Professional Sports–Idolatry

I’ll probably be in trouble for this one, but I commend it to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Tim Tebow is the U.S. football star who recently made quite a stir for having John 3:16 in the—what do you call it—the blacking below his eyes.  It was his way of openly declaring to all the world that he is a Christian.  Tebow also bows on the field and openly prays to Jesus for help throughout the game.  He thanks Him when he makes a great play.

Tebow is not the first in a major professional sport with a reputation for being a Christian, but the media have sensationalized him now, drawing worldwide attention to the man who bows on one knee and prays right there on the field.  Tebowing, as it has been dubbed, is the latest fad for thousands, many of whom are not even into sports.

Tebow’s fame recently went viral when he made a “miraculous” pass that won a game that landed his team in some kind of playoffs.  Suddenly the sports world exploded.  Did this man really have Jesus on his side?  Detractors howled against him; for others, expectations were high that his team was destined for victory.

But according to the news they were soundly trounced in the first game.  I didn’t hear if Tebow bowed and thanked the Lord for this as well.

Now, I don’t doubt that Tim Tebow is an upstanding Christian who is walking in the light he has.  He has the reputation for being a clean young Christian man in a day when clean is a dirty word.  That’s very commendable.

But I want to ask a question.  What is the difference between the kind of Christianity in which you can be involved in one of the world’s greatest forms of idolatry and still be a Christian—and the kind of Christianity that totally parts ways with all that?

Here is an account of what happened during the powerful revival that swept Wales in 1905.  It’s from a book called, “The Invasion of Wales by the Spirit” by James A. Stewart.

A sense of the Lord’s Presence was everywhere.  His Presence was felt in the homes, on the streets, in the mines, factories and schools and even in the drinking saloons.  So great was His Presence felt that even the places of amusement and carousal became places of holy awe.  Many were the instances of men entering taverns, ordering drinks and then turning on their heels and leaving them untouched.

Wales up to this time was in the grip of football fever when tens of thousands of working-class men thought and talked only of one thing.  They gambled also on the result of the games.  Now the famous football players themselves got converted and joined the open-air meetings to testify what glorious things the Lord had done for them.  Many of the teams were disbanded as the players got converted and the stadiums were empty….

The gambling and alcohol businesses lost their trade and the theatres closed down from lack of patronage.  Football during this time was forgotten by both players and fans, though nothing was mentioned from the pulpits about the evils of football.  In this country which had a general reputation of being ‘football mad’ the train for taking the crowds to the international trial match was found to be almost empty!  The people had a new life and new interests.

One of football’s sisters in entertainment—the theatre—was also abandoned at that time.

Theatrical companies made sure that they did not come to Wales as they knew that there they would go bankrupt.

What kind of Christianity is this?  Teams shutting down because the players turned to Jesus?  My.  The stadiums empty?  How awesome.  And how strange!  Hence my question.  What is the difference between that kind of Christianity, and our brand?  This.  The revival in Wales brought people so face to face with spiritual reality that these other things simply could not compete.  Professional sports and entertainment became exposed for what they actually are—the idolatrous and empty vanities of this world.  It wasn’t a matter of people being told they shouldn’t be involved in such evils.  Suddenly they were caught up in a current of “love, vast as an ocean, lovingkindness as a flood…”  That’s the first line of the hymn that became what was called the love song of the revival.  People were broken by an awareness of the love of God as revealed in Calvary’s Cross.  They abandoned their former pursuits.  Why go to the games?  Or the theatre?  What is entertainment when you have the love of God now, and the joy of the Lord?

Yet in our kind of Christianity you can apparently take Jesus to the games or the theatre with you.  Apparently He is glad to go along.  Our Jesus apparently hasn’t got what it takes to beat them.  So, you know how it is.  If you can’t beat them you join them.  If you are a movie star who becomes a Christian, now you become a Christian movie star.  If you are a terrific professional football player, now you become a terrific Christian professional football player.  The love of God that compelled Jesus to lay down His life on the altar of Calvary’s Cross is an embarrassment to this kind of Christianity, and entirely out of place.

I don’t think anyone who loves Jesus could knowingly get involved in idolatry.  And I have no doubt in my mind that professional sports is abominable idolatry.  Yet countless Christians are involved in it either as spectators or players.  So it’s a matter of light—seeing that the entertainment industry—I include professional sports in the entertainment industry—has become horrible idolatry.  It is enmity against the holy God, who created man to love and worship and glorify Him alone.

There’s nothing at all wrong with a friendly game of hockey or basketball, or teaching children skills in sports.  But look what has happened to professional sports of every kind.  Surely we see this.  The money involved makes you nauseous.  It’s what God did when he gave Israel the quail in the desert.  They cried for flesh and he gave it to them till it came out their nostrils.  It was a judgment on them.  The same now.  The salaries they get now are decadent, to say nothing of the multiplied billions spent advertising a lifestyle that is brazen enmity against God.  My advice?  Run from it!  It is the judgment of a grieved and angry God.  And I believe we will yet see very severe judgments in the areas of professional sports and entertainment—these idols of Egypt.

Yes, it is idolatry.  When young men and women sacrifice their lives on the idol altars of money and fame, it is idolatry.  Lives that Jesus bled and died for on the altar of Calvary’s Cross go up in smoke on the idol altars—sacrificed to the enjoyment of millions still in darkness.  There they are by the millions—out in the stands watching the games, or in front of the TV.

The incredulous thing is, even the Christians have sold out to this.  It doesn’t seem to enter our minds to consider why it is that these millions in darkness are sitting together in the idol’s temple—the stadium or the arena or the living room in front of the TV—and to ask why it is that we Christians are sitting there beside them—or playing for them.

“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My People.
Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…” (2 Cor.6.16,17).

You mean, like the Lord Jesus Christ, I too am a temple of the living God?  But can you envision Jesus Christ Himself sitting in the stadium cheering for His team… or playing for those in the stands?

16 responses »

  1. Hi Allan,
    Just a note to thank you & Marilyn for your kind hospitality toward me & Susan last week. We appreciated staying in your home and our time of fellowship with the two of you. It was also a pleasure to visit with Naomi & Jennifer Routley.
    There was a real liberty to share and among the topics we discussed was ‘The Glory of the Ministration of Death’ compared to ‘The Glory of ‘Ministration of Righteousness’ (2nd. Corinthians Chapter 3). What a privilege, honour, joy and great responsilbility it is for anybody to be called and chosen to be Ministers of the New Covenant.
    That being said I want to comment on your latest writing ‘PROFESSIONAL SPORTS-IDOLATRY’. As I read your writing I felt that I wanted to comment with perspective on the Tim Tebow phenomenon . I don’t think the issue here is whether or not Tim Tebow the Christian should be involved in Idolatrous sports, and I don’t think the issue here is whether or not Christians should be supporters of Sports. I believe the issue here is that Jesus has gone into the worlds ‘ place of worship and is reaching out to millions through a chosen vessel. Most spiritual Christians today believe that we are living in the last days and that the Beginning of Woes is at the World’s doorstep. Recent prophecies about America include financial collaspse, major earthquake, military attack and invasion, thousands of destructive fires, etc.). Should it then surprise us that the Holy Spirit goes right into their den of idolatry and uses one who is not ashamed of the name of Jesus, one who is walking in the Light that he has, one who has a testimony ‘that is meet’ for this message, to point them to the epicenter of the Gospel that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Jesus said about the words that he speaks that ‘they are spirit and they are life’. Literally millions of people have ‘googled’ John 3:16 because of Tim Tebow’s stand as well as the fact that in a ‘miraculous’ victory he set a record with 316 (3:16)yards passed on ten tries for an average of 31.6 (3:16)yards per pass. The World has definitely taken notice. It doesn’t matter whether we read the words of Jesus in a beautiful black leather bound Bible or whether we ‘google’ them, His words are still spirit and they are still life. His words no matter how or where read them will not return unto Him void.
    I’m sure that in the day of great, indescribable, immeasurable stress that is coming many who have read John 3:16 for the first time because of Tebow will return for a second, deeper look at the scriptures.
    Tim Tebow is a young man and as his fame and fortune begin the ooze out of his nostrils and he gets sickened by it all, if he has a true heart for God he will leave it all and follow on to know the Lord in a much deeper way. I pray that God will keep him and preserve him for his own Glory. Do you remember Eric Liddle of the 1924 summer Olympics and how he honoured God by standing for righteousness and God in return honoured him. Eric Liddle won gold for his country and yet died as a Missionary in occupied China at the end of the 2nd World War. The Power of God kept him from the lusts of this world.
    Jesus was known as a friend of publicans and sinners. He associated with them not because he was the ‘life of the party’ but because He was the Light & Life of the world and He loved them so. He went to where they were and called them out of darkness to walk in His marvelous light.
    As I told you during our visit I very much enjoy your writings and encourage you to continue your good writing from your good heart. . We do look forward to our next scheduled visit at the end of February when I am certain our fellowship will continue to flow.
    God Bless……………….Terry

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    • Hi Terry:

      Thanks for the good word. I was aware of the 3:16 statistics. I agree that God has used Tim Tebow in the midst of, as you put it, “the world’s place of worship.” From what I hear about him, he is a godly young man. Still single– and at 23 (I think it is) still a virgin. And he comes from a godly home. In fact he owes his life to his mother’s Christian commitment to not have an abortion when doctors advised her she should have one. So these other things about him got into the public eye as well.

      I also like what you said… “Tim Tebow is a young man and as his fame and fortune begin the ooze out of his nostrils and he gets sickened by it all, if he has a true heart for God he will leave it all and follow on to know the Lord in a much deeper way.”

      Amen. What a testimony that would be!

      And I hope that would apply to all Christians who are enamoured of professional sports– that they too would recognize this for what it is, and get sickened by it all, and hunger for the deeper walk with Jesus.

      Looking forward to seeing you in February.

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  2. oooh, the inner conflict….I like what the Lord has laid on your heart to share; both Mr. Halton and Terry. I agree with you both…as a mom with children who very much enjoy athletics and competition I have struggled with scheduling boundaries (or lack of) and days of rest with the body of Christ being displaced for gymnasiums and game strategy. I recognize the distraction (from Jesus) sports play in lives and the idol it is to many but also believe there is a time for the saints to gather amidst the playing field of the masses – we are light…I know that there are some I would’ve never rubbed shoulders with outside of sports, I have to believe that God has a greater plan because of the opportunity to spend time with them. Now, is that justification? I’m very good at justifying. I’m not sure but will definitely continue in my prayers, “LORD, break my heart for what breaks yours”….your line above “…broken by an awareness of the love of God…” is surely what will distract from idols.

    p.s. I sure enjoy “A Mending Feast” :0)

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    • Hi Chery:

      Thanks for dropping in!

      …And I do believe that’s where our answer lies– in loving God with all our hearts. This will clearly reveal what the idols are.

      My friend Ron quoted me a great verse the other day on the phone:

      “Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God” (Joshua 23.11). The context is Israel coming into their heritage, and God warning them not to get involved with the idols of the nations. But if they loved Him with all their heart, He said, “one of you shall chase a thousand.” Why so? “For the LORD your God, He it is that fighteth for you, as He hath promised you.” That is, when we are taking heed to love the Lord our God as our one and only God, our own stature is no issue when it comes to enemies far greater than us. One of us shall chase a thousand, for GOD will fight for us!

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  3. “I believe the issue here is that Jesus has gone into the worlds ‘ place of worship and is reaching out to millions through a chosen vessel… Literally millions of people have ‘googled’ John 3:16 because of Tim Tebow’s stand”

    That would be almost equivalent to praising a female for going into the porn industry and because she had John 3:16 written across her naked body, that her acts of adultery and fornication are justified… now millions of porn viewers are looking up a Bible verse… I cannot agree with your reasoning.

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    • Greetings, Carte. Professional Sports– Idolatry is one of the most frequently read posts on this blog. So it appears that many others share your view. Professional sports is indeed one of the world’s greatest idols, and countless people sacrifice their lives to that idol. It is time for Christians to separate themselves, and “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” Reprove them how? By the shining forth of light! It is light that makes darkness manifest for what it is. But, be assured, there will be a price to pay for this.

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  4. Jesus warned against the false principle of “competition” in Matthew 18.

    This is a time of great deception, not just delusion, but STRONG delusion. Without discernment of spirits one will fall for any lie and feel-good fleshly and carnal belief, because men love their sin more than they love God. Jesus said people would draw near to HIM with their lips, but their hearts are far away, being double-minded seeking to serve two masters.

    Deut. 13 is about false prophets having dreams and visions who lead you to other gods. The entertainment industry is built upon filthy dreamers as the servant Jude wrote, it is full of imposter Christians, while turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. Football promotes violence, it is evil, an is for the spiritually drunken heathens. Here is the acid test: (If the world defends it, it cannot be of God).

    that man of sin appears (the son of perdition) “ie” the tares who have taken over the wheat field, those who have the mark of the beast (stigma of sin), willful idolaters trampling underfoot the blood of Christ, yes the very same blood that gives us the power to live godly in this present age, is trampled upon and mocked openly, as they flaunt their sin, following after false prophets speaking “great swelling words of emptiness”.

    Rev. 13- The 2nd beast, the false prophet (fake Christianity), which has two horns like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. It appears to be Christianity on the outside, however they speak the language of Lucifer, calling evil good… of the which causes them to wonder back after the first beast, “pride” (the beast of pride is Leviathan) “ie” HUMANISM; and ye shall be as gods Gen 3.

    grace and truth, Will

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    • Will, I agree generally with what you have said, but I wonder if you are aware that there is something missing in your comment. What do I mean? When the day comes that you find yourself crying the very tears of Christ for those “spiritually drunken heathen,” you will know what that missing something is. Paul wrote of those he called “the enemies of the cross of Christ,” and so were headed for destruction (Phil. 3:18). But… he was weeping as he wrote that.

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  5. Very true Allan, thanks for your reminder, we pray that all come to repentance, this prayer is found in Joel 2-17, my wife and I have many family members lost in these idolatries, it is very painful, but we know God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, thus we being in His image do likewise from the heart. Forgiveness and mercy are the keys to the kingdom, it releases the power of the Spirit to work on their hearts.. I repent if my post came across the wrong way. The forgiveness of Stephan allowed the Spirit to further convict Paul, who was already kicking against the pricks……..peace, Bill.

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    • Thank you, Bill (or is it Will?) for your response. I much appreciate your humility, and receive you. Sometimes it’s hard to assess the spirit in which a comment is written, when one doesn’t know the heart and character of the person commenting.

      How are we going to win those family members of ours (or others out there in the world) from their idolatry to worship the living and true God? Here’s a link to a poem I included on a blog post I wrote about the same time as Professional Sports– Idolatry. The blog post is “Jesus and Idols?” https://amendingfeast.org/2012/01/18/jesus-and-idols/
      Here’s a verse from it:

      What has stripped the seeming beauty
      From the idols of the earth?
      Not the sense of right or duty,
      But the sight of peerless worth.

      The thing is, how are they going to see His beauty, His “peerless worth” if not in you and I? For, it is just as you said: we are made in His image.

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      • Both are short for Willie, mostly I use Bill on the net and in the world, but am called Will, Willie by family.

        Jude 1-22,23 tells us of two methods in by which helping the lost can be attained.
        .
        My grief, is a close family relative has made a god out of the military, all my wife and I can do is be a good example and pray for him to be convicted in the spirit of this idolatry. The God & Country thing is a huge idol in America also, as well as many other nations..

        I will read the poem from the post you linked

        thanks, Bill

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  6. Hi Allan – It looks like you’re ready for another yearly re-visit to this message. This is such an important topic for Christians to think about! I am in agreement with you about the idolatry issue. It also seems like “celebrity culture” has invaded the teaching of the Word, the music of “the church”, and the defining of what Christianity is. It’s also bound up with the “Christian political” atmosphere that tries to define “our faith.”

    Christians even have new language to discuss “our faith.” We use words like ‘faith’, and ‘God’ and ‘community’ instead of Jesus and Christ and repentance (my definition: turning away from the world the flesh and religion and turning toward Christ). Why is “God” on the list? Because to the world it is generic and can mean anything. Our new language about Christianity does not include the COST of turning to Christ as our life either.

    We stay away from talking about the high calling of God – that His holiness and His character are our standard. Heaven is the standard – not the best that earth has to offer. Not the value we put on things, but the value . . . worth . . . significance that He gives His creation and His creatures. But mostly the worth He places on His Son.

    John 3:16 — words from the heart of a God who created mankind to know Him and represent His glory on the earth. Words that are trivialized when they are inserted into – mixed in with – a worldly display of human . . . human . . . sorry, can’t come up with a word that seems right. Human stuff!

    The truth is, when you put a microphone in front of a person, and/or put them in front of a camera or a crowd – it changes something. And when you do it repeatedly, it changes everything. The message no longer resembles anything we see in the Scriptures as to how life in Christ is communicated to believers (for their growth in Christ). Or to non-believers so that they can know something about Jehovah, who desires most of all to be known by His most precious creatures. There is a reason why humility and sacrifice are hallmarks of the Christian life – the crucified life – counting oneself dead to self and alive in Christ. One must go to the persecuted Church to see believers who understand this.

    These days a person doesn’t need a stadium, a stage or a microphone to lose his/her moorings in Christ. A facebook page will do nicely. Or a youtube video — or even a blog. It’s easy to start out well and not even realize that selfish ambition has permeated our message and we are responding to the adulation of our ‘fans.’ It’s no wonder there are so many unhealthy ‘Christian births’ in our culture.

    Have you ever heard the phrase “The medium is the message?” The WAY a message is delivered often speaks louder than the content of the message; and it influences what the take-away is. One example from my life: As a young Christian who had NO exposure to the Bible and didn’t have a clue about the Christian life, I attended Bible school. We read the material (including the Bible), listened to lectures and took a test on the material (including the Bible). My take away was this: the Bible is a textbook. Knowing Christ is about passing the written test.

    What is the take away message from a star athlete with a verse painted on his face? What does it say about the verse I will read as I open my Bible for the first time ever? Our lives need to speak of Christ the way Paul’s, Timothy’s and Stephen’s lives did. The life that creates hunger in another person, and/or convicts them, is the witness that will result in a healthy true spiritual birth . . . the birth of a child that will hunger and thirst for Christ.

    Just for clarification: An unhealthy birth would be someone who knows they have their foot in the door of Heaven, and won’t be going to hell. No need to drink deeply from the well of Life.

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    • Lori, a very thoughtful comment, thank you. You said, “It also seems like ‘celebrity culture’ has invaded the teaching of the Word, the music of ‘the church,’ and the defining of what Christianity is.” That is very true. How deeply we need to see the reality of the body of Christ in which every member from the least to the greatest is functioning vitally, and Christ alone is glorified.

      You also said, “These days a person doesn’t need a stadium, a stage or a microphone to lose his/her moorings in Christ.” I say, “Selah,” to that. I have been reading the Gospels paying attention to the humility of Christ. It is astonishing how lowly of heart and mind He was. Fame had no attraction to Him. He recognized it as a temptation from the Devil, who lost everything because of his pursuit of fame. Every on of us needs to lay that to heart, and seek to abide in the yoke of Him who was “meek and lowly of heart.”

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      • Yes, Allan “meek and lowly of heart” and sweet. He was so sweet and caring. I’ve been going through Luke. He included so many details in his gospel that are not in the others; stories about how personal and sympathetic Jesus was. How He reached out and touched people, how he spoke directly to them. The Son of Man – with such a heart for the troubles and misery of mankind.

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