Saturday, June 18, 2016

When Steph Curry Threw His Mouthpiece


So I've been watching the NBA Finals even though they're rigged (I figured I'd go ahead and infuriate a few at the beginning of the blog this time). Even if you haven't been watching, you might have heard that Steph Curry, star of the Golden State Warriors and reigning MVP, chucked his mouthpiece at a fan in frustration after fouling out in game 6 in Cleveland. (He wasn't targeting the fan. The guy was an innocent bystander.)

Said Coach Kerr after the game, he was glad Curry got frustrated. Half the fouls were ticky-tack stuff that shouldn't have been called, he said, especially on the MVP. Lebron flopped on that last play, the one where Curry earned his sixth foul. The ref should have known better than to buy it because Lebron is a champion flopper -- or so I've heard. Curry deserved to be frustrated and the coach seemed proud to get that kind of emotion out of his star player.

For Curry's emotional outburst and Kerr calling out the refs, they both got fined $25,000. (That's just pennies for Kerr and Curry compared to your salary and mine -- assuming I don't have many millionaires reading. And if I do, buy a book! Or a thousand of them!)

A friend of mine mentioned he noticed a particular word -- or rather, pair of words -- escape from Curry's mouth when he hinged his mouth guard. It's the first time Curry has fouled-out since 2013 and the first time he's been ejected from a game -- ever.

Curry says he's a Christian. His shoes, marketed by Under Armor, have Bible verse references on them like Philippians 4:13 (because of course that one) and Proverbs 27:17. He's been the subject of various blogs on ministry websites like Christianity Today, Desiring God, and The Gospel Coalition. One of the articles on TGC (there are several) is about The Joy of Adversity.

Yet here we had Curry on national television in a moment of frustration very clearly not showing joy in adversity (neither did his wife, in case you missed that story). His tongue got away from him -- and his mouthpiece, too, apparently. His flesh got the better of him, and he paid for it -- literally.

Surely one incident of a person losing their cool is not enough to make us doubt the genuineness of their faith. But sure enough, there were people who did. I saw several comments on social media, but this one in particular stood out: "Perhaps the Gospel Coalition will think twice before having Steph Curry in another article."

This kind of graceless knee-jerk reaction to human failings should not exist among the body of Christ.

We're not talking about Curry having an affair or hitting his wife or getting pulled over for drunk driving. He lost his cool during a basketball game -- in a high-pressure situation with the title on the line. He was ejected for the first time ever. What I've seen of Curry's character, it's up there with Tim Tebow's. But the moment a situation got the better of him, some were ready to say his example had been tarnished. Really?

Now, maybe the person who made that particular comment really didn't mean it that way. Maybe they thought TGC was that ungracious and wouldn't put Curry in such an admirable piece again. Either way, the comment was still very ungracious.

I can be rather sensitive to the lack of grace between Christian brothers. I once had three young men in my church who asked a lot of questions. Between the three of them, they took more of my time than anyone else in the congregation combined. I thought the reason they wanted to hang around me and ask so many questions was because they wanted to learn.

I was wrong. They were sizing me up. Everything I said or my family did was being picked apart and analyzed. I didn't know it was happening. Eventually everything came to a head and false accusations started flying. I was being accused of saying things I either didn't mean, didn't say, or had said months ago and couldn't remember the context of the comment.

One of them accused me of putting things in sermons directly targeting him, to which I said, "If you're feeling guilty about something, you should probably consider it." Well that just fueled him all the more to believe I was being sneaky and underhanded, using my pulpit to bully rather than teach.

I don't think they were plotting to humiliate me. It wasn't some deliberate ploy. But because of their lack of grace, they thought less of others instead of the best of their brothers and sisters. It affected everyone. They became miserable at church, and others found it miserable to be around them. We had to listen to them, but they refused to listen to anyone else, including the eldership.

We politely encouraged the young men to straighten up or move on, and they chose the latter. All of it was very petty. A friend of mine suggested it might have been the result of some cage stage behavior (for those who know what that means). Still, the experience was so baffling I spent months trying to figure it out. Some of it was wounded pride, like I should have seen it coming. (My wife did, but she's sharp like that.)

About that same time, I was listening to a series by Matt Chandler in which he said the following: "It is a good, godly discipline for you to watch your mind concerning other Christians. If you are meditating on their weaknesses, you are sinning against God and you are sinning against them. It is an evil thing -- it is an evil thing -- for you to be an expert in the weaknesses of your brothers and sisters."

I wish I could say that was an "Ah ha!" moment when I went, "So that's what was wrong with those guys!" Rather, I realized that's what was wrong with me. Why did God give me that experience of being sized up and belittled by those guys? To head off at the pass something that was brewing in my own heart. So that as a pastor, I wouldn't do to members of my congregation what was being done to me.

Chandler went on: "The discipline God has called you to and me to is to be an expert in the strengths of our brothers and sisters... It becomes difficult to disdain the person you see the work of God in." That's the kind of shepherd I want to be: the kind that is an expert in the strengths of my brothers and sisters. The kind that looks at a person and sees Christ and knows how to give them more Christ.

I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of graceless, petty analysis. As I said, it's miserable. That's about the best word to describe it. Praise God he doesn't look at me that way. I'd wither away at the thought. He knows my frame and knows that I am dust. But as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13-14).

Because of his great love for me, I'm covered with the blood of Christ and stand before him justified. Because of the blood of Christ, I am being sanctified and shaped more in his image. God gives me more grace. The more I read his word and the more I see my selfish sinfulness, the more grace he gives. Grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20).

He has taken my record of debt and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). He has blotted out my transgressions, and I have been redeemed (Isaiah 44:22). For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for me. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed my transgression from me (Psalm 103:12).

That's the grace God has shown me. That is the grace I must show to you. That is the grace we must show to one another. If there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), then how can we live as the body of Christ if we're constantly thinking less of one another at a moment's weakness? There's a time and a place and a way to admonish. But when the occasion arises that we must call a brother or sister to correction, even this must be done with love and grace.

Steph Curry threw his mouth guard and probably said a curse word. I've probably done that in less stressful circumstances (okay, minus the mouthpiece). Fortunately, no one was around to hear me say it. My flesh is just as weak. If what I've read about Curry is to be believed, he'll experience God's grace, rejoice in adversity, and be the first to say, "I'm weak, but he is strong."

I'm not going to close by saying you should show the same grace to Steph Curry. I'm pretty sure he'll survive with or without knowing how you feel. Instead, I must urge you to go and show God's grace to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Don't react so quickly the moment a person stumbles. It's likely an opportunity for you to show more grace.

Enjoy game 7 of the finals on Sunday. It's probably rigged. But it should still be fun. (Come on, all sports are rigged to some degree, right?)