Archive | May, 2013

Where are your Thoughts and Prayers?

26 May

Perhaps you have noticed that there are national tragedies—things that affect the psyche of the majority of the country in one fell swoop. Everyone is immune to a tragedy or two having an impact on someone they know, but, for the most part, the last several months have seen Sandy Hook, Boston’s marathon, and the Oklahoma tornadoes. If I attempted to make an exhausted list of the last ten years with the assistance of google, I could probably name at least five or six tragedies that hit home to you.

So, without my doing so, think of those specific tragedies and the aftermath of them. I have noticed a trend among people in general, and specifically, people in the media. As a wee lad, when I heard about something devastating (the first I remember was Reagan being shot and that they might postpone the Final Four). Perhaps, I remember it because when growing up you see everything as good guys and bad guys, and a line like, “We’re all Republicans today was my first understanding that not everything is always so black and white.

I believe it is very important to be staunch in your beliefs and for those beliefs to encompass every area of your life, yet I am also aware that there are people whose specific brand of being affected by the curse is different enough from my brand of being affected by the curse that we differ greatly in certain political areas. Well-intentioned people who saw the aforementioned attacks in Sandy Hook believe writing laws to disarm people is a positive step, while other well-intentioned people feel that we should start arming teachers. The fascinating aspect to me, however, is where our vernacular has gone.

As recently as ten years ago, I recall hearing people on the news refer to the attacks of September 11 and asserting that our prayers are with those negatively affected. I recall hearing President Bush, at the time, encouraging people to pray. I remember hearing (and to a small degree, witnessing) the statistics on church attendance swell greatly. It was appropriate to call to God in times of disaster. Shortly thereafter, I noticed the addition of the terms “our thoughts” being added to the phrase. This never struck me as negative, as a prayer, I understand that it usually takes thinking about someone to actually pray. Further, my understanding of God and prayer knows that our thoughts are certainly known and understood by Him.

After a recent tragedy, however, I noticed many people saying, “Our thoughts are with them.” Eliminating the prayer from the entire sentiment. Truthfully, for most people, it is probably a more accurate sentiment then what they were asserting, so maybe it should not bug me. Nevertheless, I find myself frustrated by the lack of people’s assertion of prayer. It is undeniable that when things are missing from a normal phrase it effects us more. Like when people say “one nation, indivisible” in the American flag pledge of allegiance, we notice the missing “under God.”

Many would be proud to leave in a nation that is indivisible and don’t dislike that sentiment in general. Yet, we are frustrated that the words “under God” are removed (never mind that it wasn’t added until the 1940’s). I remember a similar argument in my youth about the pledge to the Christian flag eliminating (or, if you have a different perspective, adding) the word “buried.” At any rate, I do think we have seen cultural acceptance of certain Christian things be thrown out.

People are judged based on human beliefs of fairness, where logic without the backing of Scripture, is the chief thing to which we appeal. This is why we prize our “free will” as important (of course, why someone wants to tout that they are a failure purely by choice seems weird, but that’s another discussion), because our own brain is the chief good. Our own ingenuity is the thing which we most respect. Our ability to process things is the most important. We are a society which believes that our thoughts are more important (or even just as important) as prayers. I remember that effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but my thoughts have no such power.

In fact, what is the benefit of thinking about someone whose just had a terrible time at all? I mean, noone ever says, “I’m sitting here without food and shelter, but at least your thinking of me.” That fact should sustain me another day until the food and water comes. It’s nonsensical to put any weight in our thoughts, unless they are backed up by prayers. And I hope that you are part of a praying people that can assert this!

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Male Tennis Greats

20 May

Almost two years ago, I got the hankering to write about Tennis. For some reason the blog was never posted. Maybe it still shouldn’t be. But here is a commentary on tennis greats. I still agree with most of it, though the prism of the last two years gives us more clarity on Rafael Nadal and suddenly, a new contender may have emerged—Novak Djokovic!

June 30, 2011

Any time you discuss the best at something, it tends to turn into a trashing of the #2 and #3 person in the argument, so it will be with this. So, when asking the question, “Who is the best male tennis player ever?” must start with the fact that everyone in the discussion is very good. But, there clearly are objective standards that we can look at, and if we’re going to have this discussion, we must.

As biased Americans who grew up in the 80’s, we often like to start with John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Objectively, they are great entertainers who brought people into the game, but they are merely top ten players overall. Andre Agassi is another American who was great. And if he hadn’t done relatively nothing from 1996-98, he might be higher. And the funny thing is, those are the years when most people have their “peak.” And people argue that there are no ill effects of marijuana! The long haired teenager-early twenties guy won three grand slams and reached seven finals. Then, the reborn shaved head old guy won five grand slams and reached eight finals. His overall win percentage is better than Sampras’s and if you exclude those three years, his grand slam winning percentage is better. Nevertheless, his wasted prime knocks him down the list.

Many people like to begin with Roy Emerson or Rod Laver. Now this is difficult for two reasons. First, I am not old enough to have seen them. Second, they won at least some of their grand slams in the amateur era. I won’t pretend to be the best at translating amateur era wins into Open Era wins, but I do think we can look at the numbers for what they are. They have won 12 and 11 grand slams. Both are impressive, but I think they fall just short of the man in the open era to whom they are most comparable–Björn Borg.

Björn Borg is a notch better than these two in my mind. He won 11 grand slams, but he did it on the two most opposite surfaces–clay and grass–almost equally. He did not win the US Open or the Australian Open, but I think this should come with an asterisk. He competed in the Australian Open only once (in 1974 when he was young). In the US Open, excluding 1974, he averaged five wins a tournament. He made it to the finals in four of the remaining years. So, while he never won the US Open, he was a threat to win it often. He competed in only 27 grand slams and won 11 and got second another five times. So, he won tournaments as often as he didn’t make the final. That is simply incredible. And when he retired, he had gone 39-3 in his last six grand slams. He may have been able to continue to win and certainly would have contended. He was the Jim Brown of Tennis. And while I have him above the guy with more grand slams–Pete Sampras–he clearly was not as motivated by history.

Pete Sampras’s numbers are very comparable to Borg’s in his three most successful grand slams, except he competed in all four grand slams. And while Borg only played on two surfaces for grand slams, Sampras played on three (if we consider all “hard” courts the same). Sampras was phenomenal on grass and was very good on hard courts. But his record at the French Open was between 64% and 65%. To give you a frame of reference, that is the same winning percentage at the French as Anna Kournikova (and worse than her overall grand slam winning percentage), who is not known as a great all time tennis talent. It isn’t so much that Sampras never won at Roland Garros, but that he never made a final. He was never just one match away from winning there. When you consider that almost 40% of the year is played on clay courts, I have a hard time considering him the best ever. In fact, in my mind, he is a more exaggerated version of the man who surpassed him in total grand slams–Roger Federer.

Roger Federer’s knock for a long time was that he never won the French. But unlike Sampras, he has always been good there. He has won over 80% of his matches there and he has made the final five times (and all four losses were to arguably the best clay court player ever). So, while he did win one, he’s been a threat often and has been consistently among the best on all surfaces. More overall grand slams than Sampras, a better overall winning percentage, and a better showing, by far, on the weakest surface for both (clay). As of right now, I have Federer as the best ever.

While it is difficult to evaluate people in the midst of their careers, there is one player who COULD pass Federer. That is, of course, Rafa Nadal. Right now, he has not passed him. He has a similar number of grand slam wins and entries as Borg. For years he was considered a clay court specialist, and has only lost once at Roland Garros (and that when he had an injury so pronounced he missed Wimbledon a month later). But, he hasn’t lost at Wimbledon since 2007. He’s 17-2 in his last three years at Flushing Meadows. His “weakest” grand slam is the Australian, where he’s won once and has an overall winning percentage of about 83%. With only 11 grand slams, he isn’t at that level yet, but he could be. Right now, he’s battling Borg and Sampras for 2.

A Warm Seat

17 May

Have you ever happened upon a seat that was recently vacated? Did you notice if the seat had a warmth to it as you sat down? I certainly am not writing so you can discuss the pros and cons of such a feeling, like we recently did at my niece’s graduation party. I was actually amazed that some (many, in fact, perhaps even a majority) preferred to sit in a warm seat, while I remain a fan of the room temperature seat.

Nevertheless, the biggest thing that came to my mind is this is representative of how we are as people. You see, some of us leave and noone notices, while others of us leave a mark that impacts those who come behind. And while I may not appreciate those marks left on the seat, I do appreciate that we have people who make an impact in real life.

I’ve heard it said that midgets standing on the shoulders of giants can see further than any normal-sized man. While you may or may not appreciate that visual, the reality is that those who leave behind a mark are valuable for multiple reasons.

This also got me to thinking. Not just about how we should use the wisdom of those who have gone before us (as I will now shamelessly plug the fact that you can come to Stan’s Sunday School class on the London Baptist Confession of 1689), though that is very important. If you don’t know what the church believes, there is at least some measure to which you are unable to fully support it. Further, you will have a harder time ascertaining when someone is espousing heresy.

If we can recognize the incredible wisdom left behind before us, we aren’t forever starting over, as with those pesky seats at the graduation party. There is a tremendous benefit to understanding the incredible wisdom that was so eloquently and nicely condensed for us.

Yet, I also feel like we should live our lives so that we leave an imprint. So that we live a life that is noticed by those who follow us. I’m not just talking about this precursor to our eternal dirt nap, but I also think we should begin ministries and work that will be seen and followed by others.

I believe there is no positive ministry going on, at any level, that cannot be traced to someone desiring to leave that kind of imprint on the chairs they leave behind. So, as I muddle through this world attempting to do things, my prayer is becoming to leave behind a warm seat, so that others may move forward with the work and not be forced to start over. If I commit to this, it impacts the way I live, the way I lead, the way I serve, and the way I view life. That’s why it is so frightening!

Sometimes What We Want Isn’t What We Need

16 May

There are times where I have expectations. Occasionally, those expectations are biased. I feel like I know what is the best for a given situation. Then, occasionally, it plays out differently than I ever hoped or dreamed. In my life, so many things have gone perfectly, and sometimes decisions are so easy, yet there are times where my dreams are not forerunners of that which ends up happening.

Clearly, I am not alone in this perspective on life. The world is full of people who want things, some blatantly, some not, and others just plain subconsciously. We go through life getting some of the things we want, and unfortunately dealing with other things that are not of our preference. At some point I am dealing with that which is so obvious, it doesn’t warrant space in writing.

Nevertheless, in the recent past I have seen two people deal with potentially life-altering decisions (decisions like a job or a place to live) that they did not want. Both were tremendously devastated with the initial outcome. I can understand this, as I too have had bad news and struggled to adjust. This, however, is where the similarities end.

One of these individuals acted like the proverbial child who took the board and went home. This person tried to control an uncontrollable situation and now looks like a jerk to any unbiased person watching the situation from afar. This has further exacerbated an aloofness that is now bordering on supreme selfishness, if it isn’t there already.

On the other hand, the second individual has sought council on how they can make improvements. This person has sought advice on how to make sure the situation is unlikely to repeat itself. Just altogether approaching life from the perspective of using this as a way to improve and refine himself so that his life is improved.

The second person is someone I want to spend time with, and someone whom I think can sharpen and refine me. The first person, on the other hand, is someone who is childish and I need to learn from in an entirely different way. That is a person whom I want to avoid, as seeing them react, I imagine Barney Fife’s reaction to a like situation.

I think we culturally have a problem with recognizing that not everyone has the same opportunity. I marveled as I was watching the elementary award ceremony at my kids’ school today. Vastly more than 50% of the students were recognized for almost every award as outstanding. Now, my children clearly are outstanding, but the fact is that it is statistically impossible for over half the students to be better than average at something. It just is.

So, why do we decide that we will delay the perspective of reality until they are adults? Why are we so worried about worrying people that we neglect the realities of life—some people are better at some things than others. It’s so fundamental to life and yet we reject it. I believe that we allow childish behavior to be accepted for longer, when we don’t allow them to experience the agony of defeat (and don’t even get me started on how we lower the possibility of excellence by eliminating the thrill of victory).

We need to insist that people have to be put in appropriate situations when losing. We need to insist that childish behavior be nipped in the bud, as soon as it can be. Otherwise you end up with adults who don’t realize that they aren’t in control and they freak out when they don’t get their way. This is never a good situation!

The Bulls should trade Rose

9 May

People are arguing about whether Derrick Rose should return to the Bulls. This is definitely an intriguing debate with many different perspectives. I also have a perspective in that I tore my ACL and returned to play soccer just a few months later. Four months, to the day, after my surgery, I started my senior soccer campaign, where I was named all state. So, I know what it is like to come back from the injury (though not nearly at that level).

The thing that proves I’m crazier than Derrick Rose is I went back in the game with the torn ACL and then played the rest of the [soccer] season and all of basketball season (and led the team in scoring several games, so I wasn’t just a token throw away) before actually having the surgery. So, I can say with the utmost confidence that if it were me, I would be on the court playing. I’m not sure if that is the precise reason that Rose is so much better than me, but he certainly takes better care of himself and his body than I do.

Having said all of that, I think the point that is being missed is that Derrick Rose is not the player the Chicago Bulls should build around. Rose is a great player. He won league MVP a couple years ago. And similar to the argument made by Gary Washburn (while I like the logic and argument, his conclusion makes him seem like a lunatic), you can judge a players worth based on the bottom line improvement to the team.

With Derrick Rose at an MVP level, the Bulls were the #1 seed and lost decisively in the Conference Finals. This year without Derrick Rose playing at all, the fell to the #5 seed and look to lose decisively in the Conference Semifinals. That is a drop-off, to be sure, but nothing like the drop-off experienced when LeBron James left the Cavaliers (or joined the Heat). In the three years since James left the Cavs, they have averaged 21 wins. The three years before, they averaged over 57 wins and 2 playoff series won). Similarly, Miami’s average wins in full seasons has jumped from 35 with no playoff wins to 62 and made it to the NBA Finals in each of the previous two seasons (and are favorites to return).

I certainly think LeBron is a far better player than Derrick Rose, but even still, a great player like Rose should have more of an impact on the team on which he plays. I believe the reason he does not is because he’s on the wrong team. Many are making the analogy between Joakim Noah playing with plantar fasciitis, Luol Deng trying to play after a Spinal Tap, and 5’9″ Nate Robinson playing with severe flu. Kirk Hinrich finished the game where he severely bruised his left calf. This team oozes toughness.

Further, when the Bulls were playing their best, they still rarely won because Derrick Rose was leading them on a scoring-fest. They won games because their defense is among the best in the league. Tom Thibodeau has the best defensive system in the league and he gets the team to buy into it like no other team in the league does. Derrick Rose is not known as a defensive stalwart, even when at peak health.

Derrick Rose is a great player. When he plays, the Bulls are undoubtedly a better team, but I would challenge you to name any great player in any sport, who led his team to a championship on a team where the style of the team did not also reflect his personal style. The Showtime Lakers, the Jordan Bulls, the smart Celtics (whether the iteration involving Larry Bird or Bill Russell), and the system Spurs are all examples of the style of the best player being the style of the team. Rose’s place on the Bulls is more like Iverson’s place on the 76ers team.

It may have taken this situation for the Bulls to accept it, but the fact is that as long as they are a team coached by Tom Thibodeau, they will not win a championship with Derrick Rose as their central player. The reason they give teams an approximately equal amount of fits, whether Rose is playing or sitting is because the team is not built around Rose’s tremendous skill set. They spend most of their time concentrating on that side of the court where Rose is less at home (defense).

I believe that whether or not Rose comes back this year is almost inconsequential. What really matters and should really be understood is that the team is built around toughness and defense. Rose gives both a good college try, but neither would be his forte. In a sport, where one player makes such a profound difference, the best chance at winning a championship is when you build around your best player, not outside of him. The Bulls are a very good team that may just be a piece or two away from a championship, but that piece is not Derrick Rose. At the same time, I think Rose could be a championship piece; he just isn’t for this Bulls team.

My Internal Struggle

3 May

Matthew 5:37. I find this verse to be such a lofty standard in my life. Many people use it as an affirmation to tell the truth. I cannot dispute that reality, but I don’t think that is the primary thrust of the passage. The Bible so clearly tells us this in other locations, that a cryptic mention here does not seem to be of much benefit.

While many commentaries will mention that it is against oaths, saying something like unto the fact that there is no reason to consider that solemn oaths in a court of justice, or on other proper occasions, are wrong (provided they are taken with due reverence), but all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, must be sinful. I think there is some truth to that, and I value it. The point I keep feeling, however, is that we need to let that which we say have merit.

Of course, this is not without conflict. Primarily, where does this intersect with grace? I mean, when my children are told something in ultimatum fashion and when it comes time to enforce it, what if I decide that giving them grace would be better? Does that mean that I didn’t actually mean what I originally said? Will they learn that what I say is not actually of absolute importance?

What about other people that answer to me? When I tell someone that they need to pay rent on a particular schedule and then, due to some reason that seems acceptable, they cannot follow through with that schedule, should I error on the side of grace or should I error on the side of being someone who sticks to their word? There seems to at least be a plausible interpretation that I need to let my word stand. It seems that Jephthah saw it that way (although I think most people translate that incorrectly).

What do we make of God supposedly changing His edict because of a conversation with Abraham? I cannot give a good answer, but I think we must at least make mention of the fact that God knew the outcome before it was over. To say that He changed His edict is not a slam-dunk, especially when you consider that He did not save the city even after the negotiation.

So, where does that leave me on letting my yes or no be maintained? I believe that the key is what defines our reputation. Is our character such that we are known for what we say being believable? I currently have someone challenging me to stay ever vigilant in my upholding of the truth. While I believe the motives of this individual to be less than pure, it is still nice to be challenged for personal betterment.

When we show grace do people truly see us as carrying forward the nature of Christ or does it just seem that we are lazy in our speech? This is the thing for which we must strive. We need to live in such a way where our grace is evident and yet our yes and no are always meaning what they should. And this striving will keep us busy throughout this side of eternity.

My Universe is Ego-Centric

2 May

The whole world centers around me. We teach people that it isn’t true, yet one’s perspective cannot be changed to include the perspective of someone else to the exclusion of himself. It cannot be done from a metaphysical perspective, though we hope to work to the point where it can be done on a spiritual level. We may want to value others better than ourselves, but the fact is that fictional shows like Freaky Friday aside, it is impossible to step into someone else’s skin and see the world from their point of view.

I just can’t completely understand what you’re seeing, feeling, or thinking without placing myself plainly within your skin, and despite whatever movies may tell you, this just isn’t possible in this world. So try as I might to empathize, my best potential is just to try to understand.

This point becomes important in at least two different realms of life. First, whenever you are having a conversation with anyone who isn’t yourself (which is really when conversations are at their best!), you have to understand that the person to whom you are talking does not have the exact same perspective as you do for whatever you are talking about. It is impossible for it to be exactly the same, even if you are twins.

The second situation where this comes into play is that there must be differences, even important differences, between even the best of friends. Henry Ford famously (or maybe not so famously) said, “Whenever two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” As much as we may want to find ourselves in agreement on everything, even with whom to be friends, with someone, we will find that kind of agreement placating and, in the long run, detrimental.

You see, because of my world being so unique and seeing only how everyone deals with me, my limited view is what I have. And if someone has happened to cross me or my thought processes at the wrong time, my perspective may never be able to be altered. I may do have an incomplete view. My world is not the actual world, yet I am a slave to it.

So, as much as we try to tell people (especially our children) that the world doesn’t revolve around them, the fact is it kind of does. Sure, in the sense of astronomy, it certainly does not. Yet in the sense of their life, everything does revolve around them. There will be great men they will never meet and atrocities they will never know. And that is just something we cannot get around.