Monday, January 24, 2011

Jay Cutler and Sports Fans

In the world of professional sports Jay Cutler committed the unforgivable sin. He left a game with an injury. Well not just any game. The winner goes to the Super bowl. Unfortunately for Jay he will be judged and vilified by many of us that sit in the comfort of our living rooms. As we snack our way in to greater obesity we complain about Cutler’s heart. “He doesn’t have a compound fracture. He is able to stand and walk without a limp.” As if being able to stand and walk means you can play quarterback in the NFL. Hopefully, for his sake, the MRI will show that he has a severely torn ACL. Anything short of that will be unacceptable. A man who has taken more sacks than anyone else in the NFL this year will be labeled a sissy. A man who has no problem throwing into triple coverage after an interception will be judged for his lack of confidence. A man that has the respect of his teammates and recklessly throws his own body around will be judged to have no heart.
Why would we judge Cutler so harshly? Is it our quest for entertainment at any cost? Is it so we can feel as though we have personally accomplished something great? Or because the team we root for beat another team? Maybe it is the fact that he gets paid millions of dollars. With the cost to have him on the team, we expect him to risk life and limb. We expect him to ignore any conventional wisdom, including the professional medical staff on the side line. No, with that kind of money, nothing short of being carried off on a stretcher is acceptable. As a Bears fan, I hope Jay is on our team next year. If Brian Urlacher and Olin Kreutz say Jay Cutler is a tough player and was too injured to play, I’ll go with them over the guy sitting on his couch eating his potato chips. I do not have enough information to judge his heart or integrity. Those with more in-depth knowledge and different expectations, judge away. It is still a free country.
I do have some thoughts and questions that remain for those of us who call ourselves Christians. One can easily argue that Mr. Cutler and every other professional athlete are ridiculously overpaid. I will agree on that. But I have to ask, did God pay a ridiculous amount to purchase us and our salvation? Revelation 5:9 tells us that it is with Jesus’ blood we have been purchased. If the price paid corresponds to the expectation for the payee, how are we doing?
Reality may show that Cutler could have played and we may question his heart because he should have known the importance of the game. But let’s be consistent. Jesus indicates that we will be judged in the same way we judge others (Matt 7:2). Our churches would radically change the world if we lived up to half the expectations we place on professional athletes. We are involved in something way more important than a football game. We are talking about the kingdom of God and eternity. Seriously, when was the last time you stayed up late studying the game plan (Bible) and preparing (praying) against the enemy’s attacks? Do you play hurt or do you abandon God and his people because some other Christian has offended you? Do you sacrifice for the team (church) or are you an individual player? (i.e. I am Christian but not part of a church)
Jesus Christ didn’t invite people to hang out in a stadium (church building). He didn’t invite them to put on a jersey (place membership in a church). There is nothing wrong with those things. But we have been invited to something greater. Jesus invited people to deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow Him. He said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” He said, “Follow Me, I will give you treasures in Heaven. I will give you a place in the kingdom.” "He who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do” “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." In another place he said, “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” I realize we need to contextualize that, but I am sure whatever it means it is a far cry from how most of us live. Most of us have bought so much we have nothing to give to the poor and, in fact, we are in debt. How are you doing? Are we living up to the standards we place on other people?
At a critical point in the life of Jesus one of his closest friends denies Him. Not once, but three times. Talk about losing heart. Talk about letting the team down. What did Jesus do? If he were a modern day fan he would have traded him off to some other team. After all Jesus paid a high price. He should expect more from this ungrateful person. No. Jesus doesn’t do that. He restores him. He invites him back to a life of purpose and ministry.
Where do you find yourself today? Are you living up to the same standards you place on others? Do you live with the passion you expect them to play with? Do you forget what is important? Are you on the sideline when you should be playing? Wherever we find ourselves, Jesus is there inviting us to get back into His game.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolution

I like this time of the year. We have just celebrated the birth of Christ. We are now preparing for the New Year. In some ways, the New Year is a fresh start. If the old year was hard, there is always the hope that the next year will be better and more promising. Unfortunately, we often allow the previous year to define what can be accomplished in the New Year. I wonder if history repeats itself. Or does human nature expect nothing different?

I was reminded of this during our Christmas play. There is something prophetic in the repeated line of “nothing ever happens here.” Where is the hope? Where is the expectation? The people seemed doomed to living a life of low expectation with nothing new or exciting. If we are not careful, we can miss what is really happening and what God wants to do.

As we look at the events leading up to the birth and early ministry of Jesus, we see a pattern. It starts with Zacharias. When an angel speaks to him about the birth of his son he asks, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” Keep in mind he is talking to an angel that just delivered exciting news. Maybe that alone should be enough evidence. After his son is born, no one wants him to be named John because, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” Talk about a “we have never done it this way before” attitude. Then when Jesus is born, the Magi do not show up in Bethlehem. This is a city of little importance. They showed up where the action should be - in Jerusalem. Years later, when Jesus comes out of Nazareth, Nathanael asks “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It is as if the past dictates the future. We seem to struggle with the idea of God doing something different. What if God actually wants to accomplish great things through us in the next year? What if He wishes to do things greater than we believe possible or probable?

I am not suggesting that we should be unrealistic about the future, but we need to be open to God. Recognize, as we prepare for a New Year, our future is not determined by our past, location, or abilities. Our future is dependent on our openness to the working of God in our lives. Do we believe that God can do great things in our lives in the next year? Are you ready for whatever HE wants to do?