Take The Ice Bucket Challenge?

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The Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral.  It’s all over Facebook and YouTube and everybody’s doin’ it.  And for good reason.  The Ice Bucket challenge, started by who knows who, is when you challenge or are challenged by someone to dump a bucket of ice water over your head.  For all sports aficionados, the competitive corollary is clear.  At the end of a big game, just before the clock strikes triple-zero and a team has notched a big win, players will take the Gatorade cooler and dump it over the coach’s head to celebrate the victory.

One of the cutest videos of someone taking the challenge is Duke’s Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), also the USA Basketball coach, being doused by his grandchildren. 

In a pre-emptive strike, the foundation that is researching the cause of a dreaded disease is raising money by challenging sports lovers everywhere to dump a bucket of ice water over their heads as a sign that this enemy will one day be conquered and cured.  The ALS Association’s goal is to strike out ALS, which is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  This disease, often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

 http://online.wsj.com/articles/how-the-ice-bucket-challenge-got-its-start-1408049557

The challenge is needful and necessary because of what this dastardly disorder does to the human function and frame.  The word “A-myo-trophic” comes from the Greek language. “A” means no or negative. “Myo” refers to muscle, and “Trophic” means nourishment–”No muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $100 million and seems to be picking up steam with no let up or let down  in sight. I say that’s great.  It’s a worthy cause, and it’s wonderful that so many are concerned enough to join in the campaign.   So take the challenge, not just to eradicate ALS, but to eliminate all forms sickness and to extricate all those who are bound by illness and disease.

Spiritually speaking, the worst disease we face is the sickness of the soul. And the sickness is sin, and the disease is disobedience.  The heart and the head of man is not at ease; we are not at peace with God. Consequently, we suffer from a malady of the mind, and the health of our hearts is at stake.  So we should be challenging each other to fight the progressive degeneration of love and laughter, of kindness and compassion, and of mercy and majesty, and general common decency and decorum.

So take the challenge; challenge others and yourself to be meek and mild, pure in heart and poor in spirit, rich in mercy and plenteous in leniency, quick to forgive and slow to anger and always bearing the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith meekness and temperance to everyone every day.

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch: A.K.A., One Game At A Time

Wreck It Ralph

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.  Matthew 6:34, New Living Translation.

There’s a big difference and a fine line between arrogance and confidence, between insolence and deference, and between brazen boldness and courageous chivalry.  True champions may be audacious, but they are also intrepid.  By faith they know that they are going to win, but they also fear that they are just as likely to lose.  Such is the spin and the spiral of sports. And such may be the case of the 2014 Washington Nationals Baseball team.

The Washington Nationals are 75 and 55, are first place in the National League East, have the 2nd best record in all of baseball, just came off of a 10 game win streak, and yet probably have the longest odds to win the World Series. So lest we get too overjoyed, let’s not get too overworked. Yes we’re excited, but if these same Nationals don’t win like we’d like them to, we won’t get too overwrought.  Yes they are playing their best baseball, are peaking at the right time, and don’t seem to be showing any signs of failing or faltering, but, guess what? You guessed it: there’s a big “BUT” coming.  And the “but” is that we’ve learned not to count our chickens before they hatch.

A Greek fabulist (someone who writes fables) named Aesop, said to have lived from 620 to 560 BCE, is credited with using this expression. He has several written fables attributed to his name; today, these are collectively known as Aesop’s Fables. One of them is titled The Milkmaid and Her Pail, and there’s a line from the tale that reads:

 “Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”

The life “boat” of a Christian sails through irony and incongruity, through paradox and parallels, and through tension and friction.  This stress and strain is the incongruity of confidence and calm; it’s the clash between coolness and conviction.  And somewhere in between these sentiments and sensations lies the path of a mature, maximized man and woman who believes and trusts in God.

The spiritual tie-in is that God gives us strength for today and He is also our bright hope for tomorrow.  In sports-speak, this means that we are to play to win because it’s better than playing not to lose, and that’s the life all athletes live.  We are to live with poise and with power, with dignity and with gravity, knowing full well that our God has promised us victory and valor, vindication and validation.

Victory always comes and only comes after every villain is vanquished, and every foe is defeated. Victory comes, and we can count on it, yet ours is to wait patiently for it.

So let’s route for the Nationals and the Nats fans.  There’s a lot of baseball left to play, so hopefully the Nat’s take it one game at a time, and don’t count their chickens before they hatch.  They have a shot at going deep into the playoffs, and bringing a championship to this trophy starved town.

Robert McDonnell and The Blood Sport of Politics

Bob McDonnell, Maureen McDonnell

 Bob McDonnell, Maureen McDonnell

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
1 Corinthians 9:26-27, KJV

Politics is a blood sport.  That politics is a “blood sport” is nothing new and is no new news.  But the news of a former right wing, conservative, “family values” politician throwing his own wife of 38 years under the bus to save his own neck is.  His legal defense in his corruption trial is that his wife is to blame for receiving the gifts and garb and the goodies given to them. The sad part is that in this “sport” we seem to have reached a new record low and set a new all-time high for sinister and satanic ways to win.

Sports is a give-it-all-you’ve got, last man standing, winner take all endeavor that we love and enjoy.  But when it becomes gory and gruesome, brutal and bloody, we shake our heads, turn our heads, and scratch our heads in wonder of how far and how low one will go just to get a “W.” Such is the case in the 2014 corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell.

Politics to some is “sport.” It’s the hunt they enjoy.  It’s the kill that is the thrill. The modern idiom we use to describe this blood sport is to “play politics.”  To play politics means “to engage in political intrigue, take advantage of a political situation or issue, resort to partisan politics, and to exploit a political system or political relationships.”  To play politics means “to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way, as for job advancement.”  After Watergate and Iran Contra-Gate and all of the other political scandals we’ve seen over the years, this sounds all too familiar.  Surely, Machiavelli was right: “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Playing politics is not like playing patty-cake or shooting marbles.  When you are dealing with people’s lives, and the life of those closest to you, namely the life of your wife whom you know and presumably love, that’s something else altogether.

Lest we become overly disparaging, we must remember that what has happened to Governor McDonnell could happen to any one of us.  Just ask the apple of God’s eye.

David was, among many things, a politician.  He got in over his head, went too far with Bathsheba and stopped to short by not acknowledging his sin, and the rest is, well, history.  The political scandal that McDonnell is embroiled in is nothing new. He is simply repeating the repertoire of unrighteous rigors that we all can and seem to find ourselves in.

Sports are supposed to be clean and fun and pure and natural. But there’s nothing pure or clean or fun about the McDonnell mess. And it’s only “natural” because we are all born in sin and shaped in iniquity. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. And His name is Jesus.

So let’s learn some lessons here. What McDonnell did was not for the public good, nor for the greater good; it was all for his own good and now it’s all about saving his own neck.  Instead of coming clean and repenting, he’s blaming his wife for his transgressions, and painting her and putting her in a terrible light.

And one more lesson needs to be learned: let’s not judge; let’s forgive, but let’s not forget the high price and the soaring cost of playing dirty and living loosely and the ill effect it has on us and on the “game.”

“Divergent:” Don’t Try To Fit In

 

Divergent Life

 

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you —   from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

1 Peter 2:9-10, THE MESSAGE

Divergent is a Sci-Fi thriller with a boy-meets-girl twist, all rolled up in a good versus evil pita wrap.  It’s “Hunger Games” meets “The Matrix” with a pinch of “Inception” thrown in for fun (you gotta know your movies!).  IMDB describes Divergent this way: “In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late.”  You gotta watch it at least twice to get it, a.k.a. Matrix and Inception.

I like Divergent because of the spiritual undertones and overtones, the mystical messages and even the reversed religious rhetoric. The film is filled with sanctimony and sacrifice, ritual and redemption, self-righteousness and sordid sacrilege, all rolled up into one solid “right will eventually overcome wrong” saga.

Divergent

Divergent’s message is for those of us who know that we don’t fit into the mainstream and yet struggle to fit in anyway.  We know that our place and our position and our purpose is not to assimilate but to advocate; to right wrongs, to fix problems, to correct mistakes, and to run the bad guys out of town.  The film is so blatantly and deliberately and unashamedly supernatural it runs the risk of being overly preaching and pretentious.  But it works for me.

Divergent’s heroine acts and sounds and looks a lot like the men and women of old who are or belong in the hallowed Hall of Faith: Abigail and Asenath; Elijah and Elisha; Hannah and Hadassah (Esther); Ruth and Rebecca; Moses and Mordecai.  None of these Biblical greats “fit in” with the crowd; on the contrary, they were ordained by God to stand out in order to stand up and fulfill Heaven’s marvelous and majestic mission for their lives. And the mission was and is always external and exterior to our individual, idiosyncratic way of thinking, for God’s plans are always much bigger and much grander and much greater than we can ask or think.

Likewise, ours is to speak up, to reach out and to look within; ours is to blow whistles, to tear down evil, to build up good, and to do what others want to do but are afraid to do. The heroine in Divergent is a standout who wants to stand-down but eventually learns that she must stand up or she and others like her will be stamped out.  We’ve heard this story line before, but reminders are always a very good thing.

So let’s learn the lessons that Divergent teaches. They’re right out of the Bible: unlimited love, vicarious victories, determined dispositions, and providential pathways.  Let’s not let evil endure. Let’s not let the pernicious prevail.  Let’s stand up and fight with all of His might. Just like the great composer George Duffield wrote, let’s “Stand up, stand up for Jesus:”

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;

Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.

From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,

Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed

 

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;

The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.

Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;

Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

werthgnome

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Hebrews 10:25, KJV

Going “To” the game and being “At” the game is so much better and so far superior to watching on television. Words fail to describe how much further and how much farther and how much MORE and how beyond belief the “at game” experience is. It was great. And to top it all off, we went on Bobblehead Day, and we got bobblehead dolls!

I went to a day game with some of my co-workers and we had a ball. It wasn’t a playoff game, nor was it a “playoff atmosphere,” but it was a significant game nonetheless. We went to a game at National’s Park, between the Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Nat’s had a nine game win streak on the line, and getting to ten consecutive wins in a row was a big deal. The score was 0-0 through the top of the ninth inning, producing a pretty slow, snails-pace of a game, but being with a group made getting there half the fun.

The game we went to just so happened to be during the home team’s hot streak. The Nationals are in 1st Place in the National League East, and are 7.5 games ahead of second place Atlanta. So you would think that the place would be hoppin’ and jumpin’ and people would be screaming and hollering for the home team. Well, not quite. The somewhat watered down Washington D.C. mood aside, the crowd was eager and excited and ready to go a ripping and a roaring for the home team.

Games are decided by scoring. The lack of scoring aside, there was plenty of drama and theater and comedy and tragedy at the game that you’ll only get at the game, and can’t get at home. Now mind you, I’d love to have season tickets, but am not one of the private, privileged prima donnas that can afford to purchase season tickets so that I’m a part of the atmosphere and ambiance of a home game all of the time. But surely I digress.

Going to the ball game is a summer treat. We saw tons of kids with their little National’s Jerseys and baseball caps and they were so cute. We saw families and seniors and couples and just plain ‘ole men at the ballpark on a nice summer afternoon enjoying American’s favorite pastime. And it was great.

So the spiritual tie-in is that we crone and we crave and we peek and we pine for community, and for something to cheer about and cheer for. We want to rejoice and revel, to enjoy and to elate with and for our teams. And I was cheering and yelling and screaming and shouting and whooping and hollering all for a team that I don’t even like! (I’m from Philly, remember?)

So whether it’s a church service or a concert or a conference or a cell group, go; GO to the “game.” We cannot live absent and apart from community, and this community must be healthy and wholesome and comforting and consoling and encouraging and heartening and inspiring and uplifting, all at the same time. So go to the “game.” You’ll get more out of it and can put more into it if you go, and you’ll be glad you did. Staying home and watching on T.V. is just not the same.

“Johnny Football:” Don’t Believe The Hype

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Jonathan Paul Manziel is only 6.0 feet tall, a tad on the diminutive side for a quarterback, and, from the looks of his performance so far, he may have an equally stunt NFL career. A bold, blatant, brazen statement, perhaps? Maybe not. Pre-Season Football is like going to the dentist; we all know it’s necessary, but none of us want to go. So do you put any weight or stock, credence or confidence in the play of players during a preseason game?

Jonathan “Johnny Football” Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 as a freshman at Texas A&M and by all accounts, he was the next Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady combined. And he was only a FRESHMAN! According to most, the media made Manziel more than he maybe was meant to be. The media gave Manziel the moniker “Johnny Football” and this title stuck, and it has him stuck trying to measure up to all of the animation and anticipation.

Johnny Football is having trouble playing down and living up to all of the hype. Hype, the noun, is defined this way: “exaggerated publicity or hoopla,” and can mean “a swindle, deception, or trick.” Hype, the verb, means “to create interest in by flamboyant or dramatic methods; to promote or publicize showily; to intensify by advertising, promotion, or publicity, or by ingenious or questionable claims or methods.” In other words, hype is “created” or drummed up, and is usually false and fraudulent.

All of the hype surrounding Manziel’s entry into the NFL has overshadowed his actual ability to perform at the next level. He played wonderfully for Texas A&M last year, but terribly last Monday night against the Washington Redskins, going 7-16 for 65 yards, with 3 sacks. Since he didn’t exactly light it up, and he’s not exactly meeting expectations, he will not be the starter for the Browns come September.

And if his poor performance wasn’t enough, for an encore, Manziel raised his middle finger toward the opponents’ bench as he returned to the huddle late in the third quarter of Monday night’s 24-23 loss. Truth be told, it was one of the few times a Browns QB actually found his intended target. “It does not sit well,” Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. “It’s disappointing, because what we talk about is being poised and being focused. That’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback.” Manziel called the moment a “lapse of judgment.” I call that declaration a denial, and the understatement of the year.

New names or nicknames are supposed to describe and define, not dupe and defraud. We should live up to our names, not play down to them. In other words, what people call us and conclude about us is indicative of our life and our lifestyle.

Facts and not hype should be what we are known for. Christians, above all other people of faith, should live up to the name we have been given. The New Testament book of Acts tells us that the followers of Jesus Christ “were first called Christians at Antioch.” Christian means “like Christ.” However, during the First Century, the term “Christian” was a derogatory term; a slight and a slur; an insult and an indignity; and it was a disgrace and a dishonor to be called a Christian by the World at that time. But have times changed?

Some overzealous Christians have “hyped” Christianity by preaching and purporting a Prosperity Doctrine. It’s a goofy gospel that says that as Christians we are always to be healthy and happy, wealthy and well-off, blooming and blossoming. By this standard, no Christian should ever have a bad day. Not true. We have created our own hype and can’t live up to it.

Erwin McManus said that “for those of us who live here in the Western World—and any place that has been affected by affluence, security, safety and comfort—there’s a sense where we begin to buy into a subtle theological lie that God promises us safety and security and comfort and wealth…the truth of the matter is that God has never promised us that we would always be secure or comfortable or become wealthy.”

God has promised us that He will be with us through every phase of life, in good times and in bad, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health; just like the marriage vows, God has promised to be with us through it all.

And so the question is, “Have we lived up to our name?” When we perform poorly and behave badly, when we teach wrongly and live imperfectly, we discredit our Lord, and bring shame to his name. So let’s forget the hype; let’s get back to being salt and light, to being cities on a hill, candles on a tall stick, so that men will see us trust God for everything and in everything.

Throw Like A Girl

Mone Davis

“A 2-hit, CG (Complete Game) shutout, with 8 K’s (strike outs).”

That’s news at any level. Only this time it’s not the majors, or even the minors for that matter; we’re talkin’ the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the pitcher is Mo’ne Davis. That’s right folks — that great pitcher we’re talking about is a girl.

Growing up in Philly, it was a cardinal sin for a boy to lose to a girl. It was a no-no to let a girl out-play, out-run or out-anything you in any sport. Girls were considered inferior, imperfect and incapable of competing with boys and thus were shut out. Girls were considered second-class citizens when it came to sports. Girls were not allowed to play in any games, much less any complete games, with their male counterparts. But that was then and this is now.

Now, there are two girls playing in this year’s Little League World Series: Philadelphia’s Mo’ne Davis and Canada’s Emma March. It is only the third time in the event’s 68-year history that two girls are playing in the same series. The first female to play in this tournament was Kathryn “Tubby” Johnston Massar who played in 1950, leading to a rule barring girls from playing. That rule was overturned in 1974.

“The legend of Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old girl with the 70-mph fastball, continued to grow Friday, as she became the first girl to throw a shutout in Little League World Series history. She might have grabbed the title of coolest kid in the world in the process, striking out eight and allowing just two hits while getting praised by the likes of Mike Trout and Lil Wayne.”

Wearing the Mid-Atlantic Region Jersey, Mo’ne handled the press like a seasoned veteran, as she helped her team to advance one step closer to fulfilling a dream that few boys, and much fewer girls for that matter, even dare to dream; winning the Little League World Series as a pitcher, and a dominant one at that.

I’m so happy for her. She’s from Philly — South Philly at that, and she has character and charm and charisma beyond her 13 yearling years. So let’s route for her and her team, for it seems that they have embraced her and encircled her and enriched her. And that’s wonderful to see.

Mo’ne Davis is a girl. And an African American girl at that, amongst a team of mostly white boys. She’s the talk of the town, the belle of the ball, and an inspiration and the motivation for thousands of youth athletes, everywhere. Now, especially because of her terrific talent and tenacity, and in spite of her sex and race, she’s not just a girl, she’s just one of the guys.