On Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, I was getting ready for an elders’ meeting to be held that evening at Grace Bible Church in Portage, Wis., where I was serving as interim pastor.
During the afternoon, I received word that Maranatha had made the decision to terminate its football program.
Having heard the news, I did two things. First, I sat down and cried. Second, I called my mom.
My mother, now in Heaven, was one day from her 82nd birthday. For most of her life, she tolerated football, at best, as she watched her two sons on the field. Amazingly, however, later in life, the sport really began to grow on her. She often said that she felt playing was less dangerous for me, being a lineman, than it had been for my brother—who had earlier played quarterback in high school—so she could enjoy it more. That seems to be where the transformation began. The Green Bay Packers’ resurgence during the 1990’s had a lot to do with it, as well. So, somehow, my mother shocked us all and lived the last quarter of her life as an ardent football fan.
As I relayed the news about Maranatha football to her, my mom told me something that I will never, ever forget. I can still hear the words, in her voice.
“Paul,” she said, “you just have to be thankful that you got to be part of it.”
In an earlier installment in this series, I shared the overarching lesson that I learned playing football in both high school and college, as drawn from the words of the Apostle Paul in Phil. 4:11-13:
I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.*
As in football, so in the Christian life and, especially, in ministry there are many magnificent highs, along with corresponding—sometimes debilitating—lows. But when we pause to consider—isn’t it amazing that we should even be offered the possibility of abounding?
Wouldn’t it be enough that we should be like our Lord, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)? Shouldn’t we be more grateful that we just get to be part of the team? Yet, He favors us with His infinite grace.
Dr. Terry Price taught me, among other things, the significance of service and servanthood. He treasured hard work and teamwork. He despised any displays of personal achievement. He valued loyalty, discipline, perseverance, honesty, integrity, and mental and physical toughness. He refused excuses and explanations. He desired execution—swift, precise and effective, accomplished with determination and heart.
On Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, I was—of all things—getting ready for a day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, as I was in the area to speak at a Bible conference.
That’s when I saw the news that the man I will forever refer to when I simply say, “Coach,” had gone to be with the Lord. Needless to say, there were more tears that morning.
Coach Price played an integral role in shaping my life—from the first time that I met him in 1987, through the nine years that I spent with him on the football field (four as a player and five as a volunteer and coach), to Feb. 2 and 3, 2019, when he was the speaker for my ordination and commissioning to serve with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.
Someone once asked me if, knowing back then all that I know now, I would have continued to play football in high school and college.
The answer requires little thought. I wish I had worked harder. I wish I had attempted to go further. I wish I had enjoyed it more. I wish I had been less anxious and more grateful. But I would most certainly have played football.
I am glad that I was able to play at the time that I did, for the schools that I did, for the coaches that I had, and with the teammates that I had. The lessons that I learned there continue to impact my life each and every day.
When Maranatha held its final football sale, I purchased a used NCAA football with the intention of having all of my old teammates sign it. Thankfully, one of the first signatures I obtained was from Coach Price. If you were ever associated with Maranatha football in any way, I would be honored to have you autograph it, as well.
*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, serving in the midwest. He also assists Whitcomb Ministries and writes for “Answers” Magazine and Regular Baptist Press. For more information on his ministry, visit foi.org/scharf or email email@example.com.