You Just Gotta Believe!

The Philadelphia Eagles just came back from the dead and made the playoffs, and in so doing they showed us how to participate in our own resurrection (And by the way, Saint Nick lives!)

At one point in this post-Super Bowl, celebration season, the Philadelphia Eagles were a woeful 4-6. They had just lost to the New Orleans Saints 48 -7 and with that loss all expectation for the playoffs was taken away; the season was essentially and technically over. To add insult to injury, our star QB, Carson Wentz, bruised his back and a slew of other injuries ensued; painfully, the Eagles likelihood of making the playoffs went from bad to worse. Faithful Philly fans everywhere thought that the Eagles chances of getting into the Playoffs and defending their crown were slim to none. Or so it seemed.  Then it all turned around.

After losing to the Cowboys 29 – 23 in overtime, the Eagles played their best football of the season and finished on a three game winning streak. After being dead in the water, the Eagles blanked the Redskins 24-0 on the last day of the season and won this must win game on the road to finish 9 -7, earning a Wild Card entry into the playoffs. The Eagles survived mistakes and heartbrakes, and are a living testimony of how to overcome all kinds of adversity.

But to actually get into the playoffs, Philly needed help. And help (from Heaven?) came in the form of the Chicago Bears’ No. 1 Defense.  For the Eagles to make the playoffs this season the Minnesota Vikings had to lose and the Bears had to win. So what happened? The Vikings lost at home to those same Bears 24 – 10. Whew! 

Christianity teaches that death is not final. Not physically or spiritually. The central and cardinal doctrine of Christianity affirms that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. Without the resurrection, the apostle Paul declared, Christian preaching and belief are pointless and meaningless. Because of the resurrection of Christ, we too can experience resurrections. We too can get help from Heaven to turn death into life.

Your situation may seem dead, your marriage may stink the stench of death, your children may have disappeared and departed from you, your finances may have suffered a fatal blow, and even your future may seem listless and lifeless.  But there is always hope. Always.

The Eagles making the playoffs this season just goes to show that sports teach the hope of resurrection. Resurrection is help from above descending live a dove to bring life and love. And even though we may feel or even be dead, we must participate in our own resurrection, because help only comes when we have hope. In games and seasons when it seems as if all hope is lost, teams can speak life and determine they are not facing a dead end, and we can too. It’s not just about being positive; it’s a firm faith and a battleax belief that our lot in life is to overcome every dip and every drop that we may descend into.

The Eagles making the playoffs just goes to prove that it’s not over until it’s over. The Eagles just proved to us once again that all things are possible to those who believe. So be encouraged. It’s not over. On this New Year’s Eve, it’s just beginning.   

JR Smith: How To Lose Game 1 of the NBA Finals

JR-Smith

What can you say? What IS there to say?  After a mistake or a mental lapse or a complete meltdown, what should be said? Sometimes, saying nothing is the right thing to say. Because there is nothing that JR Smith can say to excuse his behavior. The more he tried to explain, the worse it got. I saw the game. I saw Smith’s mouth form the words, “I thought we were ahead” to LeBron. And so did millions of other people. So no matter how you slice it, it was a mistake beyond words.

Smith dribbled the ball out to half-court, clearly thinking that the Cavs had the lead. By the time he realized that the game was tied it was too late. LeBron James was furious with his Cleveland Cavaliers teammate for dribbling out the clock and clearly not knowing the score at the end of regulation.

The game went into overtime and instead of LeBron James finishing an all-time great NBA Finals performance by stealing a win on the road, the Warriors dominated the extra period to hold home court.

Yes, we’ve all made fun of JR Smith dribbling out the game with 4.7 still left on the clock in regulation. Yes LeBron was furious, and for good reason. And yes the Cavaliers could have stolen Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals from the Golden State Warriors. But noooooo — JR Smith didn’t have the awareness needed at a critical juncture and now he’ll have find a way to atone for his sin.  And this is where theology comes in. Only God can truly atone, because atonement is a job for God. We just have to trust Him to do it His way.

Yes we’ve been hard on Smith. Yes it was a boneheaded play. And yes the Cavs blew a golden opportunity. Ever been there? We all have.  That’s the lesson that sports teaches. Our failures don’t have to be final. Our foolhardiness does not have to define us. It only does if we let it.

Last Chance U

last-chance-uIf you love sports like I do, and you live for second chances as most do, and if you’re sick of fake and false and phony living, like those hungering and thirsting for what’s right do, then the Netflix original documentary series “Last Chance U” is for you. But get ready, because it’s real, it’s raw, and it’s redemptive.

Coach Buddy Stephens and the East Mississippi Community College Lions Football Team are featured in this award-winning documentary in which they are followed for two consecutive seasons. They are dominant on the field but also tend to be self-destructive off it. It’s must see TV that you will use as fuel for the fire of life when you or someone you know needs a boost or a bolster or just a run of the mill shot in the arm.

Coach Stephens is hard-nosed and sometimes hardheaded. He’s harsh, headstrong, willful, and obstinate, just like many of his players. But the truth is, it takes one to know one.  Many of his star athletes fell from grace at larger, D-1 schools, and playing at East Mississippi State Community College is their last chance and their only ticket out and on and up towards the dream of playing in the NFL. But they won’t make it if they don’t listen and learn some hard life lessons. 

That’s why I believe sharing the Christian faith should be easy. We have all fallen short, we all need a second chance at living and at life and at a lifestyle that’s pleasing to God.We all need to learn how to overcome and comeback after being held back. And sometimes, albeit most times, we are the ones who have used our own arms to hold our own selves back from success.

I love Coach Stephens. I do. I love how he knows that these mostly minority young men that he coaches need a heavy dose of truth-or-consequences, because the school of hard knocks can be unforgiving and unmerciful. But Coach Stephens has also looked himself in the mirror and knows that after a failure he and his players must pick themselves up and dust themselves off if they are to have a chance at succeeding at “Last Chance U”.

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=last+chance+U+trailer#id=1&vid=4c6ccd6888e8a157e2fc48e9f7d727e4&action=click

And I love the heart and the spirit of the Athletic Academic Advisor, Brittany Wagner.  Some might say that she’s just a pretty face but she’s doing a gritty job of guiding these student athletes off of the field when all they want to do is to play on it. But they also need to graduate, and her love and concern for her students shines through. 

LastChanceU-Coach Stephens-Brittany Wagner
Last Chance U-Coach Stephens & Brittany Wagner

I’d love to put my new book, Upsets, Comebacks Turnarounds in the hands of Coach Stephens and in the hands of his staff and his student athletes.  Last Chance U is a mirror of the book because his story and the stories of many of those he’s coached over the years are just like the stories from the Bible; they’re worth being told, over and over again.

One Point

Ben Simmons After Loss
Ben Simmons Scores One Point in Loss to Boston in 2018 Playoffs

Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers rookie sensation point guard, the same point guard who is the consensus Rookie of the year in the NBA this year, scored one point in Game 2 of their much anticipated series with their hated and heated rivals, the Boston Celtics. One whole point.

But it was a good loss, and I’ll tell you why.

 The Sixers lost by five.  It was a close game down the stretch, and the team from South Philly was even up by five late in the fourth quarter. But they lost every lead they managed to build. Little leads. Big leads.  All kinds of leads. They lost the leads and the game.  By just five points. 

So they (and we) need to learn how to play (and live) when losing and when leading. And that’s a life lesson.

Big Ben only scorned one.  One point. So just think, a few made baskets, even just two, and a few more made free throws would have made a difference. But nooooooooooooo. Ben picked a bad time to have an unbelievably bad game. And it hurt his team. Not that the rest of the team is not culpable.   The Sixers blew a 21 point lead in the second quarter, and that is where the game was lost.

So what’s next for the Sixers?  They play the next two games at home. But if they  lose this series, and they may well may get blown right out of the gym the next two games, it will be a short time loss but, hopefully a long-term gain.  Teams general, and these Sixers in specific, need to learn how to play with a lead. And the Sixers haven’t figured that part out yet. Oh well. It was a great season. It’s not over yet, but it sure feels like it’s over.

One point. One lousy point. It will count if they learn from this, and this will be a good loss, if, that is IF, they learn. Maybe this series, and maybe not. But certainly this lesson must be learned down the road.

Why Philly Fans Are So Excited!

Ben Simmons Dribbling

Giddy and giggly, exuberant and expectant can’t come close to describing the state of Philly fans everywhere, but these descriptive words are the best we can do. Philly fans are currently in a near state of euphoria.  And you know why.

Sports in Philly has gotten superciliously silly.  First, our Eagles won the NFC Championship Game in grand fashion and are going to the Super Bowl! Not the Cowboys, nor the Falcons and not the Vikings. The Eagles, baby!

Sports Fans in Philly are over the moon.  And for good reason.  The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. Did I say that already?  The Super Bowl!  The defense looks great and Foles has never played better. So all systems are go and all hopes are riding on the faith that Foles and the “D” can do it again, and against the vaunted, New England Patriots, at that.

And, to make matters even better, our beloved Sixers are the hottest team in the NBA, next to the Golden State Warriors.  Both teams are 8-2 in January. Eight and Two! Ben Simmons, everyone’s favoirte for Rookie of the Year, is playing lights out and racking up triple doubles night after night. AND, the cherry on top of it all is that Joel Embiid is an NBA All Star Game starter!  Wow. 

Now, we just need the Flyers and the Phillies to step up to the plate and hit home runs, too.

So here’s a message to all Philly fans everywhere; let’s learn another life lesson. Let’s learn to be moderate and temperate, even keeled and steady handed at all times and in every circumstance. Let’s learn to endure the hard times (we have) and enjoy the good times (we are) and not get too excited or overly extended in our behavior.

Oops – too late!

A Good Loss Is Better Than A Bad Win

SmotryzYou may not agree, but first, hear me out.  A good loss is better than a bad win. For starters, winning is born in your brain and hatched in your head.  You can’t teach mental toughness; it’s something that you have to learn on your own. And sometimes, you learn by losing.

You have to get tired of losing when you shouldn’t before you can weather the storm and win when with a weak mind you otherwise wouldn’t.    You have to know you’re going to win before the game gets going or you’re doomed from the jump.  And you have to hold your head up, dust yourself off and somehow still make headway even when you lose a big lead.

Second, the true test of a champion is how you react to adversity. It’s easy to be excited and elated when your shots are falling and the crowd is cheering and everything is going your way. But what do you do when the chips are down and the jig is up and your shots don’t fall and nothing is going your way?

A good loss is better than a bad win because you learn more from a loss than you do from a win. That being said, you play to win the game. Right? So if you lose, the loss should be a motivator and an instigator; a loss should be motivation and inspiration to fuel the fire for the following fight.

A good loss is a loss littered with lessons and logic for life. A good loss is chock full of coaching and counsel and advice and admonition. A good loss is full of teaching moments; it’s full of testing and training, and instruction and induction for living better and winning bigger.  You can learn a load from a good loss.

A bad win is a win won without merit or without warrant. It’s a win that belongs to someone else.  It’s like kissing your sister or stealing from your mother; you just know it’s not right. You won but you know you shouldn’t have; you won but you know it was fool’s gold. A bad win is not sustainable. Meaning, you couldn’t duplicate it if you tried one hundred times.

My Maryland Terrapins Men’s Basketball Team just notched a good loss. They started fast and finished slow, and hopefully learned that the game is not won in the first five minutes.  It’s takes a team playing as a unit and working together as a trained troop to pull out and pull off a win. And against Michigan State in the semi-finals of the 2015 Big Ten Tournament, that just didn’t happen.

So while I’m mad we lost, I’m glad we didn’t win. Not playing like that.  With the game on the line, the stars played poorly and the supporting cast didn’t pick up the slack. Worst still, they let Michigan State get in their head. And that made me mad more than the loss itself.

Hopefully, the Terps learn from this what it takes to win on the road in a hostile environment.   Winning is as much if not more mental than it is physical, and the sooner we all learn that lesson the better. 

Winning Is Serious Fun

terps-7451072786 (1)

No one likes to lose and everyone wants to win. While it’s that simple, it’s not that easy. And as they say, “it’s easier said than done.”  Winning is fun; its serious fun. And fun, Biblically speaking, is “joy.” Joy is a positive attitude or pleasant emotion; it means delight.  The joy which the people of God should have is holy and pure. This joy rises above circumstances and focuses on the very character of God.

It is a joy to win, and it is a downer to lose. In losing we learn life lessons. But there comes a time when it’s time to turn in the lessons, and receive a final grade.

No one likes to lose because losing means to slip and to slide, to fail and to flounder, to miss the mission and jettison the job. When you lose you obliterate the operation, but when you win you inaugurate the celebration. Winning cures everything. Winning cures what ails us. But in order to win we must consistently do and persistently say and voice the vision of victory.  Like my Maryland Terps did last night.

My Maryland Terrapins Men’s Basketball Team upset No. 5 Wisconsin last night, 59 -53 . It was a fantastic finish to a wonderful win. Dez Wells, Maryland’s senior star, consistently and persistently poked and prodded his teammates to victory.  He mandated that they could win; he pleaded that they should win; and in the end, he ensured that they would win. And win they did. And they had fun doing it, and the fans had fun celebrating it, as they rushed the court to celebrate after the final buzzer sounded.

Everyone wants to win. And Dez Wells does too. He scored 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had four assists; not too shabby. Wells was the spark and the sparkle of the team. AND, I’m convinced that my Terps can play like that all of the time. Instead of being hot and cold and off and on, sometimes up and sometimes down, these Terps could be the best of the best most of the time.  The sky is the limit.

Winning like the Terps did last night makes one ponder and pose and consider and conceive – and even expect — how life would be if we played well all of the time. Just suppose; just imagine; just think of how good we could be if we hit on all cylinders at least MOST of the time? But alas, this season my Terps didn’t; and unfortunately they haven’t – played their best every game — but they could’ve.  And the same goes for all of the rest of us too.

Everyone wants to win and no one likes to lose. Because winning is serious. It’s means something and it matters everything. Why? Because winning is communicable and contagious; winning is transferable and transmittable; but so is losing. And the line and the limit between losing and winning are so thin you can barely see it with a magnifying glass.

Since everyone wants to win, and everyone is serious about winning, we strive for precision and perfection; we strive for faultless and flawless; we strive for the fantastic and the fanciful. We strive for Oscar-winning performances on and off the court. And with help from the Heavens, we hope to have happy, healthy, joyful and jovial endings to all, or at least most, of our games. It’s that serious.

And here’s an excerpt from Washington Post Sports Columnist Jason Ried’s article on the win:

“Recent signs indicate the Terrapins possess what it takes to have some fun in the NCAA tournament, and the biggest one occurred Tuesday night during a stirring 59-53 victory over formidable Wisconsin.”

“Dez Wells wouldn’t let us lose,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Melo was Melo.”

“Picked 10th in the conference preseason poll, Maryland steadily has gained supporters. It’s easy to like an up-and-comer that seemed to come from nowhere. Guess who was ahead of the pack.”

“The victory was the Terrapins’ best of the season by far . . . “

And that’s serious, and that’s fun.