Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Lesson in Bible Study

“The passage for our evening family Bible story time was Acts 20. I read:

Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!" … The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. (Acts 20:9-10, 12)

We then acted out the scene, emphasizing the truth that nothing is too hard for God—even raising the dead.

At the close, I quizzed our four-year-old daughter: “Carrie Anne, what was the most important thing you learned this evening from our Bible story?” She thought and thought, and then she said, “Close the window before you go to sleep.”

From Blaine Allen, Before You Quit, p. 24

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Triumph Ye Heavens!

Triumph, ye heavens! rejoice ye with high adoration!
Sing to the Lord, to the Saviour, in glad exultation!
Angels give ear!
God unto men draweth near,
Bringing to lost ones salvation.

God in man’s nature! O mystery past comprehending!
Now is the temple thrown wide
       and the incense ascending!
Christ is the way!
We who were once far away,
Now at His footstool are bending.

Hast Thou, O Holy One, deigned of my need
       to be thinking?
Chosen me, called me,
       the waters of life to be drinking?
Shall not my mind
Fullness of blessing here find,
Deep in humility sinking?

Faithful Immanuel! let me Thy glories be telling;
Ever, my Saviour, be Thou
       in mine inmost heart dwelling.
With me abide;
Teach me to stay at Thy side,
Where the love-fountain is welling.

Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769)

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Expanded CFP

The call for an expanded college playoff is getting louder in a few places, mostly in places where people feel that their team got robbed.

Okay, mostly in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

What has passed quietly by is the fact that every single one of the top eight teams had a chance to play their way in. In other words, we had an expanded playoff and all but one team has no complaints. And that team would have no complaints had they not lost to Pitt and Michigan (by 473 or something I think it was).

The top 4 (Alabama, Clemson, OSU, and Washington) made it in by winning games.

Take the next four in the previous CFP Poll.

#5 Michigan would have been a top four with a win at OSU. They lost. They don’t get to go on. You don’t get redos.

#6 Wisconsin played #7 Penn State. This is arguably the team that got robbed because the winner didn’t make it. My previous comments stand true that it had to be a big win, and it wasn’t. Of course, they lost to Pitt and lost bigly to Michigan. But they had a chance to play their way in and didn’t get it done.

#8 Colorado played Washington and lost. They don’t get to go on.

The consensus, correct I believe, is that the CFP got the best four teams. The teams that didn’t make it all have blemishes that prevented them from making it.

So an expanded playoff took place this year. It worked just like it should have.

There is also a renewed call for having to win your conference to get in to the CFP. This is mostly coming from Penn State, but others are chiming in as well.

Someone that I can’t recall pointed out last night that Penn State better be careful what they wish for. There is a good chance that they could go 11-1 next year with their only loss being a close game at OSU who goes on to win the B1G. I think that is the most likely scenario for next season for both teams.

And that means Penn State’s chance next year requires the ability for the committee to jump over conference champions for better teams.

In other words, the very thing Penn State wants now is the thing that will hang them next year.

I am mixed on both of these issues.

I go back and forth on whether an eight team playoff would be good. This year it worked out fine. Next year it might not.

I think an expanded playoff devalues the regular season. Michigan would have gone to OSU knowing it didn’t matter whether they won or lost; they were in either way most likely (even with the Iowa embarrassment). While a rivalry game is always big, it is less big when you don’t have to win to be the national champion.

An expanded playoff devalues the conference title games. Why play a game if all the conference winners get in anyway?

However, an eight-team playoff would give some room in seasons where teams don’t play each other, or where a deserving conference champion loses out.

Speaking of conference champions, I think there is a strong case to be made that you can’t be the national champion unless you are first a conference champion. And by and large, I think that is true. OSU should have won against Penn State, and perhaps would have except for a call or two that went against them. (Remember Meyer’s tirades about officiating? Yeah, me neither.) But OSU seems a better team than Penn State.

If the NCAA goes to an eight team playoff, perhaps they need to do away with conference title games.

In the end, college football is good because of the debates that take place. There will always be questions about whether Michigan, or Colorado, or Oklahoma, or Penn State could have beaten Clemson, or Ohio State, or Washington in a playoff. There might even be a few debates about whether any of these teams could beat Alabama. Those debates will mostly involve people too drunk to speak clearly.

In the end, we have the four best teams. Let’s line up and play football.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The College Football Playoff

The college football season is down to the end. Two weeks ago everything was a mess when the #2, 3, and 4 all lost the same weekend as Washington lost to USC, Clemson lost to Pitt on a last second field goal, and Michigan lost to Iowa on the same thing.

Now it’s the final weekend and the playoff picture has been significantly clarified in the past few weeks as Louisville and Michigan stumbled to the finish line.

Both were, at some point, considered among the top 4. Some thought Louisville was better than Clemson even though Clemson beat them. Louisville put that argument to bed when they got embarrassed at Houston.

Michigan was the best team in the country according to some, or at least the only team that could challenge Alabama. Then they lost to Iowa.

Yes, you read that right. Iowa.

Losing to Iowa isn’t the worst thing in the world.’ (Cough … Appalachian State … Cough). But it’s close when you are trying to stake a claim to a top 4 spot in the CFP.

Then Michigan lost to Ohio State, in a game that was essentially a playoff game:  You win and you are in; you lose and you are out. Michigan lost. They’re out.

There’s a lot of ways this could theoretically play out, but there’s only a few within the realm of legitimacy. So headed into the final weekend, here’s how I see it.

#1 Alabama plays #15 Florida for the SEC Championship tomorrow. With a win, ‘Bama is the #1 seed. With a loss, they might still be the #1 seed, that is if the world doesn’t come to an end. It is likely that there is a greater chance of the world ending than ‘Bama losing to Florida.

#2 OSU is idle. They have the strange benefit of not playing a conference championship which means they can’t lose. Given that, it will be hard to justify demoting by three spots (from #2 to #5) an 11-1 team that doesn’t lose, especially when that team is widely considered a top 4 team. 

#3 Clemson plays Virginia Tech. With a win they are in, probably at #3. A loss almost certainly eliminates Clemson (and the ACC) from the CFP, unless the world ends (see above), in which case there will be no CFP.

Now the hard work begins.

#4 Washington (11-1) plays #8 Colorado (10-2) for the Pac 12 Championship. If Washington wins, they have a strong claim. They most likely become the fourth team, unless they win close and the B1G championship between Wisconsin and Penn State is decisive. Then the B1G champ might pass over Washington.

#5 in the CFP rankings is Michigan. Michigan is out except in one narrow scenario (keep reading). They are out because they lost very badly to Iowa and then lost to OSU. For those who want an expanded playoff, remember Michigan went to Columbus knowing a CFP berth was on the line and they lost. That was essentially a playoff game. There was no margin for error. They had a chance to play their way to the next round and they didn’t get it done. Having lost the game that would have gotten them in, they have no legitimate call for a rematch. If OSU was their only loss, they might still have claim, but an extremely weak one. But they lost to Iowa. They will have a nice New Year’s trip somewhere. It just won’t be the CFP.

#6 and #7, Wisconsin and Penn State play for the B1G championship. Winner has a strong claim to the CFP if Washington loses. Otherwise, the winner ends up at #5 or #6 and out. Of course, Michigan beat both of these teams (Wisconsin in a close one and Penn State in a blowout). But Michigan is still the fourth place (maybe third if you want to argue about it) B1G team because they didn’t win the games when everything was on the line. You don’t lose to Iowa, finish third in your division, and still have a claim to be the best team in the country.

#8 Colorado only gets in with a decisive win over Washington, a close game between Wisconsin and Penn State, and a kind-hearted committee. 

No one else has a shot.

So here’s my final call:

Alabama wins and is the #1 seed. OSU is idle and is the #2 or #3 seed. Clemson wins and stays #3 unless they win big in which case they might be #2. (#2 and #3 don’t matter since they play each other.) Washington wins and they are #4.

Now the “If”s.

If Washington loses a close one, a decisive winner of Wisconsin-Penn State gets in as the B1G champ.

If Colorado wins decisively over Washington and Wisconsin-Penn State is close and ugly, Colorado gets in at #4 as the Pac 12 champ.

“Wait,” you say, “Michigan beat Colorado.”

True. That’s the nightmare scenario for the committee. But here’s the question: Do you take a fourth place team in their conference over a conference champion in another conference even though the conference champion lost head to head? I don’t know. Football wise, probably.

But do you take a fourth place team over a conference champion in their own conference? I don’t see how.

So the B1G winner gets in over Michigan unless there is a total disaster in Indianapolis. Yes, Michigan beat them both, but championships matter to the committee.

My guess is that scenario remains purely hypothetical. Michigan’s only chance is that Colorado wins narrowly over Washington, Wisconsin-Penn State is an embarrassment in a close, low-scoring game, and the committee wants to avoid being harangued mercilessly by Michigan fans who apparently don’t think regular season games count for much. If so, the committee slides a two-loss Michigan team into the #4 slot over their own conference champ and over the Pac 12 conference champ. That’s a tall order.

In the end, I think ‘Bama, Clemson, and Washington win in a fairly decisive manner and the top four remain as they are right now.

If this plays out this way, and all remains as it is healthwise for these teams, I think Alabama beats Washington and Clemson beats OSU in a relatively close game. Then I think we have a rematch of last year’s title game.

If it doesn’t play out this way, forget I ever said it.

We will see on Sunday.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A Primer on Christmas Shopping

Christmas is a time of giving … and getting. The older we get, it is likely that we become less concerned about getting. We probably enjoy giving more than getting, particularly to our children to see their joy.

Gift giving can be a wonderful thing and a token of our love for those around us. It can help us to enjoy the life that God has given to us. But there are some cautions we must be aware of.

First, gift giving can feed idolatry. At the heart of Christmas lists can be greed, a desire for what we do not have. There is nothing wrong with wanting something we do not have. There is something wrong with allowing our desires to become idols. After Christmas, the inevitable if unspoken comparisons take place. The Bible says that greed is a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). A sign in the national park says, “Don’t feed the bears.” Perhaps a sign at the toy store should say, “Don’t feed the idols.”

Second, gift giving can expose the recipient to danger. 1 Timothy 6 warns about the dangers that accrue from a love of money and a desire to get rich. It reminds us that this world is temporary (you can’t take it with you, v. 6) and the joy “stuff” brings only last for a while. It reminds us that “stuff” brings temptation and snare which plunge men into ruin and destruction. It causes people to wander from the faith and pierce themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:7-11). So don’t think of that gift as the next best and greatest thing. Think of it as a bomb, waiting to go off and drive the recipient away from the faith.

Third, gift giving can attach the recipient to a dying world. The more stuff we have, and the nicer stuff we have, the more attached we are to it. Most of us past the age of three or four aren’t attached to the paper wrapping and the bows. We want that gone. But we might get attached to what was in the paper. Many people help others lay up treasures on earth, and as a result strengthen the ties to earth. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure it, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). That is why he says, “Lay up your treasure in heaven … not on earth.”

Fourth, gift giving can decrease sacrifice for missions. When Jesus called us, he called us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). He calls us to leave things from his sake and the gospel’s sake (Mark 10:30). It is hard to preach sacrifice to people who judge Christmas by the pile of stuff under the tree. It is hard to preach sacrifice to people who do not want to leave their stuff.

Gift giving is not bad. It is not sinful. God both gives good gifts and commands us to give them.

But we should be aware of their dangers. We must work to cultivate a heart of contentment and satisfaction and a life of commitment and sacrifice.

So in this season of gift giving, be loving and generous. And be cautious. Do not doom your loved ones to idolatrous and dangerous attachment that may decrease their sacrifice for the gospel.

Now get out there and finish that Christmas shopping