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Approaching a New Year with prayer

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By Dr. Michael V. Carter, Campbellsville University

With the dawn of a new year come an array of emotions, hopes, fears and much anticipation. We commonly hear a flurry of comments about New Year's resolutions. We read the various resolutions set by certain individuals for the New Year, we hear radio and newscasts telling us about New Year's resolutions and for about 10 days to two weeks around Jan. 1 we are constantly coming in contact with resolutions of all types for the New Year.

Personally, I am an individual who strongly believes in setting goals and objectives. For me I need a destination point, a point that I can look toward and work to achieve over a given period of time. My assumption is this is true for many and it carries over into organizations of just about any type. Whether it is a church, a school, or a civic group, goals help to discipline us and move us toward outcomes that make a difference for others.

One of my favorite people is Coach Jack Lengyel. Jack and his wife, Sandy, are two very remarkable people. They now live in Phoenix, Ariz. in semi-retirement. Some of you may recognize the name. He was an interim athletic director at Eastern Kentucky University just several years ago and served as associate athletic director at the University of Louisville. He sits on the board of several important sports groups and is a widely recognized leader for integrity and character development in sports.

Lengyel was also the head football coach who came to Marshall University in 1971 shortly after the terrible plane crash that killed the entire football team, many university officials and football supporters who had traveled with the team to East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970.

On the way back home, the DC-9 crashed into the side of the hill on approach to the Tri-State Airport, which is just outside of Huntington, close to Ashland, in the town of Kenova, W.Va. Seventy-five individuals lost their lives that night and all of college football, Marshall University, the City of Huntington and surrounding towns, the state of West Virginia and the country mourned as they came to grips with this tragedy - the worst tragedy in the history of NCAA sports in America.

Jack and Sandy came to Huntington, and his task was to rebuild the football program - from scratch. Jack was not a Christian when he came to Huntington, but not long after arriving, he found himself so overwhelmed with the task at hand that he turned to a local parish priest, and the priest led him to know Jesus Christ as Savior.

Jack's story is a remarkable one - so much so that the movie "We Are Marshall" was made several years ago about this tragic event and the remarkable courage that Jack and others lived out to put a university, a city and all the friends and supporters back together after this nightmare event.

I mention Jack because the past two fall semesters we at Campbellsville University invited Jack and Sandy to come and share their story - their rather remarkable journey with us. Jack spoke to multiple groups on campus during both visits, and he charged us his going rate for friends of Marshall - $1.

During each presentation he made to our students at Campbellsville, he encouraged them to set their goals and to commit to living a life that has purpose and service to others. Jack is serious about it. He told every student to carry a 3x5 note card with them daily and on that card they need to have written out their personal mission statement and goals. He urged them to read it every day.

His message is that if you will take time to make your mission statement and goals a matter of prayer, part of your spiritual life, God will use them in remarkable ways. He told our students: "You will never get to where you want to go if you don't know where it is you're going!"

Frequently, I talk with Jack either by phone, or we exchange e-mails. He is one of my personal heroes for many reasons, but for one personal one because my wife, Debbie, and I were students at Marshall when he was working to rebuild the football program.

We both lived just a few miles from where the plane crashed that terrible foggy night in November 1970. I saw his determination, his compassion, his grit, his "never-say-die attitude," his love for a community and for young people. His personality is one you don't forget.

I think God places people like Jack Lengyel in our paths. The question is: do we notice, do we learn, do we grow, or do we ignore and focus on selfish attentions?

One of my favorite books is a small classic text on prayer by John Coburn. It is titled "Prayer and Personal Religion" and has been reproduced numerous times over the years. In this wonderful text, Coburn suggests that prayer for most people moves through three stages: first is "O God, help me, or someone I love;" second is "O God, forgive me;" and third is "O God, thank you."

For most of us, we can resonate quickly with this three-stage progression. I know that in the case of Coach Lengyel, he openly speaks of how these three stages were lived out in dramatic form in his life. Today, Coach Lengyel travels and speaks as part of his "giving back" for what God has done for him.

You see, Coach Lengyel learned the very lesson that Jesus taught - "If you want to find your life, you must lay your life down in service to others (Matthew 10:39)."

So as we all consider our options for this new year, my prayer is that you will begin this year with prayer. Maybe that prayer will be John Coburn's "O God, help me or help the one or ones who I love," then lay your own shortcomings before the Lord, "O Lord forgive, rid me of my selfishness, help me to be humble in all things," then come to the point to where you can say, "O God, thank you, realizing that even in the midst of tragedy, just as Coach Lengyel had to find a way to work through a tragedy of huge proportion, we must ask God through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to come and guide us, in each of us in our situations for 2011!"

May God be our refuge and strength in this new year of 2011. God bless each of you, and from all of us at CU, please know that our prayer for you is to live 2011 as a year of learning and serving others together in the name of Christ our Lord.