Beast Mode Discipleship

I don’t think anyone who saw it happen live, whether at the stadium or on TV, will ever forget the moment:

January 8, 2011. The Seattle Seahawks were hosting a playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. No one thought the Seahawks even deserved to be in the playoffs, let alone hosting a game. But such are the vagaries of the NFL system. The New Orleans Saints were the defending Super Bowl Champions, had an 11-5 regular season record: but, had finished second in their division and were thus a wild-card entry. The Seahawks had the good fortune of being in the pathetic NFC West and won their division with a 7-9 record. Yes, you read that correctly. They had a losing record, yet they got to host the playoff game.

Surprisingly, the Seahawks entered half-time with a 24-20 lead. At one point in the 3rd Quarter the Seahawks had built their lead to two touchdowns, 34-20. Yet the Saints stormed back and cut the lead to 34-30 with 4:30 minutes left in the 4th Quarter. Anxiety soaked the entire Pacific Northwest like heavy rain.

And then it happened. With 3:38 left in the game, the Seahawks faced a 2nd and 10 at their own 33-yard line. Russell Wilson handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch and Lynch ran smack dab into a mass of humanity at the line of scrimmage. It looked like the Seahawks would be facing 3rd and long, but Lynch hadn’t given up. He kept churning his legs and bulling his way through 300 lb. linemen. All of a sudden, he breaks through. Two Saints dive for his legs, Lynch high steps his way through. He’s in open field now. A Saint defender chases him down from behind and wraps Lynch’s upper body in a bear hug. Lynch sheds the defender like a flea-ridden blanket. Lynch veers for the sideline but has another defender coming at him with a perfect angle. It looks for certain that Lynch will be either tackled or at least pushed out of bounds. Lynch plants his right foot, stiff-arms the defender into the turf, stumbles a bit from all the forces at work, then keeps going. One final New Orleans defender at his own 5-yard line has a shot to bring Lynch down. Lynch blows right through the guy. Touchdown!

The crowd goes absolutely maniacal! People are stamping, screaming, high-fiving, grown men weeping for joy! The news comes out the next day, the crowd had gone so crazy that their reaction shook the ground underneath the stadium enough to register as a tremor on a nearby seismograph! That moment will live forever in the annals of Seattle history, not just Seahawk history, as “The Beast Quake.”

Though that one particular run will stand alone forever, those of us who watch Seattle Seahawk football on a regular basis know that the astonishing thing about Marshawn Lynch is that he runs with that same effort every time he gets the ball. I have him seen him single-handedly push a pile of five, six defenders backward two or three yards. These are NFL D-linemen and linebackers that he pushes around. Men 250 – 300 pounds. Honestly, for sheer effort and astonishment, some of his two yard gains are as impressive as the Beast Quake run. I have never witnessed anyone work as hard as Marshawn Lynch play after play.

When talking about Marshawn Lynch, however, one thing often gets lost. There is far more to the man than just his athletic ability. His mother raised him on her own in an extremely rough, violent neighborhood of Oakland. They lived in housing projects, were on food stamps, sometimes went without food. He sometimes had to wear the same clothes for days at a time. Still, he overcame all of that to earn a football scholarship to UC-Berkley. And yes, for those entering Cal on a football scholarship, the standards can be lower than a regular admit. Yet, there are still standards, which Lynch met. Further, in order to continue to play football, he had to go to class and get grades high enough to remain eligible. Which he did. For several years. At Cal!

Surviving his neighborhood, getting into, and through, Cal and making it in the NFL would be enough to set Lynch apart as a remarkable man. Yet I believe that even more worth noting is that Lynch goes back to his neighborhood in Oakland every offseason. He does so in order to help kids like himself. He knows, personally, the difficulty of finding hope amidst the harsh conditions they face. Hearing him talk about his motivation for helping others reveals a person who is very aware of, and grateful to, his mom, especially, for how hard she worked to help him get to where he is now. Particularly because of her, he wants to return the good. As a side note, the largest tattoo he has spans his upper back and reads, “Mama’s Boy.”

I actually feel quite fortunate to know all these details about Marshawn Lynch. As most of the nation knows, Lynch rarely, almost never really, speaks to the media. Friends believe part of the reticence comes from his upbringing. Lynch is generally suspicious of people he doesn’t know and doesn’t like to open up to almost anyone. Self-servingly, I think Lynch is extremely introverted. One time, however, he did grant a one-on-one interview with a reporter from ESPN. They recorded the piece after season of the Beast Quake run. Hearing Lynch reflect on his life revealed to me someone intensely thoughtful. In fact, at one point in the interview, Lynch uses the Beast Quake run as an analogy for his life in such a profound way, I went over it several times and wrote it down word for word. I find his analogy both insightful and inspiring:

Growin’ up, bein’ from where I’m from, a lot of people don’t see the light. I didn’t see the light in that play. Goin’ forward. Ran into some trouble. Bein’ on food stamps. Livin’ in the projects. Runnin’ head first into linebackers. Startin’ to play football and things opened up for me a little bit. Breakin’ a couple more tackles. Goin’ to jail. Gettin’ in trouble. Comin’ out a that – touchdown!

The other day, as I was studying for a sermon I was going to be giving, I kept thinking of Marshawn Lynch and this analogy he gave of his own life. The passage I was preaching on was from Paul’s letter to the Phillipians, chapter three, verses 12-14:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

For me, Marshawn Lynch embodies in his life and work the idea Paul is getting at in this passage about “pressing on.”

Just before the verses above, Paul had been writing about the goal of his life, and by inference the goal for all disciple’s of Christ: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” In his commentary on this letter, Gordon Fee notes, “Everything in Paul’s present life is drawn to a future in which Christ is finally and fully known.” Such is the goal for all Christians – living a fully resurrected life in the full presence of God.

Yet, Paul admits that he is not there, writing, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal … ” and, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it … ” This is the Apostle Paul who admits these shortcomings. John Calvin sees the larger point for us: “Paul thinks of nothing but Christ – knows nothing else – desires nothing else – is occupied with no other subject of meditation. Therefore, there is much weight in what he now adds, that he himself, while he had given up all hindrances had nevertheless not attained the object of aim.” But he doesn’t give up. Instead, ” … one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul presses on.

I believe this is good news for all of the rest of us seeking to follow Christ. If even Paul admits that he has not yet attained the end goal of full resurrection life, we need not pretend that we are anywhere close. None of us experience the life God calls us to live, fully. Sometimes, when we become aware of this truth, doubts creep in, discouragement, even despair. Further, we live in a broken world that brings turmoil and suffering. Sometimes grief, depression, anxiety can be so oppressive it is physically hard to move. Sometimes the weight of what is wrong in our lives, what is wrong in the world weighs so heavily on us that living is not a matter of “day-to-day” but moment-to-moment, literally.

Into this darkness comes Paul’s voice, “Press on.” And we do so not because we have hope in our own strength, but because our ultimate hope for achieving our goal lies in God and God’s strength. Paul proclaims that he does his part in struggling towards his end goal, pressing on, but more importantly, he does not press on alone: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” We are not on our own pushing against the mass of forces trying to drag us down. Christ Jesus has a hold of us and pulls us forward with his strength. In commenting on Paul’s experience, Tom Wright comments on our experience as well: “All Paul’s efforts after holiness, after the work of the gospel, after the goal of resurrection; are not a matter of his unaided effort to do something that will make God pleased with him. They take place within the context of God’s grace: King Jesus has grasped hold of him, and all that Paul now does is a matter of responding in love to that firm hand on the shoulder.” Into the midst of our own struggles we hear the voice of Christ, “Press on. Press on because I have a hold of you and will bring you into the fullness of life.”

This is good news for me. I am no Marshawn Lynch. Physically, I’m maybe 2/3 the man he is. I honestly believe that if I got hit with the full force of an NFL player blasting me the way Lynch gets hit multiple times every game, it would kill me. My ribs would probably be crushed into my internal organs and I would be done. Even in terms of his fortitude as a human being, though, I am no Marshawn Lynch. I don’t know if I could even have survived the conditions he had to endure growing up. He not only survived, in very significant ways he has succeeded in life.

I can only thank God that I don’t have to have the strength of Mr. Lynch to one day know resurrection life. My hope, our hope, is secure because of the strength of God’s grace. As Hosea put it:

Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
God will appear;
God will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.

God will raise us to new life.

In the mean time, there will be moments when it seems there is no way we can make it through. There will be moments when we see no light. And it is in moments like those, that for me, Marshawn Lynch can actually be a powerful inspiration. As he has done so many times in his life, we need to keep going. As he does every time he is given the ball to run, so too must we press on. One day we will break free.

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