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.