Archive for the 'March Madness' Category

Jesus and March Madness

For you non-basketball fans, “March Madness” is the media-created frenzy surrounding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Our enlightened age has also seen the Women’s Tournament grow in popularity. It now generates some “madness” of its own. I became a serious rabid March Madness fan when I entered UCLA as a freshman. Legendary coach John Wooden‘s teams were just beginning their incredible tournament run through the ’60’s and ’70’s. Lately we’ve experienced some lean years. But this year’s Bruins showed signs of returning to their former glory as they reached the Sweet 16 and lost (respectably) to overall No. 1 seed Florida–who will also experience Monday night’s championship game as spectators rather than participants.

What does Jesus have to do with March Madness? A few weeks ago my wife and I were digging through some too-long-unopened boxes in the garage. We unearthed some children’s books that had belonged to her and her brothers. One was called “How to Star in Basketball”. This 1958 publication taught the fundamentals of the game for elementary-age students (boys, according to the illustrations).  The one-hand push shot, two-hand chest shot, and underhand free throws have ridden off into the basketball sunset as the game has evolved. But most of the book’s fundamentals still apply-including the importance of team play, which comes in toward the end of the book.How to Star in Basketball

That title–“How to STAR…”–grates on me. It appeals to every entitlement-believing, under-performing wannabe who loves the spotlight, hates hard work, and can’t imagine why he (or she) still doesn’t have his(her) own private suite in the locker room.  I’m sure that title would have sent Coach Wooden over the edge. One of his bedrock principles was that the team mattered more than any individual player. Players pursuing individual stardom at the expense of team play were guaranteed to wind up on the bench, if not off the team altogether. Wooden’s players took the court every day with the goal of helping their teammates become stars.

Now about Jesus. One day two of his disciples approached him: “’Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us…Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.’  [In other words, they wanted to be Kingdom SuperStars.] Jesus didn’t grant their request. In fact, he slam-dunked their hopes for an easy title run. When the rest of The Twelve heard about it, they were furious with James and John. Jesus let them feel the heat for a while. Then he silenced all twelve wannabe Kingdom Stars: “It’s not going to be that way with you,” he told them. “Whoever wants to be great [among my disciple] must become a servant.” (from Mark 10:35-45 The Message) Want to be a great disciple? Make it your mission each day to help your brother and sister disciples grow into their Christlike greatness. Want to be a “star” in church? Start helping others, especially “non-stars”, discover and use their giftedness. Want to be a star in life? Start praying for eyes to see the image of God in in the ordinary folks who share your life. Start asking God’s Spirit to bring forth the “star qualities” (spiritual gifts in church-talk) in them–and offer yourself as an instrument in the process. That’ s how Jesus got The Twelve going.

A basketball player is credited with an “assist” when his pass to another player directly results in that player scoring a field goal. Very few assists relative to field goals indicates that a team isn’t working together.  A high ratio of assists to field goals indicates that a team is working together to get the ball to the player with the  best opportunity to score. In their last game before the Florida loss UCLA’s opponent had about half as many assists as field goals. The Bruins scored 29 field goals and had 22 assists–76%. They didn’t care about “How to Star in Basketball”. They were laser-focused on creating an environment where every player plays at his highest level.

John Wooden used his basketball platform to teach his players significant life lessons. His faith informed his whole approach to the game and to life. Imagine if that life lesson about stardom and servanthood got down deep into our bones. Imagine if it infused our churches, our families, our politics, our sports, our music, movies, media,  every aspect of our culture. “How to Star…” describes the way self-centeredness poisons life and relationships. It’s the polar opposite of the way to which Jesus calls us:
His friends at their best (and admittedly that’s not all the time) embody the power of that servant life. Let us become as serious about our discipleship as those March Madness teams are about their team-focused basketball? Let us move now to shift the focus away from our own “stardom” as individuals and congregations. Let’s redefine “success” as helping one another and all within our reach to become true Kingdom Stars as Jesus defines it.  To me, that sounds a lot like “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”.


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