Posts Tagged ‘Clemson football’

Judges 12:1-7 (Part 1 of 2)
Ephraim Fights with Jephthah

As you know, I am a big Clemson Tiger football fan. This past Saturday, Clemson passed one of what will have proven to be one of the toughest games of its season by season’s end. They defeated the Auburn University Tigers by the score of 14-6. It was an old-fashioned slobber-knocker of a defensive struggle. It was a throwback to an era gone by in college football. Nowadays, with changes in defensive rules and in offensive philosophies, offenses reign. Nowadays, a defense that averages giving up 17 points a game or so is considered a great defense. Back before wide-open offenses, a team that scored 17 points a game was considered a pretty good offense. So, this game was a throwback to times gone by. Clemson and Auburn have two of the best defenses in the country this year. Everyone knew that it was not going to be your typical 35-31 type game that you see nowadays. Everyone knew it was going to be a struggle. No one expected that there would be only twenty points scored by the teams combined and no one expected Clemson’s defense not to allow Auburn into the end zone at all. If you like defense and I do, this game was treat. Clemson did just enough more on offense than Auburn did to post two touchdowns (one on its last possession of the first half and one on its first possession of the second half). Clemson’s defense was spectacular as Auburn did not cross midfield except once after its first drive of game (and that one time was because Clemson fumbled the ball on its own 10 yard line). Auburn’s defense seemed to have Clemson’s number as well, except for giving up those two long drives for touchdowns.

And if you are a college football fan, you know that after winning the national championship last year, Clemson lost a lot of its star offensive players to graduation and to the NFL. Clemson had to, this year, replace almost 80% of its offensive yardage production from last year. That’s a lot of talent gone. So, this year, the offense is young with a lot of new skill players everywhere. So, after scoring only 14 points in the game against Auburn, there are critics in the press now and even among fringes of Clemson fans that are saying that the Tigers are in trouble offensively. After watching the team play what seemed very conservatively after getting an 8 point lead, many are criticizing the offensive coordinators for calling such a lame game in the second half of the contest. Last year, this team averaged nearly 40 points a game and over 500 yards of total offense per game so the critics are out. Clemson has lost its offensive mojo. They are going to get creamed by the offensive juggernaut that is Louisville this coming weekend (with its all everything defending Heisman trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson). They are saying that the defense might have won the game against Auburn but Lamar is going to light our defense up and our offense will be putting along with 14 points again.

All I can say is wow to these critics. Yes, Clemson was amazing on defense this past Saturday. Probably one of the best defensive performances I ever seen. Auburn could do nothing, I mean nothing, after their first drive. They made Auburn’s new and highly touted quarterback seem like a pee-wee football quarterback who did not know what to do. But, yet, at the same time, Auburn’s defense had as much to do with Clemson only scoring 14 points in the game. Auburn’s defense was almost as good as Clemson’s. Running lanes were small and passing windows were smaller. They have a great defense just not as good as Clemson’s. All teams are going to struggle to score against Auburn this year, plain and simple. But listen to the critics out there, Clemson is in trouble. They blame the offensive coaches for calling a conservative game. They blame the new kids on offense for not being ready for the big stage. They are saying that it was the talent on the field the last few years that made Clemson great not the coaches. Wow. Just wow. Clemson over the past 7 years now have gone through now what is the third offensive transition from one group of talented players to the next group up and they’re still winning. This group of new kids showed toughness and grit in scratching out two touchdowns against a highly rated defense. Let’s just wait and see before we say the sky is falling. The game was won in a mighty defensive struggle. Not flashy but effective. Let us wait until this week before we criticize this young team and its veteran coaches. If the Clemson offense struggles against a lesser defense this week and loses a game to the highly powered offense of Louisville then OK we got problems.

That idea of always being the critic, that armchair quarterbacking, that happens among football fans is similar sometimes how we complain in the church about how the preacher does things, about how we didn’t get asked to participate and how we could have done it better. Let’s read through the silliness of the Ephraimites in this passage:

12 Then the people of Ephraim mobilized an army and crossed over the Jordan River to Zaphon. They sent this message to Jephthah: “Why didn’t you call for us to help you fight against the Ammonites? We are going to burn down your house with you in it!”

2 Jephthah replied, “I summoned you at the beginning of the dispute, but you refused to come! You failed to help us in our struggle against Ammon. 3 So when I realized you weren’t coming, I risked my life and went to battle without you, and the Lord gave me victory over the Ammonites. So why have you now come to fight me?”

4 The people of Ephraim responded, “You men of Gilead are nothing more than fugitives from Ephraim and Manasseh.” So Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and attacked the men of Ephraim and defeated them.

5 Jephthah captured the shallow crossings of the Jordan River, and whenever a fugitive from Ephraim tried to go back across, the men of Gilead would challenge him. “Are you a member of the tribe of Ephraim?” they would ask. If the man said, “No, I’m not,” 6 they would tell him to say “Shibboleth.” If he was from Ephraim, he would say “Sibboleth,” because people from Ephraim cannot pronounce the word correctly. Then they would take him and kill him at the shallow crossings of the Jordan. In all, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed at that time.

7 Jephthah judged Israel for six years. When he died, he was buried in one of the towns of Gilead.

Here, in this passage, we see that the people of Israel had just won a great battle, but instead of joy, there was pettiness and quarreling. The tribe of Ephraim was angry and jealous that they had not been invited to join the fighting (although Jephthah said he had invited them). They wanted to kill Jephthah and his whole family as a result. This is not the first time the men of Ephraim complained about being left out or given what they perceived as something lesser than. In Judges 8, they complained that they were not given the best job in the attack on Midian. They complained there that they were relegated to “mop up” duty of capturing the escaping Midianites. Some people are quick to criticize it seems, especially when they have risked nothing or risked less than others.

Are you jealous because the pastor did not hand pick you for a project or a position at church? Do you criticize everything that goes on at church, even in the victories? Do you want a spot out front in an event or be on stage instead of operating behind the scenes? Do you get mad because you are not given a star role in a ministry? Do you criticize the church staff but yet you did nothing? Do you think you could do it better but never do anything? Do you criticize how the church is falling apart but never give a dime to the church? Do you complain that the church is not doing enough in the community but do not tithe? Do you spend a great deal of time justifying not tithing so that you don’t have to but yet throw the word tithe around as if you do? Do you criticize the fact that the church is doing nothing for disaster relief but do not (1) give to the church or (2) have the willingness to lead a disaster relief ministry?

Just as critics of the Clemson offense need to check how well they really did against the second best defense in the country, so too should we as Christ followers need to check ourselves before we start in-fighting within the church? We need to check our pride. We need to check our hearts of service. We need to check our love for our Lord and Savior. He calls us to be a unified body. He calls us to work together for the good of seeking and saving the lost and edifying the saints already in the church. He calls us to love another as an example of what Christ looks like. That is the distinctive for us according to the Lord himself – how we love another.

There are those that think that no matter what we do in leadership at churches that they could have done it better. They often don’t know the facts and are often those who stood on the sidelines when action was required. It’s easy to criticize. It’s harder to actually be in the game. Let us build up and not tear down. Let us set our egos aside and do what is best for the church. Let us focus on the things that we need to focus on. Let us focus on being unified so that people are drawn to how we love one another. Let us focus on seeking and saving the lost. Let us celebrate the victories of when we have played our role in supporting the Holy Spirit drawing people unto Christ. Let us major on the majors! Let us celebrate together and love each other as we call on the Holy Spirit to drench our church and our people in His power. Let us be united in calling on a Holy Spirit revival in our church and in our community! Let us be united in our efforts to support the spread of the gospel to the point that our churches are full of people seeking God!

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 33:26-29

Strength to Believers

Have you ever seen football players who just throw their whole body into the game? They play with reckless abandon and are so emotional about the game. One of the guys that were on Clemson’s football team the past four years is a guy by the name of Ben Boulware. He is an undersized linebacker from nearby Anderson, SC, but he is a guy that played beyond his size and stature. He was the heart and soul of the Clemson defense the past four years and he will be sorely missed by the Tigers this coming season. His love of the game is unmatched. His love of the university for which he played and from which he got his college degree is unmatched. His enthusiasm and his inner drive was contagious. He played the game with reckless abandon. One play that I remember in particular that defines the career that Ben had at Clemson. I remember two years ago in what is always the biggest game of the year in the ACC (Clemson vs. Florida State) when, on a fourth down and one play that would determine the outcome of the game, Florida State had the ball like at the Clemson 25 yard line or something. Clemson had stopped them on 2nd and 3rd down and 1. However, Florida State being a proud team and only one yard to go on what was looking like the game winning drive very late in the game. On that fourth and one play, Florida State called another running play to their workhorse running back Dalvin Cook, a big back with strong legs and a lot of speed if you gave him room to get going. Dalvin took the handoff and was hit almost immediately in the backfield by one of the Clemson defensive lineman but Dalvin bumped off him and went airborne for what was going to be a sure first down. However, Ben Bouleware being the gutsy guy he is went airborne too. They both were horizontal when they met in the air and it was a major collision and both fell to the ground immediately like rocks dropped to the ground. Cook came up inches short of the first down and Clemson took over. The Tigers then possessed the ball the remainder of the game and won.

 

That was Ben Boulware at Clemson. He loved the game with a passion. He gave his all on every play. He played injured much of his freshman year. He didn’t care about his body. Stopping the other team’s offense was what, and all, that mattered to him. He was one of those guys that if you were in the army and you were in a real life or death battle that you would want in your unit, a guy who would give his life to make your unit successful in its missions. To a man on Clemson’s defense, everyone of them acknowledged this undersized guy for his position was the acknowledged leader of the defense. He’s the guy who succeeded on sheer will and an unending well of passion for the game. The coaches didn’t have to jump on the other guys when they did not give their absolute best at practice or in a game, Ben would do that. He would give it all every game and would come off the field totally spent after each ball game no matter the opponent.

 

That was what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 33:26-29. I thought of Ben Bouleware and how it was his passion for the game, the love of the game, that drove him to do more that he probably should have been capable of at the highest level of college football at his small size. It was his passion that made him a bigger man than he was. It was his passion that made him one of the hardest hitting linebackers that Clemson has ever had. His passion and zeal would allow him to take on players 20-30 pounds heavier and 5 or 6 inches taller and take ‘em to the great with his ferocious hits. Why did I think of this undersized ball of football zeal when I read this passage? Let’s read through the passage and then I will explain. Here’s the passage now:

 

26 “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,

    who rides across the heavens to help you

    and on the clouds in his majesty.

 

27 The eternal God is your refuge,

    and underneath are the everlasting arms.

He will drive out your enemies before you,

    saying, ‘Destroy them!’

 

28 So Israel will live in safety;

    Jacob will dwell[a] secure

in a land of grain and new wine,

    where the heavens drop dew.

 

29 Blessed are you, Israel!

    Who is like you,

    a people saved by the Lord?

He is your shield and helper

    and your glorious sword.

Your enemies will cower before you,

    and you will tread on their heights.”

 

What does this passage say to us? This final stanza has blessed the hearts of God’s people through the ages. He is the majestic God (v. 26), the eternal God (v. 27), the protecting and providing God (v. 28). The great blessing of Israel was that He was their God. This final summary blessing for all the tribes that make up the nation of Israel declares that God is our refuge, our only true security. How often do we entrust our lives to other things – money, our career’s work, a noble cause, a lifelong dream, or spouse or some other person. Our only true refuge, though, is the Eternal One, God, who always holds out His arms to catch us when the shaky supports that we trust collapse and we fall. No storm can destroy us when we take refuge in Him. Those without God, however, must forever be cautious. One mistake may wipe them out. Living for God in this world may look like risky business, but it is the godless who are on shaky ground. Because God is our refuge, we can dare to be bold.

 

So, how does this relate to the passion for football that Ben Bouleware displayed for four years as a Clemson football player, a career that ended with a national championship his senior year? That thing is that Ben loved the game and he gave it his all. He really did not care what toll it took on his body. He just had this inner drive that came from his love of the game and his love for his teammates. Being a local boy from a town near Clemson, he was passionate about Clemson in ways that were just infectious to his teammates. He loved Clemson and would give it his all with reckless abandon in an effort to bring weekly victories to Clemson. He played games as if every game were the championship. He played games with reckless abandon and as if there was no tomorrow. He would have given his life for his team.

 

How does that tie into our Scripture for today? What if we lived our lives for Christ like Ben Boulware played football for the Clemson Tigers? What if we were so in love with God that we did not play it safe? What if we through our heart and soul into loving God and loving others in that same passionate way? What if we lived our lives willing to do anything to give God glory? What if we lived our lives as if there was no tomorrow? What if we lived our lives like the end of days was coming tomorrow? What if we lived our lives with that same level of championship drive? What if we had the guts to go airborne to meet a challenge that was headed straight for you? What if we did not care that we weren’t supposed to have the talents to do what we do for Christ but because we had such passion for God that we depended on Him to empower us to do far beyond what we should be capable of?

 

That’s what this final blessing says to me. Israel, if they just maintained their love and their passion for God, would be blessed. There would be no one that could stop them for they had the God of the universe on their side. God is majestic, powerful, sovereign, great, and powerful. That we have Him on our side should embolden us to live our lives with reckless abandon, to give it our all on every play of every day.

 

What can the world do to us when we are saved by grace? They can only kill us. Then we will get our reward – spending eternity in heaven with the one who saved us, Jesus Christ. Whether we live or die should not matter? We have heaven coming to us!

 

But most of us live lives of quiet desperation and lives of playing it safe? What is we lived our lives for Christ? What can come against us? We should be out there sharing the gospel as if this day was the championship game and there is no tomorrow? Why do we worry more about are homes, cars, and things that are temporary and play it safe trying to protect those things? Why do we not live lives of passionate love of Jesus Christ and follow His call on our lives now! Not later when the bills are all paid. Not later after the kids are grown. Not later after I get my 401k built up. Not later because right now would be too hard. Let’s have the passion and love for God to know that He will have our back when we choose to live lives of reckless abandon for Him. He is the God of the Universe. He is the Creator. He is the one on whom we can depend.

 

If we have God on our side, we have the maker of all things, the giver of life, our maker, the ruler of all things on our side! Live life like He really does mean something to you. Live life as if you really believe that He will take care of you if you follow His call on your life. Live life with passionate love and passionate dependence. Throw your body into the game and play the game with your best on every play. Come away from this game of life spent and tired and your jersey dirty instead of standing on the sideline with a clean jersey and all your energy intact. Let us be Christians who don’t play it safe.

 

We serve a mighty God. He is on our side. Let us have that passion that leads to action that demonstrates that we actually believe that. What can come against us? Let us be bold and passionate and depend on our love of God to embolden us to do far beyond what we could imagine that we could do on our own.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 10:11-36 (Part 2)

The Israelites Leave Sinai

At this time of year, college football teams are deep into their preparations for the season. Two weeks from now, thank you, Jesus!, college football season begins. As a college football fan of a college team that played for the national championship last year and a team who is expected to compete at the highest level again this year, I cannot wait for September 3rd for the opening kickoff of the 2016 Clemson Tiger football season when they travel to face-off against Auburn, the other tigers. However, as a football team at the beginning of the season, they must gather together in early August to begin preparations for the season. Training camp is where coaches must assess the new recruits and the existing players and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as the replace players who graduated. Much has to be done as each year’s team is different from the last as you lose a senior class and replace it with a new freshman class. Preparation. Putting in changes to offensive and defensive standards for the season. Getting players into shape for the grind of potentially 15 games (12 regular season games, potentially a conference championship game, and potentially 2 games in the college football playoff). It is a time of preparation. It is a time of establishing a routine to football life. During the season, there is a rhythm to each week of preparation for the next opponent. Putting in game plans. Working the expected game plan of the opponent. There is a sequence to it all each week. Training camp is to establish that routine, that sequence of events that is to transpire each week. Each part of the football team (offense, defense, special teams) all have the responsibilities in getting ready for the season during training camp and then each week during the season.

 

My Clemson Tigers will not just show up at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, AL on Saturday, September 3, 2016 at 9:00pm and play. There has been training camp that get them prepared for the season as whole and that last week (August 28-September 2) will involve getting ready specifically to play Auburn. There is an order at which college football teams prepare for the season and for each weekly opponent. Teams don’t just show up and play. Even the logistical side of things that allow a team to go on a road trip game such as when Clemson travels to play Auburn in two weeks. Equipment must be organized. Hotel arrangements for the team and coaching staff must be made. There are a hundred things that have to happen when a major college football team goes on a road trip game that we, as fans, do not see. But, if any of those things fall through or do not get done, it can wreak havoc on the whole process and get a team all out of sorts and can even effect how the team plays on Saturday night. Those sequences of tasks have to be done in order and with precision so that when the ball kicks off at 9pm that night, we the fans can enjoy seeing our Tigers play and the players themselves can just go do what they do. The sequence of events in practice all week, the logistics of taking a large group of people from Clemson to Auburn, all make way for the fun of playing and watching college football on a college football Saturday night.

 

It is that idea of preparation, of proper order, and how the behind the scenes planning by God makes the movement of a million people seem like precision clockwork. There had to be preparation, planning, and flawless execution. Let’s think about that as we read this passage for the second time today, Numbers 10:11-36, and lets pay attention to the sequencing of the tribes (particularly those who were to carry the tabernacle and those who were to carry the holy things of tabernacle):

 

11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.

 

14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.

 

18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.

 

22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.

 

25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.

 

29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”

 

30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”

 

31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”

 

33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.

 

35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,

 

“Rise up, Lord!

    May your enemies be scattered;

    may your foes flee before you.”

 

36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,

 

“Return, Lord,

    to the countless thousands of Israel.”

 

 

I think that the amazing thing here to me is how God instructed Moses to sequence the tribes as they marched from one place to another. There is something to be said to us as we read through this passage. Notice that tribe divisions that are responsible for the break down and set up of the tabernacle always went before the tribe divisions that were responsible for the packing, carrying, and unpacking of the holy objects of the tabernacle. Notice, too, that there was a tribe that marched in between the tabernacle setter-upper tribe and the tabernacle objects carrying tribe. That’s an important logistical detail. The sequence had to be that way. When the tribes arrived at a new location, it would take a while to get everybody into camp so the sequence of events was important. It was important for the tabernacle to be set up before the guys with the furniture showed up. The house had to be built before the movers with the contents show up. There was enough distance between the tabernacle setter-uppers and the holy object carriers that the tabernacle could be put back together just in time for the object bearers to show up in camp. Precision planning on God’s part, huh?

 

God has a plan and sequence for our lives too. Have you ever thought that God has you right where he wants you at the moment? He has a plan for the path of our lives and we must trust Him with. Sometimes, we want to jump ahead of God. Sometimes we want to be like a football team that takes off for a road game without letting the logistics team leave the day before with all the equipment, without letting that advance team get all that set up, get the hotel rooms squared away and meeting rooms set up, getting the guest locker room set up and so on. When we jump ahead of God’s plan and we can cause ourselves pain. What if there is a reason that God has you right where you for a reason. One of my coined phrases is, “God has us right here, right now, with these people, in this place to do what God wants to do through us as His people in this place, at this moment, with these people.” God has us where He wants us to teach us what we need to be taught in this particular sequence of our lives. As my senior pastor often says, “God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us.” So many times in life, we complain about where we are at in life and want what’s next before we are ready for it. It’s sometimes that we are an elementary school football player wanting to be on the high school team right now. However, if you gave the elementary school kid that opportunity before they are ready for it, they will get crushed at practice and will never see the field in games. They would probably give up and quit. There is a plan to develop the elementary school football player as he grows so that he will be ready to play high school ball when it is time. It is the same for us. Let us enjoy the moment that we are in and learn what we need to learn. The closed doors that you keep knocking are maybe closed and unresponsive at this point because God still has work to do in you and through you right here, right now, where you are. God always let us know, through the  Holy Spirit’s pricking, prodding and cajoling of our soul, when it is time to move. The Holy Spirit will show us when the pillar of fire and smoke is lifting and moving us ahead into the next thing. We are in sequence right now where we are supposed to be. God does not want us to show up in the new campsite before the tabernacle is built. He wants us to arrive with the holy objects at just the right time and in the right sequence of events.

 

God does not want us to fail. He does not want to throw us into the deep waters without first having taught us to swim in the deep waters. He wants you to succeed so learn what you need to learn right now in the ministry that you are in. There is a sequence and a plan. Enjoy the ministry that you are in. God is using what you do right now. It is not wasted time. You may be reaching people for the Lord. You may be discipling people into deeper walks with the Lord right now without even realizing it. You may be impacting someone for their future ministry in the Lord right now. What if your quest for excellence in everything you do, your passion to be excellent for the Lord, is impacting someone you lead right now. Maybe, you know and have this feeling that God has bigger plans for you but don’t forget that God has a sequence of events and plans for your life and that this moment is a crucial and important part of the sequence of events and plans. Without this time frame where you are serving where you are serving, you may not be ready for what God truly has in store for you. Each step in our walk with the Lord is preparation for the next. Each step we take in ministry is preparation for the next. There is a sequence. We must trust it, enjoy it, and not short circuit it. God will let us know when its time for the next thing. We don’t just show up for football games. There is a whole sequence of events done in proper order that gets a team ready for kickoff. We must trust that the sequence of events that we are going through is all part of the necessary plan that God has for our lives. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Everything, every step is used to develop us into the servants that He wants us to be.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 3:14-39

Registration of the Levites

As anyone who has read many of my blogs over the years, you would know that I am a big football fan. Even though my college team of choice is the Tigers of Clemson University, I just love the game. It is an amazing sport and requires great strategy. It requires a group of men working together to achieve a goal. All the various functions of a team, offense, defense, and special teams, working together to achieve victory on the playing field. Defeat is usually caused by one of the three phrases of the game not being played to perfection. For example, this past January when Clemson played Alabama for the National Championship of college football, Clemson and Alabama pretty much played each other to a draw when it came to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense and Clemson’s defense vs. Alabama’s offense. In those aspects of the game, it was like a heavyweight fight. The teams traded blows all night long. When one team’s offense would punch the other’s defense and you thought they had gained an advantage, the other offense would come on the field and even things out again. It was a great game even though we lost by 5 points. However, it was not necessarily offensively or defensively where Clemson lost the game. It was special teams. Clemson’s special teams have been a sore spot for the program for the past two seasons even though the past two seasons have been highly successful. The sportswriters kept saying that Clemson needed to pay more attention to their special teams because one day it was going to be the difference between victory and defeat. That was exactly what happened in the national championship game. Alabama returned one kickoff for a touchdown and also recovered an on-side kick. In both instances, it appeared that the Tigers just didn’t pay attention to the details on those plays and if you could point to one thing that cost the Tigers the national championship last season, it was special teams.

 

It just goes to prove that on a sports team such as a football team that everyone has their assigned responsibilities and each person must carry out their function according the game plan for the team to be successful. If one person on the team is having a standout game but the rest of the team is slacking off, it does not matter that the superstar had a great game. The whole team must carry out their individual assignments for the TEAM to be successful. The coaches come up with an overall game plan for victory. Then, the offensive coordinator must take that game plan and develop a plan for the offense that will work within the overall game plan. Same is true for the defensive coordinator. Then the position coaches must brake that offensive or defensive or special teams game place down to the individual position’s game plan. Each man on the team must understand what his position must do to execute the team’s game plan for the game. If one or more of those players and various positions do not execute according to plan, defeat will come. Everyone on the team has assigned duties and must know what those duties are. Without that understanding and without turning understanding into execution, defeat will come.

 

It is that idea of teamwork and establishing the responsibilities for each group that made the Levites so efficient in making something as intricate and awesome as this mobile tabernacle work for this currently nomadic people of Israel that struck me when I read what seems like a mundane passage in Numbers 3:14-39. Let’s read it now:

 

14 The Lord said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, 15 “Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.” 16 So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.

 

17 These were the names of the sons of Levi:

 

Gershon, Kohath and Merari.

 

18 These were the names of the Gershonite clans:

 

Libni and Shimei.

 

19 The Kohathite clans:

 

Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel.

 

20 The Merarite clans:

 

Mahli and Mushi.

 

These were the Levite clans, according to their families.

 

21 To Gershon belonged the clans of the Libnites and Shimeites; these were the Gershonite clans. 22 The number of all the males a month old or more who were counted was 7,500. 23 The Gershonite clans were to camp on the west, behind the tabernacle. 24 The leader of the families of the Gershonites was Eliasaph son of Lael. 25 At the tent of meeting the Gershonites were responsible for the care of the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, the curtain at the entrance to the tent of meeting, 26 the curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes—and everything related to their use.

 

27 To Kohath belonged the clans of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites and Uzzielites; these were the Kohathite clans. 28 The number of all the males a month old or more was 8,600.[a] The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. 29 The Kohathite clans were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. 30 The leader of the families of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 31 They were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use. 32 The chief leader of the Levites was Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest. He was appointed over those who were responsible for the care of the sanctuary.

 

33 To Merari belonged the clans of the Mahlites and the Mushites; these were the Merarite clans. 34 The number of all the males a month old or more who were counted was 6,200. 35 The leader of the families of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail; they were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. 36 The Merarites were appointed to take care of the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its equipment, and everything related to their use, 37 as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes.

 

38 Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp to the east of the tabernacle, toward the sunrise, in front of the tent of meeting. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary on behalf of the Israelites. Anyone else who approached the sanctuary was to be put to death.

 

39 The total number of Levites counted at the Lord’s command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000.

 

As you can see here, each of the Levite clans were given specific responsibilities for maintaining the tabernacle. Each clan was responsible for a different aspect of the set up and breakdown of the tabernacle when they were on the move and each clan had varying responsibilities for the tabernacle when the nation of Israel was camped and stationary. This is the beauty of God in action. In order for the tabernacle to operate efficiently, each clan had a responsibility. They had a function in God’s game plan. Without God devising the orderly nature of the tabernacle, it would have been chaos and it would have been highly inefficient and maybe even dangerous to the Levites. There had to be an orderly and efficient way of doing things.

 

The same is true in the church today. Like in football, everybody wants to be the star quarterback, but in order for there to be a star quarterback, there must be offensive linemen to block for him. He must have receivers that will get open to catch his passes. There must be running back that chew up yardage on the ground to take the sole focus of the defense off the quarterback. All of it must work together to make the quarterback a star. In church, we call cannot be the star quarterback or senior pastor. He is the one you see on stage every week. The senior pastor is “the face of the franchise” when you think of the leader of your church. But there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes to make the senior pastor an effective leader and it’s not just on Sundays either.

 

On Sundays, to make it where people can come here the sermon, there are so many things that have to happen that make people feel welcomed at your church and be willing to come back week after week. The parking team must efficiently and easily park your car so that it does not seem chaotic and random. At a really busy church the parking team is necessary to prevent accidents and to prevent inefficient use of the parking lot. The greeters must make you feel that your presence at church is welcomed and that you are loved simply by choosing to come to church here at this church. The runners who help you learn where to take your kids are necessary to keep you from feeling lost. The children’s check-in personnel must make you feel as though you are leaving your kids with trustworthy and loving people. The children’s service must be such that it engages your children to understand biblical concepts. As you leave your children, you should be able to go to church without wondering about the safety of your children because you know that there is a trained security team in place to keep the campus secure from threats. You should enjoy your worship experience because of a tech team that understands and uses today’s advanced technologies to present worship in a way that connects with media savvy generations. You don’t want to have to say “oh well they are trying hard”. You want to say, “man, these guys are as good as the local television station’s production of the nightly news.” Then, you want to hear a worship team/band that makes you feel the presence of the Lord and prepares your heart for the sermon. It is only then that when the senior pastor takes the stage that his word from God will penetrate your heart and cause life change. If any of these components leading up to the sermon fail, then, the sermon will fail to penetrate your heart. All of the moving parts of the worship service must work together such that you are ready to hear the sermon when it comes. If there is a fail anywhere from the parking lot to the sermon, the sermon will not have the effect God wants it to have on your heart. Each of these teams that lead up to the sermon must do their job and do it with excellence in order for your mind to be clear enough to let God’s Word penetrate your heart.

 

During the rest of the week, there are so many activities that go on at church to make Sunday morning possible. All the planning that goes into your Sunday morning experiences begins anew on Monday, but also there are ministries of the church that carry on day after day that impact people’s lives. Church is more than Sunday morning worship. It is meeting the needs of people in our communities every day. It is members of the church volunteering in ministries that make Jesus’ name famous to those who need to hear it. It is members of churches giving of their time, talents, and resources to ensure the day to day operations of a church that cares about its community. These times, talents, and resources are deployed to spread the message of Jesus Christ daily. Everyone has a role. Everyone is a minister through exercise their God-given talents to create opportunities for the gospel to be heard far and wide.

 

With all that a church is or with all a church is supposed be, it does not matter how good a preacher the senior pastor is. We are the church. The church is a team. Yes, the senior pastor is our star quarterback, but he would not be an effective spreader of the gospel if there is not a team of functional leaders beneath him leading individual teams that make up the church. These functional leaders then must have great players underneath them to carry out the game plan. Everybody has a role to play in God’s church. He has given us each one a role to play in the body. Without each one not playing their role in church with the talents that God gives us, the church is not as efficient as it could be. We may not be reaching all the people we can reach if you are not using your God-given talents at your local church. Yes, we need our senior pastor to set the tone. We need him to develop the game plan that God has given our particular local bodies of the church. The senior pastor takes the vision that God has given him and make it the focus for this local body. However, without having a church full of people making that vision happen, it remains just a vision. Everybody in the church is in this local church for a reason. It is because this local body needs your talents to execute the vision of your local church. You were drawn by the Holy Spirit to this church because this church needs the talents that you have to accomplish its mission. It is not coincidence that you are here. You are here at this place at this time with these people at this moment to accomplish what God has set out for us to do from this church at that this place at this time with these people. You are here for a reason. You have a role to play. Get in the game. Help execute God’s game plan for this city from this church.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 16:5-12
The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees

For those of us who are die-hard Clemson fans, the touchdown on the kickoff return by Alabama did not come entirely as a surprise. For all the good things that have happened on offense and defense during the Tigers run to the championship, special teams have been where we have held our breath, particularly kick-off coverage. Every time, Clemson kicked off this year, we fans prayed that the kickoff would go deep into the end zone so that there would be no return. Why? Because, if the Tigers had a fatal flaw this year it was kickoff coverage. Twice before the championship game, we had given up two touchdowns on kickoff returns and we had given up several high yardage returns during the year. Although they covered well for most of the kickoffs Monday night, the weakness was bound to be exposed. The Tigers could have survived all the other mistakes made in Monday night’s game, but this season-long weakness was the one thing that was the dagger to the heart. In championship games that are tightly contested as Monday’s game was, if you have a flaw as team if will come out and it will cause you to lose. Without that kickoff return for a touchdown, Clemson may have had the opportunity to climb back into the game the way they were moving the ball on offense. The kickoff return just made the mountain too big given the time remaining the game. The fatal flaw all season ultimately undoes a championship season. It is like back in the day in the 80’s and 90’s, University of Houston and University of Nevada-Las Vegas had some of the greatest college basketball teams ever assembled but they could have won more championships than they did because each had one fatal flaw to their games – foul shooting. Each of those teams could make you look like a little league basketball team when they played you, but if you could get them into a tight game where foul shots matters, they would lose. Fatal flaws of sports team. Blind spots that prevent us from being all that we can be. It is these minor things that can become major things when are allowed to go unchecked. If I fault the Tiger coaches for anything this year, it was the lack of improvement in kickoff coverage over the course of the season. All other areas of the team improved a great deal over the course of the season but not this one and it became the difference between 14-1 and 15-0.

The reason that I use my favorite college football team as an illustration again today because their weak spot got exposed and it caused them to lose. Are we often not the same way when it comes to sins that we enjoy and refuse to repent of? They did not have college football back in days of Jesus’ earthly ministry so he used the metaphor of yeast and dough, something we can still relate to today. Just a little bit of yeast changes dough into the basis for bread. Just a little bit of dough will permeate through the dough and make it into something that we can bake and call bread. Jesus seized the discussion of bread to make a point to us all. Let’s read Matthew 16:5-12 together:

 

5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

 
Clemson’s poor kickoff coverage and yeast in dough reminds of unchecked things that can turn into bigger things. Sin is that way for us. The religious elite of the first century Jewish society were more concerned with appearances of religious compliance than they were about seeking after God. They would rather keep a good public image than seek holiness. They were greedy men who lusted after power. Their faith became about what people see on the outside rather than what’s in the heart. They would shun people for not keeping in compliance with the letter of God’s law rather than seeking to teach people about holiness. This attitude thus permeated throughout society. If you broke the religious regulations, you were shunned. Once a sinner always a sinner. There was no forgiveness or compassion. It all started at the top with the religious leaders. They were not seeking after God’s heart so the Jewish faith became about rules and not about relationship with God. The law was intended to point us to our need for repentance before God and to seek his forgiveness for our flaws. It had become a mallet to beat people into despair with in the hands of the religious elite. Their sins of pride, arrogance, and greed became the yeast that permeated the dough of Jewish society.

Are not our own sins that way, especially the ones that we want to keep on participating in? We hide them in our dough. But our unrepented and active sins that go unchecked can become greater and greater problems to us that consume us. Just think of the person who entertains lust in his heart for a woman who is not his wife. He entertains it and enjoys the thoughts and fantasies. They become a preoccupation. The thoughts lead to flirting. Flirting leads to touching. Touching leads to kissing and you get the picture. It all started with entertaining the sin in the mind. The same is true with other sins as well. Greed starts out small. Say a salesmen starts becoming preoccupied with getting all he can get in life so it starts with fudging on an expense report. If that goes well, lying to a client is deemed ok. Until one day, this salesmen can’t remember what telling the truth feels like. Lying has become such a part of his life that he feels no remorse ever for telling a lie to make more money. And, then, there’s the just a little porn is ok guy. A little fantasy becomes an obsession over time and leads a man to think of women differently and even pursue immoral sexual relationships through porn-related websites and ultimately loses his wife and kids over porn. These are just a couple of examples of how a sin can start small and if you want to keep on participating in it, you keep it hidden. Who is it hurting anyway? But, the sin when unconfessed and worked on to overcome can become bigger and bigger parts of our lives until they consume our whole existence. The enjoyment of the sin and the covering it up become our reason for being. Sin is like yeast. It can start small but ultimately can consume us if it goes unchecked. It changes us from what we were into something totally different. It can cause our life to come crashing down when we allow it to fester and permeate our lives. The maintenance of the sin becomes the most important thing in our lives and ultimately becomes our god instead of God himself. Justification, concealment, preoccupation, all of it gets in the way of our relationship with God.

What is your pet sin? What is mine? What is that one thing that can potentially bring our world crashing down? What is that fatal flaw? What sins are we not confessing because we want to continue to enjoy them? What is getting in the way of your relationship with God through unrepentant sin? What is that fatal flaw that you refuse to admit? What is your Clemson special teams? That one thing that you are not working on because you don’t think it matters because the rest of your life is so good? The Tigers’ fatal flaw was discounting kickoff coverage teams as important because the offense and defense were as good as any out there. They never placed importance on analyzing the flaws in the kickoff coverage team even they were meticulous about details everywhere else. It was a blind spot. What is yours? What is going to prevent you from having a full and complete relationship with God? What is going to prevent you from being a champion of God? What is preventing you and me from being and seeking holiness before God? What are our pet sins that we do not want to give up?

Let us take some time over the next month or so to really examine who we are and the sins we entertain. Let us examine our areas of life that we do not pay attention to as being fatal flaws. I remember after the NC State game where Clemson gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return and had several returns that were bigger than they should’ve been, the message boards of Clemson football were full of comments that this kickoff coverage problem would come back to bite us one day and cause us to lose a ball game. It did and it was on the biggest stage – the national championship game. Yet, throughout the season, the Tigers seemed never to make any improvement in preventing one or more big returns each game. There was turning of a blind eye to the flaws. What sin do you justify? What sin do I ignore? What sin have we left unchecked? We are to seek holiness by being more like Christ each day. We cannot be holy when we have sins that we are not examining. We cannot be holy if we are not looking for each spiritual flaw we have and confessing it and working on it. Holiness is honesty about our flaws. Holiness is confession. Holiness is seeking God’s help in overcoming our flaws. Holiness is seeking to please God as the primary motivation of our lives and if that means looking at our flaws honestly and committing them to God and praying for His help in cleaning our closets out. Let us be willing to identify where we have unrepented sins and lay them before God in honesty and being the journey to holiness.

Amen and Amen.