Hall of Fame NCAA basketball coach John Wooden passed away recently at the age of 99. Coach Wooden is credited with being the most successful coach in college basketball and many people consider him the greatest coach ever. Some called him a coach and others called him a teacher. But they all called him an inspiration and a great mentor.

In 29 years of coaching at the college level he had an unparalleled won/loss record of 885-203 (for a winning percentage of 81.3). He led the UCLA Bruins to 10 national championships over the course of 27 years (1948-1975) including seven national championships in a row.

During that run of seven championships the Bruins had an incredible win streak of 88 games without a defeat! I remember seeing that loss on TV as a kid. Man, I was so disappointed.

John Wooden was also the first coach to have an African American player on his team—against the rules of the NAIB (National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball). In fact, he turned down an invitation to the national championship tournament in the 1940's because of this rule. That rule was reversed the next year.

At a recent memorial, a veritable "who's who" of basketball royalty paid tribute to John Wooden. He was a loving father, a devoted husband and a tenacious competitor. Yes, his players knew who was in control. Yet this strong leader had a very tender and compassionate side. On the 21st of every month for 25 years he wrote a love letter to his deceased wife of 53 years and placed it on her pillow. All of the letters were tied with a yellow ribbon. What tenderness, devotion and dedication!

John Wooden was and will continue to be an inspiration to many. Yet in spite of all of his success as a coach his primary goal with those young men was not to teach them simply about winning a game, but how to win in life. He taught this through a series of principles he learned in life. Many were taught to him by his father, most came from his faith in Christ. His principles are some of the most quoted today. Here are some of his more popular principles:

  • "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
  • "You will never live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."
  • "Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."
  • "There are many things that are essential to arriving at true peace of mind, and one of the most important is faith, which cannot be acquired without prayer."

In one of his many books, Coach Wooden quotes Deuteronomy 11:18: "So commit yourselves completely to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands as a reminder, and wear them on your forehead." In 1943 Coach Wooden was given a small cross that he kept with him in his pocket for many years. He said he held it during games and still reached for it years later during times of tension. He said it reminded him of who was in control. He said it also reminded him of how to react to a referee's bad call during a game.

As he got older, Coach Wooden said he did not have to reach for that cross nearly as often. He did still keep it close as a source of comfort and to always remind him who was still in control. I think he also may have kept it close to remind him that he wasn't in charge. I really could have used one of those during the little league games for my kids that I went to, but that's a subject for another devotional.

Being continually reminded of what is important and who is in charge is something we all need. In these times of increasing stress, anxiety and uncertainty, people always look for something to reach for to give them comfort. The Word of God reminds us to reach for Him. Like Coach, it is a lot easier to reach for Him when you keep Him close and you do it often.

As The Foursquare Church moves further into its destiny, there are many opportunities before us. There are also a great number of challenges to overcome as well. But in all that we face and in all we have set before us to do we know that God is faithful and close to those who call on His name. As God has given us grace in the selection of our new president, I sense we are moving into a wonderful season of greater displays of His mercies and His grace.

My spirit is stirred and expectant for the great things ahead, but we must always remain close to the Lord. There are a lot of things we plan to do and seek to do, but we are always reminded that God is in control and we are to be about His business. For the things you are facing today whether in your church, at home or at work, I pray that you would remain close to Him and be reminded that He is always in control. The odds may seem daunting and you may not like the call that others give you, but remember to hold closely onto the cross of Christ.

Prayer Focus: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1,2 ESV).

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Art Gray serves The Foursquare Church as Greater Los Angeles District Supervisor.