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Evangelicals & Self

I was once in the Bible Study small group and one of the female participants made the following statement, “It is important to sometimes just concentrate on loving yourself.” That statement prima facie has always stuck in my crawl. While some people do suffer from poor self-esteem (and we do would not want to minimize or trivialize that real dilemma) and do genuinely need help in that area for the majority of us and for the majority of the time we will not suffer from the malady of not loving ourselves enough. No, we will usually suffer from just the opposite. We have an indelible knack for loving ourselves too much. The Holy Writ would seem to agree as well when it commands we must deny ourselves and then pick up our cross and come after Jesus Christ (Matt 16:24).

            I promised I would begin a three-part Evangelical based inquiry at the state of the family unit, but I feel led to delay that important topic to address an issue that has reared it head again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ESPN, earlier than planned due to no live sports, decided to move up the broadcast date of Michale Jordan documentary, is broadcasting the highly viewed documentary chronicling the Chicago Bulls dynasty run, led principally by one Michael Jeffrey Jordan. It is almost without dispute that Michael Jordan is in the top pantheon of the basketball greats of all time, if not the pantheon.  As someone who lived in Chicago during the Bulls’ run I was up close and personal for those idyllic times. Jordan, almost singlehandedly, brought so much joy to Chicago fans and to fans all over the world. That much is certainly true and can never be denied or be without acknowledgment.

Yet, two things can be said about an individual and be different and still be true at the same time. Concerning basketball, there is much to commend and appreciate concerning the legacy of Michael Jordan on the basketball court and it should equally he has generally avoided any negative notoriety aside from some gambling allegations.

            Yet, concerning value and character, which at the end of the day is all that should matter, I believe Jordan is to be found weighed and wanting on some of the more pressing matters that should truly rise to the top when history decides where to place one’s contribution or lack thereof to the advancement of human flourishing. I believe that to be our chief responsibility as stewards of the gifts, talents and callings we have been endowed by our creator.

            Michael Jordan was born in the state of North Carolina. He went to college at University of North Carolina (UNC). He played for the legendary coach, Dean Smith. Jordan rose to sudden fame when he hit the winning shot as a freshman to lead UNC to beat the revered Georgetown basketball team, led by the feared big-man, Patrick Ewing, at a time when Georgetown was one of the preeminent college basketball programs during the 1980’s.

            Jordan’s NBA career took off like a wildfire after being drafted by the Chicago Bull in 1983. He was the third pick that year, after Hakeem Oluwajon and Sam Bowie. He went to win Rookie-of-the-Year Award and quickly became the new hot sensation of the entire league. Jordan quickly become a marketing darling and everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. It was said, and is still generally true today, that Jordan is one of the most recognizable figures on planet Earth.

            Marketers understood an endorsement from Michael Jordan translated into products being sold, based solely on Jordan’s identification with the product. Right, wrong or indifference, Jordan possessed then and still possesses today an outsized influence upon the world’s mindset. Keep in mind I previously mentioned Jordan hailed from the state of North Carolina as will be become readily relevant as we continue on.

            The Bible teaches there is an outsized understanding concerning responsibility/accountability (r/a). For instance, I have more responsibility than my spouse concerning the stewardship of the Kyles’ clan. My pastor has more responsibility/accountability for the stewardship of the church than I do. Depending on several factors and admittedly depending upon what worldview is being adopted there is not equal r/a in the teacher/student dynamic. I would submit the older the child is, the more r/a the child is r/a despite the trend I see taking place within education today.

The Holy Writ weighs in with the following statement, “But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48). In simple parlance, the Bible is teaching not all of us have been blessed with the same amount (hence communism is pagan derived worldview and capitalism is the best, system humanly speaking). Due to God’s own sovereign choice, some get more while some others receive less. Why was I born to poor parents from Brooksville while Prince Harry was born into royalty is left to the secret counsel of God and that is the question that is beyond all of our paygrades, I believe both in this life and in eternity.

            So, hopefully I have set up the necessary background for today’s blog topic. Michael Jordan is a great basketball player and that can never be taken from him. He worked his butt off, especially after being cut from his basketball team while in high school. He dedicated himself over that convening summer and transformed himself in a high schooler, worthy of being recruited by the great Dean Smith to attend UNC.

            He came into the NBA, principally known for being a great dunker and quickly evolved his game to become an all-around great player, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. He was known as a player who never turned it off. While some star players were notoriously known as slackers during practice, Jordan only knew one speed: full throttle. It was that drive that vaulted him to the top of his profession in warp speed.

            Yet, here is my contention with Jordan from an Evangelical worldview. Remember, to whom much is given, much is required. You can’t be only willing to accept the benefits without equally accepting the r/a. Courageous individuals like Muhammad Ali understood that principle. Ali forsook his heavyweight championship (even risking a prison sentence) and many of the prime years of his boxing prowess to stand up for a principle he believed in. Tommy Smith and John Carlos understood as they took the Olympic podium with clenched fists at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, knowing their actions likely meant instant banishment from the Games and stripping of their Olympic medals. Jack Johnson understood that as he challenged the racist laws of his time by having the audacity to marry a woman of the wrong skin color while being the boxing heavyweight champion of the world early in the 20th century.

            When Jordan came to his fork (we all come to our own fork in the road at some point and time) in the road. He did not go the left or right, he did not remain fixated in place. No, he chose the most cowardly thing possible, he turned and ran. When Michael Jordan had an opportunity to use his platform for a good not primarily beneficial to him and his brand he made the now infamous statement, “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

            Some of you will not readily have any awareness of the context and historical significance of that sad event in African American (A-A) history. Harvey Gantt, a A-A Democratic candidate for Senator in North Carolina was running against the Repubican incumbent, Jesse Helm in 1990. Let us make no mistake race is always lurking in the background and in this case cannot be avoided. You see, Jesse Helms was a known racist of long standing. Gantt understood the significance of what a Michael Jordan endorsement would mean. While we can never be certain of counterfactuals (relating to or expressing what has not happened or is not the case) I believe it is still safe to posit Jordan would have galvanized interest from pockets of the electorate who would be inspired to get involved based solely on Jordan’s endorsement.

            Yet, when Jordan had an opportunity to endorse Gantt he chose to protect his brand than providing pblic support for Gantt. It is vitally important I readily one concede one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy as citizens of America is our liberty. We are not compelled to vote; we are not compelled to get registered for the census. It is our right to not get involved as irresponsible as such a choice might or might not be in the eyes of many in society.

            So, I am not begrudging Jordan’s decision to not endorse Gantt. I am begrudging Jordan’s why. There is no gallantry in looking out for number #1. No one aspires to be remembered as one who is concerned with me, myself and I. The Evangelicals worldview posits God must always come first, then others second and self is to be willingly placed last. That does not mean there is never any reasonable situation where self-interest comes into view but as much as depends upon us we always give way to others when it is proper to do so. I hope that to be an assertion that need not be defended. If it , in fact, needs to be defended then I am addressing the wrong audience as my primary audience are Evangelicals who are expected to be thinking from a Biblically informed worldview.

            I was extremely disappointed when I engaged some of my friends in dialogue as to merits or demerits of Jordan’s action. I was surprised (alarmed is a better term) to hear the general feedback was Jordan should have not been pressured to do what he was not comfortable doing. If this is not some of the biggest bull crap I have heard in a long while I do not know what is. When people acknowledge such sentiments, they are really revealing that is just how they would act given the same circumstances. I would hope, given the same exact circumstances, I would choose 100 times out of a 100 to do what was good for the greater good, even as it cost me personally.

            Leadership is never based on doing what is easy. Practically anything we do for the first time will be met with the challenge of tackling our fears, with meeting obstacles and finding the resolve to overcome. Name one task that was difficult that you were able to topple that did not have slips and falls along the way. Courage does nott take place without facing the adversary or the adversity head-on. There can be no courage, except for the possibility of peace being threatened. Courage is not hypothetical or abstract, it is borne out interacting with the real crucibles of life, up-close and personal.

            I am still enduring slips and falls all along my journey, aren’t you? Whether it is my marriage, my friendships or my career events. All of life is one challenge after another. I have been married for 32 years and not all of those years have been a big howdy-doo but my wife and I are committed for the long haul, knowing full well there will always be struggles and believe me: it is not always comfortable or delightful but like many other couples we keep pressing on. Never perfectly, but by God’s grace we do so consistency. You know, for better or worse. That thing we pledged in front of the preacher and all of our family and friends way back on August 27, 1988.

            Jordan responded to that controversy about his Republican remarks during the documentary and I thought he response only made the situation worse, not better. He said he was only joking (give me a break). We all know virtually every “joke” is laden with gobs of truth mixed within. Then, he went on to reveal his made a private donation to the Gantt campaign as if that made things all well.

I believed that made things even worse. I believe that would akin to an Evangelical declaring he would NOT desire to be identified with Jesus Christ (for whatever reason) and then disclose to certain people in his inner circles he was going to provide financial support to the cause of Christ, but it must be done on the down low.

            In war we laud the soldiers who sacrifices themself by being jumping on the grenade, not the soldiers who goes AWOL to Canada when the bullets start flying. We applaud the firefighters who run headlong into the building, not the firefighters who refuse to answer the bell when the alarm blares. We mightily respect the wife who stays when it gets tough in spite of her husband failing in his duty to provide and protect and we similarly applaud the husband who endures to the end all the while from the human perspective he is being dealt a bad hand.

            It is more distressing that some twenty-five years later it would seem that Jordan has not seemed to take advantage of time to reflect upon his lack of conviction. I readily grant none of us are perfect and we have all said things due to a lack of perspective and insight gained from time. One of my friends even interjected as a defense “Jordan was young then.” Well, Jordan is some twenty-five years older and not much has seemed to change.

            All of us, redeemed saints destined for eternity and unrepentant sinners bound for hellfire, are accountable for the stewardship God has entrusted to us. Some will be entrusted with ten talents, others with five and still others will receive only one. Upon Christ’s return the unrepentance sinner will absolutely and completely lose all that was entrusted to him. The redeemed saint will have a legitimate opportunity to increase his lot. He will only do so because he was willing to take risks, to endure trials and tribulations, to persevere, to endure, to overcome to the end.

            None of these positive virtues will be easy to achieve. Nothing that is great and noble will ever be. Thankfully, Evangelicals, we are not expected to overcome through our own strength. We have the promise of the God, the Holy Spirit to indwell us. Additionally, we have God, the son, Jesus Christ who ever lives to make intercession for us, sitting at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 7:25).

            As a quick aside, I encourage all who can to walk, jog or run 2.23 mile, tomorrow, May 8th, in support of Ahmaud Arbery who was senselessly killed in Georgia for the act of running while Black. If we are not willing to stand for something, we will eventually fall for anything.

            Silence, in this case, IS consent. So please do not be or remain silent.

Let me know what you think but until then Keep Your Hands to the Plow and Seek to Serve for an Audience of One!

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