Yesterday was the opening game for our home NFL team, affectionately known as the “Cardiac Cards” (Arizona Cardinals). True to their name, they held on to beat the Seattle Seahawks 20-16 in a nail biter that went down to the last play with about 20 seconds left. The atmosphere was electric and we came away with a win. My ears are still ringing from the noise in University of Phoenix stadium. This morning, I found myself waking up and thinking about similarities between being a committed fan (follower) of a football team and being a Christian.
Do I defend my team in the face of opposition?
It is easy to be a fan of my home team the Cardinals when I’m at the game. Everyone has their Red (or Black) jersey on with their favorite player’s name on the back (mine was a black Larry Fitzgerald jersey). Some even go so far as to wear elaborate costumes with face paint. It is easy to boldly speak up for my team in the “non-hostile” environment of the game surrounded by probably 80% Cardinals fans. Every touchdown or first down that occurs, the fans in my area are “high fiving” each other. Every ruling that goes against our team, the fans loudly protest with boo’s (whether the ruling was justified or not). But how about when I’m in a “pluralistic” environment at the lunch table the next day at work where there are Seahawks fans and other “non-believers” who make disparaging remarks about my team? “They got lucky”. It’s the “same ‘ol Cards”. They’re definitely going to lose their division! None of the experts give them any chance to win. Will I defend my team? Do I know enough about my team to defend it? Can I talk about the players and their stats? Can I talk about my teams upcoming opponents and why we are positioned to do well against them? Can I make a case that mathematically, we are still “in the playoff hunt”? Do I care enough about my team to defend them? Do we have enough committed fans out there who can defend the cause of our team?
There was a point in time back in 2008, when the Cardinals had made it into the playoffs and generally the commentators and everyone that I ran into was saying that they were going to be a “one and done” in the playoffs. But to nearly everyone’s surprise, the Cardinals won their first playoff game at home against the Atlanta Falcons. While I was waiting in line at a movie theater later that week and I heard some people laughing about the pitiful, insignificant Cardinals and how their doom was certain. I found a way to interject into the conversation and make a defense for the possibility that the Cardinals could at least make it to the NFC championship game at home, if we could beat the Carolina Panthers on the road and the Philadelphia Eagles could win their game. These people laughed at me and continued to mock and disrespect the Cardinals who had “limped” into the playoffs. I handled it graciously and after making my defense, just said “we’ll see what happens”. Oh how I wished I could’ve been there with those mockers when the post season for the Cardinals played out exactly as I’d described to them and we ended up in the Super Bowl! Unfortunately, we didn’t win the Super Bowl, but that’s a topic for another day… In any case, the point was that I encountered opposition and mocking of my team and I spoke up in the context of a “hostile” situation and made a defense. I did this because I had faith/belief in the team and I had also prepared myself to be able to give a defense for this hope. Because I was prepared and knew that my argument was sound and reasonable, I was able to give the defense with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who spoke maliciously…would be ashamed of their slander”. I was able to give a defense without getting defensive.
In the same way, I’m on a Christian team that appears from the world’s perspective to be a losing team. It is easy to defend my team when I’m with the other “fans” at Church, but the real defending is needed the following morning at the lunch table at work or school. Am I willing to speak up when someone pokes fun at my team or lobs out some half-truth or fallacy ridden argument against the Christian worldview? Am I willing to declare the allegiance to my team – to go public with my support of them, no matter what it costs me in ridicule, mocking, exclusion, etc? The thing about the Christian faith is that we already know who the winner is – we’ve seen the highlights of the game before the game is even finished!
In order to be able to make a defense of the team, we need to intimately know the team and all the “stats”. We need to know the game plan. We should be comfortable enough to give the basic arguments of the Christian worldview so that when someone raises an objection we can counter it with gentleness and respect. I really like what the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:24-26:
“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
Notice that it doesn’t say that when people oppose you, that you keep your mouth shut, “keep the peace” and later go on and pray for them. Yes, we do need to pray for them! But we also need to gently instruct them – provide a defense – an answer! Know what you believe and why you believe it.
It is amazing when I go to a football game and I see the level of enthusiasm. People in the stands are “sold out”, passionate and completely uninhibited when demonstrating their support for their team. Both in the way they dress and the way they act. They cheer when the team does well. They raise their hands, shout, clap, scream and jump up and down. They really like to make it difficult for the opposing team to take additional territory from us – especially when it is 3rd down and we have a chance to make the other team punt the ball back to us. On those 3rd down plays, everyone gets on their feet and makes noise. Sometimes spontaneous chants will start up in the crowd – “Let’s go Cardinals” or “Defense – clap, clap – Defense – clap, clap”. Part of this cheering is to disrupt the other team, yes, but a large part of it is to show our love and commitment for the team. The team is playing the game – there’s not much we can do as fans to affect the outcome of the game, but to show up at the game, cheer and show support.
In the same way, as Christians, are we enthusiastically supporting our team? If we can show our love and support of a football team, how much more we should be able to show our love and support for our Creator and Savior! We’ve been given the free gift of eternal life! We have a Coach who has a game plan that cannot lose! Why can’t we let go and show more emotion in our response to God? It is very convicting to me to compare my response at Church with my response at the football game. I pray that I will be enabled by the Spirit to worship in spirit and truth and to give God the honor He deserves. I love the words of Revelation 4:11 – “You are worthy our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things and by Your will they were created and have their being.” A football team (or its players) is not worthy to receive glory and honor, yet, we as fans give it, when instead, we should be giving the true glory and honor to the only One Who deserves it! Consider the words of King David 1 Chronicles 16:23-29:
Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
And expect that uninhibited praise to our God may invite scorn from others, similar to what David experienced (2 Samuel 6:14-16):
David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.
At some point in the history of your “fanship“ of a certain team, you may just make the decision that you’re a lifelong fan. You don’t care how bad it gets, or how many losing seasons you have to endure. You’re not going back, you’re not “falling away”, you’re committed for life.
If we can be committed, lifelong fans of a lousy football team, how much more should we be able to, as a committed followers of Jesus Christ, be committed for life to our Creator and Savior? There is no turning back. No matter difficult it gets. Jesus said we would have trouble in this world. In John 15:18-19, He says:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you”
Interest vs. Apathy
Some people couldn’t care less about football (especially those of the female persuasion :)). When the conversation turns to football, they just tune out. When asked why they don’t like it, they often times report that they don’t understand the game. It just looks like a bunch of grown men out there crashing into one another – kind of like the gladiators of Roman times. Or they are just bored by it.
In a similar way, as sold out followers of Christ, people often don’t understand why we are so into this – why we have a “one-track mind”. The Bible is just a boring book to them. The Christian life of death to self and letting Christ live through you does not sound appealing to them. Often times, they are just apathetic – “that may be your thing, but it’s not mine” – “I’m glad that works for you, but it doesn’t work for me”. But sometimes they are downright opposed to your message.