Like so many in America, for the past two weeks I have been caught up in the World Cup soccer excitement.
When I say ‘caught up,’ I think I should clarify that I am not saying I don a multi-colored clown afro wig, drape myself in an American flag and paint my face red, white and blue.
At least, not in public.
Rather, I am enjoying the nightly opportunity to yell at, I mean encourage, some of my favorite teams as they play in the opening rounds of the tournament.
Now perhaps some of you were put off by my first sentence. “Excitement” you ask? “I’ve had more excitement watching paint dry on a humid day.”
Well pardon me, Tom Sawyer. I didn’t mean to distract you from the non-stop thrill ride of watching men in plaid knickers chasing a small white ball around a green lawn with metal sticks or men in hats and tight-fitting uniforms hitting a larger white ball with wooden sticks.
At its most basic, soccer involves a team of players working together to get the ball into the opposing team’s net while simultaneously preventing the other team from doing the same in their net. When one team manages to get the ball into the net, it’s called ‘scoring a goal’ and results in a point for the team who scored it.
Usually, when a goal is scored, the announcers who are commenting on the game shout “Goal!” Some regular viewers of the US Men’s Team may be forgiven for not recognizing this word as it hasn’t always been heard in a US game. The more enthusiastic announcers (read, Central and South American) will shout “Goooaaalll,” drawing the word out for several seconds, almost until their voices runs out.
Or they pass out from a lack of oxygen. It can go either way.
Thanks to the World Cup, I have been hearing the word “Goal” a lot. Every time I hear it, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians in the New Testament. In Philippians 3:14 he said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul wasn’t speaking of a balanced attack on the Roman net. The goal he was referring to could also be translated “mark” and literally means the white line at the end of a foot race. Yet he wasn’t referring to a literal sprint or even a marathon; he was sitting in jail when he wrote this letter. According to the context, Paul was referring to the goal of life for the Christian disciple: the prize – spending eternity with Jesus.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is full of encouragement and joy. In chapter 1 he reminds the believers that he may die soon, as we all will, but not to despair. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” he said in 1:21.
That may sound strange to some. How can dying be gain?
According to the Christian gospel, dying is gain because Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection guaranteed that those who place their faith in Jesus will spend eternity with Him. How is that?
For the believer, Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection has satisfied a holy God’s wrath against sin. God no longer sees the sin but now sees the righteousness of Jesus. Paul said in Philippians 3:9 that he didn’t have “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
The result of this faith is the “resurrection from the dead” (3:11) for the believer. According to Paul, Jesus is both the prize and the ability to win the prize. Therefore, Paul is pressing on, or not letting anything distract him from Jesus.
In this we can learn from the teams playing in the World Cup. The teams have one “goal:” to score as many points as possible and win the game. If they allow anything to distract them, the crowds, the noise, the heat, etc., they will not be able to win.
Similarly, Paul reminds the Christian that we are to have our focus solely on Jesus and not to allow anything in this life to distract us from our final goal: spending eternity with Jesus.
That’s a goal worth shouting about!
Now what do you recommend I use to wash off this face paint?