Sports

It Was Every Bit as Good as I Hoped (Responding to David Mathis at Desiring God)

You may or may not have heard, so I thought I’d make sure everyone knew: Clemson won the College Football Playoff on Monday night.

On Tuesday, lifelong Clemson fan David Mathis, executive editor at desiringgod.org wrote a post entitled, “The Greatest Day in a Fan’s Life,” in which he said, “Now that I’m on the inside of it, I can tell you it’s not as good as I hoped.” A number of good friends have read and shared the post.

I thought I’d take a moment and respond to Mathis here. I too am a lifelong Clemson fan. I don’t know David, but I read just about every post at Desiring God and a quick Evernote search turns up eighteen David Mathis articles saved for future reference. So I’ve been helped quite a bit by his work.

That being said … I just can’t quite agree with the weight of his post. It seems to me that he makes a right point in an unhelpful way. As a pastor who values and preaches the supremacy of Christ in all things, I heartily assent to his emphasis on the final victory of Christ as our greatest joy. I also share his concern with the tendency of sports fans to idolize their teams and sporting events.

But for me, Monday night was every bit as good as I had hoped. My wife and two daughters stayed up for the entire game (waaaay past bedtime), and we all rejoiced together when Clemson pulled out the W at the last second (ok, ok—I rejoiced a little more than everyone else…!). I didn’t find ultimate fulfillment in that moment, but I hadn’t anticipated that I would. But that moment brought GREATER joy than I had anticipated. Clemson last won the championship the year I was born (1981), so this was a long time coming. I was disappointed (but not crushed) by last year’s loss in the championship game and elated (but not ultimately so) at this year’s victory.

So I found myself feeling like Mathis’s post rained on the Clemson parade in Rockford, IL (it was a small parade). If you’ll allow me to digress for a moment… Our girls are at an age where they enthusiastically anticipate Christmas Day, in large part because of the presents they’ll receive. We take time each Christmas to read the Christmas story and invest the day with the worthiness of Christ. But the last thing I’d want to do is caution my kids, as they’re opening their presents, not to enjoy that moment too much—because Jesus is better.

Yes, Jesus IS better than presents or a measly national championship. But reminding someone in the midst of joy that there’s an emptiness behind earthly joy—while technically right—seems to miss the intent of the moment. When Jesus tells us we should become like little children to enter the kingdom of God, it seems that he is—at least in part—pointing us to the innocent, freely enthusiastic joy that a child shows when she’s happy.

So, rather than leaving me feeling hollow or empty (or reminding others that they should feel that way), Monday’s game for me serves to heighten my anticipation precisely because of the joy I experienced: “If this is this much fun, imagine how much fun rejoicing in Jesus without any sin will be!” And the weekly gathering of our church is a source of joy on a regular basis for me in a similar manner. It’s not always euphoric, but sometimes it is—like when someone repents and is baptized or when someone shares how the Word of Christ has affected their life in a fresh way or when the voices of our congregation sing together and melt the coldness of my heart.

And in the big scheme of things, Mathis’s post seems to convey a view of culture that is less than helpful. If we enjoy culture as the ultimate good, that’s … not good. But if we enjoy culture as a window to the glory of God, it’s like the appetizer to the more amazing meal to come (rather than a dessert that we’re warned not to enjoy too much).

In the words of John Piper (in the foreword to this book): “The weakness of (Christian hedonism’s ascetic tendency) is that little space is devoted to magnifying Christ in the right enjoyment of creation and culture. Little emphasis is given to Paul’s words: ‘God created [foods] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’ (1 Tim. 4:3-4). Or his words that God ‘richly provides us with everything to enjoy’ (1 Tim. 6:17).”

For me, Monday night wasn’t a moment of hollow ache. It was a moment of sheer gladness, and that—more than any emptiness—makes me excited about the ultimate victory of Christ.

Cameron Crazies!

A trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium

A good friend, Brent, and I received early Christmas gifts from our wives last week: tickets to the Ohio State-Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Our tickets

Though I had been to Cameron a couple of years ago for a game against UAB, it was nothing like this matchup. OSU came in ranked #4, while Duke was ranked #2, after beating two top 5 teams already in 2012.

We left around 4:15 pm on Wednesday afternoon for Cameron. After a 3 hour, 45 minute drive, we stopped for dinner at a Chick Fil A, about two miles from Cameron. In spite of the fact that the cashier was a UNC fan, she treated us pretty kindly.

Gametime wasn't until 9:30, so we still had an hour and a half to spend some time checking things out around the campus. We parked about a half mile or so from Cameron and then spent some time walking around and taking a few pictures.

After seeing K-ville and the Crazies lined up and ready to go, we headed inside. The atmosphere was electric! You could feel it right when you walked in the building. There were a few OSU fans around, but blue dominated the building, as you would expect.

The first half was terrible. OSU looked like athletic freaks, and Duke couldn't hit a shot to save their life. We went into half time trailing by 8, but it felt like 18.

The second half saw the Blue Devils asserting themselves on offense and defense, executing well, and penetrating the tough OSU D. It was nice to see we had a few athletes on our side too. Plumlee was a beast all game (including the first half) and finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds. Rasheed Sulaimon proved once again that he is a super-frosh, by scoring 17 points … all in the second half. Quinn Cook was the glue that held Duke together, and the sophomore point guard leads with the poise and confidence of a senior.

Duke finally took a second half lead with about 5.5 minutes left. Cameron was LOUD. I went back and watched the game on ESPN3 to get a feel for watching on TV vs. watching in the arena. A couple of things were quickly obvious: TV controls a lot of what you see (there were several interactions among players, coaches, and fans that I never saw on TV). TV cannot do justice to the decibel level in Cameron Indoor. It was so loud for most of the second half, that our ears couldn't even comprehend the noise. It was an amazing atmosphere!

In the end, the Blue Devils outscored OSU 50-37 in the second half, to win by 5. Final score: 73-68.

We got back around 4:00 Thursday morning. That was the only downside to the trip, but it was worth it!

Thanks for a great Christmas present, babe!

Some more highlights and pictures:

A particular highlight (Cameron erupted!): Plumlee's alleyoop dunk off a pass from Cook. It looked at first like Cook had thrown it too high, but Plumlee got it and threw down a thunderous one-handed jam. This was the best single moment of the night. The following video is of the top plays from the game, along with some player interviews.

Ready to leave.

Chick Fil A

Me in front of Cameron Indoor Stadium

Brent in front of Cameron Indoor Stadium

A shot of Krzyzewskiville

Crazies lined up trying to get in

The official team store, just across from Cameron

Cameron was even smaller than we thought. Just kidding! This is a student gym next door to Cameron. Apparently these guys enjoyed playing more than watching … or just couldn't get tickets.

Brent by the Cameron sign, right by where the Crazies were lined up.

Me by the same sign. It was pretty cold that night.

Duke played offense on our end in the first half. Unfortunately looked terrible. Second half much better on both ends.

Panoramic picture from our seats. Some pretty sweet banners hanging there!

Final Score