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I have watched much coverage and have listened to numerous basketball-related interviews since the Cleveland Cavaliers etched their name in the NBA annals. Braelon and I were exhausted after pulling and pushing them to victory. One of the first thoughts I had, after all the hoopla died down, was that I was glad the Cavaliers have Tyronn Lue and I was just as happy that the Golden State Warriors have Steve Kerr. Leadership is what I mean; the players have preeminent leadership. In the case of the elite, fragilely-egoed, thin-skinned athlete, coaches have to do much more than coach. Coaches need be steady and consistent, provide safe spaces for dialogue, mesh talent, quiet discord, elevate and motivate individuals - sometimes in the midst of heartache and heartbreak, assuage hurt egos and feelings and admonish unsavory behavior, all the while keeping themselves together. For these reasons, the success of a team or franchise is often predicated on the relationships formed within the unit. I believe this is actually the reason we saw a coaching change in Cleveland, mid-season. It also explains why talent-filled teams do not guarantee consistent victory.

Ty Lue has a healthy relationship with the one who left, learned, came back and led his team into history’s recordings. Ty Lue helped build the confidence of Kyrie Irving during his journey back into the realm of greatness. He was there to challenge Kevin Love to embrace his greatness. He was able to help shift the focus of J. R. Smith’s game (with the help of J. R.’s daughter) because of trust in relationship. Tristan Thompson was trusted to display his full arsenal of skills because of relationship. Richard Jefferson displayed endurance and stamina that defied his near 36 year-old bones and Iman Shumpert restrained his man-bun and helped annoy the rhythm out of the Splash Brothers. T-Mo (Timofey Mozgov) and Deli (Matthew Dellavedova) saw their roles diminish during this year’s playoff competition, but that didn’t alter their commitment, readiness or willingness to do whatever was needed to help their “brothers.” Relationships are vital in keeping teams connected. LeBron went through the entire roster, during his rally speech, and thanked each member of the team for their individual contributions to the team’s success. He could do that because of relationship!

John Donne had it right, “no man is an island.” Much more is accomplished through relationship. Relationship can quell violence, stunt suicide. Relationship ended apartheid. Relationship fosters growth and relationship can galvanize movements for change. And let me just say that I am still stunned that the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The consequences and repercussions of the Brexit vote are just beginning to be felt. In a global world, it seems to me that isolationism is folly. Not surprisingly, we had a presidential nominee, who speaks from all of his orifices, join Vladimir Putin in applauding the decision. Seriously?!!

In the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us that while we are free to do anything, everything is not helpful or beneficial (v. 23). We have a responsibility to not just think of what is good for us but to be mindful of what is best for others so they can be saved (vs. 24, 33). And the primary benefit of connecting with others is that God’s connection to us increases. God has a collective program, meaning there are some things we may never see, some blessings we may never get unless we are connected to His people and His purpose; the vertical and the horizontal are essential. We limit our experience with God when we live in isolation. {Think of the high occupancy lane (HOV). You can go faster, bypass a good bit of traffic if you have at least one passenger in your vehicle.} One of my many life-type observations yields the opinion that traditional worship has its emphasis on the vertical connection (to God) while contemporary worship focuses more on the horizontal connection (to mankind). Happy and effective is the local body – and the individual – that successfully walks in fluctuating balance.

God has His people everywhere – don’t you doubt it. We can find more of us if we seek, if we venture out and beyond our zones of comfort. And if we can’t find us initially, perhaps God would have us just cultivate us; form relationships wherever we can, find a way to get a seat at the proverbial table. We should be the influencers. We should go out and build bridges wherever we can find common ground, instead of building walls that sever all possibility of positive relationship and change. Since we were all born into sin, those who have never been shown love will never act as if they have. If no relationship is ever formed so that we can come to know Christ, we cannot behave as if we do. If no horizontal connection is made by us, with lost souls, what glory can we expect to bring to the One with whom we have our vertical connection?


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