I used to play basketball. I know, hard to believe, given both my Napoleonic stature and my John Goodman-esque physique. But I did. I mean, I wasn’t always this fat and if Mugsy Bogues could make it to the NBA at just 5’3″ then there was no physical reason I couldn’t. And I wasn’t bad either.
Back then, most the stuff I was doing happened on a Saturday. But then the dreaded day came when everything switched to Sunday. Training on a Saturday morning, games on a Sunday. And with that switch came the inevitable discussion with my parents that I knew was coming.
As sabbatarians go, my parents were of the soft variety. I didn’t grow up in a no toys, no games, no nothing but the Bible, church and Christian biographies on Sunday type home. My Dad’s view took a pretty straightforward view of the sabbath. Take a rest from your usual work (which, at the time, meant no homework on Sunday – so one was hardly complaining) and don’t buy stuff. Everything else was pretty much fair game.
When it came to discussing basketball, then, Sunday was not the issue per se. My job wasn’t basketball, so no issue of working, and it didn’t involve buying anything, so no issue there either. The problem came in the timing. In our (fairly brief) discussion, my Dad was clear that if there was some way for me to play basketball before or after church, and still get to both morning and evening services, then there wouldn’t be a problem. But all the games were always slap bang in the middle of the morning service. There was simply no way to be in two places at once. There was a straightforward choice to be made: Christ and his people or basketball. And thus ended any prospect of a glittering NBA career, or even a less glittering English one.
Now, I don’t share my Dad’s view of the sabbath. But I do share his view of the church. Whilst I shared my Dad’s view of the sabbath back then, which helped grease the wheels of our conversation about all this when we had it, I don’t hold any resentment whatsoever over the final decision we reached because it was, without doubt, correct. The sabbath was never the issue (even on my Dad’s view of it). The issue was the church. And as a follower of Christ, as Hebrews says, I was not to forsake meeting together with other believers. As the Lord’s Day became the pattern set by the Apostles for the church to meet together for worship, who was I to claim I loved Christ and his people, whilst showing I ultimately preferred playing basketball to either of them?
I don’t have UK stats, but I am told the chances of becoming a pro sport star in the US is somewhere between 0.07 and 0.08%. Those are some long odds right there. Guess what the stats are for people who will stand before Christ? 1 in 1. If we have understood the gospel properly, we know full well that, stood before the Lord, we are not getting into Heaven with, ‘but I turned up to church every week.’ But if we have understood the gospel, what does it say about our heart if we can’t even say that?
Well, I love you Lord, just not enough to actually do what you ask. I do love you, just not enough to ever turn up to meet with your people. And, you know, I just really love basketball – and I wouldn’t love it so much if you didn’t make me that way, eh?’
What is the greatest commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind. And the second? Love your neighbour as yourself. Now, how do those two great commandments stack up next to: I preferred basketball to meeting with God’s people to worship him and I loved it more than I loved them so I didn’t meet with them and thus couldn’t love them.
Again, if we have understood the gospel, we know keeping those commands perfectly is impossible and if we are pleading how well we’ve kept them we’re on a hiding to nothing. But if we’ve really understood the gospel, we would know that a heart changed by God’s Spirit would not ride roughshod over his commands, dismiss worshiping him as he calls us to do nor reject his people in favour of throwing a bit of leather round a hall. That’s discipleship 101.
So ask yourself this honestly. If I prioritise other things – be it sport, clubs or whatever it is – over worshiping God and meeting with his people, what does it say about my heart? If we deem it legitimate to sack off meeting with Christ’s people on the Lord’s Day, can we credibly claim to love him and his people? Do you really think, when stood before the Lord and he asks why he should let you into Heaven, your attendance at church when it didn’t clash with training or matches will curry any favour and scream there is someone who clearly loved and trusted Christ?
If one in one will stand before the judgement seat, do you really want to gamble that on a 0.08% chance that you (or your children) might make it to the big time? Even if that isn’t your end goal, does their enjoyment for a couple of hours per week really outweigh the reality of a lost eternity because they were never taken to hear the gospel and – even if shared in some way at home – it was never modeled to them because everything else took precedence? Whilst your church attendance books you no place in the kingdom, your unrepentant and frequent non-attendance signals that your own heart has ruled you out.
So, what are you doing this Sunday?