God And No Sports

No baseball. No basketball. No hockey. No NCAA tournament. No college games of any kind. No high school competition anywhere. No sports. No sports at all.

But while we don’t have sports, we do have God and our faith in Him.

There are some things we just can’t do without.  Food, water, shelter, smartphones, Netflix, toilet paper — you know, all the basics. But with the onset of the horrid and heinous, worldwide COVID-19, Corona Virus Pandemic, we’ve learned that we’ve been obsessed with sports, and we took the presence of sports for granted — both at the same time. Sports is part and parcel of our daily lives. But what we thought we just had to have, we’re now forced to make do without. 

Sports provide community, unity, and the opportunity for social interaction on multiple levels. Sports and athletics, in their purest form, teach so many valuable life lessons. Most importantly, for the masses who participate in them, sports provide an acquired immunity from individual dysfunction and societal unrest.

At the micro level, exercising and keeping fit are now known necessities. Individual workouts and team sports are societal norms and are accepted as par for the course. And at the macro level, when a team wins a championship, the entire community comes together to celebrate. Two cases in point near and dear to my heart are Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs winning Super Bowl LIV and backup quarterback Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles winning Super Bowl LII.  These victories galvanized thousands if not millions around a sporting event, and the thrill of victory.

But there is a dark downside to sports. And this season, or this non-season of no sports, has borne this out like never before.

It’s been a hard lesson to learn. For one, I’ve learned how sports dependent I really was, and how sports dependent America sorely is. And we are all learning how emotionally unhealthy and psychologically unbalanced this dependency has made us. The stay at home order has revealed how unstable we have become with and without sports. Sports were our fix and our fancy, but without all those games we’re all going through a long and painful withdrawal.  

The next point is, for those who worship the true and living God, we believe that He is God and God alone, and beside Him there is none other. And with this supreme sovereignty and supremacy comes this warning of woe from the Lord: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

When you add it all up, the sum and conclusion is this: whether the sports world in general or Christians in specific want to admit it or not, sports have become a god. Actually, sports are more like an idol, something which is adored blindly and excessively. And throughout the Bible, God repeatedly reproved His people for worshiping idols. And now, for this generation, God is saying that this addiction to sports must stop. And it must stop now.

The 2020 Olympics have been moved to 2021.  Wimbledon has been canceled. Major League Baseball is wrestling with when (and if) to start the 2020 season. The National Basketball Association is deliberating over when or if to resume the current season. And the National Football League, the heavyweight and haymaker of U.S. sports, is grappling with the very real possibility that the 2020 season may be briefly shortened or severely curtained.  

The almighty dollar should not be the reason for resuming professional sports, but it seems that money is always the bottom line. Certainly everything associated with the games we watch contribute billions if not untold trillions of dollars to our economy worldwide. We know how the virus is adversely affecting life in general and the global bottom line. Thousands of lives have been lost. And at this writing, many more are still being infected. But at what point do we resume mass gatherings when we don’t have an antidote for this deadly disease?

My takeaway from the virus holding us at bay is this: I love God, and I must love Him and maintain my faith in more than I love and depend on sports. That’s it.  Sports cannot be a god or an idol or an infatuation over and above the Lord God Himself. It can’t, but I fear that sports has competed with my Lord and contented for my faith far and away more that it should.

For me, and dare I say for America, sports had become the walk off homer and the buzzer beater and the winning ace of our affection.  On many days and in many ways, sports succeeded in intercepting my thoughts and illegally holding my time and flagrantly fouling my spirit my when my heart belongs to heaven.

Only God in Heaven can do for us what we try to get sports to do, and that is to thrill and to chill and to fill our hearts with Him. Only God – God and God alone — can fill the void in us that needs to be filled. This virus has revealed our emptiness, and the only cure for our need to be filled is time with Him.

A Bad Day To Have A Bad Day

Image result for Lamar Jackson after loss to Titans

Lamar Jackson picked a bad day to a have a bad day. The presumptive MVP who lead the League in multiple categories and lead his Baltimore Ravens to a 14 – 2 record and the No. 1 seed in AFC laid a proverbial egg on Saturday night, AT HOME.  Jackson had three turnovers and was generally off and specifically  late and low and behind and beneath his normal level of play.

The Ravens fell to the the No. 6 Seed Tennessee Titans who shocked the football world by running all over the Ravens, both literally and figuratively.   The Ravens didn’t play very well, and the mistakes and miscues by the star quarterback wearing No. 8 didn’t help.

Lamar Jackson didn’t actually chose to have a bad day, and neither do we. Bad days just seem to happen. And bad days tend to happen at the worst of times. The key is how you react and respond to adversity. The Ravens were favored to win it all, and we all were looking forward to watching a Super Bowl with Lamar in it. But not this year. 

There’s no way to explain how and why Jackson has not performed in the playoffs two years in a row, but his Coach believes that he will rebound and return to form next year.  We all hope so. And Isn’t that just like life? We all need to rebound recover and bounce back and get back up and get back going after falling and failing. That’s why I’m rooting for Lamar Jackson, even if he’s out of the playoffs.

Here’s how the Baltimore Sun reported the story:

“BALTIMORE (AP) — With his bright red shoes and relentless running, Derrick Henry grabbed the spotlight and wouldn’t let go.

When he was done leading Tennessee into the AFC championship game Saturday night, he did a lengthy victory lap around the Baltimore Ravens’ home, slapping hands and taking selfies with Titans fans.

It has been quite a two-week ride.

“It’s not just me,” Henry said after rushing for 195 yards and throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass in a 28-12 upset of the NFL’s top team Saturday night. ”It’s a team effort. We’re all playing collectively as an offense, as a whole. We’re just locked in. We believe in each other. We communicate. It’s working out there.”

The Lamar Jackson who ran with abandon and threw 36 touchdown passes for the best team in the league failed to show up in the playoffs — again.

During his marvelous second season in the NFL, Jackson was an All-Pro quarterback who carried the Baltimore Ravens to the best record in the league. Jackson amassed the most yards rushing by a quarterback in league history and was the catalyst of an offense that led the NFL in scoring.

All of that — as well as Baltimore’s 12-game winning streak and home-field advantage — was irrelevant against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night.

Coming off a three-week break and looking appropriately rusty in doing so, an error-prone Jackson threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and didn’t get the Ravens into the end zone until the fourth quarter of a 28-12 defeat.

All season long, Jackson was intent upon erasing the memory of his rookie season, when he guided Baltimore to a 6-1 finish before faltering in the postseason opener at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. Jackson went 2 of 8 for 17 yards and an interception in the first half, and the Ravens trailed 23-3 in a one-and-out playoff performance.

It was Super Bowl or bust this time around, and Baltimore sure looked capable of making that happen. Jackson and the Ravens were virtually unstoppable over the final three months, slapping aside some of the best teams in the league with surprising ease.

That’s what made this game so darn surprising. Jackson did manage to rush for 143 yards, but most of that came in two chunks, a 30-yarder in the third quarter and a 27-yarder during Baltimore’s lone touchdown drive.

But twice he failed to convert fourth-and-1 runs, stuffed at the line of scrimmage on each occasion. Both times, the Titans went the other way for touchdowns.

Before this game, Baltimore was 8 for 8 on fourth-and-1 this season. Then again, very little that occurred during the regular season for the Ravens went right on this night.

Jackson’s 50th pass of the night, on fourth down in Tennessee territory with just over 4 minutes left, hit the ground with a thud. So, in fact, did Baltimore’s season.

He finished 31 for 59 for 365 yards. The main number, however, was the 12 points — Baltimore’s lowest output of the year.

Jackson doesn’t deserve all the blame for the collapse. Heck, the Ravens twice were penalized on punt returns without even getting their hands on the ball. And another All-Pro selection, Marcus Peters, was burned badly by Kalif Raymond on a 45-yard touchdown pass immediately after Jackson failed to gain the yards necessary to maintain possession.

“It only takes turning the ball over one or two times, a penalty here and a penalty there. All it takes is one loss and we’re done,” Yanda said. “That 14-2 stuff does not matter.”

How very true.”

Tragedy and Triumph

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Louisiana sports reporter Carley McCord is one of five victims killed in a small Lafayette plane crash on the way to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Saturday morning, December 28, 2019.

The triumph for LSU was tremendous, but they simultaneously experienced a tragedy that was equally traumatic. And such is life.

LSU defeated Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl on Saturday night, 63 – 28, as their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow set records for touchdowns and yards and just about everything else. It was an awesome, overwhelming, and overpowering win for Coach Orgeron and the LSU Tigers who have been ranked as the No. 1 college team in the country for most of the year.

But the thrill of victory was overshadowed by the agony of defeat. Earlier in the day, the team learned that offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger lost his daughter-in-law in a plane crash just hours before his team was set to take the field.

Carley McCord — who was also a New Orleans-based sports reporter — was among five people killed in Lafayette, LA Saturday morning as the private aircraft slammed into a parking lot and burst into flames in what’s said to have been an emergency landing after takeoff.

As believers, we are to weep with them that weep, and mourn with them that mourn. So we join with the LSU family as we pause to remember the life of a lady whose time was cut off far too soon. Yes we rejoice over the dramatic win, but let’s not forget that while we rejoice, our hearts are heavy as well.

Rest in peace, Carley McCord.

The Eagles Need A Christmas Miracle

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Do you believe in miracles?

The Eagles just got one, as they defeated the New York “Football” Giants, 23-17 in OT on Monday Night Football (in the rain, mind you!) at Lincoln Financial Field. After a dismal and tragic first half, the Eagles scored 20 unanswered points to pull out a thrilling, come from behind, turnaround, must win game.

Can a Christmas miracle come in four parts? If it can, the Philadelphia Eagles just got Act One. Shakespearean plays are divided into acts and scenes – and always have a Five Act structure, no exceptions. But for the Eagles, we’ll make an exception here, because they need just three more wins, or “Acts,” to win the Division.

Do you believe in miracles? After tonight’s win, you just have too. The Eagles season has been somewhat of a Shakespearean Tragedy, and the heartbreaking first three months of the 2019 season has felt like and has been full of calamity and catastrophe, just like Shakespeare would draw it up.

But that was then, and this is now. Now, with this win, the horrid and hideous opening of this season can now lead to a tremendous, comedic conclusion. The Eagles are now 6-7, a losing record not so far removed from their historic Super Bowl LII win.

For the Eagles to comeback from way back, you must believe in miracles. This season has had more than enough heartache and had looked like it will end in heartbreak before tonight’s miraculous and momentous end. If the Eagles win their remaining games, they win the NFC East and move on to the playoffs. But they will need a miracle to do it. And they just got part one, thanks to a touchdown from Wentz to Ertz in overtime

Do you believe in miracles? You must. Christmas is all about miracles. The miracle of the virgin birth paved the way for every other miracle, including the one we just got tonight.

Was I watching? No. I couldn’t bear to watch, so instead my wife and I had on a heartwarming miracle movie on the Hallmark Channel. Yes, the Hallmark Channel. After the Eagles were down 17-3 at the half, I tuned out and turned the game off. But they won without me. We got the miracle we needed to keep our playoff hopes alive.

Do you believe in miracles? Yes it takes faith and it requires hope. And you must love this Eagles team, warts and all. Yes, I believe in miracles. And if you’re an Eagles fan, you just have to.

Zach Ertz
Zach Ertz after the Super Bowl LII Miracle

Don’t Give Up On Your Team

Brett Brown
Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown doesn’t seem to have any answers as the Sixers have lost consecutive games twice early in the 2019-2020 season.

Do you pray for your favorite team? I need to. And I might need to pray for extra strength to continue to cheer for the home team. Because the Philadelphia 76ers are trying my patience and vexing my spirit. On paper, the Sixers are supposed to be better now than they were last season. That hardly seems to be the case.

Last season the Sixers finished strong, taking the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors to a Game seven in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. It all came down to a four bounce bucket by Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP, in a loss at the buzzer.

This season we don’t have Butler and Reddick but we do have Al Horford and Josh Richmond. Great! AND Simmons is supposed to have a jump shot. So what’s wrong?

So now I’m writing without shame or chagrin because there’s plenty wrong with this edition. I’m trying not to give up on my team. And of late, MY team, the Philadelphia 76ers, are sometimes hard to root for and thus easy to give up on. But that’s where faith hope and love come in. And since the greatest of these is love, we’ll have to focus on how much Philadelphian’s love their Sixers.

But first, let me get this out of my system:

As of this writing, early in this the 2019-2020 season, the Sixers’ just lost two in a row, last night to the 3-7 Oklahoma City Thunder and then Wednesday night to the then 3-7 Orlando Magic. The Sixers got us all happy and giddy as they began this season 5-0, but since then they’ve lost three in a row, then another two in a row. Over the last week, they have dropped 5 and won only 2.

As for the Orlando game, yes it was the second night of back to back games; no the Sixers didn’t have Embiid (he was “resting”); yes it was on the road; and, one more yes, it is still early in the season. But the playing and the coaching are wanting, as other teams seem to have figured “it” out, even in early November.

Here’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the Orlando loss:

“The Sixers (7-4) missed a lot of easy baskets in the fourth quarter, committed costly turnovers, and had a tough time defending. All those deficiencies were on display during the Magic’s game- clinching 16-4 run that gave them a commanding 102-89 lead with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining.”

THEN in Oklahoma City, the Sixers had a 9 point lead late in the fourth quarter but then managed to mismanage their time and their effort. The game went to OT and the Sixers got outscored, out muscled, out played and out coached in the extra session. Sound familiar? The story of the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid Sixers is sounding more and more like an old, broken record that no one wants to hear.

So what’s a fan to do? Can we “the people” fire Coach Brett Brown? We want to, but no. Can we the fans force Ben Simmons to shoot jump shots? Of course not. And can the Philly fan base limit Joel Embiid’s turnovers? Fat chance. All we the Philly faithful can do is root, root, root for our home team, and hope that the love we show them is reciprocated and turns into wins and a championship ring.

So that’s it. The bottom line is “Don’t give up on your team.” At the end of the day, Philly fans still love the Sixers AND the Eagles, even though they aren’t playing up to their potential.

It’s called grace. We all need it, but in order to receive it, we need to give it too.

Back In Philly, “Cholly” Is A Hit

Charlie Manuel

“Cholly” Manuel is back home in Philly and he’s making a big and immediate difference.

Charlie, aka “Cholly”  Manuel, will be beloved in Philly forever because he won us a World Series as manager of the Phillies in 2008 and led the team to five consecutive postseason appearances from 2007-11. In nine seasons as Phils’ skipper, he went 780-636, a .551 winning percentage, accumulating move victories than any manager in team history. And before he left town Cholly said “I’ll be Back!” Well not quite, but it makes for a good story.

Now Cholly is baaaaaack! He’s back as the Phillies hitting coach, replacing  John Mallee. Here’s what Ethan Witte and John Stolnis from SB Nation, a Philadelphia Phillies community, had to say about it all:

“That John Mallee has been replaced isn’t too much of a shock. Something had to be done as there was such a malaise surrounding the team, especially the hitters. The fact that Charlie Manuel is tasked with taking the reigns is the shocker. We’ve all known how much Cholly loves hitting. That the team knows this and recognizes not only his expertise, but realizes that something had to be done is absolutely huge. However, the questions this decision raises are fascinating.

Manuel is the most successful manager in franchise history and is a beloved figure in the city. How will he work with the current embattled manager, Gabe Kapler? Will Kapler feel threatened? Will Manuel get credit for turning the season around if the offense improves and the team starts winning? Is it smart for the Phils to turn to a more old-school baseball figure in an era when most teams are hiring young baseball minds?”

These are all good questions. The jury still might be out but the early election returns are in: in the Phillies last 4 games they’ve scored 30 runs, and they scored 11 against they’re old teammate, Cole Hammels. Not too shabby.

Yes, Cholly is back, and what a comeback. And talk about a turnaround! 

So, even at the tender old age of 75, Cholly is making a difference. And that means that you and I, at whatever younger age we are than Cholly, can make a difference too.

Anthony Davis Is A LA Laker

Anthony Davis-LeBron James

Well! That was fast. The ink is barely dry on the NBA championship certificates and teams – er, make that the Lakers team – is rushing in to pan for 2020 gold. In other words, the Toronto Raptors barely finished prying the Warriors’ fingers from the Larry O’Brien Trophy when the Lakers Organization proceeded to claim dibs on winning the 2020 NBA Title.

And here’s the news on the NBA’s latest blockbuster trade: This just in — The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed to trade the farm, er, make that the farm animals, for Anthony Davis. No offense to Brandon Ingram who is a legitimate, up and coming star, but Lonzo Ball is a bust, and Josh Hart is, well . . . just who is Josh Hart again? Anyway, the Lakers have come into this offseason looking and smelling like the city dump but will come out of this trade looking and smelling like a rose. For their part, the New Orleans Pelicans (I almost said the New Orleans Jazz – it just sounds better) – anyway, the Pelicans have the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and so getting Zion Williamson, for now — aka, on paper — is fair compensation for losing Anthony Davis.

We’ll see how this one works out. The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in six years. Six years. And this past year was LeBron’s first with the proud but now pitiful franchise which has had the offseason from hell. For the Lakers it’s been rough sledding. This past season, the saga has been sordid: Magic comes and then goes; Walton goes; potential coaches come and then go. The toasts of Tinsel Town couldn’t write a more soapy script.

But if — that’s IF —  the Lakers can pull off a turnaround next season, it will be one for the record books. And that’s the lesson. From the world’s perspective, if you just turn things around, you will be forgiven and all will be forgotten. It does not matter how bad it looks or how bad it gets, just turn it around. And all will be forgiven.

Spiritually, it works for us the other way. Just accept God’s amazing grace, and then He will turn you around and He will turn things around for you. All is forgiven when you accept his grace. Don’t try to do this at home; that is to say, don’t try to do this on your own. It takes the toast of Heaven, our Lord and Savior, to turn things around. It does not matter how bad it looks or how bad it gets, He can turn it around for you. He can and He will, if we trust Him and believe.