Bible Society’s communications director Penny Mulvey came late to the Ted Lasso party. You know, that feel-good comedy about an American Football coach who moves to England to coach a failing soccer club even though he knows nothing about the game.
But once in, Penny was all in and binged all of series 1, falling under the spell of the unfailing kindness and optimism of the show’s lead character as so many had before, as shown in the four gongs the show earned at this year’s Emmy Awards including Outstanding Comedy Series.
“What a tonic it was. So, of course, I then had to watch series 2,” says Penny.
Though neither Ted Lasso the character nor Ted Lasso the show is overtly Christian, Penny found them full of wonderful expressions and lessons of faith – as many Christian commentators have done before.
And this week she drew four lessons from an episode in season 2 of Ted Lasso that challenge Christians to rediscover the life-changing joy of how and why they became Christians in the first place.
It’s the episode where the club’s former captain Roy Kent is brought back as a coach. He notices something amiss in the behaviour of the current captain and drags him off to an informal game of street soccer.
“The new guy, indignant, said ‘I’m not playing here, I’m a professional.’ Roy told him that he regularly came and joined the game. It reminded Roy of why he loved the game of soccer, playing for the sheer exhilaration, the delight, the beauty; somehow the skipper had lost sight of his passion for soccer as the weight of the responsibility had taken over,” Penny relates.
“The new captain put aside his scepticism, discovered that these guys on the street could actually play and surrendered to the pleasure of kicking a ball because it was fabulous fun. And at that moment there did not want need to be any other reason. A re-invigorated captain returned to his players having learned the lesson that Roy had shown.
“We too, I wonder, can be like that captain and forget how and why we became Christians in the first place.”
Lesson One: God is our coach.
While many of us no doubt diligently read our Bibles every morning, has our faith become so comfortable, so easy to slip on, that we take God a little for granted? she queries.
She asks us to pause and consider anew that crucial Bible verse John 3:16 – For God So loved the world, So loved the world, that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
“God so loved the world, he sacrificed his son. For the parents among us, can you even imagine? I can’t even imagine it. It’s such a horrible thought to sacrifice your child of flesh and blood. That is a love greater than any we can humanly comprehend,” she says.
“What does it really mean to know that we were created in the image of God, that we are loved, truly loved by the creator of the universe? And that through that love, we are forgiven, our sins wiped clean.
“That promise is life-changing. For many people who’ve been filled with self-hatred most of their lives constantly punishing themselves through self-destructive behaviours, So deep is that hatred, the message of love and forgiveness transforms. Can you remember what that transformation was like for you?
“Do you live in that knowledge daily? God is our coach. He has given us his guidebook. We follow his manual so that we too can run the race as a good and faithful servant.”
Lesson two Christianity is a team sport and we work and live better together.
“The first thing Jesus did when he began his public ministry was to gather the disciples around. People to teach, people to witness, people to share lives together. They were invited to follow him. We too have joined the team – that invitation was extended to us and is extended to us every day. We are asked each day to take up our mantle. We are asked each day to love our God and love our neighbour.
The audaciousness of that request to love our neighbours hits the road when our neighbours are people not like us. As a Melburnian, Penny admits that at the time of the September lockdown riots in Melbourne, she felt angry towards the “selfish” people who attacked the police.
“They refused to wear masks as they protested ongoing lockdown, who were putting other people in danger because they weren’t vaccinated and they weren’t wearing masks, and everything that they were doing made me feel annoyed. I was puffed up with my own sense of righteousness. ‘What about the common good?’ I proclaimed to myself. ‘What about those Christians who were also refusing to be vaccinated and getting lost in conspiracy theories? How dare they? What Bible are they reading to determine such beliefs come from God?’
“Do you ever see yourself doing that? But God loves me, despite my behaviours, my thoughts, my prejudices, my failings. And according to my reading of the Bible, God actually loves anti-vaxxers, lockdown protesters, and the many, many people who see the world – how dare they – differently to the way I see it? There is only one judge, and it’s not me.
I need all of God’s grace and love to put aside my deep-seated prejudices to challenge my thoughts and to guard my tongue. And I need you to help me; we can learn to love deeper and better through our encounters with each other. And, and especially those who are different to us and from us, we are better together.”
Lesson three: You don’t have to be a professional to love the game.
“God loves the ordinary. God’s invitation to love and forgiveness is extended to all who are willing to open their hearts. And we here at Bible Society have access to some of the most extraordinary and yet ordinary stories of changed lives,” says Penny.
Some of those extraordinary stories include an elderly Vietnamese man in the northern part of country who, due to the lack of electricity, uses his torchlight to read the Bible every night.
“He told Bible Society Vietnam. ‘I witnessed so many miracles of God in my life. That is why I want to be closer to him and know more about him. As I’m getting older and older each day, my joy is in the Lord, my mind seeks him always. Whenever I read the Bible, I feel great. I feel strengthened; if I skip the daily reading of scripture, I feel unwell.’”
Penny also mentions the 21-year-old woman who learned to forgive through trauma healing counselling in Cameroon, which is part of Project Esther, a Bible Society program that supports women who have been sexually abused and often are pregnant as a result or have children.
“The project aims to biblically equip young women to develop self-esteem, confidence and the capacity to build their lives on positive venues while overcoming past experiences.
So Erline attended a project Esther camp this year and she admits before coming to project Esther, ‘I had a lot of anger in me, a hard bitterness. I was depressed and my thinking was just negative all the time. I discovered forgiveness, it is good to forgive. I took my soul to the foot of the cross. I felt a pain leaving my spirit. I felt relief, detachment. The hurt was burned into ashes. I saw my problems, my anger, my hatred being burned into the air. And I said, thank you, Lord Jesus. Today I am free. I am stress-free, heartbreak free; I am emotionally free. In fact, I am healed.’”
Penny reminds us that as we hear extraordinary stories about the transforming nature of Jesus, who discovered their unique value through Jesus’ sacrifice, “that person is linked to you and to me, brothers and sisters in Christ. you don’t have to be a professional to love God.”
Lesson four: Hang out with people who are joyously in love with Jesus.
Penny mentioned three people whose joyous love for Jesus has rubbed off on her through working for Bible Society .
Susannah McFarlane is an author and publisher who came to faith only about six years ago through reading the Bible and has a joyous, buoyant, and infectious love of Christ. She now heads up the publishing team at Bible Society. David Lepore also read the Bible and fell in love with Jesus. Having decided he needed to convince people about how important it was to read the Bible, he audaciously rang the Bible Society and said he wanted to work with them. He now works as part of the church relations team in Victoria.
Finally, Nick Hawkes is an apologist, a pastor, a scientist, and who has life-threatening cancer, but after being given less than a year to live is still working five years later.
“A remarkable, godly, joyous, happy man for Jesus. He’s writing a regular apologetics column for Eternity at the moment on the big questions of faith and life. And it is the constant writing that he does, the sharing of his spectacular bubbling, deep, miraculous faith that is keeping him going. He is so excited for God, he is so looking forward to being with God in heaven and so happy to keep serving God here on Earth – what a man!”.