“March Madness : The Final Four”
March 17, 2019
By Ed Young
There’s nothing like basketball. I’ll just, you know, shoot around. Most people overrate their basketball ability. I know I do. But I think of all sports we overrate our basketball ability more than any other activity. It’s kind of funny. I don’t know why it is, but we just do. Is this court amazing? I have never in my life – in my life – seen a basketball court like this in church. I don’t think it’s ever been done in the history of Christianity. We had some 30 maybe volunteers and others to actually build this thing. So, here’s what I want you to do. Take out your smart phone, everyone. Take out your smart phone and take a picture of this court. Don’t take one of me, just take one of the court. And I want you to text this to at least 5 (because there are 5 people on the basketball court), 5 of your closest friends. And they better be here next week because we’re having a $25,000 shooting contest, $25,000. We’re having a basketball giveaway for all the kids. A free basketball. If we have over 1,000 guests everyone gets Chick-Fil-A, a Christian meal. You like that? I did, too. We are doing all sorts of fun and games and… are we doing anything else? Did I forget something? We’re doing all sorts of things.
Oh! You won’t believe all the celebrities that are coming in, but I won’t tell you. Because if I did, I don’t think we would have room for them. I want to try this spin one more time. This is a hard shot to do. Help me. Help me. See this? I’m gonna try. I can’t. Man, it’s hard. I used to could do it back when I was younger, but I’m choking really bad. Oh! I can’t do it! I can’t do it. Well, I don’t want to waste your time.
Anyway, I’m beginning a series today called the Championship Life and it’s about March Madness. Do you know what March Madness is? Some of you do, some of you don’t. March Madness is this time of year when the big NCAA tournament kicks off. You have all of these teams, all of these games, all of these players, all of these fans. And people say it’s just madness, and sure enough, it’s madness right here at Fellowship. Our world is going mad, I’ll tell you that. These mass shootings? What’s up with that? These celebrities paying hundreds of thousands of dollars under the table to get their kids in elite schools? My favorite, the government investigating the government. Is that the corrupt calling the corrupt, corrupt? It’s hilarious to me. “Another investigation, they’re investigating, the investigation, the investigation, the investigation.” It’s funny, funny, funny. It shouldn’t surprise us that our world is mad, because the bottom line is, we’re not perfect, are we? Nope. We’re not perfect. We miss shots. We make shots. We commit turnovers and fouls. We live in a fallen place. So, government is not gonna do it. Education is not going to do it. Only heart transformation is going to do it. That’s why I have the Basket-Bible here. Have you seen this? The Basket-Bible.
And the Bible gives us the answers to living a championship life. So, over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be in the book of James, the book of James. It’s a New Testament book. And hopefully you have your outline, the handout. See the brackets on one side? You’ll see a lot of these brackets, ladies. These brackets, it’s kind of a tree diagram and you’ll see all the different teams, and it’s a tree diagram that illustrates a knockout tournament. So, you’ll see the elite eight that I’ve listed, because the book of James talks about games, contests, trials. All of us are either preparing for a contest, in the middle of a contest, or emerging from a contest. So, I’ve listed a few and maybe you’re in one of these, like a family trial. Surely not, in a crowd this size. Surely our families are just hitting on all cylinders. Surely our families are just, coast-to-coast, perfectly. Right? Families? You’re thinking, wow. I’m a single parent. I’ve got a family situation, a family trial, Ed, you wouldn’t believe. I have a situation with my niece, my nephew, my granddaughter. A family trial. They’re serious. You’ve got health trials.
A couple of years ago I had a health trial. I’ve been in good shape my whole life. My doctor said, “Hey, you have a valve problem in your heart. If you don’t get heart surgery, you’re going to die in six months.” That’s a health trial. I had open heart surgery. I’m doing great. The surgery was successful, and you can see I’ve still got the jumper. Oh crud! You can see I’ve still got the jumper. Oh, I used to make that before heart surgery. I’ve still got the jumper… there you go! One for three, one for three! I’ve still got the jumper. No. OK, it’s OK. It’s OK. So, we all go through trials. You’ve got marriage trials. Hello. Marriage is not the easiest thing, is it? I mean you’re single, you’re dating, you have an issue, you can just bolt. In marriage, you’ve gotta work it out. You have to trial. It’s a trial. Then I think about a career trial. And then I think about a financial trial. A lot of people have financial trials.
A couple of weeks ago I was dealing with a family and they have a huge pile of money. And they were having financial trials. Then, several days later I dealt with another issue with a family that, they don’t have very much, and they’re dealing with financial trials. It’s one of the major causes of divorce, financial trials. Career, character issues, emotional issues, and you’ll see the answer. I’m gonna give you the answer right now to these trials.
OK, let’s say you’re facing a trial, which I know you are. And if you’re not, you will very soon. And you’re facing this schedule, this contest, these games. Here’s the answer. See it in pink? Say it with me: #1 – Count. #2 – Know. #3 – Let. #4 – Ask. That’s the answer! That’s the answer to trials. So, here we have James, the half-brother of Jesus. And James didn’t even believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. If you read the book of James, James 1:1, James describes himself and he says, “I’m writing this to the 12 tribes dispersed throughout the region.” I think it’s interesting that a basketball roster has 12 spots. It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? We love nicknames in basketball. You remember Dr. J? Big hands, you know, take over the free throw line, boom! The Doctor. Dr. J. Now, LeBron James, King James. We have this new guy, unbelievable, Zion. I mean, what’s his nickname? Just Zion, I think. He’s so awesome. If you go by just one name, you’ve arrived. Zion. I mean, you know, that’s it. You know? So, it’s interesting, these nicknames. Well, James had a nickname. James’ nickname was camel’s knees. He had jacked up knees with calluses on him. You know why? Because he prayed so much, tradition tells us. He was on his knees so much. The half-brother of Jesus, writes this book, and this book is about how to play the game. How to become a full-court follower of Christ. That’s the name of the game.
So, James was dealing with some issues that we’re dealing with, people talking smack and not doing jack. Have you ever met somebody that talks a good game? You go, “Oh man, he talks a good game. She talks a good game.” What does that mean? Well, they talk <chattering sound effect> but it’s like, what? You’re not walking it. So, there’s a difference, so often, between what we say (James is talking about it) and what we do. And we’re going to find out in a couple weeks, do you know what James said? James was the guy who came up with “Just Do It” long before Phil Nike did. And lawyers, there might be a lawsuit here. James said, “Do it.” He said, “Just do it.” Are you doing it? Are you living the life? Are you discovering the championship life? I don’t know. Are you just talking a good game?
One time when I used to play basketball a lot, I met this guy. I need to blow my nose if you have a tissue. Anybody have some sinus issues here? Anybody? Man, my nose has been running like a fire hydrant. Wow. OK.
I met this guy one time who was from the west coast. He was talking all this stuff about playing basketball. He was like, “Yeah, I played college ball, Ed, like you and your friend.” OK. He looked, he was a tall guy, pretty muscular, and I thought, all right. Maybe, maybe he can play. We went outside on the asphalt and when I just tossed him the ball, the way he caught it I said to myself, “This guy can’t play!” and sure enough, he couldn’t play. He could talk it, he looked good. He couldn’t play. That’s what James is saying. James was writing out of frustration. He was saying, man, I want to go deeper with you guys, but the problem is, you’re talking all this stuff but you’re not walking it. You’re not really maturing in your faith.
Did you see that video of me at Florida State? Was that pitiful? With the Spanx on, you know? Gray hair. And in my mind, I thought, man, I looked pretty good out there shooting the ball. You know, I’m going, yeah, I look really great, and all that. But when I saw the film, I’m like, oh my goodness. Can anybody say problem areas? Can anybody say sports bra? It was awful! Awful! Now, obviously I’m 58 years old. My birthday was yesterday. Happy birthday…
You know in a lot of these Pentecostal churches I preach in, they have birthday parties for their pastors. We don’t do that. It’s kind of funny. Oh, it’s your birthday? Wow. We overemphasize, overdo birthdays, don’t we? Oh, it’s my birthday week! Don’t put me in a bad mood. It’s my birthday! Oh my gosh. Let’s even be more narcissistic than we are. But I am 58 and when I watched that video, I’m like, I’m totally out of place. The uniform doesn’t fit right. Do what now? Thank you, you’re very kind. “You’re looking great, Pastor Ed.” I like the way you said that, too. You didn’t say, “You’re looking great for 58.” Don’t tell me that. Don’t tell me, “Oh, you look good for 58, man!” No, just say “you look good.” When I look at my hot wife, I go, “Lisa, you look good.” I don’t say, “Man, you look good even though you’re older than me.” No, I don’t. I wouldn’t say that. I would not, I would not say that. You don’t want to do that, do you?
Where was I? I was in some kind of a cool story. What was I saying before I got off into it? What was I saying? What? Oh, I looked totally out of place! You saw me going up and down. I was thinking in my mind, “Man, Ed, you look good.” I wore the uniform, whatever, white hair. That’s a game for 18-year olds. You saw me standing around those young guys. I looked pathetic! But I thought, oh man, I look pretty good. No, I don’t. I looked awful! Basketball, college basketball, especially at Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference, is not a game for 58-year-old guys. I mean, white hair, it’s just not. I’ve grown well past that, and that’s what James was sort of driving at. He was like, what are you doing, man? You’ve got white hair, you’re wearing a jersey that looks like Spanx. You’re trying to play a game for young people? Man, you should be way more developed than that! Well then James, he kinds of throws us a curve. He tells us how to mature, how to grow in the Christian life.
Think about outer space. Outer space, there’s weightlessness, floating around. That’s a problem in outer space. Well, on planet Earth we have gravity that keeps us on the ground, grounded. God allows, he uses, trials and difficult situations and circumstances to keep you and me grounded. God wants to build a championship life in us. And in the first way is to count, you’ve already said it. Let’s look at James 1:2, and say count with me. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Count. So, count the score. When I was a little kid playing peewee basketball, I used to count my points during the games. I’d be like, all right. OK, I scored. No, I missed one. I could have had a score. OK. All right, I scored. Two points, two points. I got fouled. All right, free throw, free throw, free throw. One and one. One and one. If I make this, I’ll have three points. I used to think that. Let me see if I can make it. No, I missed it. Oh crud. Well, I’ve got two points, two points, two points. OK, two points. Maybe I can get four points. Oh, I got four points! Four, four, four. I was counting. And a lot of people, when it comes to basketball, count, count, count. They count assists, they count rebounds. They count, they count, they count. This is what James is saying. When you face a trial don’t waste a trial. God doesn’t want to waste a trial; don’t you waste one. Count. Count.
The word count is evaluate. It’s a financial term. In other words, the way I treat a trial either builds my spiritual portfolio or it detracts from my spiritual portfolio. How are you dealing with the trial that you’re facing right now? God wants to use it to mature you. And God tests us, I like to say it this way, to make us strong. The enemy tempts us to make us do wrong. God allows testings and trials in his sovereignty. God does not, we’re going to find out, tempt us. Yet, a trial, if we mishandle it, can turn into a temptation. But part of that is next week. So, think about that trial. God wants you to put points on the board. He wants you to score. He wants you to face that marriage trial, that family trial. He wants you to face that character trial, and back that thing down and score. That’s what God wants. So, count the score.
One of my hobbies is tie-dying. Anybody like to tie-dye? Any tie-dyers here? Thank you. God bless you. Hands are going up everywhere. I’m one of the few that understand tie-dying. What is tie-dying? It’s a process. You take a garment and you twist it or fold it, you use rubber bands, then you put some dye in hot water, pot, throw the garment in it. It stays there for a while. It emerges, cools down. You cut the rubber bands off, untwist it. Whoa! That’s cool. Throw it in the wash, dryer, boom! You’ve got a custom-made tie-dyed shirt, or whatever. You know? It’s cool. Tie-dying. Trials are that way. When God wants to build stuff in our lives what does God do? So often he will twist us, put a rubber band or two around us. Aaaah! Whoa! Turn the heat up, throw us in there. Want some character dye, some endurance, some perseverance, some honesty, some integrity. And then we emerge, we cool off, he cuts those rubber bands off, untwists the garment. Throws us in the wash, dryer, boom. Wow! We’re awesome! So, you’re being tie-dyed. I’m being tie-dyed in trials. And I don’t (nor will you) understand all the trials. Trials happen. We live in a mad, mad, mad world. So, count the score.
Also, here’s another basketball term. James talked about sports all the time in his writings. Know the fundamentals. Let’s read the Scripture together again. Know the fundamentals, James 1:3 “Because you know…” doesn’t that sound like your typical athletic interview? You know? Well, if you know, play our game, you know, we’ll win, you know. Every athletic interview is the same, no matter what sport. If we, you know, play the game, you know, and listen to the coach, you know, and play our game, you know, we’re gonna win, you know. You know? You know?” Now, the millennials like the ‘like’ word. Like, yeah, like, like, yeah, like, we’re playing, like, and this game, like, is happening, like, and I’ve gotta, like, listen to the coach, you know, and like, and like, if I do it, like, like, like, like, li-li-li-like… <beatboxing sound effect> Hey millennials, do a like exam. You won’t believe how many times you say like.
And speaking of exams, God gives us exams and if we keep failing them, he will keep on giving us the same exam. You’re wondering, why is this happening to me again? Why am I facing this same situation? God is using it because that first time you didn’t really pass the test. There wasn’t enough character. There wasn’t enough dye. There wasn’t enough uniqueness. You were trying to control the situation. So, evaluation, count the score. Information, know the fundamentals. Know the fundamentals, “… because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” So, God has given you and me the court. God has given us the position. God has given you and me the ball. He’s given us opponents. What are you doing with your trials? Don’t waste a trial. Don’t waste a contest. God’s not. Don’t do it. That’s how we grow. That’s how we mature. Know the fundamentals.
Zion Williamson. Have you seen this guy play for Duke? Is he unbelievable? One of the best athletes I’ve ever seen in my life. However, however, however, let me be very critical here for a second. I hope he watches this. His shot, form-wise, is not good. It’s off. He will never become a great shooter unless he changes his form. Now, when you shoot basketball (I didn’t come up with this, I was taught by some really good shooters, some coaches), when you shoot basketball, if you’re right-handed, for example, that’s your dominant hand. The way to know if you’re shooting right is you hold the ball like this, turn your hand around and it should be straight. Your forearm should be straight. And basketball is a game played on your fingertips. Your off hand (the hand you’re not shooting with) just barely touches the ball, barely holds the ball. So, when you shoot, you’re shooting with your dominant hand. Zion doesn’t do that. Zion uses too much of his right hand. Watch him during March Madness. He can make it a good amount of the time, but he will never be a great shooter outside because his form is jacked up. His fundamentals, Zion Williamson, his fundamentals aren’t right. So, when he shoots it, Zion uses the right hand so much, that’s why he’s so inconsistent from the outside. That’s why NBA scouts say, “Oh, he’s a great player but he can’t shoot.” LeBron’s the same way. LeBron does not have good form either. Stiffens up, falls back, a very herky-jerky on his jump shot. LeBron is not a great shooter. He’s a good shooter, not a great shooter. Steph Curry is a great shooter. What’s this new kid for the Mavericks? Luka. Oh, he’s a great shooter. Form, form, fundamentals. Fundamentals.
How about your fundamentals? How about the fundamentals of the faith? Because when we’re in these contests and trials, we have to know the fundamentals. Do you know the fundamentals of the game? Dribbling, shooting – boom. Uh-oh. I’ll make that. Shooting… cheer for me. OK, thank you. Passing, defense. “Oh, I’m a Christian, Ed!”
“I love Jesus! Oh, that’s great, man. Where are you involved in church?”
“Oh, I hop around. I show up, you know. I show up now and then.” Really? Once every six weeks.
Oh, so you’re a Christian, that’s a basic fundamental, going to God’s house. Because if you’re not into God’s house, you’re not into God. I can tell you that. How about your finances? Are you bringing the minimum worship requirement?
“No, no, no. Ha-ha!” Are you praying? Are you reading your Bible? Are you involved in the church?
“I love Jesus, though!” That would be like me saying, “Oh, I love basketball, but I would like a basketball. I don’t like a court. I don’t like shooting basketball. I don’t like basketball players or basketball teams. I don’t like March Madness. But I love basketball!” You’d go, man, you’re an idiot. You realize I look at a lot of people out there who call themselves Christians and I go, man. You’re an idiot. You’re an absolute idiot. An idiot, because in Dallas/Fort Worth most people who think they’re saved aren’t. So, I have to spend a lot of time getting those people saved, unsaved, before they can really get saved.
James is like, man, you’re talking all this smack! You’re not doing jack! I have this. I want you to be a full-court follower. I want you to absorb these trials and not try to get out of the schedule, to face this team. Even though they’re tough, to face this team. Even though you’ve had an off-shooting spree for the last – I don’t know – several games. Face them. Count the score. Evaluate it. Know the fundamentals. Let the game come to you.
Real quick, don’t force it. Let the game come to you. Don’t try to force your way into a trial or out of a trial. Here’s what the Bible says, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” I’m mature by working with the process. Let the game come to you.
When I was in high school (let me blow my nose again, I’ll tell you the story), I was a good player. I could score pretty much when I wanted to, not every time, but I could. Lisa could verify, she was at all the games. I could play, you know? Go down there and, you know, score. There I am in high school. I was a sophomore, Spring Valley. I scored on that play, too. So, in college it was a different game. High school I could score. College, whoo-whoo! Man! All of a sudden everybody is 6’8”, everybody has a 40” vertical jump. And I take a shot like this in high school and I can score over people, but in college they could be this far away from me and they would still block the shot. Whole ‘notha level. So, I discovered something playing college. I had to let the game come to me. If I had an open shot, I would shoot it. If I didn’t, I would get rid of the ball. In high school I could force it and make it happen. What are you doing trying to force it in the trials? Now, I’m not saying that we’re passive. We’re not. God doesn’t want passivity in any of our lives. However, we have to let the game come to us. We have to say, “God, I mean, you’re twisting me. God, the rubber bands are there. God, the heat is on. God, the dye is in my life. God, I want to get out of here.” Maybe God’s not ready. Maybe he’s not ready to take you out, to cut the rubber bands off, to dry you out, to put you in the wash and to dry you. Maybe in this situation you’re just not ready and God still wants to deal with stuff in your life. Let the game come to you.
The last one, and then we’ll cruise. Ask for the coach’s help. The coach, obviously, being the Lord Jesus. The Bible says, you can see it behind me, James 1:5-8, “If any of you lacks wisdom…” How many educated idiots do you know? Wow. That’s one of the great things about social media, you can see how many people are educated who just are not that smart. You know, they’re smart in one way but James says it’s about wisdom. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. God knows. He is ultimately wise. He’s omniscient. When we ask him, he will coach us and give us wisdom. How ludicrous do I look, when I’m facing a trial, and God is on the sidelines and he wants me to ask him for help. But I have a freedom of choice. I either turn and go, “Hey coach, what’s up?” or I go, “No, no, God. I got this, man. I got it. I can play by myself. Lord, I can do it by myself. I’m telling you.” Ask. Ask for God’s wisdom. He has wisdom about your marriage, wisdom about the childrearing challenges, wisdom in character issues, wisdom when you’re tempted to cheat on that test, wisdom when you’re about to post something you know you shouldn’t post, wisdom when you’re about to log onto a website you shouldn’t log on. God has wisdom. Trust him! Trust him! He’s given us the ball, uniforms, the court. He wants us to go coast-to-coast and the way he works is through trials! Game after game after game.
But here’s what we do. “Oh, Lord. I want a miracle. I just want to go from miracle to miracle to miracle to miracle.” And there are a lot of churches, a lot of people that talk about that, yeah. Does God perform miracles? Yes. But the Christian life is not lived miracle after miracle after miracle. It’s not. It’s lived on the court. It’s lived grinding it out. It’s lived, so often, in the monotony, so often in the quiet place. Are we gonna have miracles? Yes. Are we gonna play in the Final Four? Yes. Are we gonna have championships? Yes. But, it’s about those trials. Put the brackets back. Put those brackets back up there. Is that cool? Family, health, friendship, marriage, career, finances, character, emotion. Let’s say it again. Count… let’s say it again. Count, Know, Let, Ask.
Well, it’s about time to go but I wanted to share something with you that is, for me, you know, pretty authentic. I mean, it’s real. I’ve never really shared this before. But I was thinking after our trip to Florida State. I was thinking to myself, why I hadn’t been back in all those years. I was thinking to myself why I have sort of been estranged from Florida States for almost 40 years. I mean, I shouldn’t be. I mean, I’m a letterman there. I had a full scholarship, played a little bit, but once I left, I’m like, I’m out, man. People sometimes would ask me, “Oh man, I’m sure you follow Florida State.” No. “How are the Seminoles doing?” You know, really, I could care less. That’s what I would say. And I was just thinking about why, Ed? Why, why, why, why? And then it hit me. I know why I didn’t want to talk about Florida State. I know why I didn’t go to Tallahassee. Because athletically it was the sense of my failure. I was a much better player than I played at Florida State. I just got into my mind and never really did what I should have done. Yeah, I had moments that was OK, maybe a month, but that’s about it. So, because of failure, because my lifetime average was 0.7 per game, I’m like, I’m not gonna think about that or talk about that. I’m not gonna turn that over in my mind again. It’s a failure, man. I blew it! I had a full scholarship. I can tell you games, like against Minnesota and Georgia and games against Missouri, that I had an opportunity and I blew it. But, I thought, man, I’m gonna go back. I want to take a step back. And when I took a step back to FSU through a unique set of circumstances, the head coach found out I was coming back, because I was a former player. He was like,
“Man, we roll out the carpet for former players. I want you,” he told me when I met him, “to speak to our team.” What? Here’s all this gear that only the Florida State players have. I have it. I’ll wear it during the series. You’ll be jealous of it, man. You can’t get it. I might put it in eBay. I don’t know. Then he told me, he goes,
“Hey, whenever you and your family want to go to any game, you tell me. You’re sitting on the front row behind me.” This is the head coach at Florida State. He wasn’t my coach. And I really felt honored even though I was a bench-warmer. That’s the gospel. I mean, I’m estranged from the God of the Universe because my moral average is about 0.7. I don’t want to think about that because, man, I’ve screwed up so much and I’ve made so many turnovers. I mean, no, no, no, no. Yet, God tells me if I take a step toward him, you talking about honor? He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. You talk about honor? If we take a step of faith toward him, he will receive us. He will give us new gear, a new life. He will put us on that front row. That is what it means, friends, to have a championship life. Have you made that decision? Have you made that choice? You might be saying, Ed, I don’t know. I’m indecisive. That’s a choice. Say yes to Jesus, because when you say yes to him, he’ll show you what life, what games, what trials, what contests, what maturity, what being a coast-to-coast follower is all about. Would you pray with me?
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]