Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27, 2010 - The End Goal (Happy New Year)

As we approach another New Year’s Eve, the thoughts of resolutions jump out in my mind. With each year that passes and each devotion that I write, I find myself going back to the same old ideas that seem so easy to write, yet so difficult to live.

As I write this week I am awaiting the arrival of 11 high school players today and 10 more on Saturday. We are beginning another ROCK’em Road Trip. This time involves teams playing games and working with their coaches and chaperons.

One of the chaperons is also a personal trainer. She will only be with us through Sunday because simply put, next week is her biggest business week of the year. Think about it; people are going to pay her to cause them pain. These folks will be willing for a week or two or three to endure stiff muscles and aching joints; all because they have their eyes on an end goal that requires this. You know the mantra: “No pain, no gain!” (Yet many will waver in their efforts as the end goal loses its importance to them.)

This week I want to simply remind us to look forward to the next year with a little different slant. Yes, I know it is customary to desire health and prosperity for the new year; but what about desiring trials? I know that sounds weird but if you want to grow this year then you must endure the fire.

James 1: 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Did you get that? If you want to be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” then you must face trials.

Let’s quickly examine a couple of things that I find here (and the preacher I listened to yesterday that stirred my thinking. Thanks David!)

When it says to “count it” or to “consider it” the words literally mean to look forward to the end result – what is your goal? I mentioned earlier that folks will give up on their workouts when the goal loses its importance. So what is the proper goal to look forward to in our Christian lives?

If we listen to the typical mantra for health and prosperity it all revolves around the physical comforts of life. And these verses that make promises of perfection and lacking nothing could be twisted to say such. Yet that is not at all what it is talking about because if it were then the very Apostles themselves missed the promises. Their lives were by no means comfortable and easy.

The end goal of the Christian life should be holiness, Godly character, peace, and contentment. The end goal should revolve around the very promises of the heavenly host that reminded us at Christ’s birth that we could have joy and peace.

For the next year I have to tell you that I hope you have trials – I hope you grow! As I bring in the new year with 21 high school basketball players I hope to have patience – yet that comes from trials (which I am sure they will provide for me!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20, 2010 - The X Factor

Often times when listening to commentators discuss an upcoming game they will discuss each teams strengths and weaknesses, compare the star players against each other, and then discuss who will be the “X-factor.”

The “X-factor” refers to that unknown person that will step up to make a difference. It can refer to that unknown element of the person’s game that rises to the occasion. What the commentators are saying is that we need to watch the game to determine who this will be. (Or in math terms we have to go through the problem to solve for the unknown variable – X.)

This week I want to quickly remind you about some things we see in the game of life. As we look back over history we see that one man split time in half (BC and AD.) This one man is who H.G. Wells called “easily the most dominant figure in all history.” We see that this one man fulfilled prophecies of the “Messiah” – the one that would be the “Savior” in this game of life. We see that this man is JESUS, Immanuel – God with us!

This week why don’t we try to honor Him by doing a couple of things. Let’s live our lives with the joy and peace God intended – the joy and peace that was promised would come through the Christ-child. (Luke 2)

If someone says, “Happy Holidays” to you then smile and thank them for the nice greeting. Then explain that your holidays are not only happy but also joyous and peaceful. (Instead of complaining that it is our right to hear the words Merry Christmas! How about actually following the example of Christ and laying down our rights. It is our job to take Christ to the world, not to demand they bring Him to us!)

When we see the “X-mas” signs remember a couple of things. First the “X” represented Christ in the shorthand of Greek and was originally used very respectfully. Second, even if the world is trying to remove Christ from Christmas, why would we expect anything different?

This Christmas I am diagramming a play for you. As you go out on the “floor” of life look for opportunities to “solve for X.” Look for opportunities to share with folks that you know who the “X-factor” is in the game of life. Just as Paul took the opportunity to explain the “X-factor” to the men of Athens in Acts 17 when he introduced them to the unknown variable, the unknown God!

Merry X-mas! Now go solve for “X”!

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13, 2010 - First to the Floor

How often do we take a look at adversity as a friend? I have written often of the “no pain, no gain” mentality but nevertheless it is true. Growth and strength come from putting a load on the muscles, or on the psyche.

But have you ever stopped to think about how often we are encouraged by other’s adversity? When we see people giving their all in spite of the pain, it urges us on. When we see others persevere and push forward, we are more willing to push on.

I recently was writing down some of the maxims I coach by. One is a simple reminder that the battle is often won not by the first to get to the rim but instead by the first willing to get to the floor.

Last Thursday night I watched my son’s team play a far superior team in size and athleticism. The high school team they were facing had a front line of 6’7”, 6’8”, and 6’9”. I think there were only two of their players shorter than my son that is around 6’2”.

The biggest kid on my son’s team is 6’3” or 6’4”. He is the reason I am writing this devotion this week. In spite of being undersized, he fought a valiant fight. The team was down by 18 points at the half. But after half-time, when men of lesser character would have folded, my son’s team came out scrapping. During the 3rd quarter they had enough shots fall to feel like they had a shot and had pulled back to within around 10 points. In the 4th quarter they got hot; they got pumped; they pushed on. And eventually they took the lead by as much as 6 points. Although they ended up dropping the decision (81-77) they were “winners” that night.

I know I mentioned the “big” kid on our team. His name is Austin. During that second half surge he had two plays that I believe spurred our team on. Austin is not a great scorer. He is not a great ball handler. But as a soccer goalie he has learned to give of his body. The two plays I mentioned involved Austin full-out diving for the ball; I’m talking body parallel to the floor diving. On the second one his landing area was actually in the wooden bleachers that hammered Austin’s thighs. I watched as his teammates were not only amazed by his effort but also energized and spurred on by his effort. Austin’s actions had said to his team, “This game matters. You, as my teammates matter. I’ll do what it takes to win the battle.”

In our spiritual lives I consistently am amazed by those that can go through incredibly difficult times and still honor the Lord. I think of the great missionaries we read about that were willing to lose their lives for the cause of Christ and how those stories spur us on. I think of the Apostle Paul who endured such incredible struggles once he became a Christian yet had the following conclusion:

Philippians 1: 12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Do you see what happened? The Brethren became more confident; they were encouraged and spurred on; they understood that yes Paul had some discomfort and struggle but it was all worth it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6, 2010 - When is it time to quit?

As a coach and a dad I often am faced with situations where players want to quit. As a general rule I believe that if you start something and commit to it, then you should finish it out.

Yet there have been times with players that they came to me and had legitimate reasons for wanting to quit. Maybe it was an academic reason or simply a conflict in time with something that was truly a higher priority. (One time it was as simple as a player tht wasn't respecting his momma so his dad and I agreed that he would have a leave of absence for an attitude adjustment.)

I came to a new point with one of my sons this past week. I told him that I fully understood if he wanted to quit his team.

I had watched part of his practice one day and was so proud of him. He worked his butt off! He is not near being the fastest guy on his team, yet I saw him finish first or second in each of the runs. He is not the most skilled player on his team but he competed hard. The day following that practice he anxiously went to his game (also knowing that his grandpa was in town from Inidiana.)

As we got to the game we waited for him to be put into the game. Once in the other team had gone to full court pressure and had a small guy that was simply too fast for my son. The smaller guy stole the ball a few times in a short amount of time and my son's coach immediately pulled him out. And there my son sat until the final 30 seconds of the game. I watched as his spirit was crushed. (Yeah, yeah I know there are many kids that go through this, but not all have a dad that is a coach or an older brother that is a gifted player.)

The reason I told him I understood if he wanted to quit was because to me it was more important to let my son know that his identity was not tied to a basketball game. I wanted him to know that his self-esteem should not be built by a game. I wanted him to know that I loved him the same if he were on the floor or on the bench - or not playing at all.

What he did surprised me and thrilled me. He went to the next practice. Today he played the next game. He chose to persevere and honor commitment even though I gave him an "out."

To me I was even more thrilled because I had just preached a sermon about the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned in Philippi. When his chains were loosed and the prison doors were opened, he chose to stay for the good of others; he chose to honor God over "freedom." Maybe he understood that freedom was not truly found in circumstances. He ignored the "loosed chains and open doors" I offered him.

I believe my son showed great character. I believe he is growing. I believe he handled more maturely than I would have. (It was such an amazing show of character that I had to wonder if I was more the one that was ready to quit so I didn't endure the pain.) Ultimately a few splinters from the bench are not a reason to retreat from a commitment!

Acts 16:
22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Honor! Commitment! Perseverance! Great ways to show a solid testimony!