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By: Jonathan Carmack

March Madness

All or Nothing

It is finally March, my favorite time of the year. For basketball crazies like myself, March Madness is the pentacle of every season. As Conference Tournaments begin and all those teams whose dreams of making the big dance come true or crash before their eyes. It is the classic tale of triumph and heart break that I CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF. And once the big dance is set there will be 68 teams competing to write their name in the History books as champions of 2020.  

            I love that name March Madness because it describes the madness of you don’t know what is going to happen. You may think you know, like a few years ago when I thought for sure Virginia was going to the Final Four but then madness happens and the first 16 seed in UMBC beats them out in the first round. No matter how big the school or how small, they are all susceptible to defeat and all of them are striving to be the one team standing at the end of the year as champions.

            This week of course starts conference tournaments where teams are playing to just make it. Some teams are sure things, locks to make the tournament but for every team that isn’t named Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga and other power house teams, this is the last chance to make an impression so they are invited to the dance, the big show, the madness. Every player on every team in the country is dreaming of being invited to play in this tournament but out of 357 div 1 teams only 68 make the dance.  SO, this week for many teams it is their last chance to mark their names into the madness of the NCAA tournament.

            As I was thinking of this month, one of my favorites of the year, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of connectors to my faith. For example, as unpredictable the tournament is, the one thing that might be more unpredictable and filled with madness is life itself. As Forest Gump said so elegantly life is like a box of chocolates you never know what you’re going to get. You may get caramel and all is right with the world but you may get the coconut and feel like the world is going to end. Why???????

            There are only so many teams that will make it to the big dance and during conference championship week they are all battling for that spot. Now where Heaven is big enough and our God is big enough for many people, I can’t help but think about what Jesus said on several accounts.

In Luke 13: 22-24

 22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them,24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door,because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

In Matthew 7:13 Jesus Said

13 “Enter through the narrow gate.For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

            Church, did you catch that? Jesus tells us many will try to enter his kingdom but they will not be able to because the road that leads to life, only few find it.

The road to the tournament for teams this week is clear. Win, most of them must win every game in their conference tournament in order to get that automatic bid. They must be perfect. That is the price of the ticket. The team who pays their coach the most money doesn’t automatically get a ticket to the NCAA tournament, the team who makes the most money off of ticket sales doesn’t automatically get in the tournament. Only the team that wins their conference by going perfect this week will punch their ticket and only 32 teams out of the 347 will do so.

IN the same way the road to salvation is clear, you can’t buy your salvation with money, charity, or even good deeds. Salvation requires perfection, the difference is, not just perfection through a week or a year, but perfection for a lifetime. Which for each of us is an impossible feat.

As Paul writes in Romans we all fall short of this

Romans 3:23

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

            In short, if you are relying on what you have done, you have already fallen short. Unlike the NCAA Tournament where they have a bubble and teams that earned their way to the field, in terms of your salvation either you have the ticket or your bubble is burst.

Just to be sure you understand how short we have fallen, Paul was even more clear in Romans 3:10

10 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”[
13 “Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”[
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[
14     “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[

            Which leads me to the big point, for this ticket to salvation, you must have perfection. Folks, unfortunately for us, we all fall short of that mark. But that is where Jesus comes in.  

 John 3:16

16 For God so lovedthe world that he gavehis one and only Son,that whoever believesin him shall not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send his Son into the worldto condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned,but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

            We needed a Champion, we needed a Savior and through God’s love he sent his son Jesus who was perfect. Our Ticket came through a messiah named Jesus, and that ticket of salvation is delivered to those who put their faith in him and commit to him. The path is very clear, the one we follow has been sent, the question becomes “Are you willing to give your life to Jesus?”

            John Calipari has the same spill every year about if this team is going to be special, they must sacrifice for one another, put each other first, and become one as a team. I always find it humorous but it is very true. The path to a team that excels is becoming one as a unit. One player can’t do it by himself it takes a team working together as one. As Calipari says it’s a hard road, it is a long road, but to be the team we want to be this is what must be done.

            Many of you have been trying to do this on your own. Just like Kentucky will never win a national championship with one player, you will never earn salvation on your own. But if you accept that you fall short, and accept that you need Jesus, then something amazing happens. The ticket to salvation is there for you to accept, but you have to choose it for yourself.