For many basketball fans, two-plus years of cheering against Lebron James have ended. The man who is hailed by many as the greatest basketball player alive today has finally been able to prove to everyone that he really is as great as everyone, including himself, has been saying he is. The self-appointed ‘King James’ finally got his crown two days ago (I’m not really too sure how long ago it was now that I’m in Israel) when he beat my OKC Thunder. But his road to that crown was watched and criticized and mocked every step of the way because of the words that came out of his own mouth.
Now, don’t get me wrong. What Lebron did in these finals was amazing. He dominated every aspect of the game. I’m the biggest Kevin Durant fan around, and not even I would deny that Lebron is the best right now. So, why the fuss? Why is it a huge deal when the best actually wins, when the best is the best? Well…
When Lebron came into the League nine years ago, he did some pretty presumptuous things. He took the nickname ‘King James’ before he had really done anything to warrant such a lofty title. He took #23 for his jersey, reinforcing in our minds that this guy was here to do nothing but prove he was the successor to Michael Jordan’s vacant throne. And so for seven years, his reputation grew. He eventually won back-to-back MVP titles, but he still hadn’t won a championship. He wasn’t King yet.
Two summers ago, Lebron made a move that was supposed to (and eventually did) get him his championship. He announced on television that he was leaving his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to “take his talents to South Beach” and play for the Miami Heat with two other superstar best friends.
Some people hated this because of how he treated Cleveland. Some people hated it because they saw it as an act of cowardice: he chose to team up with one of his biggest competitors rather than beat him on the court. Jordan would never have done that. Some people hated it because on his first day in Miami he promised championships. “Not one, not two, not three…not seven…” Eight championships!? He couldn’t get away with a statement like that. He had to prove it to the world, and the world hung on every mistake, every failure, every chance to point at him and say, “Nooooooo you can’t.”
And he couldn’t for a while. He couldn’t a year ago when he played like a zombie in his first finals appearance with the Heat. He couldn’t as long as he thought, “I’m Lebron James, which means I’m the best, which means you all should realize I’m the best.” He couldn’t until a couple weeks ago, when something finally clicked and he no longer just told everyone he was the best; he showed everyone he was the best.
The ironic thing about all this is that people have always wanted to like Lebron. I had tried. He seems like a likable guy, albeit one who lets his ego get in the way sometimes. No matter how good of a teammate or how good of a scorer Lebron became, we couldn’t like him until he lived up to who he said he was. Now he has, and now I (at least) will be watching him with much less animosity (at least until the Thunder-Heat rematch next spring).
Why do I bring all this up? Well, because I think the Church can relate, and the Church can learn from the hard lessons that Lebron had to learn about performing when the world seems to hate you. One of the biggest criticisms that I hear about the Church from outside the Church is that Christians are hypocrites; Christians don’t always do what Christianity says they should do.
However you feel about that criticism, I think it’s a fair one. When each of us individually fails to live up to Christ’s example, it appears as if the Church is failing to follow Christ. Just as Lebron struggled to fulfill his words, our problem stems from the claims we have made about ourselves. We have labeled ourselves with Christ’s name, so shouldn’t we have to live up to that name? When we say we are Christians, people are going to measure our lives with Christ as the measuring stick.
The Church claims to be a place of hope and healing for the brokenhearted, but sometimes we have been guilty of breaking hearts. It claims to be a place of salvation from judgment, but sometimes we just judge. It claims to be a community of believers in a living God, but so many of us struggle with doubt. It claims to be a changed people who are being led by Jesus to “be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect,” but so many of us are still as imperfect as they come.
With so many incredible claims about who we, the Body of Christ, are supposed to be, we shouldn’t be surprised when the world crosses its arms and says, “Prove it.”
Until Christ returns to earth and establishes his Kingdom, the world is going to be asking us to prove ourselves. But, we are here for now, and we have to be living representations of the kingdom that is coming to earth now.
When the world watches us and asks us to prove ourselves, we can respond two ways. We can look at them in exasperation and say, “But I just told you, I’m a Christian. You have to respect me.” Such is clueless Christianity, the same lack of self-awareness that Lebron showed for so long. The world isn’t going to be impressed by our names or our claims. A skeptical world wants to see results.
Or, when we are asked to prove that the Church, the Body of Christ, is really as great as we say it is, we can grit our teeth and show them. We can show them that we do have a savior who is living inside us and gives us hope and joy, who calms us when we are angry, who comforts us when we are worried. No matter how much we proclaim the Gospel with words, it has to be backed up with actions if the world is going to come to the realization that Christ is the Living Water for which we all thirst.
So, my friends, don’t be so surprised or offended when the world asks us to live up to the claims we have made about ourselves. They are asking for nothing less than the evidence that Christ’s kingdom is coming, and that we are living as citizens of that kingdom here until it comes. If we do live this way, it doesn’t mean everyone will suddenly like us, but we sure are not earning their respect by acting like the old Lebron.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
“And they will know we are Christians by our love.”