A tarnished reputation is difficult to overcome. Just ask the Boston Red Sox or the New England Patriots. Along with Lance Armstrong, Rosie Ruiz and Tonya Harding, they have found themselves labeled as cheaters within our current zeitgeist. Just this week, the Red Sox field manager, Alex Cora mutually agreed to part ways after Cora’s name was linked with an elaborate sign-stealing scandal while he served as bench coach with the Houston Astros. This follows a report a few weeks ago that the Patriots were found recording the sidelines of an opposing teams during an NFL game (12 years after being punished for gaining an advantage by acting the same way). The home teams are a bunch of cheaters, calling into question the legitimacy of their championship titles.
Would the Patriots have won all those Super Bowls without that unfair advantage of knowing plays the opposition was planning before they were executed or modifying the air pressure of footballs? Would the Red Sox have won the World Series in 2018 had they not stolen signs and known the pitches they were facing before they were thrown? Sadly, sports fans in Boston can never know for sure. History is now tainted. Reputations are now tarnished. The critics are justified in questioning the integrity of the coaches and key players. The city’s sports heroes will be subject to the consequences of dishonesty for the foreseeable future.
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Luke 19:8 (NIV)
Not surprisingly, the Bible has an ample supply of examples illustrating that cheating is wrong, whether it be swapping out an inferior sacrifice for a suitable one or moving a boundary line or tipping the scales to gain a small advantage. I would argue that Zacchaeus is a prime specimen of the ‘cheater’. Perhaps he contended that everyone was doing it, that it was acceptable to skim a bit off the top of all those tax payments he had received. But that rationale did not mean it was the right thing to do. God’s design and order for human interaction dictates our fair and equitable engagement with others.
In this way, Zacchaeus’s life story becomes a cautionary tale; if you cheat people you will be hated by nearly everyone around you. But Zacchaeus’s response to grace also becomes a template for all of us with a less-than-stellar reputation; after being confronted with his wrong-doing, he acted in repentance, showed regret and offered restitution. Almost immediately after witnessing the love of Christ, he changes the trajectory of his life; after years of focusing on selfish gain, he gives half of his accumulated wealth to others. Then he characterizes himself as a cheater, owning and admitting his sin. Finally, he compensates those he cheated sacrificially.
So, how does one overcome a tarnished reputation? Follow the biblical example of the wee and greedy tax collector. Admit your sin, change your priorities and repay what has been taken away. I hope we all can learn from the public fall from grace of our professional sports teams.
There are a whole bunch of people around me who are acting like the prophet Jonah, as recorded in Jonah 4 (Jonah is despairing to the point of death over the withering of a weed as he witnesses the repentance of the people of Nineveh). Like the Old Testament prophet, they are disappointed that things did not go their way, pouting due to a perceived personal slight and an actual adversary’s blessing. These community members are distraught over the Patriots’ early exit from the NFL playoffs – not that they had a losing season (they won three times the games they lost this season) or failed to make the playoffs (unlike 20 other teams), but that they simply did not advance to the Super Bowl.
Instead of rejoicing in the blessing that the home team has appeared in nine or the last eighteen Super Bowls, they are mourning their demise; they might find partners in commiseration in fans of the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars or Houston Texans, who have never been to the championship game. Instead of reflecting on the good times experienced in six NFL titles (and six more by the professional sports teams in the Boston area), they disparage the players and coaches; I suggest these sentiments not be shared with the fans of the Vikings, Bills, Bengals, Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals, Titans or Chargers, who have never won a single Super Bowl.
As human beings, we are susceptible to the temptation of maximizing our self-importance and minimizing the value of others. We expect our lives to be a series of progressive blessings and we resent when others are blessed besides us, or – the horror – instead of us. Jesus share a parable about it when he shared the story of a vineyard manager who paid the first workers in the field (who worked a full day) and the last workers (who worked less than an hour) the same amount. Can you imagine? Those first workers (who we naturally identify with) got what was fair; the last workers (slackers if you ask me) received way more than they deserved. Jesus concludes his object lesson with the response of the vineyard foreman:
“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ Matthew 20:15 (NIV)
As a fan of the New England Patriots, I have been compensated handsomely over the past nineteen seasons. And the greater truth remains that God can (and does) bless others with compensation just as handsome as mine. There will be a new champion in a new town – maybe Minnesota, Nashville or Houston for the first time – and I am good with that. I am glad that God is so generous. And know this: His generosity is not limited to football games but extends to every area of life. We are wise to rejoice with those who rejoice instead of mourning that it is not our day in the sun. And who knows, maybe Duck Boats will still carry a champion (the Bruins, Celtics or Red Sox) this year!
I had the great privilege last Thursday of joining my oldest son in celebrating his birthday by going to Gillette Stadium in order to watch the Patriots compete against the New York Giants. Neither of us had ever seen the Patriots play anywhere other than on television. It was, in many ways, an unforgettable experience. We got to see Tom Brady’s completion to Sony Michel, making him the quarterback with the second-most passing yards in NFL history; we got to see a punt blocked and passes intercepted; we got to see a win and the team we root for remain undefeated. We got to see it all. And it was glorious…mostly.
The traffic getting to the game was heavy. We followed the back roads, knowing the highways would be crammed. As we approached Foxboro, we were greeted with brake lights and orange cones. We crept, along with hundreds of other cars, toward the parking lots. Finally, we arrived in Lot 50, a quarter of a mile walk from the stadium.
The costs attributable to the game (tickets, parking and concessions) were substantial. We paid $30 for parking and much more for second-market tickets. We walked past the concession stands and decided to take a pass of a $10 malt beverage. There was over-priced fare at other stands as well as team merchandise at the Pro Shop kiosks. We could have easily dropped $1,000 during the night.
The comfort level of the seating was lacking. We had to walk to our 3rd tier seats, zigzagging along the access ramps and climbing the stairs of our section. After we adjusted to the perspective from being so high, we crammed our legs into the plastic formed seats. Sitting in the elements (the weather was windy but dry that night), we were surrounded by every kind of fan – everyone from the loud and obnoxious to the quiet and casual.
The quality of what was presented was spotty. The game itself was average. There were an equal number of good and poor plays. The Giants are not a team of great talent, and they played as expected. It was a good game, but not much of it would be highlighted on SportsCenter.
The time involved in participating was excessive. We left the hose at 4:30 and returned home at 2 in the morning. While we didn’t tailgate, we could have (the parking lots open 4 hours before kickoff). The game was a wonderful three hours or so. The inching along in the parking lot to get onto route 1 was a frustrating 90 minutes. It was a long and glorious night.
The experience was wonderful. I got to spend time with someone I love doing something we love together.
… not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
Why is it that 65,000 people can withstand the traffic, the cost, the time and the discomfort of a mediocre football game, but cannot do the same for a worship service at a local church? I understand that the two experiences are not the same for many – our NFL experience was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – but I am puzzled that so many (especially season ticket holders) would risk rain and snow and spend large amounts of money and time to watch men play a game instead of attending a worship service. Why is it that some would relish the petty annoyances of traffic and parking lot gridlock while others will not tolerate a longer message and a service extended past 12:15?
Thanks for letting me rant. If you ever choose to come to Calvary, I promise that the parking will be free.
For the twelfth time in the last eighteen years, the team from New England has been crowned the World Champion of a professional sports league. On Sunday night, the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams (13-3) to win the Super Bowl©, causing great delight in this writer’s household and neighborhood. I completely understand the animus – the hostility – others in regions outside New England feel for the sports fans of greater Boston (after all, this is the second World Championship our rooting interests have captured in the last 100 days, lest we forget the Red Sox’s World Series performance of October). These are heady times in the hometown, to be sure!
Many have said that, while the Lombardi Trophy will reside at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots won no style points in victory – some have gone so far as to say that this was the most boring Super Bowl in its fifty-three years. While I understand my opinion might be skewed, allow be to rebut this claim: I concede that if you are a fan of offense, this game (with a single touchdown scored on a two-yard running play late in the contest) was less than spectacular; but football is not one-sided, and the other two dimensions of the game (defense and special teams) were incredible and, with only a few penalties and no reviewed, challenged or reversed plays, both teams made plays worthy of a world champion.
I am glad that the Patriots won, if for no other reason than the shared camaraderie among the diverse demographic over the celebration of the superiority of Brady and Belichick and the best football team evah! I am also glad that the season is over: there will be fewer people remaining home or leaving immediately after church each Sunday at noon; there will be a cessation of the idol-worship of great (though mostly morally flawed) athletes; and there will be a few weeks before the perceived superiority expressed by some rabid fans over other parts of the country will resurface (when the Celtics and Bruins look to enter the playoffs). Perhaps in these intervening weeks we can celebrate a biblical truth witnessed by millions watching the big game from Atlanta.
No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:27 (NIV)
What would happen if the followers of Christ were willing to engage the opponent with a similar attitude toward discipline that the players in the Super Bowl maintained? What if we were willing to take the blows, in accordance with the rules, to advance the Gospel that National Football League endure to move the ball toward the goal line? As the game on Sunday night vividly made evident, much of the gains are hard fought and much of the actions of the opponent are difficult to defend. Nearly two hundred years ago, a New York Senator, William L. Marcy, said, “To the victor belong the spoils”; I think a better expression might be that, win or lose, the spoils (the goods or benefits taken from one’s competitor) belong to the disciplined.
Happily, that was my home team this year. In the end, win or lose, they all played a great game, and that is something to celebrate… and emulate.
What a difference five months makes. On Monday, July 3rd, when there was nothing but repeats on television, I flipped through the channels, finally arriving upon the programming of the NFL network. They were rebroadcasting Super Bowl LI, which took place on Sunday, February 5th. I sat in my recliner, celebrating the eve of Independence Day, and watched ‘America’s New Team’, the New England Patriots, contend against the Atlanta Falcons for the Lombardi Trophy and professional football’s championship.
I watched the game when it was broadcast live. I was optimistic when the 1st quarter ended with neither team scoring. That optimism waned as Atlanta held a 21-3 lead as Lady Gaga took the field for the halftime show. The hopes of a 5th championship nearly disappeared when the Falcons scored one more time midway through the 3rd quarter. 28-3. No one had ever overcome as much as a 14-point deficit in the Super Bowl, and now the Pats were down by 25. Maybe the Patriots were not as good as their fans imagined. I remember watching with unbelief and sadness that the hometown team was going down to utter defeat. I remember thinking that perhaps New England could, at the very least, make the game competitive.
Watching the replay of the game earlier this week was a much different experience. I was not troubled by Tom Brady’s early and poorly thrown interception. I was unaffected by Gostkowski’s missed point-after attempt. I delighted in the ineptitude of the New England defense in the 1st half and the Atlanta offense in the 2nd half. The final 23 minutes were when all the fun took place. 28-3. 28-9. 28-12. 28-20. Edelman’s miracle catch with 2 minutes and change to go in the game. 28-28. The Super Bowl was going into overtime for the first time in the history of the game. Patriots win the coin toss. 34-28. Patriots win. NFL Champions. Queue up the duck-boats.
It takes an emotional toll on a spectator when the outcome remains unknown, but there is no trepidation when that same spectator knows how it all will end. That was the difference between February 5th and July 3rd. The second broadcast was thoroughly enjoyable – even the bad plays and the foolish fouls – because I knew that the New England Patriots were victorious.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
This is how those who know Christ as Lord and Savior ought to think about the future, just like we were reviewing a recorded sporting event. We know how it ends. We need not hopelessly grieve as if we are unaware of the outcome. We can, and should, anticipate the blessed hope of Christ’s victory over sin, death and Satan. We will certainly have periods of awfulness and ache, but they will lose their power in light of the impending joy at the conclusion of our journey.
In the words of Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, “Hey! Let’s go, boys. It’s going to be a hell of a story.”
For the third year is a row, my wife, Jeanine, and I are attempting to see all the “Best Picture” nominated films before the Oscars© telecast on February 22nd. One of the movies that we’ve viewed so far is “Whiplash”, an independent film about a drum student and his teacher at a conservatory in New York. The plot revolves around the student, Andrew, advancing to the elite studio jazz band and his interaction with the intense band leader, Fletcher. In a pivotal scene, Fletcher explains his volatile and abusive approach to his students by saying that it weeds out the greats, who will rise above it and reach their potential, and the average, who will get discouraged by it and give up.
I left the theater asking myself if the great are created by circumstance and training, or if they are great to begin with and circumstance and training simply exposes it. I wondered the same thing last weekend, when the Patriots won the Super Bowl©. Was it a lucky win because the opposing coach made a mistake (and greatness was thrust upon them) or was it a win that showed that they were better trained and better prepared for victory (and simply exposed their greatness)? Are there any number of skills and abilities that we can hone to become great or are we all blessed with innate skills and abilities that, given sufficient space, will express greatness?
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16 (NIV)
As the above passages state, every child of God has some good work to accomplish, some form of greatness that will honor the Father and build up His people. When the opportunity surfaces to exhibit greatness God weaves our spiritual gifts, passions, abilities, preferences and experiences so that we can shine no matter the circumstances. Whether it is the dream of playing drums like Buddy Rich or playing football like Lawrence Taylor, we all have aspirations for greatness. We all also have the potential for greatness, whether that greatness is earned through hard work or thrust upon us through circumstance.
This all brings me back to the Patriots game last Sunday, and two ‘great’ players. When it comes to greatness, there seems to be sufficient room for both Malcolm Butler and Tom Brady: Butler was at the right place at the right time and he was prepared to make a great play; Brady continued to add to an already stellar career due to his talents and exhibited greatness. I’d like to think that there is a Butler and a Brady in all of us – times when we can do great things and times we can express some innate greatness.
Where does your greatness lie? You don’t need an overbearing music teacher or an ornery coach to be great; you just need to cultivate what God has equipped you to accomplish. Now, go out there and do a great job.
On Sunday the local professional football team, the New England Patriots, advanced to the Super Bowl. It was a convincing win against an able opponent and hopes were high for a 4th NFL championship for the franchise. Then ‘deflate-gate’ happened: the integrity of the win was called into question due to the lower-than-acceptable air pressure maintained in the footballs used by the Patriots. The league and the media were swift in demanding an explanation why New England apparently cheated and in questioning the coach’s and the team’s integrity.
Before we cast aspersions upon the guilty parties, can we all agree that we all have ‘deflate-gate’ temptations in our lives? Call it what you want – a competitive advantage, a societal norm, or a standard practice – but aren’t there things we do that violate the rules? Aren’t there actions we take where the risk of getting caught is superseded by the reward of getting away with the infraction? We speed on the highway, we lie to our spouses, and we steal from work. We usually gain, but occasionally we get caught. We pay our fine, confess our dishonesty and lose our job. Then we go back to what we always do: dabble with dishonesty and disregard some rules. We say, “It’s not a big deal.” But is it?
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10
One virtue that the Bible espouses is integrity, which Merriam-Webster defines as ‘an unimpaired condition’ or ‘soundness’. It describes an object’s measure of strength or fortitude irrespective of external conditions or circumstances. When used in the context of human ethics, it is the opposite of hypocrisy. A person of integrity is someone who has strong moral and ethical character in every situation. Paraphrasing an accountability question we occasionally ask, you are a person of integrity when the ‘real’ you and the ‘visible’ you are consistent. We have integrity when we can be trusted with little or with much because the person of integrity is, at the core, trustworthy.
I have my suspicions about the integrity of the Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, in light of ‘deflate-gate’ and other well-publicized infractions of the NFL rules, but I must not expend my energies to address his character issues. My energies should be exhausted developing my character and you should be developing yours. There are rules I break to achieve a marginal competitive advantage (like neglecting to cite sources) that tarnish my integrity, whether I am ever caught or not. There are illegal societal norms and standard practices (like speeding) that call my character into question, whether or not I receive a ticket. When it comes to matters of character, nobody’s perfect.
I look forward to seeing the Patriots play in the Super Bowl. I hope they can win, with their integrity intact, another championship. It is, however, just a game. A greater gain I have received this week is the reminder that a person’s true self will eventually be revealed, for good or for ill. I hope, when my true self is revealed, it will show me to be a person of integrity. We may not be perfect, but we can all be honest. Thanks, Coach Belichick and your team of AFC Champions, for reminding me of that.
My family and I planned on going apple picking this past Saturday and checked out our options online. We were surprised to read a disclaimer on one of the orchard’s websites: due to the especially cold spring and the especially dry summer, the quality of the fruit being harvested this year was less than ideal. The apples we were going to pay to pick in October were negatively affected by the climate and conditions of the orchard as far back as March. Through no fault of its own, these apples were stunted in their growth; the trees were not as fruitful as they could be.
Last Sunday I watched our regional NFL team beat a conference rival. During a series of downs in the 2nd quarter, the quarterback was sacked on 1st down for a 9 yard loss and then handed off the ball for two short runs and, ultimately, a punt. The TV commentators stated the obvious – the team was unlikely to recover from the initial setback and therefore needed to cut their losses so that they could challenge their opponent later in the game. Though they were responsible for their poor performance on the field, it is safe to assume that none of the players were satisfied with their production.
Have you ever felt like one of those apples, developing in less than ideal conditions with less than desirable results? Have you ever felt like a football team that is moving in the wrong direction unable to accomplish your directive? Where do you turn when your hopes and your harvest don’t match? Allow me to give you some advice: don’t give up.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
God’s word states that if we continue to do what is right and good we will be rewarded. The orchard would still get a good, perhaps even excessive, price for their apples despite their less than ideal shape and size. The New England Patriots would win the game, successfully executing more plays than the Buffalo Bills. And we, affected by harsh conditions and harmful setbacks, will also be rewarded if we refuse to quit. Our faith will mature if we do not give up; our efforts will be fruitful if we are determined not to fold.
The reason we can have confidence and not give up is because God does not give up on us. God did not give up on David or Peter, despite their dreadful setbacks in faith and righteousness. God did not give up on Esther or Ruth, despite their development under difficult conditions. God did not give up on Abraham (who lied), Moses (who killed a man), Hosea (who was married to an adulteress), Matthew (who was a tax collector), Timothy (who was likely raised in a single-parent home) or Philemon (who was a fugitive). And God will not give up on you. You must not give up on Him.