The NFL season begins tonight with a Thursday night matchup between the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Dallas Cowboys. Lots of us will be watching the game. The start of the NFL season brings renewed cause for hope among long-suffering Cowboys fans, as well as those who root for any of the thirty-two teams which comprise professional football today.
If you are like me, you grew up watching ABC's Wide World of Sports. Almost everyone knows the phrase the show made famous: "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat." We not only know that from watching the Wide World of Sports; we recognize it because we've experienced it in our lives. We have all known the agony of defeat.
Over the last couple of decades, many of us have experienced it with our football team, the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been to the Super Bowl twice; how many of you remember the 2003 team? We had Jake Delhomme at quarterback, Steve Smith was our star wide receiver, Stephen Davis was the running back, John Kasay was the kicker, and Jordan Gross was a young rising star at tackle. They were huge underdogs in the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots. In the second half, the Panthers played lights-out and tied the game with a couple minutes remaining. But Tom Brady (how many times have we seen this?) led his team down the field to score a field goal with only a few seconds remaining which won the game by the score of 32 - 29.
Thousands of Carolina Panthers' fans experienced, at the same time, the agony of defeat. Loss is part of the game of football, but it's also a metaphor of life. To be clear, in life you're going to experience defeat sometimes. But how do you live through, and move past, the agony of defeat?
There are four things I have learned from football over the years on how to move through the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory: 1) Don't quit, but get back up; 2) Don't linger at disappointment, but move on to gratitude; 3) Don't blame others, but learn from the defeat; and 4) Don't look back, but look to the future with hope.
Just remember that the cross, the agonizing defeat of Jesus, became the instrument God used to save the world. No matter how much pain you're experiencing today, evil and sickness and death will never have the final word. We get back up, we give thanks, we choose to get better, and we choose to go forward with hope.
In the name of the One who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
Bruce Jones, Pastor and Co-Creator,
Imagine Church of the Carolinas