Last month, our son Asa fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams and stepped onto a football field as a player for the first time. Sure, he may only be five years old, and it may only be flag football (to his slight dismay), but in his mind, when he puts on his orange-and-black Bengals uniform and steps between those white lines, he has made it big. As a parent, his unhindered, little boy joy out there really is a joy to watch.
Now as you can imagine, one of the greatest challenges of preparing a group of five- and six-year-old, mostly first-time football players is teaching them how to organize and play together as a team. The basic skills aren’t all that complex or challenging- running, throwing, catching, blocking, pulling flags (with the occasional “accidental” tackle thrown in there), and the like.
But what is incredibly difficult- but inescapably important- is coaching them to line up together in the right places and combine all of those skills together in a reasonably coherent way to actually play the game. Needless to say, football doesn’t work very well when your quarterback lines up on the defensive line and your offensive linemen think they are playing linebacker!
As I’ve observed and reflected on this honestly hilarious phenomenon, it’s made me think about our current series FOR- and specifically, about why it is so critically important for us as followers of Jesus to identify and operate out of a posture of FOR instead of a posture of AGAINST. Here’s why- The right start sets the stage for success, while the wrong start can set us up to lose in our God-given mission before we’ve even had an opportunity to “play the game.”
This principle is quite obvious in the game of football. What happens when a player lines up in the wrong starting position? Usually nothing good! This can result in an ineffective play (at best), a penalty for the player’s team, or the complete inability to run any play at all. On the flip side, though, when everyone knows where they need to be, understands what they need to do, and executes according to the plan given to them by their coach, good things most often result!
Now let’s apply this same principle to the conversation we’re having right now at Fellowship Church about what we are FOR. As followers of Jesus, we don’t merely have a “coach”; we have a Creator and Lord, an absolute and sovereign authority over our lives and over the entire world. As the One who spoke this world into being and set it into motion, He has a very specific design and desire for how it ought to operate. This is based on His unchanging, eternal nature and character. He doesn’t begin by being against certain things, but rather by being for that which reflects and honors Him. Among those things, as we’re discovering in this series, are justice, life, family, and freedom. These are four primary examples of the “divine design” by which our Creator has made this world to operate.
So what is sin, then? It is anything that deviates from, or falls short, of this “divine design.” All that God is against, He is against because it somehow “misses the mark” of what He is for. To use our examples, because God is for justice, He is against any and all forms of injustice; because God is for life, He is against anything that devalues or destroys life; because God is for family (as He defines it), He is against anything that undermines its flourishing; and because God is for freedom, He is against anything that robs His image bearers of the ability to freely relate to Him and to one another in love.
Now what does this have to do with us as God’s church, His representatives and ambassadors in the “here and now” of this world? Very much! Often, we start to engage the world around us from a posture of AGAINST- e.g. “We are AGAINST abortion,” “we are AGAINST racism,” “we are AGAINST homosexual marriage,” “we are AGAINST the exploitation of the poor.” It isn’t that these practices aren’t worth saying “no” to, or standing up to. But when we choose an AGAINST starting point in the conversation with those who may not share our convictions, we miss a prime opportunity to communicate a richer, more compelling vision of life in this world- life according to our Creator’s design. To use the football analogy, when we “line up” in the wrong place, we tend to set ourselves up for ineffectiveness before we’ve even begun to play.
Let me say it to you this way- Being AGAINST one thing doesn’t automatically make you FOR something better, but being FOR one thing naturally leads you to be AGAINST anything worse. If anything, an adversarial or oppositional posture often, in the long term, undermines an individual’s or group’s ability to accomplish much more than just being theatrically offended. This is true in business (i.e. “we’re not like that company”), in politics (i.e. “I’m not as sorry as that candidate”), and even in the church (i.e. “we’re different than all those other churches”). To be successful over time, we have to understand who we are and execute what we’re called and designed to do.
Here’s my practical encouragement to you as we continue to walk through the remainder of this series and beyond- If you want to be more effective at engaging our culture with the message of Jesus, get to know the God of the Bible, and get to know Him well. Saturate your heart and mind in His Word, and align yourself more and more each day with His thoughts and ways. Do more than just rail against everything and everyone that you don’t like; tell the world a better story of God’s vision for a restored life in Him.
Become a man or woman who begins, biblically, with FOR. This will invariably impact not only what you have to say to the world, but also how you say it and how others hear it. Remember- The right start sets the stage for success.