Super Bowl Christianity.

pats eaglesPhoto courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles – Kiel Leggere

Here’s a link with 43 verses in the Bible about eagles: https://www.openbible.info/topics/soar_on_wings_like_eagles. They show why the Philadelphia Eagles were definitely going to win.

Today was Super Bowl LII, and it was the first time I had some younger brothers from my church over to my place to watch the game – it was the first time one of them had ever watched the Super Bowl. My cousin and I took them to Sprouts to shop for ingredients, and it was a good time to get some relationship building going not only because it’s valuable to invest in the younger generation, but also because they’re just genuinely awesome younger brothers whom we both taught in Sunday school. We made guacamole and had a taco bar going with some brown butter kale (don’t knock it ’til you try it), sautéed onions, pico de gallo, skirt steak (seasoned with salt, pepper, and fajita seasoning, cooked on a cast-iron skillet and finished with a squirt of lime), tortilla chips, corn, and a homemade corn salsa.

But before all of the feasting and beasting (looking at you, Nick Foles) happened, some thoughts occurred to me as I was driving them from church back to my place. Christians who happen to get deeply emotionally invested in the outcome of a game (like the Super Bowl) are often criticized for doing things like “praying for their team to win” or even saying things like, “_______ is the Lord’s team.” We also love when athletes profess their faith publicly, but sometimes turn blind eyes to the actions that they take that are less than Christ-like. I actually think the criticism is fair, and I agree that Christians should really stop doing absurd things like the aforementioned because it reflects a pretty serious misunderstanding of the Gospel in how we approach others. Nevertheless, I’d like to use the Eagles as a fulcrum for the point I want to make about how Christians ought to engage with sports in faith.

Here are some testimonies from the Philadelphia Eagles’ players. (PLEASE watch it, it’s actually really cool and encouraging, and I think we could all stand to learn from what the players have to say on how to reach their neighbors.)

Now, I can see the temptation on the Christian’s behalf to say, “Well, it’s clear why the Eagles won—they’re a praying team!” I want to resist this intuition. It suggests that there is a competing component within the faith of one team or group of people relative to another team or group of people; believing something like seems to suggest that “more faith leads to rewards now,” when we as Christians should be focused on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). What we as Christians should be praying about in sporting events like the Super Bowl is not that the team we support would win games, but win hearts. At the end of the day, praying for another team to lose could very well amount to praying the sorrow of a fellow brother in Christ on the other team. This ought not be so. Instead, as Christians, we ought to examine where our treasure is; is it really in the momentary glory of triumph? (I know some might say that I’m downplaying the significance of this first Lombardi for Philly, but I’m searching for a deeper purpose than even that.) Even more, how does God look upon the players on that field? I may be stepping beyond the truth of Scripture here, but it doesn’t seem blasphemous to say that He cares for every player on the field. He knows their needs, their shortcomings, and their struggles—and He deeply loves and cares about each of them. The players all have families that they’re supporting, and it’s often too easy to use the television screen as an occasion to forget that these players are made in the image of God.

When Christians point to the faith of the Philadelphia Eagles, I hope they don’t use their on-field success as a measure for their faith. And for the Philadelphia Eagles themselves, as they continue to have their prayer meetings and Bible studies, I hope that their honest prayer is that in all things, God would get the glory, victory or otherwise. Whether they are successful or not on the field is of little eternal significance. What’s of lasting importance is that they continue to be faithful stewards of the platform that God has given them and set their minds on things that are above (Colossians 3:2).

Having said all this…#FlyEaglesFly. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13 ESV).

ertz divePhoto courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles – Drew Hallowell
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Generally Relevant Experience.

Today was GRE day, and it was a day full of being mindful of God’s hand in my life. From the get go, I woke up with a slightly stuffed nose and a cough, but soon after I finished brushing my teeth, breathing deeply cleared my nasal passages – thank You, Lord.  I checked my phone and had received a few text messages from my friends with prayers and well wishes – thank You, Lord.  I went downstairs to make myself breakfast, but found that my mom had already made breakfast for me – thank You, Lord.  I checked how long the commute would take after using Google a few days ago to predict the commute time, and I found that the prediction was way off mark; it would only take me twenty-two minutes as opposed to the predicted forty-five to fifty minutes – thank You, Lord.  After arriving at the testing center, I was able to find the testing center without too much hassle, and I ventured into the room at 8:15 a.m.  After locking up all my belongings and entering the exam room, I found myself confronted with the computer screen I’d be looking at for the next few hours.  Taking a moment to pray, I was overcome by the thought of all the people who had been praying for me with regards to the exam – thank You, Lord.  I began the test, and found the first essay topic fairly accessible, finishing with ten seconds left – thank You, Lord.  In each of the one-minute periods following the sections, I took time to quickly pray and ask that I be more focused on His glory than on my results, thanking Him for surrounding me with family who would be praying for me and standing with me as I took the test.  The next essay was also fairly straightforward, and I finished with an extra two minutes – thank You, Lord.

The rest of the test was filled with prayer before and during each section, and at times of frustration or confusion, I felt encouraged when I thought about the blessing that existed in having a praying family.  Eventually, I finished the test, got my scores, and walked out.  I was really satisfied with my scores, and I found that my heart was full of praise; as I started my car, the song that was playing on the radio was “10,000 Reasons,” and I thought it couldn’t have been more fitting.  However, as I listened to the song and sang along, I began to realize that so much of the day had been in God’s hands from the beginning.  I also realized how much bargaining I had done with God prior to the test, and felt deeply that I was, once again, not given what I deserved.  I didn’t deserve the scores I had gotten because I really hadn’t worked that hard.  I didn’t deserve the mercy that was evident – and that I was mindful of – throughout the day.  And yet, God was pleased to guide me along the path He had for me.  In the depth of my embarrassed acceptance of God’s mercy, I found myself making new promises that I wouldn’t keep, and I realized that God had mercy not because of what I had done, but because His love was and is for who I am.  Thank You, Lord, for loving me despite myself and for being faithful in every season of my life.

Lent is Due.

So, this post has been long overdue.  Perhaps it is because of a variety of other distractions that have propelled me into obscurity, or perhaps it is because there just hasn’t been much inspiration for me to take hold of.  Regardless, it’s finally time to go through the self-conscious catharsis that is writing and talk about what happened during my Lent period.

Since my last Lenten season, I had lost around fifty pounds as a direct result of what I sacrificed for Lent: sugar.  However, this time around, I’ve taken on a completely different lifestyle, getting subtly obsessed with body image and physique.  Therefore, this Lenten season was all about removing myself from being consumed by how I looked – specifically the number on the scale.  I vowed to not weigh myself for forty days.  What I found during this seemingly carefree time was an agonizing period of insecurity about weight and body image.  Every day I went to the gym, I gazed longingly at the scale, wishing to know how much weight I had convinced myself I was putting on.  In the bathroom, I would poke around and see which places got softer – eventually this began happening regardless of location.  I spent a lot of time locked in a constant internal turmoil over whether I should take the time to relax and let go of body image for a bit or feeling like I needed to tighten up my discipline even more during this time when it was difficult to truly ascertain how “fit” I was.  Some days there would be a profound sadness in myself realizing that I was slowly losing all that I worked so hard for in the past year, and that somehow, I was gaining weight no matter what.

However, I’m thankful that the God I love is one who provides peace in my heart when I need it.  Days when the struggle was particularly hard were turned over to the Lord in prayer, and eventually, the violence in my heart subsided and settled down.  Days when I let the anxieties overwhelm me were filled with tinged with the melancholy that comes with insecurity and acknowledgment of letting myself go.  But God, in His infinite love, says in His Word, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).  During this Lenten season, I experienced firsthand the peace that He provided because I stopped gazing at myself and fixed my gaze on Him.  It’s probably easy to think, oh, look at this guy, he’s not even that aesthetic, how dare he be filled with pride. And to some extent, you’re right.  But it’s just another part of my humanity showing when I want to celebrate the progress I’ve made because only I know the amount of effort put into it to get to where I am.  Nevertheless, it’s the mercy and grace of the Lord that delivers me from myself because He knows that what I really want to do is forsake my insecurities and quell the prideful uprising in me to pay more attention to myself than to Him; the flesh is weak, but the spirit remains willing.  Everything I learned in the gym hasn’t gone to waste, however; straining under weights can be applied as a spiritual concept – God is the only spotter you’ll ever need, and you lift with your prayers, not with your legs.  May I continue turning my inwardly critical eyes onto Him and fully enjoy His love and mercy towards me.

Poet’s Prayer.

A flighted request to heaven above

for inspiration borne of shattered love.

A prayer for broken-hearted song,

to which listeners may sing along.

~

The heart, in joy, requires no words;

it soars on wings of spirit birds.

Yet tears speak volumes, all their own

in memories past yet to disown.

~

I ask to cry with tears of time,

imbibing force into my rhyme.

The desperate tragedy of life

mars not the countenance of strife.

~

Aghast at sorrow’s fleeing form,

a shredded heart remains still torn.

Before long, pain will set anew

melancholic, hazy, tearful view.

Wind at My Back.

The wind is at my back now, pushes further on,

a whistling soft and easy, as breeze becomes my song.

The ground below, whether friend or a foe

is constant changing, so I’ll never know.

Errant path viewed as erroneous way,

the wind whispers whatever He would say:

Not a sparrow falls apart from Himself,

so blow the dust off the mind’s old bookshelf.

Wherever I go, His will will be true,

I just pray for grace in a sky turning blue;

mistakes will be made, but Love should not fail

for God is in all, and His will shall prevail.

And so we forgive, for He forgave first,

sending His Son to begin our rebirth.

Mercy desired, sacrifice cast off

yet how many “know,” and still dare to scoff?

I pray for forgiveness deep in my heart,

that I may be swift and as sure as a dart

to forgive those around me, moved by His love

understand why I’ve been called from above.

I pray for His wisdom, to know what to do

for this world is dying, and lest I should rue,

may He grant me discernment in speech every day.

I pray for the fear of Him, knowing His way.

The wind blows on, and the thoughts are all lost,

but Lord, I pray that I remember the Cross.

Scars.

Once wounded, we never forget.  Scars have to do with a kind of forgiveness; if we are physically wounded, it takes time to heal and for the body to forgive the offense we rendered unto it.  Forgiveness is never far from a freshly formed scar.

At least, this is something that we tell ourselves.  But when the pain is deeper than the surface, what do we do?  The easy thing to do is become infuriated, leading onward to more destructive (and more often than not, self-destructive) behavior.  Or perhaps we can let bitterness seep into the heart, quietly storing up an acidic venom that will, sooner or later, ruin the relationships that we have.  “To forgive is human, to forget is divine.”  And yet, how hard is it to do even that, to forgive?  Sometimes, I find that though I tell myself I’m a forgiving person, that very pride in my own forgiveness causes me to fail and that pride becomes warped into a kind of convoluted self-hate stemming from a lack of forgiveness towards others, and disappointment in myself for my pride.  Inherently a very violent individual, the individual that people see comes from years of this process of hurt, failure to forgive, humbling before God, and forgiveness from God.  Tempered by the anvil of experience, my personality is still an unrefined, double-edged sword; it bites to the extreme and cleaves to either one side or the other.  And that is exactly the weapon that I am, to myself, to others, and to God.  I am intrinsically an extremist; the notion of the radical is embedded with the veins in my body.  Only through the molding of society, experience, and God am I made temperate and benign; but there are still moments at my core, particularly when I find myself feeling alone, that the most brutal, treacherous notions come to mind to truly destroy all relationships that I have built up.  Last year, there was just too much encouragement – indeed, I feared it at the end of the year.  I began deceiving myself into thinking that I am who I am in the eyes of others, that I actually had some wise things to say, that I was, perhaps, an example.  I saw that I needed to be crushed, and no greater opportunity revealed itself save for this one.  The one I completely poured my heart into, missing the vessel of God and instead splattering it all on the earth.  The mask I forged in high school began showing; I was terrified of showing my true colors for fear of people fleeing from my true self; the love for man was greater than the love for God.  There was a time when I truly desired God – I grew.  And now, I can fear that growth being stymied by my humanity, stifled by the Enemy.  I was too proud of my position; like Satan, I reached for the highest and have been brought low.  Echoes of a past rebuke from parents, saying that a seed of Satan had been planted in me come to forethought.  And over what?  Hiding a quarter (not semester) report card because I (accurately) assessed that they would hurl my ascending motivation to improve back to the nether regions of morale.  All of this is just an excuse to blame others in lieu of blaming myself, but after having put on the act of being selfless for so long, the selfishness of who I actually am is resurfacing. This, I find, is where humanity crumbles before the grace of God.  I have been too reliant upon self for too long, and this makes me hate my humanity.  As I hate my humanity, I grasp for the love of God, fumbling in the shallow blindness that is often self-imposed; relinquishing the veil is not something I am prone to do because acting has gotten me so far, hasn’t it? It’s gotten me to a point where I have gained respect, friendship, temporary happiness of a year or so.  And yet, I have been deviously escorted to the domain of faithlessness, lack of trust, and pain all in the same swoop.  The discordant sound of laughter rings in my ears, each tone a mocking pulse of consciousness, streaming directly into the soul.  The darkness spreads, and the slow blood inches out.

Forgive and forget; scars and healed skin.

Forgiving the scars, and forgetting the sin.

Where does this grace flow from, I ask?

From the presence of God, in which I bask.

Yet why should this dark, upon my soul shade?

For I know that I am wholly made.

It is I again, insidious, insatiable I

interrupting in iterated insight, I.

Destroy myself full, that I may flee

and give my heart fully over to Thee.

The cries of a desperate believer, struggling through what may or may not be an attack of the spirit, but definitely of the soul.  The despair looms great upon him, as he realizes the bleakness of his situation.  And so, he prays. And prays.  And prays.

Pour Out the Soul.

(Verse 1)

When I pray to You,

I know I cannot strive.

But it gets so hard

not seeing You’re alive.

I cry out to you

O God, and You hear,

and in Your own way

You show that You are near.

(Chorus)

Just take my tears

and bathe my soul.

Wash me clean

and make me whole.

(Verse 2)

I trust in Your Word

for I have nothing else

but to live for You

and just die to self.

Reveal to me now

Lord, Your holy will

and in my heart

won’t You come and fill?

(Chorus)

(Verse 3)

The last tear drips –

You gently wipe it off.

And all that I feared,

You bear my heart aloft.

The sun shines forth

it’s a whole new day

and I praise my God

for He has found a way.