Lasting Lessons from March Madness

A few posts ago I mentioned March Madness, the annual college basketball tournament which has long been a springtime classic for sports and especially b-ball fans; it just completed and here are some observations and takeaways and, believe it or not, spiritual/biblical parallels or illustrations or lessons.

The referees definitely have a job to do… but it’s not so much a job as an honor and privilege (since the refs for that game are selected based on stellar performance in past games).  The same is true when it comes to Christians and “witnessing”, sharing the Gospel, God’s plan of salvation, with others:  it’s definitely a job/command…

  • “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

… but not so much a job as an honor and privilege for which we have been specifically selected and approved  and with which we have been entrusted.

  • “… we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel…” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

(Because if we believers don’t tell others about the great grace and goodness of God, who will?  If we don’t tell them, how will they ever hear about it and believe, and be saved from their sin and sins and the eternal penalty thereof?)

  • “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher? [Lit., any ‘proclaimer’ or ‘heralder’, not necessarily a pastor or ‘official’ evangelist]” (Romans 10:14)

Also… as discussed in-depth in a prior post, maintaining momentum, not giving back gained ground, is crucial for winning!

  • “Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished [i.e., in you], but that you may receive a full reward.” (2 John 8)

This exhortation/warning is given by God because He knows how prone we humans are to “letting up”, to “getting lax” after achieving growth or accomplishment or success in a given area or facet or aspect of life – spiritual, sports, financial, relational, etc… which is why He gives a similar and even far more famous warning several books earlier:

  • “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed [i.e., ‘Watch yourselves!’] lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)  (This verse immediately came to mind when the Tar Heels had a whopping 15-point lead over the Jayhawks at halftime.  I was very impressed with several things about their former star and now first-year coach Hubert Davis, but I found myself saying “I hope he drills it into his team NOT TO LET UP” as such would be the likely path for the second half given human nature… and surely enough, as if on cue, Kansas came out for the second half and reeled off 25 points to UNC’s 10, and never really looked back.)

Another way of putting that is this:  Don’t get lax.  And certainly, above all, don’t get COCKY!

Throughout my entire childhood my dad and I had what was undoubtedly the longest-running, most fun, most exciting backgammon competition.  It didn’t increase how much he loved me – that was clearly already 100% – but it did in a certain sense increase how much he “liked” me, i.e., how much he truly and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with me in that pastime, i.e., how much we bonded on a human, personal, personality level.  I genuinely loved those countless, daily-for-a-decade games of backgammon with Dad… and all the more because we discussed the Bible for 50-75% of the time  spent playing backgammon.  But the main point for this post is that it was absolutely uncanny that when either of us would get way, way, way ahead in a game and start “trash-talking” and “teasing” the other person, the one who got cocky would almost always end up LOSING the game in nothing short of a miracle comeback by the other one.  It was really something.  Like clockwork.  Every time.  To the point that we developed a saying right as one of those mammoth comebacks occurred:  “You got COCKY!  Don’t get COCKY!  Never, never, never get COCKY!”  That’s what the two verses above are saying.  Don’t get lax in life and especially not in one’s walk with the Lord, one’s level of spiritual growth.

But that coin has a second side and that’s this:  Never GIVE UP.  (Cue Winston Churchill here.)  Missed your first several shots in a basketball game?  KEEP SHOOTING.  Trust the hours of practice you’ve put in and KEEP SHOOTING.  Or, put another way:  Keep at it.  Stay the course.  Be persistent.  Endure.  Because just as crucial as it is not to get cocky when one is “up” or “winning” or “ahead”, it’s equally essential not to give up and to keep at it, to stay the course, to be persistent, to endure, to “keep on keeping on” when one is “down” or “losing” or “behind”.

  • “But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)
  • “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue [i.e., endure!] in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel…” (Colossians 1:21-23) (which sounds super-similar to this verse…)
  • “… be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Made your first several shots?  Great.  Don’t get cocky.
Missed  your first several shots?  KEEP SHOOTING THE BALL.

Also… don’t keep looking at the score/scoreboard; rather, focus on (playing) the GAME!

  • fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:2)

It’s much less likely that we will give back gained ground if we keep our focus on the Lord, not the “scoreboard”.

Also… play as if you’ve ALREADY WON!  Because, as a born-again believer, you have!

  • “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
  • “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” (1 John 4:4, 5:4)
  • “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” (Colossians 2:15)
  • “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.'” (Ephesians 4:8)
  • “… the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
  • “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

In other words:  Don’t get cocky… but do  be confident!  In the Bible.  In God’s promises.  That He will be true to His Word and words.  (Spoiler alert:  He ALWAYS is!)

And last but definitely not least… focus on playing great DEFENSE.  Let God handle the offense.

The Bible is crystal clear that in the Christian life, OUR ROLE is one of DEFENSE, NOT offense (which belongs to the Lord).

  • “Put on the full armor of God…  And take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:11,17)  In the Greek, that word “sword” more specifically means “knife” or “dagger” – a DEFENSIVE weapon!
  • “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  These two actions speak to DEFENSE, NOT offense!  It doesn’t say to “attack” or “pursue” or “chase after” the devil/evil.  Instead, it says to be SOBER and ALERT about his  offense, which means the Christian’s role is one of, yep, DEFENSE, NOT offense.
  • “… whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)  “Turn the other cheek” – versus hitting back – speaks to, yep, you got it, DE-FENSE, DE-FENSE, DE-FENSE.  NOT offense.  As does…
  • “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. …  Never take your own revenge…” (Romans 12:17,19)

Probably THE BEST illustration of this from the sports world would be the 1985-86 Chicago Bears of the NFL.  They had one of the greatest running backs of all time (Walter Payton) yet, inexplicably, were infamous for having next-to-no offense… yet they WON IT ALL and were world champions that season because they had the best DEFENSE.

Let’s end this post by coming back to basketball.  I’m always amazed how a team can have a phenomenal shooter, scorer, offensively-gifted player, yet invariably not keep feeding him the ball, not keep passing the ball to him and just let him “do his thing” on offense.  Yet how many times do we Christians – how many times do I, how many times do you – who happen to have a teammate who C-A-N-N-O-T M-I-S-S even a S-I-N-G-L-E S-H-O-T ever, how many times do we fail to just give Him the ball and let HIM take care of the offense while we focus on defense, on our  role?

Let’s purpose in our hearts not to be so foolish going forward.  Let’s just give the ball to the Lord.  Every time.  I assure you that the results will be phenomenal.  And historic.  Even far better than Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and UNC combined.  Times a trillion.
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