When I grew up sports became a god to me. I enjoyed playing, but unfortunately my love for the game became way too important. Friday Night Lights had some very familiar scenes in it and brought back many memories–some pleasant and some painful–from my Texas high school football days. Since I grew up at a time and place where racial integration was forced in badly-handled ways, Remember the Titans also rang some familiar bells in my memory.
My unbalanced love for sports became so obsessive that I actually swore off all participation in any sport for nearly two years during college. I wouldn’t even play in pick up games. That sports-fast helped me to regain a better perspective on life and also caused me to realize how easy it is to let something good become something bad. And when the good becomes bad it is the worst.
When Donna and I married I resolved not to let my kids fall into that same trap of making any sport an idol. To that end, our family never went to ball games, or watched games, or talked about ball games. All that began to change when my oldest girl turned twelve. A new family joined our church and their children knew all about sports. One day my eldest child came away from a conversation with her new friends and asked me to explain the difference between a football and a basketball. It was then that I knew I had gone overboard! It dawned on me that I was culturally handicapping my kids to the degree that they could not even have a meaningful conversation about basic American athletic activities.
The fruit of my repentance came in the form of signing up my two oldest girls for the local homeschool girls basketball team (that is a story in itself!). In a very unexpected, yet providential turn of events, I wound up becoming the coach of that team the next year and the rest is…well let’s just say that it has been a fun ride. For the last nine years I have had the privilege of coaching the Lee County Homeschoolers Lady Ambassador basketball team.
The philosophy that governs our team is summed up in our team motto: Basketball to the glory of God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31,
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Basketball is found in this verse in those words, “whatever you do.” In other words, if you are going to do it, you better learn to do it to the glory of God. If it can’t be done to God’s glory, then you better not do it. I have tried to teach this to the girls by helping them to realize that the only way to play basketball to God’s glory is to keep it in proper perspective. Specifically, we must remember that it is just a game, and games make very poor gods! Therefore it is less important than school, than church and than family. It is certainly less important than Christ and in fact, the reason that we even have the opportunity to enjoy basketball is because of God’s goodness to us in Christ. How utterly foolish it would be, then, to take a gift of God’s goodness and turn it into an idol that competes with God Himself! To value the gift more than the giver!
Yet, that is our tendency, isn’t it? God gives us the good gift of a wife, or children, or a job, or health or anything, and we start loving the gift more than the Giver and even use our devotion to the gift as excuses to disobey the Giver. Isn’t this Paul’s explanation of how our sin works in Romans 1? We “exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.”
To fight against that sinful tendency I remind our girls that, contrary to the T-shirts, basketball is not life, Christ is. Basketball is just a game, but it is a great game! And by keeping it in perspective, we are free to give our very best efforts to playing it as well as we can. One reason that I enjoy sports so much is that they can teach you so much about life. Winning and losing. Adversity. Injustice. Success. Failure. Disappointment. Goals set, achieved, and not quite met. Tension. Pressure. Interdependence. Responsibility. All of these life experiences can be found in a single game of basketball. How we respond to them reveals what is inside our hearts, and in that way sports can be a help in sanctification.
Tonight we arrived at Haines City, Florida for the Florida Christian Athletic Association state basketball tournament. The Lady Ambassadors have been fortunate enough to win our regional championship and compete in the tournament again this year. Tomorrow we face Miami Lakes Christian School, a team we have grown to know and love over the last few years. Since only 8 teams are invited to the tournament, a win in the first round would put us into the semi-finals.
If time allows, I will post the results of our efforts tomorrow night. As the NCAA big dance is starting all over the country (with my Texas Aggies right in the thick of things for a change!), our little dance…uh, I mean, “party,” begins tomorrow in central Florida.
Here is a website that tells a little about our team.