With March Madness upon us, now's a good time to evaluate the place of athletics in the Christian life.

Welcome to The Weekender! Because the internet discourages focused reading, The Weekender series is designed to help you, dear reader, see the scope of God's story in all areas of life through high-quality, curated content. On most the occasional Friday, we’ll have a fresh batch of resources to help you take a deep dive into one specific topic, theme or idea. Here’s to reading and thinking well.

A couple days ago I helped my 4-year-old son fill out his first NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket. For each matchup, I showed him images of the teams’ mascots, and he picked a winner based on which mascot was cooler. He ended up with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (because Dad grew up in South Dakota) and the New Mexico State Aggies (because that’s Grandpa’s alma mater...and also because the Aggie is brandishing two six-shooters). I don’t think he’ll win any office pools with that bracket, but I got to initiate my son into one of the oddest but most beloved of American rituals.

The experience got me thinking about the nature of sports and competition. What are we really doing when we do sports? Can athletics and competition be a healthy component in the lives of Christians? Is our busyness with our brackets distracting the people of Jesus from a more important story, or are these pastimes part of what it means to be made in God’s image? Or is it a bit of both? Is there evidence of a “theology of sports” in the Bible? Can sports be used to enhance our delight in our Creator instead of sapping that delight?

Don’t let the madness get you down. This edition of the Weekender is all about the sports. Sort of. In a way, the articles below are just as much about how we approach God’s creation, what we do with his gifts, and how our loves are formed.

The Creational Goodness of Sports and Competition” by Michael Goheen — Comment

Synopsis: “Nothing matters but the kingdom, but because of the kingdom everything matters.”

Representative quote: There are lots of strong sections in Goheen’s thoughtfully constructed piece. But I love how he intersects understanding sports with searching for God’s wisdom: “Sports and competition is good when it conforms to God's creational design. Only when we understand and embody God's good creational design for sports and competition can we see it is as good. The Bible calls this wisdom—God's wisdom is seen in the design he established in creation, and human wisdom comes when we conform ourselves to that order and design. This order is discovered as we experience the creation as though taught by God (Isaiah 28:23–29).”

Why you should read it: This is one of the best things I’ve read about faith and sports. It’s careful, wise, thorough and espouses a high view of Jesus and the goodness of creation. For all you parents out there wondering about the place of athletics in your family or your kids’ hearts, I can’t recommend this enough.

The Reason the Patriots Always Come Back” by Kevin Clark — The Ringer

Synopsis: In Catch Me If You Can, Christopher Walken asks Leonardo DiCaprio why the Yankees always win. Pinstripes, he says. Everyone’s always looking at the pinstripes. While I love the mystical quality of this answer, it (probably) isn’t true. And the reason why the Patriots always come back and always keep winning is because they are careful about the habits they form.

Representative quote: From Brandon King, Patriots defensive back: “There are no shortcuts here — we practice the same now as we did Week 1, and it gets embedded in you. We’ve been running for so long that you don’t feel like you’re running anymore.”

Why you should read it: We’ve been running for so long that you don’t feel like you’re running anymore. The Patriots beat opponents in the fourth quarter because of how they structure their conditioning drills throughout the season. You could say that because they’ve been running for so long that they love running. You are what you love, and love is a habit. Now, take Paul’s fitness regimen from 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 and habits, rituals and routines will start to make lot more sense. Sports can help us appreciate the identity- and love-forming power of habits.