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Victory Beyond The Old One Two

He was an angry man.  Had he won that fight he would have forced Mohammad Ali to fight him again and he could get his title back.  George Foreman didn’t call it the Heavyweight Title, he called it his title.  The year was 1977 and George Foreman had been on the comeback trail.  He had won five consecutive fights and that night he fought a man named Jimmy Young.  George had a devastating punch.  Usually his fights would end with his opponent on the canvas.  This fight would be different.  Jimmy Young lasted the whole fight.  When the decision was read it was Young who had his glove raised.  George was crushed as he walked around in the steamy hot dressing room.  He had heard that after a match you should never sit down.  He paced back and forth and felt weakness in his legs.  “I feel like I’m going to”, and before he could say die he passed out.

George Foreman at a joyless time in his life.

George Foreman was born in Marshall Texas in 1949 and grew up in Houston’s rough Fifth Ward District.  Looking back he called himself a thug as he dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and ran the streets.  In 1965 he joined the Jobs Corps and that decision changed the direction of his life.  At the age of 16 the Jobs Corps provided him with a connection to the boxing world.  It was in a trainer named Doc Broaddus.  Doc encouraged George to apply his fighting skills to the ring instead of the streets.

George developed quickly as a boxer.  He had a mean streak that seemed to help him when he got his opponent in trouble.  He was always able to summon the old one two at just the right time.  He made the 1968 Olympic team and after winning the gold medal he made headlines waiving a little American flag.  This was the Olympic games where two African American runners raised clinched fists wearing black gloves in tribute to black power.  In contrast George’s waiving of the American flag made the statement that he was proud of the country he represented.
After the Olympics George turned pro.  There was much learning to do but he rose in the ranks with each success.  George was 6 feet 3 1/2 inches and 218 pounds of raw muscle.  He was feared by everyone he fought because of his ability to pound his opponents unmercifully to the canvas. He won his first 37 professional fights which earned him a shot at the heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier.  It was 1973 and George was a heavy underdog.   The fight was held January 22, 1973, in Kingston Jamaica.  Shockingly George knocked  Joe Frazier down six times in the two round fight.  Finally the referee stopped the bout and George’s glove was raised in victory.
The next two fights were more of the same for George.  He knocked out Jose (King) Roman in one round and Kenny Norton in two rounds.  He was on top of the boxing world and didn’t think he could be beaten.  Gladly he accepted the challenge of Mohammad Ali.  Ali had been the heavyweight champion before being stripped of his title for refusing to go into the army.  He was finally reinstated to boxing after 3 and a half years and lost his attempt to regain the title from Joe Frazier in 1971.  Now it was 1974 and George didn’t think he could possibly lose.  After all he was destroying everyone in his path in one or two rounds.The bout was held in Zaire South Africa and was billed “The Rumble In The Jungle”.  George came out strong like he always did.  Charging and bulling his way in he continuously got Ali on the ropes.  Ali was different than any opponent he had ever faced however.  When George hit Ali with his best shots Ali would talk to George.  “Is that all you got George?”, he repeated over and over.  George continued to be the aggressor but Ali kept George off balance with his speedy jabs later in the rounds.  Ali started laying on the ropes and inviting George to come and take his best shots.  George did not hesitate and once again he kept hearing Ali talking.  “Is that all you got George?”  In his head George had the thought that wouldn’t go away.  “Yep that’s about it.”  It was a close fight but by the 8th round George was spent.  He wasn’t used to going more than two rounds in his bouts and here Ali was still strong as the 8th round was coming to a close.  Suddenly Ali hit George with a punch to the back of the head and with lightning speed he hit him two more times.  George felt himself dropping to the mat and realized the referee was counting him out.  At the count of 9 George was on his feet but the referee stopped the fight and declared Ali the winner by knockout.It was an embarrassing loss to George and it took him awhile before he laced the gloves up again.  He was bitter at Ali and bitter at a lot of people that he felt did him wrong.  His anger was so deep that he couldn’t figure out a way to hurt all of the people that were burning in his heart.  He took his anger out on his opponents and after not fighting at all in 1975 he had four bouts in 1976 winning all of them in short order.  By 1977 George was being talked about again for another title shot.  Ali had been able to keep the title that he won from George.  George was matched against Pedro Agosto in January of 1977 and won by a first round knockout.  The fight with Jimmy Young was made and George felt that it would be the warmup he needed
before facing Ali again.Jimmy Young was a fighter much like Ali.  He was a very good defensive fighter who had quick hands.  George plowed in determined to hit Jimmy Young with the hay maker that would stop the fight.  Jimmy was able to block George’s attempts again and again and jab his head with a pestering left.  Round after round the same thing happened.  George charging in only to get sent away by Jimmy’s quick hands.  In the 7th round something different happened.  George plowed in as usual but this time he connected.  Jimmy was hurt and staggered to the other side of the ring.  George was right after him determined to put Jimmy on the canvas for good.  Somehow in his hurt condition Jimmy was able to block and duck most of George’s attempts.  George was always able to finish off an opponent when he had them hurt.  He could always count on the old one two, but this time victory would not come.  Adding to his frustration the fans started chanting loudly “Jimmy Young, Jimmy Young.”  George wondered why the fans wouldn’t chant for him?  Jimmy recovered and for the rest of the fight was able to pile up points as George punched a lot of air.
When George was on that dressing room floor he had an encounter like never before.  He felt like he was in this empty place and that the Lord spoke to him.  The Lord said, “I don’t want your money, I want you.”  When he came to he was shouting “Jesus Christ is alive in me”.  George retired at the age of 27 and went into ministry full time.  He formed an independent church and lived each day for the Lord.  All of the bitterness that he had kept inside started to go away.  His heart was full of love as he forgave Ali and everyone else that had been on his hate list.

In 1987 George had a desire in his heart.  He had ballooned up to 315 pounds but the unmistakable desire was there.  He decided to get back into boxing.  He was old now in boxing terms at 38.  Yet it was almost like God had given him the desire to complete the work he had started.  George started winning boxing matches again.  He was big and slow but he still packed a wallop.  George trained hard and got his weight down to 250.  Although he wasn’t the fighter he was he became very popular wherever he fought.  In a drastic switch George was the fan favorite.  Because of his popularity fans wanted to see George fight for the heavyweight title.  Evander Holyfield had the title and gave George a fight.  George fought gallantly but it wasn’t to be.  Evander kept his title that night. 
George persevered however and kept fighting.  At the age of 45 he was given another chance.  The boxing world scoffed at George.  He doesn’t deserve a chance they thought.  Michael Moorer was the Heavyweight champion.  He was a week short of his 27th birthday while George was 45.  It looked like an easy payday for Moorer as he was much quicker than the slow moving Foreman.  The bout played out that way too.  Through the first nine rounds Moore was able to use his speed to beat George consistently to the punch.  He was winning handily on all cards as the 10th round started.  Then out of the blue George connected and connected again.  Michael Moorer went down and was counted out.  George walked slowly back to his corner and landed on his knees.  In front of the whole boxing world he was giving thanks to his God for completing a chapter in his destiny!When you see George Foreman today there is always a smile on his face.  There is joy in his heart where there used to be hate.  It is hard to believe he is the same person.  He has been very successful in business after leaving the ring.  He has been a spokesman for the George Foreman grill for years.  You have seen him no doubt on commercials and his joy is contagious.  He made 200 million dollars from Salton Inc. to use his name to promote the grill.  That was substantially more than he ever made in boxing.  In looking back George is quick to acknowledge that his defeats were the best things to ever happen to him.  “I needed to suffer those defeats so I could hit  bottom and look up”, George stated.    He also adds some advice that we all can use.  “Just take one step at a time, trusting that God still has a plan for you, and he will make the best of your situation.”

Bare Spots In The Grass

They called him “Killer” and he killed the hopes of many teams with his long high home runs.  The thought of facing Harmon Killebrew in a clutch situation made pitchers squirm.   He developed the strength he needed to hit his massive home runs by lifting 10 gallon milk cans as a Idaho farmhand.  While still in high schools Herman Welker a U.S. Senator from Idaho and a baseball fan recommended him to the Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith.  Griffith sent a scout named Ossie Bluege to scout him.  Watching Harmon hit a ball over a fence 435 feet away (a feat never accomplished before on that field) made Ossie’s decision easy and he signed Killebrew to a contract for the Senators.  Killebrew had also excelled in football as a Quarterback and had aspirations of playing college football.  All of that changed that day as Bluege saw the unmistakable potential in young Killebrew.  His decision was one of the best ever in baseball.  Killebrew went on to play 22 years in the big leagues.  His list of accomplishments are many.  He hit over 40 home runs in a season eight times.  He led the league in home runs six times and in Runs Batted In three times.  He won the most valuable player award in 1969 when he hit 49 home runs and drove in 140.  He blasted 573 home runs in his career which at the time of his retirement was 4th all time.  His home runs were majestic and he created fear for the opposition when he firmly took his stance like a giant rock at the plate.  He was the first player to ever hit a ball completely out of Tiger Stadium to left field (only 3 have done it since).  They painted a seat at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota that one of Killebrew’s blasts had rocketed into some 530 feet from home plate!  His home run records were even more amazing considering that his home fields were among the biggest in all of baseball.

In 1984 Killebrew was elected to baseball’ hall of fame.  As a kid I remember Killebrew batting and his raw power at the plate.  I remember teams fearing his thunder and walking him whenever it was convenient.  However, the story that he told that day put a whole different light to what I think about when his name comes up.  At these events someone comes up and introduces the recipient with a nice speech.  Then it is time for the recipient to give his.  Harmon humbly told a tale about his parents and what he said still brings tears to my eyes.  You see his brothers and him regularly played ball in the yard.  After awhile his mother noticed that they were making bare spots all over the well kept green grass.  With her eyes on the unpleasant sight that these spots had caused she complained to her husband one day.  His statement back to her put everything in perspective.  “We are not trying to grow grass”, he said, “we are trying to raise boys!”

The Bible has a lot of examples where people put the wrong thing first and weren’t focused on the ultimate goal.  In Luke 11:37-41 it reads that Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house to eat.  The Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not wash before eating as was the Jewish tradition.  Jesus took this opportunity to condemn the Pharisees  for wrong thinking.  39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.  He was telling them that the important thing was not following rules but having a clean heart.  Another example of focusing on the wrong thing can be found in Luke 10:38-42.  Jesus and his disciples were coming into a village and Martha opened up her house to them.  Martha and Mary were sisters and were preparing the meal but when Jesus came Mary sat at his feet and listened intently to his message.  Martha got upset and this is what happened.  She came to him and asked, “Lord don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.  Once again we see that Martha was concerned more about the worldly things while Mary did right in her hunger for the spiritual.

Sadly in our Christian walk the same types of things happen today.  There are people who feel that it is important to build a bigger church or make sure that the young people have something to entertain them.  They may be consumed by the amount of money the church receives or the types of people that attend their church.  We have to ask ourselves, What is our true purpose?  The right way of thinking should  always be the spiritual one.  We live in an age where people want to go to beautiful big churches.  On the other end of the scale Christians want to build the fanciest churches.  Is this the right way of thinking?  Isn’t this the same thing that Jesus talked about when the Pharisee was putting an emphasis on what the cup looked like on the outside without regards to the inside?  The important thing is not if the church is big or small or in between, it is it’s spiritual heart.  Is it clean and doing things for the right reasons?  Are we making decisions after getting direction from God and attempting to do what he wants instead of our own will?

Harmon Killebrew was not an extra large man.  He was only 5’10 and weighed around 215 pounds.  Yet when he came to bat he made a big difference in the game not only by his enormous home runs but also by the fear he put into the other teams head.  Yet without the forethought of his loving father all of that might not have happened.  I still shake my head in amazement over the wisdom of that statement.  “We’re not trying to grow grass, we are trying to raise boys!”  I pray that  as Christians we will stop trying to grow grass and start focusing on what God can do through us!

Jackie’s Friend

“Carl”, one of his teammates said to him as he was sitting on the bench.  “Someone is here to see you, he asked “Where’s Carl Erskine?”  Carl made his way to the front of the dugout.  Sure enough there was somebody there, it was Jackie Robinson.  Carl went up the dugout steps to meet him.  Carl Erskine was a minor league pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers top farm club in Fort Worth.  The year was 1948 and young Carl was given the opportunity to pitch in an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He pitched well for six innings facing the best the Dodgers had to offer.  Now here was Jackie Robinson already a star on the Dodgers paying a visit.  Jackie Robinson was the first black to play in the big leagues and Carl had the utmost respect for him and what he had to go through.  “Let me tell you young man”, Jackie began, “You won’t be long for this league, you’ll be pitching for the Dodgers before you know it!”    They talked a little bit more and Jackie left.  Carl had felt good about the way he had pitched but now he had an extra serge of confidence race through him.  In his mind he played over and over again Jackie’s kind words!  Inspired by those words Carl was determined to make Jackie right!  It turned out that Jackie was right!  Later that year Carl got the call to join the Brooklyn Dodgers and become one of their starting pitchers!

Erskine

With the Dodgers Carl started seeing first hand what Jackie was going through.  Jackie had came to an agreement with Branch Rickey the Dodgers General Manager that he would not retaliate to any abuse he received.  He was to turn the other cheek and just concentrate on the game at hand.  The abuse went far beyond the playing field too.  Jackie was not allowed to be with his teammates in many of the hotels the club stayed in.  By 1948 the Dodgers had signed two more black players and they were rejected also.  While Jackie was combative to the situation his two teammates seemed passive.  They were just happy to be in the big leagues and were willing to take the abuse to be there.  Although Jackie had to endure his eyes were always on the big picture.  His vision was not about himself but all of the black players that would come after him.  His dream was equality for all in baseball and in our country.  Although Jackie kept his calm on the outside on the inside he felt anger.  Vin Scully, the longtime Dodgers announcer stated that “Jackie Robinson is the only player he had ever seen who played better when he was angry.”

Jackie’s wife Rachel told the story many times about Jackie’s ability to stay the course.  “Jackie would come home many times angry”, Rachel would say “but the next day he was ready to go again.”  It was like he was forgetting the past and concentrating on the new day that was ahead of him.  Rachel was the rock that Jackie leaned on when he felt down.  It was Rachel who consoled him with the words “nobody said it was going to be easy.”  Through their times away from each other Jackie would write Rachel the most beautiful letters.  His daughter Sharon shared that Jackie started every letter to his beloved wife with “Darling.”

Rachel and Jackie

Rachel and Jackie

Until the computer and email took over hand written letters were a way of communicating our love.  I remember when I was young we would get letters often from my grandma in Alabama.  She would tell us all of the news going on around there and dad would write her back with all of the news here.  Of course there was a two or three day delay from when the letter was sent until it was received.  Before I could write or even knew the letters of the alphabet I would “write” my mom letters trying to imitate the squiggly lines I saw in my grandma’s letters.  Mom would invariably ask me what it said and of course I had no idea.  I thought she could interpret and read something into what I created.  There wasn’t a communications problem with grandma’s letters.  It made my parents happy to get her letters and feel the love she was sending!

Besides letters to his beloved wife Rachel, Jackie also wrote letters to people in high places.  When he felt an injustice was done or that someone had the power to rectify a situation you could count on Jackie taking up the cause with pen in hand.  His life revolved around others and he felt like he was just someone trying to make a difference.  It was with this humble attitude that Jackie developed a friendship with a young man that lasted for years!

It was an improbable relationship between a boy and a man.  It started when Ron Rabinovitz’s dad David sent a letter to Jackie Robinson.  The Rabinovitz’s lived in Sheboygan Wisconsin and Jackie agreed that the next time the Dodgers were in Milwaukee he would personally meet young Ronnie age 7!  Jackie also enclosed an autographed picture for young Ronnie.  When the Dodgers did come to Milwaukee Jackie kept his word. He met Ronnie and his dad and introduced Ronnie to other members of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Ronnie was thrilled as Jackie gave him a baseball and had all of the players he met sign it!

Ron sent Jackie a letter back thanking him for all that he did for him!  It wasn’t long afterwards that Ron received a letter in the mail on Brooklyn Dodger stationary and a special friendship developed!  Jackie would tell Ron all of the things he was going through and Ron would tell Jackie things that were happening in his life growing up.  There were barriers in their friendship as Ron was a kid and Jackie a grown man.  Ron was Jewish and Jackie was Christian.  Ron lived in a small midwest town while Jackie was out east in New York. Through it all Ron grew to consider Jackie a mentor and Jackie considered Ronnie a trusted friend!  They could confide in each other and Jackie would let Ronnie know the inside struggles he was going through on and off of the field.  This relationship went on for years and is best exemplified in a letter that Jackie sent Ronnie in November 1958 after his playing days were over.    It was a short letter to Ronnie and it was right to the point.  “Ronnie, one of the things that pleases me most is that our friendship continues even though I am now out of baseball.  It’s friends like you that make me feel that everything that happened was worthwhile.”

Always, Jackie

Carl Erskine was asked to tell how Jackie Robinson affected his life the most.  It didn’t take Carl long to answer.  Carl had four children and the fourth was named Jimmy.  Jimmy was born with down syndrome and because of that he was always a special needs kid.  Carl was able to relate to Jackie Robinson’s plot with the Dodgers and his struggle to be accepted.  He was able to fight the battle of acceptance for his own son much like Jackie had fought for acceptance of his race.  Carl is happy to report that although change was slow it came.  Now kids in this dreaded situation are accepted much more readily in our society.  Carl learned from Jackie that no matter how hard the fight results can come when we stay the course and continue to battle!

Ron Rabinovitz began corresponding with Jackie Robinson in 1954, when he was a 7-year-old Dodgers fan.

As Ronnie pulled out his album with his letters from Jackie he had to choke back tears.  Besides the free flowing hand written notes there were telegrams congratulating him on his bar mitzvah  and high school graduation.  Also there were pictures of him and Jackie together.  Not shown in the album were his memories of Jackie’s telephone  calls and visits when the team was in Milwaukee.  Dinners they shared together at a place named Eugenes in Milwaukee where a main lobster dinner was just $5.00!  As Ronnie pulled out his baseball that is over 60 years old now he went over the signatures of the players he met.  All of the big names on the Dodgers seemed to be there except one.  In his quest to put others first Jackie simply forgot to sign Ronnie’s ball.  That’s OK with Ronnie.  All of the players who signed that baseball were people that Ronnie didn’t know.  The fact that Jackie didn’t sign with that group seems only right.  His friendship with his friend and mentor Jackie couldn’t be expressed with just an autograph.

“A life is not important except for the impact that it has on others”

Jackie Robinson

 

"We were so different," Ron Rabinovitz says of his friendship with Jackie Robinson. "I was white, he was black. I was a Jew, he was a Christian. ... I was a child, he was an adult. But we developed this bond that I can't even explain."

God’s Huddle

You would have thought that Russell Wilson the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks would have been jumping for joy.  After all his team had just advanced to the Super Bowl with an amazing improbable come from behind win over the Green Bay Packers.  Down 19-7 with 2 minutes and nine seconds left the Seahawks scored a touchdown to make the score 19-14.  Everyone knew that their only hope was an onside kick.  Incredibly the onside kick bounced off of a Packer player and the Seahawks recovered.  Before you knew it another Seattle touchdown made it 20-19 Seattle.  Seattle went for a two point conversion and Russell Wilson was rushed and was running backwards as he tossed the ball way up in the air.  Incredibly a Seattle player jumped up and caught it for the conversion.  Trailing by three points the Packers came rallying back and kicked the game tying field goal forcing overtime.  Wilson who was having a miserable game through the first 57 minutes of play threw a 35 yard touchdown pass that ended the game and left him reacting very unexpectedly.  Tears were rolling down his face during the prayer huddle.

Wilson throwing

After NFL games Christian players get together for a prayer.  It is decided that win or lose the prayer will take place.  The TV cameras grudgingly give us a shortened view.  Both the winning and losing teams are represented.  It is a statement that we have only played a game and we are all winners because of our faith in Jesus Christ!  The huddle symbolizes that there is someone far more important in our lives than football.  Football is our job and we do our best to win the games but we represent someone who is far bigger than any game.  Most of us have seen the prayer huddle after games.  Few realize how the huddle got started.  It was a game where the New York Giants played the San Francisco 49ers in 1990 in San Francisco.  As Brent Jones the 49ers tight end stated “Guys from both teams just wanted to make a statement, it caught fire from there.”  So what is said in one of these meetings after the two teams have pounded each other into the turf for sixty minutes?  “A guy from either team will offer up a prayer of thanksgiving and for getting through the game healthy”, Jones stated.

It’s amazing how often before the interview on national TV starts a player will shun the greatness everyone is willing to place upon him with the statement “I’d like to give all of the glory to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”  The late Reggie White nicknamed, The Minister of Defense, took his belief one step further in the 1990’s as he and his defense led the fans in a chorus of Amazing Grace during a TV time out in the NFL championship game at Lambeau Field.  “It was incredible”, stated Pat Richie who was the evangelical chaplain for the 49ers.  “The defense was down there conducting the choir.”  Richie has a picture of the first Candlestick Park prayer huddle hanging in his Alamo office as a reminder that it all got started here.

While we see the games as spectators as fun and exciting, for the players there is a lot of stress involved.  For every player who seemingly is secure in their jobs there are so many that could be cut at any time.  When the thrills of the fast cars, big money, and fast life fade it is human nature to look for some kind of stability.  Many have found stability in Jesus Christ and on every team there are leaders that can steer them in the right direction!

Wilson prayer

Russell Wilson is going in the right direction these days.  Last year his team won the Super Bowl and this year they are back defending their title.  No matter what the outcome of the game look closely.  There will be a lot of distractions around the big game.  There will be funny commercials, a celebrated halftime performance, announcers singing praises, and dancing touchdown moves.  The game will end like all of the past Super Bowls where one team will be glorified and the other disheartened.  For all of the glory and fame that moment brings it slowly fades.  Who won the Super Bowl in 2000?  How about 2010 for that matter?  Unless you are a fan of the team that won you might have trouble remembering who won the Super Bowl two years ago.  Yet there is something that Russell Wilson said as he was about to get interviewed after his victorious touchdown pass.  “God is so good”, he stated through his tears.  There is a growing number of NFL players that feel the same way.  You will notice the prayer huddle after the big game.  The TV camera may glance over it quickly so keep your eyes peeled.  The shine from the big game will pass and the glory fade.  In a quiet circle God’s huddle will take place. Representatives from both teams will hold hands and a solidarity thankful prayer will be made.  Though their uniforms may be different their ultimate victorious team is the same!

Taking a prayer knee

 

 

Row The Boat

There is a new energy around the Western Michigan University campus and football program this year!  It started with the hiring of a new head coach P.J Fleck.  P.J is the youngest coach in the NCAA at only 32 years old.  A major reason that he was hired was because of his high energy and enthusiasm!  Another factor was his vision for the program in the years ahead!

Coach Fleck was an assistant on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL team.  Before that he  assisted for 2 years at Rutgers and 3 years at Northern Illinois.  He started out as a receiver for Northern Illinois and played briefly in the NFL.  While assisting at Northern Illinois he was in charge of recruiting.  This last year with many of his recruits on the field Northern Illinois played in the Orange Bowl game!  This is a first for a mid major university!  In his short few months here at Western Coach Fleck is already making waves.  His 2014 recruiting commitment class is ranked number 28 in the nation at the present time!  So what is it about Fleck that is attracting talented kids to play on his team and away from more traditional football powers?  What is it that is making Flecks team an exciting alternative to bigger schools with great histories?  I believe that they are seeing a complete vision and a place for them to come in and help that vision come true!  I have only heard Coach Fleck talk in person one time, but in that talk I came away so impressed and fired up about our program!  He brings such an energy level and it is based on a determination that you can’t help to notice!  His philosophy starts with three simple words Row The Boat!

Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard introduce P.J. Fleck as the next coach! Rowing the boat begins!

Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard introduce P.J. Fleck as the next coach! Rowing the boat begins!

The row the boat concept had it’s beginnings in a personal tragedy in Fleck’s life.  He had a son named Colt that was born with a bad heart.  When he was born they knew that they would only have him for a short while.  His death was an enormous heartbreak to his family.  Through it all Fleck came up with his Row the Boat philosophy.  Rowing the boat meant to him that no matter what happens (good or bad), he was going to keep rowing the boat.  This concept kept him focused on the big picture of life.  I guess you can say it is a simple concept.  If you have everyone in the boat rowing at the same pace and the same direction, the boat will maximize it’s speed and stay straight.  Each person in the boat has to do their part.  It’s more than what they can do individually, it is about what they can do as a team.  If someone doesn’t row, the boat will zig zag but still get there.  If half the people are not rowing, the boat will end up going in circles.

Rowing the boat starts with getting a team in the boat.  When everyone is in they have to be really in.  These are shark infested waters and you can’t be hanging off of the side of the boat and stay intact.  Once everyone is in they are given two oars and the practice of working together begins!  It may take speeding the pace up to keep up or sacrificing a little of the pace for the good of the whole.  Everyone needs to be on the same page with a common goal!  Everyone must be consumed with doing their own job and doing it as part of the team!

This is Coach Fleck's business card, made out of wood!

This is Coach Fleck’s business card, made out of wood!

Rowing a boat is in fact an act of faith.  Each one rowing is facing the opposite direction to where the boat is going.  We don’t know what is ahead of us.  All we know is what we have already experienced.

Fleck talks about the makeup of the boat.  He is concentrating his efforts to build a solid dependable foundation.  Building fast may work in the short term but with no foundation it would be like building with paper mache.  Eventually as time passes the boat will not be able to hold up.  He talks about building an old ironsides type of boat that will last through the ups and downs.  The oars are tools to make the boat go.  The driving force is the people in the boat and how they use the tools they are given.

The “R” in the Row the Boat philosophy stand for Responsibility.  Fleck contends that responsibility is taking accountability and willingness to pay the price for our actions good or bad.  It’s a matter of choices that we make.  He maintains that we make a choice of brushing our teeth for instance.  If we do this consistantly we enjoy the benefits of nice sparkly teeth.  If we neglect this act we receive the opposite results.  If one of the players goes out drinking one night and gets pulled over for a DUI charge that is the consequence of the choice they made.  If they stay out of trouble off of the field and work hard on the field they will receive positive consequences.

The “T” in the Row the Boat philosophy stands for Trust.  Fleck contends that every relationship is built on trust. “If you break trust it is very hard to get it back and you will never get it back to 100 percent”, he states.  “Most of the world lies by either commission or ommission, either flat out lieing or leaving out bits and pieces.”  Within that trust is the belief that you will do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it.  Sometimes you may be asked to do a little extra always with the team as a whole in mind.

The “B” in the Row the Boat philosophy stands for Belief.  Fleck mentioned that you have to believe in yourself, believe in the vision, and be willing to die for the vision.  He states that you should love the vision and trust that it can happen!

Row The Boat!

Row The Boat!

According to Fleck belief can be broken down into two units.  The first is attitude.  He calls for direct energy much like a lazer beam.  Lazer beams are energy directed to one place at one specific time.  He urges his players to direct all of their energy to one three or four second play taking one play at a time.

The second part of belief is confidence.  Confidence in his mind comes from being prepared.  One of the knocks against Fleck was that he was so young and he didn’t have the experience that some of the older candidates had.  Fleck counters this notion with the fact that he has dreamed of this opportunity and he has prepared himself to be successful in  it!  He is confident that he can do the job because he has been successful in everything leading up to this point.  Although he hasn’t specifically coached a college football team, he has coached position players at college and the professional level.  Although he has not overseen all of the aspects of a program, he has overseen the recruiting aspect which is a big part of the coaches responsibility!  All of his little victories has given him confidence that he can win the big victories to come!

Coach Fleck has a vision and it is more than having a successful football team.  It is a vision of giving a vision to the community!  He would like to have an oar in every bank, bakery, restaurant, dorm room, and the list goes on.  It would be a rallying cry that we all can be successful and would help us to look at the football team’s success as an example!  It would be a symbol of support and it would get to the point where people wouldn’t have to ask what it meant, they would know!  They would be motivated to do everything they could as fans, sponsors, alumni, coaches, and everyone else that was involved some way with the team.  Here are your oars, start rowing.  Don’t worry about anything except doing what you are supposed to do at the time you are supposed to do it.

I’ve been thinking about the philosophy of rowing the boat in our christian walk!  Fleck mentions that the philosophy incompasses much more than football.  It could be about a young kid fighting a battle against cancer.  It could be any trouble or trial people are going through.  Have faith in what you are doing and the purpose of working together and keep rowing.

Coach Fleck describes the definition of insanity as “doing the same things and expecting different results.”  He vowed that he would not make that mistake with his program.  Too many times we Christians get into a similar pattern.  We wonder why our church isn’t growing and why we feel like we are seeing the same faces over and over.  We wonder why we are not seeing the power of God as we do our same rituals.  As Christians we have the boat in place.  Jesus Christ is the rock of our salvation.  The old hymn states that “on Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.”  The solid rock Jesus can be compared to the boat.  Our boat is made of the finest materials that will carry us through all of lifes troubled seas.  We won’t be able to see the future, just as when rowing we can’t see behind us.  Yet we know to  keep rowing through good times and bad.  When the sea is calm or when there is an uprising it should make no difference.  We are not controlled by the things going on around us.  We are controlled by the vision that God has for our lives.  We are controlled by him and the desire to do his will!  If we do not feel that passion we need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are truly in the boat all the way?  If God asks us to do something can he count on us to get it done?

The oar represents the tools that he gives each of us.  Whether it is a gift that we can share with others or a listening ear.  Whether it is a kind word we can give or an ability to teach someone something important.  There is something that each of us can do!  The oar is the tool, but it needs force to make it a useful tool.  That is where God’s power will help us if we truly believe!  In believing in him and his vision for us we open the connection to his power to help us row successfully!  He is our strength in good times and times of trouble!  In our christian walk the symbol of our faith is the cross.  Imagine those oars in the water as an extension of the bloodied cross that Jesus died on.  Seeing his blood stains as a rememberance of what and why we are doing what we are doing can keep us going in the right direction and pushing hard for all that he wants to do through us!!

It’s a wonderful scenerio of what can be! The first thing that we all need to do is get in the boat.  We can’t be halfway in the boat because then we can’t do what is needed.  We can’t row if we are not securely settled on the boats floor!  To not be totally in the boat is in fact to be out and is very dangerous as the devil’s waters are filled with hazards.  We are either all in or all out.  Now that we are in we need to focus everything that we have into the moment.  Living one oar stroke at a time by doing what is needed at the time it is needed!  The more we get in rhythm with what we are supposed to do the more faith we will receive as the boat goes forward!   When it’s all said and done and the boat crosses the finish line we’ll get a reward with the comment “well done my good and faithful servant.”  Don’t worry about the past because that is gone.  Have faith for the future that is ahead of you.  Deal in the present because that is the only thing we can deal with right now.  One day our life will end and our journey will be over.  Until then as Coach Fleck would say whether things are going good or bad  “Row The Boat!”

CLICK BELOW TO SEE AN INTERVIEW WITH COACH FLECK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3W8QejlYrI&feature=player_embedded

Teammates For Life

“Maurice was all alone, something had to be done and someone had to do it, I was the only one around so I became that someone.”  Those are the simple words of Jack Twyman as he described what he did for Maurice Stokes for twelve years.  It wasn’t like they were best friends before the tragic day.   It wasn’t like they had alot in common.  Maurice was a 6’7  240 pound black man who was a power of muscle on the basketball court.  Nobody had ever seen his combination of quickness, bulk, and jumping ability! Jack was 6’6 but he was a skinny white guy and his skill was shooting the basketball.  They both came into the NBA in 1955.  For the first three years in the league everyone knew that Maurice was playing out a Hall of Fame career.  He was such a force that he was voted the rookie of the year and later he led the league in rebounding!  He was 24 years old and improving every year when the tragedy occurred.

It appeared that Maurice had many years of greatness ahead of him!

It appeared that Maurice had many years of greatness ahead of him!

It was the last game of the 1957-58 season and Maurice and Jack’s Cincinnati Royals were playing the Minneapolis Lakers.  Maurice was going up for a rebound when his feet got pulled from under him by a Lakers players shoulders.  Maurice came down head first on the court and was knocked out.  If this incident happened today Maurice would have been sent to the hospital and checked out.  Back then though they gave him smelling salts and called him good to go.  He actually came back into the game.  Two days later after the Royals played the Detroit Pistons in a first round playoff game the team boarded a plane to go back to Cincinnati.  Maurice, who was still groggy and sore,  had a very underwhelming game for him with 12 points and 15 rebounds.  On the plane Maurice became violently sick.  He began to perspire heavily and the pilot called ahead to have an ambulance ready when they arrived.  When the plane finally landed Maurice was unconcious with a 106 temperature.  Maurice was rushed to St. Elizabeth hospital where he slipped into a coma.  The next day the Royals were eliminated by the Pistons ending their season.  While the other players hurriedly scattered back to their hometowns Jack remained.  Cincinnati was his hometown.  For that Maurice would be forever thankful! 

Things were so different in the NBA back then.  The average player made ten thousand dollars if that.  Maurice being way better than average was making twenty thousand.  With Maurice unable to play anymore that salary would be lost.  Maurice’s parents Tero and Myrtle didn’t have the means to pay for their sons expensive hospital bills and the hospital was losing their patience.  Someone had to act right away to stem the tide.  In Jack’s own words, he became that someone.  “I became his Guardian”, Jack stated.  He had a bank account that nobody could touch.  He also had a brand new car that needed to be sold. 

The final diagnosis for Maurice was Post-Traumatic Encepholopathy.  He was paralyzed from the neck down, unable to speak, and stricken to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.  He was later transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital where his vigorous rehab therapy would take place.  He was able to re-gain use of his hands and was able to learn to speak again years later, though it was hard for people that were not constantly around him to understand.  The therapy at the hospital was very expensive.  Jack looked down every possible avenue to raise money.

Not only were salaries low in 1958 for NBA players but they didn’t have insurance.  There was no workmans compensation benefits.  Jack hired a lawyer who brought a lawsuit against the NBA and won.  In doing so Jack invariably had to risk his own status in the league.  Jack was still a player getting paid by the league to play basketball.  He didn’t think of himself and his status.  He had a single minded goal of raising needed money for Maurice. 

Maurice and Jack

Maurice and Jack

Still so much more was needed.  Jack worked with the NBA Public Relations man Haskell Cohen and Catskills Hotel owner Milton Kutsher to create a benefit game for Maurice.  Catskills was a Jewish resort that later became home to very competitive basketball games with stars from colleges competing.  Kutsher had the venue and when he heard about Maurice’s plight he wanted to help!  The league came together as one to help also.  Many of the leagues stars participated in the annual Maurice Stokes game and thousands of dollars were raised every year.  Maurice got to a point where he was able to attend some of the games.  Maurice took the time to make ash trays for all of the participants!  It was a big highlight of Maurice’s year to attend and share his infectious smile and gifts with his long past rivals.

The Maurice Stokes benefit game raised over $750,000 over the years but still it wasn’t enough.  Jack approached every media outlet in the towns the Royals played in to tell  Maurice’s story.  Through his efforts donations poured in.  Every Christmas he appeared on Howard Cosell’s radio show to share Maurice’s story again.  His story was featured in Sports Illustrated and another $200,000 was generated!  Through all of Jack’s efforts Maurice’s expenses were getting paid.  Maurice for his part continued the rigorous regiment of rehabilitation that was before him.  The results seemed small but Maurice was never discouraged.  The hospital actually brought victims of serious crashes and other traumatic experience to Maurice because he could cheer them up with his loving inspired attitude!  Sometimes when Jack was feeling down he visited Maurice because Maurice always had a way of putting a smile on Jack’s face!

Maurice suffered a massive heart attack in 1970 and died at the young age of 36.  Undoubtedly he was strained by his situation and his attempts to keep  upbeat in the midst of his troubles.  After twelve years the burden on Jack was now removed.  He had retired as a player and was working as a game commentator for ABC.  In 1983 Jack was inducted into the Naismith NBA Hall of Fame!  Later Jack would become a food company executive and made more than three million dollars when he sold the company in 1996!

In 1973 a movie was made about Maurice.  It didn’t receive great reviews as the critics labeled it as a tragedy displayed with “soap opera effects.”  A special viewing was reserved for Tero and Myrtle (Maurice’s parents).  After the viewing Tero broke the silence.  “It was sad but it was also beautiful”, he said.

The Bible speaks about the Good Samaritan.  In this case Jack went even beyond the Good Samaritan’s deed.  Jack was the Good Samaritan to Maurice for twelve years!  Although Jack was extremely successful financially after his NBA career and received the highest NBA honor in the Hall of Fame, his legacy with Maurice will always be his shining glory.  Jack was always humble about the experience saying “anybody would have done it.”  I’m sure it was Jack that was placed there because his other teammates wouldn’t have. 

There were a couple of other issues not mentioned.  Jack was white and Maurice was black.  Back in 1958 racial opinions were far different.  Jack never let the opinions of others get in his way of helping Maurice!  The other factor was Jack’s family.  He had a growing family at the time of the accident.  There was a time when Jack questioned whether he was neglecting his own family.  His family proved to be very understanding though and Maurice became a part of them too!

One of the happiest days for Jack was when Maurice got named to the Hall of Fame in 2004 and Jack accepted the award on his behalf!  After playing only three years in the league such an honor was unheard of.  Yet because of the very special circumstances Maurice will forever have a plaque in the Hall of Fame for all who visit to see!

Jack Twyman died last year at the age of 78.  In his and Maurice’s honor this year the NBA has named a new award.  It is called the Twyman-Stokes Teammate Of The Year Award.  The first winner of the award was Chauncey Billups.  The award has a sculpture of Twyman helping up Stokes his fallen teammate.  After finding out that he won the award Chauncey did some research of Twyman and Stokes.  Chauncey was amazed at the story and the dedication involved.  He considered himself a good teammate but he was very humbled to be mentioned in the same breath as what Jack Twyman contributed. 

Twyman-Stokes Teammate Of The Year Award

Twyman-Stokes Teammate Of The Year Award

When Maurice had undergone so many hours and years of rehabilitation he was finally able to use his hands.  It was decided that maybe a typewriter would be a good gift for him!  Studiously and slowly he typed out a message.  It was the first thing that he typed on that typewriter and it was the most memorable!  He typed out a letter to his friend Jack.  The text was this:  “Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?” It reminds me of a question we should all ask Jesus for dying for our sins.  The answer of course is you can’t, but accept this gift because I love you!

Surrounded by Love

I was talking to a friend the other day and he was telling me he was going into 2013 with a new attitude.  The statement kind of caught me off guard as this is a person I always felt was confident and upbeat all of the time!  He told me he had been depressed lately which was another surprise since he never shows it in our conversations.  It reminds me that all of us get down sometimes.  It’s easy to feel down due to circumstances and situations.  The people who overcome don’t stay in that mental framework.  They find a way to start climbing out of that cellar that they find themselves in.  It’s so much easier when we are surrounded by love.  People who care about us and our circumstances.  People who will stick by us til the end!  People who believe in us and whose love goes through the tough times with us.

With Jerome Harrison we find a story of the will to live against incredible odds.  When I hear of a story like this I wonder “Why am I letting the little bump in the road happening in my life depress me?”

Jerome as a Lion

Jerome as a Lion

Jerome and his loving wife MichelleJerome and his loving wife Michelle

Jerome Harrison was a running back for the Detroit Lions.  He is originally one of our own as he went to high school at Kalamazoo Central.  He would play for the Cleveland Browns for five years where in 2009 he broke the single game rushing record with 286 yards!  The Browns eventually traded him to the Eagles and the next year the Eagles traded him to the Lions.  Maybe the Eagles had regrets about the trade as they agreed to terms with the Lions to get him back.  The trade couldn’t be finalized until physicals were taken.  Jerome was having his routine physical with the Eagles doctors when something unexpected was found.  He was told that he would need surgery.  It was supposed to be a simple surgery but complications occurred.  It was only through the grace of God and the surrounding love of his wife Michelle, who Jerome calls “Diamond”, and his family and friends that Jerome is still living.  This story brings out the fact as to how fragile life is.  One day Jerome is feeling good as it looks like he had a lot more football to play.  The next day he is in a battle for his life.  His story is an inspiration to all of us to keep fighting even when things look bleak.  Trust in God and if you are lucky enough to have people who love and care about you, use their love to instill the will to keep going as you start your journey out of the cellar!

click below and click on the youtube link for the inspiring story!

A Baseball Game and War

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was at a flea market earlier this week and I saw it! It was on a table as clear as life. I have looked on ebay so many times for this game that I enjoyed in my childhood. I’ve found it but couldn’t justify paying $75-$100 for a childhood memory. It couldn’t be just any of the versions either. It had to be my particular version from the year 1966. When I was nine years old I got this baseball game. I don’t remember if it was for Christmas or what the occasion was but it was called All-Star Baseball Game and it was made by Cadaco. When I asked the vendor how much he wanted for the game I couldn’t believe my ears. “Five dollars”, he said. I couldn’t get the five dollars out of my pocket fast enough! He obviously didn’t value it nearly as much as I did!

There it was! I couldn’t believe my eyes!

What gave the game it’s uniqueness was how they made it so realistic. They took statistics from players in the major leagues and made round cardboard discs of that player that represented his performance statistically. For instance if a player hit a home run five percent of the time the home run number on his disc would be five percent of the total space. The discs were put on a spinner and there were two spinners (one for each side). The player not batting had a spinner to spin too. If the player batting spun a number representing a fly ball the other player would spin to see if his team caught it. The same was true for a ground ball. On hits the defensive player would spin to see how many bases the other runner on base got or if he possibly could throw out a runner stretching a hit.

Baseball discs scientifically made!

My cousin Wendell and I would spend the night at each others house often. The neat thing about it was that we were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted to. Of course we did it in the summer so school wasn’t involved. He or his older brother Lawrence had an All-Star Baseball game too. I’m not sure whose game it actually was but it was available to us! There were times Lawrence played right along with us even though he was 5 or 6 years older.

The game board and spinners (a game of chance)

The game would start with drafting players. We would put all of the discs in a big pile and then take turns pulling players for our teams out of the mix. You had to fill all of the positions and then maybe add a few subs. Then we would take 5 or 6 pitchers each and we were ready to go. We would sit there long into the night playing the game. Spinning the spinner over and over. Moving our pegs from base to base. Figuring team statistics after the games.

One time that I remember as clear as if it were yesterday I was spending the night at Wendell’s and we were playing the baseball game. His brother Lawrence was there too but he wasn’t playing with us that night. Lawrence was 18 and he was a very skinny excitable kid although at the time I didn’t think of him as a kid. He also smoked a lot and on this particular night or morning he was smoking more than usual. He was very talkative and at this particular time he was talking even more than usual. But it wasn’t his normal talk. It was more of a nervous scared kid as he listened to the radio. My memory tells me it was at night but it doesn’t make much sense because of what was happening. Like the way Wendell and I were drafting our players Lawrence was involved in a different draft. On that morning or night they were in the process of picking dates of the first 18 year old boys to get drafted to go to Vietnam. Each birthday was drawn out of a baseball cap (in my imagination) and the first ones drawn would be the first to get drafted. The radio was broadcasting it like a baseball game. They would pick a date and pause for a little while and pick another date. All the while Lawrence was smoking one right after another and scared out of his wits. He couldn’t get very excited when his number wasn’t called because he knew the next one could get him. It was almost like he was in the war and the enemy was shooting at him. Trying to dodge the bullets was a skinny kid whose life had seemingly just begun but now faced a decisive day as to it’s future.

My next door neighbor Bob and I were good friends. His brother Al served in Vietnam. Since he was much older than me I accepted the fact that he was gone away more easily. Finally after he served his time Al got his discharge. Instead of letting his parents know Al had something else in mind. We lived within walking distance of the airport. Al decided to fly in and make the walk to his parents house and surprise them. What a surprise it was when Al showed up on the doorstep. There were tears of joy on a day that was long remembered!

Looking back the irony of that day at Wendell’s was mind boggling. Here Wendell and I were spinning the spinner with our disc in place. Lawrence sitting there with the radio on smoking up a storm. In reality it was like he was in a separate game. Maybe his game would be called “War” and it seemed that game was played differently. Wendell and I chose our team based on how we perceived the skills of the players. In the game Lawrence was in it was a random draft. One player was just as good as the other in that draft. It was like Lawrence was actually on one of those discs we were spinning. But instead of hits or outs that disc was divided into 365 numbers and each little section had a number between and including 1 through 365. After each spin the resulting number was slotted into the sequence it was picked. Maybe the top one hundred numbers were sure to go. One of the numbers on that disc was Lawrence and the longer he could go without his number called the better for him. The object of the game he was playing was to have his number slotted near the end of the drawing.

It may seem kind of crazy but our baseball game kept going. We drafted our players and spun our spinner like nothing was happening around us. Lawrence tried to draw us into his game with updates on his status. He did draw our interest and answered our questions patiently. Question after question as only 11 or 12 year old kids could ask. It was amazing that he was able to talk to us at all sitting there with his future in the balance. Meanwhile our minds drifted back to our game and spinning the spinners in the hopes of scoring runs and making statistics!

I remember watching the news in those war days. Each day Walter Cronkite would read the statistics on the war. Kind of like a baseball games post game show. This was like the war games end of the day rap up. Total Americans killed today and a number. Total Vietnamese killed and another number. Sometimes we would see some play by play as a journalist took us behind the lines. We could see our troops over there fighting for their lives in the jungles. We would see explosions all around them as they fought on. Most of the time however it was just the cold hard statistics that Cronkite would read.

What would Lawrence’s future hold?

As I looked back on that day I started thinking that maybe we could have been more supportive to Lawrence. Maybe we should have abandoned our game and put our whole attention on his radio and him. I started thinking about the lesson I learned from this place in time and what I might be able to pass on. The theme kept coming into my mind that so many of us are busy playing games while our neighbors are hurting. Although this is a very true statement this conclusion just didn’t seem to fit our situation in this case. What could an 11 and 12 year old do in this uncomfortable setting to help their older brother and cousin? Maybe the best thing we could do is just what we did. We continued to be kids and played our game. What purpose would be served by stopping our game other than causing even more discomfort for Lawrence? After all maybe the fact that we were playing a game made him dream of a time when he could leisurely play a game without it being life and death. Maybe the most important thing was that we were there. Maybe the lesson out of all of this is even if you can’t do anything being there is important. It wasn’t that we comprehended everything that was happening, but we were there even if it was unplanned. When we started playing the game we didn’t realize his game was going on. When he came in smoking his cigarette with his radio, as he voiced his nervous giggles we realized that there were two games on the agenda. We didn’t drop our game, but we definitely paid attention to his game too.

Not all of the Vietnam stories had happy endings like Al’s. There were 58,138 U.S. Soldiers that died in the Vietnam war. Fortunately Lawrence was not one of them. He won his game that day! I think his number was over 300! I don’t remember who won most of the games Wendell and I played. Our games were fun games with results long forgotten. Our games were kids games where life is fun and problems come later. Two years ago Lawrence died. It was some forty years after that fateful night. Lawrence ended up losing a war to inoperable cancer. I don’t think I cried when I heard the news. It was an expected thing because the cancer had eaten away Lawrence’s skinny body. There was not much of him left when he departed. It was more of a relief knowing that his suffering was over, much like the relief he felt when the draft numbers fell his way. It’s strange that relief can come from both death and avoiding death. When I bought that All-Star Baseball Game I was thinking about my childhood. I was sure it would bring back memories of games past. In fact that is exactly what it did, but in a much different way than I anticipated. Little did I realize that the memory it would take me to would be a transition place between being a boy and a man. A time that would decide if my cousin Lawrence would jump right into manhood and possibly die for his country or if he might be able to remain a boy and play a few games for just a little longer? The other day as I was thinking again about the memory of Lawrence on that day tears filled my eyes. I’m sure it was a belated mourning of Lawrence dying as I thought of the games we played that night. Wendell and I competing for honors in a baseball game while Lawrence was involved in a much different game altogether. We were two kids playing a game of chance for fun and one young man who was on a playing piece in a game of chance with his life and future on the line.

Of Golf And God

It seemed like an almost perfect golf shot in my golf world. It was straight down the middle and maybe 220 yards. For me and most other people that is very acceptable. Yet when we drove the cart toward the path of the ball we discovered a stream running directly over the fairway maybe 10 feet wide. My ball was nowhere to be found as the hazard ate it. Many times I have hit the ball crooked and felt like I deserved any trouble I found myself in. Yet here this shot seemed so perfect. It didn’t seem fair that my ball was lost and a penalty stroke was needed. There is a course here in town that had a similar issue. Hitting an almost perfect drive right down the center of the fairway you could find yourself behind a tree. That’s right, someone had planted a tree in the middle of the fairway! This tree was there for years and I’m sure was the brunt of many a curse word throughout time. One morning workers at the golf course noticed something very strange. That tree that was the enemy of thousands of golfers throughout the years was discovered laying dead in the fairway. I mean literally laying there the victim of a middle of the night sawing. I guess a golfer having been victimized once too often by the giant with the big trunk and long branches had decided to take the law into their own hands. Climbing over the fence at 3 or 4 in the morning towing their chainsaw, the deed was accomplished. While many of the adjacent neighbors slept through it I can imagine someone waking up from the roaring of the saw wondering what in the world? While many non golfers scratched their heads when they heard the news, I believe that many golfers rejoiced and felt the sawing was completely justified!

Lot’s of trees on this golf course, but now one less


Golf can be the strangest of games. Unlike other sports that we play where the ball is moving before being hit or kicked, the golf ball just sits there as still as can be waiting for it’s punishment. Yet, hitting a golf ball straight is a constant battle even for the pros. It is hard to believe sometimes how a Tiger Woods or any other pro who practices all of the time can mess up so bad. Yet, if you think about it, the game is designed for the average person and sometimes the pros to fail.

There are 300 to 450 dimples on a golf ball. The dimples are designed to make the ball better able to cut through the air reducing the drag effect. Dimples also allow the effect of side spin in shot direction. When striking the ball if the club head is the slightest percentage off of squared the ball will not go perfectly straight. Multiply that factor by an incorrect path of the swing and you can see how difficult it is to consistently hit the ball straight. The course designers know this fact and they can make it very difficult for most of us who are not consistently on the fairway. The fairway is a place of low cut grass that is perfect for hitting the ball on. When we go crooked we encounter the rough. The rough is just as it sounds “rough.” You will find your ball on hard ground or in deep grass or both. Sometimes the ball will get buried by the grass and will be tough to hit solidly. When we do hit it solidly there may still be a problem of trees, bushes, and sand traps to maneuver around and over.

On a normal hole keeping the ball straight and in the middle of the fairway is the way to go. Hitting from the low grass will help to hit the ball solid and straight on the next hit. Every golfer knows this simple rule, but executing those straight shots is very hard to do. John Feinstein wrote a book called “A Good Walk Spoiled.” Just the title tells volumes about how the game of golf can make such a good thing into a painful experience. One time years ago I went to play a course by myself. In those days if you were alone the course worker would try to put you in with another group. In this case he put me with a married couple. It got to be a pretty embarrassing situation because the guy was not playing very well at all. Every shot he was hitting was a mishit. He started throwing his club and making a scene. It was embarrassing for his wife and a distraction to me. In his case it wasn’t a tree, it wasn’t the course difficulty, and it wasn’t that something was wrong with his clubs. The problem was him, and that is the hardest problem for any of us to deal with.

Besides the rough and tree problems holes sometimes have water hazards and sand traps. Sand traps are interesting. They are normally placed right around the greens. A good looking shot that seems headed for the green can end up in a sand trap. Playing a ball out of the sand requires some special skills that most of us don’t practice enough. Obviously the game of golf can be very frustrating. You can hit a good looking shot and find yourself in trouble, or you can hit a crooked shot and know you will be in trouble.

On the other hand sometimes you get lucky. I was playing with a friend the other day and he hit a ball that was going into the woods. His ball happened to hit a tree or it’s branches just right and bounced in the fairway. A couple of times he mishit his iron shots, but each time it turned out OK because his ball still made the green. We all have had these nice bounces and breaks, but we know they are nothing to depend on.

Arnold Palmer had a style that endeared him to the hearts of America. It was a style he called “go for broke.” Arnold was constantly getting himself into trouble but by his great recovery skills, he was able to make incredible shots! Sometimes we all have that Palmer mindset. We hit the ball crooked and it ends up behind a tree. We figure out some miraculous shot that maybe we could pull off 1 time out of 100 and we try it. Naturally we end up in far worse trouble than we were before and with another shot on our score. We try another miraculous shot and the same result occurs. By the time the hole is over we have recorded an 8 or more!

The Christian walk has so many parallels to the game of golf! There are the straight and narrow path and there are traps. There are rough areas where we have to walk and there are hazards we are not prepared for. Sometimes in the game of golf we should just take our medicine. When we go astray out into the rough it is often better to just chip the ball back into the fairway. The one stroke in doing that often saves many strokes down the road. The same can be said about Christianity. When we get off of the path the best thing to do is get right back on it. We will all find ourselves with obstacles in our way and potential hazards. When we find ourselves in the hazard it is best to get back on the fairway as quick as possible and start moving forward again! As in golf when trouble comes it is hard not to feel down. Knowing in the troubles of life that God is there to help us makes a big difference! He will help us through the rough spots if we put our complete trust in him! When we find ourselves behind a tree spiritually, we should pray that God gives us the wisdom to get around it. We shouldn’t try to take the law into our own hands. If it is his will God will remove the tree and he won’t need a chainsaw to do it!

Dropping The Weight of Unforgiveness-The Jim Ryun Story

I’ve heard the saying throughout the years.  It is something that people say when you have the right to be really angry at someone for something that they did.  It goes like this, “forgive and forget.”  If there was a saying that is harder to do than that one I don’t know what it is.  Yet Jesus made it clear that this is truly something we need to do.  He said in the apostles prayer “forgive us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

I can tell you truthfully that there were a couple of incidences in my own life where it was very hard for me to forgive.  There may be people in your life that you find hard to forgive also.  I’ve always heard that we can do something that God cannot.  That is remember the sins of our past after he has forgiven us.  He can truly forgive and forget.  As for us, we will always have the memories.  Yet God can help us forgive but it has to come from him.  On our own it is impossible for us to forgive someone.  Forgiveness can only come about when  God supplies the love for that person in our heart.

When we find ourselves holding onto bitter thoughts about someone it’s like trying to run carrying a fifty pound weight.  That weight is going to be a burden that will slow us down!  I have found when I was slow to forgive it didn’t effect the other person at all.  That person went on with their life and here I was carrying the burden.  Only when I gave the burden to God and forgave them in my heart was I able to get over and through my bitterness.  There is a saying that goes “Don’t get bitter, get better.”  God knows that we are going to be wronged while we are on this earth.  Things are going to happen that will make us mad at others or mad at God himself.  If there is someone you haven’t forgiven remember this, it probably isn’t effecting them.  The only person it is effecting is you.  You can choose like I did to let that weight go and lighten your load in the race.  You will be surprised how good it feels after you give it to God and through him forgive that person!  The burden you are carrying will be lifted and you will be able to move on!

If there was anyone who you might feel is justified to hold a grudge it would be Jim Ryun.  Jim was a world class runner in the mile and 1500 meters.  He was the first high school runner to better 4 minutes in the mile.  He competed in the Tokyo Olympics at the age of 17 in 1964.  He was the silver medalist in the 1500 meters in the next Olympics in Mexico City in 1968.  1972 was to be his big moment.  He had trained very hard and just knew that the Gold medal was in his future.  I have included a video of Jim’s story!  This video is over 10 minutes but it is 10 minutes worth watching!  It takes you from his early running days through the 1972 Olympics.  Amazing footage through his triumphs and pains and how he chose to forgive.  When he brought that unforgiving burden to God it was lifted from him!  As you will see he is now running through life free and easy without the cumbersome weight!

“God allowed me to be disqualified from the world’s most prestigious  athletic competition to show me how to be a real winner.”  Jim Ryun

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