Archive for May 2022

Finding The Peace Point

May 29, 2022

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Matthew 5:9, The Message)

Peace is as elusive as cheap gas. We’d like it, but we just can’t find it. And, of course, judging from the interstate traffic this weekend, we’re not willing to change our driving ways to find that middle point of budget-consciousness and still be participating in what are the important events of life.

Jesus had his differences with many folk of His day. From the gospel stories we encounter the Rabbi who would listen, offer a question that would bring the person toward a remedy of spiritual, emotional, and relational healing. Jesus was the Peacemaker and He was, and is, Peace. He didn’t compromise on the essential truths He instructed us to live by, but He didn’t build up barriers to communication with those who challenged Him.

In a culture that is as divided as oil and water, I seldom find people who point toward a position of peace. Trenches are dug, non-negotiables are set in cement, and offensive language is spoken. Cooperation is of minimal importance. Cooperation brings the differing factions closer to experiencing community, where the emphasis is not on winning or losing, gaining more followers, and being the superior side. Community brings out what we have in common and agree upon.

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ blessing of those who are peacemakers points me to the essence of the issue. “Show people how to cooperate instead of compete.”

A push to cooperate is usually met with responses that start with the words “Yes, but…” Behind them you can hear the sound of a shovel digging the trench deeper. The point of peace, however, usually has a bungee cord attached to it that branches out in two, or more, directions. There’s give-and-take as dialogue draws people closer.

If Jesus came down on a certain side, it usually was because of injustice toward those who didn’t have a voice, people who no one considered important enough to listen to. He was unbending on the essential truth that everyone is valued by God the Father. He’d be the voice for those whose needs weren’t considered important.

Finding the peace point, individually and as a society, was His purpose, His mission. It should be ours as well but, once again, finding the peace point is as easy as finding cheap gas. Maybe we just need to walk more, instead of being in such a hurry to get somewhere.

Death Drawing Near

May 28, 2022

Yesterday I attended the funeral service of Chaz Woodson, taken at the too-young age of 38 by an heart episode in his sleep. Chaz had been the varsity boys’ soccer coach for the last several years at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, where he had been teaching math and had played soccer 20 years ago.

In fact, my son had been his teammate on the team that lost in the state championship game their junior year to finish the season 18-1-1, and won the state championship their senior year with an unblemished 20-0 record. At the funeral gathering yesterday, a number of the boys who were on the team were in attendance, coming from other states, as well as close to home.

I watched them reunite before and after the service, attended by at least a thousand people. For a number of them, this was the first time they had seen each other in years, some not since high school. They had progressed in their lives, taken different career paths, many now with families. They had come back together to remember a teammate who, ironically, was coaching the same team that had bonded them together so many years ago.

Death draws us near. It’s a time of mourning, and yet we draw strength from the others who are traveling the same path. Death confuses us, and yet, refocuses us. It causes us to pause and it leads us to reassess.

Death elicits anger, as we see in the actions to the school shooting in Texas this week, but it also reignites our love and compassion.

At Chaz’s funeral, the tissues were being pulled from the numerous boxes situated in numerous locations around the sanctuary. Tears brought on by sorrow mixed with tears created by laughter. The sweetness of remembering was evident as former teammates hugged and gave slaps on the backs to each other afterwards in the church foyer.

I’ve officiated at a number of funerals over the years where sadness was layered on top of sadness. At those gatherings, no one experienced or shared the sweetness of the moments that had been a part of the departed’s life. I would leave gatherings such as those wondering if the person had ever lived or, on the other hand, whether those in attendance had ever lived life with him or her.

Chaz’s service was punctuated by stories of his impact and shared experiences. He had lived life, loved family, and been the creator of sweet memories. Death draws us near and, once again, draws out the reasons we live.

Pulled By A Small Hand

May 22, 2022

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then comefollow me.” (Luke 18:22)

Jesus said three words, “Come, follow me!” on at least two occasions to two different types of people. One type consisted of people He was inviting to come and follow Him, to be His disciples. The second type, depending on the gospel account you read, was someone of wealth and/or stature.

I wonder how hard it was for those He invited to summon up the courage to put to the side what they had and start on a new unknown journey. How much doubt did they deal with? What was the tipping point that determined whether they stayed or went?

In the Luke passage, the encounter with the rich young ruler comes immediately after Jesus has a difference of opinion with the same disciples who have accepted His offer to follow Him. They were rebuking people for trying to bring their children to Jesus. Jesus’ reply to them was “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Jesus loved kids. Children grabbed hold of the heartstrings of God’s own Son, a strong indication of God’s perspective as well.

The past few days Carol and I have been watching our two-and-a-half-year-old grandson while his mom, dad, and baby brother were away for some meetings and relaxation. Joey enjoyed having Grammy and Granddad all to himself for long periods of time. Carol did most of the work and will now take a few weeks to recover.

Meanwhile, Joey enjoyed pulling me around. He would slip his tiny hand into mine and say, with limited clarity still, “Grandad, come. Granddad, come.”

And I followed. You don’t refuse the pull of a small hand as he leads you to the next adventure. I couldn’t say, “No, Granddad has important things to do!” or “No, Granddad is too tired and needs to rest.”

The task I was being pulled to was sometimes the operating of a toy train, making sure it stayed on the defective track, and sometimes it was to pull him in a Joey-size play boat. In essence, I was being pulled in order to pull.

Interesting. The one who has the least amount of physical strength to pull me is the one who I can not offer any resistance to.

Jesus knew that. When parents tried to bring their offspring to Him to place His hand on them and bless them, the disciples yelled at the parents. Perhaps they wouldn’t have hindered the kids if they had come alone.

All I know is that I felt closer to God these past few days as a small hand took hold of mine and led me to where he wanted me to go.

“Come, follow me…Granddad!”

Defining Pro-Life

May 15, 2022

Frequently in the gospels, Jesus got into conversations that resembled grill sessions. For example, in Matthew 12, the Pharisees confronted Him about His disciples who were doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath by picking the heads off the grains in the field as they walked by because they were hungry. Jesus brought up a story from their past that they were familiar with.

“Haven’t you read about what David and his companions did when they were hungry?” (Matthew 12:3, NIV)

In another encounter, a bunch of religious leaders and pious men were ready to stone a woman caught in adultery. They tell Jesus what the Law says and Jesus responds, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Gradually the condemners slip away, confronted with the big picture that cast a dark shadow on each one of them.

Jesus brought the whole context of the issue into the dialogue, not a singular moment that could only be interpreted from one incident. Jesus saw the whole book– its individual pages, front and back covers, binding, table of contents, beginning and ending– not just the view of the front cover, the only aspect that can be seen from a straight-on look.

I’ve thought about that a lot as the fervor over the leaked Supreme Court document dealing with Roe vs. Wade has erupted. It has caused me to ponder the implications, the responsibilities, and the opportunities. In other words, the whole book, not just the front cover that is viewed.

At the risk of some deciding not to read any further, I admit that I am an advocate of life. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that being a true life advocate means more than holding a position on abortion. It carries with it the rest of the picture. If I advocate for the sacredness of life I must consider how that affects other pages in my life journey. What are the implications of believing in the sacredness of life as it pertains to the hungry, the afflicted, and the elderly? If I believe in the sacredness of life I must look at all of life or risk being a like the accusing Pharisees, nearsighted and shortsighted.

What responsibilities am I committing myself to by saying that life is sacred? In a culture that is very focused on the self, am I willing to look in the mirror and see the inconsistencies in my life, and in seeing them, am I willing to make the changes that would be God-honoring and Christ-consistent? After all, following Jesus means following the One who promised new life. There’s that word again. Life.

Jesus had a way of causing both his naysayers and also his disciples to stop and consider the stumbling points of their views. They wanted to come back at Him with “Yes, but!” responses, but in the end they would realize the inconsistencies in their views. I feel that way about both sides as the venom spews out about the Roe vs. Wade case. There are inconsistencies on both sides, but no one wants to admit that. Admitting that there needs to be more pondering and praying about a position is too humbling for most of us.

And I’m still thinking about the what it means for my life. In essence, every time I turn to a new page in the story, I discover another part of the journey that causes me to realize there’s something new to consider.

Athletes With Character

May 13, 2022

One of the main reasons I have written three books about a high school boy with bright red hair is to set forth an athlete who has talent, but more importantly, character. Randy “Red Hot” Bowman treats everyone with respect, doesn’t believe the world revolves around him, and shows humility in the midst of times when other want to put him on a pedestal.

As I come close to 30 years of coaching middle and high school kids in basketball, the need for athletes like Randy have never been more evident. After a year where athletic competitions were limited or non-existent, I see the warts and blemishes coming out in middle school kids whose only models for the past months have been the make-believe athletes on their video games or professional athletes who strut their stuff in front of the cameras.

During the past two weeks, my coaching buddy, Ron McKinney and I have been conducting a basketball camp after school for sixth-graders at our school. I brought in a couple of my former basketball players, one junior male and one sophomore female, to help us. Both os them are talented players who have character. This week I talked to the campers about the vitalness of having character on the court and in the classroom. In fact, I emphasized that when I evaluate players who are trying out for one of the school’s basketball teams, I place character above talent in importance.

Coach McKinney and learned that over the years. In his evaluating of players that his professional football team was considering drafting, former NFL coach, Tony Dungy, would sometimes puts the letters “DNDC” beside a prospects name. It stood for “Do Not Draft- Character!” They determined that an athlete who had great talent but was lacking in character had more potential to be a problem in their team concept than a potential player.

That also means that coaching 12 and 13-year-olds has to include guidance, mentoring, and modeling. The coach must model what being a person of character looks like and, in a short amount of time, needs to talk and teach about it. What does it mean to be an honorable seventh-grader? What does it mean for a second-string player to take ownership in what the team is emphasizing? What does it mean to work hard and have a great work ethic? What does it mean for an eighth-grader to show positive leadership? In an era where bullying often gets talked about, what does it mean for a team member to strive for a safe environment for his/her teammates?

At our sixth grade camp, Coach McKinney and I can already see that there are a few kids who will need to be reeled in some, others who have the seeds of a good character foundation, and others who need to be guided toward becoming awesome young people. That has made the inclusion of the two high school athletes so important. They model who these kids have the potential to become.

In a culture that exalts winners and laughs at losers, thee needs to be a committed effort to teaching the fundamental skills of the sport, the principles of and how to function as an effective team, and being a teammate and student with character.

I am who I am as a coach because of awesome coaching mentors. Don Fackler, Leo Swiontek, Ron McKinney, Steve Achor, Scott Shattuck, Jim Chapman, and Kevin Wenger have all impacted my life n not just game strategy but also modeling character and integrity.

I’m at the point in my life where an opposing coach talking about how great my kids were in sportsmanship and hustle brings a smile to my face more than a win.

Hitting 68 With 8th!

May 7, 2022

Yes, on May 5th I hit a 6 followed by an 8. 68, sixty-eight, seis-ocho (My high school Spanish wasn’t bueno!)

I spent most of the day with about 90 eighth-graders, none of them aware of it being my birthday…which I was happy to keep secret. If they would have found out I would have had to endure hearing a number of high shrilly voices tramatizing my hearing.

I was ending a long-term substitute teaching assignment for a great teacher who had gone on maternity leave back in mid-February. She returns next Monday! Thank you, Lord! It’s has been an enjoyable experience. I love spending time with the same students each day, coaching a group of students for a season, and deepening those relationships that are so precious and important.

Reaching 68, however, makes a person think long and hard about what is and what is yet to be. It’s where I am in my journey. Back at the end of 2015 I retired after 36 years as a church pastor. I didn’t need to, but I knew it was time. Substitute teaching became a transitional point for me and I found out the kids usually smiled when they realized I was their sub.

And then last year (August 2020) Timberview Middle School needed help. There wasn’t a teacher for 7th grade language arts to start the year. Would I begin the year until they could find the year? Sure! And then they never found anyone to take the class, so my first two weeks became ten, and then twenty, and finally, it just went for the whole year. Loved it!

And then the 8th grade language arts teacher called me last summer to ask if I would fill in for her when she had her first baby in February. Sure! And then the school called to see if I would begin the year teaching the same 7th grade language arts class until they could find someone. Sure!

And now I’m 68 and pondering if it is time to consider stepping to the side. Being a person of faith, I seek guidance from the One I anchor my life to. “Lord, is this where you want me to continue serving, or is there something else you are transitioning me to?”

Sometimes we get into “the comfort zone” of living and become blind to new possibilities. I love working with young people, and always will, but I’m a dinosaur in a Marvel Comic heroes time period. Just call me Dagwood…or maybe Jughead!

Substance and Style

May 1, 2022

Hanging around middle-schoolers has acquainted me with styles, trends, and despite attempts to look cool. A student walking down the hallway with white AirPods in his ears is on the same level as my classmates wearing penny loafers down the high school corridors of fifty years ago.

Having the hood of the hoodie covering your head is also a sign of extreme coolness. In fact, having the hood on plus having one’s classmates being able to see that an AirPod is sticking in at least one ear borders on over-the-top coolness.

My mom worked at Penney’s, so my level of coolness was resembling of lukewarm milk. She received substantial discounts for working there on anything that smacked of ordinary but suitable. I had a suitable haircut, suitable socks, geeky-looking glasses, and clean underwear in case for some odd reason I lost my pants during the school day. My mom was a stickler about making sure my tighty-whitey’s were clean!

Most middle-schoolers are drawn to style. In a time of masks and weirdness, they believe style defines them. If given a choice between substance and style, most would fall with their full weight toward style. Substance is not a high priority. It doesn’t rise up the chart until sometime later.

And yet, there are some kids who have discovered it. There are those examples of students who have come to understand that what’s inside is more important than what is on the outside. Tony Dungy remembers a story from his growing up years when he went with his dad to buy a new pair of basketball shoes. The Chuck Taylor’s (the equivalent of today’s Air Jordans) was $7.99, but the Kmart shoes were $3.99. His dad showed him that both pairs were made of the same material. Tony told his dad that might be true, but the Chuck Taylor’s were cool and it was important to look cool to his friends. His dad said that might be somewhat true and if Tony wanted to spend his own money to make up the difference between the Kmart brand and the Chuck Taylor’s, the extra $4.00, that was his choice. His dad wanted him to know that it was what was inside that counted. In the end, substance says more than style.

I have some students in class who have discovered that. It’s not that their lives are void of style, but character defines them and will be the reason I remember them for years to come. In fact, there are a few of those students who I will grieve over their departure to high school.

It has been a year of extremes. Many of the students who have missed a year of consistency as a result of last year’s pandemic are searching for something to hold on to, something to wrap their life around. They need an identity, a way to define their personhood. Style is the easy go-to. Substance and a comfortableness about who the student is something that only a few have discovered.

Tony Dungy concludes the Chuck Taylor’s story by saying that soon after his Kmart shoes purchase, ironic as it was, Converse came out with the new slogan, “It’s what’s in inside that counts!”