Practicing for Heaven’s Game

In May of 2002, NBA Superstar Alan Iverson sat down before Press members and unleashed a rant that has become one of the most famous press conference tirades in American Sports history.

Iverson was upset at his coach, Larry Brown, for contending that Iverson’s missing practice and practice habits may have cost his team another final’s appearance.

Iverson could hardly believe he was having to answer questions about practice, saying, “I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice.”  

In a span of two minutes, Iverson would say the word “practice” more than twenty times!  NBA players reacted mostly with laughter and mimics of the interview.  They know how tremendously important practice is for the successful athlete.  Their dads probably pushed them saying, “Practice makes perfect!”

Listen to the contrasting sound of two 1992 “Dream Team” members.

Michael Jordan’s teammates say his practice habits were intense.  It was like they had a game instead of a practice.  Jordan says, “Every day in practice is like a competition – so when the game comes it’s nothing that I haven’t already practiced.  It’s a routine.  Whatever happens in the game, okay, I’ve done this before.”

Larry Bird says, “I don’t know if I practiced more than anybody, but I sure practiced enough.  I would still wonder if somebody, somewhere, was practicing more than me.”  He continues, “Push yourself again and again.  Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.”

Practice is even more important for the Christian.  Eternity’s game is coming. We are simply in practice now.  Switching analogies, we are in the dress rehearsal now.  One day, if well prepared, we will be ushered onto the stage and the curtain will open for the big play.

Our practice includes reading God’s word, living it out in daily life, praying to God, developing Christ-likeness and serving others.  We not only accept it when our Heavenly Coach corrects us and shows us our flaws, we covet such a coach. We say…

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me, and know my anxieties;

And see if there is any wicked way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting”

(Psalm 139:23-24)

We practice to hone our knowledge and skill (2 Pet. 3:18)  We practice to learn how to defeat our opponent – not being ignorant of his game (2 Cor. 2:11).  We practice to become spiritually fit for heaven (1 John 3:7).  We practice to build spiritual muscle and stamina so that we are still going strong in the final quarter (Phil. 3:12).  One of the strongest Christians ever said it this way…“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).  That sounds a little like Jordan and Bird.

The truth is, heaven’s eternal game is for those who love the game so much they begin practicing it now.  They love to study and pray and sing and serve.  They love seeing themselves becoming like the Master player Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).  Those who never practice, never show great desire, and never show any progress will not be on Heaven’s Dream Team.

For now the gym is open.  The roster is not settled.  Opportunity is there for all. Will you practice today?  It’s what all of God’s franchise players do.  Watch today’s ESPN video.  Think about it and have a blessed day.

 — Jeff May


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Winning the Triple Crown

American Pharoah.  If you have followed sports and national news recently, you know the story.  Misspelled though his name may be, the thoroughbred is horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.  What an amazing feat by a marvelous creature.  But it pales somewhat when I recall another horse that won that Triple Crown back in 1973.  His name was Secretariat.

I am old enough to remember Secretariat well.  He won all three races — The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and the Belmont — in record times that still stand today.  In his victory in the Belmont, he led by 1/16 of a mile coming down the backstretch and finished an amazing 31 lengths ahead of his nearest competitor.  But his most impressive run may have been in the Kentucky Derby that year.


In his Derby effort, Secretariat broke slow out of the gate, but still ran the first quarter mile of the race in a respectable 2515 seconds.  The second quarter mile was faster at 24 seconds.  The third quarter mile went by in 2345 – he was still accelerating. The fourth quarter mile was faster still at 2325 seconds.  And the last quarter mile was run at the blistering pace of 23 seconds flat.  He was still accelerating as he crossed the finish line!!!

I pray for a heart like Secretariat’s to finish strong in the spiritual race that ends at the throne of God.  To be able to run harder at the end than at the beginning would be such a joy. And like the great apostle Paul, my hope is to “finish my race with joy” (Acts 20:24).  Fairly late in Paul’s life he wrote, “I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven” (Phil 3:14, CEV).

No one knows exactly how far along they are in their race.  But for me, I am certain that I am near the final turn — perhaps even now on the backstretch.  With every stride, a voice within seems to say, “Run harder!”  Let the one who holds my bridle use the whip as often as He needs to keep me moving faster and faster.  “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:132).

“Run harder!”  Three crowns await – a heavenly triple crown!

  • The crown of glory. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).
  • The crown of life. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
  • The crown of righteousness. “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

 “You know that many runners enter a race,

and only one of them wins the prize.

So run to win!

Athletes work hard to win a crown that cannot last,

but we do it for a crown that will last forever.”

(1 Corinthians 9:24-25, CEV)

As you contemplate running your race, you might enjoy watching Secretariat in his 1973 efforts in the Belmont and Kentucky Derby.  Run hard.  Finish with joy!

– Steve Klein

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Camping Toward Canaan’s Happy Land

I love camping…well, sort of. I love the great outdoors, the sights and sounds of nature, and a good campfire for roasting hot dog wieners and melting down some marshmallows for s’mores! And I love that very first night when I crawl into my tent.

But within a little while it comes back to me that because I’m now past fifty years old, I just don’t handle sleeping on the ground very well. An air mattress sure helps these old bones if I have one. But even at that, after several nights, I’m weary, ready to pack up the tent, and go home.

Did you know the Bible calls your body a tent?  Your body is not the real you. The real you is a spirit, made in the image of God (James 3:9; Gen. 1:27) and made for an eternal home with God.  And for now, the real you is simply camping on the low plains of this earth.  The summit is ahead for the Christian.

One day, any day, the real you will move out of the tent and return into the keeping of God, the Father of spirits (Hebrews 12:9), Who first breathed into you the breath of life (Genesis 1:7). The tent, this ole body, will return to the dust from whence it came (Ecclesiastes 12:7).  The next destination for the real you depends on the direction your tent has been pitched – a life lived for God (heaven) or a life lived for self (hell).  The Bible story of Abraham and Lot shows us that it really does matter in which direction you pitch your tent.  Compare the two when you can (Genesis 12:8; 13:12).  Even though a righteous man, Lot’s tent was aimed toward much grief, while Abraham stayed more focused on “the city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Peter used this “tent” metaphor when he neared the end of his life.

“Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent,

to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly,

I must put off my tent, just as the Lord Jesus Christ showed me.”

(2 Peter 1:13-14)

It will be a great day when the Christian “breaks camp.”  The spirit will break free from the confines and limitations of the earthly body.  We yearn for the new tent, the one specially suited for heaven’s eternity.  The new tent (the new body to which our spirit returns) never has leaks, dry rots, mildews or becomes totally unusable.  It is incorruptible, glorious, spiritual, and raised with great power (1 Cor. 15:44).

“For we who are in this tent groan,

earnestly desiring to be clothed with

our habitation which is from heaven.”

(2 Corinthians 5:2)

Remember, you don’t have to be post-fifty for the spirit to break camp.  It can happen at any time, hence the need to always be ready (James 4:13-14).  Won’t that be a wonderful day if you awaken with a new tent in Canaan’s happy land?  Shouldn’t you pitch your tent in that direction now?

 – Jeff May

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Face to Face

I wanted to see him so much.  I couldn’t remember when I’d seen him last.  To be honest, I literally didn’t remember seeing him before at all.  But I knew I had.  The name “grandpa” belonged to someone very special.  I knew that.

Our family had traveled hundreds miles – for what seemed like a thousand years to a little boy – to finally arrive at grandpa and grandma’s house.  I was so excited!  But when we arrived, grandpa was taking his nap – asleep in the sunroom!  I tiptoed in and waited.  Waited for him to wake up.  And then finally, after minutes that seemed like hours, he did.  And I saw his face, and felt a happiness I’ve seldom ever felt since.  Even now, so many decades later, after memories of him have faded and seeped through my conscious mind into a golden haze, and although I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, few meetings can compare with the first time I remember seeing him face to face.

The way the Bible describes it, the day we meet our Lord in heaven may be something like that. It will be the culmination of a lifetime of anticipation and longing, and then…unspeakable joy in one eternal moment in which the Scripture simply says, “They shall see His face” (Revelation 22:4).

The one quality possessed by all those who will experience that eternal moment is purity. In Matthew 5:8, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  And in 1 John 3:3, after promising that “we shall see Him as He is,” the apostle John says, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  Hebrews 12:14 instructs us to pursue “holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”

My desire to see the Lord is more than just a lovely thought or a wishful fantasy.  It is an all-consuming hope.  It is a deep desire, a burning passion that empowers the pursuit of purity and holiness.  And, most importantly, it accepts the unvarnished reality that the only means of obtaining the necessary purity is through obedience to God’s truth (cf. 1 Peter 1:22).

May our lives be lived in that daily pursuit of purity, so that one day we may see Him face to face.

  Face to face with Christ, my Savior, Face to face—what will it be,

When with rapture I behold Him, Jesus Christ who died for me?

Face to face! O blissful moment! Face to face—to see and know;

Face to face with my Redeemer, Jesus Christ who loves me so

Face to face I shall behold Him, Far beyond the starry sky;

Face to face in all His glory, I shall see Him by and by!

(Hymn Lyrics by Carrie E. Breck)

– Steve Klein

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