The Prophetic Hope of LeBron James

May 31, 2016

As far as I am concerned, today is the perfect day and all is well in the universe.The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed back to the NBA Finals.Now—if you are not a Cavs fan, don’t like sports, or are not from Northeast Ohio—then, this probably is not something that you are overly excited about. After all, it’s just a game, right?Well, not quite.I would argue that there is a certain amount of sacredness in the saga that is unfolding off of the shores of Lake Erie—undoubtedly due to the return of LeBron James.James’ announcement that he would be “coming home” in the sweltering summer of 2014 is a haunting echo of the narrative observed in the book of Nehemiah. In Western Culture, sports are, like it or not, a “city gate” like that of Nehemiah—structures and institutions that were the portal for human flourishing within the city.Curiously enough, I believe that observing this “LeBron effect” through the lens given by Nehemiah will show us a blueprint of answering how we are to live out God’s purposes in our world.In my own life, I have experienced this “LeBron effect.” I was born and raised my whole life in Northeast Ohio and barring the occasional vacation, never really left the area. As a teenager, my high school guidance counselors would ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”Ohio was never the answer to that question.Ohio (especially Ohio’s cities) was something to “escape.” Years passed, I went to college, got married and moved to the South—which for my disposition, was essentially paradise. Yet, something began to gnaw at my wife and I. While we were perfectly happy in our new life in the South—and doing good things too—we began to hear that things back in Ohio weren’t the greatest. A tug to go back and rebuild the parts of our city that were crumbling began to be something we talked about. And so, after a lot of prayer, thought, and discussion, we made a decision. We would move back to Canton.The very day we left Georgia to return to Ohio, another “decision” was made known as well.The Akron native who, at graduation, had signs at the entrance of his city boasting of being the home and birthplace, made the infamous announcement to “take [his] talents to South Beach.”Likewise, Nehemiah is living with the stability, security, and comfort of Persia while the people of Jerusalem barely eked out an existence. Now—this isn’t meant to demonize Nehemiah—his character was par none and he was faithfully committed to the Lord. His life just happened to be in the closest thing to suburbia in his day and age. His talents were being used well in the proverbial South Beach of Persia.If I am being completely honest, I believe that a bit of the emotional resolve of Nehemiah can be read in LeBron’s own letter announcing his return to Ohio.LeBron writes “I want to give the people [of Northeast Ohio] hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can…I feel my calling [there] goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that responsibility very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more in [Northeast Ohio]. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”Like LeBron, Nehemiah realizes that yes, he could live a meaningful life in Persia… but his life would mean so much more if it were with the people of the city who were struggling.God is the God, who calls His people to relocate into the struggles of others.To Abram, Moses, Jonah, Isaiah, Ruth, Ezra, David, our friend Nehemiah, and even LeBron James, God says “Leave where you’re at… and relocate to live with my people who are struggling.”But it is not LeBron… it’s not even Nehemiah that gives us a theology of relocation. It is Jesus. Jesus, who did not squeamishly help humanity from the safe distance of Heaven… but instead put on skin, and relocated into human suffering. Jesus, who following his resurrection, turns to his disciples as uses his own relocation as the example saying, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”Beyond the scope of basketball, there are a myriad of championships waiting to be won in our cities. We simply need to relocate.
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