Reflecting on Passion After the World Cup

By Scott Armstrong

Many readers of this site know that my family and I were able to attend the World Cup in Russia this past month.  It was a remarkable time and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Perhaps the thing I remember most is the passion that so many people had for their countries and for football/soccer.

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I saw it in the literally tens of thousands of Mexicans and Colombians that traveled, dressed up, and chanted for their teams at all times of the day or night. I saw it when the host team, Russia, unexpectedly beat Spain in the Round of 16, and the Moscow streets erupted in joy.

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But perhaps I did not personally experience the many levels of passion at the World Cup more so than in the two games we were able to go to.  Before the first game, June 26, we were caught up in the fervor of the Danish fans who filled the Metro stations and the streets chanting and singing for their team and country.  Sadly, the passion they and their French counterparts showed before and during the game was not shared by their national teams.  France v. Denmark has been widely recognized as the worst game of the tournament.

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We knew something was wrong when the lineups came out and hardly any of the stars were starting.  No Pogba or Mbappe?!  Not even Lloris or Umtiti?! Well, at least the subs will play their hearts out, right? Nope.  Both teams knew that they just needed a tie to go through to the next round.  So, they played like it was a scrimmage.  No urgency.  No one trying too much.  All of the neutral fans grew restless and even angry throughout the two hours.  We paid money for this? We came all this way to watch this charade?!

Did you know that the word “passion” originates from the Latin word “passio” which is closely related to the Greek root “path” meaning “to suffer”? By the time the game ended 0-0, the entire stadium was raining down boos on the teams for such a disgraceful performance. It is truly hard to explain how disappointed we all were.  I actually started to cry because I was so sad our family had chosen to go to THAT of all games.  Bleck.

But all was not lost.  The final game we attended was July 3 in Moscow.  Round of 16 – Colombia v. England.  I kid you not: I gathered my family together before we headed to the stadium and prayed that God would give us a great game.  I did not care what the outcome was: I just wanted it to be memorable.

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And boy was it!   Controversy was constant with a penalty being awarded and both teams pushing and jockeying for position at every free kick.  Yerri Mina, a Colombian defender, tied the game up 1-1 in stoppage time at the end of the second half while the stadium full of mostly Colombian supporters went wild.  Then, it went to penalties, where England has a history of crashing and burning.  But not today, folks! Nearly three hours after the first kick, England buried their final penalty and proceeded to the next round while both fans and the team exuberantly rejoiced.  It was a phenomenal game and the most energy I have ever experienced at a soccer game by far (and I’ve been to dozens in many different countries!).

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I should add that, as we got ready for penalties and the supporters of each team were cheering and hugging and even praying, I started to cry again.  But this time it was out of unbridled happiness that we had gotten to be a part of an event like that.

What was the difference between the two games? Essentially one thing: passion.

I know the circumstances dictate that there is less to play for at certain times in the tournament.  But this is the World Cup.  If you are going to step on the field, you should give it your all.

This is a belief that propels me in my daily life and guides me in my spiritual walk. If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  Live passionately, and especially let the source of that passion be more than football or food or movies or your job or even your family.

The only wellspring of passion that will never run dry or disappoint is Jesus Christ. He offers abundant life (Jn. 10:10) and glorious salvation (Jn. 3:16).  In my case, he has put a calling on my life to preach – and do so cross-culturally – so that I cannot hold it in; like Jeremiah, it is a fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9).

Anyone who has met me knows that I am passionate about futbol.  But I pray that everyone knows I am even more passionate about Christ and his mission.  He, after all, gave himself for us on the cross in what has become known as – you guessed it – the Passion.

If you have not yet experienced that compelling, driving force in your life, allow the one, true Source of passion to instill his fire in you. You – and all those around you – will truly never be the same!

2018 World Cup

Hello, readers, and greetings from the 2018 World Cup!  Our family has been saving and planning this vacation for five years now and we are ecstatic.  We have tickets to two games and are hoping to obtain tickets to a third while we are in Russia.  We arrived yesterday (June 25) in Moscow, and we are recovering from some jetlag before we attend our first game today (France v. Denmark)! 

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In the last month, some friends and acquaintances have asked why we would dedicate the time and money to go to Russia and attend the World Cup, especially if the United States did not qualify this time (I am still embarrassed about that to be honest!).  Others have wondered why I occasionally write about sports in this blog that normally is dedicated to missions, leadership, etc.  The futbol (soccer) fans who read this understand completely, so I do not need to persuade you all.  But to the others, here are the reasons the World Cup is so important to me, and why we have written about it in this blog for three straight cycles (2010, 2014, and 2018): 

  1. Culture – and cultures – fascinate me. While in the London airport we were with people from seven different countries all going to the World Cup.  We all look different, speak different languages, and have different customs for sure.  But there is a respect – and even appreciation – for differences here that can prove instructive in a world of so much ethnocentrism.  How can we learn from each other? How do these other people enrich my life and understanding?
  2. Passion, passion, passion. A life without passion is a sad existence!  I confess that I have a hard time comprehending how people can float through life without urgency or excitement.  And admit it: the World Cup is THE place to find fans and players and coaches that are crazy about futbol and their country! Did you see the Brazilian coach who celebrated so hard that he tripped all over himself after a late goal against Costa Rica? Or what about the Panamanians celebrating their first-ever goal in the World Cup, even when they lost the game 6-1? Did you know that Mexico’s goal against Germany arguably caused an earthquake in Mexico City due to the euphoria in that mega-city? Yeah, passion.
  3. Sports can be a microcosm of life. Sports are results-based.  If you succeed, you are rewarded; if you underachieve, there are consequences. This is not to say that the most talented team always wins; sometimes the most well-prepared underdogs can pull off some stunners (See: Iceland v. Argentina). But even that gives us a lesson. There are so many things I have learned from sports about teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and integrity.  The World Cup will bring out the best and the worst in many players and fans and coaches.  It puts a magnifying glass on our character.

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Those are just three of the many reasons that I write about sports and the World Cup in a blog that hopes to help Transform the Globe.  I could go on and on, but it is now time for me to head to the stadium – who knows what cool things we will experience there and in the next week!

The Art of Turning

The World Cup is here! In the past eight years of our Spanish blog, that has meant that we have highlighted various nations and their cultures, while offering perspectives on the state of the Church in each country as well as some prayer requests. See, for example, Pamela Alvarado’s write-up on Ghana or Mario Josué López’s article on Croatia.

This year we will be doing things a bit differently. Every now and then during the next month we will be offering articles and sometimes videos dealing with different aspects (namely the “culture” side) of the World Cup.  So, to start us off, read this testimony by a former Premier League Player who God called to be a Pastor.  The following is an excerpt froma Christianity Today article originally published in June 2016.

By Gavin Peacock

One skill my dad taught me as a child was the art of turning with a soccer ball. I was never going to be tall, so he would take me into our backyard in Southeast London and teach me how to quickly switch directions with the ball at my feet. “The big guys won’t be able to catch you!” he said. For hours I would practice turning to the left and right, dribbling in and out of cones, spinning this way and that. My dad was right: the art of turning served me well. Many of the goals I scored in the years to come were a result of that lesson.

I was not brought up in a Christian home and never heard the gospel preached. Sunday school gave way to Sunday soccer. The most biblical form of instruction I received was in assemblies at the Church of England school that I attended. I was a kid who intensely wanted to achieve in the classroom and on the field. My father taught me the necessary self-control, discipline, and skills to succeed in education and in the professional sports arena.

At age 16, I left school and signed a professional contract with Premier League Queens Park Rangers (QPR). I had achieved the goal—and I wasn’t really happy. I was playing for the England Youth National Team, and it wasn’t long before I broke into the starting eleven at QPR. But I was an insecure young man in the cutthroat world of professional sport. Soccer was my god. If I played well on a Saturday I was high, if I played poorly I was low. My sense of well-being depended entirely on my performance. I soon realized that achieving the goal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

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Turning to Christ

Then, when I was 18, God intervened in my life, the first of two dramatic turning points. I was still struggling to find purpose, so I decided to attend a local Methodist church one Sunday evening. I don’t remember what the minister preached on, but afterward he invited me to his house, where he and his wife hosted a weekly youth Bible study.

I decided to return to the Bible study the following week and the next, and I began to hear the gospel for the first time. I realized that my biggest problem wasn’t whether I met the disapproval of a 20,000-strong crowd on Saturday; my biggest problem was my sin and the disapproval of almighty God. I realized that the biggest obstacle to happiness was that soccer was king instead of Jesus, who provided a perfect righteousness for me. I realized what Augustine had expressed many years before in his Confessions: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Over time, my eyes were opened through that Sunday meeting, and I turned, repented, and believed the gospel. MY HEART STILL BURNED FOR SOCCER, BUT IT BURNED FOR CHRIST MORE.  

In professional sports, the highs and lows of life are extreme, very close together, and very public. The scrutiny is intense. Christian maturity is a slow process, but in the world of professional sport, your slow sanctification is on show. You can sign a lucrative contract one day, and your career could be finished by one tackle the next day. Those were thrilling and testing days, filled with massive highs and lows, cup finals and promotions, defeat and relegation. I experienced the full gamut as a believer.

Uncertainty plagues the professional soccer player. On one level the uncertainty and drama spur men on to play their best; on another level they cause deep insecurity. That used to be me as a young man, but as a Christian I now feared the Lord more than the crowd. Soccer wasn’t my idol anymore.

Turning to Ministry

A door opened after my retirement for a broadcasting career with the BBC, and it wasn’t long before I was covering weekly shows, like Match of the Day, for several million UK viewers. It was a job that found its apex at the 2006 World Cup. Yet shortly afterward the second turning point came: the call to pastoral ministry.

Until then I had always had opportunities for Christian witness as a soccer player and broadcaster, but never had the urge to preach. Then, while reading though the pastoral Epistles, I began to feel a strong desire to pursue pastoral ministry. My church affirmed the call, and after a period of testing, I knew I was going to give up a second dream career for ministry. In 2008, I left the shores of England. Within weeks I went from speaking on TV about David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to writing papers on John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards.

All those years ago, my earthly father taught me the art of turning, but it was my heavenly Father who turned me first to Christ and then to preach his gospel. Turning from sin and trusting in Christ for salvation isn’t just a one-time initial event; it is the substance of the Christian life. This is a message the church needs to recover. And so, I continue to turn and teach others to turn.

Gavin Peacock is missions pastor at Calvary Grace Church in Alberta and coauthor of The Grand Design: Male and Female He Created Them.

Guatemala Volcano Response – You Can Help

On Sunday, 3 June, the Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala erupted, killing more than 69 people, a number that is expected to rise. Fast-moving avalanches of rock and ash tore down the mountain, reaching temperatures as high as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Villages in three provinces — Chimaltenango, Escuintla, and Sacatepéquez — were covered with ash and debris. The full extent of the damage is still unknown as rescue efforts and rehabilitation have been hindered by further eruptions and rain. 

People affected by this disaster need your help. 

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GIVE NOW

Entire communities have been destroyed, and Nazarene brothers and sisters are among those who have lost loved ones. A team of Nazarene volunteers from nearby communities arrived in Escuintla on Monday to visit shelters and distribute emergency medical supplies, but the needs are still great and urgent.

It will be a long time before those affected are able to recover or return to what may seem normal; entire homes and livelihoods were engulfed. The loss will linger for many years. By supporting the Mesoamerica Disaster Relief fund, you are coming alongside local churches to provide for urgent needs now and support long-term recovery efforts into the future. 

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The needs are great and recovery could take years.

GIVE NOW

How You Can Help 

PRAY

Please pray for families and individuals affected by the eruption and subsequent landslides. Pray especially for those who have lost loved ones. Pray for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Pray for the energy, resilience, and success of the rescue workers and volunteers. Pray for those experiencing trauma, that they would sense God’s peace and presence. Pray for those who are most vulnerable, especially senior adults, individuals with disabilities, and people living in poverty. Pray for church leaders and churches responding to the needs around them. To send a prayer or note of encouragement, go to ncm.org/pray.

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GIVE

Churches and individuals around the world can provide support through the Mesoamerica Disaster Relief fund. Donations will be used to provide for immediate needs, including food, water, and medical supplies, as well as for long-term rebuilding.

To send donations by mail:

In the U.S., make checks payable to “General Treasurer” and send them to: 

Global Treasury Services
Church of the Nazarene
P.O. Box 843116
Kansas City, MO 64184-3116

Be sure to put 132290 in the Memo area.

In Canada, make checks payable to “Church of the Nazarene Canada” and send them to:

Church of the Nazarene Canada
3657 Ponytrail Drive
Mississauga, ON L4X 1W5

Be sure to put 132290 in the Memo area.

For additional countries, please give through your local church or district, designating your gift to Mesoamerica Disaster Relief: Guatemala Volcano.

This information was distributed by Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. Photo credit: Mesoamerica Communications.

In the Face of Suffering and Social Problems

Written by Rev. Leonel de León, Northcentral Field Strategy Coordinator, Mesoamerica Region

In the face of suffering and the social problems we are going through, I share the following perspective:

Our prayers for the current reality facing us are a plea to the Lord so that He can care, protect, and assist His people. We also pray for a miracle, but we understand that circumstances won’t change as long as we allow the fallen nature of the human race to prevail. 

If we read and understand history, we will discover that such social problems have been a result of the fallen nature of humanity, and it has been God who has changed and mobilized His people in the Old Testament and then His Church to bring about change. 

Sometimes we get frustrated when we don’t see “specific” answers to our prayers.  We expect an “angelical revolution” that brings justice, equality and love, but sadly we don’t see it. Therefore, we ask in prayer for the Church to be strengthened and intervene, not through political or social protests, but with the powerful message of justice and repentance. “The kingdom of heaven has come near…” And this Kingdom is different than any earthly kingdom.

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We feel sorry when we see kids, youth and adults being massacred.  It hurts us to see the social and cultural decay wrought because of vandalism, hatred and retaliation. But our prayers do help, for God continues to touch, heal and intervene as the Church plays its role as the salt and light of the world.

When England attempted to move onward during the devastation of World War II, Winston Churchill invited his people to pray.  The miracle of prayer was seen in people’s changed attitudes, and certain victory was the result. Therefore, pray NOT for missiles to fall from heaven on the wicked.  Pray NOT for evil ones to die.  Rather, let’s PRAY for God to change our attitudes and strategies about the circumstances we are living in.  Let’s allow God to guide us.  Let’s not impose on God our desires or intentions. God’s silence a lot of times is the SELAH of the church. (Selah means being still and reflecting on God’s message.)

Latin America has suffered multiple civil wars, exploitation and plundering, as well as vandalism and the pain of losing thousands of loved ones. Siblings have killed each other simply because they belong to different sides in politics or war. The Church, however, is not a political party, and it doesn’t belong to any side. The Church is the Church of Christ: its message is different from any other extreme ideological message. The Church is immersed in and between cultures, but neither culture nor ideologies should ever come above the Kingdom’s message, nor above the government of Christ. The mission of the Church is to reach both good and bad.  Christ’s message is not discriminatory, and it doesn’t adjust according to politics or ideologies. The message of the Kingdom is JESUS CHRIST, providing the opportunity for the fallen to stand up. That is why we as the Church support peace and justice, and vow to never support any fallen human ideology.

I powerfully believe that the God of history is with us and weeps at these disastrous situations.  Yet, that same God of history also expects that the Church would play its role of salt and light. Together under the flag of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can and will take action so that our people suffer less.

 This article was originally published at: mesoamericaregion.org

Praying for Peace in Nicaragua

Many readers of this blog have recently seen the news and are aware that Nicaragua is in crisis.  Thousands of protesters have marched in the Nicaraguan capital Managua and other cities to promote democracy.

Demonstrators blocked main roads, waving placards and chanting slogans.  Weeks of anti-government protests have led to at least 76 people being killed in clashes with security forces.  Four people were killed in clashes on Saturday, police and witnesses say.

Yesterday and today I have been in contact with Rev. María Antonia Ponce, District Superintendent of Nicaragua Central.  Although I had heard reports of persecution of our Nazarene churches, she assures me that as of today there have not been any attacks on our congregations.  Still, the situation is critical.  “Each day we wake up with uncertainty,” Ponce says.  “Many have died, almost all youth, and the majority of them are students in different universities.”  One month has passed since the first conflicts erupted and the superintendent urges Nazarene members in the Mesoamerica Region and around the world to intercede for them and their country.Pray for Nicaragua

“We feel very sad, because for more than a month we have been under great pressure due to the disturbances in Nicaragua. Sadly, today for the first time, with tears in our eyes, we have closed the district office. We remain under the protection of the Most High and wise God. We do not wish to continue risking our lives and so we have chosen to leave since we had found ourselves in the crossfire between the police and the students. There are many people injured and we do not wish to join the list of the deceased. This situation brings us great pain. We ask that, as the Body of Christ, we would unite in prayer for peace in Nicaragua.”

In spite of all that is occurring, Ponce rejoices in the generous spirit of her fellow Nicaraguans.  In the midst of pain, unemployment, and even cancelling of worship services (in Managua, Masaya, and León, all services other than those held on Sunday mornings have been cancelled for security reasons), the Nazarene churches are collecting offerings for their Cuban brothers and sisters affected by the plane crash two weeks ago.  “It’s an honor and a blessing for us to be able to help in the midst of our own crisis,” she declared.

Our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua need our encouragement and spiritual support.  Even though they have felt alone in these days, they know that they are connected to a global denomination that is lifting them up.

Let’s pray for the peace of Nicaragua.  Let’s pray that God’s will be done in this nation as it is in heaven.  Nicaragua, we are with you!

Dejected…and Rejoicing

By Scott Armstrong

As many in the Nazarene world and beyond are aware, a week ago a Boeing 737 airliner with more than 110 passengers and crew crashed Friday near Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, shortly after takeoff. The plane, Cubana Flight 972, was on its way to Holguín, Cuba, when it went down about 12 p.m. local time.

On board the aircraft, 10 couples from the East District were on their way back to their home Province of Holguín after being part of a National Conference for pastors from the Church of the Nazarene. In the days after, expressions of grief and solidarity were expressed from the General Superintendents and brothers and sisters around the globe. On May 21, Dr. Carla Sunberg dedicated her message at the Global Ministry Center’s chapel service to the couples who were killed and the family members and Cuban leaders who are picking up the pieces after this tragedy.

In the Dominican Republic the missionaries and National Office leadership met, as we do every week, for devotions and prayer.  This time the mood was somber.  We knew the right theology: God is sovereign.  He has a plan.  He offers eternal life to those who die in Him.  However, the questions remained: why did this happen? Why didn’t God stop this? What about the ten orphaned children who are now weeping and will not see their parents on this side of heaven?

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In the midst of such struggle, the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries’ Coordinator for the Central Field (Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Puerto Rico), Paquita Bidó, began to read from Psalm 100.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Worshipping with gladness? Joyful songs? Thanksgiving and praise? Clearly, this is not a lament Psalm!

Paquita acknowledged that we mourn with our Cuban family, and we recognize our bewilderment.  We must not explain away this devastating loss with trite words of affirmation or theological maxims.  At the same time, she explained that she brought this psalm to us as an expression of faith in the very midst of sorrow.  The Lord is God; we are not.  He is Creator, and we are his creation.  As sheep, we enjoy the care of the Shepherd and obey his voice.  What a privilege to serve him for as long as he gives us breath.

Paquita continued.  If we proclaim that God is faithful only in the good times, then what good is that? Our trust would be based merely on circumstances going our way and not on a loving Father who allows pain in our lives because he knows best.  However, we do, in fact, declare that He is good, and His love endures forever, even in – or especially in – this bitter reality confronting us.  And his faithfulness is promised not only to us, but it continues through all generations.

In the light of this reality, and even in the midst of sadness, we shout for joy!  Our tears co-mingle with thanks and praise.  God is good.  Still. Even now.

Our entire region is devastated. We have mobilized to give and pray for Cuba.  And as we weep, we also rejoice that we serve a good and faithful God.  Yes, his love endures forever.