This past week, I traveled through Europe on a Reformation tour with Ligonier ministries on the Rhine River. Through the tour, we visited several different key locations from church history – all centered on the Reformation. As we departed from each city, it was apparent that there remains a need for the Reformation to continue in our present day. Likewise there was the constant reminder of what religion without hope looks like in places and contexts far from home.
In the city of Cologne, Germany stands a massive cathedral that transcends over 500 feet upward above the city. Visitors come from all around the world to this historic landmark owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Church. The architecture is overwhelming and as you enter the lofty cathedral, it’s apparent that many people are on a mission to see the celebrated treasure in the heart of the cathedral.
As you walk forward, you can’t help but notice the large golden chest positioned in the front and center of the cathedral. After navigating through the crowd, you can finally move forward enough to get a glimpse of the box more closely. According to the Roman Catholic Church, the golden chest contains the bones of the “three wise men” who came to visit Jesus. They officially call it The Shrine of the Three Kings. Apparently, they were brought back years ago and laid to rest in the cathedral. Songs and skits have been written about these mysterious men. They are often put on display in nativity scenes. These men bring to mind specific images of three men riding on the backs of camels to find baby Jesus as they were led by the star. Who knew they were buried in Cologne?
My first assessment was that this is nothing more than a good campus fundraiser. It draws crowds on average of 20,000 people per day. And upon second thought, it’s much worse. People are traveling to Cologne to see a golden box that contains the bones of three men who are said to be the magi who visited the Christ child. Although the cathedral contains many relics and images of Mary, the cathedral has no gospel. It’s a beautiful building that points high into the European sky, but the hope of the gospel is lost inside this massive structure. There is a golden box with dead men inside, but no Christ. Cologne stands in need of the gospel of Jesus.
As I stood in the midst of this majestic cathedral, I watched people make their journey into the building. They dropped their money into the box and lit a candle as they worshipped. I looked onward to see what they were looking to, but the only visible thing that I could see were relics, images, carvings, and statues of saints – especially exalting Mary. At the forefront was the centerpiece of this cathedral – the golden box. John Owen once said:
Trying to be holy from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world. 
The gospel is good news because it presents hope to the hopeless. Far above shallow satisfaction provided by relics and golden boxes, the gospel of Christ actually saves sinners. While I don’t believe for a minute that the bones in the golden box are the actual wise men who visited Jesus (not to mention that far more than three men came to visit Jesus), but let’s suppose for a minute that the whole thing is valid. Now what? Does it change the scenario at all? Can a transcendent and historic cathedral with a golden box give hope to guilty sinners? The clear answer is – no.
We need a religion that provides true hope. We need something more than dead men in a box. That’s why we preach Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. By extreme contrast, we can travel across the map to a different part of the world where we find an empty tomb with no bones. The very tomb of Christ contains no body. Jesus was raised from the dead after being put to death for guilty sinners. Therein is hope. In this message we find true contentment and genuine satisfaction. Paul said to the church at Corinth these words:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Examine your religion and make sure that you’re not building your eternal hope on a faulty foundation. Cling to Jesus Christ alone and find true hope and satisfaction. Make no mistake on such eternal matters, we need a religion that actually saves. We need a religion of hope. J.C. Ryle writes, “Our hearts are weak. Our sins are many. We need a Redeemer who is able to save completely, and set us free from the wrath to come. We have such a Redeemer in Jesus Christ. He is ‘Mighty God’ (Isaiah 9:6).” 
Do you have true hope today?
- John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, (Scotland: Christian Focus, 1996), 23.
- J. C. Ryle, Mark, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 2.
My son has desired to play baseball for the last two seasons, so back in the summer, I visited the local park and signed him up. After trying to figure out how we would balance out his church soccer league and his baseball schedule, I was suddenly confronted with the overwhelming reality of sports for a family of four children. My oldest daughter is playing soccer, my oldest son is playing soccer and baseball, my youngest daughter is in dance, and my youngest son Judson (almost two) is enjoying college football season with his dad. This is a busy sports season for our family.
I grew up playing sports and I have a lot of great memories from the baseball field, track, and karate tournaments while I was in college. Beyond college, I continued to progress in running and started marathon running which has been an off and on (when time permits) part of my adult life. If you know me well, you can testify that I’m very competitive. I don’t enjoy losing at anything (even board games). That competitive nature comes out even as I coach my children. I want them to be the best they can be at whatever they choose to play. In fact, I was elated and overjoyed as my son hit two home runs in his baseball game on Tuesday night. I was the dad screaming and trying to film it on my phone at the same time.
Spending time with our children in organized sports can be a great learning adventure and a wonderful way to build memories that will last a lifetime. However, if we aren’t careful, it could be on the field that you meet the god of sports. The god of sports is a false god that consumes families and disciples children in the worship of competition. It’s the god that demands practice as an offering and winning as the primary goal. The god of sports promises you joy and fulfillment through success, but in the end, it’s just another lifeless false god (Psalm 135:15-18). This false god is alive and well in America and many families worship at this alter every weekend.
Today, all across America, there is a staggering number of children being sacrificed at the alter of organized sports. For some, it was just a natural thing. They grew up at the ball field and after having children, they signed up their children and got them involved in the sport they once played. For others, they see just a glimmer of talent and taste just enough success to push their child to the “next level” in their sport of choice. Before long, they progress to a traveling team where every weekend is consumed with games and tournaments. Eventually, the coach encourages them to play in two consecutive seasons which spans the majority of the year. Almost without blinking an eye, their entire family life now revolves around their child’s sport. It has become their god.
Below are some necessary check points to help you evaluate your heart in relation to organized sports:
- What are my goals regarding my child’s participation in his or her selected sport?
- Do I love the sport more than my child loves the sport?
- Am I fulfilling unachieved childhood goals and “playing the game” through my child?
- Does the thought of taking a season off and spending time together as a family on Saturday cause stress and anxiety?
- Do I enter each season with my eye on scholarship plans for my child in the future?
- Do I have an obsession with thinking of my child’s future success in the sport?
- Will my commitment to sports have a negative affect upon my commitment to God and my local church?
- Do my children see me more committed to sports than God?
- Do I honor God with my family’s involvement in organized sports?
- Do I use my involvement in organized sports as an outreach opportunity to share the gospel?
- Has my child’s sport become a god to me and our family?
- Do I get more joy from sports than I do from God?
As we engage in sports and allow our children to play organized sports, we should evaluate our motives and examine our heart along the way in order to avoid disaster. Sports should not control our family nor should they be a burden on the shoulders of children. Life does not revolve around sports – at least it shouldn’t. Moderation is a good thing to learn in life – especially when it comes to sports. Too much of anything can take a blessing and transform it into a curse. Charles Spurgeon once said:
False gods patiently endure the existence of other false gods. Dagon can stand with Bel, and Bel with Ashtaroth; how should stone, and wood, and silver, be moved to indignation; but because God is the only living and true God, Dagon must fall before His ark; Bel must be broken, and Ashtaroth must be consumed with fire. 
As a Christian, whatever we do, we must do it for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We must work hard, practice, and develop our skills so that we can bring honor to God. However, as a Christian, we must likewise guard our hearts and our families from the god of organized sports. How can we possibly play sports for the glory of God when it literally consumes our family life and crowds out God? When our children grow up and leave our homes, we would much rather them have good memories from sports, but their best memories related to time spent with our family, time in family worship, and time spent with our church.
Does your family revolve around Christ or a specific sport? Does your family worship at the alter of athletics? Sports are a gift from God, but we must be careful not to worship the gift rather than the giver. Philip Ryken writes, “To identify your own idols, ask questions like these: What things take the place of God in my life? Where do I find my significance and my confidence? What things make me really angry? Anger usually erupts when an idol gets knocked off the shelf.” 
Exodus 20:3 – You shall have no other gods before me.
- “A Jealous God,” Sermon 502, March 29, 1863.
- Courage to Stand, Crossway, 1998, p. 90.
The human soul, by nature, has a desire to worship. However, due to sin, that worship is directed toward idols. A person may begin by worshiping self, money, power, or anything that satisfies the flesh. After the point of conversion, the direction of worship is changed from idols toward the true and living God. However, being crafty and scheming, the Devil will often twist people into perverted worship that does not bring glory to God. It has happened all throughout history. The nation of Israel battled with that problem as they worshiped false idols. They even battled with it as a nation in Malachi’s day as they brought perverted sacrifices to God. They were more interested in taking care of their own desires than they were in bringing God their best lambs for sacrifice.
In the church today, we have people who are well meaning, but they are misguided into a perverted type of worship as well. Many people worship music rather than God on Sunday mornings. Some people worship their own “style” of worship. They are most interested in having their type of music, drama, or even their own most preferred translation of Scripture – to the point they are actually “worshiping worship” as opposed to God Himself. In some cases, on the average Sunday morning, people are gathered in churches worshiping false gods that they have actually elevated to the place and position of God. Can a person elevate the Bible to the point of idolatry? Can a person elevate the song “Amazing Grace” to the point of idolatry? Can a person elevate prayer to the point of idolatry? The sobering answer to such questions is – yes! Therefore, we must guard our lives, our worship, and our motives in worship to the point that all of our affection, love, and joy is directed toward our God. If we worship the Bible, music, the choir, the preacher, drama, or any other aspect of our worship services – we have committed idolatry and we should repent immediately.
Thanks be to God for what He accomplished through His Son on the cross of Calvary. To Him be all praise, honor, and glory!
Galatians 6:14 – But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Exodus 20:4 – Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth:
Pastor Josh Buice