FIRST-PERSON: Sports & our family

HAWESVILLE, Ky. -- Emily and I live among good outdoorsy people who love sports. Our town of 800 is crowned with a 340-acre park full of ballfields, hiking trails, a lake and campsites. If I want to spend time with young parents in our church, I know I can find them cheering at the ballfield.

You've seen the stories on the Olympics while the broadcast switches from swimming to gymnastics -- stories of families and hometowns who gave it all for their little hero. Training at the highest level takes complete dedication. Olympic athletes don't get to do what so many other kids get to do. If they had gone to the prom instead of practicing, they wouldn't be at the Olympics.

The parents pushing their children to these heights are a lesson to us. Training your children to win the race is a fulltime sport of its own.

Emily and I want to train our children for glory with the same ferocity. People probably think we're obsessed. Training for one event is what we do. But it's a different event.

We're training our children in an ultimate event of following Jesus. We want them to know His Word like an NFL quarterback knows the playbook. We want the motions of Jesus' lifestyle to feel as natural to them as a proper stroke feels to an Olympic swimmer. And when their events are over, we want them to receive unfading medals of glory.

So with every activity our family could do we ask the same question: "Is this the best way we can train our children for godliness?" Two days a week of baseball filled with winning, losing, friends, coaching and life lessons might be part of that. Today, Kids' Zumba at the local gym is part of it.

But when the middle-school coaches ask for six- or seven-day weeks, we can't do it. When they tell her that "her first commitment is to her team," we know that it isn't. And we'll start every season with, "Just so you know, our family doesn't do sports on Sundays or on Wednesday nights." That means our kids will probably never get travel ball trophies, but it prepares them for a better unfading trophy.

If we wind up with the next Steph Curry on our hands, we'll invest in him. But it will be the perfect chance to teach that Jesus is more important than basketball. His basketball training will have to fit inside his Christian training. People would probably ask, "How did he get that good without coming to Sunday tournaments?"

But even if our son played at the highest level, he would run another, more important event at the same time. How I would weep if he traded the unfading trophy for a fading trophy and a life of ego, greed and hedonism.

But, oh, if he can learn the ways of Jesus, I'll shed better tears. If he can recite 26 verses of Scripture on his last day of kindergarten like his big sister did, I'll sleep well. If he learns to love his neighbor, walk in wisdom, stand up for the poor, worship with gladness, live in purity and serve Christ's church, I'll beam with a joy that will outshine every Olympian dad.

That's what we're training for.

David Cook, online at shepherdingandsong.com, is worship pastor at Hawesville Baptist Church in Hawesville, Ky.
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