For many weeks our TV sets have had a full schedule of football games. If you are a football fan, this is the best time of the year as teams compete to ultimately win the title of the championship of their division or franchise. You may not be a fan, but you likely know more than one or two people who are. Sales of clothing and gear representing each team can be found almost everywhere and I know at least two of my grandchildren found shirts of their favorite teams under the Christmas tree.
Football historians generally regard the birth date of football in the United States as November 6, 1869, when teams from Rutgers and Princeton Universities met for the first intercollegiate football game. In those early games, there were 20 players to a team and football still more closely resembled rugby than modern football.
By 1873, representatives from Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, and Yale Universities met in New York City to formulate the first intercollegiate football rules for the increasingly popular game. These four teams established the Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) and set 15 as the number of players allowed on each team.
Walter Camp, the coach at Yale and a dissenter from the IFA over his desire for an eleven man team, helped begin the final step in the evolution from rugby-style play to the modern game of American football. The IFA’s rules committee, led by Camp, soon cut the number of players from fifteen to eleven, and also instituted the size of the playing field, at one hundred yards with two ten yard end zones.
Players on football teams are chosen for their skill and gifting to play either offensive or defensive positions. Football players tend to be specialized in their roles on the team, especially offensive football players. Some players have managed to play multiple positions on offense and defense even at the professional level, but this rarely happens.
If you are a football fan, you already know something about the roles of the offense versus the defense. The offense is tasked with moving the football down the field (led by the quarterback) to the opposing team’s end zone to score. These players tend to be big and strong to protect the quarterback in his quest and to stand against the defense whose primary task is to prevent the other team from achieving their movement of the ball down the field to score.
As believers (a team) in Christ we are caught up in a great goal of building the church on this earth and preparing for the Second Advent, Christ’s return. Most of us are aware of the battle we find ourselves in with the forces of darkness that seek to stop us from moving forward with that goal. We likely have heard sermons on spiritual warfare or even read books about it. Both are helpful reminders to us of the unseen world around us that powerfully affects what we do see, but sometimes we can get caught up in the idea that we are consistently playing defense in this battle.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Have we considered what this one verse makes clear?
From the beginning of time walls were built around cities to protect them from their enemies. We see that routinely in our reading of the Bible. Nehemiah is a great place to look at the building (rebuilding) of the walls around the city of Jerusalem after it had been decimated. If you read the text carefully, you see the importance of the hanging of the gates and the purpose of those gates. Gates were a part of the defense of the city and key to protection.
As believers we are not called to hide behind the enclosures and gates of our churches and play defense. We are called to go out using the armor Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 and take the world for Christ.
Mark Batterson puts it this way in Chase the Lion, “In other words, we’re called to play offense. Faithfulness isn’t holding down the fort until Jesus returns. Faithfulness is taking back enemy territory by shining light in dark places.”
J.R.R. Tolkien gives us many glimpses of the difference between playing offense and defense against tremendous odds. One of my favorites is when King Aragorn leads a trembling army to the black gate to charge against the very enemy they fear in The Return of the King. His lines to his troops are epic:
“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight!! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!!!”
We are called to transform the world!
Even as the word of King Aragorn echoes down through time, the Lord is calling on us to be men and women of valor who do not shrink back from moving out into whatever field He has called us to.
As we steadily move forward into 2017, will we play offense or defense?