Former NBA player tells Edgewood church to stay 'on fire'

Former professional basketball player Billy Thompson told the congregation of the Edgewood Assembly of God, where he preached Sunday, to have faith in God and to work hard instead of relying on "systems of the world." He also urged congregants not to get apathetic.

Thompson, 47, who played for the L.A. Lakers from 1986 to 1988 and the Miami Heat from 1988 to 1991, now leads the Jesus People Proclaim International Ministries Church in Boca Raton, Fla. He is preaching in Edgewood through Tuesday.

A table with his church's T-shirts, CDs and DVDs entitled "From the Court to the Pulpit: God's Champion" was set up at the back of the sanctuary Sunday morning.

"I didn't become a great basketball player just by showing up at the courts, with my nice outfit and my short-shorts," he said, poking fun at a photo montage of his basketball days that was shown before he came up to the altar.

"I had to work. I had to work my butt off," he said.

Thompson explained he came out with his team to practice through rain and snow, in New Jersey where he grew up, and then traveled to play better teams. Thompson went on to play in college at the University of Louisville, which he helped lead to the 1986 NCAA Division 1 Championship. He went to the pros as the 19th pick in the 1986 NBA draft.

"Why? Because we loved the game, and we wanted to play it better. We wanted to get good at it and we worked hard, and we played against some of the best people," he said of his pursuit of excellence on the basketball courts.

He recalled two courts in his neighborhood when he was growing up in Camden, N.J., across the river from Philadelphia, with the really good players on the bigger of the two courts.

"We would look at the guys on the big court and [were] wishing we could be there one day, and not only wanting to be there, but watching them," he said, noting he was "playing with professional basketball players,...[Philadelphia] 76ers, when I was in high school."

Thompson he told the crowd he worked hard to become one of the best players in America. "But God gave me the gift."

His studying better players shows the importance of listening to authority figures who, Thompson said, need to be obeyed in addition to God.

"We need to submit to our authorities on the earth, our pastor, or your parents, or your boss… Everyone wants to be a wonder by themselves and never really submit to anyone," he said.

Although Thompson said human authority leaders should be obeyed, he also cited troubling developments in society that shows there is "deception" on earth, everything from earthquakes and natural disasters to prominent church members being openly gay.

"We are seeing homosexuality in the churches. I never thought that I would see that in my day. You would never have heard of homosexuals out in the open. But now, they are out in the open, they are in the church," he said.

He said Satan is using men and women in the church "who are running at the riches, who are running at the fame, who are running at the 'emerging gospel,'" in reference to Christian movements that focus heavily on social activism.

Thompson lamented the bad leadership and apathy in some congregations, while praising Edgewood's Assembly of God's Pastor Stephen Schuessler.

"We are seeing so many men and women of God kind of lose it from the pulpit. That doesn't do the church any good," Thompson said. "I see a church today that is separating into the one that is on fire and the one that is lukewarm."

He also said he sees "wicked leaders being judged" and urged people to trust in God instead of human institutions.

"It's not Wall Street, it's God. If he wants you to have it, you will have it tomorrow when you wake up," he said. "We are relying on systems of the world and God wants us to rely on him… The Kingdom of Heaven is not a democracy. It's a theocracy."

He said he saw athletes who were depressed, tried to take their lives or had other difficulties because they thought everything depended on them.

"We can't take thought about ourselves because when we worry about ourselves and worry about our having, we are not focusing on someone else," he said.

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