Dead men can jump: shooting for the wrong team

When I was in 7th grade I played basketball for the Buena Vista Demons. One time I got confused. It may have been after half-time and we may have just started going the other direction. Okay, and maybe I was a somewhat miserable basketball player–I didn’t score the entire season. And had two technical fouls. And that was on the B-team.

I rarely got the ball, so one home game when I felt the rubber in my hands all of a sudden, it was like I woke up from a basketball-playing sleep. I got a burst of energy and a thirst to make an impact with the moment I had been given. Unfortunately my energy was not guided by reason or skill; I just went for it. The nearest basket happened to be that of other team, the Salida Spartans. But I didn’t think about that, I just put it up!

People yelled “Noooo!” while the ball left my fingertips in slow motion, and the crowd started to realize what happened and opened their mouths to laugh as it arced toward the backboard. Members of the Salida team were awestruck. I shook my greasy mullet to clear my head, realized what just happened, and hoped my parents and the girl I had a crush on weren’t there.

Luckily for my teammates, it bounced off the rim and a quick-thinking buddy got the rebound, and headed down-court to our goal without a word. He didn’t even send me the look of ridicule I was ready for.

The coach didn’t take me out of the game; he kept me in. I got my bearings and went back to playing for team I was on.

What happened to me in that moment?

Did I become a Salida Spartan? My teammates may have said so, but no. My shooting for the other team did not turn my uniform from red to blue. I did not go to the other coach’s bench after the game for a slap on the back (although some of my teammates may have preferred it that way). My irrational, terrible playing did not rewrite history so that my parents decided to move to Salida instead of BV in 1982. And my shot didn’t cause a whirlwind to uproot my house from Buena Vista and set it on a foundation 30 minutes down the Arkansas valley in the boundaries of the Salida school district.

Even when I was shooting for the wrong team, the truth is I was a hometown kid and a player on the Buena Vista basketball team. My actions didn’t change who I was, no matter how much they might have proved that I was confused about who I was.

At times we allow our minds to think that our poorest actions define who we are. But if we’re believers, the scripture says we are to consider ourselves to be “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ” (Romans 6:11) So even when I sin, that’s not who I truly am. I just happen to be shooting in the wrong direction.

I’m dead to sin. Sin doesn’t define me any more than the direction I shoot changes the name on my jersey. “He who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:7)

Instead, my life is defined according to who the Lord says I am: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” -2 Cor 5:2

So if I agree with the scripture, I should consider myself to be the righteousness of God. That’s what God made me through the death of Jesus. He became sin so I wouldn’t have to live under it’s tyranny. And I’m alive to God, living in the Spirit, and I don’t have my identity in the the ways of my flesh any longer.

If I sin, it’s an exception to who I really am, not proof of who I really am.

This all doesn’t happen for free or just through positive thinking, it happens because I have a part in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s what the imagery of baptism is about: going under the water in death of the flesh, and coming out of the water, resurrected in the life of Jesus. We get a new uniform (and a much better one than Buena Vista’s Demons’, I might add). It’s a new identity and no matter what we do, it’s ours.

Occasionally I hear teachers that subtly reinforce the tendency in their listeners to sin because they treat believers as though their modus operandi were sin. Without knowing it or saying it, they build up their listeners in their false identities–they talk to the dead people and try to get them to behave better, instead of regarding the resurrected members of Christ and building them up into maturity.

Yes, we do have two natures at war within us, the sinful flesh and the new life of the Spirit, but we need to renew our minds so that we identify ourselves and others according to the Spirit–who we really are. As Paul said, “from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:16,17, emphasis mine)

We don’t need to think of ourselves and each other according to our leftover fallen ways (which are nothing more than the lingering memories of dead people) but according to who we are in our new redeemed life!

We would do well to be like my rebounding buddy and my basketball coach, who were able to disregard my shooting in the wrong direction. They didn’t have to call me out. They knew I’d get things going the right way. Why? Because they knew I was a BV boy. There’s just no way I just was going to play for the Spartans the entire rest of the game. That’s just not who I was.

As a believer, you might be a clumsy, skinny, mulleted player like I was with large glasses that automatically turn dark when you go outside. But you’re a hometown kid. You may not know which way is which sometimes, but you’re still our player. If you shoot the wrong way now and then, that’s not who you are. You are the righteousness of God. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. (1 Peter 2:9) You’re quite a piece of work, and God got some good stuff ready for you to do when he thought you up. (Ephesians 2:10)

So let’s not have an identity crisis when we act like our old, dead selves for a misdirected lay-up here or a three-pointer there. We’ve still got our hometown jerseys on.

–Tim

August 20, 2008