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SPORTS: A SPIRITUAL LABORATORY


‘Watch a man play an hour’s time and you can tell who he is’.
To bring change is not easy but a process that needs your extra efforts. Many leaders are too traditional to accept the tool of sports. The church cannot be confined and just being without proclaiming the gospel. What was useful before may not be applicable in today’s fast changing world. Its good to remember that only discipline people comes to church, but not the unbelievers, neither addicted nor alcoholic etc. In order to win those people we (the church) must go out to them, rather than waiting them to come by their own conviction.
The gospel is to be made powerful by preaching to those in need so that, the power of gospel will bring them to church. The actual purpose of the gospel message is for them, who haven’t heard, who are in bondage of slavery (sin). The parable of Jesus in the gospel says, He left the 99 sheep’s and went back in search of one lost sheep. So, the most important is unsaved one. It doesn’t mean to neglect the rest, but the truth is that the rest are already safe and in the boundary of God’s love but the one’s not. As we respond to the commission of Jesus to reach unreached people by all means then, sport is the best tool to reach out to different types of people you have in your heart.
Sport is a tremendous vehicle for the process of becoming like Christ (discipleship). Through sports and recreation it is possible to construct “A Life Laboratory” so that the “theory” espoused from the pulpit, the Sunday school class or the Bible study is practically applied or practiced. It is not enough to give intellectual assent to the teaching of Christ (or the pastor or Sunday school teacher); the issue is to make it applicable to one’s life.
The competitive nature of sports produces a crucible where one’s faith can be refined. It is one thing to say that you are controlled by the Holy Spirit, and quite another to demonstrate it after striking out or fouling out of a game. It is one thing to say that you understand self-control is to be manifest in the life of one controlled by the fruit of the Spirit. And yet demonstrate that control after someone has viciously fouled you or cheated and won the match.
Discipleship is that process where the individual follows Christ, learns from Christ, and then applies what he has learned. This is not a mere intellectual exercise, but is a life-cycle process where one moves from spiritual “infancy” (being born again) and progresses to spiritual maturity (with perfection coming the day we are face-to-face with our Savior). The ultimate purpose of maturity, however, is not a mere developmental exercise; there is divine purpose in our maturing. Our God is a redemptive God, calling people unto Himself. The strategy He has adopted is reproduction through multiplication. Once one is saved (born again) there is progression from infancy to spiritual maturity for the purpose of reproduction –by proclamation of the message of life in Christ as well as demonstration of that life in the believer.
The reasons why sports and recreation contribute so significantly to the process of growing in Christ-likeness through discipleship:
1.    Because Sports and Recreation are activity oriented and the participant learns by doing “Theoretical to Practical”.
2.    Because Sports and Recreation produce an enjoyable environment which tends to enhance instruction.
3.    Because Sports and Recreation can produce a pressurized environment resulting in unsanctified behavior which gives opportunity for reproof, correction and instruction (as well as confession, repentance and restoration).
4.    The competitive element in sports teaches us how to be goal setters and how to pursue them developing perseverance so that, like Paul, we can say we have “fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith” 2 Tim. 4: 7.
5.    Sports and Recreation activities create an environment that demands accountability.
6.    Sports and Recreation give an opportunity for modeling the life of Christ in positive and negative situations. After initiating contact and manifesting Christ-like behavior, discipleship demands proclamation . . .
7.    The beginning of discipleship is proclamation, and Sports and Recreation give the opportunity for the believer to fellowship with the unbeliever and, thereby, have opportunities to share the gospel.
The bottom line is that the Apostle Paul has given us liberty in the proclamation of the gospel. In I Cor. 9, he indicated that he was so free that he could become a “Jew” to reach the Jews or a “Greek” to reach the Greeks. That was a culturally offensive statement to make to either group!! There was no way a Jew wanted to become a Greek or vice-versa, but Paul said the gospel was so important, that he had liberty even to become a despised pagan or stiff-necked Jew for the sake of the gospel.
Could this mean that the church is free to use sports as she glorifies God in redemptive partnership? Could this mean that the church should embrace a sports ministry as part of the in-reach and outreach strategy? Could this mean that the mission’s efforts of the church could include sending out her coaches and athletes to foreign shores? Could this mean that the missions’ efforts of the church could include supporting the equipping of nationals in how their churches or their country could use sports and recreation to reach the lost and “train them up”?
The Apostle Paul has also demonstrated for us, and encouraged us in, expediency –excelling in all things to accomplish the greatest results.  In I Cor. 9:22, Paul said, “I have become all things to all men that I may, by all means, save some.” Paul was not extolling license to do anything sinful or to violate someone’s conscience.  In fact, Paul’s theme in I Cor. 9 deals with his willingness to forego liberties for the sake of the gospel.  However, within that willingness was a passion for, and subjection of self for the sake of the gospel that led him to cultural liberty.  Paul would find out what was culturally important and employ that ‘MEANS’ to preach the gospel; he would then culturally adapt to advance the Kingdom.
Knowing the importance of sport in the culture of the world, Paul would undoubtedly use sports as a platform for the gospel today; I believe he even would use it to plant churches and to promote church growth. I believe he would even instruct Timothy and Titus to consider using sports as a culturally relevant tool for the church – a tool by which the gospel could be proclaimed, people won to Christ and then built up in their faith. He would do this, “not because Sports are important but the gospel work is”.

DR. THAMSING LAMKANG
Sports Resource Center (Northeast) India