Fall is quickly approaching, but prior to the changing of the leaves on the trees will come Friday night lights. If the Christian life is the pursuit of God— countless families are on a relentless pursuit of football. Obsession is an understatement. Fanaticism is normal. The sport of American football is perhaps America’s leading false god. Some 36.2 million children in America play organized sports. Out of that number, approximately 1.2 million boys play organized football in America. The game is played by young children in recreational leagues, middle and high school, college, and if you’re good enough—you can suit up and play on the Lord’s Day.
In case you’re wondering, I have no axe to grind when it comes to the game of football. I enjoy the game itself and I’m coaching my son’s flag football team this season. I was recently asked about this very issue in a pastoral questions and answers session, so I thought an article would enable a more full response. I am concerned with how passionate people can become over a game—far more so than they are about the gospel and their service for the Lord. When 7 of the 10 Commandments are frequently broken on an average NFL game—we should take note. Consider the way football changes the lives of so many people throughout America—even those within the church who profess to be children of God.
Football Determines Schedules
In many towns throughout history, athletic leagues looked to the calendar of the churches in town prior to organizing their events so that they would not overlap plans and regular worship schedules of the local church. Today, local churches are looking to the athletic leagues as they plan their yearly schedule to avoid overlap with the local football or baseball teams. In today’s culture—stadiums are overflowing while churches are empty. Many families have replaced the worship of God with the worship of football. In many ways, athletics as a whole has become an idol. Football has emerged as perhaps the largest false god among the group.
Not only the schedule of the local church, but football drives the schedule of the family who has children who participate in the game of football. Consider how many things are shuffled around to cater to the football schedule. In many cases, families are brought to a crossroads decision—will “little Johnny” go to church on Wednesday with the rest of our family or will he go to football practice or a game at the local school? Will “little Susie” attend the church’s gathering or the football game as a cheerleader? These are real decisions that are being determined on a regular basis by professing Christians. Such decisions are vital and will have a lasting impact on the spiritual lives of children and families.
Football is the Highlight of Sunday
After a long week of football practices, games, and maybe one church service on Sunday morning—the average evangelical family makes their way to the lunch table. Typically, the family gathers for the meal with the roar of the first of many NFL games on Sunday as the familiar background to the conversation. Conversation around the table is broken up as the father points out the long touchdown pass to the wide receiver. This may not be true of all evangelical families, but in the American south—this is quite the normal Sunday for Christian families (see David Platt’s vivid description).
Following lunch, the men of the house typically gather in the living room where they binge on every possible NFL game throughout the day. They flip back and forth through various different channels to keep up with the latest scores, the latest standings, and eventually land on ESPN late in the day before the evening games begin. In many cases, the family is too tired from a busy week to attend church, so they agree to rest and enjoy family time which involves more games in the evening. However, they know that Monday is coming—so they agree to get to bed before midnight in order to be rested for a long day of work followed by Monday night football.
When you view a list of the most viewed television shows from history, 19 out of the top 20 are football games. Specifically—the Super Bowl. What day are those games played? Sunday. It also happens to be one of the least attended worship gatherings for churches across the nation.
Football Confuses Priorities in Life
What is the purpose of Sunday? Certainly the Christian and the non-Christian would give different answers to this question, but how is that question lived out in life? Why is the Christian family more consumed with football than Jesus—especially on the Lord’s Day? This is a cutting question that must be addressed individually. One answer will not suffice to cover the entire population of Christian football families needless to say. However, anytime something is out of balance in life—whatever is causing the imbalance will likely confuse the priorities of children who are watching and playing.
I was recently made aware that a local church not far from where I serve organized an entire service around the beginning of football season—complete with a football theme. A football celebrity was invited to speak, the pulpit was draped with his jersey, and the entire service was about overcoming trials and never giving up. The Word of God was replaced with the word of a celebrity. Churches today are frequently inviting players, coaches, and team chaplains to speak in church services. After all—it draws a crowd! This is one more clear mark of a downgrade in evangelicalism.
Christian children need the gospel more than football. No amount of physical discipline on the football field can replace the spiritual discipline of deep rooted gospel discipleship, preaching, and teaching. No amount of physical perseverance in life can replace the need for spiritual perseverance in the gospel.
When fathers spend a large amount of time and large sums of money on football, equipment, tickets to the game, tailgating expenses, and spend very little energy in the body life of the church—such a testimony speaks volumes about the god the father worships. Either God is perceived as boring and irrelevant or the children of the family are left to discern if their father is actually worshipping the god of football rather than the God of holy Scripture.
Israel had to be warned over and over again about bowing to the false god of Baʿal. American Christians in our day must be warned about bowing to the false god of football. Eric Liddell may not have been a football player, but he did run fast. Priorities matter. Character matters. In short—God matters. The gospel is essential. It is my prayer that you will make gospel-focused decisions as you approach the upcoming football season. Charles Spurgeon said the following in a sermon in 1863:
O ye sons of men, think not that God is blind. He can perceive the idols in your hearts; He understands what be the secret things that your souls lust after; He searches your heart, He tries your reins; beware lest He find you sacrificing to strange gods, for His anger will smoke against you, and His jealousy will be stirred. O ye that worship not God, the God of Israel, who give Him not dominion over your whole soul, and live not to His honor, repent ye of your idolatry, seek mercy through the blood of Jesus, and provoke not the Lord to jealousy any more. 
1. Charles Spurgeon, “A Jealous God” — Sermon 502, March 29, 1863.
Can you believe that school is already starting and now the summer of 2017 is another page in the history books? This is the ebb and flow of life, and it moves swiftly. As you begin this new school year, it’s important to remember that this year is gift from God—one that you should not waste. As a Christian on your school’s campus, take time to consider the following points as you kick-off this new school year that should be viewed as an opportunity.
Remember—Light Is Not For Hiding
As a Christian student, you are to shine as a light on your school’s campus. Never forget that a city on a hillside cannot be hidden, nor do people hide lamps beneath baskets in their homes. Light is intended to shine into the darkness and that’s God’s will for your life.
Matthew 5:14-16 — You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Look for open doors to communicate the gospel to your friends during this school year. God did not create you by accident, save you by chance, and place you on your school campus through a random process of evolution. You were created by an all-knowing and sovereign God for a purpose. God saved you for his eternal glory and placed you on your school’s campus during this year of human history for a divine purpose. Don’t hide your light at lunch, in the locker room, or in the science classroom (even math points to God). Look for opportunities to build good friendships with Christian teachers and other Christian students as a means of working together to reach your campus for Christ.
All of those stories you were taught in Sunday school and sermons that you sat under have prepared you for this moment. Your theology of creation will be tested this year. Will you have an answer? As you study biology and physical anatomy, it is very probable that your theology of human sexuality will be called into question. Will you have an answer? You see, it’s vitally important that you never disconnect the whole of your life from the center of Sunday’s sermon. Never lose sight of the fact that your worldview (how you see the world) is very much connected to the sermons and lessons from a typical Sunday and family devotions in your living room.
Theology matters and everything you believe about God, life, marriage, and family will be tested throughout your education process. This year, something you believe about your God and how he saves sinners will be questioned. It’s important for you to have an answer and to be prepared to have unplanned theological conversations in the hallway or over lunch with friends who simply don’t understand.
What If You Never Graduate?
Every school has been marked by tragedy at some point in the school’s history. I can tell you stories of people that I once knew who never made it to graduation day. It may happen to someone at your school this year. It could happen to you. Even the young are capable of dying. So, what if you never make it to your graduation ceremony? How will you be remembered?
Will your friends recall your bold unwavering stance on the gospel? Will your reputation point to Jesus Christ? Guard your reputation and remember that your character matters. Everyone has a legacy to leave behind, and far greater than any statistic in the world of athletics is a faithful Christian testimony.
You only have one life to live—no reset buttons—don’t waste this school year. A wise old preacher named Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said:
A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree the mass of onlookers accept his practice and reject his preaching.
What differentiates one word from another – making one word a profane word while another is considered normative? Why is one “four letter word” different from another one? It’s not always based on the precise definition of a word. Instead, it’s based on how that word has been used in the culture.
Profanity Abuses Vocabulary
Grammar matters. How we employ vocabulary is important in spoken word conversations, social media conversations, and in more formal written forms. The use of profanity often involves ripping a word out of its context and intended usage. For instance, it’s possible to take a word intended to convey a really dark and horrid meaning and use it for something that’s far less worse than its original context. This happens when people use the word hell in the improper manner. When people say, “I had a hell of a time last night at the party” they’re intending to mean that they had a really good time. We can be sure of one thing, hell will not be a fun or delightful place for anyone to find themselves.
To be damned is a really horrible thing. To consider what it means to be damned by God is a bit overwhelming just by looking at the vocabulary words often associated with the judgment of God in Scripture (agony, darkness, fire, smoke, punishment, torment, weeping, gnashing of teeth, pain, and more). To be damned by God is to be cut off and sentenced to the eternal flames of hell where a sovereign God unleashes His holy wrath upon guilty sinners. Therefore, to use the word damn in a slang manner in response to accidentally spilling your glass of water at the supper table is to completely miss the true meaning of the word. This misuse takes something like the damnation of sinners which is so woefully beyond comprehension and raises it up to the level of spilling a glass of water at the supper table.
One additional example would be the way in which people use the name of God in vain through common everyday conversations. This is a common error that occurs when a person takes the name of God and flips it so that it’s used in a negative manner. People do this often with the name of God. When someone is frightened and they exclaim, “O Jesus, that scared the life out of me”— that individual is usually speaking to someone other than Jesus when making that statement. In other words, when one friend makes that statement while speaking to another friend, the name of our Lord (a glorious name that’s above every name – Acts 4:12) is being improperly substituted as a slang term. This same type of thing can show up in the use of text messages where people use OMG to refer to something really bad or really funny, when that certainly isn’t the proper usage of God’s name (Ex. 20:7).
Whatever your opinion is regarding the use of profanity, it’s clear that profane words often distort the proper definition and intended use of a word. It would be wise to make sure we’re using vocabulary properly in order to preserve the true meaning of such words.
Profanity Provides a Cultural Identity
Beyond the abuse of vocabulary is the cultural identity that’s attached to the use of profanity. This is where we move beyond morality to Christianity. The followers of Christ have been called out of darkness and into the marvelous light of God’s grace (1 Pet. 2:9). We should strive to base our lifestyle decisions on Scripture and move beyond the realm of cultural morality. Therefore, when we teach our children to refrain from using swear words (cuss words, profanity), we typically try to teach them why based on Scripture—not just because mom and dad said it.
- Christians should seek to be identified with Christ rather than the world. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
- Christians should not be people who use filthy or foolish language. Notice that Paul places this this warning in the same context where he issues warnings against sexual immorality. Ephesians 5:4 says, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
- Christians should maintain a certain appearance that honors Christ. Titus 2:10 says, “not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” On this subject, see also 1 Thess. 5:21-22.
- Christians should not be rude people. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 reads, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
- Christians are called to build people up with language rather than tearing down with corrupt word choices. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
In our home we have a profanity filter on our television that (most of the time) prevents foul language from entering our living room. It’s not that Kari and I are seeking to be overly protective of our children or sheltering them from the real world. In fact, the propensity to use foul language is certainly in our children from conception, they simply haven’t learned the grammar until they grow and develop their vocabulary.
From time-to-time, my children will tell us that one of their friends used a “bad” word. We as parents try to explain why this is not wise and then point them in the right direction from a biblical context. Our goal is not straight and narrow moralism. Many people go to hell everyday who were morally decent and spoke with a clean tongue. We want so much more for our children than acceptable morality. We want them to grow to love Christ and to reflect the love and glory of Christ – not just with their worship and service, but also with their choice of vocabulary. We want our children to pursue holiness rather than the crudeness of our culture. While we know that the tongue cannot be tamed (Jm. 3:8), it’s our duty as Christians to exemplify a life that honors Christ, and that includes the way we speak. We must remember, our choice of language reveals much about the contents of our heart (Lk. 6:45).
Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This past Monday, I returned home from a lengthy trip to a remote section of the Colorado mountains. I spent 12 days with my father and two other men on an elk hunting trip where we were packed high into the mountains by horseback, dropped off at 11,000 feet of elevation, and left there for the next 8 days to make camp and survive. The entire process was challenging. We hiked 7 miles up the mountain while the horses carried our gear. We had to collect water from a nearby lake on top of the mountain and prepare it for consumption. We had to cut firewood and use it in the wood burning stove to provide heat and for cooking. Although I learned many lessons about life during this trip, I learned one important life-lesson—look up, listen up, and enjoy life for the glory of God.
One of the most challenging aspects of the trip was the fact that our only form of communication was an InReach GPS device. It was capable of sending text messages, but we had no other form of communication. No FaceTime, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Gmail, no Internet, no cell phones, and no politics. We went the entire time without hearing the voices of our wives or children. That, by far, was the most challenging part of this entire trip. Although a true challenge, it was a good digital-detox.
What I noticed during our time together was that we spent time looking at one another in conversation without the constant barrage of interruptions that we have learned to tolerate in our connected culture. When was the last time you considered the amount of time you spend looking down at a device rather than into the eyes of people in your presence? When was the last time you carried on a conversation with people without being a distracted listener due to technology?
As our trip came to an end and we hiked back down the mountain, by the next morning we were within cell coverage once again. Our phones started to ping cell towers and download all of the missed text messages and e-mails from the previous 10 days. As we traveled 30+ hours across the United States back to Atlanta, I couldn’t help but notice the vast number of people on the road who were sitting in the passenger seat scrolling down social media outlets on their smart phones. Many of these people were missing majestic mountain ranges and beautiful scenery (except for the time on I-70 through Kansas – not much to see there). When was the last time you found yourself passing through beautiful mountains, interesting cities, or simply sitting at your family gathering staring at your phone rather than enjoying the world and people around you for the glory of God?
When we consider that the average American adult spends 5.6 hours per day on a technological device (smart phone, tablet, laptop, desktop), it’s apparent that we are living life through the screen. What exactly are we missing? Who are we offending? What people in our lives are we neglecting? Is technology really that important to us? I may have learned about the physicality of elk hunting in extreme primitive conditions on the mountain in Colorado, but it revealed just how connected I am to technology.
It was a difficult challenge to be without cell phone coverage for that length of time, but it caused me to consider how terribly unhealthy it can be to be a normal functioning American citizen with a smart phone. We should all rethink how distracted from reality we are today. What are we missing? What sunsets, birds, flowers, and precious moments are we missing due to technological distractions? Look up, listen up, and enjoy life for the glory of God. There’s a big world out there and you don’t need a smart phone to experience the high definition views. Just look up!
*The picture in the heading was taken on my hike down the trail in Colorado on my final day. No filters, no e-mail distractions, no social media interruptions, no notifications popping up to remind me of an appointment.
This summer, we are reading Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. With certain goals for us as individuals, we all desire to grow in grace and personal holiness. The purpose of this study is to help us make necessary adjustments in our spiritual lives that will enable us to achieve such goals by incorporating the use of spiritual disciplines.
In the previous chapters, Don Whitney has outlined the specifics of Bible reading, meditation, prayer, worship, evangelism, and service to the Lord. What exactly is taking place when we read the Bible, meditate on Scripture, and pray? Essentially, these disciplines should lead us to godliness and a life that reflects the glory of God. In this chapter today, we look at the subject of silence and solitude. In a world full of noise, we need to be alone with God – sometimes.
Explanation of Silence and Solitude
Don Whitney writes, “The Discipline of silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought” (224). As Whitney points out, the silence is not for mere quietness alone, but for the purpose of reaching goals in Bible reading, prayer, and journaling. Don Whitney goes on to write, “Solitude is the Spiritual Discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes” (224). No matter if the period of solitude is for a few minutes or a few days, the purpose is always centered on a God-glorifying goal as opposed to a fleshly desire to be self-serving.
Valuable Reasons for Silence and Solitude
- To Follow Jesus’ Example
- To Minimize Distractions in Prayer
- To Express Worship to God
- To Express Faith in God
- To Seek the Salvation of the Lord
- To Be Physically and Spiritually Restored
- To Regain a Spiritual Perspective
- To Seek the Will of God
- To Learn Control of the Tongue
Don Whitney writes, “One reason why the dual disciplines of silence and solitude can be so thoroughly transforming is because of how they help connect us with the other Spiritual Disciplines” (236).
Suggestions for Silence and Solitude
Don Whitney writes, “Here are some practical helps for making silence and solitude less a mere longing and more a reality and a habit” (238).
- “Minute Retreats” – Prioritize small segments in a day where silence and solitude can be achieved.
- A Goal of Daily Silence and Solitude
- Getting Away for Solitude and Silence
- Special Places
- Trade Off Daily Responsibilities
In the memoir of the first missionary from America, Adoniram Judson, we find this story:
Once, when worn out with translations, and really needing rest, he went over the hills into the thick jungle, far beyond all human habitation. . . . To this place he brought his Bible, and sat down under the wild jungle trees to read, and mediate, and pray, and at night returned to the “hermitage” [a bamboo house he’d built at the edge of the jungle].
Don Whitney writes, “Why would he [Adoniram Judson] break his routine for this prolonged period of silence and solitude? His biographer says it was ‘as a means of moral improvement by which the whole of his future life might be rendered more in harmony with the perfect example of the Saviour whom he worshipped'” (246).
Catch up in this series:
Questions to Consider:
- Will you seek daily times of silence and solitude?
- Will you seek extended times of silence and solitude?
- Will you start now?
- Will you commit yourself to the Disciplines of silence and solitude?
Next Week: Next week, we will turn to chapter 11 and look at the subject of journaling. Read ahead and think through the content of that chapter, and we will gather here next week to discuss what we’re learning.
Discussion: Post your comments, thoughts, and questions in the comments section. I will engage with you at times, but the purpose is to allow everyone to have a conversation regarding what we are learning and considering through this book. I do hope you will be encouraged.
Years ago a ship by the name of Peter Iredale sailed the western coastline of the United States on a regular basis. It was a large sailboat, with massive sails that transcended high above the deck of the ship. It was used as a shipping vessel. One fall day in 1906, the ship was on a delivery trip with cargo from Salina Cruz, Mexico bound for Portland, Oregon. The Peter Iredale had a crew of 27 on board when captain H. Lawrence spotted the lighthouse in the early hours of the morning. He immediately knew that he was off course. He and the crew tried to make corrections, but it was too late. Peter Iredale shipwrecked off of the coast of Oregon on October 20th 1906.
Today, all that remains of the large ship is part of the bow and some exterior ribs. The shipwreck has served as a reminder for 110 years that mistakes on the sea are costly. Although the ship was in good shape and seemed to have many years of sailing ahead, one mistake ended its life. It never sailed again after experiencing the shipwreck in 1906. According to records, it was sold for scrap. So it is with the Christian life. We need to guard ourselves and be alert. One mistake could cause us to shipwreck in the faith. We need to hear the warning of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:12 – take heed lest you fall. We don’t want our lives to be sold for scrap—perpetual examples of mistakes to avoid.
Yesterday I preached from Mark 14:66-72 and the main focus was centered on another Peter – the dominant leader of the disciples – the man known as Simon Peter. After the arrest of Jesus, Peter followed at a distance and entered the courtyard of the high priest. He found himself warming up by the fire with other bystanders. It didn’t take long before Peter was noticed, and that led to three horrific denials. What appeared to be a wonderful opportunity for a sermon turned into an embarrassing and cowardly rejection of Jesus.
Peter was first noticed by a servant girl of the high priest. One of the most lowly classes of people in that culture, and yet the bold and outspoken Peter quickly dismissed her statement as an error of misjudgment. In short, Peter denied Jesus and according to Mark – the rooster crowed. Not long afterward, another servant girl (according to Matthew and Luke, the next exchange was a different servant girl) likewise recognized Peter as one of the followers of Christ. Once again, Peter denied it. Matthew says he replied, “I do not know what you’re talking about.”
This all builds to the climatic third denial when the bystanders who were addressed by the servant girl likewise spoke up and identified Peter as a Galilean and connected the dots to Peter as a follower of Jesus. Peter was so intense and committed to rejecting Jesus that he pronounced a curse upon himself if he was not telling the truth. He completely rejected any connection to Jesus. According to Mark, “And immediately the rooster crowed a second time.” The prophecy of Jesus had come to pass just as He had predicted. Luke 22:60-62 adds an interesting fact that Mark doesn’t include. Luke 22:61-62 reads, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.”
The piercing eyes of Jesus crushed Peter. The echoes of the rooster were still ringing in his ears as Jesus looked toward him. Peter was brought to a low place of failure. He wept bitterly. The old saying, “Sin will take you farther than you’re willing to go, keep you longer than you’re willing to stay, and cost you more than you’re willing to pay” is something that Peter learned that night. He had boasted in a prideful display of affection that he would never deny Jesus – even to his death. Yet, he found himself publicly and passionately rejecting Jesus when it counted.
If the story had ended there, we would be left to believe that Peter’s life ended like Judas – in a horrific shipwreck. However, according to John 21, we see that Peter was publicly restored by Jesus. After Jesus cooked fish and fed the disciples on the sea shore, He publicly restored Peter. Peter would go on to sail again. This bold disciple who failed miserably would go on to preach the famous sermon at Pentecost where 3,000 came to faith in Christ. He would also go on to write 1 and 2 Peter in the New Testament as he was used to encourage persecuted believers. In the end, Peter would give his life for the sake of Christ and once again when facing the time of testing and trial, Peter refused to reject Jesus. According to tradition, Peter was eventually crucified upside down for his faith in Christ.
The apostle Peter refused to be a Peter Iredale. What about you?
Chapter 17 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is on Perseverance. In paragraph three, the statement reads:
In various ways-the temptations of Satan and of the world, the striving of indwelling sin to get the upper hand, the neglect of the means appointed for their preservation-saints may fall into fearful sins, and may even continue in them for a time. In this way they incur God’s displeasure, grieve His Holy Spirit, do injury to their graces, diminish their comforts, experience hardness of heart and accusations of conscience, hurt and scandalize others, and bring God’s chastisements on themselves. Yet being saints their repentance will be renewed, and through faith they will be preserved in Christ Jesus to the end.