Discipleship Insights from a Referee

Encouragement for Your Heart and Mind from Pastor David Staff

Decades ago, I played the game.  I’ll admit it. I didn’t care much for the guys in the striped shirts (yep, they were all guys back then).  

And, I gave my share of “lip” when one of their whistles stopped play and the hand was pointed at my waist (again, back then, the referee would point to your waist when you committed a foul and play did not continue until you raised your hand).  Competitive juices prevented me from ever fully admitting my round-ball transgressions.

Today, I’m blowing the whistle, seeing the game from a very different angle.   My weekly experiences are teaching me that becoming a good basketball player – and becoming like the Lord Jesus – both take practice, time, and game minutes.

New referees often are assigned games played by newbies to basketball.  Newbies, at the start, are not very good.  To say the least.  All the time – very frequently – they don’t understand the rules.  They are unskilled at ALL the basics: dribbling, pivoting, passing to teammates, shooting, ball handling, rebounding, playing defense.  They are also often out of shape, which means tiring easily.  And sometimes, when ALL those basic skills are just not happening no matter how hard they try, they give up.

There’s just very little that looks like the game of basketball when new players -- who haven’t put in the time practicing basic skills -- nevertheless try to play the game.
If you’re a new Christian and feel a bit daunted at the very idea of thinking and living like Jesus, hear this.  IT’S NORMAL!

But if you’re new to following Jesus, it’s important that you quietly, off-the-court-of-life, practice the basics.  Here are a few I’d suggest – reading the gospel of John 3-4 times a week with a spiritual friend, and talking about what you are encountering.  Praying together for one another – especially about applying what the Holy Spirit is telling you in your reading.  And reviewing what becoming like Jesus looks like, to get a picture of what the Spirit wants to produce in your life.   Here’s the picture the Spirit has given disciples at the Free Church of Canon City:
  • LOVING God supremely and others sacrificially
  • ALIGNING with God's Word
  • PARTICIPATING in the life of the church
  • ANTICIPATING the return of Jesus
  • SEEKING the good of our neighbor and world


My life in basketball began in 5th grade.  Mr. Louis Bjorn, my 5th grade teacher, loved tennis and basketball.  He willingly volunteered his afterschool time to open the school gym 3 afternoons a week for 4th-6th graders to come and bounce the ball.  He started me dribbling, aiming for the corner of the square on the backboard, urging us into pick up games.

Through the grades and with each successive year, I spent more time with the ball and a basket and friends.  It simply took time to learn how to move in a coordinated way with the ball and with teammates.  The more time we spent, the better we all became.

Being shaped into the image of Jesus takes time, but it needs to be “time well invested,” and with others.  There’s no substitute for hanging with other disciples who also want to become like Jesus…not merely talking about the weather or sports or your last vacation.  Rather, talking about Christ and the challenges of Him living in you and you living like Him.  When this is our focus, the image of Jesus emerges more and more.  The Apostle John spoke of Christians who begin as “children,” then grow to be “young men,” and finally mature into “fathers” (cf. 1 John 2).


Game minutes.  That’s when you are on the floor during a real game, where playing great defense and offensive scoring proficiently are a must.  Frustrating your opponent’s attempts to score, and prevailing past your foe’s attempts to keep you from scoring.  Again, great basketball requires a team – a group of players who love the game and work hard together to play team defense and unselfish offense.

Playing well against a determined opponent can bring out the very best, and so it is with becoming like Jesus.  Our lives are an important “game” and the stakes are high.  When temptation lures, we need to live like our Savior lived by quoting and applying Scripture.  When a neighbor’s life is broken and needs Jesus, we need to live like our Savior offering grace and truth.  When forces threaten the unity of our church, we need to live like our Savior bringing a word of peace and humility, that our enemy not destroy our fellowship.

Jesus said His church would prevail against the gates of Hell.  Each day we suit up, our objective is to become more like Jesus even as He lives more in and through us.

Practice.  Time.  Game Minutes.   The Free Church in Canon City is a great team.  In the weeks and months to come…let’s become more and more like our Savior.
Posted in
Tagged with