Would you give up with 44 seconds left?

UNI

They were in the Sweet 16, and then all of the sudden . . . . they weren’t.

Depending on which win probability calculator you ask, Northern Iowa had a 99.99 percent chance of winning with 44 seconds to go. (see graph below)

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.40.04 PM

Obviously, the near 100% calculation was incorrect, as UNI would go on to allow the biggest last-minute comeback in college basketball history, ultimately losing in double OT to Texas A & M.

Twelve hours later, the shrapnel has been what you would expect, with discussions swirling around Ben Jacobson (UNI Head Coach) and the incredible collapse of a team who went from “greatest victory is school history” to “greatest defeat in school history” in a mere 44 seconds.  It was the kind of loss that left you sitting in your seat as a spectator with a bag of mixed emotions. Fortunate to have witnessed the history. Shocked at the epic collapse. Confused how UNI couldn’t inbound the ball.  Ultimately, sick to your stomach while watching a team exit the court baffled and horrified at what had just taken place.

As I’ve read the articles and listened to the pundits talk this morning, I find myself wondering if we are missing a greater story.  A question that warrants discussion.

Would you give up with 44 seconds left?

Let me be a little more clear.  Would you admit defeat when your team was down 12 points with 44 seconds left in the game? Not two possessions in 44 seconds, not three possessions in 44 seconds, but FOUR possessions in 44 seconds.

Would you give up?

The easy point of discussion this morning is Northern Iowa’s epic collapse.  But in order for this collapse to even take place, another ingredient had to also be in play.  With defeat dragging them to the lockerroom, Texas A&M had to make a decision that would be completely counterintuitive to the situation.  They had to decide as a team not to quit.

Now, don’t miss what I just wrote.  I didn’t say “they didn’t quit.”  I said “they decided not to quit.” Big difference.

When faced with insurmountable odds, not quitting requires an intentional choice.  A choice that almost always flies in the face of practicality.  A choice on-lookers will openly mock, yet rarely understand.

The decision to keep going when you can’t see the path to victory goes far beyond the virtue of perseverance.  It’s tenacity, determination and staying power.  It’s endurance and steadfastness.  Persistence and stick-to-it-ivenness.  But most of all, it’s these traits clothed in perhaps the most mysterious virtue of all; faith.

The Bible says that faith is being sure in what we hope for and confident about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)  It’s commonly debated whether this verse is a definition of what faith is, or a description of what faith does.  The context refers to trusting the truths the word of God promises to all those who believe in Jesus Christ.

In the sports world, a broader context of faith commonly presents itself in moments like last night. It’s trusting the impossible is still possible, even if you can’t see it.  It’s believing the win probability calculator is wrong when everyone in the arena would bet the mortgage it’s right. It’s looking at the scoreboard and seeing you are down 12 with 44 seconds and still believing your team can walk on water and not sink.

After the final buzzer had sounded, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy was asked to comment on the game.  His answer had little to do with basketball, but was clearly clothed in the mysterious virtue of faith.

“Still don’t really know what happened. … I mean, come on. I don’t know what Vegas’ odds are on a situation like that. People know about my faith. All I can say is to God be the glory. I’m just thankful for that moment.” 

So are we Billy Kennedy.  So are we.  It’s never gets old listening to a man of faith thank the God he serves for showing us all a broader picture of what faith is and what faith does.

What is Your Chariot of Fire?

1 Samuel 2:30

Eric-Liddell

What is the mark of a Great man or woman of God?

It is found in powerful muscles or unending endurance?  Is it intelligence, wisdom, or the innate ability to respond when your back is against the wall?  Does greatness reveal itself in ones ability to lead and inspire others or persevere through adversity?  Although good, these things are not the mark of the great man or woman of God.

What makes a great man or woman of God can be found in one very distinct trait;  how they run.

Eric Liddell (1902-1945) may be the greatest example of an athlete running after God and dedicating every part of his life to the Lord. The Flying Scotsman, as he was called, was the living embodiment of 1 Samuel 2:30 where the Lord says, “…Those who honor me I will honor…”

In 1981 Liddell was immortalized in the true-life movie “Chariots of Fire,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1982. Liddell’s heart for the Lord is as legendary as his conviction to not compete on the Sabbath. So committed to his faith, Liddell gave up the chance to win a 1924 gold medal in his best race, the 100-meter, because it meant racing on a Sunday. Liddell was the son of missionary parents in China and used the publicity he garnered in racing to promote the Gospel of Christ. He died as a POW in Japanese controlled China in 1945.

For the athlete questioning whether competing for Christ is honoring to God, they need only to reflect on the powerful quote Liddell whispered pertaining to his athletic gifting and personal love for Christ. “… I believe God made me for a purpose … He also made me fast. When I run I can feel His pleasure.”

If you have time, take 4 minutes to watch this clip of Liddell, and hopefully it will renew your passion to run the race God has for you and you alone.

 

Why God still loves Cam Newton (even if you don’t).

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 7.46.35 AM

There he was.  Hood up, shoulders down, slouched in a chair not giving an ounce of eye contact to a soul in the room.  From the most powerful and visible sports platform in the world, the seemingly invincible Cam Newton was showing the world his worst.  He looked like a punk.  Like a disrespectful punk.  And yet God, the same God who forgave you and I of our sin, looked upon Cam with eyes searching for something different than what we humans do.  Supernaturally scanning the situation, God peered closely at the young man, looking for the slightest crevice he could find to begin giving the man what no one would after this event.

Grace.

With supernatural eyes He looked upon Cam Newton not in judgement, but love.  With every irreverent, under the breath answer Cam spoke, God whispered, “I love you.”  As Cam exited the podium in what seemed like complete disrespect to the sports media (it would later be revealed Cam could hear a Denver player talking about their game plan to test Newton’s pass-making ability that spurred the early exit), God whispered, “I love you.”  As the locker room slowly emptied and Cam sat dejected on a stool, God whispered, “I love you.”  In the shower……”I love you.”  Getting dressed……..”I love you.”  Riding home…..”I love you.”  Again and again, God would begin showing Cam Newton why He is God and why God is Love.

Why?  Why on earth would God love such an arrogant, prideful, narcissistic athlete who seems to have the temperament of child?  Why would he love someone who so readily celebrates during victory, but wants no part of it in defeat?  Why would God love someone who can dish it out and not take it?

As you ponder the answers to those questions, I’m going to take a moment.  Jesus just showed up with a stick in His hand and is drawing in the sand.  I can’t quite make out what He’s writing, but……oh wait a minute….He’s going to say something.

“He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at him.” And once more Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones. (contextual adaptation from John 8)

Wow, that was pretty in your face don’t you think?  Let’s see, am I without sin?  Hmmm, the answer is a pretty easy… no. I’m arrogant at times. Prideful at times. Even narcissistic in certain moments of my life I guess.  And, if I were to be totally transparent, my temperament even resembles that of a child in situations I would just as soon forget.  Hmmmm, this isn’t going too well.  Wait a minute, Jesus is saying something else to Cam………

Jesus was left alone with Cam Newton standing before him. “Cam, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Cam said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (contextual adaptation from John 8)

Translation:  Psssssssss. “I love you Cam.”

Ok, so let me get this straight.  Jesus’ role is to forgive.  Our role is to not condemn.  And Cam’s role is to sin no more.

I’m confident God will take care of the first.  

Praying that Cam will be inspired to achieve the last.  

But how are we doing on the middle one?

With stones in our hand, have we become so spiritually numb that we’ve elected to throw stones instead of drop them? So prideful to forget there was perhaps a time in many of our lives where dare I say…gulp……………….we were Cam Newton (there was in my life for sure). It may have looked different and undoubtably wasn’t on the most visible stage on the planet, but at some point in our lives, and maybe in times to come, we were and are Cam Newton.

So let’s give him the same grace we were given. Let’s bestow unconditional love to a person who does not deserve it right now.  I get it, believe me I know it’s hard.  I know the easy thing to do is throw the stone.  It’s much harder to drop it.  It’s even more difficult to release the stone and love the person.  But that’s grace. That’s what make Jesus unique, special and all together different than any other false god.  He shows up and offers love and grace when no one will.  In our lives, and yes, in Cam Newton’s life as well.  John Stott explains grace this way, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”

I’m not sure where you side on this polarizing issue, but I’m thinking it’s time to get off my own high horse, stoop a little and rescue superman.

It’s time for grace.

Are you Desperate for God to Show Up?

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.49.29 AM

Are you desperate for God to show up?

Athletes in particular possess an unquenchable desire to show the crowd what they can accomplish in their own strength and ability.  Instead of envisioning all the things we can accomplish, what if we start by asking God to do what only He can accomplish.  This doesn’t mean we don’t plan, organize, and work hard.  Preparation in any part of life is important.  But dedication/submission to God in all parts of life is vital.

If someone were to ask the three people closest to you in life, would they say your life is characterized by an urgency for the Spirit of God to show up?  Are you trusting God with everything, or is He simply a distant grandfather figure you pray to before meals and when something really big is coming up? In short, are you desperate for God to show up?

Why are we so content to settle for a faith dependent on our ability?  Why are we not clamoring for a front row seat to watch the God of the universe do what He does best.

The impossible.

The Starting Point in a Believers Life

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.01.42 AM

Growing up, most athletes go searching from coaches who can cut the learning curve.  Individuals who have the knowledge and ability to teach them what they need to know in order to be successful.  On one particular day, Jesus did one of his most thought provoking “how to” teachings along the mountainside.  In the beatitudes, Jesus is a teaching how a person who is staking his life on the kingdom of God, should live.

Beatitude 1: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When Jesus uses the word, “blessed” He is not referring to happiness.  He is pointing to an inward peace and contentment that is not affected by outward circumstance.  To be “blessed” a person must be vulnerable to their unworthiness before God and admit their dependence on Him.  This type of inner conviction brings a state of joy that is not dependent on what happens around them.  For many, God has to strip the clothing of pride from us in order for us to be willing to come and receive from Him. The foundation of a genuine relationship to Christ is the harsh reality that “I cannot begin to do it” alone. Then, says Jesus,

“Blessed are you.” That is the starting point of the believers life.  Comprehending our sin, opens the gate to the arena where Jesus Christ works in our life.

As an athlete, poor in spirit is not the absence of physical strength, its the acknowledgement of spiritual bankruptcy.  Without Jesus, we are flat broke spiritually.  Unless this is rectified, nothing you do on the field of competition will ever matter.  The trophies will rust, the ribbons will tear, and the medals will get lost.  The years of striving for recognition from the sports culture will do you no good in the eyes of God.  He is selfishly interested in your recognition of Him and Him alone.  Do this, and God promise the poorness of your spirit will bring the blessing from a King.

#iplayforhim

My Best will be Good Enough

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 1.59.01 PM

My best EFFORT will hep me overcome my opponent’s talents.

My best ATTITUDE will inspire me to persevere under trial; to believe when other have given up the fight.

My best PERSPECTIVE helps me understand that although I passionately compete, there are bigger things in life.  Bigger things beyond this life.

My best will be good enough.”

Of all the “bests” I offer, none can compare to my best FAITH.  For it is by faith I step onto the field of competition and humbly pray…

“My Best for HIS Glory.”

Dear Coach, I Prayed for you Today

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.47.45 PM

Dear Coach,

I prayed for you today.

I’t started like any other prayer for someone in your position.  I asked God to give you strength, courage, wisdom, and perspective.  All good things.  But as I continued to pray I found myself going down a much different path than the norm.  So different, in fact, that I actually found myself praying for you to lose.

I prayed for you to lose any pride you would harbor, so that the God of the universe would not stand against you, but for you.

I prayed for you to lose the slightest bit of selfish ambition, so that in serving your team they may in time be exalted.

I prayed for you to lose any hint of arrogance in your character, so that humility would become the aroma of your life.

And lastly, I prayed that you would lose the strength you may find in yourself, so that you may cling to the strength found only in Christ.

As I appealed to God in this way a remarkable revelation was shown to me.  In the course of praying for you to lose these private parts of your heart, God told me He would present you a champion in the public arenas of your life.

Coach, you are covered in prayer today.  Covered with the hope that when we lose to ourselves we always find victory in Him.

Beyond the Field of Competition

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 5.24.43 PM

If we truly understood the size and magnitude of God we would fall to our knees in adoration.  The Bible says By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.  (Psalm 33:6)  He spoke, and the heavens came to be.  He breathed, and stars filled the universe.  The prophet Isaiah affirms how magnificent God is when he writes, Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? (Isaiah 40:12)

As an athlete, you don’t play for a small God.  He’s big.  Huge.  Gigantic.  Enormous.  Massive enough to stretch the heavens with the span of his hand, yet intimate enough to listen to your prayers.  This big God takes an interest in the littleness of you.  And through His Son, he’s invited you to play in the ultimate game.

If an invitation from the creator of the universe wasn’t enough motivation, consider the idea that this star breathing, heaven stretching, ocean pouring God will actually remember your decision to play for Him.  The Bible says, For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.  (Hebrews 6:10)

As an athlete who honors God, your legacy has the potential to go far beyond the field of competition.  It can actually extend to the heavens, and be remembered by the Creator himself.

7 Traits of Exceptional Coaches

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 1.18.49 PM

The impact and influence of coaches is enormous.  For many young people, the voice of a coach chimes louder and clearer than any adult in their life.  Because of the power of this platform, a very important question should be asked.  What are the traits of the exceptional coaches?  Here are seven signs a coach is exceptional in their craft.

1.     Confident in what they teach.

2.     Clear in where they are going.

3.     Calm amidst times of adversity.

4.     Continuous in their pursuit of knowledge.

5.     Comprehends the differences of each athlete

6.     Communicates with clarity.

7.     Called to use sports to impact a players life.

Changing the Game

Screen shot 2015-11-09 at 8.42.55 AM

“Weʼve decided to go with someone else.” <phone click> ” Translation: We donʼt want you.

Anyone who has ever been turned down for a job, understands how much those words sting. Itʼs a quick prick of pain followed by a stretch of numbness that never leaves. If I didnʼt know better, Iʼd swear those words were laced with Novocain.

Looking back, I think the reason it hurt so much had more to do with what rejection seemed to imply. Youʼre not good enough. We donʼt have faith in your coaching ability. Thereʼs someone better. For a guy who had given his life to the sport of basketball, it felt like a slap in the face.

In the next few weeks there would be other head coaches calling and a few job offers extended, but nothing could restore the confidence that had been breeched by a sport Iʼd sold out to. Every ounce of sweat, tear of defeat, and meaningful minute of each self-centered day. One sport (basketball) had my all.

But worst of all, I had placed this sport above Jesus.

It sounds hideous, I know, but why on earth would I need Jesus? I had made this sport my god, and I was its right hand man. The more I worked and centered my life around this false god, the greater success I experienced. The greater success I experienced, the further my ego was nurtured. And the further my ego was nurtured, the more sports became the perfect mechanism to exalt myself. Who doesnʼt want to be celebrated and told youʼre the best, right?

Then, in one phone call, the sport I had worshipped for so long spit me out. It hungered for the next big thing, and I was no longer it. I felt betrayed. Not by the coach who didnʼt hire me, but from a false idol that wouldnʼt support me.

So on that hot summer evening, after being told “weʼve decided to go with someone else”, I placed the phone on the kitchen table and quit the god I was worshipping, giving up an identity I had spent my entire life building.

I had actually accepted Christ as my Savior 20 months prior, but It would be the resolution made on this night which I would look back upon as one of the most pivotal decisions of my life.

In the coming months my life would change dramatically. I transitioned from a college basketball coach to a 7th grade middle school teacher with the extra duty of teaching 12-year old girls how to run motion offense after school. I went from front row seats in national tournaments games to working with distracted girls who were far more interested in the boys out in the hallway than zone defense. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, I walked away from packed arenas and traded them in for empty gymʼs filled with more giggles than cheers.

From a worldly perspective, it was humbling, even embarrassing at times. As difficult as this pill was for me to swallow, it was exactly what God cautions about in His word, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2, NIV)

At that time of my life, I didnʼt need anyone to read me that verse. I was living it. For most of my life pride had poured itself over every corner of my body, and now, I was reaping the consequence the Bible promised. It was painful, embarrassing, and confusing. From Godʼs perspective, however, there was no such confusion. He intentionally brought me to a season of life where I could feel my brokenness. He wanted my attention, and realized the only way to get it was to strip everything away.

Little did I know that Jesus was about to flip the whole process upside down.

In those 24 months, I had accepted Christ as my Savior, lost the coaching job of my dreams, and launched a Christian basketball camp called Cross Training. If God would have shown me the battle going on in the spiritual realm during those 20 months, I probably would have gone running for the hills. But He didnʼt. He did make visible, however, a vision for the camp program (Cross Training) I had just started. It was an exciting concept to create a sports ministry where I could use my skills as a coach to develop players physically, but more importantly spiritually. In those days, there werenʼt a lot of people in the business of combining sports and God, but I didnʼt care. I was hopelessly naive to the people saying “donʼt do it” and spiritually called by a God saying, “go for it!” I felt like Peter, standing on the edge of the boat:

“Lord, if itʼs you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” Jesus said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:28-29, NIV)

Sometimes I wonder if God just wanted to see if I would really trust him. Would I “come”, if He asked? Would I step out of my own boat of comfort and expect Him to be there? Could I ignore worldly logic and put my faith in a God that I believed was capable of producing “water-walking” moments in my own life?

In this season of my life I found myself both lonely and scared to death. I was still so weak and young in the faith that I possessed no strength to consider doing anything BIG for God. To me, the word “come” signified the desire on my heart to get close to Jesus. I had watched my life slowly spiral downward and now only craved refuge from the Savior in whom I had put my trust.

As my faith grew, the ministry of Cross Training expanded as well. What started as a small group of kids in a gym would grow to an army of athletes numbering in the thousands. There would be salvations, worship sessions, international mission trips, baptisms and a culture of ministry that felt like family. Our ministry was, and still is to this day, as imperfect as we are. But amidst that imperfection, I would watch in amazement as God was recruiting athletes to play for Him.

With each year of ministry, I became aware of a rather remarkable shift in my life. God had taken the sport I once worshipped and transformed it into a platform I now stood on to tell others about Him.

The Bible says, For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 22:13) I had literally experienced both sides of this truth. In the pride of my life God had humbled me, and with the humility I was now genuinely trying to live out, God was lifting me up.

He had, in a very literal sense, flipped my world upside down.

The purpose of my coaching was no longer focused upon winning games, but winning souls. The competitive drive I once had for a sport was replaced with a ferocious appetite to reach people with the Gospel. A mind once addicted to a sport was now consumed by my Savior. If you stop and think about that for a moment, itʼs pretty remarkable. Sports ruled over me, and then God, in His sovereign authority, allowed me to stand upon sports. Not for my own glory, but for His.

My life in athletics had transitioned from passion, to pride, to purpose. God hadnʼt removed the game from my life, he was changing the game in my life.