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Super Bowl Temple

The world’s eyes are fixed on Indianapolis this week as never before. The city is abuzz with Super Bowl XLVI excitement. As an interested citizen, and especially as a pastor in this city, I figured I’d better see the spectacle for myself. Tuesday afternoon, my family and I drove downtown and walked through the throng at the Super Bowl village. We saw people sliding down the seven story-high, 800 foot-long zip-line above Capitol Avenue, heard the bands rocking on various stages, smelled a lot of very expensive cheap beer, and declined to overpay for food. We witnessed the healthy dollop of Hoosier hospitality that volunteers on every street corner added to every interaction. It was exciting.

The week-long tailgating party seems to be going splendidly, from an organizational perspective. Out-of-town media members are writing glowing reports. With this success, the city is  positioning itself to host more major conventions and – who knows – maybe even another Super Bowl.

But, is it a good thing for the city? Of course, we’re not even supposed to ask that question. Millions of dollars are flowing into the local economy. The city that has long been regarded as a town in a cornfield is receiving global exposure. The hospitable nature of its citizens is being showcased. And everyone is having a great time. Right?

In a recent article in the Indianapolis Star, Russ Pulliam quoted Pastor Tom Benjamin, the retiring minister of a large, predominantly African-American, church in Indy: “We’re in love with the Super Bowl for what it brings, but it’s almost as if Lucas Oil Stadium is the temple we’re satisfied to worship in. Thousands sacrifice religion for football and recreation…it reminds me of the Scripture: What does it profit a city to gain the Super Bowl and lose its soul?”

Unknowingly echoing these sentiments, British reporter Simon Veness wrote: “The city hasn’t just embraced the event, the city IS the event. Everything is so compactly set out that the whole landscape of XLVI is walkable – nothing is more than five or six blocks away, and the stadium itself sits at the head of it all like a temple of sporting nirvana.” The comparisons between this temple and the temples of old are striking.

The Lombardi trophy stands as the god of this temple. This graven image will be awarded to the victor on Sunday. Its is plastered everywhere, including a 30-story tall likeness on the side of the J.W. Marriott hotel that lights up at night. Additionally, there are small sculptures of it made of rusted metal all over downtown, and thousand of pins, cups, scarves, and shirts also bear the image. Every worshiper takes home something with a replica of the image. It is reminiscent of the temple of Diana in Ephesus in the Apostle Paul’s day. When people started to be converted to Christ from serving this lifeless goddess, the silversmiths who provided the souvenir models of Diana incited a riot to protect their trade. The living God changed people’s lives, and it was wrecking their economy! What a thrill it would be too see God send such a revival this weekend that people would abandon the downtown streets and flood the churches of this city in repentance and faith! More likely, this weekend, on the day the living God has set aside for his worship, millions will cheer to see the Lombardi Trophy high and lifted up. But we need to remember Habakkuk’s words to Judah: “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!  Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.  But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:18-20). I’ve ministered long enough to see hearts and minds of Christian people sucked away from worshiping God’s strong arm of salvation to worshiping the strong arm of Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, or Eli Manning. Those arms cannot save. But they can hoist the Lombardi Trophy!

Like the pagan temples of old, there will be fertility priestesses prancing on the sidelines in the temple on Sunday. Parties thrown in nearby auxiliary temples by Playboy, Maxim, and many others provide a compliment of such priestesses to satisfy the sensual desires of worshipers at the temple. Additionally, there are the lewd ads, escorts, prostitutes, and casual sex that will be commonplace. Sports writers blasted Joe Paterno and Penn State football for lacking a moral compass and standing by while young boys were reportedly violated. Now, those same writers are celebrating the offerings of Playboy and Maxim in Indianapolis. I wonder who has done more to violate tender boys, Joe Paterno, or the sports writers who subtly or not-so-subtly lead them to ponder the temples of Indianapolis? By contrast, Solomon warned his son: “My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding,  that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (Proverbs 5:1-5). In the course of my ministry, I’ve seen enough damage done by pornography and sexual addiction that I’m not excited about what the Super Bowl brings. For too many, it will be one step closer to death, or at least a destroyed life.

Further, the drunkenness that characterized the temples of old has found a new home in Indianapolis. At 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, hundreds of people carried what appeared to be thirty-two ounce cups of cheap beer. It was obvious; they were just warming up. Let’s face it, the Super Bowl village serves as a celebration of binge drinking. Dr. Keith Ablow’s recent article, America is Drunk, highlights to reality of America’s drunken state, what it reveals about us, and the price we are paying and will pay. Anyone want to suggest that this week is doing anything to help solve the problem? No, instead, we celebrate it. Georgia Street in its present state brings to mind Amos 6:4-6: “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” People do not want to think about the ruin that has come to loved ones for similar sins. They do not want to deal with their sins or do the hard work necessary to see real change come. They simply want to escape. Having seen the effect of binge drinking and alcoholism first hand in other settings, I’m not excited about what the Super Bowl brings to town as the nation worships at the grand temple known as Lucas Oil Stadium. Scripture is clear: “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5).

I’m proud of Indy’s ability to pull off a major event so well. It testifies to the many good and capable men and women who lead our community. I’m proud of the means – but what of the ends? I struggle to see the redeeming value of the event. Is this really the fruit we want from our labors – one big party? What in the event provides anything of enduring value – even on this earth? What is being built? What kind of true character is being instilled into people?

But there is another temple being built in Indy. It is a temple being made not with human hands. This edifice will stand eternally. It consists of living stones called by the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and brought to life by the Spirit of God. This is the temple that will stand past the Super Bowl, past the time when Lucas Oil Stadium is leveled. This is where the eyes of the world should be fixed – because what is happening here is a feat that could never be effected by human leaders. It is a temple where righteousness, purity, and sobriety are celebrated. It is a place where the fabric of society is strengthened, where lives are transformed, and where enduring fruit is born. It is the church of Jesus Christ.

As our family departed the Super Bowl village Tuesday, we saw our good friend Rylie, who is physically blind, waiting at a bus stop to go home from her studies at the university. We picked her up. Instantly, our eyes were lifted from the mess of the pagan temple to the heavenly temple Jesus is building. The Lord let us meet Rylie a few months ago, and it has been a thrill to watch her grow in Jesus. Recently, we have witnessed many exciting testimonies of God’s working in people’s lives, and most are too personal to share here. What we have experienced is the kind of thrill ride you can’t pay for at the Super Bowl village – it just costs your whole life. Rylie graciously allowed me to link her story here as one example of what God is doing in Indy. When Jesus ministered in Jerusalem, the crowds focused on the throng of people, the edifice of the temple, and the ceremonial glory. The people in that day missed the true glory displayed right before their eyes as Jesus healed people and changed one life at a time. My prayer is that when you think of Indy this weekend, you will look past the glamor of the party to see the glory of the eternal temple that is under construction in this place.

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. Received this link today to a lamentable WORLD magazine article on this subject:

    February 2, 2012
  2. Rachel C. #

    Not to mention how it all takes place on the LORD’s Day!

    February 2, 2012
    • @ Rachel…that is the greater of the violations.

      February 5, 2012
  3. Jeff Kessler #

    James: Couldn’t the same be said of so many other events? MLB World Series, NBA Finals, major music concert, major political party national convention (remember the Greek columns in Denver), etc. What makes the Lombardi trophy more of an idol or graven image than any other trophy given out each year? I believe Calvin said the human heart is a virtual idol factory. Isn’t the heart more the problem than Indy or Lucas Oil Stadium? How many folks walk around down there w/out worshipping any of it? Just having a good time.

    February 2, 2012
    • Jeff,

      Thanks for the question – I’d thought about that before, and decided only to address it if asked, so here goes. I agree that other events/sports have the same feel, in part, and they can and are destructive to souls. But the Super Bowl does keep its name for a reason. It is the single biggest television broadcast of the year. It is a week-long-plus tailgating party. The sheer volume of everything (media, celebrities, alcohol, parties, bands, signage, visitors, etc) sets it apart from any other event, other than perhaps something like Mardi Gras (which I’ve never seen first hand).

      I’m sure people will disagree with me in what follows, but, I think the biggest reason that this is different is that the NFL has masterfully modeled its product to be a religion more than any other sport. This stems largely from the fact that it follows the pattern of creation in its schedule. God made us to work six days and rest one. Basketball, baseball, and hockey all play all through the week and come a whole lot closer to a pattern of work than of rest and worship. It’s harder for the average fan to keep up with those other sports, but it’s easy to follow football. The NFL beckons people to ready themselves through the week for the climactic day in which they give themselves to the objects of their desire. The week revolves around one event for a fan through twenty-five weeks of the year. To keep people daily devoted, fantasy football is added. Fans must do their daily devotional routine to check what is happening in the football kingdom in order for they themselves to excel in that kingdom. It competes with God on God’s schedule in a way that no other sport does. Not surprisingly, it has emptied churches more than any other sport, and calls fan to find their true joy, fellowship, and cadence of life in it. Because of the way God made man, it follows that the sport will look more and more like a religion than other sports – because we are made to worship with a one day in seven focus.

      Finally, the other major sports in the United States finish with best-of-seven series’, the location of the finals is unknown until a week before they begin, and the final day of the event is unknown, unless it goes to game seven…but even then, there is no time to plan a huge bash of international proportions. So, the Super Bowl is uniquely positioned as a planned judgment day for football – a planned day of glory. Let’s put it this way – the eschatology of the sport is more clear than others.

      It’s my observation that the NFL has done more to divert the hearts of men and women from God in the United States than any other sport. Certainly, people need to be able to play and watch sports. I love sports, and you know it. But the NFL especially leads men to slowly but surely give their affections and desires to a god that cannot save. Most don’t even notice that it is happening to them. It’s not just happening to individuals, it’s happening to our culture. All of these things make me really sad.

      I’d be interested in your thoughts in return, Jeff, but those are some of the reasons I think the Super Bowl is not only quantitatively but qualitatively different than other events.

      February 2, 2012
      • Jonathan Sturm #

        James, I completely agree with what you’re saying. The NFL does detract from true Sabbath rest and worship. But, correct me if I’m wrong, your article seemed to focus more on the events surrounding the SB (the Playboy after party, the drunkeness, the prostitution, etc.) and not on the Sabbath breaking of the SB itself.
        If the discussion is whether or not the SB (and the NFL in general) break the Sabbath, and encourage others, even believers, to do the same, then we’re on the same page. If the discussion is instead about the wickedness surrounding the event, then I’m not sure we are (as I noted in my comment below).

        February 3, 2012
      • Jonathan, I’m not going to address all of your points. Yes, there are a lot of problems at other events, no argument. I’d just point you back to the main question in the article which is: “Is this event good for our city?” Most everyone wants to celebrate the “baby,” I’m saying there’s so much dirty “bathwater” that I don’t think it’s good for our city. It’s interesting that another pastor from a completely different background is seeing the same thing. It’s much bigger than just a fourth commandment question.

        February 3, 2012
      • Joel Hart #

        Before we cast too many stones at football, realize that it has less icons and marketable idols than many other places, namely basketball. Basketball currently has its self-proclaimed King, the Chosen One, who is winning followers to himself by the day (3.45 million on Twitter, to be exact) while advancing his kingdom in the licentious culture of South Beach. The point:every worldly pursuit begs our worship. Our job is not to abstain completely from it (should we boycott Bankers Life Fieldhouse when the Chosen One arrives), but to handle it wisely.

        February 3, 2012
      • Jared Olivetti #

        Word. Up. Not just quantitatively but qualitatively different. Well argued, James. Football and its trappings has a much, much larger hold on the American heart than any other sport and (as you pointed out well) has cleverly made itself the new religion in a way nothing else has in recent memory.

        February 4, 2012
  4. Jonathan Sturm #

    James, I wonder if the events surrounding the Super Bowl aren’t unlike the events surrounding our beloved Boilermakers during the college football season (to a much lesser degree, obviously). On any given Saturday (the fact that college football is on Saturday rather than the Sabbath IS important to note) during September or October is West Lafayette not unlike Indy? The frats and sororities are having drunken parties Friday night, the debauchery continues with Breakfast Club Saturday morning. 60 thousand strong gather at Ross Aid to worship Purdue football (literally bowing every time Brees comes on the jumbotron).
    Just because all of those horribly wicked things are happening all around me I still find that, with a good conscience, I enjoy game days. I know to avoid Chauncey Hill and all the bars, I know to avoid the frats and sororities west of campus. Just because their wickedness is going on, is it so wrong for me to enjoy a tailgate at my apartment with the folks from CORPS? In the same way would it be so wrong to go downtown and enjoy the many, many good things going on and just exercise the wisdom to avoid the drunkenness and debauchery that comes with it?
    I could very well be wrong, I often am. But I’m not sure we need to throw out the baby of college football and the events surrounding the Super Bowl with the bathwater of the wicked events that come with them.

    February 3, 2012
  5. Ron Visser #

    Great post James. I couldn’t agree more, and I say this as some-one who loves to watch sports of all kinds, including football. Jeff Kessler is right when he reminds us that the true problem is the human heart, but the NFL has indeed developed an approach unlike any in drawing people in to sit at its feet. It is the only sport that I can think of that can do what it does, although, again, it is not the sport itself, but the incredibly brilliant way they have schemed to capture the heart of the world. I for one, a lover of professional sports, will be the first to testify to the lure of “the game.” On this Lord’s day, I will be tempted to listen or watch the game, and to allow it to control my thoughts when my mind could be meditating on much greater things.

    February 3, 2012
  6. Jeff Kessler #

    James: Your points seem to be of degree. The NFL does it bigger and better (making their sport an idol), so therefore they are the target. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, the Indy 500 and the whole Indy car circuit could have given the NFL a run for their money (most if not all events on Sunday). Later the same thing could have been said of NASCAR.

    Everyone knows in advance some other major sporting events. The Olympics comes to mind. The World Cup (Yuk!). The men’s college basketball Final 4 is in New Orleans. Major music events and national political conventions are know in advance (Tampa and Charlotte this summer).

    While the Super Bowl has always (I think) been on Sunday, I’d argue that in my youth, during the regular season, it was the Monday nite game that was the BIG weekly event during the NFL season. For whatever reason that has changed recently.

    James, like you, baseball (followed very, very closely by college basketball) is my favorite sport. There was a part of me that very much appreciated what you wrote. But there was another part that seen it as a “hit piece” on football fans by a baseball guy.

    Analogy No. 1: A country music fan writing a piece warning rock fans about the danger of idolizing their stars

    Analogy No. 2: Someone who enjoys a good cold beer now and then warning wine drinkers of the dangers of drunkenness.

    Now I could see myself writing all three pieces in a sort of light hearted (pull your chain) sort of way, but not as serious pastoral letters.

    February 3, 2012
    • Jeff Kessler #

      One other quick thing. As far as the drunkenness, Playboy parties etc. that surround the event…my Dad went to an Indy 500 in the 40s. He told me the drunks laying around in the mud of the infield reminded him of a bunch of hogs. And apparently the women weren’t very modest then either, according to him.

      February 3, 2012
      • Jeff, my basic question was: “Is this event good for our city?” I’m arguing “No.” Everything written was written sincerely – no pot-shots intended whatsoever. I’ve personally seen lives wrecked by NFL idolatry, alcohol abuse, and sexual immorality. Those things have been around forever – but that doesn’t mean we should become desensitized to them. I’m sad our city is facilitating and exalting them. By contrast, I see redemptive work God is doing in people’s lives and it looks radically different.

        February 3, 2012
  7. Jon Held #

    James, No doubt this is one of the largest events to be hosted in downtown Indy since the mid 90’s when 40-50-60 thousand men came into the Hoosier Dome for Christian fellowship, training, worship, and encouragement each summer. Those events were two days long, Christ centered, and greatly fulfilling. You may have read about them, Promise Keepers. The meetings were greatly poo-pooed by the Reformed Presbyterians. No doubt those who went before you even asked “is this good for our city”? At that time Indy did host the “Super bowl”, the “Masters”, the “Triple Crown”, the “Final Four”, the “500”, the “Daytona”, the “World Series”, the “World Cup”, the “Olympics”……of modern Christianity. But because local churches could never get behind an event with such a ‘universal’ appeal the events began to die. Dig in James, you are on location. There are many available dates for using the downtown Indy resources. I can see a 60 story Blue Banner painted on the side of that J.W. Marriott. But then of course the Baptists might bring up the whole idol worship thing.

    February 3, 2012
    • Jared Olivetti #

      Jon, I’m not totally sure I follow, but this seems like apples & oranges. Whether and why we would disengage from something like Promise Keepers doesn’t seem to apply to whether and why Jesus’ church should loudly and lovingly point out our nation’s idolatries.

      February 4, 2012
  8. Good comments…thank you.

    February 3, 2012
  9. Diana Vice #

    No matter what position one takes, it’s always a good idea to take an assessment of one’s heart. This article was very helpful for that purpose. As a parent, I would like to have a do-over when it comes to allowing a child to play/enjoy sports. We compromised our standards by allowing our youngest daughter to become involved in a sport where many of the matches were played on the Lord’s Day. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time since it wasn’t every Sunday, and we assured ourselves that the sport was not our/her god. The end result is that the sport eventually took first place in our daughter’s heart and wrecked not only her relationship with God but also her marriage. She may deny this, but it is painfully obvious to family members and friends who know the situation. We’ve seen first hand how one compromise leads to another and another and so on. Not all Christians are strong enough to avoid falling into the pitfall of idol worship, so we must be careful, especially in our influence of a weaker brother or sister in Christ. The heart changes are not obvious at the time but happens little by little that it’s hardly noticeable until it’s too late. Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and he finds our weaknesses and uses them. For some, sports is a weakness, although I agree it is not evil to be a sports fan or participate in sports. Our family also used to watch Nascar races on the Lord’s Day until my husband became convicted about it a few years ago and hasn’t watched a single race since. Our lives are much richer for it. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from our mistakes and warn others about the unseen dangers that lurk around every corner. When satan tempts us, he isn’t going to use obvious things. He will use the things that we enjoy and put a great deal of emphasis on. What may not be idol worship today could lead to it tomorrow. Thank you, James, for a well-written and thought-provoking article. Even if not everyone agrees with it, I hope it at least causes many to evaluate whether or not a particular sport or any other activity or object takes up more time and energy than does our relationship with Christ. It’s a good idea to ask ourselves, “Do we spend less, the same amount, or more time in pursuing a relationship with Christ than we do watching or participating in a particular sport?”

    February 3, 2012
  10. Ram Rao #

    Thanks for pointing out the danger of idolatry in sporting events such as the NFL and the Super Bowl. We see people succumbing in this area, not just in the US, but around the world. The Egypt football (soccer) riot this past week that killed dozens of people is an example. In the country where I was born, the religion of cricket has captured the hearts of people, arguably to a greater extent than football has in the US. On days when important cricket matches are being played, people will not show up for work, and will even skip job interviews. And some even go so far as to build a temple to worship Mahendra Dhoni, the captain of the Indian cricket team: But just as the NFL cannot save, neither can the Indian IPL (though it may be bigger business than the NFL). This heightens the urgency of proclaiming the One who can save to people everywhere, so they may boast instead that they understand and know Him, who practices lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth (Jer 9:24).

    February 4, 2012
  11. Jeff Kessler #

    Jared: So football and the NFL have a “much, much larger hold on the American heart than any other sport”? I’d really like to have that explained because I’m not buying it. But for the sake of this argument I’ll buy it. But then it proves my point…it is only a matter of degree. Sort of like saying the Beatles were worse than Elvis because MORE girls threw their underwear on the Beatles’ stage than on the one of Elvis.

    Picking on one sport over and above any other sport or any other form of entertainment has got us to this point. We don’t seem to be talking about the evil human heart and its desire to worship idols. That is problem.

    February 4, 2012
    • Jared Olivetti #

      Jeff, I don’t know that I disagree entirely. Here’s a couple thoughts:

      1. Football has far eclipsed other American pastimes/sports (here’s one example: Particularly, James’ argument about its hold on the Lord’s Day (actively preventing-or at least enticing-fans from giving the day to God’s worship) is compelling.

      2. Even if it is a matter of degrees, I don’t understand the problem w/the article. Prophetically pointing out the external idol and the myriad of ways it steals people’s hearts from God isn’t necessarily denying the reality of the internal side of the equation. Elijah didn’t just talk about people’s hearts, he made fun of Baal. Publicly.

      However, I do appreciate the added emphasis. Take away football and we’ll replace it with another idol, right? Amen. So the church needs to (by the power of the Spirit’s gospel) tear down the idols of the heart, calling people to exalt Jesus alone. And. The church needs to be faithful to point out those things that have particular holds on our society/city/families. Both/and, not either/or, I think.

      February 4, 2012
    • Jeff Kessler #

      I grew up an anabaptist. I heard so many sermons telling one how to dress, not to have TV, radio, two tone cars, answering machines, go to movies, etc. and nary one addressing the sin that proceeds from the human heart. One of the main reasons reformed theology was so attractive to me was it addressed the heart. This is a “Gentle Reformation” blog. The heart obviously can be drawn to worship hundreds if not thousands of possible idols. The NFL is obviously one of those possibilities. To use the Super Bowl as a “jumping off” place to then focus on the heart would not have rubbed me the wrong way, but to have the focus on the NFL and not the heart does not seem to me to be the Reformed way. I’m not sure I’m doing a good job of explaining, but that is the best I can do for now.

      I don’t think executives from the NFL sat around and thought of how their league could be better at drawing humans hearts from the worship of God than MLB or NASCAR or the music industry. They just did a better job at marketing than most and the human heart did the rest.

      February 4, 2012
  12. Jeff Kessler #

    I should probably leave this alone, but let me try it this way. If John Calvin were still alive and took a tour of Indy this week, I don’t think he would change his mind and suddenly say it is the NFL that is the idol factory. I think he’d still say it is the human heart.

    February 4, 2012
    • Jared Olivetti #

      Again, I really appreciate this added emphasis on the heart.

      But I can’t help defending James and pointing out that he isn’t arguing that the NFL is an idol factory but that it is one of our society’s greatest idols and thus a great danger to the human heart, which is all-too-ready to latch on to anything other than Jesus. (Properly speaking, I took James to be speaking more of the city’s complicity in the idolatry.) Pastorally speaking, I agree wholeheartedly with James that football is a greater idol within the church than many realize and thus worthy of being targeted, specifically.

      I would hope that Calvin would both point out the huge idol(s) he saw in our cities and then warn the souls away from them and win the souls to Christ. Isn’t this what the apostles in Acts did? Walked to the city center and (in various ways) both attacked the idols and called hearts to Christ? The story of Elijah & Baal still seems another good example of this, that the church has a responsibility to do just what James is doing in this article.

      February 4, 2012
    • I do think that I could have done a better job of highlighting the heart nature of the issue. However, just because the word is not in the post doesn’t mean the concept is absent. I quoted the other pastor in the city who spoke of the “soul” of the city. That word that is often equivalent to the “heart” in Scripture. The next section of the article tried to reveal the heart by its action in its idolatry, sexual immorality, and drunkenness. So, in a certain sense, the article was all about the heart. Another important point is that this was a cultural assessment – not specifically of individuals. God did address whole cultures in sweeping terms in Scripture (see the Amos quote in the article, or any other number of other places in Scripture). Not every person in ancient Israel was guilty of every charge – but the culture was. On the matter of idolatry being of the heart, it is. But it is outward too. Otherwise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, could have saved their skins by bowing externally, but not internally, to the nine-story-tall statue of the king.

      This article has generated a lot of response, here, on Facebook, and in personal interaction. On the charge that it lacks grace, I have noticed one striking difference between those for and against the column. Not one person who has opposed me has made mention of the grace highlighted at the end of the article in the story of Rylie. By contrast, many who have found the article helpful have consistently commented with thanks about that testimony of grace. Perhaps I should have copied her text to my article, but it is all about the heart. It is all about grace that changed a heart and transformed a life utterly. I’m not sure what the marked contrast in response/lack of response to Rylie’s story is, but I think it’s significant.

      Finally, I have to respond to the implied accusation that this is “anabaptist” in nature and not reformed. If John Calvin’s twenty-first century copy were to appear, I don’t know that the GenRef brain-trust would welcome him without discussing whether a guy with such rough edges should be allowed to contribute to “Gentle” Reformation. Calvin railed against specific physical idols of gold and silver in Roman Catholic churches and culture. He spoke against drunkenness and immorality too, but probably hit on real idolatry in the form of external idols much more as a way to reveal the heart. My point here is that if you want to call me an “anabaptist,” you better include another “anabaptist” by name of John Calvin who was pretty vocal in speaking against specific sin in Geneva. This pattern is also completely consistent with the prophets of old. Also, against a legalistic solution, I pointed to the work of the Triune God in the lives of people and the testimony of Rylie as the solution.

      February 4, 2012
  13. What is the purpose of “sports?” What started out as re-creation has turned into “sports.” We must understand the difference. This may be helpful to you. It was to me.

    You can download an mp3 at the bottom of each page for FREE!

    The Christian View of Sports (To the Parents)

    The Christian View of Sports (To Students at a Christian School)

    February 4, 2012
  14. David watson #

    Nascar…. boys. I have a pastor friend that was a policeman at the alabama race in talladega. i have been there several times. He said that someone loses their life every year during the race. I never verified it, i took him at his word. all the events no matter what they broadcast is the sameway. Daytona week is taking place very shortly. It all reveals the worst of mankind..our depravity and total surrender to all works of the flesh if we are not governd by one greater…jesus Christ! Just who governs you?

    February 4, 2012
  15. Jeff Kessler #

    1. I’ve known James and Jared a long time. I love both. They are both being used mightily by God and are great pastors.
    2. James: I may have implied that on this issue, there were some anabaptists tendencies, but I did not and would never call you an anabaptist.
    3. I appreciate what has been said re. sexual and drunkenness sins. I don’t think I’ve written anything that would imply otherwise.
    4. But I also know a bit about some of the young men that are following this and how important it is to be very, very consistent and careful on something like this.
    5. I’ve ran my earlier arguments by some mature men that probably wouldn’t want their name associated w/ them…I only say that so no one thinks I’m a loose cannon. I don’t know if they agree w/ my later arguments or not.

    I do not think it is fair to compare the NFL to Baal or the false gods in Acts…at least not unless one is prepared to go after the whole entertainment industry. Those gods were known as gods…they were worshipped explicitly and openly…that was their purpose. In our day the local mosque would be much closer to Baal than the NFL is. Baal was a god, no one pretended otherwise. The Greek gods were for want of a better word…gods. The NFL is a sports league, a part of the entertainment industry. In and of itself, the NFL is not a god.

    Calvin did rail against physical icons associated w/ the RC church…probably still similar things to rail against in RC churches today. But, I don’t think he considered all the entertainment options of his day (admittedly a smaller list then) say lawn bowling, darts, horse racing, foot racing, bow and arrow target shooting and then picked the most popular one to take on.

    Finally, I’m not sure who the moderator of this blog is, but if he thinks I’ve gone too far or has been unfair please say so…either in a private email or publicly.

    February 4, 2012
    • Jeff,

      Thanks for your comments. Three responses, and I really want to go for the heart here, because, as you say, people are watching.

      1) I’m not sure who the governing body is in determining whether something is called a “god” or not, but I would simply remind you that I took the terminology of the pagan “temple” from an NFL credentialed reporter – it’s at the beginning of the article. Other reporters use similar terms. The idea to use these terms for paganism was their idea, not mine. I just think the shoe fits.

      2) God speaks of people trusting in many things that are not formally labeled “god” by anyone. He describes them as the things they love (1 Timothy 6:10), or the things that they treasure (Luke 12:21), or the things in which they hope (Psalm 33:7), or the things in which they trust (Psalm 20:7). God rebukes the people for exalting and trusting in cities, houses, reputations, posterity, armies, and so on. I guess I’ve never seen a problem with labeling those things as false gods – idolatry is not merely a matter of whether the object of devotion is a gold, silver, or wood – or if it has been formally labeled a god by its maker. Thus, I don’t think it’s wrong to look at a trend in a culture and say that a certain thing has become a god in a culture. I certainly don’t believe that the NFL is inherently a god. But, I do believe that our culture has made it one. I don’t believe that money is a god, but our culture makes it one. As a culture, we exalt the NFL. An astonishing number of salvific qualities are attributed to it, with at least one seen in this article yesterday, for example. Just because something is a cultural god, doesn’t mean it is a god for everyone, but if something has become a cultural god, it means we certainly better be careful as we handle it.

      3) I watch Monday Night Football sometimes (I hope this is evidence that I don’t think the NFL is a god per se). I know how enticing it can be. I played fantasy football a few years ago. I loved it. I loved the competition, the trash-talking – everything. It requires a high level of devotion. Sitting in first place and at the top of the waivers list, I failed to pay close enough attention for a day or two mid-week when Priest Holmes went down. I missed the opportunity to pick up Larry Johnson, which cost me the title, probably. It still hurts. But I noticed my heart being weaned from God bit by bit. Though I didn’t watch the games, I found my mind drifting mid-worship service to who had how many yards. I didn’t even check the stats on the Lord’s Day…at first. Then I’d peek just before evening service. Didn’t help. Further, I watched friends in my league and others get totally wrapped up in it…their lives adrift from the one true God. At least one other friend pulled out because he recognized the temptation was more than he could handle. It consumes the mind not just on Sunday but other times too. I quit for many of the same reasons as my friend. Now, I see people glancing at smart phones for scores. People miss evening service because there’s a big game on – or they zip right out after church so as not to miss it. Once may not seem to be a big deal, but it all adds up…hearts are slowly drawn away from the living God to a worthless idol. We wonder where the men are in our churches, and I want to see them vibrant in Jesus. I do not know of a single man who has ever described for me how the NFL has made him a better man, how it has en-flamed his heart for Jesus, for his wife, for his family, and for his community. Where our treasure is, there our heart is also. Where we put our time and our money – that’s what we love. God calls us to set aside one day in seven, the Lord’s Day, for this purpose. He does it because he knows how he made us. He knows what draws us closer to him and to other saints. The NFL and other entertainment industries are not part of that plan. If we as a nation continue to give ourselves to these things, we will be impoverished one week at a time. What I long to see is people show up at worship to glorify Jesus and give themselves to him for the whole day! It is a day to be given to remembering the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior – and to remember the great day of the Lord to come. Were that to happen, I think our church culture would change, and ultimately, our national culture. Are there a lot of other forms of idolatry out there? Yeah. But to the men aged 15-30, I’d challenge you to just try it and see what would happen if for the next year you set aside the NFL on Sundays entirely, and give that time wholly to Christ. How much more Scripture could you read? How much more could you know about the depths of each others’ spiritual lives through deep discussion with each other? How much victory would you see over various sins in your life? How many people, souls like Rylie, could you disciple? How many more people could you tell about the salvation of our Lord? What ways could you serve and bless the disabled, the elderly, or the sick? What books could you read? What time in prayer could you spend? What would happen to the quality of your praise with additional practice? How could you lead the throng to the household of God? How much more would the kingdom of Christ be advanced? How would he be glorified?! And what would happen to the generation that follows you?

      I think that will be it on this whole subject. I couldn’t sleep because this was on my mind…because I care about your souls, especially as young men, and I’m praying for you.

      February 5, 2012
    • Jared Olivetti #

      James & Jeff, thanks again for this helpful conversation. Perhaps there’s still disagreement in the end, but that’s certainly okay. Jeff, I don’t think you crossed any line whatsoever.

      February 5, 2012
  16. DaveM #

    “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses” – Juvenal

    February 5, 2012
  17. Jerri Faris #

    I would just like to encourage everyone who has/is reading this to go back up to read Diana Vice’s post. It is powerful because it is a humble, transparent warning from a parent who now recognizes the dangers discussed in the above.

    We must not neglect our great privilege of praying for the covenant children in our congregations. It is a mighty work that the Lord has given us. May we be faithful!

    February 5, 2012
  18. Diana Vice #

    I never discount the testimony of older Christians, because if we can learn from their mistakes we can avoid making the same ones, which could, in turn, spare us much grief and heartache. I talked to my 72-year-old father about this subject recently and here’s what I learned from him.

    First, I will share a brief background. My dad was an avid sports enthusiast most of his young adult life. He played and participated in many sports, including bowling, golf, softball, and basketball. At one time, he held the highest score record for bowling in Lafayette and was asked to go pro, which he declined since he had three young children at home. He participated in three leagues during the week and traveled to other states participating in tournaments. He earned dozens of trophies, which were eventually tossed out when they sold the family home. In addition, he was a star pitcher for a local softball league. He played basketball as well. When he wasn’t playing, he enjoyed watching sports on television. I don’t think we ever missed a Chicago Cubs ballgame on tv during the 1960’s & early 70’s. Before he knew it, his kids grew up and moved on to have children of their own.

    My father said if he could go back and do it over, he’d give up all the sports he particpated in and watched throughout the years. Looking back over his life, he realizes how unimportant it really was and how much time he wasted pursuing things that have absolutely no eternal meaning or lasting value. He said he wished he had spent more time with his family and other godly pursuits rather than waste it on things that hold very little, if any, significant meaning in his life. He said it is his biggest regret in life.

    We had this discussion because he is deeply saddened that his granddaughter is making some of the same mistakes that he did when it comes to placing such a high importance on sports. Sports took too much time away from God and family, and now my father is living with deep regret, because he says the momentary emotional high that he got from a big sports play does not compare to investing one’s life in godly pursuits that produce eternal value.

    I wished my dad and I had this conversation about ten years earlier. Unfortunately, I’ll have to live with some of the same regret that my father lives with today.

    My dad is a different man today. He loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind. He has worn out two Bibles in the last ten years, and he shares the love of Christ with anyone he comes in contact with. He is happier today than I’ve ever seen him, and it’s all because he began focusing on Jesus Christ. Yes, he still enjoys an occasional game of golf. He hasn’t picked up a bowling ball in years, and he rarely watches sports on television. He has replaced the time he used to spend doing those things focusing on relationships with others and sharing the love of Christ. He is doing this in plain sight of 13 great-grandchildren who watch everything he does and listen to everything their “Paw Paw Bob” says.

    I believe God’s word is true. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” I know there are many righteous men reading this comment. Would you please stop what you are doing and pray for my wayward and rebellious daughter who once professed Christ. Pray that the Lord would cause her to repent. Pray that her marriage would be restored. Her name is Emma, and she is my prodigal daughter. If I had it to do over again, I would have spent much more time investing myself toward her spiritual life and a lot less time attending countless hours of volleyball practice and volleyball matches. It is now my biggest regret in life.

    I was a parent who argued some of the same points above. “Sports was not our family’s god,” but unfortunately, our actions spoke much louder than our words, and now we’re reaping what we’ve sown.

    Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful, and I know that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

    I know fully understand what “pray without ceasing” really means.

    February 5, 2012
    • Diana Vice #


      I now fully understand what “pray without ceasing” really means.

      February 5, 2012
  19. Bob Bussell #

    Yours was a very interesting article. As I was growing up, I was never very interested in sports. The only times I ever was inside Market Square arena was when I was hired to sub for the band playing for the Ringling Brothers Circus and one weeknight NBA game. The only two times I ever visited the Hoosier/ RCA dome was for a Billy Graham crusade and to tune a piano for a Baptist convention. I have not been in Lucas Oil Stadium yet. However, as I was growing up as a young adult male in this culture, I was made aware that men love to talk about and watch sports and if I wanted to find common ground, I needed to have some knowledge about the subject. I am even reminded of the of the times I visited and stayed over night with Bill Long watching a Purdue basketball game with him.
    Your observations about your visit downtown were fascinating. I hear what you are saying, but has fallen man ever really changed? How much has changed since Roman times and if it has, then Why? What we observe about our city, man’s institutions, activities, and businesses depends on what we are looking for. Did you see God at work on Tuesday? Did you see fathers and sons and whole families bonding together? Did you see men and women employed bringing home a paycheck feeding their families? Did you see capitalism, supply and demand,and commerce. My son-in-law sometimes works as a restaurant server. I hope that he has had an opportunity work and bring income home to his family this week. When I was growing up in the 70’s, it was too dangerous to walk downtown around the circle at night due to fears of drive by shootings. I praise God that this has not been the case this week. What do I expect out of the Super Bowl? I expect that despite fallen man, God’s Will will be accomplished. I do not justify sin as a trade off for God’s blessings, but I already know that man is corrupt and his institutions are corrupt. What I would like to know more about is, where is God working and what is that work? Thanks for a thought provoking article.

    February 5, 2012
  20. Jeff Kessler #

    James: In your last post, under No. 3, especially the first half….that is powerful. That is good stuff. If you ever have the opportunity to speak to young people on this subject, my suggestion would be to start there, not w/ your original piece. I’m in my mid to upper 40s. I’ve never played fantasy football, never been tempted to play. I’m naive to how it fits in this whole discussion, but your testimony above helps. I have a similar story to tell from my younger days, but it had more to do w/ baseball and following players and statistics.

    I know several boys and young men who enjoy sports, and yes they (and their dads) need warnings and reminders of not allowing sports to become a god in their heart. I think this discussion has been valuable towards that end. But some of these young men (in their early 20s) are thinking of sports as their calling. Some have already coached at the jr. high, freshmen, and JV levels of basketball. I know they have led devotions, and prayed with young boys in a public school setting. Some of these boys have come from horrible backgrounds, they’ve probably never heard a Bible read or someone pray till these coaches did so. I know that at times they wonder if they can follow their (possible) calling and be “accepted” in some RP circles. This grieves me. But I think I know how they feel. When I was a young boy, I read a biography of Tom Landry. As a young kid raised an anabaptist, it was one of my first exposures to someone famous who loved Christ. It was one of the first times I realized there were Christians who weren’t of the denomination I was raised in. Today I would hesitate to tell that story around some RPers for fear it would immediately (and I do mean immediately) lead to questions about the NFL and the 4th commandment. I’ve seen boys chastised by an adult for throwing a football around in the church parking lot on a Sunday evening and then the next week the same adult’s kids practicing a piano recital piece on the church piano. Let’s be careful here and consistent.

    Dianna: Your story can be used for great good if you are wise in how you handle it. I agree w/ Jerri. Your post was well written (of course you always write well). But keep the emphasis on the heart that went bad. Volleyball was part of the equation, but w/ some other girl it may be beauty contests, or fashion shows. Volleyball is not sinful in and of itself. I know you know that, but make sure you communicate it clearly. I know of an IN RP pastor who started playing volleyball so he could be around unbelievers and have a door for witnessing. He could probably tell stories of how volleyball was used for good.

    I will continue to pray for Emma.

    February 5, 2012
  21. Diana Vice #

    Thank you, Jeff. Yes, I agree the issue is with the sinful heart, but one of the points I was trying to make is that we, as parents, could have done more to steer our daughter in a more positive direction rather than encourage her in an activity that took much time away from the things of God.

    Like I said earlier, Satan uses any weakness he can to divert attention from the one true God. In Emma’s case, he used her love of volleyball to do so, but yes, it could have been any other activity, such as the ones you mentioned.

    My regret has more to do with not encouraging her to become more involved with church activities and for allowing her to watch/play sports on the Lord’s Day. That sent the wrong message to her. I regret that and have told her so.

    I see some of our RP young people care so much about sports that it ruins their day if outcomes don’t go the way they wanted it too. To me, that’s a serious warning sign that I wished I would have picked up on earlier in our situation. Hindsight is 20/20, but if others can learn from my mistakes, it won’t be a total loss.

    Thank you for your prayers on behalf of Emma. Rick and I covet them.

    February 5, 2012
  22. Diana Vice #

    I would also like to re-emphasize how spiritual maturity levels factor into potential sports idol worship. While some Christians are strong in their faith; others are weak and are more susceptible to falling into sin. We must be careful in how we influence others in the church, especially young people. Children, teens, and even immature adult Christians learn from us, not so much by what we say, but by how we behave. We sent the wrong message to our daughter by allowing her to miss worship for sports. This contributed to her distorted worldview, which contributed to the condition of her heart and so on. I have no doubt that if it wasn’t volleyball, Satan would have used another idol to lead her astray. Hopefully, others can learn from this how important it is to guard one’s heart. Volleyball was merely one tool in satan’s tool shed.

    February 5, 2012
  23. Diana Vice #

    Sorry to re-post, but I just thought of another point. If the Lord wills to save a soul, He can do it without the aid of any sport, whether it be basketball, football, or volleyball. I remember giving my daughter a talk about how she could be an influencer as a player and a coach, and yet, regrettably, she was the one who was influenced to her weak faith. I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I have lost all hope where my daughter is concerned. Quite the contrary! God is in the miracle business and if she was truly one of His, no one can snatch her out of the Father’s hand. And I whole-heartedly believe that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord,” including this situation.

    February 5, 2012
  24. Diana Vice #

    oops..correction…she was the one who was influenced due to her weak faith….

    February 5, 2012
  25. Joel Hart #

    I would encourage everyone (and young men especially) to consider to James’ challenge to give up (for a year) to give up the NFL for a greater treasure on the Lord’s Day. I received this challenge from another pastor near the end of my time in high school (when I watched at least 90% of all Colts’ football games). More than a conviction of what not to do, I was challenged to pursue the “treasure in the field” (Matthew 13:44-46). Though at first it was first it was extremely difficult, the fruit from simply having an afternoon to the Lord Himself was incomparable. Opportunities in ministry and extended study of the Word and prayer expanded my knowledge of God and were an absolute necessity for me as I tried to navigate my first year of college. Anyone that knows me knows I am nowhere close to mastering the alluring idol of giving my life to sports. But in this one area, I know there is a treasure in a field waiting for all of us. I hope God continues to show me this treasure in all areas of my life in relation to sports.

    February 5, 2012
  26. We taught our guys when they were still boys at home to be prepared as Christians to be attacked on three levels from the pagan culture: a. What is true, b. What is valuable, and c. What is ethical. If we were starting again, I’d teach them the same thing. They can handle the SuperBowl. BTW the answer to a. is the word of God, b. the kingdom of God, c. the law of God.

    February 6, 2012
    • Thanks, Ken, for the great counsel. “That,” as they say, “will preach!”

      February 6, 2012
  27. P.S. Very productive article and discussion!

    February 6, 2012
  28. Brian #

    Interesting post. I don’t usually watch football, but while I was watching the game yesterday, I was struck by how much the giant window at Lucas Oil stadium reminded me of a stained glass window in a cathedral. The human heart is willing to make an idol out of anything, including football.

    February 6, 2012

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  1. The Christian and Sports – Dr. Rich Holdeman | Gentle Reformation

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