Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sports, Winning, and Love

Image result for clemson tigers

Congratulations to the Clemson Tigers for winning the National Championship last night. It was a game for the ages! And is was worth staying up for (since I was pulling for the Tigers). After the game, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said something powerful. He said that the key ingredient in his program was love. He made similar remarks after his team beat Ohio State on New Year's Eve.

I've been watching football all my life, and I've never heard a coach claim love as his winning formula before. It just sounds hokey... until you win a national title, especially against the Crimson Tide. Love and football seem so incompatible. But love and teamwork are very compatible.

Some teams may be motivated by fear--of failure, of letting down teammates, of disappointing coaches, of showing weakness. And fear is a powerful motivator. Fear has kept the masses in check in every oppressive regime. Fear often keeps dysfunctional systems functioning. Fear does work. That's why it is used so often. It seems like an obvious tool to use. The external motivation of negative consequences shapes our behavior all the time. Why else obey the speed limit? But fear is driven by self-interest.

Love, on the other hand, has an entirely different kind of motivation. It springs from the heart. It is driven by concern for others and it is fueled by others' concern for us. Love is reciprocal, and it spirals upward. When someone fails in a loving relationship, he or she is picked up and restored. When someone fails in a system based on fear, the offending party is castigated and punished. That person may even be rejected entirely. There are others to step in and take that role.

Now I'm probably reading way too much into the program of Coach Swinney. I know nothing about the team's graduation rate or even the success of his players at the professional level. And I know even less about the Alabama program. I'm not implying that their team is fear-driven.

But I do know that love is more powerful than fear. It is much more difficult to operate with love, because love demands selflessness and humility. It demands listening and understanding. It demands sacrifice. Love is more difficult than fear, but it builds people up internally for all the right reasons.

Would I have been writing this blog if Clemson had lost? Who knows? But I would rather be on a team like Swinney's and lose than be on any team with less heart.

After all, the ultimate winning really has nothing to do with football.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why Worship Together?

In a first (as far as I know) in Stokesdale, we are having a multicultural, bilingual worship service on Friday, January 13, 2017. Oak Springs Baptist Church, a predominantly black church, will host this event in cooperation with Iglesia Luz de Jesuscristo, a Hispanic church, and Crossroads Community Church, which is mostly white. I've known the pastor of Oak Springs for years, and recently met the pastor of Iglesia. I count both of these men as friends.

Why is this worship time a big deal? Maybe it's just a big deal for me. God has shown me how limited my perspective is. I am beginning to see how much Christians need each other, especially those from different cultures.

For too long I have seen my ways and perspectives as normative. That is, I'm normal, and everything else is a deviation from "normal." I felt like God saw me as normal, and saw everyone else as, well, different, but OK. Yeah, that's kind of sad. It's like the universe would need to be measured according to me as the standard. How much more egocentric can you get?

Now I see that God loves all kinds of people, and I'm just one flavor. But here's the big insight. I need other people who are different from me. I need to see how they worship. And I need to have some of what they have.

I'm grew up with dignified worship, where people are fully in control of every facet of expression: standing, sitting, unison, solo, loud, quiet. All of this is carefully scripted in the order of service. We don't want people getting too excited about God, you know. Just keep it under control. And with us in control, we have predictable, manageable worship. We keep God on a leash and arrange everything for him.

But I believe God does want us to become carried away with him. He wants us lost in his mystery, begging for his intervention, caught up in his glory. This is where cultures besides mine have it right. We can call out to God from the depths of our souls. We can sing our hearts out. We can get excited about the One who loves us and walks with us and gave Himself up for us!

So I need to be around people who get this. I need to see how inhibited my own worship is. I need to approach God with abandon. Now, it is possible that others can gain something from observing my worship, too. I'm not sure what it is, though.

Worshipping with people different from myself is only a start. I want to develop deep friendships. Jesus gave his life to break down the barriers that separated people. Over the centuries, we have carefully built them back up. We do need each other. We can serve together, do life together, enjoy social occasions together, build the kingdom together.

We are all created in the image of God. To understand God better and love him more, we need to appreciate the diversity of the people he has made.

Come, be a part of something new. Let God stretch you as we approach his throne together. We all have something to learn. And we all need to give glory to God.

Stokesdale Multicultural Worship Service
7 p.m. Friday, January 13, 2017
Oak Springs Missionary Baptist Church
9070 US Highway 158
Stokesdale, NC  27357