Putting on my Christ Jersey - Insight on Imitating Jesus
For seventeen years, I coached soccer, aka football. For seventeen years, kids of virtually all ages would show up at soccer practices or soccer camps wearing a jersey of their favorite player, Messi, Ronaldo, Donovan, Howard, etc., etc. And while I am not presently coaching, I bet if I were to head onto the field today I would see young men wearing the jerseys of Christian Pulisic, and young women wearing Julie Johnston Ertz jerseys. And the identification of the young people to the player on the jersey did not end with wearing the same jersey. Rather, when these young men and women showed up at practice or camp, you can see that they want to be that player. They would practice their moves and try to replicate the many ways that the player handled the ball.
This effort to imitate your heroes is not limited to soccer. When I was a young man learning to play baseball in the Ohio Valley, my heroes were Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Danny Driessen, George Foster and all of the players who were blessed to be able to play for the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. Taking batting practice with my friends, we all knew the players batting stances and imitated them in an effort to become better. We all knew Pete Rose's crouch and Joe Morgan's elbow pump. If they were the model (and they were -- the Big Red Machine was undoubtedly the best baseball team on the planet), we knew that imitating them was the means to become a better baseball player.
When I read verses such as Ephesians 5:1, it says that we are to be "imitators of God." When I read that verse and others of similar ilk, I can't help but think of my young soccer players. They are "imitators" of their soccer heroes. They have watched the games where they have identified the players that represent to them the very best in the world, and they wear their soccer jerseys to be just like that player. But the imitation doesn't end with merely wearing the jersey. It continues with an effort to play the game in the same way that Dempsey or Schweinsteiger do. It takes practice - years of practice. It takes dedication to the game and the desire to get better.
We are to be like these young soccer players, but our Messi is Jesus Christ. He is the one we want to be like. We know that He's the best; we know that to succeed at the game (in this case, life) it is beneficial to imitate Him. We, as Christians, need to put on our Christ jersey and let the world know that Jesus is the one that we want to be like.
But it doesn't end with merely wearing the jersey.
In order to be like Jesus requires practice. It requires diligence. It requires learning how and why Jesus did things and doing our best to imitate Him by actually doing it. These young soccer players go into games thinking that they can be as good as Rooney, but naturally they aren't yet. They may never get as good as Dwyer or Morgan or Lloyd. But they try. And more importantly, we all know that no one gets better by merely sitting on the sideline. We get better by getting in the game. In the case of imitating Christ, this means devoting ourselves to the study of His Word and practicing what He has told us as we go about out day.
Most of all, it requires us to surrender ourselves -- daily. It requires humility and love. It requires that we listen to our coach, i.e., the Holy Spirit, and our assistant coaches, i.e., Pastors and Christians, who are further along the walk than we, to learn how surrendering ourselves looks in our daily lives. We need to recognize that our lives are best kept when they are surrendered to the One who made us and has plans for us. We may not always like those plans. Those plans may involve sickness and pain. They may involve financial hardship and legal trouble. They may involve having people hate us. But Jesus, the one who we seek to imitate, underwent severe suffering for the love of the whole world. Dare we ask to do any less? Is your life more valuable than that of the Son of God?
Notice also that the verse does not just say to be imitators of God, but to be imitators "as beloved children." This simple verse tells us not only whose we are, but how we are to approach God. It is reminiscent of Matthew 18:2-4 where Jesus points to a child and tells the grownups gathered around that they need to "become like children" to obtain the Kingdom of God. Jesus continues that we are to humble ourselves as a little child. In other words, we are to recognize that we are not the greatest, but one who is greater than us has come who we need to imitate in much the same way that the children look to imitate their soccer heroes.
So, put on your Christ Jersey. Let the world know who you are and whose you are. Live a life that enthusiastically seeks to practice the imitation of the one whose jersey you wear. Don't worry that you are not perfect. While practice in this case will not make you perfect -- there is only one who is perfect -- it will make you more like Jesus Christ, the one perfect person who has ever lived.
And getting closer to perfection is always good.