Monday, May 18, 2009

When Ball Becomes Baal
By Jim Elliff

It's rare to see kids playing sports in the neighborhood anymore. We're now organized and "professionalized"—including uniforms, state-of-the-art facilities, endless trips to the field, competitive coaches, equally competitive parents, and the after-season tournaments designed to give parents "bleacher bottom." In addition, you've got to pay to play—and when you've paid that much, you'll be sure to play.

It is also fun, and it can be instructive. I love to watch my kids play sports. In fact, they need to play—some. But, it's not so easy as handing over seventy bucks and saying, "Sign up Johnny and Susie this year." Making that decision means that you may be out four to five times each week during the season. Soon sports becomes all about calendarization and control of your life—especially if you have more than one kid. Perhaps nothing outside of a change in your job has so much potential to turn the family schedule upside down.

"This man understands," you say.

Now comes the part you won't like: "Behold, I say unto you, you have made sports the household god." Too strong? OK, not all of you. But the deification of sports is happening to many.

How does ball become Baal? Answer: When it controls you, and you give it devoted worship. It is around your god that you order your life—and you can almost never say "no" to it.

Like "athlete's foot" on the hygienically-challenged teenager, sports has taken over more and more of the life of believers. Almost overnight we have awakened to the sad fact that, in many communities, sports has even usurped the hours believers meet on the Lord's Day. All too often members are saying to church leaders, "We'll be gone next Sunday because of the soccer tournament." In turn, leaders are supposed to acquiesce humbly. After all, we can't afford to appear "legalistic;" everyone knows that the greatest crime a church can commit is to demand something of someone.

You'll hear, "But the team needs all the players. We can't let the team down." It never occurs to them that the church Body is being deprived of a necessary body part, or that God is marginalized and disobeyed. We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, states God in Hebrews 10:25.

Devotion is the operative word. When the team says, "We need you," we sacrifice to do it. But when it crosses the time allotted to spiritual edification and worship, the Ruler of the universe is often sent to the bench. In the process, we teach our children that devotion to sports is more important than both devotion to God and loyalty to our spiritual family. Have you considered that you may be teaching your kids to worship sports?

Here are some ways to put sports in the proper place:

First, decide beforehand that there will be no contest between the church's essential activities designed for your family's spiritual growth and what the team plans for your lives. If you will talk this over ahead of time with your child and then the coach, there will be no confusion. Through the years I've found that many coaches respect that decision. But, it must be a prior decision, not one made on a case by case basis. When sports conflicts with Sunday worship or youth camp or a special spiritual activity, the decision has already been made.

Secondly, determine that your children cannot play every sport. There is a sanctity to the home life that must be protected. You need quiet evenings at home. You need meals together. Just let your children know that you are excited about sports, but there are limits. You then determine what those limits are. For us, we attempt to have only one sport per year for each child.

Finally, think about some creative choices. One of my sons played basketball, but the season was interminably long. I was also traveling. So, I would be gone speaking over the weekend, then, when I was home, I was out two or more nights sitting on the sidelines watching my son practice. It was not really "time together." This wasn't going to work.

The solution came to me after prayer. I asked him if he would be willing to learn golf in the place of basketball. We could play together, along with his brother, and we could do it whenever we wanted. We could enjoy this for the rest of our lives. I've paid some extra money, but I've bought back some time with my sons and some good exercise for me also. It's a bargain.

God Himself uses sports language in the New Testament. He's not against it, unless it steals the devotion belonging to Him. All other gods have to go!

Copyright © 2004 Jim ElliffPermission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in exact form including copyright. Other uses require written permission. Write for additional

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ACTS 1:8

Leading a church is challenging! The task of guiding a volunteer-intensive organization is daunting. Success almost seems to be a moving target in ministry... What is the measure? Nickles and noses? Buildings, bodies, and budgets? Should we focus on numeric growth, or depth, or the scope of our reach as a standard metric? Is it better just because it is bigger...or busier? Should or emphasis be on reaching those "outside" the church or do we concentrate on building up those already "on board"?

All of these thoughts swirled around our leadership team as we sat down to pray through how to best move forward. How do you mobilize a 170-year-old church to be on Mission? Well, there is no hard and fast formula, but here's what God impressed upon us to do.

1) First, we revisited the mission of the church! The short answer... Love God, Love People!

We studied the New Testament and determined that the church's emphasis should be upon worshiping God, making disciples, and becoming a redemptive community! The early church enjoyed worship, fellowship, prayer, and the Word as vital dynamics. Out of their relationship with God and with one another, they became a force in their world!

In fact, the New Testament has a lot more to say about the kind of community the church ought to be before the world than it has to say about its mission to the world. However, Jesus made it abundantly plain that the reason he wanted his people to develop true community was "so that the world may believe" (John 17:21).

This is his ultimate goal. There is no doubt that it is when the church most clearly lives out the gospel in the relationship of its members, it becomes the most powerful force for attracting non-members. It was so in the early church in Jerusalem.

Take, for example, the following passages in Acts:

" They all joined together constantly in prayer..." (1:14).

" ...they were all together in one place" (2:1).

" Every day they continued to meet together...They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people" (2:46, 47).

" ...they raised their voices together in prayer to God" (4:24).

"All the believers were one in heart and mind" (4:32).

" And all the believers used to meet together..." (5:12).

It is no wonder that "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

2) We looked to see where life change was happening. Every year for the past several years, a limited number of people were engaged in short-term missions overseas. In particular, a medical mission team to Honduras had become a major emphasis for our missions efforts. This team came back telling stories of salvation and ministry. They were so excited, yet no one around them had context to absorb these stories, so excitement slowly waned.

3) We challenged EVERYONE in the church to get involved in local missions. We knew that the more people were engaged in serving, the more they would experience the same things our First Baptist Church Olive Branch began embracing Acts 1:8 with a 3 year ramp up! Here's what that looks liked:

HERE -2009, FBCOB will emphasis 100% local missions participation by the membership. Doctors reaching doctors, coaches reaching coaches, teachers, housewives, students all reaching their peers. We don't ignore National and International missions...but we emphasize opportunities here! Resources (people & dollars) are allocated right HERE in Olive Branch and DeSoto County.

THERE - 2010, FBCOB will emphasize 100% missions participation with 50% of our congregation serving somewhere outside our local area. Through strategic ministry partnerships with church planters in North America, we will reach out, beyond our own "Jerusalem".

EVERYWHERE - 2011, FBCOB will emphasize 100% missions participation with 25% of our congregation serving overseas! WOW, What A Goal!!! That's roughly 400 people serving internationally in 2011!