by Dale Reeves
Many people I know grew up with the concept of a God who wears a black and white striped shirt, a baseball cap, football cleats, and runs around with a whistle hanging from his neck. It seemed to them that he was just waiting for them to slip up so that he could blow his whistle, throw a yellow flag on the field, and announce to everyone watching in the stands what the penalty was, and what punishment would be meted out to the offender. In terms of a football game, God is often viewed as the head linesman, line judge, back judge, umpire, field judge, and the referee.
Those of us who are manic sports fans have always questioned, debated, and screamed about “bad calls” a ref made that cost our team a game. It’s truly amazing how I get all the calls right while sitting on my couch, eating a bag of chips, and drinking a Diet Mountain Dew®. I have the luxury of watching instant replays on my TV. But even with expert commentators and rules interpretation specialists in New York City or somewhere else, they still get it wrong from time to time, don’t they? And some calls are not as clear-cut as it would seem:
Exhibit A: click to watch
Exhibit B: click to watch
Yes, I’m currently on overload with our Cincinnati Bengals run to the AFC championship game this coming Sunday versus the Kansas City Chiefs. Sorry, but it’s been thirty-three long years since our team has been in this position, just one step away from playing in the Super Bowl. I have no doubt that in this upcoming game there will be some questionable calls from the refs on the field and those in the replay booth.
It’s Not That Easy
I played small forward for my college basketball team way back in the day. From time to time the members of our team would be asked to “ref” practice so that we could run sets and try to simulate real game experience. I was called upon to do so a couple of times, and I can tell you that it was not easy at all to get every call right. And lots of infractions took place without a whistle being blown. I’m not sure what the pay structure is for professional refs in the NFL, but it’s probably not enough. Not only do they have to try to call the game as fairly as possible, they must hear the constant booing from the fans, the yelling and name-calling from the coaches on the sideline, and sometimes even have to run for their lives after a game is over. After the Bengals’ dramatic win over the Las Vegas Raiders in the wild card round a few weeks ago, the reffing crew for that game was questioned so much that the media announced they would not be calling another postseason game this year.
Whenever I am asked about whether so and so is going to Heaven or not, my answer is always the same: “I don’t know. That’s above my pay grade. I know that our God is the judge and he is a gracious God, but he is also a God of justice. I’m sure he will get it right.” The wonderful news is that even though ultimately our God is watching us play on the field, and every now and then we reap the consequences of our sins and lose some yardage, God is also the official in the replay booth. And, he loves overturning the call! He says in 1 John 1:9, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (NLT).
No One Is Perfect
Just like no referee is perfect, neither is any player. The apostle Paul declares, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, ESV).
But Paul explains the hope that we have of being forgiven. He tells us, “God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13, 14, NLT).
And because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, for those who choose to accept him, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1, 2, NLT).
God does not love running around on the field throwing the yellow penalty flag at us. Perhaps he gives us the “yellow card” every now and then (borrowing from futbol, the yellow card is a warning to soccer players, but it is not the final verdict!), a gentle nudge, a proverbial kick in the pants to get us moving in the right direction if we’ve strayed a bit.
So, today you may feel that you’ve gotten yourself in trouble somehow . . . you were guilty of interference, or some kind of illegal motion. You’ve been caught again for holding onto the same old bad habits, you’ve stepped out of bounds, encroached on someone’s feelings by taunting and saying something that was a personal foul, or you’ve exhibited unsportsmanlike conduct. The good news today is that you have the replay official watching a screen as your life unfolds and he’s saying, “After further review, there is no penalty at all. It was a good catch, and the result of the play is a touchdown!” If you claim to be a follower of Christ, he has taken all your shortcomings, your sins, your penalties—and nailed them with him on the cross.
The psalmist promises us, “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:11, 12, NLT).
What penalty? It’s gone. Now go and play the game with everything you’ve got, knowing that there’s someone out there who is coaching you, blocking for you, and taking the hits for you as you head toward your goal of becoming more like him every day.