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Sports and the Christian

Posted: June 26, 2008 - 21:23 CT

This blog entry will expand on some comments received from a reader in response to our recent Boston Celtics article.  The primary themes from this article was perspective and priorities.  It is certainly acceptable to admire the abilities of great athletes (and men and women of other professions), but we must not follow the sports writer's habits of ascribing deity on them.  As I'm writing this, the Dallas Morning News published a picture of the women gymnasts who had just qualified for the Olympic games.  Above the picture in big bold letters stretching across the page was the headline "The Anointed Ones".

In 1998, the world watched as Mark McGuire, Gen Griffey Jr and Sammy Sosa were all on pace to break the Major League Baseball single season home run record (60 home runs) set by Roger Maris of the Yankees in 1927.  The media spectacle increased as the lead swung back and forth almost daily.  Griffey dropped out with an injury and McGuire eventually claimed the record with 70 home runs (broken four years later when Barry Bonds hit 73) with Sosa finishing with 66.  This was very exciting to watch, but I couldn't help making a comparison.  One man hits a cowhide covered ball over a fence and we cheer wildly.  Another comes from heaven to be born in a manger, live a perfectly sinless life, die on a cross for our sins so that we can have eternal life, is physically resurrected, ascends back into heaven to sit at the right hand of God to make intercession for us... and we often yawn.  Where are our priorities?

Now, I love sports and think sports can teach some valuable lessons, but we must keep our activities in perspective.  God has blessed a fortunate few with great athletic talent which can be further developed through hard work, however, we must keep in mind that God blesses us not so that we can go on permanent vacation (Lk 12:16-21) but so we can pass the blessings to others.  We are called to be good stewards of our time, money and activities.  A great example of this is former tennis star Andrea Jaeger.  At age 15 in 1980, she became the youngest seeded player in Wimbledon history, and the youngest U.S. 0pen semifinalist just a month later.  Her professional tennis career, in which she was ranked as high as number two in the world, came to an end just four years later due to injuries and burnout.  During this short span, as she traveled around the world, she spent much of her time away from the court visiting sick children in hospitals.  Unlike many athletes who leave immediately after the camera filming the charity commercial is turned off, Andrea would stay for hours.  In 1990, she used her winnings from her tennis career to create the Silver Lining Foundation in Aspen, Colorado, where she was now living.  SLF brought groups of young cancer patients to Aspen for a week of horseback riding, whitewater rafting and other activities.  As donations came in, a medical facility and technicians were added to attend to the children's special needs.  For children who could not travel, SLF provided money for family campouts, college scholarships, medical internships and other programs.  Other athletes involved included John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and NBA star David Robinson.

I'm not advocating that all athletes retire and go into full-time ministry or charity work.  God may want us to stay in our sport (or on our jobs) in order to financially support other ministries.  If this is God's will for our life, we'd be accepting second best to go into full-time missions.  Another reason for wanting us to stay where we are is for witnessing.  The church has been trying to get their message into the workplace for years, but we as individual Christians are already there.

Regarding competition, I believe it's ok to celebrate athletic achievements as long as we compete with the right motivations.  Christians (with good intentions) often tend to minimize the ability and accomplishments of humanity in order to give greater glory to God.  As we've said before, we must keep these achievements in proper context, but God is not intimidated by them.  God does not require protection from our competition.  Human greatness actually testifies to the greater glory of God.  A good example is the Stradivarius violin.  When we speak of the name Stradivarius, we're speaking of ultimate quality in a violin.  While we admire the violin itself, how much more do we admire Antonio Stradivari, the creator of the violin.  Thus, when we speak of the greatness of a human, how much more do we admire the great God who created us.

One final reason for competing with the right motivation for the glory of God is that it protects us from our pride.  The Scriptures consistently warn us of the danger posed by our pride.  Pride caused the original fall of Satan, attempting to become God.  In a sense, we attempt to become God when we attribute to our own abilities the success that He has given us.  All pride, however is not sinful or harmful.  It is not wrong to be proud of that championship, the good grade you made in school, the raise you got at work for good performance as long as we have a proper motivation and give the credit to the One to Whom it belongs.

So, with all this in mind, see you at the game.

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