By Dick Koehneke
Tony Bennett, the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Virginia, is a strong Christian. Last year his team was the #1 overall seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as “March Madness.” They lost in the first round to a #16 seed. It was the first time in the tournament’s history that a #1 lost to a #16.
This year they won the national championship. Coach Bennett calls last year’s first-round loss “a painful gift.” It caused him and his team to focus on what’s most important to his team’s culture. He defines the most important factors as “five pillars.” (Some people might call them “core values.”) All five reflect Coach Bennett’s deep Christian faith. These are the five pillars:
How might the five pillars apply to friends and followers of Jesus Christ? Here are a few of my own reflections.
Humility: “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:37)
The English word “humble” comes from the Latin word “humus” (meaning earth or ground). In English “humus” refers to the dark organic material in soils that is essential to the fertility of the earth. It accepts whatever is planted in it and brings forth an abundant crop. The essence of Christian humility is being open and available, as Mary was, to whatever seed God wants to plant in your life, producing the harvest that He desires. That’s humility.
Passion: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)
Lukewarm, self-satisfied people who claim to be Christians are distasteful to God. People who are “cold” don’t claim to be Christians. They may be more open to God than the lukewarm hypocrites: those who claim to love God but are really full of themselves. Lord, forgive my lukewarm apathy toward You and set me on fire with zeal for Your purposes!
Unity: “For as in one body we have many members, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Romans 12:4-5)
We belong to Christ, and we belong to each other too. What affects one of us affects all of us. Teammates want to play their very best, not in order to get individual rewards, but so that the team can win. We’re in this together. We need each other. We are “members of one another.” That’s unity.
Servanthood: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of God’s varied grace . . . in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10-11)
The world’s favorite question is, “What’s in it for me?” The Christian’s favorite question is, “What’s in me for you?” Asked another way, “What do I have that you need?” You might be God’s answer to someone’s prayer. God works through each one of us in a different way to convey His blessings to others. You are a blessing of God going somewhere to happen.
Thankfulness: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:16)
Thankfulness is therapeutic. Gratitude is good for our well-being. As we think about God’s blessings in this life and His promised blessings in the life to come, we never run out of reasons for thanksgiving. Even our hardest experiences can be reasons for thanksgiving. Tony Bennett was thankful for the “painful gift” of last year’s first-round loss. His gratitude led to this year’s final victory.