Selection Sunday is the day the teams competing in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament are revealed. As the coverage starts, some teams are relaxed while others are anxiously awaiting the announcement.
As soon as all 68 teams have been selected, players celebrate and cry while millions of people across the country begin filling out their tournament bracket.
The all-consuming conversation on TV and around the workplace becomes who will be this year’s Cinderella story? Will Butler emerge again? Can Gonzaga make its first Final Four? Will a 16-seed finally beat a 1-seed?
It’s called March Madness because for one month everyone seems to be mad about basketball. And for some, at least, the madness is driven by both a love of the sport and a vested interest in seeing who wins.
We All Love Picking a Winner
From legal betting to illegal office pools, the NCAA tournament draws in people who have not watched a basketball game all year. According to the American Gaming Association, Americans gambled $9.2 billion on March Madness in 2015.
Any game we play for money is gambling, whether it’s a round of poker or a baby pool. But for those of us who love Jesus and basketball, this time of year, more than many others, begs the question: Is gambling a sin?
You will not find the word “gambling” in the Bible, but there are three questions we can ask to help us determine if putting money on a bracket is a wise thing to do.
1. Why am I gambling?
For some, the thrill of the competition is what makes gambling fun. A friendly wager can provide a reason to follow the game or the adrenaline of competition. But for others, the desire to gamble is rooted in a love of money.
If we’re gambling to get out of debt or to get rich, we’re putting our hope in the wrong place.
More money will not fix our problems or fulfill us. Only a relationship with Jesus can fulfill the longing in our hearts and bring us peace.
Hebrews 13:5 warns against putting our hope in money, saying, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’”
2. Can I stop gambling?
This question will help you determine if friendly competition has become a compulsion. If you do not feel you can stop, or if you can’t have fun without a wager, your gambling has become an addiction.
Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
3. Do others know I am gambling?
If you can’t do what you’re doing out in the open, that’s usually a good sign you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
The biggest reason one gentleman I know doesn’t gamble regularly is because his wife is not OK with it. If he were to start gambling on March Madness or college football, he would have to do it in secret. And for him, there is not a prize out there worth losing his marriage over.
Whatever we do in secret will come out. In Luke 8:17, Jesus tells us, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”
God knows the secrets and desires of our hearts (Psalm 44:21). And eventually, others will, too.
Bringing Sanity to the Madness
The success of winning a bet is thrilling, but we both know the thrill will not last. The reward for following Jesus, however, will last into eternity. 1 Corinthians 9:25 says, “Everyone who competes goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we [Christians] do it get a crown that will last forever.”
No matter how much we research teams and seek that magic bracket buster, winning the office pool will not bring the same reward as a life lived for Christ.
So, when’s the last time you felt like you got shot—emotionally, right? You had that recently? Doctor says, “It’s cancer.” Friend says they don’t want to be with you anymore. Spouse says, “I think we’re done.” Shot financially—you lose your job, you’re upside down, something busts, you don’t have money for it. You find yourself in real trouble. You’re shot spiritually—you don’t know why, but you’re discouraged, depressed. It feels like there is a cloud that is encircling you. Your thoughts are foggy, and your hope is fading.
What we tend to do in those moments is look up to God—“God, where are you? I thought you were good. I thought you loved me. I thought you would take care of me. I thought you would provide for me. Why do you hurt me? Why are you opposed to me? Why are you—why are you fighting me?”
You ever felt that? People go all kinds of directions when they find themselves in those moments of getting shot. “Maybe there is no God. Maybe God isn’t good. Maybe God loves other people, but God doesn’t love me. Maybe God isn’t that powerful.”
KNOW YOUR ENEMY
You need to know, I need to know, we need to know that it’s not just us and God. There’s a third variable that we absolutely have to factor into everything, and that’s Satan and demons.
We live in a day when, through psychology, through explanation, through a resistance to the supernatural, people don’t even believe in Satan and demons. We turn them into fictitious cartoon characters and mythical parts of our historical narrative; the stories we tell and the fairy tales we enjoy—we don’t think they’re real. We don’t think that Satan is real; we don’t think that demons are real. And so we tend to, every time we are shot, question or blame God, while Satan laughs and runs away.
This is incredibly important. The world is not the way it should be. Not everything that happens is God’s idea. There is also God’s enemy. And it’s so important that it’s the final word in the book of Ephesians.
Turn to and read Ephesians 6:10–24. This is the last word from God through Paul, and it’s about Satan and demons. Yes, the book does talk about your salvation. It does talk about your friendships. It does talk about your marriage. It does talk about your work life. It does talk about your children. But if you overlook, if you neglect, the existence and the war from Satan and demons, it will infect, affect, destroy everything God is trying to do in your life, in our church.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness—(that’s demons)—against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
It’s very clear. There’s the church, there is God, and then there is a war against God and his people that is waged by Satan and demons. And I want you to know this, Denver Church: when we read this verse, because we come from a hyper-individualistic cultural background, we tend to read this and think that this is to be applied one by one for each of us. And so when we teach this section of Scripture to little boys in Sunday school, they all get dressed up like soldiers. The truth is, we’re all soldiers. But it takes an army to win a war.
This is a word to the whole church—not just individuals in the church but the whole church, laboring, warring, working together. This is a word for us. It’s a word for you, but it’s word for you as part of us. Jesus loves us; Satan hates us. Jesus has plans for us; Satan has plans to oppose us. Jesus, in every way, will bless us; but Satan will, in every way, seek to undermine that blessing. It’s a war!
Do you know that? Most Christians don’t! We live in a therapeutic culture where God is reduced to a life coach who comes along to ask you what you want and to give you tips and tricks to do a better job, to live for your glory, to be what you want, to get what you want, to do what you want! And in that way, it’s absolutely demonic! God does not exist to serve you; you exist to serve him!
IT’S A WAR!
It’s a war! How many of you feel like this life is just an insane war? You know why? It’s an insane war! The closer you get to Jesus, the more resistance you’ll get! The more you advance to the kingdom of God, the more shots you’ll take! Don’t be a coward who says, “Oh, things are hard. It must not be God’s will.” The harder it gets, the closer you are to the will of God.
So, Paul has a very strong word. This is a military word from a commander in chief to troops on the ground for what is to come. Do you know you have an enemy? Do you know you’re not loved by everyone and everything? Do you know you’re hated, despised, and opposed? Do you know that we are? “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood”—Ephesians 6:12—“but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
People are not our enemy; Satan and demons are our enemy. The Bible speaks of non-Christians as captives. What happens in a war is an overtaking army then enslaves and takes captives the citizens who are conquered. That’s called earth. The world has been conquered by Satan and demons (2 Corinthians 4:4). We’ve been taken captives in the war.
So, our war is not against the captives; our war is against their captors, Satan and demons. We strive that people would be spiritually, in every way, set free to become the children of God. This is why Jesus says very early in his earthly ministry that he has come to set captives free. That’s what he’s talking about. So, our war is not against the non-Christians. Our war is not against those who would disagree with biblical faith. Our war is against Satan and demons who have taken people captive to do his will.
- How can you remind yourself this week that there is an enemy?
- How can knowing you have an enemy help you?
Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” Acts 3:4
Here was this man waiting at the gate of the temple. The striking thing about this is that when he asked alms of Peter, Peter stopped, and said to him, “Look at us.” This is very important, because it is right in line with the activities of Jesus whenever he wanted to heal anyone. He rarely walked up to someone and merely touched him and healed him, without first directing his attention to himself. He always captivated the attention of the individuals he wanted to heal, directed them to focus their gaze upon him. The reason is that this arouses a sense of expectation. It always activates faith. This is what happened here. This man expected to receive something from Peter and John. He did not know what he was going to get, but his faith was quickened by Peter's words. This is very necessary in order to receive anything from God. You must expect something from him.
One of the reasons why there are people who attend church but whose lives are hardly any different than when they first came, is that they have never given their attention to God. They have never expected to receive anything when they came. Unfortunately there are those, young and old alike, who turn off their minds when they get into a church service. They start thinking of all kinds of other things, start taking mental trips and playing mental games. I have always thought it would be most interesting after service to know where everyone had been! Unfortunately, the life-changing truth that goes out from the Scriptures misses many, passes right by, and and church attenders can sit here for years and never be changed.
There are young people who have been raised in church, but who are no different, exhibit no evidence that God is at work. This is largely because they never have heard that word, “Look at me,” and paid attention. This is why Jesus always said to the crowds to which he preached, “He who has ears, let him hear...” (Matthew 11:15) Let him listen. This is always necessary for the working of faith.
The minute Peter had this man's attention, he did two interesting things: First, he admitted his bankruptcy in the material realm: “Silver or gold I do not have,” he said. “That's what you are looking for, but I can't help you there.” He then demonstrated his amazing adequacy in the spiritual realm: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” In that electric moment, as this man was looking at Peter and John, and heard these words, at the mention of the name of Jesus something remarkable happened. Strength came flowing into his ankles, and Peter, sensing it, took him by the right hand and lifted him up. The man rose and began to leap and shout and jump around, trying out this new found strength in his legs which he had never known, because he was lame from birth.
Father, thank you for the name of Jesus. It has lost none of its power. It is still transforming men and women, as it always has — and not only spiritually, but occasionally physically. Thank you for those demonstrations of your power still today. We know that you can change a sick and ailing body and make it well. But also you can take a sick and ailing spirit and make it whole.
- What does this passage teach us about our expectations of God? How does it apply to you?
- Are there any broken areas of your life that you have accepted as normal? What’s one step you can take today to begin healing?
- When people look at you are they drawn to the power and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ?