A New Weekly Series: The Parable of Sports

by J. R. Cuevas

I’m not Jeremy Lin. I’m not Stephen Curry. I’m not Allyson Felix. I’m not Michael Chang. I’m not Tim Tebow. I’m not A.C. Green. I’m not Manny Pacquiao. I’m not a professional athlete who also happens to be a Christian. I’m a pastor at a local church and a principal at a Christian school, and I’m more than content to be doing what I do. I have never had the ambition to become a professional athlete; in fact, I wasn’t even raised in a culture that valued sports. So how in the world did I end up writing a series of articles on sports?

Why I’m Writing this Series
It all started in the summer of 2019. I was sitting in my parked car in the church parking lot. In the passenger seat was a young college student who I had mentored during his high school days—as his pastor, physics tutor, and physical fitness trainer. During the course of our conversation, he said, “All this stuff we’re talking about right now—people need to hear this.” The very next day, he found me at the church office (where he was helping paint for our facility renovations), and said, “I have an idea for your next writing project. It should be (something like) Life Lessons from Sports.’”

A few months later, I had watched as our school’s middle-school boys football team endured a heartbreaking loss against the interscholastic league’s top-ranked team. We had blown a huge lead, and lost it on the very last play by an interception. There was blame-shifting, tears, arguing and name-calling. As their Bible teacher and athletic director (which was part of my duty as the assistant principal), I felt it necessary to address the team. And so the very next day, I took the football team out of their elective class, brought them into an empty classroom, and walked them through a lesson called “Life Lessons from Sports.” There were eight of them, all of which were birthed in the conversation I had with the young man mentioned in the previous paragraph. Those eight lessons are the first eight lessons expounded in this series, and they were ones the boys would repeatedly talk to me about during the subsequent basketball season.

As an athletic director at a Christian school, I have told both our coaches and students repeatedly that an athletic program is only as good as the character it produces in its athletes. Sports, then, are a means to an end—not the end itself. The experiences mentioned above prompted me to think of the many lessons that we have to learn as Christians that are often illustrated in the world of sports and athletics. Thus, I have acted upon that college student’s request and built upon what I started with those middle-school boys. With the addition of twenty more lessons—many, if not most, of which the latter would repeatedly discuss with me during the subsequent basketball season—this series was compiled.

I understand that the content of these articles may indeed cater to a narrow audience. Not everyone enjoys sports, including my wife. At the same time, it cannot be denied that sports and athletic endeavors are a huge part of the American culture, and a huge part of the lives of many of the church’s youth. It is my hope that, through reading this series of articles, these twenty-eight vital lessons of Christian living may be crystallized in their minds, engraved in their hearts, and reinforced in their lives.

The Parable of Sports in My Life
Sports and athletics are a huge part of my life. To those who know me well, such is nothing short of obvious. To those who have known me since childhood, such is nothing short of ironic.

The latter is rooted in that, when I was in late elementary school, I actually proclaimed to my family that I would never get into sports. For one, I grew up in a culture that placed a premium on arts over athletics, on scholarship over sports. Although both my brother and two sisters excelled in competitive sports, I myself was never pressured into it by my parents (they were more interested in me becoming a good piano player) nor did I have a passion for it as a child. Childhood obesity may have contributed to it—I was already over 150 pounds by the time I hit 5th grade—but a part of it was that I simply had other interests. In fact, at one point during elementary school, I proclaimed publicly during lunch to my family that, “I will never get into sports!”

Even during my high school years when the weight fell off and I played for my high school’s varsity tennis team (I did make the cut, and the coach gave me #1 singles position during my senior year), I was far more concerned about my AP exam scores than I was over my win-loss record for the season. I may have been a scholar athlete by profile, but I was a scholar by ambition—with academic pursuits being of prime importance for me, and with sports simply as an avenue to release the built-up stress from academic pressure.

That I’ve engaged in sports with any level proficiency was almost accidental; that I’ve engaged in sports and athletics as a profession is even more so. Yet, the professional history speaks of itself. Since graduating from college, I’ve served occupationally as a personal trainer, a conditioning specialist, a multi-sport coach, a P.E. teacher, and most recently as an Athletic Director for the school where I currently work. And it was being an Athletic Director that launched me back into athletic competition.

With the stated purpose of our athletic program being to teach our students to engage in competitive athletics in a manner that glorifies Christ and equips them for life, I realized that the best way to do this as their AD would not be through barking at them from the sidelines or lecturing them in the classroom, but practically and concretely modeling this to them in the actual field of competition. Doing so gives both credibility and sympathy (it’s easy to criticize a student-athlete over a tough loss until you yourself endure the pain of one). And so, at the beginning of this year, I began playing official tournaments in my main sport—tennis—but at an even higher level of competition than during my high school days.

Now fully engaged in sports and athletics at every level—from recreation to profession to competition—I understand ever more vividly why there is so much athletic analogy in the Scriptures. Marathoners, sprinters, wrestlers, boxers—the Bible employs them all to illustrate key aspects of the faith. Sports really serve as a parable for Christian living; there are simply things that you learn from competitive athletics that you can’t really learn in the classroom or your living room.

The following series will consist of a collection of articles on biblical life lessons that can be learned from sports that some good friends and colleagues have encouraged me to collect and share. We will publish a new article in this series every Wednesday. I pray they will be a blessing to you in your walk with Christ.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

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