How is it that the tiny island country of New Zealand with a population of just under 5 million people can produce the winningest professional sports team in the world? The All Blacks, the kiwi national rugby team have a lifetime winning percentage of 77%, which is unparalleled in any professional sport. Why? In my coach’s and Christian opinion, it is because they practice ‘sweeping the shed’ both literally and figuratively, on and off the field.
What is ‘sweeping the shed’ exactly? This is an attitude made popular by the All Blacks that characterizes humility, servanthood, and merit. And just to be clear, it is the opposite of entitlement and equity. These professional, well paid, elite athletes take the time to thoroughly clean the locker room at both home and away games with the goal of leaving it better when they arrived. Post-game, they are exhausted, beat down, bruised and many times bloodied, yet still find the strength to honor and serve each other, the facility, and themselves by humbly scrubbing, wiping, and sweeping the locker room until it is spotless. (Do you know how many tiny blades of wet grass and mud make it into the average locker room after a rugby game?) How does this translate to the field? These fierce (and they are fierce if you have ever seen them play… or even warm up for that matter…can you say, Haka?) competitors play to win but never sacrifice their character in doing so. Their attitude is, as I honor and serve my teammates, trainers and coaches, we all win. I am not in it for myself or personal glory. I am owed nothing. I am grateful for this opportunity. I know that it can be taken away at any moment. My part, no matter how small, is vital to my team’s success. As my brother succeeds, so do I.
Jesus modeled ‘sweeping the shed’ when He washed his disciples’ feet. We are talking the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords washing (a servant’s job, mind you) the filthy and smelly feet of his 12 disciples, his last day here on earth. If that isn’t humility, love and servanthood, I do not know what is. He even tells us, after he is done washing, in John 13:15-17, I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Sadly, in a world of entitlement and equity, ‘sweeping the shed’ is somewhat of a lost art. I am grateful for the All Blacks, one of the few living examples of it still out there. I am also proud to say that Trinity athletics, although not the biggest nor the best has done an amazing job in training up our student athletes in this same attitude. (ever meet a TCS athletic alum?…quality! In fact, I have one as my assistant coach this soccer season!) In TCS athletics, we focus on character, developing humble young men and women that love God, and each other. It can be as simple as helping a parent carry stuff to the car without being asked, picking up trash that isn’t theirs, making a beautiful pass so that a teammate can score a goal or basket, or helping up an opponent that fell down on the field. In the giving, loving, and serving, there is a sense of victory even if the scoreboard says otherwise. (wow, it’s like the cheesy T.E.A.M acronym is true, Together Everyone Achieves More). As Jesus promises “you will be blessed if you do them,” and just like the All Blacks, we are blessed. We may not be at their unprecedented 77%, but as the humility and serving grows, the skills and the wins come, as my dearly departed friend (and TCS coach and parent) Greg Tamaye used to say, “automatic!”
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Philippians 1:21-24
Suffering can either soften or harden your heart. Elisabeth Elliott has said that suffering can be anything from forgetting to lock the door when you leave your house to cancer. Everyone suffers one way or another in this lifetime. No one is immune to it. It is how you react to your suffering that shapes you. I have personally suffered physically in a very debilitating way for the past three years. I have hated what the disease has done to my body, but I do not hate the fact that it happened to me.
If it were not for the grace of God, I would have given up and gone the easy route in my fight for my health. However, I have chosen to go the hard, grueling, oftentimes exhausting path. Because of this, I have found myself with the same desire as Paul that to be with Christ is far better than being here on this earth. Before my physical suffering, I did not have my eyes fixed steadily on heaven. They were earth bound and I tended to dwell on what I did or didn’t have. However, I have been reminded again and again that my life here on earth is not lived for me, but for Christ and others.
How does one who is suffering from physical limitations have fruitful labor? You can pray. You are able to develop a closer relationship with Christ when praying not only for your physical healing, but your spiritual healing as well. Why not bless someone else by praying for them consistently and watch God work in their life? You can study. It is a great time to go deep into the Word of God. He wants to be known by us, so dive in! Then share what you are learning and bless others by encouraging them with wisdom found in the Word and not the world.
Isn’t it interesting that Paul stated he did not know which he wanted to choose, life or death? For a while I wanted death in order to be freed from the suffering of my body and this world. God still wants me here, so I choose life. However, I do not believe you can get too heavenly minded. When being with Christ is your goal in life, the cares and worries of this world seem to fade away. There is peace and joy that only comes from gazing on the Lord high and lifted up.
Everyone’s body is wasting away, that is the result of the curse. What is more important though, is to be free from the disease of sin. Looking at others who have suffered for far longer than I have physically, I get the sense that God’s focus is on the soul, rather than the body. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you know that there is more to life than the here and now? Christians have a great hope and a great gain awaiting us in heaven, Christ our Lord and Savior. To be with Him is far better than what this world can offer us. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Why study mathematics? Good question - one asked every year by at least one student. What, actually, is math? Is it arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics? While these are a few of the branches of mathematics (and there are many more), the branches don’t define math. And unfortunately, the dictionary definition is not captivating. Merriam-Wester defines mathematics as “the science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations''. If you didn't take the time to figure out exactly what that means, don't worry--neither did I. So, how can we bring more life to the definition of mathematics, to our preconceived ideas about “math,” to see math as it really is, and be inspired to study?
Ultimately, we labor (in this case, learn) in order to understand God, the world, and each other. Let’s consider another definition of mathematics by James Nickel, author of Mathematics: Is God Silent?, to work toward developing a more vibrant perspective of math. James posits that mathematics is “an abstract formulation of ideas suggested by the patterned structure of God’s creation”. He further expounds:
It is the artful use of the God-given reasoning processes to make connections...and then to infer and deduce new facts about creation, i.e., to discover the wisdom of God in Christ hidden in creation (see Proverbs 25:2). It is a series of significant assertions about the nature of creation, and its conclusions impact almost all the arts and sciences (...in the context of aesthetical beauty or dominion mandate...).
God has given us specific revelation, the Bible, and general revelation, His creation, to reveal himself to us. Mathematics is a key instrument for the study of creation, through which God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature are understood (Romans 1:20). In other words, math enables us to learn about God in ways that would otherwise be hidden to us.
At our classical Christian school, we embrace Plato’s proposition that mathematics provides a window to the soul and orders the mind. Put differently, we are developing logical minds as we acquire mathematical knowledge. Through this effort we allow our soul to take-in and experience more beauty, goodness and truth. Granted, it takes constructive imagination and rigorous practice. But there is value in doing hard things. Pierre Berdeaux, in The Logic of Practice, tells us that the way we construct our world is formed by our habits. Since God created our brains to adapt and change through habits, every thought we think alters the connections within our neural network. Our habits of thought are important. Through the study of mathematics, we are rewiring our brains to experience creation and the God who made the world and us in new and different ways. There is intrinsic beauty and complexity in mathematics. It parallels God’s intrinsic beauty and complexity. But even if you don’t appreciate the beauty in the mathematical equations for light, for example, the four equations that unfold to describe the self-perpetuating, life-giving, self-sustaining energy of particle-like electromagnetic wave packets that cannot be destroyed, and even if you do not marvel at the eloquence of these symbols and variables that provide the models for power generation, electric motors, wireless communication, lenses and radars, you will still know God better.