How to Coach a Winning Team - or Influence your Family
Father’s Day June 21, 1998
Scripture: Acts 16:16-34
Let us imagine for a bit that the Chicago Bulls have hired a new coach to replace Phil Jackson. The new season starts but he doesn’t go to all the games - just the ones he wants to, perhaps just on weekends. Even some of those he misses. The players are often on their own - like latch key kids. When he is present at the court, he offers no direction to his players. For example, it’s the end of the fourth quarter with the Utah Jazz and there are 20 seconds left on the clock, the Bulls are behind by 5 points, Jordan and Pippen are both maxed out on fouls, Rodman has been injured in a wrestling match with Malone. The team needs to know what to do. They are looking to the coach for leadership, but he is in the locker room watching cable TV. They send him word, but he says, “Do whatever you think is best. My job is to see that you have uniforms and transportation to the games. Now go out there and win.” Needless to say, his team doesn’t stand a chance. When they finish the year with a losing streak, the coach lashes out at the players and the general manager and the owner saying, “This is all your fault! How could you let this happen to me? What have I ever done to you?” Can you imagine a manager of a six-time champion basketball team doing his job this way?
It is a sad fact that this is the way many men in America are managing their teams - their families. Men, by and large, have not lived up to their responsibility to their families, and as a result, their families are falling apart. The Bible makes it clear that the man is to be the spiritual leader of his family. This doesn’t mean bully, dictator, or despot; he is to be spiritual, and he is to be a leader.
1Co 11:3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
Now we all realize that we are in a common predicament. The fact is that those who fail have had no example themselves, and society doesn’t seem to be helping the family a whole lot these days. Many of us may be victims of circumstance, or made ourselves and our families victims by our wrong choices. I have failed much myself. I know how hard it is to do right when wrong seems to be so ingrained. But we do have an example - many of them - in the Bible if we will just come to them for instruction. There is little else that we can trust to effectively prepare us in our role as spiritual leaders. But you can be one even if you have to start from scratch as the man did who became the spiritual leader of his family by example in today’s passage. The result of his obedience filled him with joy and his whole family was revolutionized.
Paul and Silas had made their way to the Roman colony of Philippi where they first find Lydia who is a God-fearing Gentile whom they lead to faith in Christ. Through her obedience, her household members also believe and are baptized along with her, and the Philippian church begins in her house. They had found her at the river when they went there to find a place of prayer. Now when they were again returning to this place of prayer, they are met by a slave girl possessed of a demon that makes her a psychic - she can tell the future. This kind of fortune telling is false belief - a placing of oneself in Satan’s realm to be deceived by the manipulation of events into trusting what is not God. This girl tells the truth by mocking it and follows Paul and Silas around for days. This is Satan’s way of making the truth appear like a lie. She becomes distracting and Paul finally realizes he must cast this demon out of her. One could then presume that she was free to believe for herself the truth she once mocked. This creates a ruckus when her owners discover her transformation and their loss of income. Funny that the truth of God is free to all, but the truth deflected by Satan provides a lucrative income. People pay for the strangest things - like the lottery tax on stupidity (cartoon in paper). People pay great sums for the chance at the one-time providence of the world when the daily providence of God is available just by asking Him for it.
Anyway, the girl’s owners cause the arrest and whipping of Paul and Silas in order to satisfy a frenzied crowd. They are thrown in prison under the care of the jailer who places them in stocks in a cell in the deepest recesses of his dungeon. But only their feet are in the stocks, and I imagine when midnight comes they raise their hands in praise to God as they sing and pray in spite of their condition. If you ever want to loose the chains that bind you, this is what you do. If anybody thought they caused a ruckus in town, it was nothing compared to ruckus they cause in prison. This was praise under circumstance that moved mountains. The chains flew off and the doors flew open, and the opportunity is laid to shake not only the prison but the jailer himself. Paul and Silas don’t just think of themselves to escape, but of the jailer who is about to commit hara-kiri. They had set the girl free which put them there and they were now going to set the man free who kept them there.
In those days, and even in many places here in this country, it used to be that the sheriff lived in a house next to the jail as he and his wife watched and cared for the prisoners. It is kind of like a pastor in a parsonage next to the church who watches and cares for the congregation (joke). It becomes a personal responsibility. This jailer took it personally. But he soon discovers that he has nothing to fear except rejecting the evidence that stood before him. Here were men who cared more for his well-being than their own. He has certainly heard the message for which they were in chains and he immediately believes. He clearly sees the prison in which he himself has been kept prisoner. Instead of falling on his knees in ending his life upon the sword, he falls on his knees to begin his life in Christ. And here is the first example we can learn from the jailer in having a winning team. These are things that your team must see in you in order to win.
I. Take a Spiritual Inventory (vv. 25-32)
He immediately took inventory and found that he himself was the one who was wanting. He was confronted with the undeniable evidence of truth and acted upon it to save not only himself but his household as well. Fathers, I urge you in the manner of this man to take the first step in saving your life, and that of your family by taking spiritual inventory of what may be lacking. What is it that does not conform to Christ in your life. Care not that you lose a prisoner. Care lest you become one. The offer is out to you to be set free, and to set your family free. This takes constant vigilance to guard against selling out to the lies of the world.
If you coach a basketball team, you need to take continual inventory of how the game is going, how the opponent plays strategy, and use every time out to readjust your strategy. Being the spiritual head of your family requires the same effort as we struggle against the forces of evil to claim and keep for God what has been entrusted to us. Stay connected to your family, stay connected to God’s Word, stay connected to God in prayer, stay connected with God’s people - the church. Know what the issues are and submit all things to God. We must continually consider God in all that we do (James 4:13-17). Not to do so is sin. Not to do so is to lose the game. Too many fathers pursue their own agenda and forsake their families for their own fortune, only to discover fool’s gold. Every successful enterprise must consistently take inventory to know where they are at.
Since we are in spiritual leadership, whether we like it or not, we must realize that whatever we do has a trickle effect on down to the rest of our family. We, like what Billy Graham recently wrote about Pres. Clinton, can have the trappings of trying to look good but with more negative than positive effect if it makes no difference in how we play the game. Our children will, when we are not looking, not do what we say but what we do. What are the areas of hypocrisy in our lives as fathers?
Going to church.
Manner of speech.
Issues of character.
II. Treat Others With Dignity (v. 33)
Initially, the jailer just threw Paul and Silas, stripped, beaten and bloody, into the stocks. He did nothing to care for their personal needs. He cared more for his own needs as I imagine he went and had supper and went to sleep - even if it was to be a short sleep. But he had a spiritual awakening that now prompted him to really care for their needs. He sees that their wounds are washed. And in return his own spiritual wounds are washed by Paul and Silas in baptism. He and his family receive this beautiful sacrament which pictures our inward cleansing from sin. But the point here is that his concerns and his behavior are immediately transformed as he now serves Christ by serving them. He took spiritual inventory and now becomes a spiritual man. And that is how we must be as fathers. This is one area where we can show our family how to love Jesus. We do it when we love others. We enable their own proper behavior.
You are all familiar with Dennis Rodman who plays for the Bulls. He runs by a different set of rules that disgust many of us who love righteousness and hate wickedness. But coach Jackson still treats Rodman with dignity. And he wins the game. When we treat others with dignity, even when they don’t seem to deserve it, we reveal God who desires that all men be saved. We take a step in this direction when we give others the respect of the image of God in which they are made even when they are fallen. We instill this kind of hope in our children when they see us hold out this kind of hope for others. This is a winning combination.
In his autobiography, Norman Vincent Peale tells a story about his father that taught him a great lesson in the dignity of others. They were walking down the street in Cincinnati on Christmas Eve. A dirty, ragged man approached Norman, asking for a handout. Norman shook the man off and kept going. His father said, “Never treat a man like that, Norman.” Then he reached into his wallet and said, “Go after that man and say to him, ‘Sir I give you this Christmas gift in the Name of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.’” Norman said, “Oh, Dad, I don’t want to do that.” His father was firm, “Go and do as I tell you.” Norman ran up the block, stopped the beggar and said, “Sir, I give you this Christmas gift in the Name of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.” The man looked surprised, and with a bow said, “Young man, I accept your gift in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As he said these words, Norman said, a wonderful smile illuminated his face and dignity seemed to possess him. Later, his dad asked him what he learned from the experience. Norman said, “I saw the man he really is.” His father replied, “Always remember, and never forget: Jesus Christ can make men and women what they can be.”
III. Practice Generosity (v. 34)
The next example of the jailer to his family of a changed life and perspective was to invite Paul and Silas into his home for a meal. He didn’t take the meal to the cell. It had become obvious to him that he could not chain the word of God.
2Tim 2:8 ¶ Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel,
9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained.
10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
As he took action to feed Paul and Silas, he recognized the spiritual food that he and his family received when Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to them. His example was generosity, even when they probably didn’t have much to give. His transformed character now trusts God’s provision. He is overjoyed with what he has received and now symbolically shares it freely. It both gives and brings joy to share freely. Too many fathers are stingy when it comes to family needs. They keep a tight rein on everything and destroy the spirit without reason. Certainly there is a place for good management. But good management is wise use. Provision without use is of no use. Our religion should make a difference in our world view of wealth. It is to be used for the glory of God and not for the glory of ourselves as we maintain tightfisted control.
A woman once made an offhand remark that was significant. She said that for years her ex-husband had been a deadbeat dad, always behind in child support and never available for his children. She said, “But he’s real religious now and pays his child support on time.” In fact, she complained that now her children want to be with him every weekend so they can go to church with him - a great imposition on her schedule.
The players for the Bulls, and in many other sports, earn in the millions of dollars. We may well ask about the morality of what appears to be exorbitant salaries. But we could also say that high salaries get the best players and provide incentive to play the game. Money should be viewed as a tool, not a god. If your family gets the impression that money is more important to you than they are, you will have a hard time of providing the leadership they need in other areas of life.
There is a great connection between your attitude toward money and your ability to influence your family. A woman once said, “My husband spanks the children for leaving the lights on.” That man probably thinks he is running a tight ship, but in reality he is sowing seeds that will destroy his credibility with his children. When they are old enough to reason things out for themselves they will resent his miserliness and cruelty.
IV. Practice Obedience (v. 33b)
The jailer also gave example to his family by spiritual obedience and submission to Christ through the apostle Paul for baptism. And in this he also led his family. He was willing to show by example whom he now honored as his Head. His family could now be confident that as they followed him, they followed a man who followed Christ. We must give confidence to our families that they can follow us because we ourselves are under Christ. We have died to the old way of life and now identify with Christ, walking in a new way of life.
Note that the jailer did this immediately in the middle of the night. There was no waiting period for obedience. If he was this willing to be baptized, he would also be this willing in other areas of his life. If you are here today you have set one example of obedience for your family to follow - you are in church with them. Pray with them. This will tenderize your heart and theirs and open up the hope of heaven in their behalf. Have family devotions. I know how hard this is to do consistently. But keep trying. It will train them up in the way they should go - and you too. It will save you from much grief later. Your children are always intimately connected to you. Serve God together in the church and community. In so doing they too will love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
The Bulls could never have won the championship without practicing obedience to the game. Rodman may be a fluke. But even he has to abide by some rules, even if he must be given the status of a free spirit to keep him in the game. Obedience counts. It builds respect and earns credibility. Our Lord Jesus Christ is coaching a winning team. We need to get off the bench and play by his rules. It’s his game. The trophy is beyond imagination.
Every father has an enormous influence on his family. Every father should want to have a positive influence on his family. But this can’t happen without being a spiritual leader. And this is only accomplished when you lead by example. To be a spiritual leader, you have to be spiritual. That may mean taking a spiritual inventory where you discover that you need to treat others with more dignity, practice more generosity, and jump quickly on your own obedience. You have a team to manage and a game to win. And the finals are not over yet.