Monthly Archives: January 2013

“Why I’m rooting for the 49ers,” or “The Shot Heard Round My Backyard”

John Harbaugh is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens.  His younger brother Jim is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers

John Harbaugh is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens. His younger brother Jim is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers

Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.  This Sunday Jim is leading his team into the Superbowl, and on the opposing sidelines will be his oldest rival, his big brother John.  Jim and John Harbaugh have justifiably received a lot of attention these last two weeks.  The Harbaugh brothers have reached the pinnacle of the football world.  On Sunday they will share the biggest stage in the world.  Not too long ago, they shared a bedroom.

Jim and John Harbaugh were born 15 months apart.  They were fierce competitors growing up.  Gifted with more natural talent, Jim went farther as an athlete.  He was one game away from playing in the Superbowl as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.  Yet here they are, meeting as head coaches at the top of their career.

There are other famous pairs of siblings in the sports world.  Peyton and Eli Manning, and Serena and Venus Williams are two pairs that have made some headlines.  In most of these matchups, I tend to root for the younger sibling.  I root for the little brother because I know how that feels.

My brother got pretty good at the Figure Four Leg Lock.

This not my brother and me, but anyone that thinks wresting is fake has never been trapped in a figure four leg lock. This happens to be Ric Flair on the right, playing my brother, and I believe Steve Austin on the left, playing me.

My brother and I were born almost six years apart, so we weren’t exactly rivals.  My younger years were spent in perpetual servitude and resentment.  Yet at the same time, my older brother was always there.  He was someone for me to look up to and emulate.  He showed me how to swing a bat and a golf club.  He taught me how to put together a hot wheels racing tournament with my cars.  He taught me how to build lego cars, card houses, and do card tricks. He was even willing to demonstrate on me how to do a D.D.T, a Figure-four Leg Lock (pictured), and a Camel Clutch.  In time, he became my best friend, and we stood next to each other at each of our weddings.  There was no thought to asking anyone else to be there for me in that moment.

My big brother was always there.  Sometimes he made me angry enough to cry or scream or attack with a ferocity I didn’t know I had.  One time he tickled me until I puked.   Most of the time he was teaching me something.  And he taught me so much, the important stuff and trivial stuff.  He taught me about girls and sarcasm and sports, and life.  He taught me to like chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, and the Macho Man, and Seinfeld.  My big brother is the smartest person I know, and there are few people with whom I laugh more.  He still teaches me stuff.  I still look up to him, even though he stopped being my “big brother” by the time I was about 15 years old.

That’s why I usually cheer for Eli and Serena, and why I’ll probably be cheering for Jim (although he is kind of a lunatic, and I think I’d rather play for John).  I know a little of what Jim will feel when he looks across the field and sees John: pure love, admiration, and respect; and a desire to beat him that is pure and burns white-hot.

I didn’t beat my brother much growing up.  He was bigger than me, stronger than me, faster than me, and smarter than me.  It wasn’t until I was about 15 or 16 when some of those things started to change.  My brother and I had some epic basketball games over the years.  Some were Nerf games, where he had to play on his knees and there were no holds barred.  Some were on our back patio, where the flowers were out of bounds, the crack was the three-point line, and you had to take the ball back to the grill.

The summer after I graduated high school was our last summer together.  That fall, he started his second year of medical school,  and I went off to college.  We played a lot of basketball games that summer.  One-on-one, to 30, winner’s outs, win by two.  There were a series of intense games.  I discovered I had a distinct advantage inside.  He was still quicker than me and a better all-around athlete.  All were close, but he won them all.  He had a winning streak that dated back to the early 1980s.  It was the kind of streak that the Harlem Globetrotters could envy.  Finally, The Streak ended.  It was an intense game.  We were well into the 30s, going back and forth.

Michael Jordan’s last shot with the Bulls is one of those plays that is ingrained into the collective memory of thousands of basketball fans.  I can still see it as vividly today as I did when he hit it to beat the Jazz for his sixth World Championship.  Jordan’s shot, and that memory, have the distinct advantage of having been shown over and over for years.

The Shot was not recorded.  The only spectator was my Mom watching from the kitchen window.  Yet it was ingrained into my mind as clearly as any of my sports memories.  I have watched my teams win World Championships.  I jumped out of my skin as the Illini came back against Arizona.  I wept openly when the Paul Konerko clutched the last out of the 2005 World Series, and I still get goosebumps when I recall the Phillies beating the Devil Rays.

None of these moments are as important to me as the time I drove to my left toward the baseline, backed in a little, then pivoted to face the hoop, and took a little jumper leaning away from the basket from about five feet, just in front of the rock garden in the corner, and I beat my big brother.  It was, at the time, the greatest moment of my life.

Covered in sweat, drained, and tired, I simply pumped my fist.  We went inside.  Mom asked us, “Who won?”  I don’t think either of us answered with words.  We didn’t have to.

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Sermon: The prayer we live

The Ancient Celts spoke of "Thin Places," where the distance between the Spiritual world and the material world was thin.  This is an interesting idea, and one I touch upon in this sermon.

The Ancient Celts spoke of “Thin Places,” where the distance between the spiritual world and the material world was thin. This is an interesting idea, and one I touch upon in this sermon.

Full audio of the sermon: The Prayer We Live

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the first things that children are taught in Sunday school.  It has been prayed by the congregation in nearly every worship service I have been a part of.  For many Christians, the words “Our Father” trigger the rest of the prayer to flow easily.  There is power in having the words of Jesus so readily available.  There is also a danger.  The danger is that the power of the words in the Lord’s Prayer can lose their edge.  They can become something that we recite without thought.  That is partly why I love the Common English Bible’s translation of the prayer.  It is different from the prayer that I memorized as a child, and the difference points to something that is important that is sometimes lost.  I’m lucky to have studied with a great pastor who opened up the Lord’s Prayer to me in a powerful way.  The translation of the Common English Bible picks up on this:

When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:7-13, Common English Bible)

“The Lord’s Prayer can’t be just words that we recite.  It is a prayer that we live.  It is one thing to say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, but it is an entirely different thing to live the Lord’s Prayer… When you live the Lord’s Prayer, it becomes more than words that you say.  It is the choices you make, the grace you show, the forgiveness you give, and the bread you share.”

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Growing, Grown, Gone

This is a poem that my Dad used to read every team party.  A more personalized version hangs on the walls in my sister’s, brother’s, and my rooms.  I haven’t read the original in years.  I do not know the author.  Spme have suggested that it was Erma Bombeck, who was an author writing about parenthood in the era my Dad would have found the poem, but I’ve never found this particular piece attributed to any one. Today a nephew turns 15.  Tomorrow my oldest turns six.  I try to savor every moment.

ImageOne of these days you’ll shout: “Why don’t you kids grow up and act your age!”
And they will.

Or: “You guys get outside and find yourselves something to do . . . and don’t slam the door!”
And they won’t.

You’ll straighten up the boys’ bedroom neat and tidy . . . bumper stickers discarded . . . spread tucked in and smooth . . . toys displayed on the shelves. Hangers in the closets. Animals caged. And you’ll say out loud: “Now I want it to stay this way.”
And it will.

You’ll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn’t been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing and you’ll say: “Now there’s a meal for company.”
And you’ll eat it alone.

You’ll say: “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No pantomimes. No demolition crews. Silence! Do you hear?”
And you’ll have it.

No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti.
No more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms.
No more gates to stumble over at the top of the basement steps.
No more clothespins under the sofa.
No more playpens to arrange a room around.
No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent.
No more sand on the sheets or Popeye movies in the bathrooms.
No more iron-on patches; wet knotted shoestrings; tight boots, or rubber bands for ponytails.
Imagine. A lipstick with a point on it. No baby-sitter for New Year’s Eve. Washing only once a week.
Seeing a steak that isn’t ground. Having your teeth cleaned without a baby on your lap.
No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o’clock at night.
Having your own roll of tape.

Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste.
No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark.
No knees to heal, no responsibility.

Only a voice crying, “Why don’t you grow up,” and the silence echoing,

“I did.”

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MLK quote in cover photo dimensions

MLK quote in cover photo dimensions

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929)

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January 15, 2013 · 12:54 pm

Sermon: Declare that the dawn is coming

Click here for a podcast of the sermon, “Declare that the dawn is coming,” which was preached on December 23, 2012.

Click here for the blog-version of this sermon.

“God has called you to your life.  Let it speak.  Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are.  Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.”  We need no longer fear.  We need no longer hide from God or from each other.  We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes.  We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace.  We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds.  We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible.  We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love.  We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.”


Luke 1:65-79

Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’


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Good choices breed good choices


I love soup, and usually it is a pretty healthy and satisfying lunch. This is a picture of Hot and Sour Soup, found at one of my favorite blogs, “The Rantings of an Amateur Chef.” Click on the picture to go to the recipe for it. I haven’t made it yet, but hope to soon.

I know that I have made significant changes in my life when I can have a granola bar and banana for breakfast, a bowl of soup for lunch, and feel satisfied until a light snack, and dinner.

Today is Friday, so I will treat myself to a trip to the Hy-Vee salad bar.  I’ll likely take two trips, have a cup of soup, and a little something sweet.

I’m actually craving a big plate of spinach, beets, grilled chicken, black beans, and other good stuff.  When I’m done with lunch, it will be about 1 o’clock.  I will be stuffed, and it will be very likely that my net caloric intake for the day will be less than zero because this morning I ran three miles, did 150 crunches, and had a hard upper-body workout.

This is from the guy that used to order a Big Mac, large fries, a six-piece McNuggets, and a large Coke, and still feel hungry, and couldn’t jog a quarter mile without pausing. Eating habits are just that – habits. They can be changed with small choices over time.  When I think about my past McDonald’s meals, it makes my stomach hurt.  I still venture to McDonald’s every once in awhile, but now it is for a grilled chicken sandwich and a Medium fries, or it is for a couple of Egg McMuffins (which are 300 calories apiece), and no hashbrowns.

“How did you do it?” people ask me.  I eat less. I excercise more regularly and I run.  I don’t juice.  I don’t count carbs.  I haven’t eliminated any one food, or sweets, or anything in particular.  I don’t cleanse.  I track everything I eat with Lose It.  I eat between 1800-2500 calories a day.  When I work out, I burn 500-1000.  I’ve never felt like I’m dieting.  I just feel like I’m paying attention.

I choose broccoli instead of fries at TGI Fridays.  I choose grilled chicken over a burger.  I have two slices of cheese pizza and a salad instead of four slices of sausage with a side of chicken wings.  I choose to eat until I’m satisfied, not until I’m stuffed.  I drink a fruit smoothie when I’m hungry at night instead of having two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  I drink more water.

I’ve discovered that after making one good choice, the next one is easier.  And when I make good choices about my diet, I make good choices about other things too.  Good choices in my diet set my mind right to go to the gym, or pick up my Bible, or pause for prayer.  Good choices in my personal life help me read more, write more, love more.  I don’t know which one comes first, but I know that good choices breed other good choices.

People have told me that I’m an inspiration, and there’s a part of me that feels like that is absurd.  I’m just a guy that is trying to make some good choices.  I’m just trying to love God, live well, and do good.  But if you have somehow been inspired by me, I humbly say, “thank you.”  You have been an inspiration to me.  The words of encouragement have meant so much to me.  Accountability, support, and vulnerability have been big reasons why I’ve been able to make some changes in my life.

So if you feel inspired by me, I hope you are inspired to do this: make a good choice.  Start with one good choice. Today.  Choose to eat something healthier.  Choose the stairs over the elevator.  Choose to go for a walk.  Choose to forgive someone.  Choose to call a friend.  Choose to stand up for justice.  Choose to forgive yourself.  Choose to be kind to someone.  Choose to pray.

Choose to love God.  Choose to live well.  Choose to do good. Make one good choice today, and the next one will be a little bit easier.  Maybe together we can make some good choices, and change the world.

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Sermon: Remember Your Baptism

baptismSermon: Remember Your Baptism.  “The problem with resolutions is that their power often relies on our on own resolve.  So the resolution starts out strong, but then slowly fades.  So today we’re invited not to make another resolution, not to make another promise to just try harder… We’re going to do something a little bit different.  We’re going to renew our covenant…” To hear the whole sermon, click here.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

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