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Football And Faith

If spring is the time when a young man’s fancies turn to . . . , then fall is the season when watching the great American pastime of football takes over the spare time of many armchair quarterbacks. In tough times and in good, Americans have found escape and enjoyment in sports–playing, listening, and teaching.

And while athletic participation at all levels has certain health benefits (“bodily exercise [does] profit a little”–1 Timothy 4:8), not so easily seen are the benefits of being a spectator, even a fan(atic). Yet many immensely enjoy the game and the competition as well as the community loyalty and pride engendered by their team. Viking and Packer fans (a significant portion of our Midwest readers?) regularly exchange jovial barbs over the rise and fall of each other’s football fortunes.

Perhaps by now you’re wondering if this article belongs in Sports Illustrated rather than the Lutheran Spokesman.

Keeping Perspective

What is important is keeping everything in perspective. Football or any other sport is just a game and, if professional, a business. Run by wealthy owners, played by often greedy players who are too often poor role models, sports success is far from the ultimate. Winning or losing are not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Winning or losing will not affect the things most important in my life. In heaven it won’t matter that my beloved Vikings have never won a Super Bowl.

Having said that, we still recognize that even Christians can enjoy the diversions that sports and a whole host of other recreational, cultural, and entertainment activities offer, so long as they are not sinful. We were created by God to receive and enjoy with thanksgiving all of His marvelous gifts and blessings to His wonderful world (1 Timothy 4:3-4)–and that covers a wide range of interests, hobbies, and activities.

A Danger

Perhaps the one danger in all these things is that they begin to subtly displace the “One Thing Needful” either in our hearts or in our time-prioritizing. Pastors would love to see the devotion and enthusiasm for the local heroes matched by a similar enthusiasm for the Lord’s work. Has it happened that church activities begin to take a back seat to these other activities? In order to accommodate other schedules, have pastors and churches had to reschedule church classes and meetings? What kind of message is being sent to our children, families, and congregation when youth sports programs take precedence over Sunday worship and Sunday School? Despite our sincere words and good intentions to put the Lord first, do our actions support them? Do our excuses begin to sound like those who declined the invitation to the Great Supper?

Worldliness has subtly crept into our Lord’s Day schedule. As New Testament Christians we are not advocating reinstatement of Old Testament Sabbath laws. We understand the resurrection reasons for the early New Testament choice of Sunday as the day of worship. Only a couple of generations back, “blue laws” were common in some states which forbade businesses from opening on Sunday–leaving it a day for church and family. Only a generation ago Sunday mornings were off-limits for business and sports activities. Now, however, for many, Sunday seems no different than any other day of the week.

As we now resume our fall routine of church activities, let all of us reevaluate and reaffirm our spiritual priorities. Our calling is to let nothing interfere with our relationship with our God or our presence in His house for Word and worship. For it is only through faithful use of God’s Word that our faith is fed and fortified–an activity which will benefit our spiritual health eternally.

As someone once said, “Football is a wonderful diversion, but it makes a mighty poor religion.” Or to finish the Spirit’s comparative summary of the benefits of each: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

–Pastor David Schierenbeck