Sabbatical Sit Down: Tiger McLuen

Tiger is one of those guys that I don’t see regularly, but every few years for the last couple of decades something comes up and we get a chance to reconnect and catch up. Which is cool, because Tiger is a legend! He’s been doing ministry for something like 5 decades, and is one of the original innovators of youth ministry. His leadership and insights have impacted thousands of men and women doing ministry all over the country and around the world today.

Over the last few years, Tiger has retired, which for him means he’s started a new ministry project. He’s launched Youth Ministry Consultants, an organization that seeks to coach, train and provide resources to churches, and especially rural churches, for little or no cost. Through this organization he is able to, along with his fellow workers and trainers, share ministry insights with those least-served and least-trained ministry leaders across the state and region: people trying their best to serve God and their community, but who haven’t had the schooling and training to help them do the ministry as effectively as they could.

One of the ideas that came out of our conversation, and one that has been reinforced by other conversations recently as well, is the idea of keeping focus on the vision and mission – knowing what we are called to do and making sure that we keep doing it. 

When we go through struggles, when things don’t go according to plan, when we aren’t sure of ourselves, that’s when it’s often easiest to shift our focus or move towards something else, thinking that any change is good when we feel like we aren’t where we want to be or reacting to the loudest noise that points to a problem. This is true in organizations as well as in our day-to-day lives. It often isn’t a big, world-altering event that gets in our way, it’s a hundred little things that drip drip drip and take us off course. And when we find ourselves there, we don’t know what to do.

Oddly enough, Tiger mentioned that as one of his biggest challenges. Churches and ministry leaders get in that place, where things aren’t quite right but they don’t know what to do, and they get discouraged. Then, in that discouragement, they do…nothing. They don’t reach out, they don’t ask questions, they don’t grow. They don’t know what to do, so they just keep digging the hole they’ve found themselves in. Instead of engaging they become defensive. Instead of reaching out they turn in. Instead of moving forward they pull back.

Our world is changing more and more every day. Everything we do, as Christians and as churches, is complicated. We need each other more now than ever. We need the body of Christ to encourage us and keep us moving forward in our mission to love God and love others, and we need ministry leaders to help our group efforts continue to be effective as we advance the Kingdom of God and reach the lost with the gospel.

I thank God for good, wise men like Tiger, and I pray that we all use our time, energy and resources wisely as we seek to serve God.

Sabbatical Sit Down: Jonathan Dahl

Getting a chance to sit down with Jonathan was a slightly unexpected, but greatly appreciated opportunity. I’ve felt a connection to Jonathan for several years – the meeting that I got a crazy idea to bring River’s Edge into the Converge fold was the same that Jonathan was introduced as the newest member of the Converge North Central staff (Converge North Central is our local region, including the Converge churches in Minnesota and Iowa). Jonathan was the one that later shepherded River’s Edge through the process of joining Converge. He’s been a great support and resource to me personally and for River’s Edge for the last several years.

I didn’t think that we were going to get to meet because he has recently transitioned to a job with the Converge national office. However, a couple of days ago he contacted me and let me know he was going be in a meeting at the same time and place that I would be in a meeting and we could simple get together afterwards. I count it as one of those God-directed opportunities, and we had a great chat.

Jonathan shared with me a bit of the project he would be working on for the national office, and it sparked some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head since. His goal is to come up with a way to help churches better develop their members as disciples-sounds simple, but it will be an extremely difficult task to accomplish (good luck Jonathan!).

Discipleship is a word we through around the church a lot. More often than not I think it ends up meaning growth—many times there ends up being a false dichotomy in our thinking where we either focus on discipleship (Christian growth) or evangelism (making new Christians). The reality is, those things go hand-in-hand, and biblical discipleship is not simply getting to the “meat” of the Bible.

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus left his followers (and us) this command:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20

We are commanded to go and make disciples. There is a definite evangelistic component to that. But it’s more than going out, finding someone who doesn’t know Jesus, and telling them about him.

When I was a youth pastor I used to take my youth group on mission trips every year. Over the years I used several different missions organizations. We would sign up for when and where we would serve, show up to the location, and they would do the rest. They would find the work we would be doing, provide housing, structure our days, and program the week. I quickly eliminated a couple of those organizations that I had used, and eventually ditched them all together and planned my own trips, largely because of their approaches to evangelism. I hated when they would do things like throw the kids on the street to do sidewalk evangelism where, after a solid 20-minutes of training, they would approach strangers going about their day and stop them to try to have a spiritual conversation. Occasionally something valuable would happen, but more often it was rude, unproductive, and hard on the kids. Even in the best situations, where someone would legitimately have an interest in what was being said, we were a group from another part of the country, working with a missions organization that had a minimal presence in whatever city we were in, and there was no way to move that person on to a situation where they could continue on a path towards deeper faith. After I ditched those types of trips, I began planning my own, and I would start with a church in whatever city I felt we were led to, and our group would build into the work that was already being done by a church that had an ongoing presence in the community.

We aren’t just called to evangelism, we’re called to make disciples. A disciple is simply a follower, someone who believes in Jesus as their lord and savior, and who is seeking to live a life more in line with what he taught us-as Jesus said, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Sometimes that starts at 0, and we share the gospel. That’s good, and that’s important. But discipleship is something that we should all be doing in our church family as well—finding someone that we can speak into their lives, help them to better follow Jesus, point them to the truth found in God’s Word. We should also have people in the church body discipling us. That’s why just going to church on Sunday mornings for worship isn’t enough. If being a part of a church means showing up 5 minutes late then ducking out during the closing song so you can beat the rush to Pizza Ranch, then you’re missing the point of church.

Discipling one another just might be the most important thing we do as a church. It’s also something that is very hard to do as a church, and something that the large majority of churches don’t do very well.

As Jonathan and I wrapped up our conversation, we both agreed that we would continue a dialogue in the future about what he was doing and what we were doing at River’s Edge to better engage in disciple making. I’m looking forward to those conversations, because that is something I think we have to do better. May God guides us forward in His wisdom and power.

Sabbatical Sit Down: Mark Bjorlo

When we think about church (or most other subjects), we tend to think about what we are familiar with, what we experience regularly, what we know. It isn’t often that we expand our perspective to see a bigger picture-there are others out there, in similar settings like ours, but they have a very different way of approaching things than we do, because they have a different set of familiarities, expectations and experiences.

That’s why I enjoy talking ministry with someone like Mark Bjorlo. Mark is Regional President of Converge North Central. His job is to get the big picture perspective of all of the Converge churches in Minnesota and Iowa and to do what he can to help all of us successfully move forward together in our kingdom work. So…that means he not only spends time working with the churches like Eagle Brook and Wooddale, which have attendance numbers in the thousands on a weekly basis, he’ll also spend time talking with little-old-me.

As I’ve gotten to know Mark over the last 2+ years since he’s become the head of our region, I’ve appreciated his enthusiasm, his heart for the lost, and his willingness to share some of his wisdom and insight where it can make an impact.

While we shared a rather spectacular meal at a restaurant near the CNC HQ, I asked Mark where he thought churches were at post-Covid, and what the difference was between those that were doing well and those that were struggling. His answer was, I thought, hugely insightful.

There are a lot of churches that approach things very, very differently, both within Converge and without. As has been pointed out many times over the last few years, Covid response often fell along political and ideological lines – those that fall on a more liberal end of the political spectrum tended to be more restrictive; many of these types of churches stayed closed longer, masked and distanced more, and publicly promoted vaccines. Those that were on the more conservative end of the spectrum often gathered together more, masked and distanced less, and ignored or criticized Covid vaccinations. 

In Mark’s view (and in my estimation as well), both of these categories of churches came through the pandemic well, both in attendance and finances. A third category of church (which I think I would identify my approach with) was the missional church – the mission of the church was the primary focus, and a balance point between following governmental Covid regulations and guidance, and doing the work of loving God in worship and loving others in outreach, was sought. These churches, by and large, came out well.

So what churches are struggling today? What is a common link between those that have emerged from Covid financially struggling and losing attenders? It was those that didn’t maintain a consistent path forward that aligned with the ideology of the church. For example, a liberal leaning church that would reject mandates, or a church that would frequently change their stance without explanation or reasoning.

In other words, the difference between the churches that have weathered the last 3 years well and those that are suffering is…vision.

As a leader, vision is one of the most important aspects to our work. People need to know who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish. That may sound easy, but on top of being one of the most important parts of leadership, its also one of the most difficult. It’s hard to clearly articulate a picture of what a church or organization could be in a way that is compelling and exciting enough for the members of that church or organization to not only go along with it, but help drive the bus to get there.

At River’s Edge, we’ve said for years that traditions and history are great and worth following, as long as it continues to help us accomplish our goals of loving God and loving others well. When they no longer do, then we can say, “those things served us well, but its time to do something different.” The foundation for doing that was always, and will always be, the Word of God.

So when Covid lockdowns hit, we said, “how can we stay safe and still love God and love others.” When we were given mandates and restrictions, and many of us wanted to push back or ignore them, the response was, “Ok. How can we do what we want to do while still honoring Romans 13:1: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.’?”

The answer to that evolved over time, but we knew the process, because we knew the vision. We are a church that exists to glorify God through fervent prayer, passionate worship, and hands-on community outreach. When we can best fulfill that mission while obeying authorities, great. When authorities get in the way of us doing what we are called to do, we find…workarounds. We honor authorities, but we honor God and His call on us more. The clarity of our vision for what God has called us to do helps us to navigate difficult questions like these.

What’s key is that we keep focus on what is of first-importance: Jesus Christ, the son of God, the atoning sacrifice that makes a way for our sins to be forgiven and our eternity in heaven to be ensured. Everything else is secondary to that.

Sabbatical Start

Here I am…on sabbatical.

That’s a funny word. Make’s me feel fancy.

So what is a sabbatical? Really, its just a break from my ordinary job to find some renewal, refreshment, and refocus.

If you want to know some more of my thoughts and goals for my 4+ weeks of sabbatical, and you weren’t at River’s Edge on May 7, I share some details during my sermon there. View the video here.

But, to focus on the main point briefly, it’s my hope that the special steps I’m taking during this time will help me do my part to advance the gospel and the Kingdom of God better in the coming weeks, months and years. I’m hoping to learn—from reading, and from meeting with some gifted ministry leaders and teachers. I’m hoping that, by thinking through some new ideas and through prayer, God will impart some new wisdom and insight. And I’m hoping, through some time away and an intentional structuring of my schedule, to receive some recovery and refreshment – in all honesty, after the last few months and years, I really need it.

I appreciate that this is all coming for me right after our District Blitz conference. During that conference we used the story of King David to highlight to the students the fact that life has its highs and its lows, and God is with us in both. He is guiding us through the blessings He gives us and through the evils that are done to us.

We’ve all been through some highs and some lows recently – that’s life pretty much all of the time. Over the last few years the Covid situation just amplified all of those highs and lows through everything from the little things, like supply chain issues that kept some of us from getting things we wanted, or through big things, like health problems, interpersonal conflicts, and seeing loved ones pass away.

God is present with us through all of those situations, giving us good things and using the bad things for His ultimate good. He doesn’t expect us to do anything on our own – He simply asks us to be faithful to what He has called us to do. Sometimes that is easy. Sometimes its tricky to see what it is that He is asking from us. Either way, it’s important for us to keep our focus on the main thing – the good news of a Creator that made Himself human, lived a perfect life, and died a sacrificial death, so that we can be offered forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal peace and rest with Him.

So, whether you’re taking a break to recharge and refocus like I am, or you’re cruising through a pretty good time in life, or you’re struggling to survive moment by moment, day by day, remember that God is there with you, and He isn’t asking you to be a superhero, He’s asking you to be faithful and trust Him.

I think that’s why I fell in love with the new worship song we did last Sunday:

“No more fear in life or death.

I know how the story ends.”

“You’ve Already Won”, by Shane Barnard and Bryan Fowler
Performed by Shane and Shane

For Tomorrow

Aren’t presidential elections fun! We should do this every year!!!

Maybe not.

Today – Tuesday, November 3rd – is election day. Tomorrow we’ll have results. Maybe not all of them, but some of them. We may or may not know who our next president is. We may or may not know which party controls congress. We may or may not know who will be leading our state offices.

There’s a lot that I don’t know, but here are a couple of things that I do know:

  1. No matter the results of the elections, I will have a lot of friends despairing over the results.
  2. That despair isn’t necessary, because…
  3. No matter what, God is in control.

We keep hearing that this election is the most important election in our lifetime. I’ve heard that about every presidential election I’ve ever voted in. That’s not to say that it isn’t important, or even the most important, but we do need to keep some perspective. As the band Wilco sings, “every generation thinks it’s the end of the word.”

Read these words from Peter:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

-1 Peter 2:13-17

A couple of takeaways from this:

  1. We are to submit to the government, because God has commanded that we submit to the government.
  2. Our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, so our focus should be there.
  3. This is being written to Christians who were being powerfully oppressed by their government through mask mandates arrests and martyrdom. If they are to submit to a government that actively attacks them, we can submit to ours.
  4. No matter what, God is in control.
  5. I’m in the mood to make lists.

Regardless what the results of this election will be, the world isn’t going to end. Unless it does, in which case the children of God will be better off! We can be upset, frustrated, or motived, but we shouldn’t be anxious, hateful, or disrespectful. Our focus tomorrow and next week should be on what our focus today and last week was supposed to be on: loving God and loving others (yes, even those that voted differently than you). Remember, we have a savior that lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death, all so that we could be forgiven and live for eternity in heaven with Him, and that savior’s name wasn’t Joseph or Donald.

Be at peace. Trust in God’s guidance. Know that, no matter what, in good and in bad, His will will be done, and our assured hope is in a future where we won’t be voting on a flawed leader, we’ll be bowing before a glorious throne.

A guy smarter than me: Schaeffer on how to save America

In “A Christian Manifesto”, Francis Schaeffer discussed how the Judeo-Christian worldview that America was founded on has been replaced by Humanism:

Humanism means that the man is the measure of all things…Man beginning from himself, with no knowledge except what he himself can discover and no standards outside of himself. In this view Man is the measure of all things…

Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto

Schaeffer wrote this from Europe in 1981.

The following is an excerpt from “A Christian Manifesto” by Francis A. Schaeffer.

The world view which produced the founding of the United States in the first place is increasingly now not allowed to exert its influence in government, in the schools, or in the public means of information.

The results of the original base in the United States gave the possibility of “liberty and justice for all.” And while it was always far from perfect, it did result in liberty. This included liberty to those who hold other views—views which would not give the freedom. The material-energy, chance view has taken advantage of that liberty, supplanted the consensus, and resulted in an intolerance that gives less and less freedom in courts and schools for the view which originally gave the freedoms. Having no base for law, those who hold the humanist view make binding law whatever they personally think is good for society at the moment. This leads increasingly to arbitrary law and rulings which produce chaos in society and which then naturally and increasingly tend to lead to some form of authoritarianism. At that point what the country had in the first place is lost and dead.

What is now needed is to stand against that other total world view. We must see and make clear that it is not the truth of final reality; and we must understand and show that it is producing its own natural results which are opposite to those upon which the United States was founded. It is opposite to the great freedoms produced which everyone now enjoys. What is needed at this time is to take the steps necessary to break the authoritarian hold which the material-energy, chance concept of final reality has on government and law.

The result would be freedom for all and especially freedom for all religion. That was the original purpose of the First Amendment. 

With this freedom Reformation Christianity would compete in the free market place of ideas. It would no longer be subject to a hidden censorship as it is now. It can and would give out the clear preaching of God’s “good news” for individuals, and simultaneously it is also the view which gives the consistent base for the form-freedom balance in government and society — the base which brought forth this country with its freedoms. It is the responsibility of those holding this view to show it to be unique (the truth of total reality) for individual salvation and for society — by teaching, by life, and by action.

A guy smarter than me: Tozer on the universe

The following is an excerpt from “Experiencing The Presence of God”, written by A.W. Tozer and edited by James L. Snyder.

The Bible…teaches that this universe, this “uni” (meaning “one”), this one great interlocking system has a central control. And that control is called the throne of God. The universe is controlled from that center…

If any organism has to have a head, if a machine has to have a head, an organization has to have a head, is it not logical to believe that somewhere in this vast universe, there is a throne where somebody runs it?…

And I believe that the one on the throne is God, the Majesty in the heavens. The Bible refers to this center of control as the throne of God. And from that throne, God governs His universe according to an eternal purpose. That eternal purpose embraces all things. “All things” are two little words used often in Scriptures, yet they are bigger than the sky above. They are bigger than the entire world. They are big because they take in all things.

So, we have the Majesty in the heavens, sitting upon His throne. Then someone is sitting on the right hand of that throne. Why? And who is He? He is Jesus, the minister of the sanctuary, which God made, not man. The reason for His being there, in brief, is this: A province revolted in what we call the universe. In all this interrelated, interdependence, interlocking universe, one province revolted and said, “We don’t want to be ruled by the head. We will not be ruled from the throne. We will rule ourselves. We will build this great Babylon up to heaven. We will not have God rule over us.” That province we call “mankind.” And mankind inhabits the little rolling sphere we called “the earth.”…

I think the earth belongs to man. They have not done much with it, and they have not done a very good job, but it belongs to the sons of men.

That province is now in revolt against the Majesty of the heavens. What is God going to do? God could, with a wave of His hand, sweep that province out of existence. But what did He do? God sent His only begotten Son that He might redeem that province and bring it back into the sphere of the throne again, back into the sphere of the Kingdom. And that Kingdom is called “the kingdom of God.” When a man is converted, he is born again into the kingdom of God. What does that mean? It means that he is born out of the old rebellious province into a new Kingdom, and admits that there is a throne, which he did not admit before…

You cannot get there by being baptized, though we all ought to be baptized, according to the teaching of Jesus. We do not get there by joining a church, although we all ought to join a church. We do not get there by praying; you can pray to the end of your life, 24 hours a day, and not get there. It is coming into the Kingdom by an act of the will, through Jesus Christ the Lord, that gets me out of the old, revolted province and into the kingdom of God and under the rule of the throne of God again.

The people who need to read this won’t

In the Matrix, there’s a pivotal scene that I’m often reminded of. Cypher, one of the good guys, makes a deal with the machines to give up his friends. He explains the reason:

“You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After 9 years, you know what I realize? 

Ignorance is bliss.”

Cypher, The Matrix

He knows that the Matrix is just a computer simulation and not real life, but real life is hard, and he doesn’t care anymore. So he is giving up.

All of us, right now, could be working towards a better community, a better nation, and a better world. The problem is, most people have just given up.

Doing something of value requires effort. We need to pay attention, understand the problem(s), and work towards a solution. The bigger the problem, the more complex the solution, and the more effort, experience and knowledge it will take to tackle it. Average Jane from Rapidan isn’t going to jump in and tackle the national health care system at the very beginning. There are a lot of people with a lot of intelligence and a lot of experience that are more likely to see success there than Jane (there are also a lot of people without a lot of intelligence or experiences already trying that one too). Maybe Average Jane needs to figure out if there’s a way to not throw a soda bottle out the window of her car first, then we can move up from there.

People handle their endeavor for a lack of effort in different ways. Some isolate – they don’t want to see the news, they don’t want to know what the issues are, they don’t want to understand what’s going on with their neighbors. They just want to be left alone, and will remain in that place until the Thought Police from the Socialist States of America come knocking on the door. These people tend to be ignorantly blissful and mostly useless, ignoring not only current issues and events, but also ignoring their call to show love to their neighbors (which they think means the people that live on either side of them, and in reality means looking out for our fellow human beings).

There’s another cross section of the “ignorantly blissful” that tend to be far more irritating: the pretenders. They’re the ones that read a headline and rage, without reading the article. They’re the ones that are looking for opportunities to speak up and be heard, without knowing what they’re talking about. These people can be found all over the place, from social media trolls to virtue signalers to protesters that don’t know what they’re protesting.

I had a conversation with someone recently who had a concern over an organization based in large part on a position paper that it had posted. I read the paper and was pleased with what I read; it was thoughtful, well-stated, and biblically founded. The person with the concern, however, had read very little of the paper, in part because it was a bit academic and difficult to understand. It was the headline of the paper, and the existence of the paper, that he was concerned with. The difference between this person and the “ignorantly blissful” is that he wanted to understand and, instead of jumping on social media to rage, called me up, sat down and had a conversation in order to better understand the topic. I wish more people would be more like him.

If we want to be useful, if we want to do the work God has called us to do, then that means we are going to need to work. It requires physical exertion, emotional energy, and intellectual effort. We need to think, learn, grown, and understand others in order to love God and love others as we are called to do. That doesn’t mean we all need Master’s Degrees or to attend weekend seminars, but it does mean we need to read and listen, not only to what we believe but also to those we disagree with. 

I have a “heresy” section of my personal library for that reason. It’s a shelf with a selection of books that I would never recommend. They’re books that I thoroughly disagree with. But they’re also books that I have read, wanting to understand what they taught and what others who read them believe so that I can better understand and interact with them.

Do your homework. Listen to varying opinions. Think, then engage. The world needs more of that.

This is why we can’t have nice things

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the fall of America. Our great country, the greatest on the planet, is in a downward spiral, and here’s why:


Well, I sort of believe that. It isn’t really marketing that is destroying us, but marketing is being used to destroy us. Let me explain.

First off, marketing itself isn’t bad. I’ve done it a lot myself. Marketing is simply getting the word out about your product, service or idea. Promotion. In and of itself it is morally neutral.

If you are marketing from an ethical standpoint, you will promote your product, service or idea from an honest standpoint. You will highlight the benefits, the positives, and the advantages of what you want others buy or buy into. In marketing, you are trying to create need or desire for what you are marketing.

But, if you are marketing from an unethical standpoint, you will be willing to lie, cheat, manipulate, and twist any facts and perception to get your desired outcome.

America is being lied to.

Case in point: the Minneapolis ‘defund the police’ movement.

August 3, 2020, : “Poll finds majority of Minneapolis residents favor replacing police department”. Seems clear, except I don’t believe it. Let’s look at the poll.

It was commissioned by the ACLU and The Fairness Project, two organizations with clear ideological lines, and conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group. The first question worth asking: why are political nonprofits commissioning a poll? Next question, what is the Benenson Strategy Group. Answer:

We help leaders connect with, persuade and activate the audiences you need to win…

BSG’s reputation as a premier consulting and strategic research firm is built on our relentless pursuit of the right answers. 

In today’s world, cutting through the clutter and noise is harder than it has ever been. That means to connect and achieve your goals, you need more than a message. Our unique approach is built on collaboration with our clients to develop their durable narrative, rooted in their values. We leverage our language expertise with innovative qualitative and quantitative methods to uncover the “Hidden Architecture of Opinion” that shapes your audiences’ decision frames.

So, this group conducted a poll, why? To “persuade and activate the audience [that the ACLU and The Fairness Project] needs to win”

How? By building a poll to “relentlessly pursue the right answers.” What are the right answers? The developed “durable narrative, rooted in [the ACLU and The Fairness Project]’s values” using “language expertise.”

In other words, they’re going to do marketing gymnastics in order to get you to believe what they want you to believe by claiming that it’s already widely believed, accepted and supported. This isn’t a poll; it is marketing that is, at best, morally questionable, being disguised as legitimate, objective news.

Another brief example: according to Gallup, the average American believes the percent of our population that identifies as gay or lesbian to be approximately 25%. The real number? 4.5% – less than 1 in 20, rather than 1 in 4. Why is there such a disparity in perception? Because of the concerted effort by media companies to push the LGBTQ narrative, especially on television and in movies. Over the 2019-2020 television season, 10% of all prime time characters on broadcast TV (ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC) are identified as LGBTQ, with the teen/young adult focused CW tallying 15.4% of its characters as LGBTQ (TV stats from GLAAD).

Here’s the problem: we are presented with information like these examples a dozen times a day, and most of us simply accept it. We don’t challenge, we don’t ask questions, we don’t push back. Why? Because that would require time and effort.

And this isn’t even about the ‘defund the police’ or LGBTQ movements. It’s about thinking for ourselves in a reasoned, educated way, rather than just parroting back what we are told to believe by the people we have chosen to listen to.

There are some that claim to be pushing back. A few truly are, but many are simply pushing back on the manipulation from those they disagree with, but they’re fully drinking the Kool-Aide from the side that they want to believe.

For example, many have been eager to point out some of the media manipulation of the COVID-19 epidemic that has inflated a very serious situation into a perceived apocalypse, but then they’re quick to put up a Facebook post saying masks don’t have any value (seriously, doctors have worn mask for 100+ years-there’s at least some value to them).

I fear for the future of our nation. It isn’t because there are evil people trying to manipulate others; there will always be evil people trying to manipulate others. I fear for our future because I’m not sure there are enough good, thoughtful, reasoned people willing to push back and lead.

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

-Edmund Burke

Refs and control issues

I coached junior high football for a few years. That was an experience.

There were a few aspects of junior high football that were a challenge. Junior high boys were a big one; when practice shuts down because a rabbit ran past the goal posts, that’s a bit frustrating. But another big frustration was referees.

Any sports fan knows that referees can be frustrating from time to time (unless they’re a Packers fan-they don’t know what its like to have calls go against them). But junior high football referees can be particularly difficult. 

First off, I’m one to give refs a bit of slack – they’re trying (usually). But for someone to be reffing a junior high football game usually means they fall into 1 of 3 categories: 

1) They’re very bored.
2) They’re very new to reffing.
3) They’re an employee of the school hosting the game and were contractually obligated to say yes when “asked” to ref a junior high football game. 

The refs in category 1 usually were fine. The refs in category 2 were often easy enough to deal with because when they’d make a mistake they would at least be willing to talk about it because they weren’t jaded by idiot junior high football coaches that constantly yelled at them about everything for years. Category 3 was the one that tended to be a real difficulty.

Any time I was in a position to ref or oversee a game and I had a connection to one of the teams, I would tell them they would be frustrated with me because I was going to be particularly hard on them in order to ensure I wasn’t biased against the other team—if a call was 50-50, it was going to go against them.

Not everyone shares my approach.

I had a couple of run-ins with school employee refs. One crew gave my team multiple 15 yard personal fouls in a game that we were dominating (we were really good, the other team really wasn’t), before sending a letter to my Athletic Director calling me the “dirtiest, most unethical coach” they had ever seen (even though my second half play-calling was ‘dive left’, ‘dive right’, ‘dive left’, etc). I asked the AD to convey to the other school that Reverend Whitman apologized for any misunderstand.

There was another game where the school employee refs were consistently calling penalties against us while missing some very obvious penalties against the other team. I did a little coach-barking at the refs a few times, but I never lost my cool, I didn’t throw anything, and I went out of my way to be positive and humorous with the refs. We lost a close game that I thought we should have won.

After the game one of the JV coaches sat next to me on the bus home and we talked about the game. He noticed the refs favoring the other team as well, and he asked me how I had kept my cool when there were so many obvious missed calls.

My answer was this: I focus on the things I can control, and I don’t worry about the things I can’t. I can control my team (well…as much as you can control junior high boys). I can control my play calls. I can control my attitude. I can’t control the refs. Yelling at them isn’t going to help; they’ll just get mad and it’ll get worse. So I’ll point things out, I’ll try to develop a rapport with them, but I’m not going to lose it because it will not only be counterproductive to the game, that isn’t what I want to be teaching my boys.

That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve had my moments where I’ve flown off the handle over things that just didn’t matter or were out of my control. I’ve gotten worked up about things I couldn’t do anything about. I’ve been there, I’ve regretted it later, and I’ve dealt with the consequences.

Life is full of moments where things are out of our control. Those moments can lead to stress, anxiety, and frustration, and often justifiably so. But we’ll be better off when we can focus on what we can control, and when we can let go of things that are out of our control. Ultimately, God’s got everything, so what do we have to worry about? We aren’t judged by our outcomes, we’re judged by out faithfulness.

Am I doing what God has called me to do, the way He would want me to do it? If so, it doesn’t matter what happens, I’m right where I should be.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14