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.

Playing With Fire

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Is Ben Simmons Playing With Fire?

The Philadelphia 76ers are playing with fire. Principally, their all-stars, center Joel Embiid and guard Ben Simmons, are too good to be giving too little to the game. So said the beloved and behemoth NBA analysts on TNT, Shaquille O’Neal and former Philly great Charles Barkley. Both of these NBA icons played with fire. And Barkley and Shaq called both of these Philly young bucks out on their lax and lackadaisical performances in recent games on national TV this week.

First, let’s unpack the definition. On the one hand, playing with fire is not a complementary term. The Urban Dictionary says that “Playing with Fire” is “used primarily to advise someone against a course of action that may result in an unpleasing outcome either for themselves or others around them.” In other words, Simmons and Embiid have the potential to be great, but as they play with the fire of forlorn fecundity, they risk their reputations and the prospect of professional prosperity.

On the other hand, all of the Philly basketball greats played with fire. Dr. J, Moses Malone, Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain all played with fire. That’s the second meaning of the term. When you play with a fire in your soul, it consumes you to the point where you want nothing else but to win, by any means necessary. Playing with fire is a necessity, not a nicety. And the Philadelphia faithful expect nothing less than this fire that should burn every game, night in and night out.

Playing with an inner fire is contagious. It’s infectious. It can be transmitted to others in a good way. When a star player is on fire, it’s because he (or she) is playing with fire. Fire consumes and purifies. Fire illuminates and invigorates. Fire is a feeling of great warmth and intensity. When great players want to motivate their teammates, they often say, “Get Fired Up!”

And that’s today’s lesson folks. Saint’s and friends, if we are to be victorious and triumphant, we must play, and live, with fire. Fire in the form of fervent prayer and passionate praise will propel us and project us and eventually will promote us to the next level. Living with fire means that we will not accept anything other than spiritual success, because failure is not an option.

At one point, the prophet Jeremiah felt like throwing in the towel. He was a step away from quitting. But Jeremiah knew that even to think of quitting was playing with fire. Jeremiah knew that to even contemplate giving up was a course of action that would result in an unpleasing outcome for himself and for others around him. Instead of giving up, Jeremiah remembered that God’s Word was like fire shut up in his bones.

So let’s make a decision. Let’s not play around, like listless lackeys do. Let’s play with a fierce fire that will consume and engage us fully and destroy every opponent completely.

Let’s PLAY with fire!

Stephen Strasburg Just Got A $245 Million Payday: Miracle or Madness?

 

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Stephen Strasburg signs record $245 Million contract with 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals.

It’s a miracle that the Washington Nationals won the 2019 World Series. The madness is that they had to pay their ace, MVP pitcher Stephen Strasburg, $245 Million dollars to stay with the team. I say they “had to,” because if they didn’t, another team would. That much mula is mad money, no matter how you slice it.

Stephen Strasburg just cashed in. But I’m not hattin’.  He had a great year and won his team the World Series, so he deserves to be rewarded. But MAN!  Salaries in professional sports continue spiral up and out of control, with no ceiling in sight. That’s madness. Why on God’s green earth does free agency cost so much?

The miracle could be how these exorbitant salaries will be used by those who are blessed with them. The moral of the story is this: those who are rich are charged not to trust in wealth, but in God.  Paul instructed Timothy to “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” 1 Tim 6:17, NIV

So, since we can’t stop the ever increasing rise of riches in this world, especially in the world of sports, let’s collectively use it to our advantage. Let’s turn a possible negative into a positive. No we can’t spend Strasburg’s money, but we can encourage him to give back. Money is not bad, but loving money above God and all else is.

Now, where were we? Oh yes, Stephen Strasburg and the $245 Million his Washington Nationals just gave him, as the defending champions brought back their World Series MVP.  Here’s how one sports writer put it:

“Well, the hot stove is officially lit. An eye-popping $245 million deal for ace Stephen Strasburg to return to the Nationals got the fun started on the first day of baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego.”

“Stephen Stasburg just signed the largest ever contract for a pitcher in both total and average annual value ($35 million). Former Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole is expected to surpass both of those numbers this offseason, but Strasburg still projects as the highest-earning pitcher in major league history. His career earnings will come out to just over $361 million when this contract ends.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/12/09/stephen-strasburg-contract-nationals/

And here’s ESPN’s David Schoenfield’s gut reaction to the question, “Do you like this deal for the Nationals?

“Hey, it’s not my money! This guy just carried your team to a World Series title, but that’s also a very large chunk of change for a pitcher who just topped 176 innings for the first time since 2014. There’s nothing wrong with bringing him back and continuing to construct your team around the big three of Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.”

I’m happy for Strasburg. I am. And I hope he goes on to have many more productive seasons. With that, even though I’m a Phillies fan, go NATS!

Good On Paper

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At the beginning of the 2019 season, Philly fans said that Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles looked good on paper.

 This blog was originally entitled, “Don’t Give Up On Your Team, Vol. II, a.k.a., ‘What’s With Wentz?’  Instead, “Good On Paper” says it all.

At the beginning of the 2019 season, the Philadelphia Eagles looked good on paper. They had speed at the wide receiver position in DeSean Jackson, they had depth on defense, and — ahem — presumably they had a healthy Carson Wentz, our franchise quarterback, ready to return to his vintage form. But that was then, And THAT was on paper.

Carson Wentz had arguably his worst game as a professional yesterday as the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Seattle Seahawks, 17-9.  Wentz committed five, count’ em, FIVE turnovers, and lost four, with two interceptions and two fumbles.  Two words immediately come to mind: unbelievable and unacceptable.

Dude.  Brother.  Homie. I mean really? Seriously? C’mon Man! Man up, settle down, bring her in and get the lead out.  Wentz, you are better than this. But you’re not showing it. And the Philly Faithful is holding out hope that you will return to the MVP form you had at the beginning of the 2017 Super Bowl Season. Did I mention the Super Bowl LII win? Surely I digress, Yes, Philly fans are still holding on and holding out for a repeat performance from our wonderful Wentz of a quarterback. But Man! Is this guy making it hard or what?

For the Philadelphia Eagles, to say that this season has not gone according to plan is putting it mildly.  The Eagles are a paltry and pitiful 5-6, and there are at least two games that we’ve, I mean THEY, have lost early on in the season that should have gone the other way.

But some say that there’s still hope. Some say that the Eagles still have a chance (a fat one?) at winning the Division, the NFC East. The Eagles have a light schedule against pancake teams the rest of the way, such as Miami, the Giants TWICE and the Redskins. But there is no guarantee that things will get better.  Based on Carson’s play yesterday, things could absolutely, utterly and totally go from bad to worse. There is no guarantee that these Eagles, or more specifically, Carson Wentz, will right the ship and earnestly and honestly content for a crown, this year or even next.

But we must not lose hope in our team, right? We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and we must not jump to conclusions, right? But we also must lift our faith from the pages of the Bible to the table or our hearts. Faith without works is dead. And thus far this season, this Eagles team has given us little faith and less to work with. 

ON PAPER, we should still hold out and hold on to hope: Here’s how heavy.com put the Eagles chances:

“The Eagles’ record stands at 5-6, while the Cowboys dropped to 6-5. It’s a one-game difference with five games to play. The way the Birds have played in recent weeks leaves room for doubt. Maybe their offense can’t score enough points to even win another game. Hold on. Look at their remaining schedule.

Philadelphia has the 12th-easiest schedule the rest of the way, according to Team Rankings. Their opponents’ records are a combined 18-41 while the Cowboys still face stiff tests against the Bills (8-3), Rams (6-4) and Bears (5-6).

(On paper,) the Eagles should reel off three straight wins starting this week in Miami, with a showdown at Lincoln Financial Field versus Dallas on the horizon in Week 16. That game would likely decide the NFC East. As bad as Philadelphia has played, (on paper), it’s all in front of them.”

In other words, the Eagles have a chance of making the playoffs, as their chances of winning the Division are good, but they’re only good on paper.

Good on paper. For more than a few folks, everything adds up, on paper.  It’s sad to say, but most of the majority of mankind (in the West, at least) may well have it all together, on paper. That’s what some people are like. They appear good and they show well. They have a good job, they drive a nice car and they live in a big house in a nice neighborhood. They may even go to church, but that’s all on paper.  

Truth be told, some Christians look good, but just on paper. They do the right things, use the right words, and give the right answers. They look nice and shiny on the outside. They go to church every week; they may even sing on the choir or play on the keyboard or even unlock and lock the church doors. They may serve as an usher or a deacon or a Sunday school teacher. They may even preach in the pulpit. But that’s all on paper.

Real people are more than the sum of their parts on paper. How do they actually live? What’s actually in their heart? And why do they do what they do? What is their motivation and inspiration for life?  Do these “good on paper” people actually believe that Jesus Christ is the center and focus of our life of faith?

Alright enough; enough about those “good on paper” patsies. How about you? Does Christ  dictate what you do and what you say? Are you authentically altruistic, genuinely genial and wholeheartedly wholesome?

This Christmas, let’s do better than be good on paper.

Let’s be true for real.  

The Washington Nationals Will Win the 2019 World Series!

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WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 1: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after hitting a single to right field to score 3 runs off of an error by Trent Grisham #2 of the Milwaukee Brewers during the eighth inning in the National League Wild Card game at Nationals Park on October 1, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

That’s right folks, you heard it here first on Godandsports.net. The Washington Nationals, the wildcard, come from behind, long-shot, underdog of underdogs team of the century are about to pull off one of the most absurd and illogical upsets of all time.

These Washington Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card Playoff game. They then beat the juggernaut LA Dodgers in Game 5 in LA in extra innings to win the NLDS, THEN they swept the St. Louis Cardinals right of the NLCS in dramatic fashion. Are you out of breath yet?

Now the Washington Nationals are up 2 -0 against the highly favored and favorite Houston Astros.  They won Games One and Two on the ROAD! They beat two of the best pitchers in baseball, Gerrit Cole 5-4 in the opener and then blasted Justin Verlander 12-3 the very next night, to take a commanding two games to none lead into Game 3 at home at National’s Park.

This will be one for the ages if they can pull it off. Their ace pitchers, Max Sherzer and  Stephen Strasburg, did what they had to do and held the Astros hitters to seven runs in two games. Not bad, especially when your young guns such as Juan Soto are playing lights out, hitting the ball out the park at will.

The Washington Nationals have will and grit and guts and nothing to lose.  Nothing. They’re playing with house money, and they’ve proven that they can beat the best of them. Now what’s left to do but win it all?

Over the next several blogs we will examine the storied playoff road that these 2019 Washington Nationals have traveled, and analyze how to apply what they’ve done and hopefully repeat the same. What lessons can we learn from these 2019 Nationals for our everyday lives? Faith to believe, hope to archive, and love to hold it all together.  That’s what the Nationals have, and that’s what we need too.

Stay tuned . . .

Go NATS!

Bianca Andreescu: The New Tennis Queen

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Bianca Andreescu is now a princess bride. Almost overnight, Andreescu went from princess to queen, from an unknown to being well know. She went from the bottom of the heap to the top of the hill. Her’s is a rags to riches sports story for the ages. In Andrescu, we see that the little Davids are still conquering the giant Goliaths of sports, and it gives us the hope and the heart to do the same. Here’s what sports writers wrote about her epic performance this year:

“What impresses you most about Andreescu? There are so many choices. Power. Athleticism. Strategy. Toughness. Winner’s mentality? Which one did Andreescu use to win?

I resist choosing one, because there’s interplay between all the things you just mentioned. But I remain dumbfounded by the way the final played out. Truth serum: when Andreescu failed to convert that match point at 6-2, 5-1 and suddenly the score was 6-2, 5-5—with the Mighty Serena Williams awoken; a crowd of 24,000 squarely partial to the veteran player; a transformative moment seeming to have passed—I had existential concerns. My thought process: “Serena is going to win the match now, and tie the record. The crowd will go wild and this will be an incredible, indelible moment, a fitting coda to Serena’s career.”

https://www.si.com/tennis/2019/09/11/tennis-mailbag-us-open-rafa-nadal-bianca-andreescu

But it didn’t happen. Here’s what did happen, according to the New Yorker:

“In her 2019 U.S. Open Victory, Bianca Andreescu showed us the swagger that Serena Williams brought to women’s tennis.

Before 2019, Bianca Andreescu was mostly unknown. She began the year ranked No. 152 in the world. But, ever since, she has defeated some of the best players in the world, demonstrating a stunning array of skills—flat, deep ground strokes topping out at close to ninety miles per hour; moony topspin shots designed to disrupt the rhythm of her opponent; nasty skidding slices and delicate drop shots—and the intelligence, imagination, and audacity to use them effectively. She exposed Kerber’s defense-minded game, which Kerber has used to win three grand slams, as one-dimensional. More than that, though, she showed self-assurance—the kind of competitive intensity and unapologetic swagger usually reserved for a few legends of the game. She carried herself more like Serena Williams than like what she was: a teen-ager with a wild card.

That shoulder problem turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. Andreescu had to retire from her fourth-round match in Miami. After pulling out of her second-round match at the French Open, still struggling with the injury, she missed the entire grass season. Then she returned to tour—and promptly won the Canadian Open. She has not lost a completed match since March 1st. She has never, in her career, lost to a top-ten player. (She is now 8–0.) And, on Saturday, she defeated Williams in dramatic fashion, 6–3, 7–5, to win the U.S. Open.

That was part of the story of the women’s final. There was also the player on the other side of the net. Williams came into the match just having won her hundred and first match at the U.S. Open. She was seeking her twenty-fourth grand-slam title, which would tie her with Margaret Court’s total—a record that, given the number of titles Court won in Australia, against weaker fields, only means anything because it seems to have become a strange sort of stumbling block for Williams. Since coming back last year, after giving birth, she has made four slam finals. The over-all level of the tour had risen in her absence, and yet no one else could claim that kind of consistency. But the finals matches themselves have been another story. She had yet to win a single set in any of those matches.

This time, though, there was an air of inevitability about her. She had played well all tournament, starting with a sharp performance against her favorite honing steel, Maria Sharapova, and including an utter dismantling of Wang Qiang, in forty-four minutes, in the quarter-finals, and an even more impressive win against Elina Svitolina, in the semifinals. It wasn’t solely the show of her usual power, which few players can match. She was also fit in a way that she hadn’t been since recovering from the difficult birth of her daughter, which was followed by a string of injuries.

In this final, her movement—not only forward and back but side to side—was finally there, both steady and explosive. Against Svitolina, who has risen into the top five on the strength of her ability to extend points, Williams was actually the superior mover, and won the majority of their long rallies. She had, too, a calmness about her that had often seemed lacking during her comeback.

As a cultural icon—as an inspirational figure, as a brand—Williams has never been bigger, but during the finals matches her aura had seemed diminished. She has won countless matches in her career by imposing herself before the first serve was even struck, but her past four finals opponents had come out obviously feeling less pressure than her. This was understandable, given what she was up against—not only her opponent but also the expectations, even the assumptions, of millions, most of all herself. But, during this tournament, the confidence seemed back. Her first serve, always the most important weapon, was humming at high speeds; the tuning fork seemed to be struck.

It wasn’t that Andreescu was oblivious to any of this; she knows the legend of Williams as well as anyone. There was never a time, in fact, during Andreescu’s life when Williams wasn’t winning; Williams won her first U.S. Open title before Andreescu was even born. Andreescu admitted to being nervous before the match. But she seemed more concerned with her own inevitability. She really did carry herself like a queen.

Williams began the match with an ace, but Andreescu was unphased. She put pressure on Williams’s serve with heavy, attacking returns. “I think she was intimidated a little bit by it,” she said afterward—not something I can remember anyone saying about Williams, ever. But perhaps she was right: Williams double-faulted twice to give Andreescu the first break. From there, Andreescu seemed only to get stronger. She used big body serves to bail her out of trouble—much the way Williams always has. She used the depth of her ground strokes to set up sharp angles or rockets down the line. She set patterns and broke them, and seemed to unsettle Williams, who put only forty-four per cent of her first serves into play and finished with eight double faults. Williams’s footwork was off. Andreescu’s shouts of “Let’s go!” and “Come on!” echoed strangely in the silent stadium. She reached her first championship point up 5–1 in the second set. It seemed, for a moment, hard to watch.

But Williams, ever the competitor, fought back. She saved championship point with a forehand into the corner, and then started to move. Andreescu was the one then whose racquet looked heavy, her swings slower and her serves starting to miss. Williams levelled the score at 5–5, lifted by and in turn lifting a raucous crowd—which was so loud, and so much in Williams’s favor, that at one point Andreescu covered her ears to try to block it out.

Another young player might have cracked at that point, watching such a lead slip away, playing passively, while knowing what Williams can do when she finds her form. Andreescu, though, settled herself, held serve, and broke to win the match.”

https://www.newyorker.com/sports/sporting-scene/in-her-us-open-victory-bianca-andreescu-shows-the-swagger-that-serena-williams-brought-to-womens-tennis

Wear Heaven’s Helmet!

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I’m not going to complain about my helmet.  It keeps me from injury, it is issued by the “League” of Heaven, the Holy Trinity – a.k.a., the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and I really can’t do any better. So why is Antonio Brown aggrieved that he can’t wear his own, personal, ten year old helmet?

According to ESPN, “Brown prefers to wear his older helmet, believed to be a 10-year-old Schutt Air Advantage model, which is no longer made by the company and, thus, no longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment. He has tried the new certified helmet out and believes it protrudes out and interferes with his vision as he tries to catch the football.” Really?

We need to wear our “League” issued and “League” approved helmets. The Bible speaks of the “Helmet of Salvation.” Without salvation, we are doomed to death and destruction, because sin is real and hell is hot. We need to be saved from our sins and delivered from our debauchery. Without deliverance from bondage and the dismissal of all charges against us, we are all doomed to a devil’s hell. And our only Savior is Jesus. We can’t invent our own “personal” helmets of salvation. That won’t work with the “League.”

The reference to a helmet is an apropos analogy for what we need to protect our heads and our minds from getting rattled and shaken and banged up and beat down. The Greek word for helmet means to “encircle the head.” In other words,  in this spiritual battle we wage everyday, we must employ the weapons of our warfare. And the helmet is the armor we must use to protect our heads, the seat of our intellect and intelligence, at all cost. If our minds are not right, usually we are not right. So we must protect our heads with the equipment God gave us; salvation.

Without the helmet of salvation, we would get our bells rung. This is a football term which refers to when a player undergoes such a huge blow to his head that he can hear a ringing noise between his ears. In life, we suffer anxiety and stress and strain and trauma when we don’t rely on God for everything. Salvation is not just a ticket to Heaven; it’s a permit for abundant life right here and right now. Salvation is our assurance that a healthy and wholesome life can be lived here on earth.

Your life need not be a living hell; it only is because you haven’t put on the helmet of salvation. Don’t take God’s provision for granted. Don’t take your salvation for granted. Put on the helmet of salvation today, and keep it on.

It will save your life.