Monday, October 21, 2019

idolatry & the christian sports fan


make no mistake, i like sports.  i like watching, competing and training.  i lead a ministry that uses sports to get the gospel into tough places.

my issue isn't with sports, it's with idolatry.

i believe that for christians, the more we fall in love with Jesus, the more we dive into the scriptures, and the more we abide in Christ... the more ridiculous becomes the idea of the zealous christian sports fan.

this is true because as our intimacy with Christ increases, so should our spiritual antennas that identify the subtleties of idolatry.

subtleties are one thing.  whats even crazier, is how many christian super-fans there are. for the super-fan, there's nothing subtle about it - it's blatant and unashamed!

since returning stateside, this has been an overwhelming reality for me.  i can't tell if it's my own change, something else has changed, or if i just forgot what it was like.  but it seems like sports is all people talk about.

so, here we go again...  another season of countless hours and dollars invested in sports fanfare...  of office pools and fantasy leagues... of christians everywhere expressing twice (or 100x) the excitement they've ever expressed worshipping Jesus... and otherwise quiet, shy personalities suddenly expressing gobs of emotion.  another season of church fantasy football leagues (of course done in the name of community)...  of men in churches getting fidgety and checking their watches as noon-time approaches...  family schedules revolving around what games are on...  and tickets, tailgates, nfl-ticket, and staying glued to phones checking scores, highlights and stats.

fantasy football
i realize some good community can come from guys gathering to watch sports.  there's certainly nothing wrong with that.  but i wonder when christian leaders will realize (or have the courage to teach) how dangerous fantasy football can be.  entertainment has a firm grip on the american christian's heart.  entertaining ourselves is already a huge problem - and fantasy leagues encourage people not to only follow their favorite team, but to follow every single team, every player, and every statistic... all season long.

i hear a lot about how harmless it is.  and of course it's possible to be kept in proper perspective.  but overall i think its far from harmless.  just ask the wives and kids who wish dad would turn off the tv, or put down his phone.  for some, the encouraging of fantasy leagues can be like feeding an addiction.  the flesh of the sports fan longs for the next game, or match - for the players, the stats, the stories.  the fan's heart and mind wants more... to stay connected... to not miss a single game, headline, or highlight.  even for the average fan, missing the day's rundown of espn.com (or whatever preferred source) leaves them jonesing like an addict.

meanwhile our Lord Jesus stands jealous.  he longs for our affections to exceed that of anything else we consider good in this life.  Jesus said our love of anything in this world should be like hate compared to our love for Him (luke 14:26, matt 10:37).  he included love for parents, spouses and kids in that teaching.  much less a ballgame.

college football saturday, nfl sunday, monday night, thursday night...  oh, and then comes the nba season... mlb playoffs... nfl playoffs... march madness... nba playoffs... and around and around it goes.

we can justify anything by quickly calling it innocent and harmless.  but who are we kidding?  i know christians who are absolutely consumed with this stuff.  and we often applaud it, if not embolden it, from the pulpit.

as christians we have to be sensitive to the battle that constantly wars for our hearts. it's not that liking sports, or watching a football game, is inherently wrong.  its the delighting in it that becomes a problem - especially when our delighting in Christ is nowhere near the same level.  we must remember that abiding in the world is exactly what satan, the "ruler of this world," desires.  (1 john 5:18-21)

"don't be conformed to this world..."  romans 12:2
"don't love the world or the things in the world..." 1 john 2:15
"you adulterous people! don't know friendship with the world is enmity with God?"  james 4:4

the fight: spirit vs flesh
i'm not trying to be legalistic. lets celebrate our freedom in Christ all day long.  but as christians being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, our freedom should lead us to a pursuit of holiness.  and the sanctification process naturally squeezes out the love for worldly things.  at some point, we in this disneyland of american church need to address our obsession with the world.

and in my opinion, our obsession with sports is one of the big elephants in the room.

as american christians we need to sound the alarm on giving ourselves whatever we want.  fighting our flesh, denying self, rejecting the world, etc, is how we daily wage war as christians.  it's hard.  i lose that battle often.  but the bible makes clear that a mind set on the flesh refuses to submit to God.  denying self and pursuing the spirit requires a fight.

here's a fact:  if we're not fighting... if we're coasting... if we're too quick to justify what we want, and defend how harmless things are... we will default to the flesh!  and we become slaves to one or the other, spirit or flesh.  "neutral" defaults to the flesh.

i'm not saying we can't enjoy things in this world.  its ok to enjoy sports!  but not without abiding in Christ daily.  as we abide... as we grow in sanctification and intimacy with our Lord Jesus...  our perspective in all things changes from worldly to eternal...  which virtually guarantees you'll begin caring less who wins and loses ballgames.

and when you no longer care who wins or loses, and you aren't jonesing for kickoff or constantly checking stats, that's when you'll know your affinity for sports is no longer an idol.

football season is upon us.  it's the time of year that reminds me of the idolatry that can so easily be  justified as simply, "being a sports fan."