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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Playing with the Greatest


At every level of basketball, Stacey King was a winner. 

 

As a power forward for the Oklahoma Sooners, he became a consensus first team All-American and The Sporting News Player of the Year in 1989. King was then drafted as the sixth player overall by the Chicago Bulls.

 

It didn’t take him long to realize that in the NBA his role would change. The Big Eight Player of the Year had had visions of stardom. But he was now a role player – basketball lingo for “not-the-star.”

King sat down the bench from Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, and Bill Cartwright. He was now just one piece of a complex puzzle – and definitely not the piece that got the most attention. By playing his heart out, however, he was able to share in the first three championships of the Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s.

 

When King announced his retirement from professional basketball there wasn’t a great deal of attention from the press. One reporter graciously asked, “Stacey, what would you say was your most memorable moment during your NBA career?”

 

King smiled. “That’s easy. That would be the night when Michael Jordan and I combined to score 70 points.”

 

Impressive!

 

When the reporters checked the records, it turned out that Michael Jordan had scored 69 points that night. Stacey King had hit a single free throw.

 

He later reflected, "Of course you want to score 20 points a game and make the All-Star team, but I realized from day one that I wasn't going to be able to do that on this team.  B.J. [Armstrong], Jeff Sanders and I were told 'You're pieces of the puzzle.' I remember Jerry Krause saying, 'You don't need to score. Play defense, block shots and you'll help us win a championship.'

"The bottom line is I've won my whole life and when I look at personal accolades, I'd rather have won a championship. A lot of great players never got out of the first round of the playoffs. I look at the big picture. When you have success as a team, everybody prospers and I think sometimes guys don't understand that."

 

According to the New Testament, what’s the number one character quality that helps everyone around us prosper?  That would be humility.

 

Humility is not easy to define. British theologian C.S. Lewis perhaps came closest to the mark when he said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

 

But that only propels us to the next question: How do we cultivate self-forgetfulness in a culture that is intoxicated by celebrities, selfies, and celebrities taking selfies? How can we ever become humble when, as soon as we say, “I think I’ve got it!” we can be pretty sure we no longer have it?

 

The deepest and wisest answer is service. 

 

It’s no accident that Jesus said, concerning himself: “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 10:45). 

 

Service is the ultimate grandiosity-buster. Nothing grows humility like being quietly available to meet the needs of other people. Especially those who struggle to care for themselves.

 

Parenting is a kind of service that deepens our humility. Our children desperately need us. But they don’t always say thank you. And we don’t always know best how to love them, especially as they grow older.

 

Caring for aging parents humbles us. Sociologists tell us that we are living in the first period in human history in which the average woman will spend more hours giving primary care to her mother than her mother gave to her when she was a little girl. Searching for the right combination of grace, tenderness, patience, and firmness with older family members is a significant strategy to choke our pride.

 

An essential reason that Jesus calls us to a life of service – of putting the needs of our family, our team, and our community in front of our own – is not just to help others. We are the ones who are chiefly transformed when we serve.

 

I once heard a respected teacher say, “The best preparation for a mission-centered life is to do at least one thing every day that you really don’t feel like doing.”

 

At first blush that may seem rather grim. But over time, as we get used to doing small kindnesses without complaining, we will think less and less of ourselves. And we will begin to take delight in the actual contributions that our gifts and efforts make to the world, even if they don’t make headlines.  

 

After all, God is the real star. That makes all of us role players. 

 

From time-to-time God allows us the thrill of hitting a free throw that actually counts.

 

But at the end of the day, it’s a joy simply to be on the same team with the Greatest who ever played the game.

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