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The Beautiful Game

These summer days, my time is spent writing my third book while enjoying a delicious trio of football (soccer, for you Canadian types) games. Yes, indeed! The World Cup is on! In case you haven’t caught the fever, I’ll inform you, you’re in the minority. Most of Europe, South America, Russia, Africa and increasingly, North America are glued to the TV in mad support of their country. The Cup is the most faithfully followed, passionately contested and tediously analyzed sporting event in the world, rivaling, if not exceeding, the Olympics. Media statistics from the first game Iceland played estimated that 99.6% of their total population of 338,000 were watching…apparently, only sleeping babies were exempted.

The World Cup is held once every four years. From an average pool of 210 qualifying countries, it takes three years of matches to whittle down the final 32 contenders for the open group stages. It’s a long, slow process that endeavors to create as much fairness as possible between hugely disparate population groups, all for love of the game. Small countries, who don’t usually have resources to develop extensive sports programs actually get their shining moment on an international stage: Serbia, Croatia, Iceland, Denmark, Tunisia, Nigeria, South Korea, Costa Rica; to name just a few playing far above their weight class, and firing everyone’s unexpectedly passionate support for the underdog.

It’s not called “The Beautiful Game” for nothing. So many things about the game of football distinguish it from a multiplicity of other sports. Firstly, it is almost entirely about sheer athletic talent and physical fitness – it’s not unusual for players to run an average of 10 kilometers a game. Even though it is every bit as strenuous a contact sport as hockey or American football, there is a minimum of equipment used (shin pads, cups). Thirdly, have you seen the size of that arena? You’ve got to have a seriously developed skill set to keep up with the other 21 players moving in dazzling speed over the field. These guys make it look soooo easy. Finally, football manages to showcase the best of the masculine. The full range of rough and tumble aggression, bluster and bravado, courteous sportsmanship, affectionate comradery all the way to the tenderest of tears may be witnessed. Ok, I’m woman enough to admit a whole lot of male pulchritudity pounding down the pitch doesn’t pain me a bit.

One of my favorite moments so far was watching the Denmark team passionately singing their national anthem – stone-faced. Something in the eyes, I guess! The World Cup manages to capture the undiluted essence of cultural heritages in a very concentrated, authentic way. Of course, the 50,000 rabid fans in the stands enhances the flavor quite a bit. The sheer volume, color, and passionate desire of that many people focused all at one time simply takes the breath away.

As I watch all this, I can’t help thinking about the parallels in normal life. I can’t help dreaming about what the Church would be if believers embraced the discipline and passion as fervently as the players of soccer. What if we incorporated the same strenuous nutritional, mental, and physiological restraints these elite athletes use to peak their performance? What if we carefully, respectfully attended to our agents, coaches or mentors, implementing their instruction and experience? What if we truly received the inherent power and potential of collaboration and fellowship, lying latent at our feet?

‘The Beautiful Game’ provides us with a magnificent study of what ‘The Beautiful Bride’ is going to look like. As you watch the sinuous energy of eleven players moving as one, the honed force and exquisite elegance of perfected teamwork, you will grasp the dream not simply of men’s hearts, but of God's. This is the true nature of koinonia.

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head, Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. Ephesians 4:11-16 HCSB

Nobody sums it up better than Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. Here, the principals of leadership and teamwork interlock seamlessly. Individual strengths build upon one another, amplifying the whole. Each team member has a groomed understanding of the importance of his position and how it might change in the flow of the game. There are no lesser positions, no throwaways. Defense is every bit as important as offence. Though some giftings are flashier than others, some positions more flamboyant, there are no superstars without the spine of the team. The team is not playing for individual glory, or even corporate honor, but a much larger cause than itself. This is about the Kingdom of God. It’s not about the massive salaries and media attention of a secular arena, but don't let that stop you. It doesn’t mean the rewards are any lesser.

We may not all be Ronaldo’s, Messi’s or De Bruyner’s, but we have our place of anointing and expertise in this fixture. Don’t let anybody treat you like you’re only a cheerleader. The real question is; do you have the guts to get in the game and ask the Lord where your position is? Do you dare release yourself to His expert coaching, the team He has surrounded you with, and His perfect timing? No guts, No glory.

Whoa! Gotta Go. It’s game time!

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