Friday, November 11, 2016

Major League Missionary

Unless you've been living in a cave, you might have heard that the Chicago Cubs won the MLB World Series this year. This was their first championship in 108 years!

Whenever something historically significant like this occurs numerous stories will be told to demonstrate how improbable the victory was. We'll hear tales of struggles overcome. And players will establish themselves as heroes in the furnace of the moment as the world watches.

This year, the Cubs' player who shined brightest in the World Series spotlight was veteran outfielder, Ben Zobrist. In his first year as a Cub, after winning a World Series ring with Kansas City last year, Zobrist hit for a .357 average and .919 OPS in seven World Series games. This was enough to win him the series MVP.

Even more importantly, Zobrist made the hit that scored the go ahead run for the Cubs in the top of the 10th inning.

As numerous articles were written about Zobrist he has clearly communicated the central role Jesus plays in his life. This article provides a good summary.

One quote that caught my attention was from an interview with his parents during last year's World Series run with the Royals.

The night before Ben left home to join the Astros’ affiliate in Troy, N.Y., he told his father, “I’m going to be a missionary in the big leagues.”
Read more here:
Whatever the details of that thought may have meant to Zobrist, at a minimum it means he's going to represent God. It means he's going to speak well of God when he gets the opportunity. It means he's going to conduct himself in a way that doesn't give people reasons to turn their back on God.

I wonder how our communities would change if everyone sitting in church each Sunday had a similar mindset.
  • I'm going to be a missionary in my workplace, or industry.
  • I'm going to represent God to my classmates.
  • I'm going to speak up and speak well of God when opportunities arise.
  • I'm going to ensure I don't give others reason to reject Jesus.
If we each left home every morning thinking of ourselves as a missionary for God, I wonder how the world would be different.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What Motivates You?

The Denver Broncos currently hold the title of Superbowl Champions. Last night they played, and defeated, the the quarterback they expected to start for them this year, Brock Osweiler.

Osweiler started last season as the backup to Peyton Manning. He started 7 games for the Broncos when Manning was injured, but was benched during the final game of the regular season and watched Manning start all the playoff games on the way to winning the Superbowl.

Much to everyone's surprise, even after Manning retired and the Denver starting QB job all his, Osweiler decided to sign with the Houston Texans. As he walked out the door he provided this explanation,

"I'm very thankful, I'm very appreciative for everything that the Denver Broncos organization has done for me,” he said. “However, in saying that, at this point in time in my career, I feel like the Houston Texans give me the best opportunity to be successful."  [Read more here.]
After last night's game the Texans fall behind the Broncos with 4 wins compared to 5. Did Osweiler make the right decision? It depends on what motivates him. The Texans paid him more money. Osweiler has stated that this was the best decision for his family. Others have suggested that Osweiler was offended after he was benched for the playoffs.

Superbowl rings, money, or family, how do they factor into his decision making process? How much weight does each factor receive?

This ESPN article suggests that Osweiler should have stayed in Denver, and provides this commentary about motivation,
"We all know that happiness and prosperity in life, even in pro football, are often defined by things that have nothing to do with dollars and cents. Take championship rings, for instance. How much money do you think Dan Marino would give back if it meant adding a Super Bowl title to his otherwise staggering legacy?"
As Christians we can harbour numerous motivations for retaining and living out our faith. The fear of eternal punishment for our sins is a common motivating factor. Others may be motivated to follow Jesus because of the example of people they know and respect. In an ideal world people would commit to Jesus simply because they love him: a loving response to a loving God.

The writer of the book of Hebrews explains how joy provided Jesus' motivation to endure the cross,
Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor. [Hebrews 12:2 VOICE]
You and I are part of that joy. Jesus didn't want to suffer on the cross so that he could sit on a throne. He already sat on a throne before he came to earth. The joy that motivated Jesus involved spending eternity with the people he loved, the people he died to save. Jesus' life-purpose was found outside himself. He lived for the benefit of those around him.

As imitators of Jesus we need to examine our own motivations. Why am I a Christian? Is it all about me? Is it all about God? Do I really care for my neighbours? Or do I just care for them because if I don't I'll be breaking the command to "love my neighbours"?

What are your Top 4 reasons for following Jesus?

For a different perspective on the same topic, try THIS ARTICLE.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

MJ Speaks... Now What?

This week Michael Jordan broke issued a statement on the recent violence and tension between police and the African-American community. Additionally, he donated $1 million to each of two organizations attempting to improve relations between law enforcement and black communities. Because it's MJ his statement made headlines on ESPN and other news agencies. You can read it HERE.

In my opinion Jordan said pretty much nothing. I heard Carmelo Anthony describe Jordan's statement as "brilliant", and perhaps it was encouraging to have such a prominent African-American speak up on the subject. The statement issued by Jordan was fairly short. It identified that the nation has a problem and expressed regret for that problem before announcing his donations. The following statement was about as profound as Jordan got,
We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.
While I'm confident those organizations appreciate the donations they received, Jordan's statement does little more than say, "Thanks for the work you guys are doing to stand up against violence and injustice." But let's not pretend that this statement changes anything. Incarceration rates will not change tomorrow because MJ issued a statement. If Jordan really wants to initiate change he will need to engage many other community leaders in the conversation and raise considerably more funds for training, education and lobbying efforts. Perhaps he'll do these things.

It's easy to point fingers at others.

Sports talk radio (and blogging) encourages members of the public with zero training and professional experience to criticize and second guess professional athletes, coaches and general managers with years of experience.

The MJ statement reminds us that words are cheap. We all have potential influence in our families, workplaces, communities, and churches. If all we do is talk and criticize, then we've become part of the problems. To translate potential influence into actual influence we must roll up our sleeves and get involved.

The incarnation of Jesus, God becoming flesh, provides the ultimate example of not settling for words when action was possible. (Philippians 2:5-8) God could have relied upon His commandments, the numerous laws He'd given Israel. He could have said that the messages of the prophets communicated His will sufficiently. Instead, Jesus left the throne of heaven to be born in a manger. When words weren't enough, he acted to make a difference for us.

Before criticising MJ, or anyone, ask yourself, "What am I actively involved in beyond my direct responsibilities?" "What am I doing to make the world a better place?Be like Jesus, not Mike.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Cubs Fan: Suffering, Waiting, and Hoping

Today's post is written by guest blogger Rex Butts. You can follow his [usually non-sports related]\ blog at

It was 1984. I was only eleven years old. That’s when I became a Cubs fan… a long suffering Cubs fan.

Of course, I had no idea of the disappointment I was in for. I didn’t understand that the Cubs had not been to the World Series since 1945 and not won that championship since 1908. I knew nothing about the curse of the billygoat. I didn’t know that the Cubs missed the playoffs in 1969 after giving up a 10 game division lead over the “Amazing” Mets by losing 17 of their last 25 games. But I would learn in time… in 1989.
                          In 1998.
                                           Again in 2003.
                                                                       And again in 2007 and 2008.

Now it’s 2015 and the Cubs are once again in the playoffs. They’ve already beat the Pirates in a one game face-off, followed by beating their arch rivals, the Cardinals, in the Division series. According to some sources, the Cubs are actually the favorites to win the World Series this year.

Can they?

Of course, they can, if can out pitch their opponents, get clutch hitting, and play excellent defense. But my history as a die-hard Cubs fan has me waiting for another black cat, another Steve Bartman, or just some colossal error resulting in another year of getting this close only to be disappointed again… only left to “wait til’ next year” once again.

This suffering, waiting, and hoping as a Cubs fan may be metaphorical of the Christian life that suffers.

As a young adult I lost my father, first child, and then my younger brother in the span of ten years. Death is part of my narrative. For others, it might be chronic illness, a failing marriage, an addiction of some sort, or a plethora of other troubles that bring disappointment, grief, and pain. Faith in Christ believes that one day the suffering will be no more but until that day, we continue waiting with disappointment.

It’s been twelve years since my son Kenny died but just a week ago I was reminded of the disappointment, grief, and pain as I read the story of another family whose baby died. Someone else is struggling again with depression, or relapsing as an alcoholic, or has had their cancer return.

            More disappointment, more grief, and more pain! 

Christians who suffer wait with anticipation for the day when it will be no more. It’s called hope! The difference here is Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead. In other words, the future is known in the resurrected Jesus Christ because his resurrection is the promise of hope that his followers share in his victory. Thus Paul appropriately says, But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57, NIV).

So while I remain a suffering Cubs fan, waiting and hoping but never sure, by faith in Christ I know that one day the wait will be over!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Next Man Up

Each summer NFL teams start training camp with 90 players on their roster. In 2015, the magic date for reducing that roster to 75 was 1 September.

On Thursday, 3 September, each team plays its final preseason game. Then on 5 September all clubs must reduce their active roster to 53 players.

It sounds so matter of fact, "reduce the roster". In reality many of those players cut will never play in an NFL game as their dreams of professional football evaporate. At the other end of the spectrum, veteran players hoping to get another year or two out of their aging body also find themselves confronting disappointment and frustration as they look for work or wait for other players to get injured throughout the year.

The harsh reality of player movement has hit home this week in western New York as fan favourite, Fred Jackson, was cut by the Buffalo Bills.

Jackson was with the Bills for 10 years. He was active in the community. He stands third on the list of Bills running backs for rushing attempts and rushing yards. He's also fifth among Bills receivers for number of receptions.

The Bills running back depth chart now includes one star, (LeSean McCoy) and three guys with 1,900 career rushing yards combined.

Despite their inexperience and lack of results to this point in their careers, these three running backs are expected to fill the gap left by Fred Jackson. If McCoy is ever injured, the team will depend on one or two of these guys to step up and perform as the starting running back.

Time will tell if the Bills made the right decision.

People leave churches for all sorts of reasons. Not all of them are negative. It can be as simple as a job relocation or a move closer to family members. When these people leave their absence often creates a void in the ministries of the church.

How do churches replace these people and maintain continuity in the church's ministry? Like football the answer is simply, "Next man/woman up."

When the audio visual guy leaves, we can't complain that the young replacement doesn't move the slides as quickly or adjust the mic levels as precisely. We need to give the new volunteer time to learn and grow into the role. We need to be thankful for their willingness to take on the role.

We also all need to develop awareness that a person or family leaving creates a void. It's easy to stand around and lament the departures, but the church never revolves around one person or family. It revolves around God.

Perhaps the next time someone leaves, that will be our cue to increase our involvement and be the Next Man Up exercising our gifts for the building up of the body. Or maybe it will be the cue for us to invest in another member to train and encourage them to fill that roll. However you respond, don't be part of the lamenting crowd. Be the Next Man Up.
There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.      1 Corinthians 12:25-27

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Second Opinion

In recent days a video from the 2014 NFL Rookie Symposium has surfaced showing Cris Carter advise rookies to "nominate a fall guy in their crew" in order to protect their "brand".

This is terrible advice. First, it's illegal. Second, it teaches young players that they don't have to be responsible for the outcomes of their actions. Third, it encourages NFL rookies to find ways around the law, rather than respecting the law.  Fourth, did I mention it's illegal, and if they got caught they'd be in even bigger trouble?!

As soon as it became public, both Carter's current employer, ESPN, and the NFL distanced themselves from his comments. Carter quickly made a public apology for his words, which you can watch HERE.

I understand why Carter and Sapp were asked to speak at this symposium. They've both faced struggles in life. They've both wrestled with drugs and alcohol. The league saw them as having a positive, redemptive, "learn from our mistakes", story to tell. By the accounts of those who've watched the whole presentation, it was generally excellent, except for the "fall guy" advice.

As I thought through all this information I realised that for some of the rookies in the room that day, this symposium may provide them with some of the most honest talk they'll hear for years. Many of them are millionaires and they'll be surrounded by a "crew" who will want to agree with and please their star player because that's how they can stay on the gravy train. That's why Carter's advice is so tragic. Instead of hearing the message the positive message about the importance of staying out of trouble, some of them will only remember the advice to "get a fall guy".

I'm reminded of the wisdom the writer of Proverbs demonstrates thousands of years ago when he recommends accumulating a variety of advisers. I would like to think that the players who heard Carter's advice had someone else they could bounce it off before they put it into practice: someone wise, someone objective, someone unafraid to speak even the unpopular truth.
Without wise guidance, a nation falls;
    but victory is certain when there are plenty of wise counselors.
  Proverbs 11:14
Do you have a wise counselor in your life? 
Do you have plenty of wise counselors? 
Are you equipped to serve as a wise counselor for a young person in your life?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First Round Grace

I heard a conversation on the radio this week about a young quarterback. The commentators explained how football players drafted in the first round will be given every opportunity to fail. They are seldom (never) cut from the team at the end of the preseason competition.

In contrast, NFL clubs will sign young, undrafted, players to temporary contracts to get them through training camp. Throughout the preseason NFL teams must gradually cut their squad from 90 players to 75, and then finally to 53 players on the teams roster at the start of the regular season. If you're doing the math, that means that 40% of the players present on the opening day of training camp won't play in the NFL that year.
For most undrafted free agents, the opportunity with their first NFL teams will come to an end before the regular season begins. To continue the opportunity into the regular season and onto a potential path to stardom, an undrafted free agent must prove his worth during training camp. ~

I had the opportunity this week to attend the Buffalo Bills training camp. I mostly watched the Bills wide receivers. Buffalo has a pretty settled group of wide receivers. They have:
  1. Sammy Watkins (Buffalo's #1 draft pick in 2014 & 2015)
  2. Robert Woods (Buffalo's #2 draft pick in 2013)
  3. Percy Harvin (signed from the Jets this year)
  4. Chris Hogan (played every game in 2013 & 2014)
No other Bills wide receiver in 2014 even had 10 receptions for the year. This means that the seven other receivers in training camp are probably competing to maybe be the fourth WR on the team More likely, they're hoping to be the fifth or sixth WR on the team knowing that the sixth WR usually doesn't even dress for games. The sixth guy is just there in case of an injury to someone.

Seven players. Two roster spots.

Every play they make at training camp will be scrutinised. Every time a defender stops them. Every time they drop a ball. Every time they run to the wrong place on the field. That might be the time that the coaches decide this rookie's professional football career will never get started. Every play is vital.

NFL rosters are made up largely of players who the team has made a significant investment in, either in guaranteed money or in a draft pick. Undrafted free agents, on the other hand, have minimal commitment from the teams they sign with, so they must prove they are better than their competition to have a shot at making the 53-man rosters. ~

At the other extreme the Bills have EJ Manuel on their team. Manuel was the team's #1 draft pick in 2013 and the sixteenth pick overall. Through his first 15 games Manuel has a passer rating of 78.5. That's not very good.

What are EJ Manuel's problems? This summary from his ESPN profile gives some perspective:
What did Manuel do to get himself benched in favor of Kyle Orton last year? If we had to pick one factor, it would be deep-ball accuracy. He completed only 28 percent of his throws that traveled 20 air yards or more (35th out of 42 QBs with at least 15 attempts). Manuel has a tendency to duck his head when a pass rush gets in his face, and his throwing mechanics suffer.
Despite these shortcomings EJ is now entering his third year and the team is hoping that he will improve and this will be the year that he lives up to the potential they saw in him on that draft day in 2013. The team has shown him patience. They've invested the time and energy of numerous coaches into his development. They've used early picks in the draft to gain wide receivers who they hope will help Manuel out. And this year they'll pay him like a starting quarterback to be the third string quarterback, hoping against hope that he'll suddenly get it all together and become a superstar.

Grace. Patience. Forgiveness. Time to Grow.

Manuel gets plenty of these.  Wide receivers 3 through 7? They'd better hope they graduated college or they'll be flipping burgers when the NFL season kicks off.

The good news for you is that when God looks at you, he sees a first round draft pick. It doesn't matter how you see yourself. It doesn't matter how others view you. God sees someone precious.

Because you're his first round draft pick, God gives you grace, patience, forgiveness, and time to grow.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep to go back and find one that wandered away. He describes God's love for each person. The team bus won't wait for the #7 WR, but the QB drafted in the first round? The coach would probably drive to his house personally to make sure he was okay. So God views us as his first round draft pick, and treats us accordingly.

As God's children, He gives us every opportunity to fail.