Wednesday, April 09, 2008


After we got home from church on Sunday, the TV was on the NFL Network. Now I realize that this isn't exactly football season, but around here it's always football season. The program was a countdown of the top ten biggest mistakes in the history of the NFL. Now I don't for a minute believe these were the ten biggest foul-ups, but they were certainly high profile.

But none were more high profile than Jim Marshall's wrong way run. Marshall, an all-pro defensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, had a stellar career. He was a big part of one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL -- the Purple People Eaters. However, even with all the accolades for his accomplishments, Jim Marshall is still remembered by many for his wrong way run.

The Vikings were playing the San Francisco 49ers when the 49er runner fumbled the ball. Marshall, quick as a cat, scooped up the pigskin and headed for the end zone. The only problem was that Marshall didn't turn around, he simply ran. His teammates were yelling at him from the sideline to turn around, but Marshall thought they were just cheering them on. When he reached the end zone, he tossed the ball into the stands thinking he had just scored a touchdown for the Vikings. Unfortunately for Marshall, he had just scored a safety -- 2 points -- for the 49ers. Eventually, as the pictures above show, one of the 49er offensive players caught up to Marshall to give him the bad/good news.

The announcer on the television program spoke about how Marshall was seen as a superman in the league up until that day. Then he said, "But on that one play, Superman was just a man who was lost."

Those words struck me as odd. Remember we had just been at the church for Sunday services. This Sunday we had an unexpected visitor. I'll call her Eve.

Eve hadn't expected to visit our church that Sunday either. She had received a call from her 24-year-old son from a county jail about 30 minutes from our church. After she took her son his heart medication, Eve got back in the car for the 30 minute drive home. But somewhere along the line, Eve got mixed up and went in almost exactly the opposite direction as she should have. Finally, feeling exhausted and desperate, she saw a church with a bunch of cars in the parking lot and a few people milling about, so she pulled in to ask directions.

She was quickly brought in for a restroom stop and a cup of coffee. It was (coincidentally or providentially) our coffee and donut time, and a lady from our congregation sought me out to see if I could give Eve directions back home. I did, then turned to get the service started.

We were about ten minutes into the service before I realized that Eve was sitting in the back pew, right beside the lady who had asked me to give directions. She stayed there listening as I preached about not being able to understand God's plan sometimes, and how God's love doesn't fail even though tragedy befalls us.

Eve asked to talk to me after the service. She was truly lost. Her husband had died just three months ago. Now she was all alone, away from a man who almost never left her side. Her head wasn't quite right. She was a bit confused. She was lost.

She asked me to find a pastor for her in her hometown so she could talk to someone once her nerves settled down a bit. She told me she had wanted to sit down with a pastor but didn't know who to talk to. Then after Eve composed herself, she and a couple from church left for home. The couple wanted to be sure Eve would make it, so the woman rode with Eve while her husband followed. On the way home, Eve made two wrong turns due to her muddled mind. Finally she made it home. But she's still lost.

If a superman can get lost, a woman mourning the love of her life can certainly get lost. Please pray for all of the lost -- especially Eve.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Battles

I just got done watching a classic basketball game on ESPN Classic. It was 25 years ago and I
was in college, marveling at the incredible run of North Carolina State. My friends and I were huge basketball fans, especially at our own school, but once the Ball State Cardinals were done for the season, we turned to the bigger schools and the NCAA tournament.
In 1983, the Wolfpack were decent, but they were nowhere near the best team in the land. That was Houston. The Cougars went by Phi Slamma Jamma becasue they slam dunked the ball so often in an era where dunking was not an every-second occurrance.
State clawed their way through the Atlantic Coast Conference, actually made the NCAA tournament field and methodically began picking off teams they were not supposed to beat. The team's colorful coach, Jim Valvano, took his team all the way to the championship game against the number one team in the land -- Houston.
The Wolfpack took the opening tip and scored immediately with a slam dunk -- usually not their forte. For the rest of the first half, the underdogs kept the Cougars at bay, piling up an eight-point lead at halftime. But Houston came out smoking in the second half and soon asserted control. But the 'Pack wouldn't quit, and with less than a minute left, the score was tied and State had the ball. Playing for the last shot, the Wolfpack almost frittered away the entire remaining time with Dereck Whittenberg picking up the ball near half-court with less than five seconds remaining and heaving a desperation shot at the basket. The shot fell about a foot short, but it didn't fall all the way to the floor. Lorenzo Charles grabbed the ball as it was passing in front of the rim, turned and slammed it through with two seconds left. The Houston players were so stunned that no one thought to call time out. The game was over, and Valvano was running wildly around the floor looking for someone to hug.
I remember so much about that game, even though it happened 25 years ago. It's the stuff of legend. Two years later, Villanova did something similar when they upset Georgetown to win in 1985 and I remember some of the same things. But it's not just wild upsets. In 1979 it was Magic vs. Bird as Michigan State took out Indiana State. In 1982, Fred Brown made a pass to the wrong team as his Georgetown Hoyas were coming down to take the winning shot. These are a part of my memory.
Yet I find it interesting that I can remember vividly the 1979, 1982, 1983, and 1985 NCAA Championship Games but I couldn't tell you much of anything about 1980, 1981, 1984 or 1986. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it has something to do with the game itself. Watching the back-and-forth struggles and battling for supremacy make things memorable. There may have been high drama during the years I can't remember off-hand, but for some reason it hasn't stuck with me.
I remember other battles from sports. Billy Buckner lets a grounder go through his legs. Dwight Clark makes "The Catch." The "Do You Believe In Miracles" USA hockey gold medal game, The "Thrilla in Manilla", Boise State's Statue of Liberty touchdown win... the battles make memories.
I think it's the same way with life. The episodes in our lives that make the most impact on us are the ones that involve battles. There's something about fighting through adversity that makes an impression on the ol' memory bank. That struggle you find yourself in will affect you. You'll remember the hard times, but you will also remember the victory that was won. Some may seem like hollow victories or even complete losses, but if you are still alive and kicking afterward, there is victory to be found. After all, God has preserved you for this moment, for this time. Your victory may be found in how He helped you through, in how you learned from tragedy or from your mistakes.
There are some who would want life to be easy, without battles. I think that sort of life wouldn't teach us much of anything. We wouldn't learn how God strengthens us. We would see how He upholds us. Our character wouldn't grow. Neither would our perseverence. We wouldn't be all that God wants us to be.
It's the battles that make us better. It's the battles that draw us closer to God. It's the battles that make memories because battles with God lead to the ultimate victory.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Likewise, unless I level with God -- about bitterness over an unanswered
prayer, grief over an unforgiving spirit, a baffling sense of God's absence --
that relationship, too, will go nowhere. I may continue going to church, singing hymns and praise choruses, even addressing God politely in formal prayers, but I will never break through the intimacy barrier. "'We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us," wrote C. S. Lewis. To put it another way, we must trust God with what God already knows. -- Philip Yancey from the book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

I've been working through the old Bill Hybels book, "Too Busy Not To Pray" and teaching a study on Sundays. Last Sunday we talked about authenticity in prayer. It's a topic that on the surface isn't one that strikes a chord of guilt with me. When I'm praying, I don't think I'm being dishonest or secretive about my feelings. After all, it's God. How am I going to fool Him? Or to paraphrase Yancey's paraphrase, "Why wouldn't I trust God with what God already knows?"

I realize that many people can develop the habit of going through the motions. Rehearsed prayers, standard blessings, perfuctory psalms... boy am I glad I don't have any issues like repeating prayers over and over again with no real meaning seeping through. Thank God I'm not like other men.

Too pharisaic?

OK, so I'm not always authentic. My mind can slip into daydreams if I'm not careful. I can resort to the same old prayer requests without thinking.

But the biggest problem for me with authenticity is not taking it to God in the first place. It's easy to fake authenticity if I just avoid a sensative topic in prayer, or even avoid the prayer altogether. It's tempting to keep certain select areas of my life away from the Almighty. But it's not like He doesn't already know.

He also knows about my bitterness, my hurts, my fears. And while that may sound intimidating, I'm glad He knows. Someone needs to know. And because He does, I can be, well authentic with Him in prayer. I can pour my heart out to Him. In fact, our relationship gets deeper as I continue to confide in Him. What's more, our relationship takes a step back when I stonewall Him or ignore Him.

"Lord, You know me and my heart. Continue to draw me to You, unafraid to be open with You."