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.