Growing In Godliness Blog
A Lesson of Life
By Matt Hennecke
I used to think myself quite the ping-pong player. My skill level was sufficient to decimate most of my family members. My brother-in-law was my only real competition, and though he would deny it, I won many more of our battles than I lost.
My favorite opponent was my young nephew, Andy. He was always ready to play, and played with total, reckless abandon. His skills fell far short of my own. I was a “spin” master. I could put such “English” on the ball that when it landed on Andy’s side of the table it would bounce crazily in an unanticipated direction. I took great glee in running Andy into the half-filled, cardboard boxes lining the basement wall as he dove vainly to return one of my crazy, spinning shots. He’d collapse into the boxes but always came up wanting more. Time and again I laughed uproariously as his contorted body lay sprawled across the boxes after I’d hit one of my spectacular shots.
When I went off to college I enjoyed taking on new opponents and showing them my “stuff.” I honed my skills and relished taking on new opponents who’d never seen ping-pong balls bounce at such weird and awkward angles. I was good – no doubt about it. And I was full of myself.
When I was about twenty-years-old a couple joined the local congregation where I attended with my family when home from college. Jerry was about thirty and possessed many talents. He could play the piano beautifully. He was a great Bible teacher, and he could make friends easily because of his engaging social skills. As the summer progressed I came to know him better, and I also learned he thought himself a pretty good ping-pong player. I still remember, thinking, “Ah, fresh meat,” but I purposefully kept my interest in the game hidden, waiting for the perfect moment to “show” him what a real ping pong player could do.
Judgment day presented itself one day in early August when Jerry and I, and several other people from church, happened to be at a member’s home for a potluck. The homeowner had a ping-pong table in the basement. I remember thinking the time had come to reveal my skills and slay yet another victim. “Hey, want to play some ping-pong?” I not-so-innocently asked as Jerry and I found ourselves in the basement after eating. Those who knew me from church realized I was circling my prey and watched with amusement as Jerry took the bait. “Sure, let’s play,” he replied.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there was no joy for me that day – I ingloriously lost the bout.
- Adapted from “Casey At the Bat,” by Ernest Thayer
21 to 0.
Yes, zero. I never score a point. I never even came close to scoring a point.
A life lesson took root and bloomed that day: the lesson of humility. Of course I’d been humbled before, but never so profoundly and in the presence of so many witnesses. That day I realized I had been naively comparing my skills to others who were far less skilled than I. Clearly there were others who far exceeded me in ping-pong prowess. “Pride goeth before a fall,” echoed the words of the Proverb writer (Prov. 16:18). That day I fell hard. Jerry cleaned my clock and in doing so taught me about pride: Pride made me cocky. It made me feel invincible and self reliant. But the lesson of humility wasn’t yet over. Two weeks later, Jerry – who had so soundly thrashed me – entered a ping pong tournament in downtown Chicago and lost to a seven-year-old boy. And he lost badly. Imagine how I felt. Not only wasn’t I skilled, but I was lightyears behind some nameless seven-year-old.
Such are the lessons of life. They often come along and slap us upside the head, and if we let them, they shape us, mold us, and change us – for the better. So it is when it comes to spiritual matters. Perhaps because of that ping pong lesson I’m inclined to listen to Paul’s spiritual advice when he says we shouldn’t “dare to classify or compare ourselves with others,” and that when others “measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). He also tells us “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). The conclusion is pretty clear: I’m imperfect; I’m a sinner; and I’d be doomed except for Jesus Christ. I shouldn’t think myself better than anyone. Want a dose of humility? Compare yourself to Christ.
Over the years I’ve learned I’m not very good at ping pong, and sadly I’m not very good at righteousness. But He is: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Without Him I’m nothing. Only He is perfect. Only He can save.
The Blessing of God's Word
By Wyatt Taylor
We live in a remarkable age. Thanks to the blessings of modern technology, we have nearly instant access to all kinds of information – from breaking world news to the most insignificant sports statistic. I rely on this so much that it is hard to recall a time when this kind of access wasn’t a part of my life, but really, it has only come about in the last 10-15 years. How did anyone live in a world before Google?
Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:16-17 remind us that we are blessed in another, more important way. There was a time, after all, when humans did not have access to the kind of spiritual information we have at our disposal in the pages of scripture today. Jesus says, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Christ’s disciples, of course, saw the Son of God and heard Him teaching of the fulfillment of the Law in Him. Jesus reminds them that the prophets and righteous men that came before, many of whom we read about in the Old Testament today, were working with limited information. In their day, God’s plan had not yet been fully revealed. Many of the things they prophesied they did not understand. As we study the Bible today, we can see the arc of God’s plan throughout history: how Christ was prophesied at the beginning, how God worked through His people to bring Him into the world to die for our sins, and how he established His Kingdom. Christ’s words here remind us that we should not take this for granted, since God’s people have longed for such information throughout time.
Backing up a few verses to Matthew 13:10-15, Jesus is asked by the disciples why he teaches in parables. In response, Jesus quotes a passage from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 6:9-10), “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” One of the tragedies of the gospels is that those people who should have received Jesus most readily, the Jewish leaders of the day, were the very ones shouting “Crucify Him!” How did they mistake the Son of God for a blasphemer? Jesus tells us here – “the hearts of this people have grown dull.”
It would be an even greater tragedy for those today with such easy access to the word of God to neglect it and be forever lost. May it never be said of us that our hearts have grown dull to the gospel! Instead, let us resolve to open God’s word, search it with hearts open to the truth, and in understanding turn to Jesus Christ for the healing that only He can provide.
Something Too Precious Not To Share
By Tom Rose
What things are precious to us? They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.
Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks. As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you.
This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”
“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;
Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”
Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss? “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.” I believe that is what this song is suggesting. In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”
However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us? The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,
“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)
The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure. I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,
“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”
In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.
“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.
Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”
The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.” That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.
Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning. Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds? Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves? When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative? How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one? When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life? Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway?
Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions. Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith. Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.” From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic. Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity. These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously. Two responses give insight into their thinking.
Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group. He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions. He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions. Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart. During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.
Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching. He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”
As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think. It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian. He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.* First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague. Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people. And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).
*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.