The following is a post that I wrote four years ago as the World Cup kicked off in South Africa. Now it is time for the tournament to begin in Brazil. With a new opportunity to watch the nations of the world to gather together, I wanted to share this again since the substance behind the World Cup’s shadow is still as true today.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know if and when you are going to be watching the World Cup, and who you will be cheering for.
My team for the third World Cup in a row is Ivory Coast. Go Elephants!
No matter what you’re personal feelings are about soccer, you cannot deny the level of passion involved.
The World Cup has once again captured the world’s attention. Even the United States has followed the tournament this year with enthusiasm. I believe there are two underlying reasons why the game has captured our attention like never before.
Two reasons the World Cup Captures our Attention
First, the world is longing for hope. We don’t get much hope from the news reports of
everyday life. Instead of hope, our normal days are filled with fear and anxiety.
Second, the world is longing for unity and peace. Along with the Olympics, the World Cup is one of the few regular events that brings the nations together to perform on one stage. The diversity of color and culture – this canvas of international flavor – rightfully inspires us.
Beyond the beauty of the sport, the World Cup presents to us two realities that capture the hearts and minds of every person: hope and unity among the nations.
Two Longings Left Unfulfilled
However, even as the World Cup points to these truths, the hope and unity it presents is not complete or final.
First, this longing for hope ultimately points to the hope and unity found in Jesus Christ alone.
“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” (Rom 5:1-2).
Second, not only is the hope we all long for ultimately found in Christ, but the inner longing we each experience when we witness gatherings of people from across the globe such as the World Cup are rooted in God’s purpose of bringing people from all nations to form a people for His son.
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth,'” (Rev 5:9-10).
While the marketing team behind the ads for the World Cup suggests that “One Game Changes Everything”, one can appreciate how this game points to the great truths that we as a people long for hope and to be united with others from every nation; however, the game of soccer fails to ultimately fulfill those longings.
These longings are not satisfied by a mere game but are fulfilled by the One Man Who Changes Everything.
“For God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross,” (Col 1:19-20).
Sometimes I even find the inspiration when I am not looking for it.
Such was the case the other night as I watched Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
Watching this championship best-of-seven series is an annual ritual in my home. In fact, with our anniversary always around the same time of the event, my wife and I can keep up with what we were doing different years according to who was playing in the Finals that year. The Celtics beat the Lakers during our honeymoon. The Lakers beat the Magic when we went on vacation with my family. The Heat beat the Spurs last year when we moved to Wheeling.
Basketball is a big deal in my house. In fact, my daughter’s first word longer than 2 syllables? “Basketball.”
All this to say, watching the game the other night was nothing unusual. I wasn’t setting out to find some special inspiration for pastoral ministry. I just wanted to enjoy a good game.
But with one fleeting comment from ABC lead announcer Mike Breen, who was probably just trying to fill air time as the game slowly closed out, I immediately thought back to all the conversations I had been having with my senior pastor about the long-term approach to ministry.
Tim Duncan: The Real-Life Superhero Movie
Commenting on the future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan, Breen pointed out, “When Tim won his first championship in 1999, [his teammate] Kawhi Leonard was in the first grade.”
What an amazing story and testament to the long-term greatness of Duncan. While the game continued, I started to dwell on just how long Duncan had been serving as one of the greatest, yet most humble players in the NBA.
I thought about what it would have looked like if 1999 NBA Champion Tim Duncan had shown up to little 1st grader Kawhi Leonard’s school for an NBA Cares event like the Spurs just did recently. I imagined what it would have looked like to see Duncan pick little Kawhi up on his knee to read a picture book. Would he have any idea that this little boy clinging to his baggy shirt would one day become his sidekick in another NBA Finals fifteen years later?
Tim Duncan is the real Wolverine. The mutant who never ages and watches his future X-Men teammates grow up, get old, and move on while he is still fighting more wars.
Then I started thinking about Tim Duncan’s career in relation to my own life.
In 1999, Tim Duncan won his first championship. I was graduating 8th grade and getting ready for high school.
In 2003, Duncan won his second championship. I was graduating high school and getting ready for college.
In 2005, Duncan won his third championship. I was rescued from the fraternity lifestyle and called to pursue Christian ministry.
In 2007, Duncan won his fourth championship. I was graduating college and getting engaged to my future wife.
In 2013, Duncan goes to his fifth finals and loses for the first time. I was graduating from seminary and loading a moving truck headed for my first role in ministry.
In 2014, Duncan makes his sixth finals and is two games away from winning his fifth ring. I am wrapping up my first year as a youth pastor and living in my first house with my wife of six years and our two children.
My life has gone from one monumental life change to another in the last fifteen years. Tim Duncan is just doing what he has always done. He is still the same old Wolverine.
Same Old Tricks in the Same Old Place
What makes this even more impressive is the fact that he has done it all in one place.
Like a lot of pastors, NBA players usually make many changes between teams during their career. Michael Jordan played for the Wizards. Shaquille O’Neal played for the Suns, Cavs, Celtics after his glory years in Orlando, LA, and Miami. Garnett and Pierce went to Brooklyn. LeBron famously left Cleveland. Guys like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli who spend their entire career in one place just do not exist anymore.
In my mind, Tim Duncan is not just a great basketball player. He is a mutant superhero. He is a pastor.
He puts in the work day after day, year after year constantly serving the same congregation to which he was called in 1998. He hardly receives any public attention while guys who have never done anything near as noteworthy like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love get all the commercials and notoriety like a bunch of NBA Prosperity Gospel preachers.
He demonstrates true leadership by sharing leadership. He steps back so that other guys can step up and take ownership. He has made room for guys like Parker and Ginobli, and Leonard and Green to thrive and to reach their full potential. Instead of demanding to be the one who does everything, he has given up playing time and stats in order for other future leaders to establish themselves. His team is not the single pastor model. Duncan works with a plurality of elders.
David Robinson did it first for Tim when he was younger. Now, Tim is paying it forward to Kawhi. It is a modern day metaphor for the Apostle Paul’s ministry to Timothy and Titus who later passed on what they knew to other faithful men who would do the same.
So on days when I have no idea how to embrace the marathon outlook of ministry, on days I want to sprint and take an easier route, I am going to think about that dream elementary school classroom where six-year-old Kawhi is sitting on the great Tim Duncan’s lap reading a book not realizing that one day he is going to be carrying the legend to the cusp of his fifth NBA Championship.
I imagine that little boy would look up to the great athlete with eyes of wonder and think to himself, “One day, I am going to be like him.”
In April, I sojourned back to my home of four years (Louisville, KY) for a pastor’s conference with a group of about ten men. There were more than a handful of meaningful takeaways that have impacted my life since the conference, but one unexpected application has already bore great fruit.
Because of my trip to Louisville, I am on pace to finish the longest book I have ever read (that wasn’t part of an assignment for school) by the end of the summer.
During this panel discussion alongside Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, and John Piper, Derek Thomas, the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, significantly changed the course of my year by sharing a personal anecdote about a season he spent with one of his mentors. Early in the morning, Thomas and his mentor would wake up and read aloud from the works of John Owen. Now, reading John Owen at any time during the day is a supreme challenge. Thomas’ story of reading such dense material in the early hours of the morning along with his mentor arrested my imagination.
I started to ask, “What would it look like to try to do something similar in my own life?”
The fruit of that meditation has led me to uncover a method of reading incredibly long books that entails far less pain and fewer instances of warring against the urge to fall asleep.
To be upfront, I am still working my way through my first book using this method. However, the fruit of this endeavor has already proved to be so worthwhile that I thought it best to pass it on now so that you can have the opportunity to adopt the strategy this summer as well.
Many thanks to Derek Thomas and his unnamed mentor for the inspiration to pursue this adventure.
Seven Simple Steps to Actually Finishing the Longest Book You’ve Ever Read
1. Pick a reliable partner. You need to have confidence that your partner is going to be there for you. You need someone who will finish each section on time and hold you responsible for doing the same.
Like the example of Derek Thomas, I have found this method to be especially beneficial in a mentor relationship. Within the context of mentorship comes natural levels of expectation for growth and challenges. Reading a massive book alongside someone you are in a mentor relationship with provides a great opportunity to develop character as well as to have fun while learning aside one another.
Whether it is a mentor, a mentee, an accountability partner, or just a good fried, do not go on this trek alone. Frodo needed Sam. You will too.
2. Pick a worthy read. You not only need confidence that your partner is not going to waste your time by not keeping up, but you also need confidence that the book isn’t going to be a waste of time either.
Pick something that has been on your dream reading list for a long time. Tackle a book you have always wanted to read but have always put off because of its unflattering weight. Get recommendations from people you respect. Choose an all-time classic.
Personally, I wanted to introduce my reading partner to the world of Biblical Theology (the study of the Bible in which one traces a major theme throughout the big-picture story of Scripture). So I bought a pair of copies of Tom Schreiner’s 736 page, The King in His Beauty. It has not disappointed at all.
3. Pick a time to regularly meet with your partner. This doesn’t need to be written in concrete, but you want a reliable time that will consistently be available for you and your partner.
Bright and early in the morning before work and school will usually be a good option. Make some coffee if you need to make it less painful. The pleasure of reading aloud with your partner will quickly propitiate any early morning grumpiness.
With it being summertime, my partner and I are fairly open-handed on what day we will meet. We usually aim for 6 a.m. on Mondays, but are open to moving it to another day depending on the demands of the week.
4. Map out your reading plan for the entire book at the outset. Planning your reading schedule will help in a few different ways. It will prevent the completion date of the reading from being arbitrary. Knowing ahead of time when you will finish the book provides a sense of urgency to open the book up and work through a few chapters.
This will also ensure that you evenly space out your reading so that you are not reading hundreds of pages one week and only a few dozen the next. This step is especially helpful during the summer when you and your partner might be out of town on vacation. Mapping your reading ahead of time enables you to know how to work around these weeks that you will not be able to meet.
Below, you will see the Table of Contents from The King in His Beauty. Notice how I have written a date beside each major section of the book. This is the date that we will begin each new section together.
5. Meet together and start reading the assigned section aloud with your partner. When my partner and I get together, we read for an hour. We do not waste much time in small talk before or after our reading. We may highlight a few things after we have read a chapter, but for the most part, we read and nothing else.
We want to knock out as many pages together out loud as possible. The more you read out loud together, the less you have to read on your own.
The method we use to read aloud together is to alternate pages: I read one page. He reads the next. When we come to the end of a page, we finish whatever sentence we are on and let the other one pick up from there.
Nothing fancy here. Read a page. Take a break. Repeat.
6. Read the rest of the assigned section as homework. When your time together comes to an end, you need to set a page number as the place you will begin to read aloud when you meet back up with your partner. This short-term finish line should coincide with the long-term plan you mapped out in Step 4.
Agreeing on the next goal together gives you a firm plan for reading on your own over the next few days. It provides a clear idea of how much time you are going to need to dedicate to get to the next checkpoint.
I have actually found that if you pick a good enough book, the hard part is not getting to the checkpoint. The difficult thing is to not read ahead and to wait for the day you meet back with your partner.
7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 until the book is complete. When you map out your plan ahead of time and stick to it, it might surprise you how fast you can finish a rather lengthy book.
My partner and I started our 736 page wonder at the end of May, and we plan to complete the last section before the end of July.
A few months ago, when I went to a pastor’s conference on the topic of evangelism, I did not expect to come across such a helpful takeaway in regards to reading lengthy books. Reading this worthy book with a reliable partner has already been a worthwhile endeavor for me.
I hope that some of you might try your own adaptation of this reading method I picked up from Pastor Derek Thomas. There’s still plenty of time in the summer to knock out that book on your list that you never dreamed you would actually finish.
I would love to hear some of your thoughts and plans. Are there any methods that you have used to help you finish some rather lengthy books? What’s the longest book that you read just for fun that you have ever finished?