Come and See

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43-51)

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Sermon audio

Today in America, we have virtually unlimited resources in which to educate ourselves, yet sadly ignorance, bigotry, sexism, racism, hypocrisy, and contempt still plague our society. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The genre of the passage we are about to read is gospel. It combines three literary ingredients: what Jesus did, what Jesus said (discourse and dialogue), and people’s responses to Jesus. This particular passage is a calling and encountering story of Nathanael with Jesus Christ.

Passage:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51 (ESV)

Skepticism:

Pride

Nathanael is at the very least an intellectual snob, a geographical elitist, and maybe even a bigot.

The more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.

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Contempt

There is a contempt for people from Nazareth. Nathanael asks, “He’s from Nazareth? Really?! From THERE?! Are you serious right now?” In Nathanael’s eyes (and many others), Nazareth was a pathetic, backwater, primitive, ghetto of ghettos region of Galilee. This was that group of “those people.”

Again, the more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.

During the first basketball game I ever attended in Allen Fieldhouse, in Lawrence Kansas, they played (among many things) a clip from an old Clint Eastwood movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

I grew up in Kansas when I was younger and there is still a lingering distaste there for anything from Missouri. Back in the 1800’s, parts of cities were burned to the ground, people murdered in public, and even livestock slaughtered over the differences between these two states. The man who led the raid that served to spark the Civil War at Harper’s Ferry was none other than a Jayhawker from Kansas, John Brown.

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This movie clip was used because the Kansas Jayhawks were playing their hated border rivals, the Missouri Tigers. In this clip their is an older woman talking to a shop-keep about how they wouldn’t be purchasing anything from Missouri, they would never touch any muck from that state; they were Jayhawkers, and proud of it. At this point, the gym erupted; at times during the game it reached the decibel level that closely resembles that of a jet engine at takeoff. Needless to say, there is still a contempt in the state of Kansas for those dirty black and yellow slave-owning, secessionists from Missouri.

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Now while the story of Kansas and Missouri seems pretty obvious why there is contempt and bitterness there, we still see pride and contempt in shallow, sometimes petty ways in our lives today. Think about where you work, where you went to school, where you grew up… there is always “those people.” Sometimes it’s even a distaste for those who we think we’re spoiled or over-privileged.

Random examples:

• Costco – Walmart
• Texas A&M – University of Texas
• Pepsi – Coke
• Papa John’s – Pizza Hut

Belief:

Acknowledgment

You are the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel” are the two terms Nathanael uses to declare his belief that Jesus is who Philip said He was.

Quick shift (maybe too quick)

Just one sentence and Nathanael is all in. He’s pushing all his chips into the game because of one, single phrase by Jesus.

Think

Jesus never discourages thinking or the search for truth. Reason and logic is never to be feared. Doubt and questioning is not to be ignored or looked down upon. Doubt is healthy inquiry. Disbelief is a willful choice.

Have you ever witnessed large numbers of grade school students have moving experiences at some kind of church summer camp, be fired up and passionate about their faith for a season, but fail to grow in that faith over the next few years, only to have it seemingly snuffed out by skeptical professor in college who has a couple sarcastic quips for why Christianity is such a farce? Am I the only one who has seen this happen a concerning amount of times?

A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no anti-bodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. If you never take the time to better understand what it is you claim to believe, how do you know your faith wasn’t just an emotional experience? A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if they have failed over the years to listen patiently to their own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

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Closing:

John wrote this Gospel with evangelistic intent. However, the depth of teaching in his writing shows that he wanted readers not only to come to initial saving faith in Jesus, but also to grow into a rich, well-informed faith.

So, I’d like to plead with you all today, come and see… this man from Nazareth, this Son of Man named Jesus… He is the awaited Messiah, He is God become man, Word become flesh, He dwelt among us, turned the world on its head, is shining light into the darkness, and has even defeated death. In Christ, you will see greater things than you could ever imagine. Faith is the beginning; and once you have seen, now you are called to follow. Don’t settle for just some emotional response today, but join me in a life-long journey to better understand and know Jesus for who He is: our Messiah.

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Little Things in Life & Basketball*

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When I was younger, I remember reading an article about how legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to explain to his players how to put their shoes on correctly, and wear at least two pairs of socks so that they wouldn’t get blisters on their feet. (To this day I actually always wear double socks, with the first pair inside out, no matter what the activity because I became so used to it while playing ball.) The reason he did this was to emphasize just how important the little things are in the game of basketball. Although this might be a little bit much, it just shows you the importance of details. Details and little things can be the difference maker in basketball, in your faith, and in life. Paul Tripp put this well when he said, “Life is really lived in the little moments.”

As a player, a constant volunteer for camps, an avid fan of the game (particularly the Kansas Jayhawks and San Antonio Spurs teams), and now someone who serves as a head coach, I have been able to catch a decent glimpse of both sides of the player-coach dynamic. As a player I have been apart of some good teams, as well as some pretty bad teams. The difference between the losing-teams and winning-teams for the most part wasn’t a major talent gap or a significant game-plan strategy issue, it was the little details. It had a lot more to do with all the little things than a single big shot or turnover on a crucial possession.

My life has had some big moments: particular birthdays (like the Space Jam themed party in Independence, KS… or the couple birthdays where Texas Rangers baseball was still being played into October and we gathered around a TV with some good friends and good food, to cheer for a Rangers’ win), certain holidays (like our annual Easter, 4th of July, Neewollah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve celebrations), trips and vacations (like Disney World, Padre Island, Red Lodge and Yellowstone in Montana, and many trips back to Kansas), my proposal to my wife Kathryn down by the lake after a nice picnic dinner, our wedding day (that whole day is a blur, with some beautiful highlights and moments I’ll never forget), our honeymoon in Montana (that was a blast), anniversaries, great meals at nice restaurants (like the first time we went to a Brazilian steakhouse… oh my goodness), big games and concerts we’ve been blessed to attend (like the Eagles, The Who, Anberlin, Phil Wickham, U2 & Muse, and Jimmy Eat World & Foo Fighters concerts)… or the 2005, 2007, and 2013 NBA Finals in San Antonio, or the final KU vs. Mizzou game at Allen Fieldhouse… that was an amazing and unforgettable game), multiple road-trips with great friends including trips to Tennessee, Salt Lake City, Lawrence, Kansas City, and Galveston… and on and on I could go with big moments in my life that I’ve been truly blessed to experience… my heart is greatly stirred by these memories, but that is the vast minority when compared to all the little moments of life.

All the daily breakfasts, lunches, dinners, all the time cooking and waiting for something to heat up, grocery shopping, stopping by the gas station to fill up, all those moments right after walking in the door from being somewhere and getting settled in, all that time spent at work (perhaps sitting in a cubicle starring at a computer screen, just mundanely working one account after another), time spent in the gym, time spent loading and unloading the car, those moments spent watching movies or television, time spent doing laundry, time spent playing video games, board games, card games, etc., all those text messages sent each day, time spent cleaning and organizing, time getting ready to go places, time spent reading or studying, time spent in school taking classes, driving to and from work, time spent putting something together, countless hours messing around on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media, time spent getting ready for bed, time spent day dreaming, the moments of laying in bed trying to fall asleep, the third of your life spent sleeping, and heck, even all that time spent in the bathroom…

Similar to life, the little things make up the vast majority of the game of basketball. That’s why there are highlights for games that last only 10-20 seconds, for a minimum 48-minute game in the pros (still 40-minutes in college). You don’t win games because of a spectacular dunk that replays for weeks on Sport Center’s Top 10. There is a lot more to basketball than just shooting a ball through a hoop. And even more involved in the preparation for playing the sport than simply practicing one’s shot. Being a minute late to practice, shorting a line in sprints, not going over the mechanics of shooting over and over, ball-handling drills ad nauseam, or missing an assignment may seem minor, but these things are such a big deal if not dealt with the right way. If a player is willing to short a line in a sprint, then who is to say that he won’t be one step out of position on defense at the end of a crucial game, and instead of a charge he gets called for a block. There are just so many little things in basketball that can add up if you don’t focus on them everyday.

For example: closing out with high hands, talking on defense, talking on offense (just always talking to your teammates), putting a body on someone during a rebound opportunity, squaring up for a jumpshot, setting a good screen, rubbing tightly off a screen, making an intentionally crisp pass, setting your man up before coming off a screen, etc. are little things or minor details and the list could go on and on. Each thing individually might not be that big of a deal, but put all (or even just some of them together) and it can be the difference between a win and a loss, the difference between great season with some hardware to take home… or end with some players losing significant time on the floor, being cut/traded, or even the General Manager (or Athletic Director) looking for a new head basketball coach for the next season.

From the very first day of practice, and every single day after that we must emphasize the little things. Just like someone in the Christian faith never moves on from the basic and fundamental message of the Gospel, a basketball player never moves on from the need to have the basic and fundamental aspects of the game down. A good ball player is constantly going over and refining their basic, fundamental skills of the game. No player, not even guys like Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, or Lebron James could ever practice too much, improve their ball-handling enough, tweak their footwork, work on their shot too much, go over too much film, or be in the gym too long, to have reached a level that moved on past the need to continue to work on those basic skills.

As a coach, I need to explain to my players what is acceptable and what I am expecting of them. It may take a little while at first, but once the team realizes what is expected of everyone, and we all buy into the system with the hopes of achieving an end goal, players will more earnestly do what is expected of them. Since most players have never been held accountable like this before, a little patience and grace should always be shown at the beginning. We all need to understand the value of doing the little things and be committed to doing them. Whether a coach has to run his team or repeat a certain drill for days until the players get it right, it is the coach’s job to ingrain in his players the details of this great game until it becomes second nature. Coaches also aren’t to show favoritism, whether it is their best player or the 12th man, we strive to make sure that everyone is doing their job correctly and putting forth their best effort. We aim to see every player improve and mature into the best player they can be. However, as coaches are human, we will fail you some days, but I hope my players can forgive me and never lose trust that there is a greater purpose behind all we are working on together.

Just as relationships with spouses, friends, family, parents, children, small groups, pastors, etc. serve to expose and uncover deep heart issues in our lives, certain situations in basketball will reveal areas of your game that are lacking. For the sake of maturation and development, coaches strive to put their team in circumstances that will test them, to help them to come up against obstacles that will likely spring up in a game; which will reveal those who can’t or won’t do the little things. Conditioning is one of the greatest ways to do this. When players get tired or have to do something that is hard, we begin to see their true nature. Just as someone who is going through a very hard time, and is extremely stressed out by their current circumstances at home, school, and/or work; how they react to the storms of life will be a greater testament of their character than how well they handle having money in the bank, good health, and they’re currently at a party having fun.

The players who don’t buckle under a little pressure, the guys who touch the line every time, don’t go down to their knees or grab a seat after every sprint, and who encourage their teammates throughout drills are the players you can trust. These are ones who are going to be able to execute a play the right way at the end of a close game. It is my job as the coach to encourage all my players to do this, to put their heart into it, to give it their all, and to really buy into the team. The players also have a responsibility to do this for one another.

During a game or even in practice a coach is not always going to be able to stop play every time a player closes out without high hands, isn’t in the right defensive position, doesn’t put a body on someone as a shot went up, doesn’t crash the boards, doesn’t shoot with proper form, throws a lazy pass, hogs the ball too long, etc. However it is still very important to focus on the details and a great way to do that is film. It is a lot easier for players to correct something if they can see themselves doing it the wrong way. I once heard a commentator say during a review in a big game, “the film doesn’t lie…” And that is exactly true. If a player is continually forgetting to close out with high hands in a game, going right every single time they get the ball, or is always out of position on defense, a coach can use film to sit them down and show them what they are doing wrong. We probably won’t always have film for all our games and practices though, so we must trust and rely on each other.

Similar to how a brother in Christ goes to a friend to help him see something in his life that is harming him in hopes of seeing him repent from that, and then strive together for further sanctification to get more of Christ, to know Him more deeply; a coach pursues the maturation of his players. A coach is to strive to make sure that his players understand their correction and discipline is out of a motivation of love and hope for improvement in their ability to play. A good coach earnestly works hard and puts forth a diligent effort to make sure his players understand this.

Still, you may be asking yourself, why is doing little things correctly and practicing them so much being made out to be such a big deal… Well, if you do not have time to do something right, when will you find the time to do it over? It is not easy to do all of the little things in life or in basketball. It takes a lot of effort from the coaching staff to communicate, mentor, and guide the players well in hopes to make sure that every day the players are doing things the right way, and progressing in their skill. It also takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and buying into the team’s plan and strategy from the players. It always takes community and team effort.

Basketball really is like a microcosm to so much of life. The game of basketball can teach us so much about ourselves, as well as us being able to take our strengths in life and apply them towards the game. Something that will help make playing basketball easier is for a coach to sit down with his players and explain to them why the little things are so important. This short article is only a small part of my efforts to do just that. If we all understand and really believe in what we are doing then we will work harder to accomplish it. It will always be very difficult at first for everyone, so we must try to remember that and not get frustrated quickly. (Also, it is important to note that over the years when a team has players return, it can have some stability, the returning players will be able to help the new players, and it will be easier on the coach, and the team overall.)

However, not every year will work that way, and we don’t always have veterans on our teams. Sometimes a lot of change takes place, and requires a great deal more effort and time to establish a firm foundation of the little things. Similar to life, the little details in basketball are what it takes to be great. It is worth the time and effort, and I hope you guys are looking forward to this season as much as I am.

*adapted and updated for player handouts

Christians are weak and stupid…

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There was an article published rather recently that went a little viral with other articles explaining the findings of a research project. I’ve read and seen multiple versions of basically the same article (for example: New Meta-Alnalysis Checks the Correlation Between Intelligence and Faith), explaining the same information to various degrees. The gist of many of these articles was the apparent conclusion of a study which essentially found that on average those who would classify themselves as theists are less intelligent than atheists.

Now this reaction does have some empirical justification. Because the recent meta-analysis of studies on religion and intelligence did indeed “find” that yes, overall, people with higher IQs and test scores are less likely to be religious. Researchers analyzed 63 studies on religion and intelligence from the past 80 years with differing results to discover the slightly negative correlation between the two.

This particular article even quotes the Greek playwright Euripides in an interesting manner, and mentions that it was penned 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (at least they admit His existence… see the mind-numbingly bad “documentary” Zeitgeist: The Movie for some alternative “theories”). This quote reminds me of some contrasting words also written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and even hundreds of years before Euripides too. They are the words of the Jewish king David, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1; cf: Deuteronomy 32:21, Ezekiel 13:3)

The Irony of the Study

Everyone has faith in something or someone. It is an impossibility to be faithless. Even the most ‘secular’ mind, even the most staunch atheist has a tremendous amount of faith. So, before we get offended or give this study more weight and credit than it deserves, we should consider some other knowledge that has been available for much longer. Let’s start by looking at Romans chapter 5, verse 6… “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” I just want to stop there for a second… At the right time… while we were weak…

Some of us were weak, and at the right time, God came and grabbed us; He opened our blind eyes and softened our hard heart. This didn’t just happen in second grade Sunday school or at VBS. He came and grabbed some of us in high school, in college… in our 20s, in our 30s, in our 40s, a few of us even in our late 60s, 80s, etc. God showed up. The common theme for when He showed up is when we were weak. This is one of the things I’ve heard the world say, which is evidenced clearly in the above articles mentioned, many related articles, and the recently published meta-analysis research study: that Christians are more likely to be weak minded or less intelligent. Well, I just want to agree with it… I mean, they’re trying to slam us, but it’s true…

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller

“Christianity is a crutch.” We should just be like, “Absolutely! I am weak. Because my legs are broken. My legs are busted. I need that crutch.” “Religion and faith (including Christianity) is for the weak-minded.” Yes. I have a weak mind. Give me a right mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). “Weak people need it.” Absolutely, weak people need it. My skeptic brothers and sisters, you just don’t know you’re weak. So ultimately, is Christianity a crutch? Yes. Are we crippled? Absolutely. Because, “… while we were weak, at the right time…”

In fact, as Christians we should be earnestly praying that God would open up our eyes to our weakness, and we would finally lean on the crutch instead of hobbling around on our busted femur and blown-out knees (Hebrews 12:12). Right? Because “… while we were weak…” God loves the weak. He oftentimes saves and uses the weak to shame the strong. Do I even need to cite all those examples here? For the fun of typing some names: Moses, Leah, David, Paul, Timothy, even Jesus Himself on the cross… God even says multiple times, things along the line of “give justice to the weak and fatherless,” and that He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy; that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven you must come as a child (Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). From oppression and violence He redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight (Psalm 72:13, 82:3-4; Acts 20:35; Hebrews 4:15). See, God loves weakness. In our culture, we hate it. That’s a huge problem. Do you understand? It’s a huge problem for us to despise weakness like we do.

We seem to think we should not be seen as weak. No, brothers, be seen as weak. God’s power flows most vividly and most powerfully through the weak vessels (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Romans 8:3-11, 26-30). Paul goes on to tell us this more than once, and in more than one epistle:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1st Corinthians 1:17-31 (ESV)

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” – 1st Corinthians 4:10 (ESV)

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” – 2nd Corinthians 11:30 (ESV)

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

“For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:4 (ESV)

“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:9 (ESV)

Paul wants to continually remind us; therefore, God in the Scriptures wants to continually remind us of our weakness and need for Him. It becomes imperative for us to know this. While we were enemies, Christ died for us (Ephesians 2:1-10). While you were an enemy, Christ died for you. When you were weak, at the right time, God saved you; or for some He is working to show you His saving grace. That means God has a plan for you.

God has a plan for those of you in your weakness. That may have been depression, violent anger, illness, severe anxiety, struggles with grades in school, pornography, eating disorders, addiction to drugs and alcohol, stealing from others (be it stores, neighbors, family, or the company you work for), and all sorts of other deviances in that moment and at your weakest, when God saved you. God, by His life, by His resurrected life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can and will transform your life, and He’s going to use you in magnificent ways. This is the gospel. The gospel, the good news, is that while you were an enemy of God, while you were weak, Christ died for you.

When you were at your weakest, at the appointed time, God rescued you. This is the gospel. This is good news invading dark spaces. Are you in rebellion? Absolutely, me too. God’s response to your rebellion is to rescue you out of that rebellion, to snatch you out of your rebellion against Him. So, here is where it gets even more beautiful, that God came to save that which we might deem weak, unwanted, unintelligent, unloveable, and unworthy.

The “Necessity” of Pain

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In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11 and 12, the author does a masterful job explaining how “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Then goes on the unpack how Jesus Christ is the author, founder, and perfecter of our faith. However, for those of us still skeptical after reading the book of Hebrews… think about a time when you went to a doctor.

Seriously, stop and consider a time when you went to a doctor. If you’re like most people, chances are you have gone to a doctor at some point for an issue, and you found out you needed a routine procedure. It was nothing major, in fact it was really quite simple, and could be taken care of at an outpatient office. You were told about what needed to be done by the doctor, and even some close friends had gone through the same thing. You felt confident going in, and you knew what needed to be done and there was nothing at all to worry about. Nobody had ever had any problems or complications with this kind of minor procedure before. However, when you got to the doctor’s office, and walked into the room, you saw the knives, needles, and other tools that were about to be used. All of a sudden you were having doubts, second thoughts, and questioning the very necessity of this whole thing… what the heck happened?

It was sight… that sneaky little thing called sight had done you in. Your very seeing of the medical tools caused you to doubt… until then, you were as calm and cool as a cucumber… you knew when walking into the room everything was going to be okay, and you had a very real rational, cognitive understanding of the whole situation… but now after seeing a knife and needle, you were freaking out a little… (or maybe it was a routine filling at the dentist and the moment he busted out that needle to stick in your gums, you began wondering if you really even needed that tooth after all…)

While our doubt is healthy inquiry, disbelief is a willful choice. So, what if we do believe… we must ask then, why do so many of us who claim that we believe in God, trust Him, and put our faith in Him, start to second guess the very Creator of our life the moment we see a little dry patch in our life, or the second we spot a desert in the horizon?

“You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” – Gandalf to Bilbo, at the end of The Hobbit

When we really consider what has helped us grow and mature most in our life, we will usually see it wasn’t the best or easiest circumstances. 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.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” – Ecclesiastes 7:1 (ESV)

When God wounds, He wounds like a surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to you. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts. Because the heart of the problem with humanity is the problem of the heart.

“The most perplexing theological question is not why there is suffering in this world, but why God tolerates us in our sinfulness.” – R.C. Sproul

Just as Job’s patience in suffering turned him into an example that has helped hundreds of millions of people, and just as Jesus’ temptations prepared Him for His history-changing and world-saving career, so God’s Spirit leads us into our wilderness for our good.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. . . . [Pain] removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Advice on suffering from one who has never suffered deeply is always shallow, stale, and unconvincing. Wounded healers are needed, and in Christ, we have a great physician who suffered more than we can imagine. When you are in moments of pain or shock, the things that come out of your mind and mouth are the most primal things in your being. And when Jesus was in such moments, out came the words of the Bible.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:20-24 (ESV)

For the love of God, or His stuff?

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On the inside cover of my Bible, there is a hand-written quote by C.S. Lewis. It reads, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” Today, however, it seems so many of us do just that very thing. We are drawn to religion or a certain faith in the pursuit of happiness. We clamor for this ever-elusive sense of being truly happy and content by way of “religion.”

C.S. Lewis used the word religion here a little differently than most of us today use it. He of course was referring to his Christian faith, in which the grace of Jesus Christ is the defining building block of that worldview. For Lewis also wrote in The Weight of Glory that, “No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as ‘what a man does with his solitude.'” Religion, in a broader sense means: the service and worship of God or the supernatural; commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance; a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; scrupulous conformity; a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. Essentially, if religion had a bumper sticker, if it had any kind of motto, it would say this: “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.”

That’s it. That’s religion more or less when we often hear it mentioned today. Whatever belief system you want to get into, that’s basically it, but that is not the teaching of Jesus; that is not the gospel of grace. Religion says, “Morality and religious observance are means of salvation, happiness, and contentment,” but that is not the message of Jesus. The Gospel is not about what we can do, but what Jesus did.

“If you have religion for your god, you will not have God for your religion.” – John Piper

Christianity, in its correctly understood worldview, is something radically different. Some have even gone so far as to call the entire thing scandalous. Because our Christian faith teaches us that we are not just set free from fear-based behavioral modification, and the vain pursuit of pleasures that never deliver what they promise, but we are saved to the freedom of knowing that God’s affection for us does not waver despite our persistent failures and shortcomings. We have been set free to enjoy the love of our Father as adopted sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:4-14).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

The teachings of Jesus Christ are the good news, and He is the gospel… Jesus is better than life. We don’t walk in fear of some tyrannical deity, or with this sense of having to behave to achieve a better level of material abundance or some previously elusive state of happiness, but rather we walk in love for our adoptive Father. We are no longer slaves to our own insecurities, rather we have been set free from fear-based behavioral modifications, free from the pursuit of ultimate meaning in ourselves, and into the love motivated pursuit of what we long for most. We’ve been set free from the pursuit of pleasure that has an aftertaste of guilt and shame, and into the pursuit of pleasure that leads to ever-increasing joy. We have been blood-bought, purchased out of slavery to sin.

“Religion stresses holiness over grace. Irreligion stresses freedom over holiness. Christianity is freedom through grace that leads to holiness.” – Tim Keller

The grace found in the cross and resurrection of Jesus really is scandalous. It kills our pride. It devastates our sense of spiritual self-sufficiency. It may seem ludicrous, but it actually offers us the greatest hope we could ever ask for: Jesus. Because of Him, whatever you accomplish today, you are no more justified than you are right now in Christ. We ought to work from rest, and rest in His finished work.

Give Matthew 6:25-34 a good read sometime, and then ask yourself: when you think of God, how do you think of Him? How do you approach God? How do you commune with God? Why do you approach God? When do you approach God? What causes you to want to know more of God; to know more about God? Do you seek God for the sake of His own great worth, for the sake of His name, because of how beautiful and wonderful He is? Does your communication with God come from an adoration and abundance of thankfulness for His amazing grace?

J. Gresham Machen describes a particular concept of the Christ-like, biblically-centered, view of God so well, that I’ll just let you read what he penned in his book What Is Faith? (pages 72–74):

“Many men . . . make shipwreck of their faith. They think of God only as one who can direct the course of nature for their benefit; they value Him only for the things that He can give.

We are subject to many pressing needs, and we are too much inclined to value God, not for His own sake, but only because He can satisfy those needs. There is the need of food and clothing, for ourselves and for our loved ones, and we value God because He can answer the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There is the need of companionship; we shrink from loneliness; we would be surrounded by those who love us and those whom we can love. And we value God as one who can satisfy that need by giving us family and friends. There is the need of inspiring labor; we would be delivered from an aimless life; we desire opportunities for noble and unselfish service of our fellow-men. And we value God as one who by His ordering of our lives can set before us an open door.

These are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget. We value God solely for the things that He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things – even lofty and unselfish things – then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail….

… When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God; we have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call. He is not content to minister to the worldly needs of those who care not a bit for Him. . . .

“If God be for us, who can be against us?” – that does not mean that faith in God will bring us everything that we desire. What it does mean is that if we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides.

Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all?

If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. I do not mean that the Christian need expect always to be poor and sick and lonely and to seek his comfort only in a mystic experience with His God. This universe is God’s world; its blessings are showered upon His creatures even now; and in His own good time, when the period of its groaning and travailing is over, He will fashion it as a habitation of glory. But what I do mean is that if here and now we have the one inestimable gift of God’s presence and favor, then all the rest can wait till God’s good time.”

Include everybody, or you’re out!

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In our culture today, we have so many relativistic proclamations which claim to promote inclusivity, but often come with the total exclusion of anyone who would disagree:

“Don’t you dare tell me there is any absolute truth that governs everyone or preach that one religion, faith, etc. is any more true than any other… however, here are the foods you should and shouldn’t eat… here are the companies you should love/hate… this is the way you should and shouldn’t raise your kids… the government is corrupt and full of greed, but we need it to enforce (the illusions at least of) equality… we should protect and defend the weak, defenseless, and those without a voice, but abortion is a woman’s body and right to simply choose regardless of anyone else’s belief or influence… we should legalize this and outlaw that… if it’s not hurting anyone else then it shouldn’t be declared wrong, unless you’re contradicting that declaration… leave all religion and faith out of the public square, only “secular” logic and rational proposals should be allowed (even if it has been proven a philosophical impossibility and is a laughable facade of a stance to try to take)… our beliefs are personal and private, so keep them to yourself, unless we agree or you don’t say that I’m wrong…….”

Descartes noted in A Discourse On Method that “there is no idea so strange that some philosopher has not seriously taught it.” Similarly, there is no practice so strange that some society has not legitimized it; for instance, genocide, cannibalism, etc. Nor is there anything so innocent that some group has not forbidden it; for instance, entering a temple with a hat on, or without one. So anyone who thinks values are not relative to cultures is simply ignorant of the facts, so goes the argument…

This idea of “moral relativism” we see so much in our culture today, is basically the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person’s individual choice. We can all decide (at least for the most part) what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me. Moral relativism says, “It’s true for me, if I believe it.”

One of many examples we see in the news these days comes from the former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Faye Wattleton, describing her view on morality in a piece called Self-Definition: Reality, “… teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do – and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.” She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral. Wattleton goes on to argue that each of us should respect another’s point of view, and all views are essentially equal valid; but then she implies that any point of view other than this one is immoral, un-American, and tyrannous. If you disagree with Wattleton’s position that all points of view are equally valid, then your point of view is not valid. This argument commits logical suicide; it simply self-destructs.

“Moral relativism” can also be understood and classified as a worldview. In such a view, we are to determine for ourselves which position to hold where morality is concerned, we must first determine what we believe about the origin of life. Do you believe life evolved, unguided out of some form of nothingness, or do you believe life was created by some greater being, deity, uncaused cause, prime mover, alien or alien race, some god, a few gods, a multitude of gods, etc.?

Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand for the most part; evolution teaches that life is accidental, without eternal meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is essentially okay, because it ultimately doesn’t matter after our recorded history ends. If you believe we are created, however, moral relativism cannot ultimately work. Creation implies some Creator. All things created are subject to a set of laws, whether natural or divine. Moral relativism says anything goes (within reason, kind of)… but does it?

The philosophical idea and worldview of moral relativism usually includes these three claims: That morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual. That it is relative first to changing times; you can’t turn back the clock. Secondly, to what we subjectively think or feel; there is nothing good or bad, but only thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals; different strokes for different folks. In sharp contrast, moral absolutism claims that there are moral principles which are unchangeable, objective, and universal. Moral relativism on the surface and at first glance can sound so reasonable, so tolerant, and so neutral. But there’s a fundamental flaw in its self-defeating and self-refuting reasoning and logical conclusion.

What is really disturbing in the morally relativistic view is the perpetuated implication such a view is neutral, unbiased, and tolerant, when it is not. Each person is entitled to their point of view, but nobody is neutral. The only place of true neutrality is silence. Instead of trying to perpetuate the idea of some faux moral neutrality, we should speak up, give our opinions, contend for our view, and forfeit any contradictory claim to neutrality.

C.S. Lewis points to the nature of most quarrels and differences of opinion as a clue to what we truly believe. Inherent in those quarrels is a concept of fairness, as in “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” When we make that statement, we are appealing to some kind of standard of behavior that we expect the other person to know about. Where do you think that standard originated?

In his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington stated: “… Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle…” And then there is William McGuffey, who once wrote: “Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.”

“Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles [or moral absolutes].” – C.K. Chesterton

In the midst of all this, Christians often get called hypocrites for their “exclusive” and “intolerant” views… However, a Christian is not someone who is perfect, sinless, or above any correction; nobody in their right mind would ever claim or even think that to be so. A Christian is still human, they are still in desperate need of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). They are not a finished product of sanctifying grace as long as they’re still breathing (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 2:11-18). When a Christian says or does something stupid, while they should be held to a higher standard because of the faith and doctrines they espouse, they equally need grace like everyone else. Just because a Christian knows Jesus is God, does not mean they will never fail to live in accordance with that knowledge. The Gospel clearly says the law cannot save anyone, and that is why God saves through grace (Romans 3:21-31, 6:15-23; Hebrews 12:1-15).

In the end though, yes, I’ll admit that the church is indeed a mess. It is a group full of people who are completely jacked up and have some baggage. To even attempt to deny that is to be a liar. Now God has, in His divine plan, put a covering over the church so that we might be protected from the worst of all of this. However, God has never been a big fan of kings. God has never been a big fan of consolidating power into one person or even one nation to rule them all. So while we strive to be a voice of reason and hope in this culture, we must not over assume our role and wander into the delusion that true heart change can simply be facilitated through strict legislation.

The Christian faith cannot be mandated or forced upon people through strict set of rules, laws, and regulations. The book of Habakkuk tells us the story of how God used the Chaldeans to discipline Israel. And if you think about the distribution of power in ancient Israel, the kings were submissive to the prophets and the priests made sacrifices for both of them. In fact, if you remember king Saul, who was it that rebuked Saul and removed his crown? It was Samuel, the prophet. So the king of Israel was told by Samuel, “You have betrayed the Lord. You are no longer king.” Let that sink in. Where in the world does that work? Where does the monarchy established by God then lose his crown by the word of the prophet who then must seek his own right standing before God through the sacrifice of the priest?

You can see this in the triune nature of God, and you see this today in how God ordained the church to function. There is one King and His name is Jesus. He is the Shepherd of the church (Micah 5:4; Mark 6:34; Hebrews 13:20). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can see this clearly in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church.” Jesus is the Shepherd of the Church, and we are graciously called to follow Him.

After all, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” – John 14:15, 21, 23b-24 (ESV)

So, we all need to understand and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, we must admit to ourselves that not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to enjoy a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that the core of true salvation and freedom, and the greatest reality.

Little Things in Life & Basketball

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When I was younger, I remember reading an article about how legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to explain to his players how to put their shoes on correctly, and wear at least two pairs of socks so that they wouldn’t get blisters on their feet. (To this day I actually always wear double socks, with the first pair inside out, no matter what the activity because I became so used to it while playing ball.) The reason he did this was to emphasize just how important the little things are in the game of basketball. Although this might be a little bit much, it just shows you the importance of details. Details and little things can be the difference maker in basketball, in your faith, and in life. Paul Tripp put this well when he said, “Life is really lived in the little moments.”

As a player, a constant volunteer for camps, an avid fan of the game, and someone currently pursuing an opportunity to coach full-time, I have been able to catch a decent glimpse of both sides of the player-coach dynamic. As a player I have been apart of some good teams, as well as some pretty bad teams. The difference between the losing-teams and winning-teams for the most part wasn’t a major talent gap or a significant game-plan strategy issue, it was the little details. It had a lot more to do with all the little things than a single big shot or turnover on a crucial possession.

My life has had some big moments: particular birthdays (like the Space Jam themed party in Independence, KS… or the couple birthdays where Texas Rangers baseball was still being played into October and we gathered around a TV with some good friends, good food, and good drinks, to cheer for a Rangers’ win), certain holidays (like our annual Easter, 4th of July, Neewollah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve celebrations), trips and vacations (like Disney World, Red Lodge, Montana, and many trips back to Kansas), my proposal to Kat down by the lake after a nice picnic dinner, our wedding day (that whole day is a blur, with some beautiful highlights and moments I’ll never forget), our honeymoon in Montana (that was a blast), anniversaries, great meals at nice restaurants (like the first time we went to a Brazilian steakhouse… oh my goodness), big games and concerts we’ve been blessed to attend (like the Eagles, The Who, Anberlin, Phil Wickham, U2 & Muse, and Jimmy Eat World & Foo Fighters concerts… or the 2007 NBA Finals, or the final KU vs. Mizzou game at Allen Fieldhouse… that was an amazing and unforgettable game), and on and on I could go with big moments in my life that I’ve been truly blessed to experience… but that is the vast minority when compared to the little moments of life. All the daily breakfasts, lunches, dinners, all the time cooking and waiting for something to heat up, grocery shopping, stopping by the gas station to fill up, all those moments right after walking in the door from being somewhere and getting settled in, all that time spent at work (perhaps sitting in a cubicle starring at a computer screen, just mundanely working one account after another), time spent in the gym, time spent loading and unloading the car, those moments spent watching movies or television, time spent doing laundry, time spent playing video games, board games, card games, etc., all those text messages sent each day, time spent cleaning and organizing, time getting ready to go places, time spent reading or studying, time spent in school taking classes, driving to and from work, time spent putting something together, countless hours messing around on Facebook or other social media, time spent getting ready for bed, time spent day dreaming, the moments of laying in bed trying to fall asleep, the third of your life spent sleeping, and heck, even all that time spent in the bathroom…

Similar to life, the little things make up the vast majority of the game of basketball. That’s why there are highlights for games that last only 10 seconds, for a minimum 48-minute game in the pros (still 40-minutes in college). There is a lot more to basketball than just shooting a ball through a hoop. And even more involved in the preparation for playing the sport than simply practicing one’s shot. Being a minute late to practice, shorting a line in sprints, not going over the mechanics of shooting over and over, ball-handling drills ad nauseam, or missing a class assignment may seem minor, but these things are such a big deal if not dealt with the right way. If a player is willing to short a line in a sprint, then who is to say that he won’t be one step out of position on defense at the end of a game, and instead of a charge he gets called for a block. There are just so many little things in basketball that can add up if you don’t focus on them everyday.

For example: closing out with high hands, talking on defense, putting a body on someone during a rebound opportunity, squaring up for a jumpshot, setting a good screen, making an intentionally crisp pass, setting your man up before coming off a screen, etc. are little things or minor details and the list could go on and on. Each thing individually might not be that big of a deal, but put all, or even just some of them together and it can be the difference between a great season with some hardware to take home… or end with some players losing significant time on the floor being cut/traded, or even the Athletic Director looking for a new head basketball coach for the next season.

From the very first day of practice, and every single day after that you must emphasize the little things. Just like someone in the Christian faith never moves on from the basic and fundamental message of the Gospel, a basketball player never moves on from the need to have the basic and fundamental aspects of the game down. A good ball player is constantly going over and refining their basic, fundamental skills of the game. No player, not even guys like Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, or Lebron James could ever practice too much, improve their ball-handling enough, tweak their footwork, work on their shot too much, go over too much film, or be in the gym too long, to have reached a level that moved on past the need to continue to work on those basic skills.

Every coach needs to sit down and explain to his players what is acceptable and what he is expecting of them. It may take a little while at first but once the players realize what is expected of them, and they buy into the system with the hopes of achieving an end goal, they will earnestly do what is expected of them. Since most players would have never been held accountable like this before, a little grace should always be shown at the beginning. They need to understand the value of doing the little things and and be committed to doing them. Whether a coach has to run his team or repeat a certain drill for days until they get it right, it is the coach’s job to ingrain in his players the details of this great game until it becomes second nature. Coaches also aren’t to show favoritism, whether it is their best player or the 12th man, they strive to make sure that everyone is doing their job correctly and putting forth their best effort.

Just as relationships with spouses, friends, family, parents, children, small groups, etc. serve to expose and uncover deep heart issues in our lives, certain situations in basketball will reveal areas of your game that are lacking. For the sake of maturation and development, coaches should put their team in circumstances that will test them, help them to come up against obstacles in the game that will reveal those who can’t or won’t do the little things. Conditioning is one of the greatest ways to do this. When players get tired or have to do something that is hard you begin to see their true nature. Just as someone who is going through a very hard time, and is extremely stressed out by their current circumstances at home, school, and/or work; how they react to the storms of life will be a greater testament of their character than how well they handle having money in the bank, good health, and they’re at a party having fun.

The players who don’t buckle under a little pressure, the guys who touch the line every time, don’t go down to their knees after every sprint, and who encourage their teammates throughout drills are the players you can trust. These are ones who are going to be able to execute a play the right way at the end of a close game. It is the coach’s job to encourage all his players to do this, to put their heart into it, to give it their all, and to really buy into the team.

During a game or even in practice a coach is not always going to be able to stop play every time a player closes out without high hands, isn’t in the right defensive position, didn’t put a body on someone as a shot went up, didn’t crash the boards, didn’t shoot with proper form, threw a lazy pass, etc. However it is still very important to focus on the details and a great way to do that is film. It is a lot easier for players to correct something if they can see themselves doing it the wrong way. I once heard a commentator say during a review in a big game, “the film doesn’t lie…” And that is exactly true. If a player is continually forgetting to close out with high hands in a game, going right every single time they get the ball, or is always out of position on defense, a coach can use film to sit them down and show them what they are doing wrong.

Similar to how a brother in Christ goes to a friend to help him see something in his life that is harming him in hopes of seeing him repent from that, and then strive together for further sanctification to get more of Christ, to know Him more deeply; a coach pursues the maturation of his players. A coach is to strive to make sure that his players understand their correction and discipline is out of a motivation of love and hope for improvement in their ability to play. A good coach earnestly works hard and puts forth a diligent effort to make sure his players understand this.

It is not easy to do all of the little things in life or in basketball. It takes a lot of effort from the coaching staff to communicate, mentor, and guide the players well in hopes to make sure that every day the players are doing things the right way. It also takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and buying into the team’s plan and strategy from the players. It always takes community and team effort.

Basketball really is like a microcosm to so much of life. The game of basketball can teach us so much about ourselves, as well as us being able to take our strengths in life and apply them towards the game. Something that will help make playing basketball easier is for a coach to sit down with his players and explain to them why the little things are so important. If they understand and really believe in what they are doing then they will work harder to accomplish it. It will always be very difficult at first for everyone, so we must try to remember that and not get frustrated quickly. Because over the years when the team has players return and can have some stability, the returning players will be able to help the new players, and it will be easier on the coach, and the team overall. Similar to life, the little details in basketball are what it takes to be great; it is worth the time and effort.