The Experience Jesus Calling

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Where God Leads: Caz McCaslin and Upward Sports

"When you turn your thoughts toward Me, you can think much more positively." - Jesus Calling Podcast, Episode 37.

Caz McCaslin is the founder of Upward Sports, the world’s largest Christian sports provider for youth. Upward Sports mission is to promote the discovery of Christ through sports. Caz had a vision to create the best sports experience possible for every child, while providing an environment to nurture kids’ faith. Trusting God for direction, Caz has lead the program’s growth from several hundred children playing in a few church basketball leagues to over half a million children playing in 47 states and 72 countries.

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Where God Leads: Caz McCaslin and Upward Sports – Jesus Calling Podcast 37

Narrator: Welcome to The Experience Jesus Calling Podcast. Today, we speak with Caz McCaslin, the founder of Upward Sports. Caz had a vision to create the best sports experience possible for every child, while providing an environment to nurture kids’ faith. Upward Sports has grown under McCaslin’s leadership and guidance from several hundred children playing in seven church basketball leagues to more than half a million children playing in 2,500 multi-sport clinics, camps, academies and leagues in 47 states and 72 countries.

Caz McCaslin: My name is Caz McCaslin and I’m the president and founder of Upward Sports. I was very privileged to be a part of a military family. My dad was in the Army for 30 years, and as a result we traveled quite a bit. Everything from Germany to Japan to back to Pennsylvania and New Orleans and Washington State. Then when he retired, we ended up down in Georgia.

Traveling around causes you to find a way to make friends fast. For me, the way we did that, was through sports. My older siblings and my dad; they all love sports. It was a great unifier. It didn’t matter how tall you were, how short you were, what color you were, where you went to church, or if you went to church; when you played sports, everybody was on a team and everybody buddied up really quick.

I think it had a big part of making all of us who we are today.

Growing Up In Sports

When I got out of high school; I actually had a pretty rough injury in high school. I was all about sports and I wanted to play in the NBA one day, like every young kid that comes along that wants to play sports. It was a big time desire for me. When I got this injury, it was really difficult, because I realized it wasn’t going to be sports for me.

When I got out of high school, I just went to work for Home Depot, the very first Home Depot there ever was, as a matter of fact. My brother was in the management program there. He got me a job there, and it was really exciting to be a part of something that new that was growing that fast. Then, there was a guy in my church, my youth minister, that came to me and said, “you really should consider being a minister of recreation.” And I said, “Really—what’s a minister of recreation?” He began to explain it to me and asked me if I wanted to go to look at a church that had a gym and recreation facility, and I said “sure!” So we went at lunch one day, and when I saw this place–a church with a gym–I just didn’t know whether to be extremely happy or extremely mad; happy because I wanted to be a part of it, or mad because I didn’t grow up with one in my church.

I said, “I’m telling you; this is what I want to do.” And I said, “what do I have to do?
He said, “well, you’ve got to go to college.” I had been out of college for two years and that seemed like an impossibility to me. There was no way in the world that was going to work for me. As a result, I just told him, “I don’t think I can do it.” He said “the Lord will open the doors. I started pursuing it and before long I went to Truett McConnell in Cleveland, Georgia. I graduated from there and went on to Georgia.

Never Allow An Opportunity To Go By

The whole time I was at Georgia I had a very dear friend of mine; his name was Rayford. Rayford and I spent pretty much every waking moment together up until my senior year. My senior year, I got married, and my wife was working putting me through school. He and I were taking classes together and then we played every intramural sport there was. It was very obvious that he did not know the Lord, and it was very obvious to him that I was in his words “religious.” Yet we never judged each other or thought less of each other.

I got this phone call to go to this church in Spartanburg. I was so excited, because after the interviews, they offered us the job. I told my wife all about it and we were so excited. I remember it was the day before my last final exam. I told her, “we’re about to leave to go to Spartanburg to be a minister of recreation where we’re going to use sports as a tool to share Christ with people that don’t know Jesus– and here I’ve spent two years with Rayford, and and I’ve never shared Christ with Him.”

He said “if this is so important to you, why did it take you two years to tell me about it?”

She said “Well, you’ve got one more day and we’re just going to pray right now that the Lord opens up the doors,” and so we did. The next day, He literally opened that door for me to be able to share Christ with Rayford. It was that first opportunity; but when I finished sharing with him, after an hour of presenting every scripture I knew and every reason I was going to this church, he looked at me and said he said, “I know everything there is to know about you. Everything about your wife, your parents, your family, your sister, your brother; I know everything about your dog!” He said “if this is so important to you, why did it take you two years to tell me about it?” Boy, it was a devastating moment for me, to say the very least. He actually ended that conversation by saying “Caz, I don’t need your Jesus.”

We drove away that day, very burdened for him, and it became a passion for me to never allow an opportunity to go by after that. I have to fast forward and tell you that 10 years later, Rayford came to know the Lord through an Upward basketball program as a coach. It was quite a joy. That was a motivating moment for me when that happened.

Reaching Those Who Need Christ

I was really not planning to go into the ministry, until that moment when the Lord called me, and I knew nothing about it. I just thought, “this is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. To use sports and recreation as a tool to to share the love of Jesus Christ with those that are searching for the truth, and they don’t even know it.”

Four boys in the Upward Stars of Hudson Valley program pose for a photo.

Upward Sports really grew out of, basically, a basketball league. Basketball was my first love, as the different sports are out there, I love them all. Basketball was my first love. It was the one that I played the most, and so it was the easiest thing for me to organize when I got to the church. That first year, when we put the league together, there just weren’t a lot of kids that were signing up. We literally picked up the phone book and started calling people and telling them about this league and telling them to bring their kids. When they did, we we had a great first year.

“…we didn’t sign up for this to turn kids away, we signed up to reach kids.”

We had about 150 kids; kindergarten through sixth grade. We split them all up. We were very intentional about putting the kids first in everything that we did and making it all about them; and the word just spread. The next year we added another 100 kids; we were at 250. The year after that, it was 350, then 450, then 550. We basically had 550 kids in about the seventh or eighth year, and 27 kids on a waiting list.

I’ll never forget going home and telling my wife mistakenly, quite frankly, I was so, so excited. I said, “hey we’ve got the most happening league in all of Spartanburg – we have 520 kids and 27 kids on a waiting list!”

She said, “well, babe if that’s what you want to do is put twenty-seven kids on a waiting list, then you did good. And I said, “What do you mean by that?” She said “Honey, we didn’t sign up for this to turn kids away, we signed up to reach kids.”

You Don’t Need Another Gym, You Need A Thousand Gyms

It became a real burden, at that point, to do whatever we could to reach them. That’s really when Dr. Johnnie Hunt, who is a pastor at First Baptist in Woodstock, came up and spoke to us about how to grow our church. One of the things he talked about is; if we have an opportunity to reach people, and we’re just turning them away, then we’re turning them away from the opportunity to share Christ with them. He preached on that for about 30 minutes.

When he got done, I walked to my car, just weeping on my steering wheel for those 27 kids. That’s really where it all began, because we knew we had to do whatever it took to be able to reach not just them, but anybody else. There was a man in our church that quite frankly, had the wherewithal to to build us another gym.

A boy with the Upward program dribbles a basketball.I went to him and told him the whole story, and asked him if he would if he would do that. I just asked him if he’d build us another gym so we could keep reaching more kids. And he said “Caz, you don’t need another gym, and you need a thousand gyms.” That really became our first vision statement.

Every time we we hit a roadblock we said “you know what, this is bigger than us and because this is bigger, then it’s got to be God. We’re just going to let Him handle it.” Every time we had that situation, we would do the same thing.

That’s really when Upward began; it was September of 1995, and in May we stepped out with the desire, fire and passion to reach children and families for Christ all over this country through something as simple as a ball.

Our greatest desire would be to be there to introduce them to Christ, to have the joy of seeing them come to know Christ, and then to disciple them in Christ. Then when they leave us, in our age group of sports, to watch them as they model Christ.

What a young athlete and their families can expect if they become a part of Upward Sports, is the best sports experience that you can find. Then, as an added bonus, we’re going to have the opportunity to pour into them mentally and socially. For us, our main purpose, is to pour into them spiritually.

That Life Changing Moment

Narrator: Caz hears many stories from parents whose kids find belonging and encouragement from Upward Sports and also from adults whose lives were impacted greatly, by participating in Upward as kids. He sees God working through this ministry and offers up thanks daily in his quiet moments, using Jesus Calling to facilitate his devotional time.

Caz: Now we’re getting the joy of seeing what some of those young adults are experiencing in what they’re doing in the workplace; seeing their marriages and their families and how they’re raising their children–it’s really interesting. When you talk to them and share with them and ask them about those things, it’s really been exciting to hear them talk about some of the things that they learned when they were in the second third, and fourth grade.

We were sitting at this little sandwich shop in downtown Spartanburg. We sat on the front porch and when we got done eating, I went inside to pay for the meal. When I went in there, the young lady behind the counter, she was in college at the local school there. She saw my shirt and said, “Do you coach for Upward?” I said, “yeah, sorta.” She said “Are you involved with Upward?” I said, “I am.” She said, “Can I tell you something?” . I never got too far to tell her what I did. She said, “Can I tell you a story?” I said, “sure!” She said, “I’m about to get married in a couple of months when we graduate from college, but I want you to know that if it wasn’t for Upward, I would have never met my fiancé’.” I said, “really?” I said, “what’s the story?”

She said “well, he told me that he had the desire to commit suicide. When he was about to do that, all he could think about was what his Upward coach had talked about when he was in the fifth grade.” She went on to tell the story about saving her husband’s life. Some 10-15 years later, I was so overwhelmed by; how in the world could I ever track down that coach that shared with that young person a life changing moment? That is what happens when the Family of God, The Army of God begins to spread out and to do what they’ve been called to do.

Upward Sports and Jesus Calling

We hand out Jesus Calling like it’s candy on Halloween. My wife is really the one that discovered it. I’m telling you, she had to be there when it hit the stores because it’s been in our family forever. She got a hold of this book, and we read through it every day,

We would sit there and go; “How in the world did they write this book just for us? I sure hope everybody else is enjoying reading about what we needed today, because this was just for us.”

The reason we love it so much is because it’s all biblically sound. It’s biblical truths.

A photo and description of the burnt down house that was later rebuilt.As a matter of fact, the chairman of our board at Upward; his house burned to the ground about five or six years ago. The day that it burned down, I looked at Jesus Calling, and the message was so powerful for that moment in his life. The day they finished rebuilding the home, and they stepped into their new house, the passage was just so amazing, as to what it was.

One of my favorite verses; one of my life verses, is Ephesians 3:20. It says, “now all glory to God who is able, through His mighty power, at work within us.” That’s the amazing thing; his mighty power. A lot of people wonder where it’s dwelling, but it’s dwelling within us; to accomplish, not just “more than” but “infinitely more than.” If that’s not enough adjectives; “infinitely more than anything that we might ask.” You could you could stop right there, and it still would be bigger and greater and more than anything you could ever… then He even says; “that you would ever ask or even think.” So that passage allows us; it gives us the freedom as believers to think as big as you want to think, because He’s able to do more than that. There is nothing that He can’t accomplish.

Listening to God’s Bigger Plan

On October 17th in Jesus Calling, when you talk about stretching your faith, it says (based on on that same passage right there in Ephesians 3:20): “Anxiety is a result of envisioning the future without Me. So the best defense against any worry, is staying in communication with Me. When you turn your thoughts towards Me, you can think much more positively. Remember to listen, as well as to speak, making your thoughts a dialogue with Me.”

There is nothing that He can’t accomplish.

This goes on and on, but I want to tell you one thing about that. A lot of people say “I want to hear about your vision. Tell me about your vision.” I always get nervous when anybody answers that question because Ephesians 2:10 says that “we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works; which God planned in advance for us to do.” Not what we planned, but God planned in advance for us to do.

Two girls in the Upward Stars program hug each other.

The biggest, most important thing that we do as believers, is to be obedient to what God tells us to do. The only way you can do that, is to be sure that you’re doing what He says, not what you think. As a result, you have to hear His voice.

As long as we’re here, on this earth, I’m convinced He’s constantly going to give us more. That requires us to depend on Him to accomplish it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down and tried to make out my own plans. I say “whoo, this is good, Lord come look at this, you’re going to like this.” Over and over, He just taps me on the shoulder and He says; “when you’re done with your little plans, let Me know, and I’ll give you the big thing that I want you to do.” And every time that happens, it is so bigger than “we.”

The Lord wants to do things that only He can get the glory and the honor for. We constantly search for those and we call them, one of our values, is “the expectation of God moments.” We look for Him to do things we know that we can’t do ourselves. As we continue to grow, He continues to give us things beyond our stretch.

Sometimes we just forget about the fact that, man that is impossible for us, but it is not impossible for Him.

Narrator: To find out more about how to get involved with helping Upward expand to more families and kids; or to find a youth sports program near you, visit Upward.org for more information.


Narrator: Next time on the Experience Jesus Calling podcast, we visit with Marie Jose Tennison, the Vice President of Brand and Production for Sights and Sounds Theaters. Their purpose is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sow the Word of God into the lives of those who attend their shows, by visualizing and dramatizing Scriptures, through inspirational productions. Marie shares a little bit of her background and how she got involved in bringing epic Bible stories to the stage.

Marie Jose Tennison: Every morning, it’s kind of like “listen Lord, you know what I need to do today and you know the things that I need to be fully present for. I want to partner with you in being able to do that well, so refresh me. If I’m too tired, If I’m too distracted, give me what I need to be able to represent you well in this moment.

Narrator: Our featured passage for today comes from the October 17th entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook:

Anxiety is a result of envisioning the future without Me. So the best defense against worry is staying in communication with Me. When you turn your thoughts toward Me, you can think much more positively. Remember to listen, as well as to speak, making your thoughts a dialogue with Me.

If you must consider upcoming events, follow these rules: 1) Do not linger in the future, because anxieties sprout up like mushrooms when you wander there. 2) Remember the promise of My continual Presence; include Me in any imagery that comes to mind. This mental discipline does not come easily, because you are accustomed to being god of your fantasies. However, the reality of My Presence with you, now and forevermore, outshines any fantasy you could ever imagine.

Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.

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