May 26, 2011

Wear Your Helmet!

For some of the hockey games that I play in, I am required to wear a helmet; for other games I am not required to wear one. Wearing a helmet is to protect your brain from injury. Hockey helmets are made of a hard plastic that disperses force from the point of contact, while the liner may be made of a type of foam to absorb the energy, and reduce the chances of concussion. 

I’ve had multiple concussions due to sports and construction collisions, so you would think that wearing a helmet would be something that I would always do. But, for most of my life, I never really liked wearing a helmet when I played hockey, I felt that it partially blocked my vision. I especially did not like wearing a “cage” over my face, and even today I don’t wear one.

I guess it is also because I grew up watching old time hockey where the players didn’t wear helmets. One of the more notorious players known for not wearing protection on his melon was Lorne John "Gump" Worsley; affectionately known to Minnesota North Stars fans as "the Gumper" (see video below). Although he played most of his career with the Montreal Canadians (until he came to Minnesota in 1970), North Star fans were glad that we had another goalie to help out the great Cesare Maniago (who did wear a mask but also didn’t wear a helmet). Tough men who left a bad example for the rest of us

To try to reduce the number of head injuries, in 1979, the National Hockey League made a rule making the wearing of helmets mandatory for all new players entering the league. Any player already in the league and not wearing a helmet is allowed to continue without one until they retire. They probably figured the old timers had thick enough skulls to not comply. 

On Friday evenings in April and May of this year (when my regular winter hockey season was finished), I played hockey with players of high caliber; most of them played in college, Junior Leagues, WHL, or CHL. For these games I am required to wear a helmet. 

During that same time period, I spent every Tuesday and Wednesday morning volunteering with DinoMights Hockey (see video below) teaching 1st graders to skate; quite a change in venues in one week! Even though the kids were required to wear a helmet, I was not.

Recently, however, I had an “epiphany” about wearing helmets. While skating backwards, I caught an edge of my skate on the ice and fell and hit the back of my head so hard that not only did I see stars, but others outside the rink ran over to the glass/boards to see what happened. Instantly, a bump the size of an egg grew on the back of my head before I got off the ice. I was NOT wearing a helmet. I spent the next two weeks uncomfortable at night and not able to get a full nights rest due to the bump as well as pain in my neck from whiplash.

Ironically, the injury took place when I was teaching the first graders; not playing with the big boys. This was actually the second injury to my head this hockey season; as well as the many other hard hits to my head that I took this past season while wearing a helmet. My epiphany is that I will now always wear a helmet when I am on the ice; whether it is required or not.

Concussion experts note that athletes are often keen to return to play as soon as possible and may be reluctant to report symptoms, which is why it's critical to watch the injured person carefully. "When in doubt, sit them out" is the new rule, so I took myself out the games for the next two weeks and made a decision to rest my brain. 

As foolish as I may be to not wear a helmet playing hockey, as a Christian I am even more foolish is to not wear a different helmet. The most critical "helmet" I need to wear is the one that is absolutely essential for the combat we are presently engaged in. It is the helmet designed by God. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes about this helmet in his letter to the Ephesians; “And take the helmet of salvation…” (READ Ephesians 6:10-20 for the complete context)

The Apostle Paul wanted followers of Jesus Christ to understand that the war they were engaged in would be taking place in their minds; not hand to hand against an enemy they could see. Paul wanted them (and us) to understand that the devil wanted to take their thinking away from the kind of thinking God wanted them engaged in. Paul wanted them (and us) to understand that they had a means of protection for their heads and their minds and so he exhorted them to “Put on salvation as your helmet”. 

The potential damage to our minds (by not wearing the helmet of salvation) is greater than the damage caused by a concussion. Not only can it affect our current life in what we think and believe about ourselves (and others), but can have eternal consequences as well.

How do we put on the helmet of salvation? By remembering who we are in Christ — that we have been given salvation and the authority over the devil to battle him and win. By remembering that God has our very best in mind and that He won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to withstand it and that He’ll cause everything to work for our best. 

To try to help reduce the number of “head injuries” we need to put on the helmet of salvation each day. Unfortunately there is no rule making the wearing of the helmet of salvation mandatory for all when they become a Christian; the choice is up to you.  

But, you need to realize that you don't have a thick enough skull to not comply. Wear your helmet!

DinoMights is a youth development program featuring hockey, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The philosophy of DinoMights centers around maintaining relationships with youth from their elementary years through high school graduation, and providing them with the various kinds of support they need to become self-assured, competent adults. DinoMights uses a unique approach that is founded on mentoring relationships. Staff, coaches, and tutors all seek to share the love of God with DinoMights by actively loving them. Good News to urban youth is the opportunity to participate in a positive activity that can truly be a family for them. It is in this environment that they can come to know the great love of God. The four areas that they mentor in are: Developing Physical, Social, Academic, and Spiritual.

Other Christian Hockey Ministries:

Hockey Ministries Int.

Okontoe Hockey:

May 18, 2011

Hey, I know you!

One of my favorite hockey players is Neal Broten, who is probably the most complete USA born and raised hockey player participating in all venues of hockey, from three State High School Tournaments (although he didn’t win) to winning the Stanley Cup. Broten is the only player to have played on teams that won the NCAA hockey championship (University of Minnesota in 1979), the Olympic Gold Medal (Team USA, 1980), and the Stanley Cup (New Jersey Devils, 1995), and numerous other personal awards including the Hobey Baker Award. Here is my photo taken with Neal at the 2011 Frozen Four in St. Paul, MN. 

We all have our favorite celebrities whom we admire. We fantasize at times, wishing that they would know us, and what we would say to them if we were spending time with them. But, when we actually get the chance to talk with them, we fumble over our words or stand back in awkward silence. Let’s face it, we long to be known by someone important and so we sometimes connect relational dots that are slim at best (the old “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”). 

For me, although I have briefly spoken with Neal Broten a few times over the years, my only “six degrees” is that I used to go to church with and play hockey with Neal’s cousin Rick Broten. I also have a friend who still occasionally plays hockey with Neal. But, if I went to Neal Broten’s house, he would not say; “Hey I know you; come on in!” Neal would not connect the dots and let me in simply because I know who he is. He would only let me in because he can say that he knows me.

One of the more sobering passages recorded in the Gospels of Jesus Christ is Matthew 7:23 where Jesus says; “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Did you catch that? Jesus said that He will say to some people; “Hey, I NEVER knew you”. 

Can you imagine the shock as those people (metaphorically) walk up to the gates of heaven thinking that Jesus will welcome them in with open arms because of all the great things that they did for Him (v.22 “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”) and instead He says something along the lines of; “I never knew you; go away” 

Don’t assume that just because you go to church that Jesus knows you and has to let you in. The whole twenty fifth chapter of Mathew’s Gospel in the New Testament records stories that Jesus taught about the Day of Judgment: “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins”, “The Parable of the Talents” and “The Sheep and the Goats”. They are stories that conclude with what we will hear as we are judged for what we did or didn’t do. 

Don’t assume that just because you go to church that you are actually on the path that is following Jesus. Jesus said: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are MANY who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are FEW who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 emphasis by me).
For me, although it would be great to hear Jesus say; “well done good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:23), I long even more to hear His voice call out my name and hear Jesus say; “Hey I know you; come on in!”

How about you? Do you long to know Jesus on that level; or more importantly to be known by Him? You can; starting right now. Jesus paid for the relationship when He shed His blood on the cross. But you need to: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Corinthians 13:5). 

Spend time talking with (praying to) God. Let His diagnosis of where you are really at relationally with Him today become a pivotal moment in your life to draw closer to Him; to become known by Him. Then, one day, perhaps you too can hear Jesus say to you; “Hey, I know you!”

Not if you don’t keep His commandments - 1 John 2:3-6

Are His – 2 Timothy 2:19
Hear & follow Him – John 10:27-28
Confess Him – Matthew 10:32
Are His Friends – John 15:14
Have names in Book of Life – Revelation 3:5
Will be on His Right hand – Matthew 25:34-40

Many who claim to know Him – Matthew 7:21-23, Luke 13:24-27
Those who fail to make proper preparation – Matthew 25:11-12
Those who deny Him – Matthew 10:33
Those who won’t do what he says – Luke 6:46
Those who will be on His Left hand – Matthew 25:41-46

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Watch: Broten Fights Gretzky 

May 11, 2011

Unless A Grain Dies

In Minnesota this year, winter seems to not want to let go of its icy grip and spring seems to still not be FULLY here; and this is already the second week of May! But, fear not, spring will eventually get to us; it has to in order for summer to get here. 

Spring is (normally) that time of the year when new life is bursting forth. And yet, beneath the surface it is really about death. The great paradox of life is that it is the death of seeds, of last year’s plants, and of things now laying in the soil that really is where the life comes from. 

It is planting a seed, a grain, a kernel, and letting the earth’s cycle take over that is a normal part of the farmer’s or gardener’s understanding when they go about the early spring chores. They plant the seeds KNOWING that the seeds MUST die and WHEN they die they will produce a greater harvest than if the seed had been somehow able to stay alive. They know that death produces the life that is hidden in the seed.

Do you realize that a single kernel of corn has the potential of producing around 2400 kernels? What do I mean?
• A kernel of corn planted in the ground will produce one corn stock
• Each corn stock will produce one to three cobs of corn
• Each ear of corn contains eight or more rows of kernels (16 rows)
• Each row contains around 50 kernels per row
• In other words: approx. 800 kernels from one ear of corn times 3 cobs

So, potentially the death of a single kernel of corn will yield a harvest of 2400 kernels or new seeds. I’m so glad that the seed, grain, or kernel does not fight the farmer or gardener to stay alive.

Jesus’ disciples were trying so hard to keep Jesus alive and almost missed what God was really up to (thank God for the Holy Spirit!). It was in the death of Jesus where true life really began. The tomb of Jesus was really a “womb” that produced life eternal to those who would believe in the completed work of Jesus Christ’ death, burial, and resurrection!

"But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25).

Jesus was talking about His impending death, burial, and resurrection. It was His sacrifice that paid for our sins and brought us life (if we turn from our sins and turn to Him).

Jesus was also talking about those who would follow Him; His disciples and those who call themselves “Christians”. He was talking about letting go of anything that was cross wise with His plans and will for our lives. Jesus said to pray; “Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Have you ever noticed that in the middle of the word “obedience” is the word “die”? God want us to die to ourselves. He wants us to Rely on Him, and Him alone. And then allow His Spirit to flow through us to others.

I feel the need to state the obvious; but with all of the cult leaders over the years stating otherwise; JESUS IS NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU KILLING YOURSELF! He is talking about laying down your life; about letting go and trusting Him. About not being so consumed about the things here on the earth that we miss the bigger picture.

His cry was to contradict the humanistic and hedonistic belief that real life came from anything outside of Him. The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Jesus said that the great exchange is that He would bring us LIFE, real life! “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). That if we were thirsty, we could have “living waters” (John 4:10).

So where are you at; are you still struggling to get everything you can out of this life hoping that something, ANYTHING will finally actually be life to you? We are driven, pulled by inner urges; yet never satisfied. You get the ‘prize’ yet you are no happier than you were before. Perhaps it is time to stop. And wait. And go to God. He is able to bring life even in the midst of a spring that never seems to come.

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

May 4, 2011

All Things New

Around eleven years ago I purchased a used, older Ford Ranger pickup truck. I was generally happy with it; except for the paint. The paint was worn, faded, and scratched. No amount of wax could bring back the original shine so, one weekend, in an effort to make it look new; I decided to repaint the truck a darker color, and to save money and time, I would repaint the truck myself using spray paint.   

I took my time and carefully masked off the chrome, windows, and parts that I didn’t want to be painted. I then proceeded to paint the truck using cans of spray paint (not a spray gun); even though I knew that this was not the correct method to apply paint on an entire vehicle. Notice, I also didn’t take time to repair any dents, semi believing that if I painted it correctly, I could cover up the dents with paint. 

It looked almost like this when painted
Those of you who have attempted this already know what the results ended up to be. No matter how artistic I am, I simply couldn’t make the paint on the truck look new using spray paint from a can. My truck that had white paint that was worn, faded, and scratched now; I must admit, looked about the same or somewhat worse; except that it was now charcoal grey. I hadn’t followed the correct procedure to make the truck look new. 

Recently, I purchased a newer used Ford Ranger. Because the truck was covered with road grime, I had to take the seller’s word that the color of the truck was blue. One warm day, I took the truck to the car wash and discovered that not only was the truck indeed blue, but that the paint color had a shine the way that a truck is supposed to shine! I didn’t even need to apply wax. God had replaced my Ford Ranger with a new one. It was almost as though God had made all things new.

Thinking about that old truck, I realized that God has been working in my life the past eleven years to make me new in an area of my life. When I tried on my own to fix the problem, I failed miserably. It was only when I put this situation in my life into the hands of the Lord that the transformation was possible. 

God wasn’t asking me to do the repainting of my life; He was simply asking me to repent: To stop and go a different direction; to stop trying on my own to make my life brand new. This way He gets all the credit; I simply go along for the ride (pun intended).

God says in His Word (the Bible) that He will make us new when we come to Jesus. He doesn’t just spray over the dents in an attempt to cover up the damage. No, God takes away the old and makes new. God says; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

God said that He will; “wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. (Revelation 21:4-6) 

So how does your life look at this moment? Is your life fresh and new and shiny? Or is your life covered with grime, and dents, and a body that no longer shines; no matter how much “wax” you apply to it. He wants you to stop, turn to Him and to let Him make things new.

God promises:
“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Need some help? Call Toll-Free: 1-877-2GRAHAM (1-877-247-2426)

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."