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Come As You Are
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This is my third of fourth false start on this blog. On top of the death last week of the husband of my dearest friend, this week I got a call from a long time client telling me her husband had shot himself because he dying a slow death from his cancer. I care deeply for these people and even second hand, I have felt derailed. I have had the obvious symptoms of grief which have included, lack of sleep, generalized heaviness, sadness and most relevant here, difficulty maintaining a train of thought. So instead of aiming for cohesion, I am going to mention a few thoughts for your consideration and trust that you will fill in the blanks and/or ask questions. I have learned that often I can proceed only from where I am not where I wished I were.
We have been looking at our faith as it intersects significant circles of our secular life. Last week we looked our faith in our economic transactions, this week we look at sports, next, our health and wholeness then our faith and governance and finally how does our faith affect our seeking the common good. Any compare and contrast essay has to outline the separate topics to discuss them and from my point of view, one of the main values of the series has been to look more carefully at how the principles of our faith are supported or challenged in ordinary life.
When we accept Jesus, we are acceding to his Lordship and his Messiahship. Follow him and we will be saved. That is the creedal statement. The practical one calls us into account in every aspect of our lives. Are we oriented toward trusting God? Are we oriented toward loving neighbor? Last week the issues circled around how do we use wealth. Do we become entitled and abdicate responsibility for our choices—in which case wealth becomes idolatrous. Or, do we gain humility from our abundance and do we seek to remain mindful of the disparities of the world. Do we struggle with what it means to love our neighbor? The issue is not wealth itself but how it is an indicator of our orientation to God.
This week the same criteria apply to our use of competition, winning and the sports world in general. Here are a couple of sports activities ‘leading away’ from God and neighbor:
When watching events (children or professional) leads to a time sink in which we lose contact with our families.
When the emphasis upon ‘making the team’, moving to the ‘elite’ league or winning exposes how much of our identity is caught up in our accomplishments.
When phrases like,— ‘You never remember who comes in second’ or ‘If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.—’ expose the idolatry of the need to win.
When we offer participation trophies instead of frankly acknowledging the differences between people.
When differences are used as value judgments—the winner, the stronger, the smarter, the quicker is better than.
Our faith is that we are all God’s children and our value is found because of God’s choice rather than our accomplishments. This faith claim has the corollary that the differences between us are simply indicators of our individual uniqueness and cannot be used to claim either superiority or inferiority. By secualar standards, yes. But not by Christian ones.
Again, it is not the winning or the competition, it is how we use it. Here are a few examples of sports activities can lead toward God and neighbor.
The synergetic effect of teams that learn to value and rely upon every member.
Learning how to handle the disappoint of losing. It is not the end of the world, it just feels that way.
What we cannot do is as important as learning we can do. We each live within our human limits. We called to find those limits. Called to be all that we can be—regardless of our secular ranking.
This is lesson that does not come easily when we want to make a team or are the last person chosen on a sandlot team. Secualary we will be ranked and depending upon where we rank, we will feel better or worse. This is absolutely understandable but such reactions demonstrate how hard it is to do what we can and leave the rest to God. That faith is routinely called into question when we must deal with doubt, uncertainty, pain or exclusion.
Again, we have the knowledge that by secular standards, we are all inadequate. The needs and expectations of others, as well as our own needs far outstrip our ability to respond. We are not enough but that is not God’s criteria, it is ours. God cares about us for who we are not for what we do.
That faith claim frees us to live and love within our limitations. Two quick stories. I have always been small (I wrestled in High School in the 103 lb weight class) and I have always been competitive. I’ve been out jumped, out run and out muscled more times than I care to remember. So I took up running. I thought that excellence would be a function of how hard I was willing to work. Wrong. I spent several years in intense workouts—including throwing up weekly after my series of interval training to improve my speed and running 20 miles each weekend to improve my endurance. I gained speed and I gained endurance but I have never won a race. It turns out that even with focused, intense effort, I am a mediocre, middle of the pack runner. All that work taught me something unexpected. I found the edge of my limits and some days—no matter where I finished in the pace, I knew from the inside out that I had done what I could. The memories still bring joy.
God wants us to be fully who we are. That is the abundant life. Even with massive differences in talent or even in the face of the steady decline of aging, God wants us to be all that we are created to be—and to trust in Him. My father is approaching 95 years old. His lungs and heart are stiffer, he is nearly housebound. But he has started a nebulizer treatment three times a day which works for a bit to help him breathe. After his first treatment, he walked up and down the hall eleven times. His gait is uneven and unsteady. He walks like a drunk. He is now quite proud that he can make the same walk 36 times after his treatment. He is determined to use what he has—regardless of what he used to be able to do as a younger man and regardless of how he compares to any man. I view him as a man of faith.
Sports can hone us and sports can teach us our limits. Both can lead to a deeper life with God. The same activities can confuse our priorities, give us a false sense of superiority (or inferiority) and use the reality of our differences to exalt or to denigrate.
By the world’s standards, Jesus did not live up to expectations. He was ridiculed, tortured and killed. He was a loser. But his victory, his saving act was his unshakable faith that no matter what happened to him, God was there. This is what Paul is trying to tell the Philippians. Jesus’ perfection was his willingness to trust God. ‘Losing’ by secular standards, even suffering did not separate him from God. Come as you are and trust him. He is our hope and salvation—a messiah worth following.
May you live in the confidence of God’s love. Let it be.