Saturday, December 7, 2019

Next Man Up - Are You Ready?






I’ve often thought one of the neatest things about sports is the parallel you can draw between sports and Christianity. So, to give a wonderful example of what I mean, last Saturday I captioned a college football game, Kennesaw State University versus Wofford.

One thing that made captioning this game unique is that I actually attended Kennesaw State University eons ago when I took a history class. I believe it was an American history class. I’ve always been a history buff even when I didn’t know I was one.

For those who aren’t familiar with Kennesaw State University, it’s located in Kennesaw, Georgia, about twenty miles north of Atlanta. The College has an enrollment of about 30,000 students and the football team, known as the Owls, is a recent entry in the Big South Conference.

Last Saturday the Owls and the Wofford Terriers squared off in the first round of the FCS playoffs. I’ve captioned hundreds of games in every sport imaginable over the past twenty years, but midway through the second quarter, the ordinary game became extraordinary—at least for me.

Tommy Bryant, Kennesaw State’s star quarterback, suffered an injury and had to leave the game. Tommy had played every second of every game for the entire season. Jonathan Murphy, the backup quarterback, had not taken a single snap. For twelve games, he sat on the sidelines and watched.

I’d seen this scenario dozens of times before. A team works their tails off to make it to the playoffs only to have their star player go down, and their dreams of winning a championship go down with him.

So, I didn’t expect this game to be any different. Oftentimes, in the first possession, the team panics, fumbles the ball, and the opponent gets possession and runs it down the field for a touchdown.

But not this time. This unknown, backup quarterback came in and took over like he had been playing all season and led Kennesaw State to a 28-21 playoff victory. In the process, Jonathan set several records, including running for 206 yards, the most by a quarterback in conference playoff history.

As I captioned the game, I began to think about that young man, Jonathan Murphy. The Owls played their first game against Point University on August 31. From August 31 to November 30, Jonathan watched from the sidelines. Every week for three months he practiced with his team knowing that the chances of even entering the game were slim, but also knowing he had to ready if called upon at a moment’s notice. If Tommy Bryant became sick or injured, Jonathan Murphy was next man up.

Week after week he practiced.

I never participated in sports at that level when I was young, but my daughter competed for years in gymnastics. From a distance, I could imagine the time Jonathan spent conditioning and practicing. I know the sacrifice it takes, the perseverance, and the determination to be the best.

I don’t know if I could be that self-sacrificing for my team. I’d want to be in the game. Maybe I might work hard for the first month, but surely toward the end of the season, I’d be depressed. Maybe I’d lose interest. But not Jonathan Murphy. He was ready.



Juneau, Alaska


Inspiration and insight came to me when the game was over. Is the Christian life not like that? We go for periods of time without trials or tribulations. Life is good. And then something happens, and life is not good. Life is hard. Are we ready when those times come?

I like the New Heart English Bible Translation of 2 Timothy 4:2: “Proclaim the word, be urgent in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching.”

It’s not enough to just be ready when God calls us to step up—we need to be spectacularly ready, just like Jonathan Murphy when he came on the field and led his team to victory. 

Is God worth it? Can we sit on the sidelines, tempted to think God doesn’t need us? Perhaps we slack off on our daily Bible reading, or we quit talking to God. Maybe we become a little worldly in our thoughts, or we lose that fire in our belly for the things of God. Are we willing to diligently work hard for Christ even if we don’t get noticed?

Sometimes, when I’m working on a book, I wonder if anyone will ever read my book. I remind myself when the evil one gets in my ear, “I write for an audience of one.”

In my twenty years of captioning, I don’t believe I have ever seen a young man come into a game like that, who had not played all season, and play so brilliantly. If anything, his poise and readiness inspired me to look into my heart and tell God, “I want to be that person for you, to be ready at a moment’s notice if called upon, always proclaiming Your Word in season and out of season, living my life for you, even when life is dull.

Let’s face it, most of life is pretty ordinary, but we never know when God will call us from the sidelines to be His man or woman of the hour. You or I might just be God’s next man up. I pray that I’ll be ready.

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