Dear Coach, I Prayed for you Today

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

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

“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.

Your VIP All-Access Pass

Who doesn’t want an all-access pass?

In sports, the all-access-pass by getting you in the door of the arena.  That’s not saying much, since anyone can walk through the door of nearly any stadium in the world.  The all-access pass pass also gets you beyond the ticket office.  Again, not that great since anyone can purchase a ticket and gain entrance into a sporting event.  Once in the arena, however, the all access pass begins to really perform for the person in possession.  It allows you to walk past the ushers, down to the field of competition, and into the locker room area.  As thousands of people can be heard in the arena, the all-access pass has opened the door for you to stand in the room where the players prepare for the game and listen to the coach discuss strategy.  All-access is an incredible privilege.  A gift that places you right in the middle of the action.

God has given you an all-access pass as well.  One with a very distinct difference.  His pass doesn’t permit you to merely listen to Him talk to others.  The all-access pass of the heavenly Father allows you direct access to Him.  Giving you an intimate and open line of communication through Jesus Christ.  The Bible says, For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  (Ephesians 2:18)  His desire for you is to not simply sit in the locker room and merely listen. His all-access pass should inspire our all-life devotion.

So go for it.  Get in the game.  Swing for the fence and watch as God honors the decision of your heart to play for Him!

What the KC Royals Taught me Last Night.

I have a book project that has become more than frustrating.

After several months of intense writing, I believed I had crafted a devotional for athletes and coaches that would serve as a huge blessing in their life.  In short order, I had written a manuscript, crafted the book proposal and attained a high profile literary agent.  Getting a literary agent to represent the book was difficult, but in doing so, I was confident he would be able to open doors that were previously shut. Little did I know publishing giants still serve as gatekeepers to the book world.

My agent started out optimistic.  But with every “pitch” to a publisher, the same response seem to volley back into our court.  “It’s good, but the author needs a larger platform”.  In short, I needed a larger following to insure “sales” of the book. This was frustrating, discouraging and personally embarrassing. My friends and family knew the book I had written was being pitched. They also knew I had high hopes. With every month, however, my discouragement continued to grow. In my mind, I could feel myself staring failure in the face and choosing to give up. Electing to back down. In no time, the book would sit dormant, rejection letters from publishers would continue to accumulate and my hopes of bringing this message to athletes and coaches was fading quickly.

If I were to be completely honest, I felt defeated.  Until, that is, I watched the Kansas City Royals comeback and win last nights game.  This would be their fourth comeback of the series, providing evidence to the fact that resilience and perseverance are more than often a requirement of winning. In fact, over the course of the playoffs, the Royals had win probabilities in seven games of:

18%

1%

25%

8%

10%

16%

5%

They won all seven of those games.  Let me say that again.  When their backs were against the wall and failure was staring them directly in the face, they kept playing.  They kept persevering.  They kept working.   And because of their resilience, they kept winning. I have to say, I was more than convicted last night as I watched a team stare defeat directly in the eyes and laugh. I don’t mean that metaphorically.  They literally were laughing in the dugout during the 9th inning as they senses a comeback.  Personally, I know that through the rejection my small little book project, I haven’t been laughing.  I have not been working.  And, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve not been persevering.

As I’ve pondered this lesson of sports and life, another interesting thought has continued to surface in my mind.  A reflection on the win probability of Jesus.

I wonder what the win probability of Jesus was as he stood on the steps with Pontius Pilate and Barabbas?  50%?

Or how about as they lashed his back with blood stripes and pressed a crown of thorns into his head? 19%?

I wonder what the odds makers were shouting as they drove nails through his hands and a spear through his side? 3%?

Or how about this. What were the odds as they laid Him in the grave and covered the doorway with a boulder? 0%?

My friend, today you and I are given the privilege of serving a God who didn’t stare defeat in the face, He stared death in the face and kicked its butt.  His back wasn’t against a wall, it was resting upon on a cold hard grave. Defeat seemed likely, yet He still rose in VICTORY.

So often, victory occurs outside the parameters of statistics.  Beyond what is probable and far past the norm.  It’s often times a weird concoction of improbable ignorance and blind faith to keep beleiving when all hope seems to have passed. So if your in a struggle of your own today, have hope.  The God you love is no more concerned about statistical probabilities anymore than the KC Royals were last night.  In fact, he specializes in overcoming the odds and is a master at bringing victory to peoples lives, including yours.

Oh, as for the little book project that has been rejected and neglected? It’s time to laugh, work, persevere, and keep going.  I think the Royals would do it that way, but more importantly, I’m fully confident the Savior I love would want it that way.