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Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Romney Ruder

What is wrong with professional sports? Time and time again we hear about the actions or downfall of athletes, coaches, and others associated with professional athletics. Stories headline the news in our society:  domestic abuse, fluffing up tennis balls to slow them down, corking bats to hit longer balls, taking human growth hormone to increase performance, point shaving, betting on sports, and the list goes on and on.

This past week the NFL fined Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks football team $20,000 for an obscene gesture. In fact, the league had fined him previously for rudeness in not addressing reporters following a game, which is an expectation of professional players. Now, I recognize that professional athletes make huge sums of cash, but $20k is a lot of money, none the less. Lynch is just one of thousands of professional athletes that get fined for making bad decisions. Throughout the year, both athletes and coaches have to pay penalties for things like arguing with officials, unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting, illegal actions, taunting, etc. As I write this, the NFL is still investigating the AFC Champion New England Patriots for letting air out of footballs. I cannot begin to imagine what the fines will be for this.

As I read about these latest infractions, I can't help but wonder what difference it might make in society if every professional athlete committed to going an entire season without incurring any financial penalty. I understand that it is human nature to make mistakes, especially in the throes of a sports match. What I am referring to is the conscious decision by coaches and their players to conduct themselves in a way that they know is right. What would it look like if the same people donated the money that they would have paid in fines to help out the disadvantaged? For Marshawn Lynch, who is estimated to make $8.5 million dollars this year, a $20,000 fine might not seem like such a bad deal (it breaks down to roughly a day's wages for him). But $20k can make all the difference for thousands of people living on the streets or in shelters. Imagine the effect it would have, taking into account all of the fines incurred annually in all professional sports. This would not be asking a lot. It would just mean teams work and live according to the rules. The game as a whole would be better for it!

But a second thought came to my mind. What if instead of going this route, we began to fine all professionals for their inappropriate actions or other misconduct. I do not mean athletes; rather, I am referring to the plumbers, doctors, electricians, engineers, salespeople, and lawyers in society. This would include any occupation that would be considered a career: landscapers, grocers, chemists, teachers and more. Imagine industries policing their own employees for misconduct like throwing a coworker under the bus or taking advantage of a client. Think of the fines that would follow such infractions. Unfortunately, a trip down a major highway during rush hour would show how ubiquitous poor behavior is.

When taking an average ballpark salary like $50,000 a year, this only amounts to a fine of $137 (using a similar percentage as charged to Lynch). Obviously $137 is not going to make a lot of difference in changing somebody's life. Yet, the population to monitor is so much greater. If each profession monitored its own, the balance of funds provided by fines would be overflowing (or people would begin to act with better character, which is a topic for another post). Millions upon millions of dollars could be redirected into transforming impoverished communities.

I realize that none of this could ever happen. The point of this post is not to inspire actions that would allow financial penalties for societal infractions. Instead, this is a call for each of us to quit using professional athletics as a scapegoat of what is wrong in our world. I do not want to give a pass to these individuals and their infractions; rather, I want to point out that they are merely a drop in the bucket of what happens in the rest of the world on a daily basis. Christ makes clear in Matthew 7:3 that it is more important for us to look at the log in our own eye, rather than the speck of dust in others.

While frustrated by the constant antics that take place in professional sports, it gives me pause to reflect on the actions I take in my daily life. Each day I rack up a list of my own misconduct that should be fined. It could be my attitude, actions, words, or how I live my life. If I want to be honest with myself, I am guilty of living a life in which my conduct is not always becoming. The truth is, each and every day we add to our debt, fines that we can never repay. It is only through the blood of Christ that this debt can be washed away.

I hope that we can use stories like the current one involving Marshawn Lynch as a reminder to be introspective. These fined actions should prompt us to remember the daily failings in our own lives and the cost that Christ has paid to forgive them.

Romney Ruder is World Impact's Senior Vice President and COO. 


Pray Big - Matt Penner

A few years ago one of my co-laborers, Bob Stevenson, brought a block of wood with the words "Pray Big" on it to our staff gathering. It was the start of the year and he challenged us to write down big prayers, asking God for big things for the upcoming year.

Recently I was leading prayer at our staff gathering and I remembered the phrase "Pray Big" and shared it again with our staff. We talked about Paul's words to the Ephesians, "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen." (3:20-21). What a Scripture and great reason to pray big prayers! We serve a God who wants us to ask and is ready to answer and respond above anything we could ever imagine.

In my experience, one thing that keeps us from praying big is our focus on our own limitations. We are so conditioned by living in the natural realm. Every prayer goes through a mental grid formed by our resources, our talents, or the limitations that we have. It's so easy to be focused on the earthly realm and to be confined in our thinking. But as I look at the Scriptures, I am moved and challenged by the prayers of Jesus and great men and women of the Bible. They prayed and God responded to their requests. God moved on their behalf and answered their bold prayers of faith.

Can you imagine the boldness and faith of Elijah as he had the wicked King Ahab and Jezebel, 850 prophets all against him and a confused Israel? (1 Kings 18) They were all watching his showdown and he was able to call down the fire of God. He knew that the Lord would respond to his prayers. It's easy to read those stories and think that was just in the Bible and that Elijah was some kind of super prophet. But we see in James 5 that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; Elijah was not altogether unlike us. He stood in the counsel of the Lord and was able to be God's voice in that time.

We may not be in the exact same situation as Elijah, but we are in a time where we need the power of God to come down. The cities of America and in our world are desperate for God to reveal himself. The Lord needs us to stand up like Elijah and pray boldly.

With this in mind, I am stirred to pray big prayers in this new year. Two things help me as I think of praying big and overcoming my current limitations:

First, I need to remind myself of the victory of God and what He has done and will accomplish. "And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."  Ephesians 1:19-23

Second, I need to know my position in Christ. "And raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus."  Ephesians 2:6

Colossians 3 says we have to set our minds and heart on the things above. While we may currently live in the earthly realm, our true home is with Christ in eternity and we ultimately live in that kingdom as well. So it is by faith we need to imagine that we are seated in the heavenly places. This is the means by which we can pray big. We pray in faith and with authority from the heavenly places knowing that God has conquered every power that stands in opposition to him.

Is there something in your life where you need a major breakthrough? Meditate on these Scriptures and start praying and believing that God will provide in your situation. And please join us in praying for the cities. Pray that the power of God would come down and encounter the people that so desperately need him.

Pray BIG!

Matt Penner is World Impact's National Prayer Director. He serves in Wichita, KS, along with his wife Angie and their two children. 


Testimony of Transformation - Jim Elam

A couple months ago 20 men from our Dallas church plant filled vans and headed to Morning Star Ranch in Florence, KS, for a men's retreat. For some of our men this trip was their first time to leave the state of Texas and for others it was their first time to attend a Men's Conference. They were excited!

During a testimony time at the retreat, one brother, Mike, shared how he came to be a part of the New Found Life (NFL) Bible Church and the victories in Christ Jesus he had been experiencing. Mike, who was once homeless, said he had often walked by the church. One night he and his friend were stopped and invited to come to church by my wife Becky. He said that attending church was the last thing on his mind—his drug addiction ruled his life. After several weeks, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Mike and convicted him.

He wanted to accept Becky's invitation, but did not feel worthy to enter the Lord's house because of his appearance. Mike and his friend both had long gray beards and straggly hair. He felt that before he could enter the house of the Lord and be around "church folk," he had to change his physical appearance. He said this was one of the things that kept him from attending church. When Mike finally came to church for the first time, he sat behind us and tapped Becky on the shoulder and said, "I haven't been in church because I needed to wait till I got paid so I could go get my beard and hair cut." 

Becky did not recognize him at first. He looked so different. We, of course, reminded him that the Lord looks at the heart and not the physical appearance. Also, that God looks at our motives – whether it is to impress man or whether it is to worship the true and living God. Today, Mike attends church every time the doors are open. He is faithful in coming to our men's Bible study and is willing to help out any time we need him. When there is a church function, whether it is at our church or another, he will be on the front row ready to receive a word from the Lord. He is growing in Christ and now verbally participates in discussions in Bible studies and in church social gatherings. We are privileged to see his daily growth in the Lord.

Mike frequently thanks Becky for inviting him to church that first day because he no longer feels like an outcast. Now he has purpose and direction because of his relationship with Jesus, and what's more, he has a church body which he calls his family. 

Jim Elam and his wife Becky are World Impact missionaries in Dallas, TX.