PLAYING FROM VICTORY

In my previous blog I wrote about Cooper Kupp, the LA Rams wider receiver who went from being a zero-star college recruit to Super Bowl 56 MVP.   But there is more to the story of this remarkable man.  In 2019 the Rams lost Super Bowl 53 to the New England Patriots.  The score was an embarrassing 13-3.  Kupp had to watch helplessly from the sidelines due to a torn ACL, but he was just as devastated as his teammates as they walked off the field in defeat.  But then something happened 

Kupp says as he was walking off the field toward the tunnel something caused him to turn around.  In that moment God gave him a vision: the Rams would come back somehow and win a Super Bowl, and Kupp would walk off the field as the MVP.  He kept this vision mostly to himself, revealing it only with his wife, because obviously this was not the type of thing you could go around sharing.  People would think you were nuts!  Or a braggart.  But when he talks about it today he gets choked up, giving all the glory to God.  He says he saw it as clear as day.  And when this postseason began, Kupp says he began to play differently.  He believed.  “It was written already and I just got to play free, knowing that I got to play from victory, not for victory.”  

 I got to play from victory.  I have been thinking about that statement for days.  What would it be like if we lived our lives from victory and why don’t we?  Because if we are Christians, if we really believe what God has revealed to us in His word, then we know that Jesus has already won, and we get to share in His victory.  What if we didn’t worry about all the millions of things we humans worry about, and just did our best, knowing that we are assured of victory?    

Now just because God gave Kupp a vision of winning didn’t mean it was going to be a piece of cake. There would be setbacks, busted plays, tackles, sacks, and plays that didn’t work.  The opponents would score some points.  And there would be some hard hits with bruised and sore bodies the next day.  And that is just like life.  Even if you are a Christian, even if you believe and trust God and His word, you are going to take some hits.  You may lose ground, get bad calls, and have to endure trash talk.  We are not immune to the sufferings of this life, and we will all experience difficulties and loss.  But playing from victory means we are able to live with the end in view no matter what hardships life gives us.  

It may look hopeless sometimes; the Rams were behind with only six minutes left to play.  I recently had a birthday, and all my birthdays are now big ones now.  My friend Kay likes to remind me that we are in our fourth quarter.  But if there is anything this football season has taught me, it is how much can be accomplished with only a few seconds left on the clock.  Heck, I might even go into overtime.  As Believers we do not have to be anxious or depressed about our current circumstances because we can see that scoreboard and know that ultimately we will win.  And Cooper Kupp would be the first to acknowledge who the real MVP is.  Jesus Christ left it all on the field for us.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.  He never sinned, but died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.  1 Peter 3:18 NLT

YOU ARE NOT A ZERO

An article about Cooper Kupp caught my attention.  In case you didn’t watch the Super Bowl, Kupp is the wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams who was awarded MVP after the game.  Now I’m not a big NFL fan, but I am a huge college football fan, so what really impressed me was learning that Kupp was a 0 star recruit coming out of high school.  Zero!  We college fans love our big-time recruits.  We want those four and five stars.  But for Kupp, it looked like his football days would end after high school, in spite of the fact that both his father and grandfather played in the NFL.  He didn’t have a single college offer until three weeks after his senior season, when finally, he received offers from Eastern Washington and Idaho State.  Not exactly blue blood programs.  

So how did someone with slim-to-no prospects become a Super Bowl MVP?  I don’t think he believed the lie that he was a zero.   He knew he was more than what the recruiters said he was.  His self-worth didn’t come from Rivals or ESPN.  He knew he could play football in spite of what others said.  His head coach at Eastern Washington was impressed from the start.  Kupp was the hardest worker on the field and he proved that he was worth so much more than 0 stars.   He won all kinds of awards in college including consensus All American and the coveted Walter Payton award.  After college he  was drafted by the Rams who were excited to land him.  Rams coach Sean McVay said he was one of the most pro-ready receivers he had ever evaluated.  Kupp has won numerous awards as a pro and has set all kinds of records.  Not bad for a kid nobody wanted.  

There is a message in Kupp’s story for all of us.  We need to stop believing the lies and start believing the truth about our value.  We are worth so much more than our bank account, what kind of car we drive, or where we live.  The numbers on the bathroom scales or what we shoot on the golf course are only numbers, metrics.  They are not a measure of our value as humans.  We are worth so much more than the number of “likes” on our social media page or how many followers we have. We are not the failures we have had in the past or even the successes we will have in the future.  

We need to cut out the negative self-talk.  Some of us need to stop listening to the voice of a punitive parent (or spouse, coach, or boss, or ex-spouse) in our head.  We are not the grade on our math exam, our GPA, or what the mean girls in the fifth grade said about us.  We are grown-ups now, and we can know the truth about our value.

Here is the truth: we are worth what God says we are worth.  And God doesn’t have any zeroes.  Go to the Bible and read God’s love letter to you.  He tells us how much He loves and cares for us, that He is always with us, watching over and protecting us.  The same God who feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies, cares for and provides for us.  Because he loves us!   He takes great delight in us and rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17).  I often suggest to my clients that they meditate on Psalm 139, especially verses 13-16.  And if you only needed one truth about your worth, here it is: God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for your sins so that you could be in relationship with Him.  He wants to have dinner with you!  (Rev. 3:20). 

Cooper Kupp knows these truths.  Even with all the awards and accolades, Kupp says his greatest joy comes from knowing Christ and living out his God-given purpose in life.  He knows he is not a zero.                            

DON’T STAY STUCK IN THE SHOULDS

 

Today is September 1, and for me it represents the beginning of autumn.  The first of the BER months.  When everything seems new again.  Autumn is my favorite time of year.  I like everything about fall: the vivid colors on the trees, the crisp, cool air, the excitement of children going back to school, football games, and pumpkin patches.  I love it all.  I even enjoy the nights getting a little longer.  Autumn is such a rich season, a season of harvest and plenty.

 

But this is 2020 and everything is different and definitely not what I planned.  I should be over-the-top excited about Sooner football starting, but it’s more like, “Meh.”  We won’t be going to the games in Norman this year (if they actually have games).  Instead, we took the option of rolling our tickets over into 2021.  It isn’t because we are afraid of getting COVID, but rather because sitting in a stadium that is three-quarters empty and cheering through a mask just doesn’t sound like fun.  No tailgating, no Boomer Bash…the game day experience, like everything else in 2020, will be dramatically different.  Not like it should be.

 

This is the year the Sooners were scheduled to play Army as an away game.  Jerry and I should be going to West Point like we planned.  But not this year.  Cancelled!  How many events have been cancelled in 2020?

 

I guess the first cancellations that hit us, like everyone else, were the large-group gatherings.  We couldn’t go to church for many weeks, and we are only just now allowed to go back.  We couldn’t go out to a restaurant for weeks; in fact our only outing for quite a while was a trip to the grocery store.  Jerry and I cancelled our annual family trip to Rosemary Beach in the early summer.  We didn’t get to see our granddaughter graduate from high school.  We couldn’t be in the hospital waiting room while a daughter had surgery or a granddaughter gave birth.  You have your own stories of cancelations this year: weddings, funerals, school events, and family reunions.  Milestone events that were missed.  Things that should have happened didn’t.  Life should not be like this!

 

As I have been pondering these things on this September morning I am amazed at my own contentment.  I learned a long time ago that expectations are premeditated resentments.  I’ve learned not to be caught up in the “shoulds,” even when the “shoulds” are true.  It’s true: life shouldn’t be like this, there shouldn’t be rioting and looting in our streets, people shouldn’t hate each other, my grandchildren should be able to go to school in person and shouldn’thave to wear masks, and by golly, there should be football as usual!  But what should be isn’t, and staying stuck in the “shoulds” is a guaranteed recipe for unhappiness.  Instead I need to accept what is and learn to deal with it.  This has definitely been the year to roll with the punches.  And amidst all these cancellations, this uncertainty, I have peace.

 

That peace comes from knowing God.  The God I know created this world, and saw this year coming before time existed.  Nothing has taken Him by surprise.  He is our refuge, our safe place when all our familiar props have been knocked out from under us.  He is there when the world faces a pandemic, when we lose our jobs, when our stock accounts shrink overnight, when all our plans have been disrupted and even plan B doesn’t work.  He is there when the “shoulds” turn to “should nots.”  I can trust Him because I have walked with Him for many years and know Him to be faithful and true to his word.  Every morning I ask for new marching orders because I know my own agenda is not what matters and may be cancelled anyway.  So I don’t stay stuck in the “shoulds.”  I go to Him with what is, and ask Him what to do because He has a perfect plan for me.  Proverbs 3: 5-6 tells me what to do:

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SITTING IN THE TOP ROW

If you have known me for any length of time at all, you know I am a HUGE college football fan. Specifically, I love my Oklahoma Sooners, but I will watch any game, even Wake Forest or Rutgers.  Because it’s football!  Jerry and I have season tickets to watch the Sooners play in Norman, and we even go to a few away games.  When the Sooners play at home, I don’t get to watch many other games.  I can listen on the radio while driving, and keep up with the scores on my phone, but it’s not the same as a full day of football immersion.  And that is what I had last Saturday.  Since the Sooners were away, I got to watch football ALL DAY LONG, starting with ESPN GameDay at 8:00 AM, and falling asleep to the Pac 12 games on the west coast.  At some point during the Florida/Auburn game there was an aerial shot of the stadium, you know, one of those blimp views.  It was a dramatic shot of a full stadium and it made me recall something I had read earlier in the week about the top row of a stadium.  I will explain later, but first I will share some stadium experiences of my own.

As I said, we have season tickets to all of Oklahoma’s home games, and we usually have a ticket to the OU/Texas game in Dallas.  Our seats in Norman aren’t VIP seats by any means, but they aren’t bad seats either.  We have had the same seats for years and have gotten acquainted with the people who sit around us.  However, this past spring OU made some improvements to the stadium and they moved our seats slightly.  So now we are getting to know some new stadium neighbors.  Our new seats aren’t any better than our old, but they aren’t any worse either.  Frankly, I think one is lucky just to be inside the stadium.  Home games are always a sellout.  

I have a couple of memories of some not-so-good seats.  Years ago, before we had season tickets, we bought a pair to a home game.  It might have been my first game in Norman.  I was trying to remember what team we played that day—Jerry thinks it was Iowa State.  What I do remember is where the seats were located: on the very TOP row of the upper deck!  It felt like we were in another time zone!  Being that high up certainly gives you a different perspective on the game.  That is probably why you will often see a shot of a position coach operating from the booth.  He can see the big picture, often better that he can from the sideline.  And he can see much more than I can from my regular seats on the 20-yardline.

On another occasion we followed the Sooners to College Station to watch them play Texas A&M. Every football fan should see a game at Kyle Field.  And if you think it’s loud in Norman, you should sit with a stadium full of Aggies.  They even practice yelling!  But it’s a fun atmosphere, especially when your team is predicted to win.  As happy (and confident) as I was, on this particular day things didn’t go so well.  It started with our seats.  They were almost on the top row, and the their upper deck is so steep!  It was quite a hike to get to our row.  I was gasping by the time I found my seat.  On top of that, the Sooners had a bad day on the field.  And I had a big, birds eye view of the whole debacle.  

So all of this brings me back to what I read last week.  My friend Ronda has a brother, Rick Renner, whom I have never met, but I follow on social media.  He pastors a church in Russia, and has written several books, including Sparkling Gems From the Greeka devotional book based on Greek words from the Bible.  He does such a good job of painting word pictures, and I can always do better if I have a visual.  Last week he posted a study on the word “clouds” from Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” (NIV) 

This verse comes after the famous passage in Hebrews 11 known as “the roll call of the faithful,” a portrait of the saints who have gone before us.  Renner says the word “clouds” describes the highest seats in the bleachers of a stadium.  Those saints are sitting up there cheering us along. This description gave me an entirely different perspective on that verse.  Those saints who have gone before us have a big picture view from their seats in the clouds.  They know the final score.  And they are there, cheering us on as we take our turn on the field.  

Each of us has a finite amount of time, and for those of us who are Christians, our own unique position to play.  The goal is to advance the Gospel, to move it toward the finish line.  There are some who may be called to important positions such as coaches or quarterbacks.  Others of us may be less significant.  We may merely serve as water boys, but that water certainly is important to those who are doing the heavy work.  As a team, as a part of the Church, we strive to carry the cause of Christ.  I think of the words from the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers:

 

Like a mighty army
  Moves the Church of God:
Brothers, we are treading
  Where the saints have trod;
We are not divided,
  All one Body we—
One in faith and Spirit,
  One eternally.

My prayer is that I don’t fumble, that I don’t lose yards, that I can advance the ball.  And when my time on the field is over, may I take my seat on the top row and cheer on the next generation.

PLANTING THE FLAG

 

 

Wow! You can’t turn on a sports talk show (Yes, I listen to them!), or read the sports page this week without someone weighing in on Baker Mayfield. As everyone probably knows by now, Oklahoma went on the road and delivered a 31-16 win on No. 2 Ohio State’s home turf. NOBODY thought OU could win this one. It was an emotional win, especially after the embarrassing beat down OU received from Ohio State last year. The most crushing moment for the players came after that game when the Ohio state players sang their alma mater on Owen Field in Norman after routing the Sooners 45-24. Last Saturday the karma train came to Columbus and Baker Mayfield was driving.  After helping deliver a signature win for Lincoln Riley, Baker Mayfield took a victory lap carrying the Sooner flag and planting it in the center of the Ohio state field. Well, you can’t really plant a flag into artificial turf, but the gesture created quite a controversy.

 

Almost everyone has weighed in on this act. Never mind that the country has been dealing with two devastating hurricanes. It was disrespectful and he should apologize (he did). Or, he just plays with emotion and a good-sized chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t need to apologize. That’s what makes him Baker Mayfield.

 

Being a die-hard Sooner fan and one who loves to watch Baker Mayfield play, I didn’t have a problem with it. It was a BIG, exciting win for OU, and Mayfield had a spectacular night. And after all, it IS just football. (I can hardly believe I just wrote those words!) Besides, most of the Ohio State fans had long left the stadium by the end of the game. The apology? No doubt someone older and wiser told him it might be prudent to smooth ruffled feathers. Especially since the two teams might have to play each other again in the playoffs.

 

It seems like a tempest in a teapot to me. But it got me to thinking about flag planting and why we don’t do it more often. What does it mean, to plant a flag? The obvious answer is that the flag represents a victory. I think about the iconic flag that was raised over Iwo Jima, or planting a flag at the summit of a mountain. It also signifies a claim of ownership as when early explorers came to the New World and claimed land for England or Spain. In medieval times, a feudal lord had a flag with his coat of arms. Vassals pledged their loyalty to the lord and swore to fight for him while the lord pledged to protect the vassal. The flag was carried into battle to serve as a rallying point. If a soldier was separated from his fellow soldiers, he could look up and find the flag. And finally, a flag is a symbol of our identity. There are flags to represent countries, cities, faiths, families, and organizations.

 

Sidebar: I’ve thought so much about flags since Saturday I’m beginning to feel like Sheldon Cooper playing Fun With Flags. But I digress.

 

On a serious note, when I think about victory and ownership in my own life, I think of Jesus. In our worship service last Sunday, our pastor kept driving home the point that the battle has already been won. So why don’t we plant the flag? Jesus has won the battle over sin. I can plant the flag on that! The battle has been won over every temptation I will ever face. I need to plant the flag as a reminder to myself. He has defeated death. He is victorious over Satan and every evil of this world. Despots may raise flags but the flag of our Savior is superior. The lyrics of the great hymn Onward Christian Soldiers speak of the royal banners of Christ going before us in battle.  

 

There is a song that has been stuck in my head since Saturday night. It is the song children sing at church. The words go something like this: “Oh there’s a flag flown high o’er the castle of my heart for the king is in residence there.” The flag tells the world, “The king is here.” I hope my flag is raised high for all to see. If it isn’t, the problem is with me. In the UK, Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard is raised over her palace or castle telling the world that she is in residence. Furthermore, I read that the banner of the monarch of England is never at half-mast, because the monarchy continues even after the death of a king.

 

The royal banner of Christ will never be at half-mast. I can plant His flag firmly wherever I am because He is in residence in my heart.

 

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