Psalm 46:1, Daniel 3:12-–25
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said unto the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
Texas A&M University fans support their football team with great passion. Perhaps their passion is best exemplified by the tradition of the twelfth man. This tradition was recently ranked number three of all college football traditions. Kyle Field earns its nickname, “The Home of the Twelfth Man,” from this tradition of the team and the pride of many fans that stand throughout every game. When Coach Dana Bible was shorthanded in a game against Centre College in 1922, he asked former player E. King Gill to be his twelfth man in case his team needed him. Gill did not play in the game but stood on the sidelines throughout the game just in case. The Aggie fans never forgot the extra man who stood ready if needed.
The extra man on the Aggie sideline reminded me of Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, the three Hebrew lads in the book of Daniel. They told King Nebuchadnezzar that they believed that God would save them from harm and, furthermore, that they would never bow down to worship his golden idol. The furious king ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual, a fire that was so hot that the men who heated the furnace died. The three lads were bound and cast into the furnace. Yet when the king and his court looked into the furnace, the boys were walking around, unharmed, with not one hair on their heads singed. Furthermore, they also had an extra man walking with them, a man who looked an awful lot like the Son of God. Many theological experts believe that the extra man was Jesus Christ.
When all was said and done, God proved to be stronger than Satan, as he always is. God stands by us and is our “ever present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). The Holy Spirit will be your extra man if you will allow it. How awesome it is that we can always turn to God when the odds are overwhelmingly against us.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your presence and for the presence of Jesus Christ, the extra man, in my life. Most of all, thank you for the sacrifice that Jesus made for me on the cross. I give you the honor, the glory, and the praise. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Next Man Up
Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
To the surprise of most football experts and college football fans, visiting Georgia easily defeated Missouri 34-0. It was Georgia’s first-ever shutout on the road against a ranked opponent. UGA dominated the game despite being without Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley, who was suspended by UGA the Thursday before the game pending the completion of an investigation that Gurley sold his own autographs.
On the Thursday afternoon before the Missouri game, the announcement of Gurley’s suspension blew up Twitter and caused much speculation over Georgia’s demise until game time. Minimally, his suspension was a major distraction for the members of the team and the coaching staff. However, there is a saying in football called “Next Man Up.” It means that when a player is lost for the next game due to injury, illness or suspension, the next man in the depth chart steps up. I have also heard it called “Man down, man up.”
I have noticed from my involvement as a chaplain with the Roswell High School football team that when a man goes down, there is no talk during practice of “woe is us” or lamenting or small talk about what could have been. It’s the next man up, and the team moves on from there. In UGA’s case the next man up was freshman tailback Nick Chubb, who gained 143 yards in 38 carries and converted several big first downs for the Dawgs. The game without Gurley was an opportunity for the players and coaches to dig a little deeper and come up with a big effort, which is exactly what the Dawgs defense did, holding Mizzou to 147 yards and forcing five turnovers.
There is another kind of next man up. That kind happens when a family member succumbs to a major illness, or a teammate goes down with an injury for the season, or a friend is faced with a daunting personal challenge. You may be the “next man up” in that person’s life. You can respond in a Christlike manner that can bring comfort, peace, understanding and encouragement exactly when that person needs it most. Bearing one another’s burdens is the responsibility of all Christians, and we fulfill that call when we take positive action and become the voice, the ears, the hands, and the feet of Jesus.
Who do you know that needs a phone call, a meal, a ride, a text, a visit, a kind word, a card, or a note of encouragement? Who do you know that needs an intercessory prayer from a brother or sister in Christ? Be somebody’s “next man (or woman or boy or girl) up” today!
Prayer: Father God, help me realize when it’s my time to be the next person up in the life of someone that I love and care about. Thank you for always being there for me whenever I need you. In the name of Jesus, amen.
GUARD YOUR HEART
Psalm 73:3–9, James 3:5–10, Matthew 12:34
Out of the overflow of the heart….Matthew 12:34
If you follow college football, it is very likely that you saw the picture of the female South Carolina fan who lifted her perfectly manicured right middle finger in disgust after her Gamecocks lost a 13-point lead in the final seven minutes to lose to Missouri. After Missouri’s go-ahead touchdown, her act of frustration was captured by the ESPN camera, and the screen shot will be on the Internet until there is no Internet. In the screen shot a teenage boy (her son?) is standing near her. One blogger posted, “Mom?”, as if that was what the boy was thinking. Imagine the punch in her gut when she found out from her friends that her picture had gone viral.
I felt badly for her, and I kept thinking about her dilemma. When I saw it happen on the telecast, I leaned forward as if I didn’t believe what I just saw. In fact I cringed. I don’t know who she is, whether she just laughed it off and went on about her business, or whether she lay awake on Monday morning at 3 a.m., thinking, “What have I done? Why did I do that?” I don’t know if she is a Christian or if she knows to ask for forgiveness.
Now you and I messed up this past weekend, too. But the difference is that our outbursts played out in obscurity in the privacy of our homes, schools, workplaces, and stadiums with no ESPN camera focused on us. The tongue (or finger) weighs only a few ounces, but the damage it does cannot be measured. The Bible assures us in Romans 6:23 that sin is sin, and the wages of sin is death. All sin is an affront to God. \But here is a lesson to be learned. If you are in the public eye or in the eyes of others at school, at work, or at church, it only takes an instant, one slip of the tongue, to cancel years of integrity, trust and goodwill. Your reputation can be ruined.
You and I should thank God every day for his mercy, that we don’t receive the full measure we deserve for the times we have committed sinful acts. But they won’t go unpunished forever for the unrighteous. Psalm 73 assures us that the unrighteous will receive their punishment, for we serve a just God who does not turn his back on any sin, large or small. Neither does Christ. Christ hated sin but loved us so much that he died for our sins so that we could be forgiven.
When your heart is right with God, you will be able to catch yourself much more often before you say something you never thought you would say, or do something that you never thought you would do. You would instantly give anything to have those words or that action back. You desperately want to erase the slip that makes some people say, “He (or she) did that? And he (she) is supposed to be a Christian!” Train your mind daily, and guard your heart with Scripture so that the overflow of your heart is kindness, compassion, love, and peace.
Prayer: Father God, I know that only one person has ever failed to react in unrighteous anger, and that is Jesus. Help me live so that I minimize those times that I sully my reputation as a Christian and bring dishonor to the name of Christ. Help me guard my mind and actions with your holy Word and prayer so that I can be in right living with you. In Jesus’s name, amen.
YOUR DADDY MUST BE CRAZY!
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. —John 3:17 (tlb)
This story was shared with me and our high school boys at open gym one evening by my brother in Christ, Paul Sligar. In the 1980s, two Class A teams in Mississippi vied for the final playoff spot to advance to the state playoffs. Tishimingo led by two points, 16-14, late in the fourth quarter and had the ball on the opponents’ 40-yard line. There was not enough time left for a touchdown drive. The Tishimingo coach called his son, the quarterback, over to the sideline and said, “Son, I know this sounds crazy, but I need you to give the ball to our tailback. Tell him to run sixty yards in the wrong direction.”
The QB said, “Dad, are you kidding?” The coach replied, “Son, just trust me.”
The QB relayed the play in the huddle, and the team drew a delay of game penalty because of the confusion. When the QB called the play again, the tailback said, “Your daddy must be crazy!”
But Tishimingo executed the play, and the tailback ran through the back of Tishimingo’s end zone for a safety, which tied the game at 16-16. The game went into overtime, and Tishimingo scored a touchdown to win the game 22-16.
It turned out that the head coach had information none of his players had. He knew that his team needed to win the game by four points or more to advance to the state playoffs. Eventually, they placed their trust in his seemingly wacky advice and won the game. God also has information that none of us have. He knows that we must commit our lives to Christ if we are to experience eternal life now and forever with him in heaven. It sounds wacky to give your life to a man who died on a cross two thousand years ago. But God knows how the game ends, and we must trust his plan for our lives because he always wants to give us the best through his perfect love. Place your trust in Christ and advance to the eternal playoffs in heaven.
Prayer: Father God, before I was a believer, I thought that the story was a crazy one. But I know it’s real, and I can’t wait to see how the story ends when I get to see Jesus face to face. In the precious name of my Savior and Lord, amen.
I AM COUNTING ON YOU
Matthew 28:19-20, Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 2:8
Therefore, go and make disciples … —Matthew 28:19
A giant in the world of baseball and sports died on July 13, 2010. George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees and a man of great contrasts, died of a heart attack at the age of eighty. He was nicknamed the Boss because everybody knew that he was in complete control. George made his fortune in the shipbuilding business before buying a once-proud-but-fallen Yankee franchise at bargain basement rates in 1973. Steinbrenner made a $9M purchase and turned millions into billions, as the Yankee franchise is now worth over $1.5 billion dollars.
Steinbrenner had a passion for winning and settled for nothing less than excellence day in and day out for over thirty-five years with the Yankees. His drive fueled the Yankees to seven world championships, his most recent coming in 2009. My first recollection was how many Yankee managers he had fired and how many free agents he had signed for exorbitant sums of money. But the stories of George’s behind-the-scenes generosity, his handwritten notes of encouragement to players, and his mellower attitude during his last few years painted a more complete picture of the man.
Derek Jeter, the Yankee all-star shortstop and future first-ballot Hall of Famer, shared a story that happened when he was an eighteen-year-old rookie in the Gulf Coast League, the lowest Yankee farm club. Seemingly bigger than life, George came up to Derek, put his arm around him, and said, “Derek, we’re really expecting big things from you.” Derek couldn’t believe that George knew his name, and the story obviously stayed with Derek like an epiphany.
Jeter certainly delivered big-time for the Yankees. Twenty-two years later Jeter is undoubtedly one of the greatest Yankees in franchise history, having accumulated over 3,400 hits, five Gold Gloves, over 350 stolen bases, over 250 home runs, and over 10,000 putouts or assists. Who will ever forget his back flip to nail an Oakland runner at the plate in the AL playoff game? Jeter also led the Yankees to five World Series championships.
A second story was that Steinbrenner believed that there was 10 percent more in every man than the man thought he was capable of delivering. George sought to find it one way or another. We all know that the real boss, our heavenly Father, is so much, much bigger than anyone. Yet God loves us so much that he yearns to have a personal relationship with each person. God’s plan became crystal clear when Jesus uttered the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God firmly and lovingly wraps his arms around each believer and says, “We’re really expecting big things from you.”
God is the generous giver of all gifts, mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23), and grace (Ephesians 2:8). Our primary desire should be to know him as well as we possibly can. As an outpouring of our love, God expects us to demonstrate and share the good news, day in and day out (2 Timothy 4:2), with people that we come into contact with. God gave us way more than 10 percent extra because he poured the Spirit of his Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6), and he sealed us with the Holy Spirit for eternity (Ephesians 4:30). We don’t have to try to do it all by ourselves ( John 15:5) because he equipped us with the power of the Holy Trinity, the best team ever. God wants our availability much more than our ability.
God envisioned great things from each of us twenty-two years ago. Now is the time to come through for him.
Prayer: Oh magnificent and most holy I AM, thank you for the life lessons that I can glean from the world of sports and the world of business. Through these lessons learned, I can share them with a world that needs to know that you were, are, and always will be the boss. In the precious name of the One who took my place at Calvary, amen.
Matthew 27:51, Hebrews 4:16
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom … —Matthew 27:51
If you’ve ever been to a large sporting event, you’ll notice that there is a pecking order. There is a big difference between the nosebleed and courtside seats. There is nothing like an all-access pass that allows you to go anywhere in the arena or stadium. An all-access pass at the Masters golf tournament is equivalent to getting into the press room, the clubhouse, and out on the veranda near the putting green. It’s cool to even be at Augusta, but eventually, you find yourself staring at the people on the clubhouse grounds at the tables under the giant oak tree. You wonder what it would be like to be on the other side of the ropes.
At the 2010 BCS Championship game, an all-access pass got you onto the field before and after the game. My daughter Allison’s boyfriend (and now husband), Kevin, got a sideline pass to the Alabama-Texas game, and she wished that she could have been there with him. Note: Kevin’s celebrity status resurfaced last week with the replay of the game on the SEC Network.
At the NBA Finals, you could stand in the tunnel next to Kobe or Lebron just before they jog onto the floor. Anybody who has been to the Final Four would love to be courtside to see the interaction between players, coaches, and officials in the high-pressure game situation. An all-access pass at a concert would get you onto the back of the stage as performers excite the crowd with well-known songs.
In the Old Testament days, the only person with an all-access pass was the chief priest. But the chief priest could only go behind the veil in the holy of holies once a year, sort of like Super Bowl Sunday comes once a year. On that day, the chief priest cleansed himself before entering the holy of holies and presenting the sacrifices before God. That was the one day a year that someone interacted with God.
But Jesus changed all of that. After God could no longer look upon the sins that his Son carried to the cross, the temple walls collapsed and that curtain was torn in two forever. The tearing of the veil indicated that all people now had twenty-four-seven access to God through Jesus Christ, who sits as our intercessor when we talk with God. Jesus is the all-access pass that everyone needs to come boldly to God’s throne.
Prayer: God, how awesome it is that I can come to you at any time, night or day, when I need to talk. Help me remember that there are many times that you want to come talk with me. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Before you read this post…I cannot believe that I posted the Gatorade ice bath devotion just days before the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral! Who knows..maybe there was a connection!
WHO NEEDS THE O-LINE? WE’VE GOT THE A-LINE!
Luke 15:10, Romans 8:28, Revelation 5:11
I heard the voices of many angels round about the throne …
—Revelation 5:11 (KJV)
One of the most important aspects of a football team is the offensive line, or the o-line. When the o-line opens huge holes for the powerful, swift running backs, this group of unsung heroes makes it possible to move the ball down the field. The o-line performs another important duty when the members work together to perform a protective pocket around the quarterback when he drops back to pass. This pocket of protection keeps the quarterback from being tackled before he passes the ball to his swift set of receivers. Only during replays is it obvious that the o-line made it possible for the QB, the running backs, and the receivers to shine. Without an effective o-line, a team stands little chance to win.
Just as the o-line protects the quarterback from injury, God uses his legions of angels to keep us safe. Perhaps there have been times when you have faced grave danger but somehow you came through unscathed. When we get to heaven, I believe that we will understand just how many times the angels’ line of defense, the a-line, came through for us. God likely used angels to protect Daniel in the lion’s den and to protect David as the young lad slew Goliath. God used an angel, whom some believe was Jesus, to protect Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Just like the o-line, the a-line is made up of unsung heroes who don’t receive nearly as much press as the Holy Trinity. Even the misunderstood Holy Spirit gets more attention. That’s the way it should be, but the a-line deserves credit also. Let’s take time to remember the next time we’re in a close scrape and God brings us through. Maybe, just maybe, there were five angels performing a pocket of protection.
Prayer: Dear God, help me realize that there are angels all around protecting me because you care about every detail of my life and are thinking about everything that happens around me. For that, I give you my deepest thanks. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Excerpt from Final Score! In the Huddle
THE GATORADE BATH
Luke 3:21-22, Ephesians 4:30
And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him…
Invariably, the winning head football coach receives the traditional Gatorade bath at the end of the game. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Gatorade bath originated when New York Giants OG Jim Burt doused Head Coach Bill Parcells after a game. Apparently, Burt teased Parcells all week at practice that he would soak him if the Giants won. Now, I’m a cold-natured person, and I don’t like cold showers at all. I won’t take a cold shower unless there is no alternative. My first thank-you of the day to God is sometime in the first five seconds of that soothing hot water hitting my back. So when I see two burly linemen carrying the bucket of ice-laden colored liquid to dump it on an unsuspecting coach, I cringe, especially when the temperature on the field is colder than the water. Dumping an icy torrent of Gatorade seems appropriate for a young coach on an eighty-degree day, but when you dump it on an old coach on a cold day, that’s insane. The winning coach gets the icy bath. Why not dump the Gatorade bucket on the loser? It’s also dangerous. My wife, Becca, recalled that Long Beach State Head Coach George Allen, seventy-two, formerly of the Washington Redskins, received an ice-cold water dousing in 1990 from his overzealous Long Beach State football team. Unfortunately Coach Allen came down with pneumonia and died six weeks later, and the dousing may have been a contributing factor to his decline. Maybe Gatorade baths are one reason that head coaches make the big bucks.
So we see these coaches being baptized with Gatorade. The effect on their nervous systems must literally take their breath away. The Holy Spirit comes upon you in a different way when you receive Christ. The same Holy Spirit that you and I received also descended bodily upon Jesus just after he was baptized in the River Jordan. I wonder how cold that water was. You are changed forever when you are bathed in the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t feel like the Gatorade bath, thank goodness. When you are bathed in the Holy Spirit, you are sealed for eternity. What is God going to do if you sin, because you will still sin? He’s not going to reach down and yank the Holy Spirit out of your body like you’ve got on a cheap shirt because you have been sealed for eternity with the Holy Spirit. God says to Satan, “This one is mine! You can never take this one away from me.” Soon, you will observe that the worldly things that drove you to distraction no longer have the same hold on you because that is Living Water flowing through your body.
Envision the Gatorade bath after an upset of your archrival washing away the frustration of a losing season. In a similar fashion, the baptism of the Holy Spirit washes away the frustrations of trying do it all by yourself your whole life. Now you will learn to allow God to lead you and direct your life. Being cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ is imperative for salvation, and the Holy Spirit is God’s way of putting the icing on the cake. It’s a gift that only God can pour on you and into you.
Prayer: Most gracious and loving God, please pour out your mercies, blessings, and grace upon me. I am grateful for every single gift you give me. And I’m especially appreciative of the Holy Spirit, the gift that seals me for eternity in you and with you. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Excerpt from Final Score! In the Huddle
NEED A FRESH JERSEY?
The one who lives and believes in Me will never die ever. Do you believe this?
—John 11:26 (HCS)
At our summer basketball camps and league play, some nights, the A/C doesn’t work very well. The temperature in the gym can be eighty degrees, which means plenty of sweaty bodies. We use reversible jerseys to move kids between teams so that the games remain competitive. Those sweaty jerseys become stinky jerseys after a couple of nights, especially if the jerseys are thrown into a pile. The next day, if you pick one up and take a good sniff, you might need smelling salts to revive you. By hanging up the jersey and letting it air out, it’s not so bad, but the stench is still there. The only way to get a fresh, clean-smelling jersey is to wash it in soapy water. The clean smell returns, and that jersey is worth wearing again. You exchange a stinky, smelly, foul-smelling jersey for a fresh, clean, sweet-smelling jersey.
Before we knew Christ, our life’s odor to God was always like that stinky, smelly jersey in the pile for three days. The odor came from the buildup of sin in our lives because we consistently disobeyed his law, which angers God. Don’t believe we stink before we are saved? It’s true. The only way to get rid of our putrid odor is to be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. We don’t change our lives so much as we exchange our old lives for new lives in Christ. Paul made it clear in 2 Corinthians that when someone becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a new person. The old person is out; in with the new.
I heard Paige, a former missionary to the Russian republic of Kazakhstan, share this story that helps illustrate the point. One afternoon, she was on a bus in Kazakhstan, sitting across the aisle from a man whose odor she described as simply repulsive. He had open sores, his hair was dirty, his clothes were filthy, and his odor reeked across the aisle. As she looked at him, she sensed God speaking to her. What? You don’t think your sin is smelly, stinky, and repulsive to me?
Just as we exchange a filthy jersey for a clean one, we exchange our filthy, sinful nature for one that is pure in Christ. When you turn from sin and place your trust in Christ, immediately you are cleansed by the blood of our precious Savior and given the Holy Spirit. As Jesus works within you, the difference in your new life versus your old life should become as striking as the difference between the putrid jersey and the clean jersey.
You will constantly get ugly stains (sin) on your new jersey. But the way to get rid of them is to spot clean your jersey. Tell God exactly what caused the spot and where the spot is, and together, Jesus and God will cleanse you. First John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
You will stain your new jersey, but you should not retain the stench of your old jersey. If you do, you might be a false convert, having never actually received the Holy Spirit. A false convert hears the Word and gets excited for a while but falls by the wayside when trials and temptations come.
Go ahead and sniff your jersey. Need a fresh one? Jesus is holding a clean number 1 jersey just for you. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus is the only way to God and to heaven.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for spot-cleaning me when I confess what I have messed up and for making me as pure as snow again. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Every Ball Counts!
1 Corinthians 9:22 Whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him, so that he will let me tell him about Christ, and let Christ save him.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the Word of God urgently at all times, in season and out, when it is convenient and when it is not.
I spent two weeks in India in late May and early June. It’s a fascinating culture in many ways from the beautiful mountain vistas to the spicy vegetarian food to the 115 degree climate to the all-consuming traffic in the major cities. I had never seen that many vehicles so close together, not even in New York City.
As far as sports, the people of India were excited about the World Cup (soccer), but they are absolutely crazy about cricket. I learned a lot about cricket while I was there because cricket is broadcast constantly on Star Sports, the Indian sports channel for cricket. America has The Golf Channel, and this network was the equivalent of The Cricket Channel.
There are different types of cricket matches. The traditional match is called a test match, which pits two international teams over a five-day period. The teams play a match of 90 overs. An over is a series of six balls bowled by the bowler to the batsman. The pace of play is leisurely with a morning session, a break for lunch, and an afternoon session.
The newest cricket match format in India is called a T-20. This match lasts for several hours, and the length of the match is similar to a nine-inning baseball game. One team bats for 20 overs, and then the other team bats for 20 overs.
The pace of the T-20 match is fast-paced and aggressive due to the limited number of overs. The goal is to score as many runs as quickly as possible by batting the ball over the 360 degree boundary in the air for six runs, which is called a six, or beyond the boundary on the ground for four runs, which is called a four. Because of the limited number of opportunities, every ball counts in a T-20.
While I was there, the India Premier League (IPL) held its T-20 playoffs and championship, which was hyped like our Super Bowl and the Final Four. In the championship match the Kings XI of Punjab batted first and posted an impressive 199 runs for the Kolkata Knight Riders to chase. After Kolkata’s star went out quickly, their chances looked bleak, but “Koolkata” scored a 6 and a 4 in their 20th and final over to take the title, 200-199!
The test match and T-20 match are contested at different paces, which made me think about which pace we Christians are supposed to use. The apostle Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 9:22,“Whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him.” Invest time to get to know people and develop relationships that allow people to see the love of Christ in your life. That approach is similar to the five-day test match. But Paul completed that verse with the purpose, “so that he will let me tell him about Christ, and let Christ save him.” Paul also reminded us of our sense of urgency in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word of God urgently at all times, in season and out, when it is convenient and when it is not.” That is the T-20 pace. Let’s take advantage of the opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ that result from our relationship building. Just like every ball counts in a T-20, every opportunity to share the gospel can count eternally.
Father God, help us live our lives in ways that bring honor and glory to you. May we take advantage of each opportunity to share your love. Thank you for the Holy Spirit which gives us discernment to go at the test match pace or the T-20 pace. In Jesus’s name amen.
I tried my hand as a cricket batsman. I believe that I will stick to golf.