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Bonding with the Team

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     I’ve seen numerous polls and surveys that identify Penn State sports fans as being among the most loyal fans in college sports.  I’ve not experienced any other major college environments, but I’ve often said that standing in the midst of 110,000 raucous fans in Beaver Stadium is, by far, the most intense sports experience I’ve ever had, and I can’t imagine a greater one. 

     What is it that produces such commitment and loyalty to a sports team?  One of central dynamics at work in the creation of a fan is the bonding power of sharing intensely emotional experiences together with the players, coaches, and other fans.  The proverbial “thrill of victory” will create an attachment between people that can overcome a multitude of differences. 

      I was a teenager in the Pittsburgh area in the 1970’s when the Pirates won two World Series championships and the Steelers won four Super Bowls and a life-long allegiance was formed.  Then I moved to Philadelphia in 1992 and worked hard to embrace the Philly sports teams.  The Phillies went to the World Series the following year (and lost in heart-breaking fashion), but then followed 14 years of futility with few bright spots.  But I’ll never forget a game late in the 2007 season, when the Phillies took over first place in their division on the way to making the play-offs for the first time since 1993.  I was at the stadium that night, and as I walked out of Citizen’s Bank Park I saw amazing things – total strangers hugging and high-fiving each other; people beeping their horns and hanging out of their cars shouting joyfully to each other; and others waving flags and rally towels and declaring their eternal devotion to the Phils.  And then a year later I stood and shivered with over a million fans, in a corporate act of emotional catharsis, as we watched the parade on Broad Street after the Phils won the World Series, and 25 years of frustration and championship famine in Philadelphia were washed away.

     But the intensely emotional experiences that produce fans and bind them to one another don’t have to be positive ones.  “The agony of defeat” can also produce deep attachments.  How else do you explain Chicago Cubs fans?!  The difference between suffering together through an excruciating loss in a big game and surviving front-line warfare together in a foxhole is only a (great) difference in degree, not a difference in kind.

     This “bonding-through-intense-experience” phenomenon isn’t inherently good or evil…it just is; it’s human nature.  But, in some ways, the process is amplified in ministry situations.  I’d always heard about bonding effect of short-term missions trips, but until I joined the team that went to Turkey over a decade ago, I had no idea how strong that experience can be.  You feel like you develop an intimacy with your team members that would normally take months or years to develop in other circumstances.

     We all long for these kinds of deep connections with other people, and we try to develop them through superficial experiences, like sports events, parties, or hobbies.  But, as Christians, we have a far deeper unity and intimacy available to us, through the indwelling spirit of Jesus Christ.   These are the spiritual bonds that are most satisfying.  But we need to share the gamut of intense spiritual and emotional experiences that happen when we worship and minister together – both good and bad experiences, the highs of celebrating conversions and changed lives along with the lows of persecution, grief, and disappointment in life and each other.

      You can’t experience these kinds of relationships if you’re sitting on the sidelines of our church.  If you invest little of yourself in the life and ministry of the congregation, you will receive little in the way of reward.  Come to Sunday School.  Stay long after worship for fellowship.  Join a small group.  Join a ministry team.  Challenge yourself to stretch in the sacrifice of your time and talents for Christ’s kingdom, and see if you don’t begin to feel as though you’re part of the team… better yet, part of the family.  And the closer you draw to God’s people, the closer you will draw to Him.

     “…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”   1 John 1:3-4

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

An Educational Foundation

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in State College since my family moved here in 2012 has been in the skyline of the town. It’s been shocking to see so many new high-rise apartment and commercial buildings being erected in such a short period of time. Older two-story buildings disappear, and several months later a monolithic structure stands in its place.

     The only stage of constructing these buildings that seems to take a long time is the laying of the foundation. We will drive by the construction site for months, seeing nothing but tarp-covered fences surrounding a huge square pit, while an army of workers create the most important part of the structure. Once this base and infrastructure is in place, the rest of the building will rise quickly. A strong foundation makes for a strong building; a weak foundation will be catastrophic.

     When we go to Scripture, we find that the responsibility of training our children is one of our highest callings as parents. This is the long, slow process of building the foundation for their lives. We live in a culture where the vast majority of a parent’s responsibility to educate their children is delegated to others – the nursery schools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. For most parents, we feel we’ve done our job if our kids get their diplomas and in our spare time we teach them how to cook, sew, play baseball, or build a bird house. The educational responsibility has been so thoroughly delegated that most parents, either consciously or subconsciously, see it as the ultimate duty of the state or the private school to prepare our children for life.

     I’m not advocating here for one particular method of educating our children. Every family and every child is different, and parents have the responsibility to decide what is best. For our family, a solid Christian school was the best option. It is a good and often necessary option for parents to seek assistance in training their children and to delegate some of the responsibility to teach. Believe me, my children wouldn’t have wanted me to teach them trigonometry! But it is the parents, and especially the fathers, who will stand before God and give an account for the stewardship of their children’s education.

     The most important “course” that our children should be taking continually is Biblical Theology and Application. In Deuteronomy 6:5-7 the Lord says to parents, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Training in the Scriptures must permeate the lifestyle of our households.

     A thorough knowledge of God’s Word and a Biblical worldview are the foundation of all other learning. Ecclesiastes 12:11-13 says, “...like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd…Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh…Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” In other words, the study of history, mathematics, science, and the arts is not only worthless, it is dangerous if it isn’t built upon the foundation of a Biblical worldview. Our children must know the Bible and see all of life in its light.

      How complete and how sound is the foundation of your children’s education?