Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Once a Bronco fan, always...?

I suffer from PTSD, Post Traumatic Super-Bowl Disaster. You see, I am a Denver Bronco fan, and in case you've never noticed or were born after the turn of the current century, the football team from Colorado has lost more Super Bowls than any other team in the 50-year history of the event, many of them among the most lopsided, blow-out NFL games ever played, championship or not. Five times the Orange Crush has been a giant fizzle in the big one. Yes, they finally won back-to-back in the last campaign of Big Bad John, but by then the damage was done.

 I was born in Denver way back before the Broncos were conceived in 1960 as one of the rag-tag members of the upstart American Football League. It wasn't the NFL, mind you, but it was Denver's first major league team in any sport. The new team of wannabe professional football players, behind former NFL quarterback Frank Tripuka, practiced in Golden, my home home, and each summer we would ride our bikes to the School of Mines field to watch. In the years before the eventual merger bringing the new league into its rival NFL, the Broncos compiled the worst record in the league and was the only original team never to play in the league championship. Even after the merger it took another ten years for Denver to post a winning record.

Then came 1977 and Denver's first division championship, league championship and trip to Super Bowl XII against perennial powerhouse the Dallas Cowboys. Coming off two emotional hard-fought victories over Pittsburgh and Oakland to represent the AFC, the Broncos were humiliated by Dallas 27-10 in a game which was much more decisive than the score. The city that had become so accustomed to losing now boasted some of the loudest and most football-crazy fans in the league and the team's first loss was a serious blow to The Broncomaniacs, including me. But the Broncos were no longer the doormat of the AFC and they would come thundering back.

But it took nine years and the acquisition of eventual Hall-of-Famer John Elway to get back, this time being crushed by the New York Giants 39-20, the game over by halftime. The following year the Broncos stampeded through the AFC again, only to be blown out by the Washington Redskins 42-10. What made this game most memorable, and shocking for Bronco fans, was that they led 10-0 going into the second quarter. The score at halftime was 35-10, Redskins. Then after being knocked out of the playoffs the next year, Elway drove the Ponies back to Super Bowl XXIV, only to limp away from the most one-sided shellacking ever given, losing to the 49ers 55-10. Four Super Bowls, four blow-outs.

By the time Denver returned to the Big One twenty years after its first appearance, most Bronco fans just hoped Denver wouldn't become the only team in history to lose five Super Bowls. (That would come soon enough.) Or fans just hoped the team wouldn't embarrass themselves and the fans again. There was very little chance of beating returning champions, the Green Bay Packers anyway.

I watched that game in silence in my little mountain cabin, tucked inside a snowy little town 45 miles west of the Mile High City. I paced back and forth, the spread of food and drink before me untouched. First quarter, halftime, third quarter. The Broncos were not being humiliated. I turned off the TV commentators and began to listen to radio announcers Dave Logan and Scott Hastings as the fourth quarter began. Dramatic John Elway drive and comeback. Score. Kickoff. "The Broncos are going to win this thing!" No one in Colorado remembers the next seven days. And yeah, the Broncos won again the following year in Elway's final season, but it was a forgettable game except that it was Elway's last and few expected it would take fifteen wilderness years of post-Elway football to get back.

There were some good runs along the way, but the quest to replace Elway would not be realized until Elway himself was resurrected as general manager and brought in legendary Peyton Manning to lead the team. After Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, Manning brought leadership and still had enough gunslinger capability to take the team back to the dance. Most people had forgotten the past, remembering only the two big wins. Not me. I remembered. I was there for the first four. So when Manning fumbled on the first play against Seattle a few years back, I paced and watched, stunned again by PTSD and I stared at the big screen as my Denver Broncos became the first team in history to lose five Super Bowls and became the first team to be blown out five times. It's not easy being a Bronco fan.

So here they are again, playing in Super Bowl 50. (No one knows what Super Bowl L would mean.) But speaking of Rome, the apostle Paul said "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Or something like that. [OK, it wasn't Paul and it wasn't in the Bible, but you get the idea.] We now live near Charlotte, home of the Panthers who are representing the NFC against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. I've watched the Panthers enjoy an excellent year as they enter only their second Super Bowl. It's my dream matchup. Broncos vs. Panthers. I don't feel like I can lose because I'll be happy if either team wins. I don't have to be a loser again. I can't be embarrassed. I really don't care who wins but for both players and fans, I hope it's not a blowout. I hope it comes down to a fourth quarter comeback with the Sheriff driving against the Panthers, with the crowd yelling L-U-U-U-K-E and with the Jumbotron showing shots of a little kid clutching a touchdown ball. Does this mean I'm no longer a diehard Bronco fan? I don't think so!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Psalm 91, Angels and Motor Scooters

A week ago with one of my daughters on the back of my motor scooter, I passed out and crashed in a nearby neighborhood. My Facebook post the next morning summarized the event and received a large number of "likes" and comments: Had a "touched by an angel" experience yesterday. As I write this from my hospital, I marvel how blessed I am. Lost consciousness on my scooter with LiLi on the back and crashed. I believe an angel must have provided both of us a landing into a soft green lawn instead of trees, oncoming traffic or down a ravine, any of which might have met us on our short ride home after breakfast. LiLi was a trooper calling for help and remaining courageous. Being worked up for a pacemaker but thanking The Lord today on His day.

After four nights in the hospital and being fitted with a defibrillator, I am home reflecting again about this latest miracle or visitation by an angel. Some might think I'm being too dramatic with this description, but this isn't the first time my life has been spared, and I think the answer can be found in Psalm 91.

Ah, Psalm 91. Back in early January 2008 recovering from a ruptured appendicitis in the hospital, I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest which lasted 12 minutes receiving seven sets of shocks and continuous CPR. In hospital language, I was "circling the drain." A major heart attack had also occurred and my wife called in all of our praying friends. On the following day while I remained in critical condition, an old pastor friend visited me, praying boldly and confidently the words of Psalm 91. After two days of unconsciousness, I heard his voice and recognized his presence and reached my hand up to take hold of his. From that moment all who were following my case sensed I had turned the corner and within a week, I left the hospital with my third stent and damaged heart in tow. But I was alive and according to my friend, he had prayed to "raise the dead" and didn't know until the moment he left my side that I would survive. But the psalm he prayed not only suggested that I would, it just about predicted it.

So what does the psalm say?
Psalm 91:11-12, 15-16 NIV
[11] For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; [12] they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

[15] He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.

Fast forward six and a half years. I had been fighting the idea of a defibrillator even though its main purpose is to prevent another sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrests are always accompanied by loss of consciousness. So this Saturday morning the angels of Psalm 91 were not finished. I remember saying to LiLi that I needed to pull over and the next thing I remember is waking on the soft green lawn. I had driven the scooter about 50 yards after passing out, across a lane of traffic up a curb that just happened to be one of those gentle types that wouldn't throw us over the handlebars. As the scooter slowed to a stop both of us fell off into the grass, neither of us injured from the crash. (You will not strike your foot against a stone.) As I lay in the grass for another few minutes or so LiLi summoned for help at the top of her lungs and stayed by my side until I came back. The rest is a blur of 911 calls, police and fire personnel arriving and a trip to the ER. One of the men from my group at church texted to say he was praying Psalm 91 over me.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


The death of Robin Williams has ushered in an avalanche of commentary, both positive and negative. One blogger, Matt Walsh, received a torrent of negative criticism for his conclusion that suicide is ALWAYS bad and that many are unwittingly condoning it for those with severe depression by glorifying and memorializing the actor. http://themattwalshblog.com/

I'm not here to join that discussion one way or another, but I will give you one real-life experience with suicide and then pose another question, Was Jesus suffering with depression? What if he had chosen to fall on Peter's sword?

When I was 12 and entering 7th grade, I joined the choir, taught by an energetic and charismatic young teacher named Pat Ryan. It did not take long for many of us to find out this man was not the typical junior high school teacher. He actually liked us, goofed around with us, but more importantly, taught us about the mysterious and beautiful world of music, from pipe organs to the newest fad, Switched-on Bach. We hung out at his house, his wife and kids becoming an extension to our ever-growing "family." He was the dad many of us had hoped for but had never had. He was the big brother who could mess with us but would call us out when we went over the line, which was quite often as I recall.

When as a group we all moved on to 10th grade and high school, Mr. Ryan graduated with us, leaving junior high behind and taking on the challenge of the high school choral department. Nothing changed in our friendship and there were a handful of us guys in the inner circle. We could tell him anything and everything. There were no secrets. And we repaid his confidentiality with our loyalty and hard work. By the summer of my junior year the select group of the choir was heading for a trip of a lifetime to perform at the New York World's Fair. I could fill a memoir on that experience and someday I might, but suffice it to say, that trip, and all that led up to it, would never be forgotten by any of us who went.

When we graduated from high school and headed off to college, Mr. Ryan matriculated right along beside us as a graduate student. From learning about pipe organs to learning about pot pipes. Again, another memoir. As I prepared to graduate, it was easy for me to pick a career. I would become a teacher just like Mr. Ryan. I would dedicate my life to my students just the way he had. He was my idol and he was my friend.

So some years later as a teacher myself, I learned from a colleague that Mr. Ryan had just the night before driven from the high school to a vacant lot behind the school and had proceeded to extend a hose from the exhaust pipe of his car into the passenger compartment where his body was found following his wife's frantic nightmarish search. Mr. Ryan, Pat as we called him by now, had committed suicide.

In the weeks that followed, rumors circulated, a memorial was held, family and friends gathered, and hundreds of his former students mourned. Some of us died a little on the inside too.

You might think it had no bearing, but I only taught one year after that. That musical group I had started? It just didn't matter that much anymore and it ceased not long after. Every memory I ever had, every lesson I had ever learned, every soft secret ever spoken was punctuated by the finality that Mr. Ryan had killed himself. It changed things...forever...and I will have to agree with Matt Walsh that NO GOOD THING comes from suicide. Not one...not ever. You can't convince me otherwise, so when I see so many well-intentioned people trying to put a positive spin on Robin Williams' suicide, I just don't think it will be possible, at least for me. It changes the way I remember him. It changes things.

Another claim that really seemed to tick off Matt Walsh's readers was that suicide is a choice, that it's ALWAYS a choice. And to him it's a VERY BAD choice. That got me wondering. Was Jesus depressed? Did Jesus also have a choice? What if Jesus had chosen to fall on Peter's sword instead of enduring the cross? That night in the garden. Remember what he said? "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death." He asked for his Father to take "this cup" from him but in the end he would not assert his own will over that of his Father's. He chose death but of a very different kind.

So suicide, death at one's own hand, is a very bad thing. Sacrifice, by the hand of the Father, is a very good thing. They both change things forever.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How the Church is not a Business

In the early days of Christianity, the church was described as an organism, not an organization. She was a living being dependent on each part, each foot, each vessel working together, all reliant on the Head, described as Christ Himself. She was the Bride, being adorned and prepared for her Husband, the Lord Himself. The church was alive in that infancy, fragile, needing protection and constant feeding, vulnerable--a baby. Somehow, over time, "she" became an "it."  What was born an organism, engaged, dynamic and personal, evolved into an organization, detached, institutional and impersonal.

Church in America now embraces elements of the business model in an effort to run like a modern machine, almost devoid of the distinctive organic qualities of the first century church.

It's business as usual. From the mega-church, super-pastor model to the small congregation struggling to stay alive, you see efforts to adopt effective business models and practices, calls for restructuring to align with the current culture and strategies to accept inevitable change.

Churches are as commercial as burger joints. Don’t agree with the leadership in a particular church, walk with your feet down the street until you find a style and comfort level more to your liking. Submit to that leadership? Only if and when you agree with them. And if you don’t like their decisions, just tool on down the road. After all, you're not going to expect McDonalds to cook it your way.

But we ask similar things from churches all the time.  When the preaching doesn’t please us, the music is not what you hear on the radio and the kids’ programs bore our little ones to death, if complaining doesn’t work, we bolt. We walk with our feet.

In the American church we also vote with our pocket books. Preaching not quite up to par, I’ll just cut back my church support. Perhaps I’ll support some para-church organization instead. Better yet, I’ll use my tithe for the K-Love Cruise through the Mediterranean and the Holy Lands. And it’s probably tax deductible too.

On one hand church is a business, a charity regulated by state and federal laws. If the church doesn’t operate by effective business principles, it will fail to exist. Like the GEICO commercial, we know that.

Yet the church is also definitely not a business. She is organic and she is us, living breathing human members of one body, where the head is Christ. Leaders pray before they plan and even listen for the most unlikely of voices. Churches should not operate according to the loudest and most persistent voices but rather wait for the still, soft voice that follows prayer. We wait to hear from our Head. That’s because the church is only part human: her life is spirit, her protectors are angelic and her leaders are called and chosen by God himself. Sometimes she is very inefficient.

Scripture gives us all the principles we need to run an effective organization in this or any culture, in this or any generation or in this or any century. Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Study to show yourselves approved.  Resist the god of this world and his economic system and he will flee from you.

Can we really trust the Word of God more than we believe the latest business trends and buzz words? I think we should.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Down Syndrome Day

It's been quite a while since I've thought of that first day in 1976, when I learned what Down syndrome was for sure, the day the pediatrician at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver murmured the words "mongoloid" and "consider an institution" all in one sentence. My third child had just been born six weeks prematurely and all I wanted to do was thank God for this creature who was fearfully and wonderfully made, regardless of the labels or warnings about life ahead.

And that's what I did. I put on scrubs, mask, gloves, cap and footsies and entered the neonatal intensive care unit to meet Hannah, to slip my hand into the incubator where this scrawny, 3-lbs, 12 oz. infant grabbed hold of my pinky with all her might as if to say, "Nice to meet you, Dad!" At that moment, regardless of her condition, I knew God had not made a mistake. She was exactly who she was created to be.

And that's the way I learned about Down syndrome, from a loving daughter who to this day has never met a stranger, who has always "loved her neighbor," and who now, despite the miles between us, has never let go of my finger or my heart.

Happy World Down Syndrome Day, Hannah!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Mormons Are Coming, The Mormons are Coming

There they were—Mormon missionaries—heading toward my neighborhood, two clean-cut young men in their late teens or early 20s pedaling their bicycles two-by-two, white shirts and ties. I feel the dread of “Oh, I don’t want to have to mess with these guys today.” As I turn down my street leaving them in my rear-view mirror, I quickly forget about those two strangers on loan to God for a 2-year stint as ambassadors for Jesus Christ of the Ladder Day Saints, away from friends and family, school and home church, defending their faith and reaching out for converts door-to-door and drive-way to drive-way across western North Carolina and northern South Carolina. No, I don’t know all this background yet, not yet.

A few minutes later, safely at home, car in the driveway, I venture out to give our little shih tzu a short walk. Just as I leave the front door of our house, I spy them, walking just across the street turning up toward one of the houses on the opposite side. Seeing my chance, I quickly engage the dog into a trot heading away from the pair as quickly as possible. I turn right across a tiny park and into the woods along a hiking trail safely out of distance and sight of the dynamic duo. But even as I’m turning into the woods to avoid them, God sends his word to me: tell them they are not preaching the same Jesus that Paul preached. OK, Lord, I think, when I get the chance, that’s what I’ll do, but not today, right? I’m headed into the woods right now for a little doggy walk. But that’s a great idea. I’ll have to use that next time.

It only takes Mushu a short time to do his business and his tiny little legs take about 20 steps for each one of mine so about ten minutes later we’re behind my house on the hiking trail and I realize I can get safely into the house through the back yard without speaking to the Mormons. Inside the house, I again forget about them entirely and am off to do the next thing on my unwritten list of random household activities. Upon entering the garage to do exactly what I don’t recall, I spy a plastic ice cream container used to catch the overflow dripping from the hot water heater and its contents have turned putrid and stinky. I open the garage door and head out to dump the yucky contents in the bushes when I look straight-forward into the approaching smiles and direct eye contact of the two diligent disciples.

Now I’m sure they didn’t notice but I’m smiling on the inside, nodding my head as I look up into the air briefly to say, OK, God. You’re funny. I’m not getting out of this, am I? For a brief moment, I realize I could just look at them, throw the water away and walk back into the garage. They would be used to that. People ignore them all the time, especially men who just got home around dinnertime.

“So what are you up to this lovely afternoon?” one of them asks. I’m still thinking about feigning deafness or Alzheimer’s. “Well, I’m dumping this gunk that I’m afraid may have been contaminated by the exterminator. It smells really bad, see?”

“Yes, it does!” the other clean-cut college kid says. “We’re here as ambassadors in the name of Jesus Christ.” They both have very professional-looking name tags with the title Elder Brian or Robert Something-or-other of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints.

“You know,” I start, “I lead a men’s Bible study at my church, and I wonder if you are familiar with one of the Apostle Paul’s warnings that if someone comes preaching another Jesus than the one Paul preached, or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit, or a different gospel than the one Paul preached…” Now I start to stutter a little because the verse ends, “Let them be accursed!” At least that’s the way King James has it and I’m thinking, maybe that’s a little too harsh as an opening salvo. So I say, “I probably shouldn’t have anything to do with them. I don’t think your Jesus is my Jesus.”

We talk on for more than a half an hour. I’m enjoying it. I’m thinking what great young men these are. So committed. Why was I trying so hard to avoid them? Jesus would not avoid them. He would love them. He would not cast the first stone. I think he might even weep for them because as sincere and self-assured as they were, they did not know Him, nor did they know their gospel was a different one, one full of promises but missing the Promise.

After the theological jousting had gone back and forth with no clear victor in the mind of the other, I wish my visitors a good evening and they move on down the street. But I pray for them later that night and wonder if I had left an impression on them as they had on me.  And I thanked God that He made me show up for the battle whether I wanted to or not.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Reason for the Season

So, it’s not an original thought to say the “reason for the season” is often an afterthought at Christmas (if we can even use that word at all). But witness the way people actually crave to ponder the meaning of the holidays (e.g. holy days) as in the most recent mob flash video (in California of all places) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnt7euRF5Pg). It’s as if the Spirit within yearns to slow down, to find enough quiet to worship the newborn king. To rediscover the Son.

For those of you who have read this blog before, you know that I struggle with prayer, and I struggle with prayer because I struggle with life itself. My prayer too often reflects my inner turmoil instead of the peace it longs to release.

So you also know I have been broken by the difficult relationship with my only son. I just want you to know this: I have rediscovered my son. I cannot explain it other than it’s the answer to my anguished call. There have been no icebreaking moments, at least not that I can identify, but he is allowing me back into his life and it just feels so good. His heart has softened and I am so thankful.

The other day he texted me with a photo of a storm front moving in over the Front Range of the Rockies. It felt so good. We were back to talking about the weather.

I also heard through God’s wonderfully mysterious grapevine that Philip Yancey will be speaking this weekend at a church in Newtown, Connecticut. The one who wrote the book on prayer is seeking our prayers as he tries to find the words that might bring comfort or reason to the insanity and immense sorrow of recent events there. Please join him.