Position: Playing Where it Counts

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series The Coach in Your Corner

Read at beginning of service:

1 Corinthians 12:12-18 (NIV)

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.


You think you’ve got problems at work. How about trading places with Ken Ruettgers? Ken worked for 12 years in a profession that required military discipline and made huge physical demands. Once a week during the busiest months in Ruettgers’ work schedule, more than 60,000 people showed up to critique his performance. His job was to protect the man acclaimed to be the most valuable person in the entire industry. When Ruettgers failed, not only did he face 60,000 immediate critics yelling at him, but hundreds of thousands of others second-guessed his work from the comfort of their living rooms. When the job was done well?which was most of the time?few people noticed. It’s the man he protected who got all the glory.

For 12 seasons from 1985-1996, Ruettgers earned his living as an offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers. Protecting quarterback Brett Favre’s blind side and opening holes for running backs was a gruelling job, but one that had to be done.

That?s the problem with playing your position. We?re not all quarterbacks in football, pitchers in baseball, or centres in basketball. Coaches in every sport say that the toughest thing to teach team members is to play their position. The temptation is always to seize opportunities rather than to stay true to your position on the team.

Do you remember what was read from the Bible this morning??

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body?whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free?and we were all given the one Spirit to drink?Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 27).

The Holy Spirit?s work as Coach is to place you where you will best optimize the team objective. It?s the Spirit who recruits and gifts you. It?s the Spirit who has placed you in the body, wherever you?ve come from, Jew or Greek, slave or free, for a specific purpose and to play a specific position in the divine plan.

If you assume that all we?re talking about here is who will teach the junior high students, or who?ll be an usher, you?re making a profound mistake and missing a powerful point. God has a game plan for accomplishing His greater vision and purposes through His body, the Church. Wherever we happen to find ourselves, we?re never a lone ranger, or playing a solo sport. We always operate as part of something bigger. We?re on team Jesus, part of the body of Christ, the Church. Remember that?

The Coach has a POSITION for you.

Rick Warren?s book, The Purpose Driven Life, has enjoyed unprecedented success as a best-seller, especially for a book whose opening paragraph is one blunt line, “It?s not about you.” Warren goes on to say, “If you want to know why you were placed on this planet you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

Leonard Bernstein was the first American-born conductor/composer to earn international acclaim. He conducted the New York Philharmonic, and composed West Side Story and Candide. In an informal discussion following one of his televised concerts, Bernstein was asked, “What is the most difficult instrument to play?”

Bernstein gave a classic reply, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violins, but to find somebody who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn, or second flute, now that?s the problem. And if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”

This morning we?re going to look at a guy in the Bible whose life was transformative and inspiring. He was best known as ?second fiddle? to the apostle Paul. His name was Barnabas. He was a man with an essential calling. Barnabas played a strategic position in the long-term plan of God, even if he wasn?t playing front and centre all the time.

For our lives to have purpose and meaning, for us to achieve the goal for which we were born, we must awaken to our divine calling. There?s nothing more rewarding than finding your place in God?s great strategy and then playing your position well. Remember that the coach has a position for you, but that doesn?t really mean much if you aren?t?

SHOWING UP for the game

Woody Allen said, “Eighty per cent of life is just showing up.” It?s so true isn?t it? We miss so many opportunities to learn, grow and shine just because we?re not there. It?s when we show up that we can begin to make a difference.

We discover Barnabas in the early days of the church when he was called Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus. In those days the believers lived in a close-knit community, and shared everything they owned with one another.

Acts 4:34-37 (NIV)

34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

The church was more than 5,000 (perhaps up to 10,000) people strong at this point. Most likely Joseph was one believer in a crowd of thousands who saw a need and decided to fill it. He ?showed up for the game,? and before long the apostles got to know him as more than a nameless face in the multitude. They gave him a nickname. They called him Barnabas, meaning son of encouragement. It stuck. You never find him called Joseph again in the New Testament.

Have you ever felt lost in the crowd? Have you ever wondered if you can make a meaningful contribution? Just find a need and fill it, like Barnabas. He did what he could do. It doesn?t have to be heroic. Show up for the game, learn to play your part by doing what you can do, and eventually people will get to know you just like the apostles got to know Barnabas. First you?ve got to show up, then you need to learn to take your position and develop your gifts.

DEVELOPING your gifts

We all have natural gifts that need to be developed and strengthened by practice or use. Barnabas understood how important it was to develop his gift.

One day a man named Saul appeared in Jerusalem. People knew he was responsible for the persecution and imprisonment of many Christians. They didn?t want to hear about his conversion, nor his powerful defence of the gospel that he once rejected. Saul was on ?the outs? with the church.

Barnabas hated what he was seeing. He had a gift of encouragement. If nobody else was going to give Saul a chance, Barnabas would risk it. He learned about Saul?s transformation, and it didn?t take him long to size up Saul?s passion for Christ. Saul was one of the emerging Christian leaders of his day.

This was a crucial point in the development of Barnabas? ministry gifts. At the risk of his own reputation, Barnabas put himself ?on the line? to introduce Paul to the twelve.

Acts 9:27 (NIV)

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

What would?ve become of the apostle Paul if Barnabas hadn?t stretched himself in developing his gifts? The history of the church proves that Barnabas? ministry of encouragement made a difference. It?s also important to remember that as our gifts develop, we have to learn to play where the Coach places us.

Playing where the Coach PLACES you

Following the stoning of Stephen in the book of Acts, a great persecution of the church began. Believers scattered, telling others about Jesus everywhere they went. Some Greek-speaking Jews from Cyprus went as far as Antioch in Syria preaching Christ to both Jews and non-Jews. This created a fuss back in Jerusalem and started the first major controversy the church faced: can non-Jews be right with God simply by trusting in Jesus? work on the cross?

With a tense situation escalating both in Antioch and Jerusalem, the apostles had to decide who to send to the church in Antioch to deal with the problems.

Acts 11:22-24 (NIV)

22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Barnabas was just starting his ministry in Jerusalem when the word comes. “Pack your bags, we?re sending you to Antioch.” What if Barnabas didn?t want to go? After all, things were picking up and he was at the centre of all the excitement in Jerusalem.

If we?re going to learn how to play our position, we?ve got to play where the Coach places us. We don?t always have the privilege of going where we want to go and doing what we feel like doing. If the team matters, if the Coach matters, we?ve got to do it His way.

A.C. Green is another sports superstar. He has played in more consecutive basketball games than anyone in the history of the NBA. Green played 1,192 games over the course of his 16-year career that included three championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Thinking back over his career, Green recalls,Men often talk about their ?glory years? in high school. At Benson High School, in Portland, Oregon, I was a sports-minded, egotistical maniac. I was the tallest guy on the team and could have broken scoring records, but Coach Gray wouldn’t let me?I was voted the Oregonian’s 1981 ?All-Metro Area Player of the Year,? and joined Dean Derrah on the all-metro team.

“Coach Gray wouldn’t allow me to be a hotshot scorer because he was more interested in the final stat?number one. He knew the only way we could reach that championship level was for us to become team players?Coach Gray made me pass the ball and play unselfishly. Regardless of individual stats, we, the team, reached the top. We went all the way!”

We don?t get to do it our way. We?ve got to play the way the Coach wants us to, but that?s how we reach our destiny. That?s how we discover our calling in life.

Three possible factors in your calling:

? Natural AFFINITY (Acts 11:20-22)

? Specific GIFTING (Acts 11:23) (Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11)

? Empowered USEFULNESS (Acts 11:24)

Let?s examine Barnabas? experience in Antioch for three possible factors in discovering our calling. First there?s natural affinity. What are the chances if you?re 5?3″ that you?re going to play NBA basketball? In Barnabas? case, his background as a Greek-speaking Jew from Cyprus aided him in his mission assignment. The guys who started the church in Antioch were also Greek-speaking Jews from Cyprus. Barnabas had a lifetime of experience growing up in a Gentile, non-Jewish world. He was the ideal person for the job.

He also had the specific gifting necessary for the job. Look at Acts 11:23. What did he do? He “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” The son of encouragement did just what you?d expect him to do. What more could a developing group of believers need in a tense situation? Barnabas had just the right gift at the right time.

The other factor in realizing our calling, and playing our position is empowered usefulness. “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). Empowered usefulness doesn?t always mean success in quantifiable terms. Sometimes we?re placed where simple faithfulness in spite of challenges is the measure of our usefulness to God?s purpose. Calling always needs empowerment, and the fullness of the Spirit to be useful.

Understanding these factors in your calling gives greater insight into knowing where the coach is placing you to play. But you also must

Know your LIMITATIONS: we NEED others

We can?t do it on our own. There are no superstars. Barnabas understood this concept. He realized he needed help, and asked Saul to come to Antioch.

Acts 11:25-26 (NIV)

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Barnabas had known Saul for nearly 10 years and recognized Saul?s gifting and ministry of teaching. So he asked Saul to help in teaching and making disciples of the new believers in Antioch. The Bible notes that the synergy of their ministries together made a vibrant church where many people were being taught ? so effectively in fact that the believers in Antioch were called ?Christians.?

Once Paul arrived, Barnabas began to fade into the background (at least as far as the New Testament is concerned). The real star in the book of Acts becomes the missionary Paul, the writer of Scripture, planter of churches, and apostle to the Gentiles.

Here?s the measure of Barnabas? greatness. He knew how to play ?second fiddle.? He knew how to let someone else shine. He never seemed to feel that it was at his expense. Let me show you what I mean.

Basketball fans may remember when David Robinson was signed by the San Antonio Spurs, becoming the greatest scorer in their history. Clearly, he was their most valuable player, scorer and rebounder, but a few years ago, the Spurs drafted a number-one pick out of Wake Forest named Tim Duncan. Immediately there were rumours about who was going to be the star: Robinson or Duncan?

Duncan joined the Spurs in 1997-98, and was named ?Rookie of the Year.? Robinson said right from the beginning, “This kid is the heir apparent. This kid is our future. I?m glad he?s on our team, and I?ll tell you what I?m going to do. I?m going to pass this kid the ball because he?s a player. You watch him!” Tim Duncan became the ?Most Valuable Player? in the league. Both David Robinson and Tim Duncan became three-time world champions in the NBA. Why? Because David Robinson knew how to play second fiddle, he knew how to pass the ball and make another player look great. He knew how to play his position.

We need to know how to do that too. We need to know how to step out of the limelight and let someone else score. We do it by giving our best on screen and off.

Give your best? ON SCREEN and OFF

Let?s face it. Some of us really know how to act when the camera is on us. When people are watching we can appear great, but get us behind closed doors and it?s another story.

Some of the leaders of the Antioch church were praying, and looking for direction from the Coach. They wanted to know where the game was going.

Acts 13:2 (NIV)

2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Look at the word ?called.? God?s Spirit has a voice. All believers are urged to walk worthy of the holy calling we?ve received. Barnabas and Saul heard the call of the Holy Spirit, and responded. The church laid hands on them and sent them off on the first missionary journey. They brought John Mark with them, Barnabas? cousin. John Mark soon deserted them after a power encounter with a demon-possessed sorcerer named Elymas. Read Acts 13:8-13. Barnabas faded more and more into the background as Saul?s (now known as Paul) apostolic gift became more and more obvious.

The first journey was a success, and Paul and Barnabas began to plan their next trip. Barnabas suggested that they take John Mark with them, and Paul became angry.

Acts 15:39 (NIV)

39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,

Nearly 12 years later, Paul wrote to the Colossians and said, “Mark, the cousin of Barnabas concerning whom you have received instructions ? if he comes to you, welcome him” (Colossians 4:10b). He also wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Soon afterwards, a gospel was written by a young writer named Mark.

Barnabas was happy to invest his life in a young ?Paul-reject? named John Mark. The Church today would be all the poorer if Barnabas hadn?t taken the time to help Mark develop his gifts and mature in his ministry.

We may never see the full impact of playing our position. We may never know what difference it can make in the eternal scheme of things. We may feel like a little cog in a big machine, and that it doesn?t matter what role we play, but we need to believe that what we do has eternal ramifications. We may never know until eternity what difference we make.

One evening a couple were out watching their grandson Scott play basketball. Scott played center. He was tall and handled the ball well. That night, they observed that every time Scott got the ball, he looked around for someone to pass to instead of shooting.

Later Grandpa asked, “Scott, why don’t you shoot when you have a good shot?”

Scott thought for a moment and replied, “When you throw the ball out to one of the other guys and he makes two points, then you run down the court giving high fives?that’s the real thrill. That’s the name of the game!”

It doesn?t matter who gets the basket. What matters is that we play our position and the team scores. For eternity, we?ll be running down the court of heaven giving high fives because Jesus won the game and He let us be part of it.

It doesn?t hurt to get a little practice right now. When the church scores, we can all celebrate. Let?s stand to our feet right now, and give a round of high fives because we?re on the winning team.

Coming next week: Guidance ? Reading His Signals ? How to understand God?s leading.

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