In a few short weeks we’ll be into that much anticipated season of the year we call March Madness. I don’t watch nearly as much NCAA basketball as I used to. But, I do enjoy watching the NCAA tournament and am always amazed at the unexpected that transpires in bracket-busting games.
A recent convergence of events caused me to do some reflecting on my personal journey. A high school classmate posted a picture on Facebook of our 1968-69 basketball team. We had won the Far East Tournament (our version of the state championship) the year before and were favored to win it all that year. I’ll spare you the heartbreaking details (which have been told in multiple sermons over the years). We managed to lose by three points when we did not score in the last four minutes. What astounded me was the level of pain that some of us still carry over that defeat as evidenced by the comments on that photo. Equally astounding was our individual angst over the part we personally played in that loss.
A few days after the Facebook post, a package arrived in the mail from my high school coach. In the package was a home game program from the 1968-69 season, a Far East Tournament program from 1969 and a statistical summary of the 1969-70 basketball season – my senior year. That opened up another conversation with teammates that was equally if not more painful. My senior season our team went 3 – 22, a complete reversal from the success we had enjoyed the year before. There were any number of reasons posited for our demise and certainly we didn’t have the talent we had the year before. But, as I ruminated on that season, two things stood out. First, we were not a team. We were a group of individuals who were more concerned with personal success than being willing to make the sacrifices that would lead to team success. Second, we were very undisciplined.
I’ve come to realize that both of these shortcomings are often present in my spiritual life. When they are, the well-being of the church, the body of Christ, is compromised as is my personal spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth speaks directly to these two perils in the life of discipleship. He emphatically states that when we are more concerned about personal preferences and asserting ourselves in the life of faith, divisiveness in the church will quickly follow. Additionally, for us to mature in Christlikeness, discipline is required.
Each year March Madness coincides with the season of Lent on the church’s calendar. Lent is a season of reflection and preparation when we take that inward look and ask, “God, how would You change me? Where are You leading me? What are You calling me to be and do?” As we enter this season of Lent, I encourage us to take these questions seriously to the end that we grow in our practice of spiritual discipline and harness our gifts, passions and energies toward building up Christ’s body, the Church.