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Fall is in the air and football is in full force.  For some of us our favorite college team brings nothing but frustration and for others of us it’s a time of great joy.  The beauty of Saturday competition on the football field as young men leave it all on the field to bring the team and fan base the win is incredible.  For those of you that are avid football fans, games can keep you on the edge of your seat…..or out of your seat.   You’ll find yourself yelling, tweeting, and almost experiencing a heart attack.  That’s just the emotions of those of us that are cheering for the winning team. 

As a huge University of Kentucky fan, I love that Kentucky finally has a decent football team….although if I’m honest, they made Mizzou’s terrible team look like a pro team this past Saturday.  One of the things that frustrates me the most about this team is their “play not to lose” attitude.   If you’re not familiar with this strategy, it sounds like a good idea.  Nobody wants to lose, so why wouldn’t you “play not to lose”?  Here’s where you misunderstand the frustrating nature of this strategy and also where I want to connect it to how we live the Christian life.

In football, the “play not to lose” strategy looks like this…..we’ll get the lead in the first half of the game, then we’ll get conservative, run the ball, avoid turnovers and costly mistakes, and let our defense keep us ahead.  While I can appreciate confidence in a defense, the game goes 2 halves and the other team won’t stop trying to score just because you’re ahead.  For me personally this has resulted in 3 weekends in a row where Kentucky got an early lead and then I watched a second half that could nearly kill me as they “played not to lose”.  3 out of 3 of those games came down to a last second play that could have cost them the game.

So what does the “play not to lose” mentality have to do with our Christian life?  We have the early lead.  If we want to get technical, Jesus actually already won the game through His death, burial and resurrection.  Back to the game.  We have Christ in our lives, we’re attending worship, reading our Bible, we’re in a Sunday School group etc.  We’re running the plays in the game of life.  Some of them are even really good plays.  It’s the second half now, we just have to maintain the lead. 

What’s the point of the game of football?  They’re trying to score more points than the opposing team.  The offense is trying to put points on the board and the defense is trying to keep points off the board.  So in our Christian life, since we already have the lead….we start playing defense.  We don’t need to score points because Jesus has scored enough.  We stop working heard on offense to score points.  We’re just maintaining, taking up time, keeping the ball out of the other teams hands.  What’s that look like in the Christian’s life?  We stop focusing on the mission God has given us….to reach people for Christ and make disciples, who will make disciples.  We fall back on defense, we get comfortable with our church, our Sunday School group, our personal walk with Christ.  We keep running plays, we keep engaging in ministry, maybe we even lead a ministry, but it’s not wholly focused on scoring points; reaching people for Christ. 

As the game progresses, we fall in love with our lead…..I mean our church and our small group…. and we can get so comfortable with the lead that we have that we stop scoring points all together.  We stop sharing our faith, we stop praying for lost people, we stop challenging others to do those things.  Why?  Because we’re “playing not to lose”.  We got the lead, it feels good, let’s protect what we got and get to the end of the game.  It’s a scary thing to think our church or other churches could grow to the point where we felt comfortable enough to employ the strategy of “playing not to lose”.

As I’ve watched Kentucky in its last few games, I’ve experienced all of the stress and emotion that comes with watching a team “play not to lose”.  They ran plays on offense, but just running the ball over and over, not scoring points…creating a very frustrating experience for me.  I can’t help but wonder if God looks at us as individuals…as groups….as churches and experiences some of the same frustration watching us “play not to lose”?

God wants us to put points on the board; there is never a point where he wants us to start coasting.  We have more lost people around us young and old than ever here in America.  Let’s get out there and score some points.  Plot and Plan…..Pray…..with your family and with your Sunday School groups.  Then go out and score points.  Let’s play to win, every play…..every day, every conversation, every opportunity God gives us.

Posted by Jeremy Shirley with