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The Number One False God In America


Bob Russell1Written on May 1, 2016

At a gathering of our area’s spiritual leaders a few weeks ago we studied the dramatic revival recorded in 2 Chronicles 29-30.  One of the first steps King Hezekiah took to initiate revival in Judah was to cast down the false idols and eliminate anything that was unclean in the temple.  That paved the way for the worship of the one true God.

The question was asked at our meeting, “What is the biggest barrier to revival today?  What is the primary idol that needs to be torn down for revival to take place in Kentucky?  What prevents most Christians from total devotion to Christ?

We broke up into five different groups to discuss that question.  Surprisingly, after about twenty minutes every group came to pretty much the same conclusion.  The answer wasn’t jobs, possessions, children or alcohol.  Each group concluded the Christian’s primary idol in 21st Century America is sports.

Surprised?  Think about it. The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  A false god is anyone or anything that becomes more important to us than God Himself.  Our god is whatever we love with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.  That means a false god doesn’t have to be evil in itself – it can be something good that has become too important to us.

Take note of how many people’s consuming passion is their favorite athletic team.  They proudly wear the team colors and logo.  They paste their team’s name on bumper stickers and brag about their team’s accomplishments – all at the risk of alienating fans of rival teams.  But the same people are reluctant to ever share their faith in Christ lest someone be offended.  They memorize statistics and hunger for more inside information about their favorite players to the point of idolizing them but they get bored studying the Bible.

It used to be that we worried about losing our kids to sex, drugs and alcohol when they went off to college.  Now we lose them at a much younger age to traveling sports teams.  “Sorry, preacher.  We won’t be in church much for the next couple of months.  Our son plays on an AAU team and we’re out of town most weekends watching him play.”

One Kentucky preacher told me that if the local college basketball team loses on Saturday night church attendance is down at least 10% on Sunday morning.  And the worship that morning lacks energy because the mood of half those who do attend is melancholy.

A friend who is an evangelist was speaking at a church in Charlotte, North Carolina several months ago.  The local minister told him, “Attendance should be really good today.  The Panthers are playing out of town.”  My friend wasn’t sure who the Panthers were but couldn’t help but think about the many pagan idols that were replicas of animals and how displeased God was when the Israelites worshipped a golden calf in the wilderness.  He added, ‘Have you ever noticed how many sports teams are named after animals? The Rams, Tigers, Wildcats, Cardinals, Eagles, Hogs, Broncos, Bears – Just sayin’!’”

The NFL has a slogan, “We own Sundays.”  Really?  Evidently so.  Some churches even hold Super Bowl Parties where the game of the year (complete with risqué commercials) is shown on the big screen in the church’s auditorium.  Then they pause for a twenty-minute worship service at halftime.  What really is our god?

I performed a wedding a few years ago that just happened to coincide with an IU-UK basketball game.  Several in the audience paid little attention to my comments or the marriage vows, they were watching the exciting ending of the game on their iPhones.  Think about the time, the money, the conversational energy spent on sports activities.

I’ve been reading a daily devotional book by Paul David Tripp titled New Morning Mercies.  This past Thursday the devotional began, “Today the true love of your heart will be   revealed by what you grieve and what you celebrate.”

Tripp wrote, “Every day we are sad, mad, upset or disappointed by something, and every day we are excited, happy, joyful, pumped or thankful for something. It is at the intersection between sadness and celebration that the true love of our hearts is exposed.”

What grieves you more – a lost person outside of Christ or you favorite team losing in the NCAA tournament?  What brings you more joy, a crucial victory against your archrival or a moving worship service where Christ is honored?

How much of your joy, celebration, grief or anger in the last several weeks had anything whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God?”  How much had to do with U.L’s post season ban or UK’s loss in the tournament or the signing of the latest five star recruit?

I love sports, especially college sports.  I have been an avid University of Louisville fan for five decades.  It’s been a great diversion for me and my family.  We’ve had a lot of fun watching games together.

However, a few years ago I found myself overly anxious about an upcoming University of Louisville basketball game.  For days I had a hard time focusing on my primary tasks.  I was tense in my relationships with people.  When the game finally started at times my heart was pounding as though I’d just run a hundred yard dash.  When the game was over I realized, “This has become far too important to me.  It’s consuming me and dictating my mood.  It’s a false god in my life.”

I made a deliberate attempt to change.  I may slip occasionally but I can honestly say sports are not my consuming passion.  I still enjoy basketball and attend 5-6 games a year.  I enjoy college football even more and attend most home games.  I frequently watch sports on television. It’s a terrific diversion for me.

But it’s not my god.  If U.L. wins I celebrate and enjoy it. But if they lose it doesn’t ruin my day nor is it the primary topic of my conversation.  If an important game conflicts with church or family activities I often tape the game and watch it later, minus all the inane ads.  I sometimes listen to sports talk radio while traveling but I listen to gospel music more often.

I don’t want to be one of those guys buried in a red shirt with a UL Cardinal on the side of the casket.  I feel a little sorry for people who eat and breathe sports constantly. I get even more impatient with Christians who never get beyond sports to talk of things that are of first importance.  Get a life!  Basketball, football, baseball, golf, soccer are great diversions but totally inept gods.

When UL baseball coach Dan McDonnell was interviewed last year following a heart-breaking loss that prevented his team from going to the College World Series he gave testimony to his audience and reminded himself of what was really important.

“These are the times you’re glad you’re a Christian,” McDonnell said afterward, struggling to control his emotions and fighting back tears. “These are the times you’re glad you have a spiritual faith.  I am not perfect.  I am a sinner.  But I love God and know He loves me.  He has blessed this program and we’ll be back.”

If spiritual revival is going to come to the church, Christians need to remember what matters most and rid our lives of anything that matters more than the one true God.  Jesus put it succinctly, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of the Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KY.



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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10