The Legacy of Joe Paterno

You’ve seen it in the news. Joe Paterno, 85, died this past Sunday from lung cancer. My prayers are with his family, friends and fans. It’s likely an understatement to suggest this year has been a difficult one for the Paterno family. The way the news reads says it all.

From Reuters…
“Penn State students and supporters laid flowers and lit candles on Monday as they mourned the death of Joe Paterno, who won more games than any other U.S. major college football coach but saw his legacy tarnished by a child sexual abuse scandal at the school.”

Fox News…
“Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died on Sunday, his family announced, after a two-month battle with lung cancer that was diagnosed near the end of the playing season, just as Paterno was fired as head coach of a team he had served 61 years.”

From CNN…
“What do you do when a wonderful man who made a terrible mistake dies?” CNN contributor and sportswriter LZ Granderson doesn’t know. His article on CNN.com is getting a lot of buzz though, as he walks users through his conflicted emotions and explains the sentiments of those who fall in the middle.”

From ESPN…
“There is, obviously, nothing inherently surprising about Paterno’s death: He was an 85-year-old man with cancer in his lungs who had just endured the worst emotional shock of his lifetime. The Sandusky charges (and Paterno’s firing in the midst of the university’s reaction to them) were included in the first paragraph of his New York Times obituary…”

Triumph and tragedy, this is the story of Joe Paterno. I’m reminded of a quote from a movie, The Dark Knight, “You’ll either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” I don’t believe there’s absolute truth in this quote, however it seems to have some application to this situation. But this was no movie. It was the life of one of the most respected men in college football history whose legacy reads differently today than if it had been written even just a year ago.

It makes me wonder about your legacy. How would you like to be remembered for the worst mistake you ever made?

Marc Antony said it best in Shakespeare’s, Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” A legacy is a fragile thing.

There’s a woman in Scripture. We don’t know her name. All history records is that she was caught in adultery, brought before Jesus and the religious leaders of the day and publicly shamed. The intent of the crowd was more than shame. The law of the land declared adultery a capital crime punishable by death. We know the outcome. Jesus deals gently with her as he confronts the blood thirsty crowd. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Humbled, the crowd begins to walk away. Yet the legacy lives on. Forever this story will be known as, “The Woman Caught in Adultery”. I’ll ask again, how would you like to be remembered for the worst mistake you ever made?

Your legacy takes years to build and only one bad decision to tear down. You could say this about a lot of things.

  • Your marriage – years to build, one bad decision to tear down.
  • Your career
  • Your relationships with family, friends, coworkers, employees or boss.

How can we possibly get it right?

What if that’s the wrong question? What if the central focus of our effort isn’t the legacy we create, but the story we’re in? Life’s not a movie. You’re not the handsome hero or the evil villain. You are, however, a chapter in the story. The question of your legacy isn’t simply about what you got right. It’s about the story your life tells.

The headline may be, “Woman Caught in Adultery”. But the story is so much more than that. The story is the gentle and loving way Jesus forgives, silences the critics and restores a woman in the eyes of God and man.

The obituary may read, “Joe Paterno, the coach who won more games in U.S. college football than any other coach but saw his legacy tarnished…” But that’s not the story. History is still being written on this one. That may be the title, but it won’t be the story.

Today, if you’re making wise decisions, taking bold action, following God and doing the right thing – keep up the good work. Don’t risk the distraction of temptation or discouragement of the critics.

If, however, you’ve stumbled or fallen, if you’ve wandered down a path you never expected, don’t give up. Forgiveness is available. Your choices may write the title, but they don’t have to write the story.


2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”

Where the Story Ends

Everyone loves a well told story. This weekend millions of people will spend even more millions of dollars at the movies. They’ll see comedies and tragedies, romance and thrillers. We’ll pay our $8, slip into the theater with a bucket of popcorn and an ocean of soda, sit back and relax as we’re introduced to characters who will face unimaginable circumstances and fight to overcome overwhelming odds. We’ll cheer for the hero and boo at the villain. We’ll cry with the heartbroken and laugh at the idiot. We do all this to be entertained. Sometimes, to be distracted. And often to be reminded that, as stressful as life may be, no one has shot at us lately. Nothing has exploded near us. We’ve not been stranded in a frozen wasteland, chased by undead monsters or forced to choose between our one true love and the family fortune. Real life may be stressful, but it’s not as tough as those poor saps we see on the big screen. I find that comforting. Well, comforting and maybe a little disappointing.

Every story follows a similar pattern. It’s a three act play.

  • Act 1 – Setup. We’re introduced to a new world and the characters that live in it.
  • Act 2 – Confrontation. Our hero falls into trouble that must be overcome.
  • Act 3 – Resolution. When all seems lost and against all odds, somehow our hero finds a way.

The setup allows us to identify with and like the main characters. The confrontation makes the story interesting and gives the characters a catalyst for growth. But the resolution…the resolution is why we watch in the first place. The resolution is how they fix things. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the villain going down in flames, getting his just rewards. It’s our hero’s happily-ever-after. We like to see how things turn out at the end and we like the end to turn out well.

Now imagine  if we ended the story early. Cinderella leaves her glass slipper. The magic fades. She returns to be a slave to her wicked step-mother, but the prince never comes. Luke Skywalker meets Obi Wan and decides he’d rather be a farmer than learn the ways of the force and fight with the Rebellion. I don’t think we’d remember the Titans if the players didn’t overcome their differences to win the championship game.

It reminds me of a simple truth. Happily-ever-after is about where the story ends.

Where are you in your story?

God is writing a masterpiece in you. It’s filled with tragedy, triumph, comedy and drama. It’s a story designed to grow your faith, shape your character, and draw you close to Him. It’s a story to be continued.

What chapter do you find yourself in right now? Don’t give up. This isn’t where the story ends.


“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:12-14

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I have four kids. Our schedule is, at times, what you might call ‘insane’. I’m sure it’s not much different from yours. Work, church, sports, music, school, birthday parties – none of it’s complicated just extremely full. All in all I believe we manage well. We’ve gotten used to our schedule. We tend to travel in a pack. It’s fun and sometimes a bit noisy or chaotic, but we get to be together and we like that.

This year Londa and I decided we would do something a bit different. We intend to be deliberate about spending unhurried time, just the two of us, with one of our children at at time while the others run amuck with their grandparents or a sitter. So, last night we got together and took Jaiden on a date. We went to dinner and a movie. We saw ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Up’. It’s about a family that loses their father in the Twin Towers on September 11.

I won’t offer up any spoilers. Instead I’ll simply say, you should see this movie. You should see it with your family. I expect it to win an Academy Award, possibly several. As you watch, consider this: right now, in the community where you live, maybe even in your own household, there are people who experience the same kind of desperation, grief and loss portrayed by the family in this film. They may not have been through a dramatic, nation-wide tragedy like 9/11 but they’ve been through something that has reshaped their view of the world and they struggle to make sense of it all. They’re searching for answers, crying out for relief and looking for the key to what will bring hope back into their lives.

I believe part of why God gave us a family is for moments just like these.

Malachi 4:6 says, “And [God] will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers…”

Take a close look at your family today. Ask God to give you uncommon insight into the hearts of your children and your spouse. Ask for the courage and boldness to make the sometimes difficult decisions necessary to reshape your schedule, say the right thing, offer or ask forgiveness, point the way and start an adventure.

Second Place; First Loser

The championship game was incredible. It was clear both teams deserved a spot in the big show. On both sides of the ball it seemed like the offense was perfectly matched by the defense. Ultimately the game ended. One team became national champions. The other went home in second place.

Reporters were gracious to the losing coach after the game. They bragged on the players and asked thoughtful questions about how he might have adjusted his strategy. The coach leaned into the mic, “It was a great game. It’s always an honor to face an opponent that good. But I want to be really clear. We didn’t lose this game. We were simply behind when time ran out.”

Let’s be honest. How many second place teams can you name? Who holds the record for the second longest winning streak in college football? How many presidential candidates can you name that ran for office and lost? I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a few. The most recent contests will be fresh in our minds, but give it 20 minutes. Second place will soon fade into history as first loser.

Like the coach trying to spin his loss as a could-have-been win how often do we settle for second best? We make excuses. I’m not bad, I’m just not that good. I’m not a loser, I just didn’t win. I’m not rebellious. I just like to do things my own way. I’m not that sinful, nobody’s perfect. We could have been champions, but time ran out. It leads to a question, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?” The challenge that comes next is simple, “Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24

How will you run today?

Be the Moon – Give it a Listen

Moon

John 1:9-14 | Listen to the song – Be the Moon

Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus is referred to as, ‘the light’. John 1:9 says Jesus was, “…the true light which gives light to every one coming into the world.” In John 8:12 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” And John 12:46 says, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.”

A few years ago I wrote and recorded a demo of a song, “Be the Moon“. Use the link to give it a spin. The chorus says:

I wanna be the moon and reflect the Son;
Fill the whole world with His glory and the wonder of His love.
To change the seas, and show the way;
Shine Your light into the darkness, turn the night into day.
So take this heart of stone of mine and ignite it with your grace.
I wanna be the moon.

Questions for today:

  • If Jesus is the light of the world what do you see when His light shines in your heart?
  • If Jesus is the light of the world what do people see when His light reflects out from your life?

Be the moon – reflect the Son.

Shadow of Doubt

Starry NightArt experts can examine a painting and tell by the brush strokes if it’s fake. Coaches can watch a player run the ball and tell if he’s a champion. Doctor’s can read an MRI and tell you if surgery is necessary.

We trust our eyes. We think we know what we see. But do we really?

The art expert, the coach and the doctor have studied. They know what they’re looking for. Experience has given them an eye for detail and the ability to discern the difference between average and world class, normal and dangerous. They see things the untrained eye cannot. Yet sometimes, they still miss it. A van Gogh turns out to be a forgery. That multi-million dollar contract never leads to a Super Bowl. The aneurysm happens in spite of the recent check-up.

In Scripture the Jewish people were the experts on God. They received the Law of God through Moses. Prophets delivered prophecies to paint a picture of the coming Messiah. They had all the resources and experience needed to spot what the untrained eye may have missed.

Jesus is Messiah.

Yet miss it they did. And so do many others. We have more information that has received greater scholarly scrutiny today regarding the history and life of Jesus than ever before. A quick search online reveals volumes of information debating the work and significance of this man.

How can the light shine so brightly, illuminate so thoroughly, and people continue to miss the truth right in front of their face?

John 1:9-14 says, “[Jesus] was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

We trust our eyes. We think we see clearly. But do we? You don’t have to be an expert to uncover the mystery and majesty of Jesus. He is the Son of God. He came to save his people from their sin. Go back a hundred years. Show someone a picture of a man walking on the moon. They’ll call you crazy. Go back a few hundred years, show them a picture of anything on your iPhone – they’ll call you a witch. Belief is not about seeing. It’s about receiving.

What are you willing to receive from God? What shadow of doubt prevents you from believing, trusting, following or obeying? Look closely. The truth is right in front of your eyes.

Anger Management

Anger Management

Be nice...

Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” – Dr. David Banner

The other day I was driving. I pulled up to a stop light. It didn’t take long to notice the person in the car next to me. He was alone but talking so loudly I could hear the faint sounds of his voice through his window and mine. I thought at first he was singing. But the tone was clearly not something musical. This guy was mad! He flailed his arms around, beat on the steering wheel and made symbolic gestures to no one in particular.

From where I sat it was pretty funny.

We’ve all been there. Someone pushes us so hard we feel like we’re going to explode! There’s only a handful of ways to deal with this kind of frustration. While firearms and napalm may sound satisfying they leave a terrible mess, not to mention the unpleasant social, legal and moral issues. Is it really possible to learn anger management?

Let’s narrow our focus. Anger isn’t really the problem. It’s the symptom. You’ve heard people say, “I got so mad I lost control.” It may have been you. That confession reveals the truth. Anger is one natural expression of a lack of self control.

We get angry for three reasons.

  1. Unsatisfied Needs
  2. Unmet Expectations
  3. Unrighteous Actions

We use these three reasons as an excuse to Hulk-out on people, fly off the handle and completely lose control. We let anger wash over us and give in to it’s unbridled lust for justice, revenge or satisfaction. Anger management isn’t about figuring out how to stay calm, cool and collected. Anger management is about learning self control.

Scripture teaches there’s an appropriate time and appropriate way to be angry. When we lose control, we lose an effective tool for dealing with certain unrighteous acts. There’s nothing more frightening than righteous anger, deliberately applied to an injustice in the world. It’s Liam Neesan’s calm but menacing voice on the other end of the phone as his daughter is being kidnapped in the movie Taken, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If it’s money, I haven’t got any, but what I do have is a particular set of skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. So, you can let her go right now and that’ll be the end of it. Otherwise, I will hunt you down. I will find you. And I will kill you.”

Righteous anger applied. I can’t think of anything quit so persuasive or quite so frightening. But we don’t typically use anger. We allow anger to use us.

The principles that help us learn self control are not complicated, but they are often hard to practice. We know they aren’t complicated because they sound so cliche. But, the fact that something is simple doesn’t make it easy to apply. Here they are in a nutshell.

  1. Pray – when I can’t control me or someone else, I can always talk to the one who can.
  2. Decide Beforehand – Make a list based on Scripture. What’s worth the time, effort and risk of your anger? If it’s not on the list, don’t waste the energy.
  3. Persistent Practice – Musicians practice in order to make beautiful music. Practice is messy. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t. With every rehearsal they refine their notes and rhythms till the song that comes out is the one they intend and the one you’re willing to pay to hear over and over again. Self control works this way. PRACTICE. You may not always get it right, but you can make it better. You can refine your response, prepare your heart and mind and place yourself in a position where self control comes more easily this time than the time before.

Ephesians 4:26, 31-32 says,

…don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil…Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (NLT)

Don’t let anger define you. Learn self control and master the anger within.

Think Fast; Think Deep

Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill

I love a clever come back. I respect those people who, in the heat of the moment, have the mental agility and verbal acuity to say just the right thing at the right time. They make their point with razor sharp wit and leave their subject languishing in the wake of their comment.

I’m not that guy, though at times I wish I could be. I have a friend who downloaded pages of one-liners about your mother just to be prepared. His son found it. The school says he used it well. Detention will last a week.

Winston Churchill was great at this. He was once confronted in public by an overly zealous women, “If you were my husband I would give you poison!” She shouted indignantly. Churchill calmly responded, “If I were your husband…I would take it.”

Mental agility and verbal acuity – the ability to think on your feet and say what you thought. It’s a talent that can be as priceless as perilous.

I also admire deep thinkers. They may be slow to speak, but don’t mistake their silence for ignorance. C.S. Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world will satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Soak on that for a bit.

Deep thoughts often come from the most unlikely of places and their value is difficult to describe. Mental agility, mental depth, verbal acuity – are these natural talents, or skills that can be acquired?

I believe they are both.

  • Mental agility is learned through lively conversation.
  • Mental depth is learned through reading widely and writing regularly.

Conversation is quick, reading and writing is slow. Conversation helps you think fast. Writing helps you think deep. You are likely bent in such a way that you’re better at one or the other. It doesn’t matter. Either can be learned.

Do you struggle with mental agility? Talk with more people about more topics. Get into a good argument – not the kinds that damage relationships, but the kind that helps you think more clearly. Conversations are the practice field where mental agility and verbal acuity are tried, tested and proved.

Do you struggle with mental depth? Listen more. Read more. Write more. The process of writing requires a different kind of thinking than the process of talking. Take the time to read something and write something everyday. It doesn’t take much. Over time you’ll find that you think more clearly and your thoughts will have greater value.

Scripture teaches that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Take time to sharpen your mind and sharpen your words. In James 3:1-12 we’re told the words we think and say set the course for our life like the rudder of a ship. If we can control our words we can influence our thoughts and reshape the direction of our lives.

Hate Religion; Love Jesus

This video has been floating around Facebook lately. Give it a spin, read my comments, then make some of your own.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY

Well produced and well said.

Scripturally, he’s right about self-righteousness. Politically, Jesus isn’t a Democrat either. Culturally, he clearly articulates why so many people are disenfranchised by religion.

I’ve heard people say, “I like Jesus, but don’t like the church.” If what they mean is religion, I’m right there with them. Religion is a fish out of water trying to teach a drowning man to breath.

There is a difference between the Church and religion. By Church I don’t mean a denomination, building or system of organization. I mean the Church described in the Bible. That Church is the body and bride of Christ. Saying, “I like Jesus, but don’t like the church,” is like telling your friend,  “You’re great, but your wife is hideous!” It’s like telling someone, “I find you attractive. You don’t sweat much for a fat boy.”

The Church is what forms when Believers come together. It has a universal expression because of our unity in Christ. It’s why I can go to an underground church in China without being able to speak the language and still experience sweet fellowship with complete strangers as we worship together in spirit and truth.

The Church also has a local expression. When Believers assemble on the local level they are committing to God and one another. They are saying, “This is the place and these are the people I want to grow with, be accountable to, and partner with in ministry.” Anytime people come together there has to be some level of organization. Where and when will we meet? What will we do while we’re together? How will we decide what to do when we disagree? And the most important question of all, who’s making coffee!?

Like people, each of these local bodies of Believers has a personality. Some churches are very formal in their organization, others more free. Some are focused in their mission and methods while others try everything under the sun. None of these organizational expressions is Biblically superior to the other. The Bible gives remarkably few details about the day-to-day operations of the local church. However, the Bible speaks clearly about how Believers are to relate to one another and to people outside their fellowship. It’s almost like Scripture tells us, “How you do what you do is more important than the structures you use to do it.”

The reason churches, and people, fall into religion is because we value our structures and systems, our own opinions, more than our relationships. We choose to walk in self righteousness rather than risk getting too deeply involved in the glorious mess that is people. We ignore the Scriptures that command us to relate to one another in a spirit of mutual submission out of mutual respect. We forget the language of repentance and forgiveness with one another and refuse to recognize the one truth that  ties us all together – we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Anytime people get together mistakes will be made. People will fail. It’s not a question of, ‘if’, but ‘when’, and how bad it will be. How we handle those moments defines the difference between dead religion and a living relationship with Christ and one another.

Religion – or the church – are easy targets. We blame the nameless, faceless, ‘they’ and ‘them’ for all the reasons why we don’t participate with other Believers. When will we recognize that the church is not ‘they’.

The church is me, with you, learning how we can honor God together.

Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

The Fleas of a Thousand Camels

Page Cole

Page Cole’s Theory of Life #1 states, “People are stupid.”

It doesn’t take a Harvard study to prove his theory true. Turn on the TV, take a look at Twitter. We’re not always stupid. Sometimes, in moments of clarity, we demonstrate Page Cole’s Theory of Life #2, “People are weird.” My grandmother used to say, “Everyone’s weird but me and thee…and I’m getting worried about thee.”

Which leads to Page Cole’s Theory of Life #3, “Always remember, I are people.”

It’s true, people can be frustrating. I once knew a pastor’s wife who said, “This ministry thing would be easy if it weren’t for all these stinking people!” We’re people. We’re messy. We’re prone to make mistakes. Mistakes that make other people want to curse. My grandfather had a favorite, “May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits.”

That sounds wholly unpleasant – but from my experience, often well deserved.

Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen the stall is clean, but strength comes by many oxen.”

Or said another way, “Where there are no relationships you don’t have to shovel the mess people make, but strength comes by many relationships.”

Cole’s Theory of Life #3 is an important one. We’re all prone to moments of stupidity. Some people think I’m weird because I dip Braum’s french fries in my chocolate chip malt. Whatever the case, Proverbs 14:4 rings true. Without friends or family, coworkers, or the random strangers you meet at the super market, the stall is clean. But where’s the fun in that? Strength comes by many relationships.

Every relationship requires a little shoveling from time to time. Let’s get good at confessing when we’re wrong and forgiving when we’ve been wronged. Let’s value our relationships more than our own opinion. Scripture teaches the idea of mutual submission out of mutual respect. Love one another. Serve one another. Be patient. Be kind. Correct with humility and gentleness looking for the plank in your own eye before trying to deal with the speck in someone else’s.

Pick up a shovel, make the most of this glorious mess, and find strength.