Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Links

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to pull together every now and then links to some of the good articles things that I read on the internet. I'll call this (weekly?) feature "The Links" and it will generally contain 4 or 5 links to articles, some related to Christian living, some to ministry, some to sports and some to .... well, we'll see. I hope you will be blessed and enjoy the things I link to, and I'd love to have you post in the comment section any links along these same topics that you've enjoyed. So, here is week #1 of The Links!

1. John Piper has 6 reasons why he thinks pastors should blog. I'll let you check them out for yourself, but #'s 1, 3, and 5 were influential in my deciding to blog and what I will post about.

2. This post on Kevin Deyoung's blog was challenging. Kevin is a pastor and an author I have enjoyed reading over the past couple of years. He is the author of "Why We Love the Church" and "Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be)". This post is done by a guest to his blog, Jason Helopoulos and deals with the issue of when a person should leave, or stay, in their church. Let me say right off that I love the church I am in and am thankful to be here. I do often have conversations with people who are thinking about making changes and have wanted to give them better counsel. While I don't necessarily agree with everything Jason says here I think he makes a lot of good points and demonstrates a high commitment to his church family in a culture where people move on for some very silly reasons.

3. My friend Brian Aaby is on vacation in Hawaii, but somehow during his vacation he posted this helpful post for youth pastors who struggle, or want to improve on the administrative side of their job. I am certainly one of those youth pastors and I thought this post had some good suggestions that are easy to put into practice. Thanks Brian!

4. The Mariners fired their manager, Don Wakamatsu yesterday. Hopefully it was not because of my previous post about the Mariners season (scroll down if you want to see it) as Curtis Bryan said to me. Geoff Baker is the Seattle Times beat writer, and people usually love Geoff or can't stand him. I think Geoff does a good job and usually agree with most of his analysis. His article about Wakamatsu's firing, Ken Griffey Jr, and the future of the Seattle Mariners is really interesting.

5. Art Azurdia has been a teacher, friend, and mentor to me for the last 5 years. I've been blessed to take several classes from him at Western Seminary, and he preached several times when I served at Riverlakes Community Church. Recently Art has planted a church in Portland, called "Trinity Church" and they are in their pre-launch sermon series called "Distinguishing Features of a Gospel Congregation". Art is a powerful preacher and he has really shaped my view of preaching that Jesus Christ and His Gospel must be at the heart of every sermon. If you are looking for something good to listen to that will strengthen you in your walk with Christ, this is it!

What about you? What links and sites have you enjoyed lately?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Seattle's Greatest Sports Failure

Seattle is a city well accustomed to sports disappointment. The 93-94 Seattle Supersonics had the best regular season record, only to lose to the Denver Nuggets in Round 1 of the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks had a fantastic regular season in 2005 going 13-3 earning a trip to the Super Bowl. Disappointment reached new heights as the Steelers/Referees defeated the Seahawks 20-10. This list could go on, with disappointments like UW vs. UCONN (rip Hamilton anyone?) and the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116 wins, lost in ALCS). Within all the failure and disappointment of Seattle Sports I would rank the 2010 Seattle Mariners as the greatest failure in Seattle sports history.

Expectations for the 2010 Seattle Mariners were high coming into the season. The 2009 version of the Mariners was a very pleasant surprise. Coming off a disaster 2008 season, the Mariners pitched and defensed their way to a very encouraging 85-77 record. The off-season served to raise expectations even higher for the 2010 team. Jack Zduriencik added versatile Chone Figgins and made the splash of the off season acquiring ace Cliff Lee at a bargain price from Philadelphia. The Mariners also re-sigined Erik Bedard and locked up Franklin Guitierez and Felix Hernandez to long to term contracts. Zduriencik and his emphasis on pitching and defense were the talk of the pre-season. ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated had feature articles on the M's as the trendy pick to win the west. Mariner fans drooled at the prospect of a post-season rotation of Felix-Cliff Lee-Erik Bedard. Ichiro and Chone Figgins were going to create havoc on the base paths and our Milton Bradley and Jose Lopez were going to be steady, if not spectacular run producers.

Today however, the Mariners sit at 42-70, third worst record in the major leagues. Cliff Lee has been traded, Milton Bradley has been hurt, suspended, and terrible when in the lineup. Franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr. retired after an ugly end to his brilliant career. Mariners fans are once again looking at August and September with an eye to the future and our talented young players in AAA. So why are we here? How did a season that looked so promising end up as a total failure? Four reasons stand out:

1) MIA in the Middle. I'm referring to the middle of the Mariners batting order. The Mariners rank 30th (out of 30 MLB teams) in every major offensive category including batting average, home runs, on base %, slugging %, and OPS (on base + slugging). Several Mariners have had career worst offensive seasons including Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, Ken Griffey Jr (now retired) and Casey Kotchman. Some writers suggested that despite all their positive off seasons moves the Mariners still needed to add a middle of the order run producer. Without hitters that can drive in runners with power, the Mariners are forced into a position where they need 4-5 consecutive "small ball" hits to produce a single run. This has also not happened, leaving the Mariners starved for runs and leading the league in shutouts against and 1 run games.

2) Trouble at the Top. The top of the order, that is. Ichiro-Figgins looked like they would be the new, dynamic, 1-2 punch the Mariners had lacked in previous years. Ichiro gets on, Figgins works the count, both of them steal bases all over the place...PRESTO, offense! Far from it. Ichiro has had a solid, but uninspiring season hitting .310 with 28 stolen bases. Until a recent hot streak Chone Figgins had hovered around a .200 batting average all season, making his $9 million dollar contact look more like a ball and chain, rather then a value. Chone and Ichiro have not clicked and it has sunk the Mariners. Whether it is age slowing Ichiro down, or changing positions in the field and in the batting order that has thrown Figgins off the Mariners failure falls heavily on these two guys.

3) Bull in the Pen. One of the greatest (and most surprising) strengths of the 09 M's was the bullpen. David Aardsma emerged as a go-to closer. Shawn Kelly and Shawn White surprised as solid middle guys, and Mark Lowe was as good an 8th inning set-up man as there was. Not so this year. Mark Lowe was hurt early in the season, not pitching like himself, and eventually DL'd for the rest of the season and traded to the Rangers. Sean Kelly was good but injury prone again, and Sean White demonstrated what some people claimed all along, that last years success was a fluke. Aardsma's numbers don't look terrible at first glance, but early in the season he blew key saves against the White Sox and Angels that were the catalyst for the M's long, downward slide.

4) Bad Grades in Lab Class. Team Chemistry Lab that is. Plenty of fingers to point in this situation. Griffey (reportedly) falling asleep in the clubhouse; Milton Bradley blowing up and then taking a leave of absence for personal problems; Mike Sweeney challenging everyone to a fight; and Chone Figgins trying to go MMA on Don Wakamatsu. A strength of last years team has been a failure this year. Different analysts value chemistry in varying amounts, but no one will argue that this years Mariners clubhouse has been a dysfunctional group and that dysfunction has negatively affected performance on their field.

This years Mariners are at the top of Seattle sports failure. The failure has not been as dramatic or instantaneous as some (Rip Hamilton again). Instead it has been a long process of what the Fugee's called "Killing me Softly", or in this case, "Killing Me Slowly".

Honorable Mention Seattle Sports Failure: 5) 2008 Huskies Football (0-12) 4) 97-98 Sonics (losing to the Bulls in the Finals) 3) 2001 Seattle Mariners (116 wins, lose in ALCS 2) 2005 Seattle Seahawks Superbowl.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vacation Reading

This week I've been blessed to enjoy a tremendous week of vacation with my family. As we prepared for this week I was excited to choose some books to bring along. One of the books I brought was "Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World" edited by CJ Mahaney and other Sovereign Grace pastors. Having read almost everything CJ has written I expected this book to be biblical, practical, personal, and convicting. I was not disappointed.

In chapter 1 CJ begins by asking the question "Is this verse in your bible?" The verse he is referring to is 1 John 2:15 which says "Do not love the world or anything in the world." As CJ unpacks, our reactions to this verse are 1) ignore it and 2) load it up with qualifications and "apply it to those more "worldly" then ourselves."

What is worldliness? CJ defines it this way: "Worldliness, then, is a love for this fallen world. It's loving the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God. More specifically it is to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God. It rejects God's rules and replaces it with our own. It exalts our opinions above God's truth."

It's easy for me as I look at areas of my life to see where worldliness creeps in and takes a foothold. A few months ago I bought a FLIP digital video camera. I love it! It's easy to use and easy to sync it with my computer to create videos. I thought I had purchased the best, most up to date version of the camera, but last week I saw someone who had a newer, slimmer version of the camera with greater memory and in a different color. Immediately I was unhappy with my version and was thinking of ways that I could upgrade. Worldliness!!

Another area that is an easy area for worldliness to take hold in my heart is my love for sports. Mariners....Seahawks...Huskies...Sonics, oh, wait, not them anymore. But wow, these things so easily dominate my time, my thoughts, and my emotions. During baseball season it is so easy for me to want to dedicate 3 hours per day to enjoying the Mariners on TV. During football season my weekend can easily revolve around watching a Huskies game on Saturday afternoon and the Seahawks on Sunday. Some of you my rightly question my sanity in devoting myself to teams with such poor won-loss records as these, but I don't think I could quit being a fan if I tried. But as I look at these uses of my time and the lack of true valuable return they bring to my life, it's clear that if I do not control my enjoyment of these pleasures that these pleasures will control me!

CJ and his co-authors point out throughout the book there is nothing wrong with enjoying things of the world as a gift from God. No where in the book will you find a list of things to do or not do, movies to watch or not watch, music to listen to or avoid. The book works at every step to avoid setting up a legalistic set of rules that everyone needs to follow to avoid worldiness. Rather, throughout the book they pose questions for you to consider in areas including Media (TV, movies, internet), Music, Possessions, and Clothing (especially modesty).

What is the antidote to worldliness? How can we defeat it and make sure nothing competes with our love for Jesus Christ? It is not through a set of rules, and it is not from withdrawing completely from the world (as some throughout the ages have advocated). CJ says "Only through the power of the cross of Christ can we successfully resist the seduction of the fallen world. The Savior's death on the cross is what makes possible forgiveness of sin and provides power to overcome sin. And the cross is the attraction that draws our hearts away from the empty and deadly pleasures of worldliness.

So, what am I going to do about what I have learned? How I am going to practically put into practice God's command not to love the world, or anything in it?

1. A one-year fast from all fantasy sports. This is tough one for me and one that I have really wrestled with. I have played in the same fantasy basketball league with a group of 11 fantastic guys for the last 7 years. I love the competition of putting together the best team and have even won the league championship several times. In the past 2 years I've enjoyed dipping my toe into fantasy football and fantasy baseball as well, with some success. These things take some serious time and energy from me though, time and energy that I am sure could be used for things more glorifying to God and better serving my family and my church. So, for at least a year, I'm giving them up for the goal of loving things in the world less so that I can be more devoted to the Lord, my family, and my church.

2. Less TV, more reading and devotional time with my kids. This shouldn't be tough, but it is. One the surface, we'd all say "time with kids is SO much more valuable and important then what is on TV." But at the end of a long day I want some "me" time where I am on the couch, enjoying some (worldly) entertainment. So, from 6pm-9pm I'm going to work on keeping the TV off (maybe the DVR will be on) and focusing on things that really matter.

3. My money. I have a designated amount of money every month that I can spend on whatever. It doesn't have to go to bills or payments or anything in particular. Where we spend our money though can be a real insight into our hearts, and I'm sure this is true with me. Even in my discretionary spending I want to focus on things that matter, things that glorify God, and not things that our temporal or self focused. So for at least a couple of months I'm going to write down everything I spend my discretionary money on, and how much I spent, and share it with Heather and pray over it. We'll see what happens, but I expect it will be quite revealing.

I highly recommend the book "Worldliness". It's far from legalistic. It's thoroughly Biblical, challenging, insightful, and easy to read. Even if you don't think Worldliness is an issue for you it's a great read. I'm actually loaning it to a family member who was intrigued by the topic. Have you read anything good on this topic? Have you seen this book? I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!