Gimme the ball, gimme the ball, gimme the ball..

As I watched the Golden State Warriors (pro basketball) this season, I tried to describe concisely what is so different about them. many things can be said, but during game 1 of the Finals, it struck me. Every player wants the ball–and every player wants to pass the ball to someone who has a better shot.

Gimme the ball so I can shoot. Gimme the ball so I can pass.

The number of assists on this team of superstars is astounding. When most teams are built around one or two superstars, what makes the GSW great is their truly team approach. What makes them dangerous is that even if you clamp down on one player, they have six more who can still beat you. Shut down 3-point shooter Klay Thompson in Game 1, and you still have to deal with NBA MVPs Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Clamp down on Durant, and Draymond Green, known for his non-point stats (rebounds, steals, assists, etc), will open Game 2 with a three-pointer. And when the depth of the bench can fill in to allow the first six to cycle in and out of the game without much loss of progress, a team becomes unbeatable.

Every player wants to make the play. Every player wants to give the assist. And every player hustles from start to finish. Even if the talent of the other team exceeds that of the Warriors, the Warriors will outlast them almost every time. Go ahead and start fast–they’ll out pace you in the end. Their conditioning, their work, and their hustle is unmatched.

Imagine if we approached our life of faith the same way. When God calls, we want the ball and we will make the play. When God calls someone else, we will take the assist and get them what they need to make the play. We cheer from the bench, and we high-five on the floor. We hustle in practice. We work. And in any situation, we might be beat down temporarily, but we will never be out-worked. In the life of faith, working means trusting, working means pushing when God calls us to push, and working means hitting our knees in prayer as often as we hit the floor in action.

We are given armor, for the life of faith is a battle. Maybe that’s why I enjoy sports–because there is an opponent, you have a team, and the work you put in behind the scenes comes on display in the battle. Let’s aspire to be so on point in our walk with Jesus that we will confidently make the play just as confidently as we pass the ball to our bother or sister in faith for their play.

Let’s be playmakers.

Gimme the ball, gimme the ball, gimme the ball.

Intention cannot lead…

The work I do requires results. I was brought in to lead now-three departments, each in need of a financial turn-around. Given three years to turn them around or shut them down, the only option for me was obvious–if I shut them down I would lost my own job as well. If for nothing else than self-preservation, I set out a three year plan to make a financial difference.

What I ran into throughout were excellent intentions without training in how to execute or make those intentions reality. My team needed a path on which to put their intentions. And more so, they needed to execute. They needed to take the steps necessary to achieve the success we sought. They needed guidance from someone who had been there before, had success before, and could assure them the steps we were taking together would get us where we needed to go. They intended for good, but they needed someone who could lead them there.

And we turned each program around in one year.

It seems so obvious to me in the work world. And yet, I find myself mixing up intentions with execution so frequently in my spiritual life. Paul shares the following in Romans:

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented)…For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…” –Romans 1:13, 16-17, ESV

Paul wanted to come to the Romans. He wanted to preach the gospel to them. Yet he knew that his obligation was to the gospel, not to his intention. Paul’s call was to preach where God called him to go–and if he kept getting way-layed in his attempt to go to Rome, the gospel must be preached wherever Paul was.

Paul put the preaching of the gospel as supremacy in guiding his intentions “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed…” Paul knew why it should be the guiding reason. And he stayed keen to that reason, kept taking steps in that direction, and didn’t get torn up when his intention to visit Rome didn’t pan out.

I have recently found myself choosing intention over the overarching truth when it comes to faith. In my work, the truth of financial turnaround seems simple to my business brain, and so laying aside intentions that are different comes easy. In faith, the same analytical business mind seems to spend too much time in analysis, worrying the details rather than remembering the overarching truth: I am called to follow where God leads. And when I do, I will find Him there showing me where to go and what to do next. I need not get tied up in my own intention, my own analysis, because following Jesus is where the power of God found in the gospel gets us.

So rather than over-analyze this life of faith, I need to spend more time stepping.

My God is Not a One-Trick Pony…

Pastors and Teachers–this one’s for you. Are these commonly part of your teaching?

  • “You cannot know how deep love can be until you’ve had your own children”
  • “The best training ground for sacrificial love is marriage.”
  • “It is only when looking at your own child that you understand the great sacrifice God made in giving Jesus as sacrifice for our sins.”
  • (any kind of variation of these)

Here’s the deal. God may have taught YOU deep love through the having of children. He may have taught YOU (and many others) sacrificial love in marriage. But is your God so small that He can only teach those concepts in those two environments?

Talk to me of adoption. Those are not “your own” children–yet God ties bonds so tight that if you ask any adoptive parent, they will know no difference in the kind of love they have for their biological children as compared to their adoptive children. If anything, there is greater love in the ache of the moments missed–the 1st birthday cake smash, the first day of kindergarten picture.

Talk to me of social workers who walk into squalor and evil and chaos, who pick up a child or children, and walk them out of chaos and into hope for different. They visit and revisit heartbreaking circumstances for the sake of children who are not theirs.

Talk to me about my own career–thousands of hours at all hours of the night helping students through situations I did not choose. Tell me I can’t know sacrifice when I walk away from dinner, or leave a restaurant, or duck out of church, because the phone rang, the student needed someone and that someone was me. Tell me of sitting in an office and watching the involuntary reactions of a woman sharing that she was assaulted–a woman, frankly, nobody believed–but those involuntary protective actions, they cannot be denied–and because I saw them, the entire course of her treatment changed. Tell me of standing in the yard of another student, waiting for the coroner to come get his family member…hours and hours and hours later–and these things never happen at noon. Tell me how my hours at hospitals, visiting a student who doesn’t rank as one of my favorite people, but someone needs to be there–and that someone is me because they lived in my “house” alongside 375 or 947 others, depending on what year and what university I was at during the time.

Tell me how I don’t know sacrifice. Tell me a 20-year-old firefighter donning protective gear and walking into a fire that he did not set to protect life and then property of people who won’t know his name–tell me he doesn’t know love or sacrifice.

Pastors and Teachers–stop making your God so small. Because by doing so, you limit the stories of the people you teach. You silence people like me. And you tell me every time that my God can’t possibly teach me these deep life lessons because I don’t fall into those small contexts for how you were taught those things.

It’s time…again?

Life. The older I get, the more I see cycles and patterns and how bits and pieces fit together to prepare us for each part of our journey. If you are a follower of Jesus, you can trust that each thing in life will be pulled together for eventual good–so even in the mixing stage of life, when pieces are all ingredients and not yet a meal, you can trust that eventually it will come together as a meal you will so greatly enjoy.

Sometimes life moments come as a result of percolating. A little bubble here, a moment there over the course of years comes to a head. A decision must be made: move forward in faith, settle back in complacency.

I cannot say I have always had faith to move forward when the opportunity first was made clear. And yet, in His infinite mercy, Jesus keeps coming, taking a different angle, a different approach. Sometimes my pause has resulted in a lost opportunity. But sometimes, in His love causing His desire to refine me into the best version of me, He keeps coming.

So a decision point comes…again. Something that has percolated for nearly three years is coming to a head–it is time to step out in faith, regardless of knowing where that road will ultimately go.

If Jesus is calling you to step, step. Trust His leading. Trust His hand. And trust His love for you. He would never lead you to a place that would not ultimately be for your good–His ultimate goal is your ultimate sanctification. Your best self will come as you surrender to His leading, submit to His refining of your self, and repentance from the sin that so easily entangles.

Let’s not wait until “again” happens–let’s take the step together. The people of faith are all in this walk together. Let’s wave each other on, hand each other a refreshment, and give some grace as we all step into new territory.

Life behind an 18-wheeler

I laughed today as I drove the highway, on the way to a family function. Lots of road equals lots of time to think. As I come up behind an 18-wheel, tractor/trailer, I sigh. I hate following them. You can’t see around them, you can’t see the road in front of them, and if there are over-road signs, you cannot read them until it is too late to make a lane change.

Don’t get me started about road spray in the rain and snow when driving behind one of these behemoths.

But today, I laughed. The life of faith often seems like following such a massive truck. We cannot see the road ahead, whether it turns right or left, and often hindsight is the only way to see the “signs” above the roadway.

But instead of annoying, dirtying road spray from a behemoth truck, we settle in behind our Savior. The Behemoth in this case is the Conqueror. He trampled sin and death. He rose from the grave and sits at the right hand of the One True God. Jesus has earned His behemoth status–and His road spray is a dusting of “follow Me,” a spray of “trust Me,” and when the storm is great, the overwhelming wash of “I am here.”

Jesus isn’t such a bad 18-wheeler to follow.