I REALLY like sports. Like, a lot. On my phone, I have approximately 3 pages of apps, which I believe to be fewer than most people, but more than my mom. A few of them are on there, simply because I cannot delete them (Apple says so). Some of them are used for my biking adventures. Quite a few of them appear on there to help me manage the needs of HILLCITY. And the rest, they are there so that I can feed my avid sports addiction. I have apps to read about sports, apps to watch them, and even apps for my specific teams – so that I can feel pride and follow along more closely. Even when I go to Google Chrome to surf the web, the most frequented site that comes up, and it’s one of only three, is ESPN. Like I said, I REALLY like sports.
As is the case with most of us I am sure, my interests inform many other areas of my life, including my faith, and this week, sports have done just that for me.
Let’s start with the football. Last week, there was an article (10,000 words no less) written that described the dysfunction and disdain that surrounded my favorite professional football team. The star quarterback and the former head coach, apparently did not care for each other, and there was a lot of drama surrounding them, and henceforth, the team. We’re talking like teenage vampire diary level stuff here people. Former players and teammates speaking out, and declaring that were it not for the egos and pride of these two men, their team would’ve been much more successful. As a fan it was embarrassing, and a bit off-putting, and well, it just made me want to punch them both in the….stomach.
There was also some happenings in college basketball this weekend. The Final Four tournament was right here in my backyard (Minneapolis) on Saturday and Monday nights, and it featured a team from the University of Virginia. A bit of backstory, last year, most of these same young men (from Virginia) were involved in the same tournament and happened to be the first ever top seed to lose to the lowest possible seed, in the history of the tournament. It was embarrassing, for them, to say the least, especially since they were EXPECTED to win many games, and PREDICTED by some to win them all. I guess you could say things didn’t go as planned for them last time.
But THIS time, on Monday night, after winning three extremely close games just to get here, they fought valiantly into overtime against a difficult opponent and were victorious, in the process making themselves national champions. Many people called it a story of redemption. Their coach (and his dad) are both extremely well respected coaches and men of faith, and needless to say, I was happy for them. As for my football friends, the prominent quarterback came out against the reports of disharmony, claiming that people were trying to stir up old news for the sake of promoting their careers. He even went as far as to ask the people of his city to be kind and loving to his former boss, because he lived in their city, and his family was a vital part of their community. Whether he said this all as an attempt to save face or not, he did it, and in doing so at least slightly redeemed an otherwise ugly situation.
At HILLCITY (my church) this week, we ended a series of messages on Job. Before we even began, I remember people coming up to me and saying things like;
“Won’t all the talks be really depressing?”
“Isn’t this story about a guy who lost everything? What can we learn from that?”
“I’m not sure I can handle more ‘down’ stuff right now. MY life’s hard enough the way it is.”
If I am going to be honest with you, I COMPLETELY understood their objections and reservations. I had put off preaching through Job for almost two years, despite others from our community asking me to, because I shared their fears. But at some point late this fall I believe I heard God telling me “the time is right now, people need to hear this story.” So for 10 weeks, we plodded through the story of a man who’s entire life really did fall apart. His land and livestock were destroyed by his enemies and a fire. His kids were all killed in a storm. His body was covered with boils and sores. His wife told him he’d be better off if he’d just “curse God and die” – and his ‘friends’ showed up and basically told him that the whole thing was his fault. This stuff makes losing to a 16 seed or work disagreements PALE in comparison. And for 41 long chapters Job suffers. He feels the emotional and physical pain that we all spend the better part of our lives trying to avoid. He is in the thick of it. He mires in the junk. He wishes it would end. He prays that HE will end. It’s not headed for a happy ending.
And then comes chapter 42. After Job has heard from God (directly and through another), he repents (changes his mind) about his attitude and his situation, and God changes his circumstances. His family land and livestock are greater than they ever where before. He has more sons and daughters, the most beautiful in the land. And Job lives many, many years. It seems all is right with the world. His life has been redeemed and restored. Everything seems to be headed towards happily ever after, until the last sentence;
Job 42:17 (ESV)
And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
They try to play it off all happy – like, he lived a full life, and he was old – but come on people, dead is dead. No one feels redeemed and restored when they are six feet under. I mean, death is one of, if not THE thing that is causing us to suffer in this world in the first place. How can this story of God end with Job’s death? Is that the “redemption and restoration” we all have to look forward to as well?
Luckily, that is not the true end of Job’s story, nor is it ours. The rarely read, oft misunderstood and mis-interpreted book of Revelation, which describes how our world (but not our existence will end) gives us a glimpse of what I believe Job looked forward to in his later years, and what should give us hope and we go through the trials and tribulations of this life as well;
Revelation 21:1–5 (ESV)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
That sounds better, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that this world is getting old and starting to break down. I’m under the impression things could be getting worse before relief comes. But the promise of God is that not only will there be a new one – without death, mourning, crying or pain – but also that He will dwell WITH us. Eternity, in the presence of the God who created us, walks with us, and loves us so much that He gave Himself up for us. That is the kind of redemption and restoration story that can carry us through ANYTHING – if only we can cling to the reality it promises will someday be ours.
Sports provide us with a lot of great stories, and this week was no different. The Virginia Cavaliers went from the lowest place in their team’s history, to the top of the college basketball world. Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy got blamed for the ineptitude and incompetence of almost a decade of the Green Bay Packers falling short of their ultimate goal, and now it seems they might be able to encourage people to play nice with each other. Whether in sport, work, love or faith – we’re all suckers for a great redemption story. Lucky for us, next week’s story (Easter) is better than this week’s, it matters WAY more than basketball or football, and I have it on good authority (God), that not only is it true – but it’s the greatest (redemption) story ever told.