Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sleeping with My Basketball

I’ve been thinking about competition this week and I should mention that it isn’t the first time I’ve really considered the implications of participating in events in which my success depends on your failure and your success depends on mine.

If you ever read my book How to Smell Like God, you may remember my story of striving for success in high school basketball. To this day I’ve never met anyone who was more competitive than I was in high school: I kept track of every minute I practiced over the summers, averaging more than three hours a day between my freshman and junior years. That means if I missed a day, I would practice six hours the next.

If I missed two days for a family event, I would have to practice five hours a day over the next three days. Also, I slept holding my basketball for four years so that I would be holding it eight hours a day longer than my competitor. It was my life.

I told all of this to a girl I was hoping to date in college and she said, “Steve, let me ask you something.”


“What was your god in high school?”

That question was one of the steps that led me from being a churchgoer to being a believer in Christ.

After becoming a Christian I realized I’m supposed to seek the good of others, love them, serve them, and seek humility rather than honor (see Matthew 23:6-12).

Since then, I’ve been asking myself a question that I’ve found over the years few other Christians seem to ask themselves when it comes to competitive events, and the more I honestly answer it, the more I’ve changed the way I view competition.

Try asking it of yourself and see where the answer leads. Here it is: How can I love, serve and honor someone above myself whom I am wholeheartedly trying to defeat?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, June 20, 2008

You Can't Spell Competition without "Self"

This last week I was speaking at a camp for about 1300 preteens. The students and staff were great, but one aspect of the program really struck me this morning and got me thinking.

The staff had a contest to see which group of children had the most spirit (not the spiritual kind, the excitement kind). As you can imagine the children went wild and the ones who won at the end of the week went crazy.

When they announced the winning group and I saw the excitement of the winners I realized that the best way to motivate people is to appeal to self-promotion.

It isn’t just at camp, and it isn’t just for kids. Every sporting event appeals to self-promotion—you’re trying to win, which means you’re trying to place yourself above another person. Commerce and capitalism appeal to self-promotion—the harder you work the more you benefit at the expense of others (although we typically don’t put it so bluntly). Every time I encourage someone to have me come speak, or to buy one of my books, or to read my blog instead of someone else’s, I’m promoting myself.

In fact, this appeal to self-promotion is so pervasive in our society that we’re like fish who don’t notice that they’re underwater. If you want to get someone to do something, have them compete with someone else.

And then Jesus comes along and tells us that to be great, we need to serve other people's interests instead (see Matthew 20:24-27). And Paul wrote, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others," (Philippians 2:3-4).

Imagine what our world would look like if we weren’t constantly trying to put ourselves above other people.

I can’t even picture what that would look like.

So here are my two questions: If I’m supposed to follow Paul’s advice and do nothing out of selfish ambition, should I ever compete with others? If I can still compete, how would following his advice change how I do so in the different areas of my life?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thinking About the Story

Great comments for the last posting. If you haven't read them, scroll through them. See what you think.

I added discussion questions for my book Story: Recapture the Mystery in the sidebar on the right. (I realize how lengthy the list is, but it was meant to cover the whole book. Just scroll through the questions, and think about any that catch your eye.) Even if you haven't read the book, I'd love to hear any responses to the questions. Some, I believe, are quite challenging and thought-provoking.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Benefits of Author Shopping

More than once I've heard sermons on how we shouldn’t sample different churches, like sampling appetizers, floating from one church to the next, trying to find out what makes us comfortable or what’s good for our personality. In fact I can’t think of a time I’ve ever heard a pastor refer to ‘church shopping’ in a positive light.

I understand the need for a commited community of believers as well as for churches to faithfully teach God’s Word and the mystery of salvation in Christ rather than pandering to public opninon, but I believe sampling different churches can be one of the most helpful things in your spiritual life. Many denominations are ingrown and the members don’t have a broad perspective of the Christian community and the way that their brothers and sisters worship.

Making someone feel guilty or unspiritual for trying different churches on for size would be like asking someone, “Do you still read Steven James’s books?”

“No, they don’t really speak to me anymore. I’m trying out some other authors for awhile.”

“What?! You’re author shopping? But reading’s not supposed to be about you, it’s supposed to be about God!”

“I know, but Steven James’s style doesn’t really connect with me.”

“You don’t go to a book to get something out of it, but to give something into it!”

“But he’s boring. I fall asleep reading him.”

“You're not supposed to go to a book to be entertained, that's not what reading is all about!”

“But really, the only reason I’m reading him is my parents read him to me as a kid. Are you saying once my parents introduce me to one author, I can’t switch?”

“You need to be faithful to your local authors. It shows a lack of commitment when you just start jumping around from one to the other.”

“Oh. I see. Well you know what? Then I think I might just give up reading for a while. If that’s how it’s going to be.”


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Doubt and Faith

I’ve been thinking about Christianity and belief lately. Here are two thoughts: First, in Romans 10:9 (NIV), Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So, God doesn’t say, “If you are happy all the time,” or “If you obey me all the time,” or “If you never have doubts or questions or heartache. . . then you will be saved.” It gives me reassurance to know that even if we have come to God with the wrong motives, or let the right ones slip away, he does not forget us or condemn us for that. He continues to love us and invite us closer to him.

Second, I just watched a very engaging debate between Christian philosopher Alister McGrath and atheist author Christopher Hitchens at Georgetown University. You can watch it for free online and I think you'll enjoy the issues brought up.

Personally, I was surprised by the presentations the two men made. You can decide for yourself who answers the questions more cogently. It's about an hour and forty minutes long (but you can watch as much or as little as you like). Very much worth the time.

After watching the debate, I'd love to hear your thoughts.