I’m prone to living my life in a way where I don’t have to talk to people.

For instance, I resort to e-mail over a phone call and I can be really stubborn with this. Sometimes there’ll be minor issues that need to be taken care of (school schedule changes, internet bill questions, calling to make a doctor’s appointment) and I’ll totally avoid these calls. I’ll email if possible, but if not, then I usually just ask Julie to make the call (this can’t be a healthy marital move, but I will say, she’s so much better (and meaner!) at talking to the obnoxious internet people).

I’m seeing that my stubbornness with such things can be quite foolish. I could save myself (and Julie) time and stress by calling and crossing things off the checklist faster. I simply need to have more responsibility and do these types of things.

I’m also prone to living my life in a way where I don’t have to know people.

I’ll talk to the people I want to talk to and even pursue certain people that I want to pursue. But I’m not prone to actually getting to know people. I tend to keep people at arm’s length and I lack intentionality in seeking to get to know people’s backgrounds, interests, views, and joys.

Living in a way where I don’t have to talk to annoying business people on the phone is silly, but living in a way in which I don’t have to know people is downright unhealthy. The consequences of the first are minor stresses and perhaps an extra $30 on the monthly bill, but the consequences of the latter are a lack of relationships and community.

Let’s zero in on the latter, because there’s clearly much more to zero in on. Why am I like this — prone to not get to know people?

Here are a couple reasons that jump out:

Reason #1: We live in a world of distractions. I frequently walk the streets of Chicago (where I’m a graduate student) and I often find myself dodging fellow pedestrians who are entrenched in the latest app on their I-Phone.

Now, I better not dare act like I’m never one of those swerving pedestrians who almost run into a sweet old lady or trip and fall in front of a taxi. I frequently find myself texting as I stroll the city streets. Think about that for a second. If I’m texting while walking through a metropolis (where there are thousands of other people and things to look at), you better believe I’m busy probing my phone, Facebook, Twitter, my fantasy sports teams, and ESPN.com whenever I have a free window of time elsewhere. My mind runs towards this clutter. I gotta have it and I don’t know why, because the thing is I know that I don’t really gotta have it but I still keep running towards it.

I’m rambling.

What I’m trying to get at is this: we can live entire days completely immersed in our own little bubbles of social media with a little work thrown in on the side. We may know people through one-liners on the internet, but all of these distractions pull us away from intentional relationships. We can always find a way to busy ourselves and it takes away from actually stopping and talking to people.

Reason #2: Relationships are work, and as much as I don’t want to admit this, I often don’t want to put in the time. Life is about me and allowing other people to enter my world is often inconvenient.

We don’t just get to know people automatically. It takes effort — asking questions, listening (which can be really hard) to people’s stories, inviting people over, making plans for an event and then following through with it, and committing to doing these sorts of things frequently, because we don’t just get to know someone on one occasion, but over time is when guards are let down, vulnerabilities are exposed, and a true, intentional relationship begins to blossom.

I want that but I don’t want that, and that’s what I don’t like. My life’s grown accustomed to being centered upon me, and I know that my selfishness needs to be peeled back for these types of relationships to develop and grow.

Therefore, I’m going to try to end this cycle of living without really knowing anybody. And I’ll certainly fail at this time and time again. But it’s time for me to take some responsibility with this. I’m not saying all the internet distractions are being thrown out the door, but they’re going to need to be limited. If anything, those are the things that need to be held at arm’s length, not people.

And I hope I can begin to step out of my inwardly consumed shell and begin to see people, to really see them, as people who God made just like me — with stories, fears, hopes, dreams, and futures.

I know one thing: the people who’ve intentionally invested in me have encouraged and instilled me with joy in a way in which I’ll be forever grateful.

Should my life seek to reciprocate this?

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Writing for Bleacher Report

Posted: February 8, 2012 in Sports

I love sports and I enjoy writing.  It only makes sense that I would love sportswriting.

I’ve recently received the opportunity to do just that.

Bleacher Report is the US’s 4th largest sports media site with approximately 20 million monthly viewers.  It attracts sports fans who are better labeled as “sports nuts.”

Think about a person you know who loves sports so much that he won’t stop talking sports after he gets started.  Opinions, stats, and trade rumors ooze out of him faster than what he can even breathe.

If you can now picture this person (and it may be yourself), then you’re beginning to understand who visits Bleacher Report.

Bleacher Report is endless sports banter on whatever league, team, or topic you wish.  It provides the latest rumblings in very reader-friendly articles and slideshows.  Moreover, the site is operated like a well-oiled machine.  Writers feed their work to trained editors, and the best pieces from the most accomplished writers receive high visibility status on the site.

Anyways, I got approved to write for the site a couple weeks ago and I was super stoked.  Then, after my first couple posts, I already was sworn at and called a retard by hostile fans.

Now, I’m recovering from my cyber-skirmish while having fun pumping out articles on the NBA, the Bulls, and whatever else comes to mind.  I plan to continue doing this for the coming weeks and months, and potentially the rest of my life…let’s just be honest.

With that said, my personal blog has suddenly grown lifeless.  The crickets are out and things are pretty silent on “The Jumbled Backpack.”  I do, however, still plan to post on occasion.  My blog will now warp into a place where I solely process thoughts on Christian discipleship, because the sports are obviously taking care of themselves on Bleacher Report.

If you’re interested in checking out a few of my B/R articles, here’s a sampling:

A piece on NBA contenders and pretenders;

A piece questioning why Derrick Rose isn’t treated like typical MVP’s;

And a piece on the Bulls having the NBA’s best fans.

That’s the latest from me.  I know my personal blog only generates about 5 loyal readers, but I still figured it was worth cluing those readers in on my latest disappearance from the blogosphere.

Cheers!

Brian Scalabrine is Better Than You

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Sports

Look, I get it.  Brian Scalabrine is fun.  If you’re a Bulls fan, you inevitably get excited when “the White Mamba” enters the game.  There’s something fun about rooting for the guy on the end of the bench, especially when he’s the token white guy with red hair.

But I don’t think there’s anyone who actually takes Brian Scalabrine seriously — like he really was a stud at the Division I level in college, like he really has been in the league for over 10 years, like he simply really is an NBA player.  People disregard this when it comes to the White Mamba.  He’s practically become a joke.  It’s as if we assume the Bulls nabbed him at the local YMCA and it could have very easily been any one of us.  We act like Scalabrine has no skills, no athleticism, no game, and no purpose being in the NBA.  Many of us probably think we could even take him in 1 on 1.

But Brian Scalabrine is better than all of us.  Yes, he’s even better than you.

I know you laugh your head off when his pasty skin checks into the game.  Next time you do that, remember that he’s better than you.

I know you chant his name late in games as if he were the greatest scrub basketball has ever known.  Next time you do that, remember that he’s better than you.

I know you think he gets lucky every time he scores.  Next time you think that, remember that he’s better than you.

And I know some of you think you’re just as good as Scalabrine.  Next time you think that, ask yourself if you can even dribble behind your back.

I hope you know this is satirical.  I’m making a point by exaggeration.  If you think I’m really trying to prove that Brian Scalabrine is better than you, then make fun of me.  I’m just magnifying the common notion concerning the White Mamba these days.  He’s become a joke.  And it’s to the point where we must be reminded that he’s actually an NBA player.  You don’t just land a job in the NBA like you land a job working at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Frankly, Brian Scalabrine has shown some serious flashes of game lately.  Due to a host of injuries, the Bulls have been forced to give Scalabrine some spot minutes and he’s performed greatly.  One thing about his game is undeniable: his basketball IQ is off the charts.  In the past couple games, he’s always in the correct spot on defense, he’s notched a handful of dimes, and he hasn’t forced anything out of his repertoire on offense.  Coach Thibodeau is undoubtedly pleased.

The White Mamba is better than all of us, must we be reminded once more.  He’d throw you around like a rag doll in the post.  He’d take you in H-O-R-S-E by the score of H to H-O-R-S-E.  He’d D you up way better than the all-conference dude who guarded you in high school.  And he could probably even dunk on you and make a poster.

Next time your friend makes fun of Brian Scalabrine, tell him, “Dude, he’s better than you.”  If that doesn’t leave him speechless, then I don’t know what will.

For most of my life, I’ve viewed counseling as a “last resort” option.  If things are really messed up, then you see a counselor.  Therefore, if you see a counselor, that’s a bad thing.  That means there are major problems and fixings are necessary.

I’ve also viewed counseling in a very “fix-it” type of way.  You have problem A, here is solution A.  It’s like going to the hardware store.  You broke something at home and you jet to the hardware store for the quick “fix-it” solution.  And the solution works.  Unfortunately, many forms of counseling cater to such ideas.  But people aren’t projects to fix like broken faucets.  We’re broken people and each of us has a different, complex story.  Morever, we’re all broken.  We’re not “above” counseling.  Counseling isn’t reserved for the really messed up people, because we’re all in the same boat here — broken and in need of ongoing healing and redemption.

It’s evident that many of our presuppositions concerning counseling are naive and need to be debunked.  A major example of this is seen in how pre-marital and post-marital counseling are viewed differently.  It’s amazing that whenever couples subscribe to pre-marital counseling, everybody is so affirmative.  “Oh, that’s great.  You’ll learn such healthy foundations even before you’re married!”  But when a couple goes to post-marital counseling, alarms sound.  “Oh no!  What happened?  Who did what?!”

Frankly, in the marriage counseling arena, I believe post-marital counseling to be of much greater value than pre-marital, because when you’re engaged, you’re infatuated and can’t wait to snuggle 24/7 and do…other things.  But you have no idea what the reality of marriage is really going to be like.  After you’ve been married for awhile though, reality sets in and you realize you can’t base a marriage on happiness and infatuation.  You realize how selfish you are, you grasp that marriage isn’t always easy, and you perceive that you’re somewhat clueless.  You’re then in a much better place to receive counseling.  My wife and I have certainly learned this!

That rant hopefully paints the picture of how skewed our perspective towards counseling can be.  We stiff-arm counseling and resort that it’s only for people with “issues.”  Not only is that seriously prideful, but it is also naively foolish.

I’m not saying everyone needs to go sign up for counseling right now, but I think it should be an option we consider way more than what we do.  And we also must select our counselors wisely, because counselors that give quick “fix-it” solutions aren’t digging to the root of the brokenness.  They’re just patching up things with a band-aid.  What is ultimately needed is biblically-shaped counseling, where the themes of the Bible are foundational.  Otherwise, we may just end up being another project to fix.

I’ve been dwelling on these thoughts quite a bit recently due to a pastoral counseling class that I’m in.  I thought the class would teach me how to deal with various issues (i.e. Here is what you do when someone has a struggle with depression…).  But my presuppositions have been ignorant.  This class has helped broaden my perspective and I’m now seeing the unfading value that biblically-shaped counseling has for each and every one of us.

A recent Sports Illustrated issue featured an article entitled “Tom Brady As You Forgot Him.”  Author Michael Rosenberg flashed back to Brady’s college days at Michigan, when he was viewed, in Rosenberg’s words, as “an ordinary Big Ten QB — average arm strength, limited mobility.”  This article snagged my interest instantly, because I’ve followed the Michigan Wolverines my whole life and I vividly remember when Brady wore the maize and blue.

What I remember most about when Brady wore the maize and blue was exactly what the article was about — his awkward quarterback battle with prized underclassman Drew Henson.  Henson showed up to Ann Arbor when Brady was a fourth-year junior, and Wolverine-nation knew it was a matter of time before Henson would usurp Brady’s throne.

Brady endured scorn, doubt, and adversity from coaches and fans — to the point in which he considered transferring.  But he persevered and made the most of his remaining two years.  Interestingly, his senior year featured he and Henson sharing playing time.  Brady played the first quarter, Henson the second, and whoever was on more of a roll got the ball for the second half.  I can’t recall any other QB situations that have been this peculiar.

Brady went on to start most of the second halves, showing leadership, grit, and an unfading work ethic, which included hours upon hours of film study.  Brady’s career was capped off with an Orange Bowl victory against Alabama, in which he threw four touchdowns.  Despite his solid play, everyone figured he would vanish from the football landscape as he departed from Ann Arbor.  Perhaps he would mosey NFL sidelines for a couple years as a third stringer, but most believed he would soon find himself in the business world like all the other average Big Ten quarterbacks.

We all know the rest of Tom Brady’s story.  Sometimes I still can’t believe Tom Brady has become an undisputed Hall of Fame quarterback.  In my mind, he too often lingers as the skinny, slow kid who once couldn’t fully earn a starting spot in college.  It remains hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that he’s a 3-time (could be 4-time in the next few weeks) Super Bowl Champion and a 2-time MVP.

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Many people also know what came of Drew Henson.  He teetered back and forth between football and baseball, but the draw of baseball ended up winning.  Unfortunately, Henson totaled one major league hit in his career.  Then, in a desperate attempt to still “make it” in the professional sports world, he tried to revert back to football.  He had a few stints in the NFL, none of which showed promise, before officially hanging up both pairs of cleats.

The story of Brady and Henson is one that will be told for many years.  Nobody would’ve predicted this.  Brady’s story creates the picture of how some of the great ones sneak up on the sports world like a cat after a mouse.  Henson’s story details the reality of another “bust.”  Despite what scouts or analysts may say, one can never really know the true potential of an athlete.

What most people don’t know about Henson’s story is his dad underneath it all.  The SI article described Henson’s dad hovering around the Michigan practices and in a sense seeking control over Drew’s career.  The article even states, “his [Drew’s] choices were not entirely his.”  It’s evident that Drew’s dad was seeking to live vicariously through his son, and it led to manipulation and a corruption of what sports are about.

This is all too common in the modern world of athletics but not many athletes are aware of it.  However, the degree to which Henson’s dad was involved was obvious.  It was enough that Drew reflects on it with disappointment.  Despite remaining on good terms with his father, he was quoted in the article, “If I’m fortunate enough to be a parent someday, I won’t try to control every situation that my child may be put into as an athlete — not try to dictate every time line or micromanage every aspect of the child’s development” (pg. 79, January 9, 2012 issue).

Those are sincere and deeply revealing feelings.  What Henson’s dad perhaps envisioned as good intentions throughout his son’s career turned out to be overbearing and manipulative.  There’s a drastic difference between enjoying and encouraging a child in sports and controlling and micromanaging them.

The corruption in Henson’s story is not that his career turned out to be a flop.  This happens all the time.  Add his name to the list of hundreds of sports “busts.”  The corruption in Henson’s story is that he didn’t enjoy the game as a gift — something to delight in, something to experience camaraderie, something that was created by God to be enjoyed.  Rather, sports were deified in his life and he is now able to discern it.  Ultimately, it appears he was playing the game for the wrong reasons (Click here for a blog post on “Playing for the Wrong Reasons” by Dr. Tim Gombis, a former professor of mine).

The story of Tom Brady and Drew Henson will be told for many years to come.  Brady’s story inspires, at least from a football standpoint (As far as Brady’s underlying reasons for playing the game, I do not know).  Henson’s story, on other hand, is all-around alarming.  Unfortunately, most will view Henson’s story with alarm because “he didn’t pan out,” but the true tragedy in his story is how sports grew corrupted and a superb athlete like him didn’t fully enjoy one of God’s good gifts.

Lame Church Signs

Posted: January 13, 2012 in Christian Discipleship

We’ve all seen them and cringed.  They’re instant turn-offs.  And yet they’re all too common.  The world would be a better place without lame church signs.

There seems to be a pattern with them, as they typically fall under one of these three categories:

1) Guilt Trips

2) Cheesy

3) Hell

Here are some prime examples.

Guilt Trips:

Cheesy:

Okay, this one actually made me laugh:

Hell:

Do you really think people are going to read the guilt trips and somehow be softened to the idea of church?  “Oh, thanks God!  I definitely only go to church on Christmas and Easter.  I promise I’ll be there every Sunday now!”

Are people slapping their knees so hard in laughter after a cheesy sign that it makes them want to come on Sunday morning?  “Oh honey, that was hilarious!!!  Let’s try out church on Sunday, what do ya say?!”

And worst of all, are people compelled by God when they read a fear-driven sign about hell?  “Wow, this hell place sounds scary.  Count me in for church this Sunday!”

Lame church signs not only turn people away from church, but they also drastically distort God’s loving character and the biblical model of what the church should be.  They make church appear like a cheesy, unloving, controlling, manipulative, and insincere place.  They push people away rather than draw people in.

Don’t get your idea of who God is or who the church is based on a lame church sign.  The story of the Bible creatively reveals God’s redemption and His drawing of people to Himself.  He did this genuinely, lovingly, freely, purely, and sincerely.  The church is certainly far from perfect, but it’s unfortunate that signs get skewed like this.  Therefore, don’t be deceived, don’t get resentful, and certainly don’t let a lame church slogan scare you like a sign at a haunted house.

In my previous post, I reflected on “Band-Aid” Christianity and how temporary solutions can unfortunately shape Christian identity.  Band-aid solutions to deep rooted problems aren’t going to enable much, if any, transformation.

I’m currently taking a counseling class and we’ve been discussing how often counseling views individuals as “projects.”  “You have problem A, here is solution A.  Try that, hopefully it works.  If it doesn’t, we will try solution B.”  Some Christian counseling even permeates these ideas.  “You have problem A, here is Bible Verse A.  And Bible Verse B too.  Think about those verses.  Pray about them.  Change will soon happen.”

While such examples may be a bit exaggerated, the truth is that these sorts of patterns are common in counseling and in one’s view of God.  People become projects, and even view themselves as “projects” who have to find the right band-aid solutions to get to God.  There are a plethora of insidious problems with this.

First of all, it reduces people to projects and people aren’t projects, they’re people — valuable people made in the image of God.  Because we’re each uniquely crafted in God’s image, God does not view us as His projects.  We’re His created people whom He delights in.  Thus, to dwindle our nature down to projects is a fundamentally flawed view of who we are in God’s sight.  He’s lovingly made us and has divine concern for each of us.  Any view of Him that doesn’t capture this is going to possess major defects.

Secondly, the Bible becomes an encyclopedia when people become projects.  “You’re struggling with anxiety, well then turn here.”  Using the Bible in this sort of way is not only improper, but also harmful.  The Bible is God’s grand story and it’s all connected.  There’s a Creator, Redeemer, and Enemy/Deceiver.  There’s a great deal taking place in Scripture and it has eternal implications.  It’s not a self-help manual.  Moreover, using the Bible like this is harmful because a verse gets thrown in someone’s face.  “Apply this verse and your life will be fixed.”  Life isn’t that easy, and misusing the Bible in this way can end up being more degrading than anything.

(DISCLAIMER: Don’t misunderstand me.  The Bible is foundational in counseling people.  It is changeless truth.  But using it to extract self-help “tips” neglects the holiness of its ongoing story and overlooks the historical contexts of its books.)

The last problem I’ll share is that band-aid Christianity/forms of counseling overlook the pilgrimage of embracing Christian identity.  The Christian life is a long haul.  You cannot get a prescription that fully eliminates struggling with sin while we’re here on earth.  God does enable one to live with power over sin in which growth and change can be seen, but this doesn’t happen quickly nor through slapping band-aids on our problems to stop the bleeding.

True change happens through examining the grandiose picture of who God is.  Life should be seen through the lens of His story, not through self-help manuals that don’t dig at the heart.  Patching up our problems with band-aids is only going to end up being exhausting.  And God won’t even be impressed.  He ultimately longs for broken hearts who cry out for His grace.  Transformation begins with grace and reflects His nature that’s a part of His grand narrative to the world.  I’m seeing the need to not lose sight of this amidst the noise in culture that’s causing us to think otherwise.

One of the biggest tendencies in life is to put “band aids” on our problems, struggles, and issues.  A person we know consistently makes us angry, so our band aid solution is to now avoid them.  We’ve been gossiping a lot lately, so we decide to start hanging out with new people.  Conflict is reigning in our marriage and we quickly resort to better communicative methods to patch up the messiness.  In these situations, there may be a desire for change, but we all know our typical, unhealthy behaviors will continue to reappear in due time.  Change isn’t that easy.

You can see these types of solutions in the New Year’s resolutions that we’re setting right now.  I’m going to spend more time with family and friends.  I’m going to work out 5 days a week.  I’m going to quit smoking.  I’m going to begin volunteering.  We reach for solutions or resolutions that have no foundation.  At times (especially initially), we may have the strength to muster up enough resolve to head to the gym and work out or drive to the local homeless shelter and volunteer.  But don’t these types of things wane over time?  Don’t the band-aid solutions/resolutions to our lives fade when life gets hectic and complicated?

We do this in Christianity with Christian-solutions.  I’m going to pray more this year (And we forget, or life gets busy).  I’m going to read my whole Bible this year (And we get to Exodus and it’s already September).  I’m really going to work on controlling my anger this year (And we’re soon barking at our spouse because she left the milk out again).  Stuff like this happens all the time.  Our band-aid solutions, whether they be secular or Christian, tend to get swatted down like a Dwight Howard blocked shot.  We throw these efforts up in the air thinking they will bring us newfound life and growth, but then disappointment sets in as the efforts come up well-short.  Moreover, we’re embarrassed — because often times we only make it a few days (even hours) before these solutions are dashed.

The curious thing about our Christian band-aids is that God doesn’t like them.  He doesn’t sit up in heaven and applause when he sees us laboring towards solutions that have no root.  It’s not that he doesn’t like structured discipline and resolve, but He simply knows that individual efforts aren’t going to last.  He knows that only His grace can cover and transform the struggles, insecurities, and failures that we carry.

Jesus reveals his displeasure towards such band-aid solutions in Matthew 23:25-26: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”

Jesus was not in favor of those who covered themselves beautifully on the outside while their hearts remained a mess. He sees right through that.  And our band-aid solutions to life typically decorate us on the outside in ways that only feebly change us on the inside, if they even change us at all.

I’ve recently been reading a book entitled Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp.  He drives home the reality that true change begins in the heart and not through altering behavior or changing circumstances.  Changing behavior or relying on new solutions may help for a period of time, but they don’t dig roots.  Tripp writes, “God changes us not just by teaching us to do different things, but by recapturing our hearts to serve him alone” (pg. 71).

Lasting change starts and ends with the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  His death and resurrection opened up the door for true change.  Faith in Him creates the avenue for His lasting work to happen.  Otherwise, we will just buffer along searching for fixes that only end up falling off like a band-aid at a water park.

I’ve never been a big New Year’s resolution setter.  In fact, I can’t recall anything.  But I do know that I’ve often settled for band-aid Christianity, where I try to get near God by fulfilling the good, Christian-flavored duties.  I’ve believed that doing these things and developing a commendable spiritual performance is what God wants.  In that, resting in His grace becomes more of an afterthought.

I’m now realizing more and more that God is looking at me and seeing how out of whack my view of Him is.  My desperate attempts to keep putting on band-aids don’t last, and I need His grace to bring about legitimate change.  God’s grace is what truly enables us to redeem our lifestyles in renewed ways.  It covers fully, not temporarily.  It cleanses entirely, rather than just stopping the chaos.  And it instills life and a new identity, which our hearts need.  These are the realities our hearts should rest in as we enter a new year.

Remembering things that happen in life is much harder than it sounds.  When pressed to dwell on this past year, the happenings that jump to the forefront of my mind are these: winning the fantasy baseball championship, riding in an un-air conditioned van (in August) all the way to Pittsburgh, playing NBA 2K11, watching 24 with my wife, and discovering that Golden Oreo’s are actually better than traditional Oreo’s.

Really, brain?  That’s what comes to mind?  And, brain, it seems that what you remember appears to be quite random and seemingly insignificant.

When pressed to think harder about this past year, I can scrape up some happenings of deeper value: My sister had a baby boy (who I call The Bubbas) and I’m now Uncle H, my family went on a memory-filled vacation to the Michigan dunes, and Julie and I ran our first lap (lap=year) in the race called marriage.

Why is it that remembering the important stuff in life gets tricky?  Maybe we should write down the stuff that happens each day, because it seems as if our most important happenings trickle down the drain while the seemingly random stuff remains.

What gets even trickier is when we try to remember what God taught us over the past year.  Being a seminary student, I always feel like I have to have a profound, biblically sound answer to whenever I’m asked, “What has God been teaching you?”  Something like, “He’s been teaching me surrender (a Christianese buzzword, by the way) — surrendering my dreams, my hopes, and my fears.”  I feel the need to say something like this — transcendent and also mysterious.

But if I’m really honest with the “What has God been teaching you” question, I usually have no idea what to say.  And this is a bad thing for a seminary student like me.  Shouldn’t my answer be crafted perfectly, rattled off routinely, and include at least one biblical reference?

Truthfully, my honest response to the “what has God been teaching you the past year” question is this: “Umm, that I can really be selfish, overly-critical, and nagging.  I place too many expectations on my wife.  And…despite the fact that my collegiate basketball career is over, I still find ways to yell at referees in church ball.  And let’s see…what else…oh yeah, I took long breaks from reading my Bible this past semester because I was getting exhausted from seminary.”

It appears I’m not a cookie-cutter Christian after all.  And that’s just the beginning of “what God has taught me this past year.”  The list could get uglier.

So anyways, what has God truly taught me this past year?  Umm grace?!  Anyone need some of that?

At the end of the year, it can almost be a burden when pressed to think of what God has taught.  Certainly there are avenues of growth we experience, and thank God those enriching times of growth do occur.  But we often feel like we should have pristine knowledge of what God has taught us in a year — something that prompts applause and admiration.  But Christian growth is much messier than that.  Sin gets revealed.  It gets ugly.  And we see our need for the redemption of Christ more and more.

The older I get, the more I realize how in need of God I am.  And this is because He teaches me things because I keep tripping up and doing things my own way.  My steps of growth are not without stumbles.  In reflecting on the past year, it is easy to want to concoct an immaculate set of knowledge that sounds so beautiful — stuff we assume Christians will love.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, each year features plenty of stumbles with growth meshed in between.  Thus, celebrate the growth meshed in between while praising God’s for His grace to cover the stumbles.  That’s my $0.02 as we enter a new year.

Brian Urlacher has been unwavering in his loyalty to the Chicago Bears throughout his years.  He’s stood by management, his teammates, and the city during his 12-year tenure.  With his track record, I’d expect him to still be supportive during this tumultuous ending to the Bears season.  It’s in his nature to remain loyal and to say the respectable things.

The same goes for Lance Briggs, who is not near the same figure in Chicago as Urlacher but is certainly near the same caliber of player (if not better).  Throughout his 9-year productive career, he’s remained fairly quiet and has consistently been one of the league’s top outside linebackers.  He’s only recently expressed angst with management because he desires a contract extension, which he most likely deserves.

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The play and persona of Urlacher and Briggs are exactly what an NFL team desires from their linebackers.  Fierce, fast, aggressive, and loyal.  They are truly the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears.

Because they are the heart and soul of the Bears, and because they are getting up years and their prime years are dwindling, now is the time for them to voice displeasure.  The Bears threw away their season because they chose not to make needed upgrades before the season, and as a result, they essentially wasted a season where all the other pieces were in place.  Truthfully, if Cutler would’ve never gotten hurt, the Bears would most likely be 11-4 right now.  They’d be rolling into the playoffs, with as good of chance as anyone to dethrone the Packers.

But because of management’s decision to not sign a reliable backup quarterback, and the choice to resort to wide receivers Roy Williams and Sam Hurd (which were more downgrades than upgrades), the Bears Super Bowl run went from a legitimate possibility to a knee-slapping joke.  Watching them the past five weeks has been utterly painful, and no one should be more upset than Urlacher and Briggs.

Imagine the feeling for Urlacher and Briggs when they have to take the field after another offensive 3 & out or another turnover.  At some point, their motivation and drive has to wane.  And they simply don’t deserve to have to continually take the field like that.  They are too good and too loyal.  At their level of play and age, they at least deserve an offense that has an adept option if Cutler goes down, and receivers that aren’t as washed up as the retired Michael Irvin.  Heck, Terrell Owens would’ve been a better option than Roy Williams.  I’m serious.

Because of this embarrassing ending to what should’ve at least been a playoff-appearing season, it’s time for the heart and soul of the Bears to voice displeasure and a desire for change.  And change that happens soon.  Urlacher and Briggs likely only have a couple stellar years left together, and if these blatant holes aren’t soon plugged, you can throw away any chance at the Bears making a Super Bowl run before Urlacher and Briggs hang up the cleats.

I’m not saying Urlacher and Briggs need to bash Jerry Angelo or rip on any players.  There is no need to get violent.  But there is a need to voice warranted displeasure and a desire to fill gaps where needed.  This can be done in a respectable way.  And people will listen to Urlacher and Briggs.  They are the last people that management wants upset in the Bears locker room.  Their frustration will trickle throughout the whole team.  They are the ringleaders and people feed off them.  It’s important to keep them happy.  Because of this, their frustration will be heard by management and hopefully their longings bring needed upgrades.

The core pieces to the Chicago Bears are in place.  Cutler has shown that, when healthy, he can be elite.  The offensive line has made significant progress.  The defense is solid as usual, with perhaps just a need for an upgrade at safety.  But the holes in the Bears are obvious and the Bear stalwarts don’t deserve to play for a team that is unwilling to field a more efficient squad.  It’s time for this fact to be declared by the Bears’ finest.