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Finish the Drill – A Musing for March 17, 2021

Years ago, when I first began my career in education I was a coach. I coached basketball and volleyball at the middle and high school levels and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And while my career path meant I needed to leave coaching in order to grow my career, some of my fondest memories are from the years I was called Coach Gunter. And when I retire from school administration I might just go back to it. Because I loved working with the young men and women I was privileged to coach. I loved getting to help them improve their athletic skills, learn the value of teamwork, grow in self discipline, as well as teach them other life lessons sports can offer. But to tell the truth, I might have loved practices more than the games. As l look back over my time as Coach Gunter, I realize that the process and the journey found in practices was what brought me great joy. I loved being able to interact with the players, to offer encouragement, to make corrections in the moment, and to push each athlete to be his/her very best.

One of the things that bothered me as a coach, however, were athletes who slacked off during practice. The ones who would jog through drills or stop short of the finish line instead of running all the way through it. When I saw this I would often “encourage” these young people by shouting across the gym for them “to finish the drill.”

Recently, I watched the movie Secretariat on one of the movie streaming services we have. It was a good film. If you are unfamiliar with the story, in 1973, a horse named Secretariat became a legend. Not only did Secretariat win the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, but he did it with an unprecedented performance. At the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat not only won the race by 31 lengths, but he set new records along the way as he went faster with each phase of the run. For one-and-one-half miles, that famous thoroughbred ran faster every second. Secretariat was accelerating at such an incredible pace that his trainer noted if the race had been extended another lap, his heart would have literally exploded.

If I ever go back into coaching, I am sure I will use the story of Secretariat as one of my motivational “win one for the Gipper” locker room speeches. I know from my own experience that it is always tempting to settle into status quo performances, but the greatest joy is found in straining ahead to not just finish, but to finish well—to give our very best.

Paul often uses sports like running races as analogies in his epistles. One of my favorite verses from his letters is from 2nd Timothy Chapter 4 verse 7 where the apostle says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

In other words, Paul proclaims he has run all the way through the line…or in the words from my coaching career “finished the dill.”

This is the encouragement Paul often shares to the followers of Jesus Christ. In 1st Timothy he says, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

And in Corinthians he reminds us that, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to practice our faith each day. And we do this by loving God and loving others. We do it by clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, encouraging the oppressed, comforting the sick, giving a cold cup of water to the thirsty, promoting justice, and seeking to walk humbly with God.

We practice our faith in order to prepare for that promised day when we will truly experience the kingdom of God.

As I said, I loved coaching and I loved practice. Unlike teaching, however, coaches do have favorite teams. My favorite teams were not always the ones who won the most games but who bought into the program and gave all they had. Some of my proudest moments as a coach occurred when teammates began to remind teammates to “finish the drill.” May we as a church encourage each other to continue to fight the good fight, to finish the race, keep the faith, and finish the drill.

May we both individually and as a community of faith finish the drill we call our faith walk and do so knowing God runs it with us from our first to our final breath.

Alleluia Amen.

Clay Gunter


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