Jackson and Football Dreams


Nate Jackson.  2013.  Slow Getting Up:  A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The best manager that I ever worked with, who later became a good friend, knew how to motivate his staff—he focused on their aspirations.  He worked the dream.  The job was not about the money;  it was not about agency goals; it was not about the team; it was not even about the work per se; it was about the dream.  In spite of an oppressive work environment where we were ignored and our work forgotten, he kept the dream alive and we loved him.  In his book, Slow Getting Up, Nate Jackson talks about living the football dream.


What is the football dream?  Jackson writes:

A footback dream is easy to spot.  Turn on SportsCenter and they’ll show what it looks like.  Tom Brady’s life.  Peyton Manning’s life.  Fairy tales.  Storybooks.  The football dream I had as a child unfolded much differently.  But it has still unfolded.  Every crease and every line, every grunt and every pop.  I’m playing the game I love. The grass is still green, the hits still hurt, and the ball in flight is still the most beautiful sight I know.  I will chase it to the ends of the earth (69).

The dream justifies every sacrifice, every injury, every set back.  Along with the dream comes a cool uniform, TV time, money, respect, easy sex, and all the things that go with it.  The dream and its evil twin—the nightmare—battle for our attention throughout Jackson’s book.

Mom Factor

Sprinkled throughout the book are references to mom—the silent, ever-present observer.  For example, on signing his first National Football League (NFL) contract, Jackson blurts out:  Look, Ma, I’m a 49er! (15).  This comment seems like a throw-away cliché the first couple times it appears, but then Jackson writes:

My mom has three criteria that she uses to judge a game.  One, did I stay healthy?  Two, was I happy with my performance? Three, did we win?  Moms are ahead of the curve.  The NFL is momless (178-179).

NFL players chase the dream; NFL moms live the nightmare.

Tension between the Dream and the Nightmare

This tension between dream and nightmare fuels Jackson’s plot.  The sagas of the games compete with injury reports to build excitement—will the NFL sign Jackson another season or will his injuries permanently disqualify him ?  Injury report after injury report chronicles his career from 2002 with the 49ers to 2003-2008 with the Denver Broncos.  While the career continues, the bloom is off the rose after Darrent Will is shot to death after a Broncos game in 2006 (130).  Jackson writes:  After D-Will died I sank into a hole (133).  The nightmare finally gets the upper-hand over the dream—the dream was no longer enough (134).


In Slow Getting Up Jackson writes an autobiographical account of his 6 years in the NFL in 12 chapters.  These chapters are preceded by a prologue describing his last days as a professional football player and followed by a short acknowledgments section which describes his writing career.  Although Jackson has written for a number of periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal [1], this is his first book.

Jackson is an accomplished writer whose autobiography reads like an action thriller.  This is because he pays attention to pacing and salts his personal story with skillfully articulated character sketches of the people that populate his life.  He is coy about telling the reader that he is a Christian [2], but it comes out in his account of prayers in the showers—written in the third person—where the entire Lord’s Prayer is recited (171-172).


Interestingly, Slow Getting Up can be read as an allegory symbolizing the dark underside of the postmodern era.  An era where work is just a text away, image matters more than reality, and masculinity is defined by doing stupid things just because you can. To see this, reflect on the Apostle Paul’s description of the old self and the new self in Christ:

…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).

In this reading, football dreams are actually a nightmare masquerading as something positive. You think that you control your life—your fate—but it is an obsession wrapped in a brazen lie. The old self thrives, dominates, and poisons our life because we love the illusion of self-determination. This is Paul’s old self.

But as the truth keeps interjecting itself into our lives, the nightmare slowly emerges in full horror.  We discover that, not only are we not in control, we cannot even break out of the chains that we have forged for ourselves in our obsession. For Jackson, the nightmare manifests itself when he finds himself playing football for the Las Vegas Locos stripped of his youth & health and offered little compensation or future prospects (235). Only God through Jesus Christ can remove those chains and set us free.  This is Paul’s new self in Christ.

By highlighting the old self, Jackson invites us to consider something new, something better.  Thank you Nate.


[1] www.WSJ.com.

[2] Christian quarterback, Tim Tebow, played for the Denver Broncos after Jackson retired during 2010-2012 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Tebow).

Jackson and Football Dreams

Also see:

Tebow Encourages Those Shaken  

Wicks Seeks Availability Deepens Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com


Continue Reading

Bridges Practices Godliness

GodlinessJerry Bridges.[1]1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

If you are like me, I always confused the words holiness and godliness, thinking that they were synonyms. Apparently, we are not alone. Bridges explains: “This book is a sequel to an earlier book, The Pursuit of Holiness. In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul urges us to put off our old self and to put on the new self. The Pursuit of Holiness dealt largely with putting off the old self—dealing with sin in our lives. The Practice of Godliness focuses on putting on the new self—growing in Christian character.”(7)

This explanation made perfect sense to me because I read one right after the other.

 What is Godliness?

Bridges describes the Bible as “a book on godliness.” (11) He highlights these verses:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”(Gal 5:22-23 ESV)

Other such lists can be found in Colossians 3:12-16, Ephesians 4:2-3,32, James 3:17, and 2 Peter 1:5-7 (7). I have always associated these lists as practical translations of Exodus 34:6, where God describes his character:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”(Exod 34:6)

Being created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), our utmost desire is to emulate God in all we see him doing, which leads us to godliness because of his own self-disclosure of characteristics.

Rejoice Always

A key aspect of godliness in life and in ministry is the gift of joy. Bridges writes:

“But we are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful. We are commended to be joyful always. (1 Thes 5:16)”

Sometimes we need to give ourselves and others permission to be joyful.

Bridges sees four stumbling blocks to joy: (1) sin, (2) misplaced confidence, (3) God’s disciplining, and (4) trials and tribulations (109-112). He advises another four practices in practicing joy: (1) confess and forsake sin, (2) trust in God, (3) take the long view in life, and (4) give thanks in all circumstances (115-117). If we practice joy, he sees two benefits: (1) God is pleased and (2) we will be strengthened physically, emotionally, and spiritually (117-118).

This is interesting advice because I have prayed for strength daily for several years.

Background and Organization

Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016) studied at the University of Oklahoma, served in the U.S. Navy, and worked on the staff of The Navigators, an evangelistic Christian group headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[2] He authored numerous books on the Christian life. Bridges writes in eighteen chapters, each centered on a particular passage of scripture. These chapters are preceded by a foreword and preface, and followed by a postscript.

This is almost the exact same format as Bridge’s other book and, as such, NavPress later issued the two books together with a Bible study as a compendium (2001).


Like his earlier book, Jerry Bridges’s book, The Practice of Godliness, is destined to be a Christian classic. The wisdom found in this book has informed my walk with the Lord for almost twenty years. It is easy to read and well worth the effort.


Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress. (Review)


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Bridges. [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Navigators_(organization).

Bridges Practices Godliness

Also See:

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/HotWeather_2019

Continue Reading

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts

Carolyn Tennant, Catch the Wind of the SpiritCarolyn Tennant. 2016. Catch the Wind of the Spirit: How the 5 Ministry Gifts Can Transform Your Church. Springfield: Vital Resources.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Statistical estimates show that Pentecostals (including Charismatics) are one of the fastest growing Christian groups. Their growth through evangelism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America swamps that of North American and Western European Christian groups that appear to be in decline.[1] While such statistics can explain what has happened, theology is required to explain why.


In her book, Catch the Wind of the Spirit, Carolyn Tennant points in an interesting direction, writing:

“Catch the Wind of the Spirit grew out of the context of need and emanated from a deep study of Ephesians 4. After pondering the five ministry gifts for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that our emphasis has been all wrong. The vast majority of teaching on this has focused on church leadership. I’m firmly convinced, however, that God is focused upon the ministry currents that each person is supposed to oversee. He means for the whole church to get involved.” (5)

Currents Demonstrate God’s Power

Tennant focuses on “currents” as a concept in the electrical sense, where God himself provides the power that flows through believers to accomplish his will for our lives and the lives of those we come into contact with. The “currents” of evangelist, teacher, pastor, prophet, and apostle (6-7) are in view here and are certainly not titles of church leaders in the manner that she uses them. Clearly, Tennant’s focus on the work of the Holy Spirit, as suggested by her title, marks her as a Pentecostal.

Tennant cites an old Yiddish proverb: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” (16) She then begins her exposition with a curious analogy for being led by the spirit offered by the early Celtic church. Celtic monks would sail in coracles, small boats shaped like a walnut, taking neither a rudder not paddles, but allowing the wind to blow them where it may: “believing that God would take them where they were supposed to go to share the gospel.” (9) The idea of current is also analogous to flow of water as it, much like the wind, carries a coracle along.

Ephesians 4

The key verses in Tennant’s exegesis are:

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service…” (Eph 4:11-12 NAU) [2]

Tennant highlights the verb, gave, making the point that these currents inform the ministry of the entire church; they are not titles given to leaders set apart from the body of the church to undertaken these currents independent of the church (26-27).

Structure of the Book

Tennant structures the chapters of her book around five pairs of discussions. In each discussion, she first introduces a chapter on a current; then she follows that current with a discussion of the leadership role that focuses on that current. In the first pair, she writes about the “Powerful Wooing Current”, then discusses the role of an Evangelist. The second pair starts with the “Radical Forming Current” and is followed by a discussion of the Teacher. These five pairs therefore outline ten chapters with summary material before and after for a total of fourteen chapters.

Example of The Radical Forming Current

Because my own ministry focuses on teaching, Tennant fascinated me with her outline of sixteen different roles where teaching was the primary focus. They are: counselor, mentor, life coach, facilitator, luncheon discussion, training leaders, leading a new converts class, blogging, leading workshops, leading Sunday school, leading retreats, youth ministry, facilitating small groups, Bible quizzes, leading a men’s or women’s group, developing curriculum, and teaching seminary students (78-79). Tennant admits that her listing is incomplete, yet she shows that teaching goes beyond Sunday school. A lot of teaching takes place, for example, in a thoughtful sermon.


Carolyn Tennant[3] is an adjunct professor at the Assembly of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri and professor emerita from North Central University in Minneapolis. Her doctorate is in Educational Administration and Supervision, University of Colorado at Boulder. Carolyn Tennant’s Catch the Wind of the Spirit highlights the work of the Holy Spirit. This is through the Christian church from a Pentecostal perspective based on an exegesis of Ephesians 4. Because the Pentecostal church has grown rapidly over the past century, we might be led to believe that it has done a better job of balancing the five gifts of the spirit than other Christian groups.


[1] Status of Global Christianity, 2017, in the Context of 1900–2050. Summary Data Abstracted from: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds. World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed October 2016), www.worldchristiandatabase.org.

[2] The underlying Greek manuscripts offer no punctuation, but scholars have offered their best guess and the English translation offers a second guess.

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolyn-tennant-58209452. @CaTennant

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (vv 4-6).

Are your talents a gift?

The Apostle Paul is not shy about discussing the role of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he begins a 3-chapter discussion of spiritual gifts.  Hays (207)[1] sees this chapter divided into 4 parts:

  1. Introduction (vv 1-3);
  2. Manifestations of the Spirit (vv 4-11);
  3. Body analogy (vv 12-26); and
  4. Application to gifts and offices of the in the church (vv 27-31).

In his introduction, Paul grabs the bull by the horns and says:  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed (v 1).  This direct approach is most interesting—these days we often read of churches torn up by controversies—often outright sin—that were allowed to grow in the shadows.  Paul does not let mold grow in the shade; he confronts controversy head on.  And he claims all things for Christ—no one can say Jesus is Lord, except through the Holy Spirit (v 3).

In discussing manifestation of the Spirit, Paul sees a Trinitarian (Spirit, Lord, and God) variety of gifts, services, and activities (vv 4-6).  In claiming all gifts, services, and activities for God, none is excluded and none is more important than the other.  Theologians get excited about Paul’s Trinitarian statement because it seems off the cuff rather than the focus of his comments.  In other words, Paul experiences God in three persons even though his does not articulate a formal theology of the Trinity (Hays 210).

Paul use of the body as an analogy for the church is interesting, in part, because he reframes the analogy from his peers.  Ancient authors often used the same analogy to argue for hierarchy in the social order; Paul uses it to illustrate diversity and interdependence (Hays 213).  In undertaking his discussion, he tailors his comments to the particular needs of the Corinthian church which becomes obvious in comparing the list of spiritual gifts with other lists that he provides, for example, in Ephesians 4:11-13 and Romans 12:6-8.  Neither alternative list, for example, cites speaking in tongues (v 10).  Clearly, Paul’s emphasis in listing gifts is not on the list, but on the legitimacy and use of each gift to build up the body of the church.

In wrapping up his comments, he exhorts the Corinthians to strive to work in building up the church and in attaining the “higher gifts” (vv 27 and 31).  One suspects in reading this section that Paul prioritizes spiritual gifts, in part, because Corinthian priorities were different.

One clue to this deficiency is Paul’s switch in words used in the Greek for gifts.  In verse one, a gift is πνευματικός, (BDAG 5999; mostly in the sense pertaining to wind or breath) already in verse 4 Paul switches to χάρισμα (BDAG 7896; that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift).  In switching from an emphasis on the receiver of the gift to an emphasis on the giver, Paul highlights the role of the Holy Spirit.  A spiritual gift is a talent used to build up the body of Christ.

Are you musical?  Do you work well with kids?  How might your gift be used to build up the church?


[1] Richard B. Hays.  2011. Interpretations:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.


  1. How was your week? Did something in particular?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 11?
  3. What is your definition of a spiritual gift? (v 1) What is Paul’s? (vv 7-11)
  4. Why does Paul ask the Corinthians about spiritual gifts? (vv 1-2)
  5. How does one speak in the spirit? (v 3)
  6. Read verses 4-6.What stands out?  Where do gifts, service, and activities arise?
  7. What spiritual gifts does Paul list? (vv 7-11) Why?
  8. Who gets what gift? (v 11)
  9. How does Paul’s example of the body relate to his discussion of spiritual gifts? (vv 11-27)
  10. What does Paul say about divisions in the body? (vv 24-26)
  11. What does Paul say about suffering? (v 26)
  12. What are the higher gifts? (vv 28-31)
  13. What is the higher way that Paul describes? (v 31)

1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

First Corinthians 13

First Corinthians 11

Continue Reading

1 Corinthians 11: Identity and Unity in Christ

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (v 1).

One of the greatest challenges of our times is to find our identity in Christ, solely in Christ.  Many other voices cry to be heard; sometimes demanding total allegiance without warrant.  Whenever these voices win, we find ourselves denying Christ in some aspect of our lives and end up practicing idolatry.  The Apostle Paul cautions us to imitate him as he imitates Christ (v 1).

In chapter 11, Paul focuses on two areas of contentious debate in the church in Corinth (and our own churches):  gender (vv 3-16) and class (vv 20-34) relationships within the church.  In beginning to discuss these verses, it is helpful to remember that Paul has repeatedly emphasized our unity in Christ:  There is neither Jew nor Greek [cultural equality], there is neither slave nor free [class equality], there is no male and female [gender equality], for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 ESV).  The questions at hand explore how to maintain order and respect within a context of our equality before God.

The social context of Paul’s comments on gender is frankly not well understood and confusion about how to translate Paul’s instructions has led to conflicting advice followed by different churches and denominations.  The common lectionary simply skips over these verses.  Notwithstanding, Hays[1] (183) notes 4 points about gender relationship which are well-understood:

  1. Paul endorses the freedom of women to pray and prophesy in the assembly; the only question is what sort of headdress is appropriate…
  2. The patriarchal order of verses 3 and 7-9 is set in counterpoint with a vision of mutual interdependence of men and women…
  3. The passage does not require subordination of women…but a symbolic distinction between the sexes.
  4. The immediate concern of the passage is for the Corinthians to avoid bringing shame on the community.

Paul’s more lengthy discourse on the relationship between husbands and wives in Ephesians 4:22-33 basically prescribes men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands in a context of equality before God.  What this means in the context of communal worship is basically that neither party should flaunt their independence or sexuality in dress or conduct in a manner that would embarrass the other or the community.  Obviously, a lot more could be said about this subject.

Paul’s comments about classism in the church’s celebration of communion probably come as a surprise to those accustomed to reading this passage causally.  This is because the communion practice in serving communion is to skip over the context of Paul’s comments which have 4 parts:

  1. Paul observes divisions and factions in the church (vv 13-19);
  2. Paul accuses the Corinthians of not celebrating communion properly because some eat and some go hungry;  some get drunk and some have nothing (vv 20-22);
  3. The words of institution (vv 23-26); and
  4. Warning about improper celebration of communion (vv 27-34).

The key verse here is: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (v 29).  What does it mean to discern the body?  At a minimum it means that communion is taken together; more importantly, it means that the celebrant needs to consider the needs of the community (unity and equality) before taking part in communion—communion is a communal event.

If our identity is in anything other than Christ (culture, class, gender, race, and so on), then taking part in communion invites God’s judgment.  When we remember Christ, we should not have other things in our minds or on our hearts.


[1] Richard B. Hays. 2011.  Interpretation:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.


  1. How was your week? Did something in particular?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 10?
  3. Does verse 1 fit better with chapter 10 or 11? Why?
  4. What is the focus and point of imitating Paul? (v 1)
  5. What is ironic in Paul’s statement in verse 2?
  6. Why might verse 3 be controversial? What is Paul’s point?
  7. Why is Paul interested in head coverings? (vv 3-7) Should we be concerned?  What is the point here?
  8. What is Paul point of reference in making comments in verses 8-12? (Genesis 3:7, 18-25)  Does birth order matter to us?  Did it matter in Paul’s day?  Why?
  9. Why is Paul concerned about hair length and covering? (vv 13-15)  Does it matter today?
  10. Is your answer to question 9 affected by verse 16 or does verse 16 belong with what follows?
  11. Are the divisions that Paul mentioned in verses 18-19 because of hair, coverings, or communion (vv 20-22?
  12. How are the Words of Institution for communion (vv 23-26) affected by the context before and after?
  13. What is Paul’s warning in verses 27-32? In particular, what does the expression—without discerning the body—mean?
  14. What does Paul recommend in verses 33-34? Why? Is this all about food and drink?

1 Corinthians 11: Identity and Unity in Christ

First Corinthians 12

First Corinthians 10

Continue Reading