Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Facts "Bear" It Out

As a follow up to the video on the previous post, the following was first published by The Baylor Proud Team in Athletics, Baylor 2012.  If by chance you find all this bragging about my alma mater somewhat insufferable, keep in mind two things:

1) I'm not used to Baylor being this successful in the major sports, so cut me some slack; and 
2) It's my blog. 

Baylor football, basketball, baseball set NCAA record for combined wins

Last summer, when it looked like the Big 12 Conference was about to fall apart and Baylor would be left scrambling for a new league, pundits across the nation said BU didn’t belong in a major conference. One year later, their songs have changed, thanks to AƱodeloso — the Year of the Bear.

Let’s put some numbers on the Year of the Bear… When you add up the 2011-12 records for Baylor football (10-3), men’s basketball (30-8) and women’s basketball (40-0), you get a combined mark of 80-10. Those 80 total wins are a new NCAA D-1 record; here are the top five:

Year         School          FB   MBB   WBB  Total wins  Combined record
2011-12  BAYLOR     10     30       40           80         80-11 (.879)
2008-09  UConn          8     31        39           78          78-10 (.886)
2007-08  Tennessee  10    31        36           77          77-11 (.875)
2010-11  UConn           8     32       36           76          76-16 (.826)
2006-07  Ohio St.      12     35       28           75          75-9 (.893)
But let’s take it even further. Baylor baseball’s win Friday over Kansas State improved the Big 12 champion Bears’ record to 44-13. Combine that mark with football and hoops for a “Big Four” total, and you get a record of 124-24 — setting a NCAA D-1 record for combined wins across those four sports.

Year          School              FB   MBB     WBB    BB    Total wins  Combined record
2011-12    BAYLOR        10    30           40      44     124               124-24 (.838)
2003-04   Texas             10    25           30       58     123               123-31 (.799)
1984-85    Oklahoma       9     31           23       55     118                118-29 (.803)
2008-09   Oklahoma     12     30          32       43     117                 117-33 (.780)
2002-03   Texas             11    26           29       50     116                116-35 (.768)
With baseball ranked No. 6 in the country and only just entering the postseason, Baylor should be able to tack a few more victories onto that total before all is said and done. Add on Robert Griffin III’s Heisman and Brittney Griner’s consensus national player of the year honors — a combination only recorded one other time in the last 50-plus years — and this has truly been a year to remember.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Dance of Forgiveness

“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  There’s a reason those two phrases are next to each other in the Lord’s Prayer.  Forgiveness is at the heart of the Kingdom of God, because the Kingdom of God is comprised of broken people.  We shouldn’t idealize the Kingdom as a place where we don’t hurt one another.  What characterizes the Kingdom of God from this evil age, as Jesus calls it, is not the absence conflict but rather the absence of revenge and violence as means of dealing with it.
Violence does not preserve community, it destroys it.  Vengeance does not bring people together, but drives them apart.  Justice is not served by either, but by looking sin dead in the eye and then working toward reconciliation.  But we have gotten so good at both that we don’t even have to think, we just act.  They have become second-nature to us.  How many times have you found yourself “flying off the handle” about something, and then afterward you think, “I wasn’t thinking, I was just reacting.”  Almost as if something took over.  Well, when we’ve gotten so good at something that we don’t even have to think about it, that we just enter “the zone”, that is usually because something is instinctual, or because we’ve practiced it enough and gotten so good that we don’t have to think about it when we do it.  Like walking.  Nobody thinks about walking while they do it.  It’s both instinctual and well-practiced.  Well, reacting to conflict is both as well.  It’s instinctual—the fight or flight response is a survival mechanism built into just about ever living being’s DNA; but it’s also well-practiced, something that has become second nature because we’ve done it so much.
It’s forgiveness that seems foreign.  And we must practice it so that it becomes second-nature.  Learning to dance, for instance, is awkward, and anything but graceful.  But when you watch people who have practiced the dance, it is beautiful, graceful, and flowing.  It seems effortless, because they are no longer having to think about where to put their hands and feet, they just move together.
The Western Church, of which we are a part, coming as all Protestant Churches out of the Roman Catholic tradition, has always described the Trinity in very clinical terms.  “Jesus is God of Very God, being of the same substance, distinct from the Father and Spirit yet the same, neither superior to nor subordinate to the others.”  Exciting stuff, that.
The Eastern Church, what is called the Orthodox Church, describes the Trinity as a dance involving three persons, always giving themselves to one another in perfect love, at the same time three and one.  And grace is when we are invited into the divine dance.  We join this dance by being forgiven so that we can forgive.
But learning the dance of forgiveness is not easy.  Our heart, souls, minds and bodies are deeply formed by the habits of sin and evil.  We all too often attempt to secure our lives at the expense of others.  We are well practiced in the steps that lead to mutual destruction and death while we know precious little of the steps that make up the divine dance of forgiveness.  But we must learn, because forgiveness is at the heart of the Kingdom of God, which means it is at the heart of God.  But just as the Trinity is a dance involving three persons, we must be careful not to reduce forgiveness to a two-person waltz involving just myself and God.  That is the mistake that the Western church has made, in my opinion.  All our formulations of salvation are about how God forgives us, forgetting (or ignoring) that “forgive us our trespasses” is a conditional statement, followed by the condition, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  But forgiveness is a three-person dance involving God and our sins and others and their sins against us.  We forgive as we have been forgiven, moving gracefully upon this earth in perfect harmony.
We are—I am—still very clumsy with these steps.  They aren’t yet natural.  But they are necessary to life in the Kingdom.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Message in a Nap

The Gospel writer Mark tells a very short episode of a time when Jesus and the disciples got into a boat to go from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other.   On the way over, Jesus takes a nap, and while he is sleeping, a storm rolls over the sea and threatens to swamp the boat, killing them all.  The disciples wake Jesus up—some people can literally sleep through a storm—and when he rebuked the storm, it went away, the sea calmed down, and everyone was safe.
And then Jesus rebuked the disciples because they were afraid and lacked faith.
Sometimes the message is in the miracle.  This is not one of those times.
One of the curiosities of the gospels is that the miracles Jesus performs don’t produce faith.  The produce astonishment, awe, even fear, but they don’t seem to result in life-changing faith.  They are signs to those who have faith, but to those who don’t have faith, they seem to breed only hostility, resentment, and fear to those who don't have faith.  As Abraham said about the brothers of the rich man in Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, “They have the Law and the Prophets; if they won’t believe them, they won’t believe a man raised from the dead.”
This story has a miracle, but the message isn’t in the miracle.  Which is probably a good thing, because while we all have to go through storms, we rarely get a miracle.  No, the message isn’t in the miracle; we have to look elsewhere.  Maybe the message is in the nap.
        Throughout the Old Testament, sleep is also an important image. In fact, two passages seem to underlie this story.  “If you sit down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  Do not be afraid of sudden panic, or of the storm that strikes the wicked; for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.”  (Proverbs 3:24-26). The gift of being able to sleep untroubled and peacefully is the sign that one can trust in God's power.  The second is Psalm 44:23-26, when it appeared that God had lost interest in the people and  they assumed that God had ceased to watch over them and was asleep:  “Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!  Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?  For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.  Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.” 
These two Old Testament images powerfully overlap with Jesus' sleeping as the storm rages around the frightened disciples. Jesus is asleep, at peace in the care of the Father, as the boat is tossed about in the waves. His faith in God's power to keep him safe remains strong, unlike the panicked disciples. They have little faith. Their faith is so different from Jesus' untroubled faith that they mistake it for careless indifference.  When they wake him, they don’t ask for deliverance, they rebuke him for not caring!  "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 
Here's where the true message of the story comes into play. Jesus knows that he won't always be physically right beside us, sitting in the next seat, ready with a miraculous cure. And so he asks, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"
We're talking FAITH here, not miracles. Faith that Jesus loves us and is working for an ultimate good, even when waves beat around us and our boat is swamped. Faith that God has created the world and is in control of it, even when chaos seems to reign and evil seems to triumph. Faith that the Holy Spirit is giving us strength and inner peace, even when we're feeling exhausted and stressed and at the end of our ropes. Faith keeps us going in spite of the depressing, disappointing and demoralizing circumstances around us, and it enables us to face an uncertain future without fear.
We won’t always have a  miracle, but we’ll always have Jesus.  Trust in him, and you too will be able to sleep through the storm.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Paul's Other Mother

Romans 16 is one of those chapters in the Bible that is easy to skip over, but is actually pretty cool.  It is largely composed of Paul’s greetings to various people in the church at Rome.  If you are willing to pay attention and not just rush through it, Paul is saying something here;  it’s not just an add-on or afterthought to all the important stuff in the rest of the letter.  But that is a subject for another day.
Verse 13 is one I’ve always liked, but there are some translation issues.  In the King James Version, the verse reads, “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.”  The Revised Standard Version is similar: “Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.”  In both of these translations it sounds as if Paul is greeting three people: Rufus, Rufus’ mother, and Paul’s mother.  If you do a strict word-for-word translation, that’s how it comes out, but it’s rare that strict word-for-word translations are accurate.  Language doesn’t work like that; meaning comes from the relationship between words as much as from the words themselves, so it’s possible to get the words right yet still miss the meaning of the sentence.
More than likely what caused translators to take a second look at this is the way that Paul treats his own mother as something of an afterthought.   “Say hi to Rufus, a really great guy, and his mother too.  While you’re at it, say hi to my mom too.”  Really?  Paul mentions 27 people by name, four of whom he calls beloved.  He mentions three other relatives by name.  Personal affection drips from each of these greetings, and yet dear old mom barely gets acknowledged, and only after Rufus’ mother.   Something is amiss here.  Either Paul has mommy issues, or we’ve missed something in the translation.
More modern translations restore the dripping-affection to the verse.  The New Revised Standard Version translates it this way:  “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother-- a mother to me also.”  Similarly, the New International Version  translates it, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.”  And Eugene Peterson’s magnificent The Message: “Hello to Rufus—a good choice by the Master—and his mother.  She has also been a dear mother to me.”  Translation is as much art as science—in fact it may be more art than science—and these translations, while being true to the Greek, are also true to the affectionate tone of the rest of the greetings.
Makes you wonder about Paul’s family life.  Did his mother die when he was young—not an uncommon occurrence in those days.  A lot of women didn’t survive multiple childbirths.  Maybe Paul found himself wandering over to Rufus’ house a lot, as much to be around Rufus’ mother as to be around Rufus himself.
Or maybe Paul’s mother distanced herself from her son when he claimed to have heard the voice of a dead man and then went overboard running around following this weird sect of Jews.  After all, what’s a good Jewish mother supposed to think of a son like that?  And so Paul found himself gravitating, even as an adult, to a woman who was also a believer so wasn’t ashamed of him, treating him as if he were her own son.
Who knows.  Perhaps Paul’s mother was fine and she was among his relatives who belonged to The Way, but she was still back in Antioch.  There’s nothing wrong with having two mothers, is there?
I wonder what Rufus’ mother thought when she heard this letter read out loud in church?   I like to think that she was a little surprised and a lot honored.  All she did was welcome Paul into her home, give him a place to sleep and food to eat and maybe a little affection, something in her mind any woman would do, and maybe did do given Paul’s wanderings.  But here he is saying to everyone, “She’s my second mom.”  How cool is that?
You just never know the effect you have when you love a person.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Moving From Learning to Following

A disciple is someone who follows someone to learn from them, to learn to do what they do—in a way, to learn to become what they are.  They follow to emulate.  So to learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, we need to understand the one that we follow.
I think that the statement that best summarizes who Jesus is and what he came to do comes from Jesus himself.  In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said that “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Jesus is saying a number of important things here:
1. He is a man on a mission, he came to earth with a purpose, he has a God-given assignment.
2. He came to be a servant, to be in fact the very model of servanthood.
3. His servanthood would entail extraordinary sacrifice, would in fact be fulfilled through extraordinary sacrifice, and yet it is sacrifice gladly given, because it is in fulfillment of his God-given dream.

So, when we claim as a church that we are followers of Jesus, here is what we are saying:
1. We are people on mission.  God has given our church an assignment for the Kingdom, and he has given each person in our church an assignment so that the church can fulfill its assignment.
2. We are servants.  We don’t ask what God can do for us, but what we can do for God; not what the church can do for us, but what we can do for the church; not what the world can do for us, but what we can do for the world.
3. We are willing to undergo extraordinary sacrifice in order to fulfill God’s dream in us.

Did you know that was what you were saying?  Why not?  Probably because most of us accepted Christ because we wanted to be saved from hell, forgiven of our sins, and preserved for eternal life in heaven.  Well, sin is a barrier, and it is a barrier that needs to be removed so that we can become what we were created to become.  The removal of our sins is a means to an end, but not the end itself.  So what is the end?  What were we created for? 
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10—“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” 
We were created for good works.  To do good.  To serve in ways that lives are positively impacted, that things are made better, that love is able to prosper, that the world is a better place, a place where God is able to prosper—the Kingdom of God.  That’s what the first disciples did.  They made a positive impact on the world through extraordinary service and extraordinary sacrifice.
Now, somehow, somewhere, the definition of a disciple changed.  In the Modern mindset, where education is king, a disciple began to be defined as a one who knows and understands the right things about God.  Knowing, rather than doing.  So discipleship programs became education programs and this education program was separate from the missions program.  In fact, missions programs became educations programs in which we simply learned about others being on mission as opposed to learning to be on mission ourselves.  Well, the results are in, and, in the words of John Maxwell, we are educated beyond the level of our obedience. 
I believe that we need to get a whole new model of discipleship.  When Jesus called his disciples, what did he say to them?  “Come FOLLOW me.”  We need to stop envisioning disciples as people sitting in a classroom and envision them as people following Jesus on his mission of setting the world to rights in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Incursion Into Foreign Territory

This is at the Baylor Bookstore, 100 miles south of Dallas and Cowboys Stadium.

Never would have seen this kind of thing when I was a student there.

But RGIII to D.C. is big, even in Texas.