Love And Basketball

Love and Basketball

 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life   John 3:16

I love God and I love basketball. While the duration of the basketball season is restricted, the term and the time to love God is unbridled and unabridged.

In the very respectable year 2000 Film Love and Basketball, the starlet and “Cinderella” Monica (Sanaa Lathan), moves in next door to her “Prince”, Quincy (Omar Epps).  This is a spin on the ‘ole boy-meets-the-girl next door plot with a basketball twist. They’re 11, and both want to play in the NBA, just like Quincy’s dad. Their love-hate relationship lasts into high school, with Monica’s edge and Quincy’s top-dog attitude separating them, except when Quincy’s parents argue and he climbs through Monica’s window to sleep on the floor.

As high school ends, love begins and they come together as a couple, but within a year, with both of them playing ball at USC, Quincy’s relationship with his father takes an ugly turn, and it leads to a break up with Monica. Some years later, their pro careers at a crossroads, they meet again, and it’s time for a final game of one-on-one with high stakes; love is on the line. In the end, love overcomes hate and basketball pays the freight.

If you love basketball you should love God. There are so many similarities between God and basketball that time would fail me to list them all. But here are a few. God and basketball are unfathomable and inexhaustible, yet motive and moving. The game and God are attractive, alluring and appealing. God and basketball are like the wind; stirring, thrilling and exhilarating. Basketball and God are rousing, exciting and inviting. Our relationship with God and the game of basketball can be a fox trot or a slow drag; either way, both dances are loving and romantic.

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Love, like Basketball, is unpredictable and unpretentious; up in Heaven but also down to earth; always keeping you on your toes while smelling as good as a rose. Some basketball plays are so pretty they are worth more oohs and ahhs than you can count.  Some behind-the- back passes and alley-oop dunks are so breathtaking that all you can do in response is to scream. And so it is with our Lord.  

God is full of love.  In fact, God is Love. It’s His nature and his structure. He loves us so we in turn just ought to love Him. “We love him, because he first loved us”   (1 John 4:19).  He looked beyond our fault and saw our need.  And we needed and yet need to be loved. We are sinners in need of a savior. And so God loved us and saved us from our sins. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47-48).

So, it’s almost March. That means that it’s almost time for March Madness. March is the season, above all seasons, to love basketball. So join in with me and sing this new song: ‘Tis the season to love College Basketball.  ‘Tis the season for bracket busters and buzzer beaters. ‘Tis the season for Cinderellas to be found in castle towers, for mice to turn into horses and for pumpkins to turn into chariots.  What sports fan doesn’t love this time of year?   

Love controls us. It dictates that we watch endless hours of “March Madness;” this means watching game after game of teams with butterflies and night after night of games we never would pay to see otherwise. And so it is with our love for God.  “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, RSV).

It’s the time of year to love basketball, and, even more so, it’s time to love God.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

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End the evil of those who are wicked, and defend the righteous. For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God (Psalm 7:9, NLT)

Right and wrong are as opposite as night and day and are as contradictory as oil and water. Since they don’t mix, all of our mothers made sure to teach us this lesson: two wrongs don’t make a right, in sports and in life.  Going the wrong way, doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong words will invariably get you to the wrong place. To go right, you can’t do wrong. And you can’t go wrong when you’re committed to doing right. As Spike Lee taught us, we all need to “Do the Right Thing.” 

Two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s a proverb used to rebuke or renounce wrongful conduct as a response to another’s transgression.   Coach Jim Boeheim unfortunately taught us this lesson once again. Syracuse had the ball, down 60-58 when star forward CJ Fair drove for an apparent tying layup. But official Tony Greene whistled Fair for charging — and Boeheim shot onto the court to argue. Greene slapped him with two technical fouls and ejected him. “I thought it was a block or a no-call,” Fair said. “I don’t think there was that much contact, either.” No contact? Not really, but the point was the refs call.

Right is always waiting for the opportunity to overcome wrong. And Coach Boeheim missed his latest opportunity. With 10.4 seconds left on the clock, and with Duke leading Syracuse 60-58, one of college basketball’s best games of the season ended with the Hall of Fame coach being ejected after he charged onto the court to argue a block/charge call.

And Coach Boeheim didn’t just charge onto the court, he “went off,” yelling and screaming and cursing and flaying his arms in protest. “I just thought that was the worst call of the year, that’s all,” Boeheim said. “I hated to see the game decided on that call.” Honestly, the call could have gone either way. At worst it was a bad call, at best it should have been a no-call.  But it was called, for better or for worse.

Right or wrong, we’ve all been taught not to argue with the refs, and not to react to a bad call. Just play the game.  With 10.4 seconds left, Syracuse could have played defense, or fouled a Duke player, in order to extend the game. Instead, Duke was awarded four foul shots. Duke made three of them and had possession of the ball. AND your coach was ejected. Game Over. The wrong reaction of Coach Boeheim allowed Duke to go right to the winners circle. Thanks coach.

Wrong is just that; it’s wrong. It can never amount to right, unless God works something out. And Joseph taught us this lesson. When he was wronged by his older, jealous brothers, he held his peace and did not retaliate. In the end, in the providence of God, the Sovereign Lord worked things out for good.  God can’t make evil good, but He can bring good out of evil.  To use Joseph’s words, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20-21, RSV).

So don’t allow wrong to win the day. Don’t allow your emotions to get the best of you. Don’t melt down when you need to firm up. The problem of evil will not be overcome with more evil. Martin Luther King taught us that “those who assert that evil means can lead to good ends are deceiving themselves.” Amen. 

So remember, people will do you wrong, refs will make bad calls, and you will make mistakes yourself. Evil and wrong are with us, for now. But one day, God will put an end to all evil and to all wrong. The crooked will be made straight and the rough places will be made plain. So determine to overcome evil with good. Because two wrongs will never make a right.

Perish In The Past, Or Flourish In The Future

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For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11-12, NIV

It is better to flourish in the future than to perish in the past.  Way back in 1980, the US men’s Olympic hockey team won gold and on the way defeated the heavily favored Russian team in Lake Placid. It’s called the “Miracle on Ice.”  It’s great history, but it’s just that: history. This year, gold was not won, and, to add insult to injury, the US men’s team was crushed 5-0 in the bronze medal game by Finland. While it is great to cherish choice wins, it is ours now to anticipate future accomplishments.

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Some people live in the past. Some people feast on the former. Some people banquet on the by-bygone and long gone victories of yesteryear. They can’t get past their past.  They relive the memories and reminisce on the recollections of days and weeks and months and years gone by.  Just like rocking in a rocking chair, it gives them something to do but it gets them nowhere. 

Some athletes dwell on disappointments. They begrudge a referee’s bad call or bemoan a teammate’s dropped ball. They can’t let it go.  It festers and blisters and rots and rakes and molds and holds the degenerating soul in a state of atrophy. On the other side of the coin, some athletes are prone to relish the memories of thrilling turnarounds and terrific triumphs. And well they should. But the downside is that they tend to live, and only live, in the past.  And if you live in the past you will perish in the future.  

Some athletes will flourish in the future. They know they are building and boosting, enhancing and advancing, forming and framing all future victories, even with some current defeats. They are learning how to fail, so that in the end, they will not have failed to learn.  Backwards and forwards, inside and out, on the upside and on the down low, they learn from their mistakes, so that they can teach others their successes.

If we don’t focus on our future, we will perish in our past.  The Apostle Paul said “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14

So press. Press on. Press now.  Stop living in the past. Forget about the falls and the stalls, the trips and the slips, the oops and the bloops. Your yesterday is gone, and your tomorrow is to be determined. Look onward and forward and heavenward. Forget the former years and the former tears. One day, “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).

We will flourish in our future, when we press past our past. Yes it was painful; yes it was hurtful; yes, it was distressing, and many times it was oppressing, but it’s in the past: it’s OVER! You’re still here and what’s coming is better than what has been; your future is brighter than your past, and your best is yet to come.

Simply The Best

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Do your best to present yourself to God . . .  2 Timothy 2:15, RSV

God gave us His best.  Throughout the scriptures, we see example after example of how God saw to it that His children would be and get the best.  Pharaoh gave Joseph and his father the best of the land, the land of Goshen.  Years earlier, Jacob gave his favorite son Joseph a robe of many colors, or what we could call, a beautiful, fashionable garment.  The New Living Translation calls it “the finest robe.” Centuries later, when the prodigal son came home, this father also gave this son “the best robe.”

God gave us His best. He gave us His Son Jesus. And Jesus, in turn, gave us his best; he gave us His life and He gave us His death.  God’s love for us is not half-hearted or half-witted; it’s not half-baked or half a–ed (you know what I mean!). God’s love for us is the best. It’s simply the best. Thank goodness God gave us nothing but His best!

In Christ we see and have the best. The incarnation was God’s idea. It was simply the best inspiration for the worst altercation; the problem of man’s rebellion and sin and shame. Thus, the totality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection was an astute and adroit assembly, not an absurd or asinine aggrandizement.   

To be the best, you must beat the best. In order to be the best Christians, we need to know what we believe, and why we believe it.  Debate only clarifies God’s nature.  God’s cost-benefit analysis, i.e., the risk He took in creating man and the mitigation of that risk by sending His Son to redeem mankind from sin and evil was, of course, sheer, Divine genius.  It wasn’t a brainless, bubble headed scheme; it wasn’t a cockeyed, crazy,  cuckoo conspiracy; and it certainly wasn’t a daffy or dipsy design; it was simply the best that God could do. Simply the best.

But in order to get the best we must give our best.   Take if from our darling Olympic ice dancers who just won the best prize. After 17 years of difficult training, Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dancing gold medal. It wasn’t a fluke win or a happenstance victory. Davis and White put the time in. They practiced and they prepared; they trained and they strained; they did their homework and laid the groundwork for a historic, first time victory for themselves and the grand ‘ole US of A.

 

So let’s follow the example of Meryl and Charlie. They started early and trained late.  They had parental support and mutual admiration.  They had exotic mystery and dramatic flair. And it paid off. And it will pay off for you and for me. They Did It! They gave their best, and so did our Lord, and so should we.

Thou Shalt Get Back Up, Again

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For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. Proverbs 24:16, NIV

Get back up again. That should be the theme song for these 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. There have been more spills and chills and bangs and clangs and crashes and smashes that it seems more like a Saturday morning roller derby than a world-class sporting event. Nonetheless, the athletes certainly have learned life lessons; our take away from watching is that we have benefited from lessons learned.

The first life lesson is, after a fall, get back up again. And mind you, the question is not if you fall, it’s WHEN you fall, because life, like the slopes on the downhill, can be steep, and the ice on the ice rink can be sleek.  So don’t fail to learn the lesson – get back up again. Get back up and finish what you’ve started, because someone out there is watching and waiting and wanting you to get back up again.

Jeremy Abbott learned the lesson.  A U.S. champion, Jeremy fell hard on an attempted quadruple toe loop Thursday in the men’s short program at the Olympics, yet he managed to finish the routine.   Abbott crashed to the ice on his first jump and slid into the padded end boards, staying down for an extended period, clutching his right hip. He looked like he wouldn’t get up, and his coaches moved toward the ice rinks entry door to mollify their maimed man.

Jeremy Abbot learned the lesson and got back up again. In fact, Jeremy taught the rest of us, indeed the rest of the watching word, at least three lessons. First, he taught us that we are all prone to fall. Second, it’s easy to stay down after a fall. Third, it’s not easy to get back up.  But get back up he did. When Jeremy fell, it was a hard fall, and we all held our collective breath wondering if he would get up again. But get back up he did.  

Since we are all prone to fall, we should all resolve to get back up.  It should be in our constitution: “Thou shalt get back up, again.”  After a tough and tortuous fall, it would have been understandable for Jeremy to solicit the sympathy vote. Just lie there, have everyone feel sorry for you, and skate off the ice into obscurity. Not so.

Even though he was hurt, his side was aching and his back was throbbing, he got back up again. His pride was gnashed and his medal hopes were dashed yet he got back up and completed his program. Abbott, 28, struggled to his feet and, to the surprise of many and the applause of the crowd, resumed skating. And he performed quite well, hitting the rest of his elements.  In fact, his performance after the fall was BETTER than it was before. It was as if he got a shot of adrenaline from falling and determined to finish despite the dejection and the apparent defeat of his fall.

When his music stopped, the four-time champion drew a huge ovation from the fans. He hit himself lightly in the head while shaking it, as if to say he couldn’t believe what had just happened. The partisan Russian crown threw flowers onto the ice, and warmly welcomed him into what seemed like a winner’s circle. He won, not the ornamentation of a medal, but the reputation of master, a person who has the ability and power to endure a tragedy and turn it into a triumph, a person who has endured shame and will now go on to certain fame, because he determined to get back up again.

Jeremy Abbott

So Get back up again, and encourage anyone who falls to get back up again, too. Use Jeremy’s example of courage to get back up, again.  One Tweetter said that Jeremy “showed true grit and strength after that awful fall. Proud of you! So admirable.” #nevergiveup.

Making History

Medal Ceremony - Winter Olympics Day 6

Everyday, we have a chance, we have the opportunity, we have a shot at making history. We have before us the choice of being history or making history; of being victims or being victors; of being the ones who just talk or being the ones who are being talked about.

Three young American boys just made history.  Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper swept the podium in men’s slopestyle skiing Thursday, putting on a spectacular show to provide the U.S. team with a jolt from a mountain whose vibe is more spring break than Winter Olympics. Yes the warm weather is making history, but the athletes are putting their stamp on these winter Olympic Games as well. The podium sweep was just the third for the U.S. in Winter Olympics history, joining men’s figure skating in 1956 and men’s halfpipe snowboarding in 2002.

Making history is no easy task.  It takes dedication and determination; it takes timing and technique; it takes the help of your friends and the hope of your hometown, and all came together for these three heroes.

 Joss Christensen soared to gold in the sport’s Olympic debut, posting a score of 95.80 on Thursday to beat teammates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper. “I am shocked,” Christensen said. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends. Joss Christensen’s gold medal validated the coaches’ decision for adding him to Team USA. “It’s crazy,” Goepper said. “I think it’s going to give the U.S. a lot more confidence, and it’s going to get a lot of people really excited.”  The Americans were certainly fired up.

History was in the making. In conditions better suited for a spring break in the mountains than the Winter Olympics, the 22-year-old Christensen was by far the best. Each of his four runs scored in the 90s. His first run in the finals won the gold, and his second would have been good enough to win silver.

So make history. Moses made history when he stood up to Pharaoh.  Young David made history when he stared down Goliath. And Elijah made history when he challenged Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel. And you can make history too.  Dare to dream. Pursue your goals.  Stand up for what is right and for what is rightfully yours.

Determine to make history. Don’t get swept up by your circumstances or your negative emotions; be the sweeper. Be the one who the picks up the pieces. Be the one who gathers up the fragments. Be the one to make history, especially when no one else thinks you can.

Failing to Learn and Learning to Fail

Men's Snowboard Half Pipe, Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Russia - 11 Feb 2014

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;  2 Corinthians 4:8-9, KJV

While it first appeared that Shaun White failed to learn, at his “post game” press conference, he proved that he’s learned to fail.  He is an accomplished snowboarder, and he had his sights set on Olympic Gold in the ½ Pipe Event.  He put all of his eggs in one basket and bet the house that he would win a gold medal in this one event. He did not. He didn’t even place, meaning he won’t go home with any medal, not even a bronze. Wanting to win is one thing; putting pressure on yourself so that you MUST win is another.

Winning is why we play the game. But isn’t there more to it than that?  The number of athletes that even make it to the Olympic Games are only a fraction of those who tried to qualify, and only a fraction of the Olympic athletes will medal. There are 98 events, and yet hundreds of hopefuls. Not every athlete will win a gold medal, much less any medal. As the Apostle Paul said, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize?” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Failing to learn is a loss and learning to fail is a win, and is a part of life.  Shaun White aptly said that “I’m more than a snowboarder.” And as Bob Costas states in the preamble to each night’s coverage, voicing a balanced perspective on the Olympics, the events are there for athletes to “earn chances to be remembered… most of all for their stories.”

Failing to learn is a negative and learning to fail is a positive. Two of life’s most important lessons include learning how to win and learning how to lose. Every athlete, better sooner than later, must learn these life lessons – we must learn how to win with grace and how to lose with honor.

Shani Davis

Shani Davis learned both lessons and has shown us how to win and how to lose. His non-medal finish in the 1,000 meter speed skating event stands as one of the most unfathomable results in Sochi: Davis had owned the event since the 2006 Torino Games, when he claimed the first of two Olympic gold medals in a row, and entered the 1,000 final as the clear favorite among a top-heavy list of skaters. “There’s no excuse,” Davis said. “I just didn’t have the speed I’ve always had.” A graceful exit indeed.

Failing to learn from life’s ups and downs would be tantamount to missing the point. We can and do learn from every experience and every occurrence; from every incident and every accident. We learn what to do and what not to do.  We learn what to say and what not to say. But we learn.  And failing to learn is worse than the failure itself.  We are not failures, but we do fail when we don’t learn from our mistakes and missteps; from our blunders and our boo-boos; from our goofs and our gaffes.

So learn to fail, because if we don’t learn to fail, we have failed to learn. At the end of the day, we learn that failure is actually failing to learn. And we fail when we don’t learn (and teach our children) that winning in life includes learning to fail.   

So learn that every swing of the bat won’t result in a home run; learn that every three-point attempt won’t be a swish; learn that every bowling ball hurled down the alley won’t be a strike. We stumble, but we regain our footing; we fall but we get back up again.  It’s called life.  And we learn how to live it by the games we play and the sports we watch.  

Spiritually speaking, the bottom line is this: it is our faith in Christ that gives the victory; it is only in Christ Jesus that we always triumph. And learning this lesson is the most important lesson of all.

We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, New Living Translation