The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Sports (page 1 of 15)

Lessons from David: An Introduction

Lessons from David

David stands as one of the most famous and most popular characters of the entire Bible: He is a hero in both the Jewish and Christian faiths, and is famous both for his feats in battle prior to his kingship, and for arguably being Israel’s greatest king.

He is clearly a key figure in Scripture: in fact, more of the Bible is devoted to telling the life and actions of David than anyone other than Jesus and Moses.

Even in a culture such as ours which has become largely ignorant of the contents of Scripture, most people are at least somewhat familiar with the character of David. The famous story of David and Goliath has even become a cultural metaphor; in a sporting event (especially like the NCAA Basketball Tournament) when you have two teams playing each other where one team is perceived to be much better than the other, it will often be referred to as a David and Goliath matchup.

David’s life comprised an important link in the history of Israel and also the history of God’s redemption, but it also provides a lot of lessons which are good for us to remember. It was a life characterized by remarkable peaks and painful valleys, and over the next couple of weeks I’d like to take care of some of the lessons we can learn from it.

Larry Doby and the Importance of Forgettable Excellence

1951 Bowman Larry Doby

Over the years, I’ve written a lot on this blog about Jackie Robinson, who has long been one of my heroes. In 1947, Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, making it possible for African Americans to play big league baseball, and actually making baseball what it had long claimed to be—the national pastime.

Robinson was a great baseball player, and was the perfect choice as the pioneer who would integrate baseball. He was determined to succeed on the field, and his considerable skills helped. He was a good line drive hitter, a versatile fielder, and an absolute terror with his legs. His daring maneuvers on the base paths thrilled fans, and brought a new style of playing to the conservative Major League circuit. He was great off the field as well: good-looking, articulate, and poised. 

But probably, you know a lot about Jackie Robinson already, because he has gotten a lot of fanfare over the years.

You might not know as much about Larry Doby.

Larry Doby was Jackie Robinson’s American League counterpart. In July 1947, Doby broke the color barrier in the AL when he cracked the lineup for the Cleveland Indians for the first time. In his first appearance he struck out, but he would go on to have a great career of his own as a 7-time All-Star and an eventual Hall of Famer. By some measurements, he even had a better career than Robinson did.

But Robinson came first; Doby was only second. Robinson was the flashier player; Doby was more in the background. Robinson has become an honored figure, a hero to millions; Doby has been forgotten by most people.

So it goes.

But I guess the point I want to make in this post is how incredibly important the Larry Dobys of the world are. As great as Jackie Robinson was, if Larry Doby and a bunch of other African American players behind him weren’t ready to come in and prove that Robinson wasn’t a fluke, it all would have been for nothing. A lot of those players have been forgotten, but their impact and legacy lives on.

And I think about the example of Larry Doby and how it applies to other areas of life, and especially to God’s Kingdom, because when you think about all the parts of Christ’s Body, not too many people get to be Jackie Robinson. Certainly, there are a few—immensely talented, flashy, charismatic, known and admired and remembered by all—but not many.

On the other hand, there are a lot of Larry Dobys—talented in their own right, but not as flashy, not as well-known. Just committed disciples who live lives of dogged, forgettable excellence for the cause of Christ. And who change the world in the process.

Praise God for the Larry Dobys!

Football Teams and Church Commitment

More good stuff from Mark DeVries’ Family-Based Youth Ministry, Rev. Ed., pp. 148-49 (emphasis added):

“I have often wondered what would happen if football coaches approached their work like most youth ministers are expected to. For example, I wonder what would happen if, when a player was too busy to show up for practice, the understanding coach simply said, “We’ll miss you. I hope you’ll be able to make it next week sometime. ” Imagine the players leaving practice and hearing the smiling coach say, “Thanks for coming. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow.”

If a football team operated like a typical youth ministry, we might expect concerned parents to call the coach, saying, “Can you tell me what’s been going on in practice? My son says it’s boring, and he doesn’t want to come anymore. I was wondering, could you make it a little more fun for them? And by the way, you might want to talk to the coach at the school across town. He seems to have the right idea.” The coach might send out quarterly questionnaires about what the players would like to change about the team. (I can just imagine the answers: “shorter practices,” “more winning”).

Responding like a typical youth minister, this coach might first feel guilty that the practices were not meeting the boy’s needs, and he would try to adjust his program to suit this boy (and every other boy who complained). Between trying to keep everybody happy and giving every student a good experience, the coach would squeeze in a little football practice. And what kind of season would this coach have? It’s a safe bet that the coach wouldn’t be the only one who felt like a loser.

But this is the very way that most churches expect to run their youth ministries. To expect that youth be committed to the church with the same level of commitment that would be expected of them on an athletic team would draw the charge of legalism and insensitivity. Our culture has been so carried away by the current of religious individualism that the expectation of commitment to the church has become implausible to most Christians in our culture. Because the god of individualism pressures us to program to the lowest common denominator, we seldom raise the expectations high enough for teenagers to experience real community.

Real community means real responsibility for each other. It means a commitment to be there for each other even when the schedule is tight and the motivation is low. But the typical Christian adult in our culture knows little about commitment to community.”

How true this is! I would love to be able to count on the same sort of commitment that a football coach expects. An unfortunate by-product of the extreme individualization of Christianity is a de-emphasis on the importance of Christian community, specifically in the context of the local church body.

The Christian life was never meant to be lived in isolation.

Daring and Determination: Essential Characteristics of Christianity

As any regular readers of The Doc File know, I am a huge fan of Jackie Robinson. In addition to being a world-class athlete, Hall of Fame baseball player, and, behind Martin Luther King Jr., the most influential player in the American Civil Rights Movement, he was also a man of great personal character.

I recently came across the photo at the top of the page of Jackie on the base paths. It’s a picture I love because I think it so well captures two of Jackie’s characteristics which were integral to his success and are also necessary in the daily life of the Christian: daring and determination.

Daring

Integrating Major League Baseball left Robinson open to constant torment and abuse. Racist fans heckled and berated him constantly, opposing managers would threaten not to play the Dodgers if Jackie was in the lineup, and baserunners from other teams would try to spike him with their cleats. None of that was a surprise—Dodgers GM Branch Rickey had warned Robinson in detail of the kind of abuse he would face if decided to take part in the “Great Experiment” and become the player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball—but Jackie Robinson was willing to take the risk.

In addition to his daring in integrating the big leagues in the first place, Robinson was also daring in the way he played he game. Bringing the style of the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball, Robinson was a terror on the basepaths, stealing bases, distracting pitchers, and stealing signs.

Christians need to be daring as well. To a large degree, I believe a Christian’s influence in the world is nullified when she or he refuses to be daring. Doing things that make you feel uncomfortable like sharing your faith with a friend or co-worker or taking an unpopular moral stand when others refuse to requires daring. Being willing to attempt great things that you’re not sure you are capable of doing like adopting a child or teaching a Bible class also requires daring. Attempting to fulfill the mission given to us by Christ of seeking and saving the lost requires a great deal of daring!

Author John Augustus Shedd once famously said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” It is a great quotation! Too often, I think that Christians look at the church as a safe harbor, and because they like the safety, they fail to venture outside of its (figurative) walls. Certainly the church is a safe place, but it should be a place where Christians are equipped to engage, change, and save the world, not where they can hide from it.

It’s not “safe” out in the world, but it is where our light is most needed. Christians must be daring!

Determination

In the picture above, the look in Jackie’s eyes oozes focus and determination. On the basepaths, he was completely locked in to his psychological and physical battle with the pitcher, and was determined to defeat him.

It’s interesting—baseball really wasn’t Robinson’s best sport. In college at UCLA, Jackie lettered in four different sports. In track and field, he won the national championship in the broad jump in 1940. In football, he led the nation in punt return average in 1939 and 1940 and led UCLA in rushing, passing, total offense, scoring, and punt returns in 1940. In basketball, Robinson led the Southern Division of the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring in both 1940 and 1941. Baseball was his fourth best sport! 

Later on, after spending some time in the military during WWII, Robinson honed his baseball skills playing in the Negro Leagues, but here’s the point I’m getting at: I’m really not sure that Jackie Robinson should’ve been a Hall of Fame caliber baseball player, but he was just so determined to succeed! Robinson knew that he carried the weight of the hopes of Black America on his shoulders, and he was determined that he would not let them down. So his determination led to great success.

Christians also need to be people of determination. You can’t accidentally live a faithful Christian life—it requires the determination on a daily basis to live a life of discipleship regardless of cost or consequence.

That’s counter-intuitive for us today (especially the part about cost or consequence) because we live in a consumer culture where different products are constantly vying for our attention and loyalty—if you’re not losing enough weight on your diet, quit it and try a new one. If you don’t like your cell phone plan, drop it and switch over to a competitor. If going to church doesn’t seem to be improving the quality of your life, cut it out and try something else…when taken to the extreme, we become people devoid of commitment or determination, and, quite simply, people who give up too easily.

It is not easy to be a Christian, but Jesus never promised that it would be. Faithful discipleship requires determination!

Jackie Robinson’s ability to change the world certainly involved his natural talents and abilities, but equally if not more important were his character traits of daring and determination. If Christians, as citizens of the Kingdom of God are going to engage the world and change it for good, then we have to possess those same characteristics in abundance.

Wanted: Role Players in the Body of Christ

Joe Kleine was one of the best basketball players in Arkansas Razorback history. An All-Conference Selection in 1984 and 1985, and Kleine also played on the 1984 Gold Medal U.S. Olympic team. In a game against the 2nd-ranked Houston Cougars in 1984, Kleine led the Razorbacks to victory, snapping Houston’s 31-game conference winning streak and outscoring future Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajawon 22-10. During his career at Arkansas, Kleine averaged 18 points per game—more than Michael Jordan averaged during his career at the University of North Carolina.
But, after completing his collegiate career and joining the NBA in 1985, Kleine went from being a stand out all-star to an average, back-up, role player. In the late 80s and early 90s, Kleine played for the Boston Celtics. While he was there, he was overshadowed by a number of very famous and very good players—Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Reggie Lewis, and Robert Parrish. Parrish in particular overshadowed Kleine, because Parrish played the exact position that Kleine did—center. Robert Parrish is considered by basketball experts to be one of the greatest centers who has ever played the game, so Joe Kleine got to be Parrish’s backup.
It’s not easy being a backup, a second teamer. Backups are called things like “substitutes” and “bench-warmers” and “role players”. Backups don’t get to play on the Dream Team; they don’t get to play in All-Star games. Their basketball cards aren’t worth very much, and they don’t get to make many commercials. It would seem that being a backup isn’t a very important job.
Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Consider the following description of Joe Kleine from an article by a Celtic sportswriter a few years back:

“He is what he is. And he knows exactly what that is—the backup center on an NBA team. Every NBA team would love to have Kleine be what he is, which, in addition to being a competent NBA center, includes being a first-rate person.” 

The article goes on to quote one of Kleine’s former coaches:

“When we had him here, Joe was our lug. Now, he’s your lug. But you know what? He’s a good lug, I wish we still had him.”

Why is Joe Kleine, a second-string backup center, the kind of player that every coach wants on his team? Why is he the kind of player that coaches don’t want to give up? Because he is willing to accept the role he is given, and give his best performing that role, even if it is not exciting or glamorous. 
Paul talked about role players in 1 Corinthians 12.14-18:

“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.” 

We don’t each fill the same role, but Paul goes on to tell us that we each have a role to fill. Moreover, he tells us that God bestows an extra measure of honor upon those who fill roles that seem unglamorous:

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think of as less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

Just as role players are an integral part of any NBA team, they are also indispensable within the church. Unfortunately, this is often a difficult lesson for Christians to learn. Even some of Jesus’ apostles struggled with this concept—in Mark 10, James and John asked to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus so that they could receive special recognition. This request was made because they did not understand the role that God had given them. In Mark 10.43-45, Jesus explained to them that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
 
Are you willing to be a role player in the Body of Christ? Because that’s the kind of player that God is looking for on His team.
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