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sports

March 01, 2010

So the Olympics are over. While I remain somewhat uncomfortable with the games in general, wondering if we could possibly convince the impartial outside observer that they are anything other than religion, I cannot deny that they pull together the nation in a completely unique way. Already I can see that the Olympics were good for Canada.

There were lots of great stories coming out of the Olympics. We saw Joannie Rochette win a bronze medal in an event held just days after the sudden death of her mother. We saw Clara Hughes win a bronze medal in long track speed skating, putting an exclamation mark and the end of her career as the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the summer and winter games. Last night we witnessed the men’s hockey team win a medal that will be talked about in Canada for years and years to come—an overtime goal that claimed for our country a gold medal in Canada’s own game. Overall we saw Canada win the greatest number of gold medals any nation has claimed at a Winter Olympics.

September 18, 2009

The Reason for SportsI have always found it difficult to think about sports in a distinctly Christian way. I love sports (mostly watching, occasionally playing) and want to be able to enjoy fandom guilt-free. But every now and then, when I look at another of the sports scandals or when I hear of the lives of athletes, I wonder if professional sports really is a worthwhile pastime for the Christian. By our participation as fans are we contributing to the sometimes-shocking lack of morality, to the building of massive egos, to the idolatry of the athlete? How should we, as Christians, think about these things? Christians tend toward two extremes, I think, either writing off professional athletics altogether or embracing them with unblinking acceptance. Yet I’m convinced that neither extreme is helpful. It was with interest, then, that I picked up Ted Kluck’s The Reason for Sports (you may know Kluck from his books co-written with Kevin DeYoung, Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church).

September 09, 2008

Game Day for the Glory of GodFor people living in a society so obsessed with sports and so given over to them, I’m not sure that enough Christians have paused to consider what they think about sports in a way that is firmly biblical. I can think of only a small handful of books that have considered sports in light of Scripture and that have offered truly Christian ways of thinking about them. Into this void steps Stephen Altrogge with his newly published Game Day for the Glory of God.

March 02, 2008

I met Ben Zobrist while in was in Nashville speaking at the Nashville Conference on the Church and Theology. The conference was hosted by Community Bible Church, the church he and his wife, Julianna, call home (Julianna is a professional singer and musician. You can visit her MySpace). Ben was pointed out to me as the shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays (apparently they are no longer the Tampa Bay Devil Rays). I know the Rays well as they share a division with my hometown Toronto Blue Jays. Ben, who was the opening day shortstop for the Rays in 2007, but who finished the season with an injury, is currently on the 40-man roster and is looking good to earn a spot on the 25-man roster (and hence a position on the major league squad) to begin the new season.

Ben ZobristThough Ben’s major league career has been short, he has already been involved in a play that is unique in the annals of professional baseball—a triple play in which the bat never touched the ball (a player struck out, a runner was caught trying to steal second and a third player was subsequently caught trying to steal home). If you’re a baseball fan and haven’t yet seen the play, you’ll want to! You can do so here.

Ben was kind enough to answer a few questions I sent to him, even though he is just settling into training camp.

How did you come to know the Lord?

God brought me to Himself at about the age of 4. My parents were devout believers and my Dad was in Bible College at the time. I remember hearing the gospel in Sunday school and I talked to my Mom about it one night before bed. It was clear to me that I was a sinner and I was not going to heaven if I died without accepting Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross for me. I was brought to Christ out of fear of going to hell. I didn’t want to go there after I died, and there was only one other choice in my mind as a 4 year old. I wanted to go to heaven. It was and is that simple.

How do you seek to bring glory to God through your career as a baseball player?

First of all, I try to be excellent at my job, because I know God wants me to give my best to be a walking witness and ambassador of the excellence of Jesus Christ. My teammates and coaches are watching to see if my relationship with Christ makes me any different on the ballfield, and I pray that God will be represented in my play as excellent. At the same time, I am seeking to be an active part of the body of Christ among ballplayers by using the spiritual gifts God has given me to encourage and build up my fellow teammates as well as the Baseball Chaplain that ministers to us on a weekly basis. We have weekly bible studies and Sunday morning chapel services. The nature of the game also gives me great opportunity to visit and share my faith in Christ on a regular basis with individuals, schools, and churches. So I try to use that platform to give glory to God as well.

Do you feel any particular kind of increased responsibility as both a Christian and an athlete?

I do sense an increased responsibility as a Christian athlete in our culture, because our culture exalts performance so much. There are many kids and adults alike who dream of being in our shoes. I believe as a Christian athlete, we are called to use that highly respected platform to deflect any praise to Whom it really belongs and to help people see beyond the glory of a man-made game or ballpark.

As a baseball player you have to be away from home for months at a time. How do you maintain your spiritual health while you are on the road and unable to be a part of a church? How do you maintain family relationships?

My wife and I are still learning how to do this effectively. Playing on Sunday afternoons (required to be at the park in the morning) creates an even more difficult situation than just being away from our Home church. Not only is it near impossible to be involved at a local church where we are playing, but we play at nights during the week until Sunday when we have an afternoon game, after which we usually have to travel to the next city right after the game. This makes it almost impossible just to attend any service. Baseball Chapel, an organization which provides an on-call minister in each baseball community, has been a great help with bible study during the week as well as ready networking among Christian ballplayers. We attend a service when we can. We take advantage of what Baseball Chapel offers. We read as much scripture personally as we can. And we also try to listen to podcast sermons as much as we can. To stay connected to family, we spend a lot of time talking on the phone and friends and family come visit us at various cities when they can. We are blessed to have great family and friends who encourage us in Christ throughout the baseball season.

Ben Zobrist

How do you stay connected to your local church during the baseball season? What role does your home church play in your life during the season?

We listen to our home church pastor Byron Yawn’s sermons through podcast. I am part of a men’s Theology class at church as well, and one of the men sends me an mp3 of the study that week. We keep up with prayer requests and activities through massive church emails. Pastor Byron calls every so often to check on us to see how we are doing. We also try to do a mass update to everyone every so often to let everyone know how we are doing and how to pray. Prayer is the main role the local church plays in our lives during the season. Prayer is powerful and much needed as it seems there are few ballplayers that have a strong connection to a local church back home that is praying for them.

How can we pray for Christian athletes? What particular needs or challenges do athletes have that require prayer?

Pray first and foremost against idolatry for us. It is easy to make success in our sport an idol when you want to be excellent. It is easy to set ourselves above others and most grievously above God when people treat you “special”, almost like an idol. Pray for right perspective and constant humility against our prideful flesh. Pray against temptation of all things worldly. And pray for spiritual openness and conversation amongst believers. Athletes tend to have hard outer shells and they think it is weak to share their hearts.

How does an athlete - someone who people know and recognize - handle being in a local church without being a distraction?

I wear a hat and glasses…just kidding. People don’t know who I am when I go to church. I guess I’m not bigtime yet…Ha! Seriously though, I think when you go to worship the Lord with His people, if you bring an attitude of humility, and it is obvious what you are there for, people get it. I love that our local church treats us no different than any other, and I’d be worried if it was any other way. I believe we are best as the body of Christ when we show absolutely no partiality among the saints.

Who are your main spiritual influences?

My parents and my wife’s parents have been incredible examples in our lives. There are some great Christian men in my life that I look up to on a regular basis. My accountability partner, my Chapel leader and his family, our pastor and local church back in Nashville are other main influences. Others include pastors I’ve listened to personally and through podcast that faithfully preach the Word of God.

What are a few good books you’ve read recently? What are a few you’re hoping to read soon?

The Saints’ Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter
The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz
The Attributes of God by Arthur Pink
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
Overachievement by John Eliot

Soon, I hope to read…

Famine in the Land by Steven Lawson
Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
Humility by CJ Mahaney
Cinderella Man by Jeremy Schaap
Oh yeah……and uh Spiritual Discernment by Tom Challies or somebody like that.

Should I draft you to be the cornerstone of my fantasy baseball squad this year? Are you willing to make me any performance guarantees?

You should definitely draft me, but I can’t guarantee a lot of points. Draft by faith.

September 01, 2007

The quiet strength and outspoken faith of Tony Dungy.

Quiet Strength by Tony DungyThose who know the National Football League will know of Tony Dungy, the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. One of the league’s premier and most respected coaches, Dungy is a Christian and one who is outspoken about his faith. Two events in the past two years have put him in the spotlight: the death of his son in 2006 and the Colts’ Superbowl victory in 2007. Anyone who has read about Dungy or observed him on the sidelines will affirm that Quiet Strength is a perfect title for his memoir—a book that has reached as high as the top spot on the New York Times list of bestsellers, becoming the first NFL-related book to hold that honor.