An article in the Wall Street Journal raised an interesting question: Why do so many people buy athletic gear and then never engage the sport?


The article in question claims "the U.S. athletic apparel market will increase by nearly 50 percent to more than $100 billion at retail by 2020, driven in large part by consumers snapping up stretchy tees and leggings that will never see the fluorescent lights of a gym."


But retailers are happy to play along. So they produce jogging pants and running shorts to sell at $90 to men who may never jog. Outdoor stores debut new lines of flannel shirts and hiking boots for both men and women who likely have no intention of actually hiking or camping. But who cares? It sells.

My point in citing the article is not to be critical. Hey, who hasn't worn a football jersey just to show loyalty to the home team or to have a favorite player's name written across his or her back?


I mention it only to say it reminds me of similar things we've all seen - or done! - with the trappings of religion.

How many Bibles do you own? Have one with a concordance and all the maps at the back? Cross-references down the middle of every page? Footnotes about word meanings and historical background?


Is there anybody who buys the neat hiking boots, for example, who thinks owning them will take off some weight or build up some stamina? Buying the cute running shorts will make her an athlete? Owning a gold-edged study Bible will make him into either a scholar or a saint?


Maybe we should go at it differently. If you really have a passion to hike or camp, get the best gear you can afford that will let you do it safely and so you can enjoy it. If you have wanted to take up yoga or jogging or golf, it makes sense to get equipment that will help you carry through on your intention.


And if you really want to take Bible study seriously, there are a few good tools that will serve you well. Make the experience meaningful. Keep you from the sort of frustration some people experience when they make New Year's resolutions about Bible reading without much of a plan.


Whether it's reading the Bible, attending Sunday worship, or wearing a cross, they seem about as pointless as wearing athletic gear and not playing the game unless they are part of authentic Christian discipleship. Wearing the gear or carrying the big study Bible could be nothing more than kidding oneself.


The article quoted one buyer of athletic apparel who likes to wear her yoga pants around town but who seldom works out. "When you put on your workout apparel, you think, 'Huh, maybe I should think about working out today.' "


Next time I reach for my Bible, maybe I should think . . .

Dr Rubel Shelly is Pastor of Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville and authors  Fax of Life a weekly service. He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. To subscribe to Fax of Life, send email