For at least nine months of the year, my life is basically limited to relational ministry at The Master’s College, studying theology and ministry at The Master’s Seminary, and being part of the church family at Placerita Baptist Church. After being at The Master’s College for eight years, most of my close friends are people connected to the school.
This is why I play basketball at the park.
We have a nice gym at the college that’s usually open if I want to play there. There are also a lot of guys who play pick-up basketball at the college, and some are even around during the summers. I play intramural sports at the college during the semesters, including basketball. I played in a 3-on-3 missions fundraising tournament a few months ago with a group of believers. Sometimes I play at the tennis-court hoops at the college. But I now play almost all of my pick-up games at the park. I have to.
If I don’t play basketball at the park, I might forget that there’s such a thing as a pagan. I mean a real, live pagan, not just one on a movie screen or one singing on the radio or one sitting quietly on the plane next to me. I mean a pagan who acts like a pagan in front of my eyes on a consistent basis, whose vocabulary is godless, whose values are upside-down, whose soul is lost, and who I get to see twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I mean a pagan whose name and age I know, whose tattoos I’ve asked about, whose favorite cuss-words I could list, whose weed-induced stupor I can see, whose immoralities I’ve heard about, whose team I’ve played both on and against, whose off-the-wall interpretation of “I am the way, the truth, and the life” I’ve debated, who gives me a nod when I step on the court, and who knows that I follow Jesus. That kind of pagan. The kind I have a relationship with. The kind whose darkness God can actually use me to light because I’m in close enough proximity for him to see the flame and wonder why he doesn’t have one.
Sure, I’m around plenty of unbelievers at The Master’s College. There are also some at the seminary and some at Placerita Church. But that’s different. It’s hidden. It’s subtle. It’s Pharisaical, not Gentilic. It’s worse, but that’s not the point of this post. And even though it’s worse, I don’t know who these unbelievers are because I can’t judge that.
Some of you have the undervalued privilege of working and living in the world. You think I’m blessed because I’m around professing Christians almost 24/7 during the Fall and Spring semesters. And I think you’re blessed because you’re spending this season of your vapor taking candles into caves. Don’t underestimate the treasure of your gospel witness. Don’t sell your unbelieving family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and teammates and local grocery store clerks short just because they don’t share your values or respond to the truth or are hard to be around. They are what you were and they need what you have.
This is why basketball at the park has been such a big priority for me this summer. Not mainly because I enjoy playing basketball (I do) but because death needs life and darkness needs light. Cesar outhustles everyone out there, but he’s running the wrong way. Curtis has hops, but you can’t jump into heaven. Lots of my Tuesday and Thursday night friends have pride, but they don’t know that it’s first on the list of things the Lord hates.
This is why I play basketball at the park. Not because I want to learn about the world but because I want to be used to transform it. And you don’t transform it by shooting theological warheads out of an isolated missile silo. Yes, there’s a place for doctrinal weaponry. I walk among its shelves and read lots of its blueprints all the time at seminary. I do my best throughout the year to help train young soldiers how to use it for good and not evil. I pray for the grace to be personally disciplined in developing wartime skills. But you can’t win a battle from a bubble.
You win a battle on the battlefield. This is why I play basketball at the park.