The pairings for the NCAA tournament just came out this past weekend, and as is the case every year at our house, I have a clean copy of the brackets hanging on my refrigerator. Now I’m not one of those prognosticators who tries to see if I can pick the winners before the games begin. I’m a loyal fan, a partisan in the extreme, and as such it’d be virtually impossible for me to write another team’s name in the winner’s slot over that of my alma mater (regardless of what the stats and experts say). In fact, I joke and say that my bracket is always the same … I pick the North Carolina Tarheels to win it all ever year.
But regardless of how it turns out, I love this time of year because basketball has always brought out the passionate, competitive fire in me. On game days, I don my lucky team shirt, pace around the house during intense contests, and have (on more than one occasion) yelled at the TV after a questionable call from a referee. It’s exhilarating to prevail in a close game and agonizing when my team comes up short as the final seconds fade. I enjoy everything from tip off to cutting the nets, but once the game clock expires, I’ve learned that it’s time to hang up your pom-poms and focus in on the things in life that are of real value.
So if you are a sports fan like me, or just a fan of truth, here are a few perspective-enhancing tips that will get you through the tournament, and beyond.
- God doesn’t take sides.
A famous bumper sticker that’s been around for decades in North Carolina reads “If God isn’t not a Tarheel, why is the sky Carolina blue?” While fans love that kind of sentiment, the truth is that all the colors belong to God and when it comes to human contests whether they be athletic, political, military, social or relational, the Lord doesn’t favor one side over the other. Joshua learned this during an encounter with an imposing figure just outside the city of Jericho. He asked the man with the drawn sword… “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The commander of God’s army answered, “Neither.” (Joshua 5:13-14) That answer still applies today and is a reminder that our “us or them” assumptions are just as incorrect now as Joshua’s was then. Instead of wondering about whose side God is on, each of us needs to be more introspective and rephrase the query to ask “Am I on God side?”
- Know Your Real Opponent.
In sporting contests, it’s easy to define your adversary. There are stat sheets to study, game videos to review, and coaches, trainers and other instructors to help teams understand their rivals so that they can take advantage of weaknesses and leverage their own strengths to achieve success. Christians need to do the same thing. With the goal of becoming more like Christ, we need to be constantly vigilant of Satan’s changing strategies, learn to identify our weaknesses and be ready to take a time-out to regroup when we fall behind. And in times when we find ourselves facing fierce opposition and heavily guarded on all sides, it’s then that we need to return to the basics and be well coached by the words of scripture. We prevail when we choose to actively move away from ungodly enticements and consistently “pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace,” while working in “company with others (our teammates) who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 2 Tim 2:22
- Realize The Real Score.
It’s excruciating to watch your team be taken out of the contest with a last second buzzer beater. It’s far worse to stand on the sidelines and watch the enemy of our souls score what seems to be one jumper after the other, “out shooting” godliness and righteousness. But when the score seems stacked against you, step back for a minute and remind yourself that as a believer in Christ, you already know the score. Even when your situation doesn’t look like anything but unavoidable defeat, remember that Jesus has sealed the outcome and published it in His Word. His triumphant resurrection dealt the final blow to death and the grave and assures us of a victory that will endure forever.
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57.