Football Is Legalistic

The other night I was driving my family home from somewhere we had gone and my youngest son, who is obsessed with football, brought up the topic of the various ways a touchdown is considered valid or invalid. For instance, a play is considered a touchdown if the football crosses the plane of the goal line. However, he began explaining the difference between what is considered a touchdown in the NFL versus college football. Do both feet have to cross the goal line or just one? What if a player was in the end zone, but leaned across the goal line to catch the ball and immediately fell forward and the ball technically never crossed the goal line? What if a player was tackled a few inches in front of the end zone and slid, ball first, over the goal line? What if … As you can see, the scenarios are endless. But someone has to define what a touchdown is or isn’t in specific enough terms to allow the players to know if they have succeeded or not in scoring a touchdown.

But the details don’t stop there. For every play of the game there are specific rules that govern what happens next. What happens if a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped? What about if that happens to an offensive player? When an offensive player is carrying the ball, what criteria has to be met for the runner to be considered stopped? How much forward movement must he have to continue and what about the whole thing with his knee touching the ground? When is a fumble really a fumble and when can a ball continue in play? You get the point. The rules are endless.

Towards the end of my discussion with my son, I told him he was a legalist. At first he didn’t understand. And then I said, “You’re so caught up with the rules, that you’ve lost track of the game.” But my comment was in jest. For him, and so many other men like him who have a passion for sports, knowing the intricacy of the rules is one of the things that make the game

One of the reasons I don’t enjoy football is probably because I don’t understand the rules. To me it all looks the same. Isn’t the object of the game to keep the ball away from the other team and hurt as many of their players in the process? It just seems so barbaric, uncivilized, and asinine. But that’s because I don’t see the sport from the inside. I don’t see the carefully calculated details and decisions that have been a part of the evolution of the game. I don’t see the long history of plays that have been the catalyst for developing tighter definitions of each of the terms and rules. I do see, however, that despite these inexhaustible rules and regulations, there are still millions upon millions of people across the world that enjoy and participate in football on an almost daily basis.

Here’s another problem. Sometimes the referees make a mistake and call a bad call against our favorite team. It happens. There’s no denying it. We get upset. Stand up. Shout. Make an idiot out of ourselves and then we go back to the game. We may talk about the refs and their bad decisions after the game, and complain to our friends that they should be fired. But do we ban all referees from football and claim football doesn’t need referees? Do we stop watching football? Do we stop playing football? Do we ban the sport entirely and close down all of the football stadiums across the country? No. That would be absurd.

But this is how we treat Judaism. First, we look at it from the outside and criticize it because we don’t understand it. We think its goal is one thing when its another. We try to superimpose our misunderstandings upon it and redefine it based on our misunderstanding. We look at all of the laws within the Torah with disdain because we don’t know the game. We haven’t been around the block long enough to know how those rules make the game enjoyable for those who love it. When we finally have some appreciation for the rules, we want to redefine them on our own terms and jettison the entire game history that has helped to articulate those rules more precisely over the last three thousand years. And we want to get rid of the referees, because they continue to reinforce those old rules. No matter what we do or how much we tell them they are wrong, they don’t seem to want to play by the rules we have created or even the ones we have redefined based on our understanding of how it should be.

Football fans like football. They don’t like a sport that has a bunch of guys running around with a pointy, brown ball with an entirely different set of rules, no matter if they seem to be wearing the same uniforms as their favorite team or not. It only brings confusion and frustration. It’s a mockery. A shame.

Messianic Judaism is a type of Judaism. It is one that is working to resemble the Judaism that Jesus and his disciples practiced. It is also working to look like the Judaism that will be practiced in the Messianic Kingdom. But it has to be concerned with the details. Otherwise, it’s not a form of Judaism, but only a mockery of it. Is the goal of Messianic Judaism to be “legalistic”? Of course not. But we could ask the same question of the NFL. Did it set out to be “legalistic”? No. But for each of these, a well-defined standard by which we measure success is absolutely necessary. It’s how we know if we have “played the game” well or not. It’s what makes the game worth playing and keeps everyone on the same page.

If I create my own standard for how Messianic Judaism should be lived out, it’s like writing my own rulebook for football. No one will want to play with me. In fact, no one could play with me, because I’ve changed all the rules that they are familiar with. So, the next time you see Messianics doing things that look too Jewish, too legalistic, just remember that these are the things that make the game accessible for some, but inaccessible for others. It’s not that they want to make things difficult, or legalistic, or offensive. But your appreciation of what they are doing depends on whether or not you want to understand the game. Fans and players understand it. Critics won’t ever get it.

The Pain of Growth

Yesterday, rather than going to my normal gym, I went with a friend to his gym and exercised with him on his exercise routine. Today, I am reaping what I have sown: pain, tenderness, soreness, stiffness, and wonderful feelings of growth, strength, and accomplishment.

For years and years I avoided the gym, simply because the thought of it was just too painful. Why would anyone in their right mind take time out of their busy schedule to put themselves through hell and back day after day? Just thinking about exercising nearly made me reach for the ibuprofen and an ice pack.

One of the side effects of Western culture in a post-modern society is that we don’t have a concept of anything beyond the current moment. Why should I take an hour or more to prepare a healthy meal when I can drive through McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A and eat it now? Why set back a portion of my income each week for the future, when I could use that money now? Why invest in a skill that takes years to develop, when I can settle for a decent-paying job now (that will probably lay me off in a year)?

Many times we choose to forego the investment into tomorrow to satisfy the demands of today. We rob Peter to pay Paul and continue to slide away from a life of fulfillment and stability into a constant scouring for how we can be fulfilled in our current moment. Or how we can be entertained when we are unsatisfied with the choices we have made that have lead us to this point.

Yes, growth is painful. But there is a reward, a beauty, and a sense of confidence that come as a result of the pain of growth. Sure, we can avoid pain, but only at the expense of atrophy. Growth, however, brings with it a cost. And if you’re willing to pay that cost, little by little, then you will grow and become something better, stronger, and more confident than what you were yesterday, a week, or a year from today.

Random Thoughts

Thoughts. Thoughts. Thoughts. Thoughts. Thoughts. I have way more thoughts than I could ever put into writing, especially by the time my next thought displaces the previous one, or the next task demands attention. So, most of the time I simply resign to the fact that everything that’s moving around in my head will simply have to stay there, and disappear into oblivion over time. Take right now for instance. When I started writing this post, I had about five things in my head I wanted to communicate. But right now I can’t think of a single one of them. But at the same time, I’m thinking about my current situation in many areas, family, finances, ministry, etc. I’m also thinking about the future in those same areas. But I’m also trying to see beyond those things to the overall picture of the future to the end goal—the Messianic Kingdom. And now I’m asking myself, “How do I ever expect to communicate these ideas to anyone?” How can I paint a picture of our present situation and then do the same for the Messianic Kingdom, and then build a bridge between the two? Especially, when my time and my attentions are divided into so many directions. Maybe one day I’ll be able to sit, think, and write with a clear train of thought without distraction. Until then, here is a little snapshot of my brain.

More teachings – eNewsletters

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Full of Grace review

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of Full of Grace by FishFlix for my honest review.

“Full of Grace: The Story of Mary the Mother of Jesus” is a film released in 2015 by Cinedigm Home Entertainment LLC. It is a story about Mary that supposedly takes place ten years after the resurrection of Jesus. Although fictional in nature, it may have some apocryphal origins that I may not be familiar with. It takes place at the end of Mary’s life and draws from church legend about the apostles being gathered to her before her passing. Although the movie does not describe how, and does not even emphasize the point of all of the disciples being there, it seems like the viewer is lead to assume this based on the number of men attending her near her death. The actual script only introduces the viewer to a few of the disciples, primarily Peter and Andrew. The entire film revolves around the refusal of Peter to take leadership of the newly emerging sect of Christians. It touches on the problems with Jews and Gentiles coming together and the ever-developing “heresies” that would begin to plague Christianity going forward.

Peter was cast as an indecisive and almost incompetent disciple who has nearly lost his faith in the years following the resurrection. Rather than receiving his empowerment to continue the faith with boldness from Jesus, Peter is on the brink of giving up. He is spiritually strengthened and renewed, however, by the final words of Mary as she departs this life.

From my perspective there were both positive and negative aspects to the film. There were a few things in particular that I appreciated about this film. One of these is that it was a very family-friendly film in regard to objectionable content. There was nothing in the film that I would not feel comfortable showing my four-year-old daughter. The other main thing, which I was actually pretty excited about, was that there was a scene in which Peter was giving thanks over bread and wine and he prayed the prayers handed down to us in the Didache—the prayers my family and I recite over bread and wine each Friday night. This was actually a touchpoint for us as a family. Last, the cinematography and scoring of the film were commendable and even beautiful at times. While the acting wasn’t too bad, Mary’s character was definitely the strongest.

Unfortunately, for me the negative aspects of this film outweighed the positives. First, the film moved extremely slow. It could not hold my children’s attention, and it could barely hold mine. It is a dialogue-driven movie and there is little to no action and really no plot. Second, there was little to no effort put into making sure this film was historically accurate. There is no understanding of Jewish culture or religious perspectives of the first century, and it comes out strongly in both the scenes and especially the dialogue. Third, it did not strive to place the disciples back into their Jewish context. It’s only been ten years after the resurrection and they are already talking like Protestants and Catholics. This leads me to my next issue. There were numerous issues, mainly in dialogue, that were anachronistic in nature. So much so, that I was too distracted by these to be able to enjoy the film.

Last, the theological tones of this film were overwhelmingly Catholic. With the title being, “Full of Grace” (although Scriptural in origin, it is an obvious allusion to the Hail Mary prayer) I had my suspicions from the beginning. After I watched it, I began doing research on the company that produced it. It was apparently made by an organization called Outside da Box who specializes in creating videos targeting Catholic teens. My suspicions were confirmed. While this is not necessarily a bad thing—let’s face it, all denominations create things to promote their own idealogical perspectives—it should probably be mentioned from the onset that this film is infused with Catholic theology.

Overall, I would give “Full of Grace” a 2.5 out of 5 star rating. If this is the type of film you think you might enjoy, you can purchase it at, along with hundreds of other faith-based films.