When Football and Faith Collide: Keep Your Helmet On!
I am a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I can’t claim to have been around since “the beginning,” but I always loved watching Christian Okoye and Derrick Thomas play the game, and when Joe Montana left the 49ers back in the early 90s and headed to Kansas City (I am also a Dallas Cowboys fan, so while I loved watching Montana play, the 49ers were a “no no”), the deal was sealed. And, well, a certain quarterback from Texas Tech certainly sweetened the pot when he joined the Chiefs roster in 2017.
Other than Patrick Mahomes (obviously), my favorite player to watch on the current roster is tight end, Travis Kelce. The man is a machine, making catches that no man should ever make. Not to mention, he is a nightmare to tackle. He seems like a great teammate, and he is inarguably one of the primary reasons for the Chiefs’ success in recent years.
This past Sunday evening I watched the Chiefs take on the Tennessee Titans, which ended up being a much more exciting game than I was expecting. The Chiefs finally pulled it out (as they typically do), but there were certainly some frustrating moments along the way. One such moment came in the third quarter, with the Chiefs down by 5 and only having scored 9 points in the contest. As he often does when the pressure is on, Mahomes threw the ball to Kelce, who saw the ball hit his hands, bounce out, and fly right into the hands of the defender for an interception. The blunder eventually led to a Tennessee field goal and an 8-point lead.
So, what’s the point of all that? Well, nothing really, but it is a nice intro, I think.
After the flub by Kelce, the camera caught him walking toward the sideline. On his way, he ripped off his helmet and chunked it toward the bench in frustration. While I obviously can’t read minds, I feel like I have some idea what was going through his head at the time. Frustration. Disbelief. Embarrassment. Feeling as though he let his teammates down. The list could probably go on, but I think you get the picture.
Maybe it is because I had just been reading a book called Come to Papa, by Gary Wiens, right before the game started, but for some reason the Kelce meltdown caught my attention Sunday evening in a way that it normally wouldn’t have.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, the Apostle Paul speaks to us about the essential nature of Christ followers donning the “full armor of God”:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV)
While this whole passage deserves a lifetime of prayerful reflection, given my introduction, I am sure you have figured out that I am focusing here on one particular element of the armor Paul describes. If the context didn’t give it away, the bold italics likely did. The helmet of salvation.
When a soldier in Paul’s day was dressing for battle, the final piece of armor they would strap on was their helmet. While all of the armor they wore was critical, in many ways, the helmet was the most crucial, as it protected their head, the “command center” for the rest of the body. In the same way, the “helmet of salvation” is vitally important. Paul could have made “salvation” the breastplate, the shield, or the sword, but he chose to call it the helmet. It goes on our head, and I believe there are a number of reasons for that.
Wearing the helmet of salvation represents having knowledge of God’s love for us and the sacrifice He made to open the door of relationship to us. But it is not just the type of knowledge that wins a trivia contest. It is the type of knowledge that gets you an invitation to dinner – an experiential knowledge and an assurance based on intimate connection and familiarity.
So what does this have to do with the Kelce meltdown this past weekend?
The all-pro Kansas City tight end had a rough first half; well, by his standards, anyway. The final straw was when the ball went off his fingertips and into the hands of the opposing defender. I am sure he felt as though he let his team down. I know he was angry that he didn’t perform better. Certainly there was some disbelief and extreme frustration; after all, this was a mistake that Travis Kelce just “shouldn’t make.” So, as an expression of that frustration and anger, he chunked his helmet.
I am not an NFL tight end, but I know what it is like to feel those feelings and let my helmet fly.
And in case it isn’t clear, I am not talking about football gear anymore.
What about you? Ever tossed yours? Ever felt the feelings of shame, disbelief, anger, frustration after a major screw up? Made a choice or a mistake that you “shouldn’t make?” I know the answer is yes, so I will go ahead and ask the follow up question: How did you respond? Did you jump right up and run back to the huddle, or did you send your helmet soaring?
The helmet of salvation, that is.
As I mentioned, the helmet of salvation represents a knowledge of our position as beloved sons and daughters of God, those who He has graciously rescued and redeemed, not because we deserved it, but because He is loving and kind. While the helmet is critical, it oftentimes becomes a little uncomfortable to wear when we blow it. And at the very point when we need to pull the chinstrap a little tighter, the temptation is to rip it off and let it fly.
“I am such a screw up.”
“God has to be worn out with me making the same mistakes over and over again.”
“I am not worthy to be called His child.”
OK, I will give you this: two out of these three statements are true in a sense. Apart from Christ in us, we are all unworthy screw ups. But that doesn’t change a thing. Romans 5:8 tells us that Jesus died for us while we were “yet sinners” and wanted nothing to do with him. How much more now that there is even an inkling of a desire to know and follow Him? And as for God getting “worn out” with our repetitive shortcomings, as long as our mistakes are born out of immaturity rather than rebellion, God is not fed up or tired of us.
Earlier I mentioned a book I have been reading called Come to Papa, by Gary Wiens. In that book, Wiens makes the following statement, and it is a life-altering truth, if we grasp it:
Part of the curse of fatherlessness is that the experience of the love of the Father is seen to be a target, the end result of a faithful and fervent life. When this false perception is in place, human attempts at obedience to God are robbed of the very power that makes obedience possible . . . the knowledge of His affection and love in our immaturity and weakness.Come to Papa, Gary Wiens
I get the feelings. I understand the thoughts. But before you send your helmet crashing to the ground next time you fall short – and you will fall short – here are a few things to consider:
- There is a vast difference between immaturity and rebellion. Immature believers feel remorse and conviction when they blow it. Rebellious ones don’t care. While God is never pleased with sin, He passionately loves immature believers and is fully committed to their maturity process.
- Nobody is caught off guard by your screw ups but you. God is certainly not. Our pride won’t allow us to believe that we could possibly fall short, but following Jesus is a lifestyle marked by abandoning our pride and relying solely upon His righteousness. By all means, strive to make good decisions and live a holy life, but never, never toss your helmet. You are still welcome in the huddle.
- God loved you first. While you were naïve, disinterested and lost, He made a way for you. Why would He now suddenly lose interest because you did what broken people do? If your love for Him is legitimate (and it is, or you wouldn’t care about displeasing or hurting Him by your actions), maturity will come.
- The basis of our ongoing relationship with God is His faithfulness and His righteousness. Not ours. Thank God. Enough said.
- God loves you now, even in the midst of your weakness and immaturity. I said this above in #1, but you didn’t believe it then. So I’m saying it again. He really does.
My youngest daughter has recently taken up playing soccer. Because I help coach my oldest daughter’s softball team, I am not always able to attend soccer games, but I make it a point to be there every time I possibly can. This past weekend, I noticed that every time my youngest would miss a shot, have the ball stolen from her, or lose a challenge with another player, she would look over at me on the sideline. She knows that I know nothing at all about soccer, so she clearly wasn’t looking for coaching advice from Dad. She was looking for acceptance. “Dad, I messed up. What are you thinking about me? Right. Now. How do you feel about me in light of my ‘failure?’”
When the game ended and the coach wrapped up his postgame chat with the team, I pulled my daughter aside for a quick chat. “Baby, I love you and love to watch you play. As long as you are trying, I am proud. You don’t have to earn my acceptance, and you can’t lose it. I loved you and was proud of you before you played soccer, and I will love you and be proud of you long after you hang up your cleats. You are my daughter, and that is all that matters. Go have fun, do your best, and know that you are loved.”
Next time you are tempted to toss your helmet aside, hear your Father speaking these words over you: “You are my child, and I love you. Focus on our relationship and commit to following my leadership in your life. When you blow it, get back up and say yes to me again. I’ve got you. Go have fun, do your best, and know that you are loved. I love to watch you play.”
Keep. Your. Helmet. On.