Monday, February 24, 2014

Jesus Courtside

Our girls' basketball team just had a pretty brutal ending to the season.

After nailing their first playoff game, sloppy play caught up to our girls in the second. The star player fouled out by the third quarter; two others would follow. You could tell the moment they started playing panicky: their shots became wild, turning the ball over, losing discipline and making more fouls. A downward spiral.

By the fourth quarter, we were putting in eighth graders (this is a rural district, so not a deep roster) as we staggered to a 73-34 loss and the end of our tournament hopes.

As defeats go, this kind is the worst to take, especially for our senior playing her last high school game. There were a lot of tears on our bench. I wanted to run over there and comfort them, but exhausted athletes in the midst of loss are tough to console.

But that wasn't what bugged me the most. What really got to me was that the other teachers left the stands and went home before the fourth quarter even started.

I understand wanting to get an early start heading home (we could see the loss coming, and it was an hour's drive back to our community). But earlier on in the season, I'd walked out of a home game when our girls got behind in overtime, and they came back to win. I had to face those girls in my geometry class the next Monday. And today their bench was facing the stands where I sat, so if I left, they'd see me. I wasn't about to repeat the same mistake.

That evening, a lot of that sloppy play reared its head again, and a few folks in our crowd didn't handle it well. They booed and mocked the refs openly. I honestly don't know enough about basketball to tell whether the calls were legit, but others in the crowd sure didn't think so.

That night, one of the teachers said this: "I left because I didn't want to be seen as part of that crowd."

I was reminded of how a couple of teachers had made a point of skipping boys' games last season because of the way a couple of them played - really ugly technical fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct. And the teachers had told the students exactly why: "Right now I'm embarrassed to be associated with this school."

That night, as our girls' team started losing their nerve on the court and the teachers got up to leave, I stayed in my seat. I'd been hit with a thought that kept me riveted there until time ran out.

"I'm glad Jesus doesn't leave when I start sucking."

I've been out there on the court of life for thirty years, playing for God's team, and I don't have the stat line I wish I did. I've made some bad errors. I've screwed up all kinds of plays. I've had missed opportunities, meltdowns, fights with my teammates, you name it. (And don't think that God is "more pleased" with mine just because they're not the "big ones" of the Ten Commandments - that's not how it works.) So many points left on the court, so many plays I've taken off. I think I've done better in the last few years under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but I've had those moments that make people wonder, "This is the church?"

But Jesus has never left the arena.

"For the joy set before him he (Jesus) endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." - Hebrews 12:2

Jesus wasn't worried about his image when he came to rescue us. He wasn't stopped by the humiliation of the flogging, the cross, or the ridiculous ways we would twist and ignore his teachings. He got right in there and took it on the chin for us. He was willing to be seen with us. In fact, he insists on it.

"Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters." - Hebrews 2:11

Wow - God makes us family.

Goodness knows that we, God's people, have tanked it over and over. But God isn't leaving. He has fiercely fought for our souls and our hearts. He has made a commitment to sticking it out until the fourth quarter, right up until time on the clock runs out. And in our sin and our errors, instead of walking out, he walks right up to us on the bench, comforts us, and encourages us for the next game. He will never leave, for he has already taken our shame away.

God is not embarrassed to root for you. He is not ashamed to call you his own, as long as you have called him your savior. You can never sin badly enough to drive him from the arena shaking his head, because Jesus has already paid for it.

So hold your head up and start prepping for the next game. He'll be there.

And if you keep playing your heart out for him, you're gonna start winning games.

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