For the past three years, my son Ryan has played two categories of youth basketball. One, he has played in our county’s recreation league. Two, he has played on our county’s YBOA (Youth Basketball of America) team for his age division.
The rec. games are relatively low-pressure games that are played locally. Scores and standings are kept, but the rules promise a certain amount of playing time for all the kids. The games are played through the week, but no games are played on Sundays or Wednesday nights.
YBOA, on the other hand, is more serious. The players are, for the most part, the county’s elite. The coaching is better, and the whole atmosphere is much more intense. No kid is guaranteed any playing time either. It has to be earned. The games are all travel games, played on the weekends, starting as early as Friday night and ending as late as Sunday night. Each weekend offers a new tournament, and the number of games your team plays in a given weekend is dependent upon how many games it wins that weekend. Our team has never won a tournament.
Some parents complain about the gas it takes to drive to the YBOA sites. Others complain about the money that is required for the down times between games. For example, let’s say that your team plays three games on a Saturday. The first is at 9:30 a.m. The second is at 2:30 p.m. The third is at 7:30 p.m. During all the hours between those three games, there is basically nothing else to do but hang around the city in which you’re playing and spend money (Mcdonald’s, the Mall, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.).
Still, my main problem with YBOA is that the schedulers have no qualms whatsoever about scheduling games during what has traditionally been Sunday morning “church time.” They think nothing of starting a game at 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. Admittedly, if your team has won enough games on Saturday, it will probably be rewarded by not having to play Sunday before 2:00 p.m. But if you happen to be on a team that loses a game or two Saturday, watch out. Your church attendance is about to be tested.
During Ryan’s first two years of YBOA, he never missed a Sunday morning service. Most of the time our team went winless on Saturdays and didn’t even qualify for the Sunday rounds of play. On the few occasions we did, our first games didn’t tip off until after church. I always knew, though, that we were walking a tightrope between YBOA and church.
Lately, we have fallen off that tightrope. Two of the last three Sunday mornings, Ryan has missed our church services because he was playing YBOA games. One game started at 9:30 a.m. and the other at 11:00 a.m. The site of each game was an hour’s drive from our house. Since it was impossible for Ryan to be in two places at once, both Sunday mornings I sent him off with Tonya while Royce and I went to church.
Just so you know, I prayed earnestly about doing that. I asked God what He wanted me to do and obeyed the word He gave me. I realize that some of my hardline, more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ will dispute that God told me to have Ryan (and Tonya) attend a ball game rather than church. But I know what God told me. I also know that He gave me a tremendous peace about it. Before you label me a heretic, consider the following couple of principles from the Bible:
1. Ecclesiastes 9:10 (an Old Testament verse) and Colossians 3:23 (a New Testament verse) both instruct us to do whatever we do “heartily” and “with might.” Playing YBOA basketball has to be classified as a “whatever.” If you are going to play it, play it to the best of your ability.
2. Proverbs 25:19 says: “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint.” I want both my boys to be people who understand the importance of faithfulness and commitment to a cause. You can’t build a life around not showing up to honor your commitments any time the waters turn choppy.
Furthermore, here are four more thoughts for you to mull over:
1. Ryan is a Christian who, as a pastor’s son, has already attended more church services that many people will in a lifetime.
2. If I had told him that he had to miss the games and attend church, he would have done it without argument.
3. If our family’s annual vacation encompasses a Sunday morning, we don’t seek out a place to worship that morning. We just miss church altogether that day.
4. While it’s certainly true that Hebrews 10:25 tells Christians not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, that general command doesn’t strictly forbid a Christian from ever missing a church service.
But now here’s where I’ve been headed with all this. Yesterday we played a team that had made a solemn commitment that they weren’t going to play on Sunday if it meant missing church. The Lord, in His providence, arranged for me to “just happen” to have a conversation with their coach yesterday afternoon. The fellow told me without stutter, stammer, or hesitation, “If we win our next game, we will play at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. That will be alright. But if we lose this next game, we’ll have to play at 11:00 a.m. And if that’s the case, we won’t be here. Our boys go to church.”
Guess what happened. His team won that next game and got to play today at 2:00 p.m. I couldn’t help but think of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. When they refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow down before his image of gold, he promised to have them thrown in the fiery furnace. In doing so, he asked, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” They responded, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King. But if not, let it be known to you, O King, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image you have set up.” You gotta love that. “King, our God can deliver us if He so chooses. But even if He doesn’t, we’re not going to change our minds.” It was as if that coach and that team were saying to those tournament organizers, “Our God can have us win this next game. But even if He doesn’t, we’re still not playing at 11:00 tomorrow morning.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever see that coach again, but I’ll always be indebted to him. He became walking, talking, living proof to me that a Christian can still take a stand in this modern world. He showed me that I wasn’t the only parent who saw the problem with scheduling basketball games on Sunday morning.
As I said earlier, I was in God’s will by having Ryan and Tonya miss those church services. I don’t doubt that because God didn’t bring me under any conviction over those decisions. He knew my heart, and He knew what He told me to do. But that didn’t mean that I enjoyed doing it. And now I know that He saw that part of it too. He had me allow Ryan to play in the two Sunday morning games to let me experience that side of the fence. Then He brought that devoted Christian coach into my life yesterday to let me experience the other side. I believe that He wanted me to make a thoroughly informed decision concerning what to do about Sunday morning games from here on out.
And what decision have I made? I’ve decided that Ryan will no longer miss Sunday morning services on account of YBOA. We’ll play Friday nights, all day Saturdays, and after church on Sundays, but we won’t play until we have attended church. I haven’t talked to our coach about this decision yet, but I will. This YBOA season is over, and next season won’t start until late fall, but I’m not going to change my mind over the summer. I’m going to say, “Coach, you can have Ryan full bore all season, except for those Sunday morning games.” In 1 Samuel 2:30, God says, “Those who honor Me I will honor.” I’m looking forward to finding out just how much He means that.