Why God still loves Cam Newton (even if you don’t).

There he was.  Hood up, shoulders down, slouched in a chair not giving an ounce of eye contact to a soul in the room.  From the most powerful and visible sports platform in the world, the seemingly invincible Cam Newton was showing the world his worst.  He looked like a punk.  Like a disrespectful punk.  And yet God, the same God who forgave you and I of our sin, looked upon Cam with eyes searching for something different than what we humans do.  Supernaturally scanning the situation, God peered closely at the young man, looking for the slightest crevice he could find to begin giving the man what no one would after this event.

Grace.

With supernatural eyes He looked upon Cam Newton not in judgement, but love.  With every irreverent, under the breath answer Cam spoke, God whispered, “I love you.”  As Cam exited the podium in what seemed like complete disrespect to the sports media (it would later be revealed Cam could hear a Denver player talking about their game plan to test Newton’s pass-making ability that spurred the early exit), God whispered, “I love you.”  As the locker room slowly emptied and Cam sat dejected on a stool, God whispered, “I love you.”  In the shower……”I love you.”  Getting dressed……..”I love you.”  Riding home…..”I love you.”  Again and again, God would begin showing Cam Newton why He is God and why God is Love.

Why?  Why on earth would God love such an arrogant, prideful, narcissistic athlete who seems to have the temperament of child?  Why would he love someone who so readily celebrates during victory, but wants no part of it in defeat?  Why would God love someone who can dish it out and not take it?

As you ponder the answers to those questions, I’m going to take a moment.  Jesus just showed up with a stick in His hand and is drawing in the sand.  I can’t quite make out what He’s writing, but……oh wait a minute….He’s going to say something.

“He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at him.” And once more Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones. (contextual adaptation from John 8)

Wow, that was pretty in your face don’t you think?  Let’s see, am I without sin?  Hmmm, the answer is a pretty easy… no. I’m arrogant at times. Prideful at times. Even narcissistic in certain moments of my life I guess.  And, if I were to be totally transparent, my temperament even resembles that of a child in situations I would just as soon forget.  Hmmmm, this isn’t going too well.  Wait a minute, Jesus is saying something else to Cam………

Jesus was left alone with Cam Newton standing before him. “Cam, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Cam said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (contextual adaptation from John 8)

Translation:  Psssssssss. “I love you Cam.”

Ok, so let me get this straight.  Jesus’ role is to forgive.  Our role is to not condemn.  And Cam’s role is to sin no more.

I’m confident God will take care of the first.  

Praying that Cam will be inspired to achieve the last.  

But how are we doing on the middle one?

With stones in our hand, have we become so spiritually numb that we’ve elected to throw stones instead of drop them? So prideful to forget there was perhaps a time in many of our lives where dare I say…gulp……………….we were Cam Newton (there was in my life for sure). It may have looked different and undoubtably wasn’t on the most visible stage on the planet, but at some point in our lives, and maybe in times to come, we were and are Cam Newton.

So let’s give him the same grace we were given. Let’s bestow unconditional love to a person who does not deserve it right now.  I get it, believe me I know it’s hard.  I know the easy thing to do is throw the stone.  It’s much harder to drop it.  It’s even more difficult to release the stone and love the person.  But that’s grace. That’s what make Jesus unique, special and all together different than any other false god.  He shows up and offers love and grace when no one will.  In our lives, and yes, in Cam Newton’s life as well.  John Stott explains grace this way, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”

I’m not sure where you side on this polarizing issue, but I’m thinking it’s time to get off my own high horse, stoop a little and rescue superman.

It’s time for grace.

Dear Coach, I Prayed for you Today

Dear Coach,

I prayed for you today.

I’t started like any other prayer for someone in your position.  I asked God to give you strength, courage, wisdom, and perspective.  All good things.  But as I continued to pray I found myself going down a much different path than the norm.  So different, in fact, that I actually found myself praying for you to lose.

I prayed for you to lose any pride you would harbor, so that the God of the universe would not stand against you, but for you.

I prayed for you to lose the slightest bit of selfish ambition, so that in serving your team they may in time be exalted.

I prayed for you to lose any hint of arrogance in your character, so that humility would become the aroma of your life.

And lastly, I prayed that you would lose the strength you may find in yourself, so that you may cling to the strength found only in Christ.

As I appealed to God in this way a remarkable revelation was shown to me.  In the course of praying for you to lose these private parts of your heart, God told me He would present you a champion in the public arenas of your life.

Coach, you are covered in prayer today.  Covered with the hope that when we lose to ourselves we always find victory in Him.

What the KC Royals Taught me Last Night.

I have a book project that has become more than frustrating.

After several months of intense writing, I believed I had crafted a devotional for athletes and coaches that would serve as a huge blessing in their life.  In short order, I had written a manuscript, crafted the book proposal and attained a high profile literary agent.  Getting a literary agent to represent the book was difficult, but in doing so, I was confident he would be able to open doors that were previously shut. Little did I know publishing giants still serve as gatekeepers to the book world.

My agent started out optimistic.  But with every “pitch” to a publisher, the same response seem to volley back into our court.  “It’s good, but the author needs a larger platform”.  In short, I needed a larger following to insure “sales” of the book. This was frustrating, discouraging and personally embarrassing. My friends and family knew the book I had written was being pitched. They also knew I had high hopes. With every month, however, my discouragement continued to grow. In my mind, I could feel myself staring failure in the face and choosing to give up. Electing to back down. In no time, the book would sit dormant, rejection letters from publishers would continue to accumulate and my hopes of bringing this message to athletes and coaches was fading quickly.

If I were to be completely honest, I felt defeated.  Until, that is, I watched the Kansas City Royals comeback and win last nights game.  This would be their fourth comeback of the series, providing evidence to the fact that resilience and perseverance are more than often a requirement of winning. In fact, over the course of the playoffs, the Royals had win probabilities in seven games of:

18%

1%

25%

8%

10%

16%

5%

They won all seven of those games.  Let me say that again.  When their backs were against the wall and failure was staring them directly in the face, they kept playing.  They kept persevering.  They kept working.   And because of their resilience, they kept winning. I have to say, I was more than convicted last night as I watched a team stare defeat directly in the eyes and laugh. I don’t mean that metaphorically.  They literally were laughing in the dugout during the 9th inning as they senses a comeback.  Personally, I know that through the rejection my small little book project, I haven’t been laughing.  I have not been working.  And, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve not been persevering.

As I’ve pondered this lesson of sports and life, another interesting thought has continued to surface in my mind.  A reflection on the win probability of Jesus.

I wonder what the win probability of Jesus was as he stood on the steps with Pontius Pilate and Barabbas?  50%?

Or how about as they lashed his back with blood stripes and pressed a crown of thorns into his head? 19%?

I wonder what the odds makers were shouting as they drove nails through his hands and a spear through his side? 3%?

Or how about this. What were the odds as they laid Him in the grave and covered the doorway with a boulder? 0%?

My friend, today you and I are given the privilege of serving a God who didn’t stare defeat in the face, He stared death in the face and kicked its butt.  His back wasn’t against a wall, it was resting upon on a cold hard grave. Defeat seemed likely, yet He still rose in VICTORY.

So often, victory occurs outside the parameters of statistics.  Beyond what is probable and far past the norm.  It’s often times a weird concoction of improbable ignorance and blind faith to keep beleiving when all hope seems to have passed. So if your in a struggle of your own today, have hope.  The God you love is no more concerned about statistical probabilities anymore than the KC Royals were last night.  In fact, he specializes in overcoming the odds and is a master at bringing victory to peoples lives, including yours.

Oh, as for the little book project that has been rejected and neglected? It’s time to laugh, work, persevere, and keep going.  I think the Royals would do it that way, but more importantly, I’m fully confident the Savior I love would want it that way.

The Recruiting Offer of a Lifetime

I PLAY FOR HIM. While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). At once they left their nets and followed him. Little did these men know that the words Jesus spoke that day would be the most important recruiting offer they would ever hear. No prior experience could prepare them for the power that was about to unfold.

In the span of just a few short years, they would witness Him multiply food, (Luke 9:16) transform water to wine, (John 2:1-11) and walk across Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 4:18) They marveled as He commanded a storm to cease (Mark 4:39-41) and watched in awe as He summoned a paralytic to pick up his mat and walk (Mark 2:11). But before they witnessed any of those miraculous events, a two-word recruiting offer had been extended.

“Follow Me.”

He didn’t promise them a life free from hardship. Nor did he offer them fame in exchange for their allegiance. His charge to this group is a sobering reminder to us all that in order to be on His team, we must be willing to push every chip to the middle and declare, “I’m all in.”

When all is said and done, it’s His team and His game. But don’t miss this point, Jesus isn’t just asking you and me to join His team, he’s recruiting us to play for Him.

Destined to be a World Changer

Your true identity in this life is not as an athlete. An athlete is what you do, a follower of Christ is who you are. You are first and foremost a child of the living God.(Galatians 3:26) You are an annointed saint destined to be a world changer.

The Bible says, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (1 John 2:27)

He has gifted you to be an ambassador for the cause of the gospel. A representative of Jesus. A person who brings to light the sacrifice of the cross and the hope it offers. Teaching the world that His resurrection from the grave not only brought Him to life, but will spiritually bring them to life as well.

So when you lace up your shoes, put on your cleats, pull on your swim cap, or dawn your uniform don’t be misled. The name on your jersey is the visual sign of the sports team you “play on”. But the name on your heart, is the consecrated evidence of the Savior you “play for”.

#iplayforHim

There is No Greater Strength than this . . . .

Where is your heart today? Are you consumed with the activity around you and missing the Savior above you? Have you forgotten His Spirit has taken residence within you? Is the busyness of life trumping the truth that God has secured your life for eternity? Has the weight of the world become greater than the God who formed it? Are you feeling defeated by the magnitude of everything around you?

The apostle Paul not only knows how you feel, but offers advice amidst the chaos of frustrations and anxiety. The Bible says, … “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7)

Paul is not coaching you to “suck it up”. He’s not yelling at you to “get with the program”. No where does he ever suggest that handling the challenges of life are about your ability to find strength within yourself. In fact, he is saying the exact opposite. When the things of this world are holding you down and applying unbearable pressure, your strength will not be found in rising up, but in kneeling down.

The scene is the Garden of Gethsemane. The main character, Jesus Christ. The supporting cast of Peter, James, and John are of little help. Sleep has overtaken their bodies as Jesus falls to His knees in anguish. “My soul is sorrowful” (Matthew 26:38), he utters. A third character perhaps, Satan, stalks the surroundings tempting Jesus to quit. Luring him to give in. Playing upon the notion that Jesus isn’t strong enough to handle what’s about to happen. (Sound familiar?) As the sweat of Jesus turns to blood, He whispers to heaven, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) Engulfed in despair, Jesus goes to the only source that can truly help, His Father.

Is there is an area of your life where victory seems improbable? Are you drowning in despair? If so, it may be time to go to your Gethsemane and take the greatest posture of strength that exists. Kneeling at the foot your Father.

Does God Care About Sports?

God may not have a favorite sport, but I am confident of this; He cares about the athletes who play them.  God cares about the people who watch and enjoy sports and whose lives are impacted by sports. Similar to other spheres in life, God works through sports, just as He works through all things, for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Unfortunately, we live in a time where many followers of Christ have become not only comfortable, but complacent. We study, but do not serve. Talk, but do not walk. Learn, but do not live. In short, we have lost the passion and urgency to exercise our faith. Sports can play an important role in reminding us of the value of discipline and sacrifice in the pursuit of a greater goal.

So if the context of sports can help you and I grow closer to Jesus and more mature in our faith — and they can — then yes, God cares about sports because of the incredible transformation that can be accomplished through them.

The Challenge is Simple

Screen shot 2015-07-20 at 3.27.28 PMThe challenge is simple.  Take everything that is good about athletics and inspire a generation to apply that same tenacity to their walk with Christ. Shed light upon a game that existed then, and still exists now. A spiritual game which involves you, your friends, your children, and every person reading this book. A game that has placed every single person in every walk of life on the field of competition.

It is not an option for us to be in this game, but a mandate. We are playing whether we choose to or not. We can pretend the game doesnʼt take place, but it does. We can maintain there is no opponent, but there is. We can claim there is no game plan, but its right there in the pages of the bible.

I play for Him CREED

T he following creed has been used in our Cross Training camps for years.  Feel free to pass it along to who you may see fit.

ATHLETESʼ CREED

Without Him in my life, I am less happy, less healthy, less loving. Without Him, this game I play has no value.

His favor supports every triumph, his provision produces each achievement, and the victory He bestows produces my platform.

Many play for other people and other things, hoping to find more success….more fortune…more fame. But instead of gain, they are only brought infinite loss.

And although I play to win, it is assuring to know He will never yell at me…never give up on me…never stop loving me.

Who is this great person? Who is “He” you ask? It is Jesus, and I can proudly say

iplayforhim-3

I play for HIM vs. I play for me

2014-08-14 10.42.20There is a battle going on for your heart right at this moment.  A competition between light and darkness for who will rule your heart.  The character of God pulls us toward love, while the character of our enemy tempts us with pride. Isaiah writes about this struggle with pride, “But you said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isa 14:12).

The “I play for ME” mindset of Satan strongly contradicts the “I play for HIM” heart of God.  Take a look.

I play for me indulges in sin.

I play for HIM repents of sin.

I play for me loves myself first, and then uses others for gain.

I play for HIM loves God first, then loves others as yourself.

I play for me is greedy for material possessions

I play for HIM hungers for spiritual righteousness.

I play for me multiplies my wealth.

I play for HIM multiplies Christ’s message.

I play for me is proud and self exalting.

I play for HIM is loving and humble.

Pride is where Satan tempts the athlete most.  He wants you to selfishly hunger to be the most elevated athlete in the sport you play. Why?  Because He knows this fundamental truth. Nothing makes you less like God then the pursuit to be His equal.