Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Touch Down Club

I couldn't wait to play high school football. In the seventh grade I bugged the high school football coach so much that he let me be an assitant manager for the team. I actually was awarded a high school football letter while in the seventh grade! The next year, I bugged the coach so much about wanting to play, that he, after getting signed permission from my mother, let me dress out and practice with the team. That was when the whole concept of "being small in a game for big guys" finally - and literally - hit me. I was the target of many "average sized" football players who wanted to feel the joy of finally dominating somebody - even if it was a five foot five inch 8th grader who weighed in at 145 lbs when wet. It was rough and I was very intimidated, but I refused to quit.
In the ninth grade, it was a little different. I was still short, but I did put on another ten pounds, and since we were a very small school with very few players (everyone played both ways), I actually became a starting guard. Everyone I matched up against in every game - even practice - was bigger than me. I was still very intimidated and I stayed worried and scared most of the time. Oddly enough, I got to occasionally play fullback on the Junior High team a few times, when we played a school whose team was made up of 7th through 9th graders. It was fun. I was one of the big guys and I loved running over all those little guys who only knew how to arm tackle. But the next day, it was back to being the runt guard against Hulk Hogan. Still, I'd made a decision, and I was not going to back down even if I didn't enjoy it.
Prior to the start of football camp that next year - my 10th grade year - something amazing happened. I loved football! Once we started those three-a-day practices that week before school began, I was loving it, and I could not wait to get my pads on and do some hitting. When we finally did get our pads on and started scrimmaging, I was a monster. I was playing quarterback on offense and center linebacker on defense and I really don't know which one I enjoyed the most, but I think it was defense. I wanted in on every tackle. I wanted to hit anyone and everyone on every single play. I loved it.
What happened? I grew six inches between the end of the previous season and the start of football camp in August. I was 5' 11" and 160 lbs. and, while I wasn't a Bubba Smith, I was big enough for high school football at a very small school. I was changed and my attitude about playing the game changed. I remember it well - even though it was many decades ago.
It is the difference between a decision and a conversion. In those early years, I made a decision that I wanted to play football, but it wasn't until the beginning of that sophomore year that I was really converted to playing football. The decision was about acceptance, appearances, and image management. The conversion was about throwing myself into it with every ounce of my body because I was loving it.
After years of reading Galatians 5, it finally dawned on me that this is the same principle Paul is challenging the Galatians, and us, with. When you make a decision to be a follower of Jesus it must be a conversion and not just an intellectual choice. When it's just a decision, you can easily be pulled into giving up your freedom in Christ and "let yourselves be burden again by a yoke of slavery." A decision only can mean that we "use our freedom to indulge in the sinful nature" and remain in a state of conflict "so that you do not do what you want." A conversion is living by the Spirit which means we "will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." The whole "works of the flesh" verses "fruit of the Spirit" is about more than a decision. It's a walk, a way of life, and a conversion to "keep in step with the Spirit."
Paul's challenge is to end the misery of mediocrity by giving ourselves over to a relationship with God. It's where love and grace motivate us, and it's where we find the peace that only comes from having "crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."
Turn the decision into a real conversion. That's a real touch down!

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