Why we love the underdog

I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan. And I’m a Tennessee Titans Fan. And I root for the UT Vols. Which means I’m always a fan of the underdog.

My team tends to be the one that Vegas says, “Bet against.”

As a Reds fan, I grew up in “The Nasty Boys” era: Norm Charlton, Randy Myers, and Rob Dibble, the three-headed closing pitching monster that did the heavy lifting in the late innings for the Reds in the late 80s/early 90s. Throw in a little offensive power like Erik Davis, Chris Sabo, and Paul O’Neill, and you’ve got a lovable losers team worth rooting for.

Even with all of that, they were the underdog in the 1990 World Series against the A’s. Which made their sweep of the A’s even that much sweeter.

I love rooting for the underdog. The guys that everybody counts on losing. The guys that are counted out before the game begins. The team that nobody gives a chance.

And don’t we all love rooting for the underdog? It’s no secret that our culture loves movies like Remember the Titans, The Bad News Bears, and Rudy. We love shows like The Biggest Loser. Because there’s a part of us that wants the “unlovable” guy to win. That wants the big bully to lose.

But why do we really love the underdog so much?

Because we are the underdog.

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image credit: abcnews.com

In life, we feel like we’re the guy at the bottom.

We are the underdog

  • We were the one who was picked on at school.
  • We were the one who picked on others because we were insecure in ourselves.
  • We were the one whose marriage was doomed to fail.
  • We weren’t the one “most likely to succeed.”
  • We were the ones that nobody thought would be a good parent.
  • We were the ones that almost failed out of shop class.
  • We were the ones that never could get the girl.
  • We were the ones that were made fun of.
  • We were the nerds.
  • The goof-ups.
  • The forgetful.
  • The lazy.
  • The cheap.
  • The funny-looking.
  • The ugly one.
  • The one with the broken family.
  • The one with the addiction.
  • The one that was slow.
  • The overweight one.
  • The one with the lisp.
  • The dumb one.
  • The one who couldn’t dance.
We’re not any different spiritually, either.

Spiritual underdogs

Spiritually speaking, we’re the underdog, too. The Bible says that we are

  • dead (Romans 5:12, 19)
  • disobedient (Romans 11:32)
  • dumb sheep (Isaiah 53:6)
  • Like a thorn (Micah 7:2-4)
  • worthless (Romans 3:10)
  • Not good (Luke 18:19)
  • Evil (Ecclesiastes 9:3)
  • dumb (Jeremiah 10:14)
  • unable to save ourselves (Colossians 2:13)
The Bible paints a picture of us not of ones who are on top of the heap, righteously fighting for the good of our souls. We’re made out exactly the opposite. And if we’re honest with ourselves, doesn’t life feel like this? As much as we try, we feel further from God. As hard as we work, life still doesn’t make sense. As much as we want to do the right thing, we stumble into the wrong thing. We’ve never drifted into doing the right thing. We continuously drift into that thing that we don’t want to do. (Romans 7:19)
The Bible doesn’t paint a picture of us that we haven’t seen before. We look at it in the mirror each and every day.
We love to root for the underdog because we are the underdog.
Which makes the grace of God that much more beautiful.

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:18-24

It’s time we embrace our weaknesses. And turn back to the God who saves the weak, the dead, the dumb, the blind, the maimed, the bleeding, the wicked, and the wanderers. And find He’s running towards us with open arms.

 

 

This is awkward, but…how’s your present?

Creative Commons user Marc Wathieu, edits mine

It’s “sexy” to talk about your past. Where you’ve been. The grit you’ve experienced. The pain you’ve had to bear. The crazy life you used to live. When you talk about your past, you get looks that say

Wow. You’ve come so far!

OR

Wow. You’ve overcome so much!

OR

Wow. You had a lot of fun!

It’s “sexy” to talk about your future, too. Nobody gets upset when you’re talking about where you’re headed in life. Whether you’re talking about heaven (where there will be no tears or crying or pain) or something a little shorter in focus (your goals and aspirations), these are fun conversations. When you talk about where you’re headed, it’s cast in a bright, positive light. Nobody clams up talking about that!

But your “present”? It’s not so sexy to talk about where you are right now. In fact, it’s quite awkward. And I’m convinced awkward conversations need to be had.*

It’s not cool to say,

“Yeah, I still struggle with ____.”

OR

“I still need help with ______.”

OR

“That thing that we talked about last week…I messed up again.”

The awkward humiliation

It’s humiliating, really. It’s like saying, “I know I told you I was headed to Nashville, but somehow I ended up in St. Louis. You told me to turn left, but I just went right.” Silly, no? Turns out they didn’t listen to directions, look at their map, or heed the signs that said, “Nashville, turn left.” And they did this for 450 miles.

Talking about your present struggles is like swallowing a spoonful of medicine. You know it’s going to help, but it tastes rancid going down.

Talking about your present struggles admits, “I’m not where I need to be,” “I’m not who I appear,” and, “I don’t really know how to get where I want to go.”

The beeline to shame

Where we go wrong when someone begins “talking about their present” is that we make a beeline for shame. Instead of the Prodigal’s father, we play the role of the older brother (Luke 15:28-30). Our arms are crossed and our head swiveling back and forth in judgment. We say things like “How are they going to ever learn?” or “Someone’s got to give them the truth.” or “If they’d only followed God like me” We think it’s our job to convict their hearts with the truth.

When we’re quick to convict, we inadvertently shut down a potentially life-changing moment of confession.

The good news about grace is that grace doesn’t keep a record of how many times you’ve messed up. In fact, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Grace celebrates a step in the right direction. Even when it’s followed by two steps backwards.

Grace welcomes home

Grace doesn’t mean that you become a doormat that’s walked on. It means you welcome someone home when they “talk about their present.” More than likely, conviction’s already happened. (hint: that’s why they’re talking with you!) Your role isn’t to convict…you can let the Holy Spirit do that. He’s better at it than you are, anyway. What someone needs, in their moment of taking a step of faith by saying, “I’ve messed up…again” is a “welcome home!” embrace.

Next time someone opens up an awkward conversation by sharing something they’re counting to struggle with, try being full of grace. Try showing them that we serve a God who never leaves or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6), even when we’ve followed a stupid decision by a stupid decision. In those moments, you’ll find that truth acts more like a weapon.

Grace is what’s needed, because grace moves the ball forward. Shame throw it backwards.

* catch up with the “this is awkward” series HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Give yourself a break

I remember the day my son started walking.

He had been pulling up and cruising for a few weeks prior, so we knew he was just about ready to start letting go and walking on his own.  My wife and I were sitting across from each other in the middle of the living room floor, and I stood Rex up in between us.  He could barely get his balance.  In fact, he was so wobbly he fell down before he even got started.  So I stood him back up.

Then it happened.

He took a small step, then started to fall forward.  Just before he reached the point of no return (where he would fall flat on his face), he stuck his other foot out in front of himself.  His momentum carried him forward, and he forgot to put his other foot out in front, so he fell face first into my wife, who, along with me, clapped and cheered for our son.  He had started to walk!

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

Then he got tired, so we quit for the day.

Notice this: he wasn’t so hard on himself that he wouldn’t try again.

Part of the hindrance to our spiritual growth is that we’re too hard on ourselves.  We beat ourselves up over and over again, when we’ve got a Father who, while we’re still a long way off, is filled with compassion for us, and is running towards us so He can throw His arms around us and kiss us. (Luke 15:20-21)

We, like the Prodigal Son, still beat ourselves up.  We respond, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:20)

To which our Father says, “Let’s celebrate!” (Luke 15:23)

I’m not saying that we should act like we’re perfect, and can do nothing wrong.  But I am saying that we should not be so paralyzed in our sin that we don’t take another step forwards, towards our Father who’s running our way.  We could live in the reality that we’re sinners who are “no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But wallowing in our guilt and shame doesn’t help us move towards God.

Maybe we should start reminding ourselves that our Father is cranking up the music, getting His dancing on, and grilling up a feast for us.  Because He loves us that much.

Do you ever find that you’re too hard on yourself?

Is it time to give yourself a break, and celebrate even a small step in the right direction?

Do you know someone who needs to be reminded of this truth?


 

 

Pee Pee and steps of faith


(Rex on his 4-wheeler, 2-20-2011)

On Sunday, my son ran up and down the halls of our church building (a high school, in fact) yelling, “Pee pee!!  Pee pee!!”

Obviously, we’re in the middle (well, that’s probably a stretch.  We’re probably closer to the beginning of this stage) of potty training.

I could’ve gotten frustrated.  Embarrassed.  Angry.  Or indifferent.  But I was none of that.

I chose to laugh.  Why?

Because it’s funny!  My 2 year old son is telling the whole world that he just peed in the toilet, not his pants.

Was it embarrassing?  Yep.

Was it frustrating, especially because he also peed in his diaper?  Yep.

But in that moment, I chose not to focus on the growth that still needed to happen.  I chose to celebrate with my son.

And we’d do well to remind ourselves that our Father rejoices over even a small step of faith.  Good fathers don’t punish their children when they pee in their diaper, even though they’re learning not to.  I don’t scold my son, even though I’ve told him countless times that he’s supposed to pee in the toilet.

Because I have the future in mind. I know that, at some point, the battle with this will be over.  We’ll work through this.  This is just a step in his journey towards maturity.  He’ll mature out of this, and in the meantime, I’m going to celebrate small steps in the right direction.

And I can’t help but think that God has the future in mind with us, too.  He has the bigger picture of our growth and maturity in mind at all times.  And yes, at times, we need discipline.  But He celebrates small steps in the right direction because He can see what we cannot.  And while we’re sitting in our own guilt and shame, God’s seeing the future, and is ready to offer us grace if we’ll just step towards Him.

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:32)

Do you need to remind yourself that a step in the right direction is worth celebrating?

Do you need to remind someone else of that?

 

A Story of Redemption

I twittered this the other day, and thought it fitting to fill you in on who Josh Hamilton is:

Just saw Josh Hamilton interviewed @ Home Run Derby say last year’s win paled in comparison to witnessing to millions about Jesus!

Not everybody has a story as vivid and raw as Texas Rangers’ homerun slugger Josh Hamilton. He was drafted number one straight out of high school, touted as a “can’t-miss prospect.” With this in mind, last season’s unbelievable stats should be no surprise (he’s gotten off to a slow start to this first-half of the season this year).  He broke the single-round record for most homeruns in the Home Run Derby (28), and for the year, amassed a .302 batting average, pounded in 132 RBI, and slugged 32 homers.

The only thing that’s odd about his performance is that he was drafted 9 years ago.

He’s had a long, hard road that has included multiple failed drug tests, eight stints in drug rehab, and the realization that he was fast becoming a failure as a husband and a father. But he’s been clean since October of 2005, attributing his rapid success to a grand work of God. Here’s a quote from Josh:

This may sound crazy, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my path to the big leagues. I wouldn’t even change the 26 tattoos that cover so much of my body, even though they’re the most obvious signs of my life temporarily leaving the tracks. You’re probably thinking, Bad decisions and addiction almost cost him his life, and he wouldn’t change anything? But if I hadn’t gone through all the hard times, this whole story would be just about baseball. If I’d made the big leagues at 21 and made my first All-Star team at 23 and done all the things expected of me, I would be a big-time baseball player, and that’s it.

What’s your story? Are you at the bottom right now? If so, maybe Josh’s redemption can give you hope.

Not hope that Jesus will make you healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Not hope that Jesus will make life easy.

Not even hope that he will end suffering here on earth.

His story offers hope because it shows us that God is in the business of redemption.  God cares about you more than you could ever care for yourself.  He has not abandoned you or forsaken you.  He has not left you to figure out life on your own.  He may have given you more than you can bear (for a further explanation of this thought, see Ron Edmondson’s post HERE), but His purpose is to show you that life is tougher than you can handle on your own, and that He is ready and willing to save.  He longs to redeem His people.

If you’re at rock bottom, now is the time to turn to the Lord.  He’s ready.  He always has been (Luke 11:15-32).