Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Take One For the Team

The eleventh chapter of Kyle Idleman's book, Not a Fan almost had me stumped. Though the title of his book relates to a sports meme, he actually doesn't spend that much time talking sports. That's where I come in. But I was struggling coming up with a sports analogy to this chapter's theme of dying to self. Then this weekend, the biggest sports headline (other than March Madness) fell right in my lap.

We all knew Peyton Manning would be looking for greener pastures long before he was officially released. And when I saw the writing on the wall I told my football fanatic friends that "the Denver Broncos should make a serious play to get him." What? After all the Mile High Messiah did last year? Of course! Doesn't it make sense to have your potential franchise quarterback with major technical flaws study under one of the most technically proficient passers in the game? I guess I wasn't the only one who thought so as sports-talk radio and the Internet speculated away all weekend as Peyton Manning met with Hall of Famer, and Broncos exec, John Elway to talk shop. (Let's pretend I actually got this post out on time and Manning hadn't yet met with the Dolphins and Titans)

So what does this have to do with dying to self? Well the consensus in the talk circuit was that someone with such a will to win as Tim Tebow displayed last year wouldn't put up with being a second stringer after all he accomplished last season. (A good example of this opinion is the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla, who knows the Broncos better than just about anybody.) But I think that's where the prognosticators are wrong. If any number-one could take a back seat to a future Hall of Fame quarterback, even if he were to pull a Brett Favre and postpone retirement a dozen times, it's Tebow. That is, if his off field humility matches his on field display of faith. (And based on his many mission trips, hospital visits, and that goofy smile that drives me nuts, I suspect it does)

Would there be a better example of taking one for the team than the NFL's most popular player (according to multiple polls last season) riding pine so that he can get better under the tutelage of one of the all time greats? If that's not dying to oneself, I don't know what is.

But I have a better example: Eric Liddell. If the name isn't familiar, think Chariots of Fire. Yeah, that guy. If you don't remember the two hour long epic and its Christian underpinnings, one of the driving plot lines was Liddell's refusal to participate in the 100 meter dash, his best race, at the 1924 Olympics because that would have required him to compete on a Sunday, the Christian Sabbath (he also didn't run the 4x100 or 4x400 relays for the same reason). Instead he focused his training on winning the 400 meter dash, of which he was a significant underdog. Naturally, he won and set a World Record in the process.

He literally sacrificed his best for the greater glory of God. There was no guarantee he would win the 400. It was unlikely he would even make the finals. And if the race didn't have such a storybook ending, could you imagine the backlash over his religion? Instead Liddell leveraged his new found fame to become a famous preacher and author. Oh wait, no he didn't. Instead he went back to China, where he was born on the mission field, and continued his calling as a missionary. In fact, he didn't rely on his celebrity to keep him out of an internment camp when the Japanese occupied China just prior to World War II. He had opportunity to leave, but refused. And instead of living the life of an celebrity athlete or even a recognizable face in the Christian community, he died humbly from a brain tumor after serving the other missionaries and youth held with him in captivity.

So the fan of Jesus watches the movie and listens to sports-talk radio and might get inspired by the sacrificial act of an athlete. But does that inspiration spur them on to "love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24)? It's unlikely you or I will ever have to face decisions like Tebow or Liddell. But that doesn't mean we don't face forks in the road nearly every day where we must choose whether to live for ourselves or die for Christ. A fan cheers for himself, but the follower sacrifices for others.

I woke up this morning with this song in my head:
Oh the wondrous cross,
Oh the wondrous cross,
Bids me come and die
and find that I
may truly live

Die to live. Take one for the team. Don't just be a fan.

This post continues my series blogging through the book, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. I encourage you to follow along by clicking on the Not A Fan label to the right. And I urge you to pick up a copy of this book for yourself.

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