Monday, April 23, 2007

Discipleship and Major League Baseball

The first time I ever watched major league baseball live was when I visited Phoenix, Arizona some years back. My friends Mike Gowans and Todd McIntyre took me to watch the Diamondbacks play.

Growing up in the Philippines I played softball in grade school and watched some local NCAA baseball but nowhere near the way Americans are enthralled by it.

The average price of tickets to the game we watched was about thirty dollars, the peanuts, hotdogs and beverages were overpriced and the yet the whole stadium was packed. Reminded me of the words: “To pay any price and do anything…..”

Even more interesting was with baseball you’ll never really know how long it will take, yet the people watched patiently. I watched as thousands of people sweat it out under the blazing Arizona sun. Talk about long suffering.

I really couldn’t understand why it was such a big deal. A bunch of men trying to hit a ball is a slow game that honestly was boring to me, but not to them. It was not till the 7th Inning Stretch that I had my epiphany. Thousands of people around me began to stand, stretch, buy more snacks and then sing in chorus “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”. I was amazed.

Then it hit me. What makes thousands of people spend good money to watch a game? What makes them pay for overpriced snacks and stay under the heat of the sun and suffer discomfort? Why were they willing to do all this and I wasn’t as thrilled as they were? The answer was, it was part of their culture. Why did I not enjoy and understand it they way they did?, it wasn’t part of mine.

Culture is formed over years of practice. Many times we don’t even know why we do what we do. The 7th Inning Stretch has become part of American culture but no one knows exactly how that started (they have several guesses). That’s how culture works, it becomes the norm, “the practice”, the way things are done.

Here is where discipleship connects. As church leaders it is our task to make discipleship a part of our church's culture.

But there is a dangerous side to culture. It is when people do things only because it is the norm and no longer for the right reasons. That’s when culture warps into “cults”. It was kinda’ like my experience that day at Chase Field – I stood up and stretched with everyone else without really knowing why. I am sure there were a hundred others too.

It demonstrated to me the power of culture and the danger that lurks with it. Like the 7th Inning Stretch, discipleship should be naturally and organically woven into our churches’ culture. But unlike it we need to be very clear why we make disciples. It is not so people can behave a certain way but to ensure 3 things:

First, that they have a thriving, growing and fruitful relationship with their God. Secondly, that they learn to walk in life long relationships with other members of the body of Christ. And thirdly that they reach out to others to have a relationship with their God.

In time because of the people who brought me there I was singing like everyone else. I didn’t know why I was doing it….but it was a start that eventually made me want to find out why. It was also not the last time I watched major league baseball.

See also my other post:
Prayer and the Elevator

Friday, April 20, 2007

Discipleship and Hockey

Blogging is a challenge when you're traveling. And since I'm on this 9 city trip of the US it has been quite a stretch specially with changing planes, hotels, homes etc. I have resolved to overcome, so here is my second post since this trip started.

As I write this post I am sitting in Mike Gowans’ (my pastor friend) home in Chandler, Arizona. Last night Mike’s brother Mark and I went to the movies – Amazing Grace, the movie about the Christian statesman William Wiberforce. On the way to and fro Mark told me his life story.

Mark played professional hockey for the Detroit Red Wings. He has had over 20 surgeries because of injuries from playing the sport. What he described reminded me of Lee Majors (bet none of you remember him), the bionic man. A goalie’s life is tough. And this guy is one tough cookie.

Mark grew up a Catholic. While he was thankful for his background he sensed there was something much more to life than just religion. At the age of 10 he had an encounter with the Lord, a relationship that never left Him. Unfortunately Mark never experienced what he called mentoring. What I would call a discipleship relationship.

All throughout his growing years and well into his professional career while he kept his faith in Jesus, he longed for a discipleship relationship which somehow eluded him. During our drive he expressed how things could have been better if he had a sounding board or someone whom he could counsel with before making life decisions.

Today Mark lives in Arizona, where he has since become a businessman. He is also part of Gateway Life Christian Church where his younger brother Mike is the senior pastor. His long desire for a discipleship relationship has been answered. This church is committed to making disciples and not just having Sunday services.

In the meantime Mark continues his passion for hockey coaching and training young players. His own son Daniel (now 14) is an avid hockey player. His vision is to provide these budding athletes what he did not have during his growing up years, a discipleship relationship. Mark has learned that there are hurts worse than hockey injuries that people face. Hurts that life brings but can be avoided through discipleship relationships.

See other post:

Prayer and Advertising

Friday, April 13, 2007

Discipleship and the NBA

In my last post I wrote about the NCAA, basketball’s premier amateur league. I thought it was a good idea to follow it up with a something on the NBA.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is by far the world’s premier professional basketball league. It is viewed by millions of fans worldwide. Its statistics and basketball action is unmatched by any league anywhere.

What makes the NBA such is because it has a monopoly on the best ball players, coaches and trainers in the world. These individuals have chosen to play the game as career professionals. To wake up, breathe, train, practice and play in a team day in, day out. Just like an accountant would go to office everyday.

Like the NBA discipleship can become one’s career. That’s what happened to me. I was a businessman for about 3 decades of my life until my wife and I decided it was time for a change.

For years I made disciples as an amateur just like in the NCAA, all heart, no pay. Then I became what people call a "full time" minister. Basically what happened was I did not want to do anything anymore except make disciples who made disciples. Fortunately with a little training and practice I got good at it. Still all heart, this time with some pay.

I noticed that like any career one can lose his balance between occupation and vocation. And while this may seem like I am splitting hairs, I am not.

An occupation is one’s profession, job, work or trade, career. A vocation on the other hand is above and beyond just an occupation. An occupation is by its very word all about occupying oneself with something to do.

A vocation on the other hand can be all of the above and a whole lot more. It is a calling (usually for life). It is accompanied by a strong sense of destiny that says: “this is what I was created to do.” It usually involves what seems to be a sacrifice to others but not to the one called. In fact those who are cannot see themselves doing anything else.

Ask Michael Jordan and he will tell you basketball is not mere occupation but his vocation. It is also what sets him apart from all the other players. He gives every practice, training session and every game all his heart.

And it is here that (professional) discipleship as a vocation is similar to the NBA. It is when one’s vocation becomes just another occupation.

There’s nothing wrong with being a professional, as long as you don’t lose heart. Usually one loses heart when it becomes just about money - “I’ll stay in this profession as long as it pays the bills”, even though one doesn’t feel called or enjoy what they are doing.

One way I have kept the heart of discipleship was to continue to make disciples even though the people I met would never come to church (and give an offering).

Very near the city where I work is housed the enlisted men on the Philippine Army. 90% of these men and women will be deployed in various provinces and will never come to our church. To this day we continue to outreach them and make disciples out of them regardless.

As I write I am sitting at Narita airport in Tokyo. I engaged the young man from Chicago who sat with me from Manila and will engage the next passenger I sit with on my way to LA, whether or not they ever come to the church I pastor.

Needless to say there are days when I want to watch a movie or read a book specially when the person I am sitting with is uninterested.

See also my other post:

Prayer and Floodlights

Monday, April 9, 2007

Discipleship and the NCAA

In my last post I wrote about discipleship and Wimbledon and while I am on the sports side of things I might as well do another one, this time on basketball. In particular the NCAA.

Pronounced NC double A, it is the premier collegiate sports association. Although the association includes just about every major sports competition, the NCAA is primarily known for basketball.

Unlike professional basketball (NBA) the NCAA has a different brand of play. And while it has its fair share of stars, it does not have the Bill Rusells, Magic Johnsons, Michael Jordans or Lebron James’. The reason why is because all its players are amateurs. And that’s what makes the league different.

An amateur is someone who engages in a pursuit be it in sports or any other endeavor without remuneration. Which is why NCAA action is different. It is full of heart. Players diving for balls and fans shouting and cheering in unison are trademarks of NCAA games.

It is not unlikely to see players and fans cry after a lost game. That’s because of the passion that has caused them to exert everything they have in them. In other words they give it their all simply for the love of the game.

This is where discipleship and the NCAA meet. Like the NCAA discipleship is not only for professionals – pastors, evangelists, apostles and teachers, but for those who have passion to see the kingdom of God established. It is the giving of oneself fully to the desires of God because you love Him.

The word amateur comes from the Latin word "amator" (lover) which is derived from the root word "amare" or love. In other words amateurs are lovers. Sure they are not professionals, true they fumble and make lots of mistakes, but all of that is negated and nullified because of the passion and the heart whenever they do something.

Fact is the Russells, Johnsons, Jordans and James’ were all at one time NCAA players before they became professionals. Discipleship like the NCAA is all about heart. That’s the part we should never lose.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalms 147:10-11

See also my other posts:

Prayer and the Snails

Who Danced on National TV and Embarrassed Herself

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Discipleship and Wimbledon

Can discipleship take place in Wimbledon? Absolutely, it can take place anywhere!

Three days ago Steve Murrell introduced me to man named Bob Kraft. Over lunch I got to know more about him.

Born the same year I was (1957), Bob is a world-class professional tennis coach and trainer. Bob has lived and traveled to just about every country where professional tennis is played. But as passionate as he is about tennis it was clear that he was more passionate about Jesus and his faith in Him.

At one point Bob trained as a missionary with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). From there he sensed a call to reach professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, Nascar and even major league baseball, eventually he focused on tennis players since that was also his career.

Today he travels all over the world as a tennis coach/trainer and attends the leading competitions including the Wimbledon, US Open and others.

His heart is to reach athletes who cannot be reached because of their travel schedules. Most high-level professional athletes live in multiple cities because of the competitions.

I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. Philippians 2:20

I enjoyed our lunch with Bob. Many of the things he talked about confirmed some of the concepts and beliefs I have on discipleship. Here are some of them:

It takes between 2- 3 years to win the trust of these athletes (Trust is the foundation of all relationships and that takes time). The key is to win them slowly, a little chat here, a little conversation there (Slow is fast).

You have to learn how to listen to what they want to talk about, many times people only want things from these athletes and are not really concerned about them. He says he finds many of them enjoy talking about their families (Discipleship and Ping-pong).

There were other commonalities but I will save them for your reading more about Bob in Steve Murrell’s blog about him - The Reluctant Leader with a Tennis Racket

One final note, two days after our lunch I caught up with Bob in our offices in Manila and he handed me a calling card of one of the employees from his hotel. He told that he had witnessed to her and found out that she had some friends from our church Victory Christian Fellowship and was interested in coming one day.

While Bob has decided to go after tennis players clearly he is not just about athletes but everyone else in between. He also knew he needed other partners in minstry and can't do things alone, he needs to connect (Discipleship and Lego). That’s how discipleship (which is relationship) works!

See other post:

Prayer and Superman