The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

The Gospel According to the World Cup

I ran across this meme not that long ago that made me actually laugh at loud…


We laugh because we know it’s true. Perhaps this doesn’t make sense to those from “the greatest generation,” but the younger you are, the more you will chuckle at the absurd truth pictured above.

I find myself amidst a generation that has never showed much in the way of patriotism. However, the moment the Olympics roll around, we paint ourselves up in red, white, and blue and are proud to be Americans.

719px-WC-2014-Brasil.svgThe World Cup has reminded me of this reality over the past several weeks… especially with the USMNT about to play in the knockout round in less than an hour. Futbol/Soccer in America has been gaining steam throughout the years and it seems like more people are on board this year than ever before!

What amazes me is that many of these people are my age. The very generations who would never purchase a flag to fly in their yard, are wearing them like capes and chanting “I believe that we will win,” 24/7.

Now here’s the deal… I am NOT bemoaning the growing popularity of soccer in the states. Others have done that ad nauseum. I actually like soccer and welcome its growing popularity.  I definitely don’t think any sport should consume our lives, but I do believe they are a part of God’s common grace to be rightly enjoyed. I am also NOT trying to make an assessment about the state of patriotism (or the lack thereof) in the United States.

These are not the things that interest me most.

What I find intriguing is WHY worldwide sporting events, such as the world cup, can take a nation like ours, that is divided on nearly every public issue, and unite us all under one banner. What is it about soccer, or any sport that brings us together while all other things seem to drive us apart?

I think the answer is found in one word… CLARITY.

Sports may be the only place left in our culture that is able to maintain a sense of clarity. The rules are clear. Right and wrong are clear. Who we are for is clear. Who we are against is clear. Our heroes are clear. Our enemies are clear. The boundaries are clear. There is a beautiful sense of clarity surrounding these games, how they are played, and what the goal is. Thus, it becomes much easier for us to be united as a country.

In nearly all other areas of life we have lost clarity. Right and wrong are no longer clear. The “rules” are no longer clear…for many people it is not even clear whether there should or should not be “rules.” Who should make the rules is not clear. Morals are no longer clear.  Clearly (pun intended), we have managed to make all of life “fuzzy.”

How has this happened?

blurry peopleI have a theory. I think the same “fuzziness” we experience in the culture at large would invade sports culture if we made one slight change to the way rules are formulated for these games. What if we simply said every player is free to make up their own rules? They can each play the game the way they see fit. While we are at it, the fans can make up their own rules as well.

Such action, in one fell swoop, would destroy all the “unity” we currently experience through the games we love so much.

This is the epidemic we find in our culture at large. We have embraced the values of Israel during the period of the Judges… “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).” We want no one to be king, but us. We each want the freedom to determine what is right and wrong for ourselves… and then we’d really love to enforce our own sense of morality on everyone else.

But, let’s be honest…this isn’t an American problem. It’s not a modern problem. This is a human problem. Ever since Genesis 3 we have believed the lie that we can “be like God.” We can know right and wrong and make the rules for ourselves.

The truth revealed by Scripture is that there is one God and I am not him. This God has designed the universe and all in it and has revealed his will for how it is to function. His will is good, loving, and perfect. We were designed to live with him as King! He defines right and wrong by his Word… and we live by faith in his goodness. We trust him.

red_main_1689473aWe all know that if a soccer player decided to make-up their own rules they would be ejected very quickly. In a much greater way, the same thing has happened in reality. Our rebellion against God has brings about death. That is the only thing that actually makes any logical sense! God is holy and deals with sin/evil in a permanent way. He eliminates it! Which is the good and right thing for him to do! All of us want God to eliminate evil, we just don’t want to believe that includes us… but it does!

Yet, the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has taken our death our rebellion deserved! Through faith in him, “being our own king” dies and “knowing God as king” comes to life!

The Gospel is clear! It declares that Jesus is King and we are not!

The church unites under him in a greater way than any nation has ever united under the banner of a sports team! And that is a beautiful thing!

Soccer is known as “the beautiful game.” Seeing a team work together toward the goal for which the team was created, and a whole nation get behind them…it really is beautiful. But, how much more beautiful is it when we as people strive for the goal we were created for…when we unite under the kingship of God! This is not oppressive, repulsive, restrictive, or unloving…it is beautiful!

Individual kingship is not beautiful… it is rebellion that rips apart what is truly beautiful. Much like individual rule-making would destroy the beauty of soccer.

The kingship of God is beautiful…more beautiful than any game!

Soccer may be just a game, but the reality behind why it unites and excites us is rooted in a much deeper, larger story… the story of the Gospel. We all long for the kind of clarity that can only be truly found in the Gospel! Soccer (and all sports) hint at this clarity. They point us to what it is like to experience the beauty of being united in a purpose we all agree is right and good! They point us toward the truth found in the reality of the Gospel alone.

usmntSo as the world unites behind their teams… as I unite with my fellow americans to chant “I believe that we will win…” I want to declare with ultimate clarity that my heart’s true chant is “I believe that Christ will win!” My real unity is with him as my king and the Gospel says he is your king too!

Into a “fuzzy” world, the Gospel cuts with ultimate clarity! Embrace Jesus by faith! I promise that more so than any game… he is beautiful… our beautiful king.


I’m NOT a Reader!

5046807_f520“But I’m not a reader!”

As a pastor, I cannot tell you how often I hear these words in response to encouraging people to seek joy in Christ through the Scriptures. In a world where God has primarily communicated himself to us via written word, it would seem he has also primarily created people who do not enjoy the written word! Irony much?

Modern research into teaching/learning methods have only served to increase people’s justification for not reading. I hear things like, “I’m a tactile learner” or “I’m a visual learner.” These excuses are used both to explain why people don’t want to read their Bible and why they don’t want to listen to sermons.

Alas… what are we to do? Has God been so inept to provide us with the ineffective tools of Scripture and preaching?

Not hardly.

God loves words! He created them! In fact, he created through them! One of the first things we learn about God is that he is a God who speaks! He reveals himself through words. He draws us to faith through the Word of the Gospel! He transforms our lives by his Holy Spirit working through the Word to renew our mind!  Even the greatest revelation of himself, his son Jesus, was known as the Word made flesh!

He gave us ears to hear words, mouths to speak words, and even eyes to read words!

If you’re thinking… “Yeah Jonathan, that’s all great, but I’m still not a reader!” I want to give you five simple things to think about and see if God doesn’t soften your heart toward pursuing him in the riches of his Word.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1. The reason you can read is so that you can read the Bible.
The history behind modern literacy rates is primarily rooted in Christianity. We are a people of the book and have always wanted others to be able to read that book! Most of the modern day university system has Christian roots that really can be traced all the way back to medieval monasteries. Christians have been responsible for developing written languages all over the globe and promoting literacy on the mission field… all of this for the ultimate purpose of equipping people to read the Bible. One of the main reasons so many people can read today is because of the efforts of Christians in the past who wanted you to be able to read the Bible.

Church022. The Bible was never meant to be read alone.
One of the reasons many people avoid or ignore reading Scripture is because it can be a difficult task. Let’s be honest… the Bible is not the easiest read. It is an old book, written in a variety of styles to which our modern sensibilities are not naturally attuned. To understand any given passage you have to mentally journey across time, cultures, geography, settings, etc. This can be an extremely tough task! I believe this is why Scripture is not meant to be read alone. I don’t mean that you should never read the Bible while sitting by yourself. By all means…do that! What I mean is that we should always take what we are reading in private and discuss it with other believers! In this way, we can help each other understand the scriptures. We can teach one another, disciple one another, etc. The Bible is a communal book. It was written to communities, for communities, to be read in community, preached in community, and discussed in community. The Holy Spirit works through the Word and through one another to help us understand the Scriptures! We are a body that works together for the good of the whole…this includes our reading of Scripture. If you find reading the Bible frustrating, then find people with whom you can discuss what you are reading. Especially look for people equipped to help you understand the word. You might just find yourself becoming excited about seeing more of Jesus through Scripture.

magazines4603. We read what we love.
You know this is true. You may not read very much, but if there is something you particularly enjoy, then you will read about that subject. Perhaps novels bore you, but you have a million issues of People magazine. Maybe history doesn’t peak your interest at all, but you can hardly wait for the next issue of BassMaster, Cosmo, or Sports Illustrated. We read what we love. The question is do we love Jesus? We have been promised that he will meet us in the pages of Scripture…and if we love him we will pursue him there…even if it is difficult. We are willing to work hard for the things and people we love. Have you seen the value of knowing Jesus? If so, then you know he is worth the effort of digging into Scripture. Reading the Bible is like mining for gold…the task is wrought with difficulty, but the reward is riches beyond your dreams. In fact…the treasures available in the Word are worth more than any amount of gold (Ps 19:7-10)! Love Jesus…and read about what you love.

bible-light-rays4. Do not rely on your natural learning preferences, but on the supernatural teaching of the Holy Spirit.
When we say things like, “I’m not a reader,” we are not just underestimating our learning ability, but the Holy Spirit’s teaching ability! The Holy Spirit inspired the Word and speaks through it…do we doubt that he can actually do that? The fact that you are not a reader is actually all the more reason for the Holy Spirit to teach you through the Word because it will be even more obvious that he is the one at work! God loves to work through our weaknesses! Perhaps this is the reason he has chosen to primarily communicate through written Word when so many of us feel weak as readers! God has promised that faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ! May we believe him and let that change the way we approach hearing and reading the Word.

image0165. What about people who cannot read?
Perhaps all this sounds find to you, but what about people who legitimately cannot read. While literacy is on the rise, illiteracy still abounds. Are non-readers doomed because they lack this particular skill? Absolutely not! Since it’s inception, the church has always had a large portion of its population who were illiterate. Even those who could read were not able to own a personal copy of the Scriptures until well after the invention of the printing press (circa 1450). This is why I always stress the studying of Scripture in community. For the majority of its history, the church has only been able to study the Word together. Brothers and sisters who cannot read today are still able to dive deep into the riches of God’s word through hearing it and discussing it in community. The ability to read a personally owned Bible can greatly enhance this experience and this is why we, the church, are still advocates for written language development, Bible translation, and literacy. The need is actually much greater than you think. There are almost 7,000 known languages in our world. About 500 of these have the complete Bible in their language. Many have portions of Scripture or a current translation project happening, but nearly 1800 languages still await the start of translation effort to bring them the Bible in their own tongue. Those 1800 languages represent about 180 million people! In light of this reality how could we ever look at the treasure of our Bible and say… “Nah… I’m not a reader!” Let us take up and read so that we may know Christ and make him known! Let us continue to take the Word to those who still don’t have it in their own language so that they many know The Word…Jesus! Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ!

For more information about how you can be involved in Bible translation efforts click here.

Bonus Confession: I’m not a reader either!
This may sound strange and unbelievable coming from a pastor who has invested in a small library, but it’s true. I didn’t read a complete book until late middle school. Even then, all I read were comic books and sci-fi/fantasy novels until well into college. It took me years to read through the Bible for the first time and I was actually over halfway done with seminary before I completed the task. Ha! However, I now spend much of my time with my nose in books because I believe that within the pages of Scripture there is treasure far greater than anything this world has to offer! I don’t always enjoy digging for treasure, but I do enjoy finding it. Thus, I find myself reading more and more of Scripture and resources that help me mine its depths. So take it from one “non-reader” to another, not only is it possible to read the Bible, it is far more rewarding than you could ever imagine because within those pages and those words you actually encounter a person…the person…Jesus.


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