Vince Lombardi, head coach of the Green Bay Packers, walked into the football team’s locker room at the beginning of training camp in 1961 and, in his efforts to get the team refocused on the basics of the game, uttered his most memorable quote, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
I never understood this line from Lombardi until I took up flute lessons.
After the surgery that gave me Better Than Ever eyesight, I decided I wanted to play the flute. Reason? Since a flute is played out to the side, I could lean in toward my music stand to read the notes. I’ve always loved flute music. And I found a good deal on a quality Yamaha.
While I’ve played the piano and sang in choirs for years, I’ve never touched a band instrument. Concern over knowing how to blow into a wind instrument and the lack of a teacher kept my flute in its case for years. Finally, when we moved to Tucson, I found a retired band teacher who agreed to give me lessons.
“You’ll be fine,” she told me. “You know how to read music and your singing experience has taught you how to breathe from your diaphragm. That’s good because the flute takes a lot of breath control.”
The breath control took a few weeks, but I finally sounded a note. And two. And three! Elated, I charged ahead, figuring out new fingering. Tapping into my life-long love of music, I started to play tunes I knew by ear. Wouldn’t my teacher be impressed with my progress, even if I still couldn’t consistently puff out certain notes?
I was playing the easy low notes, not the higher, more prominent notes of the flute registry, she said. And I still didn’t have the breath control down. “You need to slow down,” she said. “You need to start each practice by blowing into the embouchure hole in the head piece. For six months. And I want you to practice nothing else but these two pages this week until you are comfortable switching between the F and E-flat notes.” Karen, this is a flute.
Back to the Basics
Flutes and footballs remind me of my faith walk with Jesus. Sometimes, I get overly enthusiastic about a new outreach program, a social justice issue, or a new resource that will enable me to be a better Christian. I lean back, proud of all I’m doing for Jesus, and what a better person I’m becoming. As inconsistent in my walk as I am in my flute playing, I need to follow the same advice given by music teachers and football coaches. I need to return to the basics of my faith and remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing.
What are those basics? Paul states it as a trustworthy statement in 1 Timothy 1:15:
“Jesus Christ came to save sinners.”I Timothy 1:15, NIV
Like the pieces of my flute, I can break that verse down into three key principles.
Not the head of the majority political party, not a prominent pastor or religious figure head, not even my own ingenuity, wisdom, or awesome deeds can save me from myself. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me (John 14:6).” Jesus Christ really is the only way we can find victory over earthly death caused by a sin-sick world.
Came to Save
Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth was not to judge us or inform us how badly we’ve messed up but to save us from the power and poison of sin. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” Jesus came to die. He came to be our replacement when through our crimes and defiance, we deserved the punishment of death.
When I get caught up with trying to prove to God how worthy I am or I get overwhelmed with how many times I’ve failed my Lord, I need to rehearse this basic truth: Jesus came to rescue me, not condemn me.
Yes, that is what I am. I am a sinner. Like everyone else. There’s nothing I can do on my own to erase the crimes I’ve already committed against God and other people. No number of good actions will tip the balance towards God’s favor. Only active belief in Jesus will do the job.
The next time I get smug about the progress I’m making in my faith walk or self-satisfied with my service projects for Jesus, it would be good to return to this basic truth: I am a sinner saved by God’s grace. Grace undeserved but given with much love.
What does this have to do with my life choices?
Anything I do from this point on is in celebration of God’s love for me. And since I’ve been given such a great gift through the grace of God, all my actions, words, and behaviors should focus on discovering this new life in Jesus and sharing what I have with the next person.
But I’m still learning how to breathe the breath of this new life. It takes practice and consistency. It takes constantly going back to Jesus and saying, “Now how do I do this transformational life thing? Will You do it with me?” It takes baby steps of playing faltering notes under His tutelage. And it takes constant reminders of why I’m trying to live this different lifestyle in the first place.
Vince Lombardi was a great football coach. You would want to learn football from him.
My teacher knows how to play the flute. I don’t. I’m going to be a much better flute player if I follow her direction.
Jesus Christ is the best way, the only way, for guidance on how to get through this life. And He made it so simple. Start at the beginning. Believe in Him. Fully believe in Him. The kind of belief that’s willing to trust Him about anything.
For it is Jesus who gives me the will and the skill to win at life, life that is full of every kind of beautiful melody.