Archive for the ‘Teamwork’ category

Lean on Me From a Distance

April 4, 2020

Bill Withers passed away yesterday at the age of 81 of heart problems. One of the many songs he had written was “Lean On Me”, the year of my high school graduation, 1972.

His passing at this time in our country’s struggles seems strangely appropriate because it has brought that song back into our minds. It’s a time to lean on one another, even from a socially acceptable distance. The words from the song resonate in our minds and spirits: Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna’ need somebody to lean on.

Each one of us has times where our lean is more pronounced than at other times. Weary health care workers are looking for a wall to lean against for a few minutes. First-responders are in need of a listening ear to lean on. Grandparents lean their ears closer to the phone to hear the angelic voice of their young grandchildren. Pained souls lean into a YouTube video of a church choir singing Amazing Grace.

When Bill Withers wrote those lyrics almost fifty years ago he had no idea that they’d be intently listened to in 2020.

Oh, there are still plenty of people under the illusion that the world revolves around themselves and the purpose of everyone else is to please and pleasure them, but I think this pandemic has brought a new awakening– I guess that would be a reawakening– of how I need you and you need me.

My wife, caring of the need of others, took a half-dozen rolls of toilet paper up to our middle school this week, where bagged lunches were being distributed. Her thought was that those who qualify to receive the free lunches might also need a roll of TP! I walked by the school an hour later just to say hi to a couple of the workers and they informed me that those rolls of TP had not lasted long. They had all been given…quickly!

Leaning on one another, once in a while, means something as simple as that. As Bill Withers sang, “I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.”

 

The Threat of Pink Hair

March 31, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 31, 2020

                                

Two months ago the middle school girl’s basketball season ended. The eighth-grade girls I coached had done well enough to be the #2 seed for the league tournament in our 9 team league.

The entire tournament was played on a Friday and Saturday…double-elimination…otherwise translated as doubly-exhausted!

After winning our first game on Friday, we lost our 8:00 semi-final game on Saturday morning to the #3 seed, a team we had beaten in a close game during the regular season. Two more wins put us in the loser bracket final against the same team. BUT it was also our fourth game of the day! 

My girls were dead tired, heavy legs and erratic shooting. There was no spring in their jump, a half-step slow on defense. At halftime, we were behind 18-0.

Let me type that again. 18-0! No points in the first two quarters. Zippo!

But it wasn’t because they weren’t trying. They were just tired. So I said to them at halftime, “Hey! If we come back and win this game I’ll shave my head!”

They looked at me and smiled, and then one of them said, “No, Coach! If we win you’ll dye your hair pink!” Twelve heads bobbed up and down in glee-filled agreement.

“Okay! If we win I’ll dye my hair pink!”

It looked like a safe bet, no points the whole first half…down by 18…we couldn’t throw it in the ocean! So the second half began and we score the first basket…and then the next basket…and then the next seven points after that. Each time one of my players scored the girls on the bench would giggle and smile at me, probably envisioning how I would look with pink hair.

The other team scored and I breathed a sigh of relief, but then we scored a three-pointer. The lead had shrunk to six and I was beginning to ponder what hat I’d be wearing for the next several weeks.

Dead legs had come alive, shots were falling, and I was pondering coaching strategy. Would it look bad if I took my leading scorer out of the game for about the next ten minutes? Would it be okay to have my post player try to dribble the ball up the court? 

But then I thought I could live with pink hair if I had to. If my girls could come back from 18 points down and two big zeroes to summarize their scoring for the first two quarters, then I could look like a 65-year-old pink-haired rock star for a little while.

Right about the time I was trying to envision how I would look, the other team scored and then scored again. They held us off. We had scored 28 points in the second half, but they had scored 34 for the game. 

The team was disappointed, but also proud of their effort, their comeback from forever to come close. 

Me? I plead the fifth!

Being Out-served

March 27, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      March 27, 2020

                                    

A young woman, consumed with the number of her followers on Instagram, was interviewed by Dr. Phil about her self-centeredness in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. She had partied and been apathetic toward the idea of taking safety precautions to protect herself and, more importantly, others from contracting the virus.

When Dr. Phil directed his anger at her about putting others at risk through her carelessness, she responded that it wasn’t her problem. In fact, she indicated that Baby Boomers, like Dr. Phil, were the problem. 

He had a few things to say to her!

Her perspective, based on narcissism and arrogance, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from those who proclaim to follow Jesus. Instead of placing ourselves on the throne, Christ-followers seek to serve the One who is on the throne. Sometimes that serving is clumsy and misguided, like buying your wife a weigh scale for her birthday thinking it will help her be more healthy, but the mindset is right— seeking to benefit someone else’s life.

In these uncertain times, if too many people with the same attitude as the young woman are populating one side of the world’s see-saw and too few people are helping at the other end we will all suffer from the imbalance.

I still remember a message conveyed almost 25 years ago at a Promisekeepers conference in the Pontiac Silverdome by an African-American pastor named Efrem Smith. He encouraged us to out-serve our spouses. The same principle could be used in regards to out-serving our parents, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. His point was that our tendency is to think about ourselves, our wants, our needs, who’s going to wait on us, who’s going to bring us satisfaction, instead of figuring out how we can help others to know that they are valued.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote these powerful words that indicate what Jesus’s mindset was:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

  And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!”        (Philippians 2:5-8)

I’ve been blessed to have seen this picture of selflessness modeled for me by numerous people who have been parts of my life. My dad served my mom with patience and care. In her last few years of life when Parkinson’s was limiting her mobility, Dad waited on her as his calling. When Mom was bedridden and the disease had impacted her ability to formulate words, Dad cared for her without grumbling. He did not do it out of obligation, but rather out of his desire to show her that he still loved her. 

That character was evident in many of my professors at Judson College and Northern Baptist Seminary. The willingness to sit and listen to students at lunchtime in the student commons or continue conversations after class over a cup of coffee was the norm, not the exception, as our teachers sought to help us toward maturity of mind and meaningfulness in life.

Serving one another, and seeking to go the extra mile for one another, has become a key ingredient of our marriage. Truth be told, it is so ingrained in our relationship that we don’t think about it when we’re in the midst of it.

Since we’re confined to our surroundings for the foreseeable future, having the nature of a servant is crucial. In fact, the idea for this Words from WW came from Carol. She had remembered me talking about this message by Efrem Smith so long ago. I’m hoping that, in the midst of my failures and shortcomings, that she has felt loved, cherished, and served. 

The Battle Within to Stay Within

March 25, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 25, 2020

                            

The governor of Colorado spoke, a mixture of anger and pleading in his voice. He was asking people to stay at home, practice social distancing, wash their hands, and watch out for one another. As news of the number of infected New Yorkers alarmed us, more alarming were the scenes of people congregating together to play full-court basketball, lay on the beaches, and crowd into Costco.

In New York Governor Cuomo’s press conference, his arteries were about to pop out of his neck he was so angry at some of the citizens of his state. For many, it seems that the pandemic is something that will pass from the news in a few days. No biggie! 

It tells us of the battle within each one of us, the struggle to do the right thing versus our strong-willed determination to do what we want. Each one of us faces it multiple times each day. 

Yesterday was our granddaughter Corin’s fifth birthday. Carol and I drove over to our daughter’s house with presents, but we stayed a few feet away from our grandkids as we celebrated in the driveway in front of their house. Our desire was to hug and embrace the little birthday princess, but our greater hope is and has been, that all of our family is safe and remains healthy. The battle was evident. We’re accustomed to hugs and loving touches, but we had to blow kisses to one another instead.

Scripture talks about that internal struggle…frequently! The Apostle Paul does a personal tug-of-war in Romans 7, where he goes back and forth trying to understand why he has a tendency to do the things he knows he shouldn’t do, while also recognizing his desire to do what is good. 

There’s Simon Peter, who would do anything for Jesus, and then denying he even knew the man. There’s Paul’s categorizing of the sinful nature (“the acts of the flesh) and then the fruit of the Spirit (the characteristics of someone allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him/her) in Galatians 5.

There’s the conversation that Jesus has with a young man in Matthew 19. The young man asks Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life? When Jesus narrows the focus of the discussion down to the man’s obsession with his wealth the line was drawn in the sand. It was a line that revealed what the struggle and, consequently, what his priorities were. The scripture says that “he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

The battle is different for you than it is for me, but it is still that inner tussle for following the ways of God, following what we know is right, versus giving into our hunger to satisfy ourselves in the moment.

The current pandemic has clearly shown examples of self-sacrifice. A 72-year-old Italian priest named Don Giuseppe Berardelli, infected with COVID-19, gave up his ventilator for a younger person who was sick. The priest had been suffering from a respiratory condition for some time and his church had bought the ventilator for him previously. Father Don died two days ago, a week after giving his ventilator up.

Volunteers are helping gather and deliver food, neighbors are checking neighbors, people are praying for one another. The good acts of humanity have been frequently needed harmonies of sweet music.

But our propensity for dumbness and deceit has also been evident. New scams are suckering in desperate people. People are stealing toilet paper from places of business. Stubborn self-centered folk are thumbing their noses at following protective guidelines. 

Crazy people in crazy times!

Let me tell you what my hope is. My hope is that the God of heaven changes hearts in these coming days, causes people to look into the mirror and discover who their number one foe and number one advocate is, and brings us into new and deeper realizations of how precious the gift of life and our loved ones are.

The Possibility of Entitlement Conversion

March 14, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 14, 2020

                      

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Romans 6:11-12)

As the world locks arms…from a distance…to battle the Coronavirus, the problem children emerge as well. Hospitals are discovering that some of their important items are being stolen. Hand sanitizer and rolls of toilet paper are flying out of hospitals as fast as they are appearing on grocery store shelves. 

And yet other people in this great world are discovering the joy of serving their fellow man. And others still are looking at the self-centered nature of their lives and making about-face turns. 

Perhaps this pandemic can light a fuse for the conversion of our entitlement culture. When the life and death of others becomes the final jeopardy question, will enough people take themselves off their thrones and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them? 

Stealing hand sanitizer from a hospital is a sign that dark hearts still lumber through our land, but to have people looking out for one another— their neighbors, their elderly parents, canceling major sporting events, concerts, and church gatherings— says that there are still willing hearts in this struggle.

Maybe, just maybe, this world crisis will spawn a spiritual crisis about what is really important in this short life of ours and what’s simply not necessary. Maybe, just maybe, there will be an awakening about what should really rise to the top and what is simply like toilet paper, a lot of fluff! 

Life In The Shadow of Death

March 7, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 7, 2020

                                 

The long lines at Costco hit the evening news. Shoppers were stocking up on a year’s supply of bottled water, hand wipes, and facial tissues. When an illness is still shrouded in mystery, history has told us over and over again that people rush toward any possible remedy or, at least, look to take any precaution possible. 

At Starbucks this morning I could not use my own reusable cup. For the immediate future, they are serving coffee in their disposable paper cups, and when you want a refill they give you a new cup. 

The shadow of death that looms over our lives right now is scary…and revealing. There is the fear of death that rings true for many of us, but, more than that, the uncertainty of death is what scares most of us. 

Not to trivialize the coronavirus concern in any way, but I can’t help but compare these tensions in the uncertainty with an amusement park ride at Cedar Point in northern Ohio called “Top Thrill Dragster”. Several years ago my kids convinced me that I needed to ride it with them. I wasn’t sure, but they dragged me to the ride. When we finally reached the front of the line, two of the ride workers were hosing out the front car…a bad sign! However, it was the uncertainty of what I was about to experience that caused me to shudder. That racing into the unknown is what is causing us to be wary of large crowds, wash our hands more, and be more observant.

The shadow of death has that effect. 

As a follower of Jesus, I also go forward with the assurance of Psalm 23 echoing in my mind. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff they comfort me!”

Back in first-century Rome when the plague went through the city, the sick were discarded from their homes, left to live and die on the streets and in the shadows in their final moments of life. It was the followers of Jesus who embraced the diseased and cared for them in their final hours, often willingly becoming infected themselves. 

They loved Jesus, and it was the love of Christ that brought their compassion out for others. Understandably they did not have the knowledge about diseases and spreadable viruses that we have today, but there was peace within them as they stood in death’s path. In the midst of the virus concerns, the evening news also showed scenes from Tennessee’s recent tornadoes…and the long lines of people coming to volunteer in any way they can!

Whatever these next few days may bring us— more long lines at Costco but short lines at movie theaters, cancellations of commitments and even reduced attendance at Sunday worship— may we always be reminded of the Holy Presence that walks with us in the shadows!

Updating My Book

March 1, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 1, 2020

                                        

My recently released book Red Hot: New Life in Fleming received its first review a few days ago. The reviewer gave it 5 Stars. Here is what was written:

I just finished reading this book and I enjoyed it immensely. I would consider this book light reading and to me that is definitely a plus! It deals with bullying and also pressures that are sometimes put on students that we as parents are sometimes not aware of. It has a homespun feel to it and it took me back to my childhood on several occasions. The two main characters show us what true friendship is all about and how they maintain that friendship through adolescent struggles. Most of us can relate to this while looking back on our own teenage years. I highly recommend this book for readers of all ages. You won’t be disappointed.

That was cool!

Okay, true confession! I know the person who wrote the review, although I’m not related to her. She attends the same church my sister does in southern Ohio and is probably reading these words. BUT she was sincere in what she said in her review! That’s just how she is!

On Friday, one of the language arts teachers at the school where I’m teaching read the first chapter of the book to each of her classes. I had kids coming up to me between classes and telling me how much they enjoyed the first chapter.

So now to just get people to read it! My youngest daughter is counseling me to get on Instagram and do that whole thing! She will have to guide me! My sister-in-law has bought a couple of copies and taken them to her town’s public library in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. The Timberview Middle School library has three copies of it for students to check out.ng, In

Going through Kindle Direct Publishing is easy in many ways…until you get to the marketing part of the equation. It’s a whole new experience at that point. 

And while I’m trying to get the first book known, I’ve been revising the second book in the series, Red Hot: New Grace in Fleming. There’s a student at my middle school who read the draft of the first book and has been salivating about the second book. I print off 40-50 pages at a time and take it to her at school. Whenever I’m handing her the new folder of print she breaks out in a grin and receives the newest additions as if it’s food for a starving person. In some ways, it has inspired me to be more disciplined in my revising in order to satisfy her appetite.

A couple of other people I know who have read the first book have been eagerly awaiting the sequel. Well, …their comments are more like…”We’re waiting!!!” I envision folded arms and impatient teacher-types, staring at me with consternation.

So…today I’ll revise 2 or 3 more chapters and push the dogs toward the finish line!

(The first book is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. From March 22-29 is it free on Kindle. Otherwise, you’ll have to fork over $2.99! The paperback is $11.99! Save your pennies!)

What Any Coach Would Like To Hear At The end Of The Season

February 15, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     February 15, 2020

           

A good friend of mine, Leo Swiontek, who I’ve known ever since he was my son’s high school JV basketball coach twenty years ago, is coming towards the finish line of his basketball season. He is the varsity boy’s coach at The Classical Academy on the north side of Colorado Springs.

Leo is an incredible coach. He is high energy, enthusiastic, cares about his players, and has taught me a lot. Even with a 14-5 win/loss record this year, following a 17-7 record last year, you can see the weariness in him. High school basketball is almost a year-round sport, taking breaks for April and July, but otherwise filling up the schedule with camps, open gyms, weekend tournaments, and individual evaluations. 

When Leo gets finished in as little as two weeks or as much as four, he will look back at what was and know that he put everything into it. What I hope he hears from his parents and players is how he impacted them and guided them.

I recently completed my middle school girl’s basketball season, a quick two month-long experience from beginning to end, and I received a letter from a grandparent of one of my players. It was like ointment for a tired body. I carry it in my backpack in the envelope it arrived in. It contains words that any coach hopes to hear at the end of a season.

I’d like to share just some parts of it.

“I’m the proud grandparent of one of your players and have had the privilege of watching her play basketball for many years. Her Grandpa and I watched her play under your guidance and I think your coaching skills are the best…I didn’t hear you raise your voice a single time at any of the players or the referees. You handled everything with such professionalism. All the girls played, regardless of their skill level, and I heard you when you had your chats with them. I was impressed with how you handled everything. Her team is so lucky to have had you as their coach!”

Those words, not forced but volunteered, took me by surprise. As a coach, you hope you’re making a difference, not only in the lives of your players but also in the impression you’re communicating to their parents…and grandparents. 

I’m not a hall of fame coach. I’m just a coach who’s been given the opportunity to use a game to teach his players about life. 

I’ll see Coach Swiontek this morning and I’ll applaud his example. I’ll tell him what a great job he has done and is doing, and I’ll look into his tired eyes and remind him that the prize is in sight. He deserves it!

The Kid Who Always Needs a Pencil

January 22, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 22, 2020

                                

He comes into class with $200 Apple ear pods firmly in place. They are a sign to his peers that his parents will buy him anything. I notice that he surveys the classroom, deciding who he wants to greet and who to ignore. His $60 backpack gets dropped on his table like a sack of potatoes, and then he goes to infiltrate the ranks of unsuspecting students. His $150 pair of athletic shoes compliment the rest of his privileged life. Not including his clothes, I estimate his classroom value at over $400. 

Two minutes later I use my voice to blow the trumpet for the launching of class. “Have a seat and let’s get into it!” is my usual summons to order.

Ear pod boy plunges into his seat like he’s launching into one of the water slides at Great Wolf Lodge. 

I take attendance and then give the plan for the next 55 minutes. The kid who, by the way, the teacher I’m subbing for has left me a scribbled note about is in his own world of “peer-dom” pretends to listen as he dreams about the tall blonde two tables away. She looks his direction and he puts a hand on one of his ear pods, as if to convince her of his value and coolness.

“Today”, I tell them, “you’re going to be completing these two work sheets.” I explain what they need…textbook, copy of the work sheets I’ll hand out, something to write with. The kid is unwrapping a Pop Tart as I’m talking. Crumbs dot the sides of his mouth. If he’s trying to impress the blonde with his ear pods, he negates its effect with the remnants of the Pop Tart.

The work sheets get passed out and students begin to fill in the blanks. Five minutes later ear pod boy comes to my desk and says the words that he has spoken so many times before.

“Can I borrow a pencil?”

“You remembered your Pop Tart and your overpriced ear pods, but you couldn’t remember to bring a pencil?”

He stares at me with a blank look that conveys his disinterest in writing utensils. Pencils are not high on his list of priorities. The blonde is. Munching on a Pop Tart that he had to remember to get out of the pantry at home, that’s high! But to bring a pencil…to any class!…on any day!…for any reason!…that has not appeared on his radar yet! That’s what the teacher is there for, to keep him supplied! 

He’s a visual aid that communicates that the simplest things in life seem to be the hardest for some people to do.

Just a Little Cut on My Right Thumb

January 3, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 3, 2020

                                     

“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23,27)

It was a paper cut, but it must have been angry paper…paper with an attitude looking to inflict pain!

The cut only measured a couple of millimeters…I think! I could never understand those ways of measuring things. In laypeople language it measured itsy-bitsy, but it was on the tip of my right thumb. I guess you could say that “it stuck out like sore thumb!”

No big deal. It was only a tiny cut, barely big enough to put under the microscope. I had nine other fingers to take care of details. I never use my thumbs when I type, so there was one thing. I’m a three-fingered typist, two on my left hand and one on the right. Always have been. If I have to think about using more fingers than those three I’ll become frantic, like the person in the movie who has to figure out which wire to cut, perspiration running down his face, along with tears.

So, no big deal on the thumb, right? 

Wrong! I started getting dressed to go to church and I couldn’t get the top button on my dress shirt buttoned. I’ve never worn a tie and had my top button unbuttoned, but that night— Christmas Eve, in fact— I had to resort to looking, as my mom would say, “slouchy!”

With great effort I was able to zip myself up, but I almost had to take my pants off first, zip them, and then “vaseline up” my legs and slide in.

It took me great effort to tie my shoes. I thought about wearing my loafers that I hadn’t put on since the 1990’s and have a hiding spot in the deepest part of my closet, but I struggled through the loops and would have won a shoe-tying race against my 3 month old grandson if need be.

And that’s just getting dressed with the mini-cut! 

At Christmas Day dinner we had a delicious ham, but “the cut” made cutting my piece of meat painful. Eating a pickle was painless, but how many pickles can I person eat as others are piling their plates with ham, scalloped potatoes, corn casserole, fruit salad, rolls, and veggies? Picking up the whole slice of ham and jamming it in my mouth seemed to be unfitting for the occasion. I did that later!

A couple of days later I had to shovel the driveway. Oh, the pain, the pain!

I reached to turn the lamplight off beside the bed. Jumpin’ Jimmy!

I flipped the top open on my container of Old Spice “Steel Courage” Body Wash and grimaced. Where’s that Dove bar of soap when you need it? 

You get the picture! A minute cut on the end of one finger had a ripple effect on the decisions I made, or didn’t make, for a good ten days. It’s still there, but I can at least button my shirt all the way to the top now and I’ve been able to put the Vaseline away without thinking about having to use it.

The pain of the least of these amongst us has a ripple effect on all of us. In the Apostle Paul’s description of the functioning church he never talks about the over-effectiveness of one of its parts. There’s to be no strutting amongst the people of God. Instead, he focuses the health of the church on all of its parts functioning properly…even the tip of the thumb. When one of the parts can’t be counted on it causes the whole body to shift, to rethink how to get something done, and ends up overtaxing the other members. A small cut on my thumb brought that home to me.

The Body of Christ is a unique group. When it began back in the days after Jesus was crucified and rose again it emphasized the importance of everyone. Heck! Jesus emphasized that his whole ministry. Those who were considered “the tips of the thumbs” and “the toenails on the little toes” were given just as much attention and care by Jesus as anyone else. When the church becomes more like the spiritual form of a pyramid scheme the whole body uses its focus.

My right thumb is back to ninety percent now. All is right again in the universe, but I’m putting a sign up in my study “Beware of the Angry Paper!”