“If there’s a God, He’s laughing at us and our football team.” – Ben Folds

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Steph Curry and the Good News

The good news is that Steph Curry knows the Good News. The regular season MVP of the NBA is clear about professing “the Man who died for our sins on the cross.” He has been outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ throughout his career, but he admits he is “not a guy who’s going to be trying to bash people over the head with the Bible. Instead, Curry hopes to live a life of faith across the categories of his life, whether on the court or off, whether winning or losing games. Curry plainly claims, “I know I have a place in Heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that’s something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top.” That kind of foundation of faith is good news indeed, as Curry and his Golden State Warriors have just endured one of the most heartbreaking losses in NBA Finals history at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A foundation of faith like Curry’s has invited a variety of reactions from the sports world. This has been the case for decades, from Eric Lidell (the Olympian who refused to run on Sundays) to Tim Tebow (who was roundly ridiculed for his outward expressions of faith on the field). Sports fandom has been divided on this issue, with one side even praying for healing for Steph Curry amid the physical challenges and limitations that he has had this season. Others have rejected the idea of God’s involvement in sports, such as Aaron Rodgers saying in 2015, “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

Joy and Lament in the NBA Finals

This leads us to the 2016, where occasions for joy and lament abounded in the NBA Finals. The sheer number of grown men crying on the basketball court Sunday night was a sight to behold in itself. And, as LeBron James screamed, “Cleveland! This is for you!” it was clear that the whole spectrum of emotions was on full display at Oracle Arena.

But did God have anything to do with it? Did The Babylon Bee’s fictionalized story of LeBron James praying an imprecatory Psalm against Curry actually work?

First Century Christians clearly believed that Jesus was involved in every part of their lives. In other words, Christians weren’t given the right to follow Christ in one activity and compartmentalize him another. And so Paul professed, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, NIV) And he added, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV). And this is what Curry knows to be true: the eternal prize of Jesus Christ is of far greater worth than any of the trophies and titles that the world has to give. In that sense, Curry is right, as he is reported to have said, that he doesn’t pray to God for whether or not he will win or lose, but that God would use the situation that Steph is in for God’s glory. Now, that is a Biblical understanding of God’s involvement in sports!

The truth is that sports (like any other endeavor in life) is full of both joy and lament. It is a human past-time with the full spectrum of human emotion. You don’t have to look any further than J.R. Smith’s post-Game 7  press conference to see that! And, in that full range of emotion, there is an opportunity for God to use both joy and lament in a liturgy that shapes our souls. Steve Kerr understood this point, as he faced the Warriors after their Game 7 loss.

Kerr said, “You know, we’ve had so many moments of joy together, and it was like, wow, we’re actually having a moment of sorrow as a team. It’s a great reminder that, first of all, it’s not easy to win a championship. But, as I said, it’s life. Things happen. You move on.” And so we say “Congratulations” to Steph Curry, who knows (despite what The Babylon Bee claimed) that he can, in fact “do all things” (Philippians 4:13, NIV) through Christ after having learned the “secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12, NIV).

Everyday Liturgies

Such is the task that faces each of us, as we move on through the liturgies of our everyday lives. Merriam-Webster defines “liturgy” as a “fixed set of ceremonies.” This has typically been used to describe what happens in church. However, in You are What You Love, James K.A. Smith discusses the various liturgies we go through on a daily basis. Smith writes, “The point of looking at culture through a liturgical lens is to jolt us into a new recognition of who we are and where we are. This means we need to read the practices that surround us. We have to learn to exegete the rituals we’re immersed in.” In other words, the events of each day have an opportunity to shape us as human beings and as followers of Jesus Christ. And this opportunity for growth occurs whether we are in joy or lament, whether we have won or lost, and whether God is a Cleveland Cavaliers fan or not.

“Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light is throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.” – Blaise Pascal

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In Psalm, 13 David gives great voice to the difficulty, suffering, and obstacles that tend to come up in this life. In verse 1-2, he asks, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hid Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy by exalted over me?” I am sure that you have asked this question at least once or twice in your life, perhaps in the middle of a difficult period of loss or transition.

Well, this week, W. David O. Taylor announced a project that he is working on with Bono and Eugene Peterson. The project will be a dialogue between Bono and Peterson on some of the sayings in the Psalms that have served as inspiration for Bono and his music with the enormously famous band U2.

Perhaps most popular is the song 40, that Bono and U2 based on the Scripture found in Psalm 40. Apparently, it took the band less than an hour to write this song after turning to Psalm 40 and deciding that this text would be the basis for the song’s lyrics.

Psalm 40:1-3 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”

This Psalm, in addition to Psalm 13, poses the question of trust in the Lord despite the difficult times faced in the life. Peterson, translator of The Message translation of the Bible, views this obedience and trust in the face of difficult as being a cornerstone of Christian discipleship. In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Peterson says, “Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusion. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do.”

It is with this posture and David asks, “How Long?” There  is a confidence to say, as Psalm 13:5-6 does, “I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” In an age of instant gratification and the certainty of difficulty, may we worship Him with this type of obedience, trust, and hope!

“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:

‘Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G.K. Chesterton.’

That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”

–Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (New York: Dutton, 2008), 46.

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Truly the Christian life is a life of yielding in submission to the King of Majesty! It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, and yet the easiest. Remember when Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” in Matthew 11:30? Well, that sounds great doesn’t it!? And it’s true. Only, it is coupled with his instruction in Luke 9:23 to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily. This is discipleship in Christ. It’s a life of decrease. A life that says, with Keller and Chesterton, “I am what is wrong with this world.” But, thanks be to God, who in His great mercy has established a life of decrease for the Christian.

In John 3:27-30, John the Baptist says, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” You see, John understood the nature of this relationship with Christ. His glory grows, as we submit ourselves to him and humble ourselves in the sight of the mighty God (James 4:10).

The irony? Jesus emptied Himself completely when He became human and went to the cross. Philippians 2, called the “kenosis” passage, tells of his complete emptying in order that He might fulfill perfectly the covenant that God had established with Abraham all those years ago. In other words, you can’t out-humble Jesus. The Name Above All names went to death on a cross for us. And when Jesus tells us that must do the same, our faithful response must be that of John the Baptist. Lord, may you increase, as we decrease!