Monday, March 29, 2010

March 29, 2010 - Defense Wins Championships

When all is said and done in sports I believe it all still boils down to an old saying: Offense wins games; defense wins championships.

A lot of that philosophy is based upon the simple fact that offense is something that often wavers from night to night, maybe even from half to half. Some nights the shots just don’t seem to be falling. Yet defense can be played consistently every night. It is a matter of heart and determination.

I thought about a game I watched Saturday night between the University of Kentucky and West Virginia University. It was a game in which WVU shot much better than anyone ever dreamed they would; (proving that offense is unpredictable.) Kentucky’s players shot horribly that game (missing their first 20 3-point attempts.)

Many had commented on Kentucky’s team about how strong of defense they have been playing in the tournament. And many also talked about their strong offense, with one of the most talented freshmen classes ever assembled. Yet on this particular night, when the offense was sputtering, they also chose to take most of the second half off from defense as well. Even the commentators kept questioning UK’s lack of pressure on the defensive end. WVU was playing without their starting point guard and at times had the back-up point guard on the bench. Yet UK was content to let the non-ballhandlers move the ball around to find comfortable shots. Even though Kentucky is probably the most talented team in college basketball, they are now at home – out of the tournament – and should be doing an inventory check to see where their heart and determination went.

I feel like I could turn this week’s devotion simply into a sports article but I am getting to an applicable point for our Christian lives. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us: But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;…

In other words we need to be able to “play defense” in our Christian lives. If we cannot defend or support what and why we believe something, we simply allow the ball to stay in the “opponent’s court” and for them to remain comfortable in their “offense” (beliefs.)

Our goal is to be able to make a strong stand, get the “ball” back in our possession and head straight for the “goal” (straight to the cross)!

2 Timothy 2: 14 Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Monday, March 22, 2010

March 22, 2010 - Knockout by Ali

It was a great “knockout” by Ali!

No, I am not talking about Muhammed Ali and boxing; I am talking about Ali Forokhmanesh from Northern Iowa University and his “knockout punch” on the Kansas Jayhawks in their second round matchup in the NCAA tournament.

This was a game where the mighty Jayhawks were expected not only to win, but to win convincingly. The Jayhawks were the unanimous number 1 team in the country heading into the tournament. The Jayhawks were the overall number 1 seed of the tournament. The Northern Iowa Panthers were the winners of the Missouri Valley Conference and not expected to have a chance against the winners of the Big 12. This was a true David vs. Goliath matchup.

Yet with 37 seconds on the clock and clinging to a 1-point lead, Northern Iowa’s 6’0” guard, Ali Forokhmanesh, found himself standing wide open, ball in hand, at the three-point line. The normal thought process is to hold the ball to take time off the clock. They had the lead and plenty of time left to kill on the shot clock. But he was wide open – and shooters do one thing very well – shoot. Therefore Ali decided to let it fly and as a result he was the most celebrated player in the country this weekend. His made 3-pointer put the Jayhawks down for the count! Some have called this one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. (Yet I need to brag a bit – I had the upset predicted in the brackets I filled out.)

Ali took the shot because that is what he is trained to do. As it is he is a hero. If he would have missed everyone would have called the shot a mistake and he would have been the goat. Personally I was thrilled as he took the shot (even before I saw it go in.) He did what he knew was right with no regard to the potential negative consequences.

I think we can learn from the guts that Ali showed. In our Christian lives we need to mature to the point that we do what is right because it is right, with no regard to the potential consequences, even if it goes against the crowd or could result in us being ridiculed or persecuted. It is time we take a stand for our God!

I obviously think of David facing a seemingly insurmountable foe in Goliath. Yet this young man trusted God. I think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they were getting ready to enter the fiery furnace – their response says it all. They knew God could protect them and save them, yet were also willing to die if that is what it took. The following verses in Daniel 3 say it clearly:

17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

In a nutshell the boys simply set their minds to do what is right! Let it be known who you represent!

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010 - The Big Dance

Each week as I prepare for writing I scan the sports news to see if anything jumps out at me that would give a good example for the weekly devotion. This week had a few things jump out at me. I have written before that March Madness is the most wonderful time of the year and this year it gives a lot of good story lines.

I love watching the conference tournaments as teams vie to win an automatic place in the Big Dance. I love to see the brackets unveiled as to who is playing where. I get excited filling out brackets for who I think will win. I enjoy reading commentaries on who people think has the hardest road to the Final Four.

I think the biggest stories are those teams that feel they deserved to get in the tournament but didn’t. They anxiously awaited their fate feeling as though they had done enough to get in. The team I think that is probably feeling the most grief is Mississippi State. They were considered a “bubble team” going into the championship game for the SouthEastern Conference. If they win that game they receive an automatic bid; if they lose their fate is in the hands of the tournament committeefor an “at-large bid.” They faced the University of Kentucky and seemed to have the game won. Then with 1/10th of a second on the clock a Kentucky player released a shot that tied the game and sent it into overtime; Kentucky went on to win the game. Mississippi St. was left waiting and ended up not getting into the Dance.

Yesterday as I shared a message on evangelism at a church I expressed my fear for those that think they are going to make it into Heaven based upon faulty reasoning. Some think they have done enough good to impress the selection committee (God.) Some have been told what formula they needed to follow in order to get a spot.

I asked the question of the congregation, “How do you know you are saved?” When I ask that question I often receive answers like:

“I’ve tried to live a good life.”
“I said the sinner’s prayer.”
“I walked an aisle when I was…”
“I committed my life to serve God.”

Folks even in the church we have a “I” problem. To put it very succinctly you can do nothing to earn the Committee (God’s) favor. There is only one way into Heaven’s Big Dance and that is an automatic bid through the Substitute Jesus Christ.

God chooses His team based upon one criterion: Faith in the finished work of Christ.

Jesus said it this way: John 14: 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Paul put it this way: Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The simple fact is this: I am going to THE BIG DANCE! But this is not based upon my efforts; it is solely based upon my faith in the finished work of Christ.

Remember there are no “at-large” bids into Heaven – only the automatic bid found in Christ!

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 8, 2010 - Though, Though, Though, Yet

I remember my junior year of high school vividly. In October I had my first knee surgery. It was only a month before the start of basketball season. As I went to my first therapy session I had one thing in mind, get ready for the season! That first session stands out in my mind because of a great object lesson I observed. An older man was on the exercise bike trying to break through some of his inflammation. After every rotation he would stop due to the pain. I realized that stopping was not the right approach.

As I sat down on the bike (therapy has come a long way since then) I was resolved to not stopping once I got going. The therapist sat down in front of me, grabbed my feet, and said, “Here we go.” I immediately dug in and rode like I was in the Tour de France.

Why was I able and willing to go through that pain when the older guy wasn’t? I had something to train for. I had a goal in mind that I wasn’t willing to waver from. In early November our team played a Varsity/Faculty game to tip off the season. I not only suited up, I played!

A couple years later I would be back under the knife for a knee surgery (other knee.) I remember being in the recovery room from that surgery. As I awoke the doctor was in there and I asked him how it was? He responded by telling me that I probably would not be playing any more basketball; I had a tear in my anterior cruciate ligament. I responded to him that he should have amputated my leg if he didn’t want me to play; to which he replied, “Ok, I’ll see you again. (Which he did – twice)” Yet to this day I still love to play.

Though there has been pain; though there has been frustration; though things didn’t go exactly like I planned; yet I still played on. I still rejoiced in playing the game.

That is a great principle for us to live by: the “Though, though, though – yet!” principle. And it is Biblical.

The Bible let’s us know that life has a lot of “though” moments – times of pain or discomfort – times that do not go as we planned. Yet it also tells us to still rejoice in God in the midst. I love the resolution in the book of Habakkuk. It is where I discovered the “TTT-Y” principle.

Habakkuk 3: 17 Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls— 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. 19 The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 1, 2010 - Determination

One of my favorite things to see when watching the Olympics is the sheer determination on the athletes’ faces. They have given themselves totally to a task and it doesn’t matter what position they are in they are still committed to finishing that task.

One of the areas the areas this was most evident to me was in the cross-country skiing events. How amazing to see these athletes collapse at the finish line due to complete effort. Often it was athletes that knew they were not going to medal. Sometimes they were in 20th or 30th place. They are true pictures of dedication.

For years these Olympic athletes have committed themselves to the sport and to trainers they trusted. Someone has been there teaching them and guiding them. At times I am sure they wanted to quit but instead persevered.

These are great examples for us in the Christian life. It will be hard at times. We will face adversity at times. We need to be committed; to persevere.

2 Timothy 3 gives us a great picture of this. I love verse 17 where it says the goal is “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Yet how does this take place.

In the immediate context it gives the ultimate answer – through the work of the Word of God. (See vs 16)

But if we look just a little before this Paul gives us a game plan to implement. In verse 10-16 he tells us many things that are needed for success. He offers himself as a “trainer.” He tells us to follow his example. He mentions:
· doctrine
· manner of life
· purpose
· faith
· longsuffering
· love
· perseverance
· persecutions
· afflictions

How determined are you in your spiritual walk? Learn from Paul as a “trainer.” Find a “trainer” you trust at your church that will help mentor you in life. Be a super spiritual athlete!