Power Over Referees

Basketball season is well underway, so this is a busy time of year for our family. With three of our five kids playing basketball and six of the seven of us being big fans (Micah is still a little too young to care much), we enjoy this time of year.

During Levi’s game the other night, I snapped a quick picture during a timeout. In that picture, you can see the ref raising a finger to indicate to the coaches that the timeout is nearly done and this is their first warning to get back to the game.

Do you know what I have never seen in the hundreds of basketball games I have attended? I have never seen a coach yell back at the ref during a timeout, “Hey, I’ll wrap this up when I’m good and ready! Now, leave me alone and let me talk to my players for a few minutes!” Sure, there have probably been many times when a coach might feel like saying that (and many more times when much longer timeouts are needed), but coaches “know their place.” They know the authority the referee has. No one gets to tell the ref to do things that are contrary to the rules, and change the ref’s mind.

On the basketball court, there is really no power over the referees. Yes, referees have bosses, too, and they have associations and expectations, but on the court of play, the referees are in charge. Coaches, players, and fans may yell (and might even influence calls), but the final say as to what goes and what stands – that final say belongs to the referees.

Of course, referees are just one of many examples of authority in our world. Some positions of authority are recognized more readily, some are challenged more frequently, and some are commonly mocked and ridiculed. With all positions of authority, though, comes some degree of power. We all have authority figures over us, and this was God’s intention.

Ultimately, though, we must recognize that only One authority is perfect and eternal. Yes, we must respect people of authority, even when they seem unreasonable (see Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2), but we must also recognize the temporal nature of authority in this life. We must find our hope, joy, and peace in the power and authority of the One who is Lord of all.

On Sunday morning, I will be preaching from Isaiah 7:1-17 on “The Promise of Power.” As I begin a new Advent sermon series, I will be challenging our church to slow down and consider the promises of God. His promises are perfect, and His power is matchless. And, what is more powerful than the promise (Isaiah 7:14) and matchless fulfillment (Matthew 1:22-23) of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ?

Far more powerful than referees on a basketball court, God has eternal authority and Lordship over us all. Are you trusting in Him? Do you fear the consequences of disobeying Him? Does your life point to His matchless power? Seek, trust, and fear Him above all!

Whether you recognize Him or not, Jesus is Lord of all. The eternally important question is – do you surrender to His Lordship? If you have yet to do so, would you consider The Story and turn to Him today?

What strength and power?

Marsha and I had the privilege of coaching Zoe’s basketball team in our local YMCA’s 5th-6th grade girls’ league this fall. Last week, we lost in the championship game and thus finished in second place. Considering where the girls were at the beginning of the season (only six players and most had never played), I was pleasantly surprised that we finished with a winning record and made it to the championship, losing to a team that we actually lost to early in the season, beat late in the season, but then lost to again in the final game.

Now, why did these girls improve as the season progressed? Practice. Practicing twice each week was helpful – not nearly sufficient for where I wish they could have been, but helpful. There is a ridiculous saying that “practice makes perfect.” The reason that statement is ridiculous is twofold: 1) No one is perfect, except the Lord, who does not need practice for that very reason; 2) Practice only brings improvement if the practice is good. If you practice things the wrong way, then you only get more consistent in doing things the wrong way. Thus, really, practice makes permanent. Habits are formed and established through practice.

I wish our team could have been better, but we did not have nearly enough practices. Furthermore, the girls did not work on their basketball fundamentals much, if any, during the off-season. Thus, they entered the season with a lot of bad habits, and when those habits continued in more regular practice (for example, bad shooting form that was not corrected), then the bad habits became more cemented and established.

This is truth that not only applies to sports but to life. Practice makes permanent, but only the Lord makes perfect. Sure, we can improve and get really good at things (or better at being bad), but we can never be perfect on this side of eternity. Most importantly, we cannot be morally perfect and free from sin, apart from trusting in the Only One who is. Turning to Jesus is the only way to experience perfection – the status of perfection now and the eternal reality of perfection in the future. Thanks be to God!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be finishing my sermon series through Galatians, preaching on “The Power of Grace” (Galatians 6:11-18). In our pursuit of perfection (or, at least, greatness), we all long for strength and power. Yes, we can grow in strength and power, but that strength and power are never sufficient for what we need. We simply cannot attain a level of perfection (or even greatness) apart from God’s grace.

Again, practice makes permanent, but only the Lord makes perfect. So, in my message, I hope to communicate two necessities for experiencing God’s gracious power. What strength and power? Not ours but rather, the Lord’s. The key is not to look within ourselves but rather to look to Him. He alone is sufficient. He alone saves. He alone changes our hearts and lives. He alone empowers us. Any other supposed strength and power will fade away.

Are you looking to the Lord for your strength and power? Are you surrounding yourself with others who are prioritizing the same? Let us seek and depend on the Lord, and let us walk together in this journey. To God be the glory!

Zoe with her cousin Reese after the game

I love winning!

Whether in a basketball game, card game, trivia contest, or any other competition, I have always loved winning. All five of our children are the same way. They desire to win, and they get upset when they lose. I was reminded of this recently with a “friendly” game of basketball with some of their cousins in Windsor Valley (above). The winners were much happier than the losers when the game was over, and to be clear, there are no ties in the great game of basketball.

Really, don’t we all love winning? Sure, there are various levels of competitiveness, depending on the person, but no sane person ever says (or thinks), “I love to lose!”

God created us to love winning, I believe, because we were made in His image, and He never loses. He wins for eternity, and the only way we can experience such victory is in and through a right relationship with Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 13 – 14 on being “Renewed and Victorious.” When you experience new life in Christ, you are promised eternal victory in Christ. No other victory is so sweet and satisfying!

This is especially true when considering that what we actually deserve is eternal defeat and death and destruction. We are not worthy to share in the Lord’s victory, but the gospel makes it possible for us to win and win forever.

I have always loved winning, but no victory is more exciting than the victory of experiencing the forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. This is true when we experience such victory, and it is true when we see others experience such victory. Praise the Lord!

Have you experienced victory in Jesus? If so, your pursuit of other victories will pale in comparison to your pursuit of victory in Him – victory for yourself and victory for others.

If you have yet to trust in the Lord for everlasting victory, would you consider checking out The Story and turning to Him today?

I Still Can’t Dunk, BUT…

After my sophomore year of high school, my dad bought me a pair of Strength Shoes (pictured below). Then, he proceeded to take me to the high school track every other day at 6 a.m. to lead me through the strength and agility workouts. Our goal? For me to get stronger, move quicker, and jump higher. I wanted to not only be a better football and basketball player, but I wanted to be able to dunk the basketball (on a 10-foot rim).

While my dad did not care so much if I could dunk, he did want to help me get better, especially since he was the new head boys varsity basketball coach. Unfortunately for me, I have not grown since my freshman year of high school. While I hoped to be at least as tall as my dad, who was 6’3″ tall, I stopped growing when I was 6’0″.

Furthermore, while I am sure the Strength Shoes did help improve my strength and agility, they did not increase my jumping ability enough for me to dunk a basketball. After going through the program diligently between my sophomore and junior years and not getting the results I wanted, I added to the program between my junior and senior years by increasing the regularity to six days per week and even wearing the Strength Shoes when I did my shooting and ball-handling drills. My calf muscles got a little stronger, but I still could not dunk. Bummer.

Needless to say, I no longer use those Strength Shoes, and I still cannot dunk. I will not go as far as to say that the Strength Shoes were/are a gimmick that do not work, but I certainly did believe they would work better than they did for me. I was hopeful and even optimistic that they would be enough to “get me over the top.” They were not.


Is that not how life often works, though? Life is full of promises and supposed guarantees, and whether because of the claims, our circumstances and/or our own shortcomings, we get let down (or let ourselves down). That is life, life that really has very few legitimate guarantees.


God is not like Strength Shoes or any other “ultimate” system in this world, though. His Word never fails. His promises always come true.

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

The Word of God is full of eyewitness testimony, fulfilled prophecy, kept promises, and eternal truth. God never fails, and His Word has been preserved for His glory and for our good.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 2 Peter 1:16-21 on the “Grace to Believe” the trustworthiness of God and His Word.

Do you believe? How does your life point to your faith? By the grace of God, He draws us to Himself and enables us to trust Him. Such faith will result in action, though, and I pray to communicate that clearly on Sunday morning (and daily through my words, attitude, and actions).

While we really do have to trust in people and in systems and in products in this life to some degree, make sure your ultimate faith and hope are in the Only One who never fails.

I still cannot dunk, but that does not affect my eternal status. Even if I would have grown enough or gotten strong enough to dunk the basketball, how much better would my life be now? Probably very little, if at all. More importantly, how much better would my life be eternally?

Jesus Christ alone can and does make me right with God, and He alone can and does give all who turn to Him the peace and contentment that will never end. If you have yet to experience such hope, please check out The Story and turn to the Lord today.

The world is full of promises and guarantees, but only one never fails. To learn more, check out The Story.

Family Time in Illinois

Last month, we had a great time hanging out at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Illinois and doing a day trip to Chicago. We do not see our nieces, my sister Stephanie, and my brother-in-law nearly as often as we would like, so times like this are sweet. Here are just a few pictures from our trip…

What motivates you?

When I was in high school, I had a few teammates on my basketball team I thought were strange. In fact, I thought they were not only strange but also misguided and unmotivated. Why did I think this? Well, because they did not play basketball on Sundays. Really, I am not sure so much that it was these three teammates who made this decision as much as it was their Christian parents.

While they did not attend the optional Sunday evening open gyms we had during the summer months, I did not think much about that because we had three open gyms each week, and not everyone attended all three. What confused and even frustrated me, though, was when we had our weekend basketball team camps each summer… These teammates would attend the first half of the camp, but then their parents would pick them up Saturday evening to take them home. They would miss the final day of the camps – Sundays.

Why? Well, I knew the “why” from what they told me – they set Sundays aside for worship and fellowship with their church family and also for family time together. As a committed youth group member in my family’s church, though, and someone who rarely ever missed Sunday School and Sunday morning worship services, I thought, “What’s the harm in missing an occasional Sunday here and there. After all, this is basketball! We want to get better and win. Aren’t you motivated and committed like me?

I honestly cannot remember if I ever said anything to these teammates or their parents, but I definitely did not understand. Certainly, I can remember having some resentment.

During college a couple of years later, though, when I really started thinking seriously about what I believed about God, those former teammates and their families came to mind. In fact, when I came to the realization that I had been going through the religious motions and had never truly surrendered my life to Jesus, I realized just how right they were and how wrong I was.


Those teammates and their families did not lack motivation and drive, and I do not say that simply because those teammates were still really good basketball players during the season. No, their motivation was in a better place. Their motivation was superior to mine because it was based on the Only One who gives us lasting purpose and meaning.

Truly, our motivations are determined by our priorities, and while I claimed to be a follower of Jesus as a teenager, my priorities (and resulting motivations) proved otherwise. I was only motivated to be involved with my church when it was convenient and did not conflict with other activities I deemed more important. I was only motivated to read my Bible to check it off my list and feel better about myself. I was only motivated to serve others when I could get something in return. My priorities were really centered on my advancement, not the advancement of the gospel and the good of the church.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 on “The Motive (for discipleship and church unity): Racing for the Reward.” Paul used sports analogies that people in the first century Greco-Roman world would have understood. While there are some differences that I will explain Sunday morning, we can understand his analogies, too. We can understand the motivation to compete and win. We can understand the need for endurance. We can understand that there are certain necessities when it comes to particular priorities. The Christian faith, of course, is no exception, and how much more should we be motivated to walk with Jesus and help others to walk with Jesus.

I do not recall how much those former teammates and their families tried to point me and our other teammates and our families to Jesus. Clearly, I was not listening, even if they were, because I was comfortable in my own world, following my own idols. Their witness and example obviously had an impact on me, though, because here I am, 25 years later, still remembering it.

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). What prize are you seeking? What motivates you? Consider your commitments and priorities, and your motives will follow.

Are you running in such a way to win the prize – the prize of walking closely with the Lord and helping others to walk closely with the Lord?

If you have only really gone through the religious motions or have simply relied on “being a good person” to make you right with God, would you consider the joy of truly surrendering your life to Him and experiencing the salvation only He can give?
Learn more by checking out The Story.

The Cost of Winning

As long as I can remember, I have loved winning and hated losing. Not alone in that mentality, many others share this competitive nature with me. Do you? For things that really matter to you, even if you are not quite as competitive as some, I am sure you love winning and hate losing.

What is the cost of winning, though? How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to succeed? Are we willing to pay the price?

Growing up, when it came to basketball – perhaps more than anything else – I wanted to be a winner. I wanted to be the best. I never really was the best, but that was not for lack of trying. Since the third grade and until my sophomore year of college, I spent at least 2-3 hours per day (sometimes many more) in the summer months and at least 30-45 minutes during the off-season school months working on my basketball game. Ball handling drills, shooting drills, lifting weights, push-ups and sit-ups, jumping and agility drills – anything I learned from my dad and others that would make me better, I tried.

I counted the cost of what I believed and what I was told it would take to achieve success, and I embraced that cost. The cost of winning was worth it to me.


So much better than winning at basketball, though, is the victory that comes from the Lord. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 on “The Cost (of discipleship that leads to church unity): Whatever It Takes.”

As a child and as a teenager, I felt like I was willing to do whatever it took to be the best I could be at basketball. I made a lot of sacrifices for the sake of getting better. Never did I get as good as I wanted to get. Maybe I became a better-than-average player trapped in a below-average athletically gifted body. Maybe God was protecting me from the pride and foolishness that would have resulted if I did truly achieve the success for which I longed. I am not sure.

My goal was to play division-I college basketball, though. Well, I did not accomplish my goal. Was all that sacrifice worth it? To some degree, yes – I learned a lot about hard work, commitment, and dedication. To some degree, no – I am sure I, at least at times, sacrificed at the expense of other things that were more important than basketball. Then again, I was not yet a follower of Jesus Christ, so I did not really comprehend what those “better things” might be. I had yet to realize that a better victory was available – a victory that I could never attain on my own but that had been won on my behalf.


That better victory is so much better because it is a victory that lasts forever. It is a victory that we were created to long for and be miserable without. It is the victory that satisfies not only what we need most but also defines our very purpose. Have you experienced that victory – the victory that comes only in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

If you have experienced victory in Jesus, then you want a kind of winning that is so much greater than the winning I longed for as a basketball player. You want to experience winning people to Jesus. You want to follow Jesus and help others to follow Jesus. And, the cost of that kind of winning truly is worth the cost – worth the cost of stepping out of our comfort zones and risking our very lives so that others can experience the greatest victory.

If we are willing to sacrifice for worldly success, how much more should we willingly sacrifice for eternal impact?

I always attributed my work ethic and competitive nature to my dad, and there is certainly some truth to that because I am not sure if I have ever known someone as hard-working and competitive as my dad. He also loved to win, and some of my greatest childhood memories are when we won at things together. What I have come to realize, though, is that the longing to win is really the way God created us. We were made in His image, and so we were made to love and long for victory. He is the greatest Victor of all, and when we know and follow Him, we will want to experience that victory and help others experience that victory. Then, more than ever, is the cost of winning worth the sacrifice.

Praise be to God!

Please check out The Story if you have yet to experience the greatest victory.

Are you a student of the game?

As my basketball coach, my dad used to frequently say that in order to be a good player, you had to be a student of the game. You had to pay attention and always be learning, or you could not get better. He would talk a lot about “basketball IQ,” often frustrated that intelligent people did not always make intelligent players. He would preach, “You have to be a student of the game. Are you a student of the game?

Of course, I find myself telling my kids the same thing. Silas (#22 above) and Noah (#22 below) both finished their seasons recently. Whether with them or with Levi and Zoe, whose seasons finished a couple of months ago, I am regularly reminding them of their need not only to practice the fundamentals of the game but to better learn the fundamentals of the game by watching basketball. If you do not know the game well, you cannot play the game well.

Similarly, but much more importantly, if you do not know the Lord well, you cannot follow and worship the Lord well. Are you a student of the game?

Really, though, life is much more than a game because what happens in this life matters for eternity. And, the only knowledge sufficient for eternal life is the knowledge of the gospel. Thus, are you a student of the Word? Do you know the Lord according to His Word and seek to follow and worship Him according to the standards of His Word?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will preach through Psalm 145 on “Learned Worship.” We will consider five ways to learn right worship. God defines what is right, and knowing Him and knowing His Word will allow us to worship Him rightly. Otherwise, we go through the motions in vain, at best, dishonoring His name and destroying our lives.

Are you a student of the game? Your success depends on it. Are you a student of the Word? Your salvation depends on it.

Are you a student of the game? Are you in the game? To be in the game that matters, you must know and follow Jesus with all your heart. You can learn more by watching and/or reading THE STORY.

Sub, please!

If you play and/or watch sports, you know about the value of substitutes. Players get tired and need a sub. Players get hurt and need a sub. Players play poorly and need a sub. Or, in the case of my daughter’s 3rd-4th-grade basketball team, subs are rotated in every four minutes to assure equal playing time. In competitive sports, though, rarely is a team good without good bench players – substitutes. This is because even the best athletes get tired and/or hurt and need subs occasionally.


Typically, the point of a substitute is to take the place of something or someone else for reasons of unavailability, inadequacy, or recovery. Sometimes the replacement is temporary, and sometimes the replacement is permanent. Substitutes are a part of life. Sometimes we need a substitute ourselves, and sometimes we need a substitute for something or someone else upon which we rely.


Without question and without exception, every one of us has a critical need for the most important of all substitutes – someone to take the punishment we deserve for our sins. Sure, we might be able to tough our way through a minor injury without a sub. Yeah, we might be able to push through exhaustion without a sub. We might be able to endure an illness without a sub.

None of us, though, can endure the wrathful judgment of God, and so we need a sub. The judgment we deserve because of our sin is eternal death in hell, so we need a sub. No matter how hard we try, we cannot fix our sin problem and make ourselves right with our holy God, so we need a sub. For this reason – and because God loves us so much – He sent His One and Only Son Jesus to take our place, to take our punishment, to be our sub.


On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 9 (“Jesus Is the Better Substitute“). Jesus is the Substitute we need to take our deserved punishment, so we can inherit eternal life. He is the better Substitute because He is the Only One who can accomplish the impossible task of making us righteous.

He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

Will you trust the Sub, then? Will you recognize your need for Him and surrender your life to Him? Only then can you receive the redemption and resulting restoration we all need.

If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your substitutionary sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins, are you growing in your faith and reliance upon Him? Your need for the Sub is no less today than it was the day you turned to Him for the first time.

Zoe (22) playing defense in her most recent game.

David vs. Goliath isn’t about March Madness.

We have all heard it before. Maybe, we have even said it ourselves. “It’s a battle of David vs. Goliath!” Whether it is the big school vs. the small school, or it is the seemingly great team vs. the not-so-great team, this time of year seems to be the time more than any other when I hear about David vs. Goliath. March Madness!

After all, David of Bethlehem was a teenager who probably was not much more than five feet tall, and Goliath of Gath was at least nearly seven feet tall and possibly over nine feet tall. Goliath wore armor that probably weighed as much as David. His spear was about 15 times heavier than the normal spear used during that time. David was the ultimate underdog when he entered the battlefield to face Goliath.

While we all understand why this well-known story is referred to in underdog scenarios, I fear we are missing a very important point when we make this story about basketball. More importantly, we miss the point when we make this story about us.

David vs. Goliath is not recorded in the Bible to make us look inward for courage and strength. David vs. Goliath is recorded in the Bible to make us look upward to the Lord God Almighty.

The reality is, we are all much more likely to behave like Goliath than we are to behave like David. In our sinful, prideful nature, we are prone to think we have it all figured out and can “do all things” through our hard work, accomplishments, acquired skills, preparations, etc. Yes, we would all like to think of ourselves as David, but the truth is that we are more like Goliath – doing things our way rather than God’s way. If that happens to be the case, then we, too, like Goliath, will fall.

Sunday, Lord willing, I will just-so-happen to be preaching from 1 Samuel 17 on the story of David vs. Goliath. While March Madness will not be a part of my message, I cannot help but think of the reminders that both of these well-known events bring.

But, David vs. Goliath is not about March Madness. David vs. Goliath is not even about you or about me. David vs. Goliath is about God. In fact, David the victor points us to Jesus the Victor, the perfect descendant of David who conquered our greatest enemies – sin and death.

David defeated Goliath because God was with him and because God is faithful and in control. Do not make yourself out to be David. Rather, trust in the same God in whom David trusted, and experience the victorious faith that only comes in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com