Joey Sparks
30Jul/120

Everybody Just Do Your Job

On January 1, 1979, Alabama and Penn State met in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to crown the 1978 National Champion. Most fans in our area, if not across the country, remember this game for its fourth quarter "Goal Line Stand." Penn State ran the ball twice from the 1 yard line and the Alabama defense denied them both times. Alabama won 14-7.

Alabama-Penn State Goal Line Stand (courtesy The Crimson White)

Alabama Linebacker Barry Krauss is heralded for making the tackle on the 4th down play that kept Penn State out of the end zone. Earlier this Fall, when Alabama played at Penn State, Barry was interviewed about that play. When asked to describe what happened, he simply said, "Everyone just did their job."

He then explained the difference between that play and the third down play when fellow linebacker Rich Wingo made the tackle. On third down, Krauss was assigned to defend the lead blocker, thus freeing up Wingo to tackle the ball carrier. On fourth down, the assignments were swapped. Wingo absorbed the blocker, while Krauss leaped to stop the Penn State running back.

We as the Lord's church can learn a lot about teamwork from the sports world. Those linebackers did what they were assigned to do. But everyone else on the field--the defensive line, outside linebackers, and defensive backs--also did what they were assigned to do. In the moment, they were concerned about doing their jobs. They didn't care who would be featured on the best-selling Daniel A. Moore painting.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Peter says each one is to use his or her gift in serving one another. Doing so is how we show we are good stewards, or caretakers, of the gifts God gives us. Living for ourselves is not only a detriment to the church, but it is irresponsible and disrespectful toward God and what he's given us.

Our goal should always be, "...that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ." Search your heart for what you do best (not necessarily what you want to do best). Commit to using it for God's glory in the lives of others. The church is already victorious. But we can "win" everyday if we all just do our jobs.

7Feb/090

Say It Ain’t So, A-Rod

I appreciate ESPN's bottom-line feature in principle. I don't enjoy, however, receiving big-time news through it (& I hate when I see the final score to a game while I'm watching the highlights of that very game, but I digress).

I've caught wind of several monumental announcements by way of the bottom line. I remember finding out about the deaths of Alabama/Kansas City Chiefs great Derrick Thomas and Redskins safety Sean Taylor. I found out that Dennis Franchione was bolting from Alabama to Texas A&M through the bottom line. I often keep up (not with excitement, though) with the latest Terrell Owens "he said/he said" soap opera that scrolls by. Today, I read about one more death.

Baseball is dead.

It's only hope was actually on dope. Sports Illustrated is reporting that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for two different kinds of anabolic steroids in 2003. He was the one guy with the ability, numbers, personality, and exposure to restore an air of integrity upon a previous era of infamy.

I don't foresee people getting as upset about A-Rod's doping as they did about Bonds and Clemens. Inconsistency is the one thing that has characterized the entire debate during the steroid era. I don't see that stopping now. The 'fair' thing to do is to toss A-Rod under the bus and out of the Hall the same way everyone's done Bond, Clemens, and McGwire (especially considering there's already more 'proof' of A-Rod's usage than any of the other three--a positive test). That doesn't matter anymore, though. A lot of people were cheating in baseball. Too many to know or to count. Since we can't accurately know who was doping or not, I'm afraid the baby will end up getting thrown out with the dirty water.

We should hope for some young studs to rise up and take over the game in the name of fairness, integrity, and honesty. For now, the future looks bleak.

Filed under: debate, news, sports No Comments
8Aug/071

Bonds & 756: A Call for Consistency

This is not a post that is spiritual in nature...it's just a soapbox of mine. Despite the passion that this post may seem to express, it's really not that big of a deal to me. I just think we're often shortsighted when it comes to controversial issues like this.

Okay...by now the entire connected world knows that Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's 33-year-old career home run record Tuesday night. Personally, where I stand on the issue is quite different than most. I applaud his effort. I celebrated the achievement last evening. I smiled when he hit it.

Many baseball fans chose long ago to not "recognize" Bonds as the HR champ if he ever passed Aaron; I would like to choose to not "recognize" the last five Iron Bowl match ups between Alabama and Auburn, but that doesn't change that Auburn has officially won all of them.

More importantly, in my opinion, is how so many people in America have not only thrown Bonds' record out the window, but also consistency and common sense.

Don't get me wrong: cheating, lying, deception, harming your body drastically are all things that violate God's will for our lives. I'm not in anyway condoning any use of substances he may have allegedly depended upon. Bonds (nor McGwire, Sosa, etc.) is not a role-model of mine. If I had children, I would push them toward respectable athletes like Ken Griffey, Jr., Derek Jeter, Brett Favre, and Hank Aaron. That's where I stand on Bonds.

Here's where I stand on the record: it stands. It stands with a period and not an *. Here are several things that should be considered before throwing Bonds (and his record) into oblivion:

Steroids:

It looks pretty obvious Bonds used some substance(s) to get bigger, have better vision, and essentially knock more home runs. For those who insist it should be footnoted in history that Bonds used steroids (despite the lack of positive evidence), I have one question: why is this the only accomplishment questioned? Why not place asterisks on all of the World Series trophies from 1998 through 2004? If we're going to label those years the "steroid years," then it's very likely the Yankees (3 championships), D-backs (2001), Angels (2002), Marlins (2003), and everyone's darling Red Sox (2004) probably had juiced players in their lineups. Should the record books show that the Cardinals (NL runners-up) played in the 2002 World Series instead of the Giants, who clearly benefited from Bonds' drugged dingers? Pull that NL pennant down from AT&T Park, and sew a big fat asterisk on it! Yes, Pete Rose is paying his dues for gambling by not being in the Hall of Fame, but he still has his hits record...without an asterisk. Couldn't he conceivably have included an opposing pitcher in his bets: "You throw me a hanging curve, and I'll give you 20% of what I win tonight." Consistency must be considered if we're going to asterisk 756.

Additionally, the reason steroids are considered a big no-no is because they give a player an "unfair advantage." An unfair advantage over whom? If I cheat on a test in high school, it's unfair to the teacher and to the other students. If a whole class of students cheats on a test, its an unfair advantage over the teacher. In sports, your competition is the opposing team. Juicing may not be healthy; it may not be ethical; but let's not call it unfair until we know how many players were doing it (since they're all competing against one another). If a batter is facing a 'roided pitcher and hitting it to 'roided fielders, who themselves will in turn be 'roided batters themselves in the bottom half of the inning, the only way it's unfair is if the batter is clean! Rick Sutcliffe talked about a conversation he had with Wally Joyner not long ago. Joyner says he feels guilty looking back on his career...not for doing, but for not doing. He feels almost as if he let his family (more money, etc.) and teammates (more production) down! I'm proud of his integrity, and that answers the question, "what ever happened to Wally Joyner?", but clearly Joyner knows how widespread this problem was. When there's no way to know how many juiced pitchers Bonds faced and how many juiced homers the Giants' opponents hit, it's inconsistent to claim he had an unfair advantage.

Finally, if we know Bonds and all these guys used steroids, they need to be arrested, not asterisked. Millions of Americans are outraged because Bonds cheated and took away Hammering Hank's record. Yet, no one seems to care that steroids were (and are) illegal!

The Record:

Here's why all of a sudden fans have become concerned with "ethics" in sports (they really don't care, it's just this issue): they don't like Bonds. The media has continued to paint him as a jerk. Based on the way he treated poor Pedro Gomez at the press conference last night, it seems like that picture might be somewhat accurate. The truth is that people don't want to replace one of the classiest athletes ever in Aaron with one of the jerkiest in Bonds. If pitcher Mike Bacsik was the one breaking the home run record (as he said he dreamed of doing), the media would have less of a reason to dig up and emphasize any controversy...because he has a good media personality. Changing who is atop the home run list doesn't mean that we have to do any replacing...it's just a number. If you like Aaron because he's classy, and did things the right way, then keep liking him. Why should you let a pompous, juiced, egomaniac change your opinion?

Similarly, it's a generational thing. Bringing up Bacsik again, if someone with his personality (a good one) would have broken the record, there would still be a lot of people who didn't like it. Because "they don't play ball like they did when I was growing up." Or "baseball's not the same for me anymore." Or "that kid will never replace Aaron in my mind." 33 years ago, some people pretended like race was an issue with Aaron trumping Ruth. For those lunatics, race wasn't really an issue, they just didn't to see their hero (Ruth) replaced with someone else (Aaron). It's a lot easier for people to say they don't like Bonds having the record "because he used steroids" than because "he's not Hank Aaron." 30 years from now, no one will care about steroids as much as we act like we do now.

Finally, comparing such a specific record across generations cannot be done equally. Not only did Bonds appear to have a scientific advantage, he played in smaller stadiums, in more games per season, and against thinner pitching staffs. Likewise, Aaron played in more games per season and in smaller ballparks than did Ruth...and he didn't pitch either. I can't remember the guy Ruth passed, but clearly something wasn't equal. Ruth broke the all-time record with his 129th home run. He would go on to hit 586 more. If we claim Bonds' isn't the real home run king, we could equally claim that Aaron never was the real home run king, etc.

Add an * if you must, but Bonds broke the record. I just hope that we can begin to view sports and the world around us reasonably and consistently...and without *'s.

Filed under: sports 1 Comment
30Jan/070

Too Few Doing Too Much?

The sports world was saddened to learn yesterday that 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was euthanized.

I'm not a fan of horse racing because it's almost inseparable from gambling. However, it is a little sad to know this valiant horse lost his battle with complications from a horrific injury over nine months ago.

One thing I found amazing was that it appears Barbaro was put down in part because of laminitis--an inflammatory foot condition which commonly occurs in horses. It appears that while Barbaro was "re-habbing" his injured leg, his weight was too much for his other 3 legs. This likely caused the laminitis. Notice the quote from the AP article linked above on SI:

In this case, it was the laminitis that attacked both front feet that left him vulnerable. "That left him with not a good leg to stand on," [Dr. Dean]Richardson said.

God designed four legs to evenly carry the heavy weight of a horse's body. When fewer than four legs are forced to carry that weight, it causes problems for the whole body.

What about the work of the church?

God intended for all Christians to carry the weight of bringing lost souls to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19). If only few Christians are bearing the burden of a lost world, the whole body will suffer. Without everyone doing his or her part, the church can't grow into the world-changing force in God's design. Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 4:15-16:

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that is builds itself up in love" (emp added).

When each member is working properly, the body grows. That's the way it works in nature. That's why Barbaro's body responded negatively to his injury over the last several months. Are we making sure God's design for everyone working in the church is being fulfilled? God--and the world for that matter--is depending on us.

Filed under: Bible, church, sports No Comments
15Oct/060

ALCS & NLCS: Year of the Hats

In the Major League Baseball playoffs this year, the "final four" teams participate in the National and American League Championship Series, respectively. This year, to me at least, the four teams remaining (yeah...this is a little late, Detroit's already eliminated Oakland in the AL) share a common thread: cool hats. This just might be the best year for hats in the history of the Championship Series. Now for the hats:

National League:


New York Mets (Home Blue)

versus

St. Louis Cardinals (Home)


American League:


Detroit Tigers (Road)

versus

Oakland Athletics (Road)

Baseball hats have always fascinated me. Simplicity is a must...identity is crucial. In a rare crossing of stars, this postseason has arranged four highly-respectable lids for fans to enjoy. May the best teams (or hats) prevail...

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31Aug/060

02.26.06 Bulletin Article — What Might Have Been

I’ll admit it. I watched something I’m probably not supposed to have watched. Thursday evening I watched the end of the Ladies Freestyle Figure Skating in this year’s Winter Olympics (Turin, Italy). Patriotically, I had an interest in seeing America’s own Sasha Cohen as she went for Olympic gold. She entered the event narrowly in first place over the favorite from Russia, Irina Slutskaya. At the end of the evening, both Cohen and Slutskaya were on the medal stand together. However, neither won gold. Cohen won silver, and Slutskaya won bronze. They both fell during their 4-minute routine; the gold medal winner, Shizuka Arakawa, didn’t falter at all. The looks on those young ladies’ faces while they were on the medal stand were far more interesting than their performances. Arakawa’s expression was the epitome of elation; Cohen’s and Slutskaya’s demeanors said, “I could have been up there right now instead of down here.” They no doubt were asking, “what might have been?”

Unfortunately, it seems that “what might have been” was the U.S.A.’s official Olympic motto for these 2006 winter games. What would have happened if Michelle Kwan was healthy and skated in the place of Emily Hughes? What would have happened if Shani Davis, Chad Hedrick, and the rest of the speed skating team had decided to get along? What would have happened if Lindsey Jacobellis didn’t do a hot-shot jump as she was crossing the snowboarding finish line and lose the gold medal? What would have happened if Bode Miller would have put his skis where his mouth was?

I am proud to be an American; the Olympians who represent me make me feel blessed to live here. However, we can’t help but think about how close we came to doing exceptionally well this year. Although spiritual lessons abound with events like the Olympics, I think it’s helpful for us to notice one lesson together from all of this: we as Christians don’t need to look back and ask, “what might have been?”

Several Biblical personalities have come to the end of their lives and wondered how things might have been different if they only would have done what was right in the eyes of God. After losing his property, reputation, children, and wife, don’t you suppose that Lot wondered how things might have been different if he would have chosen a different place to live (Gen. 13:10-11; Gen. 19:1-38)? The Hebrews writer tells us of the regrets of Esau in 12:16-17, “that no one is […] unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” Moses viewed the promised land from Mt. Pisgah and wondered what it would have been like if he would have only obeyed God and treated him as holy (Num. 27:12-14; Deut. 32:48-52). In the New Testament, Judas regretfully questioned his actions which led to the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:3-10). These examples remind us all of the importance of every decision we make. In many ways, our eternal destiny is at stake.

For those who have not yet become Christians, will you end up thinking about “what might have been” if you would have only been obedient to the gospel (Acts 24:24-27)? For us as Christians, we need to be aware of the possibility of giving in and falling away (Gal. 5:4). We can overcome that temptation by remembering our security in Christ (Gal. 5:5), and depending upon Him for strength (2 Tim. 4:17).

Paul is a perfect example of someone who was on the track of regretful living (Gal. 1:13-14) and changed his perspective through obedience and endurance in Christ (2 Tim. 4:6-8). May we follow his example in our lives and remain faithful to the high calling (which yields high rewards) in Christ (Phil. 3:14).

May we never spiritually ask, “what might have been?”

31Aug/060

02.19.06 Bulletin Article — Backyard Tag, Tug-of-War, and (Father) May I?

We had a great crowd at this past week’s T.N.T. (Totally Neat Thursday)! Thanks to everyone for coming and supporting this great opportunity.

For the past several T.N.T.’s, we’ve been able to go outside because of the unseasonably warm weather. Typically, I tell them that various trees, poles, and other landmarks are the boundaries for the various group games we play. Without fail, those imaginary boundaries don’t work very well. This past Thursday, I took some white crepe paper and made official, noticeable boundaries. From my perspective, it seemed the kids had more fun inside the clear-cut boundaries than they did within the imaginary ones of previous meetings. I think there’s a strong lesson for us all: we need boundaries.

Fortunately, God has given us boundaries. Unfortunately, it’s a culturally popular thing to throw out the importance of boundaries. Even many professed “Christians” deny the existence of numerous Divine boundaries. This area is likely where Postmodernism has hit the hardest. Postmodernism basically asserts that we only have the authority to set our own personal boundaries. I can’t tell you what to think or do; you can’t tell me what to think or do. Sadly, many of today’s brightest minds are treating God with this postmodernistic attitude. May we be thankful for God’s boundaries; may we abide by them in order to please Him.

This issue will be at the heart of a more specific issue over the next several months. One hundred years ago (1906), the official census recognized the separation between the churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)/Independent Christian Churches. Now many of our brethren are pushing for an official reconciliation between the groups. However, they are pushing for the churches of Christ to make an apology of sorts—admit that we were wrong 100 years ago to sever fellowship. The issues at the heart of the division involved instrumental music, fellowship with denominational bodies, women in leadership roles, and denominational methods of church organization. Essentially, many who are members of the Lord’s church are throwing out the boundaries and saying we were wrong to uphold the boundaries 100 years ago. In this dramatic, adult version of backyard games, religious leaders are opting for no boundaries even when God has clearly defined them.

What are we to do? Uphold the truth about the boundaries God has given us. We don’t have to be rude about the issues (Matt. 10:16). We don’t have to abandon loving responses (Eph. 4:15). We can be tactful and appropriate while being firm about God’s authority in spiritually significant matters (Jude 3).

How God’s authority is handled is at stake in this religious tug-of-war. He has spoken about what he accepts musically in worship (Heb. 13:15). He has identified those who have fully obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41-42, 47). We only have the right to obey his specifics in these and other areas of our service to Him.

We are playing a spiritual “Mother, May I?” game as we try to reach the presence of our glorious Creator. He has told us the steps to take. We can’t choose to skip if we’ve been told to walk. We can’t take 7 steps if we’ve been told to take 5. May we remain consistent in our respect for God’s authority; may we uphold and defend it no matter what. Principally, obedience to God’s authority is as easy as children’s games. Spiritually speaking, the rewards and consequences are much greater (Matt. 7:24-27; Heb. 10:26-31).

29Aug/060

06.25.06 Bulletin Article – World Cup Fever

As Kerry and I were sitting in the hospital waiting room during Sandras surgery on Tuesday, I glanced through the edition of U.S.A. Today Kerry had purchased. One of the cartoons was featured above letters received from readers. Those letters related to the lack of U.S. interest in the current World Cup taking place in Germany. The cartoon showed Uncle Sam sitting on an examination table speaking with his doctor. He says to the doctor, I just cant seem to catch World Cup fever. The United States is notorious for not having the same enthusiasm for soccer as the rest of the inhabited world. There are many reasons for this, but thats for another situation. Soccer is one of the most simple and pure games played across the globe. I think it worthy for us to gain some lessons from this popular game:

Teamwork is a necessity. If youve seen any footage of this years World Cup games (or games from any year for that matter), you see exactly how large the playing field (specific term is pitch) soccer is played on. It has a much larger total area than American football fields. When you think about how large the field is and you think about how soccer is played (sometimes with long kicks down or across the field), you see that soccer cannot be played but with a great team. Even the best athletes need other great athletes in order to be successful in soccer. As Christians, we need each other. As the church, teamwork is required. When Paul was telling the Ephesians about the importance of unity, he reminded them of the purpose of everyone having different gifts in 4:12-13. Paul says, "to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." We need to build each other up and work toward maturity within the church and stress the importance of teamwork.

Patience is required. In watching a soccer game, it is often said that it is boring. Part of that comes because it takes a while to set up offensive and defensive schemes and to work the ball into passing lanes and have the right angles to make passes and shots. In a game of 90 minutes, 1-2 goals is respectable. 3 goals is a scoring-fest. Therefore, players need patience to find the opportunities for goals when they arise. Fans need patience as they root for their team. We as Christians need patience as well. Notice the words of James in 5:7-8, "Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand." Lets be patient as Christians until the end.

Good things happen when youre in the middle. As a kid growing up playing defense, I was told to keep the ball out of the middle. Its a general principle that your chances of scoring are much higher if you have the ball in the middle of the field as your trying to score. Similarly, good things happen for Christians when were in the middle of working for the Lord. In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." Lets be sure to get out there and stay in the middle...of the Lords work.

The world is watching. It is very likely that the World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world. If its not, it rivals the Olympics. Even if countries dont have a team in the World Cup, they still are fans of soccer and still keep up with the tournament. If you havent had a taste of how much the world is into the World Cup, go to Pepitos sometime during the day: soccer decorations, US/Mexico flags flying, and yep, World Cup matches on both TVs. The world is interested in the World Cup, the countries involved have the opportunity to make statements on a global stage. Similarly, we as the church have the opportunity to reach the people of the world with Christ. Most people of the world cling to religion of some sorts. Therefore, we have the opportunity to use common ground and teach them about the good news of Jesus Christ. Thats exactly what Paul did in Acts 17 among the philosophers of Athens. He started with what they believed and taught them about the true God.

The world is watching us as Christians...lets do all we can to reach out to them.

28Aug/060

U.S. Open Winners (from 06.19.06)

[This is originally from 06.19.06 (the Monday following the U.S. Open)]

Okay...big golf tourney this past weekend. It's only our national Championship Tournament. Anyway, much hoopla surrounding the U.S. Open entering it for several reasons: Phil's quest for 3 in a row (the so-called Mickelslam); Tiger's return from his father's passing (would have been a wonderful Father's Day if he would have won); the most difficult course (Winged Foot) for an Open in many years.

Here's who won, in case you didn't hear: Winged Foot. The winning score was +5. I can sometimes go 3 or 4 holes and still shoot less than +5. It was hard...it was probably too hard. But, it's always fun for us amateur golfers to see these golf machines struggle like we do. Congrats Winged Foot, you conquered the world's best.

Now to a more interesting story: Tiger Woods also won. Huh? He missed the cut though. Yeah, yeah, I know he came out and had the worst two rounds in a major of his professional career. Follow me though:

Reason 1 -- Phil Mickelson's collapse on 18 shows us exactly how awesome Tiger's Slam was in 2000-2001. Tiger never buckled under the pressure of winning his 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th majors in a row. Winning a major is tough stuff. Hats off to Phil for winning 2 in a row. Hats off to him for playing so well this weekend; many notable names and former major champions were sitting at home (or on their yachts like Tiger) while Phil was digging through trash and hanging out by the hospitality tent. Because Phil lost it--if only momentarily--Tiger remains the standard for major excellence. When Tiger is on, everything is on: body, mind, emotions, clubs, caddie, crowd, swooshes, cutaways to mom, commercials, etc. Phil's a great American story; Tiger's the American standard.

Reason 2 -- Tiger's apparent "failure" shows us that he is in fact human and that he can't actually win every tournament in which he plays. Maybe he wasn't prepared and focused because he was too busy consoling his grieving mother, or being consoled by his wife, or spending time with his brothers. Maybe that's how I want my heroes. Sure, sports' writers wanted to put together that emotional piece about Tiger winning the Open for Dad on Father's Day. While that thinking is an attempt to weave sports and life together, it fails to do it accurately. Life is unpredictable, hard, and doesn't always end in smiles and "happy tears." Here's the deal, Earl Woods raised Tiger to be the best. Being the best doesn't always mean winning. Thanks again Tiger for inspiring us. This will last longer than the title of 2006 U.S. Open Champ.

Reason 3 -- Tiger got to spend more time with Elin on their amazing luxury yacht.

And of course...real props to the guy who took home the trophy: Geoff Ogilvy. Even though he has not one, but two weirdly spelled names, he managed to sign both of them correctly on the winning card. He had some amazing shots, check out the re-broadcast if you have a chance.

Can't wait til the British...

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