By Jonathan Hodgson
One of the defining moments of the 2019 Referees Embracing Faith Conference was the LaMorris Crawford opening the afternoon session with his message entitled ‘Salvation is of the LORD!’
Crawford and his wife of ten years, Megan, have served seven seasons as team chaplains serving the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.
LaMorris is a tremendously gifted communicator of God’s word, who speaks with a raw honesty and a tangible passion and conviction.
“God has gifted you with something, and the whole point of having a gift is to give it away,” Crawford said during the opening of his message at Prasco Laboratories last August. “I have one agenda, and that is to provoke you to righteousness. We (officials and those in supporting roles in athletics) are in a unique space to be in a square with the most influential people on the planet, who are athletes. Actors, entertainers, they all go to sporting events. We are in a platform to literally change the world.”
“I am convinced with every fibre of my being that God has called you to leave a mark with your life,” Crawford continued. “You are not here by accident. Everything that God creates, he creates on purpose and for a purpose. When you look back, what mark will you leave with your life?” He said.
Crawford, was raised in the south side of Chicago, surrounded by violence, drugs, and gang activity, while his grandmother raised LaMorris and his eight siblings while on welfare. His mother, who was 16 when he was born, was shot and killed when LaMorris was just 10 months of age. LaMorris has never known the identity of his father.
Crawford told the assembled gathering of sport officials how he found success in basketball as a four-year starter in high school. He said he remembers living the worldly lifestyle that can come with athletic success, but it never brought lasting fulfillment.
“I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but nobody told me that at the end of popularity is emptiness,” Crawford said. “I remember thinking ‘if this is what life is about, I’m going to be bored,” he added.
Crawford continued his basketball career, beginning in community college, where he says the course of his life changed when he had an encounter with Jesus through the witness of his cousin -himself having given his life to Christ after a similar upbringing- who shared the gospel with LaMorris.
“Salvation is not an event; salvation is a person,” Crawford said.
From there, Crawford transferred to Olivet Nazarene University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree, becoming the first member of his family to attend and graduate from high school and post-secondary.
Crawford’s personal testimony serves to lay the groundwork for the core of his simple, but most critical message, which was rooted in scripture in Jonah 2:9.
Simply: Salvation is of the LORD!
Crawford turned to Luke 19:1-9 for the basis of the message. These verses recount the
lengths that Zacchaeus went to get the attention of Jesus, which included climbing a tree because of his short stature, and the stir that it caused in the crowds that saw him.
“In Biblical narrative, tax collectors were shady, so people didn’t like him, but he sought to see who Jesus was.” Crawford began. “In order to experience true salvation, you must seek Him,” he said.
Also important in the story says Crawford, is the fact that Zaccaeus turned to Jesus as he was
“The Bible didn’t say he went to a temple to make a sacrifice, or find a rabbi to talk to. In his sin he sought Jesus!”
Continuing, he talked about how the relationships we keep with people in this life can affect and hamper our relationship with Jesus.
“Some of you have allowed the words of others detour your purpose,” Crawford said, stating that we must be mindful about the company we keep, and if the influence of people is obscuring our focus on Jesus, we must be willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
“The Bible said Zacchaeus made it through the crowd; what crowd is stopping you, what relationship is hindering you from experiencing true salvation?” Crawford said.
“Just as God wants to send the right people into your life, Satan will send people and circumstances meant to hinder you,” Crawford said. This is why it is crucial that we are intentional with who we surround ourselves with.
“Show me your closest friends, and I can prophesy your future,” Crawford said.
Just as Zacheaus was short in stature and had to climb a tree to see Jesus, Crawford explained that because we all fall short in our human nature, we must be willing to climb our own metaphorical tree in life, to do what is necessary to maintain sight of Jesus in our life.
Further to the point, if we are going to go ‘all-in’ to do whatever is needed to keep Jesus in focus, and hold him first in our lives, Crawford said that will mean doing and saying things, and carrying ourselves in ways that the world will at times deem silly.
“If you are going to experience salvation, you can’t worry about what other people think about you,” Crawford began. “You’re going to look silly following Jesus, but salvation has got to be about you and Jesus,” he said.
Our relationship with Jesus is so much more intimate than we can even comprehend.
“Have you ever wondered why in scripture, Jesus never asked anyone their name?”
Crawford asked. “Because he knows you! But the question is do you know Him?”
Crawford talked about how many people live their lives to look good on the outside, to show the world that they have it all together, but they are dead on the inside.
“Are you allowing your life to define you, or are you laying your life down so that Jesus can be refined in you?” Crawford asked.
“The Bible says (in Genesis 2:7) that he breathed into (Adam) the breath of God,” Crawford continued. “The word ‘breath’ in Hebrews means a piece of God Himself! God designed you for intimacy; that’s how He knows you,” he said.
Realizing that a heavenly Father who knows him created him intentionally was a pivotal moment in Crawford’s life.
“When I found that God formed me, and it wasn’t an accident, it changed my life!” Crawford said. “You’ll never outperform the inner picture you have of yourself. You’ve got to see yourself in Him. You’re not defined by what you do; you’re defined by what He did!” Crawford said.
He concluded the point in saying, “if you don’t have a revelation of the cross, you’ll never be able to walk out the purpose that God has for you.”
Crawford summarized the message by saying.
“Number one, you must seek Him. Number two, you must abandon what other people think about you,” he said. “I tell my players all the time, ‘never allow another person’s opinion of you become your reality. You are a leader; you must stand for what is right. When you are on the road, you have a decision to make because your wife can’t see, other refs can’t see, players can’t see, but let me tell you, God sees,” he said.
“Leadership is influence,” Crawford began to close. “Stop letting others influence you (negatively)"
Wrapping up, Crawford called to attention the importance of motive, and with that, posed one more round of questions.
“Why do you do what you do? Have you prayed for the players and coaches before you step on the court? That maybe during a timeout you can sow a word into somebody’s heart? Why do you think you’re there?,” Crawford asked the sport officials in attendance.
“Finally, we must change. If you’re casual about your faith, you’ll end up a casualty,” Crawford said. “This is serious; people’s lives are at stake, and we hold the greatest story ever told!” He finished.
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