My father was exceptionally athletic. I remember the first time I saw him ice skating and I was amazed at his speed and dexterity on the ice, especially when I attempted the ice for the first time. Oldest of six boys raised in Newfoundland, Canada, my father cut his teeth on a hockey puck, and was no slouch with a baseball either. At one point, dad was even offered an opportunity to play professional hockey, which he turned down because his life plan to become a Catholic priest left no room for hockey. He hung up his skates and donned the habit, entering the monastery. (Obviously, he did not become a priest.)

As I said, my dad was a great athlete… I am not. I was always the kid who liked playing kickball, but loved shooting my bow or a .22 rifle more. In fact, if given an option, I’d rather hunt rabbits or crows than play baseball any day. For me, a quiet day with my bow was valued much higher than a day in a neighboring pasture playing baseball. Let me clarify, I’m not opposed to sports, and enjoy a live baseball or basketball game, and I love watching hockey, but I’m not a fanatic. I liked the idea of sports, but didn’t possess the desire, drive or ability to pursue sports with passion.

For the 2011 season thus far, I’ve watched a grand total of two UK basketball games, both post season tournament play, and one of which (UK -vs- UNC) I recorded on my DVR and missed the final 2 1/2 minutes due to improper programming. (And my life didn’t end for missing the final moments of the game.) I don’t know all the players, and cannot quote their stats, in fact I didn’t even know their standing going into the tournament. But, I would consider myself a UK fan, or at the least a fan of life in the bluegrass state. I confess my heightened interest with UK now in the Final Four, and I will probably be watching the game with UCONN on Saturday night… probably.

While enjoying the game Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think about my dad. I’ve already mentioned his athletic abilities, which were impressive, however this was not what immediately came to mind during the game. For whatever reason, what came to mind about my dad was his intense passion for the Gospel. My dad was one to jump in with both feet in whatever he did, he wasn’t just committed to something… he became what he was committing to. Nothing has ever made an impression upon me like my father’s conversion to Christianity, specifically (redundantly) his commitment to Jesus. When my dad was converted, it was full sail. In fact, mom & dad made their confession of faith together and that night my father was immersed, and in response he immersed my mother. He understood the call of Christ and for the first time, shedding the traditions he had known all his life and embracing Scripture alone, it made perfect sense to him. What he had earlier committed to (with regard to priesthood) left him empty and confused because he was told to teach tradition and not Bible. He told me of many occasions of discipline for reading to children from Scripture, rather than teaching tradition. This disillusionment caused him to leave Catholicism, but he just couldn’t abandon faith. When a young preacher encouraged him to study the Bible, my dad suddenly had a whole new world open up before him and his focus, priorities and purpose was restored.

From the time of my dad’s conversion forward, I cannot remember a single morning when he wasn’t seated at the kitchen table first thing in the morning reading his Bible. My father was consumed with a passion for the Word. At the time, I was not a Christian, although I considered myself a believer. For a number of months my dad faithfully and patiently led a life of faith and witnessed to me as much as was productive to do so. Our minister frequented our home and became a good friend to me and my family. Eventually I began attending services and listening a little closer as it became apparent my father was not participating in a passing fad, but undergoing a transformation of his life and a renewing of his mind.

The UK -vs- UNC game Sunday night, began at 5PM, and our evening services are at 6:00PM. For some congregations, and some Christians, this would pose a very real dilemma… which shall I choose, to stay home with the HD quality programming of NCAA tournament play or participate in the assembly? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with watching a ballgame per se, so long as it does not impose upon my ability to edify another Christian, or impede my availability to His Word. Some would argue attendance on a Sunday evening as unnecessary, especially if they faithfully attend morning services. Perhaps, but I do tend to believe such thinking reveals something about us. Allow me to illustrate my point.

My wife is my best friend and I enjoy her company, so much so that I am often distracted by thoughts of her through the day and truly long to be with her again. When we have to be apart, it is bearable only in the thought we will be together again and our commitment to one another remains strong in spite of the temporary separation. I cannot imagine “skipping out” on an opportunity to be with her, even if it should only be for a brief while. My wife trusts me and knows me better than any other person alive. Such trust strengthens our relationship through difficulties or challenges. Therefore, should I choose to go out with friends, or some other activity within the bounds of our vows, my wife would be OK and have no doubts or concerns. Concerns could creep in, however, should I choose to neglect her, or avoid her, show less passion or become apathetic toward being with her. Love for my wife constrains me to prioritize my activities and interests in such a manner as to build her up and strengthen our marriage. Again, so long as my priorities remain in cooperation with my vows to my wife, everything is good.

Similarly, Christian faith requires commitment and priority, it demands cooperation of action and words.

Empty stadium seats with a man alone

James mentions faith and action, a faith which transcends the lip service of shallow “belief only” and bears the grit of substance. Such faith is evidenced by action. Recently, I was referred to as “zealous”, a comment intended to be taken as a punch. In context, it was an argumentum ad hominem employed to silence my disagreement with a prospective change to a city ordinance. Its implication being I am limited in my view and “close minded”. I, however, have an advocate which speaks for me… my actions.

How does this relate to the NCAA tournament? I guess it just got me to thinking of an opportunity to share the Gospel. No doubt, Monday morning was filled with a number of conversations about the game. What a wonderful opportunity Christians have when asked about the game to “open the door” by sharing they didn’t watch the game on live TV because they were occupied by something more exciting… participation in worshiping God. I firmly believe our convictions bear out in our actions, and as a Christian I never want to fail in assembling with the body of Christ if at all possible.

As a preacher, I get teased quite a lot about the length of my sermons. There are always a few jokes about cancelling or shortening services when a big game is on, accompanied by a wink & laughter. Here at Union City, it is understood comments about sermon length which are intended to jibe me a little are not to be taken seriously. Our attendance Sunday night made me very proud of our congregation and my opportunity to serve such a spiritually focused group. Granted, most folks didn’t linger long following the service, however, they were active and present and would never have considered skipping out of the assembly for any reason short of illness or another serious family concern. They chose to participate in the assembly, enjoy opportunity to commune with one another and to increase their faith by studying Scripture. No wonder I thought about my father upon seeing such a strong attendance.

I love assembling with the saints!