Two stories hit the headlines in New Zealand yesterday morning. And they couldn’t have stood in greater contrast.
Story #1. Madonna performs her Rebel Heart Tour at the Vector Arena in Auckland. She wanted to “up the ante” in shock-value. Well, she was successful with that. She chose religion (of all things) for her theme. The show consisted of half-naked nuns, pole dancing, lingerie, priests, and wait for it… last-supper imagery. The crowd goes nuts. We’ll skip the details of the banana act and the overly friendly interaction with a female audience member. Her response to all of this? “I’ve been doing this for 32 years, I can do whatever I want.”
Story #2. The Repentant Runner: Nick Willis goes public on his life-long addiction to porn. For those of you outside of NZ, Nick Willis is one of our star athletes, winning sliver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 1500m. Nick has always been loved by kiwi’s for his dogged determination, friendly smile and humility. Nobody would have guessed this would be an issue in his life. But that’s how porn addiction works. It’s not something you want out in the open. So you keep it hidden. Willis has battled the addiction since he was a teenager. He came to a place where he could hide it no longer. He did that hardest thing a guy could ever do: he opened up about it with his wife. When he saw the hurt that it caused her he made the commitment to change. He’s been porn-free two-and-a-half years now and decided it was time to go public, with his wife right there alongside of him. What was his response to all of this? “Before I focused on how my addiction affected me, but it wasn’t until I realised the affect it had on others, especially my wife that I committed to change.”
I can NEVER remember a time in our country when a sports celebrity (Nick will hate that term) or any celebrity for that matter, went public on something like this. Think about the shame and embarrassment. Think about what people might say. Who would want to do such a thing?
Answer: someone who has tasted of the grace of God.
You see Nick is also a committed Christian. He understands the gospel. The gospel tells us when you pull the lid off anyone’s life what you find isn’t all that pretty (Pandora’s box would be a good analogy). Nick has given us a glimpse of his, and we all find that a little disturbing – partly because we have stuff hidden away as well. The good news of the gospel is God has provided a cure for that. He sent us His Son. He had him pay for our crimes by dying on a cross. Then he raised him up from the dead. For those who align themselves with the Son (by an act of faith and personal trust), their criminology record is erased – past, present and future. And they are given the power to change the way they are. For the first time in their lives they can say ‘no’ to stuff they hate doing. It might have taken Nick a little while to get on top of this one, but by the grace of God, he’s done it (this is not to say there won’t be moments of relapse; the gospel doesn’t promise perfection but progressive transformation).
We’ve seen a lot of “coming-out” of various individuals over the past few years. But this is a coming-out with a difference. And we find it refreshing. When I read Nick’s story, I couldn’t help but think about the story of the Samaritan woman who came to a well looking for water and left having drank from a far more superior well – the water of life. She goes back to her village and says, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!” (John 4:29). You say what’s so startling about that? It is startling because people knew what she did. Her life is strewn with a series of broken relationships, frustrated hopes and unfulfilled desires. She has lived a life of shame. And now that shame has gone. The record has been wiped clean. Her conscience has been cleansed. So there’s nothing she needs to hide – to anyone. She has been set free.
That’s what Jesus can do for us. He did it for Nick Willis and he did it for the Samaritan woman. And he can do it for you. He can also do it for Madonna. That’s my prayer for her – that she would taste of the living water that provides such a deeper and more lasting satisfaction than entertaining worshipping crowds that swoon and scream for her beneath the stage today, but will forget her tomorrow.
Thanks Nick, for being so big-hearted and bold to share something so personal. May God use this for good in the lives of others.