Thursday, October 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
- One of my close friends dies while playing pickup basketball. Eric was 24, and a leader in the African-American community. He was laboring for the Kingdom, and loving his wife and children well. This world is so broken…
- A player walks into the weight room in street clothes. “Are you lifting today”, I ask. He responds, “I don’t know. I have to see when my dad can come by to help me move my stuff. My grandma put me out.” Another player responds through laughter, “Again?! What did you do this time?” To them, it’s just the way it is…
- We bought protein powder to give to our guys after workouts. Many high schools do this in order to get their players bigger and stronger. That would be a great perk for us, but our main desire is that our players simply have some type of nutrition, because there is no guarantee they’ll get it at home…but that’s the way it is.
- One of our players will be a star. He’ll be able to go to any college he wants to, and he talks about it all the time. He’s always leading by example. Yet, yesterday he decided he wanted to be cool and hold someone else’s marijuana. Caught, suspended, arrested…how can he not connect holding that bag to his chances of college? Something is wrong here…
- A player opens up to me and tells me a lot about his life. His mom was able to buy a house, which is a huge step. But she put her boyfriend’s name on the deed, only to discover he was little more than a cheat and a drunk. She can get no help from the authorities because they are all his drinking buddies. She has to spread her kids out in various places. “I sleep on my sister’s couch. My mom won’t let us near him because she knows we’ll beat him up. I just want to have a room again.” Does it bother him? “It makes me mad, but that’s just how it is.”
The difference between my view of the brokenness of this world and that of these youth is simple: To them, “it’s just the way it is”. I agree, “it’s the way it is”…but that’s not how it should be. And I can claim the promise that the broken world we live in will be restored to the fullness God intends. That truth keeps me going, and keeps me praying that these youth will one day embrace the gospel, giving them a reason to hope in the midst of more suffering than I’ll ever experience. The reality of “the way it is” might not change, but at least they’ll know the truth: “It’s not how it should be, and it’s not how it will be”.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
He shouldn’t have made it through college with the success and impact he did. How many guys have a child the first week of their freshman year, yet still manage to maintain a solid GPA, a successful Division I basketball career, and be integrally connected to many other students and activities on campus? I’ve heard of few doing such a thing, and none who remain intensely committed to raising their child well.
And what about after his dream of playing any type of professional basketball ended? After he tore the second ACL? Was he devastated? Did he give up on life, and just spend the rest of his days drifting aimlessly like so many others who have faced the same reality? No, Eric had perspective. He knew that basketball in and of itself was absolutely worthless to all of us. It’s a sport. It’s merely a game. It’s nothing more—unless it is used for a greater good. And Eric knew this.
And, finally, Eric had a vision of reality that many of us don’t. He recognized that his first son’s mother was not someone to consider marriage with. He wasn’t proud of the out-of-wedlock birth, but he knew that this just wouldn’t work. So he waited. And eventually he found a woman worth waiting for, and he married Tanya and they were blessed to have a child together as well. Isaiah could grow up around a stable home with his new brother Caleb because his father had the fortitude to embrace a hard reality, while trusting in a more hopeful future.
How did Eric live in a way that was so counter-cultural? How does a young man swim upstream, against the current of our world? He was rooted in Jesus Christ, grounded in the very grace that saved him not long after that first week of his freshman year. I was privileged to know Eric through college, and to see him mature into a man of God. His growth in the faith and trust in the Lord enabled him to live as he did. Basketball became a tool to share the gospel, which is why he was playing Wednesday night. He wanted to use his gift to impact the world, and he did. He wanted to invest his life into the lives of other men, and he did. He wanted to love Tanya, Isaiah, and Caleb well, and he did that too.
Eric Marshall wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t without his faults and flaws. None of us are. But he lived a redeemed life, one that was passionate for the gospel. That is was set him apart. He didn’t just make it through life; he lived hard, and he lived well. His is a life we should all emulate. May we pursue that same life, may we pursue our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
First, the reason I was asked to speak was because the subject of their weekend event was Justice. The students initiated this opportunity to learn more about what justice is, God’s heart for it, and how we are called to live it out in our world. Did you catch that—the students wanted to learn more! All around the room were large banners the students had made, each with an issue of justice such as Human Trafficking and Child Soldiers, and the countries where these injustices are presently ongoing. After the previous night's talk, the students spent time praying about each of these issues. We ate a meal of only rice as a reminder of the suffering of many around the world. They spent Saturday morning serving with several ministries in the area, but the more amazing thing is that they serve in this way at least once a month. In spending a few hours with these students, I could tell that many of them had a true zeal for the Lord.
To top it all off, they were an engaging audience that responded to the injustice that has been done in East St. Louis, and, hopefully, to my challenge for them to live as people who cultivate God’s character within them and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Their youth minister (whom I embarrassingly had called by wrong name 3 times in my talk—see below!) told me they were going to send our ministry an honorarium. I obviously was very thankful, but even more thankful to have simply been around these youth for several hours yesterday. What a challenging reminder of how we are to pursue the Lord and live out of His character!
(Okay, here is the story. His name is Dustin. Our pastor’s name is Darrin. I called him Dustin all afternoon, until somehow our pastor’s name came up in conversation. From that point on, I called him Darrin…until he pointed out my mistake after I finished my talk. Unbelievable! He laughed it off, but I felt like a total idiot!)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
- I'm still only going to after-school workouts, but now I take a group of athletes and train them on my own after our weight workout
- We are going to start taking guys out to eat on Fridays after they work out...This Friday will be the first time we go, and I'm anxious to see if Golden Corral is going to allow us to come back next week!
- I always give guys rides home from practice, and it's a great time for conversation
- Kristin made her first big sale yesterday, and we're hoping that her business will grow as our network of relationships grows.
- She also has just recovered from foot surgery, and expects to begin volunteering some at the high school next week.
That's the positive news. On the more sobering end of things, we've had three shootings in the last week. This isn't abnormal, as violence increases with temperature in our area. One of the shootings was at an intersection I pass by twice each day--a sobering reminder that our earthly lives are temporal, and we ought to be about what truly matters. I tell you this to ask you to pray that this trend doesn't continue. One of the victims was one of our seniors who had signed with the University of Illinois to play football. We think he'll have surgery and recover enough to play, but this is just such a picture of what these kids face every day--and the "matter-of-factness" with which they talk about these incidents is even more indicative of the obstacles they face in East St. Louis. Please pray with us that this does not continue to be the norm.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Instead of buying much needed training plates for our athletes (I won't bore you with what those are), which would have cost over $250, Kristin and I made them out of plywood for only $30! Coach Sunkett was really excited when I showed him what we'd done. God gave us the creative spirit we needed to meet a need at our high school, which is giving us in-roads into the East St. Louis community!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
To those of you who weren’t athletes, I don’t know what comparison I can give you to help you understand how this is truly helping to foster and grow my relationship with the players. There is a certain bond between players and a coach that really pursues them both athletically and personally, and I can really sense a start of that bond. Now, we have a LONG way to go, and I’m only interacting with about 20-25 different players, but I think it’s a great start. Just the fact that I have two freshmen who look to me for a ride home every day is a sign that we’re making great relational progress, and that we haven’t taken minimal baby steps, but “Big Baby Steps”!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Every day at 2 o’clock I start readying myself for afternoon workouts at the high school. I head over there each afternoon knowing that this day won’t be like a previous day. Maybe there will be a few new guys there. Maybe there will be a coach I haven’t met yet. Either way, I am faced again with the same mistrust and suspicion that everyone gives me. Friday I went, and there were only two players who stayed around to lift—so we cancelled it. Yesterday none of us could find the coaches. It’s surprising how stressful the uncertainty can be! I gave a freshman a ride home Friday. My head is spinning: “Do I force conversation? He’s obviously young, and so it will be tough…How many questions are too many? What’s too personal?” These things might seem small, but when you’re trying to earn rapport in a community like East St. Louis, they are big!
It’s also hard for me, a person who is really driven, to realize that in three weeks, I’ve spent probably about 5 hours around teenagers. 5 hours, that’s all! But, I think God is using this to teach me the same things that he’s teaching those affected so heavily by the economy. We are called to “walk in the Spirit”. This isn’t done through some thunderbolt and lightning revelation, but through the daily, routine things that we are called to do. Each day I make it a point to study the Bible. I pray. I try my best to ensure Kristin is doing well. I try to check out of everything to keep my sanity. I trust God to lead my by His Spirit as I surrender myself through these actions. And, most of all, I remember why we are here, and that “He who called is faithful”, and it is God’s responsibility to guide, shepherd, and sanctify me. May you embrace this truth wherever you are and whatever you are facing, and may you pursue the daily, routine things that--by His grace--produce revolutionary results!
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
After I left I talked to my college defensive coordinator, which was most helpful. "You know how much you know. I know what you know. They don't know anything about you or what you know," he said. This is so true. No one up here knows anything about us. They don't know my football background. They don't know how long we have been planning to move here, or how our hearts bleed for the city. But one of the suggestions my coach gave me was to take some of the coaches to lunch. I can do that. I also think I'll be able to give some players rides home after workouts. Hopefully soon I'll be able to be in the weight room during school hours. These things I can and will do...and hopefully, eventually, I'll "earn my stripes", opening the door to many gospel conversations.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
But while it was great to learn a lot about the city, it was also really exciting to dream of partnering and learning from one another. The CAC focuses on a specific neighborhood in the city. They draw kids from across the city, but their core aim is to minister to the children and families right around the Samuel Gompers housing projects. This is exactly what we want to do in a different part of East St. Louis. It was really exciting to think of how we could facilitate and enhance one another's ministry. Mostly, I think they will be helping us! But, it's still really exciting to be able to lock arms with other brothers for the sake of Kingdom advancement in our city.
Here is the link to the CAC's website: http://www.cacesl.org/index.html.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Sunday, December 21, 2008
February 3, 2009. The day we'll leave the South, all we've known, all that's familiar, all that's comfortable. We're often tempted to focus on the negative or throw pity parties, but in this season I'm especially reminded of what Jesus did for us. To enter humanity as an infant? To leave the pleasures of heaven for the cross? To experience separation from God so that we might experience eternity with Him? Yes, these are incredible sacrifices, and our recognition of them makes it much easier to follow God's call.
Not only does the recognition of Jesus' work give us courage, but it assures us of purpose and allows us to dream of how God would use us. What will happen in East St. Louis? We have no idea. But we can dream. It's our dream that our neighborhood will be transformed into a place where our kids can freely ride their bikes, and that they'll be taught-and even discipled-by the 14 year-old who is presently concerned only with football, sex, and the drama of gang life.
This Christmas season, I urge you to search out what God's purpose for your life is. Where is He calling you to sacrifice? To step out of your comfort zone? Is He calling you to follow Him to an unfamiliar place? It's hard, it's uneasy, and certainly uncomfortable-but step out, and God will draw you closer to Himself, and He will use you more than you can imagine!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
It's easy to get wrapped up in all of the issues and not really address any of them. And, it would be easy to think that simply addressing all of the external issues would produce lasting change. But, the reality is that, even if all issues and problems in a society were erased, the people would still be the same. In other words, the real issue is that we are sinful and separated from God, and apart from the restoration of that relationship, anything else is like using a mere band-aid to cover an epidemic.
I have come to this conclusion: We must build leaders for the Kingdom of God. We must build leaders who remain in the city, who reinvest their lives in the next generation, who reproduce themselves, and who reverse the cycles of generational sin. As we build these leaders, we will address many needs, and that attention will be much more effective and lasting as it is coupled with Gospel transformation. Then, through these leaders, we will continue to address the needs of the city--always focusing on the core Need--for generation after generation.