Finding God in the NBA Finals: “Go and Make __________”

We like numbers. That should come as no surprise given that we are created in the image of God; God who reveals identity as 3-in-1. God who seems to have an affinity for 3, 7, 12, 40, and infinity. Numbers are everywhere in our lives: prices, heights, weights, finances, and sports. I like sports. In sports, we use numbers to measure a person. We use numbers to measure a person against another person: LeBron James has one championship ring, Kobe Bryant has five, Michael Jordan has six, Bill Russell has 11 – in 13 seasons! We use numbers to identify a person. I can still tell you that Lou Whitaker wore number 1 for the Detroit Tigers, Alan Trammell wore 3, Sparky Anderson wore 11, Lance Parrish wore 13, Chet Lemon wore 34, Darrell Evans wore 41, Dan Petry wore 46. We like numbers.
And I will go out on a limb (not very far) and say that people who talk about sports today will talk about LeBron James’ numbers so far in the NBA Finals. Because he is playing so great or so poorly? No, not for that reason. Because nearly a dozen times after the game last night, when hounded by reporters asking questions, James said, “I have to do more.” I’m not quite sure what James meant by that, and he certainly doesn’t have to explain himself to me nor anyone else. But could he be talking about his numbers? His points in the game, his rebounds, his assists, his blocks. Perhaps. Perhaps he feels inclined to increase his numbers.
Granted, James was answering questions from gossip-hungry reporters whom, I believe, were just waiting for James to slip and say that his teammates are not doing enough. James is smart enough to know that and smart enough to not take the bait. But when we look at the series overall, it is fair to say that the teammates – the “role players” – will determine the winner of the championship. Last night there were relatively unknown players scoring more points than the “superstars.” Basketball is played five-on-five, not one-on-one nor two-on-two. And those who analyze sports, particularly basketball, often look to see if the most gifted players can make their teammates “better.”
How are we doing with that? “We” as in “Christ-followers.” Are we helping to make others around us “better”? What do I mean by that? Well, I’m glad you asked. Earlier this week a colleague shared an insightful piece about the doomed focus of missional work. The church has often made great effort to do missions work. Why? Well, partly because of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28, and partly, I believe, because we like numbers.
We like to declare that we support missionaries in (___) countries. We like to measure our “growth” by the number of baptisms or the number of people who profess their faith. And although it is good to celebrate the growth of the Body, we must be very careful not to stay hung up on our numbers. We cannot focus there because what Matthew 28 tells us to do cannot truly be measured – not by us, anyway. You see, Matthew 28 does not tell us to “Go and make converts.” That can be measured. No, the command was to “Go and make disciples.” Well how do we do that? I’m glad you asked.
We pour into their lives. We empty ourselves. That is contrary to everything that we see around us. LeBron James, like us, has a desire to be “the best.” He has the gifts, talent, and work ethic to be the best. But how successful will he be – in a team sport – if he focuses only on improving himself? I am not here to bash LeBron James because we all do that. We all strive, in our brokenness, to be the best. Even our church numbers fall prey to that trap. We now have a term “megachurches” which qualify as such by a particular number. Clearly, those who attend a megachurch are “the best,” right?
Ok, ok, you got me – Jesus was surrounded by crowds. Sometimes 4,000 or 5,000 and more. You’re right. Clearly Jesus wants megachurches. Wrong. Every time that Jesus was surrounded by crowds, you will notice that he stops and speaks into the lives of those closest to him – the disciples. The Gospels are not written by reporters, instead they hold the account of Jesus as given by those closest to him. Jesus made disciples. Well what about the numbers at Pentecost?; there were thousands converted then! Yes – by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the work of men or women. LeBron James wants to do more. Chances are you do too. Somehow, in some way, you want to be noticed and or measured. But you were called to do something immeasurable: make disciples. The “numbers” that may tempt you have nothing to do with you anyway. But, in obedience and love, you can give your life to the same work Jesus did in his ministry years and “make disciples.” What does that mean? Simply this: be so committed in your love for God that you must share it with others by teaching them and loving them as you walk through this life together. We do not know what that other person may do for the Lord; they may (seem to) have a bigger impact than us. And when you can reach the point that you are not only “okay with” that, but long for that, you will be ready to make disciples for the Kingdom of God.

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