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.

You are the Light of the World

You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Jesus gives the Christian both an enormous compliment and a tremendous responsibility when Christ pronounces the believer to be the light of the world,  In consideration of the fact that Jesus claimed to be the light of the world (John 8:12) as He walked this earth, the awesome reality that we have been chosen for His team should leave us awe-struck. The words of Jesus convey that the believer is not simply ‘a” light, but “the” light. Your life has the God-given potential to shine His Gospel for His Kingdom and for His glory. Never underestimate your value in the eyes of your Heavenly Father or the integral role in growing His Kingdom!

Don’t complain about how others are not letting their light shine.  This is a distraction from the enemy.  Focus on your light alone and rejoice in the opportunity to use your gifts to bring glory to God.

It’s important to understand the light people perceive in in our lives does not actually come from us.  Consider the sun and moon.  There is no light coming from the moon allowing us to witness it’s shape in the sky.  The moon merely reflects the light of the sun, and thus, shines. By the same token, Jesus is the source of all light. As disciples, we reflect the light of Christ to a world living in darkness. Comprehending this dynamic is important.  There is a direct relationship between our unbroken communion with Christ and the light people witness in our lives. The Bible says, “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  (Isaiah 42:6)  Stay near to Jesus. Hold hands with the God whose has called you into righteousness.

As you commune with Him in quiet places, He will present you as a light in public places.

The Recruiting Offer of a Lifetime

I PLAY FOR HIM. While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). At once they left their nets and followed him. Little did these men know that the words Jesus spoke that day would be the most important recruiting offer they would ever hear. No prior experience could prepare them for the power that was about to unfold.

In the span of just a few short years, they would witness Him multiply food, (Luke 9:16) transform water to wine, (John 2:1-11) and walk across Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 4:18) They marveled as He commanded a storm to cease (Mark 4:39-41) and watched in awe as He summoned a paralytic to pick up his mat and walk (Mark 2:11). But before they witnessed any of those miraculous events, a two-word recruiting offer had been extended.

“Follow Me.”

He didn’t promise them a life free from hardship. Nor did he offer them fame in exchange for their allegiance. His charge to this group is a sobering reminder to us all that in order to be on His team, we must be willing to push every chip to the middle and declare, “I’m all in.”

When all is said and done, it’s His team and His game. But don’t miss this point, Jesus isn’t just asking you and me to join His team, he’s recruiting us to play for Him.

Play your butt Off!

If God has gifted you to run, then run. If God has equipped you with the ability to jump, then jump. Assuming God knows what He is doing, we must also assume that your athletic gifts have been given with a Godly purpose in mind.

We would never doubt that God knows what He’s doing, so why do we question the gifting He places inside people? Why do we say certain gifts are “of God” and others are not? How can we be so quick to lay judgment on the idea that a guitar can be used for God but a football cannot? Have you not seen a guitar used to defy God and witnessed a football used to exalt God? And have you not seen a guitar glorify God and a football defy Him? In the end, its not about the the gifting, its about the glory. Either we try to selfishly hoard our gifts and their rewards for ourselves, or we freely offer them to God.

“Use these gifts to show others your love,” should be the cry of our heart.

As we commune with Christ, thinking this way will become quite natural. The Bible says, As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:10) It would be foolish to think that your athletic gifting should be placed on the shelf and declared unusable.

So run, jump, and compete. “Play your butt off”, as many coaches would say. But when you do, don’t play for yourself, play for Him.

Destined to be a World Changer

Your true identity in this life is not as an athlete. An athlete is what you do, a follower of Christ is who you are. You are first and foremost a child of the living God.(Galatians 3:26) You are an annointed saint destined to be a world changer.

The Bible says, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (1 John 2:27)

He has gifted you to be an ambassador for the cause of the gospel. A representative of Jesus. A person who brings to light the sacrifice of the cross and the hope it offers. Teaching the world that His resurrection from the grave not only brought Him to life, but will spiritually bring them to life as well.

So when you lace up your shoes, put on your cleats, pull on your swim cap, or dawn your uniform don’t be misled. The name on your jersey is the visual sign of the sports team you “play on”. But the name on your heart, is the consecrated evidence of the Savior you “play for”.

#iplayforHim

There is No Greater Strength than this . . . .

Where is your heart today? Are you consumed with the activity around you and missing the Savior above you? Have you forgotten His Spirit has taken residence within you? Is the busyness of life trumping the truth that God has secured your life for eternity? Has the weight of the world become greater than the God who formed it? Are you feeling defeated by the magnitude of everything around you?

The apostle Paul not only knows how you feel, but offers advice amidst the chaos of frustrations and anxiety. The Bible says, … “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7)

Paul is not coaching you to “suck it up”. He’s not yelling at you to “get with the program”. No where does he ever suggest that handling the challenges of life are about your ability to find strength within yourself. In fact, he is saying the exact opposite. When the things of this world are holding you down and applying unbearable pressure, your strength will not be found in rising up, but in kneeling down.

The scene is the Garden of Gethsemane. The main character, Jesus Christ. The supporting cast of Peter, James, and John are of little help. Sleep has overtaken their bodies as Jesus falls to His knees in anguish. “My soul is sorrowful” (Matthew 26:38), he utters. A third character perhaps, Satan, stalks the surroundings tempting Jesus to quit. Luring him to give in. Playing upon the notion that Jesus isn’t strong enough to handle what’s about to happen. (Sound familiar?) As the sweat of Jesus turns to blood, He whispers to heaven, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) Engulfed in despair, Jesus goes to the only source that can truly help, His Father.

Is there is an area of your life where victory seems improbable? Are you drowning in despair? If so, it may be time to go to your Gethsemane and take the greatest posture of strength that exists. Kneeling at the foot your Father.

When you are knocked down physically, get up. When you are cut down emotionally, get up. When you are tired spiritually, get up. Never doubt your effort to persevere is in vain if you are performing for God’s glory.

Keep Getting Up

The greatest thing about going to the tomb of Jesus was that it was found empty. Knocked down to the point of death, Jesus hung on a cross that screamed of defeat. But staying down wasn’t an option. Drenched in sweat, bloodied in battle, the miracle was set in motion. And then three days later…..he got up.

“And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”
(Luke 24:2-3)

Ironically, there is tremendous opportunity and blessing in these moments when it appears we have lost. Who we become in life is heavily influenced by our learned ability to
handle adversity. Few would argue we learn more about who we are
during those moments in life when we stare defeat in the face. In tough times, three players of life surface.

The first is the quitter. Those who stay down when they face adversity.
They give up easily, care little of results, and often can’t wait to get
the game over with. When they get knocked down, they stay down.

The second type of person is neutral. When knocked down, this person
doesn’t stay down, but never fully gets up either. They often sit on the
fence, waiting for someone else to lift them up. When things are going
great, they are great. But when things are going bad, they fold.

The third is the winner. They’ve been knocked down harder than anyone
else because they’ve probably put in more time than anyone else. They’ve
also learned to understand a very powerful principle. Staying down is not
an option. I didn’t say winning, I said staying down. This is the person
who is prepared to be drenched in sweat, bloodied in battle, and
completely exhausted from giving literally every ounce of effort. When
the competition is over, no matter the score, this person has won, because
they’ve learned success is not about winning and losing. It comes to the
person who just keeps getting up.

When you are knocked down physically, get up. When you are cut down
emotionally, get up. When you are tired spiritually, get up. Never doubt your effort to persevere is in vain if you are performing for God’s glory.