Thank God Jesus Loves Football!

We all know that football is a religion here in Texas, and I'll admit that I'm a dedicated follower. Now, I'm not a religious leader or by any means a fanatic. I don't do fantasy football; I don't know every statistical category; I don't know every roster. I've wanted to paint my face and wear a Darth Vader mask to a game, but have yet to do so.  I do, however, enjoy watching the games either sitting in my La-Z-Boy or in a crowded stadium.  I'm looking forward to watching the Super Bowl on our church's gym wall again.  My reading habits change during football season, I check my favorite team's website often and want to hear what the experts have to say on ESPN or talk radio.

If we were to compare the religion of football with Christianity, you might say I'm like the guy who comes to church occasionally during the month and leaves $1 for offering.  I watch enough football to be labeled a follower of the football faith, but don't usually offer money for team memorabilia.  What I do with my money is between me and my football god.

I mention all that because I was intrigued this week by comments made from an NFL player.  You fellow believers have probably heard about James Harrison's reaction to the HBO series, Hard Knocks, filming at the Cincinnati Bengals training camp.  If you don't know him I'll just tell you he is probably head usher at the First Football Church of America.  Don't mess with this guy.  He is new to the Bengals--he was a long-time player for the Steelers--and was not thrilled to have the show's cameras around his team.

++Bengals' James Harrison rips into HBO's 'Hard Knocks'++

His conclusion was that they, the TV crew, didn't "deserve to be here." He mentioned the hard work he and his teammates have put into their training and preparing for the upcoming season. The TV crew wasn't a part of any of that, and shouldn't have a part in any other aspect of the team's activities.

If the football field is the mission field, I suppose the locker room is the sanctuary. That makes the work in between those two places sacred, I suppose. Teammates bond in ways many of us can't understand.  So,  I can at least appreciate Harrison's feelings.  By no means would I want to be the cameraman for that show.

The reason for his disapproval, though, was what intrigued me.  They didn't deserve to be there.  They hadn't put in the right kind of work.  They weren't around before.  They weren't a part of what has gotten the team where they are now.  Some of you are about to disagree with me, and perhaps vehemently so, but here goes.  Many religious people, and now I mean Jesus people, feel the same way about their churches.  They are happy with who is there and have no intention or desire to include anyone else.  Other people don't deserve to be there.

Some recognize it; some do not.

I would want to disagree with me, too, but I've heard it verbalized.  It's been spoken to me!  It has made me angry, but at least I can deal with it and call it for what it is.  It's hard, though, when you're dealing with those who mask that sentiment.  They never say someone doesn't deserve to be here, but the way they act toward that someone speaks for itself.  The glares. The muffled comments.  The tone of voice.  Even the way ministry is done beams with this feeling.  The truth?  Church often makes it difficult for new people to be a part of the body.  And it's all because someone else feels like these new people haven't given enough money, don't have the right connections or are just not the right type of people.  They don't know anything about our church history and probably want us to do things we haven't done before.

Excuse me?  Jesus is probably turning in his grave.

Oh, wait.

+Naked Pastor

It would be easy for me to suggest that people who think others don't deserve to be a part of their congregation are the ones who don't belong.  That is incorrect, however.  We all belong.  Some of us are a bit more honest about it, but we're all messed up.  We all need the church to help us move toward greater faithfulness to God.  All of us.  Remember, your church is not yours.  It is God's.  God has opened the church "to people of all ages, nations and races."  Have you?

How do your experiences of church sit with this idea?  What kinds of things does your church do to intentionally be welcoming?

Okay, now I have to try to figure out why Jesus isn't tackling the guy in the picture.

Stay blessed...john

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