What the Eagles, Bucs, and we can learn from the NFL Combine

Today begins the much awaited NFL combine. Well, even though the NFL Network covers and promotes it, most folks outside athletes, scouts, coaches, GM’s, (you know the ones who actually have something at stake 16 games a year), really don’t care too much about it.

Sometimes players can increase their draft status because they run a 40 yard dash faster than someone else. Sometimes players show how far they can jump or how high (not sure why you need an offensive lineman who can jump a little farther, or higher or run just a small bit faster than another-I mean is there a need for offensive lineman to jump high?). And most fans who have followed football regularly remember the letdown (at least for the Eagles) story of Boston College DE Mike Mamula, who’s combine performance catapulted him to number 7 overall draft pick. Ironically enough, the Eagles traded with the Bucs, who were picking at number 7. How did the Bucs do? Well they ended up with Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks because of the trade. Not too bad on this end.

Regardless, the combine can be helpful to athletes but it often proves harmful for the overall team who selects one athlete ahead of another simply because his performance or appearance (literally-those dudes are dressed up in underwear and judged by their looks). If that part sounds like a beauty contest, that’s because it pretty much is.

The NFL combine is in essence, the very opposite of how God calls His followers to think. For instance, God reminded Samuel that His choosing the smaller David over his bigger, more fit brothers was chosen not by appearance but by the heart. Later God reminds us through Zecheriah, it is not strength or the appearance of strength that will carry the day, but instead, “by my Spirit.” And in the New Testament we have a similar encouragement for the types of people God chooses to play a part in the unfolding story of redemption.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. I Cor 1:26

For those prone to confidence in the appearance and gifts of others

One of my fellow seminary students had a lisp, and I immediately thought this would hinder people paying attention. God humbled me as he was the best preacher of the lot!

Whether it comes to electing leaders, choosing pastors, or discerning the next generation of teachers, it is important to not ignore gifting. Many future elders, pastors, teachers are gifted and as a community it is fairly easy to spot them when you give them opportunities. But to simply find which one is the most gifted is probably a grave error. One may “run” or “jump” a little faster or higher, but does that necessarily translate to fruitful ministry? No, just as those combine markers don’t translate to NFL success. It is more important to recognize heart character. Some folks may appear tangibly more gifted than others, but God will sometimes do far less with them. He gets the final vote, and we see in the scripture how He rolls. He rolls with the humble and broken more than the top 5 “can’t miss” draft picks.

For those prone to lose confidence based upon appearance and gifts of self

Now gifting is good and God is the giver of all good gifts. And God does raise up “Top 5” draft picks like Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer. But many are not by skill set or appearance “Top 5” draft picks. And the encouragement for the rest of us is that we don’t have to be. We have a place too. We can simply be who we are. I want to get better at what I do. So I listen to recordings of my sermons, read books, talk to people, get feedback, discern what others are doing. But the NFL combine reminds me to spend even more time developing the intangibles: the heart. Not listening to my heart but getting my heart to listen to the gospel every day. To take confidence in the gospel and not my appearance/gits or lack thereof. God does more with less than anyone else. But we see in scriptures that he does more with those who care about their hearts more than their gifts or appearance.

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