In my book, Difficult Is the Path: Why Life as a Disciple of Christ Is Not for the Fainthearted, we examine Scripture and identify examples Jesus provided, parables He shared, and lessons He taught about the challenge of living as His disciple. We focus particular attention on verses the American church has ignored historically or dismissed as irrelevant. During His sermon on the mount Jesus specifically said that the path that leads to eternal life would be challenging, yet often we want to create an alternate path that arrives at the same location but follows a more leisurely and comfortable route. My book explores the dangers with pursuing that approach.
Of course, just because the path is difficult doesn’t mean it is not worth taking. This study lays the foundation for the reader to deepen his relationship with the Lord and increase his faith, and in the process enjoy a far more satisfying, purposeful, and rewarding life. Though Jesus left no ambiguity over the fact that following Him would be challenging, He also makes clear that doing so would lead to indescribable peace, joy, and hope.
Sunday night the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat to claim their fifth NBA Championship over the past sixteen years – an impressive thirty-one percent of the titles during that span. In the Heat, the Spurs beat the two-time defending champions whose big three includes four-time NBA regular season MVP, LeBron James. And the Spurs didn’t just defeat the Heat, they dismantled them. Their seventy-point differential during the Finals established an NBA record. This was not an accidental championship.
In addition to their five titles, the Spurs have been a model of consistency since Duncan’s rookie year. They have made the playoffs seventeen consecutive seasons and tallied fifty or more wins during each of them, except for the strike-shortened 1998-99 season in which they won their first title. The latter represents an NBA record.
So why do the Spurs so often get excluded from the conversation when discussing the greatest dynasties in NBA history? They have five titles that include one at the beginning and one at the end of their run (not that it’s done yet). They possess a known superstar in Tim Duncan who, despite his humble and soft-spoken demeanor, has earned two MVP titles and ten first-team All-NBA selections. And they have established a legacy of consecutive playoff appearances that is unprecedented. Their production cannot be ignored.
But for many experts and fans the Spurs lack a critical piece to the dynasty puzzle. Panache. The Spurs are not flamboyant. They are the anti-Showtime. They prefer relentless efficiency to a flair for the dramatic. They are one hundred percent substance, zero percent flashy. And in a nation that increasingly favors style over substance (look no further than reality television and, especially, the Kardashians – those quintessential examples of flamboyance and style over substance), the Spurs just don’t measure up.
Which is a shame because I think we can learn a lot from how the Spurs have gone about their business. Their stars have sacrificed personal stats for the success of the team (see Manu Ginobili coming off the bench instead of starting). Humility and poise irrespective of the outcome – no in-your-face trash talking from these guys. Review the video from the end of game four in Miami last Thursday. The camera scanned both benches and it was impossible to tell which team was about to win the blowout and which was about to lose.
The Spurs have not only achieved an enviable and, at times, unprecedented measure of success, they have done it the right way – the Spurs way. Substance over style. That may prevent some experts and fans from placing them among the greatest dynasties in NBA history. But that says more about our culture and us than it does about the Spurs’ accomplishments.
The baseball world learned today the sad news that one of its great ambassadors had passed away at fifty-four. A legendary hitter whose career average of .338 places eighteenth on the all-time list, Gwynn garnered 3,141 hits over his remarkable twenty year career. His prodigious feats with the lumber were a reflection of his incredible bat control, further evidenced by his never striking out more than forty times in a season.
But what made Tony truly special was the manner in which he carried himself on and off the field. For all his accomplishments he never displayed an air of arrogance – that fatal flaw that plagues so many superstar athletes today. He paired his genuine humility with an unbridled enthusiasm for the game, as demonstrated by his persistent (and contagious) smile. He was a role-model parents could be excited about their kids emulating because he not only showed young boys and girls how to play baseball exceptionally well, he showed them how to treat others and conduct themselves off the field.
The most special sports memory I have occurred in August of 1999 in Montreal. Gwynn’s Padres were playing the Expos in a game one might have assumed carried no significance judging from the several thousand fans in attendance. But something historic happened that night. Tony Gwynn knotted his three thousandth hit and in typical fashion did so on a punch-and-judy single between short and third. The limited number of fans present for that memorable achievement might have hastened baseball’s decision to relocate the Expos (how can a city reasonably expect to keep a franchise when its citizens have no interest in experiencing baseball history).
Tony Gwynn is one of three all-time favorite baseball players for me. His legendary talent in the batter’s box and his exemplary behavior off the field made him a true ambassador for baseball. The combination of exceptional talent and modest graciousness is difficult to find in any profession but especially so in the world of professional sports. We may never see another athlete embody that combination the same way again.
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