If you have paid close attention to this blog throughout the year, you may have noticed that the tone of my writing has probably fluctuated with the ups and downs of my favorite sports teams.  When the University of Kentucky won a national title in basketball earlier this year, I’m sure my posts were all about singing praise, potluck dinners, and break dancing.  Then I got a little bored during the Olympics.

As the college football season has progressed, however, I seem to have gotten grouchy.  Kentucky has had a horrible season, there has never been any hope of improvement, and we finally saw the coach lose his job before the season ended.  It has been the most depressing season I can remember.

However, as Kentucky named a new coach this week that I am excited about, I find myself ready to write about happy things again.  And as I tried to find a way to relate my sports-related joy to my spiritual joy, I was hit right in the face by a Jesus Juke.  However, this one did not come from a fellow Christian, but from the Holy Spirit.

I actually heard the phrase in my head, “Why aren’t you as excited about your faith as you are about Mark Stoops?”  Ouch.  Apparently God didn’t watch the Western Kentucky game.

I completely understand that it is impossible to stay on fire for God 100% of the time.  There are distractions.  Times get tough.  We get tired.  Fortunately, I don’t think God expects us to be perky and jumping for joy all of the time.  In fact, I am pretty sure he encourages us to take some time to rest.  Didn’t He even do that Himself at some point?

However, the point from the Holy Spirit was well-received on my end.  I know that I need to make a better effort at being thankful, showing gratitude (yes, that’s different from being thankful), recognizing blessings, prioritizing my attention, and spending time thinking about who God is and what that means for my life.  If I am able to do more of those things, I am more likely to be filled with the joy of Christ the majority of the time.

Having said that, I think my lesson had everything to do with my focus on my faith and very little to do with my excitement about football.  In fact, I am convinced that God cares about sports.  He just wanted to make sure I had my priorities straight.  And with His grace, I’m getting there.

Do you ever have trouble prioritizing the excitement of your faith?  How are you able to consistently experience the joy of Christ? 

I love sports.  My parents got me involved in organized sports at the earliest possible age.  They used to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch the games on TV.  They really got me interested, and that hobby has done nothing but grow over the years.

While I don’t get to play as much as I like, I watch sports as often as possible.  Lately, though, I have found out that my desire to watch sports is directly correlated to my rooting interest in a team.  For example, my grandfather lived in Florida and I am a huge Miami Dolphins fan.  I love the Cincinnati Reds and, having grown up in the Bluegrass State, I bleed blue for the University of Kentucky in college sports.

However, I have a really hard time watching the NBA because I don’t have a “favorite team.”  Besides a few teams and players that I despise, I really don’t care who wins.  And while I enjoy watching an occasional big game or the playoffs, I can’t make myself get invested in the regular season.  So…I rarely watch.

I think that kind of mentality applies to most people, though.  If you don’t care about something, you won’t invest yourself in it.  If you aren’t passionate about a project, more than likely you won’t give your best.  If you have nothing at stake in an outcome, you won’t get involved in the process.

Unfortunately, that often bleeds over to our faith.  We separate ourselves from the issues and the commands of the Bible (feed the hungry, take care of orphans and widows, surround yourselves with God’s commands, etc.), and that makes it easier for us to ignore them.  If we never spend time with people in need, naturally we will not be passionate about helping them, and we will stay home instead of ministering to them.  If we ignore all of the children without homes, we will never understand how much they need God’s love, and we will never consider adoption.

Most of the time, we pursue passions that make sense to us and remain neutral on other issues.  I think there is another word for neutral in the Bible.  It’s lukewarm…and God is apparently not a big fan of us being lukewarm.

As it turns out, discipline leads to more discipline, and good habits lead to more good habits.  So if we would make a priority to step out in faith and follow His commands, it is likely that we will discover a passion for loving people that we never thought possible.  We will learn about new ministries that we never knew existed. 

If we give ourselves a chance to find a rooting interest in serving God, we will become the most passionate fan-base out there.  Now that’s a bandwagon that has enough room for everyone.

The Men’s Ministry at my church is sponsoring a fantasy football league this year, and it is off to a pretty good start.  We recently had a live draft where one of our deacons wore a suit and played the role of the league commissioner.  He announced each pick up at the podium and we put the selections up on the big screen.  It was pretty cool.

In having to rank the players and make decisions about who to add to my team in what round, I have grown fairly addicted to the draft process.  I went on last night to select my daughter ahead of my son in the “Boggs Children of 2012” draft.  Fiber One is the favorite to be the number one pick in this morning’s “Cereal of the Day” draft.  And I am currently ranking the people that work in my office to see who might make the cut if I ever become the boss.

Then I started wondering how I could work my new addiction into the Knowledge Dropper realm.  So I have decided to launch the first ever “Ministry Squad” draft.  I am going to give you a list of ministry icons below and ask you to decide who you would take with your pick in the draft, assuming they are all available.  Here we go…

Paul – From prosecuting to proselytizing, Paul took Christ’s story and love from Damascus to all of the gentiles.  In addition to writing about 32% of the New Testament, Paul took the show on the road and became everything to everyone to spread the gospel.

Peter – “The Rock” that the church was built on, Peter was the foundation for teaching the Jews how Jesus had fulfilled the law and is, indeed, the Messiah.  Sometimes butting heads with Paul, Peter was the leader of the Christian movement from the start and took the book of Acts by storm as he went on a quest to personally fulfill the Great Commission.

Martin Luther – If you are Catholic, this German monk is probably not for you.  However, if you are a part of a protestant denomination, you have to consider this guy.  Tired of seeing folks purchase forgiveness with their Mastercards, Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in an act that began the protestant reformation.  If it wasn’t for this guy, the Knowledge Dropper would be quoting the apocrypha much more often.

John Newton – Who’s John Newton?  Ah, yeah…he’s the guy that wrote Amazing Grace, the most well-known hymn ever.  He probably deserves a roster spot somewhere, right?

C.S. Lewis – From The Chronicles of Narnia to The Screwtape Letters, this guy has spread the good news “novel-style” as well as anyone ever.  Reaching children and adults alike, Lewis has introduced the Lion to millions of people through his writing and the cinematic adaptations.

Billy Graham – Probably the most well-known evangelist of our time, and the spiritual adviser to every president since LBJ, Graham may seem a little young compared to the others on this list.  However, among his contemporaries, he is a ministerial icon. 

Wow, this list could possibly go on forever and I have another draft to get to.  Feel free to choose from this list or go with a “sleeper” pick and select an underdog.

You are on the clock.  Who would you pick on your “Ministry Squad?”

Let me tell you about my weekend.  I got to go on my first ever “baseball tour” trip with a couple of my friends.  We went to the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis and went on out to Kansas City to check out Kaufman Stadium.  1,300 miles in just over two days.  It was a great experience, and one of the coolest things I have done in a very long time.

As the trip was put together, we basically had to wait until the two teams hosted games in the same weekend at times that worked well for travel.  Basically, the games we attended were strictly by chance.  As it turns out, however, we stumbled upon Faith and Family Night in Kansas City.  Let the awesomeness commence.

After having arguably the best meal of my life (I am seriously considering moving to Kansas City for better access to their heavenly BBQ), my friends and I headed to the stadium early to check out the landscape.  As we were walking around the area, we found ourselves front and center for the sound check of one of my favorite Christian bands, Building 429.  As if being the only three people standing right next to the stage wasn’t cool enough, the lead singer came down and talked to us for a bit while the instruments were being tuned.  Very cool.

After watching nine innings of the greatest game never invented, the Faith and Family festivities began.  Between an opening set by KJ52 and the headline concert by Building 429, we were treated to a few player testimonies.  Luckily (or maybe it was planned this way), the Texas Rangers were in town and Josh Hamilton came out to tell his story.  If you haven’t heard about his journey, you can check it out here.

Josh’s story is pretty amazing and he never hesitates to give all of the glory to God.  I am sure that he is often asked how he keeps his focus on God when he is so often surrounded with things that have caused him to stumble in the past.  One scripture that he quoted as being a part of his strength is something that I have read several times, but somehow has never grabbed me like it did this weekend.

He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30 NIV)

Isn’t that the foundation of Christian faith?  Isn’t that what taking up your cross daily is all about?  Here I was having the time of my life, having all of these great experiences that I will cherish for a long time, and I was slapped in the face with a reminder that I really shouldn’t matter.  Awesome.

I find it interesting that most Christians really buy into the first part of this verse, but we often choose to ignore the second part.  We want to be closer to God and do great things for Him.  But we also want to accomplish great things for our own glory and reputation.  We believe that He must become greater, and that we can become greater also.

Unfortunately, that’s impossible.  If we truly seek Jesus Christ and try to make our lives like Him, we must become less important.  If we want to do more for God’s Kingdom, we must be willing to give up our own dreams and desires.  If we really want Him to increase in this world, we must all be ready to decrease.  Are you ready?

Ah…the Olympics.  It’s such a magical time when dreams are fulfilled and we all live vicariously through our countrymen.  It brings us all together in a sense of camaraderie.  Whether you are cheering on the athletes, a fan of the obscure sports, or just really excited to have something to talk about, the Olympic Games provide us all with a reason to rock the red, white, and blue.

However, I do get a kick out of all of the random games that they play.  I feel like most of these things were invented out of boredom while they were waiting for the real games to start.  That kind of makes me want to invent some games.  So here we go….the Christian Olympics.

1.  Communion Races – Teams of deacons from all over the world compete to see how quickly they can get bread and cup to a congregation of 1000 people.  Every person must have a wafer and cup of grape juice, and the trays must be stacked neatly for the clock to stop.  Penalties will be incurred for spilled juice and dropped crackers.

2.  Walking on Water – All competitors are welcome to walk across the river to see who can reach the other side the fastest.  If they fail to walk the entire way, they are welcome to swim.  Penalties will be incurred if contestants fail to get out of the boat.

3.  Ultimate Frisbee – Yeah, you read that right.  Jon Acuff makes a very convincing case that ultimate is God’s favorite sport.  So we have no choice but to put it in the Christian Olympics.

4.  Prayer Marathon – The gold medal in this event will be given to the Christian that can say the most words in a prayer without repeating things the pagans.  Penalties will be incurred for speaking in old English

5.  Potluck Cookoff – I know that Olympic events are supposed to be athletic.  But the finesse with which Christian women create gooey-filled pastries rivals that of any gymnast.  Seriously, we could break this thing down into categories like entrées, potato-based dishes, green vegetables, breads, and a variety of dessert events.  Penalties will be incurred if any entry is sugar-free.

6.  Interpretive Dance – This could be great...like really great.  Folks could create their own interpretive dances based on Christian songs, hymns and contemporary style.  It would be judged by a panel with representation from each denomination.  Penalties will be incurred for anybody that tries to “Dougie.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.  There are so many possibilities.  What other games would you like to see happen at the Christian Olympics?

I love baseball.  I love playing it, I love watching it, and I even love studying it.  Being a math guy, I really appreciate all of the statistical implications involved in the game and how they play themselves out on the field.  You know what they say: “Numbers don’t lie.”

Over the last 15 years or so, though, the numbers in baseball have been turned upside down.  You may have seen or heard of the Brad Pitt movie, Moneyball, that explains some of these changes.  Going back to the work of Bill James, baseball professionals have started to realize that the traditional ideas of successful players were not necessarily accurate.

Whereas traditional baseball scouts look for players that look big and strong, those that have natural-looking swings, those that have low sprint times, those that hit the longest home runs, and those that “look” like baseball stars, it turns out that those things often have little to do with actual statistical production.  Those same traits that were believed to be full-proof in baseball circles, as it turns out, are relatively worthless.

While I would love to give Bill James and his contemporaries all of the credit for these ideas, I believe we have to look back at the book of 1 Samuel to find the origin of these theories.  God had commanded Samuel to go out and anoint a king to replace Saul.  He rolled up on Jessie’s land and started sizing up his sons.  Just when Samuel thought he found the most kingly of the group, God dropped a little knowledge on him.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)

Yes, God is talking about the selection of a king in this particular passage.  Is He also talking about baseball?  I’ll let you decide.

I am pretty sure, though, that He is talking about every situation imaginable on earth.  We tend to have certain expectations of people based on their looks or their background.  We love to put people in boxes because it makes it easier on us. 

It’s time that we start looking at peoples’ hearts.  I know it is difficult because we are conditioned otherwise.  But when you are considering somebody for a job at your company, or looking for a person to fill a role in a project, take some time and get to know them.  Learn about who they are, what they believe, and where their heart is.  Then choose the qualified candidate whose heart is most in-line with your mission.

In all of his books, author Malcolm Gladwell points out that while conventional wisdom is usually simple and easy, it is not always true.  Things are often not as they appear.  So we need to be willing to abandon traditional expectations and look beyond the obvious.

As Christians, we claim to want to be just like Jesus.  Yet, we go with the flow and buy into whatever society tells us is acceptable or successful.  In order for us to carry out our mission of sharing Christ with the world, we need to be able to see things as they really are. 

Like Samuel being led to anoint young David as king, we need to be able to look past the smokescreen that society has created and find truth in the hearts of the people around us.  That is the only way we will be able to serve them, love them, introduce them to Jesus, and work alongside them to do the same for others.

Perhaps if I knew as much about the Bible as I do about baseball, this would be easier for me to do.  What’s stopping you?

I am a big sports fan.  No, I don’t mean that I really love sports.  I’m saying that I am a rotund fellow that enjoys sporting events. 

I always have, in fact.  When I was a little boy, I remember staying up late with my dad to watch basketball and baseball playoff games.  Those were great times.  The irony, however, is that it is more difficult for me to stay awake and watch them now than it was then.

The thing that has always bothered me about watching sports on television is that I could see the obvious mistakes made by the officials (referees, umpires, or whatever they call them in soccer (seriously, they call the field a pitch…I don’t get it)).  (Note:  That was my first parenthetical statement inside of a parenthetical statement...and it felt good.)   

Anyway, it frustrated me that the officials for the games often missed calls that I could see very clearly in my slow-motion zoomed-in replays on my television.  So why didn’t they just find a TV and make sure they got the call right? 

It wasn’t until I was in college that instant replay started being used to clarify close calls in sporting events.  A large argument against using replay was that it would eliminate the “human element” of the game.  For many, the judgment, no matter how erroneous it may be, is part of the game.  So any attempt to correct their mistakes is actually changing the games that we all know and love. 

I could not disagree more.  The more accurate the officiating would be, the more fair the games would be to each team and we would be more likely to see the team that actually plays better win the game.  In my opinion, the human element often ruins the game due to the lack of consistency and infallibility. 

The instant replay scenario is quite the opposite of what we are doing with ministry.  It seems like, the more we try to do and the more we plan it out, we are readily eliminating the human element of our ministry.  Sometimes we are meeting basic needs, other times we are entertaining, and every now and then we may even take the time to pray for and/or with someone. 

However, we tend to focus more on the details of the operation and less on those we are serving.    We put more emphasis on efficiency than relationships.  Many times, it seems that the majority of our ministry is focused on quantity than quality.  It’s more about accomplishing tasks and less about showing love.

I realize the merit in reaching out to 500 people instead of 50.  My point is that, when we ignore the human element of ministry, we make it more difficult for those we serve to see the real Jesus in our work.  When we fail to build relationships, we end up building barriers that make it hard for us to really love on people.

In your next ministry event, try to put a little more emphasis on the human element.  Build relationships, show love, and share your story.  That is always the right call.

Being a sports fan, I love cheering for the underdog.  I love watching teams and individuals that don’t seem to stand a chance somehow find what it takes to come out on top.  It’s fun, entertaining, and always inspiring. 

Some of my favorite moments are when people overcome being outnumbered.  Like when a basketball player is being double or triple teamed and somehow finds a way to score.  Or when a wide receiver goes up around several defenders and pulls the ball down.  These things should not happen, but they do.  That is what makes them so amazing.

According to the Bible, God seems to be a pretty big fan of underdogs as well.  David beat Goliath.  Abraham beat old age.  Noah beat the flood.  Those are some pretty big odds that were conquered. 

He also seems to enjoy see people overcome being outnumbered.  When the Israelites were finally ready to enter the Promised Land, they defeated several enemies that were much larger than they were.  And they did so with ease. 

When Joshua tells them how important it is for them to remember how great God is, he reminds them of how outnumbered they were.  “One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised.”  (Joshua 23:10 NIV)

When we think of overcoming odds, we talk about people succeeding who have a four or five to one chance.  Or if we want to be completely ridiculous, we bet on the guy that has a ten to one shot.  (Note:  I am not talking about actual gambling here…so put away your torch and pitchforks.)  But here we see that, with God on their side, the Israelites were victorious despite being outnumbered one thousand to one.

Usually, when we talk about wars, we talk about soldiers in terms of tens and even hundreds of thousands.  That is very difficult for us to visualize.  It just doesn't seem real.  But if you can picture yourself going up against a thousand well-trained soldiers, it becomes a bit easier to see how awesome this feat would have been.

God’s power is truly limitless.  But because our perspective is very limited, His power somehow gets lost in translation.  Even though we are quick to say that He performs miracles every day, it is so hard for us to truly believe it. 

One of the primary reasons that we do not see the miracles we claim to believe in is that we are scared to ask for them.  We are so afraid that God won’t or even can’t answer our prayers that we often end up lowering our expectations so we won’t be disappointed in Him.  How ridiculous is that?

Because of their faith, God gave each Israelite soldier the power to defeat a thousand enemy soldiers.  “The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?”  (Psalm 27:1 NIV)

The next time you need a “big” prayer to be answered, ask God for a “big” blessing.  Pray for safety, pray for strength, pray for healing, pray for a miracle.  Do your part and ask, and then let Him do His.

If you know me at all, and I’m sure both people reading this do, you know that I am a huge University of Kentucky sports fan.  Football, basketball, and even baseball.  I watch all of the games, follow the sports writers on Twitter, read all related blogs, and even keep up with recruiting.  For most of the year, UK sports are something that I am pretty passionate about.

There are times, though, when I wonder if I am wasting my time with something that is really not that important in the grand scheme of things.  I wonder if I should be focusing on things that are more eternal, or dedicating more time to the important relationships in my life.  I think about the service I could be doing in my community, or even the endless list of projects I have planned for my home.  And then I hear this little voice in the back of my head…”OOOHHHHH…..C-A-T-S, CATS, CATS, CATS!”

Man, I love Kentucky sports.  I can’t help it.  So instead of putting my effort into trying to find things I should be doing instead of representing the Big Blue Nation, I shall now focus on finding a way to justify this passion of mine.  Join me on this journey, will you?

1.  Fellowship. – There are very few things in life that bring people together like sports.  Whether you are just trying to break the ice, or you are looking for a friend for life, sports is never a bad place to start.  And if you believe life is all about relationships, and I certainly do, you have to agree that sports can be a great venue for fellowship and relationship building.

2.  Life lessons. – Okay, so being a sports fan may not provide life changing lessons.  However, being a member of a sports team does.  And as I hope my children will someday learn valuable lessons in discipline, hard work, humility, and teamwork, watching sports with them now will go a long way toward getting them interested in playing when they get older.

3.  It helps my witness. – If I am going to live in a world full of sports fans, I need to be able to play the part.

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

4.  God cares about sports. – That may be the most controversial sentence I have ever written.  I am not saying that God prefers one team over another or plays a part in who wins.  However, it is undeniable that God loves each and every person involved in every sporting event.  And if a sport happens to be a large part of their lives, I truly believe that God cares about that. 

I believe God cares about the interactions that coaches and athletes have with teammates and other players.  I think He provides opportunities for those involved to serve Him in ways that others simply can not access.  After all, He gave them the talent.  Why would He not want them to use their platform for His glory?  Oh yeah, God cares about sports…just not the same why I do.

There, now I feel better about watching sports so much.  How about you?

In case you haven’t figured it out, March Madness is upon us.  To sports fans, it is one of the most exciting times of the year.  To non-sports fans, it is the best time of the year to act like you care about sports.  For me, it is the perfect combination of organization and chaos, and one of the rare times in life when the product actually justifies the anticipation.  The one thing March Madness becomes that it should not, however, is personal.

I fill out one bracket every year.  I have no ethical problem with filling out several in hopes that you eventually get it right.  I just can’t handle the burden of trying to remember which teams I picked to win in which bracket pool.  This year, I had very few upsets because I always seem to miss big when I take a chance.  However, I did have some early round surprises that I thought would not hurt my overall bracket too badly if I was wrong. 

Two of my predicted upsets, though, had some teams going out that are very dear to the hearts of some of my friends.  Upon seeing this, some of them poked fun at me and issued idle threats (at least I hope they were idle).  But a couple of friends seemed genuinely upset.  They seemed to feel insulted by my random upset selections.  That was never my intent, and I’m sure it will never come up again since my picks are always wrong.  But I cannot help but wonder why people take things so personally.

I see similar situations far too often, especially in Christian circles.  If two people disagree about a topic, even if the actual issue is rather small, it can easily turn into a personal attack when somebody voices their disagreement.  It rarely has to do with the words that are said, but more with the words that are heard.  Someone could say “I really don’t think we need hot dogs AND hamburgers, could we just do one or the other?”  And then another person will hear “Your ideas are stupid and nobody likes your cooking anyway.”  Or "I think it is time we approach this ministry from a different angle" turns into "I cannot believe you ever expected this to work.  Our failure is your fault."

Why do we do that?  If we are truly loving each other the way we are called to, shouldn’t we always be giving each other, especially other believers, the benefit of the doubt?  Should we not always assume people are speaking from a place of love? 

In the book of James, we are told to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19 NIV)  We often use this verse to tell people to be slow to speak, or at least my wife does.  But if we read it in its entirety, it speaks directly to this issue.  Be quick to listen….and listen well to make sure you are hearing what you think you are hearing.  Be slow to become angry…if you think somebody is attacking your character or insulting you personally, approach them individually and get to the heart of the issue before you waste time and energy being angry.  If you do these things well, you will naturally be slow to speak.

Have you ever been guilty of hearing something that wasn’t really said?  Have you ever said something that was later twisted to mean something completely different?

I know you are dying to know what my March Madness bracket looks like.  Check it out below.