The 2011 Miami Heat Beat the Celtics. Thinking About Competition and the Things of the Spirit

In the third chapter of his Spirit-led epistle to the Colossians St. Paul wrote about life in Christ. Here is a selection of that chapter:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17, ESV)

Verse 17 is a favorite of mine and often cited when Christians speak about the doctrine of vocation; that is, the redemption of common life as holy and sacred because of Christ. President or plumber, landscaper or landowner, administrator or athlete, all lawful work is sanctified in Christ, and His call to His people is, thus, to recognize this and make humble and heartfelt use of their God-given gifts.

Of course, though some relish the opportunity to develop and use their gifts, not all acknowledge them as God-given and sanctified in Christ. Even so, Christians can and should celebrate excellence and and draw from excellent performance inspiration. Such is the case with me this morning.

I caught the end of the Miami Heat win over the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference NBA semi-final and though I am a fan of neither team I loved it. I loved seeing grown men who’ve worked really, really hard and taken a lot of criticism perform really, really well for their teams. I loved seeing them share that, be truly happy for each other and respectful of their competitors. There are important life lessons taught in this…

I received tickets for me and my 10-year-old son to see game five of the recent Bulls-Pacers playoff series finale from a  friend who’s a former member of the Chicago Bulls Board of Directors and thus knows pro basketball well. I called to thank him after seeing this really excellent game and he said something that I find true and profound: kids need to see grown men working really hard to achieve something that is very difficult.

I couldn’t agree more, and it’s one of the reasons that I typically love the NBA playoffs, like I love major golf tournaments and college football rivalry games and the NCAA basketball tournament and, generally, playoff games of all sorts. Playoffs, with the goal clearly in sight and the threat of elimination so perilous, often make for a crucible of excellence.

Thus, back to LeBron James. His reaction to this most recent step toward the achievement of the NBA’s most challenging goal reminded me of Michael Jordan’s response to his first NBA championship. Watch the reaction of the team near the end of this clip from the first Bulls championship:

Bulls React to 1991 NBA Finals Win Over Lakers

I don’t hate LeBron James. I don’t hate him for leaving Cleveland (though I served in Ohio previously). I don’t hate the way he announced his “decision” to leave Cleveland for Miami last year (though I thought it unwise and self-aggrandizing). I don’t blame a man with talent for moving when he recognizes that that talent is great but not sufficient to achieve his dream of winning a championship. It’s a good sign in my opinion, a sign of ambition coupled with some humility: I can’t do it alone. That’s not a bad combination. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan may have criticized the move, but each also had top-tier talent to help them achieve their goal.

I let my son stay up and watch the end of game with me last night. He got to see great performances by highly talented athletes who’ve worked really, really hard and endured difficult things to achieve a dream. He got to see the reactions afterward.  Kids need to see grown men working really hard to achieve something that is very difficult. I hope he was inspired by it. I hope and pray he and his siblings see their father working hard in his calling, even though it is often difficult. I hope and pray they see me attempting to use my God-given gifts and giving thanks to the Father for the opportunity. I hope and pray that we are able to help them discover and cultivate their God-given gifts and that they, too, will recognize them as God-given, be ambitious to use them well and in service of others, all the while giving thanks through Christ.

So, here’s to top-tier competition and the inspiration that it can provide!

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