Last Monday night, the Baylor Bears did what no one thought could be done: they beat the Gonzaga Bulldogs to claim the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship and become only the second team in Texas history to win that title. In a matter of minutes, the Bears went from being an unlikely challenger to being the undisputed victor.
But what took only 40 minutes of game time was actually 18 years in the making. In 2003, when Scott Drew became the head coach at Baylor, the program was in shambles. Thanks to his dedication, perseverance, and attitude — along with a very talented and passionate group of young men — he not only achieved his goal of winning tournament games but also won the big game.
When it comes to winning the battle over sin and temptation, Scott Drew’s team might have a few things to teach us:
First and foremost, Baylor had the attitude that they could win. Had they not shared that belief, they wouldn’t have played with the same passion, heart, and fervor that they displayed on Monday night, and they would never have won. Believing that we can be victorious over temptation is a critical part of that victory.
The victorious Baylor team played all year long with the attitude of JOY: Jesus, Others, and You. As a result, they did not focus on what they could get out of being on the team but rather what they could put into it. Likewise, when we start to value Jesus and others more than ourselves (Philippians 2:4), our thoughts and actions will become less self-serving, and temptation will begin to lose its power.
The Baylor Bears refused to give up — or to let up — even when COVID–19 interrupted their momentum and led to their first loss midway through the season. Could they bounce back? Would they bounce back? Monday night answered that with a resounding yes. We, too, must persevere in the battle against sin and temptation. Battles are not won in a day or in a moment, but in a series of moments in which we consistently say no to sin and yes to the life that God has called us to. We will not always be victorious, but that is exactly why perseverance is so critical. If we allow our defeats to discourage and demotivate us, we are even more likely to surrender to temptation the next time. Perseverance means resisting temptation even after we’ve surrendered to it — and especially then.
But as important as all these factors are, we would still lose the battle without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised His disciples that they would receive power “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). We see this power displayed in the lives of those disciples throughout the book of Acts and beyond … but it wasn’t given only to them. Paul reiterates this when he writes, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). We, too, have the power of the Holy Spirit within us, and He gives us the ability to overcome temptation in our lives when we surrender to Him.
This surrendering to the Spirit is the most important step in overcoming temptation. All of the best intentions in the world will fail if not undergirded by His power. For this reason, the apostle Paul tells us to “walk by the Spirit” so that we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). In verse 25, he tells us to “keep in step with the Spirit.” Both of these verses picture the Spirit as guiding us through the trials and temptations of life. If we humble ourselves and yield to His leading, we will find ourselves able to stand against temptation and come out on top.
Would you like to overcome temptation in your life? Those who have tasted this victory know that it is even sweeter than a national championship. The salvation we have in Jesus promises us that one day we will cut down the nets and experience ultimate victory over temptation. Until then, take a page from the Baylor Bears’ playbook — and from The Book — and follow the game plan for overcoming temptation. Your personal championship awaits.
Growing up, my mom had this plant in our backyard called a Purple Heart. Purple Heart spreads like wildfire and grows anywhere. It is some pretty resilient stuff, and I’ve always liked it.
Last summer, my little boy accidentally broke a pretty large branch off of one of her plants. Rather than just apologizing and throwing it away, I took it home and stuck it in water. It rooted pretty quickly so, once I felt confident that the root system was solid, I planted it in an area of my backyard where I was hoping it would grow, but I didn’t hold my breath. That area of my yard is rocky, and there is a lot of clay, which is why I hadn’t planted anything else there.
The Purple Heart took off. It turned a previously ugly piece of my yard into a beautiful area as it spread along the back of my house. (A true picture of redemption!)
When the snowpocalypse happened this year, I assumed all of those plants were lost. By the time the snow melted, it was clear that the Purple Heart was gone.
I noticed last week that there are five places along that area where purple leaves are popping up. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see those purple leaves peeking through the dirt! I immediately went and started pulling the weeds that had grown in that area and put some new soil down to feed the plants as they grow.
What a beautiful illustration of life for anyone who calls him or herself a Christian. We all go through hard times. We feel broken. The storms of life can leave us feeling defeated. But if our root system is strong, if we are solidly planted in Jesus, and there is still breath in our lungs, he is not done with us yet. He wants to use us to shine a light in this dark world, to make the ugly pieces a little more beautiful.
Last Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Because of Easter, because Jesus died on the cross in our place and defeated death, as believers, we have hope. We can know that even though life is hard sometimes, God is not done with us yet.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it well.
— Psalm 139:13–14
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew & Greek; for the same Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
— Romans 10:9, 11–14
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 1:6
You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.
—1 Peter 1:22–23
Easter is such an incredible celebration, time with friends and family, rejoicing in the new life we have been given in Christ. We love those moments because they feel victorious.
I remember feeling victorious when I first accepted Christ as savior. It was such a big moment! My friends and teachers told me this was the most important decision I would ever make. I believed and understood that everything would be different, though I didn’t know how it would be different. They were right. The day was great. It was an incredible moment. But on Monday, I walked around wondering, “Now what?”
1 Peter tells believers that because we have been saved and been given eternal life, we must live the way that Christ has taught us to live. That means learning to love sincerely and deeply with all our hearts. For his original readers, this was easier said than done because they were facing extreme persecution and suffering. But he tells them that it doesn’t matter the circumstances because we live in the light of the resurrection.
Here is the key and the hard part: after you accept Christ, the details of your life might not have changed, but it does not matter because you have changed.
So now it’s your Monday after. God has defeated death in you and guaranteed your eternal life. What do you do now? You may still face difficult situations like the early believers. Perhaps today just feels like nothing special. You still wake up, get ready for the day, dealing with the same people about the same things. I get that. The good news is that you have been born again. You have been given a new life. Maybe the world is not different, but you are. And, just like it took years for you to learn to live your life the old way, you will need to learn to live this new way: love sincerely as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all our hearts.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known.
— 1 Corinthians 13:12
How can [God] meet us face to face till we have faces?
— CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces
Our dark glass keeps us from the Lord. It keeps us from seeing him truly. And after all, “What is Truth?” (see John 18:38.) Pilate’s words could easily be plucked from his century and placed into ours with no uneasy feeling of incongruence. Who would dare to claim truth in our culture? How bombastic and haughty. How narrow and exclusive. Surely the sky is not actually blue, and the young man does not see it more clearly than the old. The weather is warm for the thick-skinned young woman, cold for the thin-skinned grandmother. Perhaps truth exists just out of our reach, but that is of no consequence to us. As long as we interpret this possible truth in some way that preserves our existence, so be it. A clear perception of truth is not possible to apprehend and does not benefit us anyway. We have accepted the dark glass of subjectivism and rejected the light of objective truth.
But then why does the blind man trip over the rock that he can not see? Why does it lame him so? The lens may be cloudy, but it appears to be a lens, nonetheless.
We are given these portals to the outside world, the ‘not me’ world. Like the pianist between the piano and the music, our instruments are often flawed and always individual, but instruments fitted for a purpose, nonetheless.
“For this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate had given into his century’s form of subjectivism. After hearing directly from the mouth of Christ the words of truth, his only response was, “What is truth?” And, though he found Christ to be truly innocent, he had him put to death because there was no truth in his mind, only convenience. His face was fully turned away and his glass completely dark. The rejection of truth always leads to death.
Saul of Tarsus, however, who once had glass perhaps even darker than Pilate’s, was suddenly and almost entirely cleansed of his blindness by the work of Jesus. As the reluctant Ananias — after running through the street toward possible death and guaranteed uncertainty, as Christ’s tool of redemption for a murderer — placed his hands on the eyes of Saul, “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes.” (Acts 9:10) Saul’s glass was lightened.
If you struggle with our culture’s questions of subjectivism, if truth somehow seems wrong to you, know that you are not alone. The truth is narrow and exclusive. But the Truth beckons to and claims all for himself who wish to be a part of Truth in eternity.
As Christ went to that cross to die for you and me, and Pilate denied truth altogether, Jesus revealed a truth undeniable: God is both just and merciful. He cannot let our sins go unanswered, but he can wash them away with his own blood. And he did.
As this Easter Sunday approaches, let Christ wash away your sins. Let him into your very soul. Don’t resist that utter desolation you feel as the revelation washes over you. God is just on the other side to show you his miraculous light and diminish your dark glass.
Barbed wire twisted along the top of the 12-foot fence surrounding the 11-acre campus of the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Although I couldn’t actually see anyone, the sense of someone perched in the guard tower, rifle in hand, watching as I drove into the ominous-looking facility, was almost palpable. After clearing the guard outside, I spoke with the prison chaplain, who offered a Cliff’s Notes version of what to expect on the inside. I was escorted down a long corridor that passed through several massive gates, barred doorways that sent eerie chills rippling down my spine as they creaked open, then closed behind me. The truth is, I still shudder today at the sound of metal hitting metal. At first, my instinct was to just forget this visit, make up a valid-sounding excuse and leave Huntsville in my rearview mirror as quickly as possible. But, that, I could not do. I had promised to see someone and have a spiritual conversation before his date with the executioner arrived.
Convicted of killing a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery, this man (Let’s call him Bob) was sentenced to die by lethal injection. I was his sister’s pastor.
Not only is death row a ghastly place to spend your last days on earth, but, as Bob told me, it is also terribly lonely. Separated by a thick glass wall, we talked for about 20 minutes or so. Bob assured me of his having repented of sin and placing faith in Jesus. He was secure in the relationship he shared with him. The chaplain had told me that everybody finds Jesus in prison, but Bob’s manner, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice exuded a genuine sincerity that left me feeling confident in going home with a good report for his grieving sister.
To this day, 30 years or so later, I still reflect on that day, remembering well the musty odors, darkened walls, and hollow sounds of a death row prison. And, of course, I think of Bob, the man I was asked to share Jesus with while he waited his turn to die. In fact, those memories came flooding back this past Sunday as the pastor’s message turned our attention to the “Lord’s (Last) Supper.” Sitting there listening, I wondered how agonizing it must have been for Jesus who, in the closing hours with his disciples, would hear them squabble over who would be the greatest as opposed to embracing their Lord who had just told them he was going to die for them. Although he had explained the significance of the bread and the wine, they just didn’t get it. I wonder, do we?
When you come to the Lord’s table to receive the bread and the wine, do you come in heart-wrenching gratitude, realizing what those two elements represent?
Not too long after our meeting, Bob was put to death for the crimes he was found guilty of. Jesus, on the other hand, faced execution, having been found guilty of love and nothing else. Have you embraced God’s great love for you today? You can.