Category Archives: Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

Weekend Word 11/6

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;
my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
who subdues the peoples under me.
O LORD, what are human beings that you regard them,
or mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.
~ Psalm 144:1-4

I found this Psalm my sophomore year of college. At the time I had a whole lot of anxiety over the fact that I felt like I was never really prepared for tournaments and competition: I was injured and hadn’t been able to train enough. My shot defense was weak. I hadn’t been able to get out from bottom the whole week of practice. I wasn’t the #1 guy on the depth chart.

Then I started to realize that the truth was, on my own I would never truly be prepared. I’ve found that to be true in life as well: there’s just not enough time, even if I did everything 100% right all of the time. That’s an unattainable standard.

However, reading this Psalm reminds us that it is God who has prepared us, and continues to prepare us for each new challenge of competition.  God has given us the gifts, abilities, and the grace to use them with confidence. On our own efforts, we are nothing, as the Psalmist says, we are like a breath; a passing shadow.  But with God, we are reminded we have the capacity to do amazing things, if we can find the courage to trust that God has prepared us sufficiently for each moment set before us – like the weekend of competition before you.


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Weekend Word 10/30/15: “Beginnings & Benedictions”

Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, 
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 
The LORD look upon you with favor, and give you peace. ~Deuteronomy 6:23b-27

This passage is known as the “Aaronic Blessing.”  It’s a popular benediction given at the end of worship services, or as people go out to serve and live in various ways.

A new wrestling season is here!  You’ve been training for the past two months and now it’s your first weekend of competition.  You probably have excitement and nervousness at the same time, regardless if this is your first college competition or your final go ’round of your college career.

As you go into this weekend, and as you begin the journey of another season, I want to offer you a blessing:

As the LORD is gracious with you, be gracious with yourself in defeat and humble in victory,
May the LORD keep you safe from all harm and injury, and
may you find peace and strength in the LORD in all that’s ahead.

I write these devotions for the Old Dominion University Wrestling Team, a top-20 program that competes in NCAA Division I.

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Short Time Devotion for 7 July 2015: “The Opposite of Fear Isn’t Love”

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has nothing to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” ~ 1 John 4:18

This is one of those times I’m going to disagree with the Bible, and here’s why: we humans have a distorted view of love.  Love is about personal preference and choice.  Love is about sentimentality and emotion.  Love is about sexual fantasy and romanticism. Love is soft and passive towards another. Love is never risking.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t cast out fear.  If anything, it perpetuates it.

I think the biggest challenge I hear in people’s lives, both as a pastor and as a wrestling coach, is the concept of fear.  We’re dominated by it as individuals and as a society.  Fear has reached a state of paranoia in people’s lives, and it’s literally killing people.  Fear of failure, fear you’re not good enough, fear of race, fear of GLBTQ folks, fear of the government, fear of institutions…you name it, you can probably find someone who will tell you to be afraid of it.

Love, at least love in the way we think about it, won’t cast out fear.  I think the word we’re looking for is courage.  It’s courage that casts out fear.  Yet it’s not the type of courage that compels us to take control and micromanage our lives.  That’s just fear manifesting itself in a new way.

Rather, courage is the ability to keep pushing in the face of fear.  Keep pushing, keep moving, keep trying, keep living.  I like to tell the wrestlers I coach, when it feels like you’re losing control and the fear of losing begins to set in, just focus on staying in position and how you’re going to score the next points…..just keep wrestling.

Fear causes us to quit.  We quit and we point fingers of blame.  We quit and withdraw.  We quit and become self-fulfilling prophesies of failure.  Courage is the ability to just keep living, one day at a time, and even one moment at a time if things are that hard.  Courage is the ability to trust there are folks counting on you and folks that care about you…’re not alone.

Now maybe courage is the prefect love that John was writing about in the Bible.  But in a time where the idea of love has become so distorted, I prefer the idea of courage.  It just makes more sense.

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“Short Time” for 16 June 2015: Our Preoccupation with Individualism

“Short Time” is a term in wrestling when there’s little time left – usually 10, 15 seconds or less – whether at the end of a period or match.  Wrestlers know when they hear coach yell “short time” it’s time to focus on what’s important, whether you’re ahead or behind in the match.  These “Short Time” devotionals will be just that – brief reflections, focusing in on something of importance when it comes to faith and life.

My wife just got back from a 10-day trip in Israel and Palestine.  It’s great to have her back, but it’s been even greater to hear about her experiences on the trip.  While she appreciated seeing parts of the land, what moved her most was the tragic reality of the Zionist Jews’ mistreatment of the Palestinian people – some horrific stories of just how ugly some human beings treat other human beings, and justify it in their minds.

She heard this great sermon on her last day in country, while worshipping at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem.  You can read the sermon here.  What struck me about it was that the focus was shifted from concern of the self to concern for the other.  God certainly is in control of any real, hopeful change. Yet God’s call is to be concerned about the mistreatment of others, and to be concerned about saying something about it, actively resisting that which mistreats and abuses others.

That seems so foreign to culture in the United States.  We’re preoccupied with ourselves.  Individualism is the center of our universe.  Even our faith takes this shape – how many sermons did you hear this weekend that addressed the plight of the individual, their needs and wants?  I know I was guilty of this in my own preaching and other pastors were too as I read and watched their sermons online.  Why are we so hesitant to preach on the concern for others?  And even if we do, why do we always turn it back on the individual’s concern?

It bothers me, and maybe it should bother you too. The fact of the matter is that Christian faith is odd, because it says to us that when we are concerned for others, with little or no regard for ourselves, we strangely receive an immeasurable amount of joy back.  We don’t look away from the needs and cries of others, because that is where God is found, in the “least of these.”  Christian faith says that when we turn from preoccupation with ourselves, we become fulfilled in ways greater than we could have imagined.

And as strange as it sounds, I know from experience that it is true.  Individualism isn’t a bad thing; but it limits the amount of fulfillment, meaning, and joy we experience in our lives.  When we live for others, for things greater than ourselves, those limits disappear and perhaps we gain something greater that truly transforms not just us, but the lives of those around us, those who are flesh and blood just like us.

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You’ve been drafted, now what? 5 Tips for Navigating First Call

You got the envelope or phone call this winter with your Region assignment.  You then got the phone call from a Bishop, and now you know what Synod you’re going to.  And now here you are, on the home stretch of your final semester of classes in seminary, with graduation on the horizon.

Oh yeah, you have to navigate the whole first call process too.

For some of you in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, you may already have your first-call in your back pocket – you know what congregation you’re going to.  But for all of you who fall outside that category, the whole first-call process can be confusing and anxious.  And unlike pro sports rookies we don’t hire agents upon being drafted…..although maybe Drew Rosenhaus or Scott Boras may be more helpful in alleviating your anxiety than the Holy Spirit right now.  Heck, maybe you’re so desperate you’d take Jerry Maguire at this point.

Or, perhaps I can offer a few things for you, having been through this process about two years ago.  There was a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for me as well – moving halfway across the country to a Synod, although I was familiar with it, I wasn’t really expecting to go to.   I hope you find these helpful!

1.  Chuck the “pastor/spiritual/theological” language.  I found in conversation that phrases like “Let’s prayerfully consider where the Spirit’s leading” or “we just have to trust God here” or “I really get a sense of God speaking” in this way or that, while nice, sometimes isn’t very helpful.  I think it’s a given that we all trust the Spirit’s guidance and that God is moving in this process.  However, God also gifted us with rational brains.  You’re out of the seminary world now, and honesty, direct communication is going to become more effective for you in the long run.  It can be more assuring to hear “be patient, because there isn’t anything that’s right for you (or anything at all) at this time.”

1a.  You are interviewing your Synod and prospective congregations just as much as they are interviewing you.  This goes along with the comment about honest, direct communication.  First call interviews can feel a lot like dating – both sides want to put their best foot forward, which means downplaying any of the growing edges or challenges (almost every congregation has them).  You should be honest and direct about who you are, but also in your questions about who they are. This is where the Synod can help; ask them about frequency and nature of pastoral transitions in certain congregations, or what challenges exist.  It’s a telling sign if your Synod can’t (or won’t) name anything they know about the congregation, particularly around challenges.

2.  Ask about areas of involvement for pastors within the Synod.  You likely developed passions for particular ministry or issues while at seminary.  I know for me, Navy Chaplaincy and bi-vocational ministry that reaches out to young adults and youth were areas of ministry that today, still energize and drive me.  Yet, rare is the first call that will align perfectly with your passions for social justice or global missions.  Ask the Synod you’re assigned to what groups or focus there is for you to feed those passions.  It helps connect not just you, but your congregations to the larger expression of church, can be a real asset to both the ministry of the Synod and the congregation, and will be a means of self-care for you as well.

3.  Consider the areas you’re looking at from a personal, social perspective too.  I chose my first call not just on the congregation, I really considered the location from a standpoint of how it would be for my wife and I socially and emotionally.  There were opportunities for meaningful work and professional networking for my wife.  There was a wrestling team I could coach, and has become great community of support and friendship for both of us.  We live 3 blocks from the beach.  (Yes, you read that right!)  For me, I know I cannot be a good, healthy pastor unless my personal life is reasonably healthy.  In those moments your calls get challenging – and they will – you’ll need something away from the congregations and that community to refresh you.

4.  Be prepared to say “no.”  John Elway considered it.  Bo Jackson played baseball instead of football.  They don’t tell you this, but if you’ve been reasonably faithful to the assignment process, and it doesn’t feel right, you do have the right to say no.  It can be frustrating when your life is put on hold because others drag their feet or blow you off.  That’s not trusting the Holy Spirit; that’s being disrespectful and taking advantage of you.  Sometimes you have to switch gears a bit, and that will come with some consequences, but in the end if you’re being told to wait in a way that drastically throws your life in flux, then have courage that you can say no, and there are places that need and want a pastor like you.  (Note: if you find yourself in that situation, I advise you to find advocates who will speak on your behalf – experienced pastors, mentors, bishops and synod staff from other synods.  Find a few folks who know you well and in that case you do find yourself in a tough situation, they can make calls on your behalf.)

5.  While challenging, this process should be exciting.  I’ll be the first person to say that the process, while challenging, does work the majority of the time.  I believe there are good, faithful people who take the task of matching first-call pastors with good congregations so that God’s grace might be proclaimed and God’s work in the world be done.  That might mean a little discomfort on your end, embrace that.  However, the process should feel exciting to you overall.  If it feels anything other than that, and you know those feelings are outside of who you typically are and how you experience transition and uncertainty, then it’s time to ask why and consider #4 above.

But remember that – this is your first go around, and that is exciting.  I can tell you this, my call now is nothing like I thought it would be two years ago.  There have been ups and downs, and this IS A FIRST CALL – there will likely be more calls to come.  We live between two tensions – an established church culture that values obligation versus a contemporary life that values personal choice.  You will feel the tension of that from time to time, but if you honor both without sacrificing one or the other – you’ll be satisfied with the process.

God be with you all in your discernment and “post-draft” negotiations!  Oh, and if you do need an agent, I might be available….


I’m sure there are other very helpful suggestions out there as well.  Feel free to comment and offer them here for folks to read!

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Weekend Word (3/18): National Championship Edition

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

I love this time of year: National Tournament time.  It’s the biggest stage, the biggest moment for a college wrestler.  Last week, I loved watching two of my home state Minnesota team, Augsburg College and St. Cloud State University, win the NCAA Division III and II team championships last weekend.  And now, here you all are, at the Division I championships, the biggest tournament we have in our sport (in my opinion).

I want to say this to you: as big as the tournament is this weekend, it will not be the biggest moment of your life.  It will not be the defining moment of your life.  God has bigger plans for you and you are and will be capable of so much more.    The person that God has created and continues to form you to be – that is what will define you.  God’s call and purpose for your life – that is what will define you. Your life is so much bigger than one weekend of wrestling – although a really big and important one.  God has plans for you that will be greater and more joyful than anything you’ve ever known.

So where does that place the Tournament in your life this weekend?  It’s as I’ve always said – a tremendous opportunity to do something that God has given you the gifts to do.  It is a moment to live into a God-given passion to enjoy and find joy in.  It is a weekend and experience to savor and relish – not live in anxiety and fear from the pressure – because it is a rare opportunity that so few have experienced.  And that is what I would call a blessing.

Get after it this weekend on the Big Stage.  Go pursue those dreams.  Just know that God has a bigger dream for you and this moment is just one of many blessings God will place in your life.

I write these devotions for the Old Dominion University Wrestling Team, which competes in NCAA Division I.  

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Weekend Word (3/5): “A Song of Quiet Trust”

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul……O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.” ~Psalm 131:1-2a; 3)

The title of this Psalm in my bible is “Song of Quiet Trust.”  I might rename it the “Song of Pre-Tournament & Match preparation.”  I remember getting pretty amped up before important competition…..the lights, the crowd, the atmosphere, knowing what’s at stake.  I’d both thrive and get paralyzed by it at the same time.
This psalm calls us to trust and hope in God…..because God and our relationship with him is so much bigger than moments like end of season tournaments.  The looming competition doesn’t seem so large in the face of the role God plays in our lives.  We don’t get caught up in all the “too great and marvelous things” we cannot control, but rather find a quiet, yet strong confidence to do the task in front of us: the next takedown; the next escape or reversal; winning the whistle on top and getting that riding time built up….score the next point.
May you find that quiet strength and resolve in God for the weekend ahead…..and in your life beyond it.
I write these devotions for the Old Dominion University Wrestling Team, currently ranked #17 in the nation in NCAA Division I.

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