Friday, August 27, 2010

Reflections for August 27, 2010

A Parallel between a Football Team and the Church

During a sermon I shared that for nineteen years of my life football (eight as player and eleven as a coach) had been the first priority in my life. I shared to explain how God transitioned me from coach to pastor. As folks filed past me on the way out following the sermon, someone made a remark that had an impression upon me. He said, “You never left coaching. Now, you are God’s coach and you are coaching God’s people.” As I reflected the comment, I began to draw parallels between a football team and God’s church.

A football team has an owner or a sponsor. Without a school sponsor or a literal owner as in professional football, there would be no team. A Church has God as its owner. He purchased it with the precious shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. You can’t belong to His team unless you have recognized and accepted the sacrifice that has been made for you. Churches that refuse to accept God’s ownership are churches in name only. They can never rise above what man can do. Those yielded to God’s ownership can look forward to experiencing God’s victories.

Every team must have a head coach and varying numbers of assistants. To be successful, they must keep contact with the owner. Their position is secure as long as they remember their ultimate goal is to please the owner. A pastor is much like the head coach. His assistants may ware the title pastor but in truth there must be a central figure to direct the day to day traffic. The role of the coaches is to determine where the players can best serve; to help them develop their skills; and to deploy them in the game at the appropriate moment.

Under the coaches are the players. They are the feet on the ground. In the eyes of the public some players are more important than others. Wise coaches know that it takes everyone for the team to reach its full potential. The team members who work diligently all week to assist in the preparation of the players who will actually be on the field on game day are as important as the ones scoring the touchdowns. Football is a team sport. There is no room for stars.

In a church the players are the folks who work behind the scenes to make sure things are ready for Sunday. They may not preach, teach, sing in the choir, etc. but they pray, visit, encourage, keep the nursery, contribute, clean, drive buses, etc. The important thing is they use the gifts they have been given to advance the work of the owner.

The spectators represent those who belong to the team but who do not participate fully. Instead, they are content to sit in the stands and occasionally give a cheer for those who are doing the work. Unfortunately, in most churches it is the spectators who make up the majority..

The parallel breaks down at this point. In football, only so many can participate on the field at a time. In the church, spectators are challenged to get out of the stands and into the game. They are constantly reminded their talents were never meant to be horded but were meant to add to the efficiency of the team.

Finally, there are the people outside the stadium. They have no interest in the game. Many have no idea the game is taking place. They often see people involved in the game as fanatics. They do not understand the thrill that comes when you know you have served well and honored your owner and king. It is the duty of those in the stadium to go into the community and to represent their owner well. It is their duty to tell others of the excitement the game of life can offer when it is played under the direction of the Heavenly Owner. Like exciting football games, the joys of fellowship in the church should be talked about in the factories, offices, homes, places of recreation, and other places by those who participate in the joys of serving the Master.

The question these parallels raise for each one of us is are we in the game or are we merely a spectator or are we outside the stadium completely? Speaking as one who spent most of the first half of his life in the stands watching, I can say there is nothing more exciting than getting involved and playing the game of life under the direction of the our Heavenly Owner.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections for August 20, 2010

"Putting Others First"

When I was a boy, Life Magazine was one of the leading publications in the country. Through the years People,, US and Self magazines have appeared. I mention these because I believe their names reflect a downward spiral in our country from responsibility for self and others to an obsession with personal rights.

I recognize that you might take issue with my assumption. You could point to the outpouring of financial support that Americans have given in response to natural disasters both at home and abroad in recent years. Your observations would be correct. There is no other nation in the world that has been more generous in these situations. However, I am not thinking as much about these types of events as I am about the day to day opportunities that we have to choose between self and others.

Our obsession with self is seen in our equally obvious obsession with our rights. It seems that everyone is conscious of his/her rights today. We hear this all the time in business, the work place, politics, marriage, church, and every other venue of human interaction. While I am for individual rights and freedom as much as the next guy, I am alarmed at how the obsession with our rights have blurred or destroyed our willingness to accept our responsibilities. When you break it down to its basics, rights are about self and responsibilities are about others. The more self absorbed we are; the less concerned we are about our responsibilities to others.

While the world promotes this fascination with self, scripture teaches us something different. In his admonition to the church at Philippi, Paul addresses this issue by writing, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3, 4) Paul is not advising that we should forget about our own personal interests. We have a responsibility to ourselves as well as to others. However, he is admonishing us not to let our personal interests absorb us. He is encouraging us to be conscious of the needs of others. He is saying our decisions should not only consider self but that they should consider the effect our choices have on others. He is saying in our listing of priorities we are to consider others first.

Few days pass that we do not have the opportunity to choose between selfish desires and the needs of others. The natural thing to do is to choose self over others. The Spirit filled way is to place others first. Imagine the changes it would make in your home or church, if everyone put into action the words written by Paul to the Philippians. I believe it would reduce the constant bickering that often defines families and churches. I believe it would demonstrate in life the words of Jesus: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NASB).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reflections for August 13, 2010

Focusing on the Things We Have in Common

Does the number of things that divide people disturb you? We are divided by race, nationality, socio-economic factors, geographical stereotyping, gender, age, politics, social issues and spiritual differences to name a few. I am not talking about society as a whole but the division that exist among those who claim to be followers of Christ. How it must trouble our Lord when He sees His Bride so divided. The sad thing is most of the things that divide us have little eternal ramifications. Instead, they have to do with our personal preferences, rather than the unchanging principles of our faith.

I am not naive enough to believe there will be unanimity among God’s people this side of heaven. There will always be differences. It is not the differences that trouble me. It is the attitude accompanying them that is troubling. It is one thing to disagree but it is another thing entirely to do so with an unloving attitude. While we may not reach unanimity, Christ did give us one directive that leaves little wiggle room in interpretation. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34, 35 NASB).

If we are to obey the command of Christ, we must find a way to look beyond our differences and to focus on the things we have in common. Several years ago, I heard a message by John Maxwell that dealt with dealing with conflict. It was called the 101 Per Cent Principle. Basically, it challenged people in conflict to find the one percent that they could agree upon and to give a 100 percent effort to build upon that one percent of agreement. As followers of Christ, we have more than one percent to build upon. Paul wrote about our commonality in the Letter to Ephesus: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NASB). Notice Paul emphasized the attitude we should have toward each other before he gave us the things we share in common. If I have the attitude Paul expresses, surely I will be able to act brotherly toward others who share the common elements of our faith.

When we push our common beliefs to the background, and fight over the peripheral things we do a disservice to our Lord and we give ammunition to those who have not yet been brought into the family. We legitimize the thought that Christians are hypocrites. What is the unbelieving world to think when we preach love and demonstrate the opposite? When we consider the common things Paul said we share, it would behoove us to consider we are going to spend eternity with many of the folks we refuse to tolerate. It seems to me it would be wise to begin this side of eternity to learn how to love our brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our differences.