I've noticed over my tenure in ministry (about 18 years total now) a weird little thing that has always amazed and perplexed me when this time of year rolls around - it's like clockwork. About this time of year in student ministry, the spring sports schedules fire up with baseball, softball, soccer, and a plethora of other after school activities. When those schedules begin to fire off, you'll notice the attendance at church begins to wane. You can watch the trend as it slowly begins around March when practices begin to get into (pardon the pun) full swing. One Wednesday night is missed because you have baseball practice the other four nights of the school week and just need a night “to yourself.” Another Wednesday night is missed because you have to make up the rained out softball game from the week before and Wednesday is the "only" day that it could be scheduled. From missing Wednesday nights, it will typically then rock on into the month of April when the Sunday missteps begin to take shape. First a Sunday will be missed because Mom and Dad are tired from having three games last week and practice the other two nights. Everybody just wants to take a break...to catch a breath of fresh air. A few weeks later, another Sunday is missed because you are part of the "traveling" soccer team that has a tournament to play in Saginaw, Michigan. Look, I'm not new in ministry - you can count on this happening and it's not something new.
Now before everybody gets the bills in their baseball caps in a wad, let me explain to you why this is a very dangerous line to walk. In life, there will be many things that will vie for your attention as you grow older - sports now, girls and guys in a few years, trips as you age into adulthood, along with many other things. You ask me today why is it dangerous for me to miss out on an opportunity to be around like minded believers on a weekly basis and I will simply say one word, a name really - Jason.
Jason was a young man by name and an excellent baseball player by trade. He was a 16-year-old Sophomore in high school who was a wide receiver on the football team, pitcher on the baseball team, ran track, and was the point guard on the basketball team. This young man was 6 foot 4 and weighed 215 - from daylight to dark all he dreamed of was being in the "big show" after high school and play college ball. Jason was active in his youth group...when sports weren't taking up all of his time. Jason comes from a "church" family. His Dad was a deacon and Mom was a Sunday school teacher. Jason would miss Sundays and Wednesdays when his "lifting" schedule or practice was taking place at the same time. Jason was a smart young man - made A's, active in several service groups through his school, and was well liked by most everyone. Jason really had the potential to go very far in life with sports and likely would have gotten the scholarship from the school that had been scouting him since his eighth grade year. Jason considered himself a member of his youth group..., which is to say he attended when it didn't conflict with his seasonal sports. One Friday night, following a big win versus a cross town rival in football, Jason and several other young men and women were out to celebrate the victory. Unfortunately, the four guys and two girls riding in the SUV along with Jason had the radio too loud and did not hear or see the train coming towards the crossing. At the moment of impact, a bystander later told the police that the young boy who was driving never slowed down before speeding through the crossing. Seven lives of young men and women were immediately snuffed out. Parents were left to ask questions like - What could we do differently? How did this happen? Why is God punishing us? Jason, along with his six friends, was killed instantly the autopsy later revealed - in an instant...no time for goodbyes, no time for prayers, no time for pleas for mercy. Jason had never made any sort of public profession of faith. He often attended church with his parents, but he never took that step of faith. A joint funeral was held for all the students and was led by the pastor and youth pastor from Jason's church. At that service, the youth pastor said, "Seven lives were taken from us recently who had hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a very bright future. Each one was gifted with academic and athletic prowess. Each would have likely signed Division One scholarships. But unfortunately, we will never know what could have been. You see, each one of these students were expecting a bright happy future....they thought they had all the time in the world. A few were believers in Christ - which is to say they had made professions of faith in Him as Lord. Others of them didn't. Am I to give the families of these other students false hope in that they will one day see these children again - I can't. What I can say is that some of these students stored for themselves their treasure in heaven...not just in a high school trophy case. Further, I would say to each of you gathered here today that we who remain are to make the most of every day and opportunity you have to learn more about Christ because He is the one award that will never fade, never tarnish, and never grow old." While the pastor and the youth pastor could not definitively say Jason and some of the others were not believers in Christ (because ultimately that is between an individual and God), they could see the spiritual fruit in their lives...or the lack thereof. While this story was not from this particular time in our ministry....it very easily could be...in just a matter of seconds.
So what does all this mean? Does this mean that if I am active in sports and participate in every one of them I am not a Christian? No. Does this mean that if I play in sports and participate in every one of them that I will die early? No. What this means is that each and every one of us will be called into account for and give a reckoning of what our relationship and commitment was like in regards to Christ. One of you reading this could very well be the next Joe Montana or Serena Williams and go on to make millions of dollars playing a sport. But, each and every one of us are one heartbeat away from being the Jason in our area. Christ has called us to a level of expectation and participation – a level of commitment. To grow in your spiritual walk requires participation....participation requires devotion....and devotion requires choices - sometimes tough ones about what is truly important in this life and the next.
Please understand, I write this blog post with no one particular student, sport, family, or person in mind. I am simply speaking from experience...life and ministry experience. I hope you all take it in the manner it was written - with Ephesians 4:29 in my heart and edification for us all in my spirit. One thing I have learned in all my years of ministry service is that life is short - sometimes very short. I’ve had to be the youth pastor to deliver the news to a parent that their child is never coming home. I have had to be the youth pastor who has been called on to speak at a funeral for a teen. I have been that youth pastor who had to tell “Jason’s” parents there would be no wedding in his future.
Never take for granted an opportunity to spend time with a group of God-fearing, Jesus believing, Christ loving friends and adult leaders. You never know from where your life "train" may come...or at what time it will arrive.