Touchdown In Israel
by: Jeff Thompson | October 27, 2017
The controversy has raged on since the beginning of the NFL football season as professional football players have chosen different ways to express peaceful protest during the singing of our National Anthem. It began as a movement in 2016 seeking awareness and dialogue of ongoing tensions between police officers and citizens affected by police violence. In 2017, a year later, it has morphed into a political and patriotic debate that has left many confused, disillusioned, and frustrated. Each day, my social media feed is filled with both positive and negative comments about athlete’s actions. In fact, there is a current movement for a November 12th protest on behalf of all NFL fans to not watch, listen, or support in any way. Where does it go next?
I must admit, I am a huge NFL fan and have been since my childhood days. I also consider myself very patriotic as well, so it leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I also know many of you are not NFL fans, either because you don’t like football or you find yourself currently disillusioned with overpaid, spoiled athletes. I do have some opinions on this topic, but I don’t believe this is the forum to share those with you. I do, as one of your pastors, have a desire to share ways in which I find the name of Jesus lifted and how to be an encourager in your personal every day journey.
This past Friday night, I was drawn to a 1-hour documentary made by NFL Films, called “Touchdown in Israel.” It aired on the NFL channel and focused on the journey of 18 Hall of Fame NFL players as they went on a tour of the Holy Land, hosted by Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. For all my formative years, I watched many of these players each week come into my living room. Through the years, players such as Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, “Mean” Joe Greene, Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, Aeneas Williams, Mike Singletary, and Bruce Smith were a part of my every weekend football dreams. But this documentary didn’t focus on the athletic prowess, the skills, or the talent that separated these men from the rest of the NFL. It was an opportunity provided them through Mr. Kraft to visit the Holy Land. This documentary followed these phenomenal athletes on a tour of Israel as they walked the streets of Capernaum, visited the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, visited the Lake Gennesaret area where “The Sermon on the Mount” was delivered, and the Jordan River, where many were baptized.
As I watched this show, I saw Cris Carter talk about the value of faith in Christ in his life being the difference in him surviving his early years in the league when drug addiction ruled his life. That faith turned him from drugs to a dynamic relationship with Christ. Aeneas Williams, an 8-time All-Pro defensive back turned to the camera and said: “You see us with the equipment on. You see us with the helmets on. But at the end of the day, we’re just human beings that are in need of Christ…Learning to worship God helped me learn to overcome fear. So many people never reach their destinies, never reach their potential because they never learn that they are created in God’s image. As they learn to worship the One that created them, the fear begins to dissipate because God becomes bigger then whatever that fear is.” I watched as those earthly football heroes walked into the Jordan River to demonstrate their outward obedience to baptism.
To me, it was a refreshing change from the day-to-day onslaught of the rhetoric of the day. I watched as these champions of champion football players worshiped through song as together they voiced “How Great is our God,” and “How Great Thou Art” in a small chapel near the where Jesus spoke the Beatitudes. They wept together as they talked about the power of the moment. They were moved. They were changed. They returned here impacted by what they experienced there. Many of you have taken that journey to Israel and understand the feelings and emotions that emerge when you are there.
So, where does that leave us this weekend when games are played again? Should the players stand? Should they kneel? Should they stand with hand over heart in allegiance to the United States? Should we boycott? I don’t know that I can answer that for you-nor should I. It’s a dialogue that will continually evolve. I can tell you I’m called to be salt and light wherever I go in this Christian journey. And I can tell you I was impacted, at least in some small degree, by watching these football heroes take a trip to the Holy Land instead of the Holy Football Field.
Much of the documentary can be viewed through some of the videos that appear on the linked page below. Some of the most powerful moments are in the video at the top of the page (about 4:00 in) and the bottom video on the page showing the baptisms of many of the Hall of Famers