Friday night I had to work through a problem. This problem arose because of one of my New Year’s resolutions. I should have foreseen this problem, but I guess I had purposeful amnesia. I just didn’t want to admit the complexity of what could happen by this resolution.

I resolved to be more competitive.

Yes, this is an odd resolution for some. Ok, for most. Especially for those of us who are only recreational in our athletics. But I had to make this resolution.

Here is why I made it. I started to play basketball on Wednesday mornings. This wasn’t just “in the morning” but 6 a.m. in the morning. Yes, 6 a.m.

For some people the morning workout is the highlight of the day. It starts the day with endorphins, testosterone, and adrenaline. Getting the blood moving sets the day off right. 

For me, it reminded me of how I hate working out in the morning. I need to be up for at least 2 hours before working out for me to be able to sufficiently and enjoyably workout. And that only makes it into a possibility that the workout will go well. 

But because I love basketball, need to workout, and I wanted to connect with a group of guys I started to play ball with them. But as I played, I realized that I was playing like a pansy. I wasn’t going hard to the whole, and I wasn’t ripping rebounds like I used to. Nor was I pulling out my usual vast array of post moves. I was a dud out there.

But I have had to deal with being a dud before in sports. You see, when I feel intimidated or inadequate to win a competition, I play scared and sloppy. I play like a person who should be in the bleachers. So I decided that I would play like I should: competitively and with all my heart.

But not only is it an issue of me not wanting to fail, but it is also an issue of my inability to know where “the line” is. Some of you automatically know what I mean by “the line,” but some of you are clueless. This line is the line between being competitive and being a rotten scoundrel. This is the line between confidence and arrogance. This is the line between “I can do this,” and “—-, get off me!” This is the line between honoring God by working hard, and dishonoring Him by being a Prick.

So, on Friday I had to deal with this line. I thought I was just going to have a good time. What happened was something that made me send an email apologizing.

Friday night I was part of a massive game of lightning (some call it thunder, lightning and thunder, or knockout). In fact, I was the 250th person to step in line for this game. I know I was the 250th because we were counting to see if we could have the world’s largest game of lightning. And, by we, I mean Cornerstone University of Grand Rapids, MI.

Now, if you know anything about me, then you know I love basketball. Not only do I love basketball, but I love lightning a lot. When I play, I play to win. In fact, my love for lightning is what helped me be 100% from the line in the one year of college ball I played at Moody Bible Institute. Free throws have always been important in the storyline of my basketball life.

So, I love basketball and lightning, so of course I am excited for this game. But I encountered something. People were forming pacts or alliances with their buddies and not getting them out. Or guys would not get the girls out in front of them. 

I was ticked. Isn’t this a competition.

Oh yea, I forgot to tell you. Not only was it a resolution to be more competitive, but I am a fairly competitive guy in general. I will work hard to win if I see there being a winner declared in the competition. Hard work is what got my relay team on the record board in high school, and hard work is how I got my few minutes of playing time in college (I dove for loose balls in practice… maybe/ possibly chipping both of my elbows. All for 18:56 of playing time in D2 NCCAA basketball… yes, NCCAA, it stands for National Christian Collegiate Athletics Association).

Competing hard has been ingrained in me since I was young. If I wanted to play with my brothers (I am the youngest of 4 boys), I had to go hard or I would get hurt. It doesn’t matter that I am now bigger than them. If I do not go 100% then I will get hurt.

So, I see these people going completely contrary to my passions and my resolution. This is getting me mad. Livid actually, but not quite noticeably. 

But, I keep doing my thing. I made all of my first 5 (or it possibly was 6) free throws and started picking people off infront of my who were part of a group of “bros.”

But then it happened. One of the guys wouldn’t pass me the ball until his buddy behind him, WHO WAS IN FRONT OF ME, made the shot. He kind of dinked around with the ball – dribbling it, passing it around his body, and then rolling it to me as his buddy’s layup went in. 

This made me the defensive player not the offensive. Instead of being on the attack I HAD to make this or I was in risk of getting out.

UGH!

So I shot. 

It hit the rim and bounced out.

We were down to the final 50, and I wasn’t about to slack off and walk to my rebound. 

What happened next is a blur in my mind. I have played it out too many times. I am not sure if my initial shot hit the guy’s shot behind me on the way down and knocked his in, or if my putback hit his in. It is all a blur. I just remember the ref saying someone was out and I thought it was the guy behind me since his ball hit mine. I went and consoled him because he didn’t try to hit my ball but mine hit his. I was confused why the rules would be so strict.

But then he said I was out because I hit his in. See, in the blur of activity that happened after my shot initially didn’t go in, it had knocked his ball and I lost track of which was which. And true to the rules of the game, since his went in first, I was out.

Well, I was fine that he made his shot. I was fine with the fact that my shot hit his in. But I wasn’t fine with the guys in front of me. They desecrated everything that I hold sacred about the game of lightning.

I love how fast it is. I love that it combines pure shooting with rebounding. I love how it is a game of streaks where people either cannot miss or cannot make a shot. I love how it moves quickly. I love how people can play from every skill level — and still have a chance of doing well. I love how one miss could mean going from hero to zero.

But all those are dependent upon every person playing hard and playing by the rules. It is reliant upon everyone knowing that it isn’t a bad thing to get the person in front of you out. It doesn’t matter if it is a little kid, a girl, or an elderly person. It is just a fun competition that involves getting out. People play and eventually one person wins and everyone else loses. No need to cry.

But if not everyone plays right, it just torques me off.

So, after I got out I had 2 objectives. Cheer for the guy who got me out. I wanted him to win so that I was someone who got out by the hands of the winner.

And the other objective was to cheer against those people who were not playing with gusto and competitive focus. This was especially focused upon the guys who were in front of me. Because they chose to dink around I got out. 

So I became mister soccer mom cheering on the stands. I was borderline obnoxious. 

Well, this obnoxiousness earned me an “F— you” from the guy who didn’t pass me the ball quickly. See, when he got out (by the hands of the one who got me out and had eventually also gotten the guy in front of me out), I stoop up and clapped. I clapped for a while. And I stared him down as I did it. 

Vindication was a comforting thing.

It was most comforting because this guy got out while lying flat on his back. He had tried to (even against the rules) to throw his ball up through the hoop to knock the other shot out. What happened was that he missed the other guys ball and slipped and fell straight on his backside. Hard. 

I was happy.

And I felt even more justified to be happy about him getting out in an embarrassing way since his response was to look at me and say “F— you!” because I was happy he got out.

But then something happened. God started convicting me about my vindictive heart. Not only that, but I started to see how my giddiness led me to having a looser tongue than I normally did. For some reason I started to think saying things like “athletes are usually jerks” was appropriate. 

But I fought it. No, I was right to be like this. All the data showed that this guy was a prick and the athletes in the game were all forming pacts and alliances and not competing hard. And I have been in the locker room enough to know how selfish athletes are.

But little did I know how what said was all about me.

See, when I got home I had to stop and think about my hypocrisy.

I had called my older brother (who was a stud runner in college), and told him about the night. We talked about how I would have gone straight assassin on him and his wife if they were playing. It didn’t matter that we were family or that his wife is a girl. I would go hard. That is the nature of competition. He agreed he would have been mad too. But I could tell he was a little uncomfortable with how mad I was (and how happy I was that this guy got out). 

So when I was at home thinking, I realized that I am called above being petty. Not only that, I am told that I am not allowed to sin inside of my anger and that I should never go to sleep angry lest the devil gain a foothold on my heart (Eph. 4:26-27). On top of this, I should be the one who resolves conflict, EVEN IF I am the one who was on the receiving side of the offense (e.g. him not passing me the ball until his buddy made the shot).

Wow. So, basically all my thoughts (and a good few of my actions and words) flew in the face of being redeemed. I was not acting like Christ. I was acting like a competitive pagan. 

I was sinning.

I saw the error of my way and sent an email to the kid apologizing for my vindictive attitude. I apologizes for blaming him for my getting out. I admitted that I cannot blame anyone but myself for missing the shot. I told him that I know I am called to live like Christ and not the world. 

He never emailed me back, but I did see him yesterday on campus and I told him “no hard feelings, right?” and apologized for how I acted. He received it with a bit of a jest (or possibly cold shoulder).

I am not sure how God will move in his heart. I am fighting the hope that he feels convicted and apologizes for not passing me the ball as quick as possible. I also hope that he will apologize for saying “F— you!” to me just because I was happy he got out. 

I am fighting against this because I know that I need to be worried about my own sinfulness and let God worry about other people. I have enough character development that needs to happen that I cannot stoop to being petty and immature about someone not having the same love of the game as me. Also, If I got caught up in the night, I cannot let him getting caught up in the moment of getting out and speaking wrongly towards me. 

But most of all, I have to grow up. I cannot just say, “See, this is why I do not get competitive, it leads me to anger and sin.” That is avoiding maturing. I do not always get mad when I play hard. I do not always get vindictive when I lose. I do not always hold grudges. 

But I do always need to keep my eyes on Christ, and I do always need to do everything to the glory of God.

As Paul told the church in Colossae,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:15-17, NIV 1984)

Recognizing a sinful attitude is never fun. In fact, it is painful and embarrassing. But that is part of growing up. If I ever expect to mature, then I will have to get used to the painful act of sanctification which is putting off the flesh and putting on Christ.

But being conformed more and more into the likeness of my Redeemer is the best thing that can happen. I just hope I don’t have to sink so deep into a sinful attitude the next time God points it out to me. 

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