College Football as a Means of Grace

It’s true. God really does use college football as a way to dispense grace into my life. In fact, this can happen in a lot of ways (my wife occasionally urges me to write a post about them, having once charitably listened to my extended argument for the genuine value of sports). For now, however, I’ll limit myself to saying that God sometimes graciously uses sports—and most recently college football—in a way that I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen.

To give you a little background: for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a serious Mizzou football fan. I chafed at the fact that, while I grew up in Missouri, my hometown was located only 10 minutes or so from the Nebraska border. That meant an endless stream of Cornhusker football talk from the Omaha TV stations. I didn’t want to hear about the (almost always dominant) Huskers. I was starved for news about my Tigers.

Of course, for most of my life, news about the Tigers was mostly disappointing. I’ve suffered through a number of three or four win seasons, always with the groundless (in retrospect) hope that next year would be better.

I won’t even go into the Kicked Ball and the Fifth Down.

(Except to point out that, in the case of the latter, Charles Johnson, Colorado’s QB, failed to get into the end zone even on fifth down for crying out loud! But I digress….)

Needless to say, Mizzou’s gradual resurgence over the last few years has brought me a lot of satisfaction. And it’s been even better since Shay Roush and I have been able to witness things unfold somewhat firsthand in our role as team chaplains. Standing in an endzone after the Tigers’ win over Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City a couple of weekends ago, drinking in the scene of players and coaches celebrating in front of thousands of jubilant Mizzou fans, tears literally came to my eyes.

So you can imagine my disappointment after last week’s loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. Newly minted at the nation’s top ranked team and only 30 minutes away from playing for the national championship (the game was tied 14-14 at half), it seemed like the Tigers’ season was the stuff of destiny. When the dust settled, however, the Sooners had prevailed 38-17.

And the pain only got worse the next day, when the Tigers failed to receive an invitation to play in a prestigious Bowl Championship Series bowl game. Adding insult to injury was the fact that both Kansas and Illinois did receive bids for those coveted games, despite the fact that Mizzou beat both on neutral fields and remained the higher ranked team in the polls.

So now the moral of the story.

Honestly, if someone would have offered me in August the opportunity for Mizzou to win the Big 12 North Division, play in the conference championship game, compile a 11-2 record, and receive an invitation to the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s day, I would have said something like, “How much do you want and where do I sign?” But jump ahead three months to the morning after the Oklahoma game and I find the fan in me seriously disappointed.

Mizzou football has therefore become yet another vivid illustration of my wretched tendency to always want more than I’ve been given. If I’m truthful with myself, I know that even a national championship wouldn’t satisfy me completely. I’d just want another the next year, and the year after that, and so on.

The same thing is true in virtually every area of my life. I want everything from more material wealth to crispier French fries in my drive through meal. But if I got those things, I’d want even more of the same, or I’d shift my discontent to something else. There’s always people who need to get a better understanding of what an impressive person I am, or traffic lights that don’t change when they should (i.e., when I want them to), etc., etc. You get the idea.

And so, at the end of the day, Mizzou football is another way for God to remind me that there is really only one thing—or rather person—who will meet my deepest need and desire, only one person who will satisfy me completely and without fail: him. To know the God of the universe as a loving Father, to be united with his Son, to be able to rest on his promises, to be secure in the hope that he provides, to have access to the power that flung creation into existence—that is to be rich beyond any imagining. Having grasped this fact far better than I do, Paul can therefore write, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Phillipians 4:13).

May that become more and more descriptive of all our lives. And for those of you with Cotton Bowl tickets, I’ll see you there!

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