Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hawks Win The Cup Again

It has happened again – making it the third time in just six years. The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks are champions of the hockey world after winning the series final in six games. It was a contest that lived up to its potential without a doubt and has the sporting world using a very special term – dynasty. The feat is somewhat remarkable especially when accomplished in an era of salary caps where great teams are hard to hold together for such a run.

The match with the Tampa Bay Lighting was about as tight as a series could be despite not going the full seven games. With the exception of the last game, which saw a final score of 2-0, every game was decided by just one goal, and neither team ever had more than a one goal lead in the first five meetings. The scores of every game were also very low. They seemed more like the results of soccer contests than hockey games even while featuring some of the greatest offensive players in the league.  

The grand prize, the famed Stanley Cup, is the oldest sports trophy in North America. It originated back in 1892. It is unique for a variety of reasons, one being the sheer difficulty and effort required to win it. There are other sports titles that require winning multiple series to triumph, but the grueling physical nature of hockey requires a level of physical survival and endurance that is unequaled in all of sports. A recent article on this subject revealed this reality through the detailed routines of trainers who deal with players when the season ends. They shared how badly beaten up they typically are when the players conclude the long hard season. Many even come in underweight due to the grueling nature of what they do day in and day out.

Hockey also requires a set of skills that are somewhat unique – mainly skating. A bit of boxing skill can come in handy, too, on occasion. Having played the sport for many years, I have an idea of what it takes to develop this rare skill on blades to an NHL level. Most simply can’t grasp it. I have young son who adores the sport. Like many kids, he dreams of hoisting the Cup someday just as did I when I was his age. He will often reveal how good he thinks he is at stick handling and shooting. But then he will always add, “The only little problem is that I can’t skate.” The only little problem? Obviously, most fans have no idea what an obstacle that is and what skating on a professional NHL level requires even  before all of the other demanding skills come into play.

But what perhaps makes winning the Stanley Cup most satisfying is the personal nature of what occurs shortly after the season's final buzzer sounds. A glance at the 35-pound piece of silver-plated hardware reveals the multiple round rings or layers that make it up. Each is engraved with the names of the victorious players, coaches and staff. This is fully unique and makes those involved feel like they possess a kind of sporting immortality. All the champions in all the major sports get a special ring for their victory. But to have one’s name etched on this 122-year old trophy is unparalleled. It must be beyond words to see one’s name written beside the greatest teams and names to ever play the game. So hockey’s historic Cup is not only extremely difficult to win, but offers a way of honoring the victors as no other sport does.

With all of that said, the practice of the names appearing on Lord Stanley’s Cup, as it is called, is a reminder of something referred to in the Bible – something far greater and important than any earthly victory or possession can match.

It is referred to in the New Testament as the "Book of Life". While trying to correct some friction between two believers  in one of the early churches, the Apostle Paul mentioned it in Philippians 4:2-3, “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.”

This most sacred book is also mentioned repeatedly in Revelation. In chapter 20, John writes, “And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:12-15)

To be found listed in the Lamb’s book of eternal life requires being spiritually related to the Lamb Himself. And, unlike the Stanley Cup, which is really only attainable to a select few who excel in the craft, the attaining of salvation  is not something that can be earned or won through personal efforts, talents or skills. In reality, it comes exclusively be acknowledging the very opposite of those things.

Salvation can be achieved only when what is spelled out in Romans 3:23 is fully understood and accepted.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Once that great truth is realized, then step two is in order as seen in Romans: 9-10. “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” This reveals what etches every true believer’s name into the Book of Life forever.

Winning the famed Stanley Cup requires an amazing commitment. It is won by hard-working athletes who are willing to sacrifice almost anything to be immortalized on the historic hardware. It is an exclusive club to say the least. But redemption and forgiveness of sin comes through another sacrifice – a far higher one that involved both the physical and spiritual. It comes via the self-sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He did all the hard work for us that we could never do on our own.  His death on the cross to paid the full price for all of the sins ever committed. That is what His dying words from the cross, "It is finished" were all about!

Hockey's historic trophy, in all of its glory and with its heroes inscribed upon it, is temporary. It will someday burn up along with every other earthy object (1 Peter 3:10-12). But, in contrast, all who are found written on the pages of God’s book are safe from wrath and will one day reside in His glorious presence forever. That is a true and blessed immortality and one that is beyond any human ability to comprehend in this life.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:7-89)

Bill Breckenridge

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