Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stumbling vs. Failure - reflections on Psalm 121:3,4 with a 1929 Rose Bowl Georgia Tech vs. California story about Roy Riegels along with an observation, a prayer and a quote by Chuck Noble.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 121:3,4 (TM)
He won't let you stumble, your Guardian God won't fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel's Guardian will never doze or sleep.

STORY as told by Haddon W. Robinson:
On New Year's Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, he became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outdistanced him and downed him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.
That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was asking the same question: "What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?" The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor, all but Riegels. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.
If you have played football, you know that a coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half time. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, "Men the same team that played the first half will start the second." The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. He did not budge. The coach looked back and called to him again; still he didn't move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, "Roy, didn't you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second." Then Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with a strong man's tears. "Coach," he said, "I can't do it to save my life. I've ruined you, I've ruined the University of California, I've ruined myself. I couldn't face that crowd in the stadium to save my life." Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegel's shoulder and said to him: "Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over." And Roy Riegels went back, and those Tech men will tell you that they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.
“The game is only half over” – I love that line. I’m not sure about anybody else, but I know this one thing about myself … I stumble a lot. Are you in the same boat? I embrace second, third, fourth chances and beyond. If it wasn’t for those many … and I mean MANY … other chances nothing in my life and in my ministry would have been accomplished. The game is only half over.

There is a “Roy Riegels” in all of us. We sit back and cry desperate, bitter tears for the “too-numerous-to-count” mistakes that we have made in our life. We become fearful how the “fans-in-the-stands” will think of us. We allow the mistakes to dictate how we are going to “play” the rest of life’s game. Too many times these fears keep us from hearing the “coach” calling the team … and us … back into the “stadium” to “play” the rest of the game. The game is only half over.

I read the “stumble” in the Psalm scripture as failure – ultimate, total, complete failure – not mistakes, not errors in judgment, not misspoken word, not hastily taken action … but failure. God will not allow his faithful to fail. The game is only half over.

We serve a God of second and third chances. We serve a God that continues to open up possibilities for each of us to succeed. It would be wise counsel to remember that life is not about a moment here or there, but the full span of all the days and of all the moments collectively taken together. God is in the redemption business and so, he takes the “Roy Riegels” in us, puts us back into the game giving us the conviction to play the second half with more enthusiasm and energy than we played the first half … playing like we have never played before. Yea, God, the game is only half over!

God, thank you for putting us back in the game when we have made mistakes. Thank you for redeeming our life. Thank you for not looking at our mistakes, but anticipating our successes. Thank you for reminding us that the game is only half over.

QUOTE by Chuck Noble:
You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures.


  1. Dr Charles Allen (Grace UMC in Atlanta about 1954-55) once told the story that he was invited to speak to the prisoners at the Federal Prison in Atlanta. He said that as he walked onto the stage, he stumbled and fell to his knees .... he got up and the first thing he told the prisoners is "that is why I am here today - to tell you that you might fall (ie:run the wrong way) and still have a chance to get up and go again (play a great game)".
    Buck, Ga Tech - 1958

  2. Buck, I've shared your comment on Facebook ... Dr. Allen always hit the mark! Great insight. There have been very few preachers like Dr. Allen. I got to hear and meet him while serving my first parish in west Georgia. One of the suit manufacturers would bring in outstanding preachers/pastors once a quarter for a picnic/bar-b-que with the local pastors. Great times ... good memories.