Ray of Hope

Ray Lewis

I will hope continually, and will praise thee yet more and more. Ps 71:14, RSV

Sometimes hope has to lead the way.  The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII because they had a ray of hope. They had Ray and they had hope.  It was the energy, the effort and the effulgence of Ray Lewis that allowed the Ravens to defeat the San Francisco 49’ers 34-21 in a thriller. On paper, the 49’ers were a formidable foe, and the Ravens weren’t even supposed to be in the Super Bowl, much less win it.

The Ravens defeated vaunted New England 28 -13 in the 2013 AFC Championship game, and throughout the playoffs Ray Lewis, a 37-year-old linebacker, was the team’s inspirational leader; winning the Super Bowl a second time enabled him to become a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and the last player left from Baltimore’s first Super Bowl championship, riding off into a celebratory retirement.

Sometimes hope has to lead the way. “There’s no other way to go out and end a career,” said Lewis, who returned from a torn triceps, which forced him to miss the final 10 regular-season games, to make 51 tackles in the postseason. “This is how you do it.”

Ray Lewis Gods Linebacker

The winner of this year’s Super Bowl must at least “hope” they will win. From this hope they can go on to wanting to win, and then finally knowing they will win. But it all starts with hope.  Winning is dependent on a real, tangible, palpable desire that is the surety for a future return on this emotional and spiritual investment.  Victory is only granted to those who hope for it.

Hope, however, is not a fanciful, pie-in-the-sky, sweet by-and-by fantasy.  It is a belief rooted in reality.  The proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God was the central element in the teaching of Jesus.  The certainty of admission into this Kingdom for those who accepted His teaching is the substance of hope. Hope for the believer is not a wishful, willy-nilly, wannabee whim. On the contrary, “hope” for the Christian is “a certainty.” [1]

So let your hope lead the way.  Jesus is our strength for today and our bright hope for tomorrow. He is the reason we get out of bed in the morning and the reason we sleep with anticipation through the night.  Peter said we have a “lively hope,”, and Paul told us that we live in “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;” (Titus 1:2, KJV).  Let hope lead the way.

Jesus is our hope and salvation; we look to him, and him alone for hope. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:13, KJV)

So, the next time you are discouraged, ask yourself, “why?” 

“Why should I feel discouraged, and why should the shadows come, why should my heart feel lonely, and long for Heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is he; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

Why am I discouraged?

Why is my heart so sad?

I will put my hope in God!

I will praise him again—

My Savior and my God!

Ps 42:11, New Living Translation

 


[1] International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.

 

Look For The Silver Lining

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Our best is brought out when we are faced with the worst: our worst fears and our worst enemy, the worst case scenario and the worst possible predicament. Stress and strain tend to pin our backs to the wall when we are faced with what could be the worst. But then that’s when we are at our best.

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The best tends to come out when there is the possibility of the worst.  The greatest and finest of our moments usually come on the brink or on the heels disaster; we ascend to the top only after having descended, at least proverbially, to the bottom. We sink or we soar; we flop or we fly; we rise or we fall; it’s usually one extreme or the other as the two collide and vie for supremacy.

Peyton Manning was faced with a worst case scenario. Based on his circumstances, one could only think the worst. The critics said he would never throw a football again. Injured on the field, ill-treated by his team and ill-favored to play again, Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, was facing the worst.

Manning made the best of the worst.  After neck surgery, Manning could not use the Indianapolis Colts’ facilities for practice and workouts due to the NFL lockout. Reluctant to have witnesses to his recovery, he used the Colorado Rockies baseball team’s trainers at Coors Field in Denver. Manning was unable to complete his throwing motion and his arm strength had significantly diminished. Based on an MRI, doctors told him in the late summer that he needed spinal fusion surgery and that at his age they could not guarantee his return to the NFL.  And now he’s on the NFL’ biggest stage as he and his team are favored to win the Super Bowl.

Our faith can survive the worst.  The Old Testament is full of shades and shadows, hints and hunches, clues and traces, anti-types and archetypes, fore-runners and fore-bearers of the coming, promised Messiah, and Joseph was one of them.  Mistreated by his brothers, misunderstood by his parents and mistaken for dead by all, the worst was that fate tried to destroy him, but the best was that his destiny determined to defend him.

Our faith prepares us for the best. Joseph went from slave to sovereign, from the prison to the palace, from being down and out to being up and in.  He was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and yet he did not return evil for evil; instead, he overcame evil with good.  Instead of hating, he loved; instead of dying he lived; instead of retaliating, he redeemed; instead of fighting back, he fought forward; he purchased the lives of his brothers and his father with the corn of Egypt.

Joseph looked for and found the silver lining. He gave the best when he was given the worst.

On and Off The Field

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Russell Wilson is a  winner on and off the field. The faith and football of Russell Wilson are co-joined, co-mingled, and coterminous. He  wears his faith on his sleeve.

On the field, he’s on his way to the Super Bowl.  On the field, Russell Wilson had a phenomenal sophomore season with the Seattle Seahawks (“Go Hawks!”).  On the field, he’s thrown 26 TD passes against only 8 interceptions –  not so shabby – and was rated the sixth best quarterback out of the field of 12 in the 2014 playoffs.   

Incredible as his play on the field has been, he has performed even better off the field.  Since joining the Seahawks, Russell Wilson has demonstrated care and concern, affection and devotion, association and participation in the lives and families of ailing patients at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. 

Off the field, over the past two years, Russell Wilson and his wife Ashton have faithfully visited the cancer ward every Tuesday. And when he can’t come, he calls.  “Eve Kopp thought the phone call was a prank. Russell Wilson? Who was that? He calmly explained that he was one of the new draft picks by the Seahawks on that late summer afternoon in 2012. He wanted to become a part of the fabric of the city and wanted to get involved with a cause immediately and thought Seattle Children’s Hospital would be a great place to start. He loved kids, liked making people smile, laugh.

Kopp put him through the vetting process.  “At first we were dubious,” said Kopp, the director of corporate annual giving for the hospital’s foundation. “We thought, ‘Is this guy going to really come every week?’ No way. We’ve never had that experience before.”[1]

They wondered if there were other motives behind the request. The hospital had dealt with the city’s athletes before. Some would say they would come regularly, show up once or twice and then never again. Others would be ushered in for photo ops in common areas with non-serious patients and then out the door they went.

Everyone kept waiting for the Tuesday when he wouldn’t show up. That never happened. And even more stunning: Wilson kept asking for more. See more kids. Visit more rooms. See the toughest and hardest cases in the hospital.

Off the field, Wilson’s faith is an important part of his life. He’s refers to his faith in post-game interviews and he posts daily Bible verses on his Twitter feed. One of His latest: “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NKJV)

On and off the field, Wilson says faith in God is the foundation for his life and family – brother Harrison Wilson IV, sister Anna, and mother Tammy. Wilson told a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter about how faith helped him deal with the death of his father, Harrison Wilson III in 2010, who had been suffering from diabetes and several strokes.

God is concerned about our lives on and off “the field.”  Many Christians can walk the walk and talk the talk in church or “on the field” so to speak, but “off the field” –  on the job, at home, and away from the rest of “the saints,” their lives are a shabby mess.  But perhaps I have it turned around? Perhaps “the field” Christians should be playing on IS outside of the four walls of the sanctuary, where our faith is tested, where our beliefs are tried, and where our foundation must stand sure.

Take it from Russell Wilson. Let’s glorify God with our walk and our words on and off the field.  

As Good As It Gets

NFL-Denver-Broncos-Peyton-Manning

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:8, KJV

Peyton Manning is as good as it gets.  He’s a nice guy.  He’s a humble star. He’s a great quarterback, and he’s one win away from winning another Super Bowl. So I’m not rooting for Denver, I’m rooting for Peyton Manning, because is time out for the nice guys finishing last. 

The Denver Broncos won the won the 2014 AFC Championship Game 26 -16 over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and Peyton Manning is the reason for it. “He hit eight different receivers in completing 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The turnover the critics expected never came. Instead they saw Manning dominate the Patriots and rival Tom Brady.

This game was all about Manning and Brady. On this day, one was better. This time, it was Manning. Brady finished 24 of 38 for 277 yards and a touchdown. But he got 135 yards of that in the fourth quarter when Denver had a big lead. Now there is no denying it anymore: Peyton Manning is something special.[1]

24 months ago, Manning wondered if he’d even be able throw again. And now here he is one victory away from his second Super Bowl ring and maybe finally getting the recognition as one of the all-time greats that he so richly deserves.  Manning’s playing career and statistics have ranked him among the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.

Peyton Manning is as good as it gets. He’s clean; he’s smart, and he’s good.  And you like to see the nice guys finish first, not last.  He’s had a white hot start to 13-3 season and he’s set records that may never be broken.   

As a leader, Peyton Manning is as good as it gets. He knows the way, points the way, and goes the way.  Isn’t that what we expect from our leaders?  The list of great sports leaders is long and distinguished. In light of the coming Super Bowl, we recall some of the great ones that come to mind, including Ray Lewis, Tom Brady, Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, and Peyton’s younger brother, Eli Manning.  In this list of Super Bowl MVP’s, all save one are quarterbacks.

You want to cheer for Peyton because of what he’s been through. After taking baby steps learning how to throw again after 2011 neck surgery, Manning hoped he’d get another shot to show he was quarterback royalty, even if many doubters still existed — sometimes even being one of them himself.   Now, at the age of 37, after his career looked to be over two years ago and he couldn’t throw a football 10 yards after his surgery, somehow you get the idea he will savor this one a little more.  So I ask you doubters out there to appreciate all he’s done to get here. How can you not?

Hall of Fame, Life of Shame

lawrence-taylor and son

Lawrence Julius Taylor, nicknamed “LT”, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1999. In the touching photo above, after the son introduced his father, they embraced and gave us this tender, moving memory.

The Hall of Fame was his destiny. The rash and brash linebacker for the New York “Football” Giants was arguably the best to play the game at his position.  On the field, he was tough and torrid, ruthless and relentless, hard-hitting and bull rushing; he was loved by many but loathed by many more.  Off the field, the description of his life was equally yet inequitably the opposite side of the same coin: rough and ragged, tragic and turbulent, messy and moody; his was a loose life and an edgy existence.

A sure “Hall of Famer” from day one, Taylor played his entire professional career for his beloved Giants (1981–1993), most of which with his befriended coach,  Bill Parcells. By playing outside linebacker he changed the game of football by shadowing the quarterback, often forcing a bad pass. He is considered to be one of the greatest players in the history of football, and has been ranked as the greatest defensive player in league history by former players, coaches, media members, and news outlets such as the NFL Network, and Sporting News. Said one coach of Taylor: “He was reckless, just reckless.”

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While elected to the Hall of Fame he also lived a life of shame. In contrast to his success on the football field, Taylor’s personal life has been marred by drug usage and controversy. When Taylor was once asked what he could do that no outside linebacker could, his answer was, “Drink”. However, alcohol abuse was not the largest of his substance abuse problems. After admitting to and testing positive for cocaine in 1987, he was suspended from football for 30 days in 1988 after failing a second drug test. After his second positive test he gave up drugs for five years as a third positive test would have ended his career.

His life of shame was as brash and as brazen as his rise to fame. Taylor often spoke of his NFL years, which he played with reckless abandon, and the drug-abusing stages of his life as the “L.T.” periods of his life. He described “L.T.” as an adrenaline junkie who lived life on a thrill ride. Taylor said in 2003 that “L. T. died a long time ago, and I don’t miss him at all…all that’s left is Lawrence Taylor.”[1]

LT Saved by Golf

The Hall of Fame and a life of shame. It doesn’t seem that the two should go together, but unfortunately, sometimes they do. Just ask Samson. Samson is listed in the Biblical “Hall of Faith.”  On the field, Samson could single-handedly route the Philistines and sack their leaders with his bull rush anointing. Off the field, Samson fell prey to the wiles of whimsical women, not the least of which included devilish Delilah, through whose machinations he lost his spiritual power. Samson lost his heart and his hair, his sense and his sight in a most shameful way; he was sentenced to a disgraceful and dishonorable life after his standout career as a judge who once delivered Israel. 

Hebrews Chapter 11 recounts the heroic exploits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Moses, Joshua and Rahab; Gideon, David and Samuel. And yes, Samson made this list in spite of his reckless, loose and licentious living. Samson made the list and is included with other Biblical greats in the Hall of Faith. God’s grace allowed Samson’s life to be an example for us to follow, and not to follow.  His strength was laudable, and his weakness was deplorable. 

Lest we’re too hard on Sampson and LT, we all must remember that we too can go from fame to shame.  We can all learn lessons, discern distinctives, and earn points for life from both sides of the same spiritual coin. In the end, Samson yet again delivered Israel, and in death he defeated more Philistines than he killed in his life.

In his death, his life of shame indeed was turned back to a life fame.

May The Best Team Win

Peyton-Brady

The best team should always win. We don’t know who will win this season’s NFC Championship Game between the 49’ers and Seahawks, nor do we know who will come out on top in the AFC Championship Game between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.  OK, you’re right; the game is between the teams, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos, but ultimately, the stars will come out and decide the matter. The team whose star shines the brightest usually wins.

In the fight for right, in the spiritual spectacle staged up above our heads in the heavenlies and in the war waged down on the floor in prayer, the balance of the battle is always in question but the outcome is never in doubt.  In this war of attrition, in this clash of Titans, our God has a decided advantage over our adversary, the devil and his team of demons. In the end, God wins!  And since God wins, we win! Even though the end is not yet, we already know we win.  This knowledge is truly power.

We have the best team and we have the best players. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel knew God by the Hebrew word “El.”  The word El comes from the root word meaning might, strength and power.  El is almost always qualified by other words called “constructs” that further define the meaning that distinguish Him from false gods.

We laud and applaud our overcoming the other team because our God is Elohim, which in Hebrew denotes magnitude and dignity, as well as actual multiplicity. We rejoice and celebrate our “win” in God because He is El-Shaddhai, the all-sufficient One. God is so overpowering that He is “Almighty.”  We shout and cheer our victory in God because He is El-Elyon, God most high. This title stresses God’s strength, sovereignty and supremacy. As Phillips Craig and Dean sing, He is God Alone. From before time began, He has been on the throne. He is God and God all by Himself. As the ole’ saints used to say, “He don’t need nobody else!”

We have the best team and we have the best players. The glue that holds God’s team together is the Holy Spirit. He is everywhere every hour, every minute, every second of every day. In other words, the  Holy Spirit is all over the field, chasing on every play, pursing on every down, and plugging every hole. The devil cannot possibly compete with God’s team. And because we’re on God’s team, we cannot be defeated.

The best team will win. That’s God’s team: “Team God.” The devil and his angels are clearly inferior, and it shows. The devil’s team is out muscled, out matched, and out manned.  The devil is defeated and completely outdone. Hallelujah!  

We have the best team and we have the best players. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the best team and the best players. “Team God” is represented by Jesus Christ. Jesus is our franchise player; He is our star quarterback and leading rusher; He is the backbone of the defense and the cornerstone of the O-Line.  Jesus is everything. The opponent of the ages, the enemy of our souls has been bested by the Ancient of Days, our faultless and Faithful friend.

Thank God the best team wins.

Veterans and Rookies

Kareem and Magic

Veterans and rookies. Sometimes they don’t get along, and most times they don’t speak the same language. But they need each other. A striking example of this is the twosome of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Magic came into the League in 1980 and, in his rookie season, won an NBA Championship with Kareem.  Kareem was a wiry veteran who had already won, but was hungry for more. His old legs and winded spirit needed a boost. And he got a big boost in the person of Magic. The two went on to win 5 titles, and this tandem and the rest of the L.A. Lakers were nicknamed “Showtime” because of their flashy style and their dashy play.

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Kareem and Magic were the perfect veteran-rookie combination of creative tension. Part of their mystic and charm lie in this creative tension – the creative tension between their ages and their positions allowed each to compliment the other, as both could learn and teach the other a thing or two. This duo dominated professional basketball in the ‘80s, as they were a force to be reckoned with. 

Likewise, there are tandems of veteran-rookie generational tag-teams in Scripture. Moses and Joshua.  Elijah and Elisha.  David and Solomon. Naomi and Ruth.  Paul and Timothy.  These pairs are examples of a savvy veteran balanced with a spirited rookie; an old-hand and a newbie; a professor and a pupil.  Every great team has this pair, and each team and generation needs to pass down its experience and expertise to the next.   

Veterans have the advantage of experience and rookies have the advantage of youth.  Coupled together, this combination can be a bona-fide lean, mean, winning machine.  The Bible says that “one can chase one thousand, and two can put ten thousand to flight”   The power of cross generational unity cannot be overstated.

Likewise, in our present day, we should look to couple the veteran with the rookie.  Both will benefit; both will gain; both will profit.  At home, work or play; in church, in government, in education, in medicine, the veteran and the rookie should be so tied together that they are inseparable.  Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, each and all have something to learn from the other.

Veterans and rookies; rookies and veterans.  In sports these two go hand in hand, and so it is, or at least should be, with life. So if you are Moses, who is your Joshua? If you are Naomi, who is your Ruth?  If you are Timothy, who is your Paul? Find and link with the mate you must teach and learn from; hang on to them for dear life, and don’t let them go.

Your success depends on it.