Sport as Spiritual Formation?

Today I’d like to reflect theologically on sport.  Sometimes I look around me at our Western culture and wonder if we overemphasize sports.  Let’s face it, we honor and sometimes even idolize athletes more than most in our society.  Part of me can understand why, as some athletes can do some pretty amazing things with their bodies.  Through their sport they can delight and even amaze us.  But then I think of the salary that some of our professional athletes are making, and I wonder what that says about the value of sports in our culture.  Now, I’m not saying high paid athletes aren’t gifted, nor am I saying they don’t work hard.  But how do we make sense of our dominant sports culture?  . . . At any rate, I’d like to think about some of the benefits of sports—especially spiritual benefits.  Can we grow spiritually through sport?  Two ways come to mind.  Through sports we can learn discipline, which can help us to deny ourselves as we’re often called to do as Christians.  In order to be an athlete, you must do certain things (i.e., train hard, sleep lots, eat well, etc.), but there also certain things you must refrain from (i.e., eating certain foods, staying up too late, over-training, etc.).  As Jesus says in Mark 8:34: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Seems to me that the discipline you learn in sport could help you deny yourself as a disciple of Christ.  But I’m also thinking of another spiritual benefit of sport: play.  We may not often associate play with the Christian life, but humans are not just made to work and worship.  We’re also made to play and rest.  And I think sport can help us do that too.  Mind you, that may not happen if you take your sport too seriously, as some seem to do these days.  How do you respond to the loss of a game?  That will help you discern how important sport is to you.  . . . What do you think?  Can we grow spiritually through sport?  I’d like to hear from you.

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Gratitude is the Heart of the Christian Life

(Note: A revised version of following article first appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of the Lacombe Express.)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.”  (Psalm 136:1 NIV)

Gratitude is the heart of the Christian life.  These aren’t my words, but I believe them with all my heart.  Actually, they were spoken by Thomas Merton (1915-1968), a Christian mystic who wrote in the twentieth century.  As he writes, “Gratitude is therefore the heart of the solitary life, as it is the heart of the Christian life. . .”  Apparently Merton wrote these words during a time of solitude, when, upon reflection, he realized how much God had blessed him.  Also, as Pastor Craig Barnes writes, “Gratitude may be the best measure of our spirituality.”  Why is this?  Because gratitude demonstrates that we have been paying attention to the gifts we have received.  Especially the gift of grace we have received in Jesus Christ.

So, if gratitude is so important, if it is the heart of the Christian life, it begs the questions: Am I grateful?  And for what am I grateful?  I recall asking a group of people what they were thankful for.  And they all responded, “I’m grateful for everything.”  But there’s a sense: if we’re grateful for everything, than we’re grateful for nothing.  So, what are you thankful for?  I am thankful for the privilege of serving a small strong congregation in a warm and welcoming city.  I’m thankful for all the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Canadians.  I’m thankful for good friends and neighbors.  I’m also thankful for the trail system of our city and the strength to run these trails.

As Don Postema writes, “Gratitude takes nothing for granted.  It acknowledges each favor, each gift—both big and small.  It also recognizes the giver—the relative who shows her love by giving you a gift; the friend who remembers to call you; the person who gives you a compliment or goes out of his way to invite you to go for a walk on a beautiful day; the spouse or friend who brings you a cup of coffee when you’re exhausted, cooks you a fine dinner, or throws a party for you.”

When we stop to think about it, we have received many gifts from many people, and especially from God.  We have much to be thankful for.  However, often we are too busy to see it.  This is what makes Thanksgiving Day so important, because on this day we are given the time and space we need to recognize the gifts and the givers of those gifts.  So, in this season of thanksgiving, you’re invited to thank others for specific gifts received.  And you’re invited to thank God for the many gifts he has given you, especially for the gift of grace in Jesus Christ.

Doctrine Matters

Yes, you read correctly.  I just used the “d” word: doctrine.  We’re often reluctant to talk about doctrine (or theology) because of the many conflicts that have occurred over doctrinal differences.  I can understand that sort of reluctance.  I mean, isn’t the Christian faith all about a relationship with God?  Yes.  Christianity is about relationship.  And I think our current emphasis on developing a relationship with God is very important.  But how can we build our relationship with God if we don’t know him?  This is where doctrine comes in.  At the church I serve we recently talked about the importance of reading Scripture.  The Bible is God’s authoritative word. So I encourage you to “stick with the Scriptures”!  But as we read Scripture, we learn about God, the gospel, and how we are to live in relationship with God and others. As we read these stories and hear these teachings, some key doctrines emerge: Covenant, the Trinity, providence, atonement and divine sovereignty—big words that may or may not mean a lot to you, but they are important doctrines that emerge as we read Scripture.  Inversely, these doctrines provide what one pastor in our tribe calls “theological keys” which “open up the treasures of the Bible.”  They emerge as we read Scripture, and we can use them to understand Scripture better.  This is why doctrine matters.  Yes, Christianity is about having a relationship with God, but this relationship grows and is enriched as we learn basic doctrine.  May the Lord continue to give you a deep hunger for his Word and a growing knowledge of his great love for you.