We are now in the midst of the second weekend of the 2018 National Football League season. For some of you, that results in a yawn. For others, it causes you to rise from your seat and pump your fist. Personally, I love it. There are so many colorful characters involved in the game of American football — some on the field with the faces hidden under helmets, others on the sidelines where almost nothing is done in secret, and still others in the stands where anything seems to go with how you dress and how you root for your team (although I’m not sure how you face your coworkers on Monday if the game is televised).
One of my favorite NFL personalities of all time, former Head Coach Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, gave a clear testimony and Christian witness after winning the Super Bowl in 2007. It brought to mind the words of the apostle Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). Would that all of us were so bold.
Coach Dungy, who still provides commentary on the NFL from the desk in the station, is a realist. The Associated Press once quoted him as saying, “You’re not going to win every game. Every season is not going to end the way you like. But that’s the real test of a champion. Can you continue to fight when things don’t go your way?” A good reminder for those of us in the ministry. We can’t control all the people or circumstances we encounter.
The message Dungy gave to the Colts before they took the field for the Super Bowl was a simple one: “There will be some storms out there and we’ve got to get through those and hang together.” Some more good advice for those of us who might be facing adversity today.
Bill Pugh, president of Athletes in Action, correctly said of Dungy, “You can be a Christian coach who really does live out Christian values and be very successful in terms of wins and losses.” Another great lesson for all of us: We do not have to compromise to succeed. “The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth” (Isaiah 26:7).
The leader of the first Christian church, James, wrote, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Now, I imagine that you can relate to the writer. Why? Because you have persevered, you have been equal to the test. You have played even when hurt — and the trophy (crown) is yours.
I used to be a duffer. Many of you know how difficult a game golf is. One good shot — one close to the pin or one 250-yard drive — gives you the feeling you can make that same shot every time. But you know you can’t, just like you can’t solve everyone’s problems, preach the perfect sermon, always live up to others’ expectations, or even live up to your own.
But there is one major difference — golf is just a game. Your lot in life is determined by a calling. I can quit golf and look at my clubs in the garage without any guilt. But I cannot give up on my calling — nor can you! You, my colleague, are my hero because you “endure hardship” and just keep right on going.
So, tee it up, give it your best effort, and let our Lord — the One who called you — keep the score. “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
I do recognize that, to many of you, it seems like you’re fighting a losing battle. Statistics related to the church are dismal. When you see the limited number of Christians out there in the world, it appears hopeless. But, just remember, the game is not over. The final buzzer has not sounded. The last shot has not been taken.
I am constantly reminded of the great admiration I have for all of you who are asked to go out, day by day, and make a difference in your world. You have accepted a difficult calling, but you do it so well. In many ways, you make it look easy, but you and I know better. Even when it’s tough, I urge you to never give up. Keep keeping on! As Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). You can as well!
The church of Jesus Christ has fought from behind for a long time now, and it continues to do so. Paul may have had you in mind when he wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).