This past week while Sandy and I were vacationing in Boca Raton, my cell phone rang just as we were getting ready to head to the first tee. The caller on the other line didn’t know I was on vacation and wanted to talk to me about how Mount Pleasant could be involved in the local arrangements for next year’s North American Christian Convention when it returns to Indianapolis. He did know that I have always been a big Oklahoma Sooner fan so he asked me if I was ready for another season of college football. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.
As a boy growing up in Oklahoma, I loved sports—all sports. I have a brother who is seventeen months older than I am, and he was a natural athlete who was always bigger and faster and stronger than everyone else. I was not. So for many years, I lived in the shadow of his touchdowns, his rebounds, his homeruns, etc. But I had one thing my older brother didn’t have and that was desire. Since everything came easy to him, he really never worked at it. He just showed up. It wasn’t that way for me. But by the time I was a sophomore in high school, things had changed. He was still a football star who had opportunities to play in college, but I wasn’t in his shadow any longer. In fact, when it was all said and done, I achieved more success than he did even though my family forced me to move from Oklahoma to Texas, and I didn’t play any sports as a senior. NOTE: Just so you know I’m talking about achieving a small measure of success in a 2A school with about five hundred students—not really that big a deal when you look at the big picture.
I spent a lot of my growing up days playing, practicing, and loving sports. I passed that on to my own son who played both basketball and baseball as a boy and settled on baseball in high school. I have a lot of great memories that revolve around sports. But to be completely honest with you, for the first time in my life, I feel a genuine sense of disinterest in sports. See, I believe that sports have gotten out of control in America. And I’m talking about every level, from youth sports to professional sports. When my son played t-ball for the first time back in the spring of 1990, the baseball league we played in had rules concerning the number of practices you could have in a week and how long they could last. By the time he was playing what we called “competitive” ball in Oklahoma, there were teams that played well over a hundred games a year. I’m talking about teams of nine-year old and ten-year old boys. And it just kept getting worse the older they got. When my son played American Legion ball the summer before his sophomore year in high school, I remember being at a game where some of the parents began to talk about how their boys had decided not to go to church camps and church mission trips so they wouldn’t miss any games and jeopardize their place on the team.That same summer Andrew went to a Christ In Youth Conference in Colorado and missed two games. Now all the boys on that team were good baseball players, but by the time they were seniors, there were only two of them who were on the varsity and only one of them ended up playing college baseball at a Division III school, but it was so important that it took precedent over church and church activities.
And what about professional sports? When I moved to Indianapolis, I decided to become a Colts fan. But I’ve got to tell you that it’s really disappointing to me when some people can’t make it to a Saturday night or Sunday morning church service because the Colts have a home game.
So, am I looking forward to another season of college football? The answer, honestly, is I don’t really care. I’ll still pull for the Sooners, and they’ll still be my favorite team, but, honestly, I don’t really care. Even the team that I have loved since I was a boy represents in one way or another everything that’s gone wrong with sports today.
On a more positive note, I do care about the sports and recreation ministry we have at Mount Pleasant because it’s built on and around Christ. And I love the fact that we give families in our community the opportunity to participate in sports without it taking over their lives. I understand that recreational sports simply don’t meet the needs of every child or family and that there needs to be a place for higher levels of competition and achievement. I wouldn’t have been satisfied with recreational sports when I was young. But here’s my question. At what cost? In America we have a history of being a people who dive headlong into opportunity without taking the time to examine the cost—without asking any questions about the long term results (Anyone remember subprime mortgages?).
In Ephesians 5:15-17, Paul writes, Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (NIV) Just what is the Lord’s will for you and your family when it comes to sports? That’s a great question. Your answer or conclusion might not be the same as mine and that’s okay (I’m not writing this to offend anyone.). But what’s really important is that you at least take the time to ask the question. What is the Lord’s will for you and your family when it comes to sports?
No doubt we’ve all heard the story of Eric Liddell (Remember the movie Chariots of Fire.) who refused to run in the 100-meter race at the 1924 summer Olympic games in Paris because it was scheduled on Sunday. Instead he ran in the 400-meter race where he not only won a gold medal but also broke the world record. Just before the race, an American masseur slipped a note into Liddell’s hand with a portion of I Samuel 2:30, Those who honor me, I will honor.Following the Olympics, Liddell became a missionary to China where he died in 1945 as a prisoner in a Chinese Internment camp. In 2008 in a poll taken by The Scotsman newspaper, Eric Liddell was voted the most popular athlete Scotland has ever produced. And that, friends, is a big deal when you look at the big picture.