The Gospel According to Hockey

blackhawks with stanley cup

Hairy dudes with a shiny trophy, err, cup.

Today, everyone in Chicago is a Blackhawks fan. They won their second Stanley Cup in four years last night, and the collective freakout that notably follows any sporting accomplishment in a city with such a rabid fan base has been as uninhibited as expected. I think they’re still cleaning people out of the gutters in Wrigleyville. Of course, the Blackhawks run for the cup in 2010 was historic, snapping a 50+ year skid without a championship. Last night’s end to the season proved to be no less rewarding for Chicagoans, as a late comeback put the Hawks atop the Boston Bruins with just over a minute of ice time left. As a New York Times headline summed it up this morning, “17 Seconds, 2 Goals, and a Victory.”

Everybody loves a good story. So many people love sports, knowingly or not, because they tend to provide a high-stakes background for great drama to unfold. Your team wins, or they lose, but either way you feel something. Personally, I’m a sucker for a great sports yarn (I read R.A. Dickey’s autobiography this year and loved it), and I recently read up on great story that might serve as consolation for Bruin’s fans after such a tough loss. I think it also sheds light on an often overlooked principle within the Church.

Bobby Orr played for Boston during his first 10 seasons in the NHL, and helped to lead them to their first Cup victory in over 30 years (in an interesting bit of parallelism, he also played for the Blackhawks at the end of his career). Orr lead the league in scoring the year of the Bruin’s championship season, which doesn’t sound too odd, until you consider that he played defense. In fact, to date, he is the only defensiveman in NHL history to ever set the season high in scoring. Orr bucked convention and played an aggressive mix of offense and defense, ushering in a new era of professional hockey. Today he is considered one of the greatest hockey players of all time. The Hockey Hall of Fame even waived the three year waiting period for his induction, making him the youngest living player to receive that honor in his day. The bottom line is Bobby Orr redefined tactics and inspired the game of hockey by his fast, aggressive two-way play.

May 10, 1970: Bobby Orr celebrates his game-winning goal which gave the Boston Bruins their first Stanley Cup since 1941.

Bobby Orr celebrates his game winning goal that clinched the Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins in 1970.

True to his own nature, he famously encouraged young players, “Forget about style. Worry about results.” This statement sums up what made Bobby Orr such a successful athlete. Rather than focusing on expectations, he focused on doing whatever it took to win. Because of his focus on what actually mattered, he pushed boundaries and changed the game of hockey, almost single handedly shaping it into the fast-paced game we recognize today.

This issue of focus comes up all over Scripture. Jesus taught us we should, “Seek first [the] Kingdom (Matt. 6:33).” Paul wrote of the importance of “fixing our eyes on Jesus” as our example of what that looked like (Hebrews 12:2). Paul also counseled the churches in his day to set their hearts and minds on Heavenly things (Colossians 3), to live according to the Spirit instead of the flesh (Romans 8), and to focus on good, pure, and noble things (Philippians 4:8). We could go on like this!

In Jesus’ final earthly interaction with his followers, he laid out the blueprint for building his Kingdom. Matthew 28:18-20 records, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” It should be helpful for us to often remind ourselves of this charge.

What this looks like practically can be argued about, contextualized, and re-imagined in each age. Yet, we are clearly charged with dedicating our lives to seeing men and women enter into a complete and saving knowledge of who Jesus is, and submitting their lives and will to him, in faith, as Lord. If we are not seeing these results, then our style counts for very little! This is a sentiment that is too often overlooked in the American Church, where we have too easily adopted culturally defined models of success, corporate strategies, and worldly ambitions.

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Jesus purposefully didn’t talk much about programs or initiatives, but he talked a lot about trees and the fruit they bear. The tree that bears good fruit is a good tree, the tree that bears bad fruit is a bad tree, and the tree that bears no fruit is cut down and its roots are burned so that it stops wasting space and resources. In the Youth Department, we are moving from an outdated program based ministry to a youth development mindset, but the purpose of this isn’t to introduce a new methodology. It’s about training ourselves to assess our impact and devote more time, effort, and resources to trees that are bearing good fruit in the lives of our Corps, and in the lives of young people.

We’re committed to bearing good fruit for the Kingdom of God in the lives of the leaders and the young people that we serve. We recognize that this requires a right focus. Let’s focus ourselves together on the example of Jesus, trust in the providence of God, and see the Holy Spirit work through our stumbling efforts! Let’s pray along with the Scriptures, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known! (Habakkuk 3:2)”

Respond:

  • What would it look like for The Army, and for the Church, to focus on results instead of style?
  • What would it mean to concern ourselves more with bearing fruit than with jumping on board the “next big thing” bandwagon in each generation?
  • As the rate of cultural change continues to increase in both speed and impact, we will see more clearly than ever how true it is that style is secondary to substance. Who are the people of vision in our Corps who will focus on keeping the first thing first in our day?