The Author

Refuse to Speak

The college football season began last weekend and my favorite team got off to a rocky start. Favored by six touchdowns over a team that lost eleven games last year, the first half ended with my team leading by only seven points. The underdog had recovered a fumble, intercepted two passes, and kept the ball twice as long as my heroes. It was beginning to look like a long day.

Of course, the game ended as the experts had predicted. The second half saw an explosion of offense on my team’s part. The other team never scored again, and mine (do you like how I think they belong to me?) gained more yards in one game than they had in their over 100 years of playing football. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

I could not help but wonder what made the difference. Same players, same coaches, same plays. Did the coaches yell and threaten at halftime? Did they all drink some magic potion? The next day’s news articles told the tale.

On his way to the locker room, the coach in charge of that dismal performance pondered what he would say to his charges. Should he yell, scream, reprimand, condemn? Somewhere between the sideline and the locker room door, he decided. Later on, when asked, he said, “I refused to speak fear and failure into their lives. I reminded them of their talent and preparation. And a bunch of mature young men went out and did their jobs.”

“I refused to speak fear and failure into their lives.” How many times have we quit before we have begun? How many times have we told ourselves or someone else that we simply cannot do it – whatever it is? How many times have we snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory? This young coach knew that, win or lose, what they thought and what they did were connected.

All this reminds me of the last few verses of the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is about to leave his disciples and return to the Father. Those followers were a varied group, some of them bold and confident. Matthew does not speak of them. He says that some were doubtful, hesitant. How are they going to survive? What will happen next? Jesus’s words would make all the difference: You’re ready; I’ve prepared you; the world needs you; I am with you. It’s not a stretch to say that he refused to speak words of fear and failure. If Jesus didn’t, why should we?

Bicycle Ride

The first bicycle I ever rode belonged to my oldest brother. As a teenager, he had a paper route that required a bike that was sturdy enough to stand up to the rigors of lousy roads while holding a large canvas bag containing the newspapers. After months of riding around on a used bike while saving every extra dime he could, he bought a brand new Columbia bicycle. It was the size of a small country.

For weeks on end, relentlessly, in season and out of season, I begged him to let me ride his bike. It mattered not to me that I had never actually ridden a bike or that it was so tall that my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. With the confidence born of ignorance, I assured him that riding the bike was no challenge, that I had watched plenty of people do it, and besides, how hard could it be? Like water on stone, my pleas finally wore down his resistance until one day he said, “Just this once.”

We pulled it up against the curb so that I could leverage its height to gain the lowered bicycle seat. I grabbed the handlebars with a death grip while he steadied me by holding the bars and the back of the seat. With a push he said, “Pedal as fast as you can.” I wobbled away from the curb.

For about five feet, everything went well. But, for some reason, as I made the middle of the street, my straight path began to circle, gravity took hold, and the bike made a beeline for the opposite curb. I can still see clearly the faded blue Volkswagen Beetle parked against the curb that blocked my path to the safety of the grass. I can still hear my brother yelling, “Don’t hit the car!”

As I clipped the rear fender of the Bug, the bike came to a sudden stop, sending me over the handlebars into the neighbor’s yard. As I lay there dazed, with a busted lip and bruised pride, I heard my brother say, “Did you hurt my bike?”

A few thoughts, in no particular order. Sometimes, we’re not as important as we think we are. Sometimes, no matter how fast you pedal, you still crash. “Not now” doesn’t always mean “never.” It never hurts to count the cost before we begin the task. Getting what we want doesn’t always mean getting what is best for us.

Man of Steel

For a Father’s Day present this summer, my kids took me to see the movie, Man of Steel. I had mentioned that it looked interesting and that my favorite comic book hero had always been Superman, so they took the hint and away we went.

I had read that Warner Brothers Studios had been promoting the film in Christian circles, even hiring a company to provide private screenings for groups of pastors so that they would encourage their congregations to attend the movie. After watching it, I could see why they would take this approach: the story of a father who sends his son to save a world; a son who is quietly and humbly obedient to his earthly parents; a powerful man who submits himself to the arrogance of those who don’t know his true identity. The parallels were obvious; but so also were the differences. This savior beats up people, indulges in dramatic deeds that capture everyone’s attention, and finally kills his enemies. It made for a satisfying ending to a movie because the bad guys get what’s coming to ‘em, but the gospel it is not. But another movie might be.

As much as I liked comic books growing up, I loved baseball even more. So, when we had the opportunity to rent 42 – the story of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball – we took it. Named after his uniform number, the film only covers Robinson’s first year in baseball. If you are offended by the profanity of grown men who should know better, or by blatant racism that is embarrassing to watch and listen to, or the cruelty of people who are mean just because they can be, then 42 is probably not a movie for you.

But, if you are encouraged by those who literally turn the other cheek, who bear up graciously and gracefully under the force of hatred, who break down privately, then get up and go back to work, then you might be interested in this movie. If you are inspired by people who have the courage to confess their sins, stand up for someone who is knocked down, and quote a little scripture to boot, then you won’t find your time wasted.

I enjoyed Man of Steel; I really did. It made me laugh and stand in awe of the special effects. But I knew that it wasn’t the truth. I was humbled by 42. It brought tears to my eyes and made me ashamed of my own sinfulness. At the same time, it offered the possibility that people, as bad as we can be, can also be redeemed. It was the truth. Isn’t that the gospel?