I was once known as a bad-ass football player; people knew me as being the big football player from Lakeville High School. After six months of playing as a redshirt freshman on Northern Illinois University’s football team, I dropped out and came home. I wasn’t mature, my priorities were completely flawed, and I lived my life where wickedness and foolishness converge.
When I dropped out and came back to Lakeville, my coaches from NIU called my old high school coaches to let them know that I was toxic goods, a failure, and had totally screwed up my life because of partying. I was so saddened by my failures, every night I had nightmares filled with despair, anger, and embarrassment. For a while, it seemed that I was worthless, and I struggled to find an identity other than being a “badass football player.”
For years after returning, I was adrift because I was trying to build my identity and character on things that neither lasted nor honored God.
Now that I read the bible, I can clearly see that my pursuits and desires where what caused my life to spiral out of control. Specifically, a letter written by Jesus’ “best friend,” John, clarified my struggle.
1 John 2:15
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
I loved the world! My main pursuits consisted of the things listed in this verse:
- Lust of the flesh – I lived to fill my appetites for the things of this world.
- Lust of the eyes – I was trying to be seen as a badass
- Pride of life – I was always trying to puff myself up in comparison to others.
I kept pursuing these things, but they never satisfied and left me less fulfilled than the previous day.
Then one day I heard the good news about Christ again, and accepted a call to repentance; which was the day I began following Christ. Jesus rescued me and broke my slavery to sin, my rebellion, and He reconciled me to Him.
Since that day, I’ve been on a slow and steady pursuit to obey God’s word; which is all about trying to love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself. I”m trying to grow spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally in order to become more like Christ in humility, servanthood, meekness, kindness, purity, forgiveness, charity, holiness, and grace. It’s a journey filled with ups and downs, because I’m a depraved sinner – in desperate need of daily renewal.
In another post, I told the story about how football became an identity for me in response to bullying.
Recently, I’ve identified that sports were an idol for me, which is too bad because sports are something that could have been such a fun activity to engage in.
If you’re an athlete, I urge you to carefully examine your heart to see if sports have become a context and environment were sinfulness creeps into your life.
If your main concern is to become a badass or to puff yourself up by dominating others, I hope you recognize that it is counter-productive in your pursuit to become more like Christ, and is part of the “broad path” to destruction.
Being a strong man of integrity, humility, and high moral character is much more epic than being a tough-guy.
If sports, and the culture around it, are causing you to be transformed into a person that dishonors God, then I hope you’re not afraid to quit.
That’s right – if the activities of sports and athletics is being converted into self-adoration and puffing up of yourself, I urge you to take measures to remove that from your life; and here’s why:
God doesn’t just dislike our sin, He hates it (Proverbs 6:16-19, Psalm 11:). God also opposes the proud (James 4:6). This means that when we live our life puffing ourselves up and trying to be a tough-guy, which is nothing more than acting antithetical to humility, God opposes us! Our lives are then in opposition to our heavenly father, which causes a great divide between us, and allows destructive thoughts, habits, and even spirits to consume us.
Quitting competitive sports could be totally freeing if it’s causing you to stumble. But I’m not encouraging you to falter on your commitments or to act in a way that’s not steadfast or faithful. I’m just suggesting that if you’re playing sports for your own glory, that the glory you obtain from it is fickle, worthless, fleeting and utterly meaningless.
Bo Jackson – How Meaningless is the Glory of Sports Success?
I just watched the Netflix ESPN 30 of 30 documentary about Bo Jackson. I’m sure that most of you already know this, but Bo Jackson was an absolute phenom athlete back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, as a duel sport professional. He was one of the biggest, fastest, most menacing running backs in the NFL, while simultaneously being a stellar major league baseball player; no other athlete has had such dominance in two professional sport battlegrounds. He was an icon of Americana, until one day he sustained an injury which ended his athletic careers.
The ESPN 30 of 30 documentary draws watchers vividly through the iconic fame that Bo held during the “glory days” of millennial’s like myself. In his prime, Bo Jackson was kind of a sports god. His abilities were truly “holy” as it pertains to athletes, and the non-internet era which he grew to fame in, meant that many of his phenomenal feats carried with them urban-legend like epic-ness. This “athletic holiness” was experienced by millennials by watching his Nike “Bo Knows” campaigns, using his unfairly advantaged character in the Nintendo game “Tecmo Super Bowl”, and watching his likeness become immortalized as part of an athletic super hero team on a Saturday morning cartoon.
Watching this documentary reminds guys like me that Bo Jackson was a legend, and at the end of the documentary, they close it by showing how Bo spends his time nowadays, as an avid archer and bow-hunter. Bo closes the documentary holed up in a basement man-cave, scattered with deer, boar, elk, and bear trophies. The watcher gets the sense that Bo has poured all of his mind, effort, and obsession into archery – seemingly living as an obsessed hunting savant of some sort.
At one point in the closing act, Bo says “These trophies, these heads, these are my true trophies. On my headstone, all I want it to say is “here lies a ball-player”, that’s it, that’s all it should say.”
My face scowled and heart dipped while I sat in my dark basement and heard him say that, I thought to myself “is that it? is THAT the culmination of his entire existence? That He played games really well?”
Athletics are fickle, temporary, and fairly meaningless; even for the greatest. It made me shutter as I heard Bo Jackson summarize his entire existence into “Here lies a ball player” because I know that the moment after his heart takes it’s last beat, he will be standing before the great throne of judgement, face to face with Jesus.
When it all comes down, we’ll all stand before Jesus
“Is His Name Written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?” Jesus will ask. Bo will then realize that the life he just finished living was just a precursor for an eternal life, either spent at Jesus’ side or in a lake of fire filled with unrelenting torment, burning and thirst.
I don’t know whether or not Bo Jackson is a disciple of Jesus, who’s been justified through faith, but Bo Jackson’s athletic achievements won’t count towards the work Jesus considers when He judges our actions. Athletics aren’t bad, except when they’re used to fuel our pride which converts our activities to be in opposition with God.
CLARIFICATION: Only our FAITH IN CHRIST saves us, not by anything we do. Our JUSTIFICATION, right standing with God, or ‘ticket into heaven” was obtained by Jesus on our behalf and we can receive His gift of justification, and therefore eternal life, by placing our faith in Jesus and His work on the cross. Placing our trust and faith in Jesus and “following” Him is the path to eternal life. BUT – there are two parts, justification is where we find out if we go to heaven, and then there is a reckoning even for us that were saved through faith; where Jesus looks at our work here on earth and rewards us accordingly. This is a weird concept that I’ll unbox in another post, but I wanted to note this quick as it might seem like I’m claiming that certain activities make us go to heaven or not. I”m not saying that at all, I’m saying that we can stumble in our faith, and in our walk with Jesus or obedience, if sports becomes an idol.
If sports are meaningless even for Bo Jackson, surely it’s not worth it for any of us to allow our pursuit of “sports glory” to cause us to sin.
Walking through Lakeville High School & My own “Sports Glory”:
Mywife and I went out for dinner the other day while we had a baby sitter for the girls. We had about 45 minutes before we had to pick them up, but we hadn’t planned anything at all – and it was raining. We were right next to Lakeville High School, where I graduated and competed in athletics, so we parked the car and entered the school which was open and lit up because of evening activities.
I walked in and I was immediately brought back 15-18 years to my time there from 1997-2000. I walked right up to the old trophy wall on the second floor, where the list of team MVP’s and state champions stood. I walked around and found the spots where my name is engraved, “Rob Satrom 1999” was on the MVP plaque for track, then I looked to the football bar and saw my buddy Tom Revak’s name. We walked past the trophy cages, which were crammed full of wooden plaques with pictures on them, from the years 1970 to 2016.
These trophy cases were stuffed to the tilt, plaques were crammed in there so badly, that you couldn’t see any of the information on them and the pictures were all blocked. This wasn’t because of neglect, but because of the sheer volume of trophies! I was kind of annoyed because I could find some of the plaques that had my bust on them, but they were totally covered because of how cluttered they were.
After looking through the MVP and state title trophy cases, we headed downstairs near the lunch room, where each wall is made up of foot, after foot, of trophy cases; the same was true of these as well! Each one was cluttered with wooden plaques for “district finalist”, champion, and other nominal “awards” that are handed out as a validation of the “great efforts, dedication and hard work” each team puts in.
I knew that my face was featured on about 15 of those plaques, but there must have been 500 of them all lined up! I was utterly overwhelmed with how meaningless each trophy was amidst this ocean of awards. I had a myriad of thoughts, some placating to the high caliber tradition of athletics of Lakeville, some were more dismissive of our millennial’s “trophy for everyone” culture, and some of my thoughts were meditating on how many years had passed since I was a “big deal” in high school athletics.
I see nothing but missed opportunities in my sports career. Not because without my partying, I might have made it to the NFL, or at least followed through on a college career, but becasue of the missed opportunities to witness for Christ.
I would have counted my time in sports as a gain for Christ, if my main pursuit would have been to be the most caring, loving, encouraging, and others-focused player while simultaneously adding value to the team. If I would have been more concerned for the glory of God, and helping others move the spiritual meter of their lives toward faith in Christ, I would have seen my sporting career as a success.
1 Corinthians 10:31
“So whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God.”
“work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the master you are serving is Christ.”
Converting Sports from “Your Glory” to “God’s Glory”
I”m trying to give advice that’s spurred along by Hebrews 3:13, “and you must warn (encourage) each other everyday, while it’s still “today” so that you will not be deceived by sin and have your hearts hardened against God.”
If you’re pursuing sports glory for yourself, you’re living in a manner that will cause harm to your life now and will be filled with regret later. I think that as with alcohol, if you’re unable to handle it without sinning, you should go “not a drop” with competitive sports and just quit to play for fun.
But rather than quit, I hope that most of you reading this would be able to convert sports from being about your own glory, to doing it for God’s glory – which can be a major life achievement and can be extremely fruitful and meaningful work.
Sports and Youth can be “Primetime” for doing God’s Work
There’s something I’ve found as I’ve aged, that the opportunities to live out God’s commission seem to be shrouded in the American life. We’re so autonomous, isolated, and out of community, that there’s seldom a time when adults have the ability to simply connect relationally so that you can be a witness for Christ by your love.
When you are young, particularly when you’re in sports, there is no greater opportunity to invest relationally into those around you so that you’ll have relational equity which can be used to point people towards Jesus. Your energies are not split between children and spouses either, so you can really pursue God’s call in a more relentless way.
In John 13:34-35, Jesus said:
“A new commandment I give to you, to love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another.”
Then Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:58
“be strong and immovable, always work enthusiastically for the Lord for you know that nothing you ever do is ever useless.”
I’d encourage you to realize that youth and sports are a total waste if their done for your own glory, but can be an eternally fruitful endeavor if done for the glory of God.
I’ll end with Paul’s words about how we build our lives; built either on Christ or on other foundations, and depending on what we build it will all be tested through God’s purifying judgement.
1 Corinthians 3:5-15
“After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.
Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”