Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March Madness

Spring is here!  Well, almost here...for most of the country.  Here in Wyoming that means we have at least 2 more snow storms to survive by the time summer rolls around...in July.  But the other thing Spring brings for the sports lover is a little bit of everything.  A little baseball, a little playoff push in hockey and NBA basket ball, a little NFL free agency, mix in some NCAA spring practices, then add in a lot of NCAA basketball.  Take your pick, it is the buffet of sports.  Something for everyone.  A plate of your favorite dish followed by a small dish of your favorite dessert.  It's like walking in to Golden Corral where you can get the hot buffet or the salad buffet.  No matter the decision you have to get the dessert buffet to accompany anything you get.  Pot Roast, beef brisket, potato soup, some green beans and the always healthy garden salad fill you up quickly.  But that can always be topped with a bowl of ice cream with hot fudge, nuts,sprinkles and a cherry on top of a chocolate chip cookie.  That is what a sports fan faces the entire month of March.

Spring Training may have started in February, but the games started this month.  Any pure baseball lover will try to convince you that watching these games are just as good as anything, especially when they haven't watched any baseball since October.  Yeah, these people are kinda nuts, maybe a little strange, but it is their sport and for them, something is better than nothing.

For the NFL fan, they have the combine - an annual collection of draft hopefuls attempting to show off their skills to scouts to improve their chance of getting drafted.  Then they have free agency, a hope that their team improves its chances of winning the Super Bowl, or a hope to not have to endure more players leaving their team and increasing the likelihood of another year of sucking.  March also provides a month or so of preparing for their draft parties.  Fans can only dream of their team picking that one guy who will put the franchise on their shoulders and lead the team to the promise of winning the Lombardi Trophy.  Yes, these types of fans redefine the word fanatic.

Next you have the NBA and NHL seasons in full swing. Their All-Star games long past, trade deadlines with all the trades made are over, and now fans and teams look towards the playoffs.  With teams firmly locked into the playoffs, a lot of the focus goes to those teams fighting to get into the post season fun. Teams residing at the bottom of each league can only hope of a better year next year. But, until the playoffs start, most casual fans wait until April to pay attention to much of what's going on. Yes, there are exceptions, but reality for me says nothing is important until the playoffs.
But, March brings out a certain Madness in nearly every fan. Even the most casual fan takes an interest in college basketball. From friendly wagers to office pools with large sums of money up for grabs, nearly everyone is focused on College Basketball.  So much attention is paid to this time of year, even urologists have noticed an increase in vasectomy procedures done the Monday - Wednesday of the first weekend of the tournament (guys, you get it, gals, just use your imagination).  I even know moms that tell their kids to leave them alone until April.  This is indeed the apex of College Basketball.

The highs, the lows and all the in between of watching March Madness.  Fans and casual observers pick 63 games before the first teams hit the hardwood.  There is hope in selecting the winners of these games and being perfect in those selections.  Then, once the first game starts, and that first upset happens, everyone (or nearly everyone) sees the error of their ways in selecting "that team they didn't trust to begin with."  It was these emotions that not only did I experience this year (and every year) that it hit me.  

How can I expect...or even hope to pick 63 games perfectly?!?!?  C'mon man!  Think about it!  What are the odds that someone picks every game correctly.  In all my years, I've only known of 1 person being perfect in their picks.  Aside from that one example, when has anyone ever been perfect in anything?  Again, I've only known one person that can claim perfection.  His name is Christ.  And until I can claim being Christ, I will never pick a perfect bracket for the Big Dance.  Will someone else pick the bracket perfectly during my lifetime?  Maybe, but I don't expect so.  Another reality with the imperfection of picking the perfect bracket - I'll never win an office pool, an ESPN or Yahoo challenge nor the million dollars that come along with any of these wins.

I'm okay with not winning, I'm okay with not being perfect, and I'm thankful I don't have to live up to the expectations of that perfection.  I'm thankful I know the only one person who has been perfect.  

Oh, and yes, my bracket this year was toast after the first round of play in the tournament.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

One Team, One Body and a Strange Competition

The spirit of victory and the agony of defeat is felt daily in sports.  The catch phrase was used for many years by ABC during the opening of its "Wide World of Sports" broadcast.  In their opening, they used images of the agony and joy from both team and individual sport.  They made certain those watching could rest assured that no matter what occurred on the broadcast, you would feel emotion along with the athlete(s).  To this day, I still see a tumbling ski jumper every time I think of the agony of defeat.

Sadly, this is what the church today is beginning to look like.  Well, maybe look like just a little.  Seriously, I'm not joking.  The church is following in the footsteps of society in more ways than one, and somehow we have to fix this.  More than divorce, greed, gossip, pornography, apathy, self gratification and hypocrisy, I'm talking about competitiveness.  No, being competitive is not wrong (just sit at the table when my family is playing cards and you'll see how competitive one can get).  Being competitive can produce good results when applied at the right times.  It can make people stronger mentally and physically.  It will make a team work that much better together.  It can be the iron that sharpens iron.  But, competitiveness can also tear down a team when egos start getting in the way.  Competitive coaches on the same sideline might accidentally step on each other in hopes of making their players better, all the while destroying comradery.

How is this relevant to the church?  Bear with me for a second.  Before I explain, take a second and think about your church, your youth group, your favorite artist, your local concert promoter or anyone else in your circle that influences your community.  What are they doing to influence the community.  How well are they playing with others?  Is it just them in their sand box?  Or, are they working with others to build the sand castle in the sand box?  Not sure?  I'll give it to you that you may not know.  You may be in a spot where you don't see or hear about those influencing your church community.  Or, maybe you are that person and have never thought about how you are playing in the sand box.  For me, I have thought about it a lot recently, based on what it is I do for a living away from my job that keeps a roof over my head.

Let me start the explanation by confirming my imperfection.  This is something I need to work at a lot, and hopefully my thoughts will encourage others to think about their place in building the church as a whole, and not just their ministry.  This reflecting came via a source I wouldn't have ever imagined.  Thank you Natalie Grant.

A while back, Natalie posted about the competition aspect regarding some of the things that were said to her by leaders in the Christian community.  When I read this, I was naturally floored.  But, upon second look, I began to realize this is something that happens every day in Cheyenne and across the country.  I can see it and hear it in the words and actions of those I listen to.  There are youth pastors here in Cheyenne I see this in them.  Senior pastors aren't exempt.  Nope, they have to have their youth, their congregants, their events, etc. and make sure that they do it better than everyone else in town.  They "have" to give their lessons/sermons just to prove they can preach/teach better than the pastor down the street.  Their outreach events are great, but the Baptist church has to be bigger and better than the Nazarene church that is bigger than the Methodist church.  And so the cycle goes no matter the church, band, promoter, guest speaker or youth conference.  Everybody has to "win."

I implore you though to think about why The Church would be in competition with each other.  Last I checked, we are a body.  One body, Christ's body.  If we are one body, then indeed we should be working for the common good.  So what if each part of the body operates semi independently, it is still God in control.  Take for instance your local high school basketball team.  They practice tirelessly before the season starts, and then every day there is no game.  Before the season, they run 5 on 5 drills to get into the game mode.  Then, once the season starts, even though not as much, they still have intrasquad games.  Additionally, they have a scout team that runs their opponents offense and defense to simulate a game.  Not once do these kids have a win at all cost mentality when going against their team mates.  Sure, before the season these games may have an incentive if they win, but the coaches make sure that tempers are maintained and there are no fouls that are harmful.  If sports teams can do this (with a few instances as an exception), then why can't The Church act more like sports teams?

One body, one team, that is what the church is to be.  So, instead of competing, shouldn't we be cheering each other on?  When we go to a concert that we love, shouldn't we be prepared to go to a concert where we may not like the music, but we go just because it is the right thing to do, and the ministry is just as good as the band we do like?  If the Nazarene church has a Thanksgiving outreach, shouldn't we support that through sharing despite the fact we go to the Assembly of God church on the other side of town?  If the Berean church had a weekend youth event that saw 20 youth have their lives radically changes, shouldn't we celebrate that even though we attend the Missionary Alliance Church?  If we listened to Paul and his writing in Phillipians 1:15-21, we would realize that petty competition isn't what we should be concerned about.  Our concern should be like that of the shepherd, find the one even if it means leaving ninety-nine.

I'm guilty.  I have failed many times over in being competitive.  As a promoter, a music fan, a youth director, I have failed.  I say I want others to succeed, but not always have I actually put my words into practice and supported.  I try, just as much as others try.  Trying though isn't always good enough, especially when there is no action.  I commit to fix this personally.  I challenge you to fix this as well.  Let's be intentional to support each other.  Let's cheer on our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Go to the concerts that you may not like the music, simply so you can support the ministry of the promoter and the band.  Go to an Easter production at a church you don't attend so you can show their pastor there is not competition between you and them.  If you attend a church that isn't down the street, cool, but when your neighborhood church has an outreach, stop by and introduce yourself. Surprise that church by your presence.

Remember, you don't have to like or agree with how people have that radical encounter with God, you just have to like the fact that heaven gains another citizen.  Each church, pastor, band, promoter, evangelist, etc. has their own methods.  They do the best they can.  Let them do their best, and lets promise to do our best to support their best.  Remember, they may be the hands while you and I are the toe nails of this awesome body of Christ.