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.
Forgive and Be Forgiven
By Mike Cox
When someone has said or done something to hurt you, are you quick to forgive? Does forgiveness ever occur or is revenge the preference? “Someone did wrong to me and I want to see them suffer.” A synonym for someone “wronging” us is the word trespass. Maybe someone is in debt to us but there is no end in sight for the debt to be paid. Matthew 18:21-35 describes two servants. One servant begs their master for forgiveness of his debt and the master has compassion on him and forgives the debt. However, this servant turns around and doesn’t have compassion on his servant. When the master of the first servant heard what had been done, he was angered and delivered his servant to the torturers (v. 34).
There are things that link all humans together - make us similar. The one thing that links everyone is the fact that they have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). While the debtors mentioned had a financial debt, all humans have a figurative debt to God for the sins they’ve committed. This is when everyone needs the compassion of God to wipe our debts clean. When we are baptized, our debt is wiped clean - our sins are forgiven. If someone has done wrong towards us we are to forgive them; we are to show mercy. If we don’t, how can we expect to be forgiven our debt? Verse 35 says, “So, My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you from his heart does not forgive his brother his trespasses”. Matthew 18:21-22 tells us that we should forgive someone up to “seventy times seven”. The point of this isn’t a quantified number of times to forgive someone, but to constantly forgive.
Everyone needs to forgive and everyone has need to be forgiven. Jesus died on the cross to wipe our sins away. Even so, after we come to the Lord we are to ask forgiveness of our sins. If we ask and strive to do God’s will, we will be forgiven. Nonetheless if we refuse to forgive someone, the Lord knows.
Women and the New Testament
By Mark McCrary
Mention the Bible to some people today, and one of the first things they will think of is sexism. After all, it teaches that men are the head of the house, that women can’t be preachers, that they are second class citizens, that sex is only for the man—generally, that women aren’t important, right?
Well, yes and no. It is certainly true that God has ordained that the man is to be the head of the family (Eph. 5:22-29), and He has also determined that women are not to have teaching authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-12). No Sexual Revolution can ever overthrow these truths. However, most misconceptions and misunderstandings people have about women and the Bible are just that—misconceptions and misunderstandings; and very erroneous ones as at that.
Did you know that women ministered to Jesus and helped Him in his important task? Luke 8:3 tells of many who “provided for Him from their substance.” Women were also the first witnesses of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-10). This is remarkable because in Jewish society, the testimony of women in the court of law had little if any weight.
One of the few named servants in the church apart from the apostles was that of a woman—Phoebe (Romans 16:1). In fact, Romans 16 list the names of a number of disciples in the city of Roman, many of which were women, such as Priscilla (v. 3), Mary (v. 6), Juna (v. 7), Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis (v. 12) and Julia (v. 15). Mentioned as well—though not by name—are Rufus’ mother (v. 13) and Nereus’ sister (v. 15).
Contrary to the view of women in much of the first century society, the teachings of the New Testament lifted them up. Their sexual desires and needs were elevated to the same level as those of men—“Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Peter reminded husbands that they are to view their wives as “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). To fail to do so, he warned, would hinder a man’s prayers to God. Also, the husband was told to view his wife as a “weaker vessel”—not that she is spiritually weaker, but she was to be viewed as something precious and valuable to him; something to be honored and protected at all costs.
Though the husband is the spiritual leader in the home, there is certainly a sense from Ephesians 5 that even he is submissive to his wife as he leads. Everything he does in verses 25-29 is with her and her well being in view. If she is not bettered because of his leadership, he’s doing something wrong and needs to correct it.
That they are also of the same spiritual value as men is seen in Gal. 3:26-29, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Are women under more restrictions then men? From a teaching standpoint, yes; but from the standpoint of worth and usefulness, she stands shoulder to shoulder and head to head with any man. Her role is not one of leadership. But remember: role is functional; worth is intrinsic. Let’s focus on the worth and value of women found in the New Testament; let’s preach it, embrace it, use it and live it.
God has blessed me with three wonderful and spiritually minded daughters. My prayer for them and all God’s female servants is that they be used—just as any man—in God’s kingdom as He sees fit for His own glory and honor. Such should be the prayer of us all.
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 arch 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.