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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Showtime and Lifetime

In ninth grade I played on a traveling basketball team that we were really proud of. See, we'd gone all on our own, outside the athletic association of our town, and our coaches and organizers worked really hard behind the scenes to get us uniforms, tournament entries, all kinds of stuff through lots of fundraising.

As you probably know, youth sports can get pretty political (I say this tongue-in-cheek, but you know it's true), and our town was no different. After making the A team my first year in fifth grade, I was "on the outs" with the coach - this may have been self-inflicted ... I had a bad, er, competitive attitude at times - and every year I would wait with trepidation as numbers were called out, only to be cut again and play for the B team.

My friend Rachel's dad coached this B team for years, and he was a great guy. Put up with my at times bad, er, competitive attitude, and let all of us girls really blossom into great athletes. He teamed up with another girl's dad to put together our ninth grade team, and finally that year we got to play the A team from our town in a tournament.

We won. After all those years of getting cut, it was a great feeling. My friend Rachel and I, who'd both been cut from that original A team, were among the stars of the game. We teamed up well, she a sharpshooter who rarely missed from 3-point, and me a hard driver to the basket -- not to mention our real star, our post Bonnie, who later won a collegiate national championship.

At the end of the season, our coaches put together a little post-season party. They made up trophies and award names to reflect each of our unique skills. Lest you think this was one of those 1990s things where everyone was "special" and kids became entitled ... well maybe it was that, but it also taught me a lot because of the effort our coaches put in to reflect on each of us individually as athletes and as people. I went to lots of athletic banquets later in high school, but I don't remember any of them as well as I remember this one from our "renegade" basketball team.

I got the Showtime Award - or actually it might have been PrimeTime or GameTime - but basically this was a double-edged sword, like most things in life.

It was very accurate.

On one hand, this award was a huge honor. It reflected the fact that when the game was going down to the wire: fourth quarter, 15 seconds on the clock, down by 1 -- my coach trusted me to have the ball in my hands. He knew when it came down to that crucial moment, that critical instant where the ball had to get in the net somehow some way - I would have that killer instinct to make it happen. I like to think it reflects some ability to take the game to a higher level in those critical moments. Overtime. Championship. Crunch time -- requiring a mental toughness and a deeper commitment.

Of course on the other hand, this award reflected the fact that when it wasn't showtime, or overtime, or crunch time, or championship - I had the uncanny ability to take my game to a lower level. That when it came time for midway through the second quarter, and our lead was slowly slipping away, I would have the instinct to commit a foul at just the wrong time, to lose a step on defense and be just a second too slow to cut off my opponent for a drive to the basket, where she'd score easily. It might just reflect some tendency to slack off in the interim, to cheat off my last suicide sprints, to daydream when I was supposed to focus on shooting free-throws.

Nobody was giving me the Everyday-All-In Award.

How about you? Would you get the Showtime award? Do you turn it on when it's time for all the glory or are you the one in the kitchen late at night, scrubbing off the stuff everyone forgot about? Do you come in at the last minute to save the day, or were you working behind the scenes to avoid the catastrophe in the first place?

Now at my ripe old age of 29 and as a Pastor, I wonder what award God - my new important and dedicated coach - would give me. I think He'd say that Showtime is Important - but so is Lifetime.

See Sunday morning is kind of showtime. Like another pastor once told me, As soon as that opening hymn starts - you better be ready! There's no time to get things done anymore.

And lots of Sundays are like that. I'm scurrying around, gathering the correct handouts, talking to people about housekeeping items, nearly forgetting my "preaching" Bible, keeping track of Jake, and darn if when that prelude ends I better be up there welcoming everyone and "in it." That's where that God-given ability to perform at the crucial moment helps me out. To take things to a different level and just preach the Word and lead the congregation in worship.

See before every sermon or every service, whenever anyone has to get up and speak before a group of people, there's that moment of: yikes! But the "Showtime" award pushes past that and into the purpose of the service, to glorify Jesus and spread the Gospel of his life, death, and resurrection and why it matters here today in 2014 Chicago.

So that's important.

But God has also shown me that here in the church, the Everyday-All-In Award is important, too. What many people will remember or know about me as a pastor is not that sermon I preached last month but the time when I called on them to ask how their husband, or their son, or their daughter, or their own illness or injury or mourning - was going.

God has shown me that if I hold my Bible, and all its knowledge and truth, in my right hand - then in my left hand I should hold a Rolodex of all my loved ones, with notes about what's going on for them - and where they need prayer - and what makes them smile - and how God is calling them to live out their own callings.

The Everyday-All-In award as a pastor happens often on Tuesday mornings or Thursday afternoons, when I make those "check-in" phone calls, or even on Monday afternoons, when I'm honored to have the opportunity to serve communion to congregation members and friends who haven't been able to make it to church in awhile.

Both Showtime and Lifetime are important - not just as TV channels.

What about in your faith life?

Do you know how to stand up at that right moment, when God is calling you to take a stand - to witness to Jesus Christ - to give it all up and make a huge decision, maybe to change careers or churches, or to speak in a group or do a solo in choir?

Way to Go Mr. or Ms. Showtime. I applaud you - and I want to have you at St. Philip. I give God huge thanks for the many Mr. and Ms. Showtimes already here. Jesus needs you - so feel free to let your Showtime spirit fly.

Do you know how to give someone a hug right when they need it? To follow up with a phone call on a quiet afternoon? To replace the church sign when something is amiss? To bring your own supplies to tidy up the carpets or the kitchen, or replace the toilet paper in the bathroom?

Way to Go Mr. or Ms. Everyday-All-In/Mr. or Ms. Lifetime. I applaud you - and I want to have you at St. Philip. I give God huge thanks for the many Mr. and Ms. Showtimes already here. Jesus needs you - so feel free to let your Everyday-All-In/Lifetime spirit fly.

See Jesus loves and embraces us all. And even though my high school basketball coach wasn't quite as enamored with my Showtime ability - especially when it impinged on my ability to practice hard 100 percent of the time - Jesus accepts me and loves me as I am. He even teaches me, day in and day out, how to be Everyday-All-In.

So much so, that on this Thursday afternoon, I am All In.

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