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?