With 10 minutes left in extra time of the 2006 World Cup soccer finals, Zinedine Zidane was having the game of his life. The French star had become one of only four men in history to have scored three goals in a World Cup final.
The match was soon to become only the second Final in history to be decided in a penalty shootout. Italy and France had battled to a 1-1 tie. The stage appeared set for Zidane to be the hero, to cap his career with another World Cup trophy and to exit as the only player to score four goals in a World Cup final.
Instead, in what the press called "a moment of madness," a tired and frustrated Zidane became embroiled in an exchange with an Italian player, angrily butted the player in the chest with his head, and was ejected from the game.
The Italians went on to win the World Cup as 69,000 spectators looked on and millions more watched on television.
The outcome dashed the hopes of many spectators. Others erupted into joyful celebration, as if they had more of a hand in the game than just purchasing their tickets.
Something similar often happens in churches, when they equip and send missionaries to bring Jesus to an altogether different playing field.
Armed with plane tickets, religious tracts and the Holy Spirit, missionaries descend on Third World countries. They attempt to establish beachheads in areas where thousands of unbelievers live in poverty. Their resources are quickly outstripped, but they gamely play on, running from village to village, building shelters, holding revivals and herding people to altar calls before rushing to their next engagements.
Evangelist Ed Silvoso remarked on the eerie similarities between sport and missions as well, saying that in both situations, "A handful of players, all in desperate need of rest, run all over the field while hundreds of thousands of spectators, who could use some exercise, watch from comfortable seats."
Soccer fans are a rabid bunch. Most could recite from memory the records of their favorite teams going back a decade.
Many Christians know the Bible backwards and forwards. They spend years in Bible studies, analyzing Scripture, including the parts that say "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19) After a while, they are no more likely to witness or evangelize than the average soccer fan is to make the World Cup team.
A pastor in our area recently called this "spiritual obesity." No matter how healthy the food is that we eat, we must do something to burn it off. So it is with the bread of life.
Realistically, there isn't much the soccer fans can do. They can't put on cleats and rush to the arena with any real hope of changing the outcome of the World Cup.
Mission work is different.
God has equipped all Christians for this divine sport, and has placed each one in the perfect position to begin ministering.
We can pray for those we see at work. We can visit the sick and the elderly. We can bring food to the poor, not in Third World countries, but around the corner from us.
The stakes are high. The score is close. Nobody is sure when the game clock will tick to zero.
This game was never intended to be a spectator sport.
It cannot be won without us.
Al Boyce is a former writer and reporter for The Associated Press. He lives in Raleigh, NC, where he now writes for God.
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