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Thursday, 3 January 2013

One Day Football Supporter

Football Supporter for One Day
Celebration after one of Suarez's two goals
Recently I went with one of my sons to watch Liverpool beat Sunderland 3-0 at home (Anfield). I am not a football supporter - though being interested in all things makes me interested in football - that's my interest level (horrifying for a true fan, I know!).

Let me give you three reasons I (personally) refuse to be a football fan before telling you how much I enjoyed my One Day as One.

Reason 1: I fear football could all too easily become an idol to me
I grew up in a home largely free of idols (including the common idols of money, career, education, sport and family). I did not realise until much later that my father had been quite a skilled sportsman in his youth, with basketball as his chief interest. You would never have known it from his conversation in later life - for good reason. In his youth sport had become an idol - something that consumed his mind and time and energy. Though actively involved in the work of the Gospel in his church and community, this secret passion (in his heart) drained away much of his zeal. On the surface he was an eager believer, but beneath the surface it was a different matter.

One day he became seriously ill with peritonitis and close to death he promised God he would devote himself to God's work all the days of his life. He did recover and in fulfilling his promise realised that sport would have to go - it was the only way to deal with an idol of such power in his life.

He went out to North India an earnest missionary - as you can see from his prayer card (too earnest!?)

CT Studd, who founded the mission my father then joined (WEC) was once a famous cricketer: an 1879 report said "incomparably the best cricketer was Eton Captain CT Studd." He had to deal not only with the idol of sport but of material wealth in a similar way.

So I grew up in a home free of the idol of sport, for which I am very grateful. But I have seen it's hold on others and for that reason I fear supporting one team or one sport for that matter. It is not that sport is wrong, it is that sport can easily take hold of men (in my experience more than women) in such a way that it sits upon the throne of mind, heart - and pocket......

Reason 2: Scripture says that there are more important things to do with our short lives than be consumed with sport
I am not thinking of the calling to sport which God may place on someone's life (think: Eric Liddel) I am thinking of the sideline idolatry of sport which can so easily eat up the precious resources God grants to the rest of us:

                             "Physical training (the Greek word Paul uses becomes our 'gymnasium') is of 
                               some value but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for 
                               both the present life and the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:8)

These words were written to a young man, and it would not be wrong to read into this verse addressed to this young man a gentle correction to an over-emphasis on sport. Godliness has eternal significance is Paul's point, whereas sport is of "some" (this is a weak translation of the Greek word oligos which means small) benefit - and only for the short season of time. 

Reason 3: Scripture warns against idols

              "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols"

is how the apostle John ends his first little letter. It's a dramatic ending to a new covenant letter, revealing how easily idols in both Testaments and all ages can take root in our hearts and lives.

I would fear that supporting one particular team or one sport would turn my mind, and more importantly pollute my heart.

But after saying that, Yesterday was a great day.....

An enjoyable day at Anfield
...because it was spent with my son. Somehow, in spite of me, two of my sons have become avid football supporters. One is a faithful supporter of Liverpool; and this was a dad-son day out. I studied physics in Liverpool, so that enhanced my interest in returning there, though as proof I have never worshiped sport, this: for two student years I lived in Lothair Road which is literally next to Anfield, and not once did I watch a match or was even aware of the Temple next door (my son simply cannot fathom such behaviour!).

We sat at the opposite end of "The Kop" and watched two great goals from Suarez and Sterling in the first half. In the second half Suarez scored again. I even found myself standing up and clapping applause at the goals, but no worries, I am just as flat about football - or any sport - this morning as I was two days ago!

Signs of idolatry
Returning to the theme of idolatry, I was intrigued by the "religious atmosphere" of Anfield. None of the following signs indicate idolatry on their own, perhaps, but together they point in that direction:
  • lots of money spent - football tickets are expensive, and when you add the food and drink people buy, the fanzines and match magazines, the travel and the time off work, you're talking serious money for the serious fan
  • lots of time spent - I was amazed at how early some people come. The merchandise folk set up shop at 3.00pm (5 hours before the match starts) - and they are not disappointed by the fans' willingness to part with cash for scarfs, badges, hats, even hotdogs wrapped in LFC wrappings
  • lots of noise - I have never seen grown men sing so loud or so lustily in my life. It makes an all-too-sharp contrast with their singing among the saints.
  • lots of passion - above all else you feel the passion. The stinging (and often rude) rebukes when a player fails and the claps of applause when they succeed, the unpleasant attacks on the ref, all point to the earnest desire of the fans for their team to win.
Getting the balance right - is difficult
Dads need to spend quality-time with their children. I am not setting myself up as an example, because I know the demands of the Gospel have often conflicted with time spent with family. (I also know that many of those family sacrifices have been right and proper for Jesus promised:

"Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:29) )

My own father made many family sacrifices too, and in his case, each one of his six children are today walking with the Lord - he put spiritual priorities first in his life and in family life and by the grace of God, it has "paid off". He never took me to Pink Floyd concerts, but he prayed with me and for me.

The most valuable time we spend with our kids in the end, is not in secular endeavors such as sport, but in spiritual conversation and encouragement. Asking them how their walk with the Lord is. Finding out if they pray and read the Scriptures. Encouraging them to seek God's will for their futures. These are far more important matters.

And we had a chance to talk about these things in the long journey to Liverpool and back.

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