Tuesday, March 11, 2008

T4M--Together for the madness

Jesse Phillips is hosting a Together for the Madness pool to pick the NCAA National Basketball Champions. All of the details are available on his blog, where you can sign up to be included in the fun.

Basketball has a special place in our family because it is the sport that God used to help us think more world-viewishly about His glory. Through a local home-school athletic association our children have particiated in basketball for the last 12 years. Until this season, I actually had the privilege of coaching my daughters' teams. Now I get to a spectator as both my son, Joel, and my daughter, Grace, compete with their teams in the Florida Christian Activities Association's state tournament Thursday and Friday. Though I am not on the bench, I do have the vantage point of a fan who is always offering assistance to the officials on the floor. None of them has thanked me yet, but I feel certain that they appreciate the help!

So, if you are interested in following the greatest sport being played by the best college teams in the best sports month on the calendar, go check out T4M.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Losing to the glory of God

The Lady Ambassadors lost the championship game rather decisively. We were tied until 5 seconds after the opening tip. Our opponents were simply superior to us. They were older, stronger, more experienced, better players with better coaches. The final score was 71-23. It was a great opportunity for us to lose to the glory of God! I believe that we did just that.

Despite several injuries and losing a player to fouls, our girls finished the game hustling and trying their best on both ends of the court. I believe that kind of effort when victory was hopeless glorifies God.

The girls maintained a respectful attitude toward the referees, the other team, the other team's coaches, their own coaches, the tournament officials and one another. That kind of self-control glorifies God.

When the final buzzer sounded and the other team's celebration reached a crescendo, our girls were weeping out of disappointment, discouragement and probably embarrassment. Yet, instead of immediately consoling one another they stood on the court and clapped for the victors. God was glorified in that.

After the game, in our team meeting, the girls were reminded that basketball is only a game. It's a great game and one that is loads of fun to play, but still, just a game. They were encouraged to remember that the Lord had enabled them to place second in the state in their league and to be grateful for that. Within 20 minutes expressions of gratitude began to flow freely. I believe that glorified God as well.

We had a great year. It is hard to end on a loss, even when that is the only loss of the season. But I got to be around another great group of girls and great parents. Since we only had three true high schoolers (a freshman, a sophomore and a junior), if all the girls come back the team should be much stronger from the first practice next year. It ought to be a great season.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Basketball to the glory of God

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The last few weeks have been unusually busy times for me but this time of year typically brings extra responsibilities to my schedule due to our family's involvement with homeschool basketball.

When I grew up sports became a god to me. I enjoyed playing, but unfortunately my love for the game became way too important. Friday Night Lights had some very familiar scenes in it and brought back many memories--some pleasant and some painful--from my Texas high school football days. Since I grew up at a time and place where racial integration was forced in badly-handled ways, Remember the Titans also rang some familiar bells in my memory.

My unbalanced love for sports became so obsessive that I actually swore off all participation in any sport for nearly two years during college. I wouldn't even play in pick up games. That sports-fast helped me to regain a better perspective on life and also caused me to realize how easy it is to let something good become something bad. And when the good becomes bad it is the worst.

When Donna and I married I resolved not to let my kids fall into that same trap of making any sport an idol. To that end, our family never went to ball games, or watched games, or talked about ball games. All that began to change when my oldest girl turned twelve. A new family joined our church and their children knew all about sports. One day my eldest child came away from a conversation with her new friends and asked me to explain the difference between a football and a basketball. It was then that I knew I had gone overboard! It dawned on me that I was culturally handicapping my kids to the degree that they could not even have a meaningful conversation about basic American athletic activities.

The fruit of my repentance came in the form of signing up my two oldest girls for the local homeschool girls basketball team (that is a story in itself!). In a very unexpected, yet providential turn of events, I wound up becoming the coach of that team the next year and the rest is...well let's just say that it has been a fun ride. For the last nine years I have had the privilege of coaching the Lee County Homeschoolers Lady Ambassador basketball team.

The philosophy that governs our team is summed up in our team motto: Basketball to the glory of God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31,
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Basketball is found in this verse in those words, "whatever you do." In other words, if you are going to do it, you better learn to do it to the glory of God. If it can't be done to God's glory, then you better not do it. I have tried to teach this to the girls by helping them to realize that the only way to play basketball to God's glory is to keep it in proper perspective. Specifically, we must remember that it is just a game, and games make very poor gods! Therefore it is less important than school, than church and than family. It is certainly less important than Christ and in fact, the reason that we even have the opportunity to enjoy basketball is because of God's goodness to us in Christ. How utterly foolish it would be, then, to take a gift of God's goodness and turn it into an idol that competes with God Himself! To value the gift more than the giver!

Yet, that is our tendency, isn't it? God gives us the good gift of a wife, or children, or a job, or health or anything, and we start loving the gift more than the Giver and even use our devotion to the gift as excuses to disobey the Giver. Isn't this Paul's explanation of how our sin works in Romans 1? We "exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator."

To fight against that sinful tendency I remind our girls that, contrary to the T-shirts, basketball is not life, Christ is. Basketball is just a game, but it is a great game! And by keeping it in perspective, we are free to give our very best efforts to playing it as well as we can. One reason that I enjoy sports so much is that they can teach you so much about life. Winning and losing. Adversity. Injustice. Success. Failure. Disappointment. Goals set, achieved, and not quite met. Tension. Pressure. Interdependence. Responsibility. All of these life experiences can be found in a single game of basketball. How we respond to them reveals what is inside our hearts, and in that way sports can be a help in sanctification.

Tonight we arrived at Haines City, Florida for the Florida Christian Athletic Association state basketball tournament. The Lady Ambassadors have been fortunate enough to win our regional championship and compete in the tournament again this year. Tomorrow we face Miami Lakes Christian School, a team we have grown to know and love over the last few years. Since only 8 teams are invited to the tournament, a win in the first round would put us into the semi-finals.

If time allows, I will post the results of our efforts tomorrow night. As the NCAA big dance is starting all over the country (with my Texas Aggies right in the thick of things for a change!), our little dance...uh, I mean, "party," begins tomorrow in central Florida.

Here is a website that tells a little about our team.