Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sister Jean's Praying for a W!

Sister Jean is a most unique combination of ‘great-grandma’, cheerleader and chaplain.  A spry 98 years old, using a wheel chair for transportation, with a 98-watt smile serving as her headlight, Sister Jean has found her ’15 minutes of fame.’  If you believe if luck, then she is very lucky. If you believe in providence, then God is having fun watching his servant.

Sister Jean serves the Ramblers of Loyola University Chicago, a Catholic research university.  This past week, as a  part of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Ramblers men’s college basketball team scored an upset over a more highly ranked team (Miami) on a last-second shot. In the joy of the moments following, the courtside reporter for the national television cablecast caught up with Sister Jean on the sideline where she, enthroned on her chariot, received hugs and kisses from the sweaty players, and then gave an interview as to her opinion about why the team won.

“Thank God.” That’s who get the credit, she said. But, what was your prayer before game? “I asked God to help us. I told God we would do our part if he would do his part.”  She was not bashful about admitting that she called on God to help give the team the unlikely “W”. 

I often think about how to pray about sports, or anything else, for that matter. Should we pray for our team to win? With all of the billions of people in the world; with wars and starvation and injustice all around the globe, could God possibly care about my prayer request? Well, Sister Jean has had 98 years to think about it, and she has concluded God’s ears and mind and heart are big enough to care about the Ramblers and Syria on the same day. And her prayer is profoundly insightful in how it recognizes that the athletes have a part in the outcome.  I used to be quite bashful about praying for my teams to win, praying instead for things like ‘safety’ and ‘doing our best.’  From now on, I am using Sister Jean’s prayer. 

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18

Saturday, March 3, 2018

What Does Your Name Mean?

If you walked into some local watering hole in northern Minnesota you probably couldn’t pick him out of the crowd. For many years he would have liked it that way.  You see, this was the guy who failed in the critical moment.  Those who follow the sport of curling closely would recognize him, though. They would recognize John Shuster, in the years before 2018. They would go over to the other end of the bar and tell a few stories at John’s expense. Stories about how he performed well in 2006, but in 2010 and 2014 he failed.  

“It got so bad that the word ‘shuster’ was added to the Urban Dictionary. (Definition? ‘A verb meaning to fail to meet expectations, particularly at a moment critical for success or even slightly respectable results,’ as in ‘Man, he really shustered that!’)” (Scott Cacciola, NYT, Feb. 23, 2018) 

What happened after the 2014 Olympic Games, though, started the story which gave his name a new meaning.  He devoted every day for four years to a single goal: to win the Olympics Men’s Curling event in 2018.  With that single-minded determination he assembled a similarly non-descript team of ‘guys’ from Middle America.  He led his  ‘Team Reject’ as they overcame the United States Olympics folks who rejected him; they beat all the other qualifiers to whom they was supposed to lose; and they beat the best curling athletes in the world to win the gold medal.  And now the name ‘Shuster’ has a new meaning.

So let’s think about your name. What does it mean to you?  Are you wishing people understood who you really are, that when they said your name it had a meaning closer to who you know are, not who ‘they’ think you are?  Take a lesson from Mr. Shuster.  Set a goal. Work on it every day. (This is the hard part, by the way.) Don’t give up.  While you may not win a gold medal at the end of your quest, you will have shown the world, and most importantly, yourself, the real meaning of your name. Someone who will not let ‘others’ define your name; someone who will not quit when adversity hits hard; someone who believes in the God-given potential your name meant all along.    

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Preaching Like Billy Graham

My mother made sure the television was tuned, one evening in the mid-60’s, to Rev. Graham’s crusade sermon. His crusades were ‘must see tv’.

I recall hearing the usual invitation Rev. Graham issued to those there and at home to ‘come forward’ in faith.  That night, for reasons I do not know, I quietly left the living room and climbed the stairs where I knelt at my bedside and prayed. I recall that it was that night, in that room, on my knees, that I understood that God forgave me for my sins because of the work of Jesus Christ, and I offered my life to God, having no idea what that would mean.

There is nothing unique in my story. It is a story repeated millions of time around the world, only the names and places being different.  That the Holy Spirit used the preaching of Billy Graham to change the life of millions of ‘Billy T’s’ is unique, and yet, if you ask Rev. Graham, he was not to be praised. He was simply the instrument which the Spirit used.  ‘Don’t make a big fuss about it’, Rev. Graham would be sure to say.

The morning the news of Rev. Graham’s death broke a friend of mine in California was golfing with someone who remarked that she wished she was in heaven that day. My friend asked her why, and she responded, “I imagine it’s quite the reception they are giving Billy Graham in heaven!”

More likely, Rev. Graham simply joined the crowd of saints marching in that day as they gathered to cheer the news that some little girl heard mother or grandmother read to her about God’s love, or that father or grandfather, while out fishing, told some little boy about Jesus’ fishing, and that little child understood for the first time,  ‘Jesus loves me’.

The ‘audience’ we each are given is different, one friend, one spouse, one child. To a few the audience is millions.  All God asks is that we each ‘preach’ to the audience God gives us. Then, when we march in, we too will hear the words Rev. Graham longed to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And to that may I add, “Thank you, Billy Graham.”

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Sermon For the President and Congress

You have heard the families of the victims of yet another mass murder committed under your watch tell you that they have heard enough of your ‘thoughts and prayers.’

You should heed their request. When your lips move though your heart has not you profane the very act of prayer.

When you pray to God about yet another act of terror committed with a weapon designed to destroy life before any authority could possibly respond, who exactly do you think God would use to fix the problem if not you?  If you are unwilling to remove assault weapons from circulation, please do not dishonor God by praying afterwards that you are sorry it happened.  You knew it was going to happen.

So, if you are unwilling to act, then please do not pray. Just be honest. Tell God and tell the people what you mean: we are willing to let the innocents be slaughtered in the name of ‘rights.’  Tell the truth.

For if you do not tell the truth, then do you know what you are, when you pray hollow prayers which betray unmoved hearts?

Listen to Jesus:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead…” (Matthew 23:27)

Those who have ears, listen.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Olympic-Sized Hope

Going to the Olympics? In South Korea? Which is right next to North Korea? “No way. That is a fool’s folly.”  That is what I thought.  Now I wish I was there.  While I am hardly anything close to an adventurous traveler (what will I eat?; where are the bathrooms?), I wish I would have been there to see the moment. I was afraid of being close to a nation led by an unpredictable, egotistical politician.  Now I wish I had the foresight to recognize that even the neighbors of North Korea might find a way to display Olympic-sized hope in the midst of personal fears.

The moment when an athlete from South Korea and North Korea entered their Olympic stadium is one which must have made the angels smile. The moment when the two political ‘enemies’ ran up steps in tandem, with the Olympic Torch held in their hands, was one which must have made the angels stand and cheer.  Maybe they, and we, were seeing two enemy-nations grasp the hem of God’s garment.  Joshua Cooper Ramo turned to a quote from Otto von Bismarck to capture the hope this picture of unity offered:

A statesman... must wait until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then leap up and grasp the hem of His garment. (

I don’t know if the current crop of international political leaders have the ability to wait, to listen, to grasp God’s will for the world.  But, I do know that it is good to stop and think about the fact that the world is much bigger than my neighborhood, my state, my country. It is good to remember and pray for those around the world who need to be listening.  Maybe what we witnessed at the Olympics Opening Ceremony is all a cynical charade.  But perhaps God’s garment of peace was swaying in ways we cannot imagine.

As people of faith, as a church, our prayers must be fed by a vision that is fueled by Olympic-sized hope.  We are called to pray for a United Korea and the United States. For the God of History is stepping toward that day when the thrilled hearts of people from every nation, tongue and tribe will together watch the lighting of the truly Eternal Flame.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

That Man in the Mirror

I was seated in a restaurant booth facing a couple as we discussed their father, my friend.  At one point I looked up, past their faces, and saw the reflection of a face in this mirror which covered the pillar on the far wall.  I tried to stay focused on the conversation, but I was distracted by the sight of a man’s image in the mirror.  His face looked old and tired.  He certainly appeared to be older than me.

Except that he was me. I was looking at my face and I wondered to myself, ‘who is that man?’

I am guessing that you, like me, have a self-image in your head. The image I have of myself is, in my mind, the way I looked 10 or 15 years ago; late-40’s to early 50’s. In my mind I haven’t changed. I guess that when I look at myself while shaving my brain just puts an old picture of myself in that mirror. Which is why that man in the mirror surprised me so.

I have had different Bible ‘life verses’ as I have aged.  The one I hold onto now is Psalm 71:18: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who come.”  The Psalm was written by a younger person anticipating aging. The Psalmist didn’t want his or her ability to declare God’s love to change, even though the image of the person in the mirror changed.

So that is my prayer for you. If you are not yet ‘old and gray', that one day you will be. And that all of us ‘old and gray’ folks will be able to serve God with the same effectiveness as when we were young.  You know, maybe it is even the opposite of aging, serving God, that is.  Maybe as that man or woman in the mirror ages the declaring power of that person gets more powerful.  You know, how we say of an older person, “I hope I can have a faith that strong someday”?

“LORD, as the faces of the people in the mirror get older, may their voices which declare your love for all grow stronger.” 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"Time Longa Dan Twine"

As I was waiting in the TSA line at the airport in St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands, I was unsure what to make of the destruction I witnessed across the island.  The effects of the hurricane, now many months past, were obvious and long-lasting. I overheard an island resident explaining to his neighbor in line that the results of the hurricane are a part of the natural ‘balance’ of ocean winds and water, a balance which in fact the land and the sea need if they are to survive.

Balance.  Life demands that its parts be held in ‘balance.’ You cannot, you dare not, upset the delicate balance which life requires and imposes. The islanders of old explained the seasons of life thus: “Time Longa Dan Twine.” This saying was the title of a book I read while visiting St. Croix. The author, Arnold R. Highfield, explains that it is an expression “that reflects the wisdom of the people and culture of the Virgin Islands, meaning, in one sense, that the things of the world always dwarf the things of man.”

“From the islands emergence from the sea, from volcanoes and plate tectonics, millions of years ago, grew rock, broken into soil and lagoons. Then came sea and airborne flora, then animal life and reproduction began. The rhythms of its life forms in birth, struggle, death and regeneration. Natural destruction, storms, earthquakes, tsunamis-destroyed all things-but those that could survive grew stronger and more plentiful-balance; natural harmony.”

There is a balance, a natural harmony to all life.  We pray for the strength to survive and become more plentiful.  Sometimes that happens for us while we exist on this earth. Sometimes it happens when we arrive on the New Earth when death will be no more. What appears to us to be destruction is often life finding its balance, the notes of life finding their place in the harmonic chord.

When your life is out of balance, may your moment of imbalance be the moment you discover the strength to survive and grow, achieving a natural and spiritual harmony.

“Time longa dan twine”, for sure. Do what you can with the twine, but know that God has the time in his hands.  We worship the Creator of time, light and life. And you.