As you all probably know, the Miami Heat are now the NBA champions. LeBron James—one of the most talented players to ever play the game—finally has his first ring after a nine-year career full of “potential,” but never the prize.
A lot of people rooted against the Heat, and for good reason. Two years ago, LeBron James left everyone in the dark about where he was going to play next. He announced a TV special on ESPN called “The Decision,” which was basically nothing more than self-hype and cheesy suspense. Every basketball fan was dying to know where LeBron would be going, and he knew it. He milked his popularity and renown for all it was worth. And then he struck the dagger into Cleveland’s heart on national television by finally announcing that he would be “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” They burned his jersey and their love affair turned into an intense hatred.
As a somewhat impartial viewer, I totally understood his decision from a basketball standpoint. Here he was, a one-man team, leading the Cavaliers to the NBA’s best record. He took them to the finals in 2007, but it was clear that he was not getting the help he needed. LeBron was dominating on the floor, and the rest of his team was basically watching. Even Michael Jordan—the greatest of all time—didn’t win a championship until Scottie Pippen arrived. Kobe couldn’t win without Shaq until Pau Gasol came to L.A.
LeBron’s fall from grace was swift. There’s hardly anything like it to compare to in sports. He went from one of the most respected, touted athletes in the league to the #1 villain. He was booed and mocked regularly. Honestly, it was with good reason. In addition to disrespecting Cleveland, his self-aggrandizing was getting out of hand. This “Welcome Home” party for the Miami Heat was just ridiculous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9BqUBYaHlM. The “Big Three” was basically saying how practice was going to be tough against each other, but winning games was the “easy part.” They boldly proclaimed that they would win “not one, not two, not three…[championships].” Do you know how many great, all-time players have never won ONCE? For them to make it sound easy was a slap in the face of all the past legends.
Their first year together, Miami reached the Finals against a somewhat aging Dallas Mavericks team. Here, I must take a detour!
Miami won the championship in 2006 with Shaq and Dwayne Wade (a rising superstar at the time) at the helm. They had fallen behind 0 games to 2—beaten convincingly in those games—and Dallas did something that was brash, even by Mark Cuban’s (the owner) standards. They already began planning the victory parade, and people knew about it. They had gotten full of themselves and wrote Miami off. You know the rest: Miami won the next four games to take the championship. Dallas was devastated and humiliated.
Now in the 2011 finals, the script had been flipped. Miami was the cocky team, and Dallas was the underdog. Dallas, drawing on the pain and experience of the past 5 years, pulled off the upset and defeated the star-laden Heat team. Sports writers everywhere criticized the Heat and picked apart their flaws. As Dwayne Wade later put it, “so much pain, so much hurt, so much embarrassment.” They were put in their place.
This year, they were different. They didn’t make assumptions about their fate as champions, they simply went out and played every game hard. LeBron let go of both his hate for the media (who blasted him for “The Decision”) and his supreme arrogance…he no longer seemed to hold his nickname, “King James,” as dear. This time, drawing upon the deep well reserves of hurt and failure, the Heat triumphed over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a quick 5 games. Afterward, there was no “told you so,” chest-beating, or defiant superiority. There was relief and sincere gratitude for what they had accomplished.
LeBron admitted that he had to hit “rock bottom” before he could become the player he had to be. This makes perfect sense in light of certain passages of scripture:
James 4:6: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Proverbs 3:34: “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”
Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Proverbs 29:23: “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
Matthew 23:12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
And so on, and so on…
Whether Christian or not, we as moral creatures all intuitively know that pride is wrong. It is offensive for reasons that cannot be easily explained by natural law. But it’s fascinating to see the Bible’s words play out repeatedly in our world today.
This is a very good question that my wife raised after my last entry, and I’m sure I don’t fully understand it yet (does anybody?)…but I’ll take a stab at it for now.
*Disclaimer: When I say “speaks to you,” I’m referring to a literal and direct form of communication. The leading of the Holy Spirit is a separate and complex issue on its own, though I do touch upon it here.
All I can really do—since I’m limited in this kind of experience—is theorize and try to deduce truths from the scriptures and from my coursework. I’m basically using what I’ve read and observed in the Bible and trying to make reasonable assumptions for today. You can also take some of the things I wrote in my previous entry regarding demon deception and flip it around (for instance, God often tells people what they don’t want to hear or do, considering our naturally sinful flesh).
I’m going to try to limit it to three basic conclusions, and you can decide for yourself whether my reasoning is valid:
1. God speaks clearly and decisively.
If you think or feel you might have been told something from God but you’re not sure, then it wasn’t from God…at least by direct authoritative means.
When God speaks to someone on earth, whether personally (as a theophany…never directly in full glory) or through a messenger angel, the recipient of that communication is never left wondering what he or she was told. All we need to do is consult the Bible and we’ll see this demonstrated repeatedly.
A clear demonstration of this is found in 1 Samuel 3 where God is calling Samuel to be a prophet, but Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him from the other room. This shows us two things: 1) God can communicate in an audible voice with actual words; and less importantly, 2) His voice might not be as booming and distinctive as we assume (God doesn’t even need to sound the same every time; it’s not like He has a fixed set of vocal chords or anything…He probably just uses what is most effective in each situation).
Another famous example is when Paul (formerly Saul) met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Acts 9:3-6: “As [Saul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
I think it’s clear that when a communication is truly from God, we are left with more than feelings or urges. We are left with actual words, instructions, warnings, and awe. I like what Greg Koukl (str.org) said on one of his podcasts, and I’ll paraphrase: “If you’re going to say, ‘God told me,’ then you better be prepared to say something that is on the same level of authority as the Bible and God himself.” While it may be tempting, we should never use the phrase “God told me” lightly.
Now, this is not to discount the leading of the Holy Spirit for believers, which is also important and much more frequent. Sometimes, He can lead us strongly with convictions and desires, but this would generally be used for more localized purposes such as the direction of your own life. The Spirit might be leading us on the right path or growing us to become a stronger, more faithful person. To confirm answers to prayer, we will often get support and agreement from godly brothers and sisters who are not as clouded with emotional bias and tunnel vision.
But this does not seem to be the way that God uses people to command others with bold authority. You cannot use the leading of the Holy Spirit and accurately say, “God told me to tell people…” God knows our propensity to misjudge feelings and convictions, so He uses something more concrete when history is on the line.
What about an angel/messenger of God? Well again, there is no uncertainty. When people are approached by angels, they are usually in awe and fear, and again hear direct words.
Luke 2:9-10: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Revelation 22:8: “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.'”
These angelic examples bring us to the next point…
2. If your encounter was definitely supernatural, then consider whether it was truly a messenger of God or a demon.
If we encountered something supernatural, we would know it unmistakably. But is seeing a greater being necessarily a good thing? Is it a messenger of God or of Satan?
Notice how both angels responded to people’s fear and even worship. “Fear not” and “Worship God” were their reactions. They were delivering a message for God, and they did not want to intimidate or impose their superiority over people. They quickly turned away worship because they wanted all glory to go to God, not themselves.
Angels always deliver messages that are consistent with the Bible and further God’s glory, not any individual’s. Often, these messages concern a nation’s repentance or deliverance.
Contrast that with a very probable demonic encounter—one involving Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
To his credit, Muhammad actually suspected that he had been approached by a demon or even had been possessed, but he was given assurances from his wife and uncle that it was from God. This demon, posing as Gabriel, told Muhammad to recite: “In the name of thy Lord who created, Created man from a clot of blood.”
Here we have something that directly contradicts or adds to scripture. That is the first big clue. Nowhere does the Bible say we were created from a clot of blood, but rather from the dust of the ground.
Muhammad was left with great fear instead of being comforted and assured, as with angels. (Demons do not care about our well-being, but want to destroy us.) He also experienced numerous violent seizures when he would receive these visions, further supporting the fact that there was some level of possession going on. In the end, great glory wound up going to Muhammad on this earth as the revered leader of a new religion. Most prophets in the Bible, however, wound up being ridiculed, persecuted, and martyred.
3. Genuine spiritual encounters are rare today, but not impossible.
You may be thinking, “If this stuff is true, then we probably never hear directly from God!”
I would partially agree with that assessment. We still are in communication with Him through prayer and such, but the need for God to speak direct words to us is vastly reduced. The two biggest reasons for this are: 1) The Bible and 2) The Holy Spirit. God’s Word is now complete and we are given the information we need to live our lives according to His will. When a specific leading is needed, the Holy Spirit guides our lives as true believers in the right direction. The Holy Spirit came to us at Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, so functionally speaking, it’s primarily His time on earth now.
That being said, I do believe that God has more in store for us as far as communicating directly. We definitely know of at least two cases in the future when God will speak to people: the two prophets spoken of in Revelation during the Tribulation. They will receive precise instructions on what to preach and warn people about. Again, we see a clear purpose in history for doing so.
Some people—including pastors—claim that God has spoken to them and told them things. I won’t mention names, but certain big-name prophecy guys say this or at least strongly hint at it.
Yes, it’s possible that God can still speak directly to people for a greater purpose. But all it usually takes is one look at the track record of these “prophets” to dismantle their case. If they have proclaimed something in the name of God and have been wrong even ONCE, they are false plain and simple. “The rapture is coming on this date!…oh wait, nevermind, now it’s this date!” Write them off as prophets immediately, though they may still have some valid teachings to offer.
God is never wrong, and neither are His prophets if they have genuinely been chosen for that purpose.