Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Giving Everything

A friend of mine recently shared an article outlining a €125 million bid by French soccer giant, Paris St. Germain for the services of Cristiano Ronaldo. I don't really understand the details of European soccer contracts, but that translates to about US$140,000,000, which is a huge amount.

My friend, who knows much more about all things soccer than I do, noted, "That kind of expenditure can't be in anyone's business plan." In a sport without a salary cap, one club's desperation to improve can have a dramatic inflationary effect on every other team in the competition. If other clubs are to remain competitive they will now need to pay their current players more and look to recruit higher priced players from other leagues.  In the end, it costs everyone more.

A similar event occurred in Major League Baseball last year when the Miami Marlins signed Giancarlo Stanton to a $325 million, 13-year contract. That record contract averages $25 million per season, or $154,321 per game (if he plays every game). 

In 2014 Stanton averaged .237 and hit 37 home runs. That was good for second place on the home runs scored list. This year he's currently 4th in home runs with 13 but on a pace to surpass last year's total. While he's only averaging .237 he's leading all baseball with 42 RBI.

Despite these impressive numbers, the Marlins sit last in their division with an 18-30 record. They've already fired their manager, and appointed their former GM with no management experience as their new manager.

Desperate to win, or appear relevant, or something... They've paid so much money to Stanton that they've had to trade other highly paid players. And fans now pay Stanton's salary through higher ticket prices to watch a team that struggles terribly.

These massive expenditures may be ill-advised, but they're legal.

Then there are those clubs and players so desperate to win that they'll break the rules to gain a competitive advantage.

I'm not sure if we'll ever really know what happened in the NFL with Tom Brady and "Deflategate". The generally accepted (except by Patriots fans) version of events seems to run like this:

  • It probably doesn't make any real difference to his performance, but Tom Brady feels most comfortable throwing footballs that are a couple of PSI below the legal limit.
  • He arranged for clubhouse employees to deflate footballs to his preferred PSI after they'd been examined by officials.
  • The Indianapolis Colts complained to the NFL about the footballs New England was using and they were found to bee too soft.
  • Despite apparently incriminating text messages, Brady denied that he had anything to do with the deflated footballs and is currently appealing the NFL penalties he received.
  • Brady and the Patriots won the Super Bowl with properly inflated footballs.
Why would someone as talented and successful as Brady involve himself in something like this? Perhaps he thought it wasn't a big deal. A Sports Illustrated article last year detailed Brady's meticulous planning and care for his body during and outside the football season. It seems hard to believe a guy dedicated to going to bed a 9pm each night would pay no attention to the inflation of the footballs he throws each week.

After 15 years in the NFL Brady continues to give everything, and maybe a little more than he should, in order to keep winning.

People will spend enormous amounts of money in an attempt to win a trophy. How many Christians will just throw their loose change in the collection plate?

People will go to the edge of legality and beyond seeking to build a football dynasty. How many Christians struggle to commit a couple of hours a week to God as we seek to build God's kingdom?

The dedication of players, owners, and administrators challenges my commitment to the service of God and his people. Would I change my diet if it would help me love others better? Would I go to bed earlier if it allowed me to represent God better? Would I give more money to God's work on the off chance that it might help the church bring someone else to salvation?  How much am I willing to work, and how much am I willing to risk for God?

Jesus told a story of a guy who found the kingdom of God buried in a field, so he sold everything he had and bought the field. Another guy saw the kingdom of God in a precious pearl so he also sold all he had in order to buy the pearl. (Matt 13:44-46)

It's funny how we expect the owners and athletes on our favorite teams to "give everything" so that we can experience the joy of winning a championship. At the same time we demand much less of those pursuing eternal life with our Creator.

Perhaps it's time for a rethink.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go

I stumbled across THIS interesting story about Manny Pacquiao this week.

Maybe you heard about the Fight of the Century on 2 May between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. This fight sold a record 4.4 million pay-per-view packages, at the record price of $90-$100 per view. In all, the fight's revenue was over $500 million. Of that amount Mayweather receives 60% and Pacquiao 40%.

According to the LA Times the previous revenue record was "the 2007 Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya bout [which] generated a prior-record 2.5 million buys, and Mayweather’s 2013 victory over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez established a record $150 million in pay-per-view sales."

Floyd Mayweather won the fight in a unanimous points decision.

Mayweather's payday for this single fight surpassed the previous record of athlete earnings in A YEAR! That was Tiger Woods, who in 2008 earned $125 million. Even Pacquiao's smaller share of a $500 million purse would surpass Tiger's previous annual income record.

In the shadow of these huge dollar amounts, the story I link to at the start provides great perspective. I'm not sure how precise the journalism is, but I presume the core elements of the story are factual.

Shortly after losing his bout on 2 May, Manny Pacquiao slipped away to visit St Jude's Ranch for Children outside Las Vegas. There, in the middle of night, he unloaded boxes of boxing equipment and conducted an impromptu coaching session.

Although a superstar in the boxing world, Pacquiao apparently visits this children's ranch each time he's in Las Vegas.

The story contains this important quote,
"In 1995, before my first big professional fight, my close friend Eugene Barutag was also an up-and-coming boxer. He said, ‘Manny, don’t you ever forget where you came from. If you forget that, it doesn’t matter how much you win. If you lose where you come from, you lose it all.’"
Pacquiao was raised in poverty in the Philippines, so his actions described in this story certainly indicate that he hasn't forgotten his roots.

This past week I was also challenged to consider my past, but in a different context than Manny. I suspect that for those of us raised in the church, very few of us maintain exactly the same beliefs as our parents, or home congregation. Over time we have different experiences to our parents' generation. Culture changes. We come to see the world differently, and that influences the way we read and/or apply Scripture to our lives and society.

It's often tempting to look at people who live at a different point on the theological spectrum through a fog of superiority. Sometimes I see mature Christians adopt this attitude toward younger Christians. Often I see more liberal or progressive Christians peer down their (our) noses at more conservative Christians. And of course fundamentalist Christians can mock liberals for their complete disrespect of Scripture.

What convicted me was the recognition that I'm often tempted to dismiss people today who are at the same place in their relationship with God that I was 10, 15 or 20 years ago. I'm grateful to the people in my life who didn't dismiss my views as rudimentary or uneducated.

I think that it's easy for me to see myself on a spiritual growth continuum, and give myself grace. It's also easy for me to view others as having their beliefs and behaviours set in concrete at their current point with no prospect of growth.

I need to remind myself, "Where did you come from? Where did you go?" And I need to give others the same grace given me: room for them to grow.

I can learn from Manny Pacquiao. It's easy give grace when I'm feeling good and undefeated. It's much more difficult to show that same grace, even as I struggle with loss and hurt in my own life.
Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. (Romans 12:3 CEB)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Extreme Fatigue

Matt Carpenter plays third base for the St. Louis Cardinals and he's had a stellar start to the season. He's currently ranked no worse than 16th in all of the traditional batting statistics. (.333/.403/.620)

On a team that was leading Major League Baseball in wins, USA Today described Carpenter as "not only the catalyst, but the heartbeat of the Cardinals, who are off to their best start, 21-7, in franchise history."

More than just a a great player, Carpenter describes himself on his Twitter profile (@MattCarp13) as "Christian, Husband, STL Cardinal, Elkins Knight and TCU Horned Frog 4 life!"

Everything seems cheery for this All-Star on the team that played in last year's National League finals and looks like making a great run at it again this year.  Then suddenly things changed.

Towards the end of a game against the Pirates on 3 May, Carpenter felt an accelerated heart rate and dehydration and was subbed out of the game. He played the next three games against the Cubs but was only 1 for 12 at the plate.

Carpenter was diagnosed with "extreme fatigue" and left behind in St Louis while the team traveled to Pittsburgh.

Carpenter is known for his work ethic. He routinely gets to the stadium 7 hours before the first pitch. A quote in the USA Today article reveals his mindset, "I guess I never thought I was very good. So I thought I had to really work to achieve. I always thought someone was going to come take my job, or that today is my last game."

His manager, Mike Matheny, observed that this case of extreme fatigue came toward the end of a stretch of 20 games in 20 days. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, "[Matheny] described how Carpenter has been "pushing, pushing, pushing" and even when given Sunday off Carpenter went through a running program. Matheny also said that Carpenter has told the team he's had trouble sleeping."

It might surprise most church members to learn that burnout is a real threat for most preachers. In fact there's a website dedicated to it. One statistic from that site says that "40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations."

So think about your ministers, their wives, elders and other ministry leaders in your church. Are they encouraged to rest? You can play a vital role in your church's health by encouraging leaders to pace themselves and allow others to take on some of their workload.

But ministers aren't the only people in the church who battle burnout. How often do you greet someone at church, ask them how they are, and they respond, "Busy"? Have you ever had someone answer that question by saying, "I'm well rested and content"?

Sadly, many of us forget that God built a day of rest into Creation. Think about it. If God needed a day of rest after 6 days of work, who are we to think we can work and run incessantly?

I hope that Matt Carpenter doesn't have a health concern more serious than Extreme Fatigue. I also hope that Christians don't somehow think that Extreme Fatigue comes with the territory of living for Christ. That's a lie our culture feeds us. Burnout is as great an enemy as Laziness. Unfortunately our culture only condemns one.

Laziness is a vice. Burnout is a weakness. And "busyness" is productivity.

If Christians buy into this worldview we'll find ourselves battling Extreme Fatigue. We'll be too exhausted to give God our best. And before long we'll find ourselves seeking God's approval through our activity. We  might even view our fatigue as a sign that we're "giving our all" for God.

Matt Carpenter reminds us when we're running on empty we can't help our team the way they need us to. We'll be sitting on the sidelines recovering instead of participating.

Whether an athlete or a Christian, we all need to integrate rest into our lives. God made us this way.

A friend of mine recently shared some thoughts along a similar line that I encourage you to read HERE.   Also, if you're looking for a longer discussion on the topic of Sabbath, I've written more HERE.