Monday, January 29, 2007

AFC Championship and Rocky IV

Some of you may be wondering what these two ideas have in common. How can a football game remind you of a Rocky movie? I'll tell you how!

I was fortunate enough to be at the RCA Dome for the AFC Championship game between the Colts and the Patriots. I'm telling you, it was intense!! The crowd was sooo loud that it actually caused physical pain, and the day after I was sick and bowled over in pain.

It was worth every single second!

However, this game didn't exactly go the way I expected it to go, and I doubt any Colts fan wanted it to be this stressful anyway. At least we won!

Back to Rocky IV. If you have watched the series, then you know this movie as the one where Rocky faces the giant Russian, Ivan Drago. He ends up beating the guy and ending the Cold War in the process. "If I's can change...and you's can change..maybe we ALL's can change!!" Legitmate chill moments throughout. During the entire game I felt like the announcers and the trainers for the fight. Let me explain.

In Rocky IV, the end fight didn't start well for our hero. Rocky was getting the stuffing kicked out of him by this massive Russian boxer. The Colts started in a very similar way. We were down 21-3 in the second quarter after a back-breaking interception return for a TD by the Patriots. We were getting killed! There was a woman in the section in front of me who started crying when this happened. She just kept moaning, "Not again..not again!! Please, not again!" Maybe I just imagined her, because I'm pretty sure I was the one weeping and wailing. In any event, just like Rocky, we were getting drilled. We go into the half down 21-6 and things aren't looking so great.

Its a good thing the story doesn't end there. The Rocky-Drago fight was pretty one-sided, but then Rocky started coming back! He had a good round and his trainers were reminding him, "He's just a man! He's not a machine, he's just a man!" At the same time, Drago was sitting in his corner stunned that Rocky was still breathing after the beating he had received. He muttered to his trainers, "He's not human! He's like a piece of iron!"

This is how I imagined the game going. I bet you anything Tony Dungy was in the locker room at halftime telling his team, "They are just men!! They aren't machines...and we can beat them!!" Then the Colts get the ball first in the second half...and we score a touchdown!! This is when I imagined Tom Brady muttering to himself on the sideline, "They are not human! They are like a piece of iron!" It was making me giddy just thinking about it. After that, the Colts defense made a stand and we got the ball back again. Peyton took our team right back down the field again and we scored another touchdown, and then we TIED THE GAME on a two-point conversion. "They are just men!!"

So now the game is tied, 21-21. The Patriots, just like Drago, didn't just roll over after the comeback. In fact, they struck back hard. Drago kept destroying Rocky with huge punches, and the Patriots came back and took the lead with another TD, making it 28-21. The Colts weren't done though, we had proven they were just men, now it was time to hit them back. We scored another TD, our third in a row, to tie the game again at 28-28. This is the part in the fight where Rocky gets on a roll and gets gives Drago a cut above his eye. The announcers scream, "The Russian is bleeding!" After the Colts tied the game again, I was in full Rocky mode now, I think I actually screamed, "The Russians are bleeding!!" We were on a roll, and the game was far from over.

Fast forward to the end of the fight and the end of the game. Rocky is going into the last round needing to knock out Drago, who had never been knocked out, to win the fight. The Colts need to score to force at least overtime, and a TD would come close to locking things up for us.

It's do or die time right now. (Cue "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor)

Rocky comes out swinging and starts making progress. He lands huge punches to the head, devastating shots to Drago's sides, breaking him down piece by piece. Then he lands a huge roundhouse that almost takes the Russian to the ground. The announcers scream, "He's chopping the Russian down!!!" The Colts are in the same position. Peyton has the ball with just over two minutes left in the game, and he has a long field in front of him. Peyton goes to work on the Pats defense, taking shots at them, wearing them down. Then he completes a long pass that rocks the Patriots and gets the crowd really going. "The Russian is bleeding!" Finally after a one minute drive, Joe Addai punches the ball in for a TD and we all just go NUTS. "We're chopping the Patriots down!!" That touchdown was the shot that rocked our opponent, but there was still time left.

Rocky didn't give up, and neither did our Colts. Rocky landed a huge punch that put Drago on the ground, and the Colts moment of truth came when Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady. Both events sent the crowd into a delirium. All that remained was the countdown.

Rocky waited as the referee counted to ten and Drago couldn't get to his feet, and Peyton came out and took a knee, icing the game!

IT WAS AMAZING!! Rocky wins in the last round, and Peyton and the Colts knock out the Patriots to go to the Superbowl.

The lesson to learn from this? I live in my own little universe, and I am sure I appear insane to the outside observor, but I bet at least one of you was thinking the same thing during this game. Anyone?

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Colts are in the Superbowl!!

I think most of you may have heard that the Indianapolis Colts are in the Superbowl. You guys knew that...right? Well, if you didn't know, let me be the first to tell you the best QB in the league (see picture) gets his chance to win the big one on February 4th. I was fortunate enough to see the AFC Championship game live in the Dome, and I am going to give my breakdown of that game in a post later on.
How cool is this??? I have watched the Superbowl for a long time....and now we are FINALLY in the game!!! I'm thinking the commercials will finally not be as good as the game; especially if we go ahead and finish off this season with a title.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Our Deepest Needs Met

The world can get so overwhelming at times.

Sometimes it is hard to just keep my head above water.

It is easy to fall into despair and doubt, but there must be something more going on than what I see day to day. What is it?

What is humanity's deepest need? We can live for almost a month without food. We can live almost a week without water. The best of us can go without oxygen for almost ten minutes! (think David Blaine..) It seems to me these things are essential, but they are NOT the most essential. I believe our deepest need is to


We all need to be a part of something. Together. With people. It is in these moments we are truely alive; and it is when we are seperated from people that we begin to waste away.

Studies show that loneliness and isolation can be more dangerous to a person's health than obesity and stress. Ever heard of solitary confinement? So many people put themselves in voluntary cells of loneliness.

You were not mean to live in isolation. You were not meant to be alone! I think so many times church is thought of as a place where people come to be reminded of how they screwed up. What a tragedy.

I believe the church is the hope the world needs. I believe church is a place where people can BELONG and be accepted. At Higher Calling, we don't just say we love you; we are willing to prove it! Are you willing to find acceptance now? Even if you have never darkened the door of a church before, it is never too late to belong to our community of faith that shows love and spreads hope. We are here to support you, and God has always been waiting with open arms to accept you.

Come experience a place where your deepest needs for relationship and love can be met. Come and experience authentic community as we pursue God's purposes in our lives. Welcome home!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Can You Handle the Noise, Part 2

The story about Fred at the World Series also illustrates a lot of truths about the true nature of Christianity and what it really means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I want to take this opportunity to dispel some popular misconceptions about being a follower of Christ. I hope it is welcoming for those of you who are not Christians and challenging for those of you who are. If you remember, Fred was a die hard Cardinals fan who got a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to the clinching game of the World Series. You can read the full story in Part 1. However, we push came to shove, he left the game because it was just too loud. Let’s explore some myths about Christianity and what effect they have had on people throughout history.

MYTH 1: To be a Christian, you have to wear the right outfit.

This is one of the more common beliefs that non-Christians have about the church. For many Christians, the norm on Sunday is to get dressed up in your finest clothes for church, your “Sunday best.” This belief started in a good-hearted way, that when we go to worship God we present ourselves to him at our very best. Unfortunately, I think this practice has gotten out of hand to the point that some Christian groups feel that if a person isn’t wearing their best that God doesn’t accept that individual. Nothing could be farther from the truth!! God always accepts us exactly where we are when we sincerely come before him; that is the greatest truth about Jesus and his reaction to the world. We come to Jesus just as we are, and he is the one who “cleans us up” and presents us as pure and spotless before God. Look in 1 Samuel 16:7, it says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." God is much more concerned about the condition of our hearts than he is about our appearance. At Higher Calling, we encourage casual dress and I support it by wearing jeans, sandals, t-shirts, jerseys, and other casual apparel while on stage. We feel it makes people more comfortable and it encourages the casual and authentic atmosphere we love to have. Church is about much more than suits and dresses; it is really all about connecting your heart with the heart of the one true God and living your life with his purpose in mind. My friend Fred wore all the right clothes; he had the uniforms, the jerseys, and the autographs to prove he was a Cardinals fan, but he didn’t stick around when it mattered most. When it got too loud, he chose to leave. I encourage you to value the important things in life, and look at people the way God looks at them; I urge you to look at the heart of people, and I challenge you to stay in the game, no matter how loud it gets.

MYTH 2: Christianity is all about knowing the right people.

Fred knew all the right people to be a Cardinals fan. Remember, he was rubbing elbows with some big names in Cardinals history, and they knew him by name. Many people looked at him and judged how great of a fan he was by his contacts, and by all of the autographed photos he had with personalized messages. “Wow, Fred is the biggest Cardinal fan I know!! He has pictures of Bob Gibson and Curt Flood and he sees them every summer at fantasy camps!” Ultimately though, what truly matters in judging how big a fan we are or how successful we are in life is not the acquaintances we accumulate; it is about how we react to adversity. Fred knew the right people, but it could too loud for him in the stadium. Being a Christian is not an easy thing to do; God does not promise total security in our lives and certainly we are not exempt from suffering in this life, but God does promise us that if we give our lives totally to him he will use us greatly to accomplish his purposes in the world. He promises that our lives will not be wasted! We can all give ourselves to something that will make a difference in eternity. It is not about the people you know, but it is about what you decide to do with the person of Jesus Christ. If you refuse his love, your life will not amount to anything, and it will be wasted. That is the greatest tragedy of all. If you accept him and follow him completely, he will take you on an adventure that will change the way you view the world and that will impact this life and the next.

MYTH 3: Christians don’t have answers for the really tough questions in life.

This isn’t the case, although there is some truth in this opinion. You see, many Christians have fought for a long time to make the movement of Jesus Christ into a religion, and when that happens the power is sucked out of the message. When any belief becomes a religion it becomes more about rules and regulations than about people or relationships. This has effectively neutered Christianity, and has made any common sense thoughts about reaching a postmodern and post-Christian world for God almost revolutionary.

The religion of Christianity will cause you to have more questions than answers.

A relationship with Jesus and with authentic followers of Christ will change your life for the better; no matter who you are or what you have done. Life is tough, and things can happen that break our will and our spirit. But God does not want us to stay that way; in fact, he longs for you to come to him so he can forgive you and accept you.

I can be insufficient in answering your toughest questions, but God is never insufficient.

Ask him for guidance and he will meet you in your darkest hour. But do not think that becoming a Christian exempts you from pain or suffering. In fact, sometimes God calls us into dangerous places so we can do great things for him. It is in those times we want to run and hide. When you are doing the work of God in hostile places, situations get hot, difficult, and LOUD!! My question for you is very simple…..Can you handle the noise? If you say yes, God will use you to do great things. We would love to be of help to you on your journey. Come and check us out at Higher Calling or leave a comment here. I can’t wait to hear from you!

-Pastor Zac

Can You Handle the Noise? Part 1

I must make a confession before I get too far into this post: I am a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan. I love baseball, and the Cardinals have been my team since I was two years old. All fans of other teams, especially the Cubs, I apologize. Hang with me as we break this story down. You can see the pictures I took as a kid in various Cardinal uniforms. I was looking good! If you are a sports fan, you might have heard the Cardinals won their tenth World Series this year…..needless to say, I was pumped!

After the hoopla and the initial euphoria of the World Series win had passed, I heard a story about an old family friend’s opportunity to be at Game 5 win the Cardinals clinched the title. I will call him Fred (all names have been changed to protect the innocent). My mom told me the story…I was excited to hear an eyewitness account of the win and to relive those feelings again. Before we go any farther along in this story, I want to give you a bit of background info about Fred. He is by all accounts one of the biggest Cardinal fans in the Western hemisphere. He has an office that is decked out with Cardinals gear. He has signed pictures, gloves, chairs, bases, and all kinds of other memorabilia as well. He also attends fantasy camps that have Cardinal legends like Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, and others. He actually knows many of these guys personally, and they know him, too. His office is called the “Cardinal Museum” and that also serves as his e-mail address as well. This guy has got Cardinal fan imprinted on his DNA.

This World Series was plagued by rainouts, and Fred received his ticket from someone who had a ticket to a rained-out game and was unable to go to the make-up game the next night. Fred arranged to have the tickets held for him overnight and got his son to fly from Louisiana to meet him at Busch Stadium (also known as Baseball Heaven!). Fred drove six hours to be at the game; a game that would seal the Cardinals first World Series title in 24 years!! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that most Cardinal fans, including myself, would willingly lose a finger or toe to attend. I personally would have chosen my left little toe.

St. Louis is one of the purest baseball cities in America; they all take Cardinals baseball very seriously, and this was the biggest stage in big league baseball, the WORLD SERIES. Every one of these players had dreamed of playing in this game as a little kid, most of these fans had been waiting a long time to see the Cardinals win a title. Some, like me, had never seen the Cardinals win the big one in our lifetime. To add to the intensity, this was the inaugural season for the new Busch Stadium. All of these factors came together at once to create a perfect storm of baseball chaos! This crowd was LOUD, so loud that even the TV announcers commented on it and compared it to an NFL game held in a dome.

Fred and his son get to the game and are put right in the middle of the biggest party going on in America at the time. People were screaming, cheering, laughing, and chanting for the Cardinals. Everyone was on their feet while the game was being played. Fred was living the dream!! At least, you would think he was. For reasons that cannot be entirely explained by anyone, Fred was miserable!! The noise of the atmosphere reached such an intense level that Fred and his son chose to LEAVE THE GAME!! That is correct, a huge Cardinals fan chose to leave the stadium and missed out on an experience that was incredibly unique and could never be duplicated. I wonder how many people treat life the same way.

I want to ask all of you a simple question. Can YOU handle the noise? Life is so wonderful and unique, full of excitement and opportunity, but it can also be a huge struggle. Things do not always go as we plan, and sometimes things seem so intense and so confusing and so overwhelming that we think it would be better if we just GAVE UP. I want to encourage you to stay in the game. Do not quit. Don’t walk out and leave when things get messy. My friend Fred got into a situation that should have been an amazing time, but he let his circumstances affect his overall experience and he chose to walk out. In doing so, he gained comfort in the short term, but he lost out on seeing the victory. It is no different in life. We must all seek to overcome challenges with the help of God in our lives. Romans 8:28 says this, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” God wants to take every experience in your life, even the worst ones, and use them to accomplish something amazing in your life. But you cannot quit and leave in the middle of the game! Can you handle the noise?

In John 10:10, Jesus says, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” Many people think God is out to ruin their good time, and that Christians are incapable of having any kind of fun. I want you to know that God wants only the best for your life, and he wants to take the difficult times you go through and use them to mold you into a person with a strong and resilient character. And here at Higher Calling, we seek to represent Jesus by being an authentic community, dedicated to one another and to the community around us. Stop by and check us out on a Sunday morning at 10 AM, the link on the side of the page will take you to our main site and give you directions on how to find us. We would love to see you!

-Pastor Zac