Publicity Stunt?

Major League Soccer doesn’t usually, if it all, make the front page news on ESPN (at least not in this country).  With the NCAA tournament in full swing and Opening Day baseball right around the corner, it’s hard for anything but those two events to break through the clutter.  But the last couple days have been different.

Major League Soccer has been the United States’ domestic league for the last 15 years and has been the most successful US soccer league to date.  There have been a few other now defunct leagues in the country since but MLS has seen the greatest fan support and revenues of all the previous professional soccer leagues.  There has, however, been tons of criticism from FIFA as well as local supporters about the structure of the league, from ownership to the league season calendar, to extra-time structure.  MLS has always done things a little differently from the rest of world because soccer is generally speaking, “the new kid on the block” in this country.  Our nation has grown up with American football and baseball for the last five or six generations.  Association football(soccer) has been established in Europe since about the late 1860’s in countries such as England, France, and Germany.  American football began in the 1890’s and baseball not long before that.  Soccer in the United States was actually the first professional league formed in 1884 as the American Football Association.  The name “football” actually wasn’t dropped until 1974 with the word “soccer” being introduced in 1945.  In 1863 the Football Association of England drafted “The Laws of the Game”to unify the many and diverse clubs throughout the country.  The first match played by the FA’s Laws was played between Princeton University and Rutgers University in 1869.  From that point until 1967 there were multiple leagues moving in and out of existence and in 1968 the more stable North American Soccer League was formed which was the most successful league in the pre-MLS era.  The United States Football Association was formed as the sport’s governing body on April 5, 1913 and the body, though now called the U.S. Soccer Federation, still governs the sport today.

Unfortunately for the U.S. Football Association, the sport never caught on the way it had in Europe.  Ironically, the earliest forms of soccer played between New England universities actually turned into rugby-like sports that were the precursors to modern day American football.  American football and baseball were uniquely American sports and were embraced as a part of the culture in a way that a foreign sport such as soccer couldn’t compete with.  The NASL eventually folded in 1984 and the sport saw a dark period in the U.S. for a little more than a decade with the exception of Major League Indoor Soccer (MISL) which actually became popular during the 80’s and 90’s.  The turning point for U.S. soccer came when the U.S. Soccer Federation submitted a bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.  The bid was successful and the World Cup was a huge success for U.S. soccer.  The final match played by Brazil and Italy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA set attendance records that still stand today.  Part of the bid proposal was a promise to create a new professional domestic league.  In 1996 MLS made its debut season and has reaped the benefits of the success of the ’94 World Cup.  The league has expanded from 10 original clubs to 18 at the start of the 2011 season.  The league fields teams from the United States and Canada and competes in the SuperLiga which is an annual competition between MLS and the Mexican Premiera Division and the CONCACAF Champions League.  MLS has continued to grow and evolve over the last 15 years and has seen increased revenues and support every season.  But without a doubt one of the biggest publicity aides for the league has come from an unsuspecting ally.

Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals has been a fan of soccer since age four and grew up playing the sport in recreational leagues.  Chad grew up in Miami, FL playing soccer and football and decided to go to college to play football over soccer.  While he excelled at wide receiver and was drafted by the Bengals in 2001, Chad has remained an avid fan of soccer and a supporter of Real Madrid C.F.  The current political troubles of the NFL have allowed Ochocinco to chase his other dream of being a professional soccer player.  In an effort to stay in shape for whenever the next NFL season is, and to just have fun, Ochocinco was invited to run a trial for the MLS club Sporting Kansas City.  The trial is slated to last four days which began on March 25, 2001 and after two days of training was asked to participate in a reserve match on Monday (today).

Ochocinco (center 85) in training with Sporting Kansas City

I believe this is a blessing in disguise, or maybe not in disguise, for MLS because Chad Ochocinco is one of American sports’ most electrifying and controversial figures of the last decade.  Known for his on the field and off the field antics, Ochocinco has captured the love and hate of sports fans across the nation.  His antics include the infamous “List” from 2005 of the cornerbacks who covered Ochocinco during the 2005 season and his “Future HoF 20??” jacket worn during a Monday Night Football game against the Ravens in 2007.  Always in the media limelight, Ochocinco is a prime candidate to draw more attention to MLS which deserves to make the newspaper headlines for once.

In all reality, Ochocinco’s trial will probably come to an end relatively soon.  He is humble about his soccer skills saying that he hasn’t played a competitive match since age ten but showed a ton of effort and gained the support of his Kansas City teammates.  His first day of training was rough as expected and was mostly used to get Chad used to the flow of the match and to get the rust off his boots.  The second day of the trial went much better for Ochocinco and was followed by the team’s manager calling Ochocinco into his office and asking him to play in KC’s reserve match.  Should he impress during the match, the trial may be extended to see if he has the quality to possibly be used on either the reserve team or first team.

The sports media has been divided on whether this is good for MLS and Ochocinco.  Media pundits have deemed the trial a publicity stunt for Ochocinco who might not be able to cause mayhem on and off the gridiron this fall and a way for him to keep his persona in the media.  Others suggest, like Ochocinco, that this is something done honestly to stay in shape and will benefit both Ochocinco and MLS.  The longer his trial, the longer MLS stays in the headlines.  And if he makes the team AND if there is no 2011 NFL season Ochocinco could be on the verge of a breakthrough.  In all reality, there probably will be a 2011 season and Cinco’s trial will probably be cut short but I say good for him doing something he loves and is trying to benefit his NFL career by staying in shape.  If along the way a well-deserving MLS gets more publicity then I’m all for it!  It can only be a good thing if MLS gets media attention during the NCAA Men’s tournament so I am emphatic about Ochocinco’s trial with Kansas City!  I wish Mr. Ochocinco luck as he competes in his match today and look forward to the 2011 MLS and NFL seasons!

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What really is the fate of every person who ever lived?

I’m not prepared for this at all, I just felt like saying what I’m about to say is necessary.  I’m sure that if you’re a Christian, or even if you’re not, you’ve heard about the recent controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven and Hell and Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Bell’s recently published volume of words is more declaration of independence than it is book.  It is his own announced and widely distributed declaration that he is splitting from traditional Christianity and the beliefs Christians have held for the 1,978 years since Christ’s resurrection.  I may take a harsh tone from here on out but  in Scripture we are told to deal harshly with people who preach a false gospel and lead people astray.  People have been called heretics for less than Bell’s claims in Love Wins.

I want to make it clear that I have not read Love Wins in it’s entirety and I am basing this post off of reviews from authors, teachers, and pastors from both sides and Bell’s publicly accessed material.  While I am not qualified scholarly or theologically to make any informed judgements on the book I do feel it is necessary to point out the main arguing points from the book and to let the Christian community know what it’s up against.  I will warn you, this post will be LONG!  Brevity is  not one of my strengths.

First of all, Bell in Love Wins is arguing that God is love.  Can anyone refute that?  No, because it is in the Bible.  Just as is the case with almost every other heresy the church has ever faced, well-meaning people trying to be nice to everyone and not offend anybody over-emphasize one point made in the Bible and subsequently overlook all other related aspects of that one point.  Such is the case in Bell’s theological treatise.  God most definitely is love as 1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love“.  You can go to so many places in the Bible to prove God is love and that He loves people, this has never been a disputed fact in Christianity.  Some of the most famous verses in the Bible are directly related to love and God’s love (John 3:16, 1 Cor. 13:4, 1 John 4:10, John 15:12, Ephesians 2:4, etc…).  In 2 Peter 3:9, Paul tells us that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance“.  This represents God’s heart for humanity as His creation and the love He has for us as Creator.  Unfortunately, God cannot love each of us with saving love because if He did bestow upon every single person who ever lived saving love, God would cease to own one of His other attributes, His holiness.

God’s holiness is arguably one of the most important attributes of God that has been revealed to us by Scripture.  Without God’s holiness there is no need of a gospel to begin with.  If God is not holy and our sin does not offend Him and separate us from Him then we don’t need a savior because there is nothing to be saved from.  The reason we are all on the brink of eternal conscious torment in hell is because of God’s holiness.  Our sin is an act of treason against the ruler of the universe.  God is perfect in every imaginable way and as supreme sovereign over everything, it is not unfitting that He require His creatures to be perfect as He is perfect (1 Peter 1:15).  This command is not burdensome to those who are living without as sin nature as our parents Adam and Eve were originally.  God was very pleased with his first two humans made in His image and loved them and fellowshipped with them.  That all changed when they disobeyed God and sinned.  After that the human race fell into sin and the sin nature was passed down through the human DNA.  It is literally engrained in our genes to be sinful.  The Bible tells us that God hates sin because it is so ugly and offensive to Him.  God cannot be around sin because it is a disgusting stench to Him.  Sin is the exact opposite of God who is good and righteous in every way.  Because God is a holy ruler He does not withstand sin and He deals with it severely.  Sin is so egregious before God that He punishes it with separation from Him and wrath.  God is compelled by His own character and moral perfection to punish sin which is completely amoral and devoid of any semblance of god-like goodness.  Simply put, sin hates God and God hates sin.  God is greater than sin so God always gives sin a beat down!

The nature of the punishment of God for sin is eternal just as God is eternal Himself.  Sin is so wicked and offensive to God that just one is enough to condemn a man to an eternity of torment in hell.  The bottom line is that hell is real and it is full of people!  Everyone who has ever lived is a sinner by nature and by choice.  The Bible says that there is no one who does good, we have all turned aside of out own choice.  We have consciously neglected God with our thoughts, words, deeds, and motives.  We sin by commission (doing things we ought not to do) and omission (not doing things God has commanded us and created us to do).  There is no one who is righteous before God.  Even our best deeds are as filthy rags before a holy God because sin is so pervasive in our lives that everything we do is stained with the crimson dye of sin.  This is the Calvinistic doctrine of “total depravity”.  Not that everyone is as completely depraved as sinfully possible, but that we are completely unable to produce anything righteous or pleasing to God because sin has complete and undisputed control over our lives.  Not everyone is a mass murderer, a rapist, and a Capone-like thug, however, we all exhibit these sins in varying degrees in all of our actions, thoughts, words, and motives.

So that’s the bad news.  God is holy and people are sinful.  God hates sin so He punishes those who practice it.

In all that it seems like I have completely forgotten about the love of God.  Many people say that doesn’t sound like a loving God at all and that a god like that quite simply cannot exist because it sounds so unpleasant.  But the good news is that Christianity and God is not based on what we think or feel!  And the even better good news is that God IS love!  You know how it goes, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life“.  The less quoted and oft forgotten next verse is even sweeter!  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  The whole point of the Old Testament is to show us our need for a savior.  This savior is Jesus Christ!  Jesus is the Son of God who shares all the same attributes of God because He is God.  Jesus is God made man who shares our flesh and lives the perfect life pleasing to God and obedient in every way that we were meant to live.  Jesus lived the life we couldn’t and died the death we should have died.  Jesus died in our place on the cross and when He died God treated Him as if He was the sinner instead of us in order that the wrath being stored up for me and you could be exhausted upon Jesus leaving none for us.  Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”.  Jesus became our sin on the cross and bore the full penalty of it from His Father and because of this great act of love we inherit Jesus’ righteousness that He earned during His life!  We are viewed as completely righteous before God, our crimson stain of sin is washed away and we wear robes of purest white!  There is no wrath for us to fear because Jesus’ immortal soul endured the eternal wrath of God on the cross.  Not even a drop of wrath is left for those who trust in this great exchange!

That is the good news, the best news!  God is love so He gave us His own Son as our savior.  We are forgiven and are counted as righteous before God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As John Piper said, “It’s all about the superiority of the work of Christ for those who are in Him over against what happened to all who are in Adam”.

By over-emphasizing the love of God as the all-triumphant force of God and minimizing, and almost negating God’s holiness, Bell has completely undermined the importance and glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ to which the church has held precious for two millennia.  As I touched on early, if God is not holy and not angry at creation for its sin, there is no need for a savior we are all lovey-dovey with God right now.  But that is not the case.  That’s why the gospel is such good news because our sin problem is the major defect of the human race and God has given us a solution!

Because of the gospel we now have access to God where we were previously cut off.  Through faith in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus we receive the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life in heaven with God.  In Love Wins Bell suggests that how we respond to the gospel in our lives is not important because God’s love will eventually win over our hearts.  This is incredibly discouraging because if Bell is correct that means that the most wicked of people will eventually come to faith in Jesus and will be with God in heaven.  Yes, according to Bell’s theory Adolf Hitler will be won by God’s love and be in heaven, Saddam Hussein will be in heaven, Joseph Stalin will be in heaven, the Roman emperor Nero will be in heaven, every Frederic Nietzsche will be in heaven, Immanuel Kant will be in heaven, Osama bin Laden will be in heaven, every mass murderer and rapist will be in heaven, every godless person who ever lived will eventually join those who lived holy, faith-filled lives and strived, suffered, and toiled for the faith of Jesus.  This seems a terrible injustice on God’s part.  Bell claims that the injustice lies in the sending of people to hell.  Traditional Christianity claims that the injustice would be in sending faithless people to heaven where those who were martyred for their faith will abide forever.  People deserve hell.  Period.  People don’t deserve heaven.  That’s why it’s called grace.  Grace is the most important word in the whole Bible because it is the world that sums up God’s disposition towards us if we put our faith and trust in Jesus.

An inadequate understanding of grace is the source of heresies like Bell’s.  Grace is unmerited favor shown to us by God.  Nobody deserves to go to heaven, while everyone who has ever lived deserves to go to hell.

To conclude this lengthy exposition, Love Wins is a serious threat to biblical Christianity and the Christian community must be educated to the threat it poses and what is at stake.  What we are fighting for is the maintaining of the true gospel because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  We contend for the truth because we represent the one true living God and we desire the world to rightly understand His nature and character so that He receives that maximum amount of glory and that more people come to faith in Jesus to receive salvation and forgiveness of their sins.  That’s all I’ll say because my fingers hurt now!  If you want to read Love Wins for yourself I would recommend it just for the purpose of being able to defend your own faith.  Grace and peace.

Lecrae Concert

This past Friday I went with a bunch of friends to a concert at a church in Lancaster, PA that was the final act of a missions conference.  The artists performing were Reily and Lecare, which I was really excited for!  I have seen a bunch of Christian rap artists live but I have never seen Lecrae and he is definitely one of my favorite artists.  Besides the music being awesome (and the DJ!), the messages he shared between songs were equally great.  It’s awesome how these Christian rappers have such a passion for the Lord and have such a great knowledge of Scripture because they pour hours of study of the Word when they write their rhymes.  Their devotion to their faith is always so evident when they pour out their souls into their music and it causes myself and others to be drawn deeper into love and appreciation for Jesus as well.

But it is always a struggle during concerts to not fall into the trap of idolizing the performer and elevating them to a position of importance higher than the God they’re singing about.  The rhymes and music point to Jesus, not to the artist.  I like taking pictures and movies of the concert so that I’ll remember it in the future, but it’s sometimes a battle to want to take a picture of the guy on stage so that I can make him my god and worship him instead of Jesus.  I trust that they have a right attitude while on stage to not want people to worship themselves, but fall back and point to Christ, but sometimes the people in the crowd forget that.  That’s why stopping the music every now and then and reflecting on the message of the music is always so helpful.  It helps to deter the temptation to make it all about the music or the performer, and to keep the focus on the One who really deserves all the attention.

That being said, I really enjoyed the concert and appreciate what Lecrae does with his musical talent and how he serves God with it.  I would upload a short video I took of the concert, but unless I’m an idiot I don’t think WordPress can upload .MOV files from iPhones…oh well.

Not to Be Served, But to Serve

Matthew 20:28: “The Son of Man came  not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

“So great and wonderful was the work that Jesus had to do for the sinner, that nothing less was necessary than that He should give Himself to do that work.  So great and wonderful was the love of Jesus towards us, that He actually gave Himself for us and to us.  So great and wonderful is the surrender of Jesus, that all that same thing for which He gave Himself can actually and completely come to pass in us.  For Jesus, the Holy, the Almighty, has taken upon Himself to do it:  He gave Himself for us…

…And now the one thing that is necessary is that we should rightly understand and firmly believe this His surrender for us. ..When I receive Him, when I believe that He gave Himself to do this for me, I shall certainly experience it.  I shall be purified through Him, shall be held fast as His possession, and be filled with zeal and joy to work for Him.”

Andrew Murray

Christian Body Art

This past weekend was Youth Advance, the lovely early March youth conference at church.  The topic of this year’s conference was “Reborn”, referring to the rebirth that comes through faith in Christ.  Each attendee and staff member received this neat removable tattoo in the shape of the conference logo which is a heart with the words “YA 2011 Reborn” inscribed in the chambers of the heart.  I was intrigued by this idea and it has lead me to research Christian tattoos.  For most of my life I have not been a fan of tattoos just because I didn’t like the idea of having something permanently drawn on your skin.  What happens when you are 65 and your skin gets wrinkly and saggy and the tattoo looks horrible?  What if you got something tattooed on you when you’re young that you regret as a mature adult?  Or if you meet a woman who doesn’t like tattoos???  But a couple of my friends, including my ex-girlfriend, have tattoos that are very aesthetic and discrete and over the last few years I have to admit I’ve sort of become a fan.  After becoming a Christian I didn’t really think that Christians shouldn’t get tattoos because God hates them, rather I saw them as an art form through which Christians can visually display their faith.  A friend of mine was saved in 2008 and shortly after his conversion had a simple black cross tattooed on the back of his forearm just above his wrist.  My ex-girlfriend has a Jesus fish on the side of her right foot and the Latin phrase “Sovereign grace” on the top of her other foot.  I know some people don’t like tattoos because our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and tattoos are mostly meant to represent pagan ideas and values.  But since there is no mention in the Bible about tattoos, I believe we are at liberty to do such to our bodies as glorifies God and not causing us or others to sin.  Especially after Youth Advance, I am more attracted to tattoos than ever before, Christian ones that is.  I have never seriously considered getting one before, but now I am actually toying with the idea.  I have no idea what or where I would get one but I like to search the internet for the best looking ones for ideas.  Here are some of my favorites.

"Jesus Saves" battle-clad Jesus defeating Satan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

not of this world

"For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus"

gotta love Becks' neck cross

STOP sinning

I’ve had like a billion people ask me since yesterday what I’m giving up for Lent this year.  These people know I’m a Christian and they assume that because I am Christian that we all give up something for Lent.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that before in my life so I didn’t plan on starting this year.  It is largely a Catholic tradition of honoring the fact that Jesus died so that we would be freed from our sins so in response, faithful Catholics willingly give up a part of their own lives to acknowledge what Jesus gave up on our behalf.  I am not Catholic, and while I do respect the tradition of Lent, when done with a pure motive and true heart, I find no need to make any sacrifices above and beyond the daily sacrifice of worship that my life is supposed to be.  However, I think that I’ve come up with a pretty witty response for the next time if someone asks me what I’m giving up for Lent.  I’m going to tell them that I’m giving up sinning.  I want to see the look on someone’s face when they hear that!  But then I thought about it for a minute and it hit me that I’m just an idiot.  I’m supposed to be giving up sin everyday of my life!  Regardless of what month it is Christ died for my sins and I’ve been freed from them and live for a new Master.  How can I go back to the filth I used to lay in when I’ve tasted of the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Dying daily is our call as Christians and living holy like Jesus is holy should be our aim at all times.

So this year for Lent I am going to give up sinning.  Not by my own power, but by the power of God the Holy Spirit.  Not because it is the month before Easter, but because Jesus Christ died for my sins and gave me His righteousness and my killing of sin is the right response for the unspeakable amount of love He showed me on the cross.  By God’s grace poured out through Jesus Christ I will stop sinning each and every day for the rest of my life.  I know there will be plenty of times when I fail and fall short of God’s standard of holiness but that’s why Jesus came to Earth in the first place.  Jesus lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died.  He now is my perfect righteousness before the throne of God in heaven.  It is my joy to mortify my flesh each and every day in praise and thankfulness of the awesome work God has done for me!

Your civic duty

I hope and pray that all the banter you read on this site does not fall on deaf ears.  Jesus Christ calls us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers.  The call to putting faith to practice is especially important when biblical and political issues coincide. Americans have to privilege to inform legislation and government’s role in our lives.  As the battle for defining marriage heats up those who are Christ’s slaves of righteousness have a unique and special privilege of being the voice of God in these dark days.  The next 18 months will be crucial in the history of the state of Maryland and it is my prayer that the Christians of this state would take up the battle standard of Christ and make their voices known to the masses of depraved citizens and lawmakers alike.

A good way to make your voice heard is to write to your local Representative or Senator and let them know your position on the definition of marriage.  Feel free to approve of their actions or rebuke them depending on your views.  They’re adults, they can handle a firm rebuking.  As citizens who elect legislators we have to right and the responsibility to criticize our leaders when necessary.  You may not hear back from your legislator for a while, or at all but someone does read all the mail they receive and it does get logged to develop where their constituents stand on certain issues.  Attending public forums when available is always a good idea too.  That way you have a captive audience of not only your lawmaker but members of the community as well.

Whichever way you choose to make your voice heard, and I pray that you do, do it with dedication and zeal.  Remember that you are serving Jesus Christ, the sovereign ruler of the universe who holds all leaders accountable for the choices they make.  That is all for today.  God bless.