Most of my family and friends don’t realize that I went to college on an athletic scholarship: my college paid me not to play athletics.
Much to my dismay, I’m not a very good basketball player. The position I play best on a basketball team is “bricklayer.” If I could rebound better, I would call myself a defensive specialist. Nevertheless, I do relish the fact that I participated in the biggest blow-out in college intramural basketball history.
In college, our intramural basketball league had five different classifications: A (where the true athletes played), A-, B+, B, and C (which was more like tackle basketball). I was a C league star.
My floor had a B+ team and a C team. Unfortunately, no one from our B+ team could make a particular game, so our C league team stepped in. Little did I know that I was about to play a part of basketball history. “This can’t be so bad,” we convinced ourselves.
When we showed up on the court for warm-ups, we noticed the guys on the other team were huge. Then we discovered that the opposing team consisted of former NCAA Division 1 basketball players. They had registered too late to get into A or A- league, so they were placed in the B+ league.
Before the tip-off, one of the players from the other team approached us and asked, “Are you sure you guys want to play this game?” Obviously he had watched us warming up and was overwhelmed with compassion.
“Of course we want to play,” we replied, offended by his offer.
Well, the opening tip resulted in a dunk for the other team…and it went downhill from there.
Let me also mention that we were short one player, so we convinced a guy to join us who had never played basketball before. In fact, every time we passed him the ball, he started he running with it. So really, it was a game for four against five.
A perfect storm was brewing.
By halftime, we were down 70-7. Again, the compassionate giant offered to stop the hemorrhaging. “Do you want to call it a game?” he asked.
“Look, if anyone quits, it’s going to be your team.” You know, college men can be extremely arrogant.
During the second half, a crowd started to form. People knew they were witnessing history. The other team felt so bad for us, one of their star players came over to our side to coach us.
My personal goal was to lose by less than 100 points—and we achieved it.
We lost 115-20. In the second half we almost doubled our point total and reduced their point total in half. So if we had continued playing another decade or so, we might have caught up with them!
Yet that game embodies the meaning of true faith.
Please join us as we explore this further in our daily Bible conversation.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Hebrews 11 extols the great men and women of faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, even Rahab the recovering prostitute. According to the chapter, the great heroes of faith conquer kingdoms, rout armies, and receive back their dead.
Sounds like the team that spanked my remedial basketball team. In fact, this describes how most people view the life of faith. It’s something nearly unattainable, something limited to only a few great men and women.
The end of the chapter gives us a completely different picture of the life of faith: torture, jeers, floggings, imprisonment, being sawed in two, destitution, persecution, mistreatment. These people wander in deserts and mountains, and live in caves and holes in the ground. “The world was not worthy of them,” the writer reflects on the men and women who drank from the common cup of suffering (Hebrews 11:38).
Wait a minute! This doesn’t fit into our definition of faith. In fact, it more closely resembles my C league basketball team.
Then the writer concludes with a profound comment that brings perspective to my chaotic, self-absorbed life: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39).
What is the truest picture of faith? It isn’t the fulfillment of the promise before we die, it’s dying with the promise unfulfilled. It’s holding on to the promise in the face of overwhelming circumstances that whisper, “Do you want to call it a game?”
Some people would see this as discouraging, but I find this tremendously encouraging. Just because God doesn’t answer all my prayers doesn’t mean I’m a failure at living by faith. Perhaps holding on to Jesus in the middle of a past church firestorm—which I partially brought upon myself—was a greater exercise of faith than when I prayed for a person who was healed.
When Paul explains the armor of God in Ephesians 6, he describes the battle this way:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13
What’s the picture of the valiant warrior in this passage? Standing. Just … standing. Not overcoming. Not stomping on the Enemy’s head. Just surviving.
If you’ve been beat up in a tough battle, this should come as a relief. You don’t always have to emerge from a struggle with the victory in hand. Sometimes, oftentimes, all you can do is survive. That’s good news.
That’s something anyone can do…if you have faith.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- How does your definition of faith compare with the end of Hebrews 11?
- Do you find encouragement in the definition of faith according to Hebrews 11? Why?
- Think back through your life. When were you living by faith–without realizing it?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.