In 1992, only two years after the fall of communism, I was sitting in a huge soccer stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, surrounded by screaming fans. The Russian team, the national champion, was getting beat by the Ukraine team and the crowd was going crazy.
At the time, I was president of the John Guest Evangelistic Team, and John had been invited to give a 10 minute “religious talk” at half-time. I could not imagine how he was going to pull that off. The fans were there for soccer, not religion. (Perhaps you have children or grandchildren who have the same problem!)
As John began to speak, God silenced the stadium. It was eerie and surreal.
“I love soccer. I played it in college and I coached it after college. What makes soccer, or any sport for that matter, enjoyable are three things; passion, skill and the rules. Yes – the rules! Without rules, this game would be chaotic and miserable with players running anywhere they pleased, scoring points any way they wanted, and fouling at will. You, the fans, would be angry and confused. The lines on the soccer field and the rules, while inconvenient at times, establish the boundaries and give the game order and discipline to counter the passion, reward skill and assure fair play.
I’m sure you parents have rules , boundaries and expectations for your family, as well. “I want you children in the house or apartment by 10:00,” “your job is to put out the trash” or “don’t hit your sister.” In fact every parent, who truly loves their children, will establish fair rules for their safety and the good of the family.
God too, knows we are passionate people. So passionate sometimes, that we do not always play fair. Men are tempted to cheat on their wives. Children can be disrespectful to their parents. We call in sick to work when we feel fine. We’ll occasionally steal, or lie when we think we can get away with it. The Bible calls that, sin.
So, God gave us some moral laws, in the 10 Commandments and elsewhere in the Bible. (Then John named them) These are just a few of his “rules” for playing life! He didn’t give them to be a kill-joy, but to help us counter our passions, so our wives would feel safe in our marriages, our children would learn to respect their parents and we would be trustworthy people and learn to trust others. When we choose to live like that, life is so much more enjoyable for everyone. God knows that, and so do you!
Tonight, right here at 7:00pm, I’m going to tell you the rest of the story about God. How he gave Jesus, his only son, to die in your place to pay the penalty for every rule you’ve ever broken and ever will break. God loves you that much! And, not only did he pay the penalty for your sin, but he’s made it possible for us to stop even wanting to break the rules. If you can’t imagine how that could be, then come out tonight and find out why!”
And that night thousands did return!
Over the years, I’ve told that story to many people, especially high school and college students, who believe God is a kill-joy and religion is all about rules. Once they understand that the “rules” are God’s gift to humans to keep our passions in check, making our lives more enjoyable and relationships more trustworthy, their attitude usually soften. And God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ is a second gift, when we realize we can never keep all the rules perfectly.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23, 24
How following Jesus works in real life.
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