Friday, November 30, 2007

Boston: City of Champs or City of Chumps? Part 2

I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

The Patriots are not evil - at least not every single player on the team. And, hey, maybe Bill Belichick isn't so evil himself.

For those of you who didn't read my previous post- wondering out loud if the Patriots were poor sports, bad fathers, and chronic adulterers - I reflected upon that a few weeks ago. Initially I planned on writing a "Part 2" that talked about the Red Sox - a team that was supposedly cursed for 86 years but finally won a championship three years ago, and followed it up with another one this year. But something happened between then and now.

First of all, I read this article, which makes Bill Belichick appear a little more human, and a little more likable - not that I ever disliked him (the most amazing part of the article is the story about Belichick pulling over on the highway to help a motorist who flipped over. He was only one of two people that actually pulled over to help the person, though there were probably about 500 cars that drove by on the busy stretch of highway).

Though I will not excuse his character flaws, I have always believed he is a misunderstood person, who is super paranoid and self-conscious around people he doesn't feel "safe" with. Anybody who has ever had the chance to listen to him being interviewed on Monday afternoons on WEEI in Boston, knows that he lets his hair down and actually jokes around with people he knows. Why? Because he feels like he's in a "safe environment." In that regard, he's no different than most other people.

And then there's the event I just went to on Monday night. My wife, my dad, my cousin and I all got free tickets to the seventh annual "Athletes in Action," banquet, held at Gillette Stadium. This banquet honors athletes in Boston who display high Christian character. In particular, Heath Evans, who is a fullback for the Patriots, was given the "Ernie Tavilla Award." This award is given to the athlete who "demonstrates outstanding leadership and character on the field, in the home, and in the community." Past recipients have included Red Sox players Trot Nixon and Mike Timlin, as well as Patriots player Don Davis.

It was a very inspiring night. We had VIP tickets - worth $150 - which allowed us to get there an hour early and meet some of the players that were in attendance. We met and talked with Patriots Kyle Brady, Kevin Faulk and Billy Yates. I also got to meet former Red Sox legend Dwight Evans, and radio announcer Joe Castiglione. I talked with Castiglione for about 15 minutes. He's a very nice guy (pictured with me above). I grew up listening to him on the radio and, in fact, listened to him on the radio during this year's World Series race, since I don't have a TV.

All of these men are of fine Christian character, and they were very inspiring. We talked with Kyle Brady for about five minutes (pictured below). He was very personable and seemed like a very genuine man. I also spent a few minutes talking with Kevin Faulk, who I noticed was limping quite a bit. When I asked him if he was all right and going to be able to play this week, he said that he definitely would be able to. I read reports that he didn't practice yesterday, though!

Billy Yates is a very nice guy, and he made it a point to remember my name, as well as Camille's and Shannon's. He is from Texas and he talked with Camille a little bit about the fact that she went to college in Texas, though he, of course, had never heard of Southwestern Adventist University! He is a very nice and humble guy, though. Just seems like a "regular Joe."

Speaking of a regular Joe: Joe Castiglione also shared a lot about his faith, and the fact that he and Red Sox third baseman, Mike Lowell (the World Series MVP) go to church together every Sunday they're on the road. In fact, the day of game 4 of the World Series - which was a Sunday - Castiglione said that he, his wife, and Lowell went to church in Colorado. It just so happens that the priest was from Boston, and he asked the audience if there were any Red Sox fans in attendance. Castiglione and his wife raised their hands, but Lowell kept his hand down because he didn't want to make a big scene.

It is a funny little story, but cool to know that the day the Red Sox won the World Series, Lowell - who seems like an incredibly nice guy whenever I've seen him being interviewed - made it a point to be in church.

The most inspiring part of the night, though, was Heath Evans' acceptance speech. He brought up his Bible and talked for about 15 minutes, assuring us that football pails in comparison to knowing Christ. On his priority list, God is first, his family second, and football is somewhere way down there. Football is unfulfilling, he said, and most players - whether they're Christian or not - admit that. They are constantly searching for something more.

This is definitely evident in his quarterback, Tom Brady, who said a few years ago in an interview on 60 Minutes, "Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, 'Hey man, this is what is.' I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it's gotta be more than this. I mean this can't be what it's all cracked up to be. I mean I've done it. I'm 27. And what else is there for me?" The interviewer asked, "What is it?" And all Brady could say in reply was, "I wish I knew. I wish I knew." I'm sure Heath Evans, for one, is doing his best to try and model what it is that Brady is looking for by the way he lives. He may not proselytize in the locker room, but people see the way he lives and yearn for the same thing, no doubt.

Evans wanted to make sure that everyone at the banquet had a personal experience with Christ, and said that he was willing to stay until 2:30 in the morning to talk with anyone who didn't know Him. He opened his Bible and read a long passage of scripture - when Christ washed His disciples feet - and was blown away by the thought of God washing the feet of created beings. This inspires him. And it should inspire all of us as well.

No, Boston sports stars aren't perfect - and they are not the only athletes in America who display Christian character. But it's at least nice to know that some of the men I cheer for can be admired, and they are not afraid of pointing people to Christ.

For a few more pictures of the night, please check out this link.

Shannon and Camille, checking out a foggy Gillette Stadium.

Monday, November 26, 2007

All or Nothing

I've been going through the book of Luke for my personal devotion and study time. It's been a big blessing. In particular, this morning I came across a very simple yet profound description of Jesus' first encounter with Levi Matthew. After approaching Levi and saying, "Follow Me," Luke's next words are sobering.

Luke simply writes, "So he left all . . . "

And herein lies my problem. Could the same be said of me? "So he left all . . . "

Of course, as with a previous post, we must ask, "How much of 'all' is all?" Certainly we see he didn't leave his house, family or friends. The next verse tells us that he held a party in his house for Jesus, and invited all of his tax collector friends to party it up with them. Yet I'm quite sure that Levi left his livelihood behind. The millions of dollars that he illegitimately earned through fraudulent tax collecting were left behind. His wealth was no longer a priority.

I don't have millions of dollars stored away like Levi did, of course, but there are things in my life that I should naturally want to leave behind when Christ says, "Follow Me." You have the same, no doubt.

Yet something struck me as I ran through this little passage. How often do we make such a big deal when Christ asks us to follow Him, feeling as if we're losing out on something when we "leave all"?

I can't help but think of one of my favorite quotes in Steps to Christ. Ellen White writes, "But what do we give up, when we give all? A sin-polluted heart, for Jesus to purify, to cleanse by His own blood, and to save by His matchless love" (p. 46).

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me! We give Christ our sin, our unrighteousness, our filthy rags - and He gives us Himself. He clothes us in His perfect robe of righteousness - He places a Giorgio Armani suit on us - in exchange for the tattered and torn clothes that we are wearing.

Almost in anticipation of our incredibly confused minds, Ellen White goes onto say in the very next sentence, "And yet men think it hard to give up all! I am ashamed to hear it spoken of, ashamed to write it."

Luke didn't lose anything that day when he left all. He gained all.

And what about me?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How do you meet people?

I am one of those terrible people who has very few friends outside of the Seventh-day Adventist church. In fact, right now, I'm not sure that I would be able to name you one person that I would consider a very good friend, who is not an Adventist - or, at least was not an Adventist at one point.

Living in a town that is 40 miles from my employment doesn't help, either. The only real interaction I have with people in my town is at the Post Office, where I have to pick up my mail since I live too close to it for them to deliver my mail to my door (that seems kind of backwards - I would have thought they would force me to pick it up at the Post Office if I lived too far away).

Thus, I am petitioning all of my faithful readers to give me ideas as to how to simply meet new people, and just get to know them. I don't necessarily want to have an agenda, where I have to baptize them in the next three months. While I am not opposed to ultimately bringing them to a saving experience with Christ (assuming they don't already have one), I don't necessarily think that my interactions will be the, "Are you saved?" variety.

One thing that has always made me timid as well, is striking up a conversation with females. I am extremely paranoid and self-conscious of the possibility of looking like I am trying to "hit" on a lady, especially ones that are around my age. This is a very delicate issue.

So, please share some ideas with me. I am open to anything. While I consider myself to be a fairly outgoing person, this is one area that I struggle with. How does a person go from the casual, "Hi! How are you?" stage of interaction, to a deeper, "Tell me about yourself" stage, especially when the only real interaction you may have with a person is walking past them as you exit the Post Office, or buying a stamp from them?

Here is a quick snapshot I just took this morning, by the way, of our first real snow fall of the year. It's a wonderful time to be in New England!

Friday, November 16, 2007

What came first?

Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do God?

The other night at prayer meeting at one of my churches, we got to talking about forgiveness, an ever-present, ever-needed discussion. Although I wasn't leading out, it became apparent to me that a few people in the room were dealing with doubts about forgiveness in general, and God's forgiveness in particular.

Thankfully, a few of the other people wanted to assure the others in the room that if we just came to God, then He would forgive us. "We have to be repentant first, though," one said, "But God will definitely forgive us if we ask Him."

Ever-so-tactfully, I decided to interject and steer the conversation back to something Jesus did. As the Roman soldiers gambled over Jesus' garments, Luke tells us that Jesus looked down and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible, but the implications of it are incredible. Here were these men, gambling over Jesus' clothes, not the least bit repentant, yet Jesus had already forgiven them. The reality is, I told the people at prayer meeting, is that Jesus already forgives us even before we ever ask Him, or even before we are ever repentant.

This concept is scary to some people, I guess. One of the attendees, who was a visitor, seemed very uncomfortable with the idea. "No, we have to be repentant first before God can forgive us," he said. So then I asked him, along with everyone else, "Does God expect us to forgive each other, even if they don't ask for it, or are not the least bit repentant?" "Yes," came the response from everyone else, though this man didn't say anything. "Then why wouldn't we expect the same from God?"

The truth of the matter is, God's forgiveness towards us is dependent only on one thing - His cross. It is not dependent on my request, my repentance, my penance. It is only dependent on His objective accomplishment on Calvary.

Of course, you and I will never experience the power of that forgiveness until we come to a personal understanding of our wretchedness and our need for repentance. But, as Paul writes in Romans 2:4, even that repentance is a response to God's objective goodness that He has already accomplished and displayed on Calvary. "It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance," is how he puts it.

In light of God's ever-present forgiveness, we are drawn to His bleeding side, humbled by our desperate need for His cleansing grace.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Review of "The God Delusion"

H. Allen Orr has a very good critique of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The critique is very good, making many points that I would also bring up. If you've read the book, or even if you haven't, I would encourage you to check out the link.