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When I arrived at home after work on October 10, it was late evening, and I started to catch up on correspondence via Facebook, text message and email. I was reading the prayer of the day on our RighTrak Missional Community text message group when the following text message from Kim Tavernier, whom I’ve never met, popped up:

“Good evening, RighTrak! Please keep the Tavernier family in your prayers. James has been home from work for three weeks due to an injury and needs physical therapy to recover and go back to work. We are strained in every way and anxious over the uncertainty of his injury and pain and when it will heal, and at this point, we are hoping short-term disability will replace the income he’s lost and protect his job. Please lift us up. Thank you!”

While I can read the words she texted clearly now, that night I was reading something different. It went something like this:

“Family needs help. Dad gets hurt. Family in need. Help with bills. Frank help them up.”

I immediately put down my phone and started to pray. I tried to pray for the family, but I couldn’t. I tried to ask for help, but I couldn’t. When I had trouble finishing my prayer, I decided to try to watch TV, but I couldn’t. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. I first thought that I couldn’t do anything for this family because I don’t know them, their financial situation, what the patriarch of the family does for a living, or what’s really going on. Then I started praying for me. Not in a selfish way, but I asked God, “What can I do?” And that’s when God spoke to me. Many things from my past—the good, the bad and the ugly—all entered my mind simultaneously. It came so quickly, I can’t remember it all.

In the past, I have been down, literally. Due to an injury, I was not able to move for a month nor walk for three months. I had no income, no insurance and no food. But I had bills to pay and existing commitments, neither of which I knew how I was going to fulfill. I talked with two of my dear Rotarian friends about my situation, and they ended up hosting a garage sale for me. As I witnessed this act of kindness from a wheelchair, we raised more than $1,200 in five hours—what a blessing!

So back to the situation with the Taverniers, I knew two things: First, whatever I was going to do had to be big, i.e. more than $1,000. Second, I knew I could not do it on my own. I didn’t know anything about this family—why the injury, if they had any kids, what their bills were, or what they really needed. But I still couldn’t stop thinking and crying as I am right now.

Even after talking to David LeFevre, who leads RighTrak and with whom I served on the first table, all I kept hearing was “It’s all you.” Everything kept coming back to me. For days, it felt like all I was doing was talking to myself, even when I was speaking with friends and guests at the restaurant where I work. I needed to do something. I suggested a garage sale for this family in need, but there was no place to host it and a lack of donations and volunteers with less than a week’s notice. God stopped the garage sale for a reason and pointed me to the first option I considered, the Rotarians. I kept hearing “You start this, and I will do the rest.” I didn’t know it at the time, but it was God’s guidance. He said, “Tell the men, then leave it in my hands.”

Why not tell the Rotarians? Why am I a Rotarian? Why am I among these people? It’s what He has been planning for me. Everything became so clear as to what to do next, and the yeses started flowing. I shared my plan with David, and he said yes. So did the West U Rotary Club’s president. So tell the men and women of West U Rotary, I did.

Because I followed what God instructed me to do, His blessings poured out on the Taverniers, as He worked in the lives of many Rotarians, RighTrakers and members of the Cross Community Church, where the Taverniers are members. David posted this Help a Family on Mission page on the updated RighTrak website—I don’t think it was a coindience that he just launched the new RighTrak website with the capability to raise money for multiple causes. It was God’s perfect timing. David and I announced it at our Rotary club meeting the following Thursday, six days after Kim’s text message requesting prayer. As a result, God worked in the lives of many to raise nearly $1,500 to help the Tavernier family.

I still haven’t met the Tavernier family or know the whole situation, but I’m doing what God told me to do and am watching Him take care of the rest. It’s as amazing as anything I have ever seen or felt. I anticipate that I will meet the family sometime soon, and we will cry together. And maybe then, He may let me finish the prayer I started the evening of October 10.

As football and baseball compete for America’s heart as its national pastime, so too are the values reflected in those sports competing for America’s soul. The combative, warrior-aggression of football and all the impatience that goes with it versus the calculated collective effort of baseball with its seemingly slow pace. In part one of this two-part post I proposed that maybe we ought to take another look at the values we’re reinforcing, and I suggested that, as much as I absolutely love football, baseball might be perfect for America.

That’s right, baseball is perfect.

There is no need for time in baseball. There is no need to rush to score with a two-minute, no-huddle offense in baseball. There are 27 outs, and each team gets the same amount of them. There’s really no home field advantage because baseball stadiums never get too noisy (unless you’re Kansas City realizing a nearly 30-year old dream). There’s barely any need for instant replay, and it is used very seldomly. The game is focused around a diamond, which, when you think about this, is the perfect shape to illustrate man and the Trinity. You start at home, and you have to hit to advance. The only way home again is to advance to all of the bases. Each base is a person of the Trinity. Salvation is had for each person who takes a round of the bases of life. Knowing the Trinity is the way to home plate, the way to Heaven. It’s a diamond at the center of this sport and so, in a sense, it is God and His relationship with man at the center of it also. Baseball is symbolic of perfect unity of man and God. Baseball is symbolic for life. There’s just the field, a game, time to pass, hot dogs to eat and the rounding of the bases. The rounding of life. Baseball is the perfect sport to pass the time of life, and all you need is patience to enjoy the show. And like life, baseball endures. It endures strikes, performance-enhancing drugs, home-run-hitting obsessions and a gambling fiasco. It will also endure ebola. Don’t worry, we all will. Baseball is here to stay. It always has been.

You’ve heard the phrase before that “baseball is America’s pastime” and that can not be any more true. Since baseball’s inception in the 1800s, through numerous wars, economic downturns and civil rights movements, the majority of Americans played, discussed and watched one sport—baseball. Baseball was what connected us, much like God used to. And since baseball was a sport of order, perfection and patience, those values also connected us. Emphasis on past tense. What connects us today? Sadly, if you were to ask any American you would get different answers. But the real answer to what connects us today is social media. Social media literally connects us. Goodbye, God. Sadly it creates for us and speaks for us. Want to “talk?” Text it. Text it now! No need to wait. No need for patience. Just do the two-minute offense. No need to round the bases. We are a culture that has lost connection to our history, to our faith and to an ability to have a conversation. Baseball makes us have a conversation to pass the time. Baseball makes us slow down. America needs baseball.

To say “America needs baseball” basically means America needs God. We need to slow down and find our roots. We need a seventh inning to stretch. (Interesting that we stop to stretch in the seventh inning and that God rested on the seventh day. Coincidence?) We need to really connect and not connect in a rush. We need a conversation. God is not a two-minute offense, but He is a conversation in the ball park. God is the perfect game that does not need time or instant reply. All God wants is your patience and to talk. You see, with God there is no rush. We can’t hurry His timing. We can’t audible out of His will. And we can’t make His will happen in two minutes or less with perfect clock management and play calling. There is only the surrender to Him. We surrender to Him for the nine-plus innings of our lives and enjoy every moment with a conversation and a hotdog.

I love football. The sport is amazing. The aggression. The brutality. The creativity. The short half times. The rush. The ADD. The proverbial advancing to the end zones of life, land and conquest. But in the end, there will be no more land to claim. There will be no more natives to push around. America has taken it all that was once the frontier. The West has been won. We need to move on. We need to remember the sport that was played from the beginning and that endures on. We need baseball. We need to remember what connects us. We need to connect to God.

In Eternity there will be the perfect game played all day, forever. All we will do is enjoy the beautiful everlasting day on the diamond under the Son’s rays with the breeze of the wind, and we will continually round the bases with joy, forever. “Take me out to the ball game. Take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks. I don’t care if I ever get back …” Let’s get lost again. Let’s get lost and find a baseball game. Let’s get lost and find God. May He restore America back to what we once were—our pastime. Jeremiah 29:13-14 says:

  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.

Use your imagination for a minute. Trust me, I think you will like this. I want you to imagine a football game being played in Heaven. Jesus is the quarterback, and you are His star receiver. It’s 3rd down and 8, and the defense, led by David and his Mighty Men, are showing blitz. Jesus looks at you and gives a nod; not just any nod, but a nod that says, “it’s coming to you so be ready.” A nod that says “It’s go time!” Jesus says, “Hut,” and thunder cracks as pads hit. You run as fast as you can, which is faster than ever because you are in Heaven, after all, and the ball comes just over your right shoulder. It is a perfect pass. Touchdown! The celebration dances ensue. Moses gives you a chest bump. Jacob does that weird jump-up-turn-and-bump-hips thingy (but this time Jacob isn’t limping because this is Heaven, remember). The crowd of multitudes of every tribe, tongue and nation cheer with a sound so loud that it shakes the stadium. Is your blood boiling yet? Good. America loves football. I would venture to say that this image is one that most decent red-blooded Americans would love to have of Heaven.

We love the idea of forcefully advancing. We love the idea of an enemy attacking or a foe oppressing and our taking the foe by force. “For freedom and country!” we shout. Some might say Jesus even likes this idea. He says in Matthew 11:12:

  And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it.

This verse is one of the toughest verses in the New Testament to translate. (Just give this article a quick browse, and you’ll get a sense of how tough it is.) I share Martin Luther’s view that this verse is actually a good thing. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom is advancing forcefully into this world and violent men are eager to join in on the fun. The word that describes this activity in the Greek is βιάζεται (transliterated, biazetai). “Violent men” is doesn’t do the word justice because it refers to people who pursue something because they are eager to attain it! Jesus wants violent men. When I read this verse, which is also accounted in Luke 16:16, I can’t help but think of football. I want to forcefully advance with Jesus down the football field of this life with men and women who want to do the same. I want to blow through the Kingdom of Darkness with the Kingdom of Light. I want to score all the touchdowns or make all the amazing tackles. The truth is that America also wants this (though not always for His Kingdom).

Even before the founding of our nation we have been known to forcefully advance. We forcefully advanced into Christopher Columbus’ “new world” by ingenious play calling and audibles where we blitzed our way through native territory claiming land along the way as we saw fit. The poor Native Americans never saw it coming. They should have had better practice and film study. Victory took a few hundred years but it has been moderately swift and easy. (To show our appreciation for the sacrifice of the Native Americans, we named a few sports teams after them. I’m sure they’re thrilled.) We still have this blitz mentality today, and it pervades the American psyche. Freedom is perhaps our highest value, but by “freedom” we do not mean our freedom; we mean my freedom. My individual freedom now and at any cost. Freedom without patience. (By the way, the Cowboys are playing the Indians…I mean Redskins… next Monday night. It’s probably going to be the highest rated MNF game in terms of viewings so far this season.)

The problem with the football mentality of life, faith and country is that it turns into a sort of attention deficit disorder way of viewing life. Why wait for something when you can have it now? We begin to make idols out of things because we can’t cope with having to be patient. We are obsessed with football and with winning right now. Here’s an example. In 1980, an NFL head coach had an average tenure of about 4.61 seasons. In 2003, the number of seasons dropped to 2.75 seasons, and the number continues to fall. Coaches and players are becoming sacrifices in our idol worship. When a player gets hurt on the field, does it bother us when people clap?

Exodus 32 tells the story of Israel creating and worshiping an idol. Do you know why, after all the miracles The Lord performed, they thought it was a brilliant idea to worship a golden calf? (The Charlton Heston version got this scene all wrong, by the way.) It was because Moses was taking too long getting instructions from God! They got impatient, so they made their own god.

  When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

Sounds pretty ADD to me. They fired Moses to look for a new head coach. The result was a divine dumpster fire. God even threatened to wipe out the whole nation of Israel and start over with Moses. Thankfully, Moses appealed to God’s merciful side.

We read that passage and think, how idiotic of them, but we shouldn’t be so quick to judge because we do this every day. Idol worship follows impatience, and it destroys a nation and dehumanizes people as a result. Israel didn’t want Moses. They wanted a golden calf. America doesn’t care about who is playing for their team or who suffers as a result just so long as our team wins. This mentality was exposed in Kansas City in 2012. The Chiefs were enduring a rough start to the season and poor performance by then-quarterback Matt Cassel. Cassel had thrown two picks when he was hit by a Baltimore Ravens defender and forced out of the game because of the resulting injury. Then something surprising happened: fans cheered. It didn’t matter that a man was hurt. No, the fans got a chance to see a new quarterback play and hopefully win the game. It’s idolatry and dehumanization front and center, and it shows us what we really value.

What’s more, this false value is reinforced by the brutality we get to see at least four days a week on TV through both NFL and NCAA football. America needs to embrace patience and big-picture selflessness once again. We need to be reintroduced to perfection because we have lost touch with what it is.

America needs more baseball. More on that to come.

Introduction by David LeFevre

When you hear RighTrakers talk about relationship building, they often speak in terms of “investing” in people. It’s an appropriate metaphor. It requires intentionality, attention and patience, and whether we like to admit it, we expect some sort of return. (Just think of the one-sided, one-way “friendships” you’ve had and consider for a moment whether they were really relationships.) Relationships are mutual exchanges, but exchanges of what? In telling his own RighTrak story, Matthew begins to answer that question.

My Story by Matthew Norris

Let me just say that this past year with Willie and the other members of this community we call RighTrak has been incredible.

I decided to get involved and invest in Willie because I wanted to help him improve his life. However, it would be quite misleading if I made it sound like only he benefitted from me. In fact, I believe Willie has taught me more than I could ever teach him.

IMG_1277Over the course of this past year Willie and I have developed a relationship in which I encourage him to persevere in his work and continue to lead a fulfilling life. This typically occurs while we’re experiencing life together. For example, we’ve played nearly weekly chess games, where Willie has schooled me and the two of us have enjoyed conversations that run the gamut—what God is saying to us, how he is speaking into our lives, where we are struggling and how we can pray for each other. Through these experiences, we’ve forged a friendship that I treasure greatly.

Having a friend who consistently asks about such things, I believe, has encouraged Willie to not slip back into bad habits characteristic of his old life. Meanwhile, through this time spent with Willie, I have gained an incredible friend and learned so much about perseverance in trials and living out God’s will for your life. Willie is a true man of God and genuinely cares about his family, which now includes the RighTrakers.

Willie has let God use his experiences—good and bad—to encourage me and help me through my own struggle with sin. Willie is never afraid to share his own experiences, so that I can see how far he has come with Christ’s help. I know that God has spoken into my life through Willie, and it has been a blessing.

The best way I can put it is Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Willie has sharpened me, and I him—this I never expected when I decided to “help” Willie.

People who know me know that I dream big, grandiose even. RighTrak was no exception. Originally I wanted to be the next Mark Junkans, founder and executive director of LINC, a man I have a lot of respect for as a faith-based entrepreneur. I wanted RighTrak to be the next up-and-coming nonprofit agency, maybe even a United Way agency with a half-million dollar budget, a handful of staff, office space, the works. But that wasn’t His plan, at least not right now.

As the work of the RighTrak pilot project unfolded two things became readily apparent. First, no matter how much structure I built into the project plan, the structure never accomplished anything; rather, it was relationships that transformed Willie’s life. The “table” became an extended family, and the slightly larger network of table members, supporters and come-and-go-as-needed utility players became a community. We knew from the very beginning that relationships were important, but here we were writing a “plan” to create a “program” and “structure” for a “project.” The relationships did develop, but it was probably in spite of the structure not because of it. To paraphrase Brad Bandy, co-director of the Spero Project, “Poverty and homelessness are not problems to be solved. They are people to be known.” Individuals and groups take on projects. Communities support and encourage their members. The difference is absolutely fundamental, and facilitation of the latter is RighTrak’s mission.

This brings me to the second realization. RighTrak, as an organization, cannot and should not follow the prototypical charity startup model. It must be as minimalist as possible, and here’s why. Somehow most Americans have come to accept the notion that it’s perfectly acceptable to outsource love and kindness to social welfare agencies and non-governmental organizations. I’m not diminishing the important relief role those organizations play, but that model is the opposite of community. So if communities and relationships are the special sauce, then we have to fundamentally rethink the way social service is performed, and we cannot fall into the same trap, no matter how good our intentions are.

The result of these two kairos moments was the transformation and solidification of RighTrak’s mission:

To promote and facilitate communities focused on ending poverty one x one.

RighTrak isn’t just another human care nonprofit. In fact, it isn’t a human care agency at all. It doesn’t do social welfare or mission work itself, and its one staff member doesn’t do social welfare or mission work. Rather, it is ordinary people —volunteers—who live missionally and love others by serving them. RighTrak’s job is to show people what it looks like when ordinary people, in community with others, help the least of these. Because ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they are part of a community. RighTrak helps facilitate that by telling the stories of the community and the brother and sister members it helps. It supports the community’s work by providing training, funding (when needed) and other resources.

Funny thing is, this isn’t revolutionary. Jesus had the idea 2,000 years ago. He didn’t say, “Go find a charity that loves other people and give money to it.” No, He said, “[You] love them as I have loved you.” John 13:34. He showed His disciples the way, and then told them to go do it.

Designed by RighTrak friend Jason Phelps, the new logo isn’t just cool-looking, it tells a story.

bluegreenLet’s start with the color palette. In scientific terms, color is simply what our eyes see when a particular wavelength of light is reflected, measured in nanometers (nm). The green hue is approximately 532 nm, which is the wavelength that the human eye is most able to see, whether in the dark or the light. That’s why green lasers are so effective for light shows and pointers. In the RighTrak logo, the green represents God’s Kingdom and His desire to break through our self-reliance and share little pieces of that Kingdom with us. While the Spirit is always at work, sometimes those breakthroughs cut through the darkness of our disobedience like a laser. We call those kairos moments. The blue hue is a nod to the Old Testament (recall the blue on the Israeli flag) and represents God’s divinity and lordship over all.

bluegritbootprintsThe blue text is faded and gritty in spots. That’s because life transformation isn’t easy or clean or neat. We have to put our work boots on, get down into the muck of our souls, identify the root cause of what’s holding us back and with God’s help confront it. From that dirty place, though, comes transformation, which is why the boot prints change from blue to green as we begin to recognize that we must submit to the lordship of our Creator and get on the path that He wants us to be on so that we can realize our full potential.

arrowsFunny thing about paths: there’s never just one right track. Everyone’s journey and lot in life is different. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all program for helping someone end his/her poverty. It isn’t “THE RighTrak.” It’s just “RighTrak” because each person’s path and each community that surrounds that person will be different, which is why there are two arrows instead of one. “Industries,” plural, is part of the RighTrak name for a similar reason. A vocation is one of the keys to helping someone end his or her poverty, but this isn’t a vocational training program. (It isn’t a program at all, actually.) Every person’s vocation will be different, so we have to be prepared to assist with a multitude of industries.

xThe “x” in the tag line, “ending poverty one x one,” symbolizes the concept of multiplication. RighTrak Industries is all about ordinary people showing God’s love in a seemingly radical way. We surround and support one person with one whole community in part because it gives the person the best chance of success, but more importantly it allows the members of that community to form real, lasting relationships with each other and the person they are helping. Once people’s hearts begin to break for things that break God’s own heart, they realize that it’s really not all that radical to love others as Jesus loved us, and then all of a sudden they’re showing that love to others outside of RighTrak and teaching their kids how to love and telling their friends about their experiences. Before you know it, the effect of helping one person has multiplied and touched the lives of many.

Neat, huh?