Though I grew up in Oklahoma, I did not grow up being an Oklahoma Sooner fan. Just as finding yourself in a garage does not make you a car, so living 32 years in the state of Oklahoma does not make you a Sooner. Becoming a Sooner was a journey for me . . . and this is my story.
I grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. My parents took me here when I was still in utero, and I spent every day here for most of my life. Though I grew up around the Sooners, I spent most of my early years rebelling against their agenda. In 1988 when OU played Kansas for the College Basketball National Championship, I wore a “Beak ‘Em Hawks” KU T-shirt to school that day. When Charles Thompson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in his orange prison jumpsuit, I laughed in sadistic delight. (As a born again Sooner fan, I do not take pride in the behavior of my early years . . . thankfully, I would eventually see the light.)
My transformation into the Sooner nation began as I was searching for a university to attend. The cost to bridge from high school to a college diploma was a great gulf that seemed impossible in my own human effort to cross. Amazingly, OU realized this gulf and reached out to me. They offered me a pair of scholarships to pay the price necessary for me to make it all the way to their cap and gown. Amazed by their gracious offer, I accepted, and my love relationship with OU began.
Early on in my days on campus, I met some friends who had been OU fans much longer than me. Thankfully, they took me in and brought me along every weekend to the games, instructing me of OU’s past, and teaching me the words to the songs they would sing each week at the beginning of the game. Slowly, things were beginning to make sense. Thankfully, though, my more experienced friends were patient with me as I would head home to the dorms to sleep during the second half of some of the games. Sometimes the game was a bit boring in those days!
Now, some 17 years since I first gave my life to the Sooner Nation, I have seen something remarkable happen. The same songs that I once butchered the words to (and thought were too hard to sing) I now sing out at the top of my lungs, fighting a tear back at times when the OU Chant is sung. My closet no longer contains a stitch of clothing for another school. I now show up early to games, and stay until the final snap, without ever wanting to take a nap. I now take other young friends by the hand and pull them up on my proverbial Sooner Schooner to give them a tour of what it means to be a Sooner. I now know OU’s awesome history by the numbers and can recite it on command. I am so thankful that OU reached out to me 17 years ago and paid my way. It changed my life.
Knowing this, if you try to reach me this Saturday night at 6 pm, don’t be surprised if I don’t answer the phone. It is hard to talk on the phone when you are choking back tears as the band plays Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” while the drum major leads the Pride out onto the turf at Cowboys Stadium. My life has truly been changed by OU, and this real life change is evident for all to see.
Now, if you are a Christian, no doubt you recognize much of my rhetoric. While my OU transformation is mostly trivial and somewhat exaggerated, trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of sins is no joking matter.
Many grow up around Christians and inside churches, yet do not have a personal relationship with Christ. Without a personal relationship with Christ, people live lives contrary to God’s ways and even mock (or persecute) those who believe in Christ. For those who are Christians, however, eventually they come to realize that they desire a relationship with God and forgiveness for their sins, but restoring a relationship with God is something too great for a human to accomplish in their own effort. Knowing this (and loving us) God reaches out to humans, offering a free ride to eternity based on the full payment for our sins made possible by Christ’s death on the cross. If we accept this “scholarship” by faith, we enter into a relationship with God that will never end. For the new Christian, worship services are first a bit difficult to follow with the special worship songs and liturgies, but eventually, you figure it out, and it becomes very meaningful to you. The sermons may put you to sleep sometimes, but over the long haul, you begin to feed off of God’s Word. When you first enter into a relationship with God, other Christians disciple you in the ways of the Lord, but as you grow, you begin to take others along also in this process.
I share all this with us today, on the eve of a new college football season, to remind everyone of what happens when something changes your life. Because of a scholarship and a degree, I freely talk about OU, invest money in shirts and tickets, organize my weekends around a 4 hour game, and proudly display my love for Bob Stoops and Sam Bradford every chance I get.
As a Christian, our lives have experienced even greater change. Because of Christ’s death on the cross will we talk freely of our love for Him, contribute to His work with your time and treasure, and make it a priority to worship with the Body of Christ on the weekend? When your life is really changed by Jesus Christ, that change is evident for all to see.