Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Nugget from the Diamond: Stealing First

As many sports fans do, I go through phases of loving various sports. While football is always my constant, right now, I find myself addicted to baseball--particularly the Texas Rangers who are having one of their best seasons in a long time.
One of the lesser-known rules of baseball is that if a batter swings and misses at a 3rd strike and the ball gets past the catcher, the batter has the opportunity to to run to first. If he runs, the play becomes a force out at first in which the catcher (or other member of the fielding team) can throw the ball to first base just as if it was a ground ball to the infield. Rarely, do the batters reach first base safely, but it does happen. If it happens, the pitcher is credited with a strike out, but no out is applied to the batter in the game.
As I thought about this peculiar baseball rule, I thought about our relationship to God. Romans says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In essence, we've all struck out. Romans also says that while the wages of this sin is death, God's gift to us is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Essentially, despite our striking out, God has allowed us to safely reach base anyway. I think that's pretty cool!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Simplifying and Improvising in Youth Group Meetings

This summer, we tried something new in our youth program. After giving it some serious thought and after listening to what some other youth workers, pastors, and leaders were doing with their groups for the summer, we decided to go low-key and informal. What that means is this. Our regular meetings during the school year consisted of us meeting upstairs in our "big room" (not really big, but it's bigger than the other rooms, so that's what we call it), where our full band (bass, drums, elec. guitar) would lead us in worship and our Bible studies would be enhanced with Power Point, video clips, or other multi-media teaching tools. Well, this summer, we gave the band the summer off to spend time with family, do their summer activities, and not feel the pressure to be at practice every week. We also didn't do as much with PowerPoint and media stuff and just embraced the intimacy of a lazy summer.
Since our summer crowd was smaller because of people travelling and going to band camps, sports camps, etc., we decided not to meet upstairs in the big room and just meet downstairs in the "hang out" area of the youth building. Most weeks we didn't even have music. We just got to sit around and talk about the Bible study topic and let the kids teach themselves as they worked out the scriptures together.
This week, though, one of our musicians called me Wednesday afternoon to see if she could bring her guitar and do a few songs. Of course, I told her "absolutely". Well, we only had a very small portion of our kids show up due to some school activities that were going on. So we scratched our Bible study and just sang with a couple of guitars for about 30 minutes. No band, no power point, no sound system, and our kids were singing their hearts out. Had we been locked into our normal routine we would have missed a very powerful time of worship.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

People of Second Chances

This week, a news story really spoke to me and my relationship to God. As a sports fan, I watch my fair share of SportsCenter and other sports-related shows. I also admire athletes who are able to live out their faith in Christ in the national forefront and rise above some of the selfishness, greed, drug-induced cheating, and other criminal behavior that many professional athletes are known for. But a story on SportsCenter caught my attention.

As Michael Vick has served his time for operating a brutal dog-fighting ring, the former record-setting NFL quarterback is now finding his way back to society and to football. And who is the person in his corner leading this effort? Former Super Bowl Champion head coach and Christian author Tony Dungy has been in Vick's corner as a mentor and life coach for several months now. But the one who is spearheading the effort to help Vick get back on his feet is possibly the most unlikely person in the NFL--another starting quarterback who happens to be a dog lover himself.

Eagle's quarterback Donovan McNabb, who owns two American Bulldogs and a Belgian Malinois, according to an article at, began lobbying his organization weeks ago to bring Vick to Philadelphia saying it was a good move for the team. But why would a starting quarterback bring such a spectacular athlete with such a shady past to his own team and put himself in a position to potentially lose his job? According to McNabb in the interview, "I believe in second chances and I have strong faith in God that he forgives our sins...Yes, it was a bad thing and a malicious act, but somewhere in your heart, you have to have forgiveness."

Centuries ago, a man named Saul who had been a murderer of the followers of Christ , has an encounter with Christ and gives his life to the Lord. After his conversion, early Christians are wary of his change of heart and are more than reluctant to welcome him into the fold. But a man named Barnabas testifies to the truth of Saul's change and allows the other believers to open their hearts to him.

So what about us? Are you and I like Michael Vick and Saul who have messed up and just need a break? Or are we like McNabb and Barnabas who are in a position to help someone who needs a second chance? If we are in one of these situations to offer help to someone who has made a mistake, there are three things we need to remember.

1) Dont try to play God. I Samuel 16:7 says that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. Only God knows the true intentions of the heart of someone who is trying to turn their life around. 2) Offer forgiveness, but offer help as well. Forgiving someone in their heart for wrong doing is only half of what we are called to do. True forgiveness comes when we put actions to our words by reaching out and helping those who need it. 3) Leave the results to God. Donovan McNabb doesn't know exactly how Michael Vick will handle his return to life in the spotlight and his NFL paycheck. Will he buckle under the pressure and go back to his old ways or will he rise above the pressure and hype and keep his life on track? McNabb doesn't know the answer to this, but he is evidently willing to trust God with the results.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Parable of the Lost Knife

This is my pocket knife. It is a Moore Maker double-locking blade made in Matador, TX (a pretty expensive knife). This knife is special for several reasons. For one, it uses a chrome vanadium blade, similar to those made by Case, Schrade (Uncle Henry, Old Timer) as opposed to the stainless steel blades that have become really popular which do not rust, but in my opinion do not sharpen up as well or hold their edge. It's also made in Texas at a very small factory, so these knives are more rare than some other brands. Another thing about this knife is that most locking blade knives only have one blade. This knife, obviously inspired by a similar non-locking Case knife, has two blades that lock into place. If you've ever had a knife fold up on your hand while you were using it, you can appreciate this feature. Finally, this knife was a Christmas present from my dad. We have a fine tradition of yellow-handled pocket knives. Maybe it's because they are easier to find or we just like the color. Either way, it's just our thing.
Well, last week, Dad and I were building some shelves in his barn and I put the knife in my pocket as I normally do. After a few days of not seeing the knife and dismissing that I had merely left it somewhere else (the car, the truck, the table by the chair, etc.), I realized that my knife was nowhere to be found. So, I checked my dresser, my night stand, all the usual places. I checked the car, the truck, the consoles and glove compartments. The next day, I checked my dad's truck, my parent's house. Then, I checked my office and all over the youth building. It was nowhere to be found. Finally, after a week of searching, on Sunday afternoon I realized that I had not checked the couch cushions or any of the furniture. After checking both couches, I tipped over our recliner and there it was! For two days, I've been swooning over finding this very special possession.
Then yesterday, it occured to me that Jesus told several stories about lost items in Luke 15...a sheep, a coin, and a son. As a shepherd, he leaves all the other sheep to come find one that is lost. Like the woman with the lost coin, she does nothing else until she finds the coin. And like the loving Father, he stands there watching the horizon waiting for his lost son to come home. To think that God went after me the way I searched (and even more so) for my knife is humbling and overwhelming. It seems that when we remember the great lengths God went to in order to be in a relationship with us, it really puts things in perspective.