Serious Call, Freeing Cause

Fifa-World-Cup-Brazil-logo-hd-2014-photo“Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” Matthew 8:21-22

As reported several months ago, the Brazilian government pledged to spend at least $900 million on security for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. They said that it would be “one of the most protected sports events in history.” A CNN article in 2012 said that the government plans on having one police officer per every 50 people at each soccer match and one per every 80 people at other viewing events around the country.

It makes sense. The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup was 1950. The last time a South American country hosted a World Cup was 1978. Times have changed. Hosting anything is a big responsibility, especially if it’s as serious as a World Cup.

This is only natural — the more responsibility, the more serious the call — but I think we look over this aspect in our spiritual lives.

Somehow, perhaps we’ve grown up in a predominantly Christian culture (especially in the Bible Belt, where I live) that has made Jesus their Savior but has not made Him their Lord. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” he calls it cheap grace and costly grace. Bonhoeffer says that the only man who has the right to say he is saved by grace alone is the man who has given his entire life to follow Christ. Bonhoeffer, who went on to die for the cause of Christianity in Nazi Germany, called it “the grace of martyrdom”. It was a gift of grace because it was God welcoming him into His purposes, even if it was viewed as costly in the world’s eyes.

Do you live your life with the foundation of cheap grace or costly grace? The call is both serious and freeing.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer for Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Saltwater in the nose

Switchfoot Bali

I parked my car and hurried into the gas station to buy a bag of ice.

It was 5 a.m., and I was running slightly behind.

I had started coaching a golf team at a Christian high school in Charlotte that spring, and it was the morning of our conference tournament, our biggest tournament of the year. Though I was originally hesitant to accept the coaching position, I looked back on the season and believed it might have been the best thing I had done with my life in a long, long time—something that forced me to find meaning in relationships again when my tendency was to isolate myself in coffeehouses and pubs writing things that take an eternity to get published, a process that continually seems to bring me to the edge of my identity, some daily flip of a coin between fulfillment and worthlessness.

On this particular morning, I needed to get a bag of ice for our team cooler before I picked up the bus and the boys at the high school. “That will be $2.19,” the gas station clerk said to me.

I gave him a few dollars, thanked him, and quickly walked out to my car. The sun was yet to come up, and it was a beautiful spring morning.

I reached into my right pocket for my keys. Nothing. I reached into my left pocket. Nothing.

Maybe I didn’t lock my car, I thought.

I tried pulling the handle on the driver-side door. Locked. Then the back-left door. Locked. I walked around to the other side of the car and pulled the handle on the back-right door. Locked. Then the passenger-side door. Locked.

That’s when I saw my keys in my ignition, locked in my car, the bus keys also on the keychain.

I stared at my keys for a second or two, a million thoughts racing through my mind and a thousand words that can’t be printed. I hadn’t locked my keys in my car for at least four years, and here I was, on the one day I couldn’t make a bone-headed mistake, and I had made one.

I’d see if I could push the windows down, I thought. I danced around the car, trying each and every window, but none of them budged. I desperately jumped on top of the roof of my car and tried to push open the sunroof. Nothing.

There I was…on the top of my car…defeated.

What would my players say? What would their parents say? How would they get to the tournament without the bus? Surely, I thought, my days of coaching golf were over…after one year.

I jumped back down and saw the bag of ice sitting on the pavement. I looked at it, disgusted, as if it had just laid its hands on my sister, as if the bag of ice had hands. All of this for a bag of ice, I said to myself, a stupid bag of ice.

Frantic, I ran back into the gas station to see if the clerk had a hanger. Then I asked a woman driving a public transportation bus if she had a hanger. Then I talked to a man in a food delivery truck to see if he had a hanger. Then I called my roommate and woke him up to bring a hanger. The next person I talked to, I decided, I was going to ask for a baseball bat.

I was desperate. So I marched over to one of the gas pumps and picked up a plastic squeegee, as if I was wielding a sword, and stomped back to my car, on a mission. I took the handle and tried to bash through my back-right window. At this point, I didn’t even care. This was the biggest day in my first year as a head coach, and I had no way of getting my players to the tournament.

I swung once…twice…three times. Nothing.

For a split second, I thought about taking my elbow and ramming it through the glass. I’m still on my parents insurance, I thought to myself, shrugging. I may as well go to the hospital one last time. But my insanity stopped there. The only thing worse than missing the tournament would be showing up at the tournament bloodied up with glass in my skin.

To make a long story short (that is actually already a long story thus debunking the cliché), a kind, African-American man came over with one of his friends. They had a couple of gadgets to pry open the sunroof, and my roommate eventually showed up with a hanger. The men/angels fidgeted with it for a while, and eventually unlocked my car. I took their addresses and told them I would send them something.

I again looked at the bag of ice on the pavement, quite possibly the worst purchase I’ve ever made. It was the angriest I’ve been over an inanimate object that wasn’t a golf ball.

As I drove to the high school, at one point, I looked down at my speedometer and realized that I was unknowingly traveling nearly 90 miles per hour in my Chrysler Concorde down the Interstate, which is never a good thing, especially in a beat-up Concorde with over 200,000 miles on it. I think it made me realize how much I had allowed the chaos to control me, how I had become a captive to it all, how I was putting my life at risk and had nearly bashed out one of my windows with my elbow.

Once I finally arrived at the bus garage and transferred the cooler onto the bus, I whipped the bus into the high school parking lot to pick up my players. That’s when I heard a gentle thump by my feet.

I looked down. The cooler had tipped over.

Again, I stared down at the ice, which was now scattered all over the floor of the bus.

That’s when I thought back to my interview with Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman about surfing. “Surfing adds to the levity,” he told me. “It lets air into the room, and maybe some saltwater into the nose. It’s a reminder that you can’t take yourself too seriously.”

Once I took a step back, all I could do was laugh. It was as if God was smiling down on me saying, “I know you’ve had a rough morning already; now, I’m just going to turn this into an even better story. Don’t can’t take yourself too seriously.”

We arrived at the course (on time, somehow), and before the boys got off the bus, I told them to glorify God through the game of golf and enjoy God through the gift of golf, to stay focused but not take themselves too seriously, to not allow the chaos of the day to control them, as I had done that morning.

And then I apologized for the warm Gatorade.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in Sports Spectrum’s first issue of its three Summer 2014 issues. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.

Scars For A Cause

i“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

They are calling Group G the “Group of Death” in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, consisting of Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and the United States. Merely advancing out of the group would be an incredible accomplishment, especially for the United States. The fact that it’s a more difficult road for, say, a team like the United States, almost makes the journey more exciting. The greater the pain, the more scars there are, the greater the reward.

I’ve been trying to approach sin and temptation with this same mindset. I recently heard a sermon by John Piper based on the premise: You don’t have to sin to feel its power. He gives the analogy of increasing weights on a rope hooked at people’s ankles, one by one, pulling them over a cliff into the pits of sin. As the weight increases, Piper says, you feel the temptation of sin, even without sinning. As the analogy goes, after the weight pulls two people over the side of the cliff, it steadily increases with the third person until the cord finally snaps. The third person’s ankles are bleeding, but he has not sinned. Piper then exclaims something along the lines of, “Do I have any soldiers out there? I want to see some scars for a cause! You don’t have to sin to feel its power.”

Do you have any scars for a cause? Or do you fall over the cliff time and time again? Show God He is much more rewarding, more pleasureful, and more fulfilling than your sin that so easily entangles.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer for Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Brad Guzan’s Unexpected Journey

Our biggest breakthrough moments sometimes come when we least expect them.

In 2005, United States goalkeeper Brad Guzan had thought he played poorly in place of Chivas USA’s injured keeper. The squad finished with an abysmal 4-22 record in its first season, and Guzan believed much of it fell on him.

“I was young,” he says. “I wasn’t sure I was ready mentally, physically. And I wasn’t sure if I was good enough. We were not winning games…So that point was definitely a low for me. There were a lot of question marks going through my head.”

At the end of the season, however, Guzan received an email inviting him to the U.S. National team’s camp in January. It was an invitation to represent his country. The thing he least expected.

It was a huge confidence boost after a rookie year that seemed like it couldn’t have gone worse. And two years later, his stardom continued to rise, as he was named the 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. This led to an opportunity to play for Aston Villa in one of the world’s best soccer leagues, the English Premier League in 2008, where he has remained ever since. Being in such a competitive league hasn’t been easy, but he has come a long way since Chivas USA’s 4-22 record in 2005.

“It was a trying four years for me, the first four years in England,” Guzan says. “It was difficult because you would play a game, do well and the next week you would find yourself on the bench. So it was inconsistent football that I was experiencing and I was looking for the consistency… (But) you have to be professional. You have to be persistent…You just have to keep fighting…I knew that if I kept going I would be given an opportunity at some point.”

One thing that has remained consistent, in a position as mentally trying as goalkeeping, is the thing keeps him steady in all circumstances—good or bad.

“When things are going well for you, you can’t get too high,” Guzan says. “When things aren’t going your way, you can’t get too low…I think as athletes, everyone gets caught in the heat of the moment, then maybe do things that they regret later on. For me, I am no different. I am not perfect…But God loves everyone. You have to be able to open yourself to Him and allow Him into your life. And if you do that, the forgiveness, the relief that comes off your shoulders, knowing that you have God’s love, you are able to follow Him through your life’s journey.”

In March of 2013, Guzan started in place of an injured Tim Howard for the men’s national team in two 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifiers and did not give up a goal in either match.

“For me, how my personal life, my faith life and my sport life—they all come together,” Guzan says. “I think they have to. I think that is just natural. You don’t have one without the other and most importantly you have to have Jesus in your life…As I said, it hasn’t always been a rosy road to success. There are always going to be bumps along the way. And through those difficulties, Jesus is what helped me get through all of those struggles.”

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine.

‘All In One Rhythm’

hi-res-652fb2922fa3e79503a191d73afcd7e8_crop_north

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” 1 John 5:7-8

The official slogan of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is “All in One Rhythm,” or, in Portuguese, “Juntos num so ritmo.” I love these four words. Not only is it a perfect description of the World Cup—how teams from around the world come together to participate in the sport of soccer, all in one rhythm—but it also makes me want to apply it to my own spirituality.

One of the most remarkable things in the Christian faith, to me, is the concept of the trinity. Just thinking about the triune God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—points my heart and mind toward something worth discovering.

One of my mentors describes this three-person deity and their relationship and union with one another as a dance. Somehow, someway, they are all in one rhythm, making up one being, serving different functions. What is even more remarkable to me is that this Triune God welcomes us into the dance, inviting us to join the rhythm, as He lives in us and through us.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer for Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Preacher In Cleats

Spring 2014_feature_Enoh

There is an hour-long video online titled “The Integrity of the Christian Faith Pt. 1,” featuring pastor Ebo Taylor and Cameroonian soccer midfielder Eyong Enoh.  The video is produced by an organization called “Sons of God Intercessory Ministries (ICWC) Europe,” and as of March 10, 2014, the video only had 64 views.

The video is nothing fancy. The animations, in fact, by American standards, seem rather corny. A ticker reading the same sentence slowly slides across the screen the duration of the hour, and the backdrop looks like they are sitting inside an animated space shuttle. Oddly, it looks like it could be Emperor Zurg’s lair on Pixar’s Toy Story.

And yet, it is one of the deepest, scriptural videos you’ll find on the Internet featuring any international superstar like Enoh, the vice-captain of the Cameroon national team who has played in some of the world’s top leagues in both England and the Netherlands.

“To be alive is our calling to purpose,” says Enoh at the start of the video. “To be alive is our calling to divine destiny. Otherwise…at the time you get saved you would be immediately taken to heaven. But it’s not like that. There is a reason God allows us to be here. Because we were sent on an assignment. We were sent with a divine destiny to fulfill.”

It’s quite refreshing, actually, to watch something without all of the emotional gadgets used on us to stir our hearts—the videography, editing, music, dramatic pauses, etc., that have become all too predictable and almost mundane in today’s society. Instead, it’s a raw conversation. The only emotional thing in the video is the people, pastor Ebo Taylor and Eyong Enoh. They dive into Isaiah, II Timothy, the Gospels, and yes, even Revelation. They read from the Bible on the edge of their seats (and you can tell because their chairs keep squeaking). Enoh seems much more like an evangelist than a soccer player, preaching at times with the word-frequency of an auctioneer, always quoting Scripture, continually speaking of the Holy Spirit.

Spring 2014_feature_Enoh2

“I remember praying one day and hearing the Lord say, ‘When you come before me on the day of judgment, I am not going to ask you how many games you played or how many goals you scored,’” said Enoh in an earlier interview. “’I am not going to ask how many trophies you won or how many people supported you. I will simply ask: What did you do for My Kingdom? Did the world see Me living in you? And, did you share the Gospel message that I came to die for the world?’ The Lord’s words really dawned on me. It is important to discover the reason we are alive, to function in it, and to make a difference with it.

“In Acts 17, Paul displayed great boldness while visiting the city of Athens. His life had already been threatened and he had been chased out of several other cities for preaching the Gospel, yet that did not stop him. In Athens, a city full of idols, he bravely called for repentance and spoke about Jesus openly. Because of Paul’s faithfulness and bold spirit, men’s and women’s hearts were changed and the Good News continued to spread.”

Ironically, the video is all about returning to the integrity of the Christian faith, and there is an overarching feeling that—despite the lack of editing technology and camera angles, despite the uncontrollable squeaks from their chairs and beeps from one of their wristwatches—this is exactly the way the Christian faith is supposed to be. Based on the Word and His Spirit. As simple, yet complex, as that.

“Once I encountered the message of Jesus and gave my heart to Him, I knew I had found what I was looking for because I felt peace in my heart—peace that cannot be traded for anything,” Enoh said. “I clearly remember realizing two very special things: there is a reason I am alive and not just another body in the world, and I am unique with a specific purpose that God has already designed.

“Jesus said to the disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). I have learned that my relationship with God is never-ending, and I am constantly aware of His presence wherever I am—even when playing football. I worship Him everywhere and in everything I do, including my effort on the pitch.

“I have also realized the main purpose of life is to talk about Jesus. God had given me talents and the ability to play football—a great platform to share Jesus. Through football I can reach people who look up to me in my country and people I meet through my career. It has become the pathway through which the Lord can use me.”

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum. This story was published in Sports Spectrum’s special World Cup issue. Log in here to read the issue or past issues of Sports Spectrum.

Living conscious of God’s love

0b508bac9dc853381f52baadb0aec69496055be3

“And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped the night.” 1 Samuel 19:12

I’ve dislocated my knee twice while playing basketball. What’s just as frustrating as the dislocation itself, however, is what happens to the quad muscle after the injury. It shuts down. In order to get back out on the basketball court, even after two surgeries fixed my knee cap, I had to hook an electric stimulator up to my quad multiple times a day, for several weeks straight, just to fire up the muscle again. It was as if my quad completely forgot how to function, even after the surgery. It was as if my quad muscle, which functioned perfectly ever since I learned to walk, suddenly forgot the way it worked before.

Sometimes, I think our hearts work the same way. Consider David. In 1 Samuel, we read about how “the Lord was with him” and protected him as Saul did everything he could to kill him. And yet, later in David’s life, he lusts upon Bathsheba, tries to cover it up, and suffers a monstrous fall. It’s as if he forgot how much God loved and protected him in his past. He forgot how to walk. He was spiritually unconscious.

As our series on 1 Samuel continues this issue and we read about Saul’s pursuit of David and God’s protection of David, think about the blessings God has bestowed upon you in your past. Are you living conscious of His love? Or have you forgotten the very thing at the core of your being—the fact you are loved?

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer for Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Switchfoot’s ‘Joy of the Journey’

Summer 2014 DigiMag #1 FINAL2You look the most hipster out of all of us with that bike,” Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman laughs.

I look back over my shoulder at Foreman behind me.

“I don’t know about that,” I laugh, as I coast down a hill on a yellow, rusted fixie they’ve lent me from their tour bus. The paint is peeling, and the bike appears to be more silver than yellow. The bike is wobbly and the front brakes are practically non-existent.

A girl is walking toward us on the sidewalk and it feels, for a second, like I’m going to run her over. I dodge her and tell myself I was never one for first impressions.

“If I die,” I say to Foreman behind me, “just tell my mother that I love her.”

It’s 7 p.m., and the sun is setting on a cool, March evening in Charlotte, North Carolina. Switchfoot is set to perform at Amos’ Southend, a concert hall just south of downtown Charlotte, but first, they’ve scheduled an interview with Sports Spectrum magazine, and apparently, the interview is beginning with a bike ride.

We coast past All American Pub on our right, then ride past World of Beer on the corner of South Boulevard and East Bland. We make a right onto South Boulevard, and Foreman pedals up next to me. Drummer Chad Butler is in front of us, leading the way.

“Bet this is one of your more interesting starts to an interview,” Foreman laughs.

“Hey,” I say matter-of-factly, somewhat out of breath, “It’s all about the journey, right?”

For Grammy-Award winning alternative rock band Switchfoot, “journey” might be the best word to describe their story as a band.

Formed in 1996, the San Diego-based band consisting of brothers Jon (lead vocals, guitar) and Tim Foreman (bass), Chad Butler (drums), Jerome Fontamillas (keyboard), and Drew Shirley (electric), have continued to revamp their sound and top the charts since they burst onto the scene in the early 2000s—when their fourth studio album The Beautiful Letdown went double platinum. This last year has been one unlike any other, as they produced an album and a documentary, both sharing the name Fading West.

In the documentary, Foreman reflects on their story as a band and is quoted as saying, “It was all about the joy of the journey.”

His words “joy” and “journey” seem to be a summation of life. The journey might be hard. But joy was always there. Despite circumstances, joy was always accessible, if you could only find a way to continually revisit its fountains.

2013, SWITCHFOOT

Joy In Saltwater

We’re on Your shore again / I can feel the ocean / I can feel your open arms / That pure emotion / I’m finally free again / By my own explosion / We’re on your shore again / I can feel the ocean

We bike across South Boulevard, and arrive at Nova’s, a quaint coffeehouse and bakery a few blocks from the concert hall. Butler locks our bikes up to a sign in the parking lot, and we enter the coffeeshop.

Foreman, 37, has long, blond surfer’s hair hanging out of his black-and-gold patterned ski-cap, and he has a tight leather jacket over his zip-up sweater. I notice a scar running below the right side of his nose. He would later tell me it came from a “gnarly” surfing accident. Butler, 40, another passionate surfer, is wearing a red and gray, plaid button-up shirt and a heavier greenish-gray jacket. Away from the lights, stage, and thousands of screaming fans, they seem rather ordinary, just a couple of “bros” hanging out in a coffeehouse…like anybody else.

I offer to buy them coffee.

“You sure?” Foreman says.

“Are you kidding me?” I tell him. “After the impact you guys have had on me, I wish I could get you more than a coffee.”

It’s true. If we had time for a steak dinner, I’d feel as if I owed it to them for the times their music has carried me through. Most recently, I’m reminded of when I quoted their song “Where I Belong” in the eulogy I delivered at my grandfather’s funeral: On the final day I die, I want to hold my head up high, I want to tell You that I tried, To live it like a song.

Foreman and Butler are as genuine as I always imagined them, thanking me for the coffee and telling me that the compliment meant a lot. Even their willingness to ride bikes to a coffeehouse with a random writer, in a random city, merely hours before they take the stage at Amos’ Southend, I figured, was a good anecdote to demonstrate how relaxed and free-spirited they were, and a reflection of how much they valued people.

Butler gets his coffee and takes a seat. Foreman and I stand at the coffee bar, as the barista prepares our drinks. Foreman begins to tell me about an article he’s working on for The Huffington Post. I tell him that I really enjoyed a previous article he had written about the concept of wonder. “Against the backdrop of wonder,” his article said, “I am reminded of the larger symphony going on around me, reminded of how small I really am.”

I tell him how I’ve been thinking a lot about wonder lately—how love can lead to wonder, how fear can lead to wonder, how doubt can lead to wonder. It’s as if every emotion we experience in this lifetime, whether positive or negative, points toward a bigger story that is being told.

Foreman then goes on to tell me about Victorian literature and their fascination with “the sublime,” how writers like Charles Dickens and William Butler Yeats brought their readers into a world where they experienced a “state of ecstasy,” which caused them to think outside of themselves.

We eventually sit down at a table next to Butler, and Foreman asks me whom some of my favorite authors are. I tell him that I’m currently enjoying German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship, then confess to him that I can only read a page at a time because of its depth.

“How about you?” I say.

“Well, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is amazing,” Foreman says. “He wrote a book called Ethics, I think, that wasn’t finished (before he died), and I’m reading that off and on right now. Again, it’s one of those, where you pick it up, read a couple pages and say, ‘Well, now I can think about that for a year,’” he laughs.

We start talking about martyrdom, as Bonhoeffer died for the sake of Christ under the oppression of Nazi Germany in 1945, then start talking about grace and the will of God, lofty concepts we do not understand yet long to understand more fully.

It was obvious—whether it’s through their music, documentary, or the current interview—that Switchfoot loves to think and ask big questions about both life and God.

This leads us to talking about the sublime again, these things that remind us how small we really are, things that free us from a world where we think far too big of ourselves. Foreman and Butler start talking about surfing in the context of the sublime, thus giving me a sports angle in my guilty pleasure of writing music stories.

“Surfing might be to Switchfoot what music would be to a professional athlete,” Foreman says. “Where music is their release, their escape, their chance to connect with their soul and go to another land for a second—for us, surfing is that. Our job—we love it and we wouldn’t trade it for the world—but it’s demanding at times. There are ups and downs. To be able to stare back at the shore and remember how small you are and to gain that kind of perspective and see all of your problems down there on the shore, and realize, wow, this is a much bigger world than all the text messages I’ve been dealing with, the problems I’ve been having in the studio or on the road.”

“It’s usually removed of all human noise,” Butler adds. “You are removed, you have the ocean, maybe some birds flying above. You are in the elements.”

The ocean is where Switchfoot feels small again.

“The stage is this bloated, weird place to exist,” Foreman says in Fading West, “where people give you unnecessary amounts of attention, and in the water, all of that is washed clean.”

Surfing has always been one of the threads to Switchfoot’s brotherhood—even their band name is a surfing term. Recently, Switchfoot spent all of 2013 touring the globe while filming a rock/surf documentary (released December 2013) while recording an album (released January 2014) while hitting up some of the world’s most renowned surfing hotspots in Australia, Bali, South Africa, and New Zealand, alongside surfing legends Rob Machado and Tom Curren.

“Every great novel or album comes from a place,” Foreman continues. “Bob Dylan goes and visits the homeless, and Bruce Springsteen visits the people that he admires musically…For me, I don’t think that any of these songs could exist without the ocean. The ocean is a common thread in our friendship—my wife calls it my baptism—it’s this element that can be the breath in when so much of life is giving and breathing out. The ocean, really, just gives back.”

Switchfoot 2 ph cr Brian Nevins-2

Joy In The Hurricane

Hello hurricane / You’re not enough / Hello hurricane / You can’t silence my love / I’ve got doors and windows / Boarded up / All your dead end fury is / Not enough / You can’t silence my love

I tell Foreman and Butler that I enjoyed their documentary, that the videography made it a spiritual experience, and their honesty and transparency amidst trials and doubts made it an intellectual experience.

At one point in the film, Foreman has to abandon their global tour and fly home to San Diego because his daughter, Daisy, is unexpectedly rushed into surgery. Another scene shows him and his younger brother, Switchfoot bassist Tim Foreman, having an emotional conversation about Tim and his wife’s miscarriage years before.

Suddenly, in a documentary with spiritual undertones, both through its music and videography, the sometimes-taboo subject of doubt is brought to the forefront.  I tell Foreman and Butler that this is what I identified with the most in their documentary: doubt.

“We included a lot of personal stuff in the film. We are not filmmakers, we are not actors,” Foreman laughs. “If there is anything compelling that is going to come out, it’s going to be honesty. If you take away honesty, you probably don’t have a reason to be on a film. As a songwriter, those are always the most compelling elements of the song—when there is some risk involved and you actually put yourself in the music. You can really feel the difference. If someone is emotionally invested in a song, or if they are just kind of playing it cool, trying to be somebody else. At the end of every song, you have the question to ask: Do I believe it?

“We were talking about Springsteen and Dylan earlier—all of my favorite singers/songwriters bands/whatever, are people that, when the song ends, you can say: that guy believes what he is singing. I might even disagree, but he believes it.”

For years, Switchfoot has used rock-and-roll as a channel to address issues that might not be able to be addressed effectively otherwise. Politics. Pain. Doubt. Faith. Their documentary was as honest as their music.

“As far as doubts, I think doubt is the flipside of belief,” Foreman says. “Any form of faith or trust in a relationship, doubt is available at any point. We show what we believe by the way that we live our lives.”

Foreman looks down at his chair.

“For example, I believe that this chair is going to hold me up as long as I’m sitting here. In talking about our doubts, it’s another way to talk about our faith and another way to talk about what God has brought us through. I think, as a songwriter, I’m not afraid of being honest in that way. Fortunately, I think it kind of reflects the stance that we’ve had as a band.”

“I’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t trust a man without a limp,’” Butler adds. “I think it’s important to acknowledge your flaws and, in them, pursue honesty. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are in this together, and I mean that as a brotherhood, as a band, and also in it with our audience.”

Foreman piggybacks off Butler: “It’s funny, because, just like doubt is always available to you, joy is also always available. Joy is one of the few things that set us as a human species apart…Maybe dolphins enjoy riding waves…But the idea of taking joy in every stage of life, the rationality that it takes to find joy in both places (good times and hard times) is something that is uniquely human.”

“Counter-intuitive to our human instincts,” Butler adds.

“Especially a winning-losing culture,” Foreman continues. “It’s all, ‘You’re happy when you win, sad when you lose.’ But that means you will be sad most of the time—for most of us,” he laughs. “Or it may mean that you’re happy for a little while, and then, at the end of your career, it’s all sadness! But for a believer, it comes down to the idea that, no, this life is only a fraction of the joy that is available to us. As far as winning and losing, there is so much more joy than just the joy of victory.”

As we rode back to the concert hall on our bikes, I thought about two words—joy and journey—and how our journey includes both winning and losing, like Foreman said, and how the joy in this life is only a fraction of what we’ll one day experience.

When Switchfoot took the stage that evening, I noticed how it all tied together, how their music, for a moment, helped people experience a fraction of joy and step into the sublime, while, at the same time, their music also helped direct them to the Source of all joy.

And before launching into their final song of the evening, Foreman prefaced it with a statement that seemed to tie “joy” and “journey” together perfectly.  A white flag draped over his neck, with the song title “WHERE I BELONG” spray-pained in black on the flag, Foreman stated: “This is a song about a destination.”

And perhaps it is this reality, that we are merely passing through this life on earth toward a much more glorious destination, which frees us to experience true joy in the journey.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.

Multiply

Bobcats Spreads

If there is one word that describes the 2013-14 Charlotte Bobcats season, it’s this: multiply.

Two seasons ago, they won seven games (during a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule). Last season, they won 21 games (of 82). This season, they finished with 43 victories (in 82 games), six times their amount of wins in 2012 and double the wins from a season ago.

They’ve gone from the punch line of jokes on sports talk shows across the country to becoming a serious threat around the league, as they went on a 20-9 tear after All-Star Break and defeated some of the NBA’s best teams, in part because of a stifling defense that allowed the fourth fewest points in the league.

One year before Charlotte reclaims its “Hornets” name, the Bobcats have already created a buzz in the Queen City, advancing to the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2010. No matter what transpires in the 2014 postseason, it’d be foolish not to recognize the breakthrough season the Bobcats have had merely two years after finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.

But their number of victories isn’t the only thing that has multiplied this season. The stories of three newly acquired Bobcats players—Anthony Tolliver, Cody Zeller, and Luke Ridnour—can teach us about multiplication in a different realm.

Anthony Tolliver

Anthony Tolliver was on the Bobcats plane one evening when a teammate asked him about the book he was reading. Tolliver told him that it was a book called Multiply by pastor and renowned speaker Francis Chan. His teammate expressed interest, and the two of them started meeting together on road trips to talk about the concepts in the book.

Other players noticed the two of them meeting and asked if they, too, could join. Before Tolliver knew it, his little conversation on the plane had turned into a seven-person Bible study that met in hotel rooms on road trips. The title of the book Tolliver was reading couldn’t have been more ironic.

“God literally used the title and meaning of the book,” Tolliver laughs. “The book is about discipleship and teaching other people about the Lord—so it couldn’t get any more direct. I was like, ‘Wow, this isn’t me.’ It’s funny because I always looked at myself as someone who doesn’t know a lot, but there are always people who don’t know as much as you do who you can help.”’

Tolliver, who has bounced around between six NBA teams in six seasons and has experienced inconsistent playing time this year with the Bobcats, has been reminded this season that, no matter what his circumstances might be on the basketball court, God still may have him in a specific place at a specific time for a purpose. All he has to do is look around any given Bible study he is leading to realize that.

“It’s one of those things that is kind of surreal—to think that these guys are listening to what God might say through me,” Tolliver says. “It’s crazy. It’s not something I’ve done before. It’s out of my comfort zone.

“Every time I think about that, I’m like, ‘Yeah, God is always going to put you where you are supposed to be. I’m always going to be in the right spot. If I play a lot or don’t play at all, it will still lead me to my next journey and next place.”

Amidst the challenges facing Tolliver on the hardwood, he positioned himself before the Lord, and God used him in a way he never imagined and multiplied it.

Cody Zeller

For rookie Cody Zeller, this season has been an exciting season, but also a transitional one, as he turned professional after his sophomore year at Indiana University and was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats fourth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.

In an instant, his life and surroundings changed.

“College is a lot of fun, but now you’re playing basketball for a living,” Zeller says. “I had to pick up my concentration and focus playing against the best players in the world every day, whether that’s back-to-back games or four games in five nights. I think that’s been an adjustment for me. In this league, it’s more of a job, and they can always find someone else to do it. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot this year.”

Zeller is naturally a go-with-the-flow type of person, anyway, but his transition into the NBA was also made easier by the ingredients in Charlotte.

“I think it’s uncommon to have as many believers as we have on the team,” Zeller says. “That’s definitely made it a lot easier. On other teams, I might have to look elsewhere for close friends or guidance on different things. We have a great group of guys, and that has made the transition a lot easier on me.

“The other thing about the Bible studies we have is that it’s fun because a lot of us come from different backgrounds. Different ages. Different homes—one might have grown up in the city, another might have grown up in the country. Some might have come from single-parent households. Others might have had two parents. Luke (Ridnour) is in his mid-30’s. I’m 21. Al has a little kid. Our discussions are really good because guys are in different points in their lives, have been brought up different ways, and are in different phases of their walks with the Lord.”

NBA Hall of Famer and Charlotte native Bobby Jones has also had an impact on Zeller in his transition. Whether it’s offering guidance with the NBA lifestyle or simply playing Ping-Pong at his house, Jones has become a spiritual and professional mentor for Zeller, inviting him to his house at least once a week.

“He is so low-key that you would never think that he was an NBA Hall of Famer,” Zeller says. “He lives out in the middle of nowhere on a dead-end street, and it’s very humbling talking to him because he is so down to earth and never makes a big deal out of anything. He is a great Christian man, and he’s had a big impact on me.”

Jones’ influence and humility, perhaps, has been a reminder of the importance of slowing down, especially in the helter-skelter lifestyle of an NBA basketball player, where wealth, power, and fame are at one’s fingertips.

“I have more time to study and more time to pray,” Zeller says. “It’s kind of cool because a lot of times on plane trips, I can’t sleep after just getting done playing, and I find it really peaceful for me. It’s dark on the plane and a lot of guys are doing their own thing. I read the Bible app on my phone, and I throw on some music. Since you can’t get service in the air, you don’t receive any texts, or get on Facebook or anything else like that. It puts me in the right frame of mind, whether I played well that night or played bad that night. It reminds me what is most important in life—my relationship with the Lord. That is my routine now.”

Amidst the transition—a new city with a new lifestyle and new responsibilities—Zeller positioned himself before the Lord, and God brought people and scenarios around him in ways that he never imagined—multiplication. Through teammates. Through an ex-NBA player. And through hanging out with God in the dark cabin of an airplane.

Luke Ridnour

One player’s story that is oddly similar to the Bobcats recent history is that of Luke Ridnour.

Before his arrival in Charlotte, Ridnour had been to the playoffs only twice in 10 seasons: once in 2005 with the Seattle Supersonics where he spent his first five seasons, and again in 2010 with the Milwaukee Bucks where he spent the next two seasons.

Ridnour was then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he, like the Bobcats, experienced the frustrations of season after season when the losses significantly outnumbered the wins. The Timberwolves finished 17-65 in 2011, 26-40 in 2012, and 31-51 in 2013. In the offseason, Ridnour believed it was a positive sign that his old team, the Milwaukee Bucks, decided to trade for him with the intentions that he could help them make a playoff run in 2014.

When their season began with an abysmal 3-15 start, however, and a 9-43 record before the All-Star break, Ridnour saw his minutes slip as the Bucks began to invest more in their younger players. The experience was a continual mental battle.

“It was a tough situation of me being a veteran, wanting to get to the playoffs and win and play, and none of that was happening,” Ridnour says. “It made me really focus on God and not the circumstances. It really affects who you are, your character and what you are doing. My wife really encouraged me that I’m just not here to play basketball, but I’m here to be a light and represent Him.”

Of course, by the time the All-Star break rolled around, it was the Charlotte Bobcats who were trading for him.

“When I was in Milwaukee, I felt like it was a test for me to stay positive and stay encouraged and still be a light in a tough situation basketball wise,” Ridnour continues. “I was able to do that, and I look back on it and I think God kind of rewarded me or honored me and brought me to a place with a playoff team. I think God is always watching to see if you give Him the little situations and if you honor Him still when it’s not going well. That’s what I kind of feel like this year has been for me. It’s been exciting to be able to go from that…It’s my 11th year, so to be able to play in the playoffs is fun.”

Amidst the discontent and feelings that he was running out of time, Ridnour positioned himself before the Lord, and God brought him to a place he never imagined, multiplying his wins, minutes, and influence.

Positioning and Multiplying

So much of this life comes down to positioning, doesn’t it? Positioning our hearts. Positioning our minds. Positioning ourselves before the Lord so He can use us, so He can take a seed on good soil and multiply the crop (Matthew 13:8).

And after that, it’s just simple math.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine.

Rising to the Occasion

Michigan v Syracuse“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5

I had the privilege of going to last year’s national championship game between Louisville and Michigan. I confess I knew nothing about either team, but as the game progressed, I was quickly captivated by a little, freshman guard on Michigan named Spike Albrecht. Albrecht, who was only averaging 1.6 points per game, caught fire from the 3-point line and single-handedly kept the Wolverines in the game. In 18 Big Ten games, he had 22 points total. In the national title game, he had 17 points in the first 11 minutes. The Wolverines fell to the Cardinals in the end, but Albrecht’s performance is one I know I’ll never forget.

I believe Albrecht probably performed the way he did, not because he got lucky, but because he entered each game, each half, and each minute throughout the season with the mindset his team might need him. That’s the way good players think. On a star-studded team with national player of the year candidate Trey Burke, Albrecht stepped up when Burke was in foul trouble and rose to the occasion.

I’m learning to approach my walk with God the same way. If what God desires for me is perfect unity with Him, then it seems plausible that He may use me in unexpected places, random conversations, and unscheduled occasions. It’s this full-time purpose, constant adventure, and life led by the Spirit that seems to continually captivate me on this walk with Christ.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Uncommon Challenge