It is easy for Christians, in our culture, to become entangled in things that should never be part of the behavior and practice of the redeemed. This has always been a danger for the Church. Through the Holy Spirit God spoke forcefully of our need to reject the espousals of the world system and its culture in the church . In the time of the apostle Paul, the Corinthian Church was so infected with culture that there were those who partook in practices that even the pagans would not. In two blisteringly truthful, but loving letters, the LORD calls His people out in no uncertain terms.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” 17 Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.”
This is a clear instruction to a Church that operated more like the world. The New Testament is filled with these statements. I offer two more.
1 John 2:15-16 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world.
2 Peter 2:20-21 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
These scriptures illustrate the serious calling of the Church to not adopt worldly practice, but to stand apart from it (if not diametrically opposed). When we do not stand apart, the world and its culture creep into our midst and choke the life of the Spirit of God from the Church. In our time and in the nation we are called to witness for Christ in, this invasion has happened in a million ways, but perhaps not more incisively than with American Professional Sport. I could illustrate using any of the major fan focuses, but I will use the biggest and the best on the block since we are speeding toward the opening of the football worship season.
Not many can deny the influence and prominence of the National Football League in America if not around the world. In a worldly sense, no organization does it better. So effective is its marketing and business plan, that even in it’s six off months, it is still the talk of the sporting world. The net worth of the NFL is astronomical and in last year’s labor dispute and subsequent work stoppage (hard for me to write that with a straight face for men playing a game) we saw how ridiculous and greedy men could be. The major issue was not players’ salaries or safety although those were proffered as reasons, but an extra pot of 9 billion dollars. Both sides wanted a bigger piece of the pie. On either side they marshaled fan forces as leverage. What is worse than the greed on display is that it happened in the middle of a worldwide economic meltdown, and this unbridled avarice in the face of children starving world over. On radio and television “normal” people were depressed as if losing a loved one, on a Christian radio show I actually heard the announcer asking people to call in and explain what in the world they would do on Sunday afternoons. Tragically this is the world system at its best and how many Christian’s I wonder would have been lost without this sport? How is it we arrived at this destination? In truth we are enamored with the sensuality and physical nature of the game.
Look at the NFL combine, a pre-draft smorgasbord of media coverage. At this combine, players are interviewed, tested, and put through physical rigors that test and evaluate their athletic abilities. Teams ogle and look intently at their physical frame and determine where they will be of best use. The scene is reminiscent of the trading block slaves would stand on as they were treated as farm animals being sold to the highest bidder. I realize the NFL player is paid, but when they have lost their usefulness they are forgotten and degraded for the next best fill in, which is eerily similar to the unable slave. These men are paraded in the media and their abilities and bodies discussed hourly on radio and television. These men run around for us to ogle their bodies and abilities, as they draw in the masses to perpetuate the temple of American sport. This temple temple draws millions through sensuality and violence. In Corinth Paul had to deal with all kinds of evil encroaching upon the Church, one of which was the practice of temple prostitution. These woman (and sometimes men) would have patrons pay them for sexual rites that kept the patron coming back, with more money. This fed a system of pagan priests, who would control the masses and their wealth. Although the patrons in American sport do not pay for sexual rites, they none the less are drawn in by the sensuality of the game, and it fulfills their lust for violence and entertainment, all the while further filling the pockets of the ones in charge (remember that 9 billion). It was true that the temple prostitute had some benefit financially from her trade. The prostitutes benefits lasted only as long as she was useful and usable. Tragically like the slave with diminishing strength for work, who was cast off and forgotten, so was the temple prostitute. So is the NFL player at the end of their career.
Many will say that this is an over reach, but aside from a small minority of players with enough personal charisma to remain viable in media, many face financial trouble as well as suffering physically. A 2008 Sports illustrated article chronicles that 78% of NFL players suffer bankruptcy or financial ruin 2 years after retirement. In the past several years we have seen this played out with players who can’t pay medical bills and most tragically among those who injuries lead to self inflicted death. Before former Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster died at an early age, he donated his brain to science, to study the effects our worship of American sport had on him through multiple head injuries accumulated while playing. Recently Junior Seau a hall a fame player, shot himself in the chest, as he was suffering the long range effects of this violent sport we Americans can’t get enough of. History is repeating itself with these players, long ago forgotten and cast aside for the next money generating initiator into the temple of our idol worship. It seems to me Christians who respect life, as made in the image of God, should be troubled by these reports, troubled by our indifference to them, and troubled by our seeking to justify further involvement.
In I John 2:15, we read, “love not the world not the things of the world”. The word for world in the Greek is kosmos and its meaning is “orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration”. Simply put the world is that dressed up system apart from God that appeals to our lusts (flesh, eyes, pride of life). It appeals to our lust, by dressing up its seedy, destructive, deceptive and satanically ugly appearance. Interestingly the NFL, as well as all other major sports has media and P.R people to pretty up the dark side. It is quite sad to me that countless “Christians” will cry foul at the writer, while they lack discernment or flat out desire to justify their lust and participation in that which lends to the destruction of the image of God. The time has come for us to recognize this encroachment into our practice of faith. We must see the ridiculous reach sports and in particular football has had in the lives of those who are to love God with all heart soul mind and strength. Think of the worship schedule of this religious sports giant. We have football on Sunday, Monday, Thursday (NFL some college) Friday (high school), and Saturday (college). The days where there aren’t any games we talk on it, read on it, watch on it and think on it. Many American Christians lament not being able to focus on the Word of God or being bored in fellowship, could it be they are worshipping at the altar of American sport? Could it be that is has subtly changed the way we minister the Gospel? Absolutely and emphatically yes!
We use players (as well as other entertainers) to sell Jesus because that “is what people are interested in”. In fact Christian players write books and have TV shows and we walk around triumphant saying, “We Christians got one in”. We love Christian athletes to speak to our youngsters about their faith, and how they can make it if they just trust Jesus. We have Super Bowl out reaches to gather in the faithful and show them we are just like them, only forgiven. “Just like them”, is often the case, for our fanaticism indicates very little supernatural change away from the former lust that are corrupting and controlling. What we should be doing is sighting the powerful case of Billy Sunday. Billy was a Holy Spirit filled preacher of Christ in the late 1800’s to early 1920’s. This man of God was one of the top baseball players in the late 1800’s. This Cincinnati Red’s player heard the gospel one day outside of a YMCA and received the work of Jesus for the salvation of His soul. A short time later he turned down $5000 dollars to continue playing in order to set up chairs for meetings at the YMCA. For good measure he turned down almost $25,000 shortly thereafter to play for the Pirates. He understood that there was no compatibility with the game that he used to play and the life he was redeemed to live for Christ. The money may seem small by today’s standards but back then it was similar to the tens of millions players make today. Recently a young man who played for the San Francisco 49’s, named Glenn Coffee, left football to pursue ministry finding what Billy Sunday had found. We may see these as neat stories but sadly they are anomaly in America, where Christian athletes are now marketed for the benefit of the 9 billion dollar pot, and further fleecing of the faithful.
Consider Tim Tebow, a young man with missionary parents who has been fairly outspoken on his Christian faith. His jersey was a top seller even before he was a starting player. This brought much wealth, notoriety and good P.R to the league, but when is your outspokenness on your faith possibly denied by your career? Tim happens to be spokesmen for Jockey underwear as he has a million dollar endorsement deal. This endorsement did not arise because of his faith, but his physicality. In one add he appears in a pair of underwear only. The photo shot in black and white displays a well-muscled frame, which it quite sensual and revealing. I don’t question Tim’s status of belief, but when do we learn we are not to, “Eat meat, not drink wine, not do anything to cause our brother to be weak, offended or to stumble (Romans 14:21). Is it possible that Tim Tebow’s add could cause a sister in Christ who follows him to lust, a young brother in Jesus to lust to have a body like his? What about the sheer controversy he carries. I have seen many a Christian arise to defend his play very contentiously as if Jesus Himself is being attacked, when He is actually not. Once more this is not to pick on a very sincere young man, but sincerity by itself does not justify our actions. Think on this scenario… Tim Tebow… running down the field… On His eye black John 3:16… He is making a break for the end zone and as is the case there is a safety right in front of him… Because of his bruising style he will not give way, but will attempt to run over the safety… as the two collide, the safety crumbles… Tebow runs for the end zone and upon crossing the goal line falls to one knee and reaches to heaven… The crowd goes crazy… Christians nation over rejoice!!! But wait one minute, the safety is still down. The replay shows when they collided the safety’s head, met with Tebow’s knee… he is paralyzed for life. Interestingly the case could be made that our hero just thanked God for paralyzing a man, which is part of his profession.
None of this is in an attempt to besmirch this young man, but it is to illustrate how far we have fallen from our holy calling, having been overrun (no pun intended) by the culture. A few years back, a young and patriotic soldier showed us what we have forgotten in the church. Pat Tilman was a remarkable athlete and football player. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals becoming one of the best safeties in the game. When war broke out after September 11, 2001, Tilman left behind $5,000,000 in salary to become a soldier. Many have said if he stayed he could have raised awareness about the mission our nation was on. He could have advocated for wounded warriors, yet his actions display something we have forgotten in the church. When there is danger, men must put away their childish dreams and desires and be men. This man left behind football to grow up and fight for what he loved. Billy Sunday understood this but he left it behind his sport for the eternal battle, to war for the lost. He left it behind for the Glory of the Savior he loved and in process took square aim at what he once loved (baseball). When will we in the church wake up and see that the enemy has used our own lusts to pervert our own sense of calling.
I could have used any number of illustrations from culture to illustrate this truth but football is the best example illustrating the world’s invasion into God’s kingdom. Here is the challenge: are you worshiping at the altar of culture? Many will say I do not, I want revival, but I also will have my NFL… We can’t have both. I would encourage you to consider how much time you spent watching, reading, listening to or thinking about sports in the last year. Has it been more in duration than how much you have shared the gospel outside of the church, prayed or fellow-shipped meaningfully around the Word of God. Remember we live in the midst of a world system that has idols abounding all created by the devil to distract us from our calling. Do you need to come out and be separate? I would also encourage the man of God to consider how much we have been dressing up and adorning the message of Christ with cultural sheen. Let us remember before it is too late that the Gospel of Christ is the power (supernatural) of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. To dress Jesus up with superstars or super personalities is to confuse the lost who want to know what makes our Jesus unique. To dress Jesus up with culture will never diminish the glory of His person, but is does reveal our lack of faith in the power of the message. The time has come for us to own up to our compromise and walk according to His instruction… “Come out and be separate and touch no unclean thing”. Here Jesus speaking to us all… “Love Me, not what the world dresses up”.