The other night as I was reflecting on the fact that the New England Patriots had just won their fifth Super Bowl©, it made me think of God’s grace and guidance. Sure, as a Pastor, I often connect random occurrences in life with Biblical themes; the progression of Sunday’s game and its outcome makes my job easy. For the Patriots, this was a season which required the team to deal with consequences for bad actions, demonstrated determination when excuses might have been easier and exemplified fortitude and the discipline of finishing strong. These are things we all could afford to reflect upon, and learn from, as we face the struggles of life.
As even the casual football fan knows, Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season ultimately due to his refusal to cooperate with the NFL Commissioner’s investigation into “Deflate-gate”. After a lengthy process involving the courts, Brady agreed to accept his suspension, albeit with no admission of guilt. He then was forced to sit out the first four games of the season. While we can argue, and many have, about the fairness of the Commissioner’s decision, it was what it was. Tom Brady, and the team, suffered the consequences of his actions. Then he was restored to active status and played the remainder of the season. As I saw the Commissioner shake TB12’s hand and later hand him the Super Bowl© MVP trophy, I thought about grace. To an even greater degree than the NFL brass and its players, God is correcting and rebuking His children and then, after confession and contrition has been made, fully and completely restores them, separating their sin as far as the east is from the west. Do the crime, do the time, receive forgiveness and restoration, and go back out and compete.
Before the big game was played, it was reported that Tom Brady’s mother had been battling an undisclosed illness for eighteen months. Also, the Patriots had suffered significant injuries throughout the regular season, including an injury which sidelined their most powerful offensive weapon, Rob Gronkowski. No one would have blamed the Patriots if they had said that this was not their year, that the obstacles were too great and the challenges were too overwhelming. Instead, the team worked hard, utilized “lesser” members, and seized victory. To an even greater degree, God is drawing together and equipping His church to claim victory over darkness. He has brought together a wide variety of people with a wide variety of abilities, all broken in one way or another, to become stronger together than they would ever be separately. Do your job, do it to the best of your ability, trust those around you and taste victory.
Even the most optimistic ‘homer’ in New England may have thrown in the towel at six and a half minutes into the third quarter when the Falcons took a commanding 28-3 lead. It is almost inconceivable that the Patriots (who had scored 3 points in the first 36:29 of the game) could score 25 points in the remaining 23:31 of regulation. It is almost equally inconceivable, given the difficulties they had on defense, that they could hold the Falcons scoreless for the remainder of the game. But that is exactly what happened – touchdown, field goal, touchdown, two-point conversion, touchdown, two-point conversion. Tie game. Overtime. Touchdown. Champions. The accolades and the prize goes to those who finish strong. To an even greater degree, that is the attitude God desires in us. God’s people ought not to start strong and ultimately give out, but finish strong and ultimately win out.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24
Congratulations to the World Champion New England Patriots. I am grateful to God that He can use such an earthly endeavor as a football game to remind us of His great plans and hopes for us.
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.