The Fun of the Game
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Cor. 9:24, ESV).
Before reading this devotion, I have a confession to make to you: I am a recovering sportaholic. I have been in recovery for almost eight years now, so you might ask, “Is it working?” I would respond, “most of the time,” but this week (or month) is going to be another test. It is March Madness -- the Big Dance as Division I NCAA college teams (sixty-eight in this year’s tournament) make a run for the national championship. There will be three weeks of basketball games that all end with the Final Four in New Orleans on April 2-4.
As a young boy, I met Coach Jack Hartman of the Kansas State Wildcats at a dinner where he was the guest speaker. I told him then that I wanted to go to school at K-State and play for him one day. Little did I know at that moment that I was moving towards one of my first of "self-fulfilling prophecies.” I did play for him – for one day, as a sophomore who tried out for the Junior Varsity team at KSU. Unfortunately, I was cut from the team the next day. But, like they say, it’s better to try and to fail than never to try at all.
"I'd rather attempt to do something great and to fail than to attempt to do nothing and to succeed" (Dr. Robert Schuller, Hour of Power).
Sixty-eight schools, almost three hundred coaches including assistants, and players numbering over eight hundred student athletes are competing for the coveted prize of being the national champions. And yet, only one team, one coaching staff, and one school will end the tournament with a final “W.” All the other teams will have given their “all” on the floor, but still will end their seasons with a loss. They all will have competed, they all will have practiced since October, they all will have played through the season, and they all will have won a majority of their games for the year. Still, only one team will be crowned as the champions on Monday night, April 4.
In a similar athletic manner, God’s word encourages us to run in such a way as to get the prize. March Madness describes the action of top college teams playing at the same time all across the country. Upsets can happen, however, when lower-seeded teams beat the favored teams in this single-elimination tournament. Cinderella teams are those that pull off the upsets and make it into the round of sixteen or even better, to the Final Four, like Loyola-Chicago did in 2018.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic cancelled the Big Dance, which is another name used in conjunction with the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament. And last year, only limited numbers of fans or spectators were allowed in the arenas due to Covid-19 protocols. But this year, the seats will be filled with fans rooting for their favorite teams.
I have often wondered why we – as fans and followers of Jesus – don't get as excited about our team? Maybe our weekly rallies have become mundane or maybe too predictable? Yet, we have underdogs for whom we can root to take the prize. Sure, we might need to exercise our bodies, we might need to come to practice, and we might need to make a comeback ourselves? This is the perfect season as we move towards Holy Week, the Cross of Christ, and the empty tomb. We have homefield advantage in our sanctuaries to invite those on the opposing teams (or just on the sidelines) to unique events, to come and to see what God’s been doing since their last visit. Let’s make the most of the “madness” in this present world to offer some good news to our neighbors. May they respond to our invitation to see how our team has prepared a seat for them at the table.
By the way, here is the rest of my story: I never played college basketball at the Division I level, but I still got on the court my last two years at Kansas State for every game. You see I became an events usher, and I was assigned to the student section at mid-court as a junior and senior. I watched the action just as if I were riding the bench for the team at my school. This year Kansas State did not make it into the Big Dance. In fact, they are searching for a new basketball coach as Bruce Weber resigned as Head Coach following a disappointing season. But there is always next year ...
Today, I rally God’s team at First Baptist Church in Delta on a weekly basis. We have a great roster; the coaching and development program is producing a winning tradition. I know that in Christ, we all can take the leap forward as we run in such a way as to get the prize. Go out as a champion!
Mighty God, help us to play as a team and to recognize the best practices in which to rally our team, Your team, to victory through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
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Rev. James Conley
Western Slope Ministry and Mission Facilitator,
Pastor, FBC of Delta
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains