Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26, 2011 - Believe the Hype! Share the Hype!

The past few weeks have been filled with the hype of the coming day… And now it has come and gone. Today we are left with the question of “Was it all it was cracked up to be?”

Yes the NBA schedule tipped off yesterday with 5 games; and to be honest it was for the most part some ugly basketball. Obviously the teams have had little time to work together in the shortened pre-season so we were left with seeing great athletes make periodic spectacular plays in the middle of many plays full of miscommunication and chaos. It was alley-oops and air-balls throughout the day. (Yet honestly I see the same sloppy play early in every NBA season, even when the pre-season is not shortened.)

Basically what we see is that seldom does the product live up to its hype.

Isn’t life that way? We get excited and hyped up for so many things only to be reminded that we live in a fallen world where things break, people disappoint, and dreams don’t always come true.

No, this is not going to be a negative devotion – quite the contrary. There was some other hype going on for the last few weeks concerning yesterday… Oh yeah, it was CHRISTmas Day!

This was an event that had centuries of hype from the prophets and angels as well. Think of the promises made to all men about the birth of Jesus. He would be a Savior. He would bring peace. He would be Immanuel (God with us.) He would be Wonderul, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And what we find is that the hype was real. Jesus lived (lives) up to all of it. From the time He was a boy He has continued to fulfill the promises.

When He was a boy His parents found Him in the temple with the scholars…

Luke 2: 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

From that time on He went on to be the greatest humanitarian, greatest advocate, greatest liberator, greatest teacher, etc. that the world has ever seen. While doing this He played a perfect game of life and qualified to earn ultimate victory through laying His life down as a sacrifice (substitute) for us and then rising from the dead!
 
Opening day of the NBA didn’t quite live up to the hype; but Jesus fully lived up to His… I know, He has changed my life!

Believe the hype!
Share the hype!

Luke 2: 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011 - Recruiting Hotbed

Merry CHRISTmas from Team Burden
When I moved to the Charlotte area a few years ago I was blown away by the athleticism and size of players in high school basketball. I began coaching in a conference that produces multiple D1 signees each year. (This is so impressive because less than 1% of varsity high school boys players go on to D1 scholarships.) Coming from Indiana (long considered the basketball state) I could not help but notice the major differences in play but also the fact that people here were as crazy about hoops as we were in Indiana. Needless to say this area is a hotbed for recruiting from college coaches.
As a recruiter you want to spend your time in areas that have an abundance of talent. That may be certain cities (like LA that produces the most players that eventually make it to the NBA) or making sure you hit the AAU circuit in the NCAA open periods because you know the best talent will be assembled there.

A couple thousand years ago in a small town called Bethlehem there were fields that were set aside for sheep that would be used in the temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. These sheep had to be spotless, without blemish. Therefore they were heavily watched/guarded flocks. This was the “hotbed” for sacrifices.

One particular night the shepherds that were watching the sheep were approached by an angel of God and told of THE sacrificial Lamb of God that was born in their little town; (He would live a life without blemish; and eventually die on the “altar” for our sins.) What an awesome announcement that was made that glorious night!

Yet another incredible point is that the messenger of God that night not only told of a Savior for all people but also did some “recruiting” as he invited these lowly shepherds to personally meet the Savior; and then the multitude of heavenly hosts joined in with a promise to receive peace and good will from God.

Have you met the Savior this CHRISTmas? …If not I urge to put your faith in Him as your sacrificial Lamb. If you have I urge you to spend this week inviting others to meet this Savior that was born (and died) for them! Be like the shepherds and tell the glorious news that you have received.

Merry CHRISTmas to all! (Read Luke 2:8-20 this week)

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12, 2011 - Coach Embarrassed By Players


If you have watched the sports news closely this weekend you probably saw the ugly fight that took place at the end of the Xavier/Cincinnati game. The players had been at odds throughout the game; in fact the refs had to separate them at halftime. Yet with the clock winding down and the game long decided on the scoreboard the boys’ emotions got the best of them. There were shoves, punches, and even stomping on people; there have been multiple suspensions and some believe that a couple of the players shouldn’t play again; I have even heard some say that criminal charges should be levied. In the wake of all of this mess it led the coach of Cincinnati to say he is “embarrassed” by the conduct of his players.



Yet the response from the players fits an all too common thought process in our culture. They simply thought they had to stand up for their rights; they thought they had to show they were strong and not going to be bullied or be disrespected; they weren’t going to be weak. One of the players involved said, “Where we come from…” as though his behavior was expected.



In a nutshell, the players allowed themselves to be distracted by their individual rights and image instead of sticking to the team’s game plan.



I could spend a lot of time just writing my thoughts about this incident and its social ramifications based upon how the media builds it up. Yet I will stick with the purpose of the weekly devotions and write as a “coach” that looks for opportunities to show parallels between the sports world and our Christian lives.



I will stick with the theme of the last couple of weeks of devotions that have keyed on the game plan for us to “solve for X in X-mas.” I have tried to be clever and encourage us to use the “X-mas” phrase to share the Gospel…ye this week I will get straight to the point.



As a coach I am often embarrassed by our “team’s” behavior during the holidays. We spend way too much time arguing and complaining about our rights and being disrespected. I hear far too often that we are not going to be “doormats”; all while hearing messages about peace, turning the other cheek, Christ remaining silent to His accusers, etc.



Please do not get me wrong. We have been given an opportunity (for those of us that are in America) to have a voice through the voting process. Yet the game plan for us is not to be one of political activism or screaming about our rights. The game plan is the Great Commission to preach the Gospel. The game plan is to lay down individual rights in order to focus on sharing the hope, joy, and peace of Christ with others.



When someone wishes you “Happy Holidays or Merry X-mas” this CHRISTmas thank them for the kind greeting and respond creatively. After all they have wished you happiness and merriment. Those aren’t bad things.



Maybe respond by saying, “Thank you and I hope your holidays are not only happy but also full of hope, joy, and peace. Could I tell you how to find those things?” Or maybe say, “Thank you. Could I ask what the ‘X’ stands for in your mind? What are you truly hoping for during the holidays? To me the ‘X’ represents my hope, my joy, and my peace – could I share that with you?”



As a “coach” my desire is to see us stick with the game plan and not be distracted by all this other stuff. I would hope that we would respond like the shepherds did. After they met the Savior they responded not by demanding more respect as individuals - (remember shepherds were considered the lowest class of people) – but instead by becoming the first evangelists after the birth of Christ.



According to Luke 2:17 the shepherds “made known the saying which was told to them concerning this Child.” What was told to them? In the preceding verses there is the good tidings of Christ the Savior and the promise of peace on earth and good will toward men!



If we will be faithful with the “good tidings” that were told to us we will see results like the shepherds did. Check out the response to the good news they were sharing…



Luke 2: 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.



Let’s stick to the game plan!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 5, 2011 - Get the ball to your Scorer!

Years ago, while I was still on the sidelines as a high school coach, I had a lot of fans (mostly parents) that did not like my philosophy with the team. I had one player that had spent numerous hours in the gym, taken thousands of reps on his jump shot, and simply put was our best scoring option. (My philosophy is that shooters shoot!)
With that said I found myself often in the huddle diagramming plays to get the ball in this young man’s hands. In light of last week’s devotion on X’s and O’s, he became the “X” that was our primary scorer. Now remember I had some that did not like my philosophy. They felt their child should get the same opportunities to score. Pride said that they wanted their son to be the “X-man.”
The problem is that those players did not meet the standard set for that “X.” They did not possess the same skill set to accomplish the job. Therefore our game plan often centered on that player getting the ball.
Last week we talked about the fact that Jesus is the answer to the “X” question. If we want a truly Merry X-mas then Christ needs to be in the place of the “X.” If we truly want hope and joy and peace then Christ needs to be in the place of the “X.”
Evan as a Christian, I find it easy during the hustle and bustle of the holidays to focus on the wrong things. Between the extended travels, the crazy schedules, the purchasing of gifts, the expectation of receiving gifts, etc. it is easy to get away from the game plan.
This X-mas I want to make sure I am looking to get the ball to Christ! I want to focus on Him. It is the only way to successfully break life’s full court press. (None of us, nor any material things, can meet the standard set for “X.”)
I choose to focus on God and His goodness! Listen to how Mary put it…
Luke 1:46-49 (The Message) And Mary said, I'm bursting with God-news; I'm dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I'm the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 28, 2011 - Diagramming Plays (For CHRISTmas)

The X’s and O’s of coaching: simply put, as a coach one is assigned the job of figuring out plays that will work against the opposition. He has to look at the obstacles the opponent puts in front of the team and the strengths of his players.

Once that game plan is determined, the coach will make sure he has the right player filling the right role. If X is supposed to bomb a three, you can bet the coach is looking for a great shooter to assign to that role. If X is supposed to pound the ball inside, you can bet he isn’t looking for the 5’9” guy on his squad. I think you get the picture.

In the grand scheme of life, God looked at the opponent and “diagrammed a play”. He had to find a “player” with the abilities to overcome the obstacles. He had to find a “player” that wouldn’t “turn the ball over.”

The obstacles the opponent raised involved the separation sin brought between man and God. The opponent’s desire: to keep man from God. Therefore God’s game plan was to bring peace and good will to men. God’s game plan was to insert a “Substitute”, a Savior into the “game.” (Read Luke 2:10-14)

The X in God’s game plan then has to be able to not turn the ball over and ultimately to save the game. Simply put that X is Jesus!

Merry X-mas! Now you can explain to the world what X equals - solve for X!

Side note: for over 1,000 years it has been common for Christograms to be used. These are abbreviations common in literature. X is very common as an abbreviation for Christ as the X is the first letter of His name. (X = Chi)

Side note #2: -mas in Latin literally means “Go, it is dismissal.” It is a charge to the church to go and tell God’s game plan to others. One author wrote, “These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the church.”

Therefore team, it is time to break from the huddle; go onto the court of life; and execute the game plan of telling the world what X stands for!

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21, 2011 - Code Of Conduct

This past week as I sat in a gym awaiting a high school basketball game, I had a great reminder from the announcer. The game was held at a Christian school in Winston-Salem, NC and before opening in prayer he reminded the crowd of something that has been a common cry of our ministry. He reminded them of the need as fans to honor the Lord!

Think about the hypocritical culture we are in as sports fans. If we see a player get upset and scream at an official, a coach, or another player we immediately brand that player as out of control. We will quickly call him a “poor sport.” We may even call him a “thug.” We will be thrilled when the ref blows the whistle and gives him a technical!

What if the refs were to blow whistles and give technicals when the fans were out of line? What if we viewed fans by the same standards of which we give players?

Way back in 2002 when I started doing these weekly devotions on the internet, I wrote about the fact that God doesn’t give a 40-minute reprieve from holiness to play a game. Since a new hoops season is upon us may I remind you that this is also true of watching a game?

Psalm 19: 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.

With this week of Thanksgiving, I remind you that we are to be a people of praise and thanksgiving, not of complaining and griping. (See Philippians 4:8 and 2:14)

A gentle reminder of the InBounds Code of Conduct:
Players play; Coaches coach; Refs ref; Fans cheer!

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 2011 - Bench Players Commit Zero Turnovers

What is your excuse? Why aren’t you tearing up the “court”? Why aren’t you making a difference in the “game”?

Far too many Christians are content going through the motions of the “game” and focusing on the idea that what makes us good “players” is not committing “turnovers” (making mistakes / sin.) Although that is a wonderful accomplishment, by itself it doesn’t make you an effective player.

In basketball a player that has been entrusted with the ball is gauged by a simple formula of assist-to-turnover ratio. How many assists is he dishing out compared to when he is messing up? (And as a coach you are also looking at variables such as how much pressure is the player under.)

One of my former players is now the point guard at Oak Hill Academy. Through their first 7 games his assist-to-turnover ratio is 10.3 to 1.5 - That is an amazing number!   What is even more amazing is that the night I went to watch a game the opposing team played very physical and pressured him the whole game, most of it picking him up with full-court pressure. The result was amazing. He played the entire game and had zero turnovers. (Way to go Tyler; and congratulations NC State – you are getting an amazing and effective point guard next year!)

There are many that question Tyler’s game. They say he is too small; too slow; too weak; etc. It would be very easy for Tyler to just buy into the questions and be content to just try to stay away from trouble. When facing pressure from the other team he could choose to try to stay away from the pressure by playing “east-to-west” (sideline to sideline) instead “north-to-south” (goal to goal - attacking the pressure.) I believe Tyler could still maintain good low turnover numbers in games that way but he would not be an effective guard doing that. (Heck, some players just simply do so little that they get to stay on the bench. Do you realize that a bench player doesn’t commit turnovers; but does that make him an effective player?)

So back to our original questions: What is your excuse? Why aren’t you tearing up the “court”? Why aren’t you making a difference in the “game”?

Obviously we are not talking about the game of basketball. We are discussing serving the Lord in our Christian lives.

Maybe your excuse is that you are not “talented” enough to make a difference. You are right; but Christ in you is! Colossians 2: 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

It is time to get busy and make a difference. Christ in you gives you the potential to be an all-star player for God. Yet I will end this week with a quote off of Tyler’s dad’s Facebook page. Coach Lewis is a scout for high school players and he said this:

“Too often potential never matches performance and production. Potential may be the single most overused word to describe players today.”

Church we have the potential; let’s perform and produce!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7, 2011 - The Discipleship Relay

1 Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
These words were penned by the Apostle Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) to the Corinthian church (and thus all believers.) The context of the letter has been Paul explaining the mandate to be servants and stewards of the Gospel of Christ. He has just shared the selfless attitude required to reach out to people – “that they may be saved.” (10:33)
The thing I love is the beauty of the discipleship message found in this verse. I have been asked in the past about the best model of discipleship and I have answered very simply: “Jesus did it by saying follow me, and when I am gone do what I did.”
Paul here has said keep an eye on me; imitate me; now run the same course. It is the discipleship relay!
Think about a relay team: a race between teams of competitors in which each member of a team runs... only part of the total distance to be covered… the current runner must pass a baton to the person running the next section. (Bing Dictionary)
Picture the guy waiting to run the next leg. He is intently watching the first runner’s course and as the first runner approaches him their races will briefly intersect and then the baton will be handed off for the second runner to run the same course…
Are your eyes on a runner that is showing you the course? Are you running with the intent of handing off the baton to a next generation runner? The church is supposed to be a discipleship relay team!
Jesus very clearly taught this idea with simple commands like “the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21)
In other words the relay goes like this: Jesus ran His leg of the race; Paul imitates Jesus and runs his leg; and now we are to imitate Paul running our part of the course! (Obviously there have been many legs of the relay run in between…)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ocotober 31, 2011 - It doesn't take much space...


One of the reasons I love hoops is because it is so easy to get the opportunity to play. It doesn’t require much equipment (and the equipment can even be kind of ragged.) Just about anything round up in the air can serve as a hoop (i.e. a bicycle tire rim on a pole.) I can even remember times with my kids of simply making my arms into a circle and telling them to shoot at it. Plus you don’t need a lot of space to be able to practice ball handling, etc.

The reason this comes to mind is because I think as believers we often fall victim to believing that our evangelism outreach needs to have a huge platform with bright lights. As a church we often gear toward big events as the way to reach people. When in reality it doesn’t take much “space” to get face to face with someone and share the hope of glory, which is Christ in you! (Colossians 1:27)

This past week while in the Dominican Republic we crawled out of our van to go into a small storefront to exchange money. When I came back outside there was a group of kids mesmerized by some of our InBounds coaches. Two of the coaches (Justin and Clay) had basketballs under their arms and another, Frank (who speaks Spanish), began talking with the kids. One of the kids even had a worn out old basketball with him.

I asked Clay to do some dribbling drills in front of the kids. They were “hooked.” Next thing I know I am sitting in a very small area of a crowded parking lot with kids having an impromptu hoops clinic. And the beauty is that Frank was in turn telling them about Jesus and giving them Gospel tracts to read.

How about you? Are you taking advantage of the “space” that you are in to share the Good News?

Yesterday I preached in two services about the fact that we are not only called to be servants of Christ but also stewards of the mysteries of Christ. (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) This passage calls us to be faithful to this task. (A “steward” means that God has entrusted this to us!)

So how are we faithful to this? By serving Christ - via serving others! (You know the whole “done unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me” sermon.) And we need to be faithful to share the Gospel in those encounters.

Side note from yesterday’s sermons: We cannot claim to be serving Christ while ignoring others!

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011 - Cracking the Whip

What is the goal of a coach? What is his job? Should he drive his team by cracking the whip?

Today, here in the Dominican Republic, I saw a great picture that got the questions rolling in our van full of coaches. A man was going down the street with his oxen pulling a load. He was at times really cracking the whip on the oxen. Not only was it a great cultural picture (since we do not often see oxen yoked together in the states); but it was also a great sports picture and spiritual picture.

The initial analogy that came up was dealing with the use of the whip. Of course we were discussing the times as a coach that we have to crack it.

I made the following observation: As long as the oxen are yoked and going in the same direction (same goal) then the whip is simply a way to speed that up or keep it moving. Therefore the coach’s job does involve at times cracking the whip.

But then it dawned on me that the farmer was also the guy that placed the yoke on the oxen. Therefore it reminded me that the coach’s job also includes setting the direction/goals of the team – unifying them. It would be very hard to crack the whip in the process of putting on the yoke; that needs to be a time of peace for the animals/team…

As a Christian coach the goal should not be winning games/championships nearly as much as it should be everyone striving to honor God in effort and attitude – or as my good friend Terry Primm put it: “Playing to make God famous!” (Colossians 3:23)

And this is also the reminder of our responsibilities to be careful who we are yoked to… Our “teammates” (be it a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, business partner, best friend, etc.) should be equally yoked with us. In other words we should have the yoke of the Word of God guiding us and keeping us on the right path; along with at times the Holy Spirit cracking the whip of conviction!

2 Corinthians 6: 14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011 - Diet

Last night as I looked at my son chomping on his bag of potato chips that he had purchased, it reminded me of how often we need to hear basic truths. I mentioned to him that he needed to take more seriously his diet if he truly wanted to be the best athlete he could be. His response was, “I’ve got to put on weight somehow.” I quickly reminded him that even though he does need to bulk up some that is not the way to do it. He needs to put on the right kind of weight and also give his body what it needs for complete healing from his knee injury. Literally put, he needed reminded that if you put crap in you get crap out! I reminded him that staples of his diet need to include protein and good carbs.

The interesting thing is that this discussion came after I had spoken twice yesterday about one’s diet. Only I was not talking about the physical diet but instead one’s mental diet…

I reminded the folks I was talking with of a very well-known truth; one which I have written about in these weekly devotions; yet one that I think needs repeating often.

Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us that the believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and sealed until the day of redemption. Galatians 5:16-18 reminds us of how this plays out in our lives. As believers we have both the Spirit and this flesh (and its mind) that has desires. It is truly a battle that takes place for supremacy of our thought lives. And which one wins that battle will be which one you feed the most.

Basically the world is full of “junk food” that feeds the flesh and its desires. Our flesh craves things that feed our pride and our lusts. That is the “food” for the flesh.

So what does the Spirit like to eat? God’s Word! God’s Word is the nutrient that transforms our minds. God’s Word is the nutrient that strengthens the Holy Spirit in us. God’s Word has to be a major part of our daily diet if we want to be the best spiritual athletes we can be! (Browse through Psalm 119 today.)

I urge you this week to take a look at your “diet.” What are you “feeding” on each day? What are you watching, listening to, and talking about?

Is God’s Word a staple in your diet? (Or are you content to just “eat” of it once a week at church?)

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10, 2011 - An Understanding Coach

I was talking with a good friend tonight about the struggles that great players have when they try to be coaches. Basically we see guys like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or even Michael Jordan that struggle in coaching roles. Why is that when they are such great players?

One common thread to the greatest players in any sport is their great dedication to hard work. They have a mentality that cannot settle for less than giving one’s best. They cannot stand to lose. They have a mentality that says, “you may beat me today but I won’t stop…therefore I will catch you!

This all sounds like a mentality of a great coach. The problem is that these guys cannot understand players that don’t have that same drive. They are sickened by players that are content to lose. They forget that they are the exceptional ones and thus are not very understanding as coaches.

I thought of a Proverb in chapter 10 that says:
26 As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
So is the lazy man to those who send him.

I am reminded of the importance of hard work – again in Proverbs 10:
4 He who has a slack hand becomes poor,
But the hand of the diligent makes rich.
5 He who gathers in summer is a wise son;
He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.

Did you get the spiritual implications there? The Lord of the Harvest has called us to action. He has commissioned us to preach the Gospel and make disciples. How often do we cause Him shame?

I often use this platform to try to challenge us in our reasonable service to the Lord. I hope this week to do the same. But I also hope to comfort us by reminding us that, unlike the superstars that cannot handle coaching screw-ups, our God is patient, kind, and merciful! He is the God of second, third, fourth…chances.

Lamentations 3: 22 Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “ The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“ Therefore I hope in Him!”

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 3, 2011 - Leave It All On The Court!

“Leave it all on the court!”
“Bust it to the buzzer!”
“The only numbers on the scoreboard that truly matter? The clock – Give your all until it zeros out!”

I love to coach players that leave the court exhausted! I love to coach players that have to look at me and ask for a substitute because they have been giving it all. (In fact I had a standing rule that if you came out of the game because of exhaustion that I would get you back in the game as soon as you were ready. The adverse, if I pulled you because of laziness you should expect a long visit on the sidelines!)

The point is I want to see that the game matters to you as my player.

I recently heard a commercial on television where an older guy stated “I want to die exhausted.” It wasn’t a very good advertisement because I cannot remember the product, but the line jumped out at me.

John Wesley was quoted as saying, ““Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” I also saw that it was attributed to him as saying “I want to die exhausted for Christ.”

All of this has me thinking of an admonition in the Scriptures that I quote often in these devotions: 1 Corinthians 15:58 tell us to be steadfast and immovable. We are good at that in the church. We hold fast to our doctrine and traditions. We consistently meet together (and often sit in the same seats.) My fear is that we have taken the word “immovable” too far. We ignore the next part that says we should be always abounding in the work of the Lord.

Did you get that? “Always!”-----“Abounding!”

Or in the words of John Wooden, “Move, move, move!”

So what is the “work of the Lord?” We can look at a lot of things yet based upon the great commission I think we can easily state that there is a huge emphasis on “the Lord of the Harvest.”

2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. (Luke 10)

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. (John 4)

Are you willing to give your all until the “buzzer sounds”? Are you going to “leave it all on the court”? God’s “game plan” is clear.

I don’t know about you, but I want to “die exhausted”!

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 2011 - Basketball Begins When Basketball Ends...

This past week I was able to sit under some great teaching at the annual Youth Evangelism Association convention. As I listened and took notes, one presenter greatly caught my attention. His name is George Kell. He is the executive director of the Harrisburg Christian Performing Arts Center in Harrisburg, PA. (You should Google them and check out the amazing work that is going on there!)

George caught my attention with the following statement: “Basketball begins when basketball ends.” (He also stated that acting does the same thing.) Yes, I know it is a Monday and I am asking you to think philosophically – but it is a worthy journey.

George went on to explain that practices (rehearsals) are the time to think about what you are doing; to get the technical side of things down. But when the ball or curtain goes up it should be so natural that you no longer have to think through it but instead just play…

When I think about the greatest players I have ever watched or coached, they all had one thing in common – the game seemed almost effortless – just a natural extension of who they are.

So how does a great athlete/actor get to that point? The playbook/script has to become second nature. The movements have to become part of who he/she is. He/she has to come to a place of a new identity founded in the position/character.

(George used sports along with the arts in his teaching because he recognizes that those two venues make up the “2 Great Universal Languages.”)

George likened basketball unto doing improve on stage. He mentioned that “the stage is only a scary place if you know that you are you.”

So what does all of this have to do with a weekly devotion? Glad you asked!
Have you ever heard the phrase that “all the world is a stage”? With that idea in mind I also remind you that it can be a very scary place. Yet only if you know you are you…

The Bible has called us as believers to have a role on this stage that honors the Lord. As a church we emphasize this through calling people to a life that avoids some things and also adds some things (the “thou shalts and thou shalt nots.) In other words we design the “plays” and ask our “players” to follow the plan.

Unfortunately this approach is often very lacking. It reminds me of watching youth teams learning plays; each player running to a predetermined place on the floor at a predetermined time; and very few of the players having any idea of why they are going there.

I could go on and on about this but I will try to get to the point.
If we, as believers – players on God’s team, want to play out our role on earth in a way that brings honor to the Lord, we need to stop just going through the motions. We need to study the “playbook” intently and in doing so we need to study our Savior intently. We need to see not only how He lived but also why He did it. We need to seek to not just conform to His life but to be transformed by His Word and life (Romans 12:1-2). We need to step out onto the world’s stage unafraid – because it is not us but Christ living through us. We need to have the “thou shalts and thou shalt nots” be a natural flow of who we are.

Christian living begins when living ends.

Galatians 2: 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19, 2011 - Teammate Affiliations

The news lately in college sports is centering on teams changing conferences – or – conference realignment. Basically many schools are trying to improve their standing by finding the fit that will give them the best options for recognition in the polls, more potential for revenue, better recruiting capabilities, etc. It must be a very difficult thing to navigate all the scenarios that are taking place.

Some are very excited as they see the strength of the changing super conferences; others are discouraged as they see the strength of these conferences hurting the outlook for others. Yet bottom line is that each is looking to determine what makes them stronger. Not sure I always agree with how they get there but I do understand the general premise that schools have a responsibility to work to do what is best for their university and program.

What or who are your “affiliations?” Are you making sure that you are being strengthened? Do the people around you build you up or tear you down? The sports news this week, coupled with a testimony I heard last night by a friend that is a state-champ basketball coach, continue to take me back to the devotion I wrote 2 weeks ago about how important “TEAM” is!

In that devotion I reminded us of the Scriptures warning that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Based upon what the Lord has continued to bring in front of me I felt led to go a step further…

13 Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever
?
(2 Corinthians 6)

Again this is not telling us not to associate with those that think differently than us (if that were the case how could we follow out the great commission to reach them?) This is simply a great reminder to be very careful who you are “yoked” with. WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES YOKED MEAN?
While I was in the Dominican Republic a few months ago I actually got to see this word picture in action. There was a farmer in the field with his oxen yoked together plowing the field. There was a definite plan and direction for the team of oxen to go – the yoke kept them going in the same direction in which the farmer was leading them.

So what is a modern “yoke”? Who are your best friends? Who are you dating? Who is your business partner? Make choices based upon who is the best teammate…

Great teammates have the same goals and listen to the same coach. Are those close to you making you stronger? Are you making them stronger? If you are going to stick your neck in a “yoke” with someone make sure you are both listening/letting God lead. When “yoked” even if one of you wants to stray the other will keep you on course.

This week is not about conference affiliations but instead friendship or teammate affiliations!

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011 - My Stupid Son

Back a few months ago, before my son Clay had his knee injury, he was playing for an AAU travel team called the Carolina Surge. It was a great honor for Clay to be a part of that team as it put him in position to play a lot of highly-scouted tournaments. It also gave him the opportunity to be coached by some great guys that truly care about him. (Thanks Larry, Jeff, Harry) During the tryout for the team Clay was very aggressive and showed the things the coaches were looking for. He played very strong. I remember the joy he had when he found out that he was a member of the Surge. Clay’s injury came during their third tournament I believe; and to be honest it came at a time when Clay’s playing time was dwindling a bit. It wasn’t dwindling because he was not talented. It wasn’t dwindling because he had a bad attitude. It was dwindling because he was being stupid! I know, I know…that doesn’t sound politically correct; but truth is truth. The question is why I would go as far as saying my own son was being stupid? And why would I bring it up now after he has been out of commission for the last 5 months? First the answer to the second question: I think he is far enough along now to not have this be adding insult to injury. Instead I think now it can be a great learning experience for him, and for us. Now to the first question: why call him stupid? I will start by saying that it has nothing to do with his knowledge of the game. He has a very strong basketball I.Q. Years ago I wrote about Clay in one of the weekly devotions when he had played a game against a very athletic team, ran the point, and had no turnovers. Yet that particular game he simply tried to stay out of trouble by doing a lot of East-West movement on the court instead of attacking North-South. Basically I called out Clay (and ultimately believers in Christ) to stop being passive and do what we are called on to do! In the case of Clay’s time with the Surge, he had made the team by being a threat offensively. He caught the coaches’ eyes by being aggressive. Yet in the tourneys leading up to his injury he had resigned himself to being a facilitator for his teammates and not being aggressive. It is great to facilitate for others, but one also has to fill his role. So why do I call that stupid? Clay’s coaches were regularly telling him to be more aggressive. They were telling him to create more; to penetrate more; to shoot more… Again his attitude was pretty good toward the coaches, but he simply was not doing what they were asking of him. To know what a coach wants and to ignore it is stupid. To willfully not obtain he coach’s favor is stupid. (On a positive note – I think his time being laid up with the injury has a bit of a fire of aggression burning inside of him… - I am looking forward to seeing him back out on the court.) Now on to the spiritual application… Why are we so stupid? We know what God has asked/commanded of us, yet we willfully ignore it. Did you know that God calls that stupid? Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. The literal phrase from Hebrew indicates a word picture of “stupid as a cow.” It goes on in the next verse to mention that “a good man obtains favor from the Lord” – just as a good player finds favor from his coach. You see playing time is showing a coach’s favor. Therefore dwindling playing time generally means a loss of favor. God wants you “in the game”! He wants to use you. Yet we need to study and apply His Word to our lives, and stop being stupid!

Monday, September 5, 2011

September 4, 2011 - Go TEAM!

Last week I wrote about the idea of playing on the road. I talked about loving to stand out in the crowd – in the “enemy’s” territory. I talked about the challenge my kids are having with changing from the Christian school they attended to the public school. (I talked about the stolen items, vulgar language, and simply different atmosphere they are in. Add to that the drug bust that went down a few days ago…)

In review I talked about the importance for us as a church to be willing to make a difference in the world. I concluded the devotion as follows:
“Church, my prayer is the same for you. I am thankful for the time we can be on the home court and be encouraged by other believers. Yet the season has to include “away games” if we want to be the salt and light that Jesus called us to be.
Church, stand strong and stand out!”

Since the writing of last week’s devotion, I have had many things run through my mind. I have been reminded of my job as a parent to help encourage and pray for my kids. Not only was there the drug bust at the middle school, my 1st grader hit some rough days of missing momma and missing Bible class. But the one line that hit me hardest was from my 8th grader who simply stated it would be nice to at least have one friend to go through this with.

Then it hit me. One of the reasons I loved going into the opponent’s gym was because I knew my teammates had my back and still do! (Thanks, Mark, JJ, etc.) There is a confidence when you know you are part of a team.
So this week I want to first ask you to pray for my kids that they will find “teammates” that have their backs at school. I pray the same for you – whether it be at school or at work. Yet I also remind you that those that you count as your “inner circle” of friends should have the same goals as you. It has to be someone that has your back and will build you up in Christ – not tear you down.

1 Corinthians 15: 33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”

Christianity is meant to be a “team sport.”

Ecclesiastes 4: 9 Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

We are supposed to have one another’s backs.

Hebrews 10: 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Did you get that? Our faithfulness is directly linked with our team concept of working together.

Go TEAM!

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29, 2011 - Stand Strong and Stand Out!

Often times we hear of the home court advantage a team has. We think of the thrill of playing in front of our fans. We love that the crowd is behind us – on our side. It is encouraging to feel accepted. There is also a feeling of safety to be on one’s own turf…

Yet when I think back to my playing days I find that the place that comes to mind for me is not the home court but instead a gym where I can remember cheers when I messed up and jeers when I did well. To me it was really cool to have the crowd “against” me. It meant that I stood out as a player.

This is on my mind due to the fact that 4 of our kids have returned to public school. It is not that the Christian school kids were perfect but it was definitely a different atmosphere. In just 2 days at the public school both of my middle school boys have had items stolen; both have mentioned the incredibly vulgar discussions they hear in the hallways; there has even been a bit of bullying…

The initial thought is that they need to be back on their home court. Yet as I dig into Scripture I am reminded of Christ words that we are not of the world but we are in the world. I am reminded of His charge to be salt and light in the world. We are charged to make a difference. (See Matthew 5 and John 17)

I asked the kids last night during family devotions some simple questions. We were sitting in a brightly lit room and I asked what difference it would make if I lit a candle? Would that light stand out? What if we turned out all the lights and then I lit the candle? Then would the candle stand out?

I am very thankful that the Lord allowed my kids the time at the Christian school. It was a great addition to our training in the Word, while being a fantastic education. If I had the money they would probably still be there. Yet I am also thankful for the opportunity for my kids to be “lights” in their present schools. My prayer is that they stand strong and stand out. If there are jeers from the crowd count that as a badge of honor!

Church, my prayer is the same for you. I am thankful for the time we can be on the home court and be encouraged by other believers. Yet the season has to include “away games” if we want to be the salt and light that Jesus called us to be.

Church, stand strong and stand out!

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 22, 2011 - That's my boy!

One of the most incredible feelings one can have is to watch his kids playing sports. It is amazing how focused we become upon every move they make on the court/field. It is heartbreaking when things don’t go right for them. It is exhilarating when things go well. (And sometimes we catch ourselves living vicariously through them…)

But let’s face it, we love to see our kids succeed. I thought about this Friday night. We were not at a basketball game but instead at a concert. Clay (my oldest) and I were treated to a Hillsong United concert; a concert of extreme praise and worship, with thousands in attendance singing, shouting, and raising their hands.

As I found myself simply overwhelmed with the beautiful outpouring of praise to our God, I began simply looking around the arena. There were hands up everywhere, yet my eyes continued to be drawn back to one place – my own son. How incredible to see him praising God! How incredible to know he was willing to show that!

Don’t get me wrong I was moved by the thousands of teens I saw praising; but one caught my eye! He didn’t need a number on his jersey for me to know who he was. I found myself praying for him during the concert – that he would “play well” in the “game of life.” I found myself wanting to cheer him on as we lifted up our voices to the Savior.

First this week: are you cheering your kids on spiritually? Is their spiritual walk as important to you as their game performances?

Secondly, I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that I am a child of God. Just as I could pick out my son’s hands in the midst of the crowd, He also is intimately and intricately involved in my life! He hurts when I hurt; He is excited when I do well; God is my biggest fan!!!!!!!

I think of Matthew chapter 6 where we are told not to worry because God is on our side. I think of Romans 8 that tells us that we have been adopted by God and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I think of Psalm 68 that tells us that He is a father to the fatherless.

One of my favorite verses: Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.

How incredible to know that God Almighty is notices us – not just when we do wrong but more importantly when we do right! To know He is present in the stands cheering, “That’s my boy!”

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 15, 2011 - You are in the game!

Over the past I have heard many people, myself included, make reference to Christians that are “on the bench” and need to “get in the game.” Obviously I understand the analogy; I have used it and written about it. Yet as I was preaching this weekend something hit me – it is not a good analogy.

To say that someone is “on the bench” is stating that that person cannot accomplish anything. A person on the bench is powerless to affect the game… A person on the bench can simply use the excuse, “I need to rest” or “I am not any good” or “I screwed up when I was in there”….

The simple truth of the matter is you are “in the game”! The “game” is life. You are dressed out and on the court. You have opportunities to affect the game. You even have a coach that has diagrammed plays for you (See Ephesians 2:10).

Unfortunately there are far too many Christians that believe “playing the game” is just about avoiding turnovers (mistakes) and fouls (sin). Therefore their Christian lives consist of standing still on the court. Their stat lines are reading zeroes across the board. (Granted a zero in the turnover column can be a great stat, unless it is a result of lack of aggressive play.)

The Scriptures that got my mind spinning on this are 1 Corinthians 15:58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:10.

1 Corinthians 15: 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4: 9 But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more;

Many Christians are good at being “steadfast and immovable” – yet we ignore the exhortation to be “always abounding” and “to increase more and more.” There is a directive to be active!

In the words of John Wooded: “Move, move, move…”

I think of yelling at players to not let the paint dry under their feet in the lane. I think of asking players if they are wearing cement shoes because they don’t seem to be able to move.

In order to play the game successfully players must be actively moving on court/field. And ultimately it has to result in good ball movement (spreading the Gospel)!!!!!!!!

You are in the game! It is time to get moving!

Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8, 2011 - A Blessed Man

I love playing hoops! I love coaching hoops! I love preaching and teaching!

To those of you that know me you are now thinking, “Duh!” Yet stick with me. I am a blessed man to get to do things I love.

As a kid we often hear adults say things like, “If you put your mind to it you can be anything you want to be.” Well I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble but this isn’t true!

As a trainer I often deal with unrealistic expectations. In sports there is a genetic ceiling on how fast someone can be or how high he can jump. No matter how hard he trains if the genetics don’t match the guy next to him he simply will not be faster or jump higher.

I am not saying this to ruin dreams; in fact far from it. I often tell players that the goal is to look in the mirror at the end of the day and simply know you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. (John Wooden’s definition of success) I warn them of the pain of regret that comes from not giving one’s all to pursue dreams.

Sometimes I get players that are almost assured of a lot of playing time if they go to a lower division college but instead choose the harder route that may mean bench time; yet they want to know they gave it a shot. Sometimes an athletic career is derailed by an injury. Etc.

Now to why this is on my mind…

A few days ago a 5th grader looked at me and said, “ Coach Todd, if you could do anything you wanted to do what would it be?” What a great opportunity to share with this kid!

I responded by saying, “Bobby, I would play hoops with guys like you and tell them about Jesus. This is what I chose to do.”

You see, it doesn’t matter how hard I train this 45 year old body, I am not going to play in the NBA. No, I cannot be anything I want to be; but I can be everything God wants me to be.

God wants me to:
• Love Him and to Love others as myself (See Luke 10:27)
• Pursue what is good not only for myself but also for everyone else (See 1 Thessalonians 5:15)
• Be salt and light in this world (See Matthew 5:13-14)
• And obviously the list could go on…

The point is that we should be pursuing God and pursuing people more than we are pursuing riches! Life is short make it count! Be all God wants you to be!

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1, 2011 - The Missing Piece

Often times during the off-season we hear talk of teams trying to fill in the “missing piece” that will make them a contender. Every team analyzes the players they have and tries to determine what will give them not only the complete physical package needed but also team chemistry.

The same is true with the body of Christ. All believers are gifted and should be filling their roles on the “team.” Yet also there needs to be team chemistry. That is where my thoughts are today. If we do not take the time to make sure our attitudes are right then we will not properly fill our roles.

The thoughts actually started while I was on the road this past week. We drove by many church signs and I saw many clever marquee statements. But the thing that jumped out at me was the name of one church: “The Missing Peace.”

What a clever name and what a true problem that many have. I truly believe that one of the greatest problems in the church is a lack of peace in believers. When Christ was preparing to leave the earth He made many promises of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. We have numerous places that we see the promises of the Holy Spirit indwelling us and sealing us as believers. Yet still there are many very uptight people that tear down team chemistry. Have you ever noticed there is a lot of bickering going on in churches? Makes it kind of hard to follow through with that “they’ll know you by your love for one another” stuff that Christ talked about doesn’t it?

So if the Holy Spirit is the Comforter; and if He indwells in us; then why are we so uptight?
Two reasons for the lack for team chemistry:

• First is that we are “grieving the Spirit” by allowing sin in our lives. Think about it. The Holy Spirit is with us everywhere we go; He sees everything we watch; He hears everything we listen to… Do you really think God is amused or entertained by the things you watch, read, talk about, and listen to? Read Ephesians chapter 4 today! [Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.]
• Second is that we “quench the Spirit” by not following through with the things He is prompting us to do. And no I am not just talking about plugging in to more church programs. I am talking about those daily opportunities to reach out to friends, co-workers, other students, neighbors, etc. 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us to “pursue what is good” not only for ourselves but also for others and follows that up with the following command: [5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.]

Simply put, the Spirit cannot fulfill His role of comforting us if we are constantly grieving Him or quenching His work. When He feels uneasy, we feel uneasy.

Just maybe our lack of peace is just a politically correct way of saying we are under conviction… You and I will not be the missing pieces that help the team if we are missing peace!

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011 - Follow the Leader!

As I type this morning I am sitting in Indiana, getting ready to drive the rest of the way to St Louis, MO. I will spend the week conducting some basketball clinics and then sharing the Word during a youth retreat. It is going to be a great and fun time yet one also that is physically demanding. When we do clinics we do not just tell campers what to do; we also show them what to do. When I am talking about a proper basketball stance I tell them, “I want you bent down straight up!” it means nothing to them until I (or one of my boys) gets our knees bent, butt down, back straight, and head up.

• When I talk the campers about footwork it requires not only telling them how to step and slide but actually showing them by getting bent down straight up and staying low as I step and slide across the floor.
• When I talk to them about ball handling it requires that I show them how to stay bent down straight up to stay agile and explosive.
• When I talk shooting I get bent down straight up and thus create power from my legs and hips…
• I think you are getting the picture of the proper posture for how to play the game.

And after I have shown the players how to do these things, I expect them to imitate it or basically “follow the leader.”

Likewise there is a proper posture for living the Christian life. John 1:14 tells us that when Christ (the Word) took on flesh and came to live with us that we “beheld his glory.” This word beheld, according to Merrill Tenney in his expository on the book of John, has as its root meaning that of the theatre. In other words it is Christ showing us for us how this thing called life is done. His life gives us a full view of how God lives; thus how we should live. Through the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, we can be the audience that takes it all in.

In John we see Christ as:

• an evangelist – as He lovingly shares grace and truth with Nicodemus
• a human rights advocate – as He lovingly reach out to the outcast Samaritan woman
• a servant – as He lovingly washes the disciples dirty feet
• and ultimately a sacrificial Savior – as He lovingly went to the cross in our place

We read His words like in John 12:47 where he says “..I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”

We see a picture of the God-man that lived His life bent down straight up. He consistently was bent down before the Father with the attitude of obedience and doing the Father’s will. He was consistently bent down before others in servanthood (thus being the example mentioned in Philippians 2 where we are told to consider others as more important than ourselves.) He was consistently straight up with eyes focused on the Father and the completion of His commissioned task to be the Savior. (That makes the words “it is finished” oh so sweet!) He was consistently straight up with eyes looking up to and making others around Him feel important as He served them. If you read the book of John remembering that this is the God-man, the Christ, that is lovingly reaching out in this way it will blow you away.

As the audience that gets to “behold” this, it leads us to Christ’s challenge at the end of the book. In chapter 21 we read the epilogue of this incredible journey. Christ has been crucified as the perfect lamb to pay for our sin. Christ has risen again as the victorious Savior that offers us new life through faith in Him. Now in chapter 21 He is meeting with his disciples and fellowshipping with them and has the famous encounter with Peter where He asks Peter 3 times if he loves Christ.

Then Christ gives Peter, the other disciples, and ultimately us some very basic directions, “Follow Me.” Christ was not saying to them to try to go up in the clouds with Him. He was saying in essence:

“Ok Boys, you have been the audience that beheld my glory for these years. You have seen how I acted, how I lived, how I served, how I loved. You have heard me offer grace and truth – salvation through belief. I have not only provided salvation but also given a demonstration of how to live. So follow Me! Act like Me! Live like Me! Serve like Me! Love like Me!”

Simple conclusion this week to the devo: do you love Christ? If so then you need to have a life that is bent down straight up. You need to observe how Christ lived and imitate that. You (and I) need to “follow the leader.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011 - Ironman

This past week I decided to start some dieting and working out. Simply put I am way out of shape and feel like crud often! My dilemma is always right in front of me, literally. Men tend to carry their extra weight in the belly, which in turns creates an enormous amount of pressure on the knees due to weight displacement. (I have been told by a medical professional that every pound extra in the belly creates 4 pounds of pressure on the knees.) All of this has created a difficult task for me in working out due to already having bad knees.

Therefore I decided I needed to do an initial weight loss push before I could truly pour into any working out. So I went for 3 days with only fruit and vegetable juices and then worked in a little bit of solids over the next few days (i.e. salads, a piece of chicken, etc.) although there was some discomfort, especially day 2 and 3, I was able to get a jump start on my plans to shed unwanted pounds and get back in shape. And the beauty of it has been that most of the pounds I dropped seemed to have been from the belly!

Yet now the hard part begins. With a commitment to eat right and workout, I am now faced with knowing that there will be quite a bit of discomfort heading my way. My knees are going to swell; my back is going to hurt; my stomach is going to growl; etc.

I can’t help but think of the great Hebrews 12 passage that tells us that we should “lay aside every weight”, or as the Message puts it, “Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat...”

Yet let’s face it. We all know this to be true. We all make these types of commitments, often to see them go by the wayside. We all need accountability, encouragement, a kick in the behind, etc.

My initial “kick” came yesterday. I had returned home from church and had a couple hours to work with on getting some things done at the house before going on to our next destination. So I turned on the TV for some background noise and there it was – the Ironman Competition from Hawaii. This is an amazing athletic endurance event. Ironman events consist of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2 mile marathon run. As I watched the frontrunners push their bodies to amazing limits it was mind-boggling. (The new video capabilities can zoom in and isolate muscle groups in super slow motion. You could see the incredible amount of stress their bodies could withstand.) And then to see the top athletes crossing the finish line and the joy that accompanied their victories was great - yet not necessarily all that motivating to me. It is easy to watch that sort of thing and think things like: “They probably haven’t been through 4 knee surgeries.”; “Their bodies are built for endurance work.”; etc.

Then the reality started setting in as the show switched to not the frontrunners but instead those that were overcoming major obstacles. There was the guy that had fought prostate cancer over the last couple of years; the lady that did the marathon portion in a walking boot, having just got off crutches two weeks prior due to a stress fracture; the 66-yr-old lady; the 80-yr-old man that uses these competitions as his personal health-check; the guy that had a bad wreck in the biking portion but still forced himself to walk the marathon portion; the convict/ex-drug addict that just a couple years ago was in the pen; etc. All of these folks didn’t just compete - they finished the event in the allotted time. And the most amazing thing was watching the winners of the event meeting the final contestants and congratulating them as they finished. The crowd was cheering as loudly for those at the end as they did for those at the beginning. It was a beautiful (and yes I admit tear-jerking) event.

All of that to remind us this week that life is not a competition with others. It is about faithful perseverance and endurance for the Lord. It is about continual growth – finishing the race that is set before us. The Scriptures are full of reminders of these truths:

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. (Patience is often translated steadfastness or endurance)

Romans 5: 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Colossians 1: 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;

James 5: 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure…

It is time for me, for us, to be part of the spiritual Ironman circuit! (and to take care of physical business as well…)

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11, 2011 - Industriousness

As coaches, we obviously always want success for our teams/players. We plan practices and workout sessions to help them; we talk with them about goals and how to obtain them; we cheer them on; we challenge them; we rebuke them; we cool them down; we fire them up; etc.

Simply put, coaches have a responsibility to hold players accountable to their personal goals and also the team goals. We have the responsibility of showing them that “success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” (John Wooden)

I highly recommend John Wooden’s writings, especially his book that he co-authored with Jay Carty – Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. It lays out many building blocks in one’s life to focus on that are based upon Biblical principles.

To be honest this is on my mind for two reasons.

• The book is laying on my desk
• My oldest son turns 16 today and coaching is much like parenting…

I find it a huge task to “coach” my kids. Therefore in honor of Clay’s birthday I share point number one from the pyramid:

Industriousness:
• In other words – hard work! “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning.” (Wooden)
• “Most people have a tendency to look for shortcuts or at least for the easiest way to complete any given task.” (Wooden)
• “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.” (God; Proverbs 21:5)

To those reading this and especially my son,

Take heed to the truths that are found here. We could also find many places in the Proverbs that discuss the importance of finding wisdom!

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4, 2011 - An Elbow For An Elbow

As I hosted a few boys this past week for a hoops/discipleship camp, I was reminded of some of the reasons I felt so strongly about using sports as a ministry platform. Over and over again I had “teachable moments” based upon their actions and reactions to our drills and competitions. On one particular day of the camp I was reminded of my life in sports – more specifically my attitude in sports when growing up.

We live in a society where we are taught “don’t get mad, get even.” And that carries over often to the playing arena. I remember often having encounters where I lived by the motto “an eye for an eye; an elbow for an elbow!” And usually in my mind that meant a much stronger elbow to prove my point. (At times it was so severe, even after I was supposed to be maturing, that I had to write about it in confession in these devotions.)

As I gave instruction this week to players that were over-aggressive on the defensive end, I heard responses like, “Well, that is how he is playing…” I then had to remind the players that we do not base our play on others but instead on what is right and true.

(Some of you reading this are probably still at the “elbow for an elbow” point of the devotion and saying, “Amen!”)

This week’s theme for the camp was: “In Your Face!” As a coach I have to at times say things that are uncomfortable for the players and this devotion is no exception. We are called to be a peculiar people – different from the way the world lives. And on this day that we celebrate our freedom as a nation, let me remind you of our freedom as believers to serve and honor Christ.
Simply put we can go to the Scriptures and know exactly the answer to the question of What Would Jesus Do?

First in Matthew 5:38-42 He totally refutes the “eye for an eye” mentality. He tells us to do the exact opposite. He basically shows us that our responsibility has nothing to do with the person on the other side but everything to do with what is right and true. He even goes as far as to saying dogmatically to give to those who ask you. He never tells us to first determine if they are acting right or even going to do right with what we give them.

We need to stop being “get even” people and start being peculiar “giving and serving” people. We have spent far too long living the “elbow for an elbow” approach! We have spent far too long living with the “looking out for number 1” mentality! We have spent far too long justifying our lack of giving by judging what the recipient will do with it.

[A simple example is when we see a homeless person asking for money. We automatically go into our justification mode for not helping. “He is probably going to buy booze or cigarettes.” “She is just going to support her drug habit.” “Why doesn’t he spend this time looking for a job.”]
What if I said that is an unbiblical approach? (Feel free to comment back on the blog if you think so.) I believe Jesus Himself sets an amazing and convicting example with His life’s actions….

As He met with the disciples at the Last Supper, the Scriptures share with us that a few things are happening:

• The disciples are arguing over who is the greatest.
• Jesus rises from the dinner table and serves them by washing their feet.
• Merrill C Tenney wrote about the disciples, “They were willing to fight for a throne but not for a towel.” What a great picture of their lack of servanthood.
• And at this point Jesus knows His betrayer is present and who He is!

Don’t miss this! I have read this passage many, many times and this jumped out at me yesterday. Jesus knew Judas had wrong motives. Jesus knew Judas was getting ready to betray him. Yet in full knowledge of this, Jesus still washed Judas’ feet!

Thank God for our freedom!
• Our freedom to serve others; to give to others
• Our freedom to not worry about getting even (there is a perfect referee in Heaven to take care of that)
• Our freedom to not have to figure out other peoples motives or live our lives based upon other people’s actions

Let’s simply live by what is right and true. Let’s play the game the right way!!!!!

(Side note: I watched a great documentary on the Harlem Rens; a pro basketball squad from the early 1900’s when basketball was still totally segregated. I found it very interesting and exciting to hear how these young men handled themselves amidst great adversity. Over and over it was mentioned how they showed dignity and class when threatened, stabbed with hair pins, having cigars put out on their bodies, being turned away from hotels because they were black, etc. Yet they simply went about their business as ambassadors of the game of basketball – breaking down walls of prejudice and injustice. These guys were peculiar. Oh to be that motivated as ambassadors for Christ!)

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011 - The Love of the Game

The Love of the Game

I often hear that phrase used, yet what does it truly mean? Many people enjoy sports; participate in sports, watch sports; etc. Yet the “love of the game” goes beyond that.

I often have my son tell me that he has dreamed about playing. I see him walking into a store and pantomiming making a move with the basketball or going up for a dunk. The game truly consumes his thinking much of the time. (One of his friends has a tattoo with a ball and wedding rings that says “married to the game.”)

It is like falling in love. Keith Urban describes that type of love by saying:

“I wanna put you in a song.” He goes on to say,
“It'd be so easy I'd just write it from my heart
'Cause I gotta tell the world what you mean to me
Wrap you up in a melody so you'll be
Stuck in my head all day
'Cause you're already there anyway…”

Do you get that? True love creates a continual focus and passion for something. It creates not only thoughts that consume one’s mind but also words that spill forth from one’s mouth – to “tell the world.”

Is that how you feel about Christ? Is that how I feel about Christ?

I think that is what He was getting at in John chapter 4 when He told the Samaritan woman that “true worshippers” will “worship in spirit and in truth.” He tells her that it doesn’t take place on the mountain top or in Jerusalem (or in a church building), but in one’s spirit – a daily consuming worship.

Do you (and I) think about the Lord throughout our days? Does He consume not only our thoughts but also cause us to “tell the world”?

Psalm 40:3 He has put a new song in my mouth— Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.

Oh to love the Savior more than we love the game (life)!!!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer/Fall 2011 News... (and requests)

Hello Team - we are fully engaged into the summer/fall schedule and have many things lined up - as I type this I am sitting in Dayton, OH - Clay is watching and taking notes at a Jason Otter Point Guard Elite Camp - it is killing him to sit out with this injury but I have to say he is handling it well and the Jason Otter staff is treating him incredibly! - he is getting some good time with Trevor Huffman (of Kent State fame) and a couple of current college players that helping - Lisa is home with the other 4 kids and trying to get everything ready for the tip-off of our ROCK'em Road Trips for the summer

Next week we will host a handful of middle school age players for 5 days; and then in just a few few weeks I will hit the road with 8-10 hs age players to the midwest... - much training (court and Word), much service, much fun! - please pray for thes young men as I plan to get up in their faces a bit and challenge them to honor God in all they do!

Beginning next week is a weekly afternoon free hoops clinic we will be conducting in Mooresville, NC on our church's back lot - we just worked with a group from Winston-Salem for 3 days there and saw around 20 kids per day on the court and under the Word! (We were able to see multiple kids make professions of faith in Christ under the preachign/teaching of my good friend Michael Swink!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

I am also serving as a transitional pastor at a church in Cleveland, NC while they look for a pastor; trying to keep up with our weekly devotions to post on the web (we are halfway through our 10th year of this); and we are looking to take on students for our Home School Hoops outreach that we are doing in our driveway!

On top of all of this I am coordinating our Fall schedule of missions - in September I am scheduled to attend the Youth Evangelism Association Annual Conference (of which I am a board member); I also was slated to make a trip to Trinidad for surveying future work (this one is up in the air); Lisa, Clay, and I are all scheduled to be in the Dominican Repuublic in October to conduct a sports festival and youth rally where I have full reign to share the Gospel! - there is expected to be 200-300 kids at this festival/rally; many that will hear the clear Gospel message for the first time!!!!!!!!!! - following this is a request to return to the Czech Republic in November - we have located a missionary there that we will be meeting with to set up proper follow-up on the kids we reach - I am also working on ideas for a high school hoops jamboree that we will sponsor..., a request to plan a time in Peru, etc. etc.

All of this hopefully lets you see how vital your prayers are for us; and how vital your help financially will be

Please pray for each of the outreaches we have mentioned and for the financial state of InBounds Ministries - it is amazing how God has supplied our needs over the 4 years of full-time service with InBounds - and as you can see there are many financial needs with all the travel ahead of us, equipment that is needed, still a need for a trailer, etc - on top of this Lisa has basically been working for free to help maintain the administrative side of things and my prayer is that eventually she will be a paid member of staff - to be specific we need to raise around $30,000 to finish out 2011 strong - (this number includes the regular monthly giving from our supporters) - I can assure you we keep our budget as small/tight as possible

Will you please pray and consider giving at this crucial time of outreach? We need your help and these kids/adults need the Gospel!!!!!!!!

Also pray for the outreach in Indianapolis that Matt and Rebekah are heading up - they are incredibly faithful to the cause of Christ and take much of their little free time to make a difference!

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 2011 - ELITE

I am sitting in a parking lot in Dayton Ohio; listening to the rain pour down on the roof of my van; and thinking about some things I heard this morning as my son began 4 days of Point Guard Elite Camp. (Many of you know that Clay has just had major knee surgery. Don't worry he is just observing and taking notes. Although I think he is probably shedding a few tears inwardly...)

This camp is quite impressive. There is a pre-requisite of being a previous camper/student and the word "elite" is emphasized in many ways. The first way i saw it was in reading the rules for the players that are staying at the hotel. There is a very high standard set for behavior and the result of breaking the rules - immediate dismissal. To basically quote them: "This is an elite camp and we expect elite behavior."

During the intros this morning (that the parents were allowed to sit in on) this idea continued to emerge. There were:

* Questions like: "What is it that sets you apart?" This was referring to when you are on the floor with great athletes and you need a skill set that makes you stand out.

* Statements like: "It's not where you start but where you finish." - "You don't get here talking about it."

* Challenges like: "You don't have to see a trainer every day." Followed by the reasoning that personal accountability to get better is mandatory.

All of this with kids from all over the midwest, souteast, etc. whose parents have sacrificed to have them here. Even though Clay cannot participate this week I still have expectations of him learning and being motivated to be his best. If I am going to spend time and money to bring him then I expect "elite" effort and commitment as a result. That is reasonable!

For those of us that are believers in Christ, hasn't God given us a lot? Duh! We have freely received salvation through the finished work of the Son He gave. (Remember John 3:16?) HE has blessed us with so much. And yet we constantly seem to need a kick in the pants to remember that He deserves "elite" commitment in our Christian lives.

Luke 12:48 tells us that if we have received much then musch is required.

* So what is it that sets you apart? Scripturally it should be your attitude (See the Fruit of the Spirit) which is directed by 2 things: love for God and love for others - that is shown via service to others. (See the devo from June 6, 2011)
* Where will you finish? We all start as sinners! (Romans 3:23) Heaven vs Hell is based upon God's grace, solely through our faith, or lack thereof, in the finished work of Christ, not of works! (John 3:18, 36) Yet in the end for believers there is a judgement for reward based upon faithful service....
* You don't need a trainer every day! For us it can be reworded: You need to do more that see a trainer just on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays. You have a personal responsibility to daily be in the Word yourself. No excuses, get better!

ELITE: considered to be the finest...

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13, 2011 - It's Your Time

Well the NBA Finals have come to a close and the Dallas Mavericks shocked the world with their defeat of the Miami Heat. From a basketball coaches perspective, the Mavs were very fun to watch as they demonstrated beautiful teamwork on the offensive and defensive ends; and also had some incredible individual strength shown in many of their players.

The Heat on the other hand were different. Although their amazing athleticism provided multiple highlight reel moments, in the end it was clear they are not a team. When they would get bogged down in a half-court offense, they looked like they had no clue what to do or where to go. Dwayne Wade said is most plainly in a post-game news conference when he simply stated that the Mavs were better than the Heat.

The guy that couldn't seem to grasp or understand what had happened is LeBron. His remarks I have read or heard don't give credit to the Mavs for not only their brilliant play but also their brilliant plan to shut him down. He spent much of his press time complaing about the LeBron-haters and acting offended when people point out that he fell short. (His finals numbers are well below his normal averages.)

I have often defended LeBron in conversations with LeBron-haters. The young man has tremendous talent, is a very unselfish player, and is truly a product of living in a world that has not only called him "KIng" but also has for the most part sat him on a king's throne. Yes, he is very arrogant and thinks the world revolves around him. Yet his tweet following last night's loss shows the true picture of where his needs lie:

"The Greater Man upstairs knows when it's my time," James tweeted. "Right now isn't my time."

There are a couple things I would like to point out about this, and granted I am speculating a bit.

1. Calling God "The Greater Man" insinuates that LeBron views himself as a great man - there is that pride that comes before the fall.

2. Saying God knows "when it's my time" insinuates that LeBron feels entitled to a championship ring by God. (Personally I don't think God cares who wins the NBA title - doesn't rank high on His priority list!)

But I will give LeBron his due, God does know when it is his time. And when it is his time the discussion will not be about basketball. It will first be based upon did LeBron ever swallow his pride and realize he is not a great man? Did he ever recognize that his sin has separated him from a holy God? Did he ever realize that there has only been one great man and His name is Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, the Substitute that God sent into the game of life for LeBron (because Lebron couldn't perform well enough to earn the title of eternal life)? Did he ever accept this Substitute by believing in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Lebron, God does know your time; He loves you so much that in spite of the fact that you fall short (not on the basketball court but in life) He still extends an offer for you to be on His team that was made through the death and resurrection of His Son. You can choose to accept this truth now or face it when it is your time. But do not be mistaken: 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2)

Feel free to insert your name in the place of LeBron's....

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011 - The Incredible Shrinking Superstar

I was reading an article today that called Lebron James the "incredible shrinking superstar." The writer was looking at Lebron's stats so far in the 3 games against the Dallas Mavericks and determined that his stats were not worthy of being called a superstar.

Whether it is sports writers or the average fan, people tend to determine if a player is good based upon if they like or dislike the player as a person. Obviously Lebron is a very polarizing figure. I would say that now he has as many people that disdain him as like him. (I know the sports writers try to make it out that everyone outside of Miami hates him, but his jersey was still thbe number one seller in the NBA this year.) Yet the absurdity of saying Lebron is not good blows my mind (as does the Nowitzki haters saying Dirk is no good; or the Kobe haters saying Kobe is no good; etc.) A players personality does not determine his effectiveness on the court. In Lebrons case, his statistics for the last 6 years straight has been at a level that no other player has matched even for one year.

So back to the present series...

Yes Lebron's numbers are a bit down. Some can be attributed to the fact that Shawn Marion is no slouch on defense. Some can be attributed to the fact that a smart team will go to it greatest mismatches, and although I love Jason Kidd's game - he cannot guard Dwayne Wade! And some can be attributed to playing smart basketball.

One of the things I constantly stress to players I train is to make the simplest play possible. When players are concerned with the showboat plays more than the simple plays they are not near as effective. If you are watching the games you see the Dallas defense heavily shifting toward Lebron when he gets the ball. If basketball recorded assists like hockey does then Lebron's numbers would be beyond superstar status. He is often making the simple skip pass that sets things in motion for the heat. (At least it is the simple pass for a 6'8" monster that sees the whole floor.) Lebron has silently done so much this series that most writers and fans simply do not pick up on.

This is because we highlight the numbers columns of the stat sheets more than the team oriented approach that Lebron is playing. [Even if you think he is an arrogant schmuck - which he very well may be - it doesn't change the fact that he is a dominant force.]

So how is this leading into this week's devotion? Tonight I spoke with a men's group about what it means to be free in Christ. I likened it unto a basketball freelance offense where players have freedom within the rules to make decisions with the basketball.

Lebron has that type of freedom every time the ball is in his hands. His choices can be to be a "superstar" and always rely on his amazing athleticism, score a lot more points, etc. Or he can strive to make the smart team play each time down the floor. (Watch out NBA when he matures even more in the latter approach...)

As Christians we tend to celebrate and look for the "superstar" moments. As a missionary I often hear people's acclaim for trips we take overseas or big events we run. Yet not much is made about the simple things like this past Thursday when Clay saw a 7 yr old boy at the park and decided to do an impromptu little basketball clinic with the kid - and then made sure the boys mom had a Gospel tract in hand.

The point this week is this: we are set free in order to serve one another! (See Galatians 5:13.) We serve Christ by serving others. (See Matthew 25 about when it is we have served Christ.)

I think it is time that we stop waiting for the big "superstar" moments in our service and open our eyes to make the simple play and help meet people's needs on a daily basis - even if it means we will not be listed as a "superstar." In fact I think Biblically the goal is to be a "shrinking superstar." It is not about us but about Christ! (See John 3:30.)

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30, 2011 - TRUST

I often work with young men that have aspirations of playing division 1 college ball. Yet in basketball that means that they would have to be among the top 1% of varsity high school players that reach that level. Some of these young men get faced with a very difficult decision: go to a division 1 school, practice hard, and possibly never get playing time - or - go to a lower level school and get a lot of playing time.

There is not a right or wrong answer to this dilemma. These young men have all had a lot of playing time leading up to the collegiate level and there are pros and cons to whichever way they choose. Make no mistake, all players want to play!

For those that take the approach with no promise of playing time, they are convinced that they will work hard, earn the coach's favor, and get their chances. To even be on the team is a major accomplishment and for competitors presents a great challenge.

For all of these players, this dilemma is an indicator that they have worked hard to hone their craft and to prove their worth. Throughout high school and AAU ball they have hoped to catch the eye of coaches/scouts that will offer/entrust to them college scholarships.

Can you imagine receiving an offer like that? What a great feeling!
Well for us as Christians, I have great news! Yesterday as I sat under the preaching/teaching of my dear friend Freddie Coile, I was reminded of a great passage in 1 Thessalonians -

2:4 But as we have been appoved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel...


Did you catch that? The God of the universe has entrusted His Gospel message to us to share with others! How cool is that?

Freddie reminded us that to be "entrusted" with something means that we have a choice on what to do with it - but that the one that entrusts something to us will one day expect us to give an account of how we handled it.

Can you imagine how frustrated a college coach would be if he offered a scholarship to a player and the player then just sat at home watching TV, eating junk food, and being lazy?

Yet most Christians ignore the trust that has been given. I was reading the book "Radical Together" (follow-up to Radical), and a guy is mentioned that could not name one person outside of his family that he had led to Christ. He is then quoted as stating that he had been doing all the "church stuff" but igonoring this sacred trust.

The book goes on to make the following statement: "We don't want to come to the end of our days on earth only to realize that we have had little impact on more people going to heaven."

Yet I need to go back to my friend Freddie. He also reminded us that with a "trust" comes a responsibility to be careful and accurate with the Gospel. We want to make sure we honor the God that has entrusted us by sharing exactly what He intended for us to share...

I encourage each of you to do a couple things:
1. Commit to faithfully share the Gospel of Christ with a lost and dying world.
2. Commit to faithfully share the Gospel clearly! (For help in this take a look at Fredie's website: www.FreddieCoile.org and click on "The Gospel")

I mentioned earlier that all players want to play; I conclude that all Christians should want to share the Gospel with others - it is a sacred trust!