By Mark Schutzius
Associate & Youth Pastor, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Halls
Let me preface everything I’m about to say with this: I love sports. I played organized sports all the way through high school and college and I follow just about every major sport. I do not think anything involving a ball is of the devil.
I want to tackle this subject with patience, grace, understanding, and honesty. In Jeremiah, the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen so far from God that they had committed hideous acts for the sake of worshiping their false gods, especially Baal. Read Jeremiah 19:4-5.
I see this type of behavior in our church families every year, buying into lies that promise far more than they deliver. With popular phrases like “This isn’t a game; it’s life” and teams that often require year-long commitments, I fear sports have become another Baal in America. Granted, these verses could apply to many different areas of American culture, but I see some obvious similarities between the people of Judah and our love of sports.
First, we have forsaken God (v. 4). We have plenty of time to devote to worshiping God in the off-season. But when the season starts, our sport of choice takes precedence. I even have to plan specific events around the sports world so students at least have the option to participate. We elevate our sports commitments in order to become a starter or get closer to that scholarship.
I get it. I received a sports scholarship for college and it helped financially. Nevertheless, I paid for it in my spiritual development. I turned away from making Christ my highest priority and made that sport my god. It’s all I thought about and it literally consumed me. Can we participate in a sport and not forsake God? Absolutely! But we struggle to see the line of separation, the difference between participation and obsession, between devotion and sacrifice. We need discernment. If our participation in a sport takes precedence over our commitment to Christ, we’ve crossed that line. If our priority is practice and church becomes optional, we’ve bought into the lie.
Second, we have built our high places (v. 5). Take a look at our sports venues. Without going into too much detail, the high places in verse 5 were essentially places of sacrifice and worship. We gather at our high place equivalents to offer our worship on a regular basis. We scream in admiration or disgust for the players. While we would never condone idolatry, we encourage our kids’ total and complete devotion to a sport. Our stadiums begin to look a lot like high places.
Third, we offer our children as sacrifice (v. 5). I want to tread very carefully here. Judah was offering their sons as human sacrifices, willing to give their children over to false gods so the country would be blessed.
The correlation is frightening. How many parents encourage their children to bow down and worship a sport and do whatever it takes to get that scholarship? We’re essentially saying, “Go ahead and worship that god. Bow down and sacrifice because it’s for your own good.” Suddenly, church isn’t a priority and even Christ becomes an afterthought.
I can say this because I bowed down and worshiped. I gave up anything necessary to reach my goals and I even did it with the intention of giving God the glory. When I was brutally honest with myself, I wanted the glory. My god was my pride and my worship was my sport.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t play sports. Remember, I love sports. I am, however, imploring us to be wise when it comes to the level of commitment and involvement. I would encourage us to keep Christ our main priority. Keep His church a priority and use sports as a way to live out that commitment to Christ. Win and lose with humility. If God wants your child to be on the world stage, then you let Him do it while you keep Christ first. Teams don’t make it easy to stay committed to both the church and the team. In the end, it really is just a game while Christ is all.