Basketball and God

I doubt many folks think of God when they think of basketball. I’m sure a multitude of prayers have been lifted up from courts and stands across the nation with the desperate hope of a buzzer-beating shot. But on the daily, not so much.

I certainly didn’t relate the two until a couple of months ago. I was in the middle of a personal retreat, wrestling with my soul-crushing inability to allow God’s love to define my worth rather than work and ministry. It was an agonizing couple of days struggling to traverse the deep canyon from head knowledge to heart knowledge. My head knows God’s unconditional love constitutes my worth. My heart, however, tends to think God is far too nice to hurt my feelings by telling me how much I’ve disappointed him. Maybe God doesn’t even realize he is disappointed. Maybe he isn’t being honest with himself. But I know. Which makes me feel worse so I work even harder to be worthy of His love and not let Him down. Pity party for one, please.

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My 5th grade nephew doing his thing last season.

It was in the middle of this wrestling (excuse the mixed metaphors) when I thought about basketball.

My 12-year-old nephew lives and breathes basketball. He plays nearly every day. This weekend ushers in the basketball season for my family with a bang – four games in just over 24 hours. Have mercy.

I enjoy basketball but not multiple games over the weekend – nearly every weekend – for four months. Well, that is until my nephew was on the court. But seeing my 5’8″ handsome heart running up and down the court doing something he loves brings me an incredible amount of joy and delight. I enjoy watching Blake enjoy something that makes his heart sing because I deeply and wholeheartedly love him.

The way God loves me. 

It felt as if God leaned in, with tender hands on my shoulders and a warm breathe on my ear, and whispered that truth into my heart. The way I love you, Melissa. God’s hesed, God’s loving kindness, washed over me.

I can only imagine a parent’s love but I KNOW an aunt’s love. Not one ounce of my immeasurable love for my nephew is conditional. Not one ounce of my love for him requires payment, justification or reimbursement. And if for one second I sensed Blake feeling he had to earn or justify my love for him, I would be heart-broken.

The way God is heart-broken.

It took basketball to help me realize how much God genuinely delights in me and sincerely loves me. It was basketball that taught me that God doesn’t expect, require or need anything in exchange for his love. It was basketball that reminded me that I’m not God’s hired hand or employee. I am God’s beloved. And God enjoys seeing me enjoy his countless gifts and blessings.

The point will never be what I do for God. It will always be what God has done.

For me.

For you.

And that is the only point that matters.

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People Over Projects

One of the things we tell people over and over again as we prepare to travel to our mission partners around the world is people over projects. Always.

Nearly every culture I’ve spent time with around the world values relationships over projects – except American culture. Obviously, this is a generalization but I believe there is a lot of truth to this statement. We are a very project oriented culture. Success is based on whether we accomplish a goal or complete a project or have something to show for our day. Otherwise, we feel we have wasted it.

One of the greatest benefits we receive from our time with our friends and partners around the world is the reminder that relationships are the heartbeat, the lifeblood of life. You absolutely MUST put them first.

I always remember Jason, our partner in Kenya, instructing us on how to enter a local market to purchase something. In our culture, you know what you want. You go in. Avoid eye contact. Grab what you need, pay for it, maybe grunt, perhaps even smile and then out you go. It is admirable to be “in and out”.  Who has time for small talk? In Kenya, when you enter the market, you take time to make small talk with the owner or the worker. You ask about their day, their family, the news. And THEN …. you may proceed to inquire about what you are needing.

It kills us Americans. Sometimes you can see our physical pain as our patience is stretched to its breaking point. I don’t want dinner to take two hours when I can do it in 20 minutes! I still have my moments where I forget the importance of BEING rather than DOING.

The works-oriented nature of the western world has influenced our faith and religious practices and I don’t just mean well-polished worship services that convene before the hour is up. There is a tremendous pressure for us to produce, to be busy working for the kingdom – at the sacrifice of relationships – not only with others but most importantly with God.

We are addicted to and obsessed with the work of the kingdom, with little to no idea of how to be with the King.

I read this recently in a tremendous article by Mike Breen from a few years ago but it is still incredibly relevant and horribly true.

I feel like God and I are doing this a lot together lately. I’m kind of liking it.

I am incredibly guilty of this. I tend to spend more time on kingdom work rather than King love. The past few months this has been the primary thing that God and I have been working on. I know that sounds ironic – working on “not working on something”. But trust me. It is the right kind of work.

We spend a lot time right now just being together. Contemplating. God teaching me how to be aware of my Maker. Jesus teaching me how to sit at the feet of our Abba and be a learner and a lover. I utter “Abba, I belong to You.” over and over throughout the day. It has become my breathing prayer, my centering prayer [a prayer I learned from Brennan Manning] to remind me this life, this day, this agenda is not mine. It – and I – belong to Another.

I’m learning to sit and stretch first and run second.

Just like physical therapy taught me the importance of stretching and posture so that I can move with more strength and distance without self-injury, I’m learning the same thing spiritually. So many of us are trying to run first and only sit when we run out of breath, collapse or cause self-injury. A relationship with God isn’t all “sitting” or all “running”. Both are a part of the journey but we’ve put (and idolize) the cart before the horse.

Life with God isn’t meant to be this way. Seriously.

With God, it is relationships over projects. Always. God will always choose YOU over your work or your productivity. We’ve gotten this so mixed up over the years and it robs us of the one thing God truly made us for – relationships. Relationships with God and with one another.

And our relationship with the King supersedes them all.

May we all choose more wisely where to invest our lives. Begin with the One who loves you not for anything you do but for who you are – His beloved. And out of the overflow of that love, love one another. Clearly the Beatles where right on this one – all we need is love.

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Dying to Live: A Sermon

Preached on Sunday, September 18, 2016 at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Missouri. Click here to listen to the audio.

Luke 9:18-27

We are launching a new sermon series today titled “Because of Christ, everything has changed.” This series is the second in a series of sermons related to our Setting Sail visioning process. Over the past two years we have prayed and dreamed together about what God is calling us to be and do and now we are launching out in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, setting sail in obedience and anticipation of God’s dreams for us.

Today we begin our focus on Life-Changing Faith. Our preferred future is that First Baptist Church leads every person to follow the Way of Christ, discover their giftedness, and experience continual life transformation. All generations are rooted in a Biblical, hope-filled faith and experience the joy and significance of service.

In short, we follow Christ.

And because of Christ, everything has changed. Well, most of it has changed. I mean, a good percentage has changed.  Okay, well maybe not a lot has changed but way more than Susie or Ted. I mean, talk about zero change. 

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