Saturday, September 5, 2015

"Sports God Part 3: Thinking Biblically as parents, coaches, players and fans."

As I blog about the benefits and dangers of living in a sports-crazed culture, I'm watching the Sharks play the Pumas in South Africa's Currie Cup Rugby league.  The irony of this does not escape me. My wife says I have a remarkable ability to multi-task when it comes to watching sport. For this compliment I have no defense. One of my favorite things is to get up early on a Saturday here on the West Coast of the US,  and watch Rugby or Soccer that took place during the night from a prior time zone. It takes great discipline not to check the score!

Anyway,  I can't help notice that the tag line for the Currie Cup Competition is, "Glory is eternal!"
That's a pretty grand claim right there. From a Biblical point of view, as much as I enjoy the gutsy heroics of rugby, that tag line seems wholly inappropriate. Although glory is indeed eternal, the claim that 30 big slabs of humanity chasing an egg-shaped ball around a muddy field will somehow achieve eternal glory, may be the epitome of over-promising and under-delivering.

But this offer of glory underlines my final big idea in a three-part, three-idea blog. We've looked at the idea of sport as a gift, sport as a gamble, and finally we'll look at the idea of sport as an idol. It is this quasi-religious promise of glory that allures us and distracts us from the true glory of God. We feel that our team or our kids can achieve something that will go down in history, achieving for them some kind of significance, some unfading glory.  There are few things more glorious than the swelling of pride when your child does well on the sports field, or when your team wins a title. And yet we know from history that moments of glory are so quickly forgotten, records are broken, and statues of sporting heroes are perched on by pigeons. (and all that goes along with perching pigeons) All to often, when sporting glory fades it leaves fragile egos, squandered fortunes and broken families. Sporting glory is not eternal at all, is it.

Tim Keller describes an idol  as a good thing that has become an ultimate thing. So how do I know if the glory of sport has becoming something of an idol to me, whether I'm a parent, player,  coach or a fan? I think I know because the demands of sport on my schedule, money, family and fellowship will always take precedence. Sport will be ultimate. I will sacrifice anything for it. Everything else will be secondary or tertiary.

I recently read about a couple who were such University of Alabama Football fans that they sold their house, bought a $300,000 RV and basically spent all their time following the Crimson Tide wherever they played. When their daughter got married they could only go to the reception because the actual wedding ceremony interfered with an Alabama Football game. They saw this as quite reasonable. Alabama Football was their idol, and nothing else got in its way.

We would quickly label this couple as fanatics for whom sport had become ultimate. Being at the game is more important to them than their daughters own wedding! But even if we are not as fanatical as they are, I would simply ask that we would do an audit on the demands that sport makes on our schedule, our money, our family and our fellowship. As a family, we have had to ask God for wisdom about what we can and cannot afford to further our kids' sporting goals. I have had to ask serious questions about how much sport I watch as a fan. We have asked ourselves how we can maintain a cohesive sense of family in the midst of numerous sports practices and games. And we have had honest conversations with coaches about the priority of worshipping together as a family on a Sunday at church.  We have found coaches and other parents to be surprisingly understanding, and the conversations have been a bridge for the Gospel.

I am not telling you where you should  land. I am simply calling us as God's people to invite Jesus to be Lord of our sporting lives which means sport becomes a dialogue not just an automatic decision. This dialogue may be uncomfortable at first as He adjusts and challenges, but I believe it will ultimately free us to enjoy sport as His gift, handle it wisely as a gamble, and approach it ultimately for His glory.

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