For most people, college football season is officially over. The lockers in the locker rooms are cleaned out, the stadiums are empty husks, and the marching bands have long since stopped marching. Again, for most, they’re in the long, barren wasteland of nothingness that is the college football offseason. They have nothing to look forward to until the first reports of spring football and the appearance of season previews during the long, hot August days of this summer.
However, for some of us die-hards, we will always have February 3rd. For many people, this Wednesday will come and go like most other Wednesdays. But, some of us will be watching our mobile phones, tablets, and computers waiting to here the details of the phenomenon called National Signing Day. Starting early on Wednesday morning, young men from all over the country will begin to sign their national letter of intent, officially declaring which college they will spend the next 4-5 years playing football.
These young men have been recruited for the last year. For those really gifted players, its been several years. Coaches have put time, money, and effort into trying to convince these young athletes to come play at their university.
Most of them have already declared their allegiance and will send their letter to the university without a hitch. But, there will be some surprises. Young men who have verbally declared to go to a university, which is a non-binding agreement, will suddenly “flip” and send their binding letter of intent to another university in the last minute. The coaches and fans of one university will rejoice, while another’s will be reeling at the news. These switching of allegiances can, depending on the position or need of the team, be devastating to the jilted university.
What about our allegiance to God? Most of us have made the declaration that we are on His side. We’ve let most everyone know that our allegiance is true and that we have no intention of flipping.
But, the reality of the matter is that for many Christians, their allegiance can flip many times back and forth between God and the world. Its a reality that needed to be addressed even in the first century when Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
The real question is, have we ever considered how devastating it can be to the cause of Christ when we do so?
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame."
There’s nothing quite like the pageantry and tradition of college football. Each Saturday in the fall, millions of people gather to watch their favorite teams slug it out on the gridiron. Some begin early in the day, tailgating in eager anticipation for the upcoming game, preparing to pack colossal stadiums, temples to athletic excellence crafted from concrete and steel.
The reason most college football fans are so passionate is because, unlike the potentially lengthy careers of those in professional sports, college athletes only have a few years to make their mark and leave a legacy. Some get their name posted somewhere in the stadium and become legends. Others are know for their mistakes. Their names will always be connected to a moment when they were unable to deliver the victory. In a flash of a moment, they can go from being famous to infamous and from being a headline to being a punch line.
The name Ray Ray McCloud is one of those names. Ray Ray was a four-star recruit and an athletically talented running back coming out of high school. He is currently a wide receiver for the Clemson Tigers. He is also, as of this moment, a punch line.
In their second game of the year, the mighty Clemson Tigers were struggling with a lesser, but determined, Troy University team. The defense had stopped the Trojans and awaited a punt to try and get some momentum going on their side. Ray Ray McCloud happens to the be the team’s punt returner. He settled in, caught the ball on a short bounce and sprinted 75 yards to a touchdown to the thunderous roar of tens of thousands.
Or, at least he thought he did. You see, in the excitement of the moment, Ray Ray celebrated with the trend of dropping the ball right after as he crossed over the goal line. However, he dropped the ball too soon. Before Ray Ray McCloud completed his magnificent punt return, he released the ball at the one yard line. The opposing team recovered. Upon review, the ball was awarded to the other team and the six points on the board given for the supposed touchdown were removed.
He was so close to scoring. And really, the only one he could blame for the gaffe was himself. He had to walk back to the sidelines, to his coach, and to his teammates with no one to blame but himself. He gave all that effort, all that energy, and had nothing to show for it.
1 Corinthians 9:27 says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Paul had a deep concern. His great fear was that he would make the same mistake that Ray Ray McCloud had made. Paul was careful not to give so much effort and expend so much energy and then come up empty having not completed his task. What a tragedy it would be to give your life to the cause of Christ, to labor faithfully for years, only to fall short.
Why do people stop so close to the finish line? We might say they were deceived by sin, ensnared in a dubious trap that overpowered them and forced them from the straight and narrow. In doing so, all we’d accomplish would be to give an excuse and to lay blame at the feet of the underserving. It may seem comforting to blame Satan if you and I fall short of our goal. The reality is that its not his fault. It would be ours for taking the bait. (1 Cor. 10:13)
Most people who lose faith towards the end of their lives do it for the same reason that Ray Ray McCloud dropped the ball. He didn’t do it intentionally. He wasn’t running down the field thinking to himself, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if I dropped the ball on the one?” He simply lost focus and stopped paying attention to the details of the moment. Let's be more like Paul and be always watchful and disciplined in our Christian walk. For many of us, we’re so close to finishing the race. Make sure we don’t drop the ball!
The internet is a remarkable thing. Now, I know that in the darker corners of the online world there are things that are unsavory to those professing Christ. But, all in all, the internet has made an undeniable and beneficial mark on our lives. Unless you want to set out for open wilderness, there are very few places that you can go and very few things you can do where the internet isn’t somehow involved, either directly or indirectly.
Just as abundant and inescapable are people who scour the internet looking for any opportunity to tear down and insult their fellow man and his ideas. In internet lingo these people are known simply as trolls. And, again, they’re everywhere. Its worth noting that while they are everywhere, they seem to congregate in the comments sections of any website you can find. It doesn’t matter what the content of the website might be. If there is a comment section, the trolls will be there in droves with their unkind, rude, disrespectful, comments. Trolls can find something wrong with anything. And, they do everything they can to make sure you know about their negative opinions. Unfortunately, trolls are beginning to leave their normal hunting grounds and can now be found in the real world, even in a congregation of the Lord’s people.
I recently looked up articles about internet trolls. I found one that caught my eye entitled “The 12 Most Telling Characteristics of a Social Media Troll.” Surprisingly, there are several noticeable parallels between internet trolls and congregational trolls. Using the article’s main points, let’s look at a few of the similarities.
ACT OVERLY CRITICAL: You join a chat and your only contribution to the collective discourse is to criticize comments, opinions or people.
This seems to be a trait that is easily seen in the congregational troll. Some Christians seem to find comfort in pointing out the hypocrisies and wrongs in the lives or worship of others. However, as Christians, we are commanded to build up others in our lives instead of tearing them down with negativity. In the English Standard Version, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 reads, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
ARGUE AD NAUSEUM: You continue to argue a point well beyond any educational value for you or the audience to the point where you’re comments are simply repetitive rhetoric.
Some people love the sound of their own voice when discussing differing opinions. They talk and talk as if logic will take a backseat to an avalanche of words. Again, the Bible gives us advice for speaking with others, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;” (James 1:19).
WAGE ATTACKS: You post personal attacks on someone’s character, family, job etc. instead of respectfully discussing the point at hand.
There is a latin phrase for this kind of tactic: The Ad Hominem attack. Ad Hominem means “against the man.” The congregational troll finds ad hominem attacks very useful. But, its nothing more than a distraction from the facts at hand. Its simply an attempt to remove the audiences thoughts from the present facts of a disagreement and place them upon the character of the presenter. Its also a direct violation of Philippians 2:3, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
PRESENT OPINIONS AS FACTS: You fervently argue subjects in which you have no real experience or subject matter expertise, yet present your point of view as fact.
How often do discussions about religion and the Bible begin with the phrase “I think” or “I feel”? The answer is an undeniable, “Far too often.” In the arena of theological thought, phrases such as this have zero value. John 12:48 reads, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” Simply put, if its the words of Christ that will judge us, what we think or feel about any subject doesn’t matter.
LOVE TO BEAT A DEAD HORSE: You introduce topics you love to hate-on even when no one else is discussing them or when it’s not part of the group’s discussion topic, simply to fuel your need to criticize
People have hobby subjects when it comes to the Bible. Hobby subjects are subjects we are acutely interested in or have more comfort discussing. However, a problem arises when we keep trying to turn every subject into our hobby subject. Bible classes get derailed by those that inject their own agendas into the discussion. Bible class teachers can become discouraged by not being able to use the material they’ve spent hours preparing. Moreover, students can get frustrated in not being able to grow spiritually because the class can’t seem to move past the same subjects.
What can we do about the plague of a congregational troll? We can first make sure we are not guilty of such behavior. If so, its time to remove the plank from our eye. When others are trolling, can also use the same advice one might find on the internet. Don’t feed the trolls. They eventually get hungry and go find other places to continue their trolling ways.
- Patrick Hammack