Happenings

LESSONS FROM THE WORLD CUP

Aug 2006    

Aim for our goals

BELIEVE it or not, there is a global pandemic fever. It is called the “World Cup Fever”.

Today if you do not know anything about the World Cup, like who is in the semi-finals, people might think you are from another planet.

I realise that the World Cup is a great conversation starter. You can talk practically to any stranger you meet by just mentioning the World Cup. Just the other day I sat in a table of total strangers at a wedding dinner. Other than
introducing ourselves by name, there was hardly anything to talk about. But the moment I mentioned the World Cup, their faces lit up; it was like you pushed an “on” button and before long they dazzled you with their personal remarks and analytical comments. If you have problems talking with your teenaged children, try talking about the World Cup.

To tell you the truth, I am not a soccer junkie, but I watched the World Cup for sermon illustrations. After all, our Lord Jesus often preceded His teaching by saying, “Consider the birds of the air; look at the lilies of the fields and behold a sower when out to sow …” He pointed his listeners to what they could see around them and drew lessons from it.

If Jesus were to be on earth doing His ministry today, He just might say, “Observe the World Cup – people from every nation flock to the World Cup; they gather to watch as if it is the greatest event in the world. But the day will come when nations from around the world, people of every race and tongue will gather around the My Saving Cup and drink from it the salvation of grace.”

Soccer is actually a very religious game. One former striker who scored a controversial goal said it was the hand of God. Substitute players enter the field by first making the sign of the cross. The spectators clasp their hands in hopeful prayer. And the pain of a missed goal is expressed in groaning too deep for words.

When someone scores a goal, the joy is shared by every teammate, every player on the bench, and every supporter on the sidelines, the coach and the fans. They really rejoice with those who rejoice.

And they really weep with those who weep. They cried for Argentina; they cried for England and they cried for Brazil. Come to think of it, those who cry may well be punters. They just lost their bets.

well be punters. They just lost their bets. Seriously, are there lessons we can learn from this World Cup? There are; let me name a few.

1. It does not mean that when you scored the first goal, you were going to win. The matches taught me that it is not just about starting well but finishing well. Japan started well. Argentina started well. The coaches thought they were winning; they pulled out the good players, substituted those who needed more exposure. And the rest was history. They lost the game.

2. When you are older than the rest, it does not mean you have lost your zing. Think about Zidane. He is older than any of the players in this World Cup, yet he has not lost his zing. He was able to bring the inspiration and the magical touch to the team. This reminds me of the verse in Psalm 92:14: “They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.”

3. I told my young people – if they can remember the names of every team, who scores what and at which minute, they have no problem memorising Scriptures.

4. The World Cup is about scoring goals. Our ministry is about scoring Kingdom goals. Having renowned star players does not guarantee you will score goals. A renowned star player may be great in days of yore from Brazilian shore. But today he may be bouncing his belly more than a ball. The fab has developed a flab (You know who I am talking about).

Still, a good team is important. You need players who are fit, skilful and versatile. I have seen players able to kick with both legs. That reminds me of the mighty men of David who can fight with right and left hands. They were versatile – able to use both their natural and not so natural inclination.

5. I notice that teams that have great ball possession do not necessary score goals. In fact some lost the match to the other team that has less ball possession. We can have everything under control, tight-fisted in our management and administration, conduct every programme with precision and have full possession of concise order, yet we may not score any Kingdom goals.

6. I also recognise that the outcome of a match could depend on the referee. Watching the matches in this World Cup does confirm the suspicion that often times referees are “kayu” except for Shamsul Maidin, of course (I have to be patriotic). Yellow cards were given indiscriminately for every unintentional foul. Red cards made some see red. Penalties were awarded undeservingly. The people of Ghana say they lost the game to Brazil not because their team was weak but the referee was a freak.

I am so glad that God who referees the game of life, who judges our work and our performance, is fair, just and true. The hymn writer says, “There is no shadow of turning with Thee.” There is no variation with God in His decision, His rule and His ways.

The comforting thought is that every injustice done to us can be held up to God. There is no need for pushing and scuffling with words and actions and getting people on the sidelines to come to your support. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” He rules. He reigns. He judges. He is the one who holds the yellow cards and red cards.

7. Of course there are many more lessons you can draw from this World Cup. Like playing according to the rules. Behaving according to the rules both on the field and off the field, during the match and after. Torsten Flings is a case in point. The apostle Paul says in II Tim 2:5 that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

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