Narrow It Down To Four

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It all boils down to four; four teams who are playing their best at the right time of the year. Some say they’re the best teams; please notice that I didn’t say that these are the four best teams, but they are the four teams who are playing their best. Florida, Kentucky, UConn and Wisconsin – all are legitimate contenders for the title. So the lesson is this: save the best for last. Be at your best when life gives you its worst. Do all of the little things that add up to one big thing. And don’t take your opponent for granted.

Wisconsin Win

Finally we have a four. Four represents completeness. Four winds, four corners, four quarters and four quadrants (we will omit four letter words). Biblically speaking, we have the four rivers of Paradise in Genesis and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in Revelation. When you have four you have two pairs –  two half parts of a whole. It all has to boil down to four, and then to one.

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On paper and on the court, by all accounts, it’s a fine Final Four we have. Florida dispatched the darling of the ball Dayton; Kentucky is playing their best ball and they won the best game of the tournament against Michigan; UConn unraveled Michigan State; and Wisconsin bested Arizona. Now, Wisconsin will face Kentucky and UConn has a rematch from an early season game with Florida. Each team will realize that their opponent is going to be, to mix sports metaphors, a tough Out.

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So narrow it down; narrow it down to a maximum of four. To avoid being overwhelmed and undermanned, outgunned and inundated, narrow it down. We try to do too much and then wonder why we accomplish so little. We try to cram it all in, and in the end we end up having it hang all out. We try to achieve it all, and in the end we don’t do that much at all. We have too much stress and too little margin in our lives. So narrow it down! Doing four things well is better that doing fourteen things halfway. Narrow your wants and your wishes, narrow you fancies and your fantasies, narrow your longings and your cravings, your anticipations and your expectations, and focus on what means and matters most to you.

Too Good To Go

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DeSean Jackson is good but did he have to go? According to NFL.com, the Philadelphia Eagles announced Friday that DeSean Jackson was informed of his release. He wasn’t traded and we got nothing for him; he was just let go. It’s a sad day for Eagles Nation (pronounced Iggles everywhere and to everyone who loves things Philly).

Our best and our brashiest, our fleetest and our flashiest receiver is gone. Say what you want about him off the field (well get to that later), but on the field he was a fan favorite. And this is coming during an offseason where we are planning for a deep run in next year’s postseason.

Jackson is good. His talent and his tenacity earned him respect from friends and foes alike. His stats are impressive: he just had his best year as an Eagle and he will finish his six-year Eagles career with 356 receptions, 6,117 yards and 39 total touchdowns. He had grit and he could take a hit.

Jackson is good, but sadly, they let him go. Performance on the field is one thing; behavior off the field is another. Players must realize that what goes on off the field bleeds back onto the field. NFL.com reports that “the end of the Jackson saga comes in the wake of a Friday morning NJ.com report claiming the Eagles have ‘serious concerns’ about the wide receiver’s continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members tied to a pair of homicides.” The same NFL report also “questions Jackson’s attitude, work ethic, chemistry with coach Chip Kelly and penchant for missing team meetings to hang out with friends.”[1]

And so we must realize that evil corrupts everything it touches. I’m not accusing DeSean of anything; I’m just sayin’. Whoever he was hangin’ with, and whoever he was rollin’ with, they weren’t good for him to be with. Not for where he was going. He had so much promise and so much potential that he should have protected the perception people have of him. Sadly, it does not appear that the Eagles had the will or the wherewithal to work and wax and polish and finish the brilliance that Jackson has. And for his part, Jackson didn’t care enough either, and it cost him. Just like Lot.

Lot chose to pitch his tent toward Sodom. Lot lived and breathed the low life of the low end of the food chain and it corrupted his life and corrupted his wife to the point she loved evil more than good. She turned to look back and turned into a pillar of salt. “And (God) delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7). Lot didn’t protect his family so the Lord had to provoke him to leave that wicked and wonton place before He destroyed it.

So we must learn the lessons of Lot and of DeSean. Don’t let your good be evil spoken of. Don’t be good on the field and ghastly off the field. Don’t be great in uniform and grisly in plain clothes. Be good on and off of the field. Protect your reputation and your disposition. Let your makeup and your moral fiber be above reproach. If you are good inside and out, in and off-season, on the upside and on the downswing, you won’t have to be let go.

 

[1] http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000337774/article/desean-jackson-released-by-philadelphia-eagles

 

What Does Winnng Look Like?

 Dayton Flyers

What does winning look like? Winning looks like the Dayton Flyers defeating Ohio State in the first round and deflating the Syracuse Orangemen in the second round. Winning looks like the Dayton team piling on each other at center court after the first big win. Winning looks like Mercer beating Duke in the first round. Winning looks like Kentucky outlasting undefeated Wichita State and Virginia beating Memphis by 18.  Winning looks good, especially when you’re the one winning.

We know what winning looks like and we know what winning doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like losing; it doesn’t look like long faces of shame or slow paces after the game. We know that losing “sucks;” yet we know that losing is a part of winning just like death is a part of life and just like dying is a part of living. No healthy human wants to die, and no agile athlete wants to lose. We know that everyone who has a hunger for the game wants to win and everyone who has a passion for the same hates to lose.

So what does losing look like? Spiritually speaking, losing is as ugly as 40 miles of bad road. Losing is like having a bad hair day. Losing is gut-wrenching and heart-aching. And so we conclude that losing looks like this: Eve being deceived by the Serpent; Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit; and Cain murdering his brother, and then lying to God about it.

Winning does not look like and does not sound like and does not feel like losing. Unfortunately, losing, Biblically speaking, is found in every life of every legend in the Bible. Abraham, his son, and his sons’s sons were pathological liars. Moses was a murderer and David orchestrated a murder mystery second to none. All of our Heroes of the faith had moral taint and immoral tendencies. And yet they all “won.”

And so we conclude that winning is a spiritual thing. We conclude that we cannot win by ourselves, in and of ourselves. We only win in Christ. We only triumph when we trust; we only subjugate when we surrender, we only rout the enemy when we have been redeemed by our Eternal Friend, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

So remember that wining in Christ doesn’t look like winning in the world. Contrary to the propositions of the prosperity preachers, winning is not necessarily a nice new car and a huge new house. Winning is not necessarily living to gain or life without pain. First and foremost, winning is spiritual. Our victory is our reliance and relationship with Him. No one is perfect and everyone doesn’t win every game. But our victory is found and bound in a life lived to win the pleasure of God and not the applause of men.

MARCH MADNESS: NOBODY LIKES LOSING BUT SOMEBODY HAS TO

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A Blog Post from Writers and Hunters, March 24, 2014

Wasn’t that fun?!  And by that, I mean the first 4 days of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.  Every year the tournament is filled with thrilling finishes, buzzer beaters, hurtful losses and seasons abruptly coming to an end.  You enter the tournament knowing that you could leave just as quickly as you came in.  In most cases, the games are decided by the teams with the most talent but sometimes the best team doesn’t always win. Just ask Wichita State. The Shockers were shocked back to reality by a sometimey Kentucky squad that may well lose their next game.

A team with the better record may have a bad match up with another team and thus struggle to score.  An example would be Baylor vs Creighton on Sunday.  Sometimes, you play well and still lose the game because of one particular play or bounce that didn’t go your way.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad team but it just means that you weren’t the best team on this certain day.  An example of that is Kentucky vs. Wichita State.

Every team that wins experiences jubilation but for every smile there is a set of tears.  Think about North Dakota State upsetting Oklahoma.  Or Mercer over Duke and the most talked about dance the past 4 days.

Is Mercer really better than Duke? No. And I think we all know this but that’s what makes the Tournament so great and so painful at the same time. You can’t afford a let-down or else it will all be over.

Andrew Wiggins and his teammates laughed when asked if they knew the name of the starting PG at Stanford only to be embarrassed in the 2nd half by that very same PG and his entire team. They didn’t know his name before the game but I’m sure they do now and Mr. Wiggins and his talent are playing no more.

In the best game of the Tournament thus far, Kentucky played vs Wichita State and came away with a two point win sending the Shockers home with just their first and only loss this season. (35-1) Many doubted Wichita State so the Shockers relished the challenge of playing a powerhouse and proving to the world they belonged. Unfortunately, they came up short as Kentucky played its best basketball in a yr. Kentucky may not be better than Wichita State but for one day they were and now the Sweet 16 awaits.

North Carolina thought they were headed to the Sweet 16 in Madison Square Garden when they were up by 8pts with under 6 minutes to play. But Iowa State had other plans in mind. DeAndre Kane played like a monster and the Tar Heels had no answer. They thought they had it won but in the end, hurt and thoughts of what could’ve been are all they’re left with.

Every year we see stories like the ones above. For every great story like the Dayton Flyers there is a story of heartache like the Seniors on Wichita State. For every Stephen F. Austin there is a team like VCU who gives up the  4-point play that allowed the jubilation to take place.

It’s just a part of why we love March Madness and why it’s so great. We love it for the great moments and the heartbreaking ones as well.

Regardless of who you’re rooting for, the Sweet 16 is now set and although nobody is on tap to win Warren Buffet’s $1 Million Dollars, the games will still be entertaining on this upcoming Thursday and Friday. I’ll be watching for sure. I can’t wait!

http://writersandhunters.com/2014/03/24/march-madness-nobody-likes-losing-somebody/#more-5677

 

A Hunger For The Game

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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6

We must have a hunger for the game. The feature film Hunger Games and its sequel gave us the motto “may the odds ever be in your favor.” For those of us who believe in God and not “the odds,” we watched because Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence’s character) wears a mokingjay pin. The mockingjay pin is the circular gold token Katniss wears during the Games to represent District 12. The pin is a symbol of hope for those who hunger for help and are depressed, and distressed and in debt; Katniss had a hunger to win for those who needed hope for their future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERCG-Y-Savc

The hunger to win is the unmatchable and unappeasable trait that champions cannot do without. To win without hunger is like losing with joy. It can’t really happen and it doesn’t make sense. Hunger to win the “big game” is irreplaceable and incomparable. You can’t do without it.

To win at any level, one must be hungry. Winning doesn’t come by accident and victories don’t come by chance; winning at the highest level requires a little more sacrifice and a lot less selfishness than the regular. To win at the highest level, you almost have to be rabid and ravenous; your appetite for victory almost has to be insatiable and unquenchable; you cannot settle for less than complete and total victory.

The team that wins this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, be it Michigan State or Virginia, Arizona or Kentucky, or any of the other Sweet 16 teams, will have to have an aching appetite for victory and a constant craving for conquest. It’s not to say that the teams that lose aren’t hungry; it’s just that the team that wins will have wanted it just a little bit more.

As believers in the God of favor, we hope in the help of the Lord. We don’t believe in odds, and our winning is dependent upon our dependence on God and His desire for us to win. We hunger and thirst, we long and we pine, we hunker and we hanker, not after material or earthly or worldly things, but after intangible and heavenly and spiritual things. We long to win the  favor of God and hunger and thirst after His presence and His power.

We hunger and hope and are helped by this promise: “Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21, RSV). Unlike March Madness where there is only one champion, all whose hopes lie in the Lord will be victorious – in this life, and in the life to come.

So satisfy your yearning and satiate your burning desire to be victorious by seeking the Lord; by seeking His face; by seeking His friendship and His fellowship; by seeking His nearness and His closeness. By knowing that even when He does not feel near, He is yet near. 

And so hold onto another one of our precious promises, which is this: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more . . .” (Revelation 7:16). Why? “For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (Ps 107:9, KJV).

Make Every Possession Count

Michigan State 2014

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12, RSV

Every possession counts. Slam dunks are a sure thing and lay ups are usually automatic. Mid range jump-shots that are “good looks” are acceptable and three-pointers from way back beyond the arc are good when they go. The point is, every possession should be prized and every trip down the floor should be treasured. Just ask Harvard.

Harvard is a brainy school with some brawny scholars that can really play some ball. Their coach Tommy Amaker has got them to the point where they play hard and they play smart. I mean they can really play the game. They came back from 16 points down in the second half only to lose to Michigan State.  It was a heart breaker. 

Harvard felt like they belonged in the Sweet 16 and they feel like they belong in the same conversation with other elite college basketball programs like Michigan State.  They’re right on both counts, but the Sweet 16 just wasn’t meant to be. Not this year.  Unfortunately, down the stretch, they didn’t make every possession count.

Harvard did make every possession count, but only for half of the second half. Up by two with about 8 minutes to play, Harvard took their first lead of the game, 62-60, and it felt as if the little guy would score one for all of the other little guys and pull off an upset for the ages. But it wasn’t meant to be.   Somehow, once the Spartans lost the lead, they started playing better. Go figure.

Unfortunately for Harvard, their leery lead lasted a lean 18 seconds; just 18 seconds. The rally that raised their hopes and dashed their fears ran of gas.  And the thing that got them the lead slipped right out of their hands – they outscored and out hustled and outplayed Michigan State because they made every possession count.

Michigan State, down by two, was on the ropes and in so doing had raised the hopes of the Harvard faithful. But Michigan State mustered all of the mental metal they had and put together a rally of their own. From that point onward the Spartans made every possession count. A three pointer here, an inside pass and a lay-up there, and then another three pointer from way beyond the arc, and low and behold, the favorite put together an 8-0 run and was back up and back out of trouble. 

Harvard and Michigan State gave us a game to remember. So remember that every possession counts. Every word we whisper and every whim we wonder, our sayings and our doings, our actions and our articulations, they all count. It all matters. Every idle word we speak and every errant sound we sputter is heard in Heaven and etched in eternity. And that’s how God deals with us.

God doesn’t waste words or toy with time. God doesn’t waste possessions.  God redeems the time and he wants us to do the same. We may not be perfect, but as the old saints say, we should be perfectly striving. So let’s make every possession count, all during the game and especially down the stretch. In life that means all day every day and especially at “crunch times.”  Let’s not throw away our days or fritter away our ways; let’s make every word and every act and every deed and every discussion meaningful. Because in the end, it all adds up.

 

Play Hard or Play Smart?

Harvard

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Proverbs 4:7, KJV

Do we play hard or do we play smart? Is it either/or OR both/and?  I submit that we must play hard and play smart.  But first let’s talk about playing hard.

Playing hard means that we give it all we’ve got and we play is if there is no tomorrow. We reach for every rimed-out rebound and dive for every lively loose ball.  We leave our hearts on the court and fight to the finish. There is no substitute for playing hard. Nothing takes the place of hustle, but heady play comes close. Every one of our coaches taught us to play hard, but they also trained us to play smart.

Playing smart means that we make good decisions.  Waiting for the best opportunity is better than forcing the slightest possibility. But we’ve all done it. So, instead of putting your head down and driving toward the basket, keep your head up and let the game come to you.  Be cool. Be careful. Be calculated.  

So play hard AND play smart. It’s a both/and proposition, not an either/or scenario. The opposite extremes are also equally eradicating; living off of the jump-shot usually leads to dying at the foul line. You can’t just do one thing and win – it takes the combination of discipline and determination, effort and education, muscle and meditation.

Winning the day can be a whisper away from missing the moment.  Most days most of us are a mistake and a misstep from victory. Harvard is known for being a “smart” school. And yet their hustle and their heads got them a win over Cincinnati.  At the same time, a smart play and a timely move could make all the difference in the world. Just ask Solomon.

Solomon played hard and he played smart. He asked God for “an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.” Solomon could have asked for fame and fortune, or for lavishness and luxury, or for silver and gold; instead, he played smart. He asked for wisdom, and in return, God rewarded him with wealth. 

So be careful what you ask for; be careful for what you wish for, and be careful what you fancy for. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Play hard, and play smart; be hardy and be heady, be forceful and influential, be “on the ball” and around the ball. If we are brawny and brainy, dogged and discerning, solid and savvy and sagacious to boot, victory cannot be but a smart play and a tough rebound away.