Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?

Superbowl_Trophy_CropGive generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the  LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. Excerpts from Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Does God care who wins the Super Bowl? Probably not so much in the Old North State – Panthers are at home in the kitty box. But to the Patriots of New England and the Seahawks of Seattle it may be a different story. This is really not an original question with me but one that comes from an old Sports Illustrated article of years ago. I imagine the after game interview in the winner’s locker room where some sports caster says: “Great game Biff.” And the player responds; “Thanks Bud, but first I would like to say that I owe it all to my Savior Jesus Christ. We kicked some BUTT out there today.”

Forgive me folks but I have a VERY difficult time even considering that God gives a hoot about who wins a ball game of any sort… especially ones involving a lot of spoiled multi-millionaires. Richard Wood is a Methodist and Quaker minister and the former Dean of the Divinity School at Yale. He says, “It doesn’t seem to me odd that God would know in detail what happens in football games. What seems odd to me is that God would care. The idea that God intervenes in sports is one that most Christian theologians reject as absurd at best and blasphemous at worst.”

The notion that God cares whether the Patriots or the Seahawks win the Super Bowl suggests that God is in detailed control of what human beings do, which is certainly questionable. I cannot imagine saying that it was God who arranged for you to have Corn Flakes or eggs or a sticky bun for breakfast this morning. That kind of micro-management flies in the face of the human freedom we believe God graciously gives. But, moving that up a notch… we have terrible wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the genocide in Darfur, instability, violence and Isis in the middle east and all across the globe, plus all sorts of other problems… and to suggest, in that light, that God has some direct involvement in a ball game tends to trivialize the whole notion of God’s involvement with the world.

Does God take sides in a game? How about in a war? The only “side” I see God taking in scripture is the side of the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden and the helpless. Scripture is full of references such as those in our scripture: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.'” Over and over the Bible makes it clear. The Bible talks about the poor more than it talks about the resurrection. In fact, it talks more about the poor than about prayer. So, should the players be praying for a victory this Sunday? I am with Yogi Berra on this one who is reported to have told a player coming up to bat who had just crossed himself, “Aw, why don’t you leave God alone; let him just sit back and WATCH for once.”

So, does God care who wins the Super Bowl? My answer is “No!” As we come to the Table on Sunday, remember God does care about the players, God cares about you, and you and you and you and you. God cares about me. And that is all any of us will ever need.

Dear Lord, thank you for great athletes and great games that entertain us and make us appreciate dedication. But Lord, thank you even more for calling us to see you in even the lowliest of all, and for giving us the power to uplift them with your love and grace. We pray to be involved in that for which you really care.  Amen.


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I do want to offer my special thanks to all who have read my sample chapter or who have purchased a copy of “The Grieving Heart.” If you haven’t you can by clicking the book title in the bottom portion of the above header.

I want to give you a heads up that I will be having a printed copy coming out soon. The cover is different but mostly the same content. Above is a copy of the cover so you can be on the lookout for it. Thanks for all your support of this ministry.

Steve


Big Hearted Kids

DSC_0100Have you ever heard of such a thing as grandparents who brag on their grandchildren? Who would ever thunk of such a thing??? Forgive us but my wife and I are bragging grandparents. We have two wonderful grandchildren, Noah and Abby. Abby is pretty, very creative, smart and talented. She is a 5th grader who always makes the A or A, B Honor Roll. Abby sings in talent shows at school and summer camp. She dances in talent shows and does liturgical dance at church. Abby’s infectious smile and bubbly personality has given her a lot of friends and one day she will be in charge of the world. Noah is smart… receiving A’s (all but 2 B’s) in his seven years in school (and those two B’s were less than 1/2 percent from the A range). He is a seventh grader who was invited to be part of the Duke TIP program. One of the reasons for being invited to the Duke TIP program was that he is second in his class in math scores and scored above the 97th percentile on his EOG last year.

This past Saturday he was the only seventh grader who is a non-AIM student invited toduke tip 2 take the SAT. He was in there with high school students. Now we wait for the scores to see what comes next with the TIP program. High scores open doors for the Duke TIP program to enhance his learning skills and help prepare him for his collegiate experience.

Yes we are proud of Noah for his smarts and Abby for her creativity, but we would be proud of them simply because they are our grandchildren… and we will love and accept them no matter what. Both of them fully participate in church and a life of faith. Both are involved in service projects. And both have big hearts.

The other day Noah was responding to a pen pal that some other kid didn’t have time to respond to. So he took on the task himself. He wrote a new kid at Foust Elementary School. The kid said I am new, don’t know anyone and kind of scared. Noah encouraged this new kid by saying I have been in a new school before. Just smile, be yourself and everything will work out fine. When he read that to me I though of how proud I am of this young man. He could have just glossed over the hurt this kid was feeling. But he decided to help him to feel better. I hope that kid does well at Foust and fits in like a glove.

Be proud of your kids, grandkids, and all the kids. Your love and acceptance just may make a big difference in their lives.


Please check out my eBooks listed at the bottom of the header above. Click on any of the links to see more about the books and a sample chapter. If you purchase one or read the sample chapter I ask that you leave a good review with Amazon. Thanks Steve.


Remembering Duke

Super MikeI must confess that I love most everything about Duke University. I started in Divinity School there back in 1980. Now, growing up a Methodist, I have always wanted to go to school there. But my dad was a Methodist preacher… and not on television. So, even if I had the grades, we could not afford for me to go to undergrad school at Duke.

Somehow through God’s continuing call upon my life I spent my first month of summer classes in the Divinity School in 1980. I stayed in Kilgo Dorm (a lovely place) with my old time room mate, Glenn Griffith… the biggest NY Yankee fan in the world. Every night it was Yankee baseball. Our room was small, UN-air conditioned, with the gothic roll out windows… and a BIG old fan which I am surprised did not burn up from extreme over use.

I learned one valuable lesson that first summer at Duke. Our sidewalks are made of slate. I loved wearing flip flops to class. One rainy morning I found out that slate sidewalks and flip flops don’t mix very well. They are like walking on ice. It took me twice as long to get to breakfast, and the physical result was I found sore muscles I never knew I had.

One of the highlights of my time at Duke was to wander into the Chapel each afternoon, find a comfortable pew and listen to that beautiful pipe organ. It was so peaceful, inspiring, and comforting. I still love that place.

I started to Seminary full-time in 1981 after Coach K made his debut. I must say there wasn’t much to cheer about the four years I was there. We had some tall guys but not much playing experience. I do remember getting to meet Johnny Dawkins and getting his autograph for my son. Even though I grew up watching Duke play – Art Heyman and Jeff Mullins days – we had not yet caught the Duke Basketball Bug. It was just a little later that we became the Cameron Crazies… on the way to the first National Championship.

Over the years my respect for Coach K has grown immensely. I don’t appreciate his language – the lips I read on TV – but I deeply admire the man. His leadership philosophy is about building people of character who care about others, who push through the tough times and impossible obstacles, who live lives of integrity, not just about basketball. Nor is it about winning the 1000th game.  A person with lesser qualities would not have made it at Duke.

I always had good coaches growing up and I am very thankful for that. My son had a different experience with his high school “coach.” He went to Rockingham County High School. He was really too small to play football, but he tried it for a day anyway. He almost got killed being hit by these monsters. He decided that since he was better at basketball, and had played it in middle school, he would just wait and go out for basketball. On the first day of try outs this so-called coach said to the kids filling the gym bleachers: “If any of you little twerps who didn’t play football think you are going to play basketball, you can just forget it.” This guy was not a coach. He could not have been a very good teacher. My son, along with many other sons, walked out of that gym feeling very rejected. This was not a Coach K experience. My son went out for and lettered in golf.

Now we have added David Cutcliffe (2007) as our football head coach. I believe he is cut from the same fabric as coach K. Since he has been there he has brought a failing program up to the point were we have had two winning seasons and two bowl appearances back to back… a first for the Duke football program.

Duke Chapel
Duke Chapel

Do you remember the normal 6th grade field trip to Duke, Chapel Hill and the State Capitol? I can still remember that trip, especially one part. We were downstairs in the old bookstore… (on the corner of the quad). I looked around and noticed that all these students were sitting in the corridors with their heads buried in books. I thought to myself, “Why don’t you just relax. You are not in class?” Many years later I found out why these students were taking every opportunity they could to study. It was made very clear to us as we entered our first class of seminary at Duke Divinity School. Our professor said these very shocking and truthful words: “Get to reading. You are already a month behind.” We had the best professors who gave their very best to prepare us for ministry. I am so thankful to people like Father Murphy (OT), Richard Lischer (Preaching), Tom Langford (Theology), Dennis Campbell (Dean), and Paula Gilbert (Dean of Admissions). These are just some of the outstanding people who touched my life and helped to build the character of Duke Divinity School.

I loved my time at Duke. I loved the challenge to be my best, do my best, and give my best. To be your best is synonymous with Duke.


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What Ever Happened to Randolph Scott?

randolph scott 2Tonight I watched a movie I recorded several weeks ago entitled: “The Seventh Calvary” staring Randolph Scott. Now, I have got to say that like most all of you my age, Randolph Scott was a big time hero of ours as we were growing up. He didn’t quite make the ranking of a John Wayne… but he was probably second.

Tonight, I was disappointed in my hero for a most unusual reason. As many of you know, I spent four years in the United States Marines. There is no room for failure in the Marine Corps. Randolph Scott did not fail… in this movie he portrayed a captain in the Army and he could not perform a simple about face. Every time he did it he reminded me of Gomer Pyle. Here is the hero of a ten year old boy who could not do something as simple as an about face… and he was a captain. I have connected a link to the YouTube movie above. Go and look for yourself. Many attempts… didn’t nail a single one. At Parris Island he would be burying sand fleas. Perhaps if he had served in the military he would have been able to accomplish this most simply maneuver?

Well, Scott was born in Virginia (1898) while his parents were visiting there. Graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. He grew up, lived and is buried in Charlotte, NC. He grew up in a wealthy family and even was married to one of the Duponts for a while. He became a star in movies after concentrating on westerns. His voice and demeanor seemed to fit the western better than any of his other rolls. He retired in 1962 to a life of playing golf and avoiding publicity. He died in 1987. Well, that is what happened to Randolph Scott.

As I watched Scott, my hero, flub all these about faces, I wondered how many times I may have messed up on the little, or not so little stuff, in front of people who were looking to me as some sort of role model. Being in ministry people often look up to you with unrealistic expectations.

I remember one couple stopped coming to worship because I didn’t preach like they wanted. You see they grew up in another tradition and any sermon that was not full of a lot of yelling and hell fire was just not real preaching. I talked with them and explained that I had to be true to the person I believed God was forming me to be. I couldn’t do an about face and become what they wanted.  I simply could not become the hell fire preacher they were expecting. I encouraged them to seek out a church that would offer them what they felt they needed to be the disciples God was calling them to be.

I tried to be available to my members as much as I possibly could. I wanted them to know that I really cared about them and what they were going through. I am sure that I let people down more times than I could have imagined. Perhaps I, too, let them down on something as simple as an about face? Well, for all those who feel let down you have my deepest apology… you know that it was not intentional.

Grace and Peace

Steve


Please check out my eBooks listed at the bottom of the header above. Click on any of the links to see more about the books and a sample chapter. If you purchase one I ask that you leave a good review with Amazon.


Seeing the Sky for the First Time

Seeing the skyI was just paging through Facebook today and ran across this video of a 50 year old chimpanzee seeing the sky for the very first time. From birth to now he was always in a lab with walls and ceiling… not sure about a window. Not touching another chimp except through bars for all those years. And now at 50 he is retiring to Chimp Haven which has rescued over 100 government-owned chimpanzees from research laboratories and given them the retirement they deserve. Here’s to a second chance at life.

As you look at the video I have linked to this blog, please notice… even pause… at the point where this chimp looks up at the sky for the first time. Stop and look into his eyes and see the wonder. As I watched this story, particularly this one scene, I couldn’t help but wonder what is there out there that we have yet to see for the first time? And will it be as wonder-filled as the sky was for this chimp.

I am 68 years old. I have seen the ignorance and cruelty of segregation. I have witnessed the horrors of war in Vietnam, and the American people who sent you there spit on you when you came home. I have witnessed my father die with Alzheimers not knowing who I was. The senseless killing of people of all ages around the world because their religion was not acceptable to others. I have seen people steel the life savings of people… leaving them with absolutely nothing to live on. I have seen old men and women, homeless, hungry, freeze to death on cold winter nights just blocks away from churches with locked doors. Most of what I have seen in my lifetime has made me bow my head and wonder how in the world can this be happening in God’s world.

What would make me look up, make my chest swell with pride, put that warm feeling back in my heart? I think of a day when love and brotherhood of ALL people will be the rule of the earth, when all people will join hearts, hands, voices and minds to bring about a better world for all God’s people. The longer I live the more I long to look around and see for the very first time – perhaps like that chimpanzee – real brotherly love in action all around the world.

Do you remember these words? They become more important every day, every year. Perhaps one day they will become true.

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

love_one_another_I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a Dream Speech” on the Washington Mall. August 28, 1963.

I pray we can all share in that dream and help to make it a reality.

John 13:34-35 (NIV)  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

I Just Don’t Know What To Make of It?

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_nRecently my next door neighbor’s twenty-six year old granddaughter died. We had only lived here in retirement for about 1 1/2 years, but we’ve somewhat known the family for many years now. Before her granddaughter died she asked me to do her funeral.

As the granddaughter was getting worse and the doctors had said there was nothing else they could do, the grandmother reminded me again that I was to do her granddaughter’s funeral.

Here is the back story: The granddaughter lived with her grandmother since she was 12 because her mother was all strung out on drugs and in rehabilitation. Over the years the mother did nothing much for her daughter… maybe a gift at Christmas or maybe not. While she was in the hospital dying, the mother would come and stay five minutes and leave… maybe to go see a movie and other silly stuff like that. I know that we all handle the stress of seeing our loved ones suffer in different ways. Some are there and will not leave your side while others can’t bear to be there at all. But this was a life long narcissistic pattern for this mom. It was all about her and not about her daughter.

The day after the daughter died, the mom (against her mother’s wishes) came to our home and told me that her pastor would like to include me in the service. Perhaps I could read some Scripture and do the eulogy. She gave me his phone number and asked that I call him to confirm what I was doing. I suspected that the grandmother was being undercut by this maneuver, but I really didn’t know this lady. I had only seen her a time of two in the 49 years I had been married to my wife. I replied to her statement by saying I will do whatever the grandmother asks me to do.

In just a few moments I received a call from the grandmother saying her daughter was out of line and that I would be leading the service. I really didn’t want to get in the middle of this situation… and thought this would be a wonderful time for a vacation at the beach.

I called the pastor, who was a member of another denomination and his understanding was that the daughter was handling all of this. I informed him of the situation and he said he would do whatever I wanted him to do, and to call him back with the details.

I checked with the family. Asked the mom and grandmother to come to my home Sunday evening so we could get all of this worked out. I wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page and in agreement before we got before an audience. I even invited the other pastor, but he was too busy. The mom could not come either. So I met with the grandmother and we planned the service. (I need for you to know that this is the third funeral I will have done in four days.)

I tried that night to contact the pastor. I left a message at his home and at his church the next morning at 8:30. I called back to the home in the middle of the afternoon and left another message saying that I needed his confirmation on some elements of the service so I could print the worship bulletins. No word. It was really amazing to me that when I talked with the daughter she said she had talked with him and he said he had talked with me and everything was set. Still no word from this pastor.

At the visitation the pastor had not shown up. The daughter, who goes to his church, mentioned that the draft of the bulletin looked good. I replied that we still had not heard from her pastor. She whipped out her cell and called him… low and behold he answered her. He was on his way to the funeral home.

When he finally arrived I talked with him about the service and he was ok with what I was asking him to do: Scripture and the message. I mentioned that I had left several messages at his home and church. His only reply was I should have given you my cell number. No apology for not returning any calls. (I was taught by my father that not returning calls as soon as you could was a blatant act of disrespect toward the person who left the message.)

After talking with him we leave and head home to make the final changes in the bulletin. My daughter-in-law went to her church to print the bulletins for us around 8:30 that evening, and my wife picked them up at 7:00 the next morning from my son.

Needless to say I am about to explode because of this guys inattentiveness to this matter before him. The service is scheduled for 11:00. It is now 10:55 and I have gathered with the family to have prayer. The other pastor has not shown up. The funeral director says: “Why don’t we just go ahead?” I respond: “I feel it best to wait just a bit to give him benefit of the doubt.” The daughter is back on the cell calling her preacher to no avail. She says go ahead without him. I have the prayer and the preacher shows up.

He has a bulletin. We process toward the chapel. The service begins. I do the opening words of grace and the invocation, which is followed by some special music. After that music, according to the bulletin, I am to read Scripture and have a meditation. However, after the music ends the other preacher stands and does his stuff.

Two children (half brother and sister of the deceased) are supposed to follow him with reading personal notes they have written for their sister. Before I can stop them from coming up, there they are… just as the music that was supposed to follow me starts playing. I quietly ask them to wait til the music is over.

So here is the picture, these two children are just standing there facing the congregation waiting for the music to end so they can speak. Over to the side of me are the two singers who were supposed to follow their preacher after he finished. I simply motioned to them to follow after I finish.

Well, I do my part, the singers sing, the benediction is given and we recess. Yes, I wanted to have a really good, stern talk with this pastor, but I don’t. We step outside next to the hearse. As the people are coming out I ask him if he would like to have a prayer and benediction at the graveside and he says “Why don’t you just take care of all of that and I will just be present?”

At the graveside, following the service is a single dove release. It was really beautiful until the funeral directors tells me that they are trained to return home. Most of them do, he says, unless a hawk sees them. And then he adds a hawk can rip them in half. I thought to myself… “Oh no, the way this thing has gone that hawk will hit this bird right over the funeral tent.” By the way, the dove made a few victory rolls over the tent and there was no sign of any hawk.

I was in the ministry for 40 years and I have NEVER had any pastor treat me or the family with so little respect. It was very clear to me that this man’s heart and mind were not in this service, nor caring for this family. Usually ministers just get together and come to and understanding of how they can best help this family and lift up Christ in this moment. I really just don’t know what to make of this guy. Perhaps I should have just knelt before him and kissed his ring???

Thanks for letting me rant?????????