What a World Cup it was – the 2002 edition at Korea-Japan! Young people across the world stayed glued to their TV sets to watch a ball kicked around for close to a month. It was ‘pulse-racing, heart-soaring and eyes-widening’ action! “Ronald has scored,” you yelled to your brother who had just gone to the bathroom. “Oliver Kahn has made a stupendous stop,” you scream to your sister who was making an omelette for you! Well, the Cup fever rent the air, just about everywhere.
The super kick. That stunning save. That dazzling dibble. That twisting run. You remember them well. Those images from the Cup were simply unforgettable. They were for me too. I chewed on some of them. And guess what happened? Some Bible truths bounced back into my system in an instant! Interested? Here they are:
- The lesson of BROTHER- HOOD
If Ronaldo did not get past you, Rivaldo will. If Rivaldo did not get past you, Ronaldinho will. If Ronaldinho did not get past you, then Roberto Carlos will. The ‘R’ foursome of Brazil – the ones I have just named – hunted together, match after match for Brazil. Take this: The ‘R’ regiment piled up a staggering 16 goals for Brazil during the campaign.
Kleberson’s pass was coming to Rivaldo who looks al to take it. But in the last second, his foot rolls over the ball – instead of striking the ball. That was deliberately done. A dummy. The German defenders encircling him are fooled. The unmarked Ronaldo takes the ball and makes no mistake. Goal number two for Brazil in the Cup Final. What an astounding display of teamwork! “The secret is enthusiasm, friendship, union…” the Brazilian coach Lutz Felipe Scolari said.
Ammonites and their hired friends – the Arameans – gear up to attack Israel. The Ammonite troops wait at the gate of Jerusalem, while the Arman’s wait at the open fields of Jerusalem ( to finish off any who would cut and run into the open fields ). Cool military strategy eh? Nope. Not when you have a commander like Joab leading Israel’s ranks. Using his quick wit, he divides the soldiers of Israel into two teams: the best of them under him and the rest under his brother Abishai. They get ready to tackle the combine of the Ammonites and the Arameans. Joab would take care of the Arameans hunks whilst Abishai’s task was to cut to size The Ammonite army. Before they are off to battle, Joab mouths these golden words: “ If the Arameans are too strong for me, then come over and help me. And if the Ammonites are too strong for you, I will help you. Be courageous! Let US fight bravely to save our people and the cities of OUR God.” (1 Chron. 19:12-13 NLT). That was the kind of spirit that permeated through the ‘R’ regiment of Brazil in the Cup of 200: when one was crowded with defenders, he would pass the ball to one of his partners who were relatively free. Like it happened in the final. The result? Brazil did not lose a match in the entire tournament!
Want to make a mark for the Lord Jesus in your college? In your school? Rope in the help of another pal with the similar spirit. Do it together. Then you will fire. Slipping in your spiritual walk. Maybe you are doing it all alone. You are like that proverbial lonely chick that the Eagle swooped up with effortless ease. Growing increasingly clumsy in your Cross-Walk? Club together with a chum who checks on you. For “two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble.” (Ecco 4:9,10 NLT). Ask Joab and Abishai, they will tell you. Checkup with Ronaldo and the rest of the R gang of Brazil.
- The lesson of BENDING DOWN TO BLESS OTHERS!
It was still 0-0 in the semi-final between Germany and South Korea, after 71 minutes of electrifying soccer. Lee Chun-Soo was about to break away from the German defence and have a clear run on the goal. Michael Ballack – the German midfielder who had a yellow card on him already – had a choice in that split – second. Placed before him what two options. One was to professionally foul Lee freezing him from having a dead-easy course to the German goal thereby earning yet another yellow card. The other alternative for Ballack was to hope someone else from his team would do the job (If you did not know, two yellow cards on the same player would bar that player from playing the following match – in Ballack’s case the next match was the World Cup final). He chose the first option and won an automatic ban for the Final. Very sacrificially. He relinquished his right to play for his country in the Cup Final voluntarily when the situation so demanded. He decided to watch from the touchline, the action that could have made up the greatest day in his footballing carrier. What was more – just four minutes later- Ballack ensured that the Germans got to the final in the first place, by two back-to-back shots, one each from each foot of his, the last of which found the Korean net beating their goalie, Lee Woonjae. Michael Ballack, whose middle name could have been SACRIFICE, single-handedly carried his nation from the quarter-final ( he scored the lone goal of that match ) right through to the final, though he knew he would not be there to play it. Here was a man who put his nation before his own promotion. Hats off to Ballack! In this me – first world of ours, Ballack’s act of sacrifice, stands out, like a towering coconut palm!
How I wish the Ballack spirit would rub on to us. Jesus knowing perfectly well that He was God and Human Flesh bent down to wash his disciples’ feet- a job reserved for slaves. Paul – what a man he was, my my! – had that kinda spirit in him. Paul could have lived in the homes of the Corinthian believers and shared their meals. That was certainly his privilege. But he did not use that advantage. He voluntarily chose to work and pay for his own expenses, so that the Corinthian church knew that his gospel was different from the empty philosophy preached by some travelling preachers those days who demanded the very same rights, he refused! (1 Cor 9:4,12). Paul was “willing to be forever cursed- cut off from CHRIST! – if that would save them” ( the stiff neck people of Israel ) ( Romans 9:3). Our parents are sacrificially labouring for the Lord in challenging places. They aren’t payed by Bill Gates, by the way! We must be like Ballack and Paul, on our own forgo some of our “rights” and “privileges” for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We may decide to skip that costly excursion. We may opt to for the cheaper Reynolds Jetter instead of the high – priced Parker pen. We may opt for A stitch trouser or shot instead of going for a branded one always. These gestures of sacrifice can make a world of difference, buddy! Missionary Hudson Taylor rightly understood that God is looking for people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for his name’s sake when a eloquently remarked, “ God is looking for wicks to burn. The oil and fire free!” Want to be a wick for God? Want to pray like Evan Roberts, “Lord, bend us and bless the world”?
- The lesson of BOUNCING BACK
You are chosen to kick a penalty that can take your nation to its first ever World Cup semifinals. There are about 14 million eyes belonging to your nation cheering you up as you get ready to take it. The shot is taken. And you miss! What a tragedy! How heartbroken would you be! Ask South Korea’s Ahn Jung-Hawn. The same thing happened to him in Korea’s quarter-final match against Italy. Korea had Portugal for breakfast, Spain for lunch, and here was a chance to have in Italy for dinner and complete a “European Menu” but Ahn had bungled it up with a missed penalty. After 117 minutes of play when the score line was deadlocked at 1-1, it was Ahn again on whom 1 billion eyes zeroed in. He leapt in front of the legendary Italian defender, Maldivian and headed a cross into the Italian net. It was the golden goal! It was scored by a man who messed up a penalty kick earlier on! Yes, indeed Korea had Italy for dinner that magical night to become the first ever Asian nation to be in the World Cup Semifinals!
Ahn could have sunk himself and sorrow after the penalty miss. But shrugged off the mistake and soldiered on to become a hero. What a lesson! Mistakes – we have made them. Lapses – we have lots of them in our lives. After such a downfall should we throw ourselves in the well of despair to settle for permanent defeat? No way! “For though a righteous man fall seven times he rises again” (Prov 24:16 NIV). Feel like ending your relationship with the Lord after yielding to a temptation that was so stubbornly nagging? Don’t! Mend your relationship with Him – don’t end it! David could have ditched God after all that happened in his life. Yet he didn’t. With a broken heart he boomeranged again to become the man after God’s own heart (Psa 51:17/Acts 13:22). What counts is how high you bounce after you have hit rock bottom. Let’s therefore make our own, Paul’s words: “ I am focusing on all my energies on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven” (Phil 3:13-14 NLT). Like MLTR we should say, “I’m gonna try in the future not to live in the past.” ( More Than A Friend ).
- The lesson of BLISSFUL JOY
There is one World Cup 2002 image that simply won’t go away from my memory: the way Senegal celebrated each time they slotted in a goal! Delirious joy oozed out of each of their nerve endings! A collection of cameras could not have adequately captured the delight that was on Senegal’s star striker Henri Camera’s face after he scored that golden goal to snuff out Sweden’s hopes in the round of 16. I wish that Senegal would make it to the semifinals so that there would have been a rep from each of the continents that played in the Cup— America (Brazil), Asia (South Korea), Europe (Germany) and Africa (Senegal) – in the last fourth stage. But that was not to be!
Following Christ? And yet sporting a droopy – 9 o’clock face? You can’t be doing both. Both don’t go together according to the Bible. Reason? We’ve got a God who “provides us with everything for enjoyment” (1Tim 6: 17 NIV). Jesus is exiting – believe me! Jesus was so spine tingling that John the baptist even when he was in his mothers womb did a joyous jig when Jesus ( who was at that time in the womb of Mary ) came near him ( Lk 1:41 )! Whew! If you will exhibit the blissful joy which Jesus alone can give, even when the chips are down, even when the ride is bumpy, even when the sky is grey, you will be a can’t-be-ignored ad for Jesus.
- The lesson that we must BATTLE RIGHT TILL THE END
Oliver Kahn defended the German goal as if his entire life depended on it. In six full matches in the tournament the ball went past him into the net just once. The strapping German jumped to punch away corner kicks that wickedly bent towards his goal area as if he was reaching for the moon. He fearlessly flung himself on the ball to snatch it away from the most skilful strikers. Match after match, for Kahn , it was important to see the word ‘nil’ against the opponent team‘s name. You could not score a goal cheaply against the Germans when Oliver manned the crossbar! Though the brilliant Brazilians put past two goals against this Goliath of a goalie, he still won the player of the tournament award garnering maximum votes from the reporters world over (even beating Ronaldo who scored eight goals).
How wonderful it would be if we guarded Salvation the way Oliver Kahn guarded the German goal! Is it not a trillion times more precious? More valuable? Ask Peter, he would tell you. Our salvation is very ‘precious’ because it cost God the life of his only son (1 Pet 1:19). We aren’t exactly shielding our salvation if we are habitually and deliberately flirting with Sin, which second thought. Instead we are blowing it (read the omnious words found in Hebrews 10:26, 27). Yup, we need to be “even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in (our) lives” (Phil 2:12 NLT). Let’s do it come what may for Jesus stated without swallowing his words, only “those who endure to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22 NLT)
It was the 67th minute in the Cup Final. Rivaldo drives the ball straight into the German goalie. Kahn spills it – for “his eternal displeasure” as one writer put it. Ronaldo pounces on the ball to score for Brazil. After the final whistle Kahn threw his gloves and leaned on the right post. He was unconsolable. He knew when he dropped that Rivaldo drive it was as good as dropping the World Cup! “I made my only mistake out of seven games and it was brutally punished,” he later said fighting back the tears.
What happened to Oliver Kahn in the game should not happen to us and our Christine walk. In a narrow – road journey with Jesus it is possible to goof – up after going steady for many years. Yes it is. Demas was the member of Paul’s ministry team (Phm 24). He was perhaps going great guns for the Lord. But fell in love with the world and fell out of love with Jesus (2 Tim 4:10). It can happen to anyone. Boy, just any of us. That’s why Paul pens, “ I don’t know about you, but I am running hard for the finish line. I am giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself” ( 1 Cor 9:27 The Message).
- The lesson that we must BURSTING TO GO WHEN JESUS COMES AGAIN
England’s goalie, David Seaman had a bad habit: he tended to move off his line at free kicks. “He might do that in the quarter-final match against us,” Cafu told Ronaldinho – the rising star of Brazil football. Ronaldinho was all ears. When he was about to take a free kick, five minutes into the second half of the match billed as “the final before the final” he too noticed just that. With bewitching accuracy he chipped a long – range free – kick over David Seaman. “Seaman stumbled backwards to try and reach the crossbar to put Brazil ahead for good,” wrote the AFP journalists about the heart – stopping moment in the 2002 Cup. “That blunder will live with him forever,” said The Daily Express.
Just as Ronaldinho’s eye – popping spot kick caught Seaman unprepared, Jesus’ Second Return to this planet could catch us in the same fashion – without notice! You bet, he’s not going to call us up, fix an appointment and then show up. He’s going to come, suddenly. Unexpectedly. Will we be ready? Or will be caught snoozing, like the five foolish virgins were? We must be ‘alert’ for we do not know when Jesus will come again (Mark 13:33). He could turn up on that particular day when we plan to backslide and enjoy sin “just for sometime!” Yes, it’s possible! Paul was unlike Seaman – vigilant: he was a hopelessly in love with Jesus and hoping like crazy for his coming. Even at the fag end of his life. Even when he was in a prison (2 Tim 4:8)! If we have an attitude like Paul, we are
‘Blessed’. Reason? Check out Revelation 16:15 where Jesus said, “I will come unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep the robes ready so they will not need to walk naked and ashamed.”
There you have them – the Magic moments that have stayed engraved on my mind from the World Cup at Korea – Japan 2002. The Cup is over. Brazil took it home for a record fifth time. Let’s take these messages home!
(This article was published in MISSIONARY KIDS, a mag which Duke Jeyaraj edited for Blessing Youth Mission in the year 2002; During her Christmas New Year break Duke’s 12 year old daughter, Datasha, typed this entire article so that it could be made available online to a larger audience).