PHILIPPIANS 25: Basketball and Dog Dung (3:8-9)

rembrandt-apostle_paul“Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness” (Phil 3:8-9 MSG).

I remember moving in my college dorm room 11 years ago almost to the day. I came with all the usual freshman boy belongings: stereo, over-sized speakers, posters of my favorite bands, disco ball, computer, TV, old sofa and some clothing. I had smuggled one other item into a box and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. What was it?

It was an 8 x 11 red-plated, wooden trophy plaque I had been given at my basketball banquet just months prior. The plaque was engraved with the proud message:

JEREMY BERG

Mound Westonka High School Basketball

All Time Leading Scorer

1,307 Points

Coach Dahl and IThis plaque was of enormous significance for me as I ventured into a new world of uncertainty and new relationships. This plaque spoke to a big part of my personal identity I had formed in high school. In high school I was not just Jeremy Berg. I was Jeremy Berg the star basketball player.  I was Jeremy the 3-point shooter.  I was Jeremy the all time leading scorer of my high school (until my record was surpassed by the great Rachel Foley the following year; hey at least I still hold the boy’s record).

I was a relatively quiet and modest person. I didn’t go around telling the college campus of my high school achievements on the court. But I secretly wanted the other guys on the floor to just happen to glance up on my shelf and happen to see my plaque partly hidden behind another photo and ask, “Hey, you must have been a pretty good baller in high school.”  

So, there it sat my entire freshman year of college. For other reasons (I won’t go into) I didn’t play in college and so I suffered a bit of an identity crisis my first year of college. Giving up basketball meant also giving up a core piece of my identity I had formed the past several years. Who was I?  How did others view me?  What did I give my time to now that I wasn’t playing basketball? Where was the new source of my personal identity?  In what did I now take great pride?  What did I pour my heart and soul into now?

To be honest, I struggled a bit with identity that first year and into my sophomore year. My life had gradually grown emptier and more purposeless.  My own life echoed the words of Paul above precisely: “The things I once thought were so important are gone from my life.”  In college I was searching for something more lasting, more true, more meaningful than a scoring record. Here’s a journal entry from this period: “I am so confused with school right now.  I have no direction or goals at all right now with school. I am trying to see your ways Lord…”

In the winter of 2000 I found it — or, more accurately, I found Him. Or, did He find me?   I have told the story many times and will continue to tell it until the day I go to be with the Lord. I was a lost, confused, scared 20 year old boy looking for my unique calling in life and desiring a Christian faith beyond the Sunday morning sermon and fire insurance for when I die. Like Wesley, I had one of those dramatic “heart strangely warmed” experiences of God’s penetrating Word as I read the Acts of the Apostles for the first time in my study Bible two friends had been led by the Spirit to buy me.

I encountered the power of God and the mission of the church in those action packed accounts of the early Jesus followers. I encountered Jesus in a new way and found my entire life being swept up in a much larger, more meaningful Story where I had a unique role to play in the unfolding drama.  From that day on my life’s affections began to change.

My desires were slowly changing from the fleeting pleasures of the world to the eternal treasure of God. Most amazingly and unexplainable (apart from God) was the way I became enthralled and obsessed with the study of the Bible.  I switched majors from Education to Bible & Theology. And like Paul I began to personally experience for myself the following words:

“Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.”

Here’s another excerpt from my journal:

March 15, 2000

God is working in me in big ways.  I feel like I have lost all desire and passion for everything but God!  I find no joy in school, classes, exercise, work, sports and I even lack desire to hang out with a lot of my old friends. Instead, I am reading the Bible more and the Word is moving me…

It seems like God has cleared away all of my former passions so that they won’t distract me from Him…

Christ became my primary obsession. I was jolted by a fast-paced inward transformation of desires and interests. A gym rat turned into a book worm almost overnight. I couldn’t explain it. I began to look back on certain aspects of my life before this Christ encounter with regret and shame. In particular, I saw my obsession with basketball in high school as bordering on idolatry. I had given so much of my past two decades of life to a game, and I had not used my gifts as a means of glorifying my Creator. I had given my heart to an orange ball and 10 foot hoop, and I wished I could go back and make every basket again in order to give credit where credit is truly do.

Ever since that day I have often, rightly or wrongly, viewed my former basketball glory more as “dog dung” than anything else. I don’t want to over spiritualize the whole situation. I wasn’t actually bowing down and worshiping the hoop and hardwood. But I still can’t help but see how silly and insignificant, how “petty” and “inferior” that red plaque is now “compared to the high privilege of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.”  I haven’t thrown that plaque into the actual trash can.  I think I’ll stow it away in a box somewhere and pull it out someday just to be reminded that when God comes into our life he doesn’t destroy our pasts; but rather He redeems them and gives them new worth.

So, what is your red plaque?  What have you embraced that has kept you from fully embracing Christ? What things do you now consider dog dung in comparison to knowing Christ?

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