Thursday, March 10, 2005

Finding God in Sports Illustrated

Sometimes I have to work at it to find God in a particular situation. This blog gives many examples of how my mind will occasionally race around in different directions before I relate an event to my heavenly Father. So when I encounter Him clearly someplace where I don't expect, it takes me off-guard. But then again, He's been taking me off-guard for 43 years now.

Today, the new issue of Sports Illustrated arrived in the mail. Our subscription just began around Christmas sometime. I believe my wife got it free in one of those website deals where we get a few months subscription in exchange for approximately one ka-jillion pop-up ads. She got it for my boys, who at ages 11 and 13 can devour sports information faster than I can plow through a plate of Little Debbie snack cakes.

So while leafing through the magazine today, I noticed a quick answer sidebar with three baseball players who are playing for New York teams for the first time this season. The three were asked things like their favorite New York landmark and things they put on hot dogs. Then the last question was "What is the one thing every New Yorker needs?" Carlos Beltran, the newest outfielder for the Mets answered, "Christ in their hearts." After I picked the magazine up off the floor, I checked it again. Yup. That's what it said.

I leafed on to the college basketball spread. One of the featured articles was on Kansas University player Wayne Simien whose life was changed by Jesus Christ about 18 months ago. Simien spoke for 28 minutes to a basketball crowd on Senior Night, telling them that he wished they would "have the same love and relationship with Jesus Christ as I do." Wow. I managed to hold on to the magazine this time.

Then I skimmed the cover story about an writer's experiences with baseball's Toronto Blue Jays to find a description of a chapel service led by minor league outfielder Gabe Gross. The football star-turned baseball prospect gave a small sermon, "I know if I put my trust in God, that's really what matters most." I still held the issue in my hands, but I was really beginning to wonder. That's when I turned back toward the front of the magazine to see a picture of three elderly men on the golf course wearing nothing but hats and shoes. Yeah, a golf course at a nudist camp. Thankfully the private parts were covered, but the bellies on these guys should be kept private also. I closed the magazine knowing that Satan was still active and ugly in this world.

But I opened it up again to see the Letters to the Editor. This issue is a special issue. In college we used to call this issue the "Please Cancel My Subscription" Issue. You see, it's the issue with all the reaction letters to the editor about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

We got our copy of the Swimsuit Issue the day my wife went away for a three day shopping trip. I had no idea we were supposed to get one. I looked at it briefly, then filed it away to teasingly show my wife how generous she had been to me. Truthfully though, seeing scantily-clad women half my age isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be. The magazine went in the trash.

You'd think that most people with an interest in sports in general and sports magazines in particular would realize that for at least twenty years Sports Illustrated puts out one issue which shows women in skimpy bathing suits. Yet every year there are always angry letters in which an apparently startled reader cannot understand why there are nearly naked women pictured where articles about baseball players should be. This year was no exception. A few people got what they didn't expect from a sports magazine. And they were mad.

God doesn't always give us what we expect. Or what we want. I think of Paul praying three times for God to take away his thorn in the flesh but God telling him "My grace is sufficient." I remember Job asking, almost demanding a private audience with God for a good explanation about all his recent problems. Job got his audience, but not his explanation. I am reminded of Abraham pleading with God to save the city of Sodom, but that didn't happen either. Scripture doesn't tell us if Paul, Job or Abraham were upset with God for doing what they didn't expect, but I know human nature. We don't like it when it's Thy will be done instead of My will be done.

So what do we do about it? We learn to trust God. We begin to understand that we're not smart enough to know what is best for us. And even when we're taken by surprise by seeing God where we don't expect or when we don't get what we expect from Him, we know that He is in charge, that He is faithful, that He loves us with an undying love. What a great realization.

And even though I don't know everything in God's will, I'm pretty sure He'd appreciate it if those old guys on the golf course would put on some clothes. I know the neighbors would.

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