on in my mind on a Saturday as a game approaches.

One of my favorite parts of the day is arriving at the field.  There are guys getting ready around the team bus.  I am greeted with hand shakes, fives, fist-bumps, and nods.  I am with my teammates, getting ready for a game, and I feel good.  There is a special relationship between teammates before a football game.  I think this feeling, above all else, is what I was wanting to find again when I started on this preposterous adventure.  I take my time as I prepare my pads – putting them in the right place, adjusting straps, and taping parts.  Eventually I walk down to our bench.

I walk out onto the field.  I feel the sun on my face.  I look at the field, the clean white stripes.  I look out at the sea of green corn fields.  I look up at the watertower.  I look over at our opponents getting ready in much the same way we are.  I find a place to sit, a little seperate from the rest of the team.  I pray, usually something like this:

“Thank you God for all that you have given me. Thank you for my wife and daughter.  Thank you for the incredible blessings in my life.  Thank you for my church and my home, and for the chance to serve you.  Thank you for the ability to play this game.  Thank you for my teammates, for the relationships that I have built.  Thank you for allowing me to pray and to play with them.

“I know God, that it is a violent game.  I know Jesus said that the meek that will inherit the earth, and that meekness is seldom valued on a football field.  Yet meekness is about putting the glory of others in front of my own.  That is, after all, the job of an offensive lineman, right? And so I feel in my heart that you have sent me to this field.  I believe you have called me to play for your glory.

“I ask that you bless this field.  Send your Holy Spirit to guide me, my teammates and my opponents.  Let us play this remarkable game with dignity and respect.  Keep us free from injury, and allow us to go home from this place with heads held high.

“Again, I thank you God for this chance.  There is no way I could be here without you.  Use me today, as you do everyday, for your will.  Let me be your instrument of grace so that someone may know the love of Jesus Christ, even on a football field.

“I thank you above all for your Son Jesus Christ.  I thank you, the source of life, life abundant, and life everlasting.  I pray these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

After I pray, we usually stretch as a team and do some warmups.  One of the first things I do is find my wife and daughter.  I almost always tear up  when I see them – its a wave of emotions I cannot really describe.

I try to take it all in as much as I can.  I savor every moment.  I enjoy the sweat dripping off my brow.  I enjoy taping my hands to get ready for battle. I enjoy looking into the eyes of my teammates knowing that we are in this together. I enjoy looking out at the crowd that is gathered, knowing they have come to watch us play our game.  I enjoy hearing guys whoop and holler.  I am usually quiet, yet inside my stomach is turning, my blood is pumping.  I am simmering, ready to boil over.

It is time for football.  It is the greatest game I have ever played, and I know that there are thousands of men wishing they could be doing what I am about to do.  I thank God again for the chance to be doing something I love.  I am ready.  Kick-off.

If you want to read about the earlier parts of my journey, you can read my previous posts called “Putting on the pads,” “Pastor Dawg,” and “Glory Days.” You follow the Twin City Dawgs by CLICKING HERE.

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First Thursdays

For most people, the act of fasting is associated with one thing: giving up something for Lent.  Fasting is an altogether under appreciated spiritual discipline.  For the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I am guilty of neglecting fasting.  When I first became a pastor, one of the first series of sermons I did was on John Wesley’s means of grace.

I preached about prayer, Communion, worship, Bible study, conferencing and service. You can still read these sermons here.  As I put together my first sermon series, I left out fasting.  “That’s too much,” I thought to myself.  “No one wants to hear about fasting, especially not from the new guy.”

Well, I’m not the new guy anymore, so a few weeks ago I preached about fasting.  I have come realize what a disservice I did to people when I left out this important, yet unpopular, spiritual discipline.  I have since realized how incredibly important fasting really is.

In our world of instant gratification, consumer relations, and on-demand service, fasting is like an oasis in the midst of a desert of indulgence.  Fasting is so much more than “giving something up at Lent.”  While giving something up is an important part of fasting, it has much more to do with opening yourself up then giving something up.

Fasting is the intentional act of denying yourself.  It is a chance to cut off an earthly desire – not as some sort of co-sacrifice with Christ, but as a way to block out the noise of the world.  By shutting out the noise of self demanding gratification right now, a person can more easily be open to hearing God’s voice.

Fasting is a forgotten spiritual discipline, but it is one we are slowly rediscovering.  United Methodists across Illinois (south of I-80) are engaged today in prayer and fasting.  The Conference has asked people to use the first Thursday of each month as a day of prayer and fasting.

Fasting is a tough sell for people.  It is unpopular.  And that is why it is so important.  In a culture that is addicted to self, the denial of self might be the most therapeutic and counter-cultural action we can take today.

Today is the first Thursday.  I had a bagel for breakfast.  I will not eat again until about 3 p.m. (I would go later, but I have football practice, and don’t want to go hungry or full).  I am hoping to set aside some time during the day to pray for the church.  I will pray for a Pentecost revival to sweep through my church, all churches in our conference, and through all churches that are preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I invite you to do the same.  Deny yourself.  Open up to God.  Allow the Holy Spirit to work.  Hold on tight.

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