Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Watching Games or Watching Dad?

17 Sep
Gary and his son, Luke, getting their game faces on at the OSU game.

Gary and his son, Luke, getting their game faces on at the OSU game.

Last week, we had the privilege of taking our kids to the Ohio State football game.  We had previously bought two tickets for me and Luke, and then a friend wound up sharing three more tickets with us so Jennie and the girls could go as well!  We’re grateful!

There’s something incredible about being in a stadium with 107,000 people who are rooting for the same team, the same goal, and the same result.

For about four hours, though, my focus was on just one of those 107K.

I enjoyed sitting with Luke.  We had some incredible fan experiences, like getting to high-five the players as they ran out to warm up.  Like getting J.T. Barrett’s autograph.  Like getting our picture taking with all-conference linebacker Joshua Perry.  The whole day was full of fun memories for two guys that love sports.

But for me as a father – and for Luke as a son – it was so much more.  We made memories together.  We had great conversations.  We had a great time talking about the game and about the players.  And, throughout all of these conversations, I’m thinking “dad thoughts.”

Things like, “encourage your son.”  “Listen to him.”  “Point out things we both can learn from the people we’re watching.”  “Talk about how grateful you are to get time with him.”  “Pray for the player who got injured.”

Football is not just our common interest, it becomes a common context to talk about life issues.  Like why a player got suspended.  Like how much money is involved in big games like this.  Like how hard these players have worked to get here.  Like what do former players do.  Like how God feels about every single one of these 107,000 people.

You mean, there’s more to life than football?  🙂

So, while we Dads can enjoy sporting events with our kids, we’ve got to focus on the greater challenge and opportunity to invest in our sons and our daughters.  For me, going to game is never just about going to the game.  It is just one more opportunity to prepare our children for the game of life.

As much as our kids enjoy watching Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones, or anyone else for that matter… they are watching their Dads and Moms so much more!


When Everything Changed

15 Sep

TCE_LogoWhen Everything Changed.  Can you remember the life-changing moments or decisions in your life?  Were there any “before and after” moments when you knew that life would never be the same?

1990 changed everything for this guy.  When I saw my face on that State of Ohio Driver’s License, it was on.

1996 changed everything as well.  Recently graduated from Grace College, I remember the feeling of getting my first actual full-time paycheck, and there was an immediate rush to the bank.  And soon the reality of paying my own bills.

2000 changed everything in all the right ways.  Saying “I Do” to the most incredible woman I’ve ever met, grateful to God and His timing in my life.  From lost in my singleness to found and blessed in the grace of marriage to Jennie, my best friend and love for life.

2004 changed everything and still does.  Allison was born with all sorts of tears, burps, and diaper noises – changing our Underwood lives and every moment since.  Then Luke in 2005 with the introduction of man to man defense.  And Julie sending us into zone coverage in 2008.

2012 changed everything in little ways, when our family welcomed that helpless little puppy, Rocky.

But this Sunday, I can’t wait to share the kind of “game changer forever” things that God has brought into my life and millions of others.  God is passionately in love with us, pursuing us, saving us, and raising us.



They lost… again?!

24 Sep
Even the Browns' best play on Sunday was called back because of a careless offensive penalty.

Even the Browns’ best play on Sunday was called back because of a careless offensive penalty.

Nobody likes to lose.  Have you heard anyone say, “Man, I just can’t wait to lose the next game!  Crush me!”   Nobody ever says that.

But I grew up in Northeast Ohio, where the Cleveland Browns are still our only professional football team.  For more than twenty years, the team has brought disappointment and heartache to sports fans all over the state.   It’s no surprise at all that their stadium is affectionately called a “Factory of Sadness.”

This season, the Browns announced that things would be different.  The billionaire team owner, Jimmy Haslam, appointed a new general manager and a new head coach.  He insisted that the Browns draft a new franchise-leading quarterback – Johnny Manziel – one of the most famous college players of all-time!  The Browns invested millions in stadium upgrades and enormous screens and amenities for their ever-faithful fans.

But when the season started, one of their officials said, “None of these changes matter if we can’t start winning some games.”

And, though they have played tough and competitive, the Browns are 1-2 to start the season.  One win, two losses.  Sunday’s loss against Baltimore (the “old Browns”) came in the final seconds, as the Ravens kicked a field goal to win it.

Use all the cliches you want… “they played hard…” “they deserved to win…” “they looked good…” “they… ”

They lost.  End of story.

Losing can hurt – whether it’s your hometown sports team, your daughter’s soccer team, or your family’s UNO game.

Nobody likes to lose.

But… losing is a part of life.  Losses are often out of our control.  Losing implies that you hopefully tried to win and gives you the chance to improve and do better next time.  Losing might make us feel like quitting – and I’ve thought of rooting for a different team – believe me, it is hard to be a Browns fan!

In the end, it’s not the losing that defines us.  It’s how we cope with loss.  How we respond.  How we stay and commit and learn from our losses.  I hope the Browns get better, and I think they’ll beat the Steelers on October 12.   But there’s really nothing much I can do about it.

As one of my favorite writers – Terry Pluto – says regularly – “Don’t let the millionaires ruin your day.”

I think that’s good advice when it comes to any competition and any loss…. don’t let it ruin your day.


Friday and the YMCA…

06 Apr

I’m glad Delaware has a YMCA.  I remember when our family moved here in 2004.  I said it about four times a month – “the only thing I’d change about Delaware, besides moving all of our friends here, would be to give it a YMCA.”

You see, I loved working out at the Warsaw/Winona Lake (Indiana) YMCA when I was at Grace Seminary in the late 1990’s.

You see, I loved working out at the Benton Harbor/St. Joe (Michigan) YMCA when I was a youth pastor in Southwest Michigan in 1996-97.

You see, I loved working out at the Green YMCA when I was at The Chapel back in the day.

I also enjoy starting sentences with “You see,” you see?

Hey, I even worked at the Milwaukee Metro YMCA in 2000 when Jennie and I were first married and living in Milwaukee off of the infamous Brown Deer avenue.  As if Deer came in other colors!

Now that Delaware has a YMCA, I’m down.   Thanks to Paul Weber for directing more than one YMCA but giving a lot of time and energy to this community right here.  Thanks to people like Jeremy Byers and Roger Hanafin, who oversee huge programs and community initiatives to help us all get healthy and make more out of our lives.  Thanks to Kathleen Maynard and everyone else there who loves working with kids.

I’m glad we have a YMCA, that’s all I’m saying.  In fact, in March, I was there more than ever, pushing into the “Body of Iron” challenge.  I had to run 26.2 miles, bike 112 miles, and swim 2.5 miles – over the course of the entire month.  It wasn’t hard, but it did push me to get back at the routines and discover my love for running.

I love to run.  Shut out the world.  Turn on the iPod jams.  Push myself.  Think.  Sing.  Pray.  Work it out.

Yes, it’s Friday, and it’s time to go to the YMCA.  Glad we have one here!


Thoughts on Muscle Memory

23 Aug

I never looked this good shooting a basketball, but I’ve enjoyed doing it!

I don’t know the technical words for it all, but I’m still going to blog about it.

Earlier today, I picked up a basketball, and it felt like home.

It felt like a member of the family I hadn’t seen in a while.

I used to shoot baskets in the driveway as a kid.  All evening.  Till dogs barked and neighbors complained.

I suppose I was training my muscles and body how to shoot.

Making a jumpshot felt wonderful and made me want to keep shooting.

Missing one… just made me want to improve and learn better form and keep shooting.

So today, I picked up a basketball for the first time in at least a month…

and somehow, my muscles remembered everything… My legs remembered how to lift and be the strength of the shot.  My shoulders remembered how high to raise up.  My arms (triceps, what I have left) remembered how hard to push from that specific distance away from the hoop.  My wrist (not a muscle) remembered how to flex and push the ball forward.  My fingers remembered how to spin the ball for good rotation.

Somehow, muscle memory kicked in, and I made four three pointers in a row.  Granted, it doesn’t always click like that…

But it felt good.  In the past, I had trained my body how to shoot a basketball… and though I’m nowhere near the physical specimen I’d like to be, the muscles remembered the things they had “learned” so long ago… and the things they had “practiced” so many times since.

So, for a few fleeting moments today, I felt a sense of familiarity, joy, and accomplishment while shooting hoops.

It made me wonder what other things I should be practicing.  What skills or priorities must I train my mind, heart, and body to do?  What endeavors are so crucial, so essential, so rewarding that I should be training my brain, mind, and heart to learn how to do these with the same comfort, confidence, and coordination one could build towards handling a leather ball.

Any ideas on something you should be practicing to the point of routine, disciplining your body and life to be habitual, smooth, and effective doing?

What if I felt as comfortable talking with people about Jesus… sharing with those who are far from God about the thrill and rewards of knowing God personally and walking with Him each day?  What if you practiced telling your life’s story and naturally engaging people in deeper conversations about those things that are most important to talk about – like God, faith, family, and suffering?

Perhaps the soul and mind deserve the same training as our bodies, and perhaps we would see God do unbelievable things in our lives if we were only willing to “train ourselves to be Godly (like God)” (2 Timothy 4:7).

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“Faith and Football… Tressel and Tebow”

20 Dec

Does God care who wins a football game?  Should pro athletes proclaim their faith to the world?  How should a follower of Jesus express appreciation for sports stars?

I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  You could also call me a football fan.

I love the Bible and I love the Church.  You could also catch me watching a game and talking about strategy, playcalling, and the depth chart.

So when somehow, faith and football collide, it’s fascinating to me.  Christians in America feel excitement and admiration when a well-known athlete speaks positively about God.

Just look at the shelves of a Christian bookstore, where you’ll find books by football coaches (Joe Gibbs, Tony Dungy, Gene Chizik, and yes, Tress).  You’ll find books by current and former NFL players from all over the country (Shaun Alexander, Colt McCoy, Drew Brees, and yes, Tebow).

Should football heroes somehow double as spiritual leaders?  Are their lives worth following and observing off the field?  Should we read their books?

With Tim Tebow, we seem to have a young man with a faith and maturity beyond his years.  In 2011, the term “Tebowing” came to describe the act of bowing, praying, and showing loyalty to God in Heaven.  Tim’s faith in God seems to give strength and purpose to everything he does and says.  Though His clearly-professed love for Jesus Christ is criticized everywhere from SportsCenter to water coolers across America, He seems content to praise God regardless.

Tebow has clearly said he doesn’t believe God cares or decides the outcome of a football game.  But God clearly inspires this tough, unrefined quarterback to keep playing hard, always believe you can win, and pump up your teammates!

When Christians speak out about faith and attempt to live for God in the midst of public scrutiny, we should pray for strength and protection and perseverance.  You can root for Tebow to lead another game-winning comeback, but let’s also pray for God to use Tim’s life to inspire others.  Tebow’s pedestal is temporary, but Christ’s is forever.

With Jim Tressel, we have one of the most outspoken Christian coaches in recent memory.  But in 2011, Ohio State’s beloved Coach Tressel was indeed revealed as a less-than-perfect leader.  Yes, Ohio, even Jim Tressel has sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Though he had given speeches and written books on faith and integrity, Coach Tressel made costly mistakes that hurt Ohio State and cost him his job.

Since the scandal, critics of Ohio State and of Christianity were quick to bash Tressel’s testimony or mock his life lessons and write them off as self-righteous propaganda.

I don’t remember Coach Tressel ever making a heart-felt apology or explanation about falling short and making mistakes and asking forgiveness.   Once a model for Christian loyalty and integrity, Coach Tressel could one day be a model of repentance, forgiveness, and dependence on God’s mercy.

I hope we haven’t seen the last of Coach Tressel, nor heard the last about God’s work in His life.  Coach said a lot of things about persevering through life’s trials, and he has the chance to experience that.  Tressel’s pedestal was temporary, but Christ’s is forever.

As we close the books on 2011, Christian sports fans will never forget what we’ve seen from Jim Tressel and Tim Tebow.  Two men who were not ashamed to give voice to their Christian beliefs.

For a time, though not being perfect, these men acknowledged that only Jesus Christ deserved the spotlight.  Sports figures (or any other human beings) are only worth following or imitating so long as they say, with the Apostle Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Tressel will always be remembered as a great coach who loved Ohio State.   Tebow may one day be remembered as the underdog who led his team to greatness.

Football is great fun, and quite an escape from our daily stresses.  Root for your favorite team or player, but don’t expect perfection.  Don’t put men on any pedestal.  Don’t think Tebow is as great as some say, nor Tress as bad as some say.  We all desperately need and depend on Jesus Christ as our forgiver, our leader, and our Savior.   Look at Him.  Read about His life.  Start acting like Him.  Praise Him.  Talk about Him more.  He’s our Hero.


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Soccer Dad

07 Sep

Yep, I’m a soccer Dad.  Luke (age 5) is entering his second “season” of soccer this week.  Big debut later this week.

And somehow, I got the chance to be a “co-coach.”

Should be fun, except for two minor details:

(1) I never played organized soccer.  Well, unless you count gym class in 4th grade.

(2) I don’t really even like soccer.

Then again, I didn’t like horseradish until a few years ago.  Plus, if you can change, and Rocky Balboa can change, I guess anybody can change.

So I’m a “co-coach/Dad” on the Bishops.  Where it’s not about advanced soccer strategy, it’s about learning how to kick the ball.  It’s not about trying to be the next David Beckham or even the next David Ward – it’s about having fun out there on the field.  It’s not about shouting “GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL” every time you score and rubbing it in the other team’s faces – it’s about the excitement on my son’s face when I yell “water break” or “snack time.”

It’s about being a kid and enjoying all of it.

Somehow, it’s even more about being a Daddy and loving my boy.


What Should I Do?

02 Dec

Lebron James announced his “Decision” on July 8, 2010.

Tonight, Lebron James returns to Cleveland.  His new team, the Miami Heat, will play against the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Apparently, the eyes of the sports world are all on Cleveland tonight.

Even though it’s “just sports,” I’ve been a sports fan all my life.  A Cleveland sports fan.  I grew up in Akron and watched (from a distance) as Lebron also was raised in Akron.  I’m one of those Northeast Ohio fans who loved watching him play and hoped he would bring an all-too-impossible sports championship to Cleveland.  I took my wife to watch one of Lebron’s last home games this past April.  I blogged about how sweet it was to see a kid from my hometown grow up and make it big in pro basketball.

So yeah, I was disappointed that Lebron chose to leave Cleveland.  But Cleveland fans are used to it.  It’s not big news to see an all-star leave for brighter lights or greener pastures.

The frustration stems from how he left.  How he and his marketing buddies teamed-up with ESPN to broadcast a one-hour spectacle to announce his decision.  How he never really thanked the fans, teammates, and organization that helped him mature into an MVP.  How he’s used the media and his own Twitter account to needlessly rip people from Northeast Ohio for the last six months.

And here we are… It’s December 2, 2010, and Lebron returns.  On national television.  In front of international media.  Facing an arena full of broken-hearted, betrayed, passionate fans.

To be honest, Lebron’s “Decision” has challenged me to make some of my own decisions over the last six months.   I suppose it’s my own version of “What Should I Do?”  Here’s a brief list…

(1) Keep sports in it’s proper place.  It’s for fun.  Not worthy of excessive time, money, or emotion in any of our lives – no matter who is playing.  If it truly is a hobby or an outlet, then I want to keep it that way.  Some people are really passionate and emotional about their hobbies, and that’s great.  But it takes maturity to control our passions.

(2) Remember that you don’t really know these people.  Just because someone looks like a fun person, a role model, or a good character on television, doesn’t mean that they are worth our time, imitation, or cheers.  Who really knows what Lebron is like as a person?  And how much should it matter?

(3) Choose your role models wisely.  Celebrities are adored because they are on television.  Maybe there’s a better way to choose our role models.  At times, I’ve spent more time learning about sports figures than about people who I actually know, who I actually “do life” with.

(4) Don’t live vicariously through your sports teams – Being a Cleveland fan has taught me (over and over) that winning isn’t everything.  Sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true.  Winning is not everything.  For me, “everything” has more to do with loving my wife and investing in my kids and following God in all things.  When a sports team loses, that should feel bad for about 18 seconds, and then I get back to real life.

(5) Our sports heroes don’t care about us – For as much “love” as Lebron (and other pro athletes) shows to the fans, it can be traced back to ambition and greed.  I love hearing about pro athletes that visit hospitals and help needy families.  But when they hold out for that extra $3 million per year, it feels sour.  They are fun to watch, but they are trying to sell a product.

I get that – it’s their job, and we shouldn’t criticize them for making money.  But Cleveland fans (and other fans) tend to believe it’s something more —  That they love the fans or their town or their… nope.  Lebron was never “one of us.”  Farve never loved Green Bay.  It’s their job to play sports and make money and act the part of local hero – it sells tickets!   But it’s rarely a real expression of who they are.

So tonight, Lebron returns to Cleveland.

I wish he had stayed with the Cavs.  He didn’t.

I miss the Lebron I thought I knew, the one we thought we knew or believed in.  We’ll get over it.

It’s time to live in the reality of December 2010.

What should I do?

Maybe I’ll watch the game, and maybe I won’t.

I’ll root for the Cavs, who are still my favorite team.  I hope the fans of Cleveland act with decency and class.  I’ll enjoy talking with people about sports in person or online.

I’ll keep sports in it’s rightful place, because it’s not my priority, not my job, not my passion, and not my calling in life.  Not even close.


Why the blog?

17 Feb

A lot of people write blogs.

Pastors.  Sports fans.  Fathers.  Friends.  Tourists.  Techies.  Extroverts. Missionaries.

In some ways, I’m a bit of all of those.

In 2003, I started a blog to post pics of our family and keep in touch with friends.  In 2004, I wrote a blog about faith and ministry and such.  In 2007 and 2009, I started blogs for missions trips (short-term) in Argentina and in the Central African Republic.

I know some pastors who are doing a great job of encouraging, teaching, and connecting with people through their blogs.  Love that idea.  In fact, I found a pretty thoughtful article about “5 Reasons Why Pastors should Blog,” and agree with some of the thoughts and potential shared there.

At times, I love having the outlet and opportunity to write.  Ever since my fourth-grade publication of the literary classic known as “the Unidentified Flying Eyeball,” I have loved to write.  Naturally, a blog is a great way to keep doing that and somehow get better at it.

Two weeks ago, I decided to try this blogging thing again.

I hope to continue this blog for a variety of purposes…  so here goes:

(1) To focus my heart and mind on writing on a regular basis.  Sometimes daily.

(2) To have the opportunity to share things I’m learning and hopefully encourage some friends and readers along the way.

(3) To dare to be myself in a way that isn’t self-centered.  I’ll write about God, family, and ministry – and those should be big.  However, as you can tell, I’m going to dabble in areas that I have always loved, which include sports, sports, and sports.  You might even see the occasional blog post about a movie, television, technology, or reading.  I’ll “tag” each post with separate categories.  If you don’t like sports, don’t read it.

(4) To consolidate my blog collection into one blog.  As I started this one, I “dumped” the blogs about family, ministry, Africa, Argentina… all into this blog.  Why write five blogs?  Am I five different people?  Nope.

(5) To interact with whomever feels like interacting.  We’ll see where it goes.  But I’m going to be myself, and I’m not going to apologize for that.  If I confuse you or offend you, let me know.  I don’t intend to.  It probably won’t happen, but I’m just saying…

So here we go.  I love to write.  This is my blog.


Yep, I'm a big Lebron James fan… even if he leaves Cleveland!

11 Feb

UPDATED (7/12/10): When Lebron James recently decided to leave Cleveland, I went back and read this article.  So much can change in just a few months.  Lebron just might have let fame and self go to his head.  It’s his life.  Yet it has already affected so many.  What you are about to read was how I felt back in February of 2010.


Yep, it’s official.  I’m a huge fan of Lebron James.  Most people who know me aren’t suprised by this at all.  I just felt like doing a blog article about him, for once.

I’ve always been a huge basketball fan.  I grew up near Akron, Ohio, where I remember watching the Cavs in one form or another since age six.

Same with Lebron.  He’s from Akron, he grew up watching the Cavs, when they were good teams but always seemed to lose to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Now Cleveland has our own Michael Jordan.  By now, most sensible people realize that Lebron is already the better player.  He just needs all the right players and chemistry around him like Michael had when his teams finally started winning meaningful games in the summer (playoffs).  Don’t blame MJ alone for his championships.  Blame Pippen, Rodman, Phil, Horace, and BJ Armstrong.

Lebron finally has a terrific supporting cast, including Shaq, Mo, Delonte, Andy, JJ, Jamario, Anthony, and Jawad.  How could I forget Z, who has been there forever.

Cavs have the best record in the league, and ‘Bron is poised to win another MVP trophy.  Oh, and he’s only 25 years old.  Where was MJ at 25?  Nowhere near a championship. Lebron will probably win his first in June or July, and then sign a new contract in Cleveland.

Why wouldn’t he?  He’s the toast of his hometown, arguably the world’s most famous current athlete, and he’s got the chance to win more than one championship with a coach, a GM, an owner, and a supporting cast tailored to his needs.  Again, he’s 25, and he’s about to be a free agent.

A few weeks ago, while he was in Los Angeles, a reporter asked him what he thought about moving to L.A. and playing for the Clippers, who might have enough salary cap space to sign him… Reporter goes, “Hey Lebron, do you know the words to the song ‘I love L.A.’?”

Lebron’s reply made lots of other Northeast Ohio kids hearts warm.  He replied, “No, but I know the words to ‘I love Akron,’ and ‘O-H-I-O.'”

He seems to handle fame fairly well and enjoys life being Lebron.  I don’t know him personally or anything, of course.  But what we see from him is mostly a maturity and humility beyond his years – especially considering that he was given national attention as a high school junior on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

I pray that God would use this young man for tremendous good in the world.  In some ways, Lebron is a great blessing in inner-city Akron and Cleveland, giving away literally millions of dollars and time to inner-city youth and people in need.  He does the same in China and Africa.

When I was in the Central African Republic in November, I saw lots of Lebron James jerseys worn by people who obviously couldn’t afford them.  It’s part of Lebron’s hope to help people in other parts of the world.

He’s not perfect, and neither am I.

People criticize him like they criticize anyone else in the public eye.

But as a guy who grew up in Akron and loves the game of basketball, I’ve always admired this kid who is doing so many things right.  I pray that he’ll continue to grow and develop as a man, a leader, a role model, and a player.  The Cavs fan in me prays that he’ll stay in Cleveland.

But even if – by some stretch of New York dreaming – Lebron were to leave Cleveland?

Yep, I’ll always root for Lebron.  Why wouldn’t I?