How Do We Manage Our Grief At The Loss of a Loved One?

October 23rd, 2014

How do we manage our grief at losing a loved one? St. Paul based his consolation on the belief that as God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, he will also raise us with Jesus (2 Cor.4:13ff.). We are encouraged to believe that as we physically decline we are actually being renewed spiritually if we are in Christ. We cannot see this of course. All we can see is the deterioration of the body. Yet he urges us to focus not on what we see but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. We cannot see love, but it is no less real for being unseen. What is going on is a metamorphosis, a change in form from the physical to the spiritual, the earthly body to the heavenly body, the perishable to the imperishable, from what is weak, to what is powerful.

St. Paul uses construction terms. We exchange the earthly tent of our physical body for an eternal mansion in heaven, not built by human hands. As we age and our physical body begins to break down we are clothed with our heavenly dwelling. What is mortal in us is replaced by eternal life. God has made us this way for a purpose and given us a foretaste of it by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. The Holy Spirit is like an engagement ring that assures us of the wedding to come. The Holy Spirit guarantees what is to come. This guarantee can be relied on because it is backed by the promises of God himself.

Therefore we can be confident that when we leave the body we will be at home with the Lord, there to await those we love who will join us in their due time.

Benjamin Franklin expressed it in these words.

It is the will of God and Nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside, when the soul is to enter the real life; this world is rather an embryo state, a preparation for living; a man is not completely born until he be dead. Why then should we grieve that a new child is born among the immortals. A new member is added to their happy society.

We are spirits. That bodies should be lent us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God. When they become unfit for these purposes, and afford us pain instead of pleasure – instead of an aid, become an encumbrance and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them. Death is that way.

We ourselves prudently choose a partial death. In some cases a mangled painful limb, which cannot be restored, we willingly cut it off. He who plucks out a tooth, parts with it freely since the pain goes with it, and he who quits the whole body, parts at once with all its pains and possibilities of pains and diseases it was liable to, or capable of making him suffer.

Our friend and we are invited abroad on a party of pleasure – that is to last forever. His chair was first ready and he is gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together, and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and we know where to find him.

Dying is characterized as falling asleep in Jesus. It is a beautiful image of our passage from time to eternal life. We go to sleep in our faith in Jesus who died for us to win our salvation – to give us forgiveness, victory over death and resurrection to life eternal. We wake up to the new heavens and the new earth in the company of those who have gone before us. It is the closing of one chapter in the book of our life and the beginning of a new chapter.

C.S. Lewis, at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, has Aslan, the Christ figure describing this new life.

The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Why I Write and Read

October 11th, 2014

I now have an author page on You can access it at

This enables you to locate all my books – I find it hard to believe that there are eleven of them. My first was INWARD LIGHT which was published in 2003. It is now out of print but there are several copies available on Amazon. All the others are still in print. Volume One of SOUL FOOD, was sold out but I have had more reprinted for the New Year. I will be taking a break from publishing for a while but there will be one new book appearing next month which is being published in New Zealand for my home town’s sesquicentennial. It is entitled GOD KNOWS WHERE THEY COME FROM: Four Faith Stories from Hokitika. It will include a memoir from me and three others who went into the Christian ministry from my home town – a Methodist, a Presbyterian, a Roman Catholic and myself, the Anglican. This will be listed on Amazon with the others and so be available for purchase in the USA.

My motivation in publishing has always been to further the proclamation of the Gospel through print as well as through the pulpit. I have always believed that you can reach more people through print than you can through preaching on Sunday morning. My prayer is that the books will be a blessing to many and will result in a bountiful crop of people for the kingdom of God – as Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower – “thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:20)

I began writing for publication in 1964 when I returned home from Canterbury University. I had eight months to fill in before I left for Durham University in England. I needed to earn enough to pay for my way in graduate school so I took on several jobs. One of them was to write the daily editorial for our local newspaper, the Hokitika Guardian. I would come home each afternoon from teaching High School, sit down and have to compose the next day’s editorial. I was only twenty-two years old! How I had the courage to share my thoughts on a myriad of subjects with my neighbors seems now to me to be foolhardy but I did, and they paid me for them. Of course, I was helped by the fact that they appeared as the leading articles of the newspaper and not over my name so it helped to be anonymous. Writing for a deadline every day was a discipline that I have valued over the years. I learned not to leave my preparation until the last moment. Usually I am a month ahead. I cannot imagine preachers who wait until Saturday night to prepare. It also helped me to collect suitable topics and illustrations that could be used in the future.

My love of books and the writing of others has taught me to express myself and has provided me with material and widened my interests beyond my own experience. Reading all sorts of books has developed and enriched my vocabulary. I like to read several books at one time as my mood allows. Here is a list of my present reading. In the morning I read my Bible with the Encounter with God commentary, a devotional (Tony Dungy), a book of sermons (at the moment John Donne’s), a theological book (Ron Osborn on Death Before the Fall), a motivational book (Breakfast with Fred Smith), and a book of prayers (Lancelot Andrewes). During the day, for sermon preparation I consult all the commentaries on the passage. When I get home I read the news and magazines: London Times Literary Supplement, Books and Culture, Christianity Today, Weekly Standard. At night I read fiction, biographies and history (The Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, The War Diaries of Kenneth Best, White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov). The more you fill yourself with the thoughts of others, the easier it is to write out your own. Dr. Johnson said, “When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

What are you reading? Should you be writing also? Why not write out your thoughts and perhaps a memoir?

How To Survive and Thrive in Ministry

October 2nd, 2014

Bob Burns has written a post on The Gospel Coalition Blog that is worthy of wider readership. Since I celebrated the 47th anniversary of my ordination in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London on September 29 I thought it timely. I thank God that I have been able to survive and thrive despite the pressures of the ministry.

What does it take for pastors to survive and thrive in ministry?

This was the key question asked in an eight-year study funded by the Lilly Endowment that I had the privilege to coordinate through Covenant, Reformed, and Westminster Seminaries.

Why is this question important? Because many indicators—from personal stories quietly shared between friends to sophisticated research projects—all point to the fact that staying in pastoral ministry for the long haul can be tough sledding.

In God’s economy, pastoral ministry is not better than other vocations. But it is different. One pastor in our study explained, “Most people in our church have a life that is like a stool with three legs. They’ve got their spiritual life, their professional life, and their family life. If one of these legs wobbles, they have two others they can lean on. For us, those three things can merge into one leg. You’re sitting on a one-legged stool, and it takes a lot more concentration and energy. It’s a lot more exhausting.”

After hundreds of hours of meeting with pastors and their spouses, then working through the data, our research team identified five primary themes for fruitful ministry, which are shared in the book Resilient Ministry. While these themes aren’t the holy grail of ministry survival, my co-authors and I believe each one plays an important role in pastoral resilience.

The themes are (1) spiritual formation, (2) self-care, (3) emotional and cultural intelligence, (4) marriage and family, and (5) leadership and management. Although we wrote two chapters on each theme, I will simply introduce you to each one, highlighting a few ideas to consider.

1. Spiritual Formation
Spiritual formation involves both personal and interpersonal growth as a follower of Jesus. Most assume that people in vocational ministry take ample time to nurture the gospel in their souls, as well as maintain accountable relationships and other disciplines. But the pastors in our study shared how they had to manage jobs that were taxing, fast-paced, and unrelenting. This could lead to substituting church work for involvement in spiritual formation.
At the same time, after interviewing most of our pastors, one of our researchers concluded that their devotional practices directly correlated with their preparedness and ability to face difficult situations and trials.

2. Self-Care
Proper self-care is simply responsible stewardship of the life one has to serve others—what Paul meant by running the race in such a way as to win the prize. This includes taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, socially and physically. For example, one study identified 76 percent of clergy as either overweight or obese, compared to 61 percent of the general population.
A critical aspect of self-care in ministry is identifying safe, trustworthy relationships. Relationships in the church overlap all kinds of boundaries. For example, one day you may be counseling an elder about his sexual temptations; a few days later he is setting your salary. As one pastor put it, “Who can I talk to without any fear of how it might affect me or others?”

3. Emotional and Cultural Intelligence
Emotional and cultural intelligence reflects the capacity to understand oneself and others. Over the past several months it has been instructive to read and watch how Christians have responded to the problems in Ferguson, Missouri. Much of these responses reflect EQ (understanding and responding to emotion) and CQ (the ability to understand and adapt to cultural conditions).
It has been encouraging to read Justin Taylor’s blog and Ed Stetzer’s series in Christianity Today, as well as watch congregations like South City Fellowship in St. Louis respond to this crisis with thoughtfulness and action. The capacity of pastors to manage their feelings and responses in such challenging contexts shapes and forms their ministries as well as the message they send to a watching world.

4. Marriage and Family
There is a strong tendency among pastors to make an idol of ministry success. A sad outcome of this idol is seen in the comment of one pastor’s wife, who shared, “I think the heart of the issue is actually as a pastor you have two wives. You have your wife at home and your wife that is the church. Often that second wife dominates.”
Most of the pastors in our study ended up talking with their spouses about the need to place boundaries on the demands of ministry in order to responsibly care for their families. As one pastor said, “I’m challenged to minister to my spouse in the same ways that I minister to my flock. My family gets the scraps.”

5. Leadership and Management
Pastoral ministry demands a wide variety of varying job responsibilities. However, studies dating back to the 1950s show that pastors are surprised by the number of leadership and management tasks involved in their work.
One of the most important things pastors must learn under this theme is to manage conflict. While conflict fits into leadership and management, it involves all of the other themes. Remember that our researcher found a direct correlation between pastors’ devotional lives and how they handled difficulties.
An earlier study we referenced determined that Presbyterian pastors had higher rates of conflict with their congregations than pastors from other denominations. The reasons for such conflict were not primarily theological. Rather, they came from issues involving emotional and cultural intelligence, such as leadership style, financial decisions, and leading change. Conflict is natural and normal in relationships. How that conflict is handled makes all the difference.
So, besides recommending that you read our book, and others such as Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling and Clay Werner’s On the Brink, where do you go with all of this counsel? I’d recommend beginning a conversation with a friend or two. Talk about how these themes affect you. And what you plan to do about it.

Bob Burns is a pastor on staff at Seven Hills Fellowship in Rome, Georgia. He previously served as the Director of the Center for Ministry Leadership at Covenant Theological Seminary, coordinating the joint Lilly Endowment research project for Reformed Theological Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author, along with Donald Guthrie and Tasha Chapman, of Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving.

Mindless Californian Bigotry and Persecution

September 25th, 2014

Antoinette and I belonged to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship when we were in college. Last night we listened to Alec Hill, the President of Intervarsity USA speaking at a conference on Amelia Island. He shared about the problems Intervarsity was experiencing in being able to maintain its Christian leadership in California and other colleges because of mindless university rules about inclusivity. This is his post today on Huffington Post.

The nation just got a lesson in what happens when well-meaning attempts to foster diversity instead evoke the opposite effect.
Last month, the chancellor of the California State University system rejected campus ministry group InterVarsity’s request to modify the system’s policy prohibiting student groups from requiring leaders to commit to the beliefs of the group they are leading. As a result, InterVarsity is facing de-recognition as a student group from the 23 California State University campuses.
The only thing that makes a decision like this possible is the pervasive distortion in our culture of tolerance and pluralism.
Today, many within the academic community have adopted a skewed and dangerous definition of pluralism. In a front-page article last June entitled “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy,” the New York Times reported several instances where new university non-discrimination policies — policies designed to encourage campus diversity — are actually making campuses less inclusive. At issue on campuses such as Bowdoin, Tufts, Vanderbilt and the California State University system is the right of all student groups to use beliefs-driven criteria to select their leaders. Accused of “religious discrimination,” now some faith-based groups are at increasing risk of being derecognized on campus.
A year ago, the Aspen Institute addressed such concerns in the report “Principled Pluralism.” Co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and David Gergen, the 25-member “Inclusive America Project” panel included university and seminary presidents, media thought-leaders, professors and social service providers. It was my great privilege to serve with senior religious leaders from various faith communities — including Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, humanist and Christian.
Together, we coined the phrase “principled pluralism” to articulate two big ideas. First, we embraced the right of diverse religious traditions to self-define and to disagree — even adamantly — on matters of theology. Second, we affirmed a deep commitment to pursue the common good together in higher education, youth services, media and government. The first point distinguished us from those who seek to blur or mitigate religious doctrinal differences; the second, from those who seek to foster ill will among faith communities.
I was particularly impressed by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam’s conclusion that religious diversity can actually be a source of social cohesion (as counter-intuitive as that may seem). Rather than trying to homogenize our culture, we can actually thrive by celebrating our diversity.
The emerging false pluralism we see on college campuses today stifles religious expression, labels leadership selection based upon orthodoxy and orthopraxy as “religious discrimination,” redefines freedom of association as “exclusionary,” and condemns the sharing of one’s faith as “proselytizing.”
It seems as if university officials need a refresher course on what the role of a leader actually is. Merriam Webster defines a “leader” as one who “guide[s] on a way especially by going in advance.” How can the student-leader of a Christian group guide someone down a path he or she has not taken?
When pluralism is wrongly defined, nonsensical policies result. In the California State University system, for example, sororities and fraternities are explicitly exempted from gender discrimination in selecting leaders, while faith-based groups are not granted a similar religious exemption.

My point is not to slam sororities and fraternities. To the contrary, I concur that they should be allowed to have female and male leaders, respectively. Likewise, Phi Beta Kappa should have smart, academically high-achieving leaders. The Young Democrats should have politically progressive leaders. And, in this same spirit, faith-based groups should have religious leaders.

It is telling that the conservative National Review and the liberal Mother Jones concur on this point. University administrators bear great responsibility to ensure that principled pluralism thrives in their environs. The degree to which they provide — or fail to provide — truly open public campus forums will determine how our culture engages such issues in the future. How they define pluralism today will establish a cultural template for a whole generation.

Alec Hill is president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.

A Prayer for Old Age

September 20th, 2014

Eric Milner-White (1884-1963), a distinguished clergyman of the Church of England wrote a book of prayers, My God, My Glory, which is a favorite of mine. It contains the revised versions of the original prayers of his heart. Many of them were written during wakeful night hours when, as an insomniac, he would turn his sleeplessness into prayerfulness. This prayer on Old Age may be of help to so many of you who are navigating that new and unknown stage of your life.

O LORD GOD, who leaves us not
nor forsakes us in the time of age;
Show me, as my strength fails,
an even fuller, lovelier light of your glory
shining over and about me.
O my soul, give thanks!

There is that glory, let me find mine.
Grant me new store of gentleness, gratitude, patience;
new learning of the Suffering of my Lord;
new dignity of Grace.
Make my life wholly his life: his heart, my heart;
his breath, my breath, breathing love
to the very end.
O my soul, give thanks!

My time is in your hand
Be my support in weakness,
my courage in the dark and in pain,
my aid, day and night,
my company in loneliness,
my rest.
O my soul, give thanks!

For all that you take from me,
you give what is better,
and guide to the best.
O my soul, give thanks!

Be your love my bed and covering,
be your Christ my living Bread;
your Spirit, my strength to the end.
Bring me forth, forgiven, loved, and loving,
child and servant for ever,
into your joy.
O my soul, give thanks!

What is Courage?

September 16th, 2014

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Courage is the willingness to risk. To lead is to act. To have courage is to take charge, first of one’s life, for the true hero is not the person who conquers others but the one who conquers himself or herself. Courage is the ability to exhibit personal autonomy and independence of thought, to take the initiative, to be a self-starter. Courage means that you are willing to stand alone. You define yourself. You invent who you are. You are responsible for who you are. Courage is the free decision to tolerate maximum amounts of anxiety, to manage your anxiety constructively, to understand that being anxious is what it feels like to grow. The courageous leader claims the power, at all times, to initiate, act, and risk. Courage means acting with sustained initiative. (Peter Koestenbaum, Leadership: the inner side of greatness, a philosophy for leaders, 49-52)

Prayer in Time of Peril

September 10th, 2014

On this anniversary of September 11th here is a prayer that we can use.

Almighty God, Lord of all peoples and nations on the earth,
whose power no one is able to resist.
Protect, save and deliver us, we humbly pray, from the hands of our enemies;
Halt their pride and self-righteousness,
Lessen their malice and anger,
Confound their plans and sow confusion among those who lead them;
Strengthen the will and wisdom of our national leaders: both civil and military,
That we, and all who represent us, being armed with your defense,
may be preserved evermore from all perils, to glorify you, the only giver of true victory,
Through the merits of your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Has the Judge Been Reading My Blog?

September 4th, 2014

Jacob Gershman in the Wall Street Journal today reports on the Louisiana same-sex marriage ruling.

A U.S. district judge on Wednesday upheld Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage, breaking with the vast majority of federal courts on a constitutional question likely to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Acknowledging he was sounding a discordant note amid a “hopeful chorus” of recent rulings, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said he was unconvinced that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry. The judge said federal court decisions striking down gay marriage bans “exemplify a pageant of empathy,” but he doubted their legal wisdom.

“This Court is persuaded that Louisiana has a legitimate interest…whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not, in the opinion of others…in linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents,” wrote Judge Feldman, leaving in place a state constitutional ban backed by 78% of Louisiana voters in a 2004 referendum.

The ruling ends a remarkable winning streak for the marriage-equality movement. Since the Supreme Court in 2013 invalidated Defense of Marriage Act provisions denying federal benefits to same-sex spouses,19 different federal courts have ruled against same-sex marriage bans in 16 states, according to Lambda Legal, a national gay rights legal group. Two other federal courts had ruled against gay plaintiffs in Hawaii and Nevada in older cases filed before last year’s high-court decision.

The string of victories also includes two appellate courts, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. Two other circuit courts are expected to weigh in with decisions this year.

Judge Feldman, a Reagan appointee, said the momentum behind gay marriage may seem “ordained.” But the movement, he said, faces “inconvenient questions,” echoing the slippery-slope argument made by many defenders of traditional marriage laws. Wrote the judge:

For example, must the states permit or recognize a marriage between an aunt and niece? Aunt and nephew Brother/brother? Father and child? May minors marry? Must marriage be limited to only two people? What about a transgender spouse? Is such a union same-gender or male-female? All such unions would undeniably be equally committed to love and caring for one another, just like the plaintiffs.

Gay marriage opponents seized on the ruling as a tide-turning triumph for their side. “Here we see the house of cards collapsing that supported the myth that redefining marriage in inevitable,” Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement.

State attorneys general in Utah and Virginia have asked the Supreme Court to overturn lower-court ruling striking down state bans. In a crowded field of litigation, the Louisiana case is unlikely to make a dent, said Kenneth Upton, senior counsel with Lambda.
“I wouldn’t call it a game-changer. I’d call it an outlier,” Mr. Upton told Law Blog. “It’s very unlikely that cases that just now are coming along at the trial level are far enough along to have much impact on the ultimate result.”

Nineteen states, as well as the District of Columbia, currently authorize same-sex marriage.

How Do We Prevent Abuse of Power and the Destruction of our Traditions?

September 4th, 2014

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was a British statesman whose opposition to the abuse of power led him to author several works of political philosophy whose influence is still being felt. Jesse Norman has written a helpful biography entitled, Edmund Burke: The First Conservative (Basic Books, New York, 2013). He wrote a treatise rejecting Lord Bolingbroke’s arguments for atheistic rationalism, demonstrating their absurdity. Present day atheists have not improved their case. As a Member of Parliament he argued strongly against the executive authority of the King and for the importance of political parties as a legislative counter-balance. As an Irishman he worked for Catholic Emancipation – the vote for Catholics and their ability to trade and do business as well as attend the universities. He abhorred the abuse of power of the Protestant aristocracy in Ireland. He supported the grievances of the American colonists and opposed the use of force to collect taxes without representation. He led the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, on the grounds of his corruption and abuse of power at the expense of the Indian population. When the French Revolution occurred he wrote his famous Reflections of the Revolution in France which was an immediate bestseller in Great Britain and in France. He contrasted the English Glorious Revolution of 1688 with its reassertion of the power of Parliament against the abstract, metaphysical rights of man in France which led to the destruction of French national tradition and eventually to the Terror.
Jesse Norman gives us a condensed biography and then a review of Burke’s thought. His great contribution is pointing us to Burke’s emphasis on man as a social animal.

We become human by immersing ourselves from earliest consciousness in human institutions of language and love. But institutions are not merely good for their members; they are good for society itself. …Institutions are grounded in the human desire for connection with others, and in economic and social exchange and reciprocity. In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, ‘If you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, they won’t come to yours.’ (p.266)

He discusses the need for social capital: the importance of family and friends, personal ties and institutional networks as social resources worthy to be ranked alongside a nation’s financial capital and economic strength. The basic task of politics is to preserve social capital and moral community.

Norman draws six key lessons to be drawn from Burke.

The first is that extreme liberalism is now in crisis. Various disasters have gravely undermined conventional beliefs in the moral primacy of the individual, in the power of human reason alone to resolve political and economic problems, in the redemptive value of individual consumption, and in the capacity of unfettered individual freedom to deliver personal or social well-being. Human happiness is not simply a matter of satisfying individual wants, and the purpose of politics is not to satisfy the interests of individuals living now: it is to preserve an evolving social order which meets the needs of generations past, present and future. Extreme individualism appears to promote arrogance and selfishness.

Second, projects which seek to abolish national identities and allegiances are likely to fail because they ignore the local circumstances, traditions and religions, and impose conformity.

Third, Burkean leaders believe in slow government. They fear to sacrifice the interests of future generations at the altar of present popularity. They do not regard politics as a subset of economics and are not obsessed with passing laws, interfering in private concerns or tampering with working institutions. They are skeptical about official expertise, radical schemes and ambitious government.

Fourth, Burke was driven by a hatred of excessive power, and the arbitrary use and abuse of power. He would be appalled by the crony capitalism, the greed of the modern nabobs of banking and finance and the expenditure of so much money on political campaigning.

Fifth, Burke reminds us of the foundational importance of protecting representative government and the rule of law as a bulwark against the abuse of power. Good stable government demands effective political parties.

Sixth, Burke insisted on the importance of human culture, and the ideal of public service. He deplored the tendency to individual or generational arrogance. He emphasizes the human self as an active social force, not the passive vehicle for happiness of the utilitarians. He gives us the lost language of politics: a language of honor, loyalty, duty and wisdom. He highlights the importance of moderate religious observance and moral community as a source of shared norms.

Is It Only Winning That Counts?

September 4th, 2014

Bill Weimer is my brother-in-law, a retired US Navy Chaplain and Pastor. This is his Movie Review of


My Quick Comments:

“Highly Recommended – I loved it, maybe even better than the movie “Blind Side”!
“If you like sports… if you like life, go before it is no longer showing in the area.”
“It’s a true sports story with clear spiritual and biblical emphases!

If you don’t have a lot of time this week…

THEN stop reading this article right now, speed-walk, run, drive, hitch-hike, or get a friend to take you and go with you to…. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

Critics were not high on this low-budget movie – it’s not an Oscar-winning, not a big budget production, not a shoot-‘em-up and violent action every 3 minutes, not a curse-word-filled flick, and not sexy gals and guys film. It is just human beings dealing with challenges in sports and life. Audiences loved it. I was spiritually up-lifted by it and it’s now in my Top Ten or maybe even Top Five – I’d be very interested in how your mind, your heart, and your spirit respond to this flick.

Victories versus Values

Yep, it’s football season again! College games, even top-notch ones between highly ranked teams, are beginning played – with a new “championship” format. Professional NFL games are about to start soon, leading to the Super Bowl. Some teams and/or individuals try to win at all cost: spying on opponents, playing injured players, injuring opponents, etc. Drugs have begun to enter the college scene. Players with off-field troubles and summer run-ins with local police are often allowed to continue playing on the team, possibly being held-out of a quarter when the team plays a weaker team!

For example, “my college” – the U.F. Gators – while winning two SEC football titles and two national championships yet had at least 31 arrests involving 25 players, and now the former UF coach is at Ohio State where reports show 8 players arrested. Recently the LSU Head Coach let his players vote whether or not to reinstate one of the Tigers’ players who, convicted for carnal knowledge of a minor when he was a high school senior, violated his probation on that charge by being in a fight outside a Baton Rouge bar.

Compare those scenarios with a few other college head coaches. One suspended his merging star quarterback for the rest of their games as their season was ending – for being out drinking beer before a game. The substitute QB, under careful coaching and planning, won the final game: defeating Miami 17-12 on the road. Then that team, Alabama, defeated Ole Miss in the 1963 Sugar Bowl – without QB Joe Namath whom Head Coach Bear Bryant would not let play for the rest of that year’s season after the incident!

Greatest Winning High School Football Coach Ever

A high school football coach, whom few of us know, was similar – Northern California De La Salle High School coach John Ladouceur! Like the legendary basketball coach John Wooden who never screamed or hollered or focused on winning (only to win 88 college games in a row and 10 national championships in 12 years!), this teacher and coach at a Catholic high school never emphasized the win streak, which went to 151 games! In fact, he sought to de-emphasize it with reporters, fans, and his own players! His focus was on character, values, teamwork, love, and commitment that he worked so hard to build into teenage boys – even rejecting an offer to become the Head Coach at Stanford University. When their 151-game win streak ended, how would he and his players respond?!

A Few More Insights – If You Are Still Reading (and are not yet at movie)

Compare some winning streaks by great college teams. Oklahoma Sooners: 47 straight (1953-1957). Old Division II – Grand Valley State Lakers: 40 games (2005-2007). And then Division III – Mount Union Purple Raiders: 55 (2000-2003). De La Salle won 151!

The Forbes website has an excellent “business-life” article on this movie – see Carmine Gallo’s“ The Coach Behind the Longest Winning Streak in Sports History”

Coach Ladouceur and his team were neither magically gifted nor trouble-free: the coach had a heart attack and has to step away from the team, a top player is murdered, one player has family members die, and yet another player is constantly and vehemently pushed by his father for a state record! A powerful movie scene is when the win streak is snapped, the coach takes them to a unique place for a reality and motivational check!

The author of the book, on which this movie is based, Neil Hayes reflects, “I spent a year with ‘Coach Lad’ and I never heard him use the word win. De La Salle doesn’t win because of anything Bob Ladouceur does. They win because of who he is,” says Hayes.
Ladouceur explained. “Our kids aren’t fighting for wins. They’re fighting for a belief in what we stand for.” Hayes tells of a game halftime when his team played poorly, Coach Lad walked into the locker room and when his team “looked at their coach, begging for wisdom, his guidance.” Lad didn’t give them a traditional pep talk. Instead he said, “Why do I always have to be the problem solver? Group problem-solving is a skill you will use your whole life. Figure it out.” And with that the most successful high school football coach in history walked out – leaving the players to come up with their own solution.

You and me???….

What goals do you and I have for the rest of our lives, for this “season”, and for this month or week? – Are they written down for you (or someone else) to check? Are we waiting and looking for others – even a pastor or priest – to tell us what to do or how to grow spiritually, or are we stepping up and stepping out ourselves to ask, seek, and knock that we might go and grow forward? What are the core values and perspectives for everything you and I are doing? Is your faith, Bible verses you know, and your teamwork with other Christians central and foundational to all we are planning and doing?

There are not many great movies. There are few films which may affect change in your life. The movie, “When the Game Stands Tall” is both! See it, not for the never-to-be-surpassed “win streak” but for the spiritual life lessons taught and learned. Is it “our wins” in life… or is it “who we are” that really counts? As one La Salle player says, James 4:10 summarizes the focus of this coach (and of this movie)!

Sports and drugs… football injuries… win at any cost… winning is the only thing…

Longest football win-streaks…

Division I – Oklahoma Sooners: 47 straight (1953-1957)
Division II – Grand Valley State Lakers: 40 games (2005-2007)
Division III – Mount Union Purple Raiders: 55 (2000-2003)

University of Connecticut women’s basketball teams won 90 games in row
UCLA men’s basketball team won 88 games in a row
Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight NBA games

Oakland Athletes MBA team won 20 straight baseball games