Athletic Achievement, and Christians in Competitive Sports

As we get closer to the London Olympics, the sense of anticipation and excitement is ever growing. My confreres here at the General Chapter (which finishes tomorrow) have been asking me about my forthcoming role as a Chaplain at the Games, a role which already gives me goosebumps when I think about it. 

So imagine my delight when I read the below article this morning. It's one that will be a touchstone for me in my work at the Games and contains ideas that I can relate to myself as a keen cyclist and (very) amateur sportsman.
See here for the complete article.
March Madness, Athletic Achievement, and Christians in Competitive Sports
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Are athletic achievement and fierce competition sheer madness for the Christian?

7 Reflections on Athletic Achievement

1) God could have created us to be just a pair of eyes, beholding his glory and being perfectly content — but he didn't. He gave us bodies.

The body is a staggering gift, and it enables us to be creators, achievers and accomplishers of remarkable things. In Genesis 1:27–28, God gives humanity the mandate to exercise dominion over the creation, to multiply, and to cultivate the land and its resources. The value of reflecting his beauty through our God-imaging abilities to accomplish is further demonstrated in his call to build the tabernacle with precise and ornate detail, in his later call to build the temple, and in his call to Nehemiah to build the wall, among others. God created us to be creators, and thus reflect him. Building, creating, achieving and accomplishing are good.


5) Our enjoyment of God in the midst of athletic achievement is a critical component of his glorification.

So if we run fast and enjoy it, which we should, we should enjoy it the way the first frog did. According to Chesterton, the riddle goes like this: "What did the first frog say?" "Lord, how you made me jump!" Jumping and running are enjoyable because they give us the capacity to participate in the beauty and power of God, and they are always gifts from him. As Eric Liddell memorably said in Chariots of Fire, "God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure." Perhaps this would be the only legitimate reason for it to be more enjoyable for me to make a jump shot, or run fast, than to watch my friend or teammate do it — just as the Apostle Paul gloried more, it seems, in his experiential participation in the lives of new believers in the early churches than in just hearing about it.

6) God is not fully glorified through any activity where he is not a person's final Treasure.

Therefore, sports must be put into their proper realm of value, which is vastly less valuable than God.
Clearly, because of their arbitrary and fabricated nature, the sports themselves are somewhere on the value scale beneath real war (where life and death are the line) and relationships (perhaps especially marriage), which deal with eternal souls. When playing a sport is a person's livelihood, that may change things some, but one of the greatest testimonies that an athlete can give to the glory of Christ is proper perspective.
Making a shot at the buzzer, even if it is for the entertainment of thousands, is still just entertainment, and it's still just a game, made up by some guy (James Naismith, in this case) who had enough time on his hands to not only assume that it would be fun to try to put a ball in a peach basket, but also to write an entire manual of rules. "It's just a game" is always one of the more helpful and God-glorifying responses a Christian player or coach can make in an interview.

7) It may be possible to enjoy achievement as an individual, but as image-bearers of a Trinitarian God, achievement is not completed unless it is given away to, or shared with, another.

Comedians are not primarily made to glory in their own humor, but to enjoy the laughter of others and their personal participation in it. In the realm of sports, especially team sports, this means that the victory and enjoyment of teammates is more valuable than the demonstrated ability of the individual.

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