This column appeared in the July 15 Fairmont Sentinel.
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” With those words, Elijah began his sermon at Mount Carmel – the sermon which culminated in fire from heaven & the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. (You can find the account in 1 Kings 18.)
Perhaps you recall the details. Two identical altars were set up, with identical sacrifices. The prophets of Baal called on their god all day long, trying to gain his attention through dancing and bloodletting. But there was no response; no one answered, no one paid attention.
Elijah doused his sacrifice in water, until it was entirely drenched; when he prayed, God immediately dropped fire which consumed the sacrifice, the water, and the stone altar.
This historical event is a favorite for many Christians. We mentally stand with Elijah, waiting in suspense: Will God come through? And when God drops fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice, our hearts leap with joy as the Israelites cry: “The LORD - he is God!” The account of 1 Kings 18 is a fantastic depiction of the true God versus any & every false god.
I’m not proposing a Mount Carmel-esque showdown. But at the same time, I’m not opposed to the idea.
Let us gather our gods. Pile the jerseys, the soccer balls, the nets; bring the practice schedules, the Sunday morning tournament schedules, the awards. How long shall we waver between two opinions? You & I both know that our culture is obsessed with the temporary diversion and short-lived success of the field, while the eternal treasures of God are neglected.
I understand. Success in sports is far more tangible - and perhaps gratifying, in the short term - than time spent in worship. And in this region, Wednesday nights are church nights. Shouldn’t congregations be happy that one night of the week has been delegated for the spiritual care of our young people? Shouldn’t congregations be glad that there’s one night a week free of practice & games? …well, except for the playoffs. And when gym time or ice time is at a premium. And actually, practice will be held; but it’s not a required practice if you have other obligations (such as the study of God’s holy Word.)
What sort of God do we worship: the holy, just, and jealous LORD? Or the god of the soccer field, basketball court, and tennis lesson? The only God who can promised you eternity – or a god of our own making, a god whose blessings will desert us as age advances, a god whose trophies and successes cannot earn a single second of heaven?
You might dismiss my words as the cynical musings of a second-place Sunday. The paucity of children in worship - compared with the abundance at the field - might support your assumption. And if a church only offers a character-building, moral-living, community-building experience…the soccer field might be a better place.
But church is about Jesus. Church is where we gather around God’s Word, which does not change or waver or decay. We each come to worship wearing the same jersey – the filthy rags of our sin, elder and infant alike. We have nothing good to offer God. We humbly approach God’s throne, casting all our hopes upon Jesus Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection in our place.
And here in worship, God bestows a greater treasure than a ten dollar trophy: God gives you your forgiveness, again. In the waters of Baptism, the word of forgiveness, the Scriptures read, the sermon applied, the Sacrament distributed – God gives you your forgiveness again, personally, tangibly. Rags removed, righteousness bestowed, free of charge or entrance fee. All this God does, only because he is our good & merciful Father in heaven – not because we have earned or deserved it.
Yes, the Bible says that “physical training is of some value.” But the verse goes on: “But godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come,” (1 Tim 4).
What shall we do? Parents & coaches, you are now standing on Mount Carmel. “How long will you waver between two opinions?”