We are in the midst of March Madness. I was hoping that Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team would be playing Kansas in the championship game. But MSU lost in dramatic fashion to 15th seed Middle Tennessee. It was a crushing loss for Izzo and his heavily favored Spartans. But what impressive many was how coach Izzo conducted himself in the post game interview. His concern was for his players, especially the three seniors. He was not focused on the future. His wanted to embrace his team in their defeat.. He praised them for taking defeat “like men.” Two take-aways for men. First, coach minimized his pain, while bearing the pain of his players. It takes a strong heart to willingly bear the pain of others. Second, taking defeat like men. Think of the lessons learned for life through this crushing defeat, especially for Denzel Valentine. It helped shape young men.
“March Madness” could be a metaphor for the race we are in following Jesus to the finish line. Everyone makes prediction, but it is the players we watch. Part of the “madness” are the young men playing their hearts out, having no idea if they will advance. Wisconsin moved on the sweet 16, when their guard shot a three pointer with two seconds left on the clock, while falling into the arms of his teammates on the bench. Unbelievable! We watch, while these young men compete with such passion and determination. How about our journey? Are we more a spectator or are we in the race?
There will certainly be “madness” as we run the race. But like those young men, we need a passion to compete. If we drop out and are disqualified, we forfeit the privilege of tell others about what we are learning as we race. We become simply spectators with opinions, but no real life experience. Paul like a good coach wants to motivate us. “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself” (I Cor. 9:24-27 – Message).
Paul encourages us to train hard. No slopping living, but being in top condition. The journey is a race that is worth the effort. Just as an athlete goes through physical training that can be uncomfortable in order to cross the finish line, so Paul endures physical and emotional hardship “I’m not going to nap” say Paul. The spectator can talk about the race, but never experience the joy of the competition. How sad to get to the finish line, having spend life in the stands. Men, the challenge is this – finish strong, especially in our day.
Eugene Peterson makes the point that we are in a race with others. “You don’t have to understand or like or affirm the other runners to run with them. It’s the goal that defines the race, and your act of running defines you as a runner.” The church is not a group of spectators, but rather believers who are in a race. In this race we don’t have time to talk things over and make plans. We have little time. So Peterson says Paul’s point to the Corinthians is this – “Quit complaining and start running.” What a great insight.