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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

Member of:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Representative of:

Hope College, Holland, MI


A Generation’s Need for Reformation

August 29, 2012

Seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong was recently stripped of his medals and issued a lifetime ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after declining to enter arbitration amid ongoing allegations of doping. The legendary cyclist said, "I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today - finished with this nonsense." I have no insider information as to his supposed guilt or innocence, no fly on the wall scoop to share. But, while I don't condone cheating, I frankly could care less about Armstrong's ban. I am similarly unimpressed with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's burgeoning relationship, who will be the next "American Idol" judge, whether the NFL's replacement referees will get all of the calls right this season, or if the respective comeback runs of Roger Clemens and Terrell Owens will be successful. Perhaps I am alone in my optimism, but I tend to think that most celebrities will be okay in the long run. Although their personal lives are obviously not devoid of struggle simply by virtue of their professional stardom, odds are that their fortunes and notoriety will likely see them through. By all means, may God bless their hearts and all of their parts.

Unfortunately, in this country we have an incredibly unhealthy fascination with sports and entertainment. It is true that these societal offerings can provide a much-needed respite from the complicated, frustrating rigors of our daily grind. However, it is nonsensical that we make gods and goddesses, homegrown heroes and heroines of undeserved prominence out of these celebrities.[1] Being compensated millions to play a childhood game like baseball, or to sing or act just isn't in the same ballpark (pun intended) compared to toiling as a physician, educator, military serviceperson, social worker, mechanic, or restaurateur, for example. Hollywood's rapid-fire news reel about who is marrying or divorcing who gets old in pretty short order and athletic commentaries over wins, losses, player-coach conflicts, and contract negotiations at times is mind-numbing. There is no indifferent shoulder hunch here. I straight-up don't care.

The longer I live the less sports and entertainment news holds my attention.

Last week in Camden, New Jersey a 33-year-old mother, Chevonne, decapitated her 2-year-old son, Zahree, and put his severed head in the freezer. She then stabbed herself in the neck, which resulted in her death. Further details are still unfolding, but the 911 call from Chevonne confessing to murdering her son is available, and it is completely gut-wrenching. I have a feeling that it will be etched in my mind now for some time to come, as I have a nephew Zahree's age. He routinely plops down on my lap, indiscriminately shoves a book of children's lore in my face, and says, "Read it. Please, please, please...read it!" Words can't do justice to how my heart began to ache upon hearing this unfathomable, horrifying story.

Today life and death are taken for granted, trivialized on television and in film, not to mention through the Internet and other media formats, so we fail to grasp the moral depths to which we have recessed. Its root is sin, but still we seem to be suffering from some sort of societal post-traumatic stress disorder wherein fantasy is glorified and reality trivialized. We fail to grasp that it takes the manifestation of human nature's worst attributes for a parent to murder their child, with a knife no less. Any coroner or homicide detective will tell you that it takes an inordinate amount of sheer force and rage to strangle, stab, or otherwise end someone's life in such a primitive manner. Yet, to us murder of any kind is commonplace. Drive-by, mass shooting, murder-suicide, serial killer; strangely these are normal occurrences in our land, having become as American as apple pie.

I am no dispensationalist. Despite the success of the Left Behind novellas, I have no clear-cut biblical revelation about what the end times will look and feel like, but this story had me mouthing, "Come, Lord Jesus."[2]

I recognize that maybe ultimately no one (organizations or individuals) could have intervened to the degree of fully protecting Zahree and providing Chevonne the intense, holistic assistance that she needed, but that is all the more reason we should never gloss over tragedy. Reaching people in their darkest moments and offering real faith, hope, and love[3] is the clarion call that ought to occupy our attention and captivate our hearts. The power of God to save us from ourselves, in this life and the next through Jesus, is and shall forever be the best news story going.

Whether to the micro or macro, individual or communal degree, it is very bad when civilizations become desensitized to death, violence, degradation, and poverty. Led astray by their own carnality, to what extent God gives some people over to a "depraved or reprobate mind"[4] I do not exactly know. The details regarding that level of celestial transaction are well above my pay-grade, for which I am grateful. Nonetheless, I do know that God sees everything[5] and isn't at all pleased when we ignore, gloss over, or even politicize the loss of life. The gift of life is too precious for that.

As much as I am practically concerned about and committed to self-preservation (for example, safe driving), I know that my life in not my own. Moreover, I want my life to serve as a conduit - activated by the Spirit's power and intervention - for emotional, spiritual, and physical liberation. This, however, requires the sacrifice of time, money, attention, and only the Lord knows what else. I am still on the journey with God seeking to uncover more of his plan for my life in how to best be used for this important work. While not liberal in the same manner as others might describe themselves, I do have a bleeding heart for those things that most concern God.[6]

Borrowing a page from my Presbyterian friends, we all ought to be "reformed and always reforming," constantly reassessing our faith in order to build upon the past's best practices with a renewed sense of urgency for the present future. You will never understand God, whether you regularly attend church or not, if being a bonafide or pauper's celebrity is your highest aim. The world is such a better place when we earnestly and consistently seek the Lord's best not only for ourselves, but our neighbors and community members.[7] Whether that means adoption or becoming a foster parent, switching careers into unchartered territory, embracing a life-altering relocation, downsizing, serving in a particular volunteer capacity, or otherwise making a significant lifestyle change, I beseech you to extend yourself in some godly way for someone who can give you absolutely nothing in return.[8] In a real sense, this makes you a bearer of the good news and helps to bear witness to God through living, breathing faith confession.

In doing so perhaps you will experience a reformation of your values coming in better alignment with God's, learning that so-called celebrity news shouldn't captivate our time, attention, and hearts. After all it is only sports. It is just entertainment.


[1] Jeremiah 16:20.
[2] Revelation 22:21.
[3] 1 Corinthians 13:13.
[4] Romans 1:28.
[5] Psalm 33:13-15, Hebrews 4:13.
[6] Matthew 25:31-46.
[7] Matthew 6:33.
[8] See Philemon.


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