It was a hot Saturday afternoon in the Rio Grande Valley. That, of course, could have described almost every one of the fifty-some Saturdays which occurred in any given year, but this one, I remember.
You never saw such a group of unlikely athletes. Oh, there were a few who had the physique for it, but the coordination hadn’t come along with the build. On this day, we weren’t worried about that.
We were a team. A group of guys focused on the same goal. All for one and one for all. We had heart.
The jocks showed up, jeering and making predictions. Seventy to nothing, one big muscle-bound fellow taunted. Others foresaw pain in our collective future.
We weren’t afraid—much.
The game began. For a little while, we held our own and it seemed that the predictions were very much flawed. Then, little by little, our confidence faded.
Two-below football is a minimum contact form of the sport which allows blocking, but not much other hitting of body on body. The person carrying the ball should expect nothing more than the slapping of two hands below the waist to bring the play to a halt.
Somehow, the jocks had the idea that it meant you simply tackled with two hands below the belt-line. It turned out that one of the predictions had been right: There was pain in our future. A good bit of it.
I played for the entire first half. A fair portion of the second half was spent on the ground along the sideline biting back the groans that a knee to the groin had elicited. I was not alone on the sideline. But still, I did get back out and play, however hampered I was by the discomfort, to end the game.
Heart or no heart, confidence or not, we lost—big time. I don’t think the score was seventy to nothing, but it might as well have been.
There had never been a chance. We were beaten before it began.
You thought the story would end better? Perhaps a miracle finish? Maybe a secret weapon to unleash upon the callous football players?
It didn’t happen.
It wasn’t a Hollywood story, you know. It wasn’t even an epic fairy tale.
Happily ever after didn’t happen.
We lost. Utterly and completely.
That’s life. No, really. It’s what life is. Reality isn’t all parties and happiness. Nobody wins every time. Nobody.
Some of my friends will be unhappy with me as they read this. Many voices have spoken different words into their lives.
I will respectfully and (hopefully) gently insist that our Creator has a different path for us.
For the last few years, the muttering has been growing. Folks are unhappy with the thought that many good things are coming to an end. We expected, as followers of Jesus, to live peacefully and unharmed in a bounty-filled land.
Wealth and plenty have been ours. Our voices have been the only ones we heard, as we have grown fat and selfish.
Perhaps, I should speak for myself. I have heard my own voice as I spoke words I believed to be true. Speaking and not acting, I have grown fat. In the absence of opposition, I have grown selfish beyond belief.
And now, in a way my grandparents and my parents never experienced, the world just outside my front door has grown increasingly unfriendly to my comfort and ease.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming persecution. I’ve seen—from afar—what happens to believers when they are persecuted. I haven’t experienced even a fraction of that, nor have most folks I’m acquainted with.
But, it may come to that. Being neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I cannot say.
Still, we are promised, not comfort, but discomfort. We are promised, not open arms from the world around us, but reproach. Folks we call our neighbors will turn on us.
I’m not talking about end-times prophecy. I’m simply averring that this is what life will be for us if we truly follow Jesus.
After all, He is the One who promised hardship. Promised it. (John 16:33)
He never asked us to win the battle for men’s hearts for Him. That’s His job. He simply asked us to stand firm to the end.
He never suggested that we would be happy and trouble-free because we serve Him faithfully, but He did promise that we will inherit His kingdom. (Matthew 5:10)
And, that brings us to the one other thing He did promise: The day is coming.
The day is coming when all of this will fade into nothingness. All the pain. All the sadness. All the jeering. All the hardships we’ve ever faced.
All of it. Nothing. Nothing at all.
The Apostle Paul wrote down the words he was given by the Spirit:
There is no comparison in any way between the passing inconveniences of this world and the unbelievable glory which will be ours in the next. (Romans 8:18)
There are days when I am overcome with weariness—with sorrow—with despair. This mountain I am facing can never be scaled, can never be conquered.
A friend reminded me tonight of that great fortress called Doubting Castle, kept by the Giant Despair. John Bunyan wrote of it hundreds of years past.
Many I know have been held captive there. Many I know are still chained in its dungeon.
Still, it’s as true today as it was in the days when Mr. Bunyan sat in prison for his faith—still as true as in the early days of the Church: The world has been overcome by the One we follow. The outcome has never been in doubt.
Our day is coming.
Hope’s spark still burns deep within each one who follows Him.
Our enemy doesn’t play by the rules. He never has. He seems so much more powerful than we are. That hasn’t changed, either.
We seem so easily injured and tired out.
But, the game is not over yet.
And, he has been fooled before.
As it turns out, he’s the one who never had any hope of winning.
I’m going to stick it out.
And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
(1 Corinthians 15:19 ~ NLT)
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times, But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English novelist ~ 1892-1973)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.