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Life Lessons Learned from the Colts’ Victory

This past Saturday night, my sons and I had the opportunity to attend the Colts' playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs. At halftime, the score was 31-10 in favor of the Chiefs, and so I asked my boys "Are you guys ready to go yet?" I didn't want to watch anymore of the blowout, and I knew there was no way the Colts could come back. No way. But my boys wanted to stay, and so we did, even though the deficit increased to 38-10 at the beginning of the second half. In what seemed to be the improbability of the improbable, slowly, but surely, the Colts chipped away at the deficit. As the home crowd was going wild, near the end of the fourth quarter, Luck and the Colts went ahead 45-44. The Chiefs had the ball with only 2:00 minutes left to go, and Alex Smith, the Chiefs' quarterback threw a long pass which would have set them up nicely for a go-ahead field goal, but the receiver caught the ball out of bounds. The Chiefs then turned the ball over on downs, and all Andrew Luck needed to do was take a knee and run out the clock. The Colts’ victory was the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history. Lucas Oil Stadium was electric with celebration, cheers, noise, and pandemonium. When we left the stadium, my boys asked me, "Dad, aren't you glad we stayed?"

I try not to be too ‘preacherly’ with my children and use our life circumstances for sermon illustrations and blog entries, but this time I couldn't resist. On our drive home after the game, I commended my sons for not giving up on the Colts, even though it seemed like an impossible deficit to overcome. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Colts had just a .9% chance to come back and win the game. I told them they taught me a lesson that sometimes when the odds seem stacked against you, if you stay the course and don't panic, you can still overcome. Even when it seems impossible. Here are a few more life lessons I learned from Luck and the Colts this past Saturday night.

1. Stop looking at the scoreboard. When things aren't going that well, whatever the circumstances may be, stop focusing on how far behind you are, and keep focusing on what you need to do next. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." We learn from the example of our Lord to set aside everything that holds us back, and that includes a sense of despair that we will never find a way out of the hole we're in. We also look to Jesus, the One who has been there before. He faced far greater circumstances of persecution and suffering than we ever have or will face, and yet He found a joy set before Him to endure the cross.

2. Run one play at a time. That sounds obvious, of course, but too often when we are behind, discouraged, and ready to give up, we just want to throw "hail Mary's" and hope for the best. The Colts ran their offense one play at a time. They kept chipping away at the lead. And they didn't expect a turn-around to come in one offensive series. The same thing applies to us. When you're facing a situation where you're down and almost out, stop looking for the magic wand to whisk away all your problems. There is no such thing as "lottery Christianity." Being a Christian is a daily process of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him (Mark 8:34).

3. Keep playing defense. As the Colts offense started to flourish, they still would never have reclaimed the lead if the defense got down, discouraged, and gave up. The defense tightened up, and that fueled the offense’s hopes that maybe, just maybe, they could turn the game around. Likewise, if we’re ever going to get ahead in life, marriage, family, faith, work, etc., we not only run our offense, but we have to keep playing defense. In the famous passage about spiritual warfare, of all the battle implements listed by the Apostle Paul, only one of them is for offense, and the rest are for defense. We have the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and through this offensive weapon we can bring down our enemy’s strongholds and usher in God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). But as we wield the weapon of grace and truth, we also defend ourselves so that we might “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). With the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our shoes fit with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation, we are equipped to wage war regardless of the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces set up against us.

Be encouraged. Do not be dismayed. Regardless of how far behind you may be, know that God has not given up, and you shouldn’t either. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Houston We Have a Problem

To allow Pastor Rick time to enjoy the Christmas season, we are re-publishing some of his most popular blog posts of 2013. (Originally published on November 21, 2013)

In Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, he writes, "All good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality. . . . It is impossible to make good decisions without infusing the entire process with an honest confrontation of the brutal facts." This statement is not only good advice for companies, but it's also good advice for marriages, parenting, and churches.

In marriage, spouses can very easily slip into the "neutral zone" where everything looks neutral: it's not really bad, but it's not good, either. There's no color, no spark, and no joy. Everything is a dull gray as the husband and wife rarely speak to one another, take time for each other, and basically live separate lives under one roof. How do we splash color on our marriages and create a spark once again? Only when we confront the brutal fact that our current reality is not healthy. When we're honest about our condition, we're far more likely to search for the remedy.

In parenting, moms and dads can find themselves being a taxi service and calendar scheduler more than a discipler and nurturer. I've been traveling a lot the past four weeks, and I realized I hadn't had a meaningful conversation with my daughter during that entire time. So, yesterday I picked her up from school and took her out on a date. I wouldn't have done that, though, if I didn't confront the brutal fact that I've been an absentee dad over the past month.  

The same thing applies to the state of the church in America today. Many churchgoers are content with the drabness of their faith and church experience. Much like the frog in the kettle, many churchgoers aren't even aware there's a problem. But there is. Every year more than 4,000 churches close their doors compared to approximately 1,000 new churches that start. There are just over 350,000 churches in the U.S. today. I'm no expert in math, but when we have a net loss of 3,000 churches a year, that means we would be almost "churchless" in roughly 100 years. Churchgoers are also getting older, on average, than the general population. The younger the generation, the higher the percentage that reports they are unaffiliated with a church. Every year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the U.S. declined by almost 5 million members (9.5%) while the U.S. population increased by 24 million (11%).

Houston, we have a problem.

It's time to confront the brutal facts, not so that we wring our hands in despair, but so that we get on our knees in prayer. In marriage, parenting, and churches, we need to be honest about our current reality in order to wake up to the Spirit's leading for repentance and renewal. To repent means to change your mind and go in a different direction. We change our minds by acknowledging that where we are is not good in order to begin moving to a better place--to a healthier marriage, family, and church. We repent of letting the weeds grow in our hearts and homes, and then we renew our commitment to kill the weeds and grow healthy once again.

Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:4-5, ESV). Confront the brutal facts. Have you abandoned the love you once held for your spouse, your children, your Lord? Has your heart grown cold? Are you in the "neutral zone" of your marriage? Is your church just going through the motions? If so, it's time to repent and do the works you did at first. Return to the love you once had. "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 21), and "the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1Peter 5:10). And praise God that He will. 

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