Everything in my life takes a backseat when World Cup Football - "the beautiful game" - is on. Especially when Brazil is playing. Like today on Father's day. It is like a fever that you cannot overcome, and don't really wish to conquer anyhow. So the search for " Dudus" Christopher Coke, the the man who caused so much trouble in my country recently, and on whose head they have placed a $ US 50,000 bounty, is not on my mind much these days. So too the mobilization of the society to find the rest of the gunmen - I hope they succeed, but right now my thoughts are about the Spanish team letting me down again, and the perennial underachievers, the French disappointing once again. Hopefully this does not mean that Argentina, whose team is playing well, will have a chance, as no one could put up with the boasting of Maradonna if that were to happen. The demise of four young people in a motor vehicle, shook me up quite a bit, as they were almost home, and the images of the four perishing in a fiery death, will remain in my mind for a long while. It was heart breaking, as so many persons have been working so hard to reduce the fatalities on our roads. But I must admit that, as terrible as that event was, I went right back to thinking about whether or not the Germans will make the second round after their shocking loss to Serbia, and if the Dutch team will live up to their huge potential this time.
Our Prime Minister is taking a beating in the recent polls, and his party could be wiped out if an election were to be called now, and the West Indies cricket team is being " creamed " by the South Africans. But who really cares, as long as the noise of thousands of Vuvuzelas announce that another beautiful game is on television or radio. And lately, quite frustrated by having to work during all of this, I have taken to getting my information from the live text on BBC from my BB - Blackberry. In addition when at home, it makes for great conference discussions with my son and two other football fanatics - like me. So BB discussion in 2010! What will the technology provide for in 2014? In the meanwhile, will the USA advance to the next round or will England join Uruguay? Will any African team advance, and when will any South American team lose for the first time? I would have loved to have been in " Jo'Berg" this time around just to catch the Bafana Bafana ( South Africa) vibes. But not to worry, perhaps Brazil in 1014 will be a better time. God willing.
But as I spent time this week in total rapture over the " beautiful game", and the power and talent, the artistry and flair of some of the world's best footballers, often forgetting my commitment to nation building and personal issues, the Lord my God taught me two important lessons about a life committed to Him. The first, and they are both related, is that to be strong in the Lord and His mighty power, to be effective disciples in spreading the gospel, we have to become weak. And humble.
The message first started in a re-read of the following passage of Scripture:
" But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong".
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV
This well known, but sadly, unappreciated verse of scripture, really turns life " on its head" or upside down. In the same way that this world cup has been turned upside down by the many surprises - the Italians, the current champions, are threatening to make an early exit, and so too one of the favourites, the Spanish. Most persons, and even some Christians, wish to emulate their world cup stars, like Messi, Kaka, Drogba, and Christiano Ronaldo, in their lifestyles, and gain fame and adoration through the parading of their own skills and power. Not so, says the Lord to His disciples, a lesson we need to learn well, especially as we get caught up in the hype of the world cup. Those who wish to follow Jesus, and save their souls, and hence be part of God's great team, who in Christ, have been given the mandate to be " salt and light" in a dying world, must humble themselves, and become spiritually, and even physically and emotionally weak, so that Christ's power may become manifest in our lives. Those of us who are crying out for a change in the mindset of our people, for a change in their attitudes to crime, to their fellow human beings, to justice, to hard work, to authority and for delayed gratification, without which no permanent change can be take place, must believe that such power to effect change comes only when Christ's power works in and through us. And only when we are weak - know deep in our hearts that no good things lives in us. So Paul amazingly declares that he delights, not just endures, in weaknesses, difficulties and persecutions! But who among us in this modern day age can honestly agree with Paul, not just with our mouths but in our experiences in life? Especially if, or when, the difficulties arise in our close relationships! " O for grace to love thee more" say the songwriter. But therein, in God's plan for mankind, lies the solution for our nation and the world. For He has ordained it, that, just like how His only Son Christ Jesus, emptied Himself of all but love, and was obedient even to death on a cross, and was then highly exalted, so we too are called to " deny self, take up our cross daily and follow the Crucified One. And then Christ's power will work in and through us, for the salvation of our country. But first we must have the same attitude of Christ, or as the KJV says " Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. " Phil. 2:5. And for this mind of Christ to be really in us, we have to cultivate it by being true and faithful to our devotions, prayer, worship and in doing good works, in good times and in bad times, in times of world cup and in times when gunmen challenge the state. Seeking God's righteousness must come first, even when the distraction is as enticing and alluring as the " beautiful game" , or as devastating as the level of crime and violence in one's country.
The second and related lesson from the Lord , is about the faithfulness of this great God, who we are privileged by His grace, to call Father, only in and through Christ Jesus. So the Father's day message is that even though our political leaders, of both parties, may disappoint us by allowing the growth of garrisons and thus facilitating the rise of "dons"; even though we feel let down by some of the Dance Hall DJ's, who for far too long have encouraged the growth of the " gun culture" with their music and lifestyle; even though the church in general and the Roman Catholic church in particular has let us down with the many storied of child abuse and the cover up suggesting unrepentance; even though many fathers are labeled " sperm donors" by their children; God will never let us down. This is the message in that great hymn,
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with Thee........morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed, Thy hands have provided; great is Thy faithfulness unto me.
A message which is also validated by Scripture:
" Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever" Hebrews 13:8
A message which comes to us from the great Hymn ; " Hark, my soul! it is the Lord" and the third verse which declares:
" Can a woman's tender care
Cease towards the child she bare?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
Yet will I remember thee"
Yes, God is a faithful God and a faithful Father towards all He has made:
" These all look to you
to give them food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust,
When you send your Spirit,
they are created, and you renew the face of the earth...
Ps 104: 27-3- NIV
This is the two sided message that we must proclaim, even when smitten by the world cup fever; or the fever of young and even old lovers; or the fever of pride and joy associated with being successful parents, that for God's kingdom to be built here on earth, we His disciples, must become weak, empty ourselves, and take on the mind of Christ. And in doing so, in the midst of the difficulties and persecutions, believe that God is faithful in all situations and that there is no shadow of turning with Him and his promises which are all answered " Yes" in Christ Jesus.
Then the promised " Streams of living waters" , the Holy Spirit will flow in and through us, and thus all the glory and the honor and power will be ascribed to God, when His power changes lives, and churches change and then nations change, and peace reigns. In Tivoli in Kingston, in Lagos, in New York, in Mumbai, in Moscow, in Jo'berg and in Madrid- long after the winner of the world cup has been decided and the celebrations have ended and life returns to some semblance of normality. O praise the Lord who is mindful of all our needs. For Salvation and for the simple pleasures of this world as long as we know which comes first. Amen