Core scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
Message: It wasn’t supposed to end this way. We forgot to take a group selfie. I didn’t have any pictures from the sideline. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I simply expected them to win, but when the final score popped up on my phone, I saw that their season was over.
I suppose I should back up. I was blessed to be able to spend time with the Olathe South football team for the second straight year. Coach Litchfield allowed me to lead devotions with his players before their games. He would always give a theme like “perseverance” or “mental toughness,” and I would use that for inspiration to write a devotion.
We would meet in room 906 right outside the locker room around 4:00. Anywhere from eight to ten guys would show up, eager to see what kind of faith-based theme might motivate them to victory. I got to know my regular group pretty well and even got their cell numbers to check in on them throughout the week.
This week marked the second round of the Kansas 6A State Playoffs. South was playing their crosstown rival, Olathe Northwest, a team they had dominated 35-7 way back in week 3. I just assumed they would take care of business and move on, but as you know, come playoff time, you cannot take any team for granted.
It was the first game I could actually make it to. My fall schedule was pretty crazy with work, Trail Life campouts, and other responsibilities. But not this night. This night was going to be special. I got to bring my 11-year-old son on the sidelines, and we watched Olathe South feed the ball to their superstar, Jordan Allen, who scored three touchdowns by halftime.
Still, South was down by a touchdown at that point, 28-21, after Northwest threw a beautiful halfback pass for a touchdown in the waning moments of the 2nd quarter. It was a school night, so I took my son home at the half. He still had some homework to finish up. That was when I saw the first half shootout turned into a 2nd half defensive battle. South lost 35-21.
My heart sank for those kids. I texted each of them individually on Saturday, congratulating them on their season and thanking them for the opportunity to see them for our weekly devotions. Each replied back with thanks and gratitude, but one text wrenched my heart. Senior linebacker, Chase Whittman, said he “wondered what I would have had to say.”
Chase, now I get to tell you. You and all the guys. You see, there was once this man named Paul. He wrote 13 books in the New Testament, and he was the church’s first true missionary. God took the worst persecutor of Christians and transformed him into the man who spearheaded our Christian faith into the world.
Paul lived through many ups and downs. He had it all at times, and he had those moments when he had next to nothing in prison. But Paul learned to be content no matter what the circumstance. With everything or with nothing. On top of the world or down in the dumps depressed.
He writes in Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Let’s apply this to my boys at Olathe South. Gentlemen, I know you are reading this. The elation of victory is so much more appreciated than the agony of defeat, but if you search your heart, you can find the same contentment Paul describes above. Not through your own worldly perspective but through the power of Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus overcame everything, and He is the one you can always turn to. Even when the season you hoped would bring glory ends in sudden defeat.
As Christians, we play for something bigger: eternity with Him. Paul writes, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So, I run with purpose in every step” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26a).
You may think you have lost the “prize” awaiting you at the end, but another prize is still to come. This prize will be bigger and better than any earthly prize could bring. State football championship trophies will rust and decay in time, but the prize of wandering streets of gold? Being next to our Savior, Jesus Christ? Celebrating with all the other Christians out there?
- Daniel, you get the Consistency Award. You were my most consistent student athlete over the past two seasons. I don’t think you missed a single devotion. You lived out your faith as well as anybody, and I know your faith will guide you through your next stage of life. You are polite, well-mannered, and bound for greatness. It was incredible to get to know you.
- Chase, I will never forget the day I met you when you joined us a few games into the season. My only question was why it took you so long to come! But you were there every week afterward. I was so proud of you sharing your testimony at our 2nd to last meeting. Because of the leadership you showed, you get the Leadership Award. I have the utmost respect for you.
- Austin, I was devastated when I heard about what happened to your knee midway through the year. I was expecting you to struggle with the reality of missing the last half of your senior season, but you handled it with grace. And you never missed a devotion the past two years. Seeing you suit up for that last game brought joy to my heart. Because of that, you get the Comeback Award.
- Zane, you were the X-factor out there on the field. Wherever Coach Litchfield needed you, you excelled. Whether it was breaking tackles at receiver, stuffing a run at safety, or throwing touchdowns when Bryce needed rest, you did it all. And you did it with humility. Because of your diversity in being used all over the field, I am giving you the All-Everything Award.
- Cameron, I am so glad you joined our group this year as a senior. Those guys looked up to you. Remember that first day when your teammates chose you as the leader in my accountability devotion? They picked you for a reason. They see the same greatness in you that I saw, and your shoes will be difficult to fill next season. Because of that you get the Irreplaceable Award.
- Max, I will never forget Coach Lewis pulling me aside last year during the summer. He told me how special you were, and that first touchdown run you had against Olathe North proved it. Now that you are starting at running back as a sophomore, I can only smile at what you will be by the time you are a senior. I get you for two more years, dude! You get the Exceed All Expectations Award. Why? Because you prove your doubters wrong.
- Joel, it was an honor to see you join our group this year. You come from an amazing Christian family, and there is no doubt you will be seeing some playing time as you mature. Thanks so much for your dedication to our group. Not only did you come every week, but you were never shy in inviting friends to come. I could see you soaking in the wisdom as I led the group, so you get the Focus Award.
- Aiden, you were always one of my favorites since week one. Big things come in small packages, sir, and big things are certainly to come for you. I admire your tenacity to stay with football, even through your concussion midway through the year. You never quit. Because of your determination, you get the Perseverance Award. That will carry you far in life as you mature.
- Erick, you have matured so much since you were a goofy 7th grade boy in my classroom. I never would have thought you could transform your body into a lineman in the weight room like you did. The fact that you stayed with the team and kept trying, even through your back injury, made me darn proud. Because of this you get the Dedication Award. Time to dedicate yourself one more year to greatness!
- Jeremiah, I know I only saw you a few times, but it was awesome seeing you and hearing about your baptism. That will be the greatest decision of your life, sir, and I am so proud of you for taking that step of faith. Teaching you in 7th grade was a blast, and to see how much you have grown since then, physically and spiritually, is amazing. Because of that I am giving you the Maturity Award.
- And finally to Coach Litchfield, thank you so much for trusting me with your players. I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to build relationships with them and guide them spiritually. You made me feel like a part of the team, and even though I was only able to see you guys in action for one half, I cherished every minute of that on the sideline with my son. Because of your faith in me, I am giving you the Trust Award. Thanks for everything.
Prayer: Lord, thank you so much for the opportunity to pour into the Olathe South football team this year. I pray You will continue to help those young men grow spiritually and keep You at the core of their lives. Amen.