Guest Post - Jim Denison
How to defend Christianity when Christians fail: Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams loses NBA finals, models strength and humility
A top US Catholic Church official has resigned after cell phone data was used to track him on Grindr, a queer dating app, and to gay bars. Twelve women filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Liberty University, accusing the school of a pattern of mishandling cases of sexual assault and harassment.
And a Southern Baptist megachurch in Florida was “shocked and devastated” to learn that a former campus pastor was recently arrested for allegedly grooming and sexually assaulting a young girl from the age of twelve until she turned seventeen.
“You do not have, because you do not ask”
When Christians make the news for all the wrong reasons, how should we respond to our critics and the larger culture? Let’s consider three facts and then focus on a powerful personal strategy.
One: Christianity never promises that Christians will be perfect.
Scripture warns, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Across God’s word and human history, it is difficult to find a great person of faith who did not also struggle with personal failure and weakness. It is unfair to blame a religion for breaking a promise it never made.
Two: Conversely, God holds his children to a much higher standard than our fallen culture.
Those who place their faith in Christ as Lord are “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s word exhorts God’s people: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Our culture has a right to expect us to do all we can to live by these standards.
Three: God gives us the strength to live by his standards, but we must seek his help.
The Bible laments, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). The key to sanctification is being so “poor in spirit” that we recognize how much we need what only God can do in our lives (Matthew 5:3). When we refuse to seek God’s strength, forgiveness, and sanctifying power, it is not God’s fault when we fail.
As important as these facts are, however, our most persuasive response to the sins of Christians is to live in a way that glorifies our Lord. To that end, consider this remarkable story.
“You guys made me a better coach”
Much of the sports world’s attention is focused these days on the Milwaukee Bucks and their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo after they won the NBA Championship Tuesday night. However, I’m interested today in the losing team’s coach as well.
I wrote about Monty Williams a few days ago after learning about his remarkable faith in the face of horrific adversity. After a driver on methamphetamines crashed into his wife’s car and killed her, Williams said at her funeral, “Everybody is praying for me and my family, which is right. But let us not forget that there were two people in this situation. And that family needs prayer as well. And we have no ill will toward that family.”
Now Coach Williams is making news again as he responds to his team’s loss in the NBA Finals. Speaking to reporters after Tuesday night’s game, he choked up and said, “I think it’s going to take me a minute. I just don’t take it for granted. It’s hard to get here, and I wanted it so bad, you know? It’s hard to process right now.”
Despite the pain of the loss, however, Williams stopped by the Bucks’ locker room to congratulate Antetokounmpo and the rest of his team. Putting his arm around Giannis, he said, “I just wanted to come and congratulate you guys like a man and a coach. You guys deserved it, and I’m thankful for the experience. You guys made me a better coach. You guys made us a better team.”
Why strength and humility need each other
Here we see displayed the two sides of godliness: strength of character and humility that celebrates the strengths of others.
Many in our secular culture caricature Christians as weak. Friedrich Nietzsche warned that faith in God would keep us from becoming the “overcomers” we could and should be. Karl Marx taught that religion is the “opiate” of the masses subjugating them to their masters. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” is the way many people see our Savior.
But those who know him know better.
The One who could fast for forty days in the wilderness, who drove the moneychangers from the temple and withstood days of torture to die in triumphant faith, was a man of remarkable strength. At the same time, Jesus was so humble that he ate with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10).
The two actually enable each other. Our highest strength comes from our omnipotent Lord, but he can give only to those who humble themselves enough to admit that they need what he alone can provide. Conversely, the more we experience the strength and power of our God, the less we need to prove ourselves to others (and ourselves), and the more we can be humble with all.
The lesson of the trapeze artist
Monty Williams is proof: The more we trust God in humility, the more we experience his strength. And the more we experience his strength, the more we will learn to trust him.
In his daily devotional, Max Lucado offers this observation: “In one of Henri Nouwen’s books, he tells about the lesson of trust he learned from a great trapeze artist. The acrobat said, ‘The flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. I have simply to reach out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron.’ The flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.”
Lucado continues: “In the great trapeze act of salvation, God is the catcher, and we are the flyers. We trust. Period. We rely solely upon God’s ability to catch us. As we do trust him, a wonderful thing happens: we fly! Your Father has never dropped anyone. He will not drop you. His grip is sturdy, and his hands are open. Place yourself entirely in his care. As you do, you will find it is possible—yes, possible—to be anxious for nothing.”
Why do you need to trust your Father’s strength with humility today?