The Worst (and most popular) Basketball Player in the World

Here’s an illustration I’d like to spin today.. it’s a bit unusual, but stay with me.  There once was a basketball player (Who we’ll call Kenny).  Kenny had every trait you would want in an elite-level basketball player; He was fast, could shoot, handled the ball well, and could jump “out of the gym.”  But when Kenny took the floor for his first professional game, well, something odd happened.

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Kenny didn’t dribble, he simply ran as fast as he could with the ball, knocking over several defenders as he unleashed an epic dunk.  The entire auditorium was silent, except for the sound of whistles indicating his violations (and flagrant fouls).  After a moment, the fans went absolutely wild. It was shocking, it was unexpected, it was athletic.. they had never seen such a thing.  Both coaches were shocked, and the officials were bewildered that such an odd thing had taken place. The other team was awarded the ball, and quickly scored.  As Kenny’s team received the ball again, there was a sense of tension as the ball was passed to Kenny. As soon as Kenny had the ball, he did it AGAIN! Full speed, monstrous dunk, raucous cheers from the crowd.  Before the officials could repsond, the opposing team inbounded the ball, ran the length of the court like Kenny, and dunked too.  Now the crowd was delirious, and the officials could only blow whistles and try to tell the coaches that this game would be declared a forfeit.  This mattered little to both teams now, who had completely jettisoned the rules and were now actually tackling each other as they ran full-court to dunk again.

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There were the obligatory meetings of the referees, coaches, and league officials. They were in complete agreement that what had happened was both bizarre and unacceptable.  The problem?  The players preferred this new style of play, and the fans couldn’t get enough of it.  It was “new”, “fresh”, and “exciting”!  Not only was it shown repeatedly on ESPN, but it was impossible to turn on any TV station without seeing the clip.

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The next scheduled game played out the same way. Tip off, player taking the ball the length of the court and attempting to dunk before he was absolutely leveled by an unknown player.  The crowd went crazy, and the media were quick to jump on this unknown player; who as it turns out, was 24 year old Brent Bednarik, who had never played basketball before that game, but had played middle linebacker for The University of Indiana.  This set off an avalanche of trades and new signings.  Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks hired former NFL head coach John Gruden, “effective immediately.”  “I think John is just what we need”, said Cuban. “The league has changed and we have to change with it. We need a new skillset and the old school basketball coaches just aren’t cutting it. John brings with him a great defensive coordinator which will allow us to be the hardest hitting team in the NBA! The fans are gonna love it!”

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And for the remainder of the season, the game got more physical. The hits were bigger. Teams found that they needed bigger runners and that their former All-Stars weren’t built for this new brand of basketball.  The referees? They blew whistles frantically, calling every foul as it happened.. but in time, the crowd didn’t even notice the whistles, which had become nothing more than background noise.  The league responded as best it could, but ultimately gave in as ratings, attendance, and sales skyrocketed to unimaginable levels.  New stadiums were constructed in nearly every city to house the overflow crowds. New television deals were made with stations dedicated to 24/7 broadcasts of this “new basketball.”

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Kenny became a legend, and was soon everywhere on TV and making hundreds of millions of dollars from book deals, and from sponsors. A shoe company has ensured that every kid in American now dares to “Innovate Your Game!”

In an interview, Kenny shared the genius that started this global juggernaut:  “You know, basketball was just getting boring to me.  Same old same old. Man, i’d been playing the game the same way since I was a kid.. but I thought, Hey, people like dunks, so I’m just going to go for it.. and i’m fast without dribbling, so, you know…”  When asked about ongoing protests from the NBA Referee’s Union, Kenny responded “I don’t know, man. I mean, nobody comes to see those guys blow their whistles,  you know? The fans love it, we love it.. they just need to change. I don’t mean to hate, but those guys are straight up haters. They just judge everybody. I know they say ‘that ain’t basketball’, ‘it ain’t what Michael Jordan or some other old dude did’. Whatever, court, players, ball. Man, I play for the Lakers, how are you going to tell me that’s not basketball? The fans love this basketball!”

And, the game continued. It was wildly popular and it was…. what? Basketball?

That story may seem a bit long, but I think it encapsulates nearly everything that has led us to where we find ourselves in American evangelicalism in 2013.

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1. American evangelicalism has spun out of control because it’s become SUBJECTIVE instead of OBJECTIVE.  The point where Kenny decided to just listen to his heart and what it lead him to do, he got away from actual basketball pretty quickly! It’s based nearly entirely on what we feel. Some sort of cloudy view of a “Jesus” who we talk about hugging, holding, talking to our hearts, “feeling” leading us… instead of a real, defined, historic event which happened in history (that whole “under Pontius Pilate” thing in the creeds? Yeah, it actually happened.)  We teach our kids to listen to their hearts and that still small voice instead of teaching them the actual tenants of the faith. No longer seeing a need to catechise, we’re just happy that kids have a big warm felling and “love” Jesus.  But what “Jesus” is that? The historical Jesus who came to earth to be crucified under Pontius Pilate to save us from the impending wrath of God?  Seriously, when was the last time your kids heard that truth? God has NOT given us a subjective faith, but an objective, historical faith.

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2. American evangelicalism has spun out of control because it’s PRAGMATIC.  I believe most American evangelicals swallow the poison of pragmatism because it fits so perfectly with the “American Dream” that we are sold on every day through TV, Movies, and Music.  In a nutshell, something is true and has value if it works.  If it meets the goal.  Kenny’s “New Basketball” was, pragmatically speaking, a huge success.  Giant arenas were packed with fans, players enjoyed the new game, huge TV contracts were signed. What more could you want?  Never mind that it had, by definition, become something completely OTHER than basketball, they kept the language and kept right on going. The requirement of a Pastor is no longer the biblical requirement to preach the WORD, and administer the sacrements. No, like Mark Cuban in the example above, we’ve changed what we’re looking for in a preacher on our new requirements. He’s got to be funny, presentable, inspiring, be business and leadership savvy (which means he attended the seminar of the latest fad-leadership guru) and a great speaker. Throw in a book deal and you’ve got you “John Gruden”. How do you know if he’s successful, by how faithfully he exegetes scripture or the quality of disciples? No, by the size of his arena, the number of fans, and the TV deal.  Sound familiar?

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3. American evangelicalism has spun out of control because of it’s obsession with RELEVANCE.  The NBA has a great history and a great parade of great players throughout the ages. The sublime beauty of a George Gervin finger roll,  the precision of a Larry Bird three-pointer, or the finesse of Magin Johnson running the floor are all lost if we subjectively, pragmatically change the rules. Once we see the rules as changeable based upon our redefinition of the game, those guys aren’t admirable, they’re “old school”, “boring”, “dead”.   No longer judging the success of a church by the biblical standard of preaching the scriptures, from the bible, in context, we judge the success of a church by size, “relevance” (whatever that means), national exposure, and innovation.  Ask yourself an honest question, who is more successful, Joel Osteen or Brent Kuhlman?  According to American evangelism, it would have to be Joel Osteen. I mean, Brent who? Brent Kuhlman pastors Trinity Lutheran Church in Murdock, Nebraska (population 235).  Treat yourself to one of Pastor Kuhlman’s sermons online and ask yourself who is handling God’s word properly.

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This article is already long past the “recommended” word count for successful (pragmatism rears it’s head again!) blogging. But these concepts are important. If you don’t understand the subtle deception *ingrained* in our sinful nature, you won’t see the slight change in course of your faith until you are in a mega-arena, built by pragmatism, cheering on something called basketball which Larry Bird and Dr. J wouldn’t even recognize.  (And they’d probably just be the “old guys hatin’ on everybody” in the new league anyway.)

In this example the league caved in to the style, the new direction.  God? Never.  We have been given a faith “once for all delivered to the saints”.  While we may ignore the blowing whistles, when the game ends we don’t get the game ball if we’ve made our own game out of what we were delivered.

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To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

(Jude 1:1-4 ESV)

So how do you know the real from the fake?  Easy, the real is, well, simple:

1. You are born in sin and an object of God’s wrath.

2. Jesus came in the flesh and lived a sinless life and atoning death to satisfy God’s wrath.

3. Those who repent of their sin and believe in Christ’s atoning work for the forgiveness of sin will be saved.

4. We are called to receive the sacrements of communion, baptism, and preaching of the word in the same passive manner we were made righteous.

The hammer of the law and the balm of the gospel.  If what you are hearing each Sunday isn’t THAT, then you’ve got an arena, a ball, and a court.. you’ve got a coach and a crowd, but the whistles are blowing “Foul!”.  Call it basketball, call it “church”, but it’s something entirely different. “It is what it is, but church it ain’t.”  Instead, the overwhelming majority of American evangelicalism has created it’s own gospel;

1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

2. Become a Christ Follower and discover that purpose.

3. God’s plan is bigger than your plan! Dream audaciously!

4. Begin to; Believe, Speak, and Step out in faith to “birth” this dream that God has for your life.

No wrath, no repentance, no atonement. In short, you don’t need a bloody cross for that; that’s nothing more than subjective, pragmatic, narcissism.  And look around, it sells! (which, according to pragmatism, makes it both true and successful, right?)

Keep your eyes, ears, and minds alert. Listen for the subtle perversions.  Listen to your preacher, does he sound like a man proclaiming a historic fact (news anchor) or does he sound like someone trying to sell you his pragmatic vision (sham-wow-guy)?  What would our brothers and sisters in the early church have thought of “God has a wonderful purpose for your life” mantra as they were fed to lions?  Does your “best life now” sound anything like the earthly ministry of Jesus? Or, are they simply using “church language” to sell the American dream? Kenny continued to use “basketball terms” and call it basketball long after it had been replaced with a different game. All the “new” players would tell you they love basketball and play basketball, but look at what they are doing and promoting. Is it, in fact basketball?!?!?

Think about it.


Physician misdiagnoses dying patients, patients say “He’s great!”

A well known physician recently misdiagnosed hundreds (perhaps thousands) of those under his care over the last several years.  Each of the patients suffer from a disease which is fatal in 100% of cases without prescription of a well known and 100% effective treatment.  And yet the Doctor is completely unapologetic and his patients fawn over him.  His practice is bursting at the seams and he is writing books and lecturing other physicians on his methodology.  Relatively few of his patients seek the proper disgnosis and treatment, even after being informed of their predicament.

How do you feel about that physician? How negligent is he? Is he qualified to treat patients? Is he responsible for their death?

The physician reported that he’s “not really into medical terms, and doesn’t want to weigh his patients down with treatment theories and talk about illness.”   “People know that they’re sick, they don’t need me telling them what’s wrong with them.  I just try to love on them and help them see the best in themselves.  If they’re trying to feel better and get healthy, I think that’s really what’s important in the end.  My patients have told me, and I believe them, that they know they’re sick and have made a decision to get well, so they’re just beginning their wellness journey by living each day trying to be as healthy as they can. It’s not really my place to say one treatment is better than the other, I’m just not into that. I prefer to just love on my patients and encourage them to get better.”

Wait, what? No, “Doctor”, they’re dying from their affliction. Every single one of them. And instead of telling them what the medical journals clearly state, and showing them the 100% effective treatment for their malady, you’re coddling them into the grave.  You’re a lunatic and their blood is on your hands. Any judge would certainly find you guilty of your negligence.

What if I told you the malady was sin, that all men are guilty before God, and that the only remedy is to understand the gravity of that malady, repent and believe on Christ.  Any other diagnosis, any other ‘treatment’, no matter how you ‘feel’ about it, is fatal.  There are no exceptions here.


The ‘disease’ (sin) is well described in scripture:

1. Sin isn’t only something you do it’s a state of being. You aren’t a sinner because you sin, you sin because you are a sinner.  Whether you believe you are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) or you believe that we are condemned only by acts of sin is irrelevant in light of  Romans 3:23

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
(Romans 3:22-23 ESV)

2. 100% of humanity (yes, that includes you) are condemned by sin. That’s the malady, the illness, the disease, the curse. You have tested SIN-positive. Scripture is clear on that.


100% fatal:

1. Everyone is sinful both by nature and by action (Romans 3:23), so what’s the prognosis, Doctor?

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

(Romans 5:12 ESV)

For the wages of sin is death
(Romans 6:23 ESV)

That’s as serious as serious gets. You’ve tested SIN-positive. No doubt about it. And, you’re going to die. But it’s far worse than even that; Your sin isn’t simply an illness, it’s an affront, a challenge, a rebellion against a just and holy God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  Ephesians 5:6


The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… Romans 1:18

How do we get this wrong?

1. Presenting sin as “making mistakes” or “falling short of God’s best for you”.  Let me put this as bluntly as I can. That type of preaching is cowardice.  It’s born out of fear that we’ll offend people by telling them they stand under the just wrath of God.  Sin is far, far more serious that “missing out on God’s best for your life.”  What drivel. That’s like saying terminal cancer is missing out on trips to Disney World.  You’re guilty, and that guilt will result in God’s wrath being poured out on you.  I know, that message isn’t popular or PC. It’s so “old school”.  But it’s the only message we’ve been given.  To water this down is to misdiagnose the illness and send people on their way without feeling the weight of their condemnation.

2. By presenting sin simply as “things we do wrong” that we need to stop doing.  This is pure law, and it focuses us on our own behaviors.  Sin isn’t something I just “do”, it’s something I am, it’s in every fibre of my being.  I need a rebirth, not a remodel.  By confusing this message, we saddle people with “do better” instead of repentance.

The Treatment:

(Please understand that I’m not flippantly labeling Christ as a “treatment”, I’m simply using an illustration here. I also understand that the limitations of this analogy could be viewed as Pelagian. That is not my intent. The bible clearly states that regeneration precedes faith; that God opens our eyes to the nature of our sin and His holiness, which allows us to respond in faith.)

To “get well” you must first admit that you are sick and in need of a physician.  No amount of positive thinking, or “living well” is going to solve your fatal disease.  You are saved by treatment.  While we are clearly called to have faith, it is not our faith which saves us.  Faith in your faith is not the same as faith in Christ.  We are saved by Christ through faith.  It is Christ who saves, not our faith.

1. Repentance and Faith:

Repentance is more than just “changing directions”, it’s more than just “feeling bad” that you’ve sinned. In Acts 2, after Peter blasts the crowd with a clear presentation of the gospel, and their sin, they respond.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 2:37-38 ESV)

Note that they were first brought low with the weight of their sin. They got it.  They were “cut to the heart”. Peter then told them to repent.  While being “cut to the heart” and understanding their sin was crucial, it was not in itself, repentance.

I love how John Piper handles this:

“Repentance is not just regret. They had already been cut to the heart (v. 3). And now Peter says, “Repent!” So repentance is more than feeling sorry. It means following through on that conviction and turning around—changing your mind and your heart so that you are no longer at odds with God but in sync with God. Jesus spoke to Paul in Acts 26:18 about this “turning” that leads to forgiveness and gave Paul his commission with these words, “I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” There it is. That is repentance: turning from darkness to light and from Satan to God. It is a reversal of the direction of your life—toward God.”

In other words, “Repentance means first of all, to acknowledge our sins, to be truly sorry for them. This “godly sorrow” comes from the Holy Spirit convicting us with God’s law.

But the Bible also uses the work of repentance in a broader sense to include faith in Jesus our Savior. This faith is produced by the Holy Spirit, who convinces us through the Gospel that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus, who lived, died and rose again for us.

Put those two concepts together and you have repentance in its fullest sense. (Jesus told His disciples in Luke 24:47 that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations.)

According to the Bible, those who are truly sorry for their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior also want to turn away from their sins, intending with the help of the Holy Spirit not to keep on living a life of sin. If we want to keep on sinning, we need to ask ourselves if we have really repented. However, we are weak human beings and although we do not want to commit the same sins again and again, we may sometimes fall into sin out of weakness.

Whenever we sin, we know (as John says) that “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins” for the sake of Jesus our Savior (1 John 1:9). If repentance becomes a “game” with God and we don’t really want or intend to stop committing a certain sin (say stealing), and we go on stealing, living always in that sin of stealing, then we place ourselves in grave spiritual danger. We need to ask that God the Holy Spirit to give us the power to stop committing that sin and trust Him to help us fight against it.

Worldly sorrow is the kind of sorrow Judas Iscariot had, which caused him to commit suicide. It was a self-centered remorse and despair that wrongly concluded that all was lost in this life, that there was no hope, that there was nothing God could do. Second Cor. 7:10 says that this kind of sorrow brings death. But godly sorrow is true sorrow over sin accompanied by trust in Jesus for forgiveness. This is the kind of sorrow Peter had after he denied Jesus, and King David had after he committed adultery and murder (Psalm 51). Godly sorrow leads to life and salvation, because it includes faith in Jesus Christ.

As you can see, the Bible clearly states the diagnosis (sin), the extent (complete), the prognosis (100% fatality), and the treatment (repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ).  To loop back to the medical analogy we used earlier, if your “Doctor” misses these steps, he’s guilty of malpractice.  I don’t care how big your megachurch is, how well he speaks, how many books he’s written, how awesome the music and kids programs are, if you didn’t hear the categories of sin, repentance, and faith in Christ through the gospel, you got something else.

You likely heard the purpose-driven gospel which states the problem as: “Missing out on the great plan God has for your life.”

The solution is to: “Make a decision for Christ” and “begin to live out the dream he has for you”.  You’ll hear a great deal about steps you must take, which include “Stepping out in faith”.

The problem?  You can have thousands of people make a decision for a better life, to “birth” the dream god has for them, and to “change the world”…. and not a one of them has been brought to repentance for their sins and trusted Christ’s atoning work for them.

Yes, the smiling, relevant preacher has negligently misdiagnosed the problem, and those people have not come to salvation in Christ.  Call them “decisions for Christ” if you like, but if they haven’t been “cut to the heart” over their sins against God, what are they making their “decision” for? Their better life? Better family? To begin to discover the “greatness inside of them”?  Maybe, who knows, but it’s not the biblical gospel, which is the only gospel which leads to salvation.   God have mercy on the modern church. The impending judgement and wrath of God will be poured out on those who have not repented and believed on Christ and we’re not warning them. Instead, they’re being told that the problem to be solved is not living their “best life now.”  Our hearts should be breaking over this. Pray that people who have “made decisions” in seeker-driven churches come to hear the gospel of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.