Basketball and God

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My 5th grade nephew doing his thing last season.

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.

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

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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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A Prayer for Peace Within

Oh God, gather me now to be with you as you are with me.

Soothe my tiredness;
quiet my fretfulness;
curb my aimlessness;
relieve my complusiveness;
let me be easy for a moment.

O Lord, release me
from the fears and guilts which grip me so tightly;
from the expectations and opinions which I so tightly grip,
that I may be open
to receiving what you give,
to risking something genuinely new,
to learning something refreshingly different.

Forgive me
for claiming so much for myself
that I leave no room for gratitude;
for confusing exercises in self-importance
with acceptance of self-worth;
for complaining so much of my burdens
that I become a burden;
for competing against others so insidiously
that I stifle celebrating them
and receiving your blessing through their gifts.

O God, gather me to be with you as you are with me.

Amen.

Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace