If you profile my alma mater, you will discover Penn State University. Let me introduce you to this school nestled in the Appalachian Mountains with its nearby historical Amish population. Uniquely, it has its own post office mailing address (University Park, Pennsylvania) and houses a campus population that enthusiastically embraces football.
Despite this saturation, I never quite grasped the rules or the rabid passion of diehard football fans until I was advanced in adulthood.
With Super Bowl LVII (57) in the history books, I began to reflect on what might be called the accessories of the game. For example, the money the winners and losers earn and the perks the players get for just being in the game. For many of you ardent fans, this will be old trivia. On the other hand, I am in the stunned group that shows open-mouth shock.
This year’s Superbowl-winning players each received $157,000. The losing players each received $82,000. This is only part of the pudding.
For the winners, an additional $150,000 is added to their pre-game bonuses for winning their Wild Card and Divisional and conference playoffs. Unsuccessful Super Bowl players each received $75,000, and like the winners, supplementals for winning their Wild Card playoffs and Divisional and conference playoffs were added.
To round off the perks, there are the Super Bowl Rings made with slight differences given to each player, and the coveted sterling silver, Lombardi Trophy, reserved for the winning team.
If we could go behind the scenes, we would learn that each football team coach depends upon his secret encyclopedia of plays and strategies they believe will make them a winning team. This book is confidential and only shared by team members and players. The players must memorize all the plays and strategies within the treasured playbook.
Everyone wants to be a winner, so it is crucial that the rest of us consult our winning playbook—the real one. It contains everything we need to be a success in our life journey, and it can be shared with anyone.
The Bible is the greatest guide on how to win ever published. It is the metaphorical, spiritual playbook of life.
It is inspired by God, who loves us with an everlasting love and who cannot lie. (Hebrews 6:18) The Bible is written to offer us truth, correct our faults, and lead us into freedom and obedience so we will be fully equipped to live and win throughout life’s journey. (2 Timothy 3: 16)
I have heard famous people, religious organizations, and some pastors misquote, misinterpret, and mislead the truth of God’s playbook. Too often, fake or false statements about His playbook have dangerously adverse outcomes for those seeking the truth.
Far too often, people equalize the Church with God and make the Church responsible for their absentee relationship with Christ. They also make God responsible for everything that is evil and dark. But the Church is not God. It is made up of imperfect people who need to open the spiritual playbook as much as you or I. Anyone who claims they want to know about a loving and kind God but never opens the blessed Word that tells the story of His love and freedom He promised for the whole world, will always be critical of the Church.
Hearing someone say, “I will have to give up everything to follow God,” is an unhealthy and distorted viewpoint. God is a God of freedom and love. We are not pre-programmed computers or robots. He gave us free will to make up our own playbook. But if we choose to do it our way, without learning what’s in the official, genuine playbook, we place our journey under the direction of someone or something that is not good.
God is the perfect coach who will always make it possible for you to take home the trophy of Grace. He offers His bonuses of faith, forgiveness, peace, and abundant life.
(John 10:10; John 14:27; John 16:33)
It is time to discover and learn the substance of the only playbook that includes a priceless guarantee that we will always be on the winning team!
One day last week, I peered out of my patio window and was shocked by what I saw. The entire back wall of the patio where my flowers were planted had become overflowing with creeping and invasive greens called weeds. Like the invasion of the body snatchers, these weeds surrounded every inch of my flower bed, and some had begun to creep through the patio bricks. The much-needed rain had become the food bank for their birth and survival.
I kept thinking that getting rid of these unwanted occupants would not be easy and would require lots of time. Besides being unwanted, they were thieves stealing nutrients from the plant life around them. Some are poisonous, and some cause allergies.
Our current world is filled with weeds that invade our soul and spirit, influence our daily thoughts and actions, and steal our joy. Politics, Hollywood, guns, wars, money, environment, daily news, relationships. Why do I identify these accepted societal entities as weeds? Because they invade every aspect of our lives, and in most cases, bring negative consequences or yield rotten fruit.
Humanity’s weeds are like a revolving door that just keeps repeating its cycle every time someone enters or exits. The assaulting invaders are the same from the daily news, television, radio, smartphones, and most social media. Despite our dependence, these things are not our friends.
Although control and elimination of garden weeds can be challenging, they can be controlled and eliminated with commercial products, or natural, less harmful methods. On the other hand, humanity’s weeds have an indefinite life span and will continue, ad infinitum.
With such a bleak prediction, there is always hope for those who put their trust in God. We are His workmanship with our roots in Him, and not in the weeds of the world. Like weeds in a flower garden, humanity’s weeds steal nutrients and choke out life. They also generate fear, worry, depression, uncertainty, and hopelessness. (Mark 4:18)
The Apostle Paul reminds us that we should be able to live within this world system with integrity and godly sincerity, but we are never to depend upon the world's standards and secular wisdom. (2 Corinthians 1:12) Humanity’s wisdom is foolishness to God. Alternately, our very survival in this world system is dependent upon God’s grace (undeserved favor).
You might want to take a few moments to survey how much light (nutrients) and joy you receive from humanity’s weeds and, remember the value in the dated saying “garbage in garbage out.” Recurring input from humanity’s weeds will guarantee your life garden will be filled with unhealthy, even deadly, rubbish output.
One of the recommended methods for managing weeds on your lawn is to “water a lot, water deep” when you water.¹ This applies equally to our spiritual roots.
Pursue pathways that deepen your relationship with Christ and generously water your spirit with His presence through prayer, His Word, and His eternal love. Humanity’s weeds will have less opportunity to invade your garden of life.
Unlike our best efforts to pass a written examination by getting correct answers to difficult questions, almost anyone can get a perfect score when it comes to calculating the high cost of owning an automobile.
Given a test on the highest operating expense for a car, the easiest way to answer would be to identify the primary cost needed to provide regular transportation. I’m pretty sure everyone would get that question correct. Gasoline!
One of the noxious challenges associated with buying gasoline is fluctuation in price. There are more ups and downs in that expense than there are moves in a checkerboard game. The reasons may not make it more acceptable when you go to the gas pump, but it might add some dimension to understanding one of the forces behind gasoline production.
As most of you know, the journey for gasoline does not begin to have value to us as fuel or other petroleum products until it goes through a process. This process is called refining. Crude oil is heated in a furnace, sent to another place where it is separated through boiling, then converted by heating, pressure, or a catalyst into finished products like gasoline, etc.¹
As part of our growth--spiritually, and mindfully--God’s process for human maturity, and character involves refining. Another definition biblically equal to refining is suffering. Now no one wants to read, hear or talk about suffering. It’s painful, it stings, it creates sorrow, it seems futile, it certainly is not fun, and how is this a tribute to the great I Am? After all, what’s the point?
We should all be confident in who we are. However, within our souls we often carry around these character traits: arrogance, know-it-all, always right and never wrong, won’t admit mistakes, murmuring and complaining, self-pity, vanity, lack of empathy for others, being easily offended, etc. Sometimes, we allow these traits to define us.
Life is full of negative circumstances, but like crude oil, refining or suffering helps eliminate our crude characteristics. God’s incomparable love for humanity allows negative circumstances, even the ones that are unexplainable, to produce a product that is valuable and unique.
Remember crude oil has very little value until it is refined. It goes through several intense steps before it is ready for others’ use. Refining humankind also takes time. God sees humanity surpassing the value of money, gold, or silver even as we are being refined. God is striving for perfection and maturity. He doesn’t rush His timetable. One day with the Lord is like a thousand years. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
Because of His matchless, eternal love, God’s refining will never cease. It will continue until completion with the return of His Son.
Let the circumstances come and give thanks in all things as He continues to refine. (I Thessalonians 5:18) Be prepared to be amazed at the value it releases within us.