Wandering in the Wilderness, Or The Life of an Atlanta Sports Fan

“[I]s there something in the water in the state of GA that prevents greatness?! All sports teams love to disappoint.” This from the twitter account of one of my friends right after the Falcons lost last Sunday. And he’s right, it does seem like we’re constantly being disappointed by our sports teams here in Atlanta.

Last week, the Braves clinched their first division title since 2005, but the fan base is already prepared for another playoff disappointment. The Falcons appear to be mired in mediocrity for yet another season. The Bulldogs opened the season with a letdown at Clemson. And I can’t describe what the Hawks have been doing for the last forty-five years; I’m not sure anybody can.

Atlanta has one professional sports title (1995 Braves) in 151 combined seasons of major professional sports competition. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s not an impressive record. As my friend pointed out, the most painful thing about our sports franchises in recent years is that they’ve all been good, but none of them have been great. Maybe there is something in the water. Each has offered so much promise, but that promise has yet to be fulfilled.

In Exodus, the Bible tells the story of another group of people caught between the promise and its’ fulfillment. As soon as the waters of the Red Sea closed behind them, the Israelites were forever cut off from where they had come from, but they were still a long way from where they were going. Forty long years separated the victory over Pharaoh from the conquest of Canaan and the entry into the Promised Land.

Forty years must have seemed like a long time to wander in the wilderness. By comparison, Falcons fans have been waiting and watching for FORTY-SEVEN years and the Hawks for FORTY-FIVE. And not for ANOTHER championship mind you, just the first one.

The truth is, most of life is spent between championships, between the victory we’ve come from and the one we’re chasing next. In between, most of us are likely to face our fair share of heartache and failure and loss. The distance between victories makes it easy to think that life is designed to disappoint, that there’s something in the water preventing greatness. It can even make you start to question your allegiances.

After forty years of waiting and watching and wandering in the wilderness, Moses told the Israelites that they had a choice (Deut. 30).  First, they could choose to be faithful to the God of their fathers. If they did so, they and their children would soon enjoy a long life in the land they had been promised.  Or, they could choose to follow new Gods and worship them, in which case they would “certainly be destroyed.”

There are many ways to interpret the “choose life” passage in Deuteronomy 30. But to me (at least today) it means I don’t care how long it’s been since our last championship, if you want your children to enjoy long and happy lives, don’t start rooting for the Saints. Or interpreted slightly differently, those who turn their backs on the Braves and start rooting for the Mets will certainly be destroyed.

Of course, it took a new leader to get the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land.  As Moses gave way to Joshua so Bobby gives way to Fredi.  Which gives us hope, because as great as Moses was, Joshua didn’t mess around.

So when you start to feel discouraged and begin to worry that your team will disappoint you yet again, remember these words from Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight…”

If you want to know what happens to the opponents of Joshua’s army you’ll have to look up the rest of Joshua 10:25-27 yourself. But trust me when I tell you, victory when it finally comes is complete and irreversible.

So Happy Choptober and Go Falcons. And, whoever you root for, count yourself lucky that Joshua and the nation of Israel are not on your schedule.

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