With football season in full swing, I often think of my high school football days. I wasn’t very good at all but, as the saying goes, the older I get the better I was. One of my few highlights from those days was a kickoff return. You may be thinking that my story is about a game winning return but it isn’t. Actually, the return was nothing to speak of. It was how I was tackled that I remember.
As I was being brought down the defender reached into my face mask and poked me in the eye. There was no serious damage but I figured this was going to give me a black eye and, sure enough, after the game when I checked it out I had the worst shiner I had ever had. And boy, was I proud!
We played our games on Saturday mornings and I couldn’t wait to go to church the next day and then to school the next Monday to show off my injury. I was anxious to let everyone know that I risked my life for our high school football team (I may have been a little overdramatic). I was privileged to wear this “badge of courage” as it identified me with this sport that I so much loved. I considered it an honor to suffer for such a worthy cause.
In some ways Christianity has been given a black eye. It seems from the very beginning believers were subject to ridicule and persecution. In the early days of the church Luke in the book of Acts paints a picture of Christians being threatened to stop talking their nonsense or there will be harsh repercussions. And there were. And we’re talking way more than a black eye. Some were imprisoned. Others were even killed.
Yet, amid all the threats and intimidations, those first believers had the same response as high school me. They were proud! This is how Luke describes it:
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41, NIV)
Years later the apostle Peter, who is thought to have been crucified upside down because of his faith, wrote these words to Christians who were being poked in the eye:
If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16, NIV)
Football can be a dangerous game. When you put on the pads and the helmet you expect to be hit. It comes as no surprise when your rival throws you to the ground and the opposing crowd taunts you. But when you’re proud of your team and focused on victory you take those hits and nurse those injuries with joy knowing you’re part of something bigger than yourself.
Faith can be a dangerous proposition. When you take on the name of Christ you should expect to be hit. It should come as no surprise when the enemy mocks you. Insults and injuries are part of the game. But we bear those with joy knowing that even our Captain was insulted and mocked. We proudly bear the marks of faith knowing those black eyes mean that we are in a battle worth fighting. We are part of a team destined for victory!