“You don’t watch NFL so if you don’t like the kneeling just ignore it, like you do racism and police brutality.” Colin Kapernick
This is one time when I probably should attach a caution label: “Proceed at your own risk.” You may disagree with me. I only ask that you not discount my words because it violates your personal values. At least take the time to think it through and evaluate if there’s some (or perhaps a lot of validity) in this blog. Let’s put it right out there: I’m thankful for the NFL controversy of players kneeling. Here are some reasons I feel this way.
Obsession with sports has supplanted other more worthy endeavors. The protests have caused many to consider whether they want professional sports to have such a big part of their lives. My main concern though is for Christians and the Church. Sports for many believers are an idol. Something becomes an idol when it gives us greater joy than Christ, when it becomes more of a focus in our lives than He is, when it’s what I think and talk about the most, when it’s what I most love spending time and money on…or, if the outcome of the game greatly alters my attitude.
To me, it’s a poor way to address racism. Racism is a problem and a sin. Personally, I think this is a foolish way to address it. It has little hope of making real change with more symbolism than substance. 75% of NFL fans are Caucasian. 25% make over $100K annually, so it tends to polarize rather than provoke change. Add to that, 40% are over 55 years of age, and tend to be the most patriotic Americans. That demographic is more concerned about the American flag being disrespected than any other.
It also seems disingenuous when the average player’s salary is $1.9 million annually. It’s hard to believe someone at that economic level can empathize with the average black person experiencing racism. Then, there’s blatant hypocrisy on the part of the media who mocked Tim Tebow for kneeling because of his faith, yet kneeling during the National Anthem is defended and celebrated by these same elitists.
The timing is poor for the sport of football. Football continues to lose popularity because of the fear of head injuries. The day may come when it is about as popular as dog fighting. It’s my hope that some of this shake-up will be a wake-up call for believers, causing them to re-evaluate their over the top loyalty. With that being said, there is another side of the biblical worldview as related to athletics and sports.
The Bible isn’t, nor should the Church be anti-sports. Scripture repeatedly uses athletic terminology. While the Old Testament contains allusions to running, throwing, shooting and other physical activities, it doesn’t appear that organized sports were part of the culture. In the New Testament era, it’s very apparent that competitive sports were a major part of life. Both the Olympic Games and Isthmian Games took place in that era. The Apostle Paul frequently uses athletic examples to illustrate spiritual truth. Scripture never condemns sports. If Paul believed they were sinful, he wouldn’t have used them to illustrate the Christian life.
Sports can teach us much about the Christian life. They can instill respect for those in authority. An athlete must have confidence that the coach’s decisions are right and trust, as well as obey the coach. In the same way, church leaders often can see the bigger picture. Their goal should be to develop each member’s gifts, so they serve to the best of their ability.
As an athlete perseveres to win, Christians are to persevere in the faith. When we’re knocked down, we must get back up, set goals, and keep a positive attitude.
Sports teach teamwork. Winning teams learn to play together to win. They realize each player, though at a different position, is vital for a positive outcome. The same is true in the church. There are no insignificant “players.” Athletics can teach us how to love and respect others, to win and lose with grace, and to encourage others in their “game,” too.
How do I know if sports have become an idol in my life? An idol is when “the thing or person is loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, enjoyed more than God. It could be someone we’re dating or even approval from others. It could be success, or a hobby, musical group or a sport or team we follow. The first two of the Ten Commandments challenge us. God knows we’re easily distracted and fail to remember Who truly deserves our worship. We have a long history of misdirecting worship away from God and turning it toward the things of man, from the Creator to the created (Romans 1:21, 25).
Sports can become a family idol. It’s easy to be swept along by sports fan parents. We run at an ever increasing speed, with little evangelism or discipleship taking place with our own children. Sports become the greater focus than that which makes an eternal difference. Often the results don’t reveal themselves until adulthood when there’s a disinterest in spiritual things because it wasn’t cultivated during those formative years.
Sports have become an idol when ministry and worship is preempted. It can be a normal part of common grace to unwind watching sports. But if you’re dead tired for Sunday worship, something is out of sync. If there’s always time for the game, yet little time for serving, it’s become idolatry.
Sports have become an idol when my emotions are contaminated. How do you feel if your team loses? Being a bit bummed is normal. Some though need a bigger perspective. It’s only a game! Caring about your kid’s scrimmage is no excuse for berating other grown men, let alone a child.
Sports have become an idol when it’s difficult for a conversation to go deeper than sports. Sports are a great entry point for conversations. It’s more interesting than the weather and safer than politics. Believers though must learn to move past sports. Don’t be that “guy” with only one question: “Did you catch the game?” Press on to more important matters. A man or woman who cares only about sports doesn’t care about nearly enough.
So enjoy sports as one of God’s many good gifts! Keep their temporal importance in balance in light of eternity. Make sure your worship is on the only One who is truly worthy of our worship!
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