Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who Do You Play For?



Galatians 1:10 - For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.


I realize that it may seem a bit sac religious to start off an article with a Bible verse and then launch immediately into a rant about sports, but please bare with me as I bring it around to what I can only hope will be an appropriate conclusion. I want to take a moment here, in the beginning of this article, to congratulate the World Champion Saint Louis Cardinals. What an unbelievable ending to an improbable season. Thank you!

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In September, I posted on my personal Facebook page that I was saying goodbye to the Cardinals. I’ll admit it. I posted something along the lines of “Hey Cardinals, I’m gonna go watch football for a few months. Try not to suck next year.” For those of you familiar with the story, you know the Cardinals were basically eliminated from the playoffs as late in the season as September. I gave up, they didn’t. Instead of giving up, they played with a carefree zeal that I’ve never before witnessed in sports. Each player, manager, and front office employee approached each miraculous game with the same attitude as the fans. We all had that “playing with house money” mentality. It was a completely different sense than was present in the 2006 World Series, and definitely different than the 2004 World Series. There was no panic. If we lost, we lost, but we lost to a city and to a team that no one hates. We lost a series that we [The City of Saint Louis] hadn’t prepared for. Every win was a surprise and a bonus. The Championship was simply the impossible ending to a real-life fairy tale.

I was given the opportunity to watch the unforgettable Game Six in the friendly confines of my parent’s home in Fort Worth, Texas. I was there for a meeting in Dallas that morning and spent the night watching the game with my brother and my father who happen to be Born Again Rangers Fans. While they may not have been as happy with the eventual outcome of that indescribable game, the fact that we were able to witness it together will not soon be forgotten. First of all, we don’t have that many opposing teams for whom we cheer. Except for baseball, our views on sports are pretty much aligned. Second, we realize how slim the chances of the Rangers and Cardinals ever playing each other again in a championship setting truly are. Third, even if they do manage to get back there someday, what are the odds that I will be in Fort Worth on the night the two teams battle it out in an eleven inning game that could not have been more thrilling if Michael Bay directed the story? The emotions that ran through that living room as I sat there outnumbered by the two men I feel closer to than anyone else in the world will never be duplicated. Moments of sheer agony followed immediately by sheer joy in the only emotionally inverse relationship I’ve ever experienced with Dad and Ryan. I understand their inability to see it that way just yet. Their team was ONE STRIKE away from the first championship in team history on TWO occasions only to have it ripped from them both times. As a fan, you don’t get over something like that very easily.

How am I going to tie this into the Bible verse I opened with?  Good question…..

I have often stated that it is inappropriate to pray for victory from your favorite sports team, but all those faces in the crowd at Busch Stadium last Thursday night were talking to someone when they clasped their hands in front of their faces and whispered “please please please please.” The perspective I took from that scene was forged as I flew out of a city that is prospering the next morning. The Dallas / Fort Worth area may not be prospering in the fashion to which it has grown accustomed, but there are construction cranes lining the skylines of both cities and all the ones connecting them whereas the wooden boards are still in the windows at Lambert Saint Louis International Airport from a tornado that struck on Easter weekend. On the way to the meeting on Thursday morning, I counted thirteen E-Class or higher Mercedes Benz vehicles. That’s notFort Worth Skyline mentioning the BMW’s, multiple Bentley’s, Range Rover’s and countless high end Lexus’……Lexi…..plural of Lexus. Dallas and the surrounding areas are experiencing a better economic climate than many cities whose economic downturn started where Dallas sits now. The prayers for a Cardinals Championship were not all coming from inside Busch Stadium on Friday night. Many of them were not even prayed by Cardinals fans (although there aren’t many non-fans in this city). Today, as the confetti is swept off the Victory Parade route along Market Street where I happily stood with my family yesterday, the stories of what this championship truly means to the city are beginning to emerge. In particular, the story of the hundreds of city employees whose jobs were literally saved by the revenue generated during the four games held here in Saint Louis. Last year, Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay began furloughs among all city employees, including himself. Employees have noticed a steady reduction in pay, implementation of mandatory days off, and constant restructuring during the budget crisis. It was announced today that furloughs have been lifted. THOSE are answered prayers.

Most of the time, it’s simply the superior skill and execution of the athletes on one team versus another. This year, that was not the case. The teams were very well matched, and they provided fans with seven unforgettable games. I’m willing to bet that these teams could play each other 99 times and the series would be decided 50-49. Those are IMAG0742 the acts of men. Those are the things that make our time here on earth more enjoyable but the wins and losses are simply not what God cares about. The prayers God cares about are the ones that desperate men pray when giving up would be much easier. The prayers God answers are the ones that propel His Plan and His word, not bragging rights. The prayer He answered for me personally in this series was not in the form of the Victory Parade yesterday. It wasn't answered in the historic swing of Freese’s bat or the tearful tone of Joe Buck’s voice saying “we’ll see you tomorrow night” in a direct homage to his legendary father. The prayer answered in my life can only be explained with Divine Intervention. On Wednesday night, Game Six was supposed to be played. It was supposed to be played, and by all accounts the Rangers were supposed to win their first championship. The game was rained out and I got to watch the makeup game with my brother and dad on Thursday night. The Rangers were one strike away; just one pitch; on two occasions but ‘my’ Cards just wouldn’t go away. It was the most exciting game in World Series history and made it possible for me to watch Game Seven with my son in my lap, my beautiful bride beside me, and within earshot of the fireworks and celebrations filling the streets of a deserving city.

Again, God doesn’t care who wins or loses a game invented by men. He doesn’t care who has the best stadium, the biggest contract, or the most wins. God cares that individual lives are lived according to His Word. God had nothing to do with the outcome of the game itself, but He had everything to do with the emotions and the memories many of us are feeling. Even those in Texas who may not be feeling the jubilation that is gripping St Louis have to realize that they were part of something historic and special. Historic and special here on earth. When we put too much emphasis on a championship (and the inherent bragging rights), or money, or material possessions, or appearance; we lose track of what is truly important. God has a plan for all of us; Cardinals fans, Rangers fans and even Yankees fans. (I have my own hopes as to the Plan for the latter.) All of us, regardless of Faith are part of a Plan. It doesn’t matter if you understand it, as long as you believe it. When you start to care more about your own plans, agendas and missions than those of God; you suffer. You suffer alone and fall prey to the trappings of man. Just ask the Cowboys how much success has come their way since building “the biggest house.”

To say that the Cardinals won the World Series because God favored them is absurd. God doesn’t care about such things. But the Cardinals victory does illustrate the verse quite well. They were 3 games out of the wild card spot with 5 games to go…….they had to get through the two best records in baseball just to earn a spot in the World Series…..Rangers had all the momentum, etc. The Phillies thought they earned the championship trophy back in May by signing their names to a few contracts. They listened to the opinions and it cost them a season. The Brewers employ one Nyjer Morgan and are therefore prohibited from discussion in this article. The Rangers are a young team that I believe will win several titles in the next couple of years, but this season went to the team that was able to abandon their own plans and follow one that had been written for them. No one expected them to be there and they played like they were savoring each moment.

Serve God; not a team or a paycheck. Lead your children to trust in an untold Plan and their lives will not hinge upon one team’s victory. Lead your team in the ‘right’ direction, not the easy one. The Rangers and Cardinals earned their spot in the Championship Series without having to buy it. You can’t “buy” your way into Heaven either. You have to accept Christ and the Plan God has set for your life. There is no other path.

Thanks for playing!

J Robert Giles – Card Carrying Member of Cardinal Nation


PS: I realize it’s easy to write this from the stage of a victory, but many of you will find it interesting to know that this article was actually started in the guest room of my parents house when the Rangers were leading the Cardinals 7-4 in the eighth inning of Game Six. I had originally intended to write this as a congratulations to the Rangers and to the many fans with whom I have exchanged entertaining trash talking throughout this series. Thank you for your gracious, “Texas-sized” competition. Sincerely.