Growing In Godliness Blog
By Megan Berthold
I took a fall recently. Well, a stumble really. I’m not certain of all the technicalities between falls and stumbles, but it was a small slip of the feet. The irony was that our family had just hiked almost three miles up the side of a mountain, around “cliffy” edges, and then back down around rocks and slippery stones - all safe and sound. Thankfully, it wasn’t until I was near the safety of the trailhead that I had my slip.
My slip on the safe ground got me thinking. It seems in life that it can be easy to pass the “big tests”, but it’s often times the little ones that can entangle us. It’s amazing that when you’re hiking, even near dangerous edges, there oftern aren’t guardrails. There aren’t park rangers at the rough turns rationing out warnings. Lots of times there aren’t even signs! And it’s not necessary because it’s overwhelmingly apparent - there is danger around you. Carefulness, awareness and safety are demanded.
In our spiritual lives, it’s no different. We don’t need the “ warning signs” around the big issues. We can often handle the "biggie" issues of fornication, drinking, regular attendance at Worship, using the Lord’s name in vain, etc. But just as I’m feeling confident in hiking through the weighty matters of life, the phone rings and gossip is flowing from my lips, or my child disobeys me and my anger flares, or I’m praised for a job completed well and my heart starts harboring pride, or my spouse and I have words and all of the sudden submission to my husband is out the door. Look at all the slipping! And it wasn’t falling over the cliff on adultery, or stealing, or lying; it was slipping on the "little" things, the things not many people see.
This isn’t new by the way. Look at Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26). Somehow she had lived in Sodom and actually made it out alive; she truly made it to the safe ground. But then she turned. One little look cost it all. Then of course there’s Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:3-8). I feel for Uzzah. He didn’t make the cart, he was just guiding it; but he touched it. God couldn’t have made that rule any plainer, don’t touch the ark. There’s no ambiguity on that point; no way to wonder how God really felt about that one. "No touchy", as we say in our house. And then there is Moses, who was quite the man really. He stood up to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and to the Israelites too actually, on their many occasions of back peddling. He parted the Red Sea, he saw a burning bush, he received the Ten Commandments, the list just goes on and on. And in Numbers 20:7 the Lord tells him to speak to the rock to bring forth water. So he and Aaron jaunt on down to the assembly of the people before the rock, and he hits the rock. Hits it! Not just once mind you, he strikes that rock twice. When I look at Moses I can really feel better about myself (oops, there is the pride again), but really, here is a man who struck his staff over the Red Sea, which is no creek by the way, and it parts. But he can’t listen and obey when God told him to speak to the rock to bring forth water.
Ok, so what is the take home? We need to make sure we’re getting it right on the “little” things, just like we do on the big ones. What does it really matter if I’m in my pew Sunday at 9am, 5pm, and Wednesday at 7:30, if I’m not truly living as a vessel of Christ in my words, in my example, and in my heart?
We need to ensure that what we perceive as “safe ground” really is secure.
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.