Reflecting on Passion After the World Cup

By Scott Armstrong

Many readers of this site know that my family and I were able to attend the World Cup in Russia this past month.  It was a remarkable time and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Perhaps the thing I remember most is the passion that so many people had for their countries and for football/soccer.

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I saw it in the literally tens of thousands of Mexicans and Colombians that traveled, dressed up, and chanted for their teams at all times of the day or night. I saw it when the host team, Russia, unexpectedly beat Spain in the Round of 16, and the Moscow streets erupted in joy.

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But perhaps I did not personally experience the many levels of passion at the World Cup more so than in the two games we were able to go to.  Before the first game, June 26, we were caught up in the fervor of the Danish fans who filled the Metro stations and the streets chanting and singing for their team and country.  Sadly, the passion they and their French counterparts showed before and during the game was not shared by their national teams.  France v. Denmark has been widely recognized as the worst game of the tournament.

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We knew something was wrong when the lineups came out and hardly any of the stars were starting.  No Pogba or Mbappe?!  Not even Lloris or Umtiti?! Well, at least the subs will play their hearts out, right? Nope.  Both teams knew that they just needed a tie to go through to the next round.  So, they played like it was a scrimmage.  No urgency.  No one trying too much.  All of the neutral fans grew restless and even angry throughout the two hours.  We paid money for this? We came all this way to watch this charade?!

Did you know that the word “passion” originates from the Latin word “passio” which is closely related to the Greek root “path” meaning “to suffer”? By the time the game ended 0-0, the entire stadium was raining down boos on the teams for such a disgraceful performance. It is truly hard to explain how disappointed we all were.  I actually started to cry because I was so sad our family had chosen to go to THAT of all games.  Bleck.

But all was not lost.  The final game we attended was July 3 in Moscow.  Round of 16 – Colombia v. England.  I kid you not: I gathered my family together before we headed to the stadium and prayed that God would give us a great game.  I did not care what the outcome was: I just wanted it to be memorable.

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And boy was it!   Controversy was constant with a penalty being awarded and both teams pushing and jockeying for position at every free kick.  Yerri Mina, a Colombian defender, tied the game up 1-1 in stoppage time at the end of the second half while the stadium full of mostly Colombian supporters went wild.  Then, it went to penalties, where England has a history of crashing and burning.  But not today, folks! Nearly three hours after the first kick, England buried their final penalty and proceeded to the next round while both fans and the team exuberantly rejoiced.  It was a phenomenal game and the most energy I have ever experienced at a soccer game by far (and I’ve been to dozens in many different countries!).

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I should add that, as we got ready for penalties and the supporters of each team were cheering and hugging and even praying, I started to cry again.  But this time it was out of unbridled happiness that we had gotten to be a part of an event like that.

What was the difference between the two games? Essentially one thing: passion.

I know the circumstances dictate that there is less to play for at certain times in the tournament.  But this is the World Cup.  If you are going to step on the field, you should give it your all.

This is a belief that propels me in my daily life and guides me in my spiritual walk. If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  Live passionately, and especially let the source of that passion be more than football or food or movies or your job or even your family.

The only wellspring of passion that will never run dry or disappoint is Jesus Christ. He offers abundant life (Jn. 10:10) and glorious salvation (Jn. 3:16).  In my case, he has put a calling on my life to preach – and do so cross-culturally – so that I cannot hold it in; like Jeremiah, it is a fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9).

Anyone who has met me knows that I am passionate about futbol.  But I pray that everyone knows I am even more passionate about Christ and his mission.  He, after all, gave himself for us on the cross in what has become known as – you guessed it – the Passion.

If you have not yet experienced that compelling, driving force in your life, allow the one, true Source of passion to instill his fire in you. You – and all those around you – will truly never be the same!

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Be Joyful

Many readers of this blog know that my family and I are in Russia right now for the World Cup. Yesterday we attended the France v. Denmark game, which was amazing. Interestingly enough, Dr. Eugénio Duarte, one of our General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene, wrote about Denmark and their positivity.  I can confirm from my limited experience with fans of Denmark that they are a happy nation, indeed. I hope you enjoy this article on Denmark, but really more focused on the contentment that Christ gives every believer.

By Eugénio R. Duarte

Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. My only stay in the city was short, but I was able to spend a couple of hours on a tour that introduced me to its historical, cultural, economic, political, industrial, and social life. One of the things I heard, and needed to ponder, was this statement by one of the tour guides: “Denmark was recently rated the happiest nation in the world.”
 
The moment I made my first purchase and saw the bill, I decided that with such a high cost of living, people must require a sizeable income in order to stay happy. But a quick recall of what the same tour guide said about how highly they value community and mutual accountability — especially as it relates to family life — caused me to think again.

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When we learn to appreciate one another and the contribution each can make without constraint to the overall good, our human tendency to complain about any distress or hardship disappears.

Indeed, we are amazed at what some social doctrines can do by using the spirit of tolerance and responsibility. They can generate and even sustain contentment.
          
However, we need more than contentment. Our lives are meant to be full of joy, and joy is far more consistent, reliable, durable, stable, and fruitful. Joy is rooted in “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and “guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Contentment and joy both reside in our hearts and minds, but contentment is there in a relationship that relies on temporary things, conditions, promises, and results, while joy is established on eternal values. When the title to our hearts and minds is in the hands of Jesus, our part in maintaining joy is trust and faith.

The Bible says, “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). God empowers us to be joyful not on the basis of a temporary agreement or arrangement. His Holy Spirit faithfully fulfills the mission of pouring — not dropping — His love into our hearts; the love that generates, feeds, and grows real joy in us. 

“It is Jesus, the vine, that produces fruit; and we, the branches, bear the fruit, including the fruit of joy.” — Billy Graham 

 

2018 World Cup

Hello, readers, and greetings from the 2018 World Cup!  Our family has been saving and planning this vacation for five years now and we are ecstatic.  We have tickets to two games and are hoping to obtain tickets to a third while we are in Russia.  We arrived yesterday (June 25) in Moscow, and we are recovering from some jetlag before we attend our first game today (France v. Denmark)! 

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In the last month, some friends and acquaintances have asked why we would dedicate the time and money to go to Russia and attend the World Cup, especially if the United States did not qualify this time (I am still embarrassed about that to be honest!).  Others have wondered why I occasionally write about sports in this blog that normally is dedicated to missions, leadership, etc.  The futbol (soccer) fans who read this understand completely, so I do not need to persuade you all.  But to the others, here are the reasons the World Cup is so important to me, and why we have written about it in this blog for three straight cycles (2010, 2014, and 2018): 

  1. Culture – and cultures – fascinate me. While in the London airport we were with people from seven different countries all going to the World Cup.  We all look different, speak different languages, and have different customs for sure.  But there is a respect – and even appreciation – for differences here that can prove instructive in a world of so much ethnocentrism.  How can we learn from each other? How do these other people enrich my life and understanding?
  2. Passion, passion, passion. A life without passion is a sad existence!  I confess that I have a hard time comprehending how people can float through life without urgency or excitement.  And admit it: the World Cup is THE place to find fans and players and coaches that are crazy about futbol and their country! Did you see the Brazilian coach who celebrated so hard that he tripped all over himself after a late goal against Costa Rica? Or what about the Panamanians celebrating their first-ever goal in the World Cup, even when they lost the game 6-1? Did you know that Mexico’s goal against Germany arguably caused an earthquake in Mexico City due to the euphoria in that mega-city? Yeah, passion.
  3. Sports can be a microcosm of life. Sports are results-based.  If you succeed, you are rewarded; if you underachieve, there are consequences. This is not to say that the most talented team always wins; sometimes the most well-prepared underdogs can pull off some stunners (See: Iceland v. Argentina). But even that gives us a lesson. There are so many things I have learned from sports about teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and integrity.  The World Cup will bring out the best and the worst in many players and fans and coaches.  It puts a magnifying glass on our character.

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Those are just three of the many reasons that I write about sports and the World Cup in a blog that hopes to help Transform the Globe.  I could go on and on, but it is now time for me to head to the stadium – who knows what cool things we will experience there and in the next week!

The Art of Turning

The World Cup is here! In the past eight years of our Spanish blog, that has meant that we have highlighted various nations and their cultures, while offering perspectives on the state of the Church in each country as well as some prayer requests. See, for example, Pamela Alvarado’s write-up on Ghana or Mario Josué López’s article on Croatia.

This year we will be doing things a bit differently. Every now and then during the next month we will be offering articles and sometimes videos dealing with different aspects (namely the “culture” side) of the World Cup.  So, to start us off, read this testimony by a former Premier League Player who God called to be a Pastor.  The following is an excerpt froma Christianity Today article originally published in June 2016.

By Gavin Peacock

One skill my dad taught me as a child was the art of turning with a soccer ball. I was never going to be tall, so he would take me into our backyard in Southeast London and teach me how to quickly switch directions with the ball at my feet. “The big guys won’t be able to catch you!” he said. For hours I would practice turning to the left and right, dribbling in and out of cones, spinning this way and that. My dad was right: the art of turning served me well. Many of the goals I scored in the years to come were a result of that lesson.

I was not brought up in a Christian home and never heard the gospel preached. Sunday school gave way to Sunday soccer. The most biblical form of instruction I received was in assemblies at the Church of England school that I attended. I was a kid who intensely wanted to achieve in the classroom and on the field. My father taught me the necessary self-control, discipline, and skills to succeed in education and in the professional sports arena.

At age 16, I left school and signed a professional contract with Premier League Queens Park Rangers (QPR). I had achieved the goal—and I wasn’t really happy. I was playing for the England Youth National Team, and it wasn’t long before I broke into the starting eleven at QPR. But I was an insecure young man in the cutthroat world of professional sport. Soccer was my god. If I played well on a Saturday I was high, if I played poorly I was low. My sense of well-being depended entirely on my performance. I soon realized that achieving the goal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

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Turning to Christ

Then, when I was 18, God intervened in my life, the first of two dramatic turning points. I was still struggling to find purpose, so I decided to attend a local Methodist church one Sunday evening. I don’t remember what the minister preached on, but afterward he invited me to his house, where he and his wife hosted a weekly youth Bible study.

I decided to return to the Bible study the following week and the next, and I began to hear the gospel for the first time. I realized that my biggest problem wasn’t whether I met the disapproval of a 20,000-strong crowd on Saturday; my biggest problem was my sin and the disapproval of almighty God. I realized that the biggest obstacle to happiness was that soccer was king instead of Jesus, who provided a perfect righteousness for me. I realized what Augustine had expressed many years before in his Confessions: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Over time, my eyes were opened through that Sunday meeting, and I turned, repented, and believed the gospel. MY HEART STILL BURNED FOR SOCCER, BUT IT BURNED FOR CHRIST MORE.  

In professional sports, the highs and lows of life are extreme, very close together, and very public. The scrutiny is intense. Christian maturity is a slow process, but in the world of professional sport, your slow sanctification is on show. You can sign a lucrative contract one day, and your career could be finished by one tackle the next day. Those were thrilling and testing days, filled with massive highs and lows, cup finals and promotions, defeat and relegation. I experienced the full gamut as a believer.

Uncertainty plagues the professional soccer player. On one level the uncertainty and drama spur men on to play their best; on another level they cause deep insecurity. That used to be me as a young man, but as a Christian I now feared the Lord more than the crowd. Soccer wasn’t my idol anymore.

Turning to Ministry

A door opened after my retirement for a broadcasting career with the BBC, and it wasn’t long before I was covering weekly shows, like Match of the Day, for several million UK viewers. It was a job that found its apex at the 2006 World Cup. Yet shortly afterward the second turning point came: the call to pastoral ministry.

Until then I had always had opportunities for Christian witness as a soccer player and broadcaster, but never had the urge to preach. Then, while reading though the pastoral Epistles, I began to feel a strong desire to pursue pastoral ministry. My church affirmed the call, and after a period of testing, I knew I was going to give up a second dream career for ministry. In 2008, I left the shores of England. Within weeks I went from speaking on TV about David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to writing papers on John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards.

All those years ago, my earthly father taught me the art of turning, but it was my heavenly Father who turned me first to Christ and then to preach his gospel. Turning from sin and trusting in Christ for salvation isn’t just a one-time initial event; it is the substance of the Christian life. This is a message the church needs to recover. And so, I continue to turn and teach others to turn.

Gavin Peacock is missions pastor at Calvary Grace Church in Alberta and coauthor of The Grand Design: Male and Female He Created Them.

Play & Witness – A Relevant And Effective Initiative

The first-ever “Play & Witness” Caribbean missions trip took place in Jamaica from July 4 to 29, 2017. This trip was divided into three major components: training, outreach and camp, and it was designed to accomplish two major objectives: to significantly impact Jamaica for Jesus Christ through sport and play, and to significantly impact the participants so that they would be catalysts for the mission at home.

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21 participants and facilitators from the Caribbean Field formed the Play and Witness team and they were from 6 different countries: Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad. Their time in Jamaica began with an intensive training in sports ministry. The purpose of this time was to expose each participant to the power and potential of sport, and to explore ways sports can be used to transform their community, nation and region. Sports were presented as relevant and effective ways to both invite people to Christ and disciple them.

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After this, they moved onto the second phase of the mission: the implementation of the information they had learned. They partnered with the Green Acres Church of the Nazarene in the Old Harbour community to start a new church plant using various forms of ministry (games for children and teens, etc.). Through the sporting activities, they forged a strong bond with the community in a very short time. The team also participated in the launching of the Denbigh Church of the Nazarene’s sports ministry program and, according to the senior pastor of this church, the sports ministry initiative created a new spiritual sensation in Denbigh as the attendance the following week at service had remarkably improved and there were further commitments for Christ.

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The team was also involved in a youth camp and in a children’s camp as well.  They were able to use the knowledge and experiences they had received earlier and transfer it to the campers during this time.

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In total, 40 persons came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the outreach and participation in camp. This is not only a testimony of the goodness of God, but also of the impact that they were able to make in Jamaica, accomplishing the first goal of the mission trip.

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The second major goal of impacting the team so that they could continue the mission when they return home was also achieved. It has been amazing to see how participants have immediately implemented the information they have learned in their context, and how others are planning to do the same.

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The next step is to see experiences of Play and Witness multiplied across the Caribbean. The intention is to present sports ministry as a relevant and effective tool for evangelism and discipleship within the Caribbean field. From all reports and testimonies, the first Play & Witness trip was a huge success!

–This information has been provided by Dario Richards, Global Mission Caribbean Field