Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Are You Training For?

My church recently changed our small groups so that each week they discuss the sermon instead of separate topics. As part of this change the group members receive the discussion questions on Thursday or Friday so they have time to prepare before some of the groups meet on Sunday. We'd been doing this for a while when a member told me, "I'm getting so much more out of the sermons because I'm spending more time preparing to worship and think about the topic."

At about the same time my friend Jeremy wrote this blog post about training and preparation which I'm sure you'll find encouraging.

I've been reading an excellent book on personal leadership and growth by Jay Bilas. The book is called Toughness. Jay Bilas was a former college basketball player at Duke and is currently a college basketball analyst with ESPN. He discusses several principles in his book that, if followed, enable one to build resiliency and toughness in life.

One of his early chapters is about preparation. His focus in that chapter is that preparation develops the ability to persevere through whatever difficulty you might face. To a casual fan, college or pro basketball might look like little more than a pickup game played at a higher level. To a player, coach or analyst, the game is much more, and preparation is key to that. Jay wrote that he spends more time and works harder to prepare to announce a game than he did as a player getting ready to play a game.

How does this idea of preparation intersect with our spiritual lives? I've written before about Jesus' teaching about diligence and watchfulness. But we can go further. If the summation of God's call on our lives is to love him with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves, how does preparation play into this?

Simply, we must prepare if we are going to live the life God calls us to. We practice, we think, we read, we pray. All these things are "practice" that help us prepare so that in the moment, we are ready to serve God. For these reasons, Paul writes both, "Train yourself in godliness" (1 Timothy 4:7) and "Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one" (1 Corinthians 9:25).

By applying the concept of preparation--by reading the Bible, examining the details of our lives, praying for strength, help and guidance, and thinking ahead about how we will handle the different temptations and opportunities in our lives--we will be diligent and watchful as Jesus calls us to be.

Think about Paul's encouragement to train yourself in godliness. How will you do this? 

Jeremy Hoover is the minister at the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan. His website is at He is an avid sports fan who enjoys biographies about athletes and books by coaches. His favorite sports are hockey, where he roots for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and football, where he pulls for the New England Patriots.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Outside Looking In

Do you ever feel like you've given your best effort, done everything required of you, but still you're not as well liked or accepted as other people? Your best just isn't good enough?

This week, Baylor and TCU feel the pain of being the bridesmaid and never the bride. Both football teams lost only one game all season. A total of five teams shared a one loss record, but since Florida State was undefeated, only three of them could make the inaugural college football Playoffs.

The Playoff Selection Committee, for a variety of reasons, deemed Alabama, Oregon, and Ohio State  more worthy of a place in the playoffs than either Baylor or TCU.
  • Was it the fault of Baylor or TCU that the Big12 doesn't have a conference championship game? No.
  • Did Baylor or TCU know how important non-conference schedules would be when they planned their 2014 schedule over a year ago? No.
  • Could Baylor or TCU impact perceptions of the other three teams since they didn't play them? No.
Each team did the best they could and even though they had the same number of losses they are left outside looking in.

Christianity is much like this.

We live our lives to the best of our ability. We treat people well. We're as good as we can be. But all our efforts still leave us on the outside of eternity looking in.  We're measured against an impossibly high standard that our best efforts just can't meet.

Perhaps we feel that it's not our fault. 
  • If Adam and Eve hadn't introduced sin into the world...
  • If my parents had treated me differently...
  • If I'd been accepted to that school or job...
  • If...
And that's where grace kicks in. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) We were on the outside looking in, but God sacrificed his perfect Son to open the door and grant us entry to his eternal kingdom.

How ridiculous is this act on God's part?

Can you imagine the perfect (13-0) Florida State suddenly saying, "We'll forfeit our spot in the playoffs so that Baylor and TCU can play." (I know the math doesn't work.) The FSU fans would go crazy!!  Every administrator at the university would be fired. The internet would probably blow up.

Yet as Christians we talk about God's grace to us as though it's the most natural thing in the world.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Does the NFL Teach us Grace? Or Economic Pragmatism?

"The NFL is not a contact sport. It's a collision sport."

I heard this statement on the radio the other day. It feeds into the image of American football players warriors or gladiators. They routinely put their bodies on the line for the benefit of their team. We now know that many of these collisions result in long-term conditions such as dementia and other mental illnesses.

But still, young men line up for a chance at glory in the NFL.

Yet this image of fierce warriors takes a bit of a hit in light of some recent demonstrations of grace within the ranks of the NFL.

1. In 2012 Josh Brent was the drunk driver in an accident that killed his teammate and best friend, Jerry Brown. This week Brent was reinstated to the Dallas Cowboys roster after serving 180 days in jail and serving a 10 week NFL suspension.

This seems to demonstrate a tremendous degree of grace toward Brent. I imagine many churches would struggle to welcome back someone responsible for the death of another church member.

2. This one's tricky. On August 31, 49ers player, Ray McDonald, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence toward his pregnant fiancee. This was just weeks after Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely for striking his fiancee. There was no video of the incident. So while many public commentators demanded that he be suspended, the 49ers stood by him and insisted he had a right to due process.

On first glance this seems like a very gracious approach by the 49ers. The easy thing to do here would be to go with the groundswell of popular opinion and suspend McDonald regardless of the facts. Instead they bore the blast of public criticism to give him a "fair go".

3. Adrian Peterson made headlines earlier this year when he was arrested for abusing his 4yo son. He had "whooped" him with a switch to the extent that the child required medical attention. No doubt, this type of discipline was familiar to Peterson from his own upbringing, but many people considered this degree of violence against a 4 year old as inexcusable.

Last week Peterson reached a plea deal in which he denied guilt but accepted probation, a fine, and agreed to attend parenting classes and complete community service. As the path clears for Peterson to return to the NFL (he's been suspended with pay since the story broke) many fans will have trouble cheering for him. Yet his teammates will apparently be happy to welcome him back. They're willing to extend him greater grace than many fans and commentators will.

So, should we hold these fierce gladiators up as big softies and shining examples of Godly grace in a world of suspicion and resentment?

There's always the other side of  the coin.

There's a very high likelihood that these displays of grace may be motivated more by economic pragmatism and the on-field needs of the teams involved.
  1. The Dallas Cowboys could use another big body on their defensive line as they make a run at the playoffs.
  2. I said this was tricky. McDonalds "incident" apparently left his fiancee with visible injuries. (Read the last paragraph of this article.) Also a significant factor in the charges being dropped was the victim's unwillingness to cooperate with the police investigation. This is common in situations of domestic abuse and can be more indicative of the abusive relationship than the offenders innocence. The 49ers had a lot of other injuries and suspensions this year so they had good reason, from a performance perspective, to keep McDonald on the field.
  3. Peterson has been the outstanding running back in the NFL for the past few years. There's no doubt that if he's fully fit he'll make a huge difference to the Vikings performance. When players are committed to winning they'll often accept anyone they think will help the team, whether they like them or not.
I don't know that we can determine a correct answer to this question without being present in each situation. In the meantime, our own situations will most likely influence how we view each of  these cases.

If there's no other teaching point from this post, there's this: Grace is messy. (and NFL player may be big softies.) But I do think these cases give us a great opportunity to ask the question, "Does the NFL practice grace more readily than the church does?"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Football's on Sunday... So's Church

The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 begin with these words,
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me."
God first states what he has done for the Israelites, then he demands absolute devotion from them.

Christians today might seldom face the temptation to bow down and worship a stone idol, but we face many distractions that call us away from absolute devotion to God.

Sport is a significant distraction.

Sport distracts at so many levels. At a youth level many families invest in a child's sports career in the hope of gaining a full college scholarship. As this excellent CNBC article describes, "the odds of landing a college scholarship in many major sports are lower than the chances of being admitted to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford."

Despite the horrendous odds many families miss church, take their children out of church sponsored youth events to pursue opportunities on the sporting field. Their children often fail to develop close spiritual friends and role models as their social circle increasingly consists of teammates.

Then we wonder why these children don't have a commitment to following the footsteps of Christ.

But it's not just our youth who struggle with the distraction of sports.

I recently engaged in a conversation with other ministers about church members leaving Sunday worship services early (or skipping them altogether) to attend or watch NFL games. Is this idolatry? Does this behaviour indicate that a person's allegiance to their team is greater than their submission to God?

The discussion raised a lot of issues and I'll attempt to briefly address some of them here.
  1. In many cases choosing football over worshipping God with one's spiritual family indicates an immature faith. There I said it.  However, please note that I said, "In many cases..." I'm unwilling to make a blanket statement for reasons I'll detail below. But there are many people who will miss a church worship service for any number of reasons and not feel bad about it, but make sure they're on the couch each week in time for opening kickoff.
    In some instances this attitude relates directly to the opening line of the 10 Commandments as people forget, or devalue, what God has done for them.
  2. We have made Sunday worship a non-negotiable act of faith.  Worshipping God on Sunday morning with one's spiritual family should be a highlight of a Christian's week. It provides a time of communion with God. It's an opportunity to acknowledge who God is and all he's done for us.
    But is it any better for a father to neglect his family in order to watch football than it is to neglect church attendance? Who's checking up on that? Some churches have made worship services an idol in themselves and elevated that hour or so each week above all other acts of faith carried out during the week.
    Yes, our times of worship are important, but does missing them mean we've turned to idolatry while neglecting our family (or some other aspect of our faith walk) just means we have human struggles?
  3. Does the church or the individual have the greater problem? For a short time I attended a church where I often heard members comment that Sunday worship and their small group meetings, were their favorite times of the week. The church did an exceptional job of making worship meaningful for these people. They wanted to be there. These people weren't skipping worship services for football.
    A Bible verse that is often cited to encourage attendance at church services is Hebrews 10:25 which starts by saying, "Do not give up meeting together." This phrase has frequently been used to strong arm people to attend church services. However the remainder of the verse is just as vital but more often overlooked, "but encouraging one another". If those "stronger" members and church leaders are not making the worship service an encouraging experience then their failure to obey Scripture may well be the cause of others not attending. Yet it's much easier to point the finger at the non-attenders than the non-encouragers.
  4. Attending a football game can have more spiritual merit than attending a church service. I know this sounds like blasphemy, but hang in there. I know a man that skips church when his NFL team plays at home. That sounds bad.
    He has four season tickets and often uses two of them to take with him other men and boys who are not well connected to the church. In the car on the drive to the game they pull out their church's small group lesson for the week and have a spiritual conversation. This relationship building experience facilitates conversations at other times about deeper topics. After sharing a football experience together it's easier to call that person and ask them to assist in raking leaves for an elderly member. There will be many more conversations between those driving together to a football game than would take place in the foyer of a church building.
    If encouragement is a significant motive for gathering in a worship service, there are times (not all the time) when this goal will be better met in a different setting. Ideally, it would not require someone to choose between worship and football, but in reality it sometimes does.
My goal in writing all this is simply to say... Sport can easily supplant and undermine our commitment to God, his church and his mission. However, we should be cautious about too quickly pointing the finger at those involved in sports and apparently neglecting God. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves first, and sometimes we just don't know the whole story. And yes, sometimes we are looking at the actions of an immature Christian who needs to be challenged about where their priorities lie.

In all of this conversation, don't let righteous indignation cause you to lose an opportunity to share the Gospel. As I wrote in my previous post, sports actually provide a great opportunity to discuss spiritual issues that we're reluctant to bring up in our churches.

You might also appreciate this related article on the Christian Chronicle website.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sports - A Window Into Society

This is a short, self-serving post. Life has been busy and I haven't written for a while. As I reflect on the past few months in the sports world, I'm reminded the extent to which these athletes, who live in the spotlight, reflect the lives and challenges that we all face.

So far this year sports have gifted us with these topics of conversation:

  • April/NBA - Racist remarks by the owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling, are recorded and leaked to the media. The resulting backlash from players and the public resulted in Sterling being forced to sell the Clippers franchise.
  • May/NFL - Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL. In September he was signed to the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys.
  • August/NFL - Ray Rice made a public apology after hitting his fiance. A few weeks later video of the incident was made public. As a result of the video Rice was dumped by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. The resulting discussion has caused the NFL to radically change it's approach to domestic violence and launch a major education program for its teams and players.
  • September/NBA - More racial furor in the NBA as Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry is recorded describing a player using racially derogatory terms.
  • September/NFL - Star running back, Adrian Peterson, is charged by Texas authorities for abusing his 4 year old son after a "whooping" with a switch resulted in substantial cuts and bruises.
  • September.Olympics - Olympic swimming superstar, Michael Phelps, was arrested for the second time for DUI.
  • October/NFL - The Dallas Cowboys wrestle with grace and forgiveness as Josh Brent returns to the team after 180 days in jail for killing his friend and teammate in an car accident while intoxicated.
So yes, I'm piggybacking on these terrible offenses (and I may have missed some) to highlight the value of blogs like God Meets Ball and the conversations they prompt.

There is a great likelihood that during the last few months the men in your church heard more about racism, parenting, and respecting their wives, on ESPN than they heard from their church all year.

The Bible contains so much teaching about loving our neighbours, and families, and it warns against the dangers of anger, alcohol and hate. Where do you want your church to receive its moral training?  How strongly do we want our men to hear God's standards rather than the opinions of media personalities pursuing ratings?

Further, just as the world of sports provides a lens into the homes of our communities, it reminds us of the challenges our families experience. Our members are touched to varying extents by racism, homosexuality, destructive parenting, and domestic violence. Our churches need to be places of truth, transparency and reality, not "putting on our Sunday best".
"Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."      1 Peter 3:3-4
 What venues does your church have to discuss issues like those raised above?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Worse Than a Pub Fight

For the past couple of weeks I've been wanting to write a blog post about English soccer, but other more urgent events keep popping up on the radar. Maybe next week...

Before you read my thoughts, I recommend THIS POST on a friends blog by a professional counselor who discusses domestic violence. It provides a great context and is more credible than any thoughts I have.

ALSO, if you or someone you know is living in a violent relationship but don't know or trust local resources, consider contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

I wrote a month ago about the Ray Rice's apology for domestic abuse. In that post I made the point that Rice was so violent toward his fiance that he knocked her unconscious. Everyone could connect the dots and see that.

Ray Rice: The public face of domestic violence.
Yet the NFL gave Rice only a two week suspension. In response to the public outrage the league instituted a new policy where a first offense for domestic violence will result in a 6 week suspension and a second offense would mean a lifetime ban from the NFL.

Then on Monday the video surfaced of Ray Rice punching his fiance in the elevator and knocking her out. I have been amazed at how seeing the actual violence has changed people's views so dramatically in comparison to last month when they knew what had occurred. Where people previously argued that Rice should receive a 6-8 week suspension instead of just 2, they now want him thrown out of the league.

It seems the Baltimore Ravens and NFL have listened to the public this time as the Ravens cut Rice from the team and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.

I'm no expert on domestic violence. I heard an interview this week on a local radio station with a representative from Rochester organisation Alternatives for Battered Women. He did an excellent job of describing many of the issues surrounding domestic violence. Far beyond what I could express.

There's a couple of points that I want to make.

First, there's a temptation to compare domestic violence with random violence. Athletes seem to regularly find themselves in the headlines for involvement in brawls, usually at bars and nightclubs. For instance, several months ago a couple of Carlton players in Australia were partying at 5am and one received a fractured eye socket.

As long as there are no fire arms involved, the usual response to this type of "scuffle" or brawl is for the player to receive a reprimand, extra push ups, or in extreme circumstances to be suspended for a couple of games. Most people seem to accept that combining large amounts of alcohol and young men will result in occasional violent outbreaks.

So here's the distinction. Let me clarify that no violence is good, even if some is explainable. But when we talk about domestic violence it's not just a random act. It's usually a situation where two people are living together and one partner is verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative, and at times physically dangerous.

In 2012 two rappers and two NBA players walked into a bar. After a while the rappers start fighting. Bottles start flying. Security escorts one NBA player outside without incident while the other received glass shards in his eye before getting out of the way.

In random violence there's always an exit. Even the rappers in this story, once the dust settles, go back to their separate lives.

I domestic violence the abused partner often feels and believes that there is NO exit. They believe that if they leave they will be pursued and abused even more than previously. It's why our cities and towns have shelters for battered women and their children. While every situation has it's unique dynamics the violence is seldom isolated or not part of a greater abusive pattern.

The absence of an exit is a major point of distinction between domestic violence and most other incidents of assault. Perhaps there is no obvious exit because they don't have their own finances or they've kept this shame so long there's no relational support network. In some cases the victims may feel that they need to stay and help the abuser. In other situations the victims through their own though process or as part of the abusive manipulation blame themselves that they're responsible for their partner's anger because they did something that triggered the outburst. These thought processes are unique to domestic violence compared to a nightclub brawl.

Second, the attention Ray Rice has received for his crime provides an important opportunity for churches to discuss domestic violence. One in four women are victims of domestic violence. So if you have a church with a 100 women, that means 25 have lived through this type of abuse. On the flip side, if you have a church with 100 men it means that a significant number of them struggle with anger and violence in their homes.

How can churches make a difference? How can God make a difference?

A fundamental step is to talk about domestic violence. Talk about it in your men's ministry. Talk about it from the pulpit. Make sure women know that they will receive a sympathetic ear and practical support if they find themselves in an abusive relationship.

If you don't know how to address this issue or don't have the experience to provide practical assistance to men with anger problems, be proactive. Bring in a counselor or someone trained in anger management to discuss the issues. Find solutions, not excuses.

Finally, wouldn't it be a great statement for your men's ministry to head up a fundraiser for a bettered women's shelter in your community. Take a public stance against violence in the home and support those who've experienced that violence.

In 1 Peter 3:7 the apostle gave this advice to husbands regarding our treatment of our wives,
"In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel. Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers." [VOICE]
Then in 1 Timothy 5:2 Paul tells the young preacher, Timothy, "Treat elderly women as mothers, and younger women as sisters in all purity."

Let's encourage each other to live up to the standards God gives us. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fantasy Evangelism (2014 Revision)

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. Last weekend I attended a Buffalo Bills preseason game and one of the four scoreboards seemed dedicated to giving fantasy updates from around the league... for PRESEASON GAMES!!!!!!

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!!!!!!!
In 2013 I worked in a couple of leagues to build community by having weekly awards. They were both ESPN leagues. At first I tried to use the message feature built in to the ESPN website, but it didn't work very well. I think guys go to the website to work on their team, not chit-chat about the season.

My other league was a 20 team league, which was a bit crazy. But another player started a Facebook group for the league members to discuss trades and trash talk. It had a lot more interaction. I suspect this worked better because people come to Facebook to chit-chat so are more willing to engage.

Within in the Facebook group I published weekly "awards" that I felt met my goal. It's not like all 20 guys commented on the post each week, but the awards created some continuity. They helped us keep track of how other teams were going. And they provided an opportunity for some more trash talk.

Here's the list I used:
  • Most Points Scored (Season)
  • Most Points Scored Against (Season)
  • Worst Winner (Weekly winner with the lowest score)
  • Biggest Loser (Losing team with the highest score)
  • Blowout of the Week (Matchup with the greatest winning margin)
  • Keeping it Close (Matchup with the smallest winning margin)
I also tried to include a weekly Trivia Tidbit. For example, "3 teams have an 8-3 record. 3 teams have a 7-4 record. 3 teams have a 6-5 record."

You may come up with different ways of creating relationships. It's my hope that my experiences might spark your creative juices. Just keep in mind that fantasy sports can be about a lot more than just winning.

Here are 10 Fantasy Football Commandments that I came up with last year that might also help out your fantasy league be an evangelistic tool.

  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?
  10. FOOD! Involve food whenever you can. It just makes all the get togethers work better.
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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Room to Grow

On Sunday Rory McIlroy won his fourth major golf championship: The US PGA Championship. In doing so he out played crowd favorite and winner of multiple majors, Phil Mickleson. He also staved off another up and coming young golfer in Ricky Fowler, and withstood a charge from world #4, Henrik Stenson.

McIlroy has now won 3 consecutive tournaments including two Majors. He is undoubtedly the hottest golfer on the planet and deservedly the #1 player in the world.

McIlroy is a golf prodigy and has had consistent success since first swinging a golf club at age 2. This photo montage by the BBC does a good job of tracking his career to this point.

In total, Rory has now won 4 Majors, joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Bobby Jones as the only players to win 4 majors at the age of 25 of less. As Tiger Woods has now not won a major since 2008 Rory looks like the player most likely to assume Tiger's spotlight. This article and it's graphs provides a good summary of the immense challenge that lies ahead for Rory if he's to catch either of them.

Tiger won his last PGA Championship in 2007. At that time Rory was 17. He was a talented golfer who already had an impressive list of accomplishments, but he didn't even turn professional until later in 2007. As Tiger lifted the trophy at Valhalla in 2007 no one thought a 17 year old amateur golfer in Northern Ireland might have a legacy to one day match Tiger and even Jack Nicklaus.

But there were some people who believed in McIlroy's potential. His parents, his coaches, his friends all supported his dream of becoming a champion golfer. They invested in his career at an early age. They spent money on him. The spent time on him. They passed on their experiences and helped him improve areas of his game that had deficiencies. While Rory appropriately gains all the credit for his play and accomplishments the culmination of his practice, focus, and skill, it's intriguing to consider how much of this would have been possible without the support and encouragement he's received throughout his life.

I wonder if sometimes our expectations for young people in our churches are too low. Look around your church. Is there a chubby faced 17yo who might one day make a mighty impact in this world for God? Can you see that person? Is anyone spending time with that person and helping them grow? I wonder how many 17 year olds we leave to find their own way in life because we don't purposefully pass on our experience and help them improve life skills where they have deficiencies.

Many churches invest heavily in their youth and have vibrant youth ministries run by fantastic youth ministers. But I wonder if you, the reader of this blog, make a spiritual investment in the lives of any young people? Are you more likely to ask a teenage boy about trying out for the football team, or his backswing, than you are to pray with him? Do you ever pray with him?

Young people in the church need to know that they're valued. We do this not just by throwing money at them, but by letting them know that we care about them and believe that God has a role for them in His mission. We equip them and help them identify their spiritual gifts. We give them opportunities to participate in the work of God now as training for the rest of their lives.

Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.  Ephesians 4:12-13

BONUS MATERIAL: Since I started writing this post news has broken of Robin Williams death. As a tribute, here's his explanation of the origins of golf. :-)

Monday, August 4, 2014

That Wasn't Me ... Or Was It?

Ray Rice is one of my favourite NFL players not playing for a team I support. He's a dynamic playmaker and I try to get on my fantasy football teams whenever I can.

But that's changed.

In February, video emerged of Rice dragging his unconscious fiance (now wife), Janay Palmer, out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. They had both walked onto the elevator but then Janay was dragged out unconscious.

Even Rice's lawyers at the time conceded that a "physical altercation" had occurred, although they chose to describe it as "minor".

So let's call a spade a spade. Although we don't know exactly what happened in that elevator. Ray Rice pushed or hit his fiance that whether as a result of the blow or from hitting her head on a hard surface she was knocked out. The not-so-technical names for this behaviour are: domestic violence and assault.

There. is. no. excuse.

Throughout his first six years in the NFL, Rice had no record of any off field bad behaviour. In fact, Rice had been the public face of anti-bullying campaigns in and around Baltimore.

This track record makes Rice's behaviour in that elevator appear very much out of character. However, the physical and emotional damage to Janay is still very real whether it's typical or not. We should not underestimate the hurt that one act can cause.

Last week the NFL announced that Rice would receive a 2 game suspension for his actions that night. This means that he will sit out the first 2 games of the 2014 season against division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

On Thursday Rice held a media conference and publicly apologised to his wife. Without going into specifics (and he doesn't need to) he acknowledged that his "actions that night were inexcusable". He needed to do this.

One thing Rice said several times that I have heard other public figures say when making public apologies is the phrase, "That wasn't me."

I think Rice is doing a lot of the things that are necessary to redeem a bad situation. I wish him well in the future. I hope he continues in counseling to address the issues that lead to that violent outburst.

But I know this. Until Rice (or anyone needing to change behaviour) can own up to the fact that it was him that night, he's not going to make much progress.

I think what he means is "That wasn't typical of me. It wasn't characteristic of me. It was against my beliefs and expectations that I and others have for myself. I don't want to ever do it again." And those are excellent thoughts that I hope are true.

But it was him.

He has to own up that he was angry and violent. Maybe there were other factors such as alcohol involved. I don't know. But that was him.

Acknowledging our weaknesses, our struggles, and our darkness creates room for God to enter our lives and work his transformation. Dismissing them as mistakes, or a moment, or not the real me, means that we ignore them and continue through life not knowing how we'll react the next moment that particular fuse is lit.

For that sake of his wife. For the sake of his son. For the sake of anyone else close to him, I hope Rice can say, "That was me, but it's not who I am anymore."

This type of transformation is a key element of God's presence in our lives. In Colossians 3:7-8 Paul could write to the church and remind them, "You used to walk in these ways in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips."

A few lines later in v 12 he continues, "Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...."

Paul thought it was helpful for us to remember and own who we were. Only then, with God's help, can we become the man or woman God wants us to become.

(For another perspective on Ray Rice that picks up on the same phrase, I appreciated this article on

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Now What?

It's over.

I hate to be a spoiler... but you need to know... Germany won!

Yes, for the first time a European team won a World Cup tournament hosted in South America.

Maybe I need to tell you because you stopped watching after the four Asian teams were eliminated. Or perhaps after the US lost. Or maybe you tuned out when England, Italy and Spain failed to make it out of the group stage.

Whatever the case, "Now what?"

Do we return to our previously scheduled Major League Soccer (US version) schedule? Do we twiddle our thumbs waiting for the EPL to arrive in August and Australian FFA Cup to kickoff in late July?

Does most of the US population return to the stupor of summer as they count down the days for the NFL to commence?  Do they know soccer is still be played in the US right now?

I find it fascinating to observe the efforts of soccer enthusiasts and organisations in the US. In a real sense they're missionaries for something they love in a generally ambivalent foreign culture. They celebrate the success of the World Cup in the United States TV ratings and plot how they can capitalise on that moment of glamour and attention.

Churches operate in much the same way. My church is currently planning a Vacation Bible School. We hope to meet many families from the community. We're trying to find ways to let them know that our event is happening and that their kids will find it interesting.

We're praying that our event will go really well and that every kid (and their parents) that attends will be super impressed by all the enthusiastic Christians they meet that they will want to come back.

Here's where many churches fail. I've attended two VBS's with my 4yo so far this summer. The only invitation I've received to return to the church for their regular kids program was the back page of a handout I happened to pick up.

It's extremely frustrating to put hours of planning and work into hosting a great event. Then we meet families from the neighbourhood or friends of our members, and we have great conversations with them every day for a week. But then the only way to continue the relationship is for them to attend a church service on Sunday morning. For most unchurched people that's a huge step.

This year, I believe my church is on the right track. Two weeks after VBS we have Worship in the Park which after Easter is our largest attended event of the year. Then two weeks after that we have a movie night that will also launch a new Men's group for dads and husbands.

But this applies to more than VBS. Anytime we have a major event planned I always ask, "What's next?" We want to do more than just make contact with neighbours. Our church still has a long way to go as we seek to provide multiple gateways for our neighbours to meet us and through us to meet Jesus. We want to establish relationships with these people and multiple events give us greater opportunities to do so.

So what about soccer?

Soccer leagues and international confederations around world have a huge variety of major tournaments scheduled over the next few years. Australia will be hosting the Asian Cup in January and hoping to break through for their inaugural win in that tournament.

Meanwhile the "missionaries" in the US have a busy schedule with the Women's World Cup taking place in Canada in June 2015, and the Gold Cup starting a few weeks later in July. Then another major tournament is scheduled for July of 2016: The Copa America Centario (Pan-American Cup).

The Pan-American Cup will be "the single biggest tournament the United States competes in prior to the 2018 World Cup. The Gold Cup is fun and all, but what will happen in 2016 promises to be special. All ten CONMEBOL nations will be participating and they will rope in six CONCACAF nations including the United States, Mexico, the latest Caribbean champion, the latest Central American champion, and two other nations based off finishes in the 2015 Gold Cup. A tournament like promises to be unique in that a Pan-American Cup such as this has never been attempted before."

You can see a full schedule of major international tournaments for the next 4 years at THIS excellent page.

BONUS VIDEO: What did the head of the Football Federation of Australia think of the Socceroos World Cup campaign? What are his hopes for the future? Watch the video HERE.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reflections of A Soccer Newbie

Hi. I’m new around here. But you can tell that if you just listen to me for a little.

I am just learning about socc…um…this sport. I know baseball, football (my kind!) and basketball well enough, but I’ve never really spent much time with soccer. I am drawn to soccer because the World Cup has stimulated national pride, and it is a slow sports time of year for me. I guess I want to give something else a go. Another reason why I’m interested is because of friends who know and love soccer. Most of my friends who are interested in soccer are the kinds of people I like to be around, so I’m giving this a shot.

The experience of getting in to soccer reminds me that there is often a big learning curve when trying anything new. The language of soccer is full of terms I don’t understand. For instance, who else calls their lineup a “side” or the uniforms a “kit?” The tactics of soccer are new to me as well. I am still trying to understand what the difference is between a 4-4-2 and the “diamond” that the USMNT is fond of forming. On the surface, soccer is the simplest sport on the planet, but there are textures and layers that make this a deep, cerebral sport as well.

So what is making me stay with it?

1. A welcoming community. My friends who are in to futbol have accepted a neophyte like me. During matches I often text a friend or two who are more than happy to talk to me about tactics and some of the “game within a game” moves that are being made. I really enjoy their insight and it makes it fun for me.

2. Enthralling stories: The more I watch and learn, the more I find out about the stories around the game. Today, I watched a grown man bite another player. This was unusual behavior for sure, but within a few minutes I learned that this was the third time he’s done this! Sorry Suarez. You are going to have to walk alone on this one. Then there are the stories I am learning surrounding my USA team like the Donovan decision, and the sometimes enigmatic Jurgen Klinsmann. Dempsey is a hero with a broken nose. Altidore is a tragic figure. Bradley is playing for redemption and on and on. I am interested in the matchups and the matches more because I am learning the stories surrounding the sport.

3. High stakes: The World Cup has the highest stakes of all the sporting events in the world. With soccer being the world’s most popular sport, the World Cup provides all the drama one could hope for with the highest international honors. Who couldn't want their country to do well in this tournament?

My experience as a soccer newcomer makes me think about those who are new to following Jesus. I have been a Christian my whole life. I cannot remember a time when I did not know about Jesus, but I understand that following Jesus can make one feel like an outsider with a steep learning curve! The language we Christians use can be dense. We do things that don’t make sense. We talk about sacrificing time on Sundays for worship where we do things like sing publicly. Who does that? We intentionally step back from our maximized lifestyle by committing to give of our finances to others. This doesn't make sense. We believe that we can have direct access to God in prayer. And then there are complicated doctrines that make PhD candidates sweat. Following Jesus can be complicated. I get it.

But here’s why I think you should stick with it.

1. A welcoming community: When you follow Jesus with others you will find a community that will accept you, care for you, and show you the love of Christ. My life has been so thoroughly shaped by the community of Jesus followers that I cannot imagine me without the Church.

2. Enthralling Stories: Face it. The claim that Christians make is the biggest story ever told! We believe Jesus, the Son of God, died on a Roman cross but God raised him from the dead. This cycle of resurrection is the core story of Christians and we find ourselves riffing this tune continually. The possibilities that open up when we live resurrection are endless and engaging. Christians should tell the best stories.

3. The Highest Stakes: We believe that God is restoring all things and God is using the Church as agents of this reconciliation. Christians can sense that all time and creation is heading someplace. And we want to be a part of what God is doing!

If you are getting in to Jesus, I encourage you to find a community, hear the stories, and pay attention to the high stakes. I think you will find this the most meaningful pursuit in life!

Jordan Hubbard is the senior minister at the Belton Church of Christ in Belton, TX (in Central Texas). He is married to Debbie and they have 3 children. Jordan enjoys baseball and football (the American kind) and is just learning about futbol. He's a Dallas Cowboys fan, so he's accustomed to having his heart broken. You can check out Jordan's messages at and when he blogs it is at You can also follow him on Twitter @jordanchubbard.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Building a Legacy of Success

The Los Angeles Kings became champions of the National Hockey League this year, winning the Stanley Cup by beating the New York Rangers in the finals 4 games to 1. The Kings demonstrated a strong will to win. In round one of the playoffs, they were down three games to none against a very good San Jose Sharks team. They became just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome these odds by winning four in a row to advance to the second round. In that round, they faced their bitter rivals from Anaheim, the Ducks, and were victorious in a difficult series. 

In the third round, the Western Conference championship, the Kings took on the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. This series went to seven games, and the seventh game went to sudden-death overtime, before the Kings won to advance. In the Stanley Cup final, the Kings showed their resiliency by beating the Rangers in five games. Three of those games required overtime and of those, two actually went to double overtime, including the Kings' final victory!

If we looked only at this season, we could say that the Kings were good. However, if we look at the recent past, we might conclude that the Kings are very good, if not great. It was not just this year that the Kings were successful. In the previous two seasons, the Kings won the Stanley Cup (2012) and made the Western Conference championship round (2013). The "dynasty" word has begun to be used about them. There is a new statistical category, called the fenwick close percentage, which basically describes scoring chances. The Kings have led the NHL in fenwick percentage for the last three seasons, winning it all twice and losing in the semi-finals to the eventual champion.

The Kings are building something great, and all the pieces matter. They have only three unrestricted free agents, so the core of the team will be able to be kept together. The Kings are also a young team, and seem to have skill in developing young prospects within their system. Although they will probably not win the Stanley Cup every year, they are positioning themselves to be successful for many years to come. The Kings are building a legacy of success.

What can your church or ministry learn from the Kings?

1. Get good at what matters. 
There is a reason that teams who lead the league in fenwick close percentage have either won the Cup or come very close to winning the Cup. The stat describes scoring chances, and if you have more scoring chances than your opponent you will most often win the game. The Kings have led this category for three years. They have focused on what matters, on what gives them the best chance to win. 

What is the most important thing your church can do to be successful? If you don't know, how can you find out? How can you center your ministry's efforts around that one thing?

2. Build for the long-term. 
The Kings develop prospects within their system, sign them to long-term contracts, and keep them. This ensures a nucleus of good, skilled young players will grow together as a team. They will learn and understand the team's system while adopting the values and culture of the club.

How are you building for the long-term? Do you have a training system that you put people through? How could you develop such a system? (Read more on this topic HERE.)

3. Stay consistent.
The Kings are not known for making many moves. Their coach is about as low-key as you find. They are consistent and methodical. They have a plan. They focus on what they must do to succeed and they stick to that.

Does your church or ministry chase the latest fad or gimmick? Are you always looking for the "next big thing" or are you following a plan? Does your decision making process encourage change or consistency? How can you emphasize consistency?

Jeremy Hoover is the minister at the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan. His website is at He is an avid sports fan who enjoys biographies about athletes and books by coaches. His favorite sports are hockey, where he roots for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and football, where he pulls for the New England Patriots.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

From Shadows to Spotlights

What an exciting time of year for sports fans. We are witnessing a massive collision of huge sporting events with global followings.

As I write this on Thursday, 12 June 2014 the following events will take place today:
  • Day One of the US Open (golf);
  • Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat;
  • And in a couple of hours the first game of the 2014 World Cup will kickoff in Brazil.
  • Also, tomorrow the NY Rangers and LA Kings will play Game 5 of the NHL Finals.
This all comes on the back of Rafael Nadal winning a record 9th French Open (tennis) this past weekend and in a couple of weeks Wimbledon will be upon us just as the World Cup group stage concludes.

In the meantime, other leagues (Major League Baseball, Rugby & Aussie Rules) continue their regular seasons.

As the passion for these major sporting events ramps up only to suddenly disappear when the final whistle blows, I'm drawn to compare the hype to the manner many of us approach church involvement.

As a minister I understand all to well the appeal of the latest flash marketing of a new approach to a particular ministry. We launch a new small group ministry with fireworks and a smoke machine and six months later we're pumping up our Children's Ministry, then summer hits and we encourage EVERYONE to involve themselves in a service activity over the next 3 months.

Sports organizations market themselves to capture the biggest audience at the biggest moments. The NBA doesn't care that much how many people watch the Timberwolves vs Charlotte in November, but they sure want a huge audience come May and June. Despite the marketing, the truth is that the parts we don't see, the off season, the gym sessions, the mundane games early in the season, all form the foundation for what occurs in the spotlight.

The World Cup (and Olympics) manage their biggest moments incredibly well. Because their event only take place every four years demand and anticipation builds. By limiting the number of teams eligible for the World Cup, the various qualifying tournaments also garner attention and build the momentum of expectations. Because they're national teams you automatically gain huge audiences whenever a nation qualifies for the tournament. If China or India ever qualify... BOOM...there's at least half a Billion eyeballs!!!

How big is the World Cup? Check out this chart!!!

Churches often do a great job of recruiting volunteers for special events, but what we really seek are disciples of Jesus committed to working in a ministry to make sure those highlights occur. I often get to baptise someone in front of the church after I've studied the Bible with that person several times. But I'd never have met that person if the daughter of the person she did housekeeping for didn't invite her and give her a ride to church each Sunday.

We love to watch our children perform at the end of the year and show the songs they've learned and Scriptures they've memorised and people they've helped throughout the year. But so many of those people who watch the "adorable children" and pat them on the back at the end of the year are nowhere to be found when recruiting teachers for the next year begins.

Sports (and church) can easily teach us to value the spotlight above the shadows, but God seeks servants willing to work in the shadows. Then sometimes He may shine the spotlight upon them.

Jesus himself demonstrates this value as he was born in a stable not a palace. Lived for a while as a refugee, not a celebrity. Worked as a carpenter, not a statesman. Ministered in Galilee, not Rome. Died with people cheering, not mourning. But then God revealed his deity as he rolled back the stone from the tomb and gave him victory over death.

From shadows to light.

It's how Jesus lived, and how we should also.

Don't get sidetracked chasing spotlights.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Some Resources

Yesterday I stumbled across the website of Athletes in Action. This organisation is a ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). As such the site in general has a lot of resources specific for their ministry goal: "Striving to see Christ-followers on every team, every sport, every nation, BY using the platform of sports so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus."

Matt Holiday
After browsing through their ministry specific resources I found their News page which I really enjoyed. I don't know how often they update it. It seems to me that they mostly feature interviews and editorials rather than reflecting current events, but I appreciated the articles they had posted.

Since I'm a Cardinals fan, I particularly liked this article on Matt Holiday. Although I appreciate the way he plays, I had no idea he was so involved in sharing his faith.

As I read the article it mentioned several other resources and conferences that connect sports and faith. I thought the readers of this blog might like to check these out also. So here's the list.

  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes - In my experience this is probably the best known sports-faith organisation as they have a presence on my high schools across the United States. Their ministry also extends beyond the U.S and beyond high school sports. Their website has a lot of excellent resources on it. (Coincidentally, their website currently features this excellent profile of St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.)
  • Pro Athletes Outreach - This ministry is run by professional athletes to equip and serve other professional athletes. They do this by hosting off season conferences for both professional baseball and football players. According to their website they also host a lot of workshops for Christian college and high school coaches around the U.S.
  • The Increase - This media site is a ministry of Pro Athletes Outreach and contains a series of [currently] 24 videos featuring a wide variety of athletes discussing their faith. This site provides an excellent resource for anyone looking for discussion starters in a youth sports or men's ministry context. Oh, and it happens to feature this excellent video by Cardinals star Adam Wainwright.
  • Unlimited Potential Inc. - This is another organisation of former professional baseball players. The group ministers to current players and even has 3 MLB team chaplains on its staff. They also have a strong sense of mission as they use baseball to spread the Gospel message around the globe. Their website states that they, "Work alongside global missionaries to organize and lead international missions trips for players and their wives."
  • Baseball Chapel - "Baseball Chapel is an international ministry recognized by Major and Minor League Baseball and is responsible for the appointment and oversight of all team chapel leaders (over 500 throughout professional baseball)." Their website includes daily devotionals as well as other helpful resources.
  • Beyond the Ultimate - When Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith made it to the NFL’s Super Bowl they wanted to take advantage of the platform to share their faith, thus the Beyond The Ultimate Web site was formed. It is now ministry of Athletes in Action and features mostly testimonies from a wide range of athletes.
  • Sports Spectrum -  Sports Spectrum magazine seeks to highlight Christian athletes of all sports and levels to help motivate, encourage and inspire people in their faith through the exciting and challenging world of sports. Of all  the resources listed here Sports Spectrum seems to have the most articles related to current events. You can subscribe to the full website for just $2 per month.
Some of these sites contain more information that others. I hope that this list may be helpful for you and give you a glimpse into the way Christians express and share their faith in the cauldron that is professional sports.

If you know other faith-sports organisations or helpful web resources please leave the link in the comment section.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Looking for God... in Seattle?

A friend pointed me to THIS ARTICLE the other day. It tells the story of the Seattle Seahawks selecting Garrett Scott, from Marshall University, in the sixth round of the recent NFL Draft.

Shortly after being drafted the Seahawks put Scott through a routine physical examination. "Garrett's examination revealed a rare heart condition that will prevent him from any on-field participation in the near future," said Executive VP and General Manager John Schneider."

Now get this... AFTER discovering his heart condition, the Seahawks still signed Scott to his rookie contract. What does this mean? That means Scott receives his signing bonus and first-year salary totaling about $555,000. The Seahawks showed Scott grace... and it's a beautiful thing.

It's not like half a million dollars less tax replaces a young man's dreams of playing in the NFL. It doesn't. But this is a generous action from an organisation that had no motivation to do so. Since the NFL salary cap this year is a huge $133 million, Scott's $555,000 represents only about 0.4% of their overall budget this year. This generosity is still surprising given that the team is a profit making organization, not a charity.

In 2007 Dan Kimball wrote a book titled, They Like Jesus but not the Church. He describes a generation of young people seeking spirituality but turning away from the institutional trappings that they associate with "church". In their eyes organized religion has grown big, bureaucratic, political and better known for those it opposes than it is for a message of Good News.

How can churches overcome the negative stigma that many attach to the body of Christ? Strangely, I think the Seattle Seahawks provide an example.

Why was this story passed around the internet?
Because it demonstrated compassion. It showed generosity. It surprises us because we don't expect large institutions to care for individuals. People associate with the emotional pain Scott must feel and appreciate the thoughtfulness of those who allowed him to spend a couple of days as part of an NFL team.

People still respond to kindness, to compassion, to grace, to love. In recent years churches have apparently failed to establish ourselves as places where these Godly attributes not only can be found, but can be found in abundance. The heart of God will always attract people. Churches must do a better job of revealing God's heart to the world.

Perhaps we can still surprise the world with a message of hope, love, and grace in a world so devoid of such moments that a football team can provide a spark of inspiration. I pray that the next time I read a story of grace it will come from a church. Perhaps it will even be your church!

We know what true love looks like because of Jesus. He gave His life for us, and He calls us to give our lives for our brothers and sisters.
If a person owns the kinds of things we need to make it in the world but refuses to share with those in need, is it even possible that God’s love lives in him? My little children, don’t just talk about love as an idea or a theory. Make it your true way of life, and live in the pattern of gracious love.
1 John 3:16-18 (VOICE)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The War of Attrition

Last week this blog post highlighted the importance of not allowing complacency to stunt our growth early in our faith journey. This week, regular contributor Jeremy Hoover looks at the lessons we can learn from the other end of the season, the Playoffs.

The NHL season, and in particular the Stanley Cup playoffs, represent a war of attrition.

The entire 82-game NHL season is a war, out of which only half the teams survive. Only 16 of 32 teams make the playoffs. The season is a war of attrition. It wears teams down in an attempt to see who can endure and outlast. Teams may start well, but they also have to end well. One example of this is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who began the season with a very successful start through the first twelve games, only to score points in just eight of their last twenty-two games and fall out of a playoff spot.

The playoffs are a war of attrition. Playoff teams engage in up to four rounds of a best-of-seven games format. This means that the two teams that play for the Stanley Cup can potentially play an extra 28 games, or fully one-third of what they already played in the regular season.

The playoffs are tough. They wear teams and players down. Every year it seems as though one team that was fine-tuning for a playoff run takes a big hit through injury and suffers a playoff loss. One example of this is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lost their top goalie, one of the best in the league this year, to a knee injury in the last week of the season. This loss was devastating and led to the Lightning being swept in the first round.

The team that swept the Lightning, the Montreal Canadiens, suffered a devastating injury of their own. In game one of the Eastern Conference finals, their starting goalie, one of the top goalies in the league and an Olympic gold medal-winning goalie, suffered a knee injury and is out for at least the length of the Eastern Conference finals.

The playoffs force teams to reckon with the forces of attrition and to find ways to carry on. Often the team who wins the Stanley Cup is the team who was able to endure and outlast all others. The key is perseverance. Teams that keep focused, don't lose their cool, avoid serious injury, and press on are the teams that most often win it all.

Many of our churches look like this. We start well but get bogged down in the middle of our "season." We lose a few games and we begin looking for a quick fix, a blockbuster trade, or something to help. Attendance is low, we struggle to find ministry leaders, or we notice spiritual lethargy and are unsure how to overcome it. 

Perhaps we find our churches gaining momentum at the right time, only to be hit right then with a major injury in the form of a personality conflict, a major fight within the church, or a leadership problem. 

Or maybe we feel poised to make a "playoff run"--there is a specific ministry we targeted to build evangelistic zeal--but we fizzle out because our people became tired.

The key is in these situations, the way to avoid the war of attrition waged against us, is to persevere.

In two different places in 1 Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to persevere. In the first place, he provides Timothy with a list of things to teach, a way of life that will instruct people through action, and an encouragement to be diligent. He tells Timothy to persevere in these things (1 Tim. 4:11-16). Later, he charges Timothy to flee from the temptations of wealth and to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness" and to "fight the good fight of the faith" by taking hold of eternal life and persevering (1 Tim. 6:11-12).

If we follow Paul's advice to Timothy, we will be able to overcome the forces of attrition that work against us because our focus will be on the eternal nature of the ministry we provide, not the day to day goings on the physical management of that ministry. Like Timothy, we can persevere to the end.

What helps you to persevere in your faith, ministry, or life when adversity strikes?