Blog » A Sports N.D.E.
- Nov 19th, 2013 at 4:11 PM (CST)
This one is much longer, but I hope in some ways a most enjoyable read!
A SPORTS N.D.E.
By Douglas Schroeder 11-5-13
I had an N.D.E. of the sports variety the other day. It started about two years ago when I began visiting an elderly woman in our congregation who was homebound. My regular visits to her to take her the Lord’s Supper and pray with her were not a part of the N.D.E. proper, but tied in with it. Had I not been “preparing” for the N.D.E. it never would have come.
I know this because I know why I had my N.D.E. experience; it was planned. Not by myself, but by the son of the woman I was visiting. To address confusion I will clarify; the “N.D.E. (Near Death Experience) I had was not in reality a transitional trip from this life to the next, but rather one from the ordinary life of a casual football fan to that of the inner circle of football fan elite. In one normal twenty four hour day I went from being marginally interested in a Monday Night Football contest featuring the Breen Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears to being fully engaged in the contest.
The “near death” reference is not so much a descriptor of any undue hardships physically or mentally which I endured as it is the glorious extension of a surreal experience of “another world” of sport, one which I likely never would have wandered into had it not been for the convergence of a particular set of events. The “heavenly” encounter I had with professional football strikes me as a modern parallel, if not an outright parable of Christian truths, one which I was allowed to enjoy tangentially – made all the better by not having to die temporarily!
The ethereal encounter with the NFL happened when I was given a set of tickets and parking pass to enjoy this particular contest from the audacious comforts of the Champions Club box seats high atop the south end zone of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. For several hours my wife, Connie, and I were introduced to a world of rarified football air, a party where comfort and ease rule the day, where one looks down upon the game as a god, fairly detached from the teeming masses below shivering in the cold evening, having stomach filled with delectable food and a drink within arm’s reach. It was as any football enthusiast would dream, like we had “died and gone to Heaven!”
For several hours that day I saw the Lord lay out a sequence of events before me which kept my mind spinning with Scriptures, seeing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle of life events mirroring spiritual truths. I chuckle to think that of the sixty thousand or so fans at the stadium that night, perhaps I alone spent the majority of the time thinking not of the implications of the action on the field, but of matters of eternal nature, contemplating the timeless truths of the Word of God as they were reinforced by the events taking place.
There is always a history to divine and exceptional events in our lives. The days, months and years prior to the big event can be as critical as the big moment, and in some ways the big moment has far less benefit apart from seeing the life context in which it takes place.
The context I referred to previously is the relationship which was built with the woman I was visiting. I have set my heart to turn visits with the infirm and dying from drudgery and dismal reminders of my own aging into joyous visits of encouragement and shared enthusiasm for the coming eternal life promised to us in Christ. I have come to treasure my time spent with the homebound and hospital-bound as they have not much else to contemplate but the immediacy of their condition and the hope of the future with God. They have rich memories of the past which put life today into perspective, and they truly appreciate friendship over material striving, as they are slowly loosening their grip on this material world.
This woman has a son who has worked hard, done well and been an ardent Packers fan. He has been shrewd with his money and his hobby as a football fan. Over decades he took opportunities to acquire first outdoor seats at Lambeau, then box seats, and finally after years of waiting and an invitation, the coveted cushy accommodations of the Champions Club. This man is not given to flashy demonstrations of wealth; on the contrary, you would not know him as having the means to ensconce himself in such comfort. He quietly worked for it with a single-minded purpose known to those who are zealous for their hobby. After decades of investment he was one of the precious few who receive the opportunity to be a shadowy citizen of the top level of spectators.
This donor was grateful that I had comforted and counseled his mother, and he chose to show that appreciation by gifting me with two tickets to the game. I make no pretense of assuming that he chose me over others; he let me know candidly that he gifts the tickets to family and sells the seats to others for various rivalries. He likely contacted me because he was out of options. Having no one else to give tickets away we become desperate; we have all done it, turning to our spouse saying, “Who can we give these tickets to? We don’t want them to go to waste!”
Does that militate against this man’s giving the tickets to me out of gratitude? Not in the least; he could have asked for a nominal fee for them considering the grandeur of the venue. This situation reminds me of the parable Jesus taught in which the king wishing to have his banquet hall filled for the wedding of his son finds many who politely decline as they find other needs more pressing (see Matthew 22:1-14). The king is irate and orders his servants to scour the countryside to compel people to come in, and so the servants find the previously uninvited and they, not the privileged, enjoy the banquet. I find no reason for shame nor arrogance because at the last moment I was the last asked to receive the tickets. I’m just terribly glad I was asked! This was only the first of many similarites to New Testament parallels I pondered as the N.D.E. unfolded!
CLUELESS ABOUT THE GIFT
I was uninformed as to the nature of the tickets such that when he called and suggested I take them my first thoughts were, “four hours driving and getting home at 2:00 a.m on a weekday… cold (I get chilled, painful hands quite easily)… what’s on my schedule…” Having been to a college football game in Oklahoma back when I was in my twenties I had a little comprehension of the excitement and interest of an NFL football game. I had gone to few of my high school football games, and truthfully, have been turned off of professional sports late in life by learning of facts such as the incident of spouse abuse rising during NFL games. I see football, and many other sports, being coddled as idols in our culture, consuming people’s lives and being placed far ahead of their relationship to God. In the case of the benefactor of the tickets I am pleased to say he has a living relationship with the Lord and has not tried to ride the skirt tails of his mother into Heaven. It is possible that if he was not faithful I may have outright rejected his gift, perhaps contemplating that I did not wish to show enthusiasm for such secular matters if he showed so little enthusiasm for the Lord. Pleasantly, that possibility did not exist in this instance.
However, with a mind full of misconceptions I nearly passed on the tickets. How was I supposed to know I was being offered such a fabulous experience? I checked with my sons, 17 and 20, both of whom likely heard the ambivalence in my voice and declined due to school and work commitments (Later, after being informed of the actual conditions of the gift they both expressed enthusiastic regret that they did not accept!). I was at home contemplating the answer I would give the donor, not wanting to be rude, but not excited in my heart. I called Connie to see if she would want to go, anticipating she would not. I have learned, however, through the years to be far more sensitive to Connie than in our early part of our marriage. She has surprised me often with her decisions, and I have come to honor her with not making unilateral decisions as this may cause disappointment or even conflict.
She was unavailable by phone; I left her a voice mail. I looked at the clock again and it was getting late. If she did not respond quickly I would feel forced to make the decision, and a short while later I felt compelled to call the donor knowing that time was running out for him to dispense the tickets. I said my apologies trying to show that I truly appreciated the gesture, and that I thought my wife would likely be uninterested. He understood.
Then, about ten minutes later she called. “Sure, it might be fun. I will likely never get to a professional football game again,” she said. I confessed my failure to await her answer and re-phoned the man in time to obtain the tickets. He understood. The next evening I went to secure the tickets, and when he handed me the package with the VIP seats, parking pass and map he had printed out with instructions I realized my error! This would not be a trial by freezing but a breezing through a delightful evening!
I returned home energized, nearly singing with glee! One might think this hypocritical, yet it underscores how we fail to see the glory held out before us in the promise of Heaven. We feel tired, overwhelmed with needs, concerns, potential pitfalls and we are often unimaginative in terms of what good gifts may come to us. We think we know the giver and their resources, but we hardly do. It reminds me of so many people who blithely pass on the gift of Heaven. With heads filled with preconceptions of its boredom or strictures many think it’s not a place they’d like. They figure they may take their chances elsewhere than the Gospel of Jesus. Little do they know what they are passing by!
I was astounded at the plushness, the ease, the euphoria of the Champions Club! My thought upon being welcomed into it by the staff was, “Oh, my! I almost missed this!” Failure to be open to the audacious thought that God just may have unlimited universal resources and unlimited kindness to share them with us, or just plain lack of imagination seem to be primary in the common failure to think of Heaven or of longing to get there. Hell may be in part knowing how fabulous Heaven is and realizing that it was not given enough importance to make it a priority!
Looking back, I was encouraged by my wife’s hope of a good experience, and I chose to take that perspective – to put up with the possible tiring drive, shortness of sleep, cold hands and feet, for an experience together. Very few times in my life have I regretted seeking to share something new with Connie, and many times her nudge has led to something fantastic. This was among the most gleeful!
I wonder how many people could make it to Heaven if they only would open their heart to the encouragement of a loved one. The wife, the husband, the parents or children quizzically comment, “Why not worship? Why not get to know God?” Indeed, why not? Because we can’t picture it, because we have too many misconceptions or distractions? Because we have no imagination for how grand and good God is? I nearly missed a pro football N.D.E., but why should you miss Heaven?
PREPARATION AND THE JOURNEY
I woke up early the day of the game and ate little, anticipating the buffet which ran nearly the span of the game. It would have been foolish to fill up on food and be uninterested in the food at the stadium. It wasn’t a great day; timing was off, glitches introduced themselves in plans, and being hungry I was again less than pumped up. Funny how fickle we can be in our emotions! I was not impressed with other drivers on the road that day, and a late unexpected problem twenty minutes before our anticipated departure time had me stressed. I vowed to myself, “You’re hungry, tired, and in a foul mood; don’t be negative to your wife.” I wasn’t, and as we always do we chatted nearly nonstop the entire ride.
About 30 miles from the stadium the traffic jolted to a crawl. We had prepared by leaving early (We would not be like the five foolish virgins in a parable of Jesus who failed to give themselves enough time and resources to make the event, as recorded in Matthew 25:1-13). But thirty miles of creeping? I was still positive, as we had nearly two hours of time before kickoff. After six miles we finally slid past the police cruiser on the shoulder of the road behind a couple of trucks, and the road once again became a freeway. We flew to the stadium, and I contemplated how the late comers might be weeping and gnashing their teeth at being caught up in a many mile long traffic jam and missing a good portion of the game!
The directions were perfect and we made our way through Green Bay toward the stadium, noticing an ever tighter knot of parked cars on the streets and lawns of the homes nearby. We flashed our parking pass and were shown a spot only a short walk from the entrance. The degree of convenience was nearly embarrassing. We knew we would not need gloves, hats, coats, and we looked a bit too carefree to the crowd as we ambled toward the building seemingly unconcerned about the temperature or chance of rain. In our hearts we thought, we have nothing more to worry about, we’re here!
OH, IT’S VERY NICE!
Never setting foot in the stadium previously, we asked a service person where we were supposed to go. I said, “We’re going to the… Champions Club.” His face lit up, you’ve never been here and you’re going there? Oh, it’s very nice!” He energetically told us the exact route and included advice to go up to the top deck above for a panoramic view. Other workers scrutinized our tickets quickly then ushered us to the private elevators up to the 8th and most prestigious level. The sign on the elevator clearly showed the rising prestige with each floor. Connie and I had gone to the back of the elevator expecting everyone else to get off, or get of along with us. Rather, the elevator shot to the 8th floor directly even though many were getting off at the sixth floor. I’m not sure how that came to be, but when the doors opened and the elevator operator (yes, an elevator operator; likely also security) announced the floor we had to say, “Excuse us, we need to get off.” Were the others wanting to catch a glimpse of the coveted lounge, and had they been told to ride to the top to see what they could only spy and not partake? I’m not certain, but it slipping from the back to exit at that moment did feel a bit like Jesus’ comment, “The last shall be first and the first last.” Indeed, we felt as though we didn’t belong there, but that hardly stopped us from relishing it!
We stepped out into a paradise, no, a dream, no… an N.D.E.! “Died and gone to Heaven,” is what they say. Directly in front of us was an ice sculpture with two helmets emblazoned with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers symbols, festooned with shrimp and cocktail sauce. Beyond lay tables of the buffet representing the major food groups – chicken and prime rib, salads and succulent fruit, condiments, deserts, nothing was missed.
On either end were dimly lit small group dining accommodations with a bar no further than 30 feet away. Several micro brewery beers were on tap and several more available in cans. At first we saw no spectator seats, but then we looked past the short wall running behind the buffet and realized that three stadium staggered rows of leather seating ran the full length of the lounge affording a bird’s eye view of the entire field of play from the end zone! We were in row 1, almost directly behind the field goal post. At any time we could whisk ourselves to the bar, the bathroom, the food tables, all the while hearing a faint live feed of crowd noise blended with the clear baritone of the announcer. It was like being in God’s council room awaiting the outcome of a divine decision!
NOT A GOOD GAME
It turned out to be a rough night for the Packers, most notably due to Aaron Rodgers suffering a broken collar bone. Looking down from the lofty heights of the box seats I felt oddly detached and particularly omniscient of the proceedings below. We saw everything, and it gave me a sense of how private and detached from our menagerie of life God is while at the same time gaining an insight into why he finds us humans so interesting! Some fans were cold, so they started dancing while others clapped their hands together and shouted for all they were worth. The jumbo screen conveniently replayed the action every play so that we could observe and review with complete authority, calling the game as we saw it. Was Connie in need of a drink? Oh, look, he overthrew the pass badly. I like these assorted nuts. That was a nice run for a gain. This beer is quite good. They should have run the ball for the touchdown, but now they have to settle for a field goal.
I was having such a grand time in one sense it didn’t matter all that much what was happening on the field. Sure, I wished the Packers would stomp the Bears, but so what if it didn’t happen? We were in sports heaven, living it up! I faintly heard the crowd below, their reactions being broadcast by a speaker in the lounge, but could feel nothing of them physically. Yet, there was one moment when I knew my perspective overlooking the game allowed me to know the outcome far in advance of the final score. After Rodgers was hurt I saw it, the deflation of the crowd and team. It was subtle but distinct, a lessening of movement, of noise, and especially a step slower by the players on the field. It was only the second quarter but I knew, “It’s over, the team and crowd have given up!” Sure enough, by the fourth quarter the Bears were waltzing down the filed and chewed up the time and any chance of a Packers comeback.
Yet, in my comfy suite did I have any less joy? Not really; I had my best friend my wife nearby, my food, drink, warmth and relaxation. I was content. I have had many ask me over the years how the saints in glory could be happy if they see us struggling down here? I now know; they may see, but it isn’t making their existence any worse! The outcome of the game was quite independent of our happiness. We were so thrilled to be there and treated so well that even the worst game of the season thus far hardly made a dent in our enjoyment!
Am I heartless, and did I care not one bit that Green Bay lost their starting quarterback? Not at all, but being so high above it all, so insulated from it, makes it seem surreal. I certainly didn’t feel a need to whoop and holler or jump up and down. Why get frazzled when it doesn’t go your way? I felt a glimpse of God’s omniscience and forbearance. It would all be ok in the end.
Is the season ruined? Will we now not make the playoffs? It’s a three way tie in the Central Division, you know! Yes, but so what? I had one of the most memorable, carefree evenings with my wife we have had for years! This means so much more to me than any outcome of a football game, title on the line or not. I relished the game not mostly for the football, but for the fact that Connie and I were able to enjoy so vigorously a glorious experience which we knew we would never have experienced unless our kind benefactor had shared it with us!
They say the time comes when the N.D.E. is near the termination and the person is sent back to their world once again. There is a reluctance to leave the glory of the other world. We were tired, the Bears’ offence was compressing the Packer’s defense into a pancake, and there was a long drive home, so we left. Bleary-eyed I drove in the darkness, Connie valiantly fending off sleep to keep me company. We were going back through “the tunnel” to our normal existence of people who watch football on T.V. I woke up this morning and reviewed the evening; yes, it had happened.
I feel quite privileged to have been blessed by the event, not just for seeing a pro football game from the fanatic’s section but for having a parable of faith and Scriptural reassurance of Heaven play itself out before my eyes. I have spent decades telling people about Heaven, encouraging them to make every effort to be found in Christ and awaiting His return. I try to keep my focus on things eternal, but it is tough as there are so many distractions.
I emotionally “get it” now. I was a thin excuse for an NFL fan, but I’ll never look at the game the same way again. I know what its like to experience it to the full! Perhaps someday I can return and freeze my butt off, take the pounding speaker system and deafening crowd noise, crane my neck to see what really happened on the field, and perhaps if I’m really doing well have an irate or inebriated fan nearby howling the entire time! No, on second thought, I’d like to return to the Champions Club, please! Our sinful flesh doesn’t like taking a step down in comfort and convenience, and we have to remind ourselves that blessings come wrapped in all sorts of packages.
It makes me consider that if God can give a lovely easy lesson in a comfortable experience, what more purposeful, deeper meaning might he be trying to teach us through trials and hardships? Just this morning in the locker room of the health club as I had finished my workout, mulling over the dreamlike evening prior I walked in on a conversation where a guy was complementing another on his hair growth. I glanced; the one being complemented was mid-twenties, and I thought, “Perhaps cancer?” Yes, this young man had been treated for prostate cancer and was on his way back to looking like a twenty-something, not a fifty-something. I thought, “What rich lessons on perseverance, hope, trust and support by others had this man learned in his short lifetime by going through an ordeal.” I had been to a football game, but he had endured cancer. I’ll bet the expansion of his spirit has been profound. Would I be able to torque my attitude around to view the next calamity as an unexpected lesson in the virtues which matter most to God? Would I be able to praise him and daresay even thank him for what I didn’t ask for but He knew I needed? The unexpectedness of the Champions Club and the vapor-like fleetingness of it had better prepare me for such.
UNWORTHY BUT GRATEFUL
Surely there were other far more deserving persons to be treated to the Champions Club. Football die hard fans would say the tickets were fairly wasted on such a poor fan as me. I must admit the game was far more engrossing than when watched on T.V., perhaps in part because of the annoyance factor of the commercials. They still ran on the screens at the stadium, but we had an entire city below us to observe.
I didn’t deserve the experience, just like those persons surprised at the pleasure of God and invited into the Kingdom of Glory are stumped at why they are deemed worthy (see Matthew 25:31-46). I was surprised at being asked and surprised at how thoroughly I enjoyed the experience! Nearly in a parallel reality to the football event I was able to internalize many Biblical stories from the foundation of my faith in the span of about 8 hours. Now I wonder whether this kind of internalization opportunity presents itself to us continuously, and whether we are too dull to apprehend? Is God incessantly prodding us with nuances of faith, and if so why aren’t we more keen to it? Or, are these brilliant flashes of experience a rarity to be treasured as a precious jewel? I’m not sure, but right now I’m a lot more aware of Heaven’s allurement than I was a day ago!
It was a sports N.D.E., and like Heaven…
It started with a Benefactor, which led to an
Invitation, given freely and calling for
Acceptance, based on the hope of something good, and spurring
Preparation, so that the blessing not be missed but that the
Revelation be attained and the outcome distilling into