Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Letting Go and Trusting God

I had never seen her look more beautiful. My second oldest daughter, Maris was in her bridal suite alone. All the attendants were gone, while her bridesmaids, her mother and sisters were all lined up and ready to begin the wedding procession from the church foyer. I was alone with her enjoying the special privilege the father of a bride has in seeing the woman of honor in all her splendor before she is presented to the world and her groom. We shared a few funny thoughts and a few serious ones as well before we received our cue to begin our regal march down the aisle.

As the familiar strains of the wedding march piped through the organ, Maris and I began our trek towards the altar. As we stylish strode forward, it almost seemed as if all the major scenes of her life as a little girl, adolescent, teenager and young adult flashed through my mind. When we arrived at the end of our short journey, my dear friend Dr. Ken Render opened the ceremony reminding us of the sweet but solemn purpose for which we were assembled and eventually asked the question every father dreads to hear: “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” The question rattled around in my head for a moment, resting on the eventuality of an answer that was as obvious as it was succinct – “Her mother and I.” I answered. With that answer, I gently took her hand and placed it directly into the hands of Stephen, the man destined to take the lead in standing for her and by her in all of the varied experiences in life. My role had changed. My life was changed. My daughter was now in the hands of another whom I had to trust. Nevertheless, as I looked up at the altar in front of which my friend stood and remembered what it represented, I knew where my ultimate trust was placed.

The Lord in Whose presence they changed vows was the same Lord Who had sustained our Maris in an amazing assortment of tests and storms. He was the same Lord Who had guided her mother and I through periods of seemingly unbearable anguish and upheld us in unbelievable times of challenge and difficulty. This same Jesus had never abandoned us in our most desperate despair and I knew as I initially watched and later myself officiated my daughter’s marriage ceremony that He would prove just as faithful to her and her groom. This “great and terrible” day that I alternately loved and hated was a potent reminder of the eternal being of our God and the imperative that rests upon all people to depend on Him and Him alone.

Just as the nature of my relationship with my daughter Maris has changed, life in general changes and continues to present a never-ending cavalcade of new situations, circumstances and dispositions with which all people must cope. In the midst of such fluidity, I take great comfort in this unshakeable truth: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Malachi 3:6 reaffirms this truth with the Lord God’s words, “For I am the LORD, I do not change.” As we approach the end of another year and face the uncertainty of 12 unseen months ahead, take confidence in the steady, unchanging hand of the Lord. He is faithful. He is trustworthy. He is dependable. He can be counted on! Hard times may await you, and trials may rage against you with the intensity of a pounding surf, but take heart in the knowledge that a good and gracious God will uphold you and supply you abundantly with His grace and comfort if you will only trust Him. Because of this, I can let go of my daughter’s hand, knowing that the Everlasting Arms will ultimately provide all the strength and protection needed for every situation that awaits her. Are you ready to let go? Put your trust in the Lord and let Him lead you to the next step and beyond for His glory and His Kingdom. Until next time…


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ichabod U: Glory, Righteousness and College Athletics

“Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory.” Douglas MacArthur’s matchless prose explaining the heart of collegiate athletics at West Point drives home the guiding principle that most college sports programs have long abandoned in pursuit of gold and glory: Collegiate sports must exist at the core for the purpose of bearing fruit that will benefit the rest of society as a whole. Athletic excellence is not an end unto itself, but a pathway to a profound understanding of strength and weakness and victory and defeat leading to the development of character for the benefit of the nation and the world. The processes that produce athletic glory are pointless if they do not at the same time develop consistent moral courage, uncompromising virtue and committed sacrificial leadership.

As the Penn State scandal unfolds, it is undeniable that the purpose of College Athletics at Happy Valley has been hijacked, corrupted and sold to the highest bidder. Nevertheless, as I level those charges, I feel the need to inspect my own soul, and the soul of our nation’s entertainment driven culture. It is far too easy to point fingers lambaste Penn State’s football program as an Evil Empire, when in truth it is a powerful reflection of how our culture as a whole has elevated the achievement of athletic glory as the penultimate indicator of success and accomplishment. When winning athletic contests and heroics on the fields of play serve as the best indicators of manhood, leadership and public service, all other measures of behavior and social contribution will suffer, no matter how many poster-sized checks with large numbers written on them are held up as indicators to the contrary.

Innocent young children were lured in under the pretense of trust and protection for the primary purpose of unspeakable violation and victimization. These crimes occurred under the umbrella of the Hero Status athletic victory affords. Even when the crimes were exposed, the need to win and protect athletic records spoke louder than the need to seek justice, love mercy and to walk humbly before God. This hellacious flip-flop did not occur overnight. It has occurred slowly, subtly and gradually. What began as educators seeing a need to ensure that students weren’t only exercising their brains at College, but learned to develop as whole persons physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually has been obliterated over time as the love of money has choked out any direct connection between education and athletics. If Joe can make touchdowns and draw the crowds, who cares what happens behind close doors? The families that have been devastated by an unhindered sexual predator, that’s who, and anyone who hasn’t bowed down and compromised themselves and their very souls to the idols of athletic entertainment.

In the Bible, a sad historical account is given of the prophet Eli’s failure to address the evil committed by his own two sons, even as he served as Israel’s prophet with the direct responsibility of speaking into the nation’s well-being on all matters, especially those relating to righteousness and justice. His sons were also members of the nation’s spiritual leadership, and possessed full knowledge of the responsibilities and burdens their positions carried. Nevertheless, they chose to live lives of debauchery and self-gratification at the expense of others. The justice God meted out was swift, leading to the deaths of Eli’s sons and his own death as well. When Eli’s daughter-in-law heard of the violent deaths of her husband and father-in-law and of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant she went into labor and gave birth to a son she named Ichabod which means, The Glory Has Departed.

There are parallels too close to ignore between this tragic Biblical account of the abdication of leadership and the parades of failed leadership we see in United States collegiate athletics. Moral failures are being exposed nation wide and people once considered heroes are being more rightly identified as frauds and charlatans. But lest we take satisfaction at these discoveries, we must remember that these people did not elevate themselves to such grandiose and perverted levels of stature – WE DID! It’s time to revisit the purpose and goals of College Sports. Jesus said no one can worship God and money. One will be served, the other neglected. As long as money-making is the chief end of college sports – and it is – the glory will never return. The question is, are we more concerned about the people God has placed in our care to develop into leaders of tomorrow, or are we more concerned about being entertained by them? The right choice will contribute to the richness and vitality of our nation. The wrong choice will engrave ICHABOD on our goalposts for decades to come. Until next time…