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?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Every Game Matters

The middle of May is an interesting moment in the sports landscape.

Baseball season began almost 2 months ago, but teams are still less than on quarter of the way through their scheduled 162 games. At this point in the season almost no one pays much attention to the games and a bad start still has plenty of time to turn around.

Aussie Rules season also started 2 months ago and now approaches the halfway mark of the season. As teams take their byes they have a pretty good idea which teams are premiership contenders and which are the easy beats. Teams (like Carlton) that began the year with a string of losses now realise that it will take a lot of wins in a hurry if they want to make the finals.

Basketball (NBA) and Hockey (NHL) find themselves deep in the playoffs. At this point of the season each game undoubtedly means everything. A team (Pacers) that yesterday looked like it had a comfortable 3-1 series lead is now 3-2 and appreciating that the fourth win won't happen automatically. Every game, every shot, every moment matters. They also know that the importance of each action only intensifies as they draw closer to winning the championship.

Fans who show little enthusiasm for their team during the ho-hum matchups in the middle of the season come to life as the playoffs approach. Now the real business is about to begin. Now the emotions come to life. Now the heart leaps with each shot. Now every moment matters

As I considered the difference between baseball fans and supporters of hockey and basketball teams at the moment I realised the danger of complacency early in the season. There are teams that will miss the playoffs by one or two games. As they look back on their year I wonder if they can identify one or two games or moments early in the year where they relaxed, took it easy, didn't push as hard as they could?

I recently heard an interview with Rick Carlisle, the coach of the Dallas Mavericks, who reflected that because their playoff race was so close it felt like every game was super important for at least 2 months before the playoffs began. As the deadline approaches we understand and feel the urgency. But if a team needs a certain number of wins to make the finals, it really doesn't matter if they come early or late in the season.

The Indiana Pacers recognise this truth. They had 40 wins to 12 losses at the All-Star break and the best record in the NBA. In the second half of the season the Pacers barely had more wins than losses. Yet they managed to retain the best record in the Eastern Conference. If they had not achieved those early season wins their seeding in the playoffs would have been considerably lower.

I understand the argument that perhaps the effort to get those early wins tired them out and caused some of the late season losses. I also appreciate the importance of momentum and team cohesion going into the playoffs. Those points may make for a future blog post.

All this got me thinking about our Christian journey. We naturally grow more urgent in our desire to avoid sin and please God as we age. Our evangelistic fervor picks up when someone close to us receives a terminal diagnosis.

At the other end of the spectrum I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone give their life to Christ and then be told, "See you next Sunday." We seldom communicate an urgency to grow. We don't emphasis the importance of early victories in our struggles with sin. We're often content to let our newborn brothers and sisters coast along and "get used to the system" without inspiring them to strive for constant growth. We allow them to put their faith on autopilot. It's like they're playing baseball in March instead of hockey.

Our lives don't have scheduled seasons. Jesus tells us that only God knows the day or the hour of His coming or our going. (Matthew 24:36) The Message phrases 1 Peter 5:8 this way, "Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up." Our competition never takes a break and we can't afford to either.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The NBA MVP is a Servant

I've been attracted to Kevin Durant as a basketball player since he emerged on the national scene during his one year playing for the University of Texas. The guy just knows how to score. He has now won the NBA scoring title four of the last five years. Yesterday, he was named the MVP of the league.

Before I get to his MVP award I really encourage you to take a few minutes and read THIS ARTICLE that I came across back in February.

For those of you who didn't read the article...

In an interview in early 2014, KD commented that he'd prefer the nickname, "The Servant" more than any other. In hindsight Durant later regretted the comment and the interview because giving yourself a nickname that draws attention to your humility doesn't really work. But his desire for that nickname actually stems from his faith and desire to serve others as Jesus did.

Ho hum.... what's that? Another star athlete professing to be a follower of Jesus? Forgive my skepticism, or don't.

I'm always reluctant to highlight athletes who make public faith proclamations because so many of them fall short (as we all do) and their shortcomings catch the media spotlight to the extent that all previous statements of faith are overshadowed.

For example, an article describing the firing of Warriors coach Mark Jackson makes the point at least twice that he's an ordained minister or pastor. However, the tenor of the article is that his cocky demeanor made him difficult to work with and for and led to conflict. Would you want him as your pastor?

Here's a sample from the article:
An ordained minister away from the court, Jackson often spoke of his Christian beliefs and promised to turn the Warriors into one of the best defensive teams in the league and a perennial playoff contender -- and he did. But Jackson's boisterous personality, at times, did not play well with Warriors management, [and] his staff... Jackson's demeanor, which bordered on confidence and cockiness, might have ultimately cost him his job.
So back to Durant... Did you read the article? Did you see the back tatt?

Durant's not just giving in to social pressure when he makes a point of thanking God for his achievements. He's not just fulfilling NBA service obligations when he calls kids with cancer or donates to tornado relief efforts. I don't know where the rest of his life will take him, but right now I've gotta believe he's living out his faith in God as best as he knows how.  (Here's an interesting interview with Durant about his faith journey: Interview with Craig Groeschel)

This brings me to his 2014 MVP acceptance speech.

This is a 25 minute video, but it's truly inspirational. The odds are that you'll tear up. Please do yourself a favor and watch it.

So often when we have a captive audience we want to tell the world about ourselves. We want to convince the world that we're worthy of its love. We want to persuade the world to pull for us. We want to tell a story that's new, that will paint us in a good light, that will make people like us.

Durant used his 30 minutes in the spotlight to deflect its glare on everyone around him. If you didn't hear the introduction you'd swear he was giving his team a pep talk as he went down the line thanking each of them for the ways they encourage and better him. You'd have a hard time believing he was accepting an award recognising him as the Most Valuable Player in the entire NBA throughout this season.

This article on is good example of how Durant impressed many people. I heard similar sentiments on sports talk radio throughout the day.

Things he didn't say:
  • It's nice to finally beat LeBron James at something.
  • Thank-you for recognising me as the MVP this year.
  • This is a league of very talented players and it means so much to have my performances this year recognised with this award.
  • I WON!!!!!!!!!!!! [while holding up his index finger]
  • I couldn't have won this if I wasn't wearing Nikes.
  • Russell Westbrook, why don't you take next year off too, so I can win another one of these.
Durant didn't need to ask anyone to call him The Servant. He just went out and lived like one... at the moment of his greatest personal achievement.

As you watch the video of one of the greatest basketball players in the world, it's difficult not to admire his sincerity and authenticity as he thanks those around him for lifting him to the heights he's achieved.

I wonder how this compares to our hearts when we thank God for accomplishments in our lives.
  • Do we accept recognition and compliments as "deserved" by us? 
  • Or do we truly believe that we couldn't have done it on our own? 
  • Do we pay attention and acknowledge the way others in our lives make our accomplishments possible?
  • Are there people in your life that you haven't thanked recently?

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." - 2 Corinthians 8:9

"He, Jesus, must take center stage; and I, John the baptiser, must step to His side." John 3:30

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Is anyone talking about sports this week? Actual ball bouncing, running around, winning and losing sports?

It seems that for most of the week the furor of Clippers owner, Donald Sterling's, racist commentary that was recorded and released to the public has pushed the actual games to the back page. I actually think that is appropriate. Racism is an ugly blight on our society and it should be confronted and opposed when it rears its head.

I've seen quite a few bloggers and commentators (HERE, HERE, and HERE) using Sterling's comments and punishment to raise a whole lot of issues including:
  • Why Sterling wasn't previously punished by the NBA for previous racist business practices that were revealed in the courts.
  • The role of the media in raising a riot and prompting action.
  • Concerns about private conversations being made public.
  • Whether or not the punishment is too severe, after all the Clippers have a great track record for hiring minorities.
  • Why the American public will riot over these comments but accept disproportionate rates of incarceration and other systemic justice concerns as just the way things are.
  • Freedom of speech.
I agree that most of these are interesting conversations. Nevertheless, they are smokescreens that obscure the fundamental principle at play here, namely that our actions, and words, have consequences.

I understand that Sterling should feel upset that the privacy of his home was violated. I understand that the girlfriend who recorded the conversation was acting out of malice rather than as a champion of racial harmony.

But let me ask, how would you respond if you had that conversation with Donald Sterling or with your best friend? Racism is sin and sin has consequences.

In Matthew 18 Jesus lays out a process of raising sin with and individual. If there's no repentance bring some friends and discuss it. If there is still no repentance bring it before the church. If there is still no repentance they are no longer to be regarded as part of the church.

In other words, Jesus says that if a hateful conversation takes place privately between two Christians and there's no repentance it should become a public issue. The sin should be laid before the church, identified and condemned. Obviously Sterling's situation isn't a church, and there were no intermediate steps between his private conversation and public humiliation. However, Christians should be most understanding that sinful behaviour has consequences. Covering up sin and hate is ungodly and destructive to the individual and the church.

The NBA issued Donald Sterling a lifetime ban and will work with the other owners to force him to sell his investment in the Clippers. This is drastic action, but don't let all the other smokescreens confuse the problem.

Sterling is one of just 30 NBA owners. He is a guardian of the sport. If a coach made these comments, he'd be fired. If a player made these comments he'd likely lose his job. When one of the 30 most powerful people in the sport expresses hatred for people with dark skin he should expect consequences. The fact that 29 other billionaires are apparently willing to vote him off the ownership island indicate the severity of his comments.

When we sin we often try to make excuses and deflect responsibility. That's what Adam and Eve did. "It's your fault God, you gave me the woman." "It's the serpents fault, he lied to me."

The Christian faith is all about actions and consequences. Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God punished them. God sent His Son to die on the cross: He offers us forgiveness. We sin: We need forgiveness. God loves us: We love others.

We thank God that no matter how vile our sins He always provides a way back for us. Sterling may never be able to gain public respect again. But God is always willing to forgive. Our actions have consequences, but they're not permanent.

In contrast, God's actions provide eternal security for us. That's a consequence I value.