Tag Archives: soccer

Prepare the way for another

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

If you ponder who is the greatest footballer of all time, Lionel Messi would be a contender for the title. Thanks to Messi, FC Barcelona are the team to beat, the standard-bearers of magic on the pitch, a distinction formerly held by nemesis Real Madrid.

But there would have been no Messi, and Barcelona would have remained always in the shadows of white uniforms of Spain’s capitol city, had it not been for a legend from the past. Johann Cruyff is almost forgotten in the radiance of today’s stars. But it was Cruyff who made the way for Messi.

cruyff

Johann Cruyff

Wanted at Real Madrid, the Dutch dazzler opted to move to then-underdog Barca. Immediately he won the championship and two Ballons d’Or. Later as coach, he won four consecutive titles and one European Cup. He devised the farm training team for future stars to rise in. It was there that Messi discovered his own greatness.

Today, Cruyff fades into the background as the steamroller Messi continues to smash records. Who is greater? The one who became great or the one who forged the path for him to find destiny.

Maybe your ministry is waning, your influence declining. Fret not. What you have done for God has brought others into their own destiny and greatness.

Another Argentina showed up

I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

What I saw previously of Argentina in World Cup rounds left me doubting. They were flat. They struggled to beat easy opponents. They lacked the flair that carries teams from the Americas in the Americas to lift the gold trophy.

But fizzless Argentina showed up to play today against Holland and shattered my predictions. (After witnessing the Orange Machine demolish former champ Spain with aggressive defending and laser-sharp passes with unthinkable finishes, I speculated they’d win their first ever).

I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

It was a different Argentina. They looked like electrons shooting around the midfield, dominating most of the game. Unstoppable Arjen Robben met his match in the superb defender Javier Mascherano, whose millisecond-pinpoint tackle deprived Robben of his best chance. Argentina just couldn’t pick the lock of the Dutch defense, and so the game had to go to penalties.

Incredibly, Argentine Goalie Sergio Rojas stopped two shots and thus stifled Holland’s hopes.

It reminded of Samson. Ever flubbing, Samson showed up strong on game day. We live under grace to forgive our sins. When we are needed to step up to the plate, let it be a different us — a Holy Spirit empowered us — that shows up.

Poetic justice at World Cup

I don't own the rights for this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

I don’t own the rights for this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

Algeria scared expected-winner Germany in extra time of octavos knockout stage of the World Cup 2014. Had the northern African nation upset Germany, it would have been justice.

In the 1982 World Cup, over-confident, prideful, and racist West Germany players trash-talked the upstart Algeria team. The Algerians were nomads out of the desert. The Germans would dedicate their seventh goal to their wives, their eighth to their dogs. One player boasted the game would be so easy to win, he would smoke a cigar while playing.

But the Algerians won 2-1.

The West Germans were shocked. In their subsequent game, they colluded with Austria to play a game of 1-goal difference, which was the only option to send Algeria back home and allow both Germany and Austria to move on to the next round. After the first German goal, both teams essentially dilly-dallied with the ball for 80 minutes and never tried to score. Fans, who had paid their tickets to see a great game, were outraged. West German soccer officials recognized it was a “tactical game” and unleashed more racist comments.

I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

I was rooting for Algeria this time. It would have been payback for the evil, the corruption, the arrogance. Unfortunately, not every score will be settled in this imperfect world.

At least this time, the Germans stayed mum before the game. They respected their opponents.

Not until extra time could Germany break through a well-organized and determined squad this World Cup. They scored two goals, but Algeria struck back with minutes of play. It ended a reverse of the 1982 score line: 2-1 in favor of Germany. Algeria did respectably. We ought to respect our adversaries always.

 

Please don’t tarnish your memory as a hero

donovan lashes out

Pic from Yahoo Sports. I don’t own the rights to this pic, and I’m not making any money on it.

Landon Donovan came off bitter.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann omitted the notable U.S. star. Up until the U.S. loss, Donovan, who was my hero, was mum about the snub. He was supportive of the team.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann hasn't lowered himself to the level of defending himself against a bitter player.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t lowered himself to the level of defending himself against a bitter player.

No sooner did the outgunned U.S. squad get booted (logically) by a Belgium team glutted with top club stars than Donovan unleashed a rant against the coach. According to Donovan, he mismanaged the team.

Landon, please, don’t do this…

julian-green-usmnt-soccer-player1

Julian Green wowed everyone with an extremely difficult lobbed ball over his shoulder that he hit squarely into the net, foiling the competent German goalie. This pic belongs to USMNT (I think). Thanks for letting me use it! I’m not making any money on it.

As the top goal-scorer for the U.S., you are an icon, an inspiration. You’re huge, but when you lash out, you make yourself small, immature, full of yourself, etc. It’s not pretty. Many of your followers will give you credence. But a whole other slew of us are going to leave you alone, a blathering brat.

If Donovan’s omission was the demise of the U.S team is material for lambasting comment threads. Klinsmann marshaled the U.S. team to success out of the very difficult “Group of Death.” He limited the German victory to one goal.

He’s locked down talented stars for the future. His recruit, 18-year-old Julian Green smashed home his first World Cup goal after only a two minutes of play. A coach can only bring so many players on his squad. Had he not brought Green, the dual-citizen starlet might have opted for Germany permanently.

Donovan, you’re not young anymore. We’re sorry. We love you. But go in grace. Don’t pile shame upon yourself. We want to hear your expert analysis, not your vented bitterness.

Build

Julian Green's late strike

Julian Green’s sensational strike sparked a rally that had people believing. (I don’t own the rights to this image, and I’m not making any money on it.)

Don’t go glum over the U.S. elimination from World Cup. The run was the impossible dream. Just to make it out of the group stage showed prowess.

Amid the tears, there is one glimmer of hope. That was a 19-year-old kid who only played a few minutes of World Cup soccer and scored a sensational neck-stretcher wild-sideways-kick goal that sparked an emotional U.S. rally in their 2-1 loss to Belgium.

A resident of Germany since age 2, Julian Green only recently defined his desire to serve the red, white and blue. He was recruited also by Germany.

sensational Tim Howard

U.S. Goalie Tim Howard made scintillating save after save to keep the U.S. in the game. (I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.)

U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann was wise to sacrifice Landon Donovan for Julian Green. Recognizing that USA’s chances were unrealistic in 2014, Klinsmann’s taking the long-term approach to build U.S. soccer. Build, don’t burn, your program. Come back stronger. Make a squad with a realistic chance at winning a World Cup. Until now, our only flourish was a 2nd-place finish in the Confederations Cup in 2009.

Julian Green over shoulder kick

An astonishing over-the-shoulder one-touch fires home to spark U.S. hopes. (I don’t own the rights to this image, and I’m not making any money on it.)

If you are church leader, it matters little how badly you’re getting beaten (by lack of finances, by apathy, by attacks on your health). The only thing that matters is how you marshal your resources to build God’s kingdom. If this doesn’t appear to be the year of revival, maybe next year.

The impossible dream is not over. It’s just extended.

Need for a finisher

Clint Dempsey. I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

Clint Dempsey. I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

Part of the weakness of the U.S. Men’s National Team is the lack of a true finisher. Clint Dempsey finished a 34-second goal against Ghana that was nice, but he’s not like the finishers who given half a chance bury it in the net.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a great finisher, but he was injured, so he played poorly. Luis Suarez is deadly as a striker; too bad he likes to bite opponents. Wesley Sneijder took a back-header bouncing ball and rocketed it low into the net to sink Mexico’s hopes for their first-ever World Cup.

Impossible to stop, Sneijder's goal was part of Holland overturning a 1-goal deficit to win. I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

Impossible to stop, Sneijder’s goal was part of Holland overturning a 1-goal deficit to win. I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

As the name suggests, a finisher may NOT be good at passing, possession, bodying, defending, imagination or creation. His job is only one: If teammates get him the ball near or in the area, he smashes it home. (He doesn’t kick it wide or high, as you so often see.)

The U.S. has an awesome goalie, competent defenders, a sensational midfielder, speeding wingers. Dempsey has played forward successfully in the English Premier League, so he’s the best thing we’ve got (if Jozy Altidore doesn’t recover from injury) for Tuesday’s game against Belgium. He’s hardworking, but he’s not a natural finisher.

Mexico World Cup loss

After barely qualifying, Mexico produced some spectacular football but lost because an exquisite finisher. I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it..

Every team needs a finisher. Team U.S.A. doesn’t have one.

“It is finished,” Jesus said from the cross. No one else could earn us salvation. We can’t earn our own salvation. When He took our sins to the cross, the Sinless Savior finished off a game that the devil was winning. Death, empowered by the fall, was consuming ravenously all humanity, until Jesus finished Death off. “It is finished.”

By Picketty on redbubble. I don't own the rights to this art, and I'm not making any money on it.

By Picketty on redbubble. I don’t own the rights to this art, and I’m not making any money on it.

Jesus is our finisher.

The hero of the World Cup

ronaldo haircut

With his World Cup buzz. (I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.)

Forget about U.S. sharp shooter Clint Dempsey. Never mind the incredible saves by Tim Howard. The U.S. men’s national team advances, while Portugal limps embarrassed back home.

Kyle Beckerman's wild hair. (I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.)

Kyle Beckerman’s wild hair. (I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.)

The hero of the World Cup is Cristiano Ronaldo. This is the Hollywood-ready pretty boy I’ve sent to the itamae often for diving, cry-babying and basking in his own image on the replay screen at the stadium.

No longer.

I’m now his enthusiastic admirer. I’m not being sarcastic either. I’m not thinking about how his injury-induced tepid play helped the U.S advance out of the Group of Death, nor how his timely goal ensured Ghana’s defeat (that also helped us).

The pretty boy image.

The pretty boy image. (I don’t own the rights to this pic, and I’m not making any money on it.)

I’m talking about his haircut.

Football players are famous for crazy cuts. You’ve got Kyle Beckerman’s shock of dreadlocks. You’ve got mohawks and numbers buzzed into the side and all kinds of things. When Cristiano Ronaldo showed up with a zig-zag pattern, fashionistas groaned.

Then people found out it was more than just a racing stripe. CR7 mimicked a scar on the head of Erik Ortiz Cruz, a Spanish boy whose $83,000 brain surgery he paid for.  It was tribute and solidarity.

Sadly, people are tolerant of bad boys who score goals and win cups. But when an act of charity is performed, they become cynical and cry foul. "He's just trying to get attention," they say.

Sadly, people are tolerant of bad boys who score goals and win cups. But when an act of charity is performed, they become cynical and cry foul. “He’s just trying to get attention,” they say. (I don’t own the rights to this picture, and I’m not making any money on it.)

Forget about who ultimately lifts the gold trophy. The Real Madrid superstar is the biggest winner of all those brats who disgust with their entitlement and unthinkable salaries. Once and for all, the 2013 Ballon d’Or winner shatters his image as Narcissus.

I can just turn my computer screen off now. I’ve seen the best the World Cup has to offer.

German Giants

usmntPundits predicted that America OUGHT to win against Ghana, MIGHT tie with Portugal, but STOOD NO CHANCE against Germany. Tomorrow we shall see in the USA´s last World Cup group stage game if the red, white and blue can pass to the next round.

Germany´s football was like their engineering: precise, inerrant, mechanical. America on the other hand had scrapped together what it could, a ragtag band of players, only a few of which were from top leagues around the world.

Clint Dempsey's 34-second goal against Ghana. I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

Clint Dempsey’s 34-second goal against Ghana. I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

Against Ghana, the USA scored an early goal and weathered a storm of shots for 90 minutes. They were sloppy, lethargic, unambitious. They couldn´t maintain possession. By a miracle of God, they won 2-1.

Against Portugal, America improved greatly. They played open football (that’s soccer, for the uninitiated), maintained possession and set up goals with creative passing. Unfortunately, Michael Bradley gave up the ball to Portugal and a U.S. defender failed to track back with his mark, and that’s how Portugal tied in the last minute.

Germany's goal against Ghana. I don't own the rights to his photo, and I'm not making any money on it

Germany’s goal against Ghana. I don’t own the rights to his photo, and I’m not making any money on it

It was a disappointing end to what would have been an upset (led by Christiano Ronaldo, Portugal is a football powerhouse). But I was happy because the U.S. did much better.

Germany dismantled Portugal but struggled to eke out victory against Ghana. Their mythic precision was off.

Will the Yankee Doodle dudes beat Goliath? Part of the answer lies with belief. They mustn’t cower in fear but like David defy their opponents’ depth of experience, speed and accuracy. They must concentrate without a millisecond of slip-up.

That’s how we Christians should face everyday in God too.

What are YOU doing with the ball? Pass it to…

luis suarez 2

Defeating England, Luis Suarez hammers a ball in. I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

Give him a ball in front of the net, and Luis Suarez makes the goal.

Actually, two of them. The Uruguayan ace headed one goal and slammed home a second to oust England, the vaunted authors of modern soccer, out of the World Cup this past week. The highest goal-scorer in the English Premier League this season, seemingly doesn’t fail.

suarez

What a smile! I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

Not every forward is a sharp-shooter of this caliber. Most are about 50%. Suarez does it all. He’s fast. He possesses a potent kick. He’s physical. He utilizes creative play. He maintains possession. He’s got my vote for best striker worldwide. Get a ball to him anywhere near the area, and it’s an assured goal.

If you like winning, you’ll want to have Suarez Jesus on your team. In fact, many Christians are losing the game. Why? Because they have possession of the ball.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THE BALL? PASS IT TO JESUS.

Passing the ball to Jesus is called prayer.

Adiós España and the need for renewal

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas made two mistakes to gift two goals. Pic from Yahoo News. I don't own the rights to this, and I'm not making any money on it.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas made two mistakes to gift two goals. Pic from Yahoo News. I don’t own the rights to this, and I’m not making any money on it.

Sixteen of the Spanish squad raised the world cup four years ago, and that was the problem with the Red Fizzle. A gaggle were from FC Barcelona, which won nothing this season. Call them the geriatric team, Spain lost 2-0 today to Chile. They got walloped previously by Holland 5-1. With no chance to advance from the group stage, they’re packing their bags.

What happened to the team that made opponents wet their pants? What happened to Spain must not happen in the church. Maybe Coach Vicente Bosque thought to stick with what’s tried and true — he got what was tired and through.

For Christians, it’s easy to employ yesterday’s successes, to trust yesterday’s victories. It’s easy to NOT seek Jesus for fresh manna today.

Sensing their demise after the second Chile goal, Spanish players reform to kickoff positions. Pic from Yahoo News. I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

Sensing their demise after the second Chile goal, Spanish players reform to kickoff positions. Pic from Yahoo News. I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

Actually, I love Spain as a team. I learned futbol as a missionary in Guatemala, with its affinity to its Mother Country. All of my friends are gasping and fainting and asking themselves: How can it be?

As much as I love Spain, I saw it coming. Spain revealed a blunted edge in the Confederations Cup, a preliminary competition one year before the World Cup. Coach Bosque failed to see the writing on the wall, feared to shake up the status quo and jettison the old guys whose output would be less.

Let the Christian take heed and worry about renewal. Renew or fail.

 

Shaky, ill-advised, U.S. still wins

Clint Dempsey after his amazing goal.

Clint Dempsey after his amazing goal. This pic is from yahoo! I don’t owe the rights, and I’m not making $ on it.

Soccer games are won by a small difference (often just one goal), so after Clint Dempsey skated through an ill-prepared Ghana defense to score after 34 seconds of playing time, it looked like the U.S. settled back into defensive positions and tried to hold on to their slim lead — for another 90 minutes.

It was a formula for disaster. Onslaught after Ghana onslaught came at them. The U.S. scrambled and batted away every ball tenaciously until late in the second half, they could hold Fort Apache no more. With some tricky maneuvers, Ghana unlocked the back line and drilled home to tie.

John Brooks celebrates his first goal as a U.S. international.

John Brooks celebrates his first goal as a U.S. international. I don’t own the rights to this pic, and I’m not making money on it.

U.S. fans groaned. Now we would probably settle for a draw, worth only 1 point in FIFA’s scheme for figuring who advances out of the group stage. With powerhouses Germany and Portugal looming ahead, U.S. was pretty much packing its bags up.

Then the unthinkable happened. A SUBSTITUTE came on and scored a header off a corner with four minutes from time. Ghana’s defensive line probably didn’t even bother to mark him. Why worry? He was only a reserve in case someone got hurt. John Brooks breathed new life into U.S. chances of proceeding forward in World Cup rounds.

Jermaine Jones performed powerfully to shut down the Ghana attack. I don't own the rights to this photo, and I'm not making any money on it.

Jermaine Jones performed powerfully to shut down the Ghana attack. I don’t own the rights to this photo, and I’m not making any money on it.

Too often the U.S. strategy resembles the church’s: just barely try to win. Just barely try to make it to Heaven. Just maintain what the church has gained in previous years. Don’t try too hard. How much sin can I get away with and still make it to Heaven?

We need to press ahead for another goal. Pray. Outreach. Study the Bible. You can relax when you get to Heaven.

 

 

The Red Fury flickers: the cycles of soccer

My Guatemalan buddies are wailing unconsoled over Spain’s loss humiliation at by Netherlands, a 5-1 spanking that upended the Red Fury’s hegemony. Actually, Spain hasn’t been overlords for long. Until they won the EuroCup six years ago, they were the world’s historic underachievers. But then the won the World Cup and another Euro Cup and imposed superior football wherever they pleased.

They were gracious overlords. Once when thumping Italy, Spain goalie Iker Casillas asked the ref to end the game earlier to mitigate the damage done to such formidable rivals. Gracious, but unbeatable.

No more. At last year’s World Cup warmup tournament (called the Confederations Cup), they looked worn-out against Brasil. Fans laughed them off the field.

They looked spent again yesterday. Netherlands, which fell to Spain in the World Cup final last time, exorcised the spirit of football from them yesterday. The Orange Machine played fast and tight defense in the mid-field (where Spain is usually master). They shut down passing lanes. They played brilliant counter-attack. They pulled off mouth-watering goals that will contend for best-ever in the highlights videos for decades to come.

spainsdownfallSpain withered. Midfielder Xavi Hernandez — usually an incomparable play-maker with pinpoint passes that penetrate — was a non-presence. Impeccable Iker Casillas flubbed a backpass which gifted Van Persie a goal. Starlet Diego Costa probed he’s better at diving than scoring in open play.

“Let’s go, Spain!” my former student posted on Facebook. “Let’s go back to Spain,” I wrote in the msg. It’s not that I have anything against Spain. Actually, I love the team.

But I recognize that the cycle has ended, as it does for all teams. As aces grow older, they lose quickness and hunger. They become over-confident. They lose. At this point, it appears clear that the world of soccer is ready for a new king. Spain will have to reinvent itself, shed its fading stars and cultivate an entirely new crop. Only Andres Iniesta played like a star yesterday.

All this is good for me. It’s been four years since I have actively pastored. Right now, I’m one of 20 assistant pastors at my mother church. I’m champing at the bit to pioneer again. If I’m not announced at this conference, I’ll have to see what I can do because as Jeremiah said: “the fire is burning in my bones and I can’t keep quiet.”

It’s important to stay humble when you have wild success as a Christian or as person. It’s also important to know how to reconfigure when you are in a low or a failure. Will Spain ever be back to the peak? I’m more concerned about my own cycles of life.

Revenge! Netherlands trounces Spain

van persie goal

pic from Business Insider. I don’t own the rights to this pic, and I’m not making any money on it.

Netherlands tore up World Cup favorite Spain in a 5-1 humiliation on the second day of the tournament. Robin Van Persie flew like Superman to header the ball into Spain’s net over the head a hapless Iker Kasillas evening the score to 1-1 in the first half.

Then, hothead Arjen Robben coolly showed surgeons how to do a triple bypass in one second. He deftly caught a long ball on his FOOT that make NFL one-HANDed catches look like a piece of cake.

Arjen Robben

Arjen Robbin celebrates after goal. Pic from Dirty Tackle. I don’t own the rights to this pic, and I’m not making any money on it.

Settling the ball, he cut contrary to two rushing defenders and fired on goal contrary to a leaning goalie. He bypassed three players single-footedly with surgical precision.

Spain — which dominated the game in the first part of the first half, looking as if they wanted to retain the golden trophy — looked stale, ineffective, slow, discouraged. Only Andres Iniesta showed life.

How did he do it? Van Persie makes an improbable connection with the ball and bounces it perfectly over the goalie and under the bar. Pic from Dirty Tackle.  I don't own the rights to this pic, and I'm not making any money on it.

How did he do it? Van Persie makes an improbable connection with the ball and bounces it perfectly over the goalie and under the bar. Pic from Dirty Tackle. I don’t own the rights to this pic, and I’m not making any money on it.

At risk of sounding off prematurely, I declare this game the most exciting of the World Cup. If Netherlands plays every game like this, they’ll carry home the gold.

Being the unfavored, defying the odds, playing hard, believing in the impossible — these are all things of the Christian heart. Play your day for Christ to take the trophy home… to Heaven. Don’t resign yourself to losing just because the odds-makers are against you.

Netherlands lost the final to Spain in the last World Cup. Now, they can savor revenge.

Racism is sin: the NBA, soccer and the church

No room for racism in church

Clippers owner Donald Sterling (tarnished sterling). Ironically, his girlfriend is part black. Apparently, it was she who recorded his racial comments and leaked it to news agencies.

Hooray for the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver fined Clipper owner Donald Sterling $2.5 million and banned him from the NBA for life after the real estate mogul was recorded making racist remarks against blacks to his girlfriend.

Dani Alves fights back against racism

Dani Alves shows Villareal fans that he won’t be thrown off his game by racial taunts. Barcelona came from behind to win 3-2.

Hooray for Dani Alves. The left defender from FC Barcelona mocked racial taunts. When a fan from the other team attempted to provoke the Brazilian by throwing a banana at him during a game (message: you are a monkey), he picked up the banana, took a bite and kept playing. Footballers in support took pictures of themselves eating bananas and posted them on Instagram. The fan has been banned for life from attending soccer stadiums.

no racism in church

NO racism in church!

Church, take heed! I have been mortified by brothers who, thinking they talk in confidence with me because I’m as wait as a freshly bleached sheet, share their evil racism with me. There is no room for racism in the church. It is a sin. For too many years, “apologists” accommodated and justified slavery with a wicked twisting of the scriptures.

I’ve got news for you. In Heaven, all the races live together in harmony. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. — Rev. 5:9.

no racism in Heaven

There’s no racism in Heaven

If you secretly harbor thoughts of the superiority of one race, repent of your sin before God and convert in a truly loving Christian.

God forbid that the NBA and a Spanish soccer club be more loving towards rejected people than the church.

Sterling may fight back. He can dicker over due process. He can prosecute whoever illegally recorded his conversation (presumably his girlfriend). But his doom has been decreed. He’s not going to make much headway.

Here comes the World Cup! Aspiring is inspiring.

Nike’s pre-World Cup commercial is a genre all by itself. Combining stars, incredible moves and hilarity, these commercials have come to be the groundhog announcing the coming of soccer’s pre-eminent contest, awaited for soccer-lovers around the world for four long years. This year, Nike takes a very real situation, kids imagining themselves their favorite player, and they become them. One kid mispronounces a player’s name and becomes a mailman named Iniesto. The Hulk, a Brazilian star, moves into goal, which is not his position. So a friend tells him he can’t be Hulk, so he becomes the U.S. goalie, retaining the green color with his uniform.

The road to greatness is when you imagine yourself like a Biblical hero (I don’t think the Christian short will ever be produced). Aspiring is inspiring. And it brings about incredible things for God. That is the basic meaning of: Elijah was a man just like us. — James 5:17. Dreaming is seeming.

I love futbol. Even more, I love God. I think I’ll work more at becoming a Biblical hero rather than a soccer hero.

Image

Don’t be too busy: how to pray?

Don't be too busy: how to pray?

Effective prayer: Iker Casillas teaches

  • Effective prayer
  • Powerful prayer
  • Praying the Bible

Iker CasillasIker Casillas didn’t have to do anything to win! In the boring Italy-Spain Confederations Cup semi-final, Casillas just stood there on the penalty shoot-out that settled a sluggish 0-0 into overtime match. As a matter of fact, Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon didn’t stop a single shot either.

Buffon Casillas

It could have been a spectacular show of goalkeeping prowess, but neither could stop any PK.

On a few penalty shots, Casillas dove. But after one cheeky Italian chipped it straight and center, he apparently decided to stop diving. He just stood there uselessly. The dives were pretty much pointless anyway because both teams drilled home unstoppable PKs. So Spain won 7-6 because Leonardo Bonucci launched his to the moon instead of the net. Here were the world’s two best goalies, and neither made a single save.

The penalty shoot-out reminded me of prayer. We can try. We can dive. But ultimately, the victory has nothing to do with us. Victory comes from above. Effective prayer does more than doing more.

Casillas Confederations CupThat’s why the overworked minister who neglects prayer commits a fatal mistake. He spins his wheels. The lion’s share of the work belongs to God Almighty, and the minister (not almighty) tries to do it.

If you yearn for greater effectiveness, pray more and work less! Pray effective prayers.

Why do people hate the good guy?

*** BESTPIX ***  Spain v Tahiti: Group B - FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013El Niño Torres scored an unheard-of four goals against Tahiti in the Confederations Cup, and I was happy. Lately he’s been underperforming, and lynchmob of critics has persecuted him. They’ve even mocked him for being a nice guy, a decent human being (Maybe they Luis Suarez better, the Uruguayan racist who also bites opponents.)

imagesJames Lebron led the Heat to the NBA comeback final victory, and I was happy. He has been unjustly criticized for choking in finals, for betraying his first team, even for his skinny teams. They trash-talk him.

images-1Tim Tebow talks Christianity, and they shut him up. Collins talks homosexuality, and it´s national news. He’s a hero.

I think people despise the nice guy because the nice guy makes them feel like bad guys — by comparison. Thus, the rant, the hate, the cackling of “good guys finish last.”

So… I love it when good guys finish first. I’m trying to be a good guy too! And, yeah, good guys DO finish first. If you don’t believe me, just show up on Heaven’s Judgment Day. (Everybody will show up, even those who don’t believe in God.)

If it’s over, where’s the elation?

  • How do I pray?
  • Faith in prayer
  • Prayers of the Bible

imagesBarcelona won the 2012-13 Spanish league when it wasn’t even playing. It’s nearest competitor, Real Madrid, tied, and, with only  a few games left in the season, no one can reach Barca’s points.

images-1Winning by NOT playing (when your rival ties) is a very undramatic way to seize a crown. But that’s the way the European leagues work: no flourish of playoffs. It’s boring mathematics: whoever has the most points, wins. Now whatever FCB does — even it loses every game 0-20 — it cannot lose the league.

images-2Despite being an avid fan, I’m disappointed. Where’s the flush of excitement of a memorable finale? Where’s the high fives in front of the big screen with pizza with my buddy Adan? In the essence of anti-climax, I read it on Yahoo soccer news. It was over, and I wasn’t even watching the game to relish it (why would I? It wasn’t even my team’s game).

images-3Instead of seeming happy, it’s a let-down. No more tension as a rival threatens a comeback. No more discussing injuries and speculating who will cover what position. No more guessing outcomes, despairing over setbacks.

images-4Christianity is like this: it’s over. Christ won — a long time ago, at the cross. What remains is an unavoidable and boring march towards victory. We can lose the excitement of God’s crushing championship, but we should never forget that He has won. The fact that secularists appear to be winning our nation is much like Iran’s president denying the Holocaust: ludicrous brouhaha.

Go to prayer today with:

  • the sensation of the thrill of victory
  • certainty of the positive outcome for your petitions
  • persistence in securing wins (Barca still wins games, even though they can’t lose the championship losing games). Show our stuff!

But first you must invest

goal_1690382aLike other mortals, I was stunned by Barcelona’s 4-0 snuffing of AC Milan to blaze with canons firing into Champions League quarter finals.

d1cf09c4846b44ae9efbcf1b1e9ce6bb-e5cac050bd644db6b32f1d3af7fa3e1c-8With confounding feet, Leonel Messi fired out of a throng of Milan defenders high into left corner at minute 5, leaving Goalie Christian Abbiati looking like a tree planted in the ground, his vision blocked by his own defenders.

article-2292371-189C5EF3000005DC-744_634x414Just before the half, Messi again caught Abbiati wrong-footed with a low torpedo through defender’s legs that sank Italian hearts. A third curling goal from David Villa marked victory, and a lung-bursting sprint from Jordi Alba, picking up a cross from Dani Alves, made it four.

201303121615585444821-p2The Barcelona Symphony, directed by Messi, played a command performance, overcoming a 2-0 deficit on the away game — a feat never before seen in the Champions League.

With brimming reason, Messi has been named an unprecedented four times best world player. But first, Barcelona had to invest in him.

messi-began-playing-soccer-at-the-age-of-fiveAt 11 years of age, the Argentine showed early promise but suffered from growth hormone deficiency. His dad, a poor steelworker, could not afford it. The legendary Argentine team River Plate recruited Messi but balked at the $900/month treatment.

article-1382260-0BCCEDFD00000578-821_634x516Investment-risking on a potential starlet, FC Barcelona forked over for his treatment and moved him to Spain, where he rose through the ranks of their youth academy.

With consistent admiration from coaches, players and commentators around the world, Messi is perched atop the pyramid of soccer prowess. Any team would love to contract him. They would be willing to pay multiple millions of dollars. But Messi remains loyal to the Catalan kings because he’s grateful: when he was needy, they were there for him.

First you must invest to reap a harvest of blessing. Invest your most precious commodity: time. Pray.

Formerly scavengers, rising up the food chain

Surrounded by opponents, forward Rob Ashcraft dribbles toward goal

Surrounded by opponents, forward Rob Ashcraft dribbles toward goal

Untiringly aggressive, Tex Hagoski shut them down in the field.

Untiringly aggressive, Tex Hagoski shut them down in the field.

They played their hearts out — and at the final whistle Lighthouse Christian Academy had executed the most improbable upset in the league, defeating touch-perfect New Roads 3-2 in varsity soccer.

With girls, freshmen, and inexperienced players on the team, LCA Saints are

Only our team has girls on the team in our league, but with Tori Scribner it doesn't make a difference.

Only our team has girls in our league, but with Tori Scribner it doesn’t make a difference.

understandably bottom-dwelling fish. But somehow this season, they believed in themselves, winning four and tying one. Friday’s game was the crown jewel of the season. New Roads left the field in despair.

These kids who played with unaccustomed verve teach us a lesson in life.

Robert Ashcraft was unstoppable.

Robert Ashcraft was unstoppable.

No matter how many failures, no matter what the man-to-man analysis, you can prevail with spunk and belief.

When you go to prayer today, when you minister, expect the victory. Whatever your shortcomings, whatever your handicaps, remember God grants triumph. Faith is key. Last year, we lost every single game.

For the full story, read http://www.thelighthousechristianacademy.com/saints-embarrass-in-big-upset/

Small victories

Rob Ashcraft poses with Elijah Symonds, who provided the assist.

Rob Ashcraft poses after the game with Elijah Symonds, who provided the assist.

Saints soccer continues to rock and roll.

The Lighthouse Christian Academy entered the Christmas break with its third victory – a scrappy 1-0 win against Wildwood. A handy piece of footwork by Junior Luis Secaira confounded defenders and stunned the goalie, who watched woefully as the ball slotted on the near post.

After the vacation, the Saints have simply been outgunned by vastly superior teams. They lost to league leaders Lennox 0-8 and to New Roads 0-7. To the uninitiated, the defeats appear to spell out an uncommon nosedive.

In reality, the team keeps improving. It’s just hard to take on varsity teams with mostly senior and club players when you have half a team of girls and players from all grades. How are freshman girls going to beat senior boys?

On Monday, the Saints put a thump on the slump. Facing the impeccable Vistamar, the Saints scored in the last minute. Midfielder Elijah “Taz” Symonds chipped from the corner to Freshman Rob Ashcraft, who didn’t err with an unusual karate kick in front of goal.

It was the first time in the history of LCA soccer that the Saints scored against Vistamar, whose players are groomed for soccer from the cradle. With that goal, Lighthouse sent a message that it will not succumb to defeatism. It is no longer the whipping boy of the league.

Though much progress needs to be made, LCA can revel in solid – though incremental — improvement and press on to a glorious future.

“We won!” quipped Junior Tori Scribner, comprehending the significance of the goal, in spite of losing 1-8.

Remaining for the Saints are only four games, and Coach Mike Ashcraft thinks we stand a good chance to win against Rolling Hills in Palos Verdes on Wednesday.

Whatever your stage in life, celebrate the small victories. They lead to big ones!

Handling losing

From Smashing Photo

From Smashing Photo

That's me with the kids!

That’s me with the kids!

We lost Tuesday 8-0. We lost today 8-0. We are facing tougher teams; ours is absorbing injuries. Kids have skipped practices, and the results are manifest on the field. When Lighthouse Christian Academy tied our first soccer game, when won our second 9-2, when we won a

From Via Vigevano

From Via Vigevano: Read closely!

couple more, it was exciting, easy to want to play and put in the effort.

Now it is hard. Kids might want to bail out. But now is exactly the moment of character, the foundation of excellence. If we allow ourselves to become “losers” in our minds, then we will. If not, we will win again this season, and we will win next year!

The reality of life is that everyone loses more than wins. What you do when you lose makes you win.

Faith does not drag down with discouragement. It remains buoyant, hopeful, expectant of good. It persists. It constantly looks for the victory just around the corner.

We pray, then play

DSC_0676

Before the game, prayer in the circle

Before the game, prayer in the circle

MAR VISTA PARK – The origin of Lighthouse Christian Academy’s hard-fought soccer victory Friday was in the small Central American nation of Guatemala.

Sophomore Luis Secaira opened scoring in the 43rd minute, and Freshman Robert DSC_0793Ashcraft finished off the game in the 76th minute. Both were born in Guatemala.

At game three in the 2012-13 season, the varsity Saints are 2-0-1.

DSC_0684After both teams stale-mated in the first half, fleet-footed Secaira put Lighthouse ahead early in the second half. Chasing an audacious through-ball from Stopper Tori Scribner, he bolted past Wildwood defense, rounded the goalie, slotted gently into the net — and fell down, the wind knocked out of him by an opponent’s elbow at the start of the 40-yard dash.

Lighthouse fans — out in force for the proximity of the playing field — erupted in cheers. They were already savoring a second DSC_0717victory, after a dismal season with no wins last year.

But the elation turned to anxiety 13 minutes later as Wildwood struck on a free kick just outside of the area, and the ball was headed into the Saints’ net.

DSC_0770Tied at 1-1, both teams fought an exhausting battle to move forward into striking range. Wildwood was unlucky to see hard-won penetration frustrated as a low shot on the far post bounced out and was cleared.

DSC_0742Meanwhile, the Saints relied mostly on counter-attack with the mind-boggling speed of forward Wyatt Hodgson, a tenacious competitor and natural athlete.

With four minutes to the final whistle, midfield magician Elijah Symonds – a.k.a. the human catapult – hurled a throw-in into the area. Surrounded by three defenders, Rob headed the ball backwards and into the net.

Wildwood players scrambled frantically for DSC_0737the equalizer. When the ref called the game, the Saints broke out in celebration. “We’re undefeated,” chimed Tori, who played nearly faultlessly.

While the Guatemalans scored the goals, at the DSC_0720other end of the field a Mexican American was ensuring the victory. Ace Goal-Keeper Adrian Brizuela blunted Wildwood attacking weapons with intelligent, hair-raising saves.

DSC_0655The freshman threw himself time after time with nervy kamikaze dives that only the most fearless goalies pull off.  While saves at both ends of the field were almost equal (Saints 7, Wildwood 6), the types executed by Adrian were technically more difficult — and gutsy.

Playing co-ed against all boys, the Saints gave a lesson in mental fortitude and doggedness. Refusing to tire, they dug deep to find the inner resources to grab the victory in what was their sternest test to DSC_0757date. With every match, improvement can be seen.

Looming ahead on Tuesday is the biggest challenge yet: the speed demons and master-class passers of Vista Mar. Can Lighthouse with half a team of beginners muster enough grit, concentration and determination to wrangle out a satisfying result?

**** Pictures thanks to Susie and Jennifer Scribner!

Scheduled victory

Enjoying In-N-Out afterwards is a Lighthouse sports tradition. Nate (rt) proved his Fall injury has not hampered his bursts of speed on defense.

Enjoying In-N-Out afterwards is a Lighthouse sports tradition. Nate (rt) proved his Fall injury has not hampered his bursts of speed on defense.

Rob and Adrian were decisive

Adrian and Rob were decisive

Tex cut surgically through their defense.

Tex cut surgically through their defense.

People are congratulating “my” 9-2 win last night. I just shrug. The truth is that “I” didn’t win with Lighthouse Christian Academy soccer.

The AD did.

The AD — Athletics Director, for those who don’t know the lingo — won the game. She scheduled it.

Pretty much all I did was shuffle our lineup so as to NOT score any more goals. In the first 20 minutes — one-fourth of the game — we had made 7 goals. So to lessen the humiliation for the other team, I pulled off good players and threw on beginners. I pulled attackers back into defense.

The lopsided victory was no coaching genius. It was guaranteed even before we started simply because we had superior players.

It felt like the gospel. God as AD schedules us trials that we are destined to win. We may celebrate on the field, but it was God who ordained everything to begin with.

To be sure, God schedules defeats for us too. To teach us humility, patience, effort, dependence on Him, etc.

You can have your cosmovision of universal randomness. I like being a Christian.

Hey, Coach!

Lighthouse Christian Academy lost every single soccer game last year. This year, it took us one minute to score our first goal, and we finished tied 2-2 against a team that won 8 last year. I’m ecstatic because I’m the coach now.

The kids can’t contain their happiness after the game

I have coached before, first on middle school team, then park league. Then I stepped back from coaching for six months. My kids were on other teams, and I observed the other coaches, who are better than I. One is a Scot with the highest level accreditation for coaching. I’ve eavesdropped and spied.

No use thinking I know it all. I can always pick up something new from others, even if it’s what NOT to do (like cuss).

I see that life coaching is in

We prayed with the other team before the game

vogue. I’ve always enjoyed having a FREE life coach: he’s called “my pastor.” As a generation has distanced itself from the church, people look down their noses upon the pastor and his unwanted advice. As a result, divorce has skyrocketed; kids are cutting themselves in unheard-of numbers as the home disintegrates.

Because we are a small Christian school, we have great players and total beginners.

I’m not saying I’m better than anyone; I just enjoy the benefits of being among the dwindling number of Americans who still go to church. A coach — a pastor — is there to bring out the best in you.

Piano movers and piano players

Tex and Luis, after the blow to the nose.

A complete soccer team has its burly bruisers and its exquisite finesse players who can deliver a ball directly to the feet of a goal-scorer through a forest of opponents.

So Tex smashed Luis at high school practice today so hard that his nose bled out of both nostrils. I had to remind him to take out competitors, not teammates. Of course he did it unconsciously; without thinking the football player manifests.

A good soccer team is like the church. Everybody’s talents compliment and complete ministry in the church. No one’s is superior, nor inferior. We need people. Reaching out over the blogosphere is fabulous, but sometimes you need flesh and blood right nearby. I have prayed for other bloggers, but sometimes I need a church member to fix my washer. It is the combined effort that wins games.

It is the combination of so many different people that makes the church triumph over Satan. Surely, the church is guilty of so many crimes (judging others, drama, for example). I don’t like its ugly moments, but there’s nothing to take its place. Church is like marriage: detractors abound, but nothing better has every replaced it.

Need a confidence booster?

Midfielder Gerrard

Comeback king Steven Gerrard rated himself a modest 6 out of 10 before facing Sweden in a friendly. He was lauded for humility.

By contrast, Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic boasted he’s a 10 and then backed it up with a mind-boggling overhead kick from an acute angle that has gawkers jabbering about “best ever in history.”

from 30 yards

Nobody downgrades Gerrard, who got his 100th cap for England, but his performance was lackluster. And nobody is criticizing Ibrahimovic’s behemoth ego after his astonishing performance.

I never believed in myself because there wasn’t really anybody around me as a kid who believed in me. My self confidence bloomed late, starting in college. Just for me to accept the challenge to pioneer a church in Guatemala was a huge step of self confidence/ confidence in God.

Get around people who will build you up, not tear you down. Hopefully, you can find such people at a church. People who tear others down are insecure themselves; they feel better about themselves cutting you down.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another — Pr. 27:17 NIV.

This is one of the uses of the church, that like-minded believers would encourage you and share talents and attitudes with you to make you better. Ideally this support network is a far cry from the hypocritical society painted by many.

We live in an age when growing droves are leaving the church. Has it lost its relevancy? Pundits may prattle, but reform, not replacement, may be the order of the day.

Soccer’s scarface

When Frank Ribery was two, his dad got into a car accident. Hundreds of stitches patched his face back up. He was lucky to be alive.

At no time did he let discouragements hold him down. He is a topflight footballer, now playing at Bayern Munich. He’s a delight to watch play. His trademark stutter-step and cutting in with the ball at his feet has made him a leader of the French national team. “This is my face; it is the one people know me by. I am happy with my face. Why shouldn’’t I be happy?” he was quoted by the Sun.

He is an example of overcoming difficulties, of moving on after tragedy.

A sense of destiny

In Spain’s semifinal triumph over Portugal in the recent Euro Cup, Cesc Fabregas experienced “a funny feeling, a premonition,” before the game that he would score the winner in a penalty shootout. His was the fifth shot, and the daisy chopper ricocheted off the post and into the goal, out of reach of the goalie.

Now, I don’t know if Fabregas is New Age, psychic or just plain creepy. But he exhibits something that you as a Christian leader must not lose: a profound sense of destiny.

You won’t be able to carry on your labors if you forget that God has destined you to success. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do — Eph. 2:10 NIV.

A sense of destiny will carry you through the valley of the shadow of death. It will keep you looking up as you suffer blow after blow. A right focus will sustain your courage and encouragement.

Though I’m suspicious of Fabregas’ source of inspiration, I admire the simple fact that he plays inspired soccer. We must deliver inspired ministry.

Teams, not individuals, win

Fernando Torres, winner of the Golden Boot

Spain showcased masterclass soccer yesterday to beat Italy 4-0 and become the first nation to win three major titles consecutively: Euro Cup, World Cup, Euro Cup. And it did so without a clash of egos.

By contrast, Netherlands melted down in group stage and fell well short of expectations. Arjen Robben ripped his jersey off and stormed out of the stadium  because he was upset over being substituted by the coach. The rifts were evident.

Unity leads to victory

Spain demonstrated how to win. Top-notch players weren’t selfish, setting up goals for others instead of taking it themselves. Fernando Torres humbly hooked a pass to a comrade on a shot he could have easily made himself. It was the last goal of Cup. Such selflessness could have cost him the Golden Boot award.

This team triumph is a lesson for the church. Our culture tells us that individuals get the victory (Superman, Rambo and a host of movies promote this myth). But the Bible tells us it is His church, a collection of people, that will prevail. I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. — Mt. 16:18 NIV.

To achieve this utterly crucial unity (see Acts for examples of unity = revival), there is a need for humility, always out of vogue with the flesh. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. — Lu. 14:11 NIV. Robben should learn from the Bible.

Wayne Rooney and visualization

They don’t give Wayne Rooney any credit for soccer intelligence. But maybe he’s not as dumb as they say — they call him a “natural” player (no thinking involved).

Maybe he´s not as dumb as they say. Part of his formula for success is to visualize himself doing well the night before. He’s so serious about this mental preparation that he even goes to staff and asks which uniform they will be using the next day. Visualization is the cutting edge of sports psychology: to block out distractions, knock down discouragements and steel up nerve. Once on the field, the player enjoys a heightened level of concentration.

What is the difference between visualization and prayer? Not much. The biggest difference is that we actually have God involved too.

Visualization is a significant element in prayer. When you confess with faith, you see yourself triumphing beforehand. You bat down depression, failure, and fear of failure. Then you spring out of your prayer closet ravenously ready to grab blessing, revival, favor, and God’s help. He is pleased by this kind of faith.

In the most exhilarating goal of the English Premier League this year, Rooney fired an overhead kick, squeezed between two defenders, to win against crosstown rivals Manchester City. The eye-popper silenced critics, who were downgrading Rooney’s status of legend.

Today, blast an overhead goal — with the power of God — in whatever you do. Shut up naysayers with some positive visualizing in prayer.

Foresight, hindsight, no sight

My little kids soccer team bombed its final. If I would have known the defense was going to fall apart, I would have drilled them to tedium on practice. But since I didn’t FORESEE, I did other drills. The adage: HINDSIGHT  is 20-20. It means exactly what happened to my team. I saw the problem during the game, not before the game. Coaches win because of FORESIGHT.

Christianity is neither foresight nor hindsight. It is no sight. We live by faith, not by sight. – 1 Cor. 5:7 NIV.

I’m not saying to hurtle forward recklessly without planning, wisdom or counsel. Yes, there is a role for FORESIGHT. But with God, sometimes it is NOT FORESIGHT that is key, but prayer.

Prayer changes the problems you cannot FORESEE. It is NO SIGHT because it takes care of those things we cannot anticipate.

In regards to my soccer team, I don’t think prayer would have given us the victory. Prayer is for more important matters: saving souls, wresting finances, bringing healings. The soccer story is only an illustration for what is truly important.

It’s good to have foresight and hindsight in a limited capacity. It’s also good to let God take care of problems you can’t even see: pray!

God’s investment

Manchester City hadn’t won a national championship for 44 years. That’s a loooooong time. But this underdog English team just flouted critics and one-upped their overbearing, always-winning neighbors, Manchester United. I’m not a City fan, but I like people beating the odds.

Their victory was purchased at a high price. Oil-rich owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan dished out an estimated $2 billion to assemble some of the best players in the world on his new team. It’s the new reality of soccer. Whoever pays most, wins.

But the most interesting thing about this is the comparison to the Kingdom of God. Because our Heavenly Father bought us for His team too. And His purchase was for extremely much more than $2 billion. It was the blood of His one and only Son. Think about it, if you have undiminishable riches, then any price is nothing. But then if you have only one son, that’s going to hurt you to fork over.

So you have been bought with a HIGH PRICE. And you are part of God’s winning team. Live inspired today, tomorrow and forever. Let this knowledge motivate you to minister your “utmost for His highest.”

Admirable humility

Lionel Messi is arguably the best soccer player in the world at present. In 2,009, 2010 and 2011, he won FIFA’s best player of the year award. He has won five Spanish league titles with his club FC Barcelona, as well as three Champion’s Leagues. A lefty, Messi weaves through the world’s best defenders as if he lived in another dimension.

Strangely, he is humble.

The Argentine feels awkward when given an award at ceremonies, and he never talks trash about competitors. He always recognizes a debt of gratitude to his club, FC Barcelona, because it paid for his treatment of growth hormone deficiency when he was 11 years old.

In an post-Joe Namath age when super-athletes trumpet their own greatness, Messi is breath of fresh air. He is an example of Christian character even though he is not an evangelical Christian.

Why? Because he is grateful and humble. When we pray for finances and revival, we must remain grateful for what God has already given us, we must remain humble in patiently praying and waiting on God. Prayer is humility — it is an acknowledgement of our inadequacies and our dependence on a Higher Source.

From losing to winning

When you’ve got a winning team, it’s easy to keep it up. When you’ve got a losing team, it’s easy to keep losing. But how do you go from losing to winning? This is one the most difficult feats. Probably 98% of ministers and businesses would like the answer.

Too many books promising success are written by successful people! They promise the secret to success but, in fact, often miss it themselves because, as I said, once you have success, it’s too easy to maintain. Those who enjoy success don’t really know what the key is. They just enjoy it. They write books without knowing. We think they know, but they don’t. We buy the book looking for the key and don’t find the key. Not enough has been written about turnarounds.

I had a winning team in soccer. At the same time, I was coaching a losing team. With the losing team, we worked the defensive line so hard that they actually starting blunting the opponents’ attacks. And the team started winning!

Two secrets: Identify what is deficient and work on that until it is corrected. Secondly, as Jim Collins says, remember that the worst enemy of “excellent” is “good” — not “bad.” In other words, if you are doing good, it is too easy to congratulate yourself and desist from improvement. Break up your status quo and don’t settle for anything less than “excellent.”

As Christian leader, a good place to start changing may be prayer. How much time do you pray? What is the intensity of your prayers? It’s not some marketing trick or cutting-edge ministry that’s going to draw in people. It’s God. So a back-to-the-basics approach may be best. Of course, I can’t address every situation in this short blog. But I can address the heart of a leader who longs for greater things. Keep longing, because that is part of the solution. Pray and let God guide you to the solution.

God picked you

One of my teams wins, the other loses, so it’s not the coaching that makes the difference. It’s the kids.

As I watched my Napoli team demolish their foes, I realized the victory lay not in brilliant tactical coaching or in superior training. The victory was won when I picked the kids. Simply put, I picked players who worked well as a team, each efficiently executing his position.

God picked you for His team! And of course, He has a winning team. For we know, brothers loved by God, that HE HAS CHOSEN YOU. — 1 Thes. 1:4 NIV (my caps).

You were chosen for salvation. You were chosen for ministry. God picked a winning team, and you are part of it! Let motivation fill your heart as you face another day of unappreciated labor. Your unapplauded work for the Kingdom is part of the victory.

In soccer, people cheer the goal scorers. But soccer launches from the defense. It progresses forward through the midfield and only culminates with the strikers. Everybody who gets a touch on the ball has his part in the victory. You are fulfilling the plan of God.