CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Which God Do You Worship?

Sep 30, 2017

OK, here is an article which I can pretty much assume will cause many people – including many Christians – to get really upset with me. In fact, going from past experience, I can almost guarantee it. Some folks will be furious that I dare to even pen a piece like this. Some will even want to never have anything to do with me again.

Yes, for some at least, it will be that serious. But as I will explain, if this is the reaction they have, then it is more than likely that the problem lies with them, and not with me. I have simply touched a sore spot here, and they don’t like it. I hope I don’t get hated on here, but I have a feeling that some folks will.

So what am I rambling on about here? Today 100,000 worshippers will descend upon a holy shrine in Melbourne for an annual pilgrimage involving one of the major religious traditions in Australia. And millions of other devoted followers of this religion will watch it all from a distance. This annual event is the high point of their calendar – almost a holy day.

I take it most of you now know exactly what I am talking about here. For the tiny handful of folks in Australia who have no clue what I am on about, and for most folks overseas, let me spill the beans. Today is the Grand Final of the Australian Football League. And for many, this is the most important day of the year.

Now that I have many of you hating on me big time for daring to step on your toes, let me say this: I have nothing against sport as such, and I do enjoy watching it some myself. And it can always be exciting when your fav team makes it to the end of the season to play for the top award.

Thus I do not begrudge AFL fans and the Grand Final taking place today. But my point remains nonetheless. And if what I say here offends you greatly, then maybe you need to take a good hard look at your own self, and not just lash out at me.

The truth is, for millions of Australians, sport in general and the footy in particular has become an idol. Let me remind you what the Christian believes in regard to idolatry. It is putting anything ahead of the one true living God. In 21st century Australia there are many such idols.

As A.W. Pink once put it, an idol is “anything which displaces God in my heart. It may be something which is quite harmless in itself, yet if it absorbs me, if it be given the first place in my affections and thoughts, it becomes an ‘idol’. It may be my business, a loved one, or my service for Christ. Any one or any thing which comes into competition with the Lord’s ruling me in a practical way, is an ‘idol’.”

Power, money, success, fame, fortune and so on are just some of the idols of our day. And there is no doubt that for many football is a very real religion: it consumes all their passions, it excites them like nothing else does; it is what they live, breathe and talk about, and their lives go up or down depending on how their particular team is performing.

If their fav team wins today, there will be rejoicing in the streets, partying and celebrations the likes of which have not been seen since the end of WWII was declared (or since last year’s game!). There was pandemonium in the streets in 1945, and in a few hours we will see similar scenes here.

And for those whose team is on the losing end, there will be overwhelming amounts of grief, depression, anger and misery. I would not doubt that some fans might even entertain thoughts of suicide. It is that serious for some. Footy is that much of a god for so many.

And even if your fav teams are not playing today, there will be millions of people hyper-animated and hyper-ventilating today, screaming their heads off, and showing more emotion than they otherwise would do all year. This much enthusiasm can be a mark of idolatry.

So let me now speak to believers here. We expect non-Christians to come up with all sorts of false gods for which they will dedicate their lives to. But for Christians it should be a different matter. Yes, as mentioned, by all means enjoy sport – either as a participant or a spectator – and have a fav team that you support.

It can be a nice bit of relaxation and leisure for many believers. Nothing wrong with that. But I think I can very safely say that for too many Christians, today – and other days – can be an idolatrous time. They will be utterly absorbed in the action and show more passion and desire for this than they have shown God all year.

Even the word “enthusiasm” is of interest here. It comes from the Greek words “in God”. It is in God and God alone that we get enthusiastic and thrilled to bits. Sure, we can appreciate other neat things in life, but God should be our chief source of praise, excitement and worship.

Yet too many believers will be far more concerned about their fav team than they are about God. They will actually praise and adore their team more than they ever do God. They will be utterly fanatical about their team and their prospects for success than they ever will about their faith and their Lord.

As such, they are idolaters. Sorry, I can feel the angst and the anger already welling up in some of you. But let me call it as it is. Indeed, simply take the following test and see how you come out in all this:

-If sport gets you far more excited, passionate, devoted and thrilled than God does, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If you can scream yourself hoarse every weekend at a game, but never say a word at a Sunday worship service, you may be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If you can spend all week talking about your team and how they did and what you hope from them, but never talk about Jesus Christ in public at all, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If you can get together with other believers and party all night because of a sporting outcome, but you will never stay up all night for a mid-weekly prayer meeting, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If the thing you think about, talk about and emote about the most is your particular sporting team, but not the Lord Jesus Christ, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.

Just sayin’. Don’t shoot me – I am simply the messenger here. I know many Christians indeed love the Lord, and they enjoy their sport, but it is a secondary love for them. They do have their priorities right. I am not here talking about such people.

But let’s be honest. I think we all know of people who are at best very lukewarm about the Lord and very half-hearted about their faith, while they are hyper-passionate about their sport. They live, breathe, eat and sleep sport, but Christianity is but a secondary item at best.

These folks are idolaters. I say this on the authority of the Word of God. And recall that there are all sorts of idols out there. You may have no love of sport whatsoever. But there may well be other things in your life that command your supreme loyalty, attention and devotion.

Whatever that is, if it is not the Lord Jesus Christ, that for you is idolatry. Again, if you are greatly upset right now, please do not lash out on me. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you are getting all hot under the collar right now, and want to send in a nasty comment to me, maybe you need to spend a few minutes on your face before God.

Ask him if there is anything in your life that may in fact need to be changed. Ask him if there are indeed any idols in your life. It is all too easy for any one of us Christians to make idols out of things. I am just as prone as this as anyone else.

So please, no attack comments here thanks. For the third time, sport can be a really good thing. I too enjoy it, and I too can have fav teams or individuals. There is nothing amiss with a healthy interest in such things. But any honest believer will know that for many, there can well be a very unhealthy and dangerous interest and devotion to such things.

That is my concern here. So enjoy the rest of your day. Enjoy the footy if you are there at the MCG, or if you are watching it on TV. My wife and I might hit the shops this afternoon while the streets and stores will be almost completely deserted!

And for any partisans out there: Go the Tigers! And, Go the Crows!

[1561 words]

36 Responses to Which God Do You Worship?

  • God bless you Bill. You are so faithful to speak truth even in the face of opposition.

  • There are so many false gods running around in this so called secular society, that we could be living on Mt Olympus!

  • And since I know just what my angry critics will say, let me pre-empt them by stating the following: Sure, if “my” team had made it through to today I would likely have watched the game. But if a law was passed in Australia banning the AFL from henceforth, it really would not bother me much at all. I have enjoyed it, but I can so easily live without it – especially as it now pushes every diabolical PC agenda, such as Islam, homosexuality, etc!

  • No worries Bill could not agree more.

  • We just have a look to understand others but I managed in Thailand without it. When nursing I tried to find out about cricket and football and cricket so could talk with my patients . Couldn’t encourage anyone to make a career of it as would take over your life.

  • Congrats on a excellent article,
    …it’s challenging and convicting.

  • Quite true Bill. Sport has become the true ‘opiate of the masses’. Actually I opine that when it involves paid athletes with millions of dollars involved and actions brought in the High Court over this and that and big bureaucracy running and organising it, it stops being sport and becomes paid entertainment.

    It really galls me when people claim ” WE just won gold in the 500 metres.” ‘WE’ didn’t actually win anything. ‘WE’ just sat on the couch and watched an athlete win. Which reminds me of a few years back when swimmer Lisa Curry came second in a race. The joke headline: “Lisa Curry comes second. Some other Aussie sheila wins”.

  • Thanks Bill, I couldn’t agree with you more. Keep up the wonderful word of God, love your material. BTW I have a funny personal account related to my sports ignorance you and others may find amusing.
    Some time ago I was invited to watch a game at the local sport club, to which I happily replied yes to. I honestly do not follow sport, I prefer to play for exercise and fun, I seriously do not watch it or much television for that matter. Anyway, I turn up and wish to engage in conversation with the fellas. Well, in my genuine attempt to feign interest in the game I asked who was playing and where they were from, normal question I would have thought, however, I only got shock and appall. You see, I live in Canberra and the Brumbies were playing, I had no idea they were the local team. Perhaps if it were Canberra Raiders I would have got it with the title clue. I truthfully prefer to ask and talk about real life matters e.g. SSM, sermons on Hell, Islam–FGM, honour killings etc. but only get shut down or subject change occurs. The point here is that I appreciate your material and use this regularly in engaging with family and friends, so thank you again.

  • Dear Bill,
    This is so true. Sports people are the gods of this time. Given the support of some leagues for SSM, it is even amazing that Christians can think about going to or watching the games.
    Best regards,
    Pascal.

  • I got annoyed the other day when EDDIE MAGUIRE said that sport is the glue of society. So where are the church leaders to counter this? TOO busy trying to be relevant and not faithful to the GOSPEL.

  • Hi Bill, spot on here brother, idolitary can be quite deceiving. It’s something that every believer should check their hearts with. Since coming into the knowledge of the truth. God will quietly from time to time show me things that are idols in my life and each time then I have the opportunity to repent (turn away) from that thing or continue in sin. But I have come to realise that if you continue to ignore these promptings. Your heart/ conscience becomes callused/seared.

    Jesus spoke it plainly: love the lord your God with ALL your might soul & strength. Love your neighbour as yourself. We simply cannot do this and idolise things in our life. If we do. We are deceiving yourselves

    Thank you for you courage to speak the truth Bill. It takes Agape love to do such things. For the righteous are as bold as a lion. Bless you brother

  • Funny that you chose that picture of the man standing in the crowd.
    It looks just like many in the Sunday congregation during the singing of a chorus! :-))

  • Is sport such a stumbling block for Christians? Or am I just part of the tiny handful? I was confused when I saw that it was the football final – haven’t seen anything about soccer in the news, and then saw that you meant AFL. Oops! 🙂

    As regards your 5 points, couldn’t they be translated into other idols? Perhaps politics, or TV, or music, or other such things. The tricky part is where the line blurs – if it’s Christian music you focus on for instance. Of course you can still elevate something good beyond what’s healthy.

  • Yes of course Andrew. As I said in my piece: “Power, money, success, fame, fortune and so on are just some of the idols of our day.” So yes those five points can be applied across the board (with some slight rephrasing!).

  • Hi Bill, your comments are very timely. I am currently 3/4 of my way through the Book of Ezekiel. When I meditate over the reasons God brought judgement down on Israel and Judah, it makes me extremely fearful for the future of Australia. God has declared He will have no other gods before Him, and even worse we as a nation have chosen to ignore Him. Bill, my only criticism is that you should have gone in A LOT HARDER than you did when you penned this article. We live in very perilous times indeed. Blessings, Kel.

  • I realised I mis-quoted Jesus of the first commandment. Should have read love the lord with your Heart, soul and mind. Need my morning coffee I think.

  • Allow me to add a little – most of them are not smart enough to be idiots and unfortunately there is no penalty for being an idiot.
    The so called AFL which has become the HFL (homosexual football league) – most of the so called fans would not be able to understand how they are being used in that their sheer numbers give licence to the HFL to claim that their endorsement of homosexuality will be recorded and each of them is being used as numbers to put God on trial and argue that homosexuality is normal and God is wrong to condemn it. Are they worth saving if any of them were transported through time and placed in Sodom or Gomorrah?
    Will they fall on their knees in a disaster and pray for help from God forgetting how they turned their face from God at a time when his word was set aside for a lust that amounts to nothing more than a bunch of kids chasing a football?
    Maybe we should have pity for them as their lives are given to nothing more than a commercial venture – after all, when any of them claim to ‘support their team’ they do not consider that ‘their team’ is made up of players bought from other clubs who were once the ‘enemy’ and run by a consortium that is set on maximum profit. In this, do they realise that they are being fleeced and or that their real idol is nothing more than the mighty dollar?
    John Abbott

  • If that passion for sport could be translated into passion for Christ and the gospel, what an impact. Nelson Mandela has said “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” Scripture Union in England and Wales have taken advantage of the “power” of sport to initiate a Ministry through Sport program. It’s obviously a huge potential mission field.

  • Yes Ian, I just saw the fans on the news – delirious fanatics who were dancing, jumping, screaming, crying and carrying on as if it was the end of the world. I would imagine many of these sporting enthusiasts were also believers. Would they ever show that much zeal, excitement, passion and emotion for their faith and for their Lord?

  • YELLOW AND BLACK! Great article Bill.

  • Thanks for your article Bill as you’ve given us a great reminder. However, it was a good chance to go back to the Bible & see what it says about ‘idolatry’ & why it is such an offence to God. If we don’t have the first 3 commandments in Exodus 20 at the forefront of our Christian lives, convinced & living by it – how can any of Christians fear God, know what He expects us & to reach out to others in urgency for the lost. ‘We are to have no other gods but Him’! Sport IS a god. I am guilty of it too. I’ve been happy for my beloved Sydney Roosters, Everton & Essendon give me joy from week to week. The reality is that not ONE of those players from any those teams will get me into heaven & secure the victory that is needed to avoid hell.

  • Lets not be too critical….Should there be Sports Chaplaincy. Of course their influenced is appreciated by Christians who play in the top elite….Gary Ablett jnr, Hugh Greenwood, Andrew Shallow. Zac Smith, Aaron Hall. Their witness can have an impact. There are no doubt others in the other codes ….NRL, etc

    When all the glitter is stripped away…a quiet word or witness can have an influence from the Players who own the name of Christ

  • In an OT lecture we were told of the ubiquity of the “games” in the ancient world. So much so that Priests at the Temple used to neglect their duties to duck off to compete. As athletes competed naked they took action to disguise their circumcision marks so as not to stand out in the Greek and Roman world.
    There must be a message there.
    The lady sitting next to me turned and asked me how they would disguise their circumcision, I said I had no idea and she should ask the lady lecturer. However, if anyone knows there is at least one lady theological student that would like to know.

  • Back in the 1970s there was a cartoon published called “Uriel Down Under”, in which an archangel arrives at the MCG the Sunday morning after the AFL GrandFinal: According to Uriel’s reports back to Heaven, the local gods included Footee and Flutta and Car!

  • Christians will one day be as ‘guilty’ of the same excitement and zeal as we see in today’s Grand Finals when Jesus ushers in the Great Grand Finale. Winning a Grand Final promises many things: the reward and recognition of commitment and hard training, inspiring those who have supported you and winning the reward on their behalf as well. It is experiencing a profound affirmation for goals achieved (literally) and the sharing of real teamwork and working together to achieve a common purpose. If the church could capture many of those values in its life and ministry, then a fresh zeal might be felt by many who could discover a new challenge to step into God’s great purposes in and through his church.

  • A couple I know, active in ‘fundamentalist’ Christian ministry, at one time decided that as a parental duty they should take their only son, then a 15-year-old, to a Preliminary Final at the MCG. It turned out to be a much more excellent lesson in the dangers of worldliness than they could have anticipated. For at one point when a goal was scored and the crowd roared, a super-excited lady who they’d never previously met or talked with turned to them and said, “THIS is MY religion!”

  • Travis McHarg, I believe circumcision as required by God has never been the radical (and much more dangerous) process it has since become. It was just the unattached tip of the foreskin, and not the majority of it, that was removed. It was certainly not forcefully separated as modern circumcision dictates. This meant it was possible for the men to try and stretch the foreskin to disguise the fact that any of it was missing. It was only in 140AD that this radical form of circumcision was introduced. It was not something God instigated.
    www.cirp.org/library/history/peron2/

  • I agree! For years now, I have considered the AFL finals as a semi-religious event. I watched some of the recent final on TV and, when the “devotees” were screaming out their support for each goal kicked for their team, I thought to myself, if only we could hear such shouts of joy coming out to worship and praise God. It’s actually a sad indictment on the emptiness of spiritual life in our nation. God help us!

  • I don’t suppose that anyone would object to ‘football’ being being called a central part the Aussie culture; but I wonder how many people realize that the root word for ‘culture’ (i.e. ‘cult’) means in the original Latin ‘worship’ and the suffix ‘ure’ means the ‘process or result of’ ?

  • Oh, some sports were played.
    Sorry, I was too busy preparing veggie beds, worshipping God and “being filled with the Holy Ghost, He went about doing good”, following my Lord and Saviour’s example, to know that a season of sports had been played.

  • I’m glad to say that of the myriad temptations I find around me, football of any kind is not one of them. So I won’t hate Bill for this article.

  • Hi Bill, Slight tangent.
    Being a NO voter on SSM, I wondered what I would do if I had tickets to the NRL 2017 grand final, and faced with the crowd listening to Mackelmore singing “Same Love”. There is no chance that this would have happened, but, what if? I thought that the best thing to do would be to use some sort of body language to show that I didn’t agree.
    Perhaps to turn around I thought and have by back to the singer. Mmmm
    That would probably bring a reaction!
    The clash of two religions.
    I wonder if there were any obvious dissenters.

    Another further Aside; I have been to only one NRL match and being used to Aussie rules where spectators have to watch all the time lest they miss something. I was astounded to see the fans chatting happily to each other during each set, and then flicking the “fan switch” to on when it was time for a change.
    Rugby !! Its crazy. You grab the ball, run like blazes and throw it behind you!!!

  • Just on the issue of diabolical PC agendas. I try to get to a game or two each season to watch the Bombers play. But I got a wake up call when the cheer squad unveiled the big banner for the players to run through when they enter the arena. This banner is traditionally where a big message is put up exhorting the team to great efforts and to smite the opposition hip and thigh. Not this time. Instead of these sentiments, I found myself reading a short diatribe encouraging everyone to get with the program and start treating the homosexual lifestyle as normative behaviour in today’s ‘healthy’ society. The implication was clear; get on board with what is patently OK and stop trying to hold things up. This was a wake-up call to me,forcing me to see the evidence that this is the way society is trending and that not just the AFL, but at least one AFL Club is running with this agenda. I felt that an old footy tradition of waving the flag and the club colours now has more to do with waving the rainbow flag. Sure enough on the club website there is a coterie group that seems to be for homosexual members only.

    Of course this doesn’t begin and end with the AFL, who are simply trending in this direction along with many other visible institutions. Are not our churches nowadays coming under increasing pressure from Government – both politicians and bureaucracy, to ‘update themselves’ to modern community thinking and standards. Is there not a growing insistence -not requests but demands, that churches in order to remain ‘relevant’ today MUST leave behind their old ways of thinking, which are only a tired relic of a disreputable past of ignorance and prejudice. Yes we are getting this message that grows louder each year – get with our program; we are not asking churches but telling them. Already our churches are being sifted to see who will stand for biblical truth and integrity and who will fall away.

  • Brilliant Bill.
    I knew the worm had turned when various Codes chose to schedule games on Good Friday – and that thought still fills me with profound sadness…indeed, anger.
    Also, if ‘no religion’ is an appropriate Census category, why not AFL or NRL – as I suspect these are more truly a reflection of where people are storing their treasure !

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