The Detroit Lions are at the top of the NFL rankings–who’d thunk it?! But as I’ve been saying…give them time. After living here for so many years I gave up watching them. Many years, like this one, they’d come out strong and get our hopes up…only to crash them later in the season. When I moved here in Jan. 1992, the very first Lions game I watched was their victory in the first round of the playoffs. I thought, “Wow, I’m moving to a city with a good team!” Of course, I couldn’t have known that it would be the only time they’d ever win a playoff game.
Still, I, along with all the other miserable Lions’ fans, stuck with them. At our church we even hosted two events where Lions players came to speak. One year we had the quarterback, Jon Kitna, give his Christian testimony (pictured with my sons & me in 2008). He threw footballs to people in the auditorium, and graciously signed everything people brought to him. Another time we had the great Jason Hanson, the kicker with multiple records, speak about his faith in the NFL (pictured with me in 2014). My son, Steve, actually interned with the Lions (& Pistons).
Yet, I eventually stopped putting myself in masochistic situations most Sundays by watching them blow game after game, missing post season after post season. It was also at the time when the NFL was rocked by divisive political distractions. Who needs it?! Not me. Goodbye. Other than the Super Bowl, I’m out.
I’m realizing that this week is the very same week 12 years ago that I was invited to preach to the San Francisco 49ers. They were in one of the hotels in town, and they didn’t have their chaplain with them, so on a Saturday evening I preached to a roomful of players. I spoke to them about Christ coming into the world to save us–that He was fully God and fully man who died in our place as substitutionary sacrifice for sins. I told them that this message is one you need to hear because everything about your life hinges on what you believe about Jesus; your destiny is determined by what you do with Him. I gave them the gospel message, explained grace, & invited any who wanted to receive Christ to believe, repent & be baptized. None were, but hopefully that’s because they were already believers.
I didn’t really know who those players were but my son, Thomas, whom I took with me, told me later that Colin Kaepernick was among those who attended the service. The Lions had started the season out hot at 5-0. But that next day the 49ers took them down. I’m not saying that it was my sermon that made the difference…but who’s to say, really?!
Do you wonder why so many attend sporting events in stadiums & arenas? After all, it always seems better to watch games at home on TV; the cost of tickets & parking is outrageous; the food is better and cheaper at home–c’mon, $7 for a stinking hot dog?! Why then do so many go and pay lots of money to shout and cheer and sing along? I think it’s the closest thing some people get to a worship service. It’s something to do on Sunday where you can dress up, wear your team colors with pride, & experience a sense of belonging & camaraderie. They’re passionate, involved, enthusiastic. They shout & sing along to the songs in the stadium; they root for their team & idolize the players. They’re getting inspired, longing for ritual, sharing in the communion of soft pretzels and beer. They feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
Wouldn’t it be great to see more people get that passionate & committed about the Church of Christ?! More people attend churches on Sunday in America than attend NFL games. But football fans attend no matter how bad the weather is. They’ll come early & not miss the kick-off. They’ll stay to the end & get excited if there’s overtime. Meanwhile, some churchgoers may decide to stay home if there’s a slight chance of bad weather; may purposely get into the service late, barely sing, get upset if mention is made of giving money, & then leave early.
I still contend that the Lions will still find a way to lose. But just maybe they’ll make it to the playoffs this year. But even if they win the Super Bowl, it’s only going to be a temporary thrill. “Worshipping” anything other than the Lord on Sundays will leave us unfulfilled. Idols rise & fall. But I’ll never bail out on Jesus because I’m not his fair-weather fan–I’m his committed follower no matter what comes. And even when the Church (his people) disappoints by fumbling time after time, getting hit with penalties, & failing to advance much down the field, I know we’re still the winning team in the end! That’s what’s worth being excited about! So I hope to see you every Sunday as we celebrate the victory.