Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Life is Private!!!

In the last two weeks two NFL players lost their lives in tragic circumstances. First, Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend after and argument then went to the team facility and took his own life. Then, two players from the Dallas Cowboys were involved in a single car accident as a result of drunk driving. Jerry Brown died in the accident, while Josh Brent, the driver, survived and has been arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter.

After the tragedy in Kansas City Jason Whitlock commented in his regular column, and Bob Costas spoke during half time of Sunday Night Football on NBC how events like this build a case for stronger gun control laws in the United States. Gun control polarises this nation so much that Twitter instantly exploded. Although many people disagreed with the content of Costas' comments, many people also protested the use of the Sunday Night Football as a forum for his comments.  

I heard comments from radio callers along these lines all day. "How dare a football broadcast include social commentary?!?! The tragic events of Saturday should be quarantined from the entertainment schedule of Sunday. NBC should allow us to compartmentalise our lives, and when we want gun control commentary we'll go watch the FOX big boy channel."

Should the NFL have special rules about guns? Should NFL teams provide life coaching sessions about how to handle conflicts? Should the NFL intrude into players private lives and dictate policy about firearms? Or is all of that private and none of the NFL's or the teams' concern? Should the League use a tragedy like this as an educational opportunity, or should it just get on with paying entertainment and let the players be grown men on their own?

The following week after the drunk driving death the calls to sports radio shows were a little more subdued. But again the question arose about the role of the NFL should play in the private lives of the players. Currently, teams and the NFL Players Association have a system of free car services that will get players who've been drinking home without danger to themselves or, more importantly, to anyone else. This is a terrific service, but apparently many players don't use it. How infuriating that a simple phone call could have saved Jerry Browns life and spared his family the grief they're experiencing right now.

Jarrett Bell in a recent USA Today column, highlights the weakness of the NFL's penalties for drink-driving offenses. The penalty for driving drunk which could result in the loss of life, are less than the suspensions for getting caught with performance enhancing drugs in your system.

The dilemma the NFL faces is that so much of its revenue comes from alcohol. Alcohol sales at games provide significant income in addition to the fees the teams charge to give particular companies access to their stadiums. The alcohol industry purchases significant amounts advertising throughout the football season and particularly during the Super Bowl. Many fans tailgate before games in stadium car parks and are blotto before the game even begins. Alcohol drenches all aspects of NFL culture, so to what extent is player drink driving a player, League, or social issue?

Certainly, there's a societal aspect in player attitudes toward drink-driving. As an Aussie living in the US the difference is stark. In Australia, road deaths provide a significant part of the measure of the police force's effectiveness. As a result a lot of energy is put into reducing speed and drink driving. Random Breath Tests were introduced in 1982. The police can block a road and test everyone traveling down it. In the US I've only ever been pulled over once and never even seen another road block with random breath tests. US society just doesn't make road safety a priority compared to their concerns over privacy. There is more concern about preventing police pulling over whoever they like, than there is saving the lives of people killed in alcohol related accidents.

Of course, this is still a major societal issue in Australia also. In 2005 the Transport Accident Commission that runs campaigns for road safety in Victoria cancelled its sponsorship of the Richmond football club after 2 players were caught drink-driving during the season. That's an expensive lesson for the club!

I usually try and bring my posts back to a spiritual perspective, so here I go... I believe that church's encounter similar issues to the NFL. How involved can a church be in the lives of its members before it gets labeled a cult? Society feeds us the message that our private lives take priority over all other values and the church should just butt out! So issues like spousal abuse, child discipline, alcohol use, workplace integrity are all on a list of private topics which the church may talk about generally, but does not have permission to ask specific questions.

Then there are the issues that at one time were Biblical, but now have become societal, or political issues and the church better not express an opinion on them. For example: abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, euthanasia, topics related to poverty - eg. health care, and social services. I was recently told not to speak on Mormonism during the election season because a presidential candidate was a Mormon. I understand how the timing could cause division. On the other hand, there's a tension because it seems to make sense to talk about a mainstream false religion masquerading as Christianity at a time when people are interested in learning about the subject.

Our church culture of primarily spending time with our spiritual family on Sunday mornings makes it easy to compartmentalise our lives in these ways. Calvinism is a church issue. My marriage is a personal issue. Abortion is a political issue.

I've recently been thinking about all the "one another" passages in the NT. The main content of these passages is that Christians should "love one another". (1 John 4:7-12) Even without looking at all the other references, think about that one. Can we really love one another on Sunday morning? I believe that command requires us to involve ourselves in each others lives. We'll see, hear, and experience things that make us uncomfortable, but it's the only way we can LOVE each other. Loving each other means breaking down the walls of privacy and letting us speak God's heart into each others' lives.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Must I Love My (sports) Enemy?

There are some football teams I hate! I don't care if they never win another game! In fact, I'd kinda like if they never won another game.

In Australia, Collingwood tops that list for me, and apparently many other people. A lot of this is because MY team, The Mighty Blues, has been neck and neck with Collingwood for many years in the number of premierships won. But Collingwood has also played in an incredible 43 Grand Finals compared to Carlton's next best 29. (See table here.) It's as though it doesn't matter who else beats Carlton, as long as it's not Collingwood. (Essendon is a pretty close second though.)

In the US there's very little in the sports world that brings me more joy than watching the New England Patriots lose. Now I know that for many years the Patriots stunk. In fact, according to this table from 1960-1995 they only won their division 3 times ('78, '86, '94).

But around the time I arrived in the US the Patriots recruited Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In the 11 years since 2001 the Patriots have won their division every year but two. This stretch has included 3 Superbowl wins ('01, '03, '04) and 2 Superbowl losses ('07, '11). In 2003 and 2004 the Patriots beat MY Colts in the playoffs. The Colts gained some revenge in 2006 when they beat the Pat's on the way to their own Superbowl victory.

The 3 playoff games in 4 years and the strong debate whether Brady or Manning is the better quarterback have solidified the rivalry between the teams. In fact, some would say that this is the greatest quarterback rivalry ever! For instance...
"Here are some of the amazing highlights (from this article):
  • Brady or Manning have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl in seven of the last 11 seasons.
  • The winner of the regular-season series between Brady's Patriots and Manning's Colts gained home-field advantage over the other team every year they've met (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010).
  • The winner of the three post-season meetings between Brady's Patriots and Manning's Colts went on to win the Super Bowl all three times (2003, 2004, 2006).
As we said, no marquee quarterbacks in NFL history met so often in games of such consequence year after year."
As I said, I now hate the Patriots and love watching them lose. So you can imagine my horror when I watched a little of the Patriots v Jets game on Sunday and found myself hope the J-E-T-S would lose! Could I possibly hate the Jets more than the Patriots? Am I getting soft because the Pat's haven't won a Superbowl since 2004 and the Jets are just loud and obnoxious?

Anyway, it got me thinking... In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his followers to "love your enemies". I wonder how this applies to sports? Maybe you're like me and you create a little box that is everything sports and all kinds of things can happen within that box and it's okay because it's "just sports" not reality. I suspect we also have other similar boxes for music, movies, video games, etc. Our entertainment boxes allow us to have emotions and thoughts that we would feel guilty having or doing in "real life".

Are our lives really that compartmentalised? Did Jesus really add the fine print at the end of the Sermon "*The only exception to the above teachings are found on the sports field and other entertainment venues."

Of course, there's a line that can be crossed. Recently Kansas City Chiefs fans, unhappy with their quarterback's performance, cheered when he left the field with a concussion. Scoop Jackson provides  a good overview of the situation here. This prompted the team chairman, coach, and players to issue statements condemning the booing and defending the majority of fans who were silent.

It's one thing to long for big collisions in football and massive pileups in auto sports, but it's another thing altogether to cheer for injuries. Even if we're relieved a key player is unable to compete against us, it's still inhumane to wish them injury.

Then there's the even more extreme example of actual violence carried out due to sports results or affiliation. I think that's a no brainer for having crossed the line.

So I don't have all the answers, but I do have a genuine question. IS IT OKAY TO HATE OPPOSING SPORTS TEAMS AND PLAYERS?

PS. I only included pictures of Brady and the Magpies as a token effort to love my enemies!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Ball has Two Sides

I have been competing in an ESPN College Football "Pick the Winner" competition. Each week ESPN selects 10 games. The contestants pick the teams they think will win, then rank them in order of confidence. So if a team your very confident will win, loses, you lose 10 points. If another game had you flipping the coin and you lose, you only lose one point. So it's important firstly that your picks are correct. BUT if they're not, you hope that you've put them low on your confidence ranking so you don't lose many points.

I've been doing well at this game this year. I've included a snapshot of my score that puts me inside the top 10% of competitors. But this week I messed up. My ranking slipped 20,000 places when my most confident pick (West Virginia) lost to Texas Tech. I also thought South Carolina would knock off LSU, and I lost another 4 points there.  So here's the lesson I learned...

Good football teams can play both sides of the ball. Before Saturday West Virginia was 5-0 and their quarterback, Seth Doege, had become a serious Heisman candidate. They had a high scoring offense that after only scoring 14 points against the Red Raiders still ranks 7th in the nation. The also still have the 3rd most passing yards nationally.

This team can score! In their first 5 games they cleared 40 points 4 times. They scored 70 points against Baylor just two weeks ago and 69 against Marshall to start the year. But that's only half the story.

I overlooked a crucial element to their game... they have no defense! West Virginia allowed Marshall to score 34. They only beat Maryland by 10. And in back-to-back weeks Texas and Baylor combined to score over 100 against the Mountaineers. So it's really no surprise that Texas Tech put up 49 against them.

West Virginia is a one trick pony. As soon as they ran into a decent defensive team who restricted their scoring, West Virginia had no response. If they can't outgun their opponents they can't win. It's really that simple.  Texas Tech has a decent defense. According to ESPN Tech's defense is ranked 17th nationally compared to West Virginia's ranking of 112.  So in hindsight... I should have seen it coming.

The frustrating thing is that I used this thinking in picking against LSU. The last couple of years I've viewed LSU as having a stout defense, but an almost nonexistent offense. Their continued success has continued to surprise me. Any time they play a solid defensive team I pick against them. It hasn't got me very far. They keep finding ways to win.

The Tigers rank 50th for scoring and 103rd for passing yards. Yet because their defense is ranked 8th and they only give up 14 points a game they're one of the most successful teams in the country! But after losing 21-0 to Alabama in last year's national championship game they discovered the importance of scoring points.

This is really a basic rule of life. "Strengths can easily become weaknesses." In grad school I was made to read a book titled "Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership" for one of my classes. It was an excellent book that "the personal characteristics that drive individuals to succeed and lead often have a shadow side that can cripple them once they become leaders and very often cause significant failure." (p13) For example, a person who is always available to help others, may be driven by a need for acceptance or approval from others, not really by a pure Christian love.

Many Christian leaders in large, growing churches have captured headlines when they've been exposed for moral failures. They had a great offense for God. They preached powerful lessons and impacted the lives of thousands. But they had a poor defense against the temptations of Satan.

When I look in Ephesians 6 at God's description of the armour he gives us I appreciate that he gives us both defense and offense. We have both the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and the shield of faith, which which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. It's our responsibility to keep working on both sides of the ball, not relying on our evangelistic fervor, or passive faith to get us to the victory line.

It just occurs to me. I wonder, if Paul was writing today in the US of A, would he stick with the analogy of armour, or would he refer to helmets and pads etc? Please leave a comment if you can think of some sporting equivalents to a suit of armour!

Here's an entertaining video on the Armour of God:

Friday, October 12, 2012

If Everyone Jumped Off a Cliff...

You know the scenario. You want new sneakers, a new Playstation, to attend a party and you're not getting anywhere with your parents. As the likelihood of persuading them diminishes you reach deep into your bag of tricks for the hackneyed and rarely successful line, "But EVERYONE will wear it, have it, or be there!"

At this point your parents respond with the equally overused, but almost always successful line, "If EVERYONE jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?" That's it. Conversation over. You're destined to another week of social ostracism until the next must have/do comes along.

Apparently the allure of lemmings is incredibly hard to resist. I came across this excellent BBC article summarising Tyler Hamilton's book The Secret Race which details allegations of Lance Armstrong's PED use.  Other riders on the US Postal team have also confessed to using drugs including the team captain George Hincapie. Here's a quote taken from the article attributed to Hincapie.

George Hincapie, US Postal team captain from 1999-2005, admitted doping for the first time on Wednesday, saying that early in his professional career it became clear to him "that given the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them".
Basically they all had to take PED's because everyone else was. Of course, they had a choice. They could have blown the whistle. They could have shared all their knowledge of how drugs were taken and assisted in developing more effective testing. Instead they went along with the peloton, took the drugs, and achieved temporary success. Now they're experience the shame of that success.

I've heard commentators make this same argument for baseball players. It goes something like this. "Imagine you're in the minor leagues working your butt off, and you have more talent than Joe. Then Joe starts hitting the ball out of the park and you learn he's juicing. Then Joe makes it to the majors and six months later you're still playing minor league ball. How strong would the temptation be to also artificially improve your game? How important is integrity verses success?"

Then today I came across another article addressing peer pressure. This article focused on binge drinking in college. Apparently many binge drinkers  in college don't enjoy it or even want to participate, but do so because it increases their social status. The research found that this really was the case:
Binge drinking actually seemed to contribute to this satisfaction. High-status binge drinkers were happier with their social lives than high-status students who didn't binge drink. And low-status students who binge drank had higher social satisfaction than their non-binging peers.
However, the researchers also pointed out that "binge drinking is not the smartest way to improve your chances of college happiness. Binge drinking was also associated with higher rates of sexual victimization and academic troubles, among other nasty consequences, she said.

A final statement from this report that warmed my heart reflected the importance of campus ministries.
One glimmer of hope, Hsu said, was that students in religious organizations who did not binge drink were more socially satisfied than other low-status non-bingers.
The church provides a place of acceptance and belonging (social satisfaction), even on college campuses. Christ calls us out of the world. He calls us to separate ourselves. But he also calls us to a loving family. He calls us to be part of a body: a body that honors the least among us. (1 Cor. 12:24-26) God gives Christians the strength to resist peer pressure, because approval from others is no longer our most important desire.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cricket Storming the US... Sort of

The United States has a strong triumvirate of major sports: Baseball (MLB), Football (NFL & College), and Basketball (NBA). Each of these sports enjoys a professional monopoly. While the NFL heads the popularity list by a large margin, each sport enjoys a significant following.

Ice Hockey (NHL) is the fourth major sport in the US, although there's little fan support outside the northern states and Canada. I didn't list it with the big three because it's my impression that nationally it doesn't even cross the radar of most sports enthusiasts. (I happen to live in a part of the country that is hockey mad! We also have a professional lacrosse team and a semi-professional indoor lacrosse team!) Additionally, the current strike / lockout is the second in 7 years which hardly strengthens the sport's appeal.

But the invasion is coming. Soccer is on the rise in the US. According to an ESPN article, "In March, a study by Luker On Trends/ESPN revealed the startling statistic that "pro soccer" trailed only the NFL as the most popular sport for Americans aged 12-24." I've recently noticed both ESPN and Fox running EPL and Champions League scores across the bottom of screens during NFL games.

Soccer is undoubtedly the behemoth of world sports and one would expect it to eventually occupy a significant place in the American sports landscape. It should continue to grow in popularity particularly as immigration continues to bring soccer fans to the US.

But other codes also seek recognition in the American marketplace. Did you know this year is the 15th anniversary for the USAFL? There might even be a team near you! Saturday October 13 the 2012 Nationals Competition kicks off near Cincinnati, Ohio, with four men's divisions and 1 women's division with 38 teams competing. In 2012 the AFL hosted its first ever combine enticing US athletes to come to Australia and play Aussie Rules. Here's the recruiting video for the combine.

Cricket is apparently also seeking to make inroads into the American consciousness. Here's an article describing the strategy that's based around the IPL's Twenty20 model. Basically, they're looking to recruit expat entertainers to support six franchises. The entertainers would serve as the public face for the competition and hopefully entice other expat Indians, Aussies and Englishmen to tune into the matches.

Some interesting snippets from the article highlight the numbers involved. "The US accounts for 15% of cricket's income, according to the International Cricket Council's global development manager, Tim Anderson." "The US also draws the second-highest number of visitors to the organisation's website behind India. The sport is followed by 15 million people in the US, according to the ICC."

What's the fuss with cricket? Here's a clip to whet your appetite!

So if you live in the US, how have you seen sports interests change over the last 10 years or so? Which "new" sport do you think is the fastest growing?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Winning by Losing

Strangely, two of MY teams made the next round of their respective competitions yesterday... even though they lost.

First, the Australian Twenty 20 team made it to the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup despite losing to Pakistan in their final round robin game. Because they had not previously lost a game in the tournament they only needed a better run rate than the other one loss teams. So after a calamitous start they focused on reaching the run rate target of 112 rather than the 150 needed to win the match.

Hopefully, it's a case of lose the battle, but win the war. Although, if their opponents keep bowling 5 spinners per match the Aussies may find scoring difficult! Next up are the West Indies. I don't imagine there's any chance of 5 spinners from the Windies.

Second, after winning the World Series from the wildcard position last year, the St. Louis Cardinals have struggled to make even the second wildcard spot this year. There are some points to admire about the team: runs differential, team batting average (2nd in NL), pitching quality starts (T2nd in NL). But they've not been able to string enough wins together to really seize their wildcard chance, or to get close to even Atlanta for the first wildcard position.

The Cards benefit from the Pirates 2nd half collapse. The Brewers chased for a while, then lost their hot streak. Finally, it was only the Dodgers two games behind St Louis. With two games to play the Dodgers would have to win their last two and the Cards lose theirs if the teams were to switch places. On Tuesday the Cards did their bit, losing (3-1)at home to Cincinnati. But the Dodgers were unable to capitalise. They lost (4-3) to the Giants, and now the Cardinals are playoff bound. I'll be amazed though if they get past the one game shoot out with the Braves on Friday.

Moral, Christians also win by losing. Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it." (NLT) Losing isn't always as bad as it seems in the moment. Sometimes it leads to greater glory. With Jesus, it definitely does!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Replacement Justice

So the NFL has replacement referees... and they're stinkin' it up!  The call at the end of the Green Bay v Seattle game was a shocker. Then the NFL comes out in a statement and admits the refs missed a pass interference call on the play, but supports the ref's on the contested possession call. The Packers player clearly had full control of the football. I understand the league wanting to support its refs since they might be on the job again next week, but this just makes them look silly. You can watch the video of the play HERE.

There are some some pretty funny videos about the replacement refs on YouTube.  Here's a couple of examples. Enjoy!

Whistle (parody)

 Call It Maybe (parody)

In my mind it just highlights how deeply ingrained the value of "justice" is within our society. Although this is only a football game, we react against injustice. We want competent referees. The more blatant the injustice the louder the outcry. I heard somewhere that the NFL received 70,000 voicemails on Tuesday after the Seattle win. That's a lot of upset fans.

Some people I know have protested that there's more uproar about replacement ref's and bad calls than there is about serious moral failures within our society. This doesn't upset me. We live in a society of knee jerk reactions and media sensationalism. This is just another example.

Yes, in many respects the quality (or lack thereof) of the replacement ref's is really a petty issue in the bigger picture of life. But the same sports media took a decisive and proactive course when the abuse of Jerry Sandusky became public. Sandusky's abuse of young boys was not worse than any other abusive situation, but because he was a public figure his case captured the headlines. Again people were crying out for justice.

Sadly, it is true that we're surrounded by abuse and injustice and in many instances we grow callous to its presence. But even a referee furor reminds us of the heart of God. In Amos 5 God rejects replacements for genuine worship and holiness. Instead he says, Let justice roll on like a river. That's a vision we can all agree to, not just in the NFL, but throughout our society.

Monday, September 24, 2012

NFL Denominations

Just to prove I'm not the only guy out there who sees sports and thinks God!!!!

Here's a link to an article that compares NFL teams to various denominations. It's not particularly serious... so you just might enjoy it.

(While you're at it, here's a fun article by Josh Graves comparing Tim Tebow and Jesus. I promise, it's respectful.)

The Church of Christ is linked with the Cleveland Browns and characterised as "having a loyal fan base, but inadequate leadership". I'm not sure where the inadequate leadership line comes from. Perhaps it has to do with the congregational model of church governance.

Teams the Article didn't mention: (perhaps you can find a match. I don't care if it's a denomination, church, preacher... whatever... just have fun and don't be nasty!!)

Seattle: (Does Pete Carroll remind you of Joel Osteen?)
San Diego
Denver: (There's gotta be a line in here about seeking a Messiah!)
Tennessee  (Puritans, relocated to another land?)
Jets (All the little guys... Cumberland Presbyterians, American Baptists, Non-Institutional Church of Christ... Significant, but never quite mainstream.)
Cincinnati (The name sounds like "Sin" ... urban church plant maybe?)
New Orleans (C'mon, they're Saints!!)
Tampa Bay
St. Louis 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fantasy or Authentic?

With the completion of the first week of NFL games, the Fantasy Football Effect is in full swing. Based on the performance in one game fantasy owners are furiously dropping and adding players. (You did stay up until midnight to get first dibs on that high scoring free agent running back, right?) We know that the season can be made or ruined by successfully finding the elusive sleeper that you drafted while everyone else slept, literally.

This was a big fantasy week for tight ends with 10 scoring touchdowns. But I'm much more concerned about my running backs. In my two leagues only one of my starting or backup RB's scored in double figures. And this is the position that the "experts" suggest should be drafted first! I could be in for a long season if I can't find some points here. But it's only Week 1.... there's a long way to go.

Although fantasy football can be a lot of fun, we all make decisions about players based on very limited information. Everyone that drafted Toby Gerhart expecting him to share carries with a recuperating Adrian Peterson is now re-thinking that idea. Peterson had 17 carries and 2 touchdowns. Not bad for a wonky knee. But the team knew all along how healthy he really was. It's just the fantasy owners who are left in the dark.

It seems to me that church is often a "fantasy land" where people put on big smiles and wander around trying to convince potential fantasy owners that they've got a great season ahead of them. All their injury issues are behind them. Their faith holdout isn't an issue any more. They're a team player. They don't go out on the town after midnight. BUT, no one really gets to peak behind the curtain to see what's really going on.

Is this person reliable? Does "fine" mean, "I had a huge fight with my wife on Friday, but we're both pretending it didn't happen. The couch is fairly comfortable." Will that weakness that interrupted last year be a problem when it's tested again this year? (Of course, we don't get to look at the MRI and know whether or not the injury really healed.) Is your heart in the work ahead? Are you playing for self or the kingdom?

God designed the church to work together. To strengthen each others' weaknesses. On my other blog, I've just written how the Spiritual Gifts God gives individual are not intended for personal glory, but to be used in serving others. Consider a basic Godly value like "honesty". How honest are you on a Sunday morning? Are you more honest with other Christians during the week? God expects his people to demonstrate authenticity, not only towards Him, but toward each other.

The book of Psalms contains many songs that drip with raw emotion. Whether joy, anguish, anger, or uncertainty you'll find it in Psalms. Perhaps that's why this book is the most read of all the Old Testament books. God wants us to be honest. It's who He is. God is the ultimate reality. Let's not turn his church into a "Fantasy Kingdom" awarding points for fake smiles.

Who's your fantasy football sleeper this year?  Did you get him, or are you watching him inspire a winning season for someone else?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Beginnings: NFL

The NFL season kicked off last night with those Dallas Cowboys rocking the defending champs, the Giants of New York. College football began last week. Chi has returned to the world.

One great part of living with a foot in each hemisphere is following different sports. Last week MY Carlton Blues who at the start of the season guaranteed a top 4 finish bombed out without making the finals at all!!  So this Sunday MY Indianapolis Colts start their season. HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL!!

At the start of a new season anything is possible. Every team, or at least the fans, believes they can end the season holding the championship trophy.  This year in the NFL there are 5 teams starting rookie quarterbacks: Indy; Washington; Miami; Seattle; and Cleveland. In addition another 5 teams are starting quarterbacks just in their second season in the league: Arizona; Carolina; Cincinnati; Minnesota; and Jacksonville.

Each of these teams hopes that their guy will turn out to be a legend. They hope that their guy will lead them to the Promised Land, if not this year, then at least in the next two or three. But regardless of the age of the quarterback everyone gets a new start, a fresh beginning. Success or failure: what happened last year is in the past. This year provides a fresh slate an opportunity to confirm or disprove the impressions fans formed based on previous performances.

Last night we saw that. I kept seeing stats for Eli Manning 4th quarter comebacks in 2011 (7) compared to Tony Romo giving up 2nd half leads in 2011. First game of 2012, none of those stats mattered. Eli couldn't mount a comeback, Romo didn't crumble. New year. New opportunities. This year, a legacy can be made.

It amazes me how many people fail to understand that Christianity is all about this same fresh start. Because of Jesus we can leave our past performances behind us and move on with a clean slate. Our opportunity is even better than professional sports. Two or three bad seasons will see you off the team and maybe even out of the league for good. But God keeps giving us new opportunities each time we mess up.

Many people want to present Christianity as a worldview fueled by hate, or the Bible as a legal code that's impossible to keep. In reality God gives us a vision of hope. He gives us excitement that our new season will be a Championship season. We'll encounter some losses along the way. We may even go stretches when people give up on us (2011 Giants??), but God will never give up on us and will present us with the eternal crown He's saving for all his champions.

In sports, only one team can win. The hopes of 31 NFL teams will prove futile this year. But with God, once we join his team we don't just hope, we know, we're going to win.

Friday, August 31, 2012

So You Think You're Smarter...

Quick post to invite anyone who's interested to join a couple of ESPN competitions. I thought it might be interesting to give readers of the blog the chance to compete against each other. :-) (All 2 of you!  Hi Mum!!)

FIRST, you get a chance to pick winners in college football. ESPN selects 10 games each Saturday, all you have to do is pick the winners!

Get in the NCAA action now:

THEN, if NFL is more your thing, there's a comp for you. This is just a straight up pick 'em comp. The only twist is that there's some mercy shown as your worst week is omitted from the final score.  Here's the link for that:

Get in the NFL action now:

Get excited!!! It's football season again!!!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Wildcard

I'd write about Carlton missing the finals and firing Brett Ratten and the terrible run with injuries we've had this year... but I'd just spill more tears in my keyboard.

Instead, I'll write about my US sports team still shooting for a shot in the playoffs: "MY" St. Louis Cardinals. As I write, the Cardinals hold down a wildcard spot with a one game lead over Pittsburgh and San Fransisco. BUT only because MLB added an extra wildcard team to the playoffs in 2012.

This year each conference will have TWO wildcard teams. (The two teams with the most wins who failed to win their division.) These two teams will play one, that's right one, uno, one game to determine who will advance to the playoffs proper.  The fact that the rest of MLB is built around 3 & 4 game series in the regular season and 5 & 7 game series in the playoffs apparently doesn't challenge the integrity of a one game playoff.

I understand that this winner take all game will add tension and excitement to the playoffs. It also rewards the teams who win their divisions by giving them some additional rest. It also gives an additional fanbase some hope and more teams will have something to play for. They're all great reasons for holding this game. (Did I mention TV ratings and revenue?)

But after playing 162 games over the course of the season. After playing multiple games in each city the team visits to test the depth of the pitching staff and ensuring the cream really rises to the top. Despite heralding the effectiveness of a 5 or 7 game playoff series in determining who really is the best team. Now Mr Stern wants to convince us that a sudden death playoff is a great way to decide a playoff spot! That just doesn't make a lot of sense. (Although, I will be pretty pumped if "MY" St Louis Cardinals squeeze into that extra spot!)

It's not just baseball that's illogical with its playoff system. Since I opened with an Aussie Rules comment I guess I can close with one too. (Read the complete list of VFL/AFL finals variations here.) The old VFL for many years just had the top 4 teams make the finals. Then in 1972 this changed to the Final Five. In the wake of Brisbane and West Coast joining the competition the finals were expanded in 1989 from the Final Five to the Final Six. In 2000 the league moved to the current Final Eight as there were then sixteen clubs.

This crazy situation means that until Gold Coast joined the competition in 2011 you only had to finish in the top half of the competition to make the finals! Hardly a standard of excellence. But realistically, it's all about making money, not creating a fair system. I guess really, the most fair system is the English Premier League which simply rewards the team with the best record at the end of the season: No finals.

The fact that only one AFL team has won the premiership after finishing fifth (Adelaide 1998) only adds to the futility of expanding the number of teams in the finals. At least in baseball 5 wildcard teams (including "MY" St. Louis Cardinals in 2011) have won the World Series demonstrating that it's reasonable for them to be competing.

Although the movement is always to allow more teams to qualify for post-season play, it still irritates me.  Making the playoffs should be a reward for a top season, not a right for being slightly better than average.

I'm so glad that God's gone 2000 years without any changes to his requirements for qualifying for "post-life" experience. It must be tempting to change the standards and let more people qualify. After all, we know that God doesn't want anyone to miss out. (2 Peter 3:9) But God is consistent. Jesus is THE way, truth and life, "No one comes to the Father except through him." (John 14:6).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

To Save a Life

Not a long post today. I just want to point my readers to a friend's post about MLB umpire Jim Joyce. Jonathan discusses the two times this guy's made ESPN headlines in the past couple of years. Read his post HERE.

In 2010 Joyce botched a call that robbed Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga of a historic perfect game

HERE's a longer ESPN interview and story written 6 months later. It's a fascinating read. I am particularly amazed at the messages the baggage handlers in Detroit wrote on his luggage tags!!

You can watch the call and hear Joyce's apology in the post match interviews. Joyce's honesty and willingness to answer this many questions is amazing!! (NOTE: the language is a little salty in spots.)

In 2012 Joyce turned up to umpire a game and ended up performing CPR and saving a woman's life. Read the details HERE.  There's no question which is the more significant action!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Perfection exists in baseball, at least for 23 pitchers in the history of the sport. Last week Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners became the 23rd pitcher to ever throw a perfect game. If you're not sure what that means, pitching a perfect game means no opposition batter ever makes it to first base. (You can read a more complete description here.)

Even more incredible is that this is the third perfect game this year!  Before the season started there were only 20 perfect games in over 100 years of professional baseball. Now there are 23! (Hernandez, Matt Cain, & Philip Humber)

But even for these great pitchers, their perfection is momentary. There's no such thing as a perfect month, or a perfect season. Interestingly, batters are at the other end of the spectrum. They don't even have to get on base one-third of the time to be a super-star. At the time of writing only three players in MLB have an average above .333 (and one of them was just suspended 50 games for taking PEDs!).

In the Sermon on the Mount, just after Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, he drops this bomb, "Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly father is perfect". (Matthew 5:48) Of course, we can never live a life free from sin. We'll always muck up and need forgiveness. But God wants us to have the goal of perfection. He wants us to imitate Him as much as we're able.

Just as occasionally baseball pitchers can achieve moments of perfection, we too can achieve moments of perfection in our lives. And we can do so with a lot more regularity than a pitcher. In fact, no pitcher has ever thrown 2 perfect games in a career. Yet as the Holy Spirit works in us, transforming us into the image of God our moments of perfection can continually increase.

Most pitchers never pitch a perfect game, but they still try every time they play. We need to take a similar approach to life. We won't ever life a perfect life, but we keep shooting for perfection, and honour God in the process.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Packing Up My Olympic Vocab

The Olympics have ended. I'm going to make another post about them anyway.

It amazes me how natural all the Olympic terms feel even though I only unpack them every four years. Usually, if I ever use the word "pike" I'm referring to a fish, or a large medieval lance. But everyone knows that during the Olympics the only meaning of "pike" is a reference to the style of somersault in diving.

In swimming, we suddenly understand that "splits" doesn't refer to a painful stretch, but to the time elapsed when the swimmer reaches each end of the pool.

Cycling apparently takes place in a "velodrome". I wonder how these cyclists ever practice because I've never seen a velodrome outside of the Olympics.

The work "skull" normally has a negative connotation to me as I think of death and skeletons and murder mysteries. The other Aussie definition of the term involves much alcohol consumption and is equivalent to the US word "chug".  But the Olympics redeem the term with the rowing.  Sculling is apparently a style of rowing, an oar, and the name of the boat! (Thanks Wikipedia!) Now see if I can remember that in Rio.

Sometimes we hear words we have no idea what they're referring to, but they just sound cool. For me, it's the "circle runner" in handball. I know nothing about handball, except that it's an Olympic sport, but I think I'd like to say that I'm "circle runner", unless of course it's a synonym for "running in circles" then it just sounds like your lost!

On the other hand, it doesn't matter how many times you refer to Soccer as Football it still doesn't sound right.  Another one that's odd for me is hearing ESPN talk about the men's 400m medley relay. In my Australian experience it's always referred to as the 4x100 relay.

All this is a good reminder that Christianity also has its own "technical" language that we often throw around and expect everyone to understand it. This video gives a good demonstration:

If you're not familiar with these terms, here's a quick primer just for you.

If you're looking for some serious lists of "church words" and their definitions, I've put together a few links here, here, and here. Or you could just google "Christianese".

Just don't wait 4 years to try them out!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Usain Bolt is FAST!!!

A friend on Facebook shared this link with me. I think it's pretty interesting. In 1896 you could have won the 100m at the Olympics in 12 seconds. With a bit of training, I think you'd be a shot!

This graphic video compares all the medal winners in the 100m since the first modern Olympics in 1896. It's hosted by the New York Times. At the bottom of the page there are similar comparisons for the 100 metres freestyle and the long jump.

It's interesting to ponder if there's a limit to the performance of the human body. Can we continue shaving off seconds here and hundreds of a second there? Is there a point at which nature just says, that's far enough and fast enough? Go beyond that point, and you'll explode! If such a point exists, will anyone watch the Olympics any more, or will it just seem an exercise in futility?


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An Olympic Way of Counting

The Australian team at the 2012 London Olympics has not lived up to the expectations created by past successes. For the first time in years there were ZERO individual gold medals in the pool and only ONE in a relay on the first night of competition. However, the team has won a lot of silver medals. At the time of writing Australia has a total 2 Gold, 12 Silver and 8 Bronze. This has prompted [attempted] witty newspaper headlines like: Is Silver the New Gold? or Going for Silver? Some wags have even kept track of how the Aussies are doing in the Silver Stakes, where "he with the most silver wins!". (For the record, the Aussies are tied with Japan and Great Britain for Equal 4th. Much better than the official 19th overall!)

Since Australia will never win the most medals of any colour, our media often does the simple math of dividing the population of each country by the number of medals. (See HERE for a 2012 example.) Then there's always some people who just have to take things to another level. Check out this crazy set of computations ranking the nations by wealth (GDP), population, and size of the olympic team.

But it's not just the Aussies that benefit from changing the way we measure success. The official Olympic medal count rankings are based on the number of GOLD medals a country has won. So South Africa is ranked higher than Australia because it has 3 Gold medals to Australia's 2. But, overall, Australia has 22 medals to South Africa's 4.

While the rest of the world ranks the teams by GOLD medals, the United States base their rankings on total medals. So Australia jumps 10 spots to 9th on the US medal table. Thanks USA! Now the cynic in me would say it's a tactic to keep the US at the top of the table longer. In Beijing 2008 the US had a total of 110 medals to China's 100 so topped all the US rankings. But China had a whopping 51 Gold medals to the United States 36 which gave China the overall win in the rest of the world.

Here's a little table I've created of the overall Olympic medal count since Sydney 2000.

Sydney 2000

Athens 2004

Gold Total

Gold Total
United States 37 94
United States 36 102
Russia 32 89
China 32 63
China 28 58
Russia 27 92
Australia 16 58
Australia 17 49
Germany 13 56
Japan 16 37
France 13 38

Beijing 2008

Gold Total

China 51 100

United States 36 110

Russia 23 73

Great Britain 19 47

Germany 16 41

Australia 14 46

Interestingly, in 2000 the sequence of both columns are identical. However, in 2004, Russia and Germany would have benefited from the US counting system. In 2008, USA is the most obvious beneficiary while Australia would also have climbed a spot on the US rankings.

You can track the 2012 official standings here and the United States rankings here.

I'm grateful that God has amended his way of counting also. We often think usually think of God as perfect and without flaws, but His counting skills are seriously compromised by His grace.  Check out these verses.

Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,
        and whose sins are covered. 
 Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord  Romans 4:7-8 (CEB)

God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.     2 Corinthians 5:19

People often think of God as the ultimate counter who counting every little thing we do wrong. These verses remind us that when we're Christians God has a new way of counting. In fact, He stops counting in deference to the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that he wants to be family with us. Because of Jesus he now forgives our sins because he values reconciliation with us more than accuracy.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Mission & Eric the Eel

If you didn't notice, the Olympics are taking place right now in London!  Okay, you probably noticed. For some weird reason my brain keeps wanting to compare the Olympics to a missions conference! So for no other reason than to get it out of my head here goes:

  1. Like the Olympics, a missions conference brings people together from obscure parts of the world.
  2. Like the Olympics, a missions conference is often used to celebrate triumph and highlight causes.
  3. Like the Olympics, a missions conference seems to create sudden expertise in cultures (events) we knew nothing about 10 minutes ago. (A quote from a friends facebook feed... "The woman swimmer in lane 7 during the breaststroke so looked like she was not swimming correctly. She wasn't coming out of the water as much as the others... hmmmm")  "And yes, the churches in Botswana could have a lot of their problems fixed if they would appoint elders.... or something... maybe... I guess."
  4. Like the Olympics, a missions conference is fascinating to attend with lots of stories and insights into things you'd never think of otherwise.
  5. Like the Olympics, educated commentators (veteran missionaries) are essential guides to gain deeper insight into the issues being presented.
  6. Like the Olympics, a missions conference often has an element of competition to it as diverse ministries and mission fields seek support from a finite pool of resources.
  7. Like the Olympics, a missions conference will always reveal obscure ministries (events) that you'd never considered before, but they are incredibly important to those involved with them.
  8. Like the Olympics, a missions conference seeks to promote peace around the world. The Olympics promote the values of: respect, excellence, and friendship as a pathway to peace. Christian missionaries also promote a set of values with the goal of creating peace with God and neighbour.
As you can see, I'm two short of a Top 10 list, so please feel free to leave a comment and help me out.

Okay, I know this post is a bit lame, so since #8 talks about Olympic values & #1 mentions obscure countries, I thought I'd share the highlight of the Sydney Olympics: Eric the Eel. The commentators are classic Australian comedians Roy & H.G..

Youtube won't let me embed the video, so click HERE!   Eric is now the coach of the Equatorial Guinea national swim team!!

And here's a similar story about the London Games with a rower from Niger who's only been rowing three months!! He finished 90+ seconds behind the winner!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


On Sunday Adam Scott had a four shot lead in the British Open (golf) with four holes to play. He bogeyed the final four holes and lost by a shot to Ernie Els. That sure seems like the definition of choking. In letting this Major escape his grasp Scott following in the footsteps of another famous Aussie choker golfer, Greg Norman.  But it's all swings and roundabouts as the last time an Aussie won a major it was thanks to a Phil Mickelson brain freeze in the US Open.

Also lost in the headline of Scott's collapse is the fact that almost everyone else on the leaderboard Saturday night, except Els, went backwards on Sunday.
  • Adam Scott +5
  • Graeme McDowell +5
  • Brandt Snedeker +4
  • Tiger Woods +3
It was a tough day to play golf. Luke Donald shot one under and moved up 9 spots!

Several other sites out there have made a sport of identifying chokers.  Here's a few to choose from:
  • An Aussie perspective: (From 2008, a bit old as it names Spain as chokers in soccer, they've since won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012! Although England held true to form with a penalty shootout loss to Italy! It also must come from rugby country as it leaves out Collingwood and St. Kilda!)
  • A US list with pics from:
  • Here's another older list that does a good job of listing their Top 10 and telling a bit of the story.
  • Wikipedia even has an entry for choking (sports) with numerous examples including my (almost) hometown Buffalo Bills of the early 90's. Four consecutive Superbowls: Zero wins!
The Bible doesn't really talk about choking, but I think it gives a few examples of guys who choked in life.  They had everything going for them and then threw it all away.  Here's my list:

Top 5 Biblical Chokers

  1. Judas Iscariot - He actually followed Jesus around for 3 years.  He heard him teaching, he could ask questions, he had the opportunity that every Christian literally hopes to die for! Then he traded it all in for 40 pieces of silver that he later returned. Tragically his story ends with with hanging himself. (He literally choked himself... sorry, couldn't resist.)
  2. King Rehoboam - He took the throne after Solomon, Israel's greatest, richest, most powerful king.  Every coach or player following in the footsteps of a legend knows the pressure that comes with that situation. Rehoboam crumbled under the pressure. Intending to put his own stamp on the nation he raised taxes and applied a firmer hand in his rule. In response the people rebelled and the nation split into two kingdoms! (1 Kings 12)
  3. King Saul - The first king of Israel also had great expectations. The people demanded a king in spite of God's warnings.  He got off to a bright start in winning some battles, but ends his life turning from God, consulting a witch, and dying in battle with most of his sons.
  4. Moses -He accomplished a lot of great things for God, but he also bailed at crucial moments. Commissioned by God to confront Pharaoh, Moses gave one weak excuse after another until God eventually sent his brother Aaron to do all the talking for him. And the ultimate "choke" was leading Israel out of Egypt toward the Promised Land for 40 + years and then dying on the threshold of entering the land.
  5. 9 Lepers - There are lots of stories about lepers in the Bible.  They often demonstrate how God uses the weak things and people in life to accomplish his purposes. But Luke 17 tells of Jesus' encounter with 10 lepers.  He heals them.  That's a terrific blessing and high for them. They choke though, because 9 of them are forever remembered as failing to thank Jesus.  They serve as an object lesson of what NOT to do.  From a life changing high, to finger wagging for at least 2,000 years!!
Any other suggestions?

Moral: If you're going to choke, do it somewhere unimportant, like on the sports field.  Don't choke in life.  Keep your commitments. Finish what you start. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sports Science

I believe that God intricately designed the human body and I'm convinced that it's awe inspiring. However, I never made any connection between relying on a healthy body for sports and wanting to learn about how it works.

In order to make my Australian university degree meet the requirements of my US seminary I had to take several general education classes in the US: including biology.

I hate biology.  I had little interest in learning about all the little parts of cells all doing their thing.  After all, they do it whether I know about it or not.  Studying nutrition makes a little more sense, but even then, it's not a lot of fun!!

On the other hand, I find the Sports Science Guy on ESPN very interesting. There's also a tonne of videos on YouTube of segments he's done.  Here's one of my favourites.  No apologies to all you baseball fans out there. :-)

Along similar lines a friend shared this entertaining article with me.  It answers the question I know you've always wondered, "What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?"  Get the answer HERE!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NBA Champion & Church member

I just want to draw your attention to an article in the Christian Chronicle about Norris Cole, a bench player for the Miami Heat.  He now has the same number of rings as LeBron James!  You can read it here.

The article discusses Cole's faith and church involvement.  I don't want to suggest that some of the excesses we see in the lives of superstars from time to time are the norm in every locker room, but I suspect that in that environment there are many temptations for Christian athletes to compromise their faith.  Any athlete able to maintain their faith convictions should be respected.  Too often though, we hear more about the failures than the successes.

In the article Cole comments that the team schedule doesn't allow him to attend the worship service at his home congregation in Miami every Sunday.  So to help him out "every sermon that I miss, the Miami Gardens church gives me a DVD so I can go back and watch. My mother, she gives me a daily Scripture reading and devotional for every day. They help me stay spiritually minded and keep me on task."

That demonstrates a high level of commitment.  I know that most members at my church who miss a service don't go back and listen to it or attempt to make it up.  So big props to Norris Cole.  I hope he perseveres in his faith and that his NBA career takes off.