Lessons from the Bleachers

UW-Madison Men's Basketball Tem

#44 - Frank "the tank" Kaminsky
#44 – Frank “the tank” Kaminsky
Bucky Badger
Bucky Badger

Matthew 28:19-20a

Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always.”

March Madness is alive and well in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites are proud of the 2014-15 University of Wisconsin-Madison Men’s Basketball Team, who received a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. After winning two tournament games over the weekend, they are in the Sweet 16. On paper, their biggest threat is Kentucky, who beat the Badgers last year in the quarterfinals. If the Badgers and Kentucky each win two more games, they will again go head-to-head in the quarterfinals.

As a UW-Madison grad, I am a Badger fan. During my college days, the UW-Madison athletic department struggled. There were no Big 10 Championships or NCAA tournaments. I cannot name one Men’s Basketball player from my college years. Today’s program is stellar.  The guys are talented and fun to watch. They seem like a great group of coachable men working towards the same goals. This team has inspired me to contemplated how I, as a pastor, and the church can learn from them. Here are my lessons from the bleachers:

  1. They know their mission and work daily towards this goal. After the team won the Big 10 season and tournament, the players spoke of accomplishing two of their three goals. Their third goal is the NCAA Final Four. Every day, they prepare for these goals. Lesson for the church: Jesus gave us our mission – to go and make disciples. Do we work diligently towards this goal? Do we understand our daily practices determine whether we accomplish it?
  2. They know they are best as a team and set aside personal ambitions. Yes, Frank “the tank” Kaminsky is the odds-on favorite to be the NCAA MVP. But the team’s other players are critical. No one expects Frank or anyone else to carry the team. They win together; they lose together. Lesson for the church: ministry is best as a team approach; 1 or 2 people can’t do it. When people share their gifts and talents, God’s kingdom is dramatically affected.
  3. They have a great leader. Coach Bo Ryan is known for taking the less talented player who shows passion and coachability. He is interested in developing young men who will have impact beyond the court. Lesson for the church: when Jesus recruited his team, he chose some of the most unlikely candidates: fishermen and a tax collector. In skipping over religiously trained people, God doesn’t only call the qualified. God qualifies the call.
  4. Having fun is imperative. Frank could have left college early for the NBA. But he chose to have fun playing college ball. This past weekend, Frank and teammates Sam Dekker and Nigal Hayes became fascinated with a stenographer after a press conference. They went behind the scenes and discovered what she does. In the next media conference, Nigal threw in the words cattywampus, onomatopoeia, quandary and Xylophone to make her job more interesting. Lesson for the church: sometimes, we take ourselves too seriously. Jesus knew how to meet people and attract them to God’s kingdom. That’s why he went to parties, ate with sinners and hung out with society’s fringes. He met people in their daily lives and lived as a real person.

Yes, my husband and I will be cheering on the Badger’s in their next game(s). Win or lose, I pray the team and coaching staff will continue to reflect who they are. I thank them for the lessons they are teaching me how I can impact God’s kingdom on and off the court.

Lord God, as Jesus took the very simple things of his day – a seed, a lamb, a fish – and used them to teach us about your Kingdom, I pray we can see examples in our daily lives that teach us about you and your Kingdom. Thank you for these. Amen.

Blessings  –


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Ripped from the Headlines


Mar. 11, 2015

Psalm 64:1

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

February 2014. One Sunday evening, Rick and I were expecting to watch the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics when I noticed several police cars pull in front of our house. Officers descended upon our neighbor’s home. We later learned that she had been shot. For the next week, we crossed yellow police tape to get on and off our property. Television crews camped on our lawn. We discovered that people often do not know what is going on in their neighborhood. Our neighbor’s boyfriend pleaded guilty to the killing this winter. The highly-sought pink revolver has never been found.

February 2015. One morning, I heard via the car radio that two Mazomanie people had been killed the previous night. About noon, my neighbor let me know the shooter is a 17-year-old boy who lives one block from us. We know this young man, as well as his family. His grandmother was highly involved at one of the churches I served until her unexpected death a few years ago. Several families have been dramatically affected by this incident and will be decades.

Less than a week ago, a bi-racial 19-year-old man was killed by a white police officer during an altercation in Madison. Less than 30 miles from our not-so-quiet neighborhood, many more families are affected.

All three incidences are ripped from area headlines. We’d expect these headlines in other communities, not our seemingly quiet Midwest community. We’d prefer our community to be in the news for the same reason Arlington, IA (population 416) is. It’s most famous resident is the latest The Bachelor.

What do these incidences say to me? Evil is alive and well. While we’d like to assure ourselves headliner situations happen in “other areas,” this is not how evil works. Evil lurks at every corner and bend of our lives. It masks and disguises itself in our shadows. Previous accounts of how awful evil can be doesn’t always stop us. Biblical, historical and personal examples barely slow us down. Instead, we respond to evil like folks have for thousands of years. If we ignore it, it will disappear, right? Our evil tendencies are not nearly as bad as others, correct? It’s OK for some evil because the devil made us do it, right?

I have no good answers for dealing with evil … other than calling upon the Lord for protection, wisdom and guidance every minute of our lives. When we let down our guard for a second, it is a second too long. The enemy is near, waiting to create another story which will be headliner news. We all need protection. We all need God’s protection.

Lord God, surround me and my family with a shroud of your protection. Help me see the evil that lurks in my life. Grant me wisdom to make appropriate choices that shield me from the enemy. Amen.

Blessings –


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Investing in Relationships

DSC03191Mar. 7, 2015

Romans 12:15-16

Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not act or think with pride. Be happy to be with poor people. Keep yourself from thinking you are so wise. 

Relationships are interesting. They can be the root of some of the most rewarding times in our lives. They can also be the most challenging and difficult times.

In recent months, Rick and I have had the opportunity to be involved in a couple “Pay It Forward” situations in which resources are dedicated towards helping someone else. Last night, we gathered with other people part of a “Pay It Forward” campaign sponsored by a company. Folks could share how they paid it forward. Some people were very emotional and touched by their experience. Most of these people helped a specific person and related a personal story. The last person to share was an employee. He had made more general investments to organizations. While his experience was noteworthy, he knows next time he will find a more personal situation.

Relationships have many caveats. A relationship will only develop as much as both parties allow it to grow. We can all probably think of a relationship that got held up because the other person halted it. Sometimes, we have to pick and choose which relationships we invest in the most. We can’t have the same level of vulnerability with everyone. My relationship with my spouse should be more invested. That’s why he’s my spouse. I also know there are some people I am more naturally drawn to than others. These friendships are closer. My introverted husband often reminds me that for him, relationships are harder than for extroverted people.

We don’t have to read very far into the Gospel accounts to discover quickly how much Jesus invested into relationships. Even Jesus had a closer “inner three” of Peter, James and John within the disciples. At times, even relationships frustrated and taxed Jesus.

Yet, relationships were worth the investment for Jesus. Ultimately, he wanted his relationship with God to be what he pointed people back to. The investment of time, energy, listening and patience was more valuable than any other investment. He demonstrates that relationships are worth the investment. May we see investing in relationships with our Heavenly Father as well as those on this earth as worth their weight in gold.

Lord God, thank you for investing into a relationship with me. Even when I’m not sure that I want a relationship with you, you never walk away. Thanks for being ever available to me. Help me choose the most important relationships to invest in and model the value of relationships as Jesus did. Amen.

Blessings –


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