How Will They Remember Me?

But some fell on good soil, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, even a hundred times as much as he planted.                              Matthew 13:8

Last Wednesday afternoon I delivered Final Score! books to the Peachtree Presbyterian Church bookstore. I engaged in a lively conversation with three ladies and told them that I met Becca, my future wife, in 1980 through the Peachtree Presbyterian adult softball league that played at Garden Hills Elementary School. That league was under the direction of Peachtree recreation minister Bill Maness, a pioneer in adult, youth and children’s sports ministry in the metro Atlanta area.

Bill was a fun-loving man of God who could lift you up merely with his smile and presence.  His relaxed, easy-going nature invited you to get to know him. He truly had a calling to connect people with God through sports.

In 2005, Bill passed away suddenly at the age of 65. I shared with the ladies that I found out about his passing from a fellow marshal at the Tour Championship, and how the news was a punch in the gut. The bookstore volunteer assured me that Bill is still missed at Peachtree Presbyterian nine years later.

I left the bookstore and walked over to the recreation center that is named The Gym at Peachtree Presbyterian. I reminisced about Maness with a building maintenance man named Thomas, who told me that Bill hired him. I noticed a framed green jersey with “Maness” and the number 1 above the water cooler. I recalled how Bill wore a headband and mouthpiece whenever he competed in pickup basketball games. My friend Joel said it would not have surprised him if he wore his mouthpiece playing golf at Chastain Park.

Once Bill and I refereed an exciting high school church league game at Roswell First Baptist. Bill made the crucial call of the game on a block/charge. Well, sort of. With two seconds remaining in a one-point game and bodies on the floor, Bill blew his whistle, and deferred to me to make the deciding call with a hopeful look of “Dan, what do you have?”

Bill’s influence on young people was lasting. He had invited these twin boys from the community to play at Peachtree years earlier, and they became quite accomplished. Bill helped them get college basketball scholarships, and I had refereed one of their games at a local junior college. My partner and I were meeting at center court with the captains for the pre-game conference when I felt this tap, tap, tap on my shoulder. It was Bill! He had come to see the boys play and obviously felt quite comfortable in joining us on the floor! Thomas told me that the twins, now grown men, still come to The Gym. Then there is Bill’s good friend Mike, who played in those sports leagues with me and teaches basketball skills at The Gym over thirty years later.

I left a Final Score! book for the current sports director and asked Thomas for a piece of paper to scribble a note. I wrote “To the PPC sports ministry,“ and the Holy Spirit completed the note “in honor of Bill Maness.” A wow moment! I was visibly emotional as I thought about how Bill’s ministry had changed my life and Becca’s and so many others.

Bill Maness was flat-out beloved by those who were fortunate enough to know him. It was always a joy to be around him and to spend time with him.  His vision and templates for sports ministry have been copied time and again. For example, I coached for Bill in the Peachtree youth basketball ministry, and the youth basketball ministry that I started at our church in East Cobb mirrored Bill’s Peachtree ministry.

Chapter 13 in the book of Matthew contains the familiar parable about the sower, the seeds, and the four types of soil: the path (hard soil), the rocky, the thorny, and the good soil. Bill Maness’s life exemplified the “good soil, that produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as he planted” (Matthew 13:8). John 15:8 reminds us that “My true disciples produce bountiful harvests.  This brings great glory to my Father.” Bill certainly brought his share of glory to God.

I can picture him now with his headband and mouthpiece, muscling in a left-handed layup in a pick-up game on a playground adjacent to a street paved with gold.

God used Bill Maness to change lives for Jesus Christ for three generations. It’s never too late to allow God to use us to influence the lives near us for eternity, now and later.

Who do you remember from your life that made a huge eternal impact?  Who will remember your Christian influence for the Kingdom five, ten, twenty, even fifty years later?