Last fall when we were preaching as a ministerial staff through the book of Philippians, one of the books that I read for background and to get a better understanding of the text itself was Matt Chandler’s To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain (David C. Cook – 2013). In the fifth chapter of this book called “The Passionate Pursuit” based on Philippians 3:7 – “But whatever gain, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” – Matt made a confession.
I can’t follow sports too closely. Isn’t that crazy? I can’t follow sports too closely, because I will start to care. And, really, how dumb is it to be emotionally affected by how a twenty-one-year-old handles a ball? How dumb is it to have your day ruined because a group of twentysomethings fails you in a game. (101)
I thought about this when I caught the kerfuffle on Sports Center that happened in last Saturday’s basketball game between Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. A frustrated player from OSU went flying into the crowd and wound up at the feet of some passionate Tech fans who said something pretty ugly that set him off. There was some pushing and shouting, some finger pointing and exaggerated faces, a technical foul and some general mayhem for a few minutes, and then when it was all over everybody was left looking pretty foolish – some grownups who are old enough to be the player’s parents who had no business saying what they said, and a kid who lost control of himself in the passion of the moment. That kid has been suspended from the team for the next three games, and those fans have said that they have self-imposed the punishment on themselves of not attending any more games for the rest of this season in penance for their actions. Everybody says that everyone involved in this incident are otherwise good and decent people, and I have no reason to doubt it. But it does make Matt’s point pretty powerfully. As Christians, whatever has the power to stir our affections has the power to pull us away from our primary commitments and make us behave in ways that run completely contrary to our character and conscience.
And then on Sunday evening, when I got home from church and opened the morning paper I found the essay “Homily for Home Team: Religion Losing Ground to Sports” by Chris Beneke and Arthur Remillard in the “Points” section. You can find the whole essay online at http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/sunday-commentary/20140207-is-religion-losing-ground-to-sports.ece, but here are some excerpts that give you the gist –
“Some people go to Jerusalem. I go to Pittsburgh.” So remarked Brent Osbourne in 2012 after his homemade Pittsburgh Steelers banner made him a winner of the NFL’s “Fan Flag Challenge.” …Osbourne’s devotion is hardly unique. American sports fans have forged imperishable bonds with the people, places and moments that define their teams. You might even call this attachment religious. But that would be unfair — to sports.
While teams and fans are building powerful, cohesive communities… churches are losing followers. According to a 2012 survey by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University, 20 percent of Americans “claimed they had no religious preference,” compared with an unaffiliated population of 8 percent in 1990. Roughly 2 out of 3 Americans, a 2012 Pew report noted, are under the impression that religion is losing influence in the country. Sports are on the opposite trajectory. Fifty years ago, just 3 in 10 Americans considered themselves sports fans. By 2012, that proportion exceeded 6 in 10. …In short, sports are succeeding by the measures that have traditionally defined success for religious institutions: regularly immersing people in a transcendent experience and keeping them ardently committed over the long term. …As faith attachments weaken, sports fill a psychological and cultural vacuum. …when it comes to the passionate attachments that sustain interest and devotion, it’s time to acknowledge that sports have gained the edge. And they show no sign of relinquishing the lead.
After a long and productive career in India as a missionary Bishop, Lesslie Newbigin came home to Great Britain and discovered that while he had been away that Christianity had gotten disestablished in his native land. He spent the rest of his life working on the question of how to re-evangelize a once vital Christian culture, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that this is rapidly becoming our primary assignment as well. As the disestablishment of Christianity in our culture continues its relentless march, we who still love Christ and His church are going to have to start thinking seriously about what re-evangelism is going to look and sound like in our setting. And while I’m not sure what that means for us yet – we are just beginning to struggle with it as a ministerial team and among our spiritual leaders as a congregation – I at least know this much – it starts with our own personal and passionate commitments to Jesus Christ. I close with some more of what Matt Chandler wrote about Philippians 3:7 –
If you pay attention to that which stirs your affections for Jesus and His Gospel, you will also be able to identify that which robs your affections for Him. For most of us… it’s not the so-called “big things” that get us anymore. …No, in fact, the morally neutral temptations are far more apt to rob me of my affections for Jesus Christ… I can easily justify indulging in things that are non-sins because they are little things, or what the Song of Solomon call the “little foxes” that get into the vineyard of my worship of God …things that rob my affections… and dampen my fervor for Christ. (100)
So, what are they for you? DBS+