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COLUMN: This March Madness, join God's squad

Sunday, March 7, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
K. Kendall Mathews played high school basketball in Detroit. This worn picture is of Mathews when he was a member of the varsity for the Detroit Mumford Mustangs in 1978.

March madness is upon us and many NCAA basketball teams are looking to extend their season to include the NCAA tournament. I know many players have worked hard in an attempt to be the superlative team in college basketball. For them winning is everything, as each team plays like it’s the last game.

God wants us to be focused on more than winning the basketball playoffs. He wants us to be a conqueror in our battle against sin and humiliation and to live each day as if it were our last. To prevail, we can’t be on God’s All-Glory team one moment, and be a bench warmer the next moment, just because life is not going our way. We must be on his team and playing by his rules that are found in the Holy Bible. “For all have sinned and fallen short of his glory of God.” - Romans 3:23

The question is, “Whose team are you on?” I hope you are playing on God’s squad. There is no losing while you’re practicing Christian standards or living out your salvation on God’s side. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Satan will leave you alone. He will not, so be prepared to work through the tough times of life. We are Christian winners because of the salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ. He promises to be a very present help in the time of dilemma. Because Jesus whitewashed sin by dying on the cross, rising from the dead and promising to return, we have a greater hope for eternal life.

God is our spiritual coach and we should surrender to his ways because he knows what’s best for us when life seems to overtake us. God compensates those who are submissive to his teachings. Playing on his team is saying, “Yes, Lord,” to his ways in all practical life situations. Our calling is to trust and obey him, even when we don’t want to, because he is an everlasting-life coach. Jesus surrendered his life graciously when he relinquished it on that old rugged cross. You see, humility and "teachability" on God’s squad is responding to his voice without resistance, and being open to learning from his Son, Jesus Christ, as our supernatural team captain.

Playing on his team is our willingness to be taught by God, to put aside what we think and erasing from our heart any preconceived notions when we consider the possibilities that God might be taking us in new directions on his winning team. Winning isn’t everything, but being on God’s team surely has greater value and an everlasting benefit that will stand the test of time. With God as our coach, Jesus as our captain, and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we can not lose in this game of life. I don’t know about you, but I want to be undefeated on God’s squad. It may be March Madness, but for me it’s Mission Madness – my relationship and teamwork with God is first and foremost.

I recall a high school basketball game in Detroit, where there were three seconds left in the game. The coach called timeout and worked out a play where I was to take the last shot. I thought to myself, “I can win the game and be the hero.” Well, the ball came to me and I took the last second shot, only to miss it. We lost the game. I felt so bad, thinking that it was all my fault. In the locker room all my teammates reassured me that we lose as a team and win as a team.

Unlike that high school game, for those of us who are on God’s squad, we win every time; losing is not a part of this game of life. Although the Christian life is not a cakewalk, we will have our temptations and trials just like Christ. So, rejoice that our Christly captain took that last second shot for the world when he said to God our spiritual coach; I’ll surrender my life, I’ll give my all, so the unsaved may obtain salvation from sin. This fearless victory over death secures a win for those who receive it. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Healthy competition is a good thing when it is kept in the right perspective and proper intention. From a Christian point of view, however, it’s a competitive fight between good and evil, God and Satan. We have to play both offense and defense. We know that Jesus overcame Satan when he defeated death on the cross, but too many times we have to be reminded of that fact. In the game of life, our souls are being influenced by what’s around us and whether or not God is our spiritual coach. Our eternal future is on the line making it essential to come to blows with Satan and stay on God’s squad, truly connected to him. We read in Romans 8:35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'" No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let’s team up with our Lord and captain Jesus Christ where losing is out of the question, but winning over sin becomes our eternal goal of Christian life.

Jesus did not tell us that all our drives to the basket will be easy, but he did tell us that he will show us the way. We know that sometimes we will need to use a full-court press, but we can’t lose if our daily practice includes keeping the faith and keeping our eyes on our captain. As March Madness begins, think of whose team you will play on from a Christian perspective. Will it be on God’s squad or Satan’s losing lineup. It’s your call, but I would strongly encourage you to pick Christ to be your captain and allow God to be your coach and a victorious life is but one shot away. Have you heard the song, Victory in Jesus by Eugene M. Bartlett (1885-1941): “I heard an old, old story, how the Saviour came from glory, How he gave life on Calvary to save a wretch life me; I heard about his groaning, of his precious blood’s atoning, Then I repented of my sins and won the victory. O victory in Jesus, my Saviour, forever. He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him – He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.”

So, when the final buzzer sounds, whose team will you be on, God’s squad or Satan’s losing lineup?

Major K. Kendall Mathews is the regional coordinator for The Salvation Army.


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Comments

hank ottinger March 7, 2010 | 8:54 a.m.

Mr. Mathews is surely free to believe whatever he wants, but I find it jarring that the Missourian editors think publishing a religious screed on an editorial page is responsible journalism. Would the editors similarly place an emotional policy statement from a campaigning politician in this spot? There is little difference. Mr. Mathews' beliefs should appear either on a page devoted to religion in the community or as a paid advertisement.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin March 7, 2010 | 7:16 p.m.

As a lifelong Christian, I frequently reference God in columns I write.

But I think Hank has a point here. This column is pretty heavy duty -- it's more like a sermon than an op-ed.

I think the issue is one of faith vs. opinion. Major Matthews is expressing his faith in an arena more suited to opinion.

Statements of faith don't invite dissent the way statements of opinion do. As such, they probably do belong in a different arena -- a faith and religion page, for instance.

This issue might make a good "Dear Reader" column.

What is the difference between faith and opinion? And what is the role of a newspaper editorial page in making the distinction?

(Report Comment)

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