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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Achieving Perfection


Last Saturday evening I was watching the New England Patriots play their final game of the regular season against the New York Giants. It was a barn-burner of a game! There was no backing off from either team, even though both teams were already scheduled for the playoffs. From a competitive perspective, this was arguably the best game of the year.

Following this hard-fought game, the victorious Patriots were asked about the way they had managed to pull off a victory after trailing by as much as twelve points half-way through the third quarter. Almost to a man the lament was voiced in this manner, “We didn’t play our best game, but we did what we needed to do to win. That’s what we’ve done all year.” True. The Patriots had three or four very tough, close games. But in each one they figured out how to pull out a victory.

I offer my congratulations to the Patriots for accomplishing this most rare of feats – winning every game in the regular season. Only once before has this happened, and that was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. They completed a perfect season by winning both play-off games and then winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots will have to go some to finish out a perfect season.

Having grown up in New England, and my step father, Pop, being from the Boston area, I have always been interested in the sports teams from Boston. Pop and I would watch as the Boston Celtics under Red Auerbach would take on the Philadelphia 76ers. Those were great games! Here you had two of the best centers to have ever played, playing against each other: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. We also struggled with the then hapless Boston Red Sox, seemingly always under the “Curse of the Bambino.” Pop died in 1992, so he never got to see the emergence of the Red Sox in recent years where they finally won not just one World Series in 2004, but another in 2007. And then there were the Boston Patriots, later changed to the New England Patriots. In the old days they could never get it together as a team, always being trounced by their opponents. But no longer! The Patriots finally won the Super Bowl in 2002. Then they did it twice more in 2004 and 2005. If they run the tables in the next several weeks, they’ll complete a perfect season which will place them in the rarified air of the elite in professional football along with the ’72 Dolphins.

There are those who will attempt to deny the greatness of what the Patriots have accomplished to date. The Spygate matter will forever be remembered, though this took place in the first game of the season. They still ran the tables on the rest of the League – no small feat when you consider the Patriots traveled to Dallas to play the undefeated Cowboys – and won. Then they traveled to Indianapolis to play the undefeated Colts – and won again.

All of this got me to thinking about a perfect season. This football team played sixteen imperfect games, managing to win every one of them. Thus, a perfect season. I’m sure I’m not the only one to see the irony in this. What I mean is this: You take a team of some forty-odd imperfect football players and their imperfect coaching staff, put them up against sixteen other teams who are equally imperfect, and, Voila! You have a perfect season.

From a spiritual perspective I simply couldn’t let that one pass without saying something. The next morning as I prepared to preach in both Sunday services, I shared with the congregation some thoughts on this. You see, the Bible talks about perfection in a number of places. One such place is found in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect? This has always been troublesome for Christians. We know we’re anything but perfect. So, what’s this all about?

Let me give you a thumbnail picture of what I believe this is saying. Because we are not perfect (i.e., we are sinners), we cannot possibly do anything in our own strength that would cause us to be perfect. This is why we need someone to assume control of our hearts and lives. This is why we need a savior. He is perfect. Therefore, when I give him control and authority in my life, he makes my feeble, imperfect efforts at living for him result in being made ultimately perfect. I rely on him every step of the way.

The Patriots have learned to rely on each other in their attempt at attaining a perfect season in football. Over the next several weeks we’ll see if they can continue their journey of imperfection on their quest for an historic perfect season. In the meantime, I will continue to walk with my Lord, relying on him for the strength to continue, especially when I feel as though I’m blowing it.

God is the only one who can take that which is imperfect and make it perfect. That’s why I’ve placed myself in his hands.

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