Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Second Opinion

In recent days a video from the 2014 NFL Rookie Symposium has surfaced showing Cris Carter advise rookies to "nominate a fall guy in their crew" in order to protect their "brand".

This is terrible advice. First, it's illegal. Second, it teaches young players that they don't have to be responsible for the outcomes of their actions. Third, it encourages NFL rookies to find ways around the law, rather than respecting the law.  Fourth, did I mention it's illegal, and if they got caught they'd be in even bigger trouble?!

As soon as it became public, both Carter's current employer, ESPN, and the NFL distanced themselves from his comments. Carter quickly made a public apology for his words, which you can watch HERE.

I understand why Carter and Sapp were asked to speak at this symposium. They've both faced struggles in life. They've both wrestled with drugs and alcohol. The league saw them as having a positive, redemptive, "learn from our mistakes", story to tell. By the accounts of those who've watched the whole presentation, it was generally excellent, except for the "fall guy" advice.

As I thought through all this information I realised that for some of the rookies in the room that day, this symposium may provide them with some of the most honest talk they'll hear for years. Many of them are millionaires and they'll be surrounded by a "crew" who will want to agree with and please their star player because that's how they can stay on the gravy train. That's why Carter's advice is so tragic. Instead of hearing the message the positive message about the importance of staying out of trouble, some of them will only remember the advice to "get a fall guy".

I'm reminded of the wisdom the writer of Proverbs demonstrates thousands of years ago when he recommends accumulating a variety of advisers. I would like to think that the players who heard Carter's advice had someone else they could bounce it off before they put it into practice: someone wise, someone objective, someone unafraid to speak even the unpopular truth.
Without wise guidance, a nation falls;
    but victory is certain when there are plenty of wise counselors.
  Proverbs 11:14
Do you have a wise counselor in your life? 
Do you have plenty of wise counselors? 
Are you equipped to serve as a wise counselor for a young person in your life?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First Round Grace

I heard a conversation on the radio this week about a young quarterback. The commentators explained how football players drafted in the first round will be given every opportunity to fail. They are seldom (never) cut from the team at the end of the preseason competition.

In contrast, NFL clubs will sign young, undrafted, players to temporary contracts to get them through training camp. Throughout the preseason NFL teams must gradually cut their squad from 90 players to 75, and then finally to 53 players on the teams roster at the start of the regular season. If you're doing the math, that means that 40% of the players present on the opening day of training camp won't play in the NFL that year.
For most undrafted free agents, the opportunity with their first NFL teams will come to an end before the regular season begins. To continue the opportunity into the regular season and onto a potential path to stardom, an undrafted free agent must prove his worth during training camp. ~ Bleacherreport.com

I had the opportunity this week to attend the Buffalo Bills training camp. I mostly watched the Bills wide receivers. Buffalo has a pretty settled group of wide receivers. They have:
  1. Sammy Watkins (Buffalo's #1 draft pick in 2014 & 2015)
  2. Robert Woods (Buffalo's #2 draft pick in 2013)
  3. Percy Harvin (signed from the Jets this year)
  4. Chris Hogan (played every game in 2013 & 2014)
No other Bills wide receiver in 2014 even had 10 receptions for the year. This means that the seven other receivers in training camp are probably competing to maybe be the fourth WR on the team More likely, they're hoping to be the fifth or sixth WR on the team knowing that the sixth WR usually doesn't even dress for games. The sixth guy is just there in case of an injury to someone.

Seven players. Two roster spots.

Every play they make at training camp will be scrutinised. Every time a defender stops them. Every time they drop a ball. Every time they run to the wrong place on the field. That might be the time that the coaches decide this rookie's professional football career will never get started. Every play is vital.

NFL rosters are made up largely of players who the team has made a significant investment in, either in guaranteed money or in a draft pick. Undrafted free agents, on the other hand, have minimal commitment from the teams they sign with, so they must prove they are better than their competition to have a shot at making the 53-man rosters. ~ Bleacherreport.com

At the other extreme the Bills have EJ Manuel on their team. Manuel was the team's #1 draft pick in 2013 and the sixteenth pick overall. Through his first 15 games Manuel has a passer rating of 78.5. That's not very good.

What are EJ Manuel's problems? This summary from his ESPN profile gives some perspective:
What did Manuel do to get himself benched in favor of Kyle Orton last year? If we had to pick one factor, it would be deep-ball accuracy. He completed only 28 percent of his throws that traveled 20 air yards or more (35th out of 42 QBs with at least 15 attempts). Manuel has a tendency to duck his head when a pass rush gets in his face, and his throwing mechanics suffer.
Despite these shortcomings EJ is now entering his third year and the team is hoping that he will improve and this will be the year that he lives up to the potential they saw in him on that draft day in 2013. The team has shown him patience. They've invested the time and energy of numerous coaches into his development. They've used early picks in the draft to gain wide receivers who they hope will help Manuel out. And this year they'll pay him like a starting quarterback to be the third string quarterback, hoping against hope that he'll suddenly get it all together and become a superstar.

Grace. Patience. Forgiveness. Time to Grow.

Manuel gets plenty of these.  Wide receivers 3 through 7? They'd better hope they graduated college or they'll be flipping burgers when the NFL season kicks off.

The good news for you is that when God looks at you, he sees a first round draft pick. It doesn't matter how you see yourself. It doesn't matter how others view you. God sees someone precious.

Because you're his first round draft pick, God gives you grace, patience, forgiveness, and time to grow.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep to go back and find one that wandered away. He describes God's love for each person. The team bus won't wait for the #7 WR, but the QB drafted in the first round? The coach would probably drive to his house personally to make sure he was okay. So God views us as his first round draft pick, and treats us accordingly.

As God's children, He gives us every opportunity to fail.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Friendly Fire

Did you see these headlines? NY Jets quarterback, Geno Smith, will miss half a season after a teammate hit him in the face, breaking his jaw.

All the trades.

All the millions of dollars invested in players.

All the preseason training and scheming.

All the hopes of thousands of fans.

Possibly, all undone over a $600 debt, because of a backup linebacker with a bad temper and a tendency for violent solutions.

The Jets just can't seem to get out of their own way to put a winning team and season together. It's fascinating how some teams seem to consistently attract so much negative behaviour. Maybe it's the owner. Maybe it's the management. But even with coach and player churn they seldom manage to produce winners.

Somehow they've developed a culture of losing and they can't lose its stench.

Also circulating my way this week was an article by Joe McKeever titled, "59 things not to say to a preacher". Since I'm a preacher I have a vested interest in this article and agreed with many items on the list.

But it's not just for preachers. Churches have as many possibilities to implode from Friendly Fire as football teams do. We're just more likely to use our tongues than our fists.

Gossip... slander... criticism... accusations... negativity... doubt... skepticism

Some church cultures breed these attitudes and behaviours rather than eliminating them. The destructive power of a strong word is no less than the force of the fist that impacted Geno Smith's jaw.

Like the Jets, these churches many never figure out why they don't grow. They may never understand why newcomers don't stay. They may never grasp why their young people leave.

They've developed a toxic culture and they don't notice the stench.

Of the many Scriptural antidotes for these churches I'll share two:

Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Philippians 4:8
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  James 3:9-10, 13
 What type of church culture do you contribute to the most?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Learning from Sackcloth and Ashes

In 1896 Utah became the United States' 45th state. The modern Olympics launch in Athens. Dow Jones begins an index of 12 industrial stocks. Henry Ford takes his 1st Ford through streets of Detroit. The 1st movie theater in US opens, charging 10 cents for admission. A large power plant at Niagara Falls begins operation and the City of Buffalo receives it's first power from the fall over a 25 mile transmission line

And the Australian cricket team on a tour of England is bowled out in just 113 balls.

No Australian cricket team was dismissed as quickly for for almost 120 years... until 6 August, 2015. On this day the Aussies kissed the Ashes good-bye as they edged their way to infamy in just 111 balls. (You can watch a video of the disaster HERE.)  Australia's 60 runs is their lowest innings total against England in 79 years.

The world's smallest trophy.

Was it really just a few months ago that Australia won the limited overs World Cup? Was it that same tournament that England only won 2 matches and didn't make the quarter finals? YES. It's all recorded right HERE.

Australia's woes bring to mind two comparisons with life as a Christian. (You may have more.)

1. Succession Planning: This Australian squad to tour England included nine players in their 30's. Many of them are now contemplating retirement. The selectors played it safe and chose players based on accomplished track records, but this gave the squad an unusually high average age.

Churches also have to take risks with their young members. Titus 2:3-4 describes older women teaching younger women. This principle surely applies to men also. There's a risk that we'll think of this teaching in terms of passing on knowledge. Churches generally do a good job of transferring knowledge. Teaching also requires allowing people to fail. Established members in churches must create an environment that allows younger Christians to fail as they learn what it means to live out their faith. If expected standard is perfection before long there won't be a younger generation.

It feels safer for the long-term members to maintain control, because that's what's familiar to them. But sooner or later new faces need to take over and the key question becomes, "have they been adequately equipped?"

2. Build Up: It's easy to mock and criticise our teams and the players when the fail. Perhaps we rationalise that we'll come back to support them later, we're just expressing out current frustration. We've all been through this and I know I've laughed as my own teams are ridiculed.

In the church (and life) we can't treat people this way. It's the young Christian who's sinned publicly who most needs to know that repentance leads to forgiveness. It's the person struggling with their faith who most needs friends to sit down and listen to them, not laugh at them. In moments of crisis people need compassion. The church would be a cruel a place if mocked and discarded people as quickly as we do the players on our favourite teams.

Do you know someone around you who's struggling with faith or life? What can you do this week to lift them up and let them know they're not alone?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What Baseball Taught me about Bible Study

Growing up in Florida, I was not an avid baseball fan. Until 1993, the closest professional baseball team was Atlanta. If people asked me who my favorite baseball team was I would have said the Atlanta Braves, but honestly I didn't know that much about them. I knew who their coach was, and I knew names like David Justice and John Smoltz; but honestly I very rarely watched a game and didn't understand very much about baseball. I tried over the years to get into baseball. I would occasionally flip over to a baseball game on television when there wasn't anything else on. I even occasionally went to a few games, mostly minor league, but it was never anything that I loved.

Then we moved to the Bay Area...
I had seen the movie Moneyball and enjoyed it. I also found the way the Oakland Athletics put together a competitive team with a small budget as fascinating. It's almost as if their team was the island of misfit toys from Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. So one night my wife and I decided to go to our first A's game. I really enjoyed it and became fascinated with the Oakland Athletics. But honestly, I still didn't know much about baseball.


So I began to study the game of baseball. I began to Google terms that I did not understand. Terms like "WHIP," "fielder's choice," and "4 seam fastball" just to name a few. I began studying the players, their histories, and the history of the team. I began to learn more about baseball. The more I learned of the game the more I love to the game. As a matter of fact, I can say very clearly that I am obsessed with the Oakland Athletics. This amazes friends of mine who knew that I grew up as a football guy. But I can't help it, I love baseball!

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with God. And no, I'm not going to say that God is an Oakland A's fan. But I am going to say that when we have a causal relationship with God, like I had a casual relationship with baseball, much of it has to do with the fact that we don't study God like we should. The more that we study God, and the more that we learn to know God, the more we will love God and become obsessed with God.

So, are you a casual observer of God? Or, or are you longing to know more about him? I promise you, the more you study about God the more you will fall in love with him. God does not need casual observers who occasionally flip over to him when there is nothing else on. Rather, he needs people who are obsessed with him.

I could say more about this, but the A's pregame show starts in 7 minutes.
-Glenn Newton

Glenn Newton has been serving as the preaching minister for the Pleasant View church of Christ in Pleasanton, California, since 2012. A 1997 graduate of Heritage Christian University, Glenn actively speaks at lectureships, workshops, and meetings throughout our country and has authored 6 books (5 of which are available through 21st Century Christian).