Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fantasy Football? What about Fantasy Christianity?

It's fall again and pre-season football is in full swing. We've even gotten through the recent annual tradition of waiting on Brett Favre's decision to return to football. It's like a $16M professional sports version of Groundhog Day, waiting for Punxsutawney Brett to see his shadow. And while I'm excited about the pre-season hype for my Dallas Cowboys, I'm also excited about another season of Fantasy Football. This is my third year playing and I'm hoping for a great draft.

If you're not familiar with Fantasy Football, it's pretty simple. I have a "team" made up of a number of offensive players (quarterbacks, receivers, running backs, tight ends, and kickers (sorry linemen)) who are all from different NFL teams. As these players play each week, I get points for their performances-6 points for a touchdown, 1 point for every 10 yards of rushing or receiving, 3 points for a field goal, etc. There are more players on your roster than what you are allowed to play each week. So the trick is to play which players you think will perform well in a particular match-up. And with the miracles of modern technology, the computer automatically tracks the stats and points for you. Each week you go head to head against one of your buddies and at the end of 12 weeks, the best fantasy players make the playoffs.

But as I contemplated all things fantasy sports, my brain wandered to the idea of "Fantasy Christianity" and what that would look like. And the more I thought about it, the more I think it's something that unfortunately already exists. I've not played a down of football since 9th grade, but through Fantasy Football, I live vicariously through "my" players without ever so much as putting on a pair of cleats. Just as I am not actually playing football, I think many of us sit on the sidelines of the Christian faith, letting others do the work, while we miss out on the blessings of serving others. What I mean by this is that we live our Christianity out vicariously through our pastors, staff members, and missionaries whom we may support in various ways. All the while there is work to be done all around us. We go to church on Sunday and see how our fantasy team has been performing. Our pastor reports that he had a great visit with a new family who is joining the church soon-that puts some points on the board. A missionary comes to thank the church for the support we give monthly and shares of all the great things going on in a different part of the world, and our fantasy points just keep rising! Some youth lead the church in worship and we are swooning because of our connection to all these fine ministries.

But is that what the church is all about? Just show up on Sunday and see how our "team" is doing? What about all the opportunities during the week to love and serve others? James says that actions must accompany our faith. I know I do not do all I can to make the most of every encounter I have with people. I also know even as a staff member, that I sometimes guage my spiritual health based on my church's fantasy points, and not on my individual performance. So how do we avoid Fantasy Christianity?

I suggest these three things.
1. Don't compartmentalize our lives. In other words, try not to have church friends, work friends, family friends, etc. We will all have different circles with whom we interact, but it is important that we don't act differently around each group. This allows our faith to impact everyone we encounter, not just our "church friends."
2. Determine our spiritual gifts and find ways to implement those in our daily lives and in our church lives. The Bible lays out numerous spiritual gifts in the New Testament that are personality traits we all have. Once we understand how God has wired us, it makes it easier for us to serve others in ways that are natural to us.
3. View Sunday as a celebration of what God has done in the rest of our week. Hopefully God has placed people in our path that we can help or impact. Let Sunday be a day when we can pray about these relationships and celebrate the ministry we have in them.

Have you ever caught yourself playing Fantasy Christianity? What would you do to help people get off the sidelines and into the action?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Following Christ-Is Conversion a Point or a Process?

Today, I read a really thought-provoking post from @gavoweb on Twitter. The article was entitled "I love Jesus, but I'm keeping my stripping job." The article recounts an apparently true story of some Christians who protested a strip club and the dancers who responded with a protest of their own. After the smoke had cleared, apparently two of the girls had "accepted Jesus in their hearts" but were going to continue to work at the Foxhole Club as dancers.

This post hit a nerve with me because it speaks to an issue I've wrestled with over the years. In sharing Christ with others, at what point does true conversion occur? Growing up in church, salvation was always a black and white issue. Once you put your faith in Christ, "what fellowship can light have with darkness?" . But the older I get, and the more I realize how far I am from being the person that Christ wants me to be, I'm not so sure. I've shared before my thoughts on evangelism, as it relates to spiritual growth, and how I see it more as the beginning of a process of discipleship, rather than a magical change that is literally instantaneous.

To make a metaphor of it, I'll ask it this way. Is putting our faith in Christ a dot on a map, or is it merely us finding the right road we need to be on, on that particular map-the road that leads to Jesus? Paul speaks of justification-justified before God through the work of Christ-but he also speaks of sanctification-being made into the likeness of Christ.

So which is it? Is the power of the Holy Spirit so great that when we put our faith in Christ we instantaneously become a new creation? Or are we just baby disciples learning to find our way and learning to take off the grave clothes of our old lives? The Apostle Paul had a pretty profound conversion. There was no gradual process for him. But we know that some of those whom Paul brought to faith in Christ took a little longer to come around. In Philippians 4, we learn of two ladies who evidently were entrenched in a pretty stiff quarrel.

So what are we to make of all this? Well, I do know this.
1. A lot of services that are called evangelistic really do nothing more than make a bunch of baby Christians and there is not much done to follow up and help these young believers grow in their faith.
2. It's not my place to question whether or not a person's faith in Christ is true or not. Last time I checked, it was only God who knows a persons heart.
3. While I may not know whether a person's faith is real or superficial, I do have a call on my life to spur others on to good works in Christ Jesus.

So what do you think? Is following Christ a one-time miracle, or is it the beginning of a life-long process? Can a stripper be a Christian and still keep her job?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Baseball, Jesus, and Credibility with God

One of my summer passions in recent years is Texas Rangers baseball. I've even learned some things about my spiritual life from watching this sport we call America's pastime. And this one is no different.
Anyone who is even a casual baseball fan knows the Texas Rangers have never been a great team. In fact, they are one of only three teams who have never won a World Series (Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals-formerly the Montreal Expos-are the other two), and the only team in MLB who has never won a playoff series. So the case could be made that historically they are the worst team in baseball, given their 38-year history.

But something happened in 1989 that was pivotal for the organization. The Rangers brought on legendary right-handed pitcher Nolan Ryan who was considered by some to be a has-been at the end of his career. But Nolan added one thing this mediocre organization desperately needed-credibility. Having a record-setting pitcher who was as respected off the field as he was on the mound caused people to view the Rangers in a different light.

After his retirement as a player and pursuing some other ventures both inside and outside of baseball, Nolan Ryan came back to the Rangers in 2008 to be the team president. Ryan's presence in both the late 80's/early 90's as a player and in the front office of recent years were both pivotal in setting the team in the right direction. In his first year as team president, the Rangers had one of their best seasons in years, and currently have an 8-game lead over the Angels and A's in the AL West. Ryan has also partnered with Chuck Greenberg recently to purchase the ball club, outbidding Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban.

As I thought about the impact one person has had on such a large organization, I was reminded of the impact one person has had on all of us. I John 2:1 says that we should not sin. But if we do sin, we have one who speaks to God in our defense-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. Jesus gives us credibility before a God of wrath and judgment who cannot look at our sin. Please forgive me for comparing our Savior to a man who used to throw baseballs really hard. But I am reminded of the role that Christ plays in our relationship to God. Our credibility with God was earned through his perfection in life and his sacrifice in death. So we as Christians can hold our heads up, because we have credibility. We don't have to be the embarrassing excuses for people we once were, because we have someone who speaks to God in our defense-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One!