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Pastor's Perspective - September 14, 2014: THE SPIRITUAL COACH AND THE ATHLETE FOR CHRIST?
Written by Ron Woordum   
Sunday, 14 September 2014


     If you look up the words "Da Coach" on Google, immediately you will be taken to a list of sites relating to Michael Keller Ditka (born Michael Dyczko) October 18, 1939.  Mike Ditka is a former American football player, coach, and television commentator.  Ditka coached the Chicago Bears for 11 years and the New Orleans Saints for three years.  Ditka and Tom Flores are the only two people to win an NFL title as a player, an assistant coach, and a head coach.  Ditka is also the only individual in modern NFL history to win a championship with the same team as a player and a head coach.  Ditka is the only person to participate in both of the last two Chicago Bears's championships, as a player in 1963, and a head coach in 1985. 


     Mike was the eldest son of a Ukrainian welder and grew up in a coal mining and steel manufacturing community in western Pennsylvania.  The surname Dyczko was too difficult to be pronounced in his hometown so his parents changed their name to Ditka.   Under head coach Press Maravich, Ditka was a three-sport star at Aliquippa High School.  Ditka hoped to escape his hometown's manufacturing jobs by attending college with a football scholarship. Planning to become a dentist, he was recruited by Notre Dame, Penn State,  and University of Pittsburgh. Ditka played for the University of Pittsburgh, from 1958 until 1960. He was a three sport athlete at Pitt, also playing baseball and basketball.[ He started all three seasons and is widely considered one of the best tight ends in college football history. In addition to playing tight end, he also served as the team's punter. He led the team in receiving in all three of his seasons with them and was a first team selection on the College Football All-America Team in his senior year. In 1986, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.


     The Chicago Bears drafted Ditka fifth overall in the 1961 NFL Draft, while the Houston Oilers drafted him eighth overall in the first round in the 1961 AFL Draft. He signed with the Bears and his presence was immediately felt. In his first season, Ditka had 58 receptions, introducing a new dimension to a tight end position that had previously been dedicated to blocking. He also scored 12 receiving touchdowns, which was the most by a Bears rookie. His success earned him Rookie of the Year honors. He continued to play for the Bears for the next five years, earning a Pro Bowl trip each season. He played on the 1963 NFL championship team. Many of the players from that team, including Ditka, were drafted by assistant coach George Allen, a future Hall of Famer, who was then in charge of the Bears drafts. During the season, against the Los Angeles Rams, Ditka tied Harlon Hill's franchise record for the most receiving touchdowns in a game with four. Ditka ranks first among tight ends and fourth in Bears history with 4,503 yards, fifth in both receptions (316) and touchdown catches (34).


The Bears retired Ditka's number 89 jersey on December 9, 2013 during halftime of the Bears game against the Dallas Cowboys.[The number will be the final number retired by the Bears. Mike Ditka is also renowned for singing the worst rendition of "take me out to the ball game" during seventh inning stretch at Wrigley field.  You owe it to yourself to watch his rendition on u-tube.  I remember being in shock hearing it live the first time, several years ago.  Even re-living it years later is an experience in hilarity!


     Why would your pastor share all this about "Da Coach" in a Pastor's Perspective?  It might seem a little out of place, even for a Pastor that is a Bear's fan, dating back to the days of Gayle Sayers and Mike Ditka.  But the truth is this.  I am beginning a series of sermons on Disciplines in the Christian life.  As a Pastor there is alot of parallels to coaching and pastoring.  Paul, in I Timothy chapter 4:7 told young Timothy, and the beloved at Ephesus, "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness"  The greek word he used for discipline is the word-"gumnasia".  That is the word we get our English word "gymnasium" from.  The term itself referred to "exercising to be victorious in the Greek games".  It was used by Galen in the medical world when he refers to helping a patient by "exercising the organ of perception".  Philosophers were said to "exercise their students in wisom".  The idea is to focus on a mind-set to enable the student to live the life successfully to reach their goal.  Paul uses that kind of physical coaching as an example of what young Timothy should do in the spiritual realm.  His work was to challenge and coach the beloved believers over whom God gave him charge to "exercise themselves faithfully in the disciplines that would make them and keep them spiritually fit-going on to maturity, and ending in the joy of standing in the winning circle, receiving their reward when the contest was over!"  That is what a coach does.  That is why when Ditka led the Bears to their last super bowl victory in 1985 they hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him away in the victory parade.  Ditka had the opportunity to play for and to learn from one of the greatest coaches in history-Tom Landry, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and devout and repected Christian in all circles.  I believe that Coach Landry gave the best definiton of a coach ever.  He said, "A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so that you can become what you have always known you could become!"  That sounds exactly what a Pastor attempts to do every Sunday.  Mike Ditka, after learning from one of the best coaches, went on to become the epitome of coaches, (Da Coach), while leading the Bears to the victory they will never forget!  In these next several weeks it is my goal in preaching on all the disciplines, that if followed, will make you a Super Bowl Christian.  My goal is "to show you and me the things that it takes to be spiritually fit, to enable us to do the work of the ministry, that will impact our world". 


     Several years ago, Nicols Fox, writing for Newsweek magazine, spoke to the issue of the diminishing influence of the Church, in an article entitled, "What Are Our Real Values?"  She wrote:


     "Who makes the rules these days that determine how our society is going to work-the code of ethics behind the laws that determines our values and decides how we are going to live together in community?  It isn't the Churches!  It is not so much that their moral leadership is being ignored as that, to a great extent, they've abdicated the role.  Collectively they seem to exude the same relativism and insecurity about right and wrong as the rest of us"  (Newsweek, 13 February 1989).


     The only kind of Church that has a prayer of making any kind of impact on the post-Christian society we now live in will be only the "spiritually fit Christians who have paid the price, because they have pursued excellance, and now can show the genuine specimen of the life that belongs in the winners' circle". 

Dallas Willard, In his book The Spirit of Disciplines, wrote some very convicting words.  He said that the contemporary Church is filled with "undisciplined disciples".  Then he gave us some very pertinent counsel-"It is right to point out that one cannot be a disciple of Christ without forfeiting things normally sought in human life, and that one who pays little in the world's coinage to bear his name, (the name of Jesus Christ), has reason to wonder where he stands with God.  But the cost of nondiscipleship is far greater-even when this life alone is considered-than the price paid to walk with Jesus.  Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated through with love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and to withstand the forces of evil.  In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10).  The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul...The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane."  That is the goal of this next series of messages of Exercises for the Spiritually Fit
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