I am the 2nd of four brothers that all grew up together (4 brothers in a row) and I am not sure I can overstate the level of competitiveness that prevailed in our home.  There was nothing that we did that wasn’t a competition of some kind (even if we didn’t say it – we all knew it).  Normal activities that somehow resulted in a full scale competition could range from who could eat the most or the fastest, who could win while playing any type of game, who could sleep the most, who could play with their friends more often, who was better at Nintendo, who could make the other one angry, who could drive the car, who had the best hair, who sat on the comfy chair, who got the last drink of Kool-Aid, and the list goes on literally forever.

There is however, one area of competition that seemed to be exceedingly intense – sports.  Ever since we could walk – we were competing in sports.  We were each other’s first and sometimes only opponents and we couldn’t escape it since we all lived in the same house.  We grew to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and with a complete lack of mercy these weaknesses were heavily exploited to make the competition even worse (Colby forced me to drive left every time.  Every. Single. Time.  Or, he made me shoot a deep 3). It forced us to study, and to learn the ins and outs of everything in order to try new things, understand the rules, improve the fundamentals, and more importantly, to become better.  I can guarantee that there weren’t any other boys our age (besides those we played with) that knew all the rules, and who loved the competition as much as us.  We understood exactly who we were, what role we played on the team (and just as importantly if not more importantly we knew what role the others on our team should play), what we could become, and we loved the competition!  I remember crying only a few times during my childhood and every single time it is related to sports.  I even cried while I was on the pitchers mound once…. during a game.  I cried in right field once after striking out with the bases loaded because I knew I had let my team down…. I cried on the bench of a basketball game because I didn’t get to play very much, and I cried after the game lots of times (only when we lost).  I loved playing and competing it so much I can’t even describe it for you.  Hint: it’s a lot.

Sports were the only things we ever did.  Before school, during school, after school, during the summer, during the winter, it didn’t matter what the weather was like – we were playing something somewhere with someone.  Even when we weren’t home playing each other – we were likely off with others playing some kind of sport.  For those of us who were not the oldest, this meant that you sometimes got to play (or were forced to play) with kids twice your age and twice your size.  Be it remembered again that I don’t think anyone ever got a single ounce of mercy from anyone else, and if they would have asked for it – that would have been the beginning of the end for that person.

There were many times when Colby and his friends would compete against me and my friends, and the results were very similar to MetroMan vs. MegaMind: “he would win some, I would almost win others”.   There were also times when I would practice for hours and then when I felt I was ready, I would come and challenge him and he would somehow win by a point on a lucky shot or a phantom foul call.  With all this practice I improved a lot and let’s be honest – it made him better.  There is no way that he could absorb the relentless attack of a motivated little brother who has no other goal than to beat his older brother and therefore retain bragging rights forever without exerting unnatural force and most assuredly some divine help.

This constant competition likely drove our parents crazy.  In fact, I’m positive that neither one of my parents have ever said to any of us “thanks for being so competitive and ruthless while you were growing up – It was super fun to watch and it really helped make my life easy”.  But looking back at those great moments – this ruthless competition provided many opportunities for us to grow up.  I learned how to compete.  I learned how to give every single thing I had against people that were twice as old and twice as big with little hope for success but that wasn’t stopping me at all.  I learned to work, and I learned to want it. I learned what to look for in teammates and what to expect from a good opponent.  I learned to battle.

Being so close to Colby in age also gave me the opportunity once in a while to be on the same team (brothers were always on the same team in Jr. Jazz, little league, etc.) and we quickly realized that while we were on the same team that competitive spirit that we each had somehow multiplied exponentially when we harnessed it together against the other team.  What that meant for me is that we didn’t spend any time or energy fighting with each other, and we had plenty of energy together to compete together – against the other team.  This was awesome.  When we combined talents, understandings, intentions, strategies, and energy to become the best teammates that we could – the results were pretty amazing.  This coherence only happened during sports (I don’t remember being on the same page during our Saturday chores or really any other time).  Our teams were always good and they were even better when others who we had normally played with (friends) were also on our team and they harnessed their energy and competitive spirit.  On the other hand – it also helped me realize the differences between good teams and not so good teams.  It also helped me understand and realize that sometimes there are people on my team, that aren’t really dialed in, or that aren’t giving the same level of effort that I was, and that affected the whole team, and this fact helped me try to be an even better teammate.  We also had the opportunity to play for some awesome coaches.  Coaches that helped us learn, helped us grow, challenged us and helped us understand things.  We also had coaches who didn’t really want to be there and couldn’t wait until the season was over so that they didn’t have to practice or deal with us anymore.  We (even then) knew the difference and would choose wisely if given a choice.

This constant competition in all things sports (combined with our intimate knowledge of professional athletes) also allowed us to talk about sports when we couldn’t play them.  During school or church, or while walking to school or church, or while sitting in the car, or pretty much anytime when we couldn’t actually play sports – we talked about them, we dreamed about them, we envisioned ourselves being them, and we called ‘I’m Jordan’ or ‘I’m Maddux’ when we played and thought that we were just as good as they were.  I know that we are all guilty of developing our own ‘dream teams’ based on opinion, facts, knowledge, bias, uniform colors, success, statistics, and maybe even location and arguing with each other over whose imaginary team is or would be better.  Some of us maybe even still do this in our minds…. and some of us might even still write them down.  Hopefully we have all arrived at a point in our lives where we can assemble these dream teams based on various roles, talents, characteristic attributes, etc. in order to make a great team (talents working together) instead of just a bunch of really good players who would happen to wear the same uniform (i.e. having 4 centers and one power forward on your dream team).   The hardest part of this activity was trying to decide which of the all time greats would be your 5 starters (basketball) or 9 (baseball) given the whole history of sports.  Good luck with that.

This whole backstory is to make a point: we can and do make our own dream teams.  Or maybe a better way to put it is, we can and do decide which team we play on, who our teammates are, and who our coach is.  The best part is that there is no limit to the number of starters that you can choose because there isn’t a limited number of positions like in baseball or basketball – at least not in the traditional sense.  For example – in the limited scope (when we attend or watch a sporting event) there is a single game going on where 5 or 9 or 11, etc. players from each team play and the others are on the bench waiting their turn.  But what if there were 20 games going on at once (between the same 2 teams), and each side has to field a team for each court/field/etc.?  Now imagine there were 2,000 games going on at once, or even 2 million games and each side has fielded its team to each of those locations.  This is the ultimate game.  Each team is recruiting players, and each coach is delegating authority and preparing their teams for continued battle.  This is the game of good vs. evil.  It is real and it is going on even now.

The more we realize this, and the more we understand that it is absolutely a competition, and that it has been going on since the beginning of the beginning the more excited we become, and the more involved we become in the action all around us.  We get to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each team, we get to see the players on both sides, dream about becoming like them, playing with them, and then (best news of all) we get to make a conscience choice to draft ourselves to whichever team we want to play for.  We also get to decide if we are a starter, a bench warmer, a utility player, a low post threat, a water boy, a pinch hitter, a closer, or maybe even a pinch runner.  We even get to try them (some voluntarily and some via ‘callings’) out until we learn and understand what we are really good at and how we can help the team more effectively. Some people are better suited to call the plays from the front office, some people are good at kicking field goals, and some people are good at running really fast.  Some people are good at shooting 3’s and some people are good at free throws.  Some people are good at defense and some are good at taping ankles.  Some people are good at shagging foul balls, and some people are good at throwing changups.  Some are good at laminating the coach’s card and others are good at holding the cord to the headset so that the coach can wander wherever he wants during the game.  The point is that there are a gazillion opportunities to help the team, and we need every single person that we can get.  This is why both sides are recruiting and constantly ‘enticing us to choose good or evil’.

When we (as players and competitors) decide to get on the same team, and to follow the same coach, and to give everything we have to help the team win, our competitive natures can exponentially increase the success of the team.   We get to practice while we play.  We get to improve by playing and playing and playing some more.  We get to enjoy the process, and we get to meet awesome people, and we get to feel that rush of being on the smallest but best team of all.   We get to focus our energy and our intensity with others who have the same drive, motivation, testimony, etc. in order to become the best teammates we can be, and to become the best team we can be.

We also get to compete against a team that on paper may seem to be much bigger, stronger, faster, more agile, more stacked, better coached, better prepared, has more experience, has flashier uniforms, a larger crowd or booster club, a better travel bus, and definitely more team members.  In fact, their team name is called ‘The World’.  Their warm up routine is a really great show.  It strikes fear into the hearts of many.  When they’re done with their warmup and all during the game, they are excellent trash talkers and they try to get in your head by saying whatever they think will affect us and IT’S ALL A SHOW to be ‘seen of men’ or ‘to have glory of men’ because ‘they think that they will be heard for their much speaking’.

The strength of ‘the world’ is in it’s show.  They are also very good at isolation defense.  They full court press and trap like crazy while on defense to make the offense feel ‘isolated’ and ‘apart from’ their team.  They try to make each person on the other team feel like they are alone, or that there is no hope of help.  This is their best strength – let us be aware of it as a tactic of battle – because only then are we able to properly see it for what it is – their weakness.  Their supposed strength (the show) is a complete weakness because it has no substance.  We can break that full court press by attacking it, and once we’ve attacked their trap, we will be able to see through their defense and reach our goals.  Do not confuse this breakthrough with complete victory, because ‘the world’ will fight and claw and cheat and steal and do whatever they can to disrupt us, make us panic, take us off course, confuse us, distract us, and they are coached and prodded by a relentless motivation of pure hatred which when backed against the wall will become ‘yet more angry’ and they will fight ‘like dragons’ and become ‘exceedingly wroth’.  This will require poise (especially under pressure), power, and focus to overcome.  It will require faith, and it will require confidence.

When it really comes down to it (the end)– they (the world) are the ones who are ‘exceedingly afraid’.  They are the ones who are ‘astonished’ and who ‘tremble’ and who are ‘filled with terror’ and wish that ‘rocks would fall’ upon them or that they could somehow ‘cease to exist’.  They are the ones that have ‘imagined up unto themselves’ glory or success or who ‘boast in their own strength’.  They are the ones that are ‘racked with eternal guilt’ and live in a ‘state of misery’, which hath no end.  They are the ones led by a coach of who abandons them when he promised he’d be there for them and when they think they need him most.  A coach who binds them down with chains to rule over them and ultimately rejoices in their misery and captivity.  Like most battles where a heavily favored opponent (the world) is defeated by ‘small, simple, and weak things’ – ‘how great and marvelous will be their fall’.

Do you want to be on that team? I don’t.

Let us not forget what we have on our side.  We have a power that they will never understand.  We have a coach that understands each one of us, our strengths, our talents, and he knows exactly where to put us to do the most good.  His only desire is to help us win because of what it does for us, not because of what it does for Him!  We have teammates who are willing to give everything they have.  We have the playbook.  We have the commentary on past history.  We have the game film from the game we are playing.  We know what happens, we know who wins.  We are the ones who have a coach that laid down his own life so that we could choose and become something more. We have a team that can do ‘all manner of miracles’ and have a ‘fulness of joy’.  We have team that has ‘seen and heard unspeakable things’ and have promised the same for others.  We have a team that can ‘smite the earth with the word of God’.   We have teammates that are ‘holy, and that the powers of the earth cannot hold them’.   We have a team that will ‘sing together, for we shall see eye to eye’.  We have a team that is ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’.  We have a team that is ‘encircled about with fire; and the angels do minister unto us’.  We have a team that ‘knows and do bear record of Jesus Christ’ and ‘have a knowledge of our redeemer’.    We have a team that can minister ‘with power and great authority’.  We have a team that can speak with such power that ‘it is not possible that they can disbelieve our words’.  We have a team that has ‘great joy, and is exceedingly glad, for great shall be our reward in heaven’.    We are members of a team that has ‘been chosen from out of the world’, and can ‘see with our eyes and feel with our hands, and do know of a surety’.  We have a team where the very ‘power of heaven shall come down among us’, and Jesus Christ himself ‘will be in our midst’.   We have a team that works together and helps each other out.  We have a team that is ‘scorned, and shamed, and spit upon’, but we have a team that will overcome through ‘power, through love, and a sound mind’.

Our uniforms, shoes, sponsorships, and bus may not be flashy, our team may not talk trash (Elijah can handle that for us), we may not act the part of what ‘the world’ thinks a team should be, but we are in fact the greatest team ever assembled, and I for one am going to give everything I have to this team, because I love this team and all those who play for it, I love our coach, and I love to compete against the world because I know ‘of a surety’ and have a knowledge of my redeemer and His great love and plan and it makes ‘my heart burn within me’.

The strength of our team is our power through unity and the light and love of Jesus Christ.  The power that comes through Him and His atonement.  The power that comes to each team member through faith, love, devotion, practice, and service.  This power is viewed as a weakness by the world because they can’t see it.  They don’t believe it’s real because they can’t see it.  They think they can defeat us because all they see are the weak and simple things of the earth going about believing ‘foolish traditions’ and ‘binding themselves with a yoke of bondage’ and weakness ‘as to the strength of men’.  What they don’t see are the legions of angels surrounding us at all times who are ready and willing to fight for and with us.  They don’t see the amazing and consuming power of the priesthood to ‘bind on earth and on heaven’.  They don’t see that all it takes is for us (members of the opposite team) to combine forces, motivations, and share that love and light to drive away their hate and darkness.  Don’t let this strength be our weakness, don’t let their traps and full court presses confuse us or fog up our minds or eyes – let us join with the angels, and ‘let our hearts be turned to our fathers’ so that we can call upon them during times of struggle and strife.  They are already here – we just might not ‘see’ them.  Let us feel them, and become more aware of them, and then have the faith necessary so that they ‘cannot be withheld from our sight’, or that we ‘cannot be kept without the veil’.  Then can our power grow, then can our ‘weak things become strong’.  Then we can show forth and share His power to destroy our foes.

Come join with us.  Take upon you His name – even Jesus Christ.  For “who can stand against the works of the Lord?  Who can deny his sayings?  Who will rise up against the almighty power of the Lord?… Who will despise the Children of Christ?…Behold, ye shall wonder and perish” (Morm. 9:26).  They shall be ‘as stubble fully dry’ and destroyed ‘to the uttermost’, for ‘the mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein’.

Christ the royal Master, leads against the foe

Forward into battle, see his banner go

Hell’s foundations quiver, at the shout of praise

Brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise

Like a mighty army, moves the Church of God

Brothers we are treading, where the saints have trod

We are not divided, all one body we:

One in hope and doctrine, one in charity

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng

Blend with ours your voices, in the triumph song

Glory, laud, and honor, unto Christ the King

This through countless ages, men and angels sing

(Hymn 246)