Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Corinthians 10:12)
If you were a boy growing up in the 80’s and 90’s like me then there’s a high probability you knew of a guy named Michael Jordan. Michael was everywhere it seemed. He smiled at you while you sat and ate your Wheaties for breakfast. You turned on the tv and that familiar tune would play… “like Mike, I want to be like Mike…”. He was in a blockbuster movie with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang. If you walked into a boys room in their parents house all across this country sure enough there would be a poster of Jordan hanging proudly on the wall. All the “cool” kids at school had the latest pair of Air Jordans.
Being a kid growing up in Southern California I had to hide my admiration for Jordan and the Chicago Bulls somewhat because in Southern California you’re expected to be a Los Angeles Lakers fan. Don’t get me wrong I followed the Lakers intensely. Still, I tuned in to every Bulls game, watched every Jordan documentary, owned as much Jordan basketball cards as I possibly could get my hands on, and mowed many lawns to save up for some Air Jordans of my own. I bet if we could take stats from that time period we would most likely see a major spike in the amount of manicured lawns and freshly painted fences all across the USA due to boys like me saving to get themselves a pair. I remember being heart broken the day Michael retired, and then was filled with joy when he announced his return…the first time. There’s no doubt looking back that Jordan had a major impact on the economy domestic and international. Still does to this day.
As a grown man I often look back on those days and wonder what drew me to Jordan so much in that fashion? It was his drive and will to compete. He had an insatiable desire to win at all cost. Meaning he didn’t care who he offended or what bridge he would burn. All he wanted to do was beat you and he loved kicking you while you were down so you would never think about getting back up and trying to be on his level ever again. In other words, he did all he could to break your spirit. He based his entire identity on winning.
Living in a home with a father who chose the bottle over taking me outside to shoot some hoops naturally I looked to Michael for male guidance. I spent countless hours studying Jordan. His mannerisms, the fundamentals of his game, his predatory energy to seek and destroy. I literally would press pause, rewind, and press play on Bulls games I recorded on VHS to study his every move on the court so I could emulate it when I would play. So you can imagine my mentality every time I set foot on a basketball court and also life in general. I wanted to destroy everybody so they could witness how great I was. That was my goal and dream. I made many foes and got myself in a lot of “peculiar” situations as a result. Let’s just say, I’ve had my fair share of bruised ribs and black eyes.
Now that I’m a new man in Christ I realize this competitive nature to always be on top is the antithesis of what my Lord calls me to do. Yet the world urges me, pushes me, gropes me and reaches out to me, yearns for me to compete and destroy my fellow man so I can “appear” to be the best. Knowing what I know now I’m not opposed to competition at all. Competing is not evil in of itself, instead it’s the desire to destroy your competition and allowing your desire to win take you over so your heart is filled with pride and negative aggression. If this is my mentality then surely a correction is in the works just as David was corrected when Nathan told him that he was the rich shepherd. It was this “negative” competitive nature that seduced David and ushered him into the precipice of his own brokenness. It made him a liar, a thief, and a murderer. We are called not to measure ourselves against others, but to measure ourselves against Christs’ example. All victories, big and small, the glory should all be given to our Father and not to ourselves.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
The apostle Paul was obviously a fan of sports. He makes sports references all over the place in his epistles, but what is Paul talking about here? He makes references to “self control” and “shadow boxing”. In sports, the amount of the athlete’s talent is only displayed effortlessly in action in direct correlation to their hard work and dedication to their craft…i.e. discipline and self control. Why was Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time? Not because he was simply born that way, but because he spent countless hours on the court when no one was watching. Practicing, honing, obsessing. Sometimes to the detriment of his family and friends. He made many sacrifices to be at the top of his game because he knew there were “forces” trying to dethrone him and he also knew he had an obligation to display his talent to millions watching, hoping to enjoy a couple hours of reprieve from their “daily grind”. As a result of his hard work and dedication he didn’t hide on a basketball court tucked away somewhere, instead he went out into the world and put his discipline to the test in real-time.
The world runs aimlessly and shadow boxes without self control, direction, or goal. Meaning, the world spends countless hours working towards nothing. In many instances I can relate to Jordan’s dedication. There are many times when I’ve put my faith in front of friends and even family. Through my faith, which bestows a certain “discipline and self control” upon me, I go out into the world and hopefully the world sees the byproduct of my hard work and dedication propelled only by my faith and faith alone. In accordance, as a result of my faith driven hard work and dedication hopefully I too, like Mike, can offer someone a “reprieve” from their daily grind…forever.
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)