All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27 NLT)
During this month when millions of Americans will watch the most hyped contest in sports – the Super Bowl, and the most televised contests in the word – The Winter Olympics, I thought I’d reflect on one of the many parallels between sports and faith. The comparison between athletics and Christianity has been going on since the time of Jesus and His earliest followers. The most prolific writer of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, was also the most prolific ‘sports writer’ in the Bible, alluding to the similarities between athletic competition and active faith.
There’s no greater microscope of scrutiny than that on sports and faith. The truism in athletics that “Sports does not build character, sports reveal character,” also rings true in our Christian walk. The premise is that one’s behavior and character shines brightly when the lights are brightest - in other words, when we have the attention of others. In sports, character is revealed in both victory and defeat. Poor winners trash talking and taunting their opponents is as prevalent as poor losers, who throw tantrums, blame refs, teammates, coaches, and anyone or anything besides themselves and/or who refuse to acknowledge the talent and preparation of their opponent. In faith, where the stakes are much higher, those who claim to be Christians reveal their character by the way they treat others.
Long before I began researching and writing Sunday sermons and Christian blogs, I researched and wrote for the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a Christian, even back then, one of the discoveries that saddened me, was the negative perception of Christians by many in the restaurant business. Often, local eateries are flooded after church with members leaving insultingly low tips, and worse, insulting servers without even once considering (and almost never inquiring) what that individual might be going through; a divorce, a sick child, financial struggles, dying parent, etc. I have watched Christians with obviously ample access to food & drink, criticize those begging for food, and chastising others for drinking a glass of wine. I have watched cars with those little fish symbols and Bible verses referenced on their license plates weave in and out of traffic, fly past me, cut folks off, and lay on their horn when traffic flow doesn’t suit them. (Perhaps that’s why I removed mine.)
One thing we need to keep in mind, is, like the athlete who competes before the crowd seeking victory, we Christians compete with our adversary for souls. Poor communication in athletics may cost a team the win, but poor communication in our Christian witness may cost someone joy in Christ, and will undoubtedly cost us valuable rewards God has stored for us in Heaven and blessings He has for us on Earth.
Like the great athlete who disciplines his or her body, we Christians need to discipline our tongues, our temper, our actions and our attitude lest our Christian walk reveal exactly who we are and not Who we are called to represent.
(Bloggers postscript – A big praise to our Lord for everyone who ‘disciplined’ themselves by joining us in 21 days of prayer and fasting. Let’s open our hearts again as we prepare for Easter. Our season of Lent begins on February 14 and I’m encouraging everyone to ‘Sacrifice a Vice’ i.e. give up something that stands in the way of giving your all to Jesus Christ. Whether it’s Facebook, fried food or something else you ‘can’t do without,’’…just do without it, and give that time and desire to prayer and celebration of the One who gave His all. God bless)