Book Review “Football for a Buck”

Jeff Pearlman’s book, Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL is a fascinating read that brilliantly weaves in multiple narratives of an upstart football league, politics, and larger than life personalities of players, coaches, and owners.

The USFL, aka The United States Football league, was in operation for 1983-1985 and was a spring American football alternative to the NFL. Pearlman’s research is thorough and describes how the idea for the USFL actually dated back to 1961, when New Orleans business owner David Dixon conceived of a spring football league. However, it wasn’t until the early 1980s before his idea came to fruition.

The USFL had teams in established NFL territories such as Houston (the Gamblers), Tampa Bay (the Bandits), Philadelphia (the Stars), and Chicago (the Blitz) to name a few. There were also teams in other cities where there was no NFL presence: Jacksonville (the Bulls), Memphis (the Showboats), Orlando (the Renegades), and San Antonio (the Gunslingers). The USFL played an 18 game regular schedule compared to the NFL’s 16 game regular season schedule.

Pearlman’s book has many stories of the gross mismanagement and incompetence of multiple USFL franchises, but teams were not short on talent. Four players from the USFL- quarterbacks Steve Young and Jim Kelly, defensive end Reggie White, and offensive lineman Gary Zimmerman went on to have hall of fame careers in the NFL. The USFL also managed to snag three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners away from the NFL- running back Herschel Walker, quarterback Doug Flutie, and running back Mike Rozier. In many ways, the USFL was ahead of its time. Several USFL innovations- a salary cap to control team spending, an instant replay challenge system, and the two point conversion have been adopted by the NFL during the last three decades.

The USFL was not without its growing pains, but the league tried to do too much too fast. Pearlman’s book shows how politics and greed led to the USFL’s downfall. The politics has an effect on our world today. Donald Trump, the current President of the United States, purchased the New Jersey Generals and was instrumental in convincing team owners to play a fall schedule in order to compete head on with the NFL. The move lead to the USFL filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, in which the USFL won, but received $1 in damages. One dollar. The USFL closed its doors prior to the start of the 1986 season.

Overall, I enjoyed Football for a Buck, as it combined two of my interest- history and American football. Pearlman does a great job in bringing parallels of the USFL’s politics into our current political environment and he also focuses on stories of lesser known USFL players. I would recommend Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL for anyone interested in sports, history, and politics.

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Filling the Leadership Vacuum

As I write this, the United States is weeks away from a presidential election. Like American politics in the Twenty-First Century, the race has been divisive, polarizing, uncivil, filled with countless accusations, and lacking in character depth and substance when it comes to putting forth solutions to solve our country’s  problems.

I have no political agenda here. I consider myself apolitical- I am not Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, or any other label that can be placed on a person’s political views. My principles are guided by my faith, family values, and my life experiences. The current political environment has created a segment of the population that is discouraged and apathetic toward what is happening with the presidential race. Poll after poll shows the lack of support and dissatisfaction Americans have for their government. It also seems as if reason and moderate discussion no longer apply to politics because the extreme ideologies have seized both political parties and people in general.

Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vison, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV).

When leaders fail to lead or if their principles are negotiable, the entire nation suffers. Historically, as a nation’s leaders go, so go the people. This is true in the current case of the United States, ancient Rome, or even ancient Israel. Just as the Bible says that bad company corrupts good character, so too does lawlessness among leaders creates lawlessness among the people. When leadership is wanting in government, you could also more than likely believe that leadership is lacking in the home, in the church, and in the workplace. This creates a vacuum, where people try to fill in the gaps for themselves and do what is “right in their own eyes.” And as a result, standards and ethics disappear.

In the Old Testament, God frequently rebukes kings, priests, false prophets, and the peoples of Israel and Judah for their continued disobedience and lawlessness. One such instance can be found in Ezekiel 22, where God specifically rebukes the priests, princes, and prophets.

God makes a direct correlation between the behavior and disobedience of Israel’s leaders to the behavior of its people:

“The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 22:29-31, NKJV).

God searched the land and found no one to be a person of principle and lead. What a sad commentary on Israel’s spiritual affairs. The United States finds itself in the same situation as our elections have devolved from the best person for the job to trying to discern the lesser of two evils.

However, the responsibility does not lie solely on the government. All of us must take action and display leadership in our lives- reach out to those who need a hand up. The problems facing our society- racism, discrimination, oppression, addiction, crime, marginalization, isolation are all matters of the heart. It is impossible for one election or one candidate to fix society’s ills. We must look within and examine ourselves. What can we do? Are we willing to stand in the gap for our loved ones? Are we willing to draw the proverbial line in the sand of our beliefs and morals and stand our ground? Are we willing to be a voice for those who cannot speak? Are we willing to be our brother’s keeper? I believe as we take leadership of our own lives, not only will our lives improve, but so will our nation. God bless you.

 

Do Not Dwell on the Former Things

Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. While we can look back fondly on childhood memories and the “good ol’ days” in general, nostalgia often clouds our judgment of past events and can be exploited by others. In the United States, politicians and political movements rise because of nostalgia. In a world of increasing technological, social, and political change, these politicians play upon the fears of people, speaking in general terms of how if elected, the country will go back to a simpler time, before all of these changes happened. In essence, they will turn back the clock twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years.

Nostalgia is also big business. One of the constant complaints about Hollywood is “They’ve run out of ideas. It’s all sequels, reboots, and comic book movies.” Of course, not every film will be financially successful, but marketers know that if there is a built-in audience for a movie, that audience will go see it and maybe bring along the next generation. It becomes a vicious circle when audiences reject movies with new and different themes or stories, so Hollywood then has to go back to what makes money. For me personally I too am film nostalgic, as I grew up in the late 1970s/1980s and watched the original Star Wars trilogy over and over. To this day, I can almost quote the movies word for word and I look forward to the new movies in the upcoming years.

If we are not careful, we can fall victim to a “spiritual nostalgia,” where we long for our days before Christ. I know in my personal life the circumstances that brought me to Christ seem less daunting today than what I have gone through with Christ. I do not long to go back to a time when Christ was not in my life. If you are honest with yourself, was high school really that great? Do you really want to go back to the days of brokenness, pain, addiction, hopelessness, and frustration? Probably not. In your “BC” days, you were comfortable in your slavery to sin. Satan had you where he wanted you.

The Israelites complained about how they had it better in Egypt, they had food and water, and how Moses led them out to the desert to die. While the Israelites complained about their current situation, their nostalgia glossed over the fact they were slaves back in Egypt. For over 400 years, the Israelites and their ancestors broke their bodies building monuments of Egypt’s power and glory. Everyday served as a reminder of “We’re great, you’re slaves.” Why would they want to go back to that? Keep in mind that these are the same people who crossed the Red Sea. We must not allow nostalgia for the past to override the present moment. Even in your days before Christ, God’s prevenient grace allowed you to get through the hard times and you will get through this. Once we have crossed our Red Sea, there is no going back to Egypt.

The Apostle Peter fell prey to spiritual nostalgia. John 21 tells the story about how Peter decided to go fishing. Some of the other disciples joined Peter. Keep in mind that this event occurs after Jesus’ resurrection and previous appearances to the disciples. The Bible does not give us details about Peter’s inner dialogue, but maybe it went something like this:

This whole thing with Jesus was nice while it lasted. I left my livelihood and gave up three years of my life to follow Him. What am I supposed to do now? I failed. I failed miserably. I denied Him just like He said I would. One time He even told me ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Maybe I’m not cut out for this whole ministry thing. I’ll go back to being a fisherman. If nothing else, I know how to fish.

However, Peter had an encounter with Jesus and his life and the world has not been the same since. Just weeks after seemingly giving up, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter to preach a sermon that led to 3,000 people to Christ. Peter was also the first apostle to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.

As Christians and as the Church, we must understand that while God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He also does not want to get caught up in the religious bondage of man’s past traditions. We must be spiritually attuned to God’s voice and what He wants to do today. God’s methods may change, just as Jesus did not always heal people or raise people from the dead the same way every time.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).

As we go forward with God, let us not long for the past nor fear the future at the expense of the current moment. Let us be mindful and present as to what God is saying to us now. God bless you all.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah- Part 1

The term “rebuilding” is often associated with professional sports, when a formerly great team has to go through losing seasons with younger players due to star players retiring or moving on to different teams. In ancient times, cities were rebuilt upon the foundations of previous civilizations. In modern times, one building is demolished to make way for a new, usually bigger building. However, rebuilding is not exclusive to the worlds of professional sports or architecture. All of us at one point or another may find ourselves in a state of rebuilding- whether it be from the death of a loved one, a divorce, a financial bankruptcy, illness, addiction, job loss, or anything else that may come our way. Surviving those times will require faith and strength along with God’s grace. In addition to faith, strength, and grace, there are biblical leadership skills we can apply to our situations.

The Old Testament Book of Nehemiah is a prime example of leadership in action during a time of rebuilding. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, which included the destruction of the first Temple and the city walls being destroyed. Eventually, the Medo-Persian Empire supplanted the Babylonians as the dominant world power and the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree for the exiled Jews to return to Israel. Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes and received devastating news about Jerusalem.

“In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:1-3, NIV).

Leadership Principle #1- A problem is a perfect time for prayer

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4, NIV).

 Nehemiah goes on to intercede for the nation of Israel, asking God to forgive them of their sins. Throughout Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s first response to a crisis is prayer. When we are faced with a crisis, we must not cower in fear, but we should come boldly to God’s throne of grace. It is through prayer and fasting, that God will give us the direction we need in a situation.

Leadership Principle #2- God will give us the resources we need

Nehemiah was still very distraught over the state of Jerusalem when he went before the king. The king sensed Nehemiah’s distress and asked him what was wrong. (Keep in mind that anyone who was sad in front of the king could be executed).

 “I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’” The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so I can rebuild it.’” (Nehemiah 2:2b-5, NIV).

I believe the Lord placed Nehemiah in such a position of trust and prominence to the king for the sole purpose of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. Nehemiah chapter two goes on to state that the king granted Nehemiah’s request and gave him letters to grant him safe passage, all of the timber he needed, and also sent a military escort to accompany him.

 It is important to remember that we cannot overlook the way in which God provides for our needs. For example, say someone wants to go to college and they do not have the personal means to do so. Someone may get discouraged if they do not receive a miracle check in the mail, but they overlook financial aid, scholarships, grants, and other ways to raise money. If the Lord has placed a task on your heart, He will provide you with everything you need to complete it.

Leadership Principle #3- Give God the glory

If we are not careful, pride can sneak in our hearts and we will believe that our abilities accomplished the task. Just as Nehemiah gave the glory to God, so must we give Him the all of the glory.

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my request.” (Nehemiah 2:8b, NIV).

  “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:16, NIV).

Leadership Principle #4- Be an encourager

When the Lord calls us to complete a task, He does not call us to go at it alone, but will send people around us. Just as Jesus had his disciples and Paul mentored Timothy, so too did the Lord call people around Nehemiah to help him rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Though leadership of any kind can be a difficult task, the best leaders will try their best to encourage those around them. As a leader encouragement involves others “buying into” the vision God has laid out before you.

 “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.’ I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, NIV).

  “After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember, the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’” (Nehemiah 4:14, NIV).

            The remaining principles will be shared in the next post.

One World Government- The New Tower of Babel

The first decade and a half of the 21st Century has been eventful. Beginning with the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the last fifteen years has seen the rise of global Islamic terrorism, the collapse of the American economy, the “Arab Spring,” ISIS, and as of this writing, the rise of Iran on the world’s stage coupled with strained American-Israeli relations. As these problems become more and more global in nature, there will be those who will cry out for a global solution to these problems or a one world government.

The Bible prophesies that a global government will be in place and will be ruled by the antichrist before Jesus returns to rule and reign on this earth. There are prophecy students and teachers who pore over the day’s headlines and events to see where they fit into Bible prophecy. What if the pattern for the End Times global government is found in the Old Testament?

Since the Law and the Old Testament teachings served as a type and shadow of Christ (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:5 and 10:1), what if the Old Testament could give us a type and shadow of the End Times one world government? Genesis chapters 10 and 11, though often overlooked, serve as a transition from the post-Flood world of Noah to the time of Abraham. Genesis 10 outlines the genealogies of Noah’s three sons- Japheth, Ham, and Shem. One of Ham’s sons was named Cush, who had a son named Nimrod. The Bible tells us of Nimrod:

“And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.” (Genesis 10:8-9, KJV).

The Bible also states that Nimrod was a king and that he built the cities of Babel, Erech, Accad, Calneh, Asshur, Nineveh, Rehoboth, Calah, and Resen (Genesis 10:10-12). A simple online search will reveal that all of these cities are located around modern day Iraq. From this same geographic area, came the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms, both of whom play pivotal roles on the world stage during biblical times and are on the rise in our time.

Genesis chapter 11 transitions into the Tower of Babel. Though Nimrod is not named specifically in chapter 11, the events in question take place in the land of Shinar, one of the cities founded by Nimrod, thus his stamp may be on the Tower of Babel. After the Flood, God told Noah and his family to repopulate the whole earth, but it appears that the post-Flood world stayed in one area.

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech…And they said to one another, ‘Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they said, ‘Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:1,3-4, KJV).

What you have in this chapter is that the whole world, possibly under the leadership of a charismatic leader,  has defied the commandment of God to scatter out all over the earth, and they built a tower as a symbol of their defiance. The Bible goes on to say the Lord “came down” to view the tower. The Lord then confused the languages of the people and scattered them all over the earth (Genesis 11: 5-9). The place was called Babel because of the confusion.

Though the Bible spends numerous chapters on the physical place and kingdom of Babylon, Babylon can also be symbolic of the world’s system. Global communications and technology have made the world a smaller place. In fact, we can take a look at recent history and see tests of a world government, with the first Gulf War of 1991 being an example of a global coalition of nations coming against a common enemy, i.e. Saddam Hussein and his invasion of Kuwait. There was the U.S. led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current conflict with ISIS is located in Iraq.

Just as God put an end to the Tower of Babel, so too will He put an end at man’s latest attempt at world government and the reign of the coming antichrist. In fact, Revelation chapter 18 describes the fall of Babylon the great in detail:

“And he [an angel] cried mightily with a strong voice, saying Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” (Revelation 18:2, KJV).

The chapter goes on to detail judgment that will come upon the nations that partook of Babylon’s riches. The Bible speaks that the judgment will come quickly, in an hour. As Christians, the time has come for us to flee this world’s system. We must surrender fully to God and commit our lives to Him. We must not defile our clothes with the filth of this present world nor should we live in fear of the world’s state. We must heed the Bible’s warning:

“And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’” (Revelation 18:4, KJV).