Denise and I saw an outstanding movie the other day. “When the Game Strands Tall” is a movie about a football team that went on a 151 game winning streak. It was a small private Christian school in California. Over ten straight conference championships. One coaching staff. The coach is played by Jim Caviezel. (He played Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ". No wonder the school did well; they had Jesus for a coach.) All kidding aside, it is an incredibly moral film with some strong Christian overtones and many genuine, faith based conversations.
The story begins with their first loss in 15 years. It begins with the death of one of the leaders on the team in a random shooting. It begins with the heart attack of the coach who is not as perfect as he seems to be. It begins with a group of kids more worried about their own reputation and records than being a good team… It begins in the tension of life as we see what seems like a great thing on the outside become a curse to live up to on the inside.
As we watch on screen, we see a coach wake up to his responsibility at home. We see players wake up to a sense of team responsibility over personal goals. We see a young man who lost his best friend wake up to the fact that God is not cursing him, but opening the door of ministry for him to others around him. (You can keep your Hallmark movies… I’ll take a good sport’s drama any day. I cried like a baby.)
It reminded me of something in my own life. Sometimes the greatest awakenings in our lives happen after some of the hardest circumstances.
I wish this wasn’t so true. I wish that we would just get it the first time God says it and automatically add it to the life wisdom we are searching for. I wish spiritual growth was as easy as down loading updates on the computer. (Even though that can be confusing and sometimes does not end up the way we thought it would…) But spiritual growth is not that simple. It takes an awakening.
I was reading in Galatians for my personal devotions this week. At the end of the book, Paul builds to a great climax of spiritual truth. Read his words:
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world's interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn't matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. NLT Galatians 6:14,15
We see Paul excited about Jesus and what Jesus did for us on the cross. We read his words of conclusion about how all that counts now is that we have been transformed – changed by God. And yet, we might miss in the middle is the struggle… what led him to this conclusion. It was a 15 year argument between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the first century over circumcision. Did converts need to become Jewish before they could become Christians? For 15 years that debate went on. In the midst of that struggle, even some of the other apostles sided with their Jewish roots. But in the end of the struggle, we see a great awakening… what we were is not as important as what we are becoming. Whether you used to be a gentile or used to be a Jew is of no consequence now – now you are a new creation.
A new creation. In the midst of becoming new, we will find incredible joy... sometimes birthed out of incredible hardship.
To celebrate the new ability to love those around us without selfishness, takes learning to deny ourselves being the center of it all.
To celebrate the new ability to give with joy means that we need to fight through the hold money has on our heart.
To celebrate the new identity of being alive means that we have to consider ourselves dead to old sin. We go through a funeral before we are reborn.
Awakening follows a period where we realize that we have been asleep…. or that we have been dead. That we have been oblivious to something of God that has been available to us the whole time. And that realization can be painful… but without that realization, there can be no new life.
This year, our theme is awakening. Coming alive to God fully in our lives. And this process will bring us great joy… it begins as we realize who we are and what that means….
I look forward to the year as God wakes us up. Once we are awake, we will never want to go back to being asleep.
“Hello My Name Is”
By Matthew West
Story behind the Song…
“Hello, my name is Jordan and I am a drug addict.” That was the first sentence of this young man’s story that he sent to me. He went on to tell me how for years that was how he identified himself. A two sport, all star athlete in high school, Jordan received a college scholarship to run track and play football at a university in Kentucky. But during his sophomore season, Jordan broke his ankle. That is when he received his first prescription to Oxycontin. He wrote about how addiction quickly took a hold of his life and sent him spinning out of control. After two failed drug tests, the university kicked him out and removed his sports scholarships. Jordan had lost everything he had worked for. He landed at a place called Teen Challenge in North Carolina. Teen Challenge is a Christian rehabilitation center in the business of restoring lives with the hope of Jesus Christ.
Jordan said it was during his time in Teen Challenge that he began to realize that God wasn’t done with him yet, and that all of those defeating titles like “addict,” didn’t have to be attached to his name the rest of his life. His story is far from over. He told me that in the years since his recovery, he went back and got his master’s degree from the very college that kicked him out. Now, he is a teacher and a coach and a newlywed. And he has recently felt God calling him into full-time ministry.
He closed his story by saying, “These days I introduce myself a little differently than I used to. Hello, my name is Jordan and I am a child of the one true king!”