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.


im-skeptical said…
They may involve having people hate us.

I submit that people don't hate Christians for imitating Jesus of for simply being Christian. That fact is that most Christians act in ways that are contrary to the examples set by the Jesus of the gospels.

Take his instructions about prayer. Jesus said you should go into your closet to pray. It is the most private of matters, between you and God, and it is the hypocrites who do it publicly. What we observe is Christians insisting that prayer not only be conducted in public, but imposing it on others by having teachers lead students in prayer, for example.
BK said…
Okay. I agree that most people don't hate Christians for simply being Christian or for imitating Jesus. But if you are going to take the time to point that out, I also think it would be fair for you to acknowledge that some people do hate Christians. If you don't think so, I can refer you to some websites.

It is not accurate to say that Jesus opposed all public prayer (which your comment suggests). He opposed hypocritical prayer where the person prayed in public just to show how much more spiritual he was than others.

As far as the imposing of prayer - communities should be free to choose to have a public prayer if that is what the community wants. I would argue that it is the person who sues to stop prayer in largely Christian communities who is imposing his/her beliefs upon others.
im-skeptical said…
I would argue that it is the person who sues to stop prayer in largely Christian communities who is imposing his/her beliefs upon others.

And this is where we see the resentment creeping in. You have your homes to pray in. You have your churches. You are free to gather in various venues as a group and worship together. But somehow, that's not enough. I submit that the reason you insist on doing this in places like public schools and courthouses is to make a show power or dominance. At that point, it ceases to be worship at all. It is more of a public statement. And this is, I think, a violation of the stricture admonition in Matthew.
BK said…
I submit that the reason you insist on doing this in places like public schools and courthouses is to make a show power or dominance. At that point, it ceases to be worship at all. It is more of a public statement. And this is, I think, a violation of the stricture admonition in Matthew.

And you would be wrong.
If you were at a funeral would you stand up and start cheering for your team to prove you support then? If you were at a funeral of an atheist would you lecture everyone on how he was now in hell? Displays of allegiance are not always appropriate.I think it's more important we been known as Christians by helping the poor. Nevertheless I think Skep underrates Bill's sincerity,Knowing BK as I do(since 1999) I believe him when he says he doesn't just seek to display dominance.
BK said…
Wholeheartedly agree that standing up and cheering for your team at a funeral would be inappropriate. But that would not really be following the leading of your coach, would it? Likewise, I have been to atheist funerals, and I have not used that as an avenue for speaking about God because it would be inappropriate. That would turn more people away from God than attract them to God.

And, of course, you are right that I don't think it is a display of dominance. It is a display that the people in that community seek God and His guidance. Anyone can assign bad motives to another, but when we assume bad motives we miss the good.
im-skeptical said…
What I'm talking about is something different. We all agree that there are appropriate times and places to express your views. We have religious freedom, which gives us great freedom to express ourselves, but there are still occasions and places when it's not appropriate.

Let's say I'm a high-pressure salesman for Florida real estate (swamp land). In the name of free enterprise, I'm allowed to make my sales pitch, but I can't force you to listen to it. I can invite you, along with a group of others, for a free dinner at a restaurant where I will subject you to harassment until you buy. But you're free not to attend. I can set up a booth at the county fair, and you're free to pass it by. If I also happen to be a judge, I am not free to make my pitch in the courthouse, where people have no choice but to attend. If I'm a teacher, I can't subject my students to this. That's not the business of the schools.

Likewise, it would be a violation of the religious freedom of those in attendance if I tried to subject them to religious teachings that are not consistent with their own. And if you think that the majority in a community can decide to overrule that, you are dead wrong. That's what our constitution is for. It guarantees certain freedoms to ALL people, regardless of any tyranny of the majority.

So go into your room and close the door, and pray to your heart's content. Go to church. Go to meetings. Stand in the middle of the street and shout about it, if that pleases you. But don't force me or my child to be subjected to it, because that violates OUR freedom.
BK said…
As you know, I don't like going too far into the comments because I don't think many people really reads too far down the comments list. I will only say that what you say here is understandable because it is a view held by many. I think the view is wrong, but I plan to post on it sometime in the near future. (My next blogpost is already in the works, so I may tackle your observations after that.) Interesting discussion.

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