Category: College Basketball

A Pleasant Good Night

I’m always nervous when a Church of Christ school makes the NCAA basketball tournament. I’m afraid they’ll think they’re the only ones going. Plus, we have historically avoided any kind of dance at all, especially big dances. But ACU was ready last night and pulled off the biggest win in school history, knocking off the third-seeded Texas Longhorns 53-52.

Joe Pleasant sunk two free throws with one second left in the game and then intercepted the Horns’ desperation pass to seal the biggest upset so far in this tournament. Pleasant is a 59% free-throw shooter, but he calmly stepped to the line and swished both shots to cap an incredible wire-to-wire display of tenacity and grit.

It’s the ACU defense that wins their games. They contest every pass, they fight for every loose ball, they take tough charges, and rotate madly to keep opposing offenses frantically scrambling for some kind of order. Texas suffered 23-turnovers last night, they never got on track, and ACU took 27 more shots than the Horns. Now the Wildcats are headed to the second round.

And there was a lot of purple in the worship center this morning at Central.

Peace,

Allan

 

Congratulations Sherri Coale!

Sherri Coale, the legendary women’s basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma, has announced her retirement after an incredible 25-year run. Coale is the story today. But the point of this post is to direct your attention to me and to my admittedly loose connection to this rock star of a hoops coach.

Sherri Coale was Sherri Buben when we were in college together at Oklahoma Christian University. She played point guard for the nationally ranked Lady Eagles basketball team, winning Sooner Athletic Conference championships and competing for NAIA regional and national titles. She was a relentless competitor, a fiery defender, a fearless driver of the lane, and she saw absolutely everything on the court. She was a leader in every aspect of the word.

Sherri was two years ahead of me in school. By the time I became Sports Director at KOCC and began handling the play-by-play for OC sports, I was a sophomore and Sherri was a senior. We didn’t know each other very well at all. But I was on the sidelines and voiced the call for every single dribble, drive, and shot of Sherri’s spectacular senior season. In this picture of Sherri that OC likes to use, you can see me in the background on the left at center court. That’s little 20-year-old Allan calling OC basketball at the Eagles Nest. Sherri looks like she’s about to steal an in-bounds pass or take a charge. I look like I’m about to miss it.

Sherri had coached Norman High School to a couple of 6A state championships when OU came calling. The Sooners women’s basketball team had been famously abolished six years earlier for a lack of wins, a lack of players, and a lack of any real interest. She took the gig as an incredible underdog and quickly rose to the pinnacle of the sport, guiding OU to the national championship game in 2002. All told, Sherri recruited, promoted, and coached OU to 19 national tournament appearances, three Final Fours, six Big XII regular season championships, and four conference tournament titles. She and her long-time OC teammate, friend, and assistant coach Jan Ross coached 14 WNBA draft picks at OU, including six first-rounders. And Sherri was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

It was a thrill for me to run into Sherri once or twice a year while I was Sports Director at KRLD in Dallas. Back then the Big XII women’s tournament was held at Reunion Arena and I would make it a point to attend at least a couple of their games. It was cool to walk across the floor and greet Sherri and Jan while their team was warming up. Again, we don’t know each other very well at all. But we had the OC connection and we both were genuinely pleased with the other’s career successes.

Congratulations, Sherri. I’m very happy for you and proud of all you’ve accomplished. You’ve positively impacted each of the hundreds of young ladies you’ve coached and the countless numbers of others who watch you from afar. You are to be commended for the positive Christ-like influence you have on everyone you meet. I don’t know what’s next for you, but your spirited grit and determination make anything possible.

Peace,

Allan

Make People Holy

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” ~Luke 11:44

Around the dinner table at a Pharisee’s house, Jesus calls out this group of religious leaders for prioritizing outward appearances over inward godliness. They’re paying too much attention to the details of the religious rituals and their hearts and souls are left untouched by any of it. Everything looks great on the outside — it’s clean, it’s shiny, you could eat off of it, literally — but on the inside it’s greed and selfishness. They practice their religion to boost their own self-importance. They give their money and they tithe meticulously – right down to counting out the mint leaves and mustard seeds, so they look good to others. They go to church to be seen by others as doing the right thing. They become religious leaders to be seen by others as being the right people. None of it is done to benefit anybody but themselves. It’s done to increase their own status and improve their own standing. There’s no love of God; there’s no justice for neighbor.

Jesus says they are unmarked graves, full of death and decay.

The Jews clearly marked their graves so people could avoid them. If you came into contact with a grave, it would make you religiously and ceremonially unclean; it would defile you. Jesus tells the Pharisees, in essence, you don’t look dangerous, but you are. You’re keeping up appearances, but you’re deadly. When people come into contact with you, they expect to be made more holy, but you’re killing them. They come into your church hoping to be made clean, but your very presence with them makes them dirty.

Jesus is the Redeemer. He came here to buy back what we’ve lost. He came to heal and forgive, to reconcile and restore. He came to make people holy. And we join him in that work. We, too, are in the business of making people holy.

But the Pharisees are doing the opposite. They’re making people unclean. They’re so concerned with how they look on the outside, they’re neglecting their own hearts on the inside. They’re not nurturing their own souls and minds in compassion toward others, or in empathy, sympathy, or justice for others. They’re more worried about making sure everything is done just right at church.

I think this can be especially hard for us in the Churches of Christ. At the very least, it’s a temptation we battle within our Church of Christ heritage. Our whole movement is built on restoring things to the way they were in the New Testament. So when we do land on something, we’re typically convinced that it is right. We’ve done the hard work of figuring it out and it is correct. We’re pursuing truth and we’re pursuing the ways of the Lord, and those are good and faithful things. But in our enthusiasm for being right and dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s, we can lose our hearts. Our insides can become dull to the real Gospel needs of the people around us.

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~Micah 6:8

Our Scriptures are very clear about God’s priorities. Act in justice for the people in your community. Help the poor, protect the foreigner, take in orphans, feed the widows. Those are the top concerns for our Lord. Take care of the people in society who cannot take care of themselves, just like God takes care of me when I am completely unable to take care of myself.

Love mercy for everybody all the time. Don’t just be merciful to some people some of the time, but love mercy consistently. Love mercy as a strategy, as a way of living, as a way of being and doing. Love mercy as an inner-life quality of God’s character he is forming in you.

Don’t carelessly or presumptuously do things your own way. Pay attention to what God is doing and walk humbly with him. Know your place next to God and walk with him – not against him, not in front of him. Walk with God’s vision and God’s priorities. God has shown you amazing love and he’s brought to you life-changing justice because that’s how he treats everybody. Now you walk with him and join him in doing those same things. Join Jesus in his redemption. Make the people around you holy.

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Abilene Christian University’s men’s basketball team has won the Southland Conference Tournament Championship and will face third-seeded Texas in the NCAA tournament opener in Indianapolis on Saturday. ACU will bring their suffocating defense to this tilt against the Horns, hopefully keeping the Wildcats in the game a little longer than they were against second-seeded Kentucky two years ago. ACU’s defense forces turnovers on more than a quarter of their opponent’s possessions — astounding! Their full-court pressure is a beautiful thing to behold and they’ve got a big seven-footer who’s not afraid to D up down low. ACU only lost to Texas Tech by seven earlier this season and only by thirteen to Arkansas.

So…? Upset? Probably not. The Longhorns are rolling right now and they are so much fun to watch. Jericho Sims is playing his best ball of the year as Texas finished the season on an 8-2 run, capturing the first Big XII Tournament title in school history. The guards are driving the paint with supreme confidence right now and Texas is absolutely flying. I don’t know how far the Horns will go – it’s never a good idea to get your hopes up for any U.T. team – but some are picking Texas to make the Final Four.

With their outstanding defense, ACU could keep it close, I’d say within single digits until maybe the 16-minute mark of the second half. Hopefully Wildcats coach Joe Golding has packed more than one pair of pants this time.

Peace,

Allan

Get the Order Straight

March Madness begins today and there’s a scramble in the church offices as a few folks are making last-minute changes to their brackets. Vickie has scratched Syracuse because of their point guard’s suspension and Mary is still undecided on Kansas State. I’m going with Duke, Kentucky, Purdue, and Gonzaga in the Final Four with Duke beating Kentucky for the championship. Speaking of Kentucky, ACU’s coach, Joe Golding, is making headlines because of his pants. When ACU tips off tonight against John Calipari’s second-seeded squad, Golding will be wearing britches with a hole in the seat. You can get most of this aw-shucks-feel-good-underdog story by clicking here. How is it that Golding only gets a thousand dollar bonus for winning the Southland Conference title and making the NCAA dance? How is it that he won’t see that money until June? And why in the world does he only own one suit? I know it’s Abilene and I know it’s Church of Christ, but come on! Somebody plan a bake sale or something!

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“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

This is what it looks like to prioritize the realities. This is how we live the Gospel together the way our God intends. You get the order straight. You always place others ahead of yourself. I always place others ahead of myself.

Not really. I’m not very good at this at all. For some really beautiful people I know, it seems natural. It seems really easy for them. But for me and, I would guess, most of us, this is not natural. We have to work at it. It’s difficult for us because we’ve all grown up being taught to assert our rights. That’s how we’re raised. Our culture has told us that our Creator has given all of us absolute rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And somehow we’ve bought into that. We come into church — all of us — believing that we deserve to be made happy, even at the expense of others. Where does that come from?

Not from our Lord.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:43-45

The apostle Paul didn’t make this up. This is not Pauline theology in Philippians 2. He got this from Jesus.

So, thinking the same thing and having the same love and being united in spirit and purpose is not an intellectual thing. This isn’t something you accomplish in your brain or up in your feels. This is something you do. This is about concrete expressions and physical actions. You don’t just see everybody else at your church as more important than you, you treat them that way. You don’t just understand that everybody’s needs at your church are more important than your needs, you go out of your way to meet those needs.

Paul is not saying that all Christians in the church have to come to the same beliefs and opinions on everything. That’s impossible. He’s saying, for the sake of relationships and the mission, put the beliefs and opinions of others ahead of your own.

Peace,

Allan

Recognize the Realities

The conversation before and after our staff Word and Prayer time this morning centered around the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, mainly on how much of a shot Abilene Christian University has against Kentucky. We wondered aloud about the spread. Somebody joked that there’s probably not a line on the game because it’s a Church of Christ school. I replied that ACU probably thinks they’re the only ones going to the tournament.

The spread is 22 points. I’m taking ACU and the points. George is taking Kentucky.

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From the very moment each of us is born, we all demand that other people meet our personal needs. We cry until Mom feeds us or changes our diaper. We misbehave until Dad drops what he’s doing and gives us his full attention. As we get older, we demand the same privileges or better privileges than our siblings when we’re forced to share a bedroom or the backseat of the car. And when we grow up, we fight for the better position at work, we negotiate for the bigger house, we argue about driving the nicest car, and we desire to take the most luxurious vacation. We lie and cheat and steal to win an elected office, to gain a financial advantage, and to get our kids into the most prestigious university. We all spend a great deal of our lives asserting our rights and declaring our demands, sometimes even at the expense of others. And what starts out as a natural survival instinct turns into a steady expression of our fallen sinful nature. We put our desires ahead of the needs of others.

That happens a lot even in church. Maybe you already know that.

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 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 2:1-4

Is this even possible?

Absolutely! Yes, we can all do this! All of us! Because we recognize the realities. There is nothing in this world or in the next more certain than the realities we all share in Christ. The Scriptures don’t guess at this, they don’t present this as ‘maybe’ or ‘possibly.’ This is hard-core fact. This is the unquestionable reality for everybody in your church.

We are united with Christ. We are one with the holy Son of God. We are continuously encouraged because we belong to God’s family in Christ, with Christ. We cannot be separated from him — from Jesus — or from our unity with everybody who is also in Christ. We’re not alone, we’re together right now with the eternal Messiah and everybody who calls him Lord.

We have comfort from his love. We know we are loved by God in Christ. And we know nothing can separate us from that love — not death or life, not angels or demons, not the present or the future, not any powers, not height or depth, or anything else in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He loves you. He loves me. He loves everybody in your church unconditionally. That’s the reality. It’s real.

We have fellowship with the Holy Spirit. The original Greek word here in koinonia. Communion with the Spirit; sharing, community, participation; fellowship with God’s Spirit. God lives inside each one of us by his Spirit. Don’t ask me how; I have no idea. But it’s real. He lives in us. And that bonds us to each other. We see each other as indwelled by the same Spirit of God who indwells me. And that common sharing in the Spirit holds us together. We are all baptized by the one Spirit into one body and we’re all given the same Spirit to drink.

And we all have tenderness and compassion, these natural human emotions of affection and sympathy. If you have any tenderness and compassion, Paul writes, any kindness and goodness, if you’re not a jerk. If you’re breathing, he says, if you’re feeling anything at all, if you have a heartbeat, a pulse, if you’re human…

Paul points us to the solid realities. He doesn’t give us shallow advice or superficial instructions. No, he opens our eyes to the right-now realities or who we are together in Christ. He points us to the heavenly truth that by God’s will and God’s Word and God’s work, we are one. We¬† are together. As Christians, this is the air we breathe, the water we swim in. This is the lens through which we look at our church family as a whole and how we see each other individually. We recognize together these realities as God’s holy will for us and make them our priority.

Peace,

Allan