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Most religions focus on one god, one deity, or one central spiritual leader.Unfortunately, the First Commandment is broken more than we realize. Any time we give anything, anyone, any idea, philosophy or way of life a higher priority in our lives than God, we’ve created a god, and we create lots of them.

One of the most common gods in our society is sports. I enjoy sports. I follow sports with great enthusiasm. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a sport I don’t enjoy.

I have a son who is diving on scholarship at the University of Tennessee. He has aspirations of making the 2012 Olympic Team and he has the talent. At age 18, he is the current one-meter men’s national champion.

During his diving career, my wife and I followed Ryan around the country, across the border into Canada and down to Puerto Rico. Over the past decade we worked hard to keep the sport in perspective. I’m not saying we always did, but those who meet my son soon realize he’s not only a highly talented and dedicated diver, but an even more sincere and authentic Christian.

However, as a freshman on the campus of a major university, he’s about to discover how important sports are to a college, to people of a state and to the alumni of a school. He’s about to be thrust into an environment where sports can become a religion, where the sports arena for many is their temple, and the athletes are their gods. This phenomenon is not unique to his school or even to our country.

I realize that when a certain sports season rolls around, some people who hold season tickets will miss a few church services because they are attending games out of town. I realize as children grow and become teenagers and choose a sport, the sport will make demands requiring them to choose a schedule that conflicts with some church activities. I realize the day is gone when the church was the center of the community calendar. Now the church must compete with dozens of community functions for people’s time, including sports.

Even so, we are left with decisions about where God fits into our daily and weekly lives. We must decide where God ranks in importance in relation to the activities we choose. Far too often, God is taking a back seat to sports. When’s the last time you cancelled attending a sporting event because you had a church function to attend? When’s the last time you went to a sporting event out of town but still made arrangements to find a place of worship for you and your family? If you added up all the time you spent watching sports and compared that to the amount of time you spent in worship, or doing acts of service, or work within your church, what would that comparison look like? If you added up all the money you spent on sports in a year and compared that to the amount of money you gave to the Lord’s work, how would it compare?

The writer of Hebrews was a sportsman. Perhaps he was an athlete himself. He used the metaphor of a race to describe our lives. He said we are being watched by a great cloud of witnesses, people of faith who have died and gone to heaven. He encourages us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Whenever anything, anyone, any idea, philosophy or way of life becomes a higher priority in our lives than God, we’ve created a god, and we’ve broken the First Commandment. Sports is a wonderful escape from life’s troubles and is great entertainment. When we are personally involved, sports is great for the body, mind and spirit. The body is God’s temple and should be kept in good physical condition.

However, when sports occupies a higher place in our lives than God, we are no longer running the race marked off for us. We are running on a side trail that will ultimately lead to a dead end, a sense of emptiness, and a lack of fulfillment. Like an addict, we will only seek more and more of it, thinking that’s the answer to fill the void. If we continue down such a path, sports will become our religion, and its players will become our gods. In the end, this is a sure combination for a losing record.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga.

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