HEARTLAND | As I visit churches from one end of the state to the other, I’ve learned that there is one question that can divide a congregation into camps faster than any question of theology or worship style or even politics. “Are you all Cardinals fans or Cubs fans?”
Now I owe a nod of respect to White Sox fans too. But while the Cubs and the Sox are constant cross-town rivals, the competitive focus this year has definitely been the division race between the Cardinals, the Cubs, and yes, the Pirates, as these NL Central teams ended the regular season with the three best records in baseball. And once the Cubs dispensed with the Pirates in their one-game, wildcard playoff, the stage was set for something that, unbelievably, had never happened before, a Cardinals/Cubs playoff series.
Who was I cheering for? Well, I’m one of those unusual guys that likes both teams. During my baseball-card-collecting boyhood years in Southern Illinois, Cardinal stars like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Orlando Cepeda were my heroes. When we later moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago, WGN drew me in to the wonderful Wrigley world of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Harry Caray. We have two great National League teams to cheer for here in Illinois!
But when it came to the historic 2015 Division Series, I had to pull for the Cubs. You see, the Cardinals win a lot. Over the past twenty years, the Cards have only missed the postseason seven times. The Cubs have only made it to the postseason four times. The Cubs haven’t been in a World Series since 1945, and haven’t won it since 1908. That’s the longest championship drought of any North American professional sports team. IBSA was a year old when the Cubs last won the World Series.
Call them “lovable losers” if you must, but I simply call the Cubs perennial underdogs, that I believe one day will win. While I enjoy the Cardinals’ success, there’s this part of me that identifies strongly with the underdog Cubbies.
You see, as a Christian in today’s culture, and even as a Baptist in Illinois, I often feel like an underdog. I often feel that my message, the Gospel, and my life’s values, anchored in the Bible, are not “winning” in the culture these days, no matter how hard I try or how deeply I believe. I often feel like I’m playing on a team for whom winning is always postponed into the future.
Now let me hasten to say that feeling that way doesn’t discourage me, really. And it doesn’t ever truly threaten my commitment to God, to His Kingdom, to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and yes, to the Baptist family.
It doesn’t matter if the world or the culture considers me a winner. But every now and then, when a worship service is especially powerful, or a mission trip is especially helpful, or I see someone respond to the Gospel and enter eternity—I realize that we are winning. And I remember that being true to the team, the Kingdom, that ultimately wins is so much more important than any measure of temporal success.
I guess that’s why I enjoyed seeing the Cubs win a postseason series, even over the Cardinals, and even though they were dismissed by the Mets in four straight games shortly thereafter. It gave me just a taste of the victory that has always been promised for “next year.” And it encouraged me to keep playing hard and staying faithful to teams that sometimes get labeled lovable losers, but that one day will be truly and eternally victorious.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.