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Rules from the Playground: Playing nice only goes so far

July 21, 2010

Recently I offered my spare time to a neighborhood youth soccer coach.  I have been looking for opportunities to get involved somewhere and I enjoy the game immensely even though I am not good at it.  But I suppose it depends on how you measure the quality of one’s play.  Anyways, I decided I would help coach soccer even though I have never coached at all.  Coach David was cool though and just glad someone from the community cares.  Immediately, I was caught off guard by two things, how well coached the under-10 team was; as well as how underprepared I was for the under-14 kids.  At some point they went from being hard working angels to kids who are unmotivated and lack discipline in more ways than one.  My only aim is to be humble, learn, and make some connections in the community all for the sake of Jesus.

Being a part of this world clearly demonstrates to me that I am truly in an alien world.  I am a white guy who grew in Colorado, hasn’t spoke spanish since High School.  I had a career as a engineer, when they see my bike they know its expensive, guess the price and are not even on the same planet.  They have played soccer since they were kids and I haven’t played since I was kid.  How in the world am I supposed to do this?

So here is the scenario: The regular coach is out of town for a month.  The other assistant coach works with the U-10 team.  I, by default, get the U-14 team.  Since coach is gone, they just do a scrimmage and I don’t know what to do.  We scrimmage and one of the kids, who is the most difficult because he is mouthy and has ball skills, finally finds out I am not a good soccer player.  So practice ends with him saying to me, “You suck.”  I play nice, just like I did as a kid on the playground.  He basically leaves shortly thereafter blaming his team’s performance on my goal keeping (which I do suck at) instead of his refusal to play defense and play on a team.

What is truly revealed in all of this is that playing nice only goes so far.  Playing nice does make you a better coach and it sure doesn’t make anyone else a better player.  Playing nice might not offend anyone and it might make a few friends, but it is powerless against all kinds of sin, whether individual or systematic.  What was highlighted in this practice was not my inferior ball skills but my sin of playing nice.

The truth is Jesus didn’t play nice.  Jesus loved people they way they needed to be loved and he calls his disciples to love like he does.  “A disciple is not above his teacher.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant his master.” (Matt 10:24-25, ESV).  In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples to proclaiming that the “kingdom is at hand.”  He says that when they do so they will be persecuted but they must persist.  He says they will be flogged, the will be ridiculed, they will be told, “You suck.”  This is what Jesus and all the prophets of God before him went through.  It is what the apostles went through.  It is to be expected the way of life for the disciple of Jesus, for the Christian.  Nice people don’t get persecuted.  People who have the guts to point out the real sin, the real savior, and the real kingdom get persecuted.  Nice people don’t keep the peace either.  Nice people just make sure they are at peace while others continue to be affected by sins of omissions and passivism.

The truth is I do not suck at soccer.  The truth is we got scored on a lot because no one played defense and the kid with all the ball skills never ever passed and never got back on defense when a player took the ball from him.  The truth is the biggest mouth with best ball skills is the worst player on the field.  But how will he know unless someone tells him?  How will he know unless someone has the guts, the gall, to dish out some tough love?  On the playground, the nice kid continues to get pushed around and watches his friends get pushed around.  The nice kid, this nice kid, needs to repent of cowardice.  Jesus didn’t always play nice, though he was always humble and always loving, but he wasn’t always nice.  It is His kingdom and he alone reigns over it.  His reign demonstrates the weakness and the powerlessness of the arrogant, the powerful, the bullies, and transforms the weak into the courageous and the prideful into the humble.

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