Grace and football

You may or may not know that I am an Auburn fan.  Pretty big one, I think.  And this year they are doing really well.  Living in the land of the Bulldogs and Jackets, I proudly display as much Auburn paraphernalia on my desk as possible.

One of the reasons Auburn has done well this year is because of the transfer of an extremely talented player, Cam Newton.  Cam chose the University of Florida over Auburn.  However, after an off-the-field incident involving a stolen computer, he transfered to Binn Junior College where he led his team to a national championship.  Having now transfered to Auburn and having a stellar year, he is now on the top of many lists for the Heisman trophy.

He was actually the subject of conversation between me and a good friend of mine, who just happens to pull for "the other school."  His ribbing on Cam is not on his play, (there is nothing he can say about that) but rather his past.  And my friend is not the only one.  I saw this article the other night which describes the incident in Florida and questions whether or not he is worthy of the Heisman because of those events.

I don't know Cam.  I don't know anyone that does know Cam.  I have cheered for him and am extremely thankful he plays for Auburn and not some other SEC school!  But can a person make a mistake and change?  Can they be in the wrong place, do something less than stellar, and pay the consequences, coming out on the other side more mature and different?  I am not saying he has or hasn't.  I just want to ask the question.  I am not the only one.

A couple of things I do know.  I do know someone very well who was the head coach at a large Division 1 NCAA football program.  I heard him talk numerous times about the opportunity he had as a coach to invest in the young men in their program.  And not just help them do better.  This man is a firm believer in Christ and he saw it as an opportunity to live and speak the Gospel to these guys.  I know as well that Mark Richt, head coach at the University of Georgia, is a devoted follower of Christ whose faith has had an impact on numerous players.  And I spoke to someone this summer who had recently heard coach Gene Chizik speak at a summer F.C.A. camp and share his faith in Christ.

I am not saying that having a Christian coach means that your players are all saints.  Unfortunately, coach Richt has had that splashed all over the place this season.  In fact, I am not even so much thinking about football any more.  I am thinking about grace.

I am reminded of Paul's words:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (emphasis added)

And such were some of you.  That's the ever present reminder of grace.  Because of our sinfulness, we all have things in our past that disqualify us for more than a mere trophy.  We have rebellion that sets us at odds with God.  We all are guilty.  And yet, in steps Christ who bears God's wrath and showers us with His grace.  We are not worthy, but His sacrifice makes us worthy.

Has Cam changed?  I hope so.  Has Cam changed because of Jesus is King of his life?  I really, really hope so.  Is coach Chizik pouring a Jesus-saturated example into Cam's life and the lives of the other men on the team?  I pray so.

Nonetheless, let's remember that grace is the only hope we have.  I don't want to be a Pharisee that takes grace and gives wrath.  Life's more than football.  Our convictions must carry over in every facet of our lives.  Even when it means giving a guy the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by Jack | at 10:38 AM | 0 comments

My Lu

I am a blessed man.  In more ways than I can count.  Next to my salvation, my biggest blessing is my wife.  She is loving, kind, challenging, and very dear to me.  I have no better friend and could ask for no better mother to my boys.

One day while we were in seminary, I wrote a verse on her mirror:

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD."
Proverbs 18:22

I understand the depths of that verse more and more every day.  Lu, I love you and you are the greatest source of joy in my life outside of Christ.  Happy birthday!

Posted by Jack | at 11:56 AM | 0 comments

Reflections, part two: the shepherds

One thing that strikes many Americans when they land in Ethiopia is the fact that animals are almost everywhere. Any patch of grass, even in the city, may have horses, cows, and sheep grazing freely.  And have no doubt, someone owns them and knows exactly where they are.

There was another type of shepherd I encountered while in Ethiopia.  These shepherds tended God's sheep.  Pastors who loved Jesus and wanted to see people come to know him.  As I looked into their faces, heard their stories, and watched their leadership, I saw men that had something powerful.  No they weren't perfect nor were they more spiritual because they lived in a difficult place, surrounded by hostility.  Yet in their lack of material possession, there was somewhat of a freedom and a love for Christ that is compelling.

There were the two church leaders from a church that was a three hour walk away.  They came that far to receive a Proclaimer, a unit containing the Bible, recorded in their language, that can be charged by an outlet, the built-in solar panel, or even the small hand crank.  They came this far because they want people to hear about Jesus.

Then there was the pastor in Arsi who was constantly with us, serving us even when we wanted to serve him and his church.  Worshiping and singing with gusto.  Praying fervently.  Counseling those who made a decision for Christ.

And there was the pastor from Kofele.  This young pastor with a beautiful family has a small bed in the back of his church.  I had seen pastors in Ethiopia give part of their home to be used as a church.  I asked if this was the case and was told that this was not his, but the bed for the guard they had to hire to stay in the church because they were in an area that is ninety-nine percent Muslim.  To say that those matter-of-fact words were sobering would be a gargantuan understatement.

No, these men are not perfect.  They have flaws and weaknesses.  But being in their presence caused a great sense of unworthiness to come over me.  They wanted us to teach them. I wanted them to teach me.  I pray that we accomplished both.

Posted by Jack | at 8:00 AM | 0 comments

When its good to be Hulk Hogan

This morning I had a great time sharing Psalm 119:57-64 with a group of students at the middle school located next to our church.  When I was done, they began asking me questions about the Bible and I am not just talking about the easy ones, either.  They wanted to understand some hard things.

I love to read.  I love to think.  I love it when those two things collide in God's revelation to us in the written word. Yet I sense in myself and in others a reluctance to wrestle with things that are difficult, unnerving, or challenging in the text.  When I have been tempted to gloss over these things in the past, I have been reminded of the story of Jacob and his midnight wrestling match with God.

Jacob didn't stand a chance. The wrestling match wasn't so that God could show His power or superiority.  No, the wrestling match was for Jacob, and in some ways, more importantly for us.  We and Jacob both learn from the struggle.

I am not suggesting that this passage, Genesis 32:22-32, is telling us that we have to struggle with Scripture. However, I believe that the experience Jacob had is in a small way our experience as we wrestle with difficult and challenging texts of Scripture.  We must be diligent to grab hold and not let go until God reveals Himself through the word.

We are finite beings seeking to know, love, and understand an infinite being. The very reality of the situation should cause us to expect some difficulty.  Yet it is when the match is over and our eyes have been opened that we find our faith strengthened, our joy bolstered, and our perseverance enhanced.

So I ask, do you wrestle with the word?

Posted by Jack | at 11:18 AM | 1 comments

Reflections, part one "the preacher boy"

He couldn't have been more than seven years old.  And yet his "amen!" was just as loud as anyone in the church.  and his singing just as passionate.  He sat across from us every night in worship.  It wasn't just cute or adorable.  There was something about it.  Something I had to feel was more than a child emulating the adults around him.  This little guy seemed to display a genuine joy in what he was doing.  And when I preached at night he was focused.  And it seemed more than just wanting to look at the "feringe" on stage.  He seemed eager to listen

Later in the week, I grabbed one of our translators and talked with him.  I asked him if he wanted to be a preacher one day.  He said he hoped so.  I do to.  I prayed with him, asking God to raise him up as a godly man who is bold and filled with a love for Christ.

This little guy and the believers who gather around him live in a village that is predominantly Muslim.  Every evening during worship, the call to pray at the local mosque penetrated the air as we spoke of the one true hope of every person on earth.  Though ninety percent of their village do not worship Jesus, they do.  And they do it with a passion.  We didn't understand the words or know the songs.  We mostly stood and watched.  Yet what I saw was a people who love Jesus even though so many around them do not.

Sunday morning I shared with them from Philippians chapter one about the joy we have in Christ.  I quickly found I wasn't telling them anything new.  We weren't learning; we were celebrating together.  All of us.  Even my little preacher boy.

Posted by Jack | at 9:00 AM | 0 comments