Wait A Minute…*We* Win?

In all my celebrating about the Astros amazing World Series win (yes, I’m wearing my “World Series Champs 2017” Astros logo hat even as I write this, why do you ask?), I’ve noticed something about the conversations people have with me, and I think it betrays a little something about how readily we get caught up in The World instead of The Kingdom.

I’ve lost track of how many times I heard some variation of the following addressed to me, since Game 7:

  • “Congratulations on your win!”
  • “You guys had a phenomenal team this year.”
  • “You should celebrate, you had a great Series!”

Notice anything? I’m being addressed as part of the collective “you” of “the Houston Astros,” as if I personally had anything to do with their win, was personally part of a phenomenal team, or personally had a great Series. I’ve had to catch myself often, instead of saying “Yeah, we had a great game,” I have to remember that “they” had a great game, and I got to watch. Sure, I’m a fan, and have been so for four decades. (Ugh.) But I have never had the privilege of being part of the Astros’ roster.

For years, smarter people than I have written about the science and the psychology behind fans’ identification with their teams. Fans of teams can become over-the-top exuberant when they win, or literally unable to go to work the next morning after a tough loss. It becomes part of some people’s identity as much as their nationality, their heritage, their…faith?

Huh.

See, there’s where I think The World is at play. By identifying so closely with a team that we address each other as if we were actually part of the squad, we do two things wrong. First, we run a risk of placing something ahead of God. And I’m not just talking about skipping church to watch the Big Game (like the Simpsons did). If I put my hopes in a baseball team, and the quality of my next day or days depends on the outcome of a game…then I’ve lost sight of God.

Second, by allowing or encouraging the notion that somehow I was part of the reason the team won, then I ascribe to myself a role I just didn’t have. (I certainly didn’t hit the double, three pitches in to the start of Game 7, that started the win for the Astros. Pretty sure that was George Springer.) When I do that, I forget about the gifts and graces God has uniquely given me, and I try to lay claim to ones that I most assuredly don’t have. God gave the men of the Astros–and yes, the Dodgers–some amazing skills, to be sure. And I honor that. But he also blessed me with some pretty cool ones, ones they may not have. I should be celebrating my own gifts and my own blessings from God, instead of trying to lay claim, even vicariously, to those of others.

This might seem a little “out there.” So please understand, I’m in no way saying that we shouldn’t be fans of a sports team if we’re to be Christians. Don’t get me wrong. Instead, what I’m trying to say is, we need to keep perspective in all our dealings with The World, so that we don’t get lulled or drawn into it, even by something as innocuous as the language we use to describe a World Series win. The Tempter would like nothing more than for us to puff ourselves up falsely, to lay claim to something that isn’t ours, so that we lose sight of the claim that really is ours–the claim on eternal life by staying rooted in Christ.

Because when it comes right down to it, the only “we win” we can claim is the biggest win of all–victory over the grave. And that’s worth keeping in front of us, even after a great Astros victory.

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We Win!

Yes, yes, I know, this is a blog about exploring the path to and with Christ. But hang with me a sec, I have to take a detour here into something else I’ve had most of my life: my passion for the Houston Astros.

Game Seven of the 2017 World Series wasn’t the back-and-forth absolute gem that Game Five was. Nor was it the pitching duel of Game Four, the one Mary and I had the chance to attend (pic above is the view from our seats!). But in the end, for the first time in their 56 year history, the Astros shed their Disastros, their Last-ros, their baggage of all their horrible seasons and stood atop Major League Baseball as World Series Champions. And it was a marvelous, amazing feeling that in some ways I’m still getting used to.

I remember all the letdowns over the years, all the close-but-no-cigar games where playoff victory could have been ours. The long rivalries with the Braves, the Cardinals, and yes, the Dodgers that ended so many times in disappointment, were now all swept away. Being a longtime Astros fan is to know what heartache means. And still we had faith. And still we root for our Astros, hoping that one day we will know what victory feels like.

I came to follow the Astros when I was 8, the year my dad was reassigned to Texas for a year, the year I began discovering this thing called baseball, and your choices were the Astros or the Rangers, and the Rangers stunk even worse. And I stayed with them the rest of my childhood, into teen years–my first MLB game was when my dad took me up the road to Montreal when the Astros were in town. In fact, until only about 10 years ago I’d never been to an Astros home game–I was always watching them on the road, being the only one in the park with Astros gear on.

The first time I walked into Minute Maid Park, I had a feeling like coming home for the first time. I was no longer the oddity, no longer the outcast–I was surrounded suddenly by tens of thousands of other Astros fans, all in their Astros gear. I had come home, I was with my people, and they were beautiful,

I had the same experience last weekend, bringing Mary there. Sometime around the sixth inning, I remember looking around Minute Maid Park and just taking it all in, and commenting to Mary, “I don’t know why this feels like home to me, but it just does.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we too are fans of a team we’ve only ever seen in road games. We’re often in the role of being the one oddity, the one who doesn’t fit in, because our hearts are already in the Kingdom. And one day, we too will walk into our home stadium, be surrounded by those who follow our team, and finally feel completely at home for the first time.

I can’t wait!

Go Astros!

Ever since I spent a year living in Texas (in third grade!), I have been a lifelong Houston Astros fan. I came to love their history of amazing pitching–J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Roy Oswalt. And as only a true Astros fan can do, I came to know their penchant for the late-season fold, the never-fulfilled promise, the hundred-loss seasons as well. Not for nothing is the traditional Opening Day greeting of the Astros fan, “Wait ’til next year!”

I remember watching the deciding sixth game of the 2005 NLCS against the despised Cardinals, with my heart in my throat, scarcely able to watch for the final out. And then it came, joyous release, the win-and-in, and the ability for the first time in 44 years of baseball in Houston to say, “We have a World Series team!”

Of course, we all know what happened next: the sweep by the White Sox; the dismantlement of the team by trades, retirement, and yes, scandal; and the three hundred-loss seasons in the early part of this decade. It was a dark time for the Astros fan.

Last night’s victory over the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS was a sweet, sweet vindication of the wait and the loyalty. Once again, a young exciting team has the right to host a World Series. Once again, we will play the Dodgers, after years of torment at their hands in the 1980s. And once again, hope and joy reign.

And I’ll get to experience it firsthand. Next Saturday, Mary and I will be in the stands as the Astros host Game 4. Minute Maid will be on. Fire. And we’ll have the chance to be caught up in the joy, for as long as it lasts.

But it required faith, and perseverence, to get through the tough years. Just as it requires faith and perseverence to get through the tough years in a job, or a marriage, or anything else this world has to throw at us. Which is why I’ve said, being an Astros fan is a great introduction to Christianity: requiring y-e-a-r-s of love in the face of bitter disappointment.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Astros’ journey…and Christ’s. So let’s go Stros!

Getting Fearless!

This past weekend was amazing, as I (finally!) got to welcome my bride into the Emmaus community!

I’ve previously written about my own walk, nearly 18 months ago, and the joy of sponsoring others like my daughter and another brother in Christ. But with all due respect to them both, this was far more meaningful because it was Mary.

Mary has been coming to a deeper connection with Christ over the past year, and it’s been tremendous to watch. She had been really reticent about Emmaus, and was finally persuaded to go…but even up to the last, she still was cautious.

E182-Logo

I knew it had great potential to be a God-driven weekend when I woke up Thursday morning, when I was to take her to the mountain 10 hours later: my Bible app’s scripture of the day was the exact same scripture that my own Emmaus weekend was based on:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Right, right…you got this, Lord! I had a good feeling when at the social hour beforehand, Mary and her roommate started chatting immediately and looked like they were hitting it off. All weekend long, I kept them in prayer, that they would seek his will and follow his path.

But by Sunday? Wow. The “R,” Glenda, said, “These are not the same women you brought up here Thursday night,” and she was right. I have a glimpse of what the Transfiguration must have been like, because Mary’s face shone in a way I haven’t seen before. (And wearing a flower in her hair? Talk about a change!) She really, really had a chance to immerse in God’s love and it showed. She met new friends, and heard a lot that she’s still processing. But already I can see, this was all God’s work, and I know from personal experience, the best news is, it’s only just begun.

Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace. It moves in all of us, and sometimes, it moves with a mighty rush that leaves us blown away. I am so grateful for being able to share in this experience with Mary now, and for the wonderful worlds of possibilities it opens for us together. May we always walk in your steps, hearing that voice calling “Follow me.”

Calling Prayer Warriors!

I have to take a break from my series on discernment, because there’s just so much on my prayer list right now. I need to share it, and I need to ask for help in getting other prayer warriors engaged on a list that includes:

  • Las Vegas. I mean…wow. I was just stunned at the news this morning. And not two weeks ago I was there–and not only in Vegas, but driving right along the Strip between the site and Mandalay Bay, on our way to and from golf next door. I can’t bear to watch the videos anymore. It just needs to be lifted up and given to the One who can heal it all.
  • The Lisi family. They lost their 22-year-old son Stephen to a car accident about 8 days ago. Stephen was tired, driving late, and fell asleep at the wheel. He was an Eagle Scout in our troop, and David remembers him well from his time as a younger Scout. I cannot even begin to plumb the depths of what Steve and Monica are feeling as parents right now.
  • My mom. She continues to struggle with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, which has her more shaky than usual lately, and not a little confused sometimes, too. Don’t tell mom, but her brother and her college roommates are making a trip to see her later this month…safe journeys to them and a warm reunion for all.
  • The women of E-182. This weekend my wife will be one of 30 pilgrims making a Walk to Emmaus and furthering her own walk with Christ. I just lift up the pilgrims and the 28 team members supporting them on their walk starting Thursday!
  • Frank. Frank is the brother-in-law of a brother in Christ, Gary, and Frank was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…very aggressive, limited time left. By all accounts Frank has been a model of facing the end of life, but he still needs our prayers–as does the rest of his family.
  • Another Guy Named Frank. Actually, this Frank walked on Emmaus with me, and has learned of his own bout with cancer: prostate.
  • Elnora. She’s the mother of another Emmaus connection, Rich. She’s on her fourth (!) bout with cancer, and has decided this is enough, she’s refusing treatment. I can only imagine how that must feel to those who love her.
  • John. Another pancreatic cancer victim (seriously, quit it with the pancreatic cancer!), and the good friend of my “sister” Kate.
  • The family of Mickey, who died of cancer this weekend and who was loved by another brother in Christ.

I mean, the list seems to just keep on going! I am convinced I could spend all day in prayer for these and so many others. I just think they could use a little help, too. Won’t you join me?

Breadcrumbs, Part II

So what are some of the other signals I’m getting that perhaps I’m being called into a deeper relationship with Christ? It’s more than just how often I find myself thinking of church and Christ while wandering the halls at work:

  • I’m someone who is always trying to improve. At work, at home, wherever. And so when I learned of a free (free!) executive coaching opportunity through work, I made the time to explore it. I met with the coaching coordinator, I reviewed resumes of potential coaches, and I picked out one to try to connect with. I called her, and we had a great first conversation about perhaps establishing a coaching relationship. She then sent me her getting-to-know-you questionnaire, in which I was encouraged–in complete confidence–to write down what I wanted to get out of coaching, what problems I wanted to work on. But one question brought me up short: “What do you truly yearn to do?” And before I knew it, Bing! went off in my head, and I heard the answer. It wasn’t the next promotion, like I always assumed it would be. It wasn’t becoming Somebody in some new executive role. No, what went off in my head instead, as what I truly yearn to do, was the Great Commission:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

  • We’ve been in the midst of putting together the next year’s budget at work, a process which has been both intense and filled with long days and late nights at the office. One day, in the midst of preparing for a senior leadership meeting, my boss was meeting with a group of us. She became animated in trying to understand one particular number, one which didn’t strike me as worth the amount of time we were spending on it. Very clearly I heard, “This just isn’t important” in my mind. The implication was, the important thing was Christ.
  • I’ve finished reading Kyle Idleman’s Not A Fan, and I had a sense of conviction there as well.  Idleman uses Luke 9:57-62 to show us that when we choose to follow Christ, we’re expected to make that the priority: follow him wherever, whenever, immediately. And here I am struggling with that! I really felt the Spirit nudging me: “OK, you want to follow? Get going then!”

I wish I had better clarity on what I’m being led into.

 

Breadcrumbs, Part I

So what makes me think there’s even some chance of some other call in my life now?

I have to say, I’m the kind of guy who appreciates being upfront, not being coy. I got so angry one time at one of my wife’s girlfriends when we were in our 20s: this girlfriend of hers (let’s call her Kelly, because I really do forget her name) and her boyfriend would go to the clubs with us, and we’d all be dancing. Suddenly Kelly would leave–just, up and walk off the dance floor, maybe go to another dance floor on another level of the building, just to see if her boyfriend would follow. I ain’t got time for that kind of games.

I say that by way of saying, I would really find it reassuring to find a burning bush talk to me sometime. Or a blinding light on the road. Or any of the really upfront ways in the Bible that God uses to get someone’s attention. But alas, I am fresh out of pyromiliac shrubbery, and while the morning sun is often j-u-s-t in my eyes as I drive, that’s not the same thing.

Instead, I am left listening, like Elijah:

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

The still, small voice: so, so hard to pick out, out of all the noise and busyness surrounding me. I find it’s even hard to do when I’m alone, everyone else is asleep (as they are right now): I still have stuff running through my mind, and it’s difficult to calm myself to be able to find if there is a little signal buried in all that noise.

So: what am I doing here?

I’m trying to sort through the bits and pieces I pick up along the way. Little things: I often have music running through my head, a little soundtrack to accompany my day. Lately it’s almost always contemporary Christian, sometimes with amusing effect. Last weekend I was golfing with my college roommate ahead of our upcoming golf weekend. Ninth tee box, I get set, draw back, swing…and lift my head and completely miss it. And what do I hear going through my mind? The tag from Hilary Scott’s new single: “All I need to be…is…still.” Our God has a wonderful playful sense of humor, doesn’t he?

But seriously, who else’s soundtrack is nothing but praise music?

And that’s not all…more next time.