howardDwight Howard, superstar center/power-forward for the Orlando Magic, lives in a fish bowl, just like every other professional athlete in the world.  His every word, action and deed are scrutinized by media outlets in all of their forms. Howard’s celebrity status presents significant opportunities to boast in the flesh. Many professional athletes use the media for self-glory, self-advertisment and self-promotion. And at times they also use their platform to air grievances and complaints that should remain in the locker room.

Dwight Howard, by his own admission, isn’t like every other athlete. Howard is a confessing believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that what might be acceptable in the professional sports culture isn’t necessarily acceptable for Dwight Howard (or any other professing believer) because Howard, by the very nature of his confession of faith, is living for Another’s glory, not his own.  This is what makes Howard’s public chiding of Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy so disappointing.

Sure, what Howard said may be true, and it wasn’t even the worst kind of public neutering of a coach’s leadership that I’ve ever seen in the media. But were they appropriate? In the Gospel, Howard is called to live by a different standard. Paul reminds us in Titus that God’s sons and daughters should be “submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy to all people” (3:1). Calling out his coaches strategy or leadership publicly certainly appears to be the kind of divisive challenge to authority that works against harmony and a unified purpose in the locker room, to make no mention of the fact that it is disrespectful.

But more significant is the fact that it goes against the Gospel. The disappointment of a snatching a loss out of the jaws of victory would be difficult for any competitor. However, isn’t this the kind of adversity that presents a prime opportunity to hope in the sufficiency of the Gospel for our satisfaction and happiness? When Howard grumbles publicly, he isn’t just grumbling against Coach Van Gundy, he is also grumbling against God’s providential and sovereign purpose in a world where He has numbered the hairs on our heads (and if he cares about His glory in that, certainly He cares about it in basketball!)

But lest I throw Dwight Howard under the bus (and isn’t it easy to criticize those in the public eye while excusing our own similar sins! Oh, the hypocrisy of our hearts!), I’m amazed and how often I fail to remember the mistakes that I have made in my own life in leadership – even in small areas – when I look for reasons to find fault in or scrutinize others in leadership. I loathe others lack of courage to lead boldly, and yet sometimes I am paralyzed by fear of man. I’ve been guilty of speaking the truth of God’s Word on subjects that I tend to ignore in my own life. I challenge men to lead their families well in the Gospel and yet I sometimes abdicate my responsibility to wash my wife with the water of the Word and raise my children in godliness because I’m mired in my own personal sin, struggling to get out, yet drowning in my own self-righteousness rather than simply looking towards Christ’s righteousness in the Gospel. In private conversations I’ve been critical of authorities that I should joyfully submit to simply because they have not chosen to lead in the way that I would.

In reality, I can’t imagine how many inappropriate comments I would make to a listening world if anyone cared enough about what I had to say to stick a microphone in front of my mouth and broadcast my off-the-cuff comments 24/7 to a world full of information junkies, especially if someone were given free access to me in my anger or frustration. I am sure that somewhere, someone in the world would probably be blogging about what a hypocrite I am.

This post isn’t meant to suggest that I think Dwight Howard is a hypocrite. I think it merely highlights the reality that we all live in: Christians are called to live by a different standard because we are living for a different kind of glory. The reality that we have been redeemed and accepted by Jesus Christ is meant to shape everything we say and do, in suffering and success, pleasure and pain, victory and defeat. The beauty of the Gospel is that in it we find forgiveness and grace when we do fail, and at the same time, this same Gospel enables us to think and act differently than we would if we hadn’t been rescued by the grace of Jesus Christ. What God demands, He supplies, which is just another way of saying that the “different standard” to respond in a way that is counter-intuitive to the world is something that we can do, with the help of God.

In this light we understand that Paul’s instruction to us is a good word. Be respectful to those in leadership. Avoid stirring up controversy or divisions. Keep your mouth closed when you want to utter that word that puts a question mark over your leaders competency. Be courteous to everyone and look for opportunities to live for the good of others, even when it means deferring the glory to someone other than ourselves.