You might wonder what a blog post on Jim Tressel is doing on the Dancing Cripples blog. Three reasons.
- – I grew up playing football, played division 3 for a university in Minnesota.
- – Even as a pastor if there is one title I covet it’s that of coach. Coaching is my best model for pastoring.
- – It’s near impossible to live in State College for 17 years and not be a Penn State football fan. Which in turn means Ohio State is the team you love to hate — in a purely sports-hate-way.
So when I got the news this morning — from a facebook status update — I felt strangely torn between two citizenships. I have a Penn State football citizenship that smiles — at least inwardly — for Tressell resignation. I have a Kingdom of God citizenship that is heartbroken for a Christian leader that has taken a fall. So let me just share a few thoughts from my KoG citizenship.
1) I do not doubt that I share KoG citizenship with Jim Tressel. In 2002, in the midst of their national title drive, Jim was asked, “What is the most important question you have ever been asked?” In response he shared about a question asked of him at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event. “If you died tonight, do you think you would go to heaven?” That question led him to do some soul searching which led him in the direction of Jesus. You can find article after article that details Jim’s faith in action as a coach at Ohio State. You can find interview after interview with young men who were helped in their journey toward Christ by Jim Tressel.
2) I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure of being a division one football coach. Like two tectonic plates buckling up, the stress between Kingdom of God citizenship and the expectations of Division One Football success are prime ground for spiritual earthquakes. It’s difficult to judge if you can’t put on a man’s shoes and walk in his life. I can’t. And I can’t say that it would never have happened to me.
3) Christians leaders fail. Simplify and broaden that statement. Christians screw up. Sometimes it’s a one time mess, that leaves you thinking, “Where in the world did that come from?” Sometimes it comes from our own character defects. Even little ones multiplied by time can appear huge in a moment. In fact so often the failures are small decisions magnified over time.
4) I don’t know the whole story, but perhaps one of Tressel’s most damaging mistakes was the lack of transparency. We all screw up, but redemption seems to run quicker and deeper when we own it, and apologize for it. What really angers the world is when we pretend that we never fail.
5) We shouldn’t be so surprised when Christian leaders fall, that’s the nature of war. Is Jim responsible for whatever decisions he made that contributed to this mess? Yes. But the Bible makes it incredibly clear — the spiritual life involves spiritual battle. It’s a real battle with real casualties and our spiritual enemy is wise enough to go after high profile leaders.
6) Jim Tressel’s story isn’t over. He isn’t the author of his story. The news media isn’t authoring his story. God is. I don’t know his whole story but I know that this resignation need not be “the story of his life.” If he is a follower of Jesus, the gospel is the story of his life and the story of the gospel is a story of forgiveness and redemption and grace which gives us the freedom to change our paths.
7) There are people right now thinking, “I had hoped that he was different.” It’s my hope that citizens of the Kingdom of God will show their “difference” by giving grace and praying with all our might that Jim’s story will ultimately be an exhibition of the grace of God. There are consequences to sin, neither extending grace, nor embracing grace will erase all the consequences. But I’m confident that God’s not done with Jim yet. In fact I’m going to go out and buy his book. I’ll keep it on my desktop to remind me to pray for him…and the rest of his story.