Gospel-centered Basketball

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It has been a tremendous blessing to get to coach the 12U/14U boys for the Dallas Thunder basketball organization so far this season. I have the great privilege of serving as a basketball coach to implement my gifts in gospel-centered basketball training, player development, and workout efficiency. My job is to help the kids have fun, with hopes of leading by example and facilitating growth in student athletes, both in their faith and in their athletic abilities.

The Christian faith and the game of basketball aren’t exactly strangers to each other. Basketball’s originator, Dr. James Naismith, was a MD and a divinity doctorate who loved athletics. In his youth he excelled in boxing, gymnastics, soccer, and rugby. While working at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) training school in Springfield, Massachusetts, he invented the game “Basket Ball.” Dr. Naismith believed that clean, hard, and square athletic competition was a conduit to spiritual righteousness. He even referred to the union sometimes as “muscular Christianity,” and he believed his new game would help spread the message of the Gospel.

Both in the game of basketball and in the Christian walk throughout life, there are some things we want to strive to do:

• To go the distance.

Finishing what you have started is a trait that is admirable and biblical. There will be numerous obstacles and situations that will try to deter you from finishing strong. God never quit on anything or anyone. He encourages believers throughout Scripture to persevere (2nd Timothy 4:7-8).

• We will all experience disappointment.

Everyone faces disappointment in something at one time or another. All frustration and disappointment is birthed out of unmet expectations. It is our reaction to the disappointment and our understanding of who is really in charge of our life that makes the difference in the amount of time it takes us to move on. Because hope is birthed out of a knowledge of something greater than ourselves and greater than our present circumstances (Philippians 2:13-14).

• Change in life is inevitable.

In the Bible there was a guy named Saul that was doing some pretty mean things to Christians to say the least. Then he radically changed his direction and role after encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus. Changing our attitudes, directions, and roles gives us the ability to go the distance in life (Acts 9:21). Real change won’t happen through ‘trying harder,’ but only through encountering the radical grace of God. This change may come through many different experiences (Jesus won’t always show up on a road-trip, knock us out of our vehicle, and blind us with His glory…); but it always takes some experience of beauty to knock us out of our self-centeredness. Many people have to admit that most of what they really needed for success in life came to them through their most difficult and painful experiences. Some look back on an illness or great setback, and recognize that it was an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth for them (Ephesians 2; Colossians 1:11-23).

• There are differences in people.

Remember, this is a game. Respect your team and your opponent. Show humility about your role and talent level. True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us. Humility is so shy; if you begin talking about it, it leaves… as C.S. Lewis eloquently explained, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” (Proverbs 15:33, 18:12, 22:4, Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Luke 14:11; Romans 12:3; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 2:3-11; 1st Peter 5:5-7)

• We all have different roles in life and on a team.

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(Romans 12:3-8; 1st Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:1-16)

• We will all face some giants.

We don’t have to be superstars or win championships… All we have to do is learn to rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it. – John Wooden

Give your best effort every time, whether it’s a game or practice. Discipline and self-control are much easier for us when our hearts and affections are stirred for something greater than ourselves (Philippians 3:12-16; 4:8-20).

• Making the move away or towards something.

Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece – by thought, choice, courage, and determination. – John Luther

Everyone is faced with major decisions in their life. In the game of basketball we are constantly making decisions during practice, training, and games that will affect the outcome of our basketball career. In life, we also have a decision to make when we encounter the Gospel of Christ; whether to accept or deny God and His plan for salvation. Those whom the Father is drawing to Him, cannot outrun Him. One of the most rewarding moments of human existence is taking part in the journey of someone making the decision to accept the free gift of salvation (Acts 4:12).

• Honor the Creator of our bodies by stewarding our health well.

We should aim to steer a middle course between idolizing our bodies and neglecting them. This includes giving our bodies enough attention (with sleep, balanced diet, exercise, and upkeep) to avoid being distractingly unattractive and maintaining poor health, and reining in our impulses to pursue a self-focused attractiveness that distracts and seeks our own glory over God.

Both the most sculpted and ripped male body, and the most curvy voluptuous female body you have ever seen in your life are going to be ashen faced in a coffin before we know it. When that day comes, where will be all the investments in that temporary, outward beauty? The sad truth: in the ground.

Your body is a precious gift from God. And the Bible is clear about its highest purpose: To make God look good (1st Corinthians 6:19–20; Philippians 1:20; 1st Peter 3:3-4).

• Doing our best to finish strong.

Finishing strong does not mean finishing unblemished. Finishing strong does not mean finishing perfect. Finishing the right way does not always mean you win the gold medal or receive the grand prize. Finishing the right way means you have done things to the best of your ability and in the fairest possible way. In life, we don’t finish strong by focusing on the finish line because we don’t know where the finish line is. We finish strong by fixing our eyes on Jesus. The Lord Jesus has given everyone gifts and skills and will help us finish the race in a way glorifying to God (Philippians 3:12-21).

It’s an honor to have the opportunity to help young student athletes to know more of Christ and live a more Christ-centered life at home, in the classroom, on the court, and everywhere in between. God’s Word is the authoritative structure of my life and my coaching career (Colossians 3:16-17).

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