Friday, March 31, 2006

The 2006 Boston Red Sox: "If..."

When I look at this years Red Sox roster and I think about their chances of success, the one word that consistently comes out of my mind is "if."

If Curt Schilling can regain strength in his heel/Achilles tendon, he may regain the form that made him an All-Star. I don't really think he'll become a 20 game winner again, but you never know. If this changeup he is supposedly adding to his arsenal works out, that will help an aging pitcher adjust to losing a bit of zip.

If Josh Beckett can remain healthy (which is a scary thing to say about a young pitcher), he will be a great pickup. Do you trade your best prospect for a guy like Beckett? Absolutely. Get him 30+ starts, and we'll love him. He's an ace for years to come.

If Keith Foulke can get healthy again, if he can regain his confidence, and if he can quit complaining about having to live in Boston, we will have our closer. As it is, this may not happen. He was terrific in the postseason of 2004, perhaps the most valuable player (along with David Ortiz). Having that Keith Foulke back would make a huge difference.

If their bullpen can get over the fact that they have no lefty to get guys out (Lenny Dinardo? come on), they'll be solid. Mike Myers wasn't the greatest reliever, but you knew what you were getting: a lefty who could get out lefties, but would get whacked by righties. But Timlin, Papelbon (who should be starting, but oh well), and Tavares should be nice. I like Tavares, he'll make up for the brawls that left town along with Bronson Arroyo. I also like him because he looks like Nosferatu. Can't beat that.

If they can replace Bill Mueller, well, I'd be surprised. There's a sports radio morning show personality here in Boston who likes to bash Mueller for his lack of home run production. I'm sorry, is this the most important stat in judging a 3rd baseman? How about his great glovework? How about the fact he had two of the biggest clutch hits in recent Red Sox history- both off Mariano Rivera, arguably the greatest closer ever? You can't replace guys like that.

If Mike Lowell's off-year in 2005 was due to back problems that are no longer bothering him, he'll produce well in Fenway Park. If his numbers prior to last year were due to steroid use as is commonly believed, we'll see how much we miss Bill Mueller. If I were a betting man (and I am), I'd bet on the latter.

If Mark Loretta can get over last year's injuries, we finally have a solid 2nd baseman and, perhaps more importantly, a solid hitter to plug in the 2-hole (the first since Marty Barrett?). A .300+ hitter with some power (10+ home runs out of a 2nd baseman is a nice luxury).

If the 3-headed 1st baseman (Kevin Youkilis, J. T. Snow and Hee-Seop Choi) can produce better than Kevin Millar, it'd be a step up. That shouldn't be hard. But still, you can't help but think that they won't produce enough to keep Theo Epstein from pursuing a trade at some point this season.

If Manny Ramirez can get over the fact he's still here it might cut down on the number of redundant articles and annoying blabbering on the radio. We know what's going to happen: close to the trade deadline he'll want to be traded, the Sox won't find a taker for his huge contract, he'll stay, redeclare his love for Boston and the Red Sox Nation and everyone will love him. He is, after all, the best right-handed hitter in decades (although Pujols is making his case). I love him.

If Trot Nixon can overcome all his injuries (and they're numerous), it would give us another solid bat with some power in the middle of the lineup. But what are the chances of that happening? I love Nixon, and I think he's one of the most underrated players in the game. But he's never healthy enough to prove me right. So the Sox went out and got Wily Mo Pena. If he can learn to make decent contact more often than 1 in 20 swings he might fulfill his potential. I'm not holding my breath.

If Coco Crisp can continue to improve I think we'll love him here in Boston. Will he be better than Johnny Damon this season? No. Will he be better in 3 years? Absolutely. Hitting in front of Loretta, Ortiz and Manny will be the best thing for his career.

If the front office can stay out of the spotlight, the team would be much better off. But that won't happen, sorry to say.

If you have this many "if" statement and a lot are related to injuries, that never bodes well. There are few sure things on this team. We know what we'll get from Ortiz- great power, good average and, best of all, the premiere clutch hitter in the game. We know what we'll get from Varitek- good numbers for a catcher and the best game-caller in the game. We know what we'll get from Alex Gonzalex- a great glove and a slim chance of batting over .250. And we know we'll get decent production from Wakefield and Wells (if he stays long). It's hard to know what to expect from Matt Clement, so I won't expect anything.

The point is this: with this many "if's", every Sox fan should be a little worried. But then again, if some of these work out, we'll be sitting pretty. It will be a fun season, I do have high hopes. Now, if I could get some tickets without killing my bank account, that would be a miracle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

the how of the Great Commission

My good friend Ryan has challenged me to come up with some thoughts on how to carry out the Great Commission (see my post and the comments below, it's not like there are a whole bunch to sift through). This is just like the old days, two young bucks who are dumb enough to think they can come up with an answer to some question that has perplexed the Church for years.

Ryan stated that he felt our methods need a little shake up, noting that the 4 Spiritual Law method might not be the best anymore (some would say it never was). Let me state this about the use of this method: it was never intended to be a "read this, pray this and you're in" method. Unfortunately, it has become something like this. This whole concept is horribly unbiblical.

Part of the problem is that while we say we take Jesus' commands seriously, we don't really follow His example. What I mean is this: when Jesus wanted to make a disciple, He walked with them, lived with them, worked with them, prayed with them and taught them in both word and deed. He didn't ask the 12 to pray a prayer accepting Him into their hearts. Now, I'm not against this, it's just that it isn't what Jesus did. Or Paul. Or any other New Testament author.

Ryan mentioned "a relationship that transforms." I think he was talking about a relationship with Jesus, and this is totally true. I also want to propose that the Bible calls us to walk in relationships with one another that transform lives. Isn't this what Paul did with Timothy and others. Or Barnabas and Paul, or Barnabas and Mark. They didn't have this "pray and you're done" mentality, they discipled with the notion that this was a lifelong journey. Why do you think that the biblical authors were so anxious to make sure their spiritual children were moving forward in their faith?

The fact is that Christians are called to be in community with each other, and I think this is perhaps the best witnessing tool: the body of Christ living life together like the body of Christ is supposed to. This is where I agree with some of the more "post-modern" Christians (see the Emergent Church movement): the best witnessing is done as we live like Jesus and show love to those around us. Where I disagree with some of them, however, is that we must place importance on claims of truth. We must be willing to say that Jesus is the only way to salvation. We must be willing to say that Jesus did in fact die for our sins and did rise from the dead in bodily form. These are not just nice concepts, they are essentials.

So here's where we can start the conversation: we should follow the example that Jesus gave us. He lived in community with His disciples (I'm not talking about sharing a house or anything), He showed love to those in need and He also taught His disciples Truth. Sharing the gospel is far less powerful without living out the gospel in community. We can teach the truths of Scripture as we live out the commands of Scripture together (especially loving God and loving our neighbor- the two greatest commands).

So that's a start. Not a lot of depth, I realize, but that's what you get when you only have so much time. I appreciate any thoughts people have, maybe we'll all learn something.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

what happened to UConn?

When I was thinking about what I would write for my first sports post on this blog, I never thought I'd write about the UConn Huskies losing to George Mason. I mean, UConn is the consensus pick for the most talented team in the nation (although that point might be overstated, I'll get to that in a minute). George Mason wasn't even supposed to get invited to the tournament. But, indeed, there is madness in March.

Even if UConn won this game, I couldn't have been very proud. This is unlike any other team I've seen at UConn, and not in a good way. I commented to my roommate not long ago that unlike many of the top programs in the nation (Duke, UNC, etc), UConn had never really been upset in the tournament. I realize they lost last year in the 2nd round to NC State, which was technically an upset. But there are a couple reasons I don't really count last year. First, UConn never deserved a 2 seed. They got that purely off of reputation and the fact they had won the title the year before. I was shocked when they were given their seeding. Second, and this is related, I don't think anyone really watched that UConn team. They were full of talent, but were so raw. I never thought for one minute they were going very far, they just didn't have championship maturity.

In the past, UConn was the team doing the upsetting: Tate George's buzzer beater 3 in '90 against Clemson put them on the college basketball map (it was that game that sealed me as a college basketball fan). They beat Duke in the championship in 1999, which was not an upset to anyone who actually watched those two teams that year. To this day I still can't believe how many people thought Duke was better than UConn, it was ridiculous. Anyway, my point is this: Jim Calhoun always had teams that won when they were supposed to win and could occassionally pull off the upset. Until now.

This team was ripe for the pickin'. There were numerous problems. Their best player (Rudy Gay) honestly doesn't seem to care too much that he's playing for one of the top programs in the country with an opportunity to showcase his talents and become a high draft pick making millions. Actually, that'll happen anyway, despite his awful showing this tournament. I've never seen a team whose best player was only the 4th best option to take a big shot at the end of the game. I'd take Marcus Williams (team MVP this tournament), Denham Brown (I realize he missed the final shot, but also got them to overtime against GMU and beat Gonzaga earlier in the season in the final seconds) and Rashad Anderson (no need to comment here, he made his case for himself) over Rudy Gay in the final seconds of any game. Why? Because he doesn't play with any kind of drive. He's the most talented player on the team, if not the country. But talent doesn't do everything for you.

I think there's something important here. Past UConn teams always had a star who came up big when needed, even going back to guys like Chris Smith (most are saying "who?"). Ray Allen was awesome, and his numbers in the '96 tournament showed that. Rip Hamilton came up huge (buzzer beater against Washington in the Sweet 16 in '98, big game against Duke in the championship in '99). Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor dominated when it mattered. In the Final Four game agaisnt Duke in '04, Okafor let everyone know he was the best player on the court and the nation. In the past, other names stepped up in clutch situations. Look at Ricky Moore's defense against Duke in '99- no one could do anything against him, just ask Trajan Langdon (that, of course, was par for course for Ricky Moore). Tate George hit a huge three against Clemson in '90 (and became a 1st round draft pick off that one shot, too) thanks to a full-court pass from freshman Scott Burrell. The point: when they needed it, someone stepped up.

There's something else about those teams. They tried for a full 40 minutes. How could you not? If a star like Richard Hamilton was going to work his butt off to win a game, everyone was going to. These star players led by example. This year's team- not so much. They relied on talent. A columnist for ESPN wrote the other day that UConn won those first 3 games in the tournament because of their heart. Are you kidding me? Heart? It takes heart to be more talented than everyone else and barely win? Give me a break! That isn't heart, it's being lazy but good. They beat Albany, Kentucky and Washington because they had better players, not because they had more heart. They beat them because they had a deeper bench (see Washington's foul trouble) and more star talent, not heart. If they had heart, they would have dominated those games, like the team in 2004 did. That team had talent and heart.

But, I want to comment on the talent level on this team. As long as we're talking college basketball, this team was by far the most talented team in the nation. But it's not like this team is overflowing with future NBA stars. Rudy Gay will likely be a high lottery pick, although it's mostly because this year's draft (and he will probably leave this year) is extremely weak. Marcus Williams will probably become a back-up point guard somewhere. Denham Brown might not get drafted, although I'm convinced he would have been a superstar if his knees didn't go bad. I don't see Hilton Armstrong making it in the NBA, or Josh Boone. Rashad Anderson could catch on somewhere as the shooter coming off the bench (just like at UConn), but he won't be a star. For a college team, this is a lot of talent. But it's not overflowing with future NBA stars here, not like 2004 (Okafor, Gordon and even Villanueva, who scored 48 tonight for Toronto).

Anyway, my point is that this team was unlike any other Calhoun team I've seen. It lacked leadership and a star who would step up in big games, spurring on others to do the same. There was no Ricky Moore who would hang all over the other team's best guard. There was no Kevin Freeman who would fight for every lose ball in the paint. There was no Okafor who wouldn't let anyone come near the lane (despite the fact that this UConn led the nation in blocks again). Calhoun doesn't normally recruit players like this.

I guess, though, that this is part of becoming a perenniel powerhouse- eventually you'll be taken down. It happens to the best programs, so why would UConn be immune? I just hope that future teams learn a lesson from this. Being talented will only get you so far. Eventually, someone will come along who is unimpressed by the talent. George Mason was the perfect team for this upset. They had no business being in this position, so they had nothing to lose. They are a talented team who was told they shouldn't be here, so they had a chip on their shoulder. And they just watched 3 teams come this close to beating UConn. You can learn a lot from those games. And they did. So, I say congrats to George Mason and her fans. They deserved to beat UConn. They have earned every bit of the joy of going to the Final Four. And now, I hope they win it all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Great Commission: for us?

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Mt 28:18-20, NASB

A few weeks ago a friend passed along a question that she received from someone else: how do we know the Great Commission still applies to us? Most of us grew up being taught that we are called to help fulfill the Great Commission and never bothered to ask this question. I am one of those people. I mean, I've thought about it, especially when reading about William Carey and his answer to this question (more on that in a minute), but it's not like it keeps me up at night. But, when this friend asked, I decided to think about it further. At first, I danced around it, buying myself a little more time to come up with something that sounded smart.

William Carey (often called the Father of Modern Missions) faced those in his day who claimed that the Great Commission was given to the 11 apostles and that was that, we weren't the recipients of that command so we don't have to try and carry it out. So I talked about William Carey and his answer, which I hope I remember correctly. Basically he said two things: (1) we can't accept the blessings of the New Testament without accepting the commands and (2) we gladly teach and baptize like the Great Commission says to do, why not make disciples of all nations too?

As I was stalling, the thought hit me. This really is an issue of hermeneutics. "Hermeneutics" is a fancy way of saying "interpretation." It deals with the question of how we get from there (a 1st century text written in a different culture dealing with different situations) to here (21st century America, or whatever context). Most of us apply the text intuitively, we read something and apply it instictively. So, when Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak that he left in Troas, we don't go through a series of questions about how to apply it. We know that it doesn't address us in our context. Similarly, when the Bible tells us not to murder, we don't have a theological debate about whether or not such a command still applies to us, we just know it.

But not everything it that easy, because plenty of commands are giving to address specific situations that may or may not be like our current situations. This is where hermeneutics comes in. This is a huge topic that requires volumes of books to deal with it adequately, but I think there is an important question to ask first: why? The "why" question is crucial to applying the Bible accurately and faithfully.

What do I mean by "why"? The question is this: why does the author tell his readers to do x? Why does Paul ask for his cloak to be brought to him? I suppose because he was cold, or winter was coming, or the cloak really brought out the color in his eyes. Whatever the reason, it has little bearing on what we should do (except we could broaden it out and say we should always keep our spiritual leaders warm and looking good). Why should we not murder? I suppose there are numerous reasons, but the Bible gives us a good one: Genesis 9:6 tells us it's wrong because man is made in the image of God. That fact is still true today, therefore the command against murder still applies.

So what about the Great Commission? Why does Jesus command his disciples to make disciples of all the nations? The answer is (duh) right there in the text. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." You see, many of us make the mistake of thinking that the primary command in this text is "go." Actually, the primary command is "make disciples." In Greek sentences, participles are subordinate to the main verb. So, if someone wrote "you should root for the Red Sox, hating the Yankees and kissing the Green Monster", "root" would be the main command, while "hating" and "kissing" would somehow modify the main command (maybe examples of what rooting for the Red Sox looks like).

In verses 19-20 there are three participles: "go" (some say it should be translated "as you are going" or something like that), "baptizing" and "teaching." These three verbs modify "make disciples." Teaching and baptizing are part of the disciple making process, they are not separate commands. Jesus' main concern here is not going, teaching or baptizing, but making disciples. Those three things are each an important part of making disciples.

Okay, so what does this have to do with Jesus' authority (verse 18)? It's simple: it gives the reason why all the nations should be made His disciples. Why should the nations be His disciples and not someone else's? Because He has been given all authority. Why all nations? Because He has all authority.

There's no doubt in my mind that Jesus is echoing Daniel 7:13-14. His favorite self-designation was "Son of Man." And His words to the high priest in Mt 26:64 (and parellels) leave no doubt He saw Himself as the Son of Man prophesied in Daniel 7. He was the One who would receive glory and a kingdom. He was the One who would receive the worship of "all the peoples, nations and language" and have a dominion that would never pass away. The Son of Man receives the kingdom and is served by all nations. This is the background to the Great Commission.

So how does this apply to us? The answer to this question is in the answer to the "why" question. Why does Jesus command His disciples to make disciples of all nations? Because He has been given all authority. He alone is worthy of such an honor. Does this still apply to us? Absolutely. The reality of Jesus' authority has not changed. And because of that, the call to make disciples of all the nations still stands.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Would you like a blog of danny? The justification of yet another blog.

I suppose there are few things as self-centered as having a blog. And I haven't done a survey, but I would be willing to bet that most blogs are actually quite bad- boring, rambling and pointless. Would I be any different if I had a blog? I doubt it. So why am I joining the fray? Do I have anything distinctive or interesting to offer?

The quick answers: I don't know why I'm starting a blog, and no, I have nothing interesting to offer the blogosphere. So there you go. You can stop reading now.

But, just in case you are still reading, let me offer a poor excuse for a justification of this decision to journey into unchartered territory (for me, that is). You see, I have noticed something disturbing in my life recently. Throughout my life I have always had someone around to discuss my two favorite things: God and sports (in that order, just for the record). My dad and I have spentless countless hours discussing the important questions of life: who is the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history (John Hannah, hands down), has there ever been another athlete who changed his sport like Bobby Orr (absolutely not), and so on.

In seminary I had numerous friends to discuss theology, commentaries, missions, etc., whenever I wanted (believe me, seminary students love to hear themselves talk). Whenever I wanted to discuss the pros and cons of molinism (which I never understood anyway), argue various millenial views or dream big deams about ministry, all I had to do was open my door (or go to Dunkin' Donuts).

But now, I find myself without anyone to fill these roles. Obviously there are still friends with whom I can talk about the Red Sox, and I have plenty of folks around me who love the Lord with all their hearts. But I just don't have the sports geeks and Bible geeks around me like I always have. None of my friends care about who the most underrated catcher in baseball history is (Bill Dickey), and few care about Greek participles or the Dead Sea Scrolls. This doesn't mean there's something wrong with my friends, just the opposite. It means I'm weird, simple as that. My mind dwells on different things. And for the record, I don't think for one second that my Christian friends are somehow less-Christian because they don't like to talk about the Bible in the way I do. We all process things in different ways, my way just happens to be in that wannabe-theologian style.

So this blog exists because my brain needs to get some stuff out. Chances are there won't be too many people who fit the niche of "Bible/sports geek." That's fine, but I hope somebody reads this stuff anyway. Hopefully I'll hit something you like along the way.