Sunday, December 16, 2012

The End Of The First Quarter

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I am the Boys Varsity coach for the Knoxville Ambassadors. It is an all volunteer organization that provides sports for students who are home schooled. We play at the 1A level but if one were to look at the organization, I think we'd honestly say that we are more of a small school. This statement comes mostly from the view that we have no gym, our budget is minuscule compared to other school programs, we have no professional staff, and no training facilities. Given all of that, we are extremely competitive while still having a heart of ministry.

Watching 30 For 30's "The Guru Of Go" got me to thinking that I should journal about what my impressions are of our ongoing basketball season. I've always been fascinated with Paul Westhead and his run and gun offense. Also, I knew a guy who knew Corey Gaines who played point guard during Westhead's time at Loyola Marymount. Westhead kept a journal of his thoughts given the unorthodox way in which he coached basketball. Considering I'm running the very unorthodox "Read And React" offense and at times a hybrid match up zone, I figured writing my thoughts down would come in handy for future reference.
We are now at the approximate first quarter of our season. We are a tough 4-9 with three games against 2A schools coming up. We just lost a double overtime game by 3 points. We got blown out by a couple of elite schools. We had a couple of heartbreaking losses. Just writing that sounds pretty depressing but in reality, I'm very encouraged.

First and foremost I ask myself is do I have my priorities straight? In that I mean am I here to glorify the Father; the One who has given me this opportunity? I see these young men and they are of the highest in character. This is obviously a reflection of the God honoring families that they come from. What I see is that I have this amazing opportunity to encourage the next generation of Christian men to be the stand up, high character men that this world so desperately needs. My hope is that they can be the ones who mentor, lead and impact this world. In the wake of the recent shooting in Connecticut, is it more obvious that we need engaged, high character mentors and leaders? So I look at my role and see that I need to teach them the need to persevere. I teach that it takes hard work, fundamentals and teamwork to achieve the important goals in life. I see that in victory or defeat, it's the heart of the individual that God measures. I know that I have lots to learn in these areas myself. After a tough loss it took a lot within myself not to act out in anger - not at the team, but just frustration on how the outcome wasn't what I wanted or what I wanted for the team. Perhaps I am growing in my own self awareness - progress!

As for the actual games and the team, I reflect and think just how much fun I can have with all of the stress and intense level of thought that it requires of me. It really is a crazy love it and hate it at the same time feeling. Perhaps hate isn't the right word, but more of a loathing. I love sports and I think that my whole life I tended to be more analytical about the games as opposed to being so physically involved in them. I'm sure being mostly a bench warmer makes a huge difference as well. I think that my desire to teach, mentor and be competitive adds up to the fire I need to coach the game. I love being involved in the game. I love it when the team succeeds. I love it when they fight hard no matter what.

On offense, using the Read And React system has been a revelation. I have been able to actually speak to its creator, Rick Torbett. I have seen this crazy philosophy come to fruition in an offense that resembles the Rick Barry led Golden State Warriors. The team is executing it at a higher and higher level. With that is the beauty of basketball. There's ball movement, player movement leading to exciting offense. The interesting thing is that a coach must learn to let go and trust the decision making of the players. Although I have a white board on the sideline, I rarely have to pull it out. My timeouts have become mostly a time to remind the team to stay in the offense. It's strange, but I feel a sense of mentoring and empowering to give these young men the chance to run the offense. It's not an extension of me, but an expression of their God given talent. Beyond that, it teaches them to trust each other, trust the coaches and in a much deeper sense, learn to trust themselves. I've had many compliment the team's exciting and disciplined execution of "my" offense. The strange reality is that it's all them. I'm only there to help them find what God has put into them.
My good friend John asked me if I'm enjoying myself. I think that would be an understatement. I feel that God has put me here for a reason. I say this and feel deeply humbled. I clearly have made enough mistakes in life and even leading this team that would easily cause many to think that I am unworthy of such an opportunity. It has become the ministry that I'm involved in at this point in my life. It causes me to lose sleep. I'm sure that in many ways I could let it become my obsession. For now, I'll call it my passion. Perhaps it will lead to something bigger for me (Coaching at a higher level? Heck, I can always dream), but right now my prayer is that it will be something big for the young men on the team. I hope that they can look back on their high school basketball days and think that they were good times; that they grew spiritually through it and that God was there in their midst. If so, 4-9 looks really sweet.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Happy Days


Today you have given me one of the happiest days in my life. Today I can truly call you my son. It may cause you mixed feelings to hear that, but know it's what I feel deep inside. I know that this has been a long and difficult process for you and I know that many times I made things worse with my own stupid actions. Know that I have hurts in my life that I have to work through and sadly you get caught up in them. I will continue to work to be a better father and role model for you. I'm sorry if it embarrased you when I cried in front of everyone. Understand that a man can and should feel deeply even though society makes fun of men crying. I want you to know that I'm so happy and that I want the world to know how I feel about you.

On this day, there's a few things I want you to know:

Romans 8:15-16
"The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children."
I want you to know that being adopted may seem like you are someone who stands out and is different but that is far from the truth. We are all adopted since God our Father has adopted each one of us into His family. I know that this can be a hard label to have on you, but know that being adopted means that you were chosen. I chose YOU to be my son. You are the only one that I would pick for my son. I hope that you can let that sink in for a moment so that you can understand just how much I wanted you to be part of my family. Know that even more, God wanted you to be in His family. He wanted it so badly that He would literally die for you. You are loved and wanted that much.

Matthew 17:5
"... 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!'”
I want you to know that I am proud of you. When I talk to others I proudly say that you are my son. You show so much bravery through all of what you have been through. You are a strong young man who shows so much care to people. I know that so many adults are impressed with how much love and care you show to young children. That is a special character trait that you have. You are a very smart person who is just finding out how much potential that you have. There are so many things that you can be and the possibilities are endless.

Finally, I want you to know that I'm on your side and have your back. I will always cheer for you and encourage you. Sometimes, it may feel like I'm being hard on you, but know that I do what I do because I want the best for you. Sometimes what is best requires pain, hard work and patience. The most important things in life require that of you and I know that it's not easy. Please never give up and keep improving. The payoff is great when you put in the effort! I will be there by your side and rooting you on.

Thank you for giving me one of the BEST days of my life. I'm not sure if I can fully put into words what this day means to me. Just know that you are my beloved son with whom I am very proud of.


Your Adoptive Dad, Naka

Monday, October 29, 2012

Good Vibrations

I know that many have had the pleasure to see "their" team win the championship so my experience is not unique. I write this to get it off of my mind and in case you are a Giants fan, can share in the joy. Last night the San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series. My team is the champion of baseball!

I think that more than any other team, in any other sport the Giants are so closely ingrained into my life. Candlestick Park was where I got to see my very first professional sports event. It was at a time when the outfield wasn't enclosed, Willie Mays was heading into the twilight of his brilliant career and I was an impressionable child who saw the magical game of baseball. I remember seeing the green grass and larger than life stars of the day. I still can picture in my mind's eye Mays at the plate, McCovey's long stretch for the putout, the flamboyant Tito Fuentes flipping hit bat before stepping in the box. That sort of bond can last a lifetime. The players have changed, the stadium changed, but the game and the team are the same.

I remember being a fan when it wasn't cool. Those lean years of the Stoneham family trading off its stars (May, McCovey, Perry, Maracial, Maddox, Foster, Sarge Matthews) was such a trying time. There were some bright spots, Vida Blue became my favorite pitcher, Joe Morgan's home run kept the hated Dodgers out of the playoffs in 1982. After the horrible 1985 (100 loss) year, Roger Craig  and Will Clark brought on a great period of prosperity. I was just out of college, had season tickets and my team was winning:
1987 NL West Champions
1989 NL Pennant (my first playoff games, and my only World Series experience: the earthquake game).
1993 brought on the Bonds era with the last great division race, after that a baseball labor dispute and some up and down years. 2002 brought another pennant and a nightmare game 6.
I see that through all those years, I grew up, went to college, got a job, went to Cooperstown,  got married, had kids and even bought a campground. The one thing that was missing: a championship.
2010 fixed that:

46 years on earth and I finally got to see it happen. The Giants are champions! Stud pitching (Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Wilson) and timely hitting (Huff, Ross, Uribe and most of all: Edgar Renteria) characterized this team. Lots of unknowns stepping up along with a staff of arms that could be lights out. I strangely feel like in some weird way I can die in peace now.
Fast forward to 2012:

Even better pitching (Zito, Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Romo) with some clutch hitting (Sandoval, and Scutaro) and you have another championship. So today, I'm ecstatic. I'm wearing my Giants jersey to work. All those cold nights at the 'Stick, seeing Willie Mays traded, all those lean years, the embarrassment of the steroid era, the 2002 debacle, losing on the last day in 1993 for now all background noise drowned out by two championships. The joy of baseball is back and I'm again that little kid wide eyed and loving the good vibrations of it all.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Christ The Action Hero

Late August is a cool time to have a birthday. When I was a kid, it was a last hurrah before "back to school" became a sad reality. These past few years, those at Lionsgate have decided that late August was the perfect time to release The Expendables and its sequel, the creatively named The Expendables 2. It means that the question "What do you want to do on your birthday?" is any easy answer for me. I want to see a loud movie with some good old buddies from the past: Sly, Arnold, Bruce, Jet, Dolph, Jean Claude, Chuck and Jason.
The premise behind the Expendables is about as subtle as a jackhammer. It involves killing, explosions, killing, fist fights, killing, automatic weapons, killing, blood, killing, gore and killing. The plot is about as deep as puddle of water. Half of the stars have heavy accents (Jet, Arnold, Dolph and Jean Claude) that make them completely unintelligible the rest mumble and grunt their lines in an equally unintelligible way. I love it. For some reason, it gets my blood pumping. It's great to see bad guys meet their gory demise at the hands of some steroid pumped middle aged maniacs. Perhaps the simplicity of knowing who's the bad guy and who's the good guy can be refreshing in this post modern world we live in. What I also realized is that on the most basic level it has elements that all men crave for. We all need to belong with a bunch of like minded guys. We crave adventure (loud exploding and combative adventure) righting the wrongs of the world. We like having command over powerful things (grenades, Uzis, rocket launchers). I think that deep down we know that there's a fight to be fought and an evil to conquer and talking about our feelings isn't always the answer.

In looking back in cinema, even if the hero isn't a life sized action figure, Hollywood seems to have connected with that deep need in men's lives. The 80's had Rambo, John McClane and The Terminator. Going further back there was Dirty Harry, John Wayne, The Lone Ranger, Superman and one of my favorites Humphrey Bogart. The window dressing changes with the times, but each of them had something fierce within them. When looking at Christ I'm beginning to see that this is an ignored part of His character. Sadly for men, it weakens the appeal of the most important man to walk the earth. This in turn has seriously damaged the church. If we continue to see Jesus as a bearded guy in a white dress, it will continue to turn men away from the One who can truly engage us as men.

One thing that all these action stars have is some sort of code of ethics. Around our house I'm apt to ask "What's Gibbs' rule number nine?" This is in reference to the TV show NCIS whose lead is played by Mark Harmon. Gibbs' life is directed by a set of rules (by the way the answer is "Never go anywhere without a knife."). That's a rule that I want all my kids to follow. It means to be prepared (sound familiar?). A code is a great and simple way to find direction since life always has surprises.

I've read that Clayton Moore who is best known for playing the Lone Ranger was so deeply impressed with the character that he took on the Lone Ranger's code of ethics for his own life:
"I believe...

  • that to have a friend, a man must be one.
  • that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
  • that God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
  • in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
  • that a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
  • that 'this government of the people, by the people, and for the people' shall live always.
  • that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
  • that sooner or later...somewhere...somehow...we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
  • that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
  • in my Creator, my country, my fellow man."

That's pretty darn impressive. I'm considering using this one from the movie "Kingdom Of Heaven":
"Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright, that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong; that is your oath."
Best of all would be to find something from Proverbs or The Sermon On The Mount as this is pure wisdom. A life verse of course works well too. I love Hebrews 12:1-3:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Like I said before Humphrey Bogart is one of my favorite actors. Although he's played the bad guy, the crazy guy, and the coward, he's most famous for his heroic characters: Rick from Casablanca, Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, Charlie Allnut in The African Queen and Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. There's a sense of cool about him. He's the smartest guy in the room. He knows how to talk his way around things, shoot his way out of things and punch his way through things. There's a quiet confidence about him. I heard one guy lament how he wished he could have that sort of air about him. Not a phony facade, but a deep and settled peace that affected others. When I read the gospels now, I see that in Christ. No, he didn't punch people out, but he knew how to confront and even trash some scenery. Deep inside of Him is a fierce, tough confidence that should connect to all men. He feared no one and commanded respect. That's cool!

Back to the Expendables, I continue to marvel at how satisfying it is to just go out and kick butt. My therapist once said that I needed to find ways of being more of a bada** (he is a Christian by the way). Whether it's Jet Li doing some serious kung fu, Arnold cracking skulls, or Stallone raining bullets from an assault rifle, there's something really deep (and dare I say spiritual) about action. God has called men to confront evil. Sadly we're wrongly taught to only be nice boys who get along with everyone. There's a time for that and a time to fight (I think Solomon said something like that). What would happen if we let our sons and young men be fierce for Christ? If we instead of relegating them to virtual Xbox battles had them go out and really engage the world? Would it be scary, messy, dangerous and at times choatic? You bet! I also think that we would have stronger churches and Christ's power would be far more obvious to the world. Let's find ways to break free from our cultural norms!

Perhaps it would be a shock to many that Christ was the ultimate man. He was tough beyond our imagination, a "manly" man who could take on anything. He is nothing like the bearded guy in a white dress that we see so often in the church. Knowing that is a game changer for me. Beyond "little baby Jesus", the suffering Savior, and the Lamb Of God, He is a Warrior, and a Lion. I got to be up close with a lion once and it scared the life out of me. This was an awesome creature that possessed the power to crush and kill me in about a second. That is the One I want to be on my side in a fight: cool, fierce, grounded, tough and in command.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jabez Knew What He Was Talking About

1 Chronicles 4:9-10
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request.

Bruce Wilkerson wrote a book a while ago called The Prayer Of Jabez. It was a big deal when it came out and controversial for what he claimed: Jabez's prayer that is listed in 1 Chronicles possesses the powerful prayer framework that will transform your life. Many in the Christian world scoffed at what they saw as a prosperity gospel message while others claimed it is a huge revelation. I'm mostly in the middle on these matters as many look at what's external and not at the heart condition. Any message of Christ can be twisted to justify a prosperity gospel message while others sensationalize what is Truth and lose what has been rooted in God's character from the beginning. I personally think that Wilkerson's book The Secrets Of The Vine is a much more powerful message, but prior to reading that I read The Prayer Of Jabez. This was about twelve years ago and focusing on just one aspect of the prayer was pretty eye opening: it revealed just how faithful God has been to me. It showed me that a persistence (even if at times my heart really wasn't into it or just plain being selfish) in prayer and the effect of drawing near to the Extraordinary has on me. It's actually quite comical and delightful.
I'm sure that to some this list isn't such a big deal. Many have lived amazing lives that are full of cool adventures and memories. For me, I consider my life pretty mundane. I haven't really distinguished myself in any field which makes anything amazing in my life very much God blessed. For that, I am thankful and will be thankful to Jabez and his example.
The one aspect of Jabez's prayer that stood out to me is "enlarge my territory". It sounds like a "make me rich" request, but it more about having us see that God a much larger story in store for us; that He desires for us to pray for audacious and crazy things that will be huge in advancing His Kingdom. It is a mindset that asks God to do something so big, that it can't possibly be from man.

I am originally from California. I had the mindset that I would live my whole life there. I had little desire to see much more than what I knew. I mean, I had snow in the Sierras, beaches in Santa Cruz, an engineering job in Silicon Valley, all of my family and friends nearby and all my favorite sports teams there. What I'd never consider is that I'd end up moving to Tennessee. Not only that, I'd end up owning a KOA campground in the very small town of Sweetwater. This means driving a tractor, cleaning sewers and dealing with difficult guests. It means that I wore a bright yellow shirt and drove a golf cart around while picking up trash and repairing just about anything that could get broken. It also stretched me to learn many new things. I had to be the janitor, the customer service representative, the bookeeper, mechanic, grounds maintenance man, marketing specialist and boss. I'm also glad to say that I believe my grandfather would be proud to know that his youngest grandson who grew up in the suburbs taught himself to drive a tractor. I was stretched beyond my own means. I prayed a lot about things since so much was riding on the success of the business. I learned so much about myself there. God expanded me in ways that I could never imagined if I'd stayed in Northern California.

I used to be adverse to travel. Believe it or not I hated the change, the strain of travel and just not being able to relax being away from what was comfortable. For some reason I started getting encouraged by others to get out and help minister away from my comfort zone. This has led me to helping build houses in Mexico. That in fact meant using outhouses and living in a dusty and dirty makeshift camp. It also meant meeting people who literally had no roof over their heads. It meant connecting to people with whom I barely could communicate with. It was so powerful to see the tears of joy of a sixty year old man as we handed him the keys to his newly built two room house. Going through that can change your heart. God showed me that I had much to learn about love and much to appreciate about what my life is.

Travel also means helping in the sticky, bug filled Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The destruction down there was shocking at times. I was in Waveland and was standing on an empty lot. It took me a few minutes before I realized it was a campground. If there's one thing I should easily recognize is a campground. I just couldn't see it because there was so much that was destroyed and that nothing around me was familiar. There were literally whole neighborhoods that were destroyed with all members of the families working: boys directing traffic, girls cooking, moms organizing while dads operated heavy equipment. This was community at its best.I learned how to repair roofs and do drywall work. I saw how generous people can be. I received many warm hugs of appreciation. This showed me that I have much to learn about mercy.

Travel also can involve and random call from a good college friend: one that invites you to get involved with a small village in the Western Highland of Guatemala. It would be a time to reconnect with my IVCF friends from college. Seeing the Mayan people made me think that somewhere at the Tower Of Babel, some of my ancestral relatives found their way to Central America while others found their way to southern Japan. I felt like a tall Mayan there. All of these trips involved lots of bottled water, but this one also involved building an outhouse. It also involed kids. Lots and lots of kids who seemed to love you instinctively. They also showed me that hard work is not lost on this generation. The people of Panyebar must be hard workers to survive. They also are looking for ways to thrive as they move more and more into the modern culture. God showed me the blessing of friendships that last a lifetime. It also showed me a lot about joy. Children with so little material possesions had the more valueable gift of joy; play was instictive and spontaneous; laughter was constant. I needed to expand my experience of joy and found it in Guatemala.

To be honest, I took a few college courses that were out of sheer laziness. Two of them were Basketball Training and Basketball Coaching Theory. Both of them aren't exactly Organic Chemistry in terms of complexity. Along with that I have spent all too much time watching sports. Somehow God even can use my laziness for His glory. I first volunteered to be an assitant coach for Fox's JV basketball team. It was my hope that this would be a good connecting time with him (and it has). I have found myself leaning on the things that I learned from basketball coaches and classes that I picked up along the way. Through some tragic circumstances (the head coach was in a car accident and thankfully is doing well), this led to me becoming the JV Head Coach. During the summer, the Varsity Head Coach retired; I was asked to fill his shoes. Is this something that I'm qualified to do? One definitely questions that. I know that being the kid who sat at the end of the bench in high school isn't an auspicious beginning to a coaching career. Anyway, I'm on the verge of my first season as a Varsity Basketball Head Coach. God has gifted me with some wonderful young men and a great pair of assistant coaches. I know that somehow, God is preparing us for something great. Maybe not in wins, but in terms of leading young men. My hope and prayer as we embark on this season is that each of us on the team grows to see more of God's leading in our lives; that He is intimately involved in the process of growing; and that His love for us is deeper than we can possibly imagine.
I see that Jabez was on to something. Not a magical set of words that will give you things you want, but something far better than that. It is access to seeing God work and not just far off somewhere, but deep and intimately in your life. It is a transformational experience that can only be accomplished by God. So Jabez and his prayer is much more about our heart condition. Are we ready for what God is going to do? Are we open to not only His leading but His vast stores of love?