What Can We Learn From the Super Bowl? A Lesson on What Matters Most.

Rev. Jordan McKenzie

Last night, tens of millions of Americans watched as the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl, defeating the New England Patriots in a thrilling game. As always, it was a media frenzy. Alongside the game itself, the media was abuzz with stories about the halftime performance of Justin Timberlake, the commercials, and the like. But there was also another story that some made light of: the Christian faith of many of the Philadelphia Eagles players and coaches.

After the game when he was awarded the team’s victory trophy, Eagles head coach Doug Peterson began by saying that he wanted to give praise to his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Quarterback Nick Foles, when he was awarded the game’s Most Valuable Player just moments later, immediately said that “all glory goes to God” for his performance. Tight End Zach Ertz, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass with just minutes to go, said that honoring Christ was his first goal in the game. Frank Reich, the offensive coordinator for the Eagles, echoed this sentiment, having been a former pastor before entering coaching. Even Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ star quarterback who was hurt and unable to play in the game, credited his faith with helping him get through the disappointment of not being able to play in the game. One article in The Washington Post went so far as to say that the “binding force” of the championship team was the Christian faith that so many of its players and coaches shared.

Many will no doubt cheer on the Eagles’ testimonies of faith. Many others will no doubt roll their eyes, saying that they would like less faith and more football. (After all, thanking Jesus has become a kind-of cheap cliche in such celebrations, something that seemingly everybody does.) But regardless of what people think, there are a couple of important comments to be made. One is a caution, the other a lesson.

First, the caution is that it would be very shortsighted to say that the Eagles won the Super Bowl simply because so many players and coaches on the team were outspoken Christians, as if God somehow liked them more or rewarded them because they are Christians. It is true that God works all things together for the good of those that love him (Romans 8:28). But it’s also true that God gives blessings to the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Matthew 5:45). So while God does work in the lives of those who follow Him, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll let us win a football game or give us good luck when we need it.

With that said, we can learn an important lesson from the players and coaches that spoke about their faith. And that’s this: When it comes down to it, what matters is how we respond in the defining moments of our lives.

Most of us are not professional athletes, but regardless we all find ourselves in moments that define who we really are. We’re at work and can get that promotion we’ve always wanted by fudging the truth on our resume. We have a chance for that relationship with someone we’ve always liked and we might actually be able to have it if we embellish who we are or what we’ve done. We see someone in a position of authority doing something that’s not right, and we have the choice to stand up or be silent. The question is: who are we in those defining moments? Who are we in those moments where we face the pressure or temptation to do something that’s not right?

In their defining moments, these players and coaches continued to be resolute in who God called them to be. They could have made the victory all about themselves. They could have praised their own performances and not mentioned their faith. They could have gone out to party or womanize, like many other players certainly were doing and likely pressured them to do. But instead, in spite of all the accolades and attention, they lived with integrity and didn’t change who they were. They let their faith define them.

That’s the lesson we can learn from one of the best Super Bowls in recent memory. What matters most is who you are in those defining moments.

So, that’s the question. Who are you in those moments? Are you defined by your faith and integrity, or something else?

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Some Thoughts on Life, Death, and Faith

by Jordan McKenzie

Seven people lost.

Seven lives cut short.

Seven families broken.

One nation in mourning.

That was the aftermath of January 28th, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger tragically exploded during its launch. The launch itself was watched live by millions, and after the explosion became one of the biggest news stories in American history. Within an hour of the incident, surveys show that nearly all Americans were tuned into news coverage of the event.

I was born one year after the Challenger explosion, so I did not see it live. But as some remember and reflect on the 32nd anniversary of the event today, it’s made me mindful of the loss that day. I can only imagine what it would have been like to have seen it live.

We don’t like to talk about loss. Grief and death and all the emotions that come with them are uncomfortable, even awkward topics for us. This is especially true in our advanced, technological society where we can move on from something so easily, or find so many other distractions.

But when there is an event like the Challenger explosion or the Oklahoma City bombing or September 11th, it’s hard to get away from the harsh realities of life. It’s impossible not to talk about these things.

The truth is that our faith as Christians does not shy away from death, loss, or grief. Indeed, our faith invites us, even compels us, to take them more seriously. The foundation of our faith is that the world is broken and imperfect, often subjecting us to heartbreak and pain. Most profoundly, Jesus’s death and resurrection take us more deeply into these realities. Jesus’s death forces us to grapple with these things. On the cross he somehow takes the weight of our pain and suffering upon himself and shouts, “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me???” Even he is not exempted.

The good news, though, is that our faith teaches us that loss or grief do not have the final word. Jesus does. Jesus somehow overcomes our pain, our loss, our brokenness, our death. They are redeemed and restored by him, as miraculously “all things are worked together for our good.”

This is the good news. But we have to hold these realities in tension. We can’t have one without the other. There is brokenness, but there is also wholeness; there is suffering, but there is also healing; there is death, but there is also life.

As Christians we should not focus too much on either side of the coin. Rather we should always remember that we live in a broken world, but a world which is also redeemed by God. And that’s the good news. All of it.

Hello from 2018!

by Jordan McKenzie

Hello church blog readers!

So it’s been a while since we’ve talked…

But now’s a perfect time to reconnect, as the holidays are over, most of us are already on our new year’s diets, and spring weather is back (oh wait, did someone say something about a snow storm?)… so anyway… what’s on my mind? Well I’m thinking about the year ahead for Belmont United Methodist Church.

As we all know, last year was a busy year for our church. Between transitioning to a new service, finalizing some financial changes, moving our food pantry, completing our revitalization project, hosting new churches in our space, and adding a new music director, it was a jammed-packed year! In fact, because of some of the exciting things that took place, just yesterday the West Ohio Conference of United Methodist Churches filmed a video about what’s happening at Belmont, as a few members shared how our congregation continues to make new and growing disciples for Jesus Christ in this community and beyond.

As I think about this, I’m energized by so many of the things that are happening at Belmont. As the old hymn goes, Great Things He Hath Done! God truly has done great things in the life of our church! As He has done for so many decades, God is using the people on South Smithville Road to truly make a difference in fresh and unexpected ways.

Yet the truth is that this is the time that churches can be most vulnerable. When a church begins to see God working in new ways and sees the fruits of its labor come to fruition, that’s when it’s easy to grow weary. In this time, churches often get complacent because they taste success or they get worn out because of the hard work it took to get there. Either way, it’s a vulnerable place to be.

That’s why prayer, scripture, and worship have to be the backbone of any true church growth. Without the inner transformation and restoration that comes from God, we will get complacent or burnt out. We need God’s spirit to fill us afresh. We need God’s spirit to fill us with a vision for what God wants to do through us. We need God’s spirit to fill us with the strength and willingness to actually be the people God’s wants us to be. And that’ why our church’s theme this year is Living Boldly for Jesus.

This year our goal is to think about what it means to live boldly for Jesus. What does it mean to live boldly for Jesus in our community and country today, both as individuals and as a church?

If you join us this year, you might just find out.

So if you’re willing, I’d invite you to join me in going on this journey this year, as we look to live boldly. And as we look forward to this year, always remember these words:

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Amen.

 

Why God? Brief thoughts on the Church Shooting in Texas, Pain, and Suffering

by Jordan McKenzie

As most readers have probably heard by now, the church shooting that occurred yesterday in Sutherland Springs, Texas (just outside of San Antonio) has become the deadliest church shooting in American history. All told, twenty-six people were killed and nearly two dozen more injured. Nearly half of those killed were children, some as young as five years old. They were gunned down as they worshiped inside their church sanctuary, as they did every Sunday morning.

When we hear about events like this, or the shooting in Las Vegas —where hundreds were injured or killed while simply enjoying a concert— we ask why. WHY? Why God? Why would you let this happen?

This is a natural response. All of us ask ourselves this question at some point when we’re witnessing a difficult situation or going through such a situation ourselves. In fact, people have been asking the why question for thousands of years, even back to the time the Old Testament was written. Indeed, entire books, like Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Job, were written in part to address the question of why there is pain and suffering in our world.*****

Yet what we find out in reading these books is that there is no clear answer to this difficult question. Sometimes it seems that God uses difficult events to increase our faith. Sometimes it seems God uses them to bring glory to himself. And sometimes it seems they are the result of humanity’s God-given free will. (Methodists would generally tend to support the view that pain and suffering are primarily a result of human sin.)  The challenge is that each of these answers raises additional questions. No one answer provides us an easy, hard-and-fast solution to the problem. Thus the question of why is not an easy one to answer. But there are two things that can help us when we think about this question.

The first thing is this. It’s helpful to always remember that the ways in which God is working in our world are far beyond our understanding. As Isaiah 55:9 says, “his ways our higher than our ways, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” This a central point to remember. We are not God. We cannot even begin to grasp how God is intervening in our daily lives or the lives of others. It is, quite literally, beyond our understanding. So when we ask why we always must have some humility, knowing that we may not be able to totally understand what God is up to.

The second thing that is helpful to remember is this. God is always willing and working for our good. Romans 8:28 says as much, saying that “in all things God is working for our good.” You can’t say it any more simply than that. This again is central to remember. We may not know why God is working the way He is, but we can have faith that no matter the situation, God is working for us out of love and concern. No matter what happens, God’s love for us remains even in the chaos of these events. He will not give up on us.

So, as you watch coverage of the tragedy in Texas and hear of other tragedies, it’s natural to ask why. We could discuss that question all day (and all night!) and not agree on an answer. But no matter what, remember that God works in ways we can’t begin to understand. And even though we can’t understand, we can know that he is working for our good. Let that give you peace today. Amen.

*****Discussion of this question is not limited to Christians. Those in other religious traditions, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and especially Buddhism, all actively discuss the issue of why there is pain and suffering in our world. Thus this is a universal, cross-cultural question.

 

Building a Stronger Foundation

By Jordan McKenzie

As I write this blog, our church revitalization project is well underway. Furniture has been moved, other items have been packed up, and almost all of our pews have been taken out. We are now nearly ready for our asbestos mitigation that is set to begin next week in the sanctuary and surrounding areas of the church.

Due to all the work being done, last Sunday we had our worship service in the social hall. We will continue to worship in the social hall for the next four Sundays (join us each Sunday at 10:15!), until we move back into our refurbished sanctuary on November 19th for a special celebration service.

As we worshiped in the social hall this past Sunday, it just so happened that our worship was centered on the theme of intentional faith development. Given that theme, I couldn’t help but think about the parallel with our building project.

Our building project has been in the planning stages for quite some time. We have a truly wonderful building. It is not only large, but also beautiful. But like any building, after some time, it needs some TLC. So with the project we hope to make our church building safer, more inviting, and better-suited to meet the changing needs of community. In other words, we want to, quite literally, build a stronger foundation for our church.

In the same way, intentional faith development is also about building a stronger foundation. Like an old building, we have all taken on wear and tear from the daily struggles of life. Through our sins and the sins of others, we’ve all been hurt, frustrated, and damaged. We’re all broken and in need of some repairs.

Who can repair us and make us new? It is only God himself. Through Jesus, God makes us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). God is the potter, we are the clay (Isaiah 64: 8). And as we are made new, we become people who are more loving, forgiving, self-sacrificing, and humble. We likewise become people who are more just and generous with others. Like the work of renovating our church building, this work of God is a long process. Indeed, it is a lifelong process. Just as we may work on one area of the church, then another, and then another, improving each of them, we do the same with our lives, looking at many different areas which need to be improved. It may start with our attitude, our pride, how we treat others, or something else. But it is all the work of God through Christ. Through Christ, God is building something new in us and through us. Indeed, God is make us new.

So, as we continue in this church revitalization project, I invite you to think about how God may want to rebuild and repair you, one area of your life at a time. What areas has God already changed and made new? What areas does God still need to work on? Those are good questions to start with, because that’s what intentional faith development is about. It’s about intentionally growing to become all that we were created to be. May God grant each of us strength and perseverance each day as God makes us new. And may we become like a beautiful, brand-new building, restored on the inside and out.

Welcoming Others

By Rev. Randy Coleman

Come again, Paul, what did you just write?  Did you really mean that if we welcome one another and do it like Christ did, then we are glorifying God in that way?  I imagine the original Christians at Rome probably were flabbergasted or at least scratching their heads at the reading of this verse.  Paul summarizes the first six verses of this chapter where he noted that Christians must put others first.  Going even further back to 13:8, he reminded his readers of the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And the only way that is possible is to receive God’s love first and then love him in return with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:29-31).

Yes, Paul is comparing the way we treat others with our relationship with God, just as Jesus did.  Love for others and love for God go hand in hand.  If we are to love God with our whole being, then we are also to love others, and welcoming them is part of that love for others.  On Sunday mornings or throughout the week, anytime you greet or welcome a brother or sister in Christ, you are loving and glorifying God.  So, the welcome goes much beyond a simple, fleeting, handshake or a warm hug.  It is a major part of our relationship with God himself.  We’ve already begun worshiping even before the first hymn is sung, and we’ve continued worshiping even beyond the last stanza of the last song.  Welcoming others is truly welcoming God.

And this welcoming of others goes beyond greeting brothers and sisters.  To the Roman Christians, Paul very clearly included all nations, meaning all people groups.  He specifically states that they were to welcome the Gentiles as well as their fellow Jews.  They were to welcome the Gentiles so that they “might glorify God for his mercy” (v. 9).  Wow, now I can imagine the Jewish Christians at Rome scratching their heads even more.  “What,” Paul, they say, “You want us to even include those smelly, unclean, uncircumcised people?  We really don’t want anything to do with them.  Is this what we have to do in order to glorify God?”  And Paul would respond with a resounding, “Yes!”

That’s why he goes on to include four more OT passages to verify the truth that God accepts all people and wants them to do the same.  Even the “Gentiles will place their hope in him” (v. 12).  Thus, God is also expecting us today to include all people in our welcome, which includes all foreigners, immigrants, widows, orphans, outcast, and all ethnic groups.  It includes those who are hard to love – those who don’t return our love or repay our kindness with ridicule.  When we do love them with no strings attached, then we are truly glorifying God.  So, are you ready to welcome all others and glorify God? I pray that your answer, and our church’s answer, is yes!

 

More Than Money

by Jordan McKenzie

Matthew 19:21: Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have. Give the money to those who are poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

Really? Go and sell EVERYTHING you have and follow me? That’s what Jesus requires of us? Everything? That seems a little demanding!

For much of my life, that was my reaction to this verse. I got the basic point of the passage. Or so I thought. The point was that wealth holds us back because our focus should be on Jesus. So we need to make sure we’re putting Jesus first ahead of our money. That made sense, but the business about selling everything you had seemed a little bit extreme.

Several years ago when studying this passage I had a sort of epiphany about it. I realized that this story was about one man. His obstacle was his wealth. That’s clear. That was what kept him from following Jesus. But how could I apply this verse when wealth wasn’t an issue for me? How could apply it if I were poor and lacked material riches? Perhaps I could just skip over this verse?

Then I realized that this story might be about more than just money and what we do with our possessions. Maybe it’s making a deeper point that we all have things that keep us from following Jesus fully. The question that comes to my mind now is what Jesus would say to me if I asked the same question as the rich young ruler. What are the things that are keeping me from totally following Jesus?

I can ask you the same question. What are the things keeping you from totally following Jesus? Your comfort? Your pride? Your wealth? Your bitterness about your past? Your feelings of insecurity? Your partisan politics?

So, what’s holding you back?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the example of Jesus. Help me to follow him in all aspects and areas of my life. Take away anything that keeps me from following him. Amen.