Monday, March 22, 2010

Vocation and Basketball

It was one of the most exciting moments of the 2010 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Greivis Vasquez, the star of the Maryland Terrapins took the ball the length of the floor and scored to take a one point lead with 6 seconds left in a hard fought contest. The Spartans in-bounded to ball to Draymond Green. Green took the ball to the other end of the floor, dished to Korie Lucious who drained a three pointer as time expired.

I’m a Spartan. I love college basketball and I love the Michigan State basketball program. I have for years. I am also a basketball player (or at least I was). I have played a lot of basketball. I have played enough to know that success in basketball or in any sport is in part physical, God-given ability but it is also psychological and even spiritual. You get the ball in your hands with seconds left on the clock and you know what’s at stake: the game, the tournament, the season, Sportscenter (okay, Sportscenter was never on the line for me personally). You get a lump in your throat. A twitch in your spine. A twinge of excitement and nerves. And then you let the ball fly.

What makes it go in? At times we will claim it’s “divine intervention”. I suppose there might be some of that; after all if God directs military contests (Proverbs 21:31) he can also direct the athletic. But there is something to be said for the psychology and the nerves and the confidence that goes into that shot. There are a lot of things that can throw off your concentration and throw off your game. Not the least among them is sin.

Having the ball in your hands with the game on the line provides ample opportunity for the Old Adam to suit up and call for “the rock”. Sinful pride begs for glory and fears shame. I have had the ball in my hands with the game and glory on the line. I have felt that twinge of excitement and nerves. I have felt the urge for glory. I have felt the fear of shame. Many a shot has bounced from the rim with those thoughts in my mind. The game, for the glory of the self, is sin.

If you saw the post game press conference. Izzo and his team talked about playing for each other. Korie Lucious told the injured Spartan star, “I’ve got your back.” Even the left hand kingdom understands the negative effects of pride and selfishness. How much more the right hand! The Gospel moves the Christian to confess that pride. The Gospel sets the Christian free from that pride; free to serve. Free to work. Free even to play.

Lutherans hold to the Doctrine of Vocation. Set free by the Gospel the Christian works for the good of the neighbor. That holds just as true on the basket ball court as it does anywhere else. The game is not for glory to me, but for service to my neighbor; for the good of the team. When I finally figured this out, the doctrine of vocation actually made me a better player. It kept my head in the game. If I had the shot, I took it. Why? Because a good shot helps the team to win. If the other team was on a break away and someone needed to get back on defense, I did it for the good of the team. If I could make a pass that would set up a teammate, I looked to get them the ball. Why? Because I was set free my Old Adam who kept trying to get in my head to mess with my game.

Now, let’s be real. Coach Izzo probably doesn’t understand the doctrine of vocation. The Michigan State Spartans likely don’t understand the doctrine of vocation. But they played, not for themselves, but for the team. Kalin Lucas was on the bench with an Achilles tear. Chris Allen was on the bench with a sprain in the arch of his foot. The normal go to guys were out so Draymond Green stepped up for the team. Korie Lucious stepped up for the team.

Some people say doctrine is boring. Some people say doctrine is abstract and useless. Doctrine sets us free – not just in some intellectual and inaccessible sort of way, but in real, everyday life ways: in the work place, at home, and even on the basket ball court.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chasing Sheep

I suppose its true in any other profession, but it seems that pastors are good at professional one-up-manship. Pastors like to tell tales about the stuff they have going at their parish; building programs, stewardship, average worship attendance, etc. etc. etc. It is easy (for me anyway) to come away thinking that I need to get moving and make my congregation more like theirs.

It is way too easy to get sucked in.

I was recently reading on a friend's blog a posting by Matt Harrison (find it here) and discovered a quote that I found both inspiring and at the same time helpful.

Our vocation is not to save the ninety-nine, but to seek the one. One at a time. One here and one there. One child cared for. One person nursed to health. One life saved. One hurting soul comforted with the name of Jesus. One man loved. Our vocation is not to change Haiti, or to change the whole world, or to change the economic realities with which Haitians wrestle. Our vocation is to act and make a life-changing difference one at a time. And acting one at a time, we find that over some hours, over a few days, and over a couple of weeks, the flock of those helped in the name of Jesus has grown to be surprisingly large.
Pastor Harrison is talking about the parable of the Lost Sheep from John 15 and applying it to the needs of the people in Haiti following their devastating earth quake. He points out that Jesus went after the one. One at a time. One by one. This has been for me a profound insight.

There is always that pressure to be the church that has the budget surplus, that has the great attendance, that has the busting-at-the-seems programs. (I suppose I might confess it is easy to covet...) So churches always try to become this by implementing policies and adopting programs. "If they haven't attended in 3 years, drop them from the roles." "Let's write a series of form letters." "Let's hire a consultant to tell us how we can fix ourselves." These things don't work, or if they do work they have worked the wrong thing. Faithful pastoring doesn't mean you have budget surpluses and rear ends in the pews. It means that you preach God's Word; law and gospel. Week in and week out. And, when necessary, one at a time.

Instead of cleaning up the roles, instead of lopping off the dead wood, I have resolved to seek one. Reach out to one with God's Word. Rightly divide it. Mercifully apply it. And who knows, maybe after a time the flock will have grown quite large.