Every sport has its drama and fantastic finishes, but for me, there’s nothing like the emotion and thrills found in basketball. Baseball has its walk-offs and football can have its last-minute drives, but basketball provides a non-stop roller-coaster of emotions – and, an endless supply of lessons that relate to life and Christian faith in a fallen world.
Our Concordia Wisconsin team has had its share of thrilling comebacks and wild finishes in recent years, but this past weekend the Falcons manufactured one for the ages. Coming back from a 17-point second half deficit and winning on a half-court shot by a freshman point guard will provide memories for a lifetime, but hopefully the lessons learned on the court will impact our season and inspire our players off the court as well.
BASKETBALL – Finish well.
Until the final four minutes of our game with Millikin, I really wasn’t sure that our team was poised for a fantastic finish. After a week of exams, an erratic stretch of practice, a long snowy night in Decatur, IL; and an early morning clinic with some area kids, the Falcons seemed to have everything going against us, especially after squandering a surprising 9-0 start to the first five minutes against an explosive team. Throw in some officials unfamiliar with our team and you have the makings of typical end of semester slide by a team fighting to find its identity. After hanging in, though, the team made clutch plays that culminated with this fantastic finish:
Eric Kittel hit an amazing shot to end the game, but also raised his level of defensive against some terrific guards to register five key steals and earned his stripes as a legitimate clutch shooter by knocking down three more of his six 3-pointers in the final 4:00. Just as impressive, though, were crucial plays like Dustin Thumann ‘s key rebound on the final missed free throw and solid ballscreen defense in the final minutes, Brad Prinsen‘s key three-point play on an amazing putback to give CUW a lead prior to the final play, and much improved free throw shooting by Boubacar Camara who hit 7 of 9 critical foul shots. If it sounds like I’m bragging on our guys, I am. They proved how important it is to finish well – even when circumstances around you change, good players and good teams find a way to finish well. That doesn’t always mean you win that game, but it gives you a chance to win.
LIFE – The risk of sounding cliché.
It may seem elemental, but a buzzer beater like this provides a perfect metaphor for life in a world filled with pressures and distractions. Here are just a few of the factors involved in this game that can inspire us to finish well in any aspect of life:
Trust your teammates: No one can do it on their own. Find trusted friends and mentors to share in your challenges.
Recognize adjustments: Our team had to find a way to secure rebounds and limit the scoring opportunities for Millikin’s guards. Always be ready and willing to make adjustments.
Maintain focus: With so many distractions and excuses, we urged our team to stay focused on the task at hand, nothing else. That’s also how each of us can deal with the pressures of everyday life.
Renew your strength: We had very productive timeouts. Our players stayed fresh and really tuned into observations from the bench. That’s so important in life, too. We all need those ever-important timeouts!
Stay alert and positive: Too many of us let circumstances consume us or just allow them to overtake us. Our entire team stayed emotionally invested in the game, even when things weren’t in our favor. Don’t let life drag you into mediocrity. Stay alert!
Persevere: It’s easier to hang in there when you stick to your core values and principles. Our concept of team defensive and offensive plan to attack the rim and share the ball allowed us to hang in there.
Life will have its challenges, but lessons like these from our comeback win can help each of us to finish well.
FAITH – It’s how you finish!
Scripture is filled with stories of faithful people like Joseph, Samson, Gideon, and Daniel who used the same concepts in their journey of faith to finish well. While the Old Testament especially is an encyclopedia of faith-filled examples, it also provides countless example of those who failed to finish well. They doubted God, ignore his teachings, and tried to do things their own way. In fact, if you take the time to count, there’s actually more examples of this kind!
The good news, though, is that God sent His Son, Jesus, to allow all of us to have a fantastic finish. As the scene shifts to the New Testament, we learn how the followers of Jesus and those who were in the early church used some of those same principles to stay strong in their faith. They trusted in each other and grew the Church, they adjusted to the challenges of a sinful society, they were focused and alert in spreading the Gospel message, they took time to allow the Holy Spirit to renew them, and most of all, they persevered. God does provide all of us with the opportunity to finish well by believing that Jesus died on the cross to remove our sin, but in the meantime, He expects us to compete in life. That’s why Paul, in one of his last messages, referred to it as a race:
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
and throughout his writings encouraged us to run the race of life with purpose, and not run aimlessly (1 Cor. 9:24-27). My prayer for each of us is that we can have a fantastic finish!