Spiking the Ball

I grew up watching football on TV. At holiday family gatherings, the menfolk would gather around the tube to watch the games. I learned the sport through osmosis, listening to my elders discuss strategies, formations, and plays.

I played more baseball than football growing up. However, the managers and coaches all taught similar lessons about good sportsmanship and fair play. We shook hands with the opposing team after the game and always downplayed our own accomplishments.

I nostalgically recalled those days recently while watching an afternoon of NFL football. In the course of the game, a wide receiver performed a dance in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. A running back dramatically pointed downfield after gaining a first down. A lineman struck a body-builder pose after sacking the opposing quarterback. These moments occurred against a backdrop of high fives, fist bumps, fanny pats, and helmet slaps.

According to Wikipedia (the place of all true knowledge), Homer JonesSpike Football.png made the first touchdown “spike” in 1965. In 1971, Elmo Wright  performed what some believe was the original TD dance. Today it’s the exception rather than the rule to see a player modestly hand the ball to the referee.

I could write a paragraph that bemoans the devaluing of good sportsmanship. I could lament professional athletes’ extravagant displays for simply doing their jobs. I could pontificate about the value of humility.

Instead, consider this simple point. Football teams are called TEAMS for a reason. No player single-handedly scores a TD. No running back makes a first down alone. No defensive lineman penetrates an offensive line by himself.

If you think about it, one player vainly glorifying himself for the accomplishments of an entire team seems rather silly. Our coaches always said there’s no “I” in “Team”; however, there are several in “Idiotic!”

Inauguration Day

On Friday, January 20, Donald John Trump will be inaugurated as the inaug-dayforty-fifth president of the United States of America. A global audience will view the solemn ceremony. Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. will administer the oath of office on the west steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. After the playing of Hail to the Chief and a twenty-one gun salute, President Trump will address the nation in his inaugural address.

The glitz and glamour of the inauguration may mask the most significant part of the day. We will once again witness the peaceful changeover of power in our republic. Such an ordinary transition is extraordinary in the history of the world. Our nation settles political disputes with ballots rather than bullets, and the people’s will ultimately rules.

Although I closely follow national news, I seldom discuss politics from the pulpit. I certainly possess strong convictions. In fact, those who know me best suggest that I am occasionally in error but never in doubt! However, a sporadic spirit of humility allows me to concede that the Almighty’s viewpoints might differ from my own.

I sincerely doubt that the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth fully endorses the political platform of any particular party. History is filled with people who mistook their political beliefs for God’s will.

The Democrat presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, campaigned vigorously to win her party’s nomination and the nation’s support. In her concession speech, Clinton called for all Americans to unite in their support of the candidate elect.

She said:  Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.

I echo Secretary Clinton’s words. On Friday, Donald Trump will become OUR president. We pray that he will be a faithful leader for ALL Americans.

In 1 Timothy 2: 1-2, Paul wrote: I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Let us be faithful to Paul’s admonition. This Friday I encourage all Christians to pray for the leaders of our community, state, nation, and world.

May God continue to bless America—land that we love.

God is Good–All the Time

 God is good all the time. All the time God is good.

This “call and response” Affirmation of Faith is often used in the African-American church tradition. The leader proclaims: God is good;  and the congregation responds: All the time. Then the leader echoes: All the time; and the congregation answers: God is good.

On our BEST days, we believe this. On our WORST days, we doubt it. Most of life is lived somewhere between the two extremes. Like most Affirmations of Faith, we profess it on the good days so that we can claim it on the bad days. And there are days when we are like the man who said to Jesus: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

We are first called to profess that God is good in the GOOD times; and this is the easiest part of the affirmation. There are grace-filled moments in life when we recognize just how blessed we truly are.

The sun is shining. Our health is good. The family is well. Work and school are prospering. Life is GOOD. It feels like we are living life in the midst of a doxology, praising God from whom all blessings flow.

However, it is challenging to affirm that God is good in the bad times, too. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul did not write: Rejoice in the Lord in the good things, and again I will say, rejoice.  Instead, he wrote: Rejoice in the Lord always.  For the hard of hearing, he repeats: Again I say: Rejoice!

Let me honestly say to you that there have been times in my life and ministry when thanksgiving seemed entirely inappropriate. Sometimes thanksgiving and praise seem like ill-mannered guests who burst into the midst of our sorrow and pain.

What right does a hymn of praise have to intrude upon our grief? What part does worship play when our world is falling apart? How does our faith support us during an economic crisis with job loss and an uncertain future?

However, remember that Paul was not sitting in a heated office behind an oak desk dictating to a secretary when he wrote this letter to the Philippians. The disquieting truth is that the apostle was in a Roman prison awaiting trial when he penned this epistle.

During his ministry, the man had been insulted, scourged, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, and imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Ultimately, Paul would die as a martyr, beheaded by the Romans for proclaiming Christ.

Rejoice in the good times . . . and yes, Paul says, rejoice in the bad times, too. Rejoice in the Lord, ALWAYS. So we affirm our faith by declaring:

God is good—all the time. All the time—God is good.

Happy New Year!

happy-new-yearNew Year’s creates the illusion of fresh starts and new beginnings. Like a lawn covered with freshly fallen snow, 2017 stretches before us without footprint or trail. We can choose anew the direction of our lives and the pathways for our feet.

On New Year’s Day, change seems possible as we resolve to make this year different from the last. So we make ambitious New Year’s resolutions about diets, exercise, habits, church, money, vocation, and more.

Resolutions born at midnight on December 31st, however, seldom survive the first few weeks of reality. Habit is a hard master to overthrow. Even if a rut is a grave with two ends missing, it is still OUR rut, comfortable and cozy.

By mid-January, the new and improved versions of our lives will greatly resemble the old and not so improved models.

After 33 years as a pastor, I have learned two polar opposite truths about fallen human beings:

  • People don’t change.
  • People can change!

The third chapter of John’s gospel describes how Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council, visited Jesus at night. Christ told the religious leader: I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.

Jesus revealed two vital truths in this passage. First, we MUST be born again. Second, we CAN be born again.

In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, God has formed a new covenant/relationship with humanity. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son—and if God gave his only Son, will he not also give us all other things besides?

People tend not to change on their own, but God can radically transform people! Paul wrote: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come!  (2 Cor. 5:17)

We serve a God of fresh starts, second chances, and new beginnings. Today can be different from yesterday; and tomorrow can be different from today. This year can truly be new in more than name alone.