Kansas and the NCAA men’s final: Is Christian faith just a crutch?

This question implies that as a Christian you are weak-minded, and need a crutch. A simple counter-argument is provided by three figures in the national sports news: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, and Bill Self. Tebow and Lin you know about from my previous blogs. They are outstanding Christians, in the maelstrom of highly-competitive sports, and clearly not the kind of weak-minded people who would need a crutch.

Bill Self is in the eye of the storm also. As coach of the Kansas Jayhawks college men’s team, he wasn’t sure his team would even make it to the NCAA tournament in 2012, as they lost 4 of 5 starters from last year. But they made it. In their second game of the tournament, against Purdue, they barely escaped with a 63-60 win. Then they made it to the Final Four, which is a big deal.

In one ESPN confab, three wise and experienced commentators said Ohio State would win, because Kansas had over-achieved in this tournament, and was lucky to be in the Final Four. But what do they know? Ohio State led for all but 3 minutes of the entire 40-minute game, and at one stage Kansas was down by 13 points, which is enormous in an important game like this. But the Jayhawks lifted in the second half, and crawled back into the game. In a thrilling final minute, Kansas got up and won 64-62 to make it to the grand final.

All-American Thomas Robinson finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. Last year, he was on the bench, with playing time limited by other Kansas big men. In that same year, he lost his grandmother, his grandfather, and his mother all within three weeks of each other, leaving his sister Jayla an orphan. Returning to Washington, D.C., the 19-year old planned his mother’s funeral and hired a law-firm to assist with his sister’s education expenses. When he returned to play, he inspired the Jayhawk nation on and off the court. And he did that again when they beat Ohio State.

In the grand final, Kansas will play Kentucky, and this will feature a coaching rematch between Bill Self and John Calipari. Calipari was Memphis coach in 2008 when they blew a nine-point lead in an overtime loss to the Jayhawks. Win or lose, Bill Self is the center of national attention again in 2012.

Bill Self is a professing Christian also. He served as coach for Oral Roberts University for several years (his first head-coach position), and turned around their program. That was a risk…..if the program had not turned around, it might have been the end of head-coaching for Self. But God has blessed him. He has a cherry of a job at the University of Kansas, which is a perennial national basketball contender, and one national championship. And he has one of the best win-loss records of any college coach.

And this leads to the question: What is it that made these three prominent national sports figures (Self, Tebow, and Lin) invite Christ into their life? It cannot be argued that they are weak-minded folks who needed a crutch, because these are all strong resilient men who have taken on the risk, stress, and pain (and yes the exhilaration) that comes with US sports at the highest level. No, the need-a-crutch argument just doesn’t hold water.

On the other hand, maybe there is a sense in which these men chose a crutch. Maybe they felt that Christ would provide more of a balanced life, a distinctive morality, and a reason to help others to hope. Maybe they chose a way which can provide personal insights, wisdom, and affirmation (or love) to help them get through the potholes of life. Hmm….makes me wonder why more folks don’t consider the Christian walk?

“And beware lest you say in your mind and heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth [success]. But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth [success], that He may establish His covenant, which He swore to your fathers, as at this day” (Deuteronomy chapter 8, Amplified Bible).

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The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers….

9 comments on “Kansas and the NCAA men’s final: Is Christian faith just a crutch?”

  1. Jack says:

    Ian, I so enjoy reading your thoughts and considering what you have to say.
    One thing that I considered after reading about the “crutch” was its more like a walking stick. When we are hiking or traveling over rough and uneven ground we use a strong stick to help us get through and to support us. No matter how strong I am I will always have times when I need someone or something to help me make it through. Its up to me to decide what that will be. Will I choose the best, Jesus, or something that doesn’t last!

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Jack, your “walking stick” concept is a nice one. As you implied so well, its the arm of the Lord to provide balance when we are moving, and to lean on when we are exhausted from the trials of life. Recall Jesus’ words “Take my yoke upon you and lean on me…..”

  2. Jody says:

    This is such a beautiful insight into the three sports figures. I cannot think of Thomas Robinson’s walk this past year without tears; he had to bury his family members and make arrangment for the care of his sister AND finish his schooling and college basketball career. God certainly walked with him through all of the trials, and with His strength Thomas keeps on. You write so well, Ian. Keep it up. Jody Kawulok, Louisiana in body–Kansas in heart!

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Thanks Jody for your comment. Thomas Robinson’s story made me cry also. I saw a commentator’s writeup this morning that suggested the Jayhawks are starting to believe. I think Robinson’s tragedy and recovery has been a big part of the team’s believing.

  3. Sheila Thompson says:

    Good observations, Ian. You are a deep thinker and you communicate it well. I enjoy reading your blogs.

  4. John Korstad says:

    Thanks Ian. Good thoughts/reflections! 🙂 One small error in 3rd paragraph where Iowa State should be Ohio State:

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Thanks John for pointing this out, I appreciate that.


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