Monday, November 29, 2010

Willing to Forgive

"Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." Luke 6:36

We do not have the right as Christians to harbor unforgiveness.

I have heard people say on occasion, "Well, there are some things that just can't be forgiven." Like what? What is it that Jesus couldn't forgive in your life? What is it that Jesus says is beyond His ability to cleanse, heal, restore, or forgive in a person?

Take another look at your own past.

If God has forgiven you . . . He expects you to be able to forgive yourself.

If God has forgiven you . . . He expects you to extend that forgiveness to others.

- "God's Way Day by Day"

The Passionate Pursuit of Excellence

Les Steckel was an NFL coach for 20 years, coaching in San Francisco, Minnesota, New England, Denver, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Buffalo. He coached Pro Bowl players, and he coached on two teams that competed in the Super Bowl. Through the years he observed a lot and learned a lot about pursuing excellence with a passion. Here is some of what he learned.

“If you’re going to be excellent, you always have to find ways to get better,” Steckel says.

  • What are some areas of your life where you want to get better?
  • What are you doing to get better in those areas?

Steckel says that most people tend to take shortcuts and give only what is required of them and no more.

  • What are some examples of shortcuts people take in athletics, business, ministry and family life?
  • Why do you think people take shortcuts?

Read Daniel 1:1-21
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. 2 The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the land of Babylon, to the house of his god, and put the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 The king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his court officials, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace—and to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. 5 The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to serve in the king’s court.

6 Among them, from the descendants of Judah, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them ⌊other⌋ names: he gave the name Belteshazzar to Daniel, Shadrach to Hananiah, Meshach to Mishael, and Abednego to Azariah.

8 Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank. So he asked permission from the chief official not to defile himself. 9 God had granted Daniel favor and compassion from the chief official, 10 yet he said to Daniel, “My lord the king assigned your food and drink. I’m afraid ⌊of what would happen⌋ if he saw your faces looking thinner than those of the other young men your age. You would endanger my life with the king.”

11 So Daniel said to the guard whom the chief official had assigned to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for 10 days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.” 14 He agreed with them about this and tested them for 10 days.

15 At the end of 10 days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. 16 So the guard continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables. 17 God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind.

18 At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to serve in the king’s court. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them 10 times better than all the diviner-priests and mediums in his entire kingdom.21 Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.

  • How was Daniel intentional in his pursuit of excellence?
  • What are some temptations to go with the crowd that we face today?
  • What are some of the benefits of avoiding worldly living, like Daniel and his three friends did?

Steckel says that two factors that are important in pursuing excellence are discipline and integrity.

  • How do discipline and integrity relate to one another?
  • Are they both important to pursue excellence? Why or why not?

Read Philippians 3:12-21
12 Not that I have already reached ⌊the goal⌋ or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

15 Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. 16 In any case, we should live up to whatever ⌊truth⌋ we have attained. 17 Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.18 For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, 20but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.

  • What are some things that can suppress our passionate pursuit of excellence?
  • What encouragement does the apostle Paul give to us in Philippians 3:12-21 to help us overcome such obstacles?
  • What is the ultimate prize for those who strive for godly excellence?

Here is a simple prayer: “Lord, help me to be determined to live a Christ-honoring life of excellence in everything I do. Help me to intentionally improve every day. Let me live a life of discipline, of integrity, of pursuing my best always, that I may be my best and bring glory to you. May my passion for excellence inspire others to be their best too.”


Adapted from Excellence: True Champions Pursue Greatness In All Areas Of Life, Chapter 3, “The Passionate Pursuit,” produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Spirit of Excellence

NFL running back Shaun Alexander has a strong faith in Jesus Christ. And that compels him to live his life and to participate in his sport with excellence. He has been on championship teams from high school to the pros. But he has also had his share of criticism, injuries and difficult times.

Through the years, the Lord has taught him a lot about living with a spirit of excellence. Alexander encourages Christians to “walk in the spirit of excellence.” He reminds us that excellence involves living our lives with the right attitude and the right actions, big and small.

Read Ephesians 4:1-3
1 Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, 3 diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds ⌊us⌋.

  • What does the phrase “walk worthy of the calling you have received” mean?
  • How do we live this out in our daily lives?
  • What words in Ephesians 4:1-3 give us insights into how to live a life that honors the Lord?
  • What are some concrete examples of how a person could follow Shaun Alexander’s directive to “walk in the spirit of excellence”?

Read 1 John 5:1-15
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. 2 This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands.
3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, 4 because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. 5 And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

6 Jesus Christ—He is the One who came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and these three are in agreement. 9 If we accept the testimony of men, God’s testimony is greater, because it is God’s testimony that He has given about His Son. 10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has this testimony within him. The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony God has given about His Son.) 11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

14 Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.

  • What are some misconceptions that people often have about Christians?
  • What parts of 1 John 5:1-15 give you the courage to wholeheartedly pursue excellence?
  • What are some things for which you should confidently ask God?

Shaun Alexander says, “The best way to honor God is to be obedient. Whatever it is I’m doing, I want to be obedient. I want to pursue Him with excellence with all that I’ve got. That’s going to lead to true obedience and true love, which pleases God.”

Read Matthew 5:14-16

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

  • What are some ways that God has used excellence in your life as a light to attract others to Him?
  • What are some of the other areas in your life where excellence could have a similar effect?
  • How do you make sure that your life brings glory to God (and not glory to you)?

In his own words:

“When you strive for excellence, you are fulfilled in who you are, and you can have the greatest impact on the lives of others. I think the spirit of excellence helps to continue with everything we have so that we can get to the next test and pass it. Some people strive for excellence to glorify themselves or to look good in front of others. But if you have a spirit of excellence and you’re doing what God has told you to do, you can’t help but do something greater than you thought you could do and impact more people than you otherwise could have. Having a platform is one of my callings…. I’ve got friends who no one ever hears about, and all they do is pray. But they pray with a spirit of excellence. That is their calling. So their spirit of excellence launches me to go walk in my spirit of excellence. It all works together. You have to know who you are in Christ. You have to know what God has called you to do. Then you have to do that with everything in you. The spirit of excellence causes you to affect people when you don’t know that they’re watching. It’s not about putting on your Sunday best, but it’s about walking in that spirit of excellence. When people see that, they think, This Jesus must be the real deal.” - Shaun Alexander

  • What part of Shaun Alexander’s quote above is most significant to you?

Here is a simple prayer:

“Lord, help me to live with a spirit of excellence, shining a light that will point people to faith in Jesus Christ. AMEN.”


Adapted from Excellence: True Champions Pursue Greatness In All Areas Of Life, Chapter 2, “The Spirit of Excellence,” produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Excellence: The Big Win

How do you define “excellence”?

The head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI in 2007, Tony Dungy, whose team won the Super Bowl that year, defines excellence this way: “Excellence is doing something at the very highest level it can be done using all your capabilities and everything God has given you.”

What do you think of Coach Dungy’s definition of excellence?

Read and Respond to 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away.

  • According to these verses, what do athletes compete for?
  • Is it right or wrong for Christian athletes to seek to win the prize of athletic games? Why do you say so?
  • What does verse 25 teach us about self-control?
  • What does verse 25 teach us about keeping these in eternal perspective?

In terms of excellence and spiritual values, Coach Dungy says this: “If you just practice one day a week, you’re never going to be as good as if you practice every day. And that’s what it’s all about, really. It’s reading and understanding what God wants you to do and then putting it into practice. When you come up a little short and don’t quite get it, don’t give up. Continue to work at it. Say, ‘Okay, Lord, I fell a little bit short in this area. Give me another opportunity to work on it.’ The more you practice those values, the easier they become, and the better you get at them.”

Is Coach Dungy right?

As followers of Christ, we must remember that we are not just on earth to accomplish things for our own benefit. When we have success, we must not become prideful. Coach Dungy says that our purpose behind striving for excellence must always be balanced and in tune with God’s plan for our lives. We can’t just be building “bigger barns” for ourselves.

Read and Respond to Luke 12:13-21
13 Someone from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 “Friend,” He said to him, “who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”
16 Then He told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? 18 I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. 19 Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’
21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

  • What is the point of the story?
  • What lessons does the story teach us?
  • How can a person be rich toward God?

What are your priorities in life?

If excellence to you is only about winning or losing, then you are in danger of pride (if you win all the time) or depression (if you never win). As Coach Dungy says, “Excellence is about how you do things and doing the very best that you can. Excellence doesn’t mean you always have to win or always have to be in first place.”

Excellence for the athlete who is following Christ also means never cutting corners. Excellence includes integrity in every way. Jesus compares a person whose life is built on following Him versus one that is built on anything else.

Read Matthew 7:24-27
24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!”

  • What do you learn from these verses?
  • How do these verses apply to your life today?

The “big win” is our reward in heaven, to hear the Lord say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Earthly success is fleeting. Do your very best at everything you do. Live your life with excellence. But remember you are on this earth to make a difference in people’s lives for eternity!


Quotes are from Excellence: True Champions Pursue Greatness in All Areas of Life, chapter 1: “The Big Win,” produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Excellence, Part 1

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a series of blogs that I hope will encourage you in your walk with Christ. Some of the winter sports athletes and I will be using a great book produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes entitled Excellence to explore what the Bible says about living a Christ-centered life, doing everything we do with excellence. You may order this book at the FCA Gear Store.

"It may seem obvious how 'excellence' fits in the world of sports, but the truth is, true greatness is only achieved when bringing glory to God is the ultimate goal. Excellence is more than wins on game day - it is the result of honoring your commitments, valuing quality over quantity and going above and beyond . . . every single time. Excellence [the book] is a devotional that will help you learn how to raise your standards of performance and have an eternal perspective on your sport and your life. When you live, work and play with excellence, your win lasts forever."

Excellence for Christian athletes includes doing your best at every area of your life: athletic, personal, spiritual, more.

Read these verses and then answer the questions below.

Colossians 3:23-24 (HCSB)
23 Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
  • According to these verses, how should we do everything?
  • What does it mean to do a task on earth "as something done for the Lord and not for men"?
  • What does the Lord promise to those who do everything enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men?
  • In everything that we do, if Jesus is truly our Lord (boss, head coach, leader), who are we serving? How should this impact EVERYTHING that we do?
  • As athletes, what impact does Colossians 3:23-24 have on how you train and compete?
Philippians 1:27 (HCSB)
27 Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ....

  • According to this verse, what one thing should be the focus of how you live your life?
  • What does it mean to "live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ"?
  • As athletes, what impact does Philippians 1:27 have on how you train, compete, and live every day of your life?

Bible scholar named Warren Wiersbe describes Philippians 1:27 this way in his Bible Exposition Commentary:

"The old English word conversation, of course, means walk and not talk. "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ" (nasb). The most important weapon against the enemy is not a stirring sermon or a powerful book; it is the consistent life of believers.

"The verb Paul uses is related to our word politics. He is saying, "Behave the way citizens are supposed to behave." My wife and I were visiting in London and one day decided to go to the zoo. We boarded the bus and sat back to enjoy the ride; but it was impossible to enjoy it because of the loud, coarse conversation of the passengers at the front of the bus. Unfortunately, they were Americans; and we could see the Britishers around us raising their eyebrows and shaking their heads, as though to say, "Oh, yes, they're from America!" We were embarrassed, because we knew that these people did not really represent the best of American citizens.

"Paul is suggesting that we Christians are the citizens of heaven, and while we are on earth we ought to behave like heaven's citizens. He brings this concept up again in Philippians 3:20. It would be a very meaningful expression to the people in Philippi because Philippi was a Roman colony, and its citizens were actually Roman citizens, protected by Roman law. The church of Jesus Christ is a colony of heaven on earth! And we ought to behave like the citizens of heaven.

"Am I conducting myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel?" is a good question for us to ask ourselves regularly. We should "walk ... worthy of the calling" that we have in Christ (Eph. 4:1, nasb), which means walking "worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" (Col. 1:10). We do not behave in order to go to heaven, as though we could be saved by our good works; but we' behave because our names are already written in heaven, and our citizenship is in heaven.

"It is worth remembering that the world around us knows only the Gospel that it sees in our lives.

You are writing a Gospel,

A chapter each day,

By the deeds that you do

And the words that you say.

Men read what you write,

Whether faithful or true:

Just what is the Gospel

According to you?

(source unknown)

"The Gospel" is the Good News that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again (1 Cor. 15:1-8). There is only one "Good News" of salvation; any other gospel is false (Gal. 1:6-10). The message of the Gospel is the Good News that sinners can become the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, God's Son (John 3:16). To add anything to the Gospel is to deprive it of its power. We are not saved from our sins by faith in Christ plus something else; we are saved by faith in Christ alone.

"We have some neighbors who believe a false gospel," a church member told his pastor. "Do you have some literature I can give them?"

"The pastor opened his Bible to 2 Corinthians 3:2, "You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men" (nasb). He said, "The best literature in the world is no substitute for your own life. Let them see Christ in your behavior and this will open up opportunities to share Christ's Gospel with them."

"The greatest weapon against the devil is a godly life. And a local church that practices the truth, that "behaves what it believes," is going to defeat the enemy. This is the first essential for victory in this battle."

--Bible Exposition Commentary - New Testament - The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2.
  • After you read Warren Wiersbe's thoughts, what new insights do you have?
  • How will you apply the teaching of Colossians 3:23-24 and Philippians 1:27 to your life?
Here's a simple prayer to the Lord:

"Lord, help me everyday to live my life for you. Help me to remember that I represent you at all times, and that you are always there to help me. Let me do everything with excellence, enthusiastically, as if you were right there as my coach. Help me to live my life in a way that others see that Jesus is working in my life, that they might be challenged to follow Christ as Lord and Savior. AMEN."