Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pots of Gold

I noticed this story on a sports ticker the other day. (Read another version of it HERE.) Notre Dame sent some of their potential football recruits packages of 477 hand-written letters. This represents one letter for every Notre Dame player who has ever been drafted to the NFL.

This is certainly extravagant and as the article points out will lead to other colleges competing to see who can show their recruits the most love. If the next school sends 500 letters will that mean they value their players more than Notre Dame does?

As a church leader it's my job to send a letter or email each week to each first-time guest for whom we receive contact info. In fact, guests receive an email from me on both their first and second visits  to one of our worship services. Focusing upon hospitality toward guests is an important aspect of our Sunday morning experience. In an ideal world each guest would leave feeling they've made at least one new friend and met a church that cares about them and can help meet their needs.

I know other churches that attempt to demonstrate their love for each person that comes through their doors by dropping off a box of cookies or some homemade bread later that week or even Sunday afternoon. A couple of times I've received a pen in the mail as a "thank-you" gift for visiting a church. I've also heard a minister at a large church describe how he spends Sunday afternoon making phone calls to first-time guests that left their phone number on an attendance card.

I don't really imagine that any guest at a church service would want to receive 477 letters later that week. But it makes me think about our attitudes. Are we as passionate about "recruiting" people to the kingdom of God as we are about recruiting top players to a football team?

In Romans 10:1 the apostle Paul wrote, "my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.

What does your heart desire for your neighbours? Would you risk getting eternal hand cramp "so that they may be saved?"

Two Questions:
1. What's the most extravagant thing you've seen a church try as they followup with guests?
2. Can you think of another spiritual application to this story about "pots of gold"?  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is Perfect Good Enough?

According to multiple news reports, including the football coach at the University of Texas, Mack Brown, will be forced to retire in the immediate future.

Brown has been the head coach in Texas for sixteen years. Fifteen of those years produced winning seasons. In fact, from 2001 to 2009 they won at least 10 games every year. In 2005 Texas won the national championship and came second in 2009. They won the Rose Bowl in 2004 and the Fiesta Bowl in 2008. They also won the the Big 12 title in 2005 and 2009.

In almost any college football program in the country this would be a hugely successful era.

But Texas isn't "any football program in the country."

The Texas football program has enormous financial resources and the administration and fans expect that support and wealth to result in regular Big 12 championships at the least and national championships every few years.

Over the past four years the Longhorns have barely broken even in the Big 12 with a 18-17 win-loss record. This article also points out that "Brown [is] the first coach in Texas history to suffer four straight seasons with at least four losses."

So turning around a season that started with two unexpected losses and clawing back to a share of second in the Big 12 wasn't good enough to save Brown's job.

Different jobs come with different expectations. Sometimes just having a winning record is a major achievement for the team. In other locations beating a traditional rival will make a successful season. But then there are those teams for whom anything less than ultimate success is failure.

Each time I hear of a successful coach being fired for not being successful "enough" I reflect on the grace I receive from God. The only "enough" God seeks from me, is a spirit broken enough to recognise my need for God's forgiveness and healing in my life.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:6 (tNIV)
Plenty of times I get caught up in the pursuit of various "enoughs" trying to please God or earn something from Him. I'm glad God's standards are so much lower that those of football fans around the world, because I'm never enough for God. The only "enough" in our relationship is that God is "enough" for me! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Conversation Changes Everything

I don't like athletes who try to gain a competitive advantage by using drugs. When I'm feeling grumpy I say "Kick them out of the game and never let them back in." I hold a grudge against baseball's all time home run leader, Barry Bonds, and think his record should be removed from the books. I view Alex Rodriguez as a cheat and wouldn't cry if his career was now over. I don't feel sorry for Lance Armstrong, although I respect the work his charity does.

In the recent Australian scandal where AFL team Essendon was accused of systematically giving their players illegal performance enhancing substances, I would not have thought any penalty was too harsh. Ultimately, the evidence didn't quite support the allegations, but it was still pretty rotten.

I don't like PED's because they unfairly skew the field of competition (as if natural selection doesn't already skew it enough!). They often have nasty side effects. The nasty side effects not only impact the star performers, but the desperate younger athletes who try to imitate the stars as they try to make their own way in the sport. Often the drugs used are simply illegal.

BUT then MY baseball team signs a confessed drug cheat. Jhonny Peralta was suspended 50 games in 2013 for using PED's. I laughed in his face (not literally). And now the Cardinals have signed him! For the good of the team, I'll have to cheer for him each time he comes up to bat.

Peralta didn't even attend the press conference to announce his signing. At that press conference the Cardinals GM had to defend the signing of a drug cheat. All he could say is that if MLB only suspends the player for 50 games, why shouldn't the team sign him once the 50 games are up. The club shouldn't be expected to impose its own ban beyond that the league imposes.

Of course, the Cardinals have already been through all this with Mark McGuire. But here's the point. "Getting to know people makes all the difference." One of the first steps toward hating someone is to dehumanize them. Forget they have a family and feelings. Label them drug cheat/black/gay/some other sin, then call down fire from heaven upon them. It's much easier if you've never shared a coffee with them.

Here's a couple of articles from other spheres of life that make a similiar point:
  • When a black man sits down with KKK members remarkable things happen. HERE
  • This article makes the point that society's view of homosexuality is rapidly changing because "It's difficult to believe that gay people are bad when you know one."
Isn't this kind of what happened in John 8:1-11 when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus. Of course adultery is still a sin. But suddenly this wasn't an abstract question about adultery. This was a specific circumstance about a very real woman who was right there in their presence. Expecting to be stoned she was probably crying and wailing and begging for mercy. No this wasn't hypothetical any more. In this context the evil of the religious leaders in exploiting this woman (and not her lover) as a tool to trip up Jesus changed the emphasis of the moment.

So before you go on facebook, or vent to your friends about "those people" (whoever they are) make the effort to get to know one, or some, of them. You don't have to agree, but God does call us to love them. Unless they're an extremely unpleasant person, it's usually much easier to love someone once you know them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Overcome Bullying with Good

As soon as you saw the word "Bullying" in the title you knew I was going to talk about the mess at the Miami Dolphins where Jonathan Martin has walked out on the team and accused Richie Incognito of bullying.

I really don't want to go into the details of this situation because its so messy I'm not sure that anyone really knows what went on. There've been many articles written on various facets of of this ugly mess:
  • Racism - A Jason Whitlock article HERE and a Shannon Sharpe rant HERE.
  • Violence - A report from HERE.
  • Immorality - "Compulsory" meetings at strip clubs HERE.
  • A Destructive Locker Room Culture - Bringing in good influences. HERE
  • Defining Masculinity - a good summary article HERE.
The point I want to focus on today is the widespread response to Martin's bullying claim that instead of walking out on the team, he should have "stood up" to Incognito and bunched him in the mouth. According to this article even the Dolphins General Manager, Jeff Ireland, thought Martin's best course of action was to punch Incognito!

Have you ever heard the advice that goes something like, "Bullies are really cowards. Stand up to them and they'll back down." So if Martin responds to abuse with violence that will stop the violence? I just finished writing a blog post on a separate issue here that included the thought, "Sin never heals itself". Likewise violence isn't solved by more or greater violence.

I'm not saying that walking out on the team was the right solution. Maybe there were other avenues of redress available. I do not that violent retaliation was definitely not the best solution, or even a solution at all.

I wonder if a Christian would handle this situation differently? God certainly gives us a few ideas to chew on in circumstances like this:
  • Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39)
  • I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:44-45a)
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (Rom. 12:17a)
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:21)
I wish I had "5 Easy Steps" for putting these teachings into practice. But this Martin - Incognito story demonstrates how difficult and complicated these situations are. There are so many times where it's incredibly difficult to decide the best specific path forward. Sometimes it means walking away from a situation and risking being misunderstood and called a coward. Sometimes it means reporting events to an authority and risking being called a snitch, and possibly losing some friends. Sometimes it means praying for evil people. Sometimes it means serving people we don't like.

Out of all the verses in Matt 5 and Romans 12 that relate to this issue, Romans 12:21 that most resonates with me. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Do you believe God, really, deep down in your heart, that good is able to overcome evil? 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rookie Nerves

The 2013 baseball World Series (Snopes article HERE regarding the origin of the name.) begins tonight between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. The teams seem to be pretty evenly matched and it should be an entertaining series. (A great series if the Cards win!!)

One of the remarkable aspects of this matchup is the youth of many of the Cardinals key players. Two years ago Michael Wacha was pitching for Texas A&M. Tomorrow night he'll start in Game 2 of the World Series. He's 22 years old, and has played just 18 major league games, and now he's an ace pitcher in the World Series.

But Wacha isn't the only youngster on the team. The Cardinals have 6 rookie pitchers of the 12 on their playoff roster. (This article provides a good summary.)

On any given night Carlos Martinez will relieve Wacha. Martinez is 23 and just made his major league debut in May. Oh, and his fastball sits above 95mph occasionally touching 100mph. In September Kevin Rosenthal made the move to closer. He's also just 23 and still classified as a rookie by MLB. Oh, and his fastball will also top 100 mph from time to time.

It's risky to trust such youth with such great responsibilities during the baseball playoffs. Particularly during  playoffs when scores are low and runs are so hard to get, one disastrous performance or a key mistake by a novice could cost the team the series. Fans undoubtedly feel more relaxed when veteran star Adam Wainwright takes the mound. He's done this before. There's a sense that we know what quality of performance to expect. Or when the King of October, Carlos Beltran, comes to the plate fans expect that somehow he's going to find a way to score a run. That's his track record, big hits in big situations.

But when a rookie pitcher takes the mound more questions than confidence fill the air. Will the moment be too big for him? Have opposing batters figured him out? Has his luck run out? Can his nerves handle this situation? How will he respond if he gets off to a rough start? And when he hands off to a rookie reliever, and another, and another... Those nervous questions become amplified.

But look where the Cardinals faith in their rookies has gotten them.

Many times in life, and in our churches, we fail to trust the rookies. Most church leadership teams are made up of veterans aged 50+. That's not a problem. Their experience provides a valuable asset. The challenge they face is to give the rookies responsibilities. So often we want to avoid failure at all costs, so we go with the "reliable" option.

Good leadership isn't just about achieving reliable outcomes. Good leadership also involves realising the potential of those they lead. Healthy leadership creates an environment where rookies can "fail forward". (For additional reading try this overview of John Maxwell's book "Failing Forward".)

It's interesting how quickly we'll grant grace to Michael Wacha if he fails miserably in Game 2 of the World Series. Fans and teammates will say things like, "Hopefully he learned from this experience," or "He'll be better next year." Yet around the church we might hear, "That was a disaster, we need to do something different next year." or "Who can we get to run it differently next time?"

The big difference in sports is that when a player fails to meet expectations, all sorts of coaches will encourage and advise him. If the player listens and commits to appropriate training habits there's every reasonable expectation that he'll improve.

When someone fails at church or another area of our lives, do we surround them with coaching and encouragement? Or do we just criticise or turn our attention to the next rookie or to the reliable veteran?

Jesus took a risk with 12 rookies. He surrounded them with encouragement and coaching. One couldn't get on the same page as his coach and lobbied for his removal, but the other 11 turned the world upside down.  Who are you coaching?

Here's a couple of videos on failure featuring none other than the great Michael Jordan. The first is a commercial by Nike. The second reflects on his foray into baseball.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Overreaction Monday

The various hosts on ESPN Radio often use the term "Overreaction Monday" to describe the panic fans express as they digest a dismal performance by their team or key player over the weekend. The players, coaches, general managers should all be sacked! The season is doomed, they should trade their stars and build for the future!

Equally, the games, matches, plays of the weekend may have them over the moon and absolutely convinced that this is the year, the season, the opportunity they've been waiting a lifetime to see. The championship, premiership, moment in the sun will be there's when they're the last team standing. (After Round 1, Chip Kelly is the greatest coach ever and Michael Vick will lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the Promised Land in 2013!!!  Then they lost their next two games!)

This phenomena is particularly potent early in the year as fans (and media and coaches) attempt to grasp the potential of their team and players for the upcoming season. Week 1 every team is undefeated, but come Monday morning half the teams have a loss and the other half a win. One half begin second guessing all the off season player acquisitions and coaching moves. The other half are convinced their hiring and firing guys are geniuses.

Australian professional athletes have their own version of "Overreaction Monday" called "Mad Monday" which immediately follows the end of the regular season. Before the clubs have the chance to review the player list and delist or trade players, the players organize an end of season revelry that often gets out of hand. (Here's this year's 'mad' headline!) This custom is also overreaction as players overindulge in alcohol and in some cases assume, right or wrong, that this will be their last moment with these teammates.

Coaches beating each other up at a high school football game: OVERREACTION!  And the list of over passionate coaches, parents and players in youth sports could go on for a very long time.

I highlight these examples as a reminders of how often we all need to take a deep breath and consider the bigger picture before responding to specific events. When our families say or do something that surprises or shocks us, how often do we overreact? When things don't go our way on the job, do we overreact? Do we manage to keep perspective when something happens at church, or do we walk out the door at the smallest offense to find "the right fit for me"?

Jesus himself addresses this issue a couple of times. Overreaction Monday has been around for quite a long time! In Luke 9:51-55 a Samaritan village refused to give him a bed for the night. His disciples asked "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" (Wow, even the craziest football fans don't ask that question when they get mad at their team!) After pointing out their craziness, Jesus just walked on to another village and slept there.

In Matthew 13 Jesus told a parable about the devil planting weeds in God's field or kingdom. God's servants immediately wanted to pull out the weeds, but God said "No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Overreaction Monday makes for great radio. It's passionate. It's interesting. It's opinionated. But it's also lacking perspective. God wants us, both as winners and losers, to show grace. In our family, job, school, church disputes, He wants us to step back and consider the bigger picture. Don't you be the person escalating and extending hurt by overreacting to perceived wrong doing. Confirm your perceptions and then prayerfully consider an appropriate response.  

It's never our job to call down fire from heaven on anyone's head... not even on Overreaction Monday!!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Trash Talk

The first week of the NFL season is in the books. And the trash talk has begun. I guess it's a lot easier to talk trash early in the season. There aren't many scoreboards for people to point at.

  • Seattle fans talking of buy bricks at the 49ers new stadium and inscribing them with phrases like "Go Hawks".
  • 49ers player Dixon posts a tweet calling Seattle the "She-Hawks".
  • Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, and some players accuse the NY Giants of faking injuries to give themselves a breather.
  • Then the Giants' player in question responds with a crack about Jerry Jones having his son-in-law clean his glasses.
  • All this talk about whether the Packers, and Clay Matthews in particular, are "targeting" Colin Kaepernick. Then in the game Matthews hits Kaepernick with a late tackle and the 49ers coach, Jim Harbough, describes it as a slap.
  • Matthews responded in a media conference describing himself as "an awesome player... not dirty". I don't know if that last comment was Matthews just defending himself or if he was also taking a shot at division rival Ndamukong Suh who the NFL fined $100,000 this week for a late tackle.
and this is just after Week 1!!

Christians face some interesting decisions when it comes to sledging or trash talk. In many ways it's fun and part of the game. Players participate to gain a psychological edge over the opponents (ior just because they don't like them). Fans join in because it's one way that we can participate in the competition between teams. We're not on the field, but we can sure talk big. But sometimes this kind of talk is destructive and unGodly.

I taught a class last night on idolatry. I was basing my lesson on the first chapter of Mark Driscoll's book, "Who Do You Think You Are?" He uses an acronym for the word IDOLS. Without rehashing the entire lesson, his thoughts on O relate to this topic of trash talking.

O stands for the idea that sometimes we make idols out of our connection to Others. This is very evident in sports when our sense of self-worth often increases when our team wins. We take pride because the team I happened to randomly choose to follow happened to win this week, or this year. Therefore I am better than you.

Driscoll makes this statement,

"While it is good to have community, we often turn this good thing into a bad thing by basing our identity on and idolizing our tribes. If you idolize your tribe, you will also demonize other tribes.

This past weekend also marked the first week of finals (playoffs) in AFL (Australia). I'm very happy to report that "my team" (Carlton) won. Making it even better was that Carlton only made the finals (playoffs) because traditional rival Essendon was eliminated from the finals by the league for their "supplements scandal". Then making the weekend even better is that Collingwood, the other traditional major rival of Carlton, lost! It's just a nice feeling.

It's so easy to get caught up in the roles the football culture imposes upon fans and rub their defeats and disappointments in the faces of Collingwood and Essendon supporters.

But I am so thankful for the example of my grandfather. I truly believe he rescued me from a life of fanaticism. He was a Collingwood supporter, but he is also one of the gentlest men I've known.

One weekend after his team had beaten mine in a huge game with finals implications I was still running on adrenaline (yes, just from watching it on TV) and really expecting him to act like crazy fans on TV and gloat about their victory. Instead, he just commented that it was good game and he knew how disappointing it was to lose that one.

The grace he gave to me completely took the wind out of my sails. I'm not saying that I always match his example. I still like to gloat at times. I mean, I now live near Buffalo where the Bills always lose. If I waited for them to win to say something...!!

By all means Christians should enjoy the banter that comes with supporting a sports team, but lets keep it lighthearted. Let's "Love our neighbours as ourselves". And let's remember that "A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fantasy Evangelism

Fantasy Sports are a huge part of the sports industry in the United States. Various estimates I read value the industry at $2-5 billion per year. Most of that is advertising revenue on the various fantasy sports websites. Fantasy sports have also taken off in Australia over the past few years as the US craze spreads internationally.

So I got to thinking about how churches could use fantasy sports that so many of our male members are involved in as an evangelistic tool.

I can't believe this is a real thing!!!!!!!
Australia may be a bit slow on the fantasy bandwagon, but we've been "tipping" winners for years. Usually there's money involved, unless it's a tipping competition run by a church leader!! In sharing these ideas I'm very dependent on the example of Barry Hume who's been doing this for years back in Tasmania.

Since the NFL is about to kickoff their season it seemed like a good time to throw this out there. So here are some suggestions for using Fantasy Football to connect with guys one the periphery of the church. The goal of each of these suggestions is to use sports as an excuse to get to know people better. You can use all these suggestions to strengthen bonds between members, and that's great, but it won't be evangelistic unless the unchurched are involved.

  1. Use your imagination when inviting people to your league. Perhaps the unchurched husband of your members would like to get involved. Have you met a guy at the local diner or coffee shop who might like to get involved?
  2. Make sure you have a draft party. I know most drafts can be done on the computer, but remember the goal is face-to-face time. So take the time to get together and write it out. It's more work, but it will be worth it. Maybe use the church building or even better for building relationships would be using someone's home.
  3. As commissioner work hard to keep the emails and online comments (trash talk) going throughout the year. It's so easy to just let the league run on auto pilot. Community will only be built through intentional interaction.
  4. Do you have a church Christmas party or special event you can invite the unchurched participants to attend?
  5. Develop a list of awards so everyone still has an interest in participating. 
    1. Have a vote for the most creative team name.
    2. Keep track of the biggest win by an underdog.
    3. Longest winning/losing streak.
    4. Highest and lowest weekly scores over the course of the year.
    5. Team with the most injuries.
    6. Team with the most single digit losses.
    7. Anything else you can think of.
  6. Have physical trophies for the winner, runner-up, and maybe consolation winner. This will provide continuity from year to year. You could even have a plaque somewhere in the church if you want to go all out.
  7. You MUST have an end of season awards night. Bring everyone together and eat lots of guy food.
  8. Plan to watch a final or the Superbowl together. Many people have standing plans for the Superbowl, but it could work great for an earlier playoff game. 
  9. NEVER have a league prayer meeting for your fantasy teams!!! Did I need to include that?
If you can apply most of these suggestions, there's a very high likelihood that you'll know these guys a lot better at the end of the season than the beginning. Only God knows where that relationship will go from there.

I'm always looking for additional ideas, so please leave a comment if you have any.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Story of an Oxgoad, the NFL, and You

I once preached a sermon based on the text of Judges 3:31. It says this:
"After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel."
I'm sure I was copying someone else I'd heard, but the point of the sermon was pretty simple. Shamgar was one of Israel's judges, appointed by God to lead His people.

In this instance he goes to battle against the Philistines with an oxgoad. What's an oxgoad? It's a stick used to poke oxen to keep them moving while they're ploughing a field. It's not a weapon... usually.

So why did Shamgar use an oxgoad for a weapon? It wasn't because he was skilled in the ancient martial art of oxgoading. It's my thesis (guess) that he used the oxgoad because that's what he was familiar with. Shamgar wasn't a warrior. He was a farmer who walked behind stinky oxen to plough fields.

God called a farmer to rescue and lead his people as a judge. When Shamgar received that call, he answered it with what he had on hand... an oxgoad. And God used him to save Israel.

Each of us faces a similar challenge to answer God's call where we find ourselves. Don't wait for the perfect time, perfect place, the most receptive person, or even more training. If God gives you an opportunity to speak or act for Him, do it with whatever you have. You just might save a nation!

All that to introduce this awesome video by Matt Hasselbeck who is now the backup quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. The website also has interviews by other Christian athletes.

Maybe it's different in the US with a lot of Christians hailing from the Bible Belt, but I suspect not. In my experience athletes and sports clubs are pretty difficult situations to discuss faith. It's much easier to discuss sex, or binge drinking, or gambling, or sports, or all sorts of things... but not Jesus. Professional athletes face the additional temptations of hedonism, pride, materialism, popularity, and greed. I just point that out to say, "Don't underestimate the challenges for Hasselbeck to share his faith with his teammates. It's certainly not easier than what you and I encounter in our social circles."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More Than Mistakes

WARNING: I am about to get on my soapbox. Let me apologise in advance if this post is a little preachy.

I am sick and tired of athletes getting caught in some discretion and then making a public apology describing it as "A MISTAKE".

Let me give you some examples. First, from the recent Biogenesis PED fiasco that infiltrated Major League Baseball.

  • Ryan Braun: In the face of overwhelming evidence (after beating a PED charge 18 months ago on a technicality) made this statement: "As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said in a statement. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family..."
Yes, Ryan Braun, these actions take a toll on your family. Didn't you think of that beforehand. Or did your greed and selfishness, I'm sorry, your "mistake", prevent you from seeing the outcomes. You made a conscious decision to break the rules knowing the possible consequences but believing they'd never happen to you. You ignored the stigma your parents, wives and kids now face due to their relationship with a "cheater".  So don't cry me a river about your family now. You should of thought of them long ago. It's because of you they have media camped outside the house and making phone calls seeking comments. This wouldn't have happened if you'd just majored in baseball instead of trying to minor in chemistry.
  • Nelson Cruz: Offered a qualified confession talking about his illness while saying "my illness was no excuse". If it's no excuse don't talk about it! In a statement he released Monday, Cruz said he was "seriously ill with a gastrointestinal infection" for three months from November 2011-January 2012 and made an "error in judgment" to help him recover and get ready for spring training. "I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse," Cruz said in the statement.
  • Fernando Martinez: A minor league player who also had injury problems and sought an illegal short cut to recovery now with the Yankees’ Triple-A team, said he had made “a serious mistake” during last season.
It's not as though it's just baseballers that make "mistakes" though. The Denver Broncos (NFL) star defensive player Von Miller was yesterday suspended for 6 games after having difficulties handling a urine sample. (He was suspended a couple of years ago for marijuana use.) He apparently submitted spilled and diluted urine samples. Both are considered violations of NFL drug policy. Urine samples don't get diluted by accident. Then of course he made the obligatory statement acknowledging his "mistake". I made mistakes, and my suspension has hurt my team, Broncos fans and myself. I am especially sorry for the effect of my bad decisions on others.

So being a responsible researcher, I conducted a Google search for the definition of "mistake":
  • Noun: An action or judgment that is misguided or wrong
  • Verb: Be wrong about.

Here's the thing... mistakes have a lot in common with accidents. We mistakenly recognise someone when we truly think they're someone else. We mistakenly misspell a word but the assumption is that we were trying to spell it correctly. Turnovers are mistakes, they're not deliberate decisions to break the rules.

If we were to call it honestly these players would admit to "breaking the rules". They would admit to "cheating". They would admit to stealing roster places and league honors by their illegal use of PED's. And if they're Christians they would admit to sins: If nothing else they're selfish, and greedy.

In my mind, at least, using the word "mistake" is like pleading that I only told a "white lie". It's admitting that I did something wrong, while trying to also gain acceptance that it wasn't really wrong or serious.

If this was only an issue in sports I guess I'd accept it as an irritation that I have to live with. But when I see Christians describing sin and rebellion against God as "mistakes"... that really upsets me.

  • The person who parents a child before marriage then moves in with their partner... "made a mistake". No. They didn't. They just ignored God's teaching on marriage, parenting and holiness.
  • The person who gets caught speeding on the way to church (that was me many years ago), didn't make a mistake. He made a decision to go over the speed limit enough to catch the attention of the cops.
  • The person who routinely abuses his wife and kids then turns up at church in a suit on Sunday isn't making mistakes Mon -Sat. He's violating the trust of his family and the responsibility God's given him. He's breaking God's demand that he lead his family with love.
Please don't think that I'm demanding all these people be stoned. I am 100% convinced that the Gospel of Jesus is one of grace and mercy (Acts 20:24, Jude 21) . I'm not casting rocks. But I do believe that we're a lot closer to repentance and renewal when we acknowledge the severity of our transgressions. Let's just call sin, "sin". It sounds ugly and abrasive because sin is ugly and abhorrent. Jesus didn't die for our mistakes, he died for our sins. We need to embrace that truth. (Romans 3:22-24)

Thank-you. This is me now stepping down from my soapbox.

    Friday, August 9, 2013

    PED's for Christians?

    Legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, receives credit for the famous American sports quote,  

    "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." 

    It's a motivational statement intended to inspire players to give their utmost to the goal of winning the game, or championship. (This wikipedia article suggests another origin.)

    Apparently Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and others took this advice to heart. (Read the full story HERE.) They risked their careers to obtain an unfair advantage over other players and gave in to the allure of performance enhancing drugs. (PED's) The drive to be the greatest, to achieve the most, and to go down in history was so strong that they risked what have already been outstanding careers in an attempt to ensure they reach the top of the baseball mountain.

    I've written about PED's before, so this time I just want to ask a very simple question.

    Is your relationship with God as important to you as success on the field is to these baseball players?

    What would you risk in an effort to ensure your salvation? How far would you go seeking restoration with your eternal Father? How important is winning life to you?

    Jesus went "all in" for us. That's how important we are to Him.

    The question is, "How do we reciprocate?"
    • Do we struggle to get out of bed on time each Sunday? 
    • Do we linger as the collection plate is passed deciding whether to put in a $5 or a $10? 
    • Do spend hours on our fantasy football teams, or Monday Night Football but not have any time for prayer? 
    • Can we recite stats all day, but not remember any Scripture verses?

    Paul, the apostle, expressed his commitment this way,
    Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. (Philippians 3:8-9, The Message)

    It's all about what's important to us. We admire the single-minded focus sports stars have in pursuing their goals. The example of Jesus challenges us to have the same focus on the mission he's given us.

    Of course, there are no PED's for Christians. The Bible doesn't need it's performance enhanced. Check out these performance descriptions:
    •  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)
    • There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, The Message)
    God's given us a training regimen, if only we use it...   Paul did. In fact, Paul wrote a lot of it. At the end of his life he reviewed his life of service for God with this confidence,
    I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming. (2 Timothy 4:6-8, The Message)

    What will be God's summary of your career?

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    I Didn't Dream of Becoming a Supermodel...

    This past Saturday Marion Bartoli won the Ladies' Singles Championship at Wimbledon. Sadly some of the shine of this accomplishment was tarnished by comments BBC presenter John Inverdale made. I suspect he was trying to complement the grit and determination Bartoli demonstrated throughout the championship, but in the process he made these sexist comments about her appearance.

    "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little: 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'?".

    In many ways his comments reflect the reality that in women's tennis (and I'm sure many other sports) looks matter. Anna Kournikova never won a WTA singles title, yet according to Wikipedia "at the peak of her fame [2001-03], fans looking for images of Kournikova made her name one of the most common search strings on Google Search." Stunning looks will help you get in the headlines, even if your on court results don't match they hype. This article on the Bleacher Report website discusses the Bartoli comments and does a good job of highlighting the hypocrisy perpetuated by the WTA itself.

    But this reality is no excuse for the initial comments. If it wasn't bad enough that an official BBC presenter felt free to criticise a player's looks, the twitter universe was even more cruel. This Daily Mail article does a good job of describing Inverdale's offense (even as it panders to shallow sensuality on it's sidebar) and the Twitter firestorm.

    ESPN in the name of gender equality has created the website, Appropriately, they have a good article criticising the sexism of Inverdale and Twitter's comments. The irony, however, is that this story breaks the same week that ESPN the Magazine publishes its "Body Issue" full of nude pictures of athletes. Talk about speaking out both sides of your mouth!

    The crazy thing in all this, is that Bartoli does not weigh 300 pounds or have missing teeth. She's a superb athlete who just WON WIMBLEDON!!!!! The standards of beauty and expectations placed upon young girls and women can be crushing. It's not enough to perform at an incredibly high level and be the best in the world at what you do, you must apparently also meet a beauty quotient at the same time. There's probably a bunch of articles on this issue out there, but a friend shared this one with me that I thought was worthwhile.

    I don't follow women's tennis all that closely, so I don't really know much else about Bartoli, but I admire her response to this issue. She definitely takes the high road and demonstrates healthy priorities!
    "It doesn't matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I'm sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.’’

    This is also the same week in which a Dustin Hoffman interview touching on the topic of beauty has gone viral. In the interview he chokes back tears as he describes arriving at the realisation that he had passed up knowing many wonderful women because they had not met the standards of beauty he'd learned to prioritise.

    As one blessed to be the father of little girl, this series of events reminds me how important it is that I reinforce her value for all facets of her life and personality. I love her because she's my daughter, not because she meets certain benchmarks I, or anyone else, have for her. I happen to think she's beautiful and she'll continue to hear that from me often. However I'm more concerned about raising a daughter with beautiful character than a beautiful smile. I'm intentional to compliment her good behaviour, her learning, her compassion, and her love for God.

    I believe this is consistent with God's view of humanity. In 1 Peter 3:3-5 the apostle writes to Christian women,
    "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight."
    Since I'm pretty sure it will mostly be guys visiting this site, let me say that we have a responsibility to reinforce God's values to the women in our lives. We shouldn't expect our sisters to take this instruction to heart as long as we're evaluating them on the basis of "elaborate hairstyles, gold jewelry or fine clothes." In fact, we encourage them to ignore God's priorities.

    Sure, God created us as sexual beings who are visually stimulated, but we're still rational beings who need to learn to appreciate women as complete persons. While the world wants to accept or dismiss women based upon a 2 second analysis of "hot or not", these women need Christian men to affirm acceptance and value that runs much deeper than their skin.

    Paul was encouraging this attitude in his apprentice Timothy when he told him that as he worked with a church he was to "treat the older women as mothers and the younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." (1 Tim 5:2) He wasn't forbidding Timothy from marrying a physically attractive woman, but he was warning him to firstly care for all the women he encountered as family members. He wasn't to deny beauty, but he was to value the heart more.

    For God so loved the world... not the rich, or the beautiful, or the black, or the white, or the talented.... May we represent Him faithfully as we do the same.

    Thursday, June 27, 2013

    Sports: It's Mostly About Losing

    Earlier this week the Boston Bruins lost the Stanley Cup. Last week the Spurs lost the NBA Championship. These teams were just the most recent of a long list of teams to lose those titles. 28 NHL teams didn't failed to make the championship series and another 28 teams sat out the NBA Finals Series.

    Yesterday the mighty Roger Federer  experienced the taste of defeat in only the second round of Wimbledon. He wasn't alone however. "On a crazy day, Federer was one of seven players who have been ranked No. 1 to depart the tournament in a span of about 8½ hours."

    Despite the extremely long odds that we'll succeed at any given sport, we talk very little about losing. When I stop and think about it, that's a little strange.  Don't get me wrong, I've never yet played competitive sport intent on losing. In fact, a fundamental tenet of competitive athletics is that all competitors play to win. But when I think of crazy coaches and parents on the sidelines at youth sports it's evident that winning is the only acceptable outcome to those people, despite the odds.

    I began thinking about writing this post several weeks ago when I read about Scott West's induction into the Aussie Rules Hall of Fame. He played 19 years in the AFL. He was a club leader. He was tough. I can still see him making a characteristic run carrying the ball down the wing. Yet at the end of his career he commented "it's a huge regret of mine not playing in a grand final or winning a premiership."

    Later in the same article he says regarding a Preliminary Final the Bulldogs lost after holding a five goal lead, "I remember that game as vividly as my first game, I think about it a lot, but I've never been able to bring myself to watch a replay of it."

    Perhaps we look at players like LeBron James, and think that success is inevitable. But plenty of stellar players like Scott West, never win championships. Winning is not a right regardless of how much talent you possess. No one in the US demonstrates this better than Karl Malone. Malone holds the honour of scoring the second most points in an NBA career. He has the nickname "The Mailman" because "he always delivers". But he never delivered an NBA championship to the Jazz. Winning is never a right.

    So How Should We Discuss Losing?

    It's not cliche to say that losing develops character. (So too does winning.) Sports fans always hope that their team will learn from one year's loss and come back the next year stronger, and more determined. (Do you hear me Memphis, Pacers, Spurs???)

    We generally recognise that the potential improvement that comes from challenging ourselves against more talented competition outweigh the joys of beating up on an inferior opponent. In that context although the defeat still stings we primarily look for improvement in our own performance with the goal that one day our improvement will increase our abilities beyond those of that particular opponent. The student may become the master.

    In youth coaching/parenting we work to avoid bitterness, regret, feelings of inadequacy and anger. Instead we want to encourage persistence, determination, and healthy ways of handling disappointments. We point them toward other opportunities and establish priorities where sports don't have the greatest importance. Life is full of disappointments and setbacks. Competitive sports provide a cauldron for developing the character needed to overcome life's challenges.

    What Does God Have to Say About Losing?

    God's people have been losing for centuries. 400 years of slavery to the Egyptians. Another 400 years of intermittent oppression during the period of the Judges. 70 years of Babylonian captivity not counting the previous years as a vassal state or the complete obliteration of the Northern Kingdom.

    Then Jesus dies. The Christians are burned at the stake and fed to the lions. The Muslims capture the Holy Land. Christians fight each other. Today many Christians despair at the rate of moral decay in Western civilisation most recently demonstrated by the US Supreme Court giving the green light to gay marriages: another loss.

    But Jesus rose from the tomb and God placed him "at His right hand in heaven. There is nothing over Him. He’s above all rule, authority, power, and dominion; over every name invoked, over every title bestowed in this age and the next." (VOICE) In the meantime God tells us, 
    "Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)

    Happy is the person who can hold up under the trials of life. At the right time, he’ll know God’s sweet approval and will be crowned with life. As God has promised, the crown awaits all who love Him." (VOICE)
    Like a coach encouraging a youth team in whatever sport you prefer, God always affirms to us that he loves us despite our losses and struggles. He endeavours to instill in us a priority that life is about more than wins and losses. We're to place our priorities on the eternal above that of the earthly. Remembering that He has already defeated the competition. He reminds us not to spend our lives looking backwards at missed opportunities, regrets, and "if only's". Instead we're to press on with our lives bouncing back stronger and more determined to face our next challenge. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

    Losing can devastate or strengthen us. The more we talk about it, the greater the likelihood that we can overcome. We need to encourage each other with the reminder that any loss is only temporary, because ultimately Jesus has already scored the game winner!!

    Monday, June 10, 2013

    Is Your Church More Effective Than The Dallas Cowboys?

    In case you are not a Dallas Cowboys fan or you were living in a cage the last 48 hours or so, Jerry Jones once again showed why his team will never win another championship. Jones is a great owner--but a terrible GM and coach. He constantly undermines his coaches, overrules them, tells them what other coaches to hire all the way down to the conditioning coach.

    This past offseason he fired Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett's defensive staff that Garrett had handpicked and hired a new staff. And he stripped Garrett of his play calling duties--which were the duties which elevated Garrett to head coach in the first place.

    And Jones undermined Garrett even in the announcement of this decision. Jones told the press that Callahan would be calling plays, Callahan heard that Jones said this and said that he was honored to be taking this over--and Garrett refused to even comment about it. It was clear that he first heard about the communication of this through the press--unbelievable. As sports writers are saying, Jones threw his coach under the bus and undermined him.

    This has led many to once again conclude that the Cowboys will never win due to Jones, who once again undermined his coach. Read the story: "As Dysfunctional Offseason Continues, Cowboys Setting Themselves Up to Fail" Even for me--and I have seen this from Jones time and time again--this took the cake. I have been stunned the last couple of days at how terrible management this was.

    It is not that Jones does not have the authority to do what he does. He does--he's the owner. No one questions that. But by refusing to delegate and empower and support his coach--and by seeking to play GM, which he does not have time to do because he is also the owner, nor the training--he is setting the Cowboys up to fail. Like in the draft, when he overrules his scouts and coach. It is no coincidence that the last time the Cowboys were really successful was under Jimmy Johnson, who had "total control of football operations." Of course, that led to their divorce, as Jones got jealous of the "credit."

    And if churches are run in this way, they will not go very far either. Church leaders have all the authority. But if they do not properly delegate, if they undermine, and if they micromanage those who have training and experience, the church will not grow. 

    Jones and the Cowboys would be best served by Jones being the best owner that he can be, and hiring smart, experienced people who are empowered and supported in their jobs. And that means not hiring the Dave Campos of the world so that he does not feel threatened, but smart, capable, competent people. Jones is not a coach, he has no experience being a coach, and he is a poor GM. That is why Garrett just bites his tongue. He knows that Jones is setting the Cowboys up for failure, but there is nothing that he can do. 

    Jones has done this time and time again with different coaches. On some level he must know that it does not work, but let's face it---he does not want to delegate or "give up control." We shake our head at Jones--but this dysfunctional pattern extends many places--including churches. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you" (Mt. 20:26).

    Do you think that the Dallas Cowboys will ever win another Super Bowl with Jerry Jones as owner?
    What parallels do you see in churches? 
    Do you think Jesus was a micro-manager? Can you support that answer with Biblical examples?

    Many thanks to James Nored for letting me repost his article on this site. James is a long-suffering Cowboys fan (aren't they all?) and minister at the Grapevine Church of Christ in Texas. James also founded the website Missional Outreach Network which encourages churches in their efforts to spread the Gospel. He also blogs regularly on that site.

    Saturday, May 25, 2013

    On Earth as in Heaven

    I remember the iconic picture on the news and in the newspaper 20 years ago. St. Kilda's Nicky Winmar raising his guernsey in defiance after enduring an afternoon of racial abuse from the fans outside the fence. In 1993 it set off shock waves around the country. The profile of the "aboriginal issue" instantly grew on the public's consciousness, not only in terms of national political policies, but in respect of individuals examining our own actions for racism. (Click HERE for a good short reflection on this event.) The fact that there's still much work ahead is demonstrated in the abuse Adam Goodes received during a match this weekend from a 13 year old girl. (Read his reaction HERE.)

    This might seem strange to many people today, but I graduated high school the year before and I don't remember ever having a conversation about racism and the hurt it causes. There may have been other events that also placed racism on the public consciousness, but for young white males who admired Winmar as a superbly skilled football player, this image made an impact.

    In the USA Jackie Robinson is honoured as the first black player in Major League Baseball in 1947. Just as the AFL now has an indigenous round each year, MLB also celebrates Jackie Robinson Day annually.

    Sports have always had a close connection to race relations. Sometimes sports leagues, players and fans have disgraced themselves, but sports have also made some important improvements in race relations. Sometimes these improvements have come through official actions and at other times by unofficial events.

    For many, Tiger Woods has become the face of a new generation with a bi-racial heritage and a drive to allow his talent to transcend racial issues. Although not the first black golfer on the PGA Tour, Tiger is certainly the most well-known and today the only African-American playing on the Tour. This past week Sergio Garcia found himself in hot water after making a "joke" about Tiger and fried chicken. Again demonstrating the work still to be done. This interesting article contained this description of Tiger,
    It's not Tiger's way to bring attention to any aspect of his racial heritage. His aim is to transcend race through excellence as a professional golfer. He reaches for a higher plateau that is post-racial in a way that not even President Barack Obama could ever attain as a self-identified African-American.
    One of the cruel ironies of Tiger's hope for racial transcendence in a sport played predominantly by whites is that he has been both a symbol of racial harmony and a polarizing force along racial lines.
    Apart from the statements made on the field, sports provide a unifying rallying cry for people from all backgrounds. Whether listening to a radio in the poorest hovel, or sipping wine in a corporate box, people connect by supporting the same team.

    When I worked as a college minister in Melbourne we had a large group of international students attending our church. I encouraged them to pick a football team, any team, and even if they weren't interested at all, keep track of the team's season from a distance. This would help them fit in with the local people they met and serve as a great conversation filler. Everyone has a favourite team. Even if your team is different to mine, at least an interest in the sport provides a commonality.

    So if sports can unify fans across racial, educational and financial divides. And if sports can make strong statements opposing racism that impact society as a whole. The church has a lot of work to do to match the camaraderie of sports teams.
    • How do we welcome people different from ourselves? 
    • Are our friends mostly like us, or do they reflect our community? 
    • Shouldn't the church be ahead of the local sports team, which basically are businesses, in acting as instruments of Godly social change?
    Even today, many church growth consultants promote the idea that homogenous churches will grow more quickly than integrated, diverse congregations. I know churches that insist that they need to be racially black, or white or Chinese, or Latino to help them serve that particular ethnic community.

    These might be valid reasonings. Even if they are, they shouldn't apply to as many churches as they do. According to a 1999 survey (cited in One Body, One Spirit, George Yancey), only 8% of all US churches are multiracial. (I suspect this would be much higher in urban & suburban Australia, but I haven't found any data.)

    In Matthew 6:10 Jesus prays, "May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." What's God's will for race relations and the church? Let's answer that by looking at heaven. Revelation 7:9 describes "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the throne an in front of the lamb" praising God. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that described our churches, "on earth as it is in heaven"?

    Thursday, May 16, 2013

    Celebrate Good Times

    You don't have to know a lot about basketball to recognise that the following season statistics are particularly unimpressive:
    • Games Played: 3
    • Average Minutes Per Game: 1.3
    • Field Goals Attempted: 2
    • Field Goals Made: 1
    • Total Career NBA Points: 2
    • Assists: 0
    • Steals: 0
    • Blocks: 0
    • Turnovers: 1
    But those statistics don't tell the whole story... or even the beginning of the story. The statistics belong to Chris Wright who played for the Dallas Mavericks for 10 days in March 2013 as they auditioned point guards to replace their injured backup. Wright was a college star at Georgetown and this year made one of the D-League All-Star teams.

    What makes Wright's story noteworthy is not his basketball journey, but his personal journey. After missing out in the NBA draft Wright found a job playing in the Turkish professional basketball league. One day at training his foot suddenly gave out! Some time later the Turkish doctors diagnosed him with Multiple Sclerosis.

    After returning to the US for treatment Wright decided to continue his basketball dream. He found an opportunity playing with the Maine Redclaws. This ESPN story gives more details of Wright's journey, but the fact that he's playing basketball at any level is remarkable! Yet alone that he had the opportunity to play for an NBA team. Look at this description of the symptoms of MS:
    Common symptoms of MS include fatigue, numbness, loss of balance, poor coordination, blurred vision and problems with memory and focus, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which estimates that more than 2.1 million people are affected by the disease. In severe cases, MS can cause paralysis. Wright originally was told by Turkish doctors that his basketball career was finished.
    Wright made it to the NBA against all odds.No one knows if his NBA career will continue or if that's as good as it gets. 3 games. 4 minutes. 2 points. An inspiring set of numbers.

    I was prompted to write this post not because of Wrights struggle with MS but when I noticed a short sentence in this article:
    He got his first NBA bucket on a driving layup with 9.4 seconds left.
    After the buzzer, Darren Collison grabbed the ball and passed it to Wright, making sure the rookie would have a keepsake.
    “I’ll give it to my mom so I don’t lose it,” Wright said, “and just get back in the gym tomorrow.”
    That one score turned out to be his only score but I love that Darren Collison made the effort to give Wright the game ball. I am a big believer that we need to celebrate even the small accomplishments in life. We live in a competitive and glamorous world that consistently tells us that we're not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, organized enough.... So it's important that we celebrate the things we do well. It's important to remind ourselves, our spouses, our children, our church members that they have gifts, abilities, and most of all that we're all valuable to God.

    Don't wait for a major achievement in someone's life to recognise them. Praise people every chance you get. They'll feel better and they'll treat you better.

    It's not that these celebrations mean we stop trying. I love Wright's response in the quote above. "I'll get back in the gym tomorrow." Celebrate successes, but then keep moving. The two must coexist.

    1 Corinthians 12:26 is a favorite verse of mine. It describes the church as a body. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. (The Message) In my experience most churches share the hurt very well. Any time you ask for prayer requests there's no shortage of needs. Most Christians though seem to struggle with part two. We don't enter into each others' exuberance very often. We don't rejoice together as much as we could.

    Maybe we don't want to show off. Perhaps we don't want to make those who are hurting feel worse. We might just be private people. But we don't communicate the good news of God in our lives when we're not rejoicing! In fact, one could get the impression that Christians rarely flourish or receive blessings from God if the church prayer list was all we had to go on.

    We shouldn't be stingy about handing out basketballs when someone scores a basket. Don't wait for their career to be over.

    Coincidentally, I was reminded just yesterday that Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline lists "Celebration" as a spiritual discipline. God wants His people to celebrate! In Hebrews 13:15 we're told "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise."

    As a closing thought here's a summary from a study guide to Foster's book,
    The Psalmist exclaimed, "Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy" (Ps. 126:2a). And St. Augustine echoed Scriptures words with the declaration, "A Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot." Celebration is a happy characteristic of those who walk cheerfully over the earth in the power of the Lord. [emphasis added]
    As children of God we have plenty to celebrate.