:( Sports (:

Sports are my life. Well, it's fair to say that a lot of my life has been consumed by athletics. I was a three-sport athlete in high school and went on to play college baseball. This was family life as well. My mom and dad met when he coached her fast pitch softball team. My sister played college softball. And the coaching gene passed on to me. I’ve coached high school baseball for 9 years and football for 5. In the McDaniel family sports = life. Did I mention our family obsession with Nebraska football? I can’t go there. I need to move on.

In a culture obsessed with sports it’s easy to get caught up in the madness. I saw this piece the other day at Youth Culture Report in response to a Texas school district that has decided to boost academics by “banning sports.”

What is your reaction to this announcement? What impact will this truly have on the youth of this school district?

Let me be clear. My own participation in sports has been mostly positive. As a coach, I’ve felt my ability to influence young men in the areas of character, integrity, commitment, teamwork, and leadership. As an athlete I learned these things through the ups and downs of competition.

But I’ve seen and experienced some, well, pretty messed up things as an athlete and coach. I’ve seen kids get belittled, broken, and used by coaches. I’ve seen kids and families throw A LOT of money, time, and energy away to chase the dream of scholarships and stardom. And I’ve been one of those kids.

I have hindsight on my side. I’ve chased the dreams. I’ve seen athletics for what they are at their best: Education, character formation, and entertainment, and their worst: Proud, arrogant, manipulative.

I don't know why this thought just came to my mind, but you know what, no one really cares what my batting average was in high school and college. No one really cares about the great high school football and baseball teams I was a part of. At the time all that seemed VERY important. That was my identity. Stats. Numbers. Playing time. Stardom. But for some reason, no one cares today. And for some reason, for some weird reason, it bothers me that no one cares what Chad McDaniel did on the baseball field in 1999. Why do I care? Why should anyone else care?

I hope to provoke some discussion on our culture’s obsession with sports. I hope to provoke some thought on my own participation in a culture obsessed with sports.

But what about you? What is your experience? What do you see?

there's more to come…trust me, i'm going somewhere with this...at least i think i am...


"Tools" of Ministry

Before reading on answer this question: What are the essential tools of ministry?

[Don’t cheat. Think about the question!]

I’ve just finished Eugene Peterson’s classic work, Working the Angles, and I’m personally challenged. Peterson claims the tools of pastoral ministry – the timeless tools – are Prayer, Scripture, and Spiritual Direction. These are the essentials. How do these line up with what you named, or, if you’re involved in ministry, what you DO? I find myself asking, “Eugene, what about fundraising, chairing committees, recruiting leaders, making videos and PowerPoint presentations?”

I’m trying to strike a balance in my own life and realizing that it’s up to ME to cultivate the essentials. It’s too easy to get caught up in the other tasks. It’s up to ME to keep what’s important, important. It’s too easy to busy myself with the tasks that have a beginning and end, that can be measured. The three tools Peterson speaks of can’t be quantified. How much prayer is enough? How much time in the Word is enough? Have I spent enough time with people? These three tasks – prayer, reading, and direction – have no end.

But what challenged me the most is how profoundly simple these 3 tools really are. Prayer. Scripture. Spiritual Direction. As a pastor, if I’m not about these things, then what am I doing? If I’m not spending my “work” time doing these hard to quantify acts, then what am I doing? How many of you reading would feel or have felt guilty putting your computer away to spend time in Scripture or in prayer while at work?

Hopefully you’ve hung on and read the entire post, even if you’re not a pastor. Why? Because these 3 “tools” are not sanctioned for those in pastoral ministry alone. These are for all who identify as Christian. Scripture, Prayer, and Spiritual Direction. Yes, pastors have a specific calling, or as Peterson says, “The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. The pastor, in his/her reading, praying, and directing is to be pointing the community back to reading, praying, and directing. However, all of us who claim to be in relationship with Christ are called to prayer, reading of Scripture, and spiritual direction.

So, what did you think? If you examined your life, what are the “tools” of faith are you relying on the most? What are the roles of Prayer, Scripture, and Spiritual Direction in your life?


I Love Religion (aka, The Church)

If you haven't seen this video yet you either A) Aren't an Evangelical Christian, B) Don't have a Facebook account, or C) Don't know how to find The YouTube. It has over 12 million views already, so I guess a couple people have seen it. If not, here you go...

Youth Ministry blogger, Ben Kerns, over at Average Youth Ministry, has a great post on this very topic. It's what gave me the final, internal nudge to post this. I'll confess, I wanted to write this post last week, but didn’t have the guts. I doubted whether I could articulate my feelings without sounding arrogant, cynical, or elitist. My self-doubt was only increased after I read this reflection and felt as thought it was the exact tone I wanted to avoid, yet sprinkled with a little truth. I wondered, can I communicate my feelings about the ideas expressed in the video without hating on the dude in the video? Well....here goes nothing...

I've watched the video, and I keep asking: Is Jesus really against religion? Did Jesus words, "It is finished," have anything to do with abolishing religion? Is personal faith in Jesus Christ more important than the corporate, historic faith expressed in the body of Christ, the Church?

You see, I can't help but sense this video is just another passionately sentimental and severely oversimplified attempt to somehow show that we don't really need religion, a.k.a. the Church, we JUST need Jesus. I'm an evangelical too. I'm familiar with sentiments such as these and have heard them often, even from pastors like me (especially anti-establishment, "cutting edge" youth workers!).

Call me annoying and snarky. Call me esoteric or idealistic, but I believe the Church matters. In fact, I'm willing to say that I believe religion matters. I need a set of beliefs, behaviors, values, practices around which to organize my words, thoughts, and deeds. I need something that gives order and purpose to my life. I desperately need something to help me overcome my selfish ambitions and self-serving motives. I need a group of people who know my struggles, share in my joys, and remind me of who I am in Christ. I need religion. I need the Church. I need Jesus.

But for some reason, when I watch this video I feel as though the idea being presented, even glorified, is that Jesus and the Church need to get a divorce. The Church has too much blood and ugliness in its past, and that's not to mention its present. Maybe that's not fair. Maybe that's too harsh. But what I hear is that we need less rule following, less telling us what to do and how to do it, and less annoying, outdated, tradition. We just need Jesus.

While that may strike a chord with some, it leaves me uneasy. This post, and my thoughts about this video, aren't even so much about this video as they are a call, a cry, an urging to all my brothers and sisters in Christ to embrace Christ's body, the Church. My hope is that we can get back to our identity as followers of Christ; a people rooted in the Church; to remember and identify with those like Cyprian of Carthage who famously claimed,

“Anyone who cuts themselves off from the Church and is joined to an adulteress is separated from the promises of the Church, and anyone who leaves the Church of Christ behind cannot benefit from the rewards of Christ. Such persons are strangers, outcasts, and enemies. You cannot have God as Father unless you have the Church as mother.”
Cyprian knew this religion called Christianity was important. Cyprian knew that it was impossible to claim God as Father without Church as mother. Cyprian knew what it meant to proclaim, "Jesus is Lord." He knew what was at stake if he continued in his role as Bishop of the Church in Carthage. He knew the Church was worth it. He was martyred in AD 258.

Likewise, Saint Augustine, in a Sermon to the Catechumens on the Creed, said,

"But you begin to have God for your Father, when you have been born by the Church as your Mother."
Here it is again, the Church as Mother. The Church as nurturer and "birther" of faith. The Church is the place where faith is communicated, enfleshed, and preserved. The bride of Christ. The people of God. The community of faith. I love the Church. I love my religion. And I love Jesus - the One who died that we might live.

The Church certainly has its blemishes and blind spots, but isn't that largely due to the fact that the Church consists of people like you, me, even Jeff Bethke? We are the Church. We are God's people. We are Christ's ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation to a broken and hurting world.

I love the Church, and I love Jesus.


Pausing to Pray - Experiential Prayer Stations

Last night we created a space in our church gym for prayer. There were opportunities for receiving prayer from our Prayer Team as well as engaging in 15 different "Experiential Prayer Stations" spread throughout the gym. What a night! It is incredible to see how God moves when we pause to pray. It is incredible to see young people slow down and engage when the setting is right and space is created to pray.

Mostly, I was shocked that I was shocked by the response of those who participated. I have been part of services like this at our annual high school retreat, and every time God shows up, students are moved, and I'm surprised by the response. Tonight was the same. I find myself once again saying the words Jacob said long ago, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it!"

I encourage you to create space in your life to be surprised by God's presence. I encourage you to create space to meet the Lord.

Anyone else ever participated in a worship experience like this? What stations were used? What was the response?