Monthly Archives: January 2015

Avoiding a Fine or Sharing the Joy?

Blind Faith (no. 5, 2015)
Weekly Devotional for January 29, 2015
Avoiding a Fine or Sharing the Joy?

OK, Marshawn Lynch, how do you really feel about being present
for interviews by media reporters? Lynch’s disdain for appearances where
interviewers expect to have opportunities to ask him about his role as the
lead running back for the Seattle Seahawks is well known. Certain times
during the season – and especially in the days prior to the Super Bowl – the
National Football League requires players and coaches to attend media events
and to answer reporters’ questions. Lynch already has been fined $50,000 for
refusing to appear for such sessions. He reportedly faced threats of up to
$500,000 in fines if he failed to show up for this year’s Super Bowl media
day. Tuesday Lynch was present and stood at a podium to face reporters, but
his answer was the same one-liner repeated 29 times no matter what was
asked: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” 29 times! His words appear to be the
only ones powerful enough to take the air out (sorry.) of the “Deflategate”
scandal of 11 of 12 footballs used in the Patriots’ win over the
Indianapolis Colts being under-inflated. Lynch’s 29 reps of his expressed
duress have been reported by all sorts of media from ESPN to NPR. Some
football players and team mates have defended Lynch’s attitude. They concur
that players should not be coerced to appear before reporters to answer
questions they don’t want to be asked. Other players and commentators
condemn Lynch’s attitude and conduct, saying that he is a flagrant rule
violator and scofflaw. And after all, some Lynch detractors say, what’s the
harm of being required to entertain some questions?

Lynch, the NFL, and the players’ union will have to work out the
ramifications of the rules mandating players’ appearances at media days and
the consequences of Lynch’s adamant non-answer. Lynch’s underlying attitude
toward attending media events reminded me of attitudes having nothing to do
with football games and notorious athletes. His solitary insistence sounded
to me like a line that could be easily borrowed by some people to explain
their reluctant presence at church! “I’m here so I won’t get fined” could be
the response of a teenager whose parents demand that the youngster will go
to church or lose some personal privilege. It could express the sentiments
of a spouse whose partner insists on them attending church because it is the
least they can do after spending excessive hours at work. or on the golf
course. or attending craft shows. or spending time with friends the other
would rather not associate with so much, anyway. Lynch’s line could be
seethed by anyone who feels pressured to be in church in order to maintain
an air of respectability in the community, or to make contacts beneficial
for business, or to attempt to assuage a smoldering sense of guilt. Marshawn
Lynch obviously finds no joy in interacting with gathered sports devotees,
just as some people in the pews at many worship services attend without any
sense of joy or intention to offer praise to God. Avoiding consequences they
find to be punitive or unacceptable has become the name of the game.

Going through the formalities of worship without any genuine
interaction of wonder and thanksgiving for the grace God bestows has plagued
some who are “just there” in worship services throughout time. The prophet
Isaiah voiced God’s disapproval of Lynch-like people who only go through the
motions of worship but whose hearts are far from engaged in worshipping God.
Isaiah reported to such idle worship attendees, “The Lord has said: ‘These
people praise me with their words, but they never really think about me.
They worship me by repeating rules made up by humans.'” (Isaiah 29:13 CEV)
Isiah went on to detail God’s judgement coming to worship fakers. Jesus
quoted Isaiah’s words to people in his own day that took no heartfelt part
in the worship services they attended. (See Matthew 15:7-9.) And people
today continue the unfortunate heritage of being present in worship centers
at the time specified for worship, but having no personal interaction with
God or spiritual connection with others gathered to express true devotion to
God.

But I have known football players and other athletes who relish
and are invigorated by rich interplay with media representatives and fans
who share appreciation for the sport they love. Similarly, sharing the joy
of praising God with a community of God’s people is what worship is all
about. David’s attitude is exemplary: “When they said, ‘Let’s go to the
house of God,’ my heart leaped for joy! And now we’re here.. (Psalm 122:1-2a
MSG) He looked forward to participating with fellow believers in genuine
worship of God. One of the best known hymns of praise to God in the Bible
clearly expresses both the proper attitude a true worshipper should have and
the reasons why that jubilant anticipation is called for:

Shout praises to the Lord, everyone on this earth.
2 Be joyful and sing as you come in to worship the Lord!
3 You know the Lord is God!
He created us, and we belong to him; we are his people, the sheep in his
pasture.

4 Be thankful and praise the Lord as you enter his temple.
5 The Lord is good! His love and faithfulness will last forever. (Psalm 100
CEV)

Genuine worship does not come from coerced attendance, but from the hearts
of people who are seeking God’s sustaining grace and who desire to express
their love and thanksgiving to God.

The expectant attitude of praise and thanksgiving continues as
the design for worship in Christian gatherings. Paul consistently called
followers of Jesus to gauge their motivation and readiness for worship. He
taught one church, “Let the Spirit fill your life. 19 When you meet
together, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as you praise the Lord
with all your heart. 20 Always use the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to
thank God the Father for everything. (Ephesians 5:18b-20 CEV) The importance
of participating in worship in the right spirit is underscored by Paul’s
essentially identical repetition to another church: “Let Christ’s teaching
live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one
another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs,
singing God’s praises with joyful hearts. And whatever you may have to do,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through
him. (Colossians 3:16-17 PHILLIPS)

The Super Bowl will survive despite Marshawn Lynch’s
indifference to public celebrations surrounding it. Worship of God will go
on as long as faithful believers respond to God with all their hearts. But
what a pity to miss the full joy and community available to those who
participate with a truly willing attitude and heart!

. J. Edward Culpepper