The Craziness Continues

There are always a few surprises in the NCAA basketball tournament. This year was definitely no exception. There were more than a few double-digit seeded teams knocking off their much-higher seeded counterparts. That happens every year. There will always be a few upsets to rattle everyone’s brackets a bit.

The biggest of all has to be #15 seed Middle Tennessee State University knocking off the #2 seed (and one of the favorites to win it all) in Michigan State University.

In my less-than-expert opinion, that has to go down as one of the greatest– if not THE greatest– upsets in the first round of any NCAA tournament.

No, I didn’t pick MTSU. Yes, I picked Michigan State to go far in most (if not all) of my brackets. Am I upset that my brackets are now busted? Meh. I didn’t have much hope going in of getting every pick right.

I am super excited for MTSU and Murfreesboro. I’m psyched that a team from close to where I live did what almost no one thought they could do– they brought down the Goliath of college basketball. I’m sure that people will be talking about this one for a long, long time.

From here on out, I’m just hoping for lots more upsets and stunners in the tournament. I figured at the very least I can print out those brackets of mine and make some very fine paper airplanes.

I’m thankful that nothing catches my God off guard. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Nothing that’s done to me or nothing I do to anyone will cause God to do a double-take.    Best of all, nothing can cause God to stop loving His children. Nothing.

God still works all things together for good. His good. My good. Your good.

That hasn’t changed. That will never change. No matter what happens or how bleak the future forecast looks.

That’s my hope that’s sending me off to sleep tonight.

Busted Brackets

I did my civic duty tonight. No, I didn’t vote. I filled out my NCAA basketball tournament brackets (nine in all).

Some of them I played straight. I picked all the #1 seeds to win. On some others, I just went plain crazy. I picked just about every game to be an upset.

It hit me as I was filling in these brackets. As you know, no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Ever.

There have been a few #15 seeds upset the #2 seeds and a few more #14 seeds pull a shocker over their 3 seed counterpart, but no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams back in the 80’s.

What hit me was this: what God did for me in saving me was the equivalent of a #16 seed winning the whole enchilada. Or if you will, the 64th best team (think Austin Peay) winning the national championship.

I’m definitely not saying that God’s the underdog in this story. I am. On my own, I had absolutely no shot of making it out of the first round. I was the equivalent of a team of corpses.

But God made me alive in Christ. He raised me up with supernatural power. in Jesus, I have become more than a conqueror. My salvation story is akin to that Austin Peay team reaching the finals and beating those mighty Kansas Jayhawks in the national championship game.

A pipe dream? Maybe. But I know that in God what seems impossible to me and you is possible for God. In fact, it’s not even remotely difficult for God (thanks again to Pete Wilson for that one).

I have a feeling that most of my brackets will be busted and broken by the Sweet Sixteen. I know that spiritually speaking, my life in God will never ever be busted and broken because I serve a God who knows the way out of hell and the grave.

The end.

 

My Bracket’s Got a Hole In It

Busted-Bracket

I recently checked my NCAA basketball tournament brackets– you know, the ones that were supposed to make me rich beyond my wildest dreams and completely irresistible to women?Yeah, that one– and was more than pleasantly surprised at one of them.

As it turns out, my Fox Sports bracket was doing better than 99.6% of all the brackets out there. If I believed in jinxes, which I do not, I would have thought that I jinxed myself. That was as good as it got for my bracket.

After that, my brackets went in a direction decidedly warm and southward in a handbasket. Three of my Final Four teams lost, including the team I had pegged to win it all. The team a LOT of people had marked to win it all– Michigan State. They lost. So did my runner-up, Michigan.

So, I won’t be rollin’ in a Rolls Royce or Maserati anytime soon. But I had fun filling out my brackets. And at least I got this far before my brackets busted. Unlike most of my efforts in the past.

For those of you who don’t follow sports, it means that the world didn’t end. I didn’t have any money to bet on these games, so I didn’t lose any. Not that I would EVER have bet money on sports, says the good Baptist boy.

Nothing will happen to me other than maybe me being knocked down a rung or two on the ol’ ladder of my sports pride.

I’ll be back next year, filling out as many brackets as humanly possible and basing all my picks on gut instinct and my sportly intuition. Which loosely translated looks a lot like eeny-meeny-miney-moe. . . .

I have no illusions about having a perfect bracket. I just hope my championship pick doesn’t lose in the first round.

 

March Madness Yet Again??

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I have to confess that I’m not quite the sports fan that I used to be. Maybe it’s the absurd salaries and extreme lack of loyalty to anything other than the almighty dollar. Who knows?

I do know that when March rolls around, the sports fan in me awakens from hibernation and comes alive. Why? March Madness, i. e. The NCAA Basketball Tournament.

I’ll fill out my brackets and wait. Usually by the second round, my brackets have crashed and burned. Then I start rooting for the underdogs.

It seems like every year there’s a team that makes it further in the field than they should. A team that overachieves and who gets billed as the next Cinderella, the next David to knock off a Goliath.

I love those stories because I remember that I, too, was once an underdog with no hopes and no chance at all of winning. That’s my take on Ephesians 2.

But God who is rich in mercy (how I love that phrase) found me and rescued me and put me on His winning team.

Maybe one day one of those long-shot mid-major teams will finally win it all. I hope so. But I’m thankful to be reminded on a daily basis that in Christ, I’ve already won. I’m more than a conqueror.

So bring on those brackets this year. I’m ready.

Fathers And All That

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I can imagine Joseph on a break from his carpentry job, hanging around the water cooler that just happens to be on the construction site. Go with me on this.

He’s listening to the other guys brag about their sons:

“My son made the honor roll again. That boy is just plain smart.”

“Yeah? Well, my boy is All-State in both football and basketball. He’ll be getting a free ride to any college he wants.”

“My boy is going into the ROTC and into the Army after he graduates from college. He wants to dedicate his life to defending freedom.”

Then Joseph can’t resist any longer. “My boy is Savior of the World.”

They all roll their eyes. One of them says, “Yeah, yeah. We know. Jesus is soooo great. He can walk on water. He’s the perfect Man, God incarnate, yada, yada, yada. You don’t have to keep reminding us of how great your son is.”

OK. That probably never happened. But I do think Joseph is a good example of a good father.

He’s the one who raised a child he didn’t father. Sure, it was a miraculous event, but still, Jesus was not his biological child. But he was man enough to take responsibility. He did the best thing any good father can do by loving his wife, Mary, day in and day out.

Also, he raised Jesus in the right way. Jesus knew how to work hard with his hands and was taught the importance of integrity and honesty. When the Bible says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, Joseph had a part in that.

Actually, the Bible never records any of Joseph’s actual words. It merely says that when Joseph heard what the angel said, he obeyed. Jesus learned obedience from a human perspective by watching his earthly father. Joseph knew that most of the most important life lessons are caught rather than taught, so he lived out his faith and his integrity and back up what he said by what he did.

Fathers, take a few notes from Joseph. Learn to lead by example and to be the man you want your son to become and your daughter to marry.

What You Can’t Do (And What You Can)

I have gathered a collection of some observations that I’d like to share with you. Most of them fall into the “duh” category, but sometimes we need those basic reminders. Okay, I do.

1) You can’t catch up on a bad night of sleep in one night. It’s not like if you only got 2 hours of sleep that you can sleep 14 hours the next night and be back to your average of 8. First of all, I’d be a zombie after 14 hours of sleep. Second, I’d still be tired. Just a very tired zombie.

2) You can’t repeat the past (regardless of what Jay Gatsby says). The only way to do that would be for you to go back to who you were then, which is impossible. Also, everyone else in that scene would have to revert back to who they were then, too. You see the problem? Besides, what lies ahead, what God has for you, is way better than anything in your past.

3) You can’t make people be friends with you if they don’t want to be. You can be a friend for your part, regardless of whether that friendship is returned or not.

4) You can’t succeed if you don’t try. You aren’t guaranteed success if you try, but you are 100% destined to fail if you fail to try. Oooh, that should be cross-stitched and hung on somebody’s wall. That was good.

5) You CAN trust God at all times at any point in your life to get you through anything. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a choirboy or a saint. The key is asking for help. The key is acknowledging your need and God’s vast supply.

6) You CAN trust God’s perfect timing. It may not be according to your timetable, but it will absolutely come when you need it most. And most likely when you’re least expecting it or looking for it.

7) You can’t be whatever you want to be and you can’t do anything you put your mind to (like me wanting to dunk on a 10-foot basketball goal). But you CAN be exactly what God created you to be and you CAN fulfill the purposes he created you for.

More reminders to come later.

Brackets, Bucks, and Other Such Nonesense

Last year, I came oh-so-very-close to immortality in the ESPN NCAA Bracket Challenge. I had picked most of the winners and was among the top 100 or so until the championship game. In case you are wondering, I picked Kansas over Kentucky, which in hindsight turned out to be a very unwise choice.

This year, I’m covering my bases. So far, I’ve filled out 7 different brackets. One doesn’t really count since I flipped a coin for all the games and have Butler winning it all. The rest are (mostly) serious. I’m not making any predictions as to how they will turn out, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

Most years, I don’t even come close. My bracket usually gets busted by the end of the second round (there was the year that one of the teams I had making it to the finals lost in the FIRST round. That was embarrassing.

Still, you can’t win if you don’t play. You can second-guess yourself to death and wonder what might have happened or you can just go for it and see what happens.

Life is like that. You are almost never guaranteed that your plans will work out or that you will succeed, but those plans that remain untried fail every time and you never succeed if you never make the effort.

I haven’t always been the poster child for being adventurous and brave. In fact, I’ve missed out on chances because I was afraid or unsure of myself. But the beautiful part is that I don’t have to let that dictate how I will respond to the challenges I face tomorrow and beyond.

You don’t either.

So pray like crazy, pick your side, and go for it. Step out in faith. Don’t be left wondering what might have been. Defeat and failure are always easier to live with than regret.

 

 

For the Underdogs

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The sports fan in me always love this time of year. It’s called March Madness for a very good reason. All the NCAA conferences are holding their championships, and while the usual suspects normally win these kinds of things, there’s always a chance that some lowly team will come out of nowhere and win 4 games in 4 days to get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament field of 68.

Even if the team has played badly all year, they can suddenly catch fire and win. I saw a documentary about the 2008 SEC tournament when Georgia came out of nowhere to win 4 games, including 3 in a span of 30 hours to win the tournament.

I love underdogs, mostly because I used to be one. And so did you.

The Bible says that once we were without hope, alienated from God, strangers to the promise, and headed nowhere good. In basketball terms, we were nowhere close to getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. We had pretty much lost every game by a large margin.

But God. The best parts of the best stories always start that way.

But God, being rich in mercy, made us alive.

We went from hopeless underdogs to champions in the moment it took God to make us alive. He made us more than conquerors through Jesus and promised to crush the enemy underneath our feet. Kinda like the way Vanderbilt beat Kentucky earlier today (with apologies to any UK fans reading this right now).

God has a heart for the underdog. The orphan, the widow, the outcast, the downtrodden, the poor in spirit. All those who know they are headed for certain defeat and know it will take a miracle to get a win. In fact, God blesses those who bless the underdog, who look after those who can’t look out for themselves and speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.

Come  Sunday, I will fill out my brackets and hope for the best, but if all the underdogs win, I’ll be okay with that.

My Sports Career

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I haven’t talked much about my athletic prowess, mostly because there’s not much to talk about in that department. My sports career was sad and short-lived, but at least I had fun. Mostly.

I tried gymnastics, which lasted all of maybe three sessions. I lost my love for it when I got the wind knocked out of me by running into the pommel horse and not timing my jump just right. The last straw was the rings, where I realized that I was indeed very much afraid of heights and not about to go upside down while I was 15 feet up in the air. Not on your life.

I’ll skip t-ball altogether, other than to say I was probably the first conscious objector to the sport, not leaving my sandbox to join the other players.

Soccer was fun, but it was mostly a spectator sport. Which is sad when you’re on the team. I don’t think I played much and when I was in the game, I observed from a great distance most of the time.

Ditto for basketball. I think I scored all of two points in my church league career, both of which came on free throws when a player from the other team, for some completely insane reason, fouled me when I got the ball. Did he think I was really going to go all Michael Jordan on him and dunk in his face?

Now I tend to spectate more than participate. I admire people who are really good at sports, good enough to make a living at it. I realize that probably only one tenth of one percent of all athletes make it to the pros. The other 99.9% greatly exaggerate their careers and boast about how they could have dunked on Michael Jordan.

Now if there had been organized badminton leagues when I was growing up, I would have totally ruled. Unfortunately, that was the 80’s and I can only wonder what might have been.

That’s Why They Play the Game

I’m not the biggest football fan in the world. I like it and all, but I don’t watch every game and I’m not glued to the couch in front of a television on Saturdays.

But I saw today where #1 Kansas State and #2 Oregon lost, throwing the BCS into the usual headache-inducing chaos and turmoil. On paper, Kansas State was the clear favorite to beat Baylor, but on the field, Baylor won. That’s why they play the game.

There’s such a life lesson there. On paper, it may look like you have no shot. Your situation may seem so hopeless that it’s almost like you’re the ultimate underdog facing the powerhouse champions. But still the key is to show up.

But if you show up with expectations that God will act, there’s no telling what could happen. I’m not saying if you believe hard enough, $1 million will fall in your lap, but I do think that God honors those who seek him and his will.

The advice may not be new and it may seem trite, but it’s true: don’t give up. Don’t quit. God is faithful to keep his promises, no matter what. That’s something I’ve been reminded of lately when I myself was tempted to throw in the towel and give up.

On a side note, today is a good reminder of why my hope is not in a football team. Or basketball team. Or any other kind of sports team. On any given day, any good team can lose and any not-so-good team can find a way to win. If I lived and died by a particular college or pro team, I’d be majorly disappointed. Plus, if I were a betting man, I’d be flat broke.

But my hope is on the winning side (and if you need proof, read the last chapter of Revelation).