Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Most Improved Award

Have you ever attended the season ending sports team award night?

It's the night when the coaches or parents or someone you don't really know tries to give trophies to as many people as possible.

First, we get the serious awards:
  • Most Runs Scored
  • Highest Average
  • Most Valuable Player

Then, we get to the "others":

  • Best Teammate
  • Most Improved
  • Most Potential
  • Most Encouraging
  • Hardest Trainer
This generosity of awards means it really sucks when all the trophies have been distributed and you're not holding one!

Then there are the league award nights. These mean something. These awards pit your talent and accomplishments against everyone in the competition, not just your own team.

I once won one of these awards many years ago. In the end, that sucked too. No one knew I was going to receive the award, so I didn't attend the league presentation night. I just dropped by someone's house the next week to pick up my trophy. No applause. No photo's. No respect.

But still, it meant something. It justified all the training sessions I'd attended. It confirmed that I'd contributed to the team's success. It encouraged me to keep playing the next year.

On July 15 ESPN hosted the ESPYS: which might be the largest sports awards event in the United States. They handed out 37 different awards. Perhaps you heard about Caitlyn Jenner receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. That was only one headline from the evening.  You can view the total list of awards and recipients HERE.

On Sunday I attended an awards event with a difference. A local church had a special worship service to celebrate their 20th Anniversary. During the service they made several presentations including:
  • The Lifetime Achievement Award
  • The Most Improved Award
These awards and plaques were given to church members.

My immediate response was to laugh a little. I'd never seen a Most Improved award at a church before. But then I began thinking....

I've been around many Christians who are reluctant to give compliments for fear it will give the recipient a big head. We don't want to cause a brother to stumble from pride now, do we?

On the other hand, this type of public recognition can provide wonderful encouragement.

Do you ever feel like you're plugging away in a ministry and no one recognises you? Of course, you do it for God, not for personal acclaim, but it sure helps to know our efforts are appreciated.

Have you ever seen a young Christian growing in faith and long for others to encourage them and get involved in their lives? Maybe a public award isn't such a bad thing.

I know a fairly large church that had a practice of awarding a "Servant's Towel" once a month to recognise members who had faithfully served God in that congregation. I imagine in a smaller church it might happen once a quarter or once a year because awards really do lose their significance when everyone receives one.

Isn't it interesting how often Christians talk about Jesus washing his disciples feet in John 13 and no one thinks, "I bet Jesus is going to get a big head knowing that Christians are going to be talking about this act of service for thousands of years to come! John should have left this out of his Gospel so that it would be 'true service', anonymous and unappreciated."

I'll close with these words from Hebrews 3:13,
Encourage each other every day—for as long as we can still say “today”—so none of you let the deceitfulness of sin harden your hearts.
Are there people in your church you would like to give an award? Are there people working hard who could benefit from your encouragement? Are there great ministries taking place that need a little more awareness in the congregation?

Be an encourager and defend the hearts of those you love.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reaching One's Potential

I spent far too much time today following The Open Championship (or British Open golf), but with 3 or 4 Aussies in the top 10 all day it was compelling!

Australians have a lot of golf stories. Most of them are near misses.

The most famous is Greg Norman's second place at the 1987 Masters when he found himself in a playoff with Seve Ballesteros and Larry Mize. Larry Mize played this shot to win the green jacket:

Overall, Norman posted three runner-up finishes at the Masters and finished second at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship two times each.

In the 1970's, Bruce Crampton came second in major championships 4 times. Jack Nicklaus won each of those tournaments.

In 1995 Steve Elkington won the PGA Championship at the Riviera Country Club. Since then, Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott are the only other Aussies to win any of golf's four majors. In that same time period Australian golfers have accumulated these near misses by coming in second at the majors:
  • Jason Day - 3
  • Adam Scott - 2
  • Stuart Appleby - 1
  • Mark Leishman - 1
Then there are other occasions when an Australian has held the lead going into the final day's play, only to sink down the leaderboard as the day progressed. Most notably, Adam Scott at the 2012 British Open and Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters.

Here's a summary of the Australian fortunes at the Open Championship in 2015:
  • At the end of the third round: Day - T1; Leishman and Scott - T6
  • Final Results:
    • Leishman shoots 6 under but loses a playoff.
    • Day shoots 2 under and misses a playoff by one shot.
    • Scott shoots 1 under, finishing in a tie for 10th.
 My role as a church leader is much like the experience of coaching athletes. I can lay out an individualised training schedule, we can collaborate to come up with a game plan for life, but if the individual doesn't carry it out then they never reach their full potential in God's kingdom.

So I thought today I'd look for some spiritual advise for Christians who find themselves in the same situation as these guys in the Open Championship.

Spiritual Leishman: Many Christians will connect with Marc's story. Earlier this year his wife was so sick she spent four days in an induced coma and doctors gave her a less that 5% chance of surviving. The prospect of losing his wife and giving up his sport to care for his two young sons has given Leishman a new perspective on life and golf, "'I feel like even if I do have a bad day I can still go home and, hopefully, give her a hug and cuddle my boys. For a while it didn't look like I was going to be able to do that.'"

Many Christians have scares and hurts in life that can either drag us down or spur us on. What often makes the difference is our perspective. Will our failures devastate and immobilise  us? Abraham reminds us that a Christian perspective never puts too much stock in the here and now. We're living for a more important goal.
By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  Hebrews 11:9-10
Spiritual Day: Since 2010 Jason Day has nine top 10 finishes in majors without winning any! He obviously has the talent to compete with the best golfers in the world but always seems to fall just short of victory. Is it a mental thing? Is it nerves? Is it inexperience? Day also has significant health problems and finished 4th at this years US Open despite obviously battling vertigo on the course.

I know people who struggle like this. Despite having the necessary skills and determination, in the decisive moment they find themselves giving in to temptation. Failing to live up to their (and God's) expectations. They persist, trusting God for ultimate victory, but in the meantime their failures frustrate them. The apostle Paul reflects this experience in his writing.
Now I am no longer the one acting—I’ve lost control—sin has taken up residence in me and is wreaking havoc. I know that in me, that is, in my fallen human nature, there is nothing good. I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out. I can determine that I am going to do good, but I don’t do it; instead, I end up living out the evil that I decided not to do. If I end up doing the exact thing I pledged not to do, I am no longer doing it because sin has taken up residence in me. Romans 7:17-20 (VOICE)
Thankfully, a few verses later Paul also provides some hope for us,
Therefore, now no condemnation awaits those who are living in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, because when you live in the Anointed One, Jesus, a new law takes effect. The law of the Spirit of life breathes into you and liberates you from the law of sin and death.  Romans 8:1-2 (VOICE)
Spiritual Scott: In 2013 Australia anointed Adam Scott a national hero after he became the first Australian to win the Masters. On May 19, 2014, Scott took over as the World's #1 ranked golfer. Scott held the number one ranking for eleven weeks until August 2014. But mixed in with all this success have been some gut wrenching performances at the majors.

Since 2012 Scott has finished 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 10th at the Open Championship. At least in 2012 and 2015 he's been in contention for the win until a string of bogeys in the final round ruined his chances.

Scott's majors record reminds me of David. He knew the wonders of intimacy with God yet he also experienced some massive setbacks with sin. Some of David's sins were public and resulted in people losing their lives! Here's what he learned. Despite all his success he still needed God's mercy to sustain him. It's easy for us to become overconfident in our gifts and abilities, so failures can really devastate us unless we're willing to acknowledge our dependence upon God.

After committing murder and adultery David wrote these words to God,
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
Psalm 51:10-13
Even in his lowest points he recognised that God could re-create him and in time use him to inspire others in their walk with God.

This turned into quite a long post, but I hope you pick up the point that as we mentor people in the way of Christ, they go through the same human ups and downs that we all do. Often it's easier to think about athletes "They'll do better next time," than to have the same optimism about people we know well.  Just as we don't expect the coaches of these players to give up on them because they didn't win this weekend, it's important for us to persist investing in those we lead.