Superbowl Sunday Musing: True Victory

The day of this commentary is Superbowl Sunday. The day the “big game” is played. The games serves as the end of the football season where one team comes out on top and achieves victory. It is the cultural apex not only in the United States of America, but the world as well. No other contest, no other game gets the attention and the notoriety worldwide.

This game and the ultimate victor is one of many such contests, with one gaining the victory and coming out on top over all others. It is really a contest to determine who is the best and is the essence to how things function in the ways of the world. It is all about “reaching the top.” Be it career, politics, athletics, games, contests, and so on, in the world it is all about rising above the rest. Then once that is achieved, the contest starts all over. The victory is temporary and fleeting, lasing but moments.

There is a victory though that is not about “rising above” others. This victory is not fleeting or temporary but endures. This victory is that which occurs when one enters in to the Kingdom of God and recognizes Jesus as both Savior and Lord. For the true victory was already won, already declared when Jesus cried “IT IS FINISHED!” This victory is about victory over sin and the return to relating and depending on God. It is the setting in motion that of untwisting what was twisted when life apart from God was chosen. In this victory the least are the greatest and loss is gain. It is contrary to the world system and the constant striving to come out on top. It is simply victory through right relationship with God and having a place in His Kingdom. No granted, this victory is one that does not appear sound to the normal eye.

If I let go of that which is of self and look to God alone, how gain I gain. This because all we know of victory is the crawling, scratching, and fighting to come out on top. But see, the worlds way, the fighting to be on “top” there can only be “one” victor. In the way of God, the way of Jesus, there are many winners, yet it is hard to grasp. This victory is called the narrow way for many will choose the road that appears right with confidence they will make it through on top. It is a way of self-effort and self-determination. It is a way of losing. God’s way, the way found in Jesus and the victory established of the cross is the way of surrender. It is the way of growing up in righteousness while both transformed and renewed. It is the way of letting go and giving up of self. The cross started things moving and the course is set, victory is assured for all those who accept Jesus as both Savoir and Lord.

The time of victory is coming closer every day. The day is coming when all will be made right. It will appear for a time that the powers of darkness win and the schemes of the devil prevail. But the time is but limited and soon all will be made right, not by our efforts or strength but in surrender to Jesus and bringing all things under His authority. It is not done by our striving or effort, but will happen upon His return. True victory is assured. Victory over death. Victory over suffering. Victory over all that ails all of creation. Those entangled and engrossed in the twisted things of self and darkness will be death with and true life will be known. When Jesus does return and claim victory, the war cry will be sure “HIS LOVE ENDURES FOR EVER!” For it is by His love alone that all is made right. It was His love alone that established the way. It is His love alone that assures the victory. Imagine if you knew today the outcome of the game ahead of time. This is what it is like in terms of the true and eternal victory. We know the outcome, we know Victory is assures. So no matter what the struggle of the day is, as long as you remain in Him, remain true to the Kingdom of God and continue to surrender to Jesus as both Savior and Lord, then Victory is assured. So stand firm, endure, and surrender to him. Then rejoice in the Lord, for Victory is Won for it is HIS LOVE THAT ENDURES FOREVER!

Post Thanksgiving Day Musings- Being Truly Thankful

Thanksgiving has come and gone. It is a National Day set aside as a day of gratitude. For most people it is a time for food, fellowship, and football. Some may actually take time to express gratitude; others go about the day enjoying what has brought benefit. Others it is a day of respite from ongoing struggles. If you examine Abraham  Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation you will note that the proclamation came following the Civil War. It followed a time of national suffering and sought to bring honor to God for deliverance and blessing. It also advised the care of those who as a result of the events were not doing well. The celebrated first Thanksgiving was after a time of great suffering with loss of life with aide offered that helped all to survive. There was great hardship and the blessing of a fruitful harvest that was then celebrated. It was a celebration of survival and living life before God.

Somehow today, our view of Thanksgiving seems to be more a celebration of what we have, the good things in our life, the success we have made toward our achievements. We celebrate with those we care about, see to it that our hunger gets addressed, and engage in partaking in entertainment. The pattern is to really feel good and happy and thankful over whatever the gain or progress. Then that day is followed by what is now known as “Black Friday” the biggest day for engaging in consuming more, of purchasing for self and others, ever expanding and meeting varied wants and desires. It is essence a celebration of self.

There are for some a different attitude and approach. Some treat Thanksgiving as a time to give glory to God. Rather than celebrating the kingdom of self, it is moving beyond self. It is a recognizing not only of the good, but of the struggle. It is walking in gratitude. It is easy to be grateful for the good. It is even easy to be grateful when great suffering has been endured and triumphed over. It is very difficult to be grateful in the midst of suffering. The most difficult and painful Thanksgiving Holiday was the one in which my maternal Grandmother was in the hospital with death impending. We spent a lot of time at the hospital. The meal was some nearby restaurant. There was no desire to be entertained. It was simply a day to endure. Yet, each of us to the core had faith in God Almighty, not regarding whether she lived or died, but rather that God was in control and everything has time and purpose. At that time, it was a period of deep mourning, for loss was coming that was not of our will. We each were grateful to God, even if it was not evident at the time, even in the course of great pain.

True Thanksgiving comes from living in gratitude in the midst of whatever suffering we encounter. It is rejoicing in Jesus the Messiah through whom we receive eternal life. We rejoice for the sufferings of this world are but temporary. We rejoice because God is good and all good things flow from Him. We rejoice for without Jesus there is no hope and no light for any. Many miss this opportunity, not only on this National holiday, but in the day to day living of life. Walking in true Thanksgiving and gratitude is daily, moment by moment rejoicing in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for all that is of self is filth. The concern is not about the blessings or sufferings, but the focus is on God regardless of circumstance for it is in God alone and in right relationship with him that any ability to be truly blessed comes, for it is in God alone that all things are possible.

Musing on Moss returning to Minnesota: The Joy of the Return

For readers of the blog it should be no secret that this writer is a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. Yesterday was a day that had most Vikings fans feeling good.  It is the day that Randy Moss came home.  Sure, Randy Moss can and will display a selfish attitude.  Yet, when he is motivated he is a wide receiver like no other.  Yesterday’s trade is one that brought feelings of happiness and hope.  The season looked to be headed in the direction of failed expectations, to one of excitement and a desire to see how things play out. The trade was one that uplifted the fan base.

In thinking about the Randy Moss homecoming, thoughts go to how God reacts when we come home.  Each of us at one point or another go our own selfish ways. We leave God’s path and go our own way.  Yet, God always provides a way of return.  When anyone who has been away from God returns, it is a time of great joy and elation.  This is true for all. Each step of return and repentance brings elation and joy.  And unlike the return of Randy Moss, the end result is no.  When anyone returns to God, the victory is already assured.

Musings from a “Christian” Vikings Fan on Eve of NFC Championship Game

This is a public confession. I am a Vikings Fan and I enjoy football. One thing about being a Vikings fan is that there is a long history of failure in Championship games. The four Super-bowl failures were still when I was young and personally do not remember much of those games. The first game of memory is the Dallas-Vikings game. At that time, I had divided allegiance because I liked Tom Landry. So I do not have the same angst over the Drew Pearson catch as a young boy, I rooted for both teams. However, the infatuation with the Cowboys faded and the connection to the Minnesota Vikings grew as I grew up into a man. The 1987 loss to the Washington Redskins is memorable. I still shake my head over Darren Nelson dropping the ball. The 1999 NCF Championship loss to the Atlanta Falcons is a bitter memory, was actually in attendance of that game. The 41-0 loss to the Giants in 2001 is less of a memory, as was in Brazil at the time. It is a long history of championship futility. It is to the point where Vikings fans almost really expect the worst. Recently I have had conversations with people who already have a loss in mind. In thinking about the game there are generally a few responses found in Vikings fans. The responses even are similar to reactions people experience in other life circumstances. It is worthwhile to a take a look at some common responses.

Expecting the Negative: This can really be a form of learned helplessness, or hopelessness. However, more often the view is if expect the negative there will be no disappointment when if the results are a loss and be even more pleased if they win. Such an approach is miserable in the end. Rather than taking time to enjoy, the focus is on that which is negative.

Engage in superstitious behaviors: Fans do this all the time. Fans engage in an endless array of superstitious behaviors. (Feel free to read my blog article on the dynamics of superstitions.) It is very easy to fall into thinking that if your team wins when you do any behavior consistently, that it was all about that behavior. The reality is nothing we say or do impacts the results. Sadly, Christians also take a superstitious approach to prayer regarding competitive events. There is even a viewpoint that can occur that God’s favor rests more on players of one team or another. Today, there are people who profess Jesus as Lord on all football teams, so any victory can result in God being glorified.

Apprehension and Anxiety: Watching competitive sports when you have an emotional attachment can result in fear and apprehension that the worst will happen. This is different than expecting the negative. Expecting the negative is a form of resignation. This reaction is more about the worries and fears related to the “what ifs.”

Overly optimistic: This response is one that many suffer. It is trusting entirely that the team will be successful regardless. It fails to take into account any of the strengths and weakness, but rather just looks toward success. Sometimes it seems like there a current that if the positive outcome gets repeated enough, it has to happen that way.

Simple fan engagement: This kind of response is one of trying to stay in the moment and enjoy the competition. Feel good about the success and bad about the failures. It is simply staying engaged at the level of what is occurring and moving forward.

Generally, the wisest reaction is to engage in simple engagement. Be aware of the past, be aware of the risks and concerns, but simply enjoy the game as it is. Now on a related and similar note, it is also interesting to look at the reactions the competitors can have that may be related.

Defeatist: This can be the belief that already defeated before start the game. It results in poor performance and results that reinforce the attitude.

Afraid to lose: This attitude in a player results in reactive game play and more often can result in increased mistakes. If you play afraid to lose, you most likely lose. This seems to be the case with the 1998 Vikings in the 1999 Championship game.

Overconfident: This attitude is one where there is no realistic evaluation of opponents abilities and over-evaluation of own talents. The overconfident are filled with pride and are ripe for a fall.

Disengaged: This attitude is similar to defeatist but different in that there is simply a failure to be emotionally engaged in the game. In competition, if there is emotional disengagement, performance can suffer. Emotions can impact play.

Emotionally dependent: For players with this attitude, they need the emotional reactions in order to perform well. Such play can be inconsistent as emotions ebb and flow.

Confidently prepared: This attitude is the type you want to see, being confident in own strength but prepared for what is come. This involves both knowing self and knowing opponent. This involves trusting your plan but being able to adapt to what happens unexpectedly. Having such a mindset can lead toward success, but does not guarantee it.

Both in terms of fans response and in terms of player response we can learn a lot about approach to life. It ultimately is about being realistically engaged in the moment with full awareness of the truth. It involves making preparation and being clear headed about what is to come. As a Christian and serving God, need to be engaged in the moment and not dependent on feelings. Also need to be confidently prepared, which means growing in knowledge of God and His love and His ways. There is no greater confidence than confidence in God. And all the staying in the moment is but nothing if Jesus is not the center of the moments. Feel free to take time and examine yourself, ask God to reveal any attitude or focus that needs changing.

Thanksgiving Day Musing: Three common Thanksgiving elements

First all, may the readers of this article be found to have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day. My thoughts this year are focused on how we celebrate Thanksgiving. It was interesting that currently there are three elements to most Thanksgiving celebrations: Family, Food, and Football. Granted each of those areas have variances but I want to examine each element a little further and close with some thoughts on gratitude.

In terms of thinking of the Holiday, the starting point has to be the element of family. We all are born into a family. These are not people we chose to be with but we love knowing full well their imperfections. Some of the family members we love are folks that we spend time with only on Holiday occasions. They are important to us but not an active part of our lives. We all appreciate being loved and enjoy the relationships around us, even if at sometimes we really cannot stand the actions and choices of family members. Holidays are a time where we get together in love, it is not always easy, but loving each other is important. Taking time to think about how you value your family members is of great benefit, even better if you are able to communicate those thoughts. Now, not all of who we consider as family because so because of our birth. Some folks we consider family are family by choice. Clearly spouses fall into this category but there are friends that fit as well. For those that have entered the Kingdom of God, there is the greater family of the Church as well. Ultimately family is those that we love for good or bad. We do not always agree or even always demonstrate that love, but our families are where the dynamics of love, or sadly at times lack of love is played out.

The other element that is common to all during this Holiday is food. Usually it is the staple meal of Turkey and assorted fixings, but there are some differences there. The element of food and eating together is really about fellowship and celebration. The meal on this day is one that constitutes a feast. We take time to gather and show gratitude and enjoy the company of one another. We take to share a meal and engage in the intimacy of a mutual meal. There is something special about such activity and is something to be enjoyed. In the United States, we have had plenty and the Thanksgiving feasts really celebrate the many blessings. Even as times get tougher or darker, it still is good to celebrate and focus on the good that has transpired.

The last element I want to share thoughts on is that of Football. Now granted not everybody enjoys football. Not everybody even attends to football games. But outside the Super Bowl it is the one day of year where non-football fans tolerate the games. When reflecting on what football represents it comes down to simple relaxation. Something that helps takes mind off of any trouble, sit back and disengage while it is on, and relax. More often than not the Tryptophan in Turkey takes effect and people simply fall asleep. In general any form of entertainment serves to function to bring pleasure, relaxation, and serve as distraction. The same holds true in the American culture with American Football being an apex of entertainment.

Now this day where we love, celebrate, and relax is centered on the concept of giving gratitude. Sadly, gratitude is often easily set aside and the difficulties and sufferings of life attended. Yet, it is important for each of us to be able to express gratitude and be able to be thankful. Now for those not in the Kingdom of God, it is hard for me to understand what direction the gratitude is directed. Certainly can be directed to those that you love, but without relationship and connection or even belief in the Creator of the Universe, it seems gratitude is limited. That a Holiday such as Thanksgiving is limited to that which has benefited self and our own little kingdoms is sad. The most precious thing to me is that fact that I have a relationship with the creator and He cared enough for me to provide a way to reconcile the barriers to such a relationship through Jesus. I love and enjoy time with family, miss those that I do not get to spend time with on such days, but my gratitude is always directed to the most Holy God. Gratitude in and of itself is beneficial but without connection to the true source it is limited and fleeting.

 

Cultural Commentary: Favre signing with Vikings- Symbolic of Hope and Conciliation

Symbol of Hope and Conciliation

Symbol of Hope and Conciliation

This writer enjoys watching the sport of football. I live in the Twin Cities and the team I root for as a fan is the Minnesota Vikings. The ongoing saga of whether Brett Favre would or wouldn’t sign with the Vikings was a drawn out soap opera with the fans hope that if he signs, perhaps he can guide the team to the promised land of the Super Bowl and a long desired and lacked Championship. His finally signing with the Vikings generated two things among Vikings fans, Hope and Ambivalence. As already stated, the hope is a competent and Hall of Fame Quarterback is the only piece missing for a championship run. The ambivalence comes from the fact that Brett Favre was a member of the enemy for sixteen years. He was the focal point of the team Vikings fans hate the most and care more about whether we win or lose. It is hard to root for one who was once considered the enemy.

The reader may respond with a thought such as “That is well and good and pretty straight forward. So what.” Or “Since this is a blog focusing on Christianity, Life, and Culture what on earth does Favre to do with anything other than drawing hits.” Well, football in general is a game that is rich with symbolism that can be used to illustrate matters of success, faith, and development. The latest result of the saga that is Brett Favre’s career is no different. Clearly there is the nature of hope. We want to hope, we desire hope, we want to feel good. We affiliate with a team for reasons such as proximity and the results impact our mood and culture. Brett Favre brings hope to a community that there is a chance for better. A chance that the desire for the team we cheer for to achieve ultimate success. Yet, there is much more to success than Brett Favre being a successful, healthy Quarterback. Yet, the hope is strong.

A rather harder concept to grasp is that of conciliation. There are fans that do not embrace the hope because of the fact they still consider Brett Favre the enemy. He won the Superbowl and had much success with the Green Bay Packers. Success that is both envied and disdained. Yet, now their past key star player is now a member of the Minnesota Viking. Yet, there is something within us that will struggle to accept the one who was an enemy now being a key part of the team. It does not sit well emotionally, leading to ambivalence.

Now the truth is the hope represented in Brett Favre is fleeting and temporary. The Minnesota Vikings may succeed, they may fail, and they may be mediocre. The hope may be well founded or prove to be false. Brett Favre after all is a human with limitations and it takes more the Brett Favre to achieve success. As a Christian though, I know that hope that does not disappoint exists. This hope is found in the person of Jesus the Messiah. This hope is found in the message of the Gospel that it is not about being “good enough” to be in relationship with the Creator of the Universe, but rather accepting the gift of redemption and turning from self. The true hope rests in that which lasts for eternity, not for a fleeting moment such as winning a championship. I hope Brett Favre and the Vikings win it all, yet their success or lack of success will have nothing to do with my eternal prospects. It will not impact my source of peace or joy, unless I focus on self and not on the certainty of Jesus.

The harder concept to grasp is the concept of conciliation. It is difficult to accept that Brett Favre is no longer considered an enemy. It is difficult to cheer for one that used to jeer. It actually is rather surreal to see Brett Favre in the purple and gold. Yet, each one of us at one point or another was an enemy of God. Each of us had to make a choice to sign on, and to turn from our past enmity. Now for some people the choice comes easily. It is a decision simply known to be right. Other people may hem and haw and have difficulty turning from self and joining God’s team. Many simply reject the offer to join the team TJ Houshmandzadeh. Now some people readily rejoice over Brett Favre joining the Vikings, others simply have stronger reactions. In thinking about the conciliation Vikings fans face with Brett Favre, my mind goes to the Apostle Paul. He was a man who was clearly an enemy to the Church. He killed many, many people. Yet, God transformed this man from a murderous zealot to a key Apostle who served to spread the Gospel and was used to write the majority of the New Testament text. So when I think of Brett Favre as a Minnesota Viking, it serves as a picture of each of our coming to peace with God once we accept the offer of salvation through Jesus the Messiah and turn from our way, to God’s way.

Hopefully you find these thoughts to be helpful and challenging. In order to reach conciliation from God it is never too late. The Hope of that does not fail that is found in what Jesus did to remove the enmity and establish peace with God. I am grateful I am able to join God’s team. On God’s team there is no fleeting reward but eternal. The hope is sure and sound. So if you are not yet signed up to be in God’s team and kingdom, please consider the possibility.

The fall of Duante Culpepper

Here we are about to kick of the 2008 NFL football season and quarterback Duante Culpeppper is without a team.  Duante has been allowed to plead his case at www.profootballtalk.com.  In his plea, he indicates he was been told that he has been unable to be signed because he is representing himself and teams are only willing to offer him veterans minimum.  Duante doesn’t want to accept either fact judging by the content of his plea.  He also bemoans the fact that he now has to wait for a starter somewhere to get injured before any chance of signing with a team. 

     The point of this article is to look at how Duante got to this point. The start goes to the events of the 2005 season.  He started off the year requesting a contract extension. New Vikings owner Zygi Wilf agreed to an extension and worked with his agent on a 10 year 100 million dollar contract extention.  Duante was now the man for the Minnesota Vikings after Randy Moss had been trade away during the 2004 season.  During the 2005 season, Duante suffered a catostrophic knee injury to his Anterior and Posterior Cruciate ligaments.  At the end of the 2005 season, coach Mice Tice was fired and coach Brad Culpepper was hired. Duante apparently became upset that there were no guaruntees to him in his ten year contract. He subsequently fired his agent and began an acrimonious relationship with the Minnesota Vikings the intent of which was to get traded.

     He was eventually traded to the Miami Dolphins, who chose him over Drew Brees.  Beyond expections, Duante started for Miami that year, but did so highly ineffectively and played only 4 games.  He signed with the Oakland Raiders last year, started 6 games to average results and not resigned. 

     So what are the factors leading Duante Culpepper to be an unsigned quarterback.  The biggest issue is see is pride. He expects the teams to negotiate on his terms and seems unwilling to do what he needs to do to prove himself by taking a Veteran’s minimum salary contract.  He is unwilling to accept the current NFL salary structure and has shown little flexability.  His performance levels since his injury have not matched his on field performance, which shows he has lost what was a previous strenght, his mobility.  So the fall of Duante comes down to unmet expectations and being inflexible and unwilling to due what it takes to regain trust and prove himself. 

    Now we can learn some lessons from Duante.  When things unexpected happen we need to learn to find ways to abapt and be flexible. Things do not always work out like we expect. If one becomes rigid in demands or expectations we can end up with nothing.  It also is helpful to know exactly what you agree to when making important decisions.  Many people have been hurt by simply trusting others who in turn may be looking out for their interests over and above your own. 

    Christianity also adds a perspective, we need to focus on today and what God has for us. We need not get caught up in putting off what God asks of us, because we never know what tomorrow brings. This is clearly spelled out in James 4:13-17 (NIV) 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

     Another important concept is the Biblical concept of contentment.  We have great difficulty sometimes being content with where we are in life, and can often fall into the temptation to seek after more.  We forget the admonition in 1 Timothy 1: 6,7 (NIV) 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. We tend to often operate from chronic discontentment.  If we have to  little, we complain and focus on what we don’t have, if we have a lot, we tend to want more. The key to contentment is surrender to and dependence on the King of Kings as highlighted in Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. The everything that consists of contentment is dependent not on our strength, but the strengt God gives to us.  God gives us the ability to accept our situation. Now granted, being content does not mean not having goals and not acting on them, it means to stayed surrendered to Him, that even in the completion or failure of goals, we can be content. And when we are surrender to the King of Kings, our goals are His goals and building His kingdom, and when self is out of the way, there is no need for discontent.      So the fall of Duante and how he got to be where he is today gives us reason to examine self and see if we have unrealistic expections, to see if we are rigid and inflexible, to see if we are looking for more and not content and goals focus on self-expansion versus surrender to the King of Kings. Duante, like many of us, shows an inability to surrender due to having an intecessor fail him.  In Christianity, we view Jesus as our intercessor, and agent.  When we try and do things on our own, we fail even our own expectation.