Monday, January 26, 2015

Deflategate: Coming to Church Near You

You've heard the stories. When the Indianapolis Colts played the New England Patriots in the AFC championship a couple of weeks ago it was discovered that the footballs the Patriots used in the first half were about 15% too flat. After the officials inspected the balls before the game, they mysteriously lost 2 psi of air pressure by half time.

The suspicion is that the Patriots (or someone in their employ) let some air out of the ball because Tom Brady prefers to play with a softer football, and/or because it might help the running backs to grip the ball.  The fact that the Patriots scored 28 points after half time with the footballs back at their legal air pressure certainly challenges the issue of whether they obtained any real advantage with the softer balls.

Nonetheless, if the balls were deliberately deflated after the official inspection it's a pretty blatant rule violation. Since the Patriots already have a black eye when it comes to breaking rules (think Spygate) some pundits are calling for severe penalties over the air pressure issue. Personally, I don't see it as requiring more than a slap on the wrist and increased scrutiny in the future.

How big has this issue been?  For the last week, this discussion has dominated the sports talk airwaves. It has generated numerous memes on facebook. Sports websites have turned into science journals as they discuss how atmospheric and environmental conditions impact air pressure inside a football.

Oh, and the Super Bowl is this coming Sunday!  This won't distract at all.

The sad truth is that Deflategate routinely occurs in our churches. Let me demonstrate. 

Chuck: I came by the church building Monday morning and I noticed the doors were unlocked. Anyone could have just walked in there and then walked out with whatever they wanted. This is serious. Whose job is it to lock the building each Sunday?

Roger: This doesn't sound right. We'll look into it. Someone must know something.

Bill: It wasn't me. I'm never the last one to leave. I don't even know if the doors have locks, yet alone how to use them!

Tom: I have a key and I often use the locks, but there are other people as well. No one seems to have the specific responsibility of locking the building and we sure can't figure out who was the last person to leave yesterday!

Roger: This really is serious. Do we know whether or not the building is ever locked on a Sunday night?

Chuck: It's probably Bill. He's done this sort of thing before....

Bill: It definitely wasn't me. I've looked into it, and it's quite possible that due to the weather the door has swollen a little, maybe water in the wood, or warmer temperatures.  When that happens the door often jams, so it looks and feels closed, but if you really pull on it the lock wasn't engaged.

Roger: I think we need to take this to the elders. It's very serious. Maybe they'll want to bring in some door consultants. And if someone's lying, that's a spiritual issue...

Elders: We have a meeting this week. We should be able to allocate a couple of hours to discuss this.

Tom: Ha, Ha, Ha, Come on fella's, it's not that big a deal. Besides we've got this big evangelistic campaign coming up next weekend. Could we spend some time going over our plans for that?

Elders: Tom, we'd like you to come to our meeting. Once we get this matter resolved we can turn our attention to the plans for this weekend.

It really is this easy to let little things around the church take precedence over the important mission God has given us.

Gossip, complaining, accusing... all these negatives behaviours will just take the air out of a church. They distract us. They create discord. And they're not that important.

Of course we want the doors of the church building locked when no one's there. Of course we want to have a backup when the projector blows a bulb. Of course we don't want rubbish under the pews. Of course we want a million little things to be done "just right".

But we can't let any of these little things become the BIG THING in the life of God's People.
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.  (Titus 3:8-10)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why God Cares About Football

Full disclosure, I’m a Seahawks fan. I rooted for Dave Krieg and Steve Largent back in the day. I made fun of Brian Bosworth. I suffered through mediocrity until the coming of the Holmgren. I lamented the loss to the Stealers (I know what I wrote) in Super Bowl XL. I prepared myself for a time of rebuilding when my team started a rookie. I marveled when he took them to the playoffs in his first season. I was stunned beyond words when he won a Super Bowl in his second

Now, in Russell Wilson’s third season as he prepares to lead the Seahawks back to his second Super Bowl, people are talking about his faith. After the ‘Hawks beat the Packers in the NFC title game Wilson spoke through tears about how God had prepared him and the team for moments just like that. A few days later the quarterback he defeated, Aaron Rodgers, said he doesn’t think God cares about the outcome of football games. 

So? Does He? 

Is Wilson right? Did God prepare him for that moment? Is Rodgers right? Does God not root for any of the football teams out there? 

If I believed that God cared about the outcome of football games, I would first have to believe that God willed the Seahawks to be terrible for decades. I would have to believe that God influenced the refs to call touchdowns that weren’t in Super Bowl XL just so the Stealers would win (yes, I’m still bitter about that game). If I believe that God made the Seahawks win against the Packers in overtime, then I also have to believe that God made the Seahawks lose against the Packers in overtime in 2003. 

But neither do I think that God is a football agnostic. I don’t agree with Rodgers that God doesn’t care about football (or other sports). 

God cares about us. He wants each of us to use our unique skills, talents, experience, and opportunities to show love to our neighbors and to bring glory to God. If our job is as a plumber or a programmer or a preacher or a punter, God wants every one of us to use our job to love others and to love him. That’s the core of the Law and the Prophets (according to Jesus). 

I think God cares about football in the same way he cares about every job that everyone has. He cares that we use what we’ve been given – whether little or much – to obey him and love our neighbors. As a writer and a preacher, my job is to string words together into sentences and paragraphs that convey meaning. I could use that talent to make money writing self-help books and giving motivational speeches, but instead I take a moment to pray before I pile words together. I ask that God would give me the words to speak or write for his glory. If I believe that God will give me stories and sermons so I can do my job to his glory, then I have to believe that he will give football players similar opportunities to use their jobs to bring glory to him. 

I don’t think that God wants the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl more than any other team. But I do think that God can use football players for his glory, whether they win or lose. I do think that these men who have an amplified voice in the world can, through the platform of sports, make an amplified difference. Russell Wilson can help to fight childhood diseases and to encourage young people facing life-threatening illnesses. Richard Sherman can force us to have conversations about race and racial bias. Marshawn Lynch can make us all reflect on how much time we spend talking about doing our jobs rather than just being about that action (boss). And that’s just a small list of a few players on one team. 

I think God does care about football, but not who wins or who loses. God cares about us being whole people who use our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls to love him and to love our neighbors. If that happens through athletes playing a game, may God be glorified. If that happens through a writer penning some words, may God be glorified. If that happens through a plumber working hard for a fair price, may God be glorified. 


Go Seahawks! 

James T Wood is a writer, minister, and teacher in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife Andrea have worked with established churches and church plants all over the US. You can find out more about James and what he's up to at

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Other National Football Championship

It's football's championship season! On January 10th a national college football championship was played. The winning team wore green and gold uniforms... but they weren't the Oregon Ducks.

No. This was the NCAA's 2nd tier championship: The Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). This year North Dakota State won their fourth consecutive FCS title.

Off the top of your head, do you know how many divisions there are of NCAA football?  Quick now... Don't Google it... Keep thinking...

The answer is four.

Did you get that right? Now can you tell me who won those four national championships?  I have no idea... So I went to the source: the NCAA website.

The answer is:
  • FBS: Ohio State University
  • FCS: North Dakota State
  • Div II: Colorado State - Pueblo
  • Div III: University of Wisconsin - Whitewater
You probably knew the FBS. Perhaps you knew the FCS. But Div II & III? I don't know that anyone other than current students, alumni and players' mothers knew those results!

The players in those lower divisions will almost certainly never play football professionally. They risk injury and take time away from their studies with no big pay day in sight. They win national championships, and no one knows about it.

The players on these teams train as long and as hard as the players on national TV on Monday night. They sweat and hurt just like the Buckeyes and the Ducks. But no one's watching.

Yet for these players each victory contains the same elation as the victories the big schools experience. Each loss hurts as much as it does for the big programs. Each personal failure causes a crisis of self-confidence just like the big boys. Each dominant performance makes them walk a little taller, as all athletes will tell you.

The only differences between most of the players on these teams are skills and physical limitations. Perhaps they didn't receive as high quality coaching in high school. Perhaps they'll just never be fast enough. Maybe their minds don't quite analyse the situation as quickly as the FBS players. But the passion they bring to each training session and each play is consistent throughout the divisions.

Churches are always looking for their members to get more involved. Most of the time they're not looking for leaders, they're looking for members willing to complete tasks. The baptistry needs cleaning. We need greeters in the parking lot in winter. We need someone to make coffee. There are never too many people willing to send cards of encouragement.

I wonder if too often we don't rank the importance of particular tasks and pay little attention to those we consider Div II or III.

Unlike the players on the Div II & Div III teams we often don't bring the same passion to the tasks we judge as less important. They require less skill. No one will notice them. No one cheers for us like they do the song leader, or the prayer, or the small group leader.

Jesus was the Messiah, but he wasn't seeking the limelight. If anyone deserved to have his name up in lights, it was God in the flesh. Yet Jesus gives us the example of someone willing to wash feet.

I wonder if our churches really do a good job of communicating the values of humility and service. Do we elevate the efforts of talented individuals while overlooking the work of humble servants of God? Do we portray to our church members that the people in the church that are in the public eye are more important than others? May God have mercy. 

We all have the same goal and we should all play a role, whether we're sweeping the floors in a minichurch of 80 or a megachurch of 8,000.

Whatever you do—whether you eat or drink or not—do it all to the glory of God! Do not offend Jews or Greeks or any part of the church of God for that matter. Consider my example: I strive to please all people in all my actions and words—but don’t think I am in this for myself—their rescued souls are the only profit.  1 Corinthians 10:31-33

Monday, January 5, 2015


Today I'm reposting some thoughts my friend Lane Widick shared on his blog about the passing of long-time ESPN Sportscenter anchor, Stuart Scott on Saturday night.

While growing up, our family did not have cable. I never fully appreciated ESPN or Sportscenter until I got to college, where you could imagine it would be on in the lobby pretty much 24/7. At night, I remember sitting in my room with various roommates, and we would catch up on the day’s sporting events, and one of my favorite hosts was always Stuart Scott.

After multiple battles with cancer, Scott passed away today. I spent some time today watching some of the tributes made about him and his journalism career. Many thought he was unorthodox in his approach to sports journalism, with his catch phrases and his attitude and his style, but that’s what made him memorable. That’s what made you want to tune in and listen.

Its a great testament to who he was when you read all of the celebrities, athletes, politicians, etc. who went to Twitter today and wrote their farewells. You can read some of them by going here: ESPN Stuart Scott Farewells.
These are the things that make manly men tear up and weep a bit. I, too, pretended to blow my nose so I could wipe tears away while my wife was on the couch reading.

It makes you stop and ask yourself – what impact are you leaving behind? What do people think of you? What are you doing to make your world a better place? You’re only here for a little while, what are you doing with that precious time?

And if you really want to shed some tears... here's the video of Stuart Scott speaking at the 2014 ESPY's earlier in July.