The cool kids at Hiawatha Elementary School each had a favorite basketball team. They’d show off their trading card collections and posters of gigantic men performing super-human feats on the court. Well, I didn’t have those trading cards or posters. I didn’t watch professional basketball. Ergo, I wasn’t one of the cool kids. But what I did have was an intense desperation to avoid their scorn. At some point in fourth grade, one of the coolest kids asked me, “Who do you think the best basketball team is?” Other kids were laughing, thinking that I wouldn’t have an answer. I said, “The Harlem Globetrotters”. They laughed so hard that one could have called it hollering.
Later that year, I met Curly Neal, arguably the most recognizable of the Globetrotters. He tried to spin a basketball on my hand, but I was so nervous that it kept falling off. I brought a photo of our meeting to show and tell, me with a stupid grin, him looking with polite dismay at the ball toppling off of my hand. I told the kids that Fred “Curly” Neal was involved in the Orlando Magic organization (which was true). The kids thought I was trying to tell them that I had met Shaquille O’Neal, who played for the Magic. Afterwards, I decided never to discuss basketball with any of those kids ever again.
I hadn’t thought about the Globetrotters for many years until last week. My friend Matt and I were praying for the people in our church and I began to thank God for allowing us to have fun while we did His work. I thanked God for the victory that Jesus assured us even though we find ourselves in the midst of a battle. “It’s like you made us the Harlem Globetrotters,” I laughed. It was just an offhand remark in prayer, but now I can’t shake this picture of God’s church.
The Globetrotters are a highly skilled team that exists outside of any recognized league. Even though they have the talent to compete with NBA teams, they serve a different purpose. The UN named them Goodwill Ambassadors. They have traveled to 119 countries to show the world just how fun and how excellent people can play the game of basketball.
Every analogy will break down if you look into it hard enough, but think about this for a moment. The world seems defined by competition. Who has the best job or car? Who’s got the blazing hot wife? Who’s famous, successful, beloved, cool, or revolutionary? The world chases after these things, but it ends in frustration apart from God. Sometimes, God’s the one who frustrates those plans. The people in Genesis 11 tried to come together in direct opposition to one of God’s commands. In Genesis 11:6-7, “The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech.’”
Jesus trained His disciples for a new and different purpose. When He rose from the dead, He told them of this purpose in Acts 1:8. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This is typically referred to as The Great Commission. God Himself gave people purpose again, based and driven by the power of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Great Commission goes against the world’s attitude of competition. Instead of getting the biggest slice of pie, we’re meant to bring life and truth to the world.
Paul explained our new roles as Ambassadors for the Kingdom of God in 2 Corinthians 5:14-20. “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
I recently joined a church for the first time. When I joined, I put aside my old ambitions for fame and success with writing and music. In its place, I took on a new ambition to spread the Gospel with those talents. Many of my friends in this church have that same ambition. We hope to travel in at least 119 countries, should God call us there, in order to show people the good and excellence of life in Jesus. My punk rock heart loves the idea of existing outside of the recognized leagues of the world and speaking a message that runs contrary to its norms. But I know I’m not quite ready to go out there yet. During this period of my life, God is training me for that purpose and sharpening my skills.
Like all the kids who dreamed of one day becoming a Harlem Globetrotter, my friends and I look forward to the next step in advancing God’s Kingdom. And it’s going to be fun, because like the Globetrotters, you can count on seeing a victory.