US goalie Tim Howard celebrating last Thursday’s World Cup victory advanced the US into the sixteen team Knockout Round.

I am not generally a soccer fan. I’ve coached it at the youngest level but except for phys ed class, never played it. I gladly attended my boys’ games as they played it; but that’s where my interest basically stopped.  I have developed no interest in Major League Soccer, although for a time, I attended the games of an indoor soccer team in Fort Wayne IN. Generally I find golf far more exciting.

This week may have changed all that.  Like millions of other Americans, I found myself living my life engaged in the business of the day but ever alert to catch an opportunity to connect via television, computer, and even Twitter with the developments of each day’s matches in South Africa.  The World Cup!

Few sports capture the attention and the passion of soccer, especially when it is the World Cup. Persons of every socio-economic class and every political persuasion seem to be drawn to it, finding level ground and common ground when their team is on the field.  Huge amounts of pride are invested in each match and while their team is facing its opponent, people seem to set aside their concerns and agendas to unite together behind those men wearing their nation’s colors.

Like many competitive sports, there is a dark side.  The French team made that apparent as they so battled among themselves that they were easily defeated despite their long tradition of wining. They made it even darker when the French coached refused to shake hands with the winning South African coach. And since much of the world considers the French the epitome of boorish behavior, they unfortunately reinforced a stereotype that is of benefit to no one.

Like life, your effort only carries you so far. You can still suffer setbacks brought on by others’ mistakes, like the American team having key goals called back early in the competition by referees. You cannot always be vigilant and a moment’s lack of focus can cost you your dreams. Just ask the Danes who were bombarded by the Japanese with two goals in the first five minutes.

The Americans were not able to make a third comeback and so lost a well-contested overtime match against Ghana on Sunday. They played with heart, tenacity, and integrity. They have nothing to be ashamed of. Someone else will get the prize, but they gave it a great shot.  I suspect that even now they are starting to think about the next World Cup.

The apostle Paul wrote, “…but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which, through Christ Jesus, is calling us heavenward.” (Philippians 3:13b-14, NLT)

The Christian message is one of perseverance.  Although we do not believe we can win the prize of eternal life (salvation) on our own (God’s help is absolutely essential), we also know that each prize requires a dedicated effort on our part, dedicated to following the calling of God, getting back up when we are knocked down, pressing on when we want to just plain stop, keeping our eyes fixed on what lies ahead for us–instead of stopping and settling for less than God desires us to have and to be.


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