It's March Madness once again – one of my favorite times of the year. I must admit I love basketball. It began when I was a young boy and my dad and older brothers dug a deep post hole by our back fence, planted a large post with a homemade backboard and a rim on it that my dad had one of his friends make, who worked in the machine shop for Kennecott Copper in our little mining town of Ruth, Nevada.
My brothers and I and our friends played basketball for years on that homemade basketball standard. It stood adjacent to the dirt alley that ran along the back of our home. In the summer we played in the dust. In the winter we played with our mittens and overshoes on and shoveled the snow from in front of the basket. In the spring we played in the mud – but we always played.
Over the years I have learned a lot about life from the sport of basketball. For example, this last week, I watched the Los Angeles Lakers get beat by two teams that have the worst records in the NBA – the Detroit Pistons, and the Washington Wizards. In both games the Lakers had leads of 20+ points but by the end had blown their lead and lost to inferior teams with less talent.
How did this happen? The answer is quite easy really. They grew complacent because of their big lead, quit doing the fundamentals which had enabled them to earn their big lead, quit playing hard defense, hustling after loose balls: crashing the boards and rebounding ferociously, and frankly just started playing soft and lazy basketball.
The lesson for me anyway, is really the eternal lesson found in the Scriptures that we must endure to the end to win the game – be awarded the gift of Eternal Life. It is not enough to just have a big lead in an NBA basketball game, but to ultimately win, a team has to play hard for the entire 48 minutes.
Just as a basketball team must constantly keep doing the fundamental things that have given them their big lead in the game, so we must constantly keep doing the fundamental things that have given so many of us the big lead that we have been given in life.
What is that lead I am writing about? Many of us have been blessed with membership in the Church of Jesus Christ. Many little babies have been born in the covenant, have been raised by righteous parents, have had years of church attendance, family prayer, family Scripture study, family home evening, seminary and Institute classes, and have even served missions. This has given them a big lead in life, but far too many blow their lead just as NBA teams blow theirs.
How did they do it? They become complacent and become lazy and soft and quit doing the fundamentals that had brought to them their big lead – getting up early, searching the Scriptures, praying, striving to keep all the Commandments and seeking to serve others.
Some of you have read or heard me quote B. H. Roberts philosophy that he strictly adhered to in writing the Documentary and Comprehensive Histories of the Church. "The constant recurrence to fundamentals is essential to perpetuity." Nations, the Church, and individuals, who have become great and productive, will not endure long, and they will inevitably blow their lead unless they constantly adhere to, and practice those fundamentals that brought them success and are so essential to continued success.
When I think of this eternal truth I am reminded of two incidents in the Old Testament. Of course, there are many more sprinkled throughout all the Scriptures. I think of the contrast between Joseph, who was sold into Egypt and David, who was anointed King of Israel.
Joseph was given a big lead early in his life. Jacob, a great and good man, one who had great faith in Jehovah, had taught Joseph well. Joseph was a favored son, but as a young teenager was ripped from the love and security of being with his father. However, Joseph never blew his lead in Egypt. Rejecting the advances of Potiphar's wife, enduring years of imprisonment in an Egyptian dungeon, he endured to the end with faith in God, and must have been prayerful and strived to practice as best he could, the fundamentals he had been taught by his father. His reward was to secure to himself his birthright and to become the father of two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who would ultimately become a numerous and mighty people given the mission to bring salvation to all of God's children, both living and dead.
David, a young man with great promise, anointed by Samuel to be King of Israel, knowing he had been called of God to this high and holy calling, blew his lead, and subsequently his life ended in a tragic manner. When he began to lust after Bathsheba, he, anointed of the Lord to perform a great mission, blew his lead. I have often wondered when did David, quit reading his Scriptures, seeking the Lord through prayer, seeking to serve his people, and becoming soft and lazy in his lifestyle? He, who could have had everything, lost everything because of his lack of adhering to the fundamentals of life he knew to be true and had faithfully lived for years, from his youth upward.
I suppose the universal test that comes to all of us is to endure to the end and not blow our lead. And how do we do this?
"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness hope and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore if you shall press forward feasting upon the word of Christ and endure to the end, behold thus saith the Father, ye shall have eternal life. And now my beloved brethren this is the way, and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God." [2 Nephi 31:20-21]
Dad, Grandpa, Jack