“Here Comes Big Red!”
The grass glistened with the morning dew as the sun, Big Red, began to peek over the horizon. The smell of our equipment and practice gear jolted our senses like a whiff from an ammonia capsule. “Here comes Big Red!” yelled Coach Courtney Meyer, as he scampered by us like a young calf released into pasture for the first time. It was August 1982, in Seward, Neb. I was a freshman defensive lineman for the Concordia Bulldogs. Every day of our three-a-day preseason football camp, my teammates and I gathered outside the southeast door of the P.E. building, waiting for Coach Larry Oetting to blow his whistle. When we crossed the painted white line, each of us had to be dressed and in full practice mode or else plan to spend time with Coach Dean Vieselmeyer doing some extra “conditioning” at the end of practice.
“Here comes Big Red!” Coach Meyer cried every morning to greet the sun. One of the veteran players responded, “It’s a great day for football!” Yet another chimed in, “You gotta make hay while the sun is shining!” At first, those words were startling. After a week, when I was so sore I could hardly put on my cleats, those words were annoying. But when camp began to wind down three weeks later, we all responded to Coach Meyer in a chorus, “You gotta make hay….” We knew that we had to make the best use of our time in those dog days of August if we wanted to be prepared for the long season ahead.
“Here comes Big Red!” became our battle cry as we greeted the morning sun with determination. There was lots of work to do — individual and group drills to sharpen skills, plays to learn perfectly, and timing and teamwork to establish. There was no room for slacking or selfishness.
Now that I serve as a pastor in the Lutheran Church, I realize that my time with that team on that practice field under the leadership of those coaches provided me with some helpful lessons that I continue to draw upon to this day: 1) The need for a solid foundation; 2) Teamwork exceeds anything we can do alone; and 3) There is no substitute for hard work.
A strong foundation is essential in football. If you don’t keep a wide base, then you get shoved off the line as a defender, or you aren’t able to push your opponent backward if you’re on offense. So we daily drill our stance and alignment to improve our foundation. And everyone receives a common playbook to commit to memory over time. New plays and formations are added gradually after the basics are mastered. Then we visualize those plays, rehearse them, run them full speed, and finally practice them against other players. There are core sets and assumptions for each play and each builds off of the other.
A sure foundation is also essential in the church. Christ is our cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16, Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6-7). He is our “life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). St. Peter reminds us that we are “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. . .” (1 Peter 3:15). Daily time in God’s Word and the Small Catechism provides us with the stable footing we need to face our adversary and to strengthen our ability to confess the faith in the church and in the world. What we pray strengthens our faith and what we believe shapes what we pray. We learn, rehearse, and put into action the core teachings about Christ and our life in Him.
Teamwork enables a group of players to accomplish much more than one player can achieve alone. Some of the teams we face are bigger and stronger than we are, but when we rely on each other we are able to defeat them. Each member of a team has different strengths and weaknesses, but combined strengths can make for a phenomenal team.
Having the same goal strengthens the unity of a team. Each player supporting the others in an interdependent way makes for a better team. Constantly communicating and responding and reacting to each other enhances teamwork. Teammates hold one another accountable and encourage each other.
St. Paul describes a similar approach to teamwork in 1 Corinthians 12:12, where he writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Just as a team is at its best when each member has the same goal, the Church is at her best when she keeps her focus on Jesus and the work that He does through us. Again, St. Paul writes:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
We are given to work together as Jesus works through us to carry out what He has mandated and promised in His divinely inspired playbook. Every team has an identity, based upon certain assumptions and strengths. The Lutheran Confessions are our identity, which teach us repentance, faith in Christ our Savior, and how to live a holy life in Christ in His Church. United in this way, we talk to each other, hold each other accountable under Christ our Head, and encourage one another with the gifts Christ freely gives. United together in Christ, He can accomplish so much more through us for the sake of His Church today and for subsequent generations.
Every day before practice, we walked by a Thane Yost quote that was painted on the weight room wall: “The will to win is useless if you do not have the will to prepare.” In football there is no substitute for hard work. The individuals and teams that are the most disciplined in the off-season and during practice will most often translate that discipline into success on the playing field. This means that there are no short cuts to get where we want to be. No one can run the wind sprints for you. There are no “magic pills” you can take to learn the playbook. You can’t fake your way through a football game. You are either genuinely more prepared than your opponent, or you aren’t and he will expose your weaknesses. And being conditioned helps you to give your best effort from the time the ball is snapped until the whistle blows to signal the end of the play. This conditioning helps guard you and your teammates from injury.
Likewise, in the Church, efforts to shorten the time of Christian instruction or to water down the content used in teaching the Faith will undermine our ability to worship and live together in Christ. At a time when Christianity is coming under attack and there is little loyalty to a common confession of Christ, we need strong daily and lifelong catechesis from the womb to the tomb. Also, while a variety of teaching systems may be used, there are no short cuts to preparing pastors and other workers to serve our congregations. We need to teach, prepare, and form our workers all the more diligently, not less. We need to provide for ongoing review of God’s Word and our Lutheran Confession, and offer further training to help our workers respond to new issues and threats impacting those they serve.
At the heart of all teaching is Christ Crucified and Risen to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. As our Lord works among us in His Church, He calls us to the hard work of cross bearing: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Following Jesus in such a manner is not easy. The fruits of our efforts are often hidden. Yet we trust that the Holy Spirit works when and where He wishes through our Lord’s Word and Sacraments in order to create faith in the heart of the believer (John 3:8). Each of us tends to the calling that he is given to do, where our Lord has put him, with trust in Christ and love for others inside and outside our fellowship. The Lord will have His Church, where He has promised to reside to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
“Here comes Big Red!” As the sun rises on a new day for Nebraska Lutherans, I pray the Lord of the harvest will provide us with a sure foundation, with the ability to work together under Christ our Head, and with the discipline and diligence to learn and teach and proclaim the pure Christian teaching that delivers the gifts of Jesus to our dying world. Please explore the Big Red Lutheran site and feel free to use all that is offered here. My deep and heartfelt thanks to those who have sent us items or given us permission to use items. If you have written or put together anything you would like to share to benefit the Church, please send it to “BigRedLutheran@gmail.com” and it will be reviewed for possible use.
In His Service,
Pastor James H. DeLoach
Sr. Editor of BigRedLutheran.com