Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sports Fans Anonymous

Hi. My name is Frank. And I . . . freak out at my kid’s ball games. Is there a group for people like me? A couple of folks in our church probably think I could use one when they sit near me at the gym.

My biggest fear is that one day a couple of "zebras" will show up in church and begin heckling me as I preach. I can hear it now. "That illustration was horrible! Horrible! How much are they paying you?! My mother is a better preacher than you. You call yourself an Arminian?! Joe Stalin had more sermons on free will than you!" Or the preacher’s version of the air ball chant: "Boooooring!"

And then what will I do? At least a referee can give a fan a technical and throw him out. I’ll be powerless while two ushers and a greeter drag the ref (who’s doing his best impersonation of Bob Knight) up the center aisle kicking and throwing offering plates and church bulletins at the pulpit.

There is another fear, of course. I worry that some person who doesn’t know me will take one look at my exercised state and figure, "If that guy’s a preacher, count me out." That really does bother me. To that person, let me say three things:

First, there are worse things than having your kid know that you’re so in their corner that you die with each pitch and bleed with each free throw. There are worse things than having your son or daughter look up in the crowd and get red-faced when they see you hold your glasses out in the direction of the official. There are worse things than your child sometimes wishing you weren’t at their game. Like, for example not being at their game. I’m not saying that my behavior is always exemplary (although it does seem more subdued when we’re winning). I’m just saying that my children have no doubt whatsoever that, because they bleed green and white, so do I. Say what you may, they know I am in their corner.

There is something to be said about passion, too. I can’t understand how people can go to a hot contest and not feel their heart race and their ears pound. Okay, I’ll admit, maybe that’s just because I’m fanatical. But I sometimes wonder, if you don’t ever feel like something dies each time your team loses, just how much are you alive anyway? Am I passionate about sports? Yes. But I am just as passionate about loving my wife and being with my kids and serving my church. To those who think I am a possessed preacher I say, "Yes, I’m wild. But I’m wild about my church and wild about Jesus and, when you connect with Christ and this church, you’ll find that I’m wild about you, too."

One final thing. There are limits. Last year a woman accosted my family at a game. Another fan threw an empty pop bottle in her general direction. Her team was losing by twenty points and both her daughter’s coaches had received technical fouls. Assuming we were the guilty party, she snapped. I tried to calm her down. I got between her and my family; I made sure I was sitting down and trying to be non-confrontational. I spoke to her calmly.

None of it worked. She got thrown out of the game and her husband ended up choking a school official in the parking lot before police were called.

There are limits, and they can’t be crossed. Competition is fine. Passion is fine. Yell, holler, cheer - get really worked up. But know where the line is and don’t cross it.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if all of us brought the same passion, energy and intensity to our relationship with Christ. What would happen if we were as fanatical about our work in His church.

If that happened, I think we could change the world.

Truth is, pop-bottle-crazy-woman incident scared me. While I honestly don’t think I would ever cross the line between fan and fanatical, maybe I need to show a little more reserve at the ball game. But then again, maybe I (and you, too) need to be a little less reserved with our faith. Passion misapplied is dangerous. Passion rightly applied is powerful.

And we could all use more of that.

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