Three yards and a cloud of dust

Good morning Teammates,

This year at University Ministries we are inviting you to consider whether or not you would like to become a follower of Jesus Christ. We are not asking you to become just a believer in Jesus Christ nor are we looking for people who can simply say the right words about Jesus, rather we are looking for people who will move in the same direction, react with a similar passion and hold a similar disposition to Jesus Christ. 

We are inviting you to make this decision because this is the decision that Jesus asked those around him to make. He said that even the demons believe in me and there are far too many people who speak nice words about God but who do not possess the lives to match and so what I am looking for are people who will actually follow me.

This is not a decision we want you to make lightly with every head bowed and every eye closed and nobody having to know. This is a decision that should have weight to it and a heaviness about it because it requires not just a head bowed, but a whole life laid down.  And you can’t do this with your eyes closed because Jesus wants you to follow him into the world and you will need to see the world if you want to follow him. And we’re hoping everyone will know when you make this decision because we believe it is the best news and that the best news should never be kept to oneself.

We’re not claiming that this will be an easy journey but most journeys worth traveling come at a cost. And there are those of us who can testify that Jesus is worth the price of following, because we have seen him extend a hand to the those who need to know that they are loved, we have seen him heal people that are hurting and he has offered all of us a kind of hope that is difficult to come by these days, a hope that the world can become good and all its people very good.

The following we are inviting you to do will not be a passive endeavor, you cannot sit on the bench and play this game. Jesus was looking for people who would not just passively walk behind him but who would actually and actively follow him in his way of walking. Forgiving those who have hurt them, learning to speak boldly on unfamiliar turf in front of often disinterested people, refusing to throw stones at those on the other side of the line and taking time to go a stone’s throw away from everyone else in order to spend time with God. These are the kind of things that Jesus did and when he met people he said, “Follow me,” not just in theory, but also in practice.

And so as some of you begin to practice, let me remind you of something most of our athletes on campus already know. When you’re beginning to practice it helps to have a goal. Jesus didn’t go aimlessly about his life. Jesus knew that Jerusalem was his goal, his end zone, and his finish line. And there came a point in Jesus life where, “from that time on’” he made it clear to everyone around him that he must go there. (Matt 16:21)

I know that most people in their teens and early 20’s do not yet know what their “Jerusalem” will be; if we’re honest many of us in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s often feel equally clueless. But perhaps that is because all too often we have thought about the goal in terms of a destination and a place rather than an identity and a face. If you and I are going to follow Jesus, our “Jerusalem” is less about a destination and more about a manifestation. Following Jesus is not so much about where you want to end up, but about who you want to be when you get there and what kind of person do you want people to see along the way.  Let me encourage you to practice being that person in your day-to-day life and I promise that when you truly know who you are, you will care far less about where you end up.

And if you plan to follow Jesus not just in theory but in practice, perhaps you too will want to identify up front the obstacles you are bound to face. In the same sentence that Jesus makes it clear that he must go to Jerusalem he also says, “and suffer many things”. It does no good to give yourself a goal if you’re not going to be honest about the obstacles. A goal without an honest assessment of the obstacles will always remain out of reach because the obstacles will catch you off guard and take you out of the game.  If we want to follow Jesus you and I need to be honest about the obstacles that we are up against and we need to have a strategy for how we plan to break through to the other side. 

I don’t know that much about playing football, beyond playing center for my women’s intramural team in college and beyond researching for my fantasy football team, but years ago I read something about an offensive strategy that stuck with me. It was an article about Woody Hayes, who coached the Ohio State Buckeyes in football and his strategy on the field, a strategy that is known as “three yards and a cloud of dust”. Woody Hayes believed that you didn’t need fancy passes to win the game, just make three yards every play by brute force and go down fighting for the fourth and if you do that on every play you’ll keep getting first downs and you will march down the field bit by bit. If you’re going to keep progressing toward the goal, be honest about the fact that you may get beat up a bit and that you will spend some time face down in the dirt. According to both Jesus and Woody Hayes, whether you get to the goal has little to do with whether or not you are knocked down and everything to do with whether or not you get up again.

And if you plan to follow Jesus not just in theory, but also in practice, take a team with you. Jesus did not walk toward Jerusalem alone. Jesus took some allies with him, those who would help prepare the way, praise the wins, and pray for one another in loss. Find some good teammates it is vital to your success.

This morning as we gather together in chapel to remind ourselves once again of the goal I invite you to join us as we hear the word of God delivered to us by our very own Coach Mike Conway, a man who knows how take people from theory to practice both on and off the field. We have also invited our North Park Viking Athletes to join us this morning and we would love for you to join us as we bless them.

May you know your Jerusalem, may your obstacles not catch you off guard and may you find among us some good teammates.

Pastor Judy