1 Corinthians 9: 24-25…“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Charlotte, NC is one of those types of places that everyone that was born there is very proud of where they come from. At least they are from my generation born in the 60’s and 70’s and before. Mid-size cities are often this way, such as, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and other similar sized places. We want people to know our city exists too and that it’s a great place to be. I’m not sure of the psychology behind that, but I’m willing to guess that it’s akin to Napoleonic complex because of being rivals with nearby larger cities. Charlotte has grown such now that it’s losing that quality, but for those of us who are natives, we’re extremely proud when good things happen to it. Which leads me to the Carolina Panthers NFL football team.
We (Charlotte) were awarded an NFL team that began play in Charlotte in 1996. The first year was spent playing in Clemson, SC until our brand new stadium in Uptown Charlotte was completed. Uptown instead of downtown is another story all together, but it goes right back to that striving to be unique and special. The very first event held in what is now called, Bank of America Stadium, was a Billy Graham Crusade. Billy of course being one of those proud Charlotte natives, and he is also a fan of our football team like the rest of us. If you listen to past messages of his you’ll hear his love of NC and Charlotte come forth quite often. 20 years later that stadium and the city of Charlotte will be hosting our very first NFC Championship game between the Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals. It’s kind of a big deal.
I love the game of football both college and pro. I loved playing the game with my friends as a kid. I didn’t so much love playing organized football, and the giant kids that played against us that must have lived by a nuclear power plant. That’s when I discovered there was a limit to my love of football. Ha. That said, I’ve been rabidly obsessed this year with the Panthers best season in our history. Going into the championship game we have 16 wins against 1 loss. It’s been a beautiful sight to behold. When I attended the playoff game last weekend with my family, I began to wonder if me directing all of this passion at the Panthers was a correct posture from a Godly standpoint. It’s a dangerous and slippery slope bordering on idol worship. Often times, the most seemingly harmless activities are the things drawing us away from relationship with our Father. Is that what is happening to me? It’s a very serious question.
So I began to put this against what the Apostle Paul wrote comparing the spirit of earthly competition with the spiritual responsibility that comes with eternal salvation. Competition and games existed in the time of Christ and the Apostles the same as it does now. He mentions racing in the quoted verse, and later he mentions boxing if you go on reading the chapter. Paul does not condemn these things, but instead he uses them as an example for us to adhere for a much higher purpose. “They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
This led me to honestly assess my life from the stance of am I as “sold out” (I really dislike that Christianese term but it fits here) for Jesus as I am the Carolina Panthers? Not that many years ago that would have been a for sure no. But I’m a much different man in my transformation than I was 5, 3, even 1 year ago. My life revolves around Jesus now in all phases. Even football, because I’ve never even considered this to be an issue before, but now the spirit has brought it to my attention. This is what happens when the spirit of the living Christ dwells within us. It was brought to me to consider for a reason. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy all of this creation and the other humans God has created and the great things mankind does, but we must at all times remain with both feet on his narrow path. Eyes forward. If the Panthers lose this weekend I’m going to naturally be disappointed as to what might have been, but my life will instantly go on. I’m in my own race. I’m seeking the crown that is eternal. The Super Bowl crown will fade to dust when mine still shines with his glory as I lay it at the feet of my Savior.
Billy Graham, if he is able in his condition, I’m sure will be watching the game this Sunday. I’ll be there with my family once again, making the 1200 mile roundtrip trek to be in that moment with them. The picture above is one that I took just a few weeks ago while at his library in Charlotte. It’s a signed helmet from Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, to Mr. Graham, “his friend.” It’s a great moment for the team and for the city of Charlotte and all that love it. But I’ll also have these words from Billy in my mind as I temper my enthusiasm with spiritual reality…“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”
I’ve grown much closer in likeness to the Lord over these many years, but I still have much more growing to do. How about you? Are the things you give your deepest passions to surpassing the passion you give to serving and growing in Christ? Serious question indeed.