Monday, June 25, 2012

It's Not How You Start...

I know I'm a bit late, but since the Miami Heat are enjoying their victory parade today, I thought I'd offer some reflections on their championship.  First of all, to get it out of the way, "CONGRATULATIONS Miami LeBrons Heat, You're the best in 2012!!"

Throughout this series I was reminded of the idea that it's not how you start that's important, it's how you finish.  Here's my list of examples:

  • In his first year with the Heat, LeBron stunk it up in last year's finals against the Dallas Mavericks.  He seemed an awful long way from 5, 6 or 7 championships!  He still is a long way away, but he's that much closer now.
  • The Thunder won the first game in the NBA Finals. That was the only game they won in the series.
  • Even in their lone win the Thunder were down by 13 with just a few minutes to play.  They won by 11.
  • In the West Conference Finals the Thunder trailed the Spurs 2-0 after two games.  They won the next 4.
  • Game 3: The Thunder had a 10 point lead in the 3rd quarter in Miami, but Durant found himself on the bench with 4 fouls and before you could blink the Heat took the lead and finished out 91-85.
  • Game 4: Russell Westbrook explodes in the first half and the Thunder at one point led by 19 points.  He scores 43 total points and the Thunder would have been buried without his contribution.  Then in the last couple of minutes he turns the ball over, dribbles it off his foot, and fouls when he should have let the clock run down.  Sadly the last few minutes will be remembered much longer than his dominant 43 points.
  • This was the first NBA Finals for Durant, Westbrook, and the Thunder.  They're a young team and most pundits believe they'll have more opportunities to hug the golden ball.  They're hoping they can finish their careers stronger than they've started them.
  • If last year LeBron had a horrible Finals, he made up for it this year when he won NBA and Finals MVP.
This lesson obviously applies to all areas of life.  A good marriage isn't determined by the honeymoon, it's determined by the keeping of the wedding vows over many years, ups and downs. Acing your job interview doesn't mean you'll be successful in that position. And attending church every Sunday for a year doesn't mean you'll make it to the finish line.  The Bible uses a sports analogy and tells us to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus." (Hebrews 12:1b-2)

After losing in the Finals last year the Heat had their eyes fixed on a goal.  When the chips were down, they persevered.  They won.

God wants us to fix our eyes on the goal of living for Jesus.  If we persevere in our quest for that goal through difficult times, God will make sure we get there.  It's not how we start, it's all about how, and if, we finish.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What is Justice?

It seems to me that we're being bombarded with issues of justice in the sports media today.  A lot of things happened yesterday:
  • Roger Clemens was found NOT GUILTY by a jury in a case over whether or not he'd lied to a congressional hearing when he said he'd never taken steroids.  It will be interesting to see if the baseball world believes him and votes him into the Hall of Fame.  There's the legal court system, and then there's the court of public opinion: not the same thing.
  • The NFL heard the appeal of the players suspended in the "bounty-gate" scandal. The commish says they're GUILTY of offering financial rewards for injuring opponents during games.  The players are very passionate in insisting upon their innocence.  I'll just say it's a crazy system when the same person heard the initial charges and then the appeal.  Due process seems to require that an appeal be heard by a third party.
  • The trial of Jerry Sundusky for sexually abusing boys in his care continues.  With this many witnesses willing to say he abused them I don't know how he can possibly be acquitted.
  • It seems like we might finally be getting closer to playoff system for college football.  Even with a system of semi-finals and a final there's still a lot of debate over how to select the four teams that participate.  The discussion raises issues of conference politics versus fairness and equality.
  • Have I missed anything?  Here's a little slideshow reminder of past cheats!
We might all have different opinions on what the evidence in each case demonstrates, or what the verdict should be.  Although there's always some people who think the whole thing should be swept under rug and irrelevant to the sport.  I think most people expect fairness and ultimately, justice.

In Amos 5:23 God says, "I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living."  When we demand justice for the players and the sports we follow, we're not being unreasonable.  We're reflecting the heart of God.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pitching the 9th

I had a surprising opportunity for a Bible study with someone yesterday after church.  Four of us went to lunch together and in the course of the conversation one person said they were thinking of being baptised.  This led to a Bible study about the Gospel and our response to it.

It's easy in this situation to put pressure on myself as if I'm the closer going for the save. I have to say the right words and do the right things.  The person who set up the lunch functions as the 8th inning setup pitcher, and I come along in the 9th to lock in the victory and record the save. I'm a kind of spiritual Mariano Rivera throwing 100mph Gospel fast balls that the person I'm studying with has no answer for!!

But when I take a moment to think of how the Bible describes this process I realise there's not as much pressure on me as I sometimes place upon myself.

Just before his death Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit who would "convict the world of its sin" (Jn 16:7-9).  God convinces people they both have a sin problem and need a solution.  Later, the apostle Paul wrote that it's not important who plants seeds and who waters them.  What's important is that God makes them grow.

So we get to this place where on the one hand Christians have a responsibility to know our Bibles and be prepared to share our faith.  On the other hand, God is also at work and it's whatever He's doing in a person's life that really counts.

So I guess God's the manager.  And as important as I might like to think my role is as a closer, the manager can replace me at any point for no better reason than there's a left handed batter up next and someone else is a better match.  I've done my bit, now I have to give up the ball and trust that the manager knows what he's doing.  What's important is that the team wins, not that I get all 3 outs to end the game.

In this case, I think we're going to have a baptism soon, but the ball's out of my hand right now. :-)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Which Name is Most Important

WOW, as good as the Celtics looked winning game 5 in Miami I was sure they'd win one of the final two games to take the series!  But as Indiana found out, when LeBron fires up, I'm not sure anyone can stop him.  It seems the best bet is to score more than he does, and I think the Thunder may be able to do that.

We should be in for an enthralling NBA Finals!!

With the Celtics gone, it reminded me that my wife has a Celtics jersey in her closet.  But she was never really a Celtics fan.  She hails from Indiana and has always been a Larry Bird fan.  So she didn't really buy a Celtics jersey, she bought a Larry Bird jersey. Undoubtedly, the NBA has promoted this type of fan as they market the personalities of their stars more than the teams.  Is this final series about LeBron v Durant, or Heat v Thunder?

Reminds me of a lot of Christians.  We don't really commit to church.  We commit to friends, or a preacher.  Then when the friends or preacher move on, the church involvement and faith commitment also fade away.  I read recently how when well known preacher/speaker Rob Bell recently left the Mars Hill church in Michigan that he helped plant the attendance dropped noticeably.

If we're going to make our faith about an individual, let's make sure it's Jesus.  By all means wear your church name on the front of the jersey, but make sure it's always Jesus' on the back!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Play the Playoffs

The NBA Conference Finals are both exceptional series.  Both series feature young teams with no championships (Thunder, Heat) challenging the veterans with championship experience (Spurs, Celtics).  Both series were tied at 2-2 and it seems that every game has been close.

I don't know about you, but it makes we want to play basketball.  To be part of it.  (And I don't even have a favourite team left in the playoffs.)  I don't have to take the final shot, but I bet I could make the pass that leads to the winning basket!  But that will never happen.  I'm not good enough.  Only 10 guys or so per team are good enough.

On the other hand some teams are really crappy.  (Hello New Jersey!)  I think I could play for them.  Seeing incompetence also makes me itchy to get in the game.  Again, it's not going to happen.  I'm nowhere near as good as I think I am.  :-)  I'd struggle to run up and down a court more than once.  Talk about incompetent.  But that doesn't stop me wanting to give it a go.

So why is it in church that so often we're happy to be spectators?  Is the church like the NBA?  Does it exclude me because I'm not talented enough?  Or do I just not get the itch of brilliance that I get watching the Playoffs?  Is it possible I just don't enjoy church activities as much?

Is it the church's responsibility to motivate me?  Or is that something I need to find inside myself?

I think we do have a responsibility.  We get excited about Playoffs because we invest in the event. We know the rules.  We know the players.  We hate LeBron because he left Cleveland.  We want to see Duncan match Kobe for rings.  Or not. We hate the Thunder because they were stolen from Seattle, or we love that OKC finally has a big league team.  We want to see Boston's Big 3 get another last chance ring, or we think Boston's already had enough success.  And we love that the games are close and the tension builds.

I'm pretty sure that if we invested similarly in the lives of people around us, at church, or in our community and were familiar with their stories we'd feel God's itch to get involved in his work.  We may not get to Play the Playoffs, but we can get off our bleachers!