A crazy phenomenon in the sports world occurs each year in the month of March. Amongst the anticipation of spring, a sporting event captivates millions of people. The college basketball tournament known as March Madness is fascinating, in part, because of the unpredictability. The first day of the 2015 tournament saw more 1 point decisions than any other opening day of the tournament. And, the Goliath’s from the Big 12, Baylor and Iowa State, were bested by the David’s known as UAB and Georgia State. One of the elements that has attracted 11.7 million brackets to be posted on ESPN alone, is the ability for smaller, less-known teams to play on the same floor with the larger, more visible teams and actually win. Often, the winning coach has understood the tendencies of the other team to defeat the favorite. Or, the losing team was unable to execute the pattern of play to defeat its opponent. In either case, the upsets inspire the underdog in all of us!
According to Webster’s dictionary, a tendency is a quality that makes something likely to happen or that makes someone likely to think or behave in a particular way. In basketball, a coach studies tape of other games to identify the tendencies of another coach, team or player. The team that successfully executes a plan to affect the tendencies of another team can impact the outcome. Two examples in the tournament reflected this concept. On Saturday, Michigan State advanced the ball quickly to get a good shot before the vaunted Virginia defense could be set. On Sunday, West Virginia’s full court press forced 22 Maryland turnovers. The Spartans manner of play eliminated or reduced the affect of Virginia’s defense. And, the Mountaineers defense dictated the pace of play that caused Maryland to look scattered and rushed. The tendencies identified by the winning coach of the defeated team required the winners to execute the plan effectively and efficiently.
Individually, we have tendencies or patterns of behavior that are created and repeated. In 2012, investigative reporter James Duhigg wrote a book titled “The Power of Habit” describing the scientific process in the brain that created habits of behavior to conserve energy. The book was a fascinating read that explained the three step process of habit loop formation described as the cue, the behavior and the reward. Duhigg used examples of why people have a habit of biting their fingernails, to how the CEO of Alcoa changed the habits of employees in regard to plant safety. The identification of tendencies on a basketball court, in a business or with individual behavior can be revealing.
As we prepare for Holy Week, consider the “tendencies” of the ruling authorities in Jerusalem as Jesus arrived to celebrate Passover. Teaching in the temple mount, teachers of the law and Sadduccees, the temple leaders, question the authority of Jesus. They challenge him with questions about paying taxes to Ceasar and the resurrection. This comes after months in ministry where Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath and what was necessary to inherit eternal life. The religious leaders relied on their patterns of behavior created over years of worship and teaching. Listening to Jesus’ speak with authority and truth was counter to their traditions ingrained over years of repetition. Further, they refused to recognize the messianic prophecies fulfilled by the Nazarene because they were focused on their current way of life. As long as they maintained the proper procedures, policies, processes and performance, they were closed to the revelations of Jesus.
In our recent 26 week study of the Gospel of Luke, we learned of the healing power of Jesus to all those who showed faith, not functionality. Examples of the blind man in Jericho or the bleeding woman near Capernaum, Jesus responded with compassion and mercy to the afflicted, the wounded, the broken, and the outcast. He even dwelled with tax collectors and sinners who were willing to repent of their sins. They, too, had tendencies of behavior considered vile, repulsive, and sinful. Yet, when encountering Jesus, they were willing to accept the mercy and grace of Jesus which broke their tendencies or patterns of behavior. They were willing to die to self to attain the joy of forgiveness and redemption offered in Jesus.
Two prominent Pharisees were also willing to give up their habits, traditions and perspectives to follow Jesus. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were willing to risk social and religious status to take the body of Jesus off the cross. The action of touching a bloodied and dead criminal would have desecrated the men. Further, Joseph allowed Jesus to be buried in the family tomb, leaving it defiled in the eyes of Jewish ritual. Both men accepted the truth of Jesus as one greater than themselves and their historical beliefs. They were willing to accept the condemnation and criticism of friends and family to care for the man they believed to be the Messiah that the Scriptures foretold. In the presence of the truth of Jesus, they recognized the Messianic teaching of the man on the cross and they broke from the patterns of life to believe in the good teacher from Galilee.
What tendencies do you exhibit that need the healing of Jesus? What patterns of life do you replay in your relationship with your spouse, your parents, your friends, your children that inflame, that disregard, that damage? Are you willing to allow Jesus to penetrate those areas of your life to reveal a joyful renewal? What is keeping you from recognizing sinful activity or behavior that surrounds you in the hustle and bustle of the day? What are you using to desensitize the pain and sorrow in the depth of your heart from a troubled past or current action?
As Jesus asks the man beside the pool, ‘do you want to be healed?” Jesus understood the condition of the human soul. He suffered a vicious death to bring us life, not condemnation. He broke the grip of sin to free us to salvation, not give us another list of to do’s. He rose to be victorious over the sting of death, permanently not just for the moment. If you have a tendency, a pattern of behavior, that needs to be changed, reduced or eliminated, consider asking, in prayer and thanksgiving, the Savior for a healing. Allow His grace and mercy to shower over you with steadfast love and genuine compassion. And, allow the Holy Spirit to transform your behavior from a bad habit to a wonderful tendency. Those who know and love you will see the Gospel come alive …. and He will be glorified.