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Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
May 9, 2011

Juxtaposing adversity and character
What began yesterday as a non-religious event turned into an experience of profound spiritual significance for me. This morning I’d like to do something I rarely do—write a devotional about a local sporting event. Janet and I were invited by some very good friends to attend Sunday’s Dallas Mavericks—Los Angeles Lakers NBA playoff game. History was made on the court and off, with a life lesson worth discussing today.

If you follow basketball, you know that the Mavericks swept the world champion Lakers, winning decisive game four by 36 points. That victory, while very exciting for us in Dallas, is not my focus this morning. Rather, it is the juxtaposition of adversity and character which fascinates me today.

Two Lakers were ejected from the game for flagrant fouls. One of them explained after the game, “They were breaking us down, so I just fouled somebody.” He later said, “I’m not disappointed in myself. It is what it is. We got embarrassed tonight, so that’s what happened.” One of the Mavericks commented, “When people get frustrated people show their real character.”

By contrast, the Mavericks’ Jason Terry tied an NBA record for three-point baskets made in a playoff game. Terry lost a very close relative recently and ended the regular season with a series of bad games. But he responded to adversity with the best playoff series of his career and a game which won the series for his team.

The game was apparently the last of Phil Jackson’s career. Winner of an NBA title as a player and 11 as a head coach, he was gracious and thoughtful after the loss. Jackson is an interesting story—born and raised in Montana by parents who were both Assembly of God ministers, he triple-majored in religion, philosophy and psychology in college and has written seven books. He summarizes his coaching philosophy: “When a single player surrenders self-interest for the ‘greater good,’ he manifests his fullest athletic gifts.” Taking that approach to the game, adversity would then be opportunity.

Yesterday I preached a Mothers’ Day message based on Paul’s statement to Timothy, his son in the faith: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Oddly enough, “sincere” originally meant “without wax.” When inferior pottery was made in the ancient world, the cracks which emerged were covered by wax before the clay was painted. The buyer would not see them until the wax eventually withered and the cracks appeared. For this reason, excellent pottery was stamped “sincere,” stating that no wax was used in its manufacture.

Would you take a moment to decide how you will respond to the challenges this Monday will bring? As you do, remember that character is revealed by adversity. When you submit your day to your King, he stamps “sincere” on your soul.

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