Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Metta World Peace, Simon Peter, and Me

Every major professional sport always seems to have its "bad boy" whose career is defined by bad judgment, irresponsible behavior, and flagrant defiance to rules, officials, team and league authorities. For the last little while in the NBA, that "bad boy" has been Ron Artest. In a relative few years, Artest has earned a reputation as being a loose cannon. He's admitted drinking alcohol in the locker room during games. He showed up to practice in a bathrobe. He applied for a job at Best Buy to get an employee discount. He asked for time off because he was tired from promoting a R&B album for a group on his production label. His confrontation with Pat Riley earned him one of many suspensions in his career. Artest is most notorious for his involvement in the brawl that broke out in a Pistons-Pacers game in 2004 when he got into a physical altercation with fans and players. For that incident, he earned a suspension that amounted to 86 games, the longest in NBA history. Off the court, he's been involved in cases of traffic violations (including driving without a license), animal abuse and domestic violence (the latter, for which he served 10 days in jail).

In September of 2011, Artest announced to the world that he had officially changed his name to Metta World Peace. He chose Metta as a first name because it is a Buddhist term that refers to loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, and kindness. Courtney Barnes, who has the unenviable job of being Artest's publicist, said that Ron had been considering the switch for a long time, "but it took many years of research and soul-searching to find a first name that was both personally meaningful and inspirational." Artest said in a statement, "Changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world" (Reference)

But a changed name does not always coincide with a changed nature. On April 22, 2012, with the season winding down and the playoffs on the horizon, Metta World Peace maliciously elbowed James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder, causing Harden to suffer a concussion. When the NBA took action to render a 7-game suspension of Metta World Peace, several news outlets posted the headline, "Artest Suspended Seven Games" (example). When I saw that headline, I thought, "Artest? I thought he changed his name?" And suddenly I thought of another famous example of a changed name and a nature that was slow to change with it. 

When the Apostle Andrew brought his brother to meet Jesus, the Lord said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas (which is translated Peter)." The name Cephas, or Peter, means Rock. Simon was a man whose emotional instability would become notorious through the events recorded in the four Gospels. John MacArthur describes Simon as "brash, vacillating, and undependable. ... he fit James's description of a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Jesus changed Simon's name, it appears, because He wanted the nickname to be a perpetual reminder to him about who he should be. And from that point on, whatever Jesus called him sent a subtle message. If He called him Simon, He was signaling him that he was acting like his old self. If He called Him Rock (Peter), He was commending him for acting the way he ought to be acting." (MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, cited in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 1-11, p.67). 

The Lord Jesus had given Peter a new name, and was at work transforming his nature to match his name. The same could be true of all of us. We who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are called "Christians," which means "like Christ." But often, our behavior and attitude reflects more of what we used to be than we have been called to be. What the world sees in us is often very much "unlike Christ." But the moniker hangs over us, reminding us, sometimes subtly and sometimes severely, of how unchanged we remain, and how desperate we are for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

It is relatively easy to change one's name. It is impossible to change one's nature. Jeremiah 13:23 asks, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" It seems obvious that the answer is "NO!" And the Lord says that if the leopard can change his spots, "Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil." We cannot. But all things are possible with God. Through faith in Christ, our sins are washed away and we are given a new name and a new nature. But the old nature abides, requiring daily and moment-by-moment dying to self. The new nature breaks through in fits and starts, slowly, gradually, over a lifetime. But it is God who does the work by His Spirit within those who belong to Christ. 

Metta World Peace seems to be aware that a change is needed. But that change is not possible by paperwork at the courthouse. Metta World Peace is a man who needs Jesus. Without Jesus, he can change his name all he wants to, but he continues to act like the Ron Artest of old. And when Peter's faith falters, he acts like the old Simon. When my faith falters, I act like the guy who lived 20 years ago before I met Jesus. So, the fact is that I need Jesus every day, as Peter and Ron Artest do. I am not yet what I am supposed to be. Thankfully, because of the transforming power of Christ in me, neither am I still what I used to be. But I have within me "the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). This hope assures me that, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3). 

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