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Former hoops player competes for prize worth possessing

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Anthony Moore’s god used to be an orange, bumpy, black-grooved sphere.

College basketball and, presumably, the NBA seemed like sure things. Young, and athletically gifted, Moore had it all. Or so he thought.

The Missouri native, now a master of divinity student in his first year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, remembers accepting Christ as a third grader. By his own account though, either he did not understand the commitment or he was not truly saved. Basketball became his sole focus in junior high. By high school, it defined his identify.

Though he ran with a rough crowd off the court, he managed to avoid alcohol and drugs. Various family members had provided real-life examples of the devastating consequences of drug abuse, including alcoholism. He was also protecting the strength and endurance he depended on when he played basketball.

But he played the role of big-man-on-campus to the hilt. Some temptations available to him proved too strong to resist.

“The reason why it was not worse was not because I was trying to live righteous for the Lord,” he said. “I was afraid that if I had committed myself to a woman I would get her pregnant or come out with a disease and, again, that would hurt my career. Everything for me was focused on going to college and being a big-time basketball player.”

Despite his best intentions, he became involved with one particular girl during his junior year. Believing their romance to be love, he committed to date her exclusively. Her death in a car wreck the same year had profound repercussions.

“I remember sitting on the pew at the funeral and listening to the pastor preach about how she was a Christian, she knew the Lord, she was in heaven, and things like that,” Moore said. “It felt like the Lord was examining me…. I knew her better than anyone and I cannot say that she knew the Lord any more than anybody else.”

He found himself admitting, upon examining his life, that he found nothing demonstrating a faith in Christ Jesus. He “went down and walked the aisle” to talk with his pastor about rededicating his life.

As he sought to walk closer, however, lifelong habits and old, misguided friends made for rough going. Even as he went to the church, the lure of “party scenes” sometimes pulled at him like a magnet.

One night he had gone with a trio of friends to an apartment. Another, larger group arrived, worked up over a disputed girlfriend. Outnumbered, Moore got into a fight, drawing blood from one of his attackers before police arrived.

“I worked at a daycare,” Moore said. “[That next day,] the kids were just climbing up on my lap. They called me ‘Coach Moore’ and stuff and it was at my church. It was supposed to be a Christian place. I could not sit with the fact that only last night … I could have possibly killed this guy.”

The sense of uncleanness, as children asked him about Christ, broke him. He started crying, which drew the attention of his boss. The two went into a room, where he confessed about his double life and prayed once again for strength to rededicate himself.

This, Moore said, was the turning point. He finally realized that he might have everything the world thinks is important, but without faith in Jesus Christ it all amounted to nothing. He began seeking the company of fellow Christians whose strength he would need to share.

After high school, he got a basketball scholarship to junior college. However, his new, faith-based stances against smoking, drinking and promiscuity put him at odds with many of his basketball teammates. He was ostracized. Some even made fun of him because he turned away from sleazy opportunities.

“In that dorm room, I began to grow,” he said of his isolation. “The Lord began to show me what it meant to set my life apart, to live for Him…. It felt like I was being called into ministry, but I did not tell anyone and I did not answer the call. That happened my freshman year of college and then it was not until the middle of my sophomore year that I said, ‘You know what? I need to answer this.'”

After junior college, he got a basketball scholarship to Evangel University, a private, Christian school in Springfield, Mo. It was at Evangel, Moore said, that God finally clarified the call. Pushing aside doubts about his academic abilities, his financial concerns, and other hesitations, he enrolled at Southwestern Seminary. He completed his first semester in December 2004.

“This is a place that is teaching us to be godly men and women and is starting to grapple with, face the issue of diversity,” Moore said, referring to Southwestern. “… We are supposed to go to places where we are different … [because] I believe that causes closer awareness of what Christ has to be in our life.”

When he is not in class, Moore attends Hampton Road Baptist Church in DeSoto, Texas. In addition to running the church’s Monday night adult basketball programs, Moore also runs their children’s Upward ministry.

Upward is an evangelistic sports ministry geared toward children from kindergarten through sixth grade. It supports church-based, volunteer-run sports outreach ministries that promote salvation and Christian character development.

“We do devotions with them, we present the Gospel during the halftimes of games,” Moore said of Hampton Road’s Upward program. “We have got probably about 120 kids. I would say that about 25 of them are church kids and the rest are all kids who have never heard the Gospel, never heard what it is to know Jesus Christ.”

Moore said his call to prepare for the pastorate dovetails with his basketball ministry. Both boil down to seeking reconciliation between the races of Christians worshiping largely as separate bodies today.

“Sunday morning is the biggest segregated hour and it shouldn’t be that way,” Moore said. “We need to be the ones leading the way of showing people unity and that it can work with black and white and whatever else.

“All these families are coming in and we are trying to do our best to serve them. Make sure, from the moment they come into the gym, they feel like their kids are being lifted up, loved on, and just having all these things done for them, not because they have done anything for us but because we want to show them Christ’s love,” he said.

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  • B. Jon Walker