A Culture That Cannot Be Cancelled

“Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left, and I have some things that I would like to say.” Coach Jimmy V.

A red flashing cue from a teleprompter saying “30 seconds” couldn’t stop him. 

Overwhelming feelings of sickness and tiredness couldn’t stop him either.

Not even a terminal cancer diagnosis could cancel out what now stands as the most moving 10 minutes in ESPN’s storied 42-year history.

On March 4, 1993, Jim Valvano gave a powerful speech at the first Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award ceremony, commonly called the ESPYs. Valvano was a successful men’s college basketball coach, who in 1983 led his North Carolina State University team to a Cinderella story victory over the University of Houston. Valvano was announced as the winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for an individual who “possesses strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter the cost” (Arthur Ashe Award). Only nine months earlier, Valvano was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma glandular cancer, which would eventually spread to his bones. To even make it up the few stage steps to accept the award, he needed the help of a colleague. His weakened physical condition and a flashing cue from the teleprompter saying “30 seconds” didn’t stop Valvano from giving what is now known as one of the most powerful ESPYs speeches of all time. Valvano announced to the audience, “I’m going to speak longer than anybody else has spoken tonight.” – John Milliken

When it comes to conversations about faith on America’s grand stage, I cannot help but recall that blinking red teleprompter light at the ESPYs.  

Looking back to my parent’s generation, the culture begrudgingly tolerated a light spattering of spiritual talk in public. If we were to borrow that same picture of a teleprompter’s blinking red light, references to “God” or “The Good Lord” in polite company would trigger it. The message was courteous but clear: some things are best left unsaid.

Next up was my generation. For someone to call Jesus by Name in a TV interview for instance, or to quote Bible verses in an open forum, almost felt like a blinking red Exit sign got activated, at which time TV cameras would predictably cut away, as if on cue. Commercial breaks tended to perfectly coincide with personal Christian testimonies. The message was less courteous than before but remained clear: you’re fine to voice your personal convictions, but not on our dime.

As for the culture of today, it has become drastically different, unrecognizably so in fact. It’s hard to fathom how a people once committed to the free flow of ideas, including religious ones, suddenly squelch whatever is deemed contrary to progressive thought. Not only are beliefs banned from being aired, the one believing them is banned. Long gone are the good ole days of 30 seconds to wrap up, or it’s time to exit this conversation quickly. Instead, the red teleprompter light now demands DO NOT SPEAK OR THINK YOUR VIEWS ON PENALTY OF BEING CANCELLED.

At least in Monopoly the guilty are granted one get out of jail free card. No such immunity exists for followers of Jesus expressing contrary opinions. We’re told: Go directly to jail! Do not pass go! Do not collect $200!

So what does a disciple of Christ do in the midst of a cancel culture? I suggest you grab the nearest copy of the Book of Acts and start studying it. If you turn to any of its 26 chapters you’ll readily identify what a Christ-consumed community looks like that no culture could cancel out. 

I’ve narrowed down a list to three powerful principles of theirs we need to practice ourselves. They are: Stick to the X’s and O’s; Make No Concessions; and Cede No Ground.

1st – To Establish A Culture That Cannot Be Cancelled, Stick to the X’s and O’s:

“We must devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” – Acts 6:4

Like any coach prepping a team on the cusp of a championship: “Do not deviate from what got you here in the first place. Stick to the fundamentals, the X’s and O’s, that’s what makes us a team!” 

It’s not a stretch to see that exact same principle at work in Acts 6:4. The Apostles left no room for uncertainty regarding the two fundamentals on which their ministry was built. As they stated it: “we must devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 

There’s nothing new about cancel culture. The 1st-century church took more than its fair share of shots from that intent on silencing them. They regularly found themselves in the midst of firefights, with flaming darts of opposition firing off from every side. Yet never once did they abandon the very things that spread their ranks in the first place: prayer and the ministry of the word. They didn’t waiver, and neither should we. 

2nd – To Establish A Culture That Cannot Be Cancelled, Make No Concessions

“And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” – Acts 4:31

Someone recently commented, “the fastest dying denominations are the ones making the most concessions.” It’s absolutely true. To cave on the sharper edges of our faith is to cave on our entire faith. Nobody likes to see a person with strongly held convictions tuck tail and run. We all respect someone who stands firm when it comes to his or her convictions, no matter how sharply we may disagree. Take it from the Boy Scouts, or many mainline American churches who felt small appeasements would ultimately bring about peace. Far from it. Their concessions left nothing more than bankruptcy and complacency in their wakes. No wonder The Apostle Paul advised: “God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power and love and discipline. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” 2nd Timothy 1:7-8 

3rd – To Establish A Culture That Cannot Be Cancelled, Cede No Ground

“They commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them…‘we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” – Acts 4:18-20

The two square feet underneath a believer’s feet are considered sacred ground. Our bodies are temples in which the Spirit resides. Where we go, the Holy Spirit goes. Where we stand, the Holy Spirit stands with us. No distinction, therefore, can be made between secular and sacred. Regardless where a follower of Jesus finds himself or herself, the presence of the Lord is in that place. We, like the earliest Christians, “cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Jimmy Valvano’s daughter, Jamie, remembers her father being gently carried down the steps and back to his seat that March night in 1993. “We didn’t think he’d be able to make it to the award show, he was so sick,” she said. “He didn’t prepare at all. Then he got up and gave the speech he was born to give, poured everything out, left it on the stage.” 

Had Jimmy Valvano failed to take the stage, or had he conceded to the blinking red light trying to cancel him out, think what the sports world would have missed out on. If Christians keep conceding or allowing our witness to be cancelled, think what the world will have missed out on. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not going to happen on my watch. What about yours?

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