Come Alive

Come Alive SpreadSo much of life seems to be a search for life.

Purpose and love and happiness seem to be buried somewhere in a far-off desert. Some find it. Some don’t. But all search.

“God’s will” seems to be locked in a treasure chest sitting on the ocean floor in the remains of a sunken ship. The search, the swim, is exhausting.

But perhaps it’s simpler.

Purpose Has No Bounds

What surprises most about Mark Bentley is that he’s only 21 years old. He is a junior at Southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He is a college kid.

Yet here is Bentley on this August day at the Tenth Avenue North Golf Classic, organizing the entire tournament, driving a cart all day around Brier Creek Golf Club in Raleigh, N.C., making sure everything runs smoothly, standing on stage that evening with a microphone in front of hundreds of Raleigh’s premier movers and shakers as he raises money for Christian ministries.

In a month, he’ll go back to school; but today, he’ll help raise more than $100,000 for three ministries: local ministry Cru RDU, national ministry College Golf Fellowship and global ministry Compassion International. Today, he’ll wear a sport coat, his thick, black hair combed over, shake hands with celebrities and businessman, and appear 30 years old. Today, he’ll make the Tenth Avenue North Classic profitable, a rare feat for a celebrity tournament in its first year.

The crazy thing is that Bentley has been organizing events and fundraising since he was 16 years old as a junior in high school. Growing up watching both of his parents work for Campus Crusade for Christ, he learned early on about different models for outreach and fundraising.

He eventually decided to apply everything he had learned to one of his biggest passions in life: golf.

“I remember learning about giving God glory in everything,” Bentley recalls. “I asked myself, ‘How can I do this in golf?’”

Bentley and his friends dreamed up a weekend retreat for high school golfers in Pinehurst, N.C. His goal was to reach out to PGA Tour golfer Webb Simpson and see if he would want to be the keynote speaker. Simpson, who, at the time, had just earned his Tour card, was a longtime family acquaintance of Bentley. Outside of Simpson’s hometown of Raleigh and his alma mater Wake Forest University, few knew his name.

Next thing Bentley knew he was sitting in Panera Bread one Monday morning, when none other than Simpson walked in. Bentley approached Simpson with the idea.

“Man, this is crazy,” Simpson told Bentley. “I’ve been praying for 2-3 years on how to reach out to high school guys.”

“I’ve been praying for 2-3 years on how to use golf for the glory of God,” Bentley told Simpson.

Simpson had a passion. Bentley had a passion. They connected them.

The first year, 66 high school guys came to Pinehurst. The next year, 60 attended with 40 on the waiting list. The following year, Simpson won the U.S. Open and 84 came with 60 on the waiting list. The fourth year will take place on Nov. 1, and they have record numbers again; one kid is coming from France and another from England.

Each year, Bentley fundraises so it’s affordable to high school golfers. The first two years, it was free.

“Through doing those events, it gave me a heart and passion for business and golf,” Bentley says. “I always have these crazy ideas. And I decided I wanted to combine those passions for the purpose of raising money for a Christian mission. I started praying about it.”

Two months later, Jeff Owen, the lead guitarist for Tenth Avenue North, texted Bentley, who was in college by this time. Tenth Avenue North had been long-time supporters of Cru RDU, Bentley’s parents’ ministry, long before they burst onto the Christian music scene in 2009 and emerged as one of the most popular contemporary Christian bands.

“Hey bud,” the text said. “We want to do a golf event. Will you help plan it for us?”

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Golf Meets Music

PGA Tour golfer Kevin Streelman and Tenth Avenue North lead singer Mike Donehey are standing outside the banquet facility at Brier Creek Country Club the day of the Tenth Avenue North Classic in Raleigh.

“How did we meet, exactly?” Donehey says to Streelman, smiling, hinting there is a story behind their friendship.

Streelman laughs.

“We met on eHarmony,” Donehey jokes. “Golfers seeking guitarists.”

“No, I think it was match.com,” Streelman plays along.

“I’m not a great guitarist,” Donehey continues, “but I said, ‘Hey, I love me some golf.’”

Turns out, Streelman and Donehey did meet online; just not an online dating site. They connected through an online auction.

Streelman was at a barbecue at a Duke/Alabama football tailgate three years ago, when he remembered the approaching deadline on an online auction he had been following, a private concert from Tenth Avenue North. The band had put the concert on eBay to help raise money for a counseling ministry for musicians in Nashville. Streelman was determined to win.

“I was a stalker, a big fan of theirs,” Streelman laughs. “I saw them put this cool auction idea on, where you can invite friends over and they come play at your house. I told my wife, ‘Courtney, I’ve got to do this.’ I probably sniped it from some poor teenage kids, I’m sure, who thought they were going to win it.”

Streelman logged on at the tailgate with three minutes remaining in the auction, placed his final bid, and won. A year later, Donehey and the band came over to Streelman’s Arizona home for a private concert.

“We actually just hit it off,” Donehey says. “He took us out to the driving range.”

Streelman shakes his head, shamefully, thinking of taking Donehey to the driving range.

“It was bad, bad,” Streelman says. “He was doing the Happy Gilmore dance all around the range.”

Donehey repeats the dance, riding an imaginary golf club like a horse.

“Got me in trouble at TPC,” Streelman shakes his head.

Donehey laughs.

“We just started hanging out when he was in town or we were in town,” Donehey continues their story. “It was awesome. I could teach him some guitar chords, and he could teach me how to swing a golf club.”

“And we just sat down and had this idea,” Streelman says. “How can we bring together Mike’s friends from music and my friends from golf?”

Streelman had a passion. Donehey had a passion. Like Bentley and Simpson, they connected them.

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Masquerade

It’s been a big year for both Donehey and Streelman. The August before, Donehey and Tenth Avenue North released their third studio album, The Struggle, which debuted No. 1 on Billboard’s Christian & Rock album charts, with “Losing” as their hit single. Tenth Avenue North has exploded since winning a GMA Dove Award for New Artist of the Year in 2009.

Streelman has exploded, too, winning his first PGA tournament of his career at the Tampa Bay Championship in February, and finishing third at the RBC Heritage in April, sixth at the Wells Fargo at the beginning of May and second in The Players Championship a week later, continually in and out of the top-15 in earnings for the 2013 PGA Tour season.

And yet, there’s something special about this moment as they stand outside the banquet facility at Brier Creek that has nothing to do with the successful years both of them have had, as they see their dream, the Tenth Avenue North Golf Classic, a celebrity golf tournament that raises money for Christian ministries based around Acts 1:8, fleshed out in front of them—as over 140 players in the sold out Pro-Am complete their golf round and turn in their scorecards, as hundreds walk past them into the banquet facility for an over-capacity evening concert and fundraiser.

Streelman gathered his buddies on Tour like Stewart Cink, Derek Ernst and Michael Thompson to come to the tournament, and had the tournament’s logo on his staff bag all season. Donehey gathered his buddies in the music world like hip-hop artist TobyMac and southern rock band Needtobreathe. Bentley organized the golf tournament and after party.

Together, all three of them, along with many others, helped raise more than $100,000 for three gospel-centered ministries: Cru RDU, College Golf Fellowship and Compassion International, who Tenth Avenue North has been partners with for 14 years.

“To us,” Streelman says, looking around, as people walk into the banquet hall, “this is greater than any Emmy, Grammy, major, green jacket, money list, world ranking, all that stuff—”

“That stuff comes and goes,” Donehey says.

“It’s our dream come true,” Streelman says. “And, you know, it’s not our plan. God had His hand in how we met, His idea for this, and what’s going to happen with the money we’re raising. So, I mean, we’re just pawns in His cool masquerade.”

Treasure

Maybe we don’t have to exhaust ourselves swimming all over the ocean searching for treasure; maybe the treasure is inside us, in the passions God has laid on our hearts, in the ideas that come into our minds, in Panera Bread encounters, random texts, and online auctions.

God gave us passions. Maybe He wants us to use them. For Bentley, it’s business; for Donehey, it’s music; for Streelman, it’s golf; for all of them, the gospel.  Maybe God wants to partner with us in what we love to do. Maybe He wants to live through us, as we do what we love. Maybe it’s more up to us to move, than Him revealing a secret. Maybe He just wants to empower us and launch our dreams rather than lead us to a treasure chest with a blueprint inside.

During the tournament at Brier Creek that day, Mike Donehey played golf with the swing his friend Kevin Streelman taught him. At the after party and Tenth Avenue North concert that night, Streelman came on stage and played the chords Donehey taught him for one of their biggest hits, “You Are More.”

The musicians there enjoyed playing alongside the golfers that afternoon; the golfers there enjoyed listening to the musicians that evening. It was as if God was knitting passions together to make a beautiful quilt. Bentley, Streelman and Donehey have made it a goal to raise $1 million in five years, averaging $200,000 a year.

“There’s an old quote,” Donehey continues. “And it says, ‘We always ask ourselves what the world needs, but what we ought to ask ourselves is, ‘What makes me come alive?’ Because what the world needs is for people to come alive.’ So go find out what you love to do because going and doing what God has made you to do is what will bring Him the most glory.”

By Stephen Copeland

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

Faith Looks Forward

Faith Looks Forward SpreadMason Plumlee looks out over the floor at Duke University’s practice facility.

It must be weird to be back—returning to campus, his home for the last four years; visiting Cameron Indoor, Duke’s 2010 national championship banner hanging in the rafters of its gymnasium that feels more like a cathedral, with its wooden steeple doors and castle-stone exterior; and sitting here in Duke’s practice facility where his new team, the Brooklyn Nets, are having training camp.

This facility—the two courts in front of him and the weight room to his left—is where he became the player he is today, where he emerged as one of the most dominant big men in college basketball, and where he developed into a first-round draft pick in 2013 by the Brooklyn Nets.

“I would be in here shooting 500 free throws a day,” he says, looking at the courts in front of him. “Because I was one of the worst free-throw shooters in the country,” he laughs.

It was practicing free throws on Duke’s practice courts that taught Mason a valuable lesson, not just about basketball, but about life.

After shooting 50 percent from the line his first three seasons at Duke and often being subbed out at the end of games, Mason improved to a 70-percent free-throw shooter his senior season. He was resilient in his pursuit, which his mother, Leslie, says is one of his most admirable traits. Mason, having worked hard, then learned to rest in the assurance he had given his all.

“You can make things happen to an extent, but eventually you have to turn it over to God,” Mason says. “If you are stuck in a situation, if you are having problems, sometimes the best thing to do is just take a step back instead of beating your head on a wall, trying to get through the wall.

“I was beating my head and beating my head, and eventually, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m putting the reps up. I just need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and put it in His hands.’”

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Letting Go

Mason Plumlee found himself in a similar spot this summer.

Entering the NBA Draft can be an exhausting process. Your future, your city, and your life are uncertain, entirely in the hands of others. It’s not like picking a college or finding a job. You have little say in the process. Your story is yet to be written, and you have no clue how it will be written. Mason says it’s an exciting time, but also an uneasy time, as your life is on the cusp of drastic change and even loneliness.

He exhausted himself this summer mentally, as he traveled the country, worked out with 15-plus potential NBA teams, and hoped to convince one of them he would be a good fit for their franchise. Mason, predicted by some experts to be a lottery pick, worked out with each team between picks 5 and 20.

“It almost got to where I wasn’t enjoying it,” he says. “I put a lot of pressure on myself with each workout. But I got to the point, and I said, ‘God, wherever you want me to end up, that’s where I’ll end up.”

There were three things Mason hoped for in his future team: first, that they’d have a superstar he could learn from; second, that they would be competitive in the league; and third, that it would be in a big city.

“The night of the draft, I was actually at peace,” Mason continues. “Everybody was like, ‘You are gonna be stressed out,’ but I said, ‘Hey, it’s out of my hands. I did my best in workouts. It’s in God’s hands now.’”

But on June 27, 2013—the night of the NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn—20 picks went by, and every team he was in contact with before the draft went with a different selection.

His future seemed even more in question than it already was.

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Peace, Past and Promise

As Mason talks about the evening of the draft, he flashes back and reflects on the road that led him there—a reminder, perhaps, that peace for the future can sometimes be attained by reflecting on the past.

It’s been a unique journey for the Plumlee family. Perky and Leslie, the parents of four children (Miles, Mason, Marshall, and Maddie) modeled this concept of “letting go” when they moved Mason and his older brother Miles from Warsaw Community High School in northern Indiana to a boarding school in Arden, North Carolina (just outside of Asheville), back in 2007. They made the move to put Mason and Miles in the best position, they believed, for them to excel.

It wasn’t an easy move. It meant Perky and Leslie would miss most of their games. It meant they would have to Skype with them from afar. While most parents let go of their children when they send them off to college, they let go when Miles and Mason were still in high school, sending them nine hours away to the North Carolina mountains as they stayed in Warsaw.

It was also an unpopular move in the Warsaw community and the basketball-infatuated state of Indiana. Even at church, Perky says people avoided him like he had leprosy. But what many perceived as controlling parenting was actually quite the opposite. They were letting their children go, and they wished they didn’t feel like they had to.

So they took a risk that would forever change people’s perceptions of them as parents. And they did it for the sake of their children. But now, with Miles playing for the Phoenix Suns, Mason with the Brooklyn Nets, and Marshall still at Duke, the move appears to have yielded fruit.

“Somehow God made all this, and He made it work out,” says Perky, talking about his family’s unorthodox journey.

Mason helped lead Christ School to three state championships, and the “Plumlee Brothers” began to receive scholarship offers from all around the country. Miles, who graduated one year before Mason, signed his letter of intent for Stanford his senior season, while Mason committed to Duke his junior year. It appeared their lethal duo would end in the high school ranks.

“I wanted to play with my older brother, but I didn’t want to go all the way to the west coast,” Mason says. “It looked like we were going our separate ways.”

But then Stanford head coach Trent Johnson took the head coaching job at LSU, which caused Miles to back out of his letter of intent. That’s when one of Duke’s 2008 commitments decided to transfer, a scholarship opened up, and Miles ended up playing alongside Mason for three seasons at Duke. In 2010, they won a national championship together, as Duke defeated Butler University in Indianapolis.

“There’s just another example,” Mason says. “It’s out of your hands…You aren’t always going to see what God sees, but it all works out.”

Mason believes it all brought him to where he is today, reminding himself of his past to secure his belief in God’s promises. Thinking of past blessings can be healthier than thinking of future uncertainties.

“The Bible is full of promises,” say Perky. “The special activator is when you put your faith in those promises and make them your own, and you trust in them, put your faith in them, and say, ‘I believe that. I believe my steps are ordered in the Lord.’

“Mason got to that point this past summer. And with that, we’ve sensed a peace with him.”

Faith Looks Forward

Mason has three words on his Twitter bio: Faith looks forward.

That’s what faith does, whether it’s leaving Warsaw, going to Duke, or getting drafted into the NBA. It looks forward, even when you do not understand, even when others do not understand you.

On draft night, as Mason watched every team he was in communication with go a different direction, he felt even more alone and confused, beyond the uncertainty the NBA Draft already produces. Then, with the 22nd pick, he was selected by the Brooklyn Nets, a team he never even worked out with.

“When Brooklyn picked him, we were a little bit stunned,” Perky laughs. “Brooklyn wasn’t even in our conversation.”

The same day they drafted Mason, the Nets made the biggest trade of the offseason, acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics. “Everybody thought KG and everyone was going to go to the Clippers with Doc Rivers,” Mason recalls. “Nobody could have predicted it.”

Mason wanted a veteran he could learn from, and he got several of them. He wanted a competitive team, and he got a potential title contender. He wanted to live in a big city, and he got Brooklyn.

“In one night, it became the situation I was dreaming of, and I was fortunate that they thought enough of me to pick me and wanted me to join the team,” Mason says. “God’s plans, you can’t see. That’s why you have to act on faith. Because it’s out of our hands sometimes,” he laughs, “and I for sure felt that way.”

Flying Alone

Perky often tells Mason, “Birds fly in flocks, but eagles fly alone.”

“Mason,” Perky tells him, “sometimes you have to fly alone.”

There are still uncertainties with Brooklyn. In many ways, it was everything Mason wanted, but the dynamics of the team may also make for a difficult road. Playing time may be scarce this year on a team so loaded with superstars, and Mason, a 23-year-old blonde-haired Duke boy, doesn’t exactly blend in on a team studded with veterans.

Mason lives on the Hudson River in New Jersey, starting a new life in a new city, on a new team with players far older than he. It’s not the tiny town of Warsaw, Ind., or the homey, small-school comfort of Duke.

But just like shooting 500 free throws each day in Duke’s practice facility and working out with nearly half the teams in the NBA this summer, Mason can let go of his future because he knows he is working hard. He does his best, then surrenders. He uses his gifts, then leaves them for God to do what He pleases.

“There are things out of our hands,” Mason says. “It’s a relationship (with God). We have to take care of our end. But if I have a good attitude, and I do my work, God will put me in the position He wants me to be in. You can’t micromanage everything. You want to have control, but no matter how bad you want to be in control, no matter how hard you try, there are still things that are out of your hands.

“I think, really, that’s the point of my story, that you have to walk by faith and not by sight. You can’t see the supernatural and what God has planned.”

So faith looks forward, as a plan continues to unfold.

By Stephen Copeland

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

Devotional of the Week — Know what is true of you

 

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“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4

“Stephen,” my golf instructor told me in high school. “We’re going to make a list.”

“Okay,” I said. “Of what?”

“Of all the positive things that are true about your golf game,” he told me.

I think my instructor knew the exercise would be difficult for me. He knew how much I beat myself up, how much I convinced myself I was worse than I actually was, how much of a pessimist and perfectionist I am.

By the end of the exercise, we had a good-sized list, surprisingly. “Alright,” he told me, folding the paper up in fourths and putting it in my golf bag, “Whenever you have a bad hole, you’re going to take this list out and read it.”

Essentially, what he did was train me to remind myself and convince myself of positives that are already true of me. I’m learning to do the same in my spiritual walk, to remind myself that the same Holy Spirit dwelling inside the apostles at Pentecost also lives in me, to remind myself that I am in perfect unity with God.

2 Peter 1:4 states: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

Because of Christ, we participate in the divine nature of the Godhead. Truth is Him loving and living through us.

By Stephen Copeland

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

Another Angle — Weekend in Virginia

IMG_2468As I write this, I see the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding the softball diamonds at the Botetourt Sports Complex in Roanoke, Va.

I come here every Labor Day weekend for the Interstate Church of God Softball Tournament. I don’t come to play softball. I come to write. I come to gather stories. I come to Roanoke to believe.

I look out at the mountains, and I’m reminded of the storm a year ago that fell over the Blue Ridge like an avalanche, how I stood in the rain for a bit, not wanting to move, soaked, watching the lightning, mesmerized as if it were a fireworks show. I look at them now, over at the spot where the storm conquered them a year before; now the sun is beaming over them, the sky so clear it’s boring.

I’m a different person this year, I say to myself, as I replay the last year in my mind, a year that can only be described as a storm, one of heartbreak and loss, rejection and emptiness, where two of my grandparents passed and my aunt took her own life.

But the mountains have not changed, I say again to myself, and neither has my God. A storm may blow in this afternoon, but the mountains will not change. They will still be there, their silhouettes stenciled into this open Virginia sky.

This annual weekend in Virginia, this tournament, has become a sort of pilgrimage for me, a hope that waters my belief and helps it grow.

The tournament has been around for more than 30 years, and for one weekend out of the year, this little mountainous town becomes the financial lifeline for a world 4,500 miles away in Paraguay.

A family in the States by the name of the Briscoes started the tournament to raise money for another family, the Kurrles, who are missionaries in Paraguay. Each year, 40-plus teams travel from the South and Midwest, as if it’s the March Madness of church softball. Twenty-eight thousand dollars was raised this year. Softball, in essence, is the lifeline to the mission. It’s the finest marriage between faith and sports I’ve seen.

And it’s the players and coaches who make the tournament particularly special. As I write this, they keep visiting me in the press box and sharing their stories with me. They are broken, beautiful stories, which we all have if we don’t mask them with our pride. Many of them have walked away from their alcoholism at this tournament…or admitted to their failing marriages…or rededicated their lives to Christ. Transparency and vulnerability flow from Roanoke because the spiritual atmosphere is centered on relationship and fellowship, not a worship band or celebrity pastor.

Sometimes I look out at the fields, and it’s as if I’m looking out at a gigantic banquet table, a feast overflowing with love and relationships, alcoholics and drug addicts, all the sinners washed in the blood, born again as saints. The stories bring the softball diamonds in Roanoke to life.

The stories help me believe.

The unchanging mountains help me believe.

Before I started writing all of this, about the mountains and all, there was an early-morning fog clouding every field, as if the fog were still in its slumber, deaf to its alarm. God is in the mountains, I thought to myself. But I no longer think He’s in the fog.

I looked out at the fog, and I realized it was this same veil of vapor that ripped Paraguayan missionary Norberto Kurrle’s heart out a year ago. One April morning in 2012, Norberto and his family were driving on a dark, lonely road in Paraguay, going in and out of a thick fog, when a truck emerged from the blanketing haze, a collision that triggered the loneliest hours of his life.

His wife, Julie, died on impact in the passenger’s seat. His only son, Timmy, I’m told, died in his arms. Norberto and his newly adopted daughter, Anahi, were the only ones who survived. For hours, not a single car drove by.

Not long ago, I may have found the fog beautiful, but now when I see fog, I think of Norberto and Anahi, and I have a deep, longing desire to hug Norberto, and just bury my nose in his neck, my tears drenching his skin, as if the one most affected by the tragedy is the only one who can possibly give me any sort of comfort.

Funny thing is, I’ve never met Norberto. And yet, I’m not sure if I’ve ever known of someone to have such a profound impact on my life who I have not even met, his words in one of his recent blog posts tattooed on the very fabric of my soul: “I am encouraged by all of the good memories I have of you,” Norberto writes of his wife, Julie. “They are a source of inspiration to believe in life and in the love of God.”

The love of God? I hear the Enemy in my ear, his question cocooned in fear and doubt seeded in hell to strangle my hope.

The love of God, I hear Norberto confirm.

And I believe again. I come to Roanoke to believe.

I think about the mountains and the fog, about all these people in Roanoke, the Briscoes in the States and the Kurrles in Paraguay, and I feel as if life may be a continual journey of believing more and more, of stenciling mountains in my mind, even in the crisis of a storm, of forever experiencing the love of God.

And I hear Norberto, somehow, affirm: The love of God.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the September 2013 DigiMag and Vol. 27, No. 4 print issue. 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.

Devotional of the Week — The Experience Is Enough

800px-Market_Square_Arena,_Indianapolis,_1988“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” II Corinthians 12:9

I remember going to my first Indiana Pacers game at Market Square Arena with my father in first grade. The Pacers were playing the Hawks, and we sat up in the rafters, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I don’t even remember if the Pacers won; in fact, I think they lost. But the experience is what I remember. I had bugged my dad for so long to go to a game, and just being there, watching Reggie Miller, wearing my No. 31 Miller jersey and pinstripe shorts, and sitting next to my dad was enough. The experience was enough.

I heard an interesting concept the other day. I was listening to Matt Chandler, the head pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, and he was talking about the civil rights movement—about how, every time African Americans worshipped together on Sunday, they would walk out of the church onto the same segregated streets they had been walking for years. Chandler’s point was this: Nothing changed. And, yet, simply being in God’s presence was enough.

Sometimes I’m so focused on change, I miss out on what God wants for me the most: To know Him. It’s a powerful illustration to think that during the civil rights movement, when they were facing so much persecution, it was God’s presence that carried them through.

By Stephen Copeland

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

Devotional of the Week — Why a Loss of Control is Freeing

tennis ball courtCast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” Psalm 55:22

I was talking to my sister about her conference tennis match on the phone this year. She was nervous and anxious, and she needed some comfort. I told her, “Carrie, nobody works harder than you. Nobody trains better. Nobody takes more lessons. There’s nothing else you can do. Enter the match knowing that. And be comforted by that. What happens will play out, but know you’ve done everything.”

She needed to surrender her anxiety and fear because there was nothing else she could do. I truly believe no one works harder than her. All she could do was give her all during the match and watch it unfold.

Much of my anxiety and fear during periods of waiting stems from the fact I feel like I could be doing more. As a guy, I feel like there is always something more I can be doing to fix the situation. But that’s usually not the case. That’s merely a reflection of my desire to control the situation.

I’m learning that having no control is a beautiful thing. A period of waiting can be a lonesome feeling, but from my experience, I can also feel very alive in these periods. It makes me depend on something outside myself. It makes me surrender control. It makes me abandon all anxiety and fear and lay them before God. More than anything, periods of waiting make me depend less on my plan and rely completely on God’s plan. And I’m thankful for that.

By Stephen Copeland

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

Another Angle — Hollow me, breathe through

My grandpa died a few weeks ago.

It was sad and unexpected, but I’m thankful I was able to see him in Indiana the week before he died. I live in North Carolina. It was my first time in Indiana in five months. Five months. I couldn’t believe I got to see him.

I think about stuff like this a lot, whether things are just a coincidence or if God has His hand in our lives, whether life is unfolding or if God is in control of all of it. I guess I’m not real sure, but I am sure of this: God is big enough to be that small, to allow a grandchild to see his papaw one last time.

The days leading up to the funeral, I was in Indiana once again, and we had a bonfire just about every night in my grandma’s front yard. We celebrated his life that week. He was home, after all.

One night, my cousins and I were sitting around the fire, eating and drinking and laughing and crying, as we told stories about Papaw’s last few weeks on earth.

My cousin said a chaplain came into Papaw’s hospital room the day before he died and prayed the “Our Father” with our family. Somehow, Papaw’s voice was louder than everyone else’s. Even though he was the weakest. I got chills when she said that.

“Whoa! Look at the stars!” my sister interrupted.

We all looked up. Grandma’s yard is surrounded by about a dozen century-old trees, an overhang that only allows you to see a pocket of the sky, so wooded it forces you to use an entire can of bug spray.

A shooting star scraped across space. Right in the middle of our tiny view of the stars.

“That was Papaw!” my cousin said. We all saw it.

Again, I’m not sure, but why not? God is big enough to be that small, the heavens bending down to kiss Papaw’s grandchildren. 

photoI’ve a friend in Charlotte named Dave who is teaching me things that change me. I left his office last Wednesday and drove home, windows down, blasting folk music, my hand in the wind as a rare cool of autumn in August hit my fingertips. There were tears in my eyes, not because of Dave, but because God loves me enough to bring him into my life. Because God loves me enough to help me grow. As Dave always says, God is big enough to be that small.

Dave keeps a candle lit in his office to remind himself of that. One of his mentors, Fil Anderson, Brennan Manning’s sort of protégé, used to do it. And it reminds him that Jesus is as real—each and every day, each and every moment—as the flame that burns on his desk.

This week, I started lighting a candle in my office.

God is big enough to be that small, to live through you, day by day, moment by moment, to burn like a candle inside.

The other day, my buddy at Sports Spectrum, Aaron, and I drove to Raleigh, N.C., to attend the Tenth Avenue North Classic, a golf tournament put together by Tenth Avenue North lead singer Mike Donehey and PGA Tour golfer Kevin Streelman to raise money for Christian ministries.

We interviewed Grammy-award winning artist TobyMac on the driving range right when we arrived. The guy is twice my age but 50 times more hip. When you talk to him, you feel like you’re long, lost friends, like you were fraternity brothers or something. You’d think he was 25, but he’s actually almost 50. He’s just a bro. And that’s the best way to describe him.

He was the “celebrity” in his golf group, but he was chest-bumping his playing partners and joking with them like family. On one hole, one of the guys in his group scuffed a putt and left it five feet short. Toby started singing a song called “Forgiveness” from his latest album. “We all make mistakes sometimes,” he sang, as everyone laughed.

One of the guys in his group told us playing with Toby was the most fun he’s ever had on the golf course. And it looked like it was the most fun Toby ever had.

When we interviewed him on the driving range, Toby was talking to us about songwriting.

“I know I can write a song,” he told us. “But anyone can write a song. But to write a song that turns people’s eyes toward God? That takes Him…So what I do is say, ‘God, hollow me of myself. Hollow me of all the junk that would get in the way. My pride. My doubt. My insecurity. And make me hollow enough so that You can breathe something through me that can turn people’s eyes toward You.’”

I’ve come to decide God is big enough to be that small, to write a song through TobyMac or an article through Stephen Copeland; to love me, and live through me; to let me see my grandfather one last time and throw a star across the sky.

To burn like a candle and shine through our tiny selves.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the August 2013 DigiMag. 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.

NCAA Football Closeup — Hugh Freeze

Mississippi v LSUHugh Freeze is in for the long hall.

Freeze, named head coach of Ole Miss in December of 2011, said in his press conference that the University of Mississippi is where he wants to retire.

Judging from his first year on the job, Ole Miss fans probably hope his talk is true.

Freeze led Arkansas State to a 10-2 record in 2011 and an 8-0 record in conference play before taking over at Ole Miss.

He picked up right where he left off in 2012, turning around a team that only had two victories the year before and 14 straight losses in the SEC. The Rebels finished with an unexpected 7-6 record, won three SEC games, and had their first Bowl Game appearance since 2009.

After a 38-17 win against Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, Ole Miss remained in the news when Freeze landed a recruiting class ESPN ranked No. 5 in the country.

How Freeze landed a top-recruiting class after former head coach Houston Nutt won a single SEC game in a two-year span before Freeze’s arrival made Ole Miss the talk of Twitter and buzz in the media on Signing Day. Some even accused Ole Miss of cheating.

“They have no clue that there’s a plan—and we have some luck,” Freeze told Sports Illustrated. “I say it’s God’s favor, we had a really good plan, we’re selling a really good vision and we have some luck.”

It was the best signing class in Ole Miss history.

Freeze’s vision and plan, however, isn’t all x’s and o’s. Faith, he says, is intertwined in the way he and his staff operate and coach.

“Faith is one of our core values,” Freeze told Sports Spectrum managing editor Brett Honeycutt at the K-LOVE Awards in Nashville, Tenn., this summer. “It’s something that has been a part of my staff and what we try to do every place I’ve been and certainly Ole Miss is no different.”

“We are far from perfect, but I do know the One who is, and obviously we want to make sure people know that about us. It’s who we are. And that’s attractive to a lot of people and maybe not so much to others. But it is who we are, and we want to be open and transparent about that.”

By Stephen Copeland

This was published in the August 2013 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Print and digital subscribers, log in here to view. Not a subscriber to Sports Spectrum? Subscribe here

In the News — Mariano Rivera

84th MLB All-Star GameMariano Rivera is a reflection.

And the night of the MLB All-Star game was no different.

Rivera, considered the greatest relief pitcher of all time, was named the 2013 MLB All-Star Game MVP a month ago in his 19th season. It was his first All-Star MVP award in 13 appearances.

“First of all, I’d like to say, thank God for this event,” he told the fans at Citi Field upon accepting the award. “Has been wonderful. Thank you, Lord,”  he said, looking up toward the sky.

Rivera shut out the National League in the eighth inning to secure a 3-0 victory for the American League, its first win in three years. Heading into the All-Star Game, Rivera had 638 regular season saves and 42 playoff saves, the most in Major League Baseball history.

“I can’t describe it,” Rivera said of the evening, much of which was devoted to honoring his career. “I have no words for it. It’s been a wonderful night, the whole event. I have to thank every one of you guys for making this possible. Thank God for everything—my wife, my kids—thank you for all the support. It has been amazing. I have no words to describe this night.”

The veteran closer has had quite a farewell party in his final season. But even in a season that is much about him, Rivera is a mere reflection of what means the most to him.

His faith and his family.

Lisa Miller says this in her New York Magazine story about Rivera: “The fact that his gifts come from God increases his obligation to honor them with the hard work and discipline for which he is famous…”

“Everything I have and everything I became is because of the strength of the Lord, and through Him I have accomplished everything,” he says in Miller’s story. “Not because of my strength. Only by His love, His mercy, and His strength…You don’t own your gifts like a pair of jeans.”

By Stephen Copeland

This was published in the August 2013 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Print and digital subscribers, log in here to view. Not a subscriber to Sports Spectrum? Subscribe here

Devotional of the Week — Starting a New Chapter

84th MLB All-Star Game“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

At the end of the 2013 MLB season, the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, will hang up his Yankee uniform and retire at the age of 43. The Yankees closer for the last 17 years is still excelling at an age most players, and pitchers specifically, are long gone from the game, and he was just named the 2013 MLB All-Star Game MVP. It’s unlikely there will ever be another like him. And yet, while the watching world believes his purpose on this earth is coming to an end, Rivera believes it is only beginning. He may be closing a chapter, but the next chapter will be even better. His name may be tossed about along with other Yankee legends like Mickey Mantle, Lou Gherig and Joe DiMaggio, but his next phase of life will be even more legendary.

New York Magazine’s Lisa Miller wrote a beautiful story about Rivera that many of these devotionals will center around. The sub-headline of the story reads: “On the mound, God is always with Mariano Rivera, in victory and defeat. But baseball is a boys’ game, not a calling. And now, as he prepares to hang up his cleats, the greatest closer baseball has ever seen is embarking on his real mission.”

Even someone as prominent as Rivera can believe God has something bigger for him when he leaves the Yankees. Why? Because God is bigger than the Yankees. And His calling for believers is a mighty one. Know today that God’s calling on your life is mighty. If you are a true follower of Christ, your purpose on this earth will continue to expand, no matter how good the chapter was before.

By Stephen Copeland

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

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