Lord Stanley, here we come!
The Dallas Stars beat Vegas last night in a wild come-from-behind overtime thriller to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in twenty years! NHL playoff hockey is by far the most exciting thing in sports and the Stanley Cup is truly the most difficult trophy to win. But after scoring three unanswered goals against the top-seeded Golden Knights, the Stars are four wins away.
You can’t help but fall in love with this grinding, never-day-die, team of destiny. They changed coaches in the middle of the season, they’re playing with a backup goalie who had never started a postseason game before this season, and they’ve got more playoff goals from a minor-league call-up than from their leading scorer. Alex Radulov plays with such determination, Jamie Benn seems to be everywhere, the defensemen are scrapping and scoring like the Stars teams of the late ’90s, and Khudobin is absolutely standing on his head in net. This team is never out of it — so fun to watch.
It’s not too late to get on the Stars bandwagon. Just don’t shave until they get four more wins.
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
A lot of us grew up with a view of our salvation as something we slip in and out of pretty easily. According to what we do or don’t do, what kind of day we’re having or the last time we prayed, we might be saved or lost. If you’re not on constant guard, if you’re not vigilant in doing everything in exactly the right way, your mortal soul is in jeopardy. Losing your salvation could happen to you gradually or all of a sudden. Your status with God is fragile. Your salvation is a delicate thing. You’re worried about your worthiness. You’re anxious about your standing. There’s always a question. Always a doubt.
There’s a Greek word for this: Baloney.
There’s also a West Texas word for it. But I can’t use it here.
The Scriptures are clear that our salvation with God in Christ Jesus is secure. We don’t have to wonder about it. We don’t have to look over our shoulders in dread at what might take us out. The Christian life is not like walking a tightrope where every single step is a life or death deal.
Of course! I know this. In my head. I know this as a solid, indisputable fact. In my head. But my heart doesn’t always acknowledge this truth. My gut sometimes disagrees. Sometimes we do get anxious about our own salvation. Sometimes we do slip into uncertainty. We slip into fear. Or maybe we don’t slip into it; maybe we kinda live there.
Did I know what I was doing when I was baptized? Have I really been forgiven for my past? Have I really been good enough? Am I really doing enough?
Legalism is a disease we all have. We’re all in different places in our recovery, but nobody’s completely cured. If doing the rules and obeying the commands is what saves me, then, yes, I should be worried. But if it’s not… thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
I want us to consider Psalm 125 this week to banish our insecurities and grow our confidence and Christian assurance. I’d like for these holy ancient words to get into our souls and remind us that we are safe and secure in Christ in the face of our feelings, in the middle of our sufferings, and despite our sins.
There are three things — I’m speaking very broadly here — that get in the way of the solid security we have in the Lord. The first of these is our feelings. The way we feel. Our feelings can hijack our security.
Psalm 125 says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” But I do get shaken. It happens a lot. One day I’m full of faith and confidence as a beloved child of God, the next day I’m questioning and doubting almost everything. I wake up one morning full of energy and assurance in what God’s doing in me and through me, the next day I’m gray and moody and not real sure God’s doing anything at all. One day I’m a man of God, the next day I don’t know.
Cannot be shaken? That’s not me at all. I can be shaken by almost anything. Sadness, joy, success, failure, a bad meeting, another change in the coronavirus restrictions, a phone call, a disagreement — I’m like a thermometer, just going up and down according to the weather around me.
OK. Maybe so.
Think about the children of Israel. Up one day and down the next. Hot and cold all the time. One day they’re marching in triumph through the Red Sea, the next day they’re griping because they used to eat steaks and cheesecakes in Egypt. One day they’re worshiping God in his holy presence on Mount Sinai, the next day they’re dancing in the valley around a golden calf. One day they’re eating with Jesus in the upper room, listening to his words, basking in his love, pledging their allegiance; the next day they’re receiving warmth from someone else’s fire and swearing with holy curses they never met Jesus.
Up and down, up and down, like a yo-yo. You get whiplash with these people.
But the whole time, there’s something very solid and very steady: They are always God’s people. That never changed. God is faithfully and steadfastly with them. He never leaves them. He never forsakes them. He’s right there with his mercy and grace and love. You get the sense that everything that happens with God’s people happens in this bubble of God’s security. It all happens, the good and the bad, with this God who is always with them, constantly redeeming and restoring, forgiving and loving.
Following Christ is an up and down thing for us. But we don’t rely on our feelings. Our feelings about God are not as important as the facts about God. I had a professor at Austin Grad, Dr. Michael Weed. If somebody was talking about a church service or a worship experience or a spiritual conference and said, “I felt the Holy Spirit,” he would say, “Maybe. Or maybe it was indigestion.” His point was that you have to go on more than just feelings. Feelings can be deceptive. You can’t always trust them.
So we refuse to trust in our ups and downs; we choose to trust in God. We refuse to believe in our darkness and doubts; we choose to believe in God. Not feelings, but facts.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death!” ~Romans 8:1
You know what the law of sin and death is: you sin, you die! We’re not under that law anymore! Why? Because by the sin offering of Christ, “the righteous requirements of the law have all been fully met in us.”
My salvation relationship with God cannot be shaken. I’m a mountain. It’s not psychology, it’s geology. My security doesn’t come from how I feel today, but from who God is both now and forevermore.
The puck drops this afternoon on the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but I have little confidence in our Dallas Stars. They’re facing off against Calgary in this best-of-seven series, with some of the youngest, fastest, most skilled players in the NHL. But something’s not right. They can’t score a goal to save their necks. They’re great defensively — Stars teams always are. But they’re averaging less than 2.6 goals per game this season. Can’t light the lamp. Can’t put the biscuit in the basket.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn don’t look right. And we’re not sure if goalie Ben Bishop will even be dressed. What does “unfit to play” mean?
This same Stars team took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Blues to seven games in the second round of the playoffs last year. It was wild. Thrilling. I believe NHL playoff hockey is better than football, the most exciting thing in the wide, wide world of all sports. And the Stars were playing so well before the global pandemic shut it all down. I was so sure the Stars were ready to take that next step and go all the way to the Conference Finals and maybe beyond this year. But the four month layoff has been disastrous. I guess. The Edmonton bubble isn’t working.
But it’s still playoff hockey. It’s still the coolest game on earth. It’s the only sport that has a true sudden death. It’s the only sport in which outcomes turn on an instant that you and I never see coming. So, here’s hoping I’m wrong about the Stars’ chances against the Flames. And here’s to playoff beards and penalty kills, to empty nets and overtime. Here’s to the start of sport’s most entertaining and most demanding championship tournament.
Few things are as thrilling in sports as a tied NHL Stanley Cup playoff game in the third period. Only overtime. And the Stars outlasted the Predators Monday night in an edge-of-your-seat overtime slugfest to advance to the second round. My heart has just now this morning returned to its normal rhythms. Overtime in an NHL playoff game is the only true “sudden death” in sports. And it’s incredible.
One of the great things about a Stars game on TV is the running color commentary provided by Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. Every 90-seconds or so during every single game, Razor says something that makes me giggle. The guy’s a genius. Monday night he referred to the Stars’ six-foot-seven goalie Ben Bishop as the “net-minding mastadon.” After a wild flurry of saves late in the second period, Razor called Bishop a “brilliant rubber regurgitator.” He described a save by Nashville’s goaltender as “a sassy glove grab.” When the game was over and the American Airlines Center crowd was celebrating the series win, Razor reminded all the TV viewers back home that “the singular of confetti is confetto.”
Their second round series against the Blues begins in St. Louis tomorrow night.
The world expects Christians to show love. That’s why people rip into the Church and rail against us when we don’t show love. That’s why they criticize us.
People don’t cuss at the beach because it’s sandy; it’s supposed to be sandy. We don’t complain when rain is wet; it’s supposed to be wet. we don’t gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo; it’s supposed to blow. That’s what we expect. And the world expects followers of Jesus to love. So, they rightfully call us out when we don’t.
(Sometimes we gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo. Let’s be honest.)
Scripture tells us plainly that, for children of God and disciples of Christ, the primary command is to love. From the Old Testament law and prophets to Jesus and his apostles, loving other people is the primary response and the natural reflection of God’s love that’s been so undeservedly showered on us
According to the Bible, if you’re not a loving person, you don’t know God. If you’re not showing love to others, you haven’t truly received God’s love for yourself.
Nobody in the world will listen to you talk about God if they experience you as an unloving person. You’ve got no credibility. It’s obvious you don’t know who you’re talking about. At Texas Dodge, they don’t let their salespeople drive Fords or Chevys. The president of PETA doesn’t run the membership drive for the NRA. And you’re not going to influence anybody for Christ if you’re not a loving person. You’ll push people away.
The Church is fractured and our witness to the world is compromised because we keep getting this one thing out of order. Instead of loving first, we judge first. We condemn first. We yell first. We whine and complain first. We forward the email first. We insult first, and then love comes somewhere after that. It’s out of order.
We put socioeconomic boundaries first. We put racial differences first. We prioritize parties, platforms, and politicians. We make denominational distinctions primary. We figure out our theology, doctrine, and church structures first, then decide later where, when, and how to show love.
Yes, there are difficult passages in the Bible that must be figured out and there are parts of Scripture about which followers of Jesus can legitimately disagree. But the command to love as the most important command and the one that trumps all the other commands is not one of them.
The apostle Paul tells us that a Christian who doesn’t love is like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Eugene Peterson’s Message translates it “the creaking of a rusty gate.” Someone else might say “fingernails on a chalkboard.” In other words, a Christian or a church like that is irritating. It gets on people’s nerves. It’s outwardly obnoxious.
If love doesn’t come first, if love is not the origin and the energy behind and through what you’re doing, it’s not good. A Christian or a church that prioritizes love over everything else fills the world with the hope and healing and joy of our Lord. Without love, a Christian or a church is a tree that bears no fruit, a cloud that produces no rain. Obnoxious.
This is a critical time in the Church. Theologians, historians, and sociologists have been telling us for four decades that we are going through the greatest transition in the last 500 years of Church history. And what you do matters. It matters to you and your family, it matters to your friends and your city, it matters to this country and to the whole world.
Anger is acceptable now in our culture, but that’s not who you are. Discord and division are society’s tools, but not yours. The culture encourages you to look out for yourself first, but that’s not proper for Christians. Asserting myself, my rights, and my personality is not my priority as a follower of Jesus. We don’t go along with the world on this. We don’t say, “Well, that’s just the way things are.” To somehow justify not loving other people, no matter the reason, is to squash our creativity and insult God’s grace and ignore the command of Jesus.
No person in the world who runs into a Christian should ever have to wonder if that Christian is a safe person who will love them. No server at a restaurant, no teller at a bank, no classmate at your school, no neighbor on your street, and no member of your church should ever spend one minute wondering if love has disappeared from the earth. People who run into you, people who experience you, should believe in love.
The Big German owns Big D.
Dirk Nowitzki took out a full page ad in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News to say “Thank You” to Mavericks fans and to the city after 21 Hall of Fame years in Dallas. It’s a rare kind of letter from a professional superstar athlete of Dirk’s caliber. Humble. Grateful. Selfless. Sincere. Reflective. Kind. Two DMN sportswriters have confirmed that Dirk worked on this letter for a couple of weeks; these are all his words; it’s not ghost-written. And you can tell it’s from his heart.
Dirk could run for mayor of Dallas and win it today. When it comes to Dallas sports, he’s in an exclusive club with Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. Staubach, of course, is in a class all by himself. He spent his entire career with the Cowboys, he won two Super Bowls in Dallas, he was a model citizen and team player, and he made his permanent home in Dallas when he retired. For the past 39 years and for the next 39 years, Staubach could run for Governor of Texas or the U.S. Senate and win it immediately. He’s that beloved in Dallas and throughout the state. Aikman also spent his entire career with the Cowboys , he won three Super Bowls, he was a model citizen and team player, and he also made his permanent home in Dallas when he retired. For some reason — somebody help me articulate this — it doesn’t feel like Aikman’s in the exact same category as Staubach. But he’s close. Right there with Dirk.
Mike Modano’s not in that class. He won a Stanley Cup as the face of the franchise with the Stars in 1999. Model citizen and team player, advocate for the sport and the city, but he finished his career in Detroit. And it’s hockey.
The very nature of baseball means nobody’s going to play their entire career with the Rangers. Plus, the Rangers have never won a championship. Nolan Ryan could be governor of Texas whenever he wants, but he doesn’t own Dallas. Jim Sundberg and Pudge Rodriguez could make the Dallas city council, but they don’t own the city. Besides, they played all their home games in Tarrant County.
Am I missing somebody? I think it’s Staubach, Aikman, Dirk. In that order. Does anybody else in Dallas sports belong in that group?
I spent Saturday through Wednesday in Chicago on another of these nine quarterly retreats with Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Community. And while Mary and Hannah and I did some really great things up there, I’m struggling to get caught up with all the really cool things we missed here at home.
We always try to work in a fun event or two in Chicago as a needed balance to the oftentimes difficult self-reflection and introspection that happens on these retreats. We’ve been to a White Sox game, we’ve taken in the architectural boat tour (a lot more fun than it sounds), we’ve been to Harry Carey’s restaurant, and we’ve done the Bean downtown, Grant Park, and a comedy club. This time around we scheduled two things: the Chicago art museum and Hamilton.
You know we had to get a picture with the Ferris Bueller painting and Hannah had to get reprimanded more than once for getting too close to the art. And then Tuesday we hooked up with Grace, who lives in California, and Phil, who lives in another part of Texas — they’ve both become great friends — and saw “Hamilton” together at the historic downtown Chicago CIBC Theatre. The words came way too fast for me, but what a show! I wish I could see it again because I know I missed a bunch of funny, clever lines. The moving stage, the creative writing, the over-the-top performances, the comedy, the history — very impressive!
So, while we were away, Virginia topped Texas Tech in overtime to win the national championship. That’s fine. Nobody wanted Texas Tech to win. Except Tiffani and George. And they finished first and second in our annual Central staff bracket contest. Bragging rights and a free lunch. And, yes, Tiffani’s guns are up all year around. Heading into the Elite Eight, I was in first place and still had all four of my Final Four teams alive. I just needed Duke or Purdue or Kentucky or Gonzaga to win. Just one of those four teams. Just one more win, it didn’t matter who it was. But they all four lost and I’m watching it from a tiny TV at Lou Malnati’s Pizza in Chicago. Good thing I had that deep dish supreme to console me. Final numbers: Tiffani-75, George-72, Kevin-71, Allan-70.
The Amarillo Sod Poodles opened up their inaugural home season in our brand new downtown ballpark on Monday. And I missed it! So we got there as fast as we could — last night — and watched our AA San Diego Padres affiliate beat the Corpus Christi Hooks in an entertaining slug fest. It was cold, too cold for baseball. But that’s always going to be Amarillo in April. It was 88-degrees on Wednesday and then 53-degrees yesterday. I’m going again Sunday when it’s supposed to be in the lower 70s. This is Whitney, Carrie-Anne, Karen, Mean Jean, Greg, and me trying to stay warm in Dale and Karen’s great seats behind home plate. What a beautiful ball park! I’m hoping to make about 30 of these games this summer.
I also missed Dirk Nowitski’s last game as a Dallas Maverick and I’ve had to go on-line to watch the stirring tribute the Spurs gave him in their arena in San Antonio. If you haven’t seen it, you must watch this video. I’ve always admired the Spurs as a classy organization with a lot of pride and professionalism. We’ve all come to expect that from the Spurs. But they cranked it up a few notches for Dirk’s last game. During the introductions, they showed a video of Dirk highlights, mostly of Dirk dunking on Tim Duncan and shooting over Tony Parker and faking out Manu Ginobelli — it was a highlight reel of Dirk beating the Spurs! How really cool and unexpected! The Mavericks and Spurs are bitter Midwest Division rivals and they have played some significant games against each other over the years. There was about a ten year period there where the stakes were incredibly high every time these two teams faced off. And the highlight reel brought Nowitski to tears. And if you have a heart at all, it’ll probably choke you up, too.
Lastly — man, this is sports-heavy today — the NHL playoff season has begun and the Dallas Stars are in. Wednesday night they came from behind to beat Nashville 3-2 in the best-of-seven opener and I watched every exciting minute of it. It’s been a while for the Stars and I forgot just how intense and crazy the NHL’s second season really is. Breath-taking. Edge of your seat. So much fun. It’s border-line blasphemous to say, but NHL playoff hockey is better than football. Game two is tomorrow. Go Stars.