Greatest Feats

GreatfeatsThe other day in a used book store, I came across a copy of a Greatest Feats: Sport’s Most Unforgettable Accomplishments. Turning through the pages, I was reminded of Bible characters who could fit the categories employed in the book:

1. Classic Performances: The authors listed Tom Dempsey’s first-ever 60-yard field goal; Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile; Pele’s staring role in Brazil’s first World Cup championship; and Jesse Owens’ stunning medal sweep at “Hitler’s Olympics.” On the Bible side, David’s defeat of Goliath, Elijah’s besting the prophets of Baal on Carmel, Esther’s rescue of her people, and Stephen’s convicting sermon and martyrdom stand out.

2. Spectacular Seasons: The book honored the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season, Babe Ruth’s 61-home-run summer, and Manchester United’s “treble” (Premier League; European Cup; F.A. Cup). In Scripture, the early reign of Solomon was dramatic, attracting admiration from around the region, prompting a visit from the Queen of Sheba; it was a season of prosperity and spiritual renewal, including construction of the Temple.

3. Legendary Streaks: In the sports realm, we think of UCLA’s string of national basketball championships, where John Wooden coached such luminaries as Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Bill Walton. Then, looking to both the Old and New Testaments, we see literary streaks, such as the collection of Psalms David wrote and the sweep of Luke/Acts, penned by Dr. Luke. We might also think of David’s run of victories against the Philistine enemies of Israel, a record which embarrassed Saul and made him jealous.

4. A Lifetime of Excellence. Among the sports legends in this category are Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record, Richard Petty, who was “King Richard” of the NASCAR track, Jack Nicklaus, whose record of major tournament wins still stands, and Rod Laver, who won two tennis Grand Slams (Wimbledon, US, French, Australian) seven years apart.

As for biblical characters, some stood out as exemplary from beginning to end—the long-suffering prophet Jeremiah and the apostles John and Paul. Some biblical figures shown bright, but, unlike Paul, they stumbled dramatically (e.g., David and Bathsheba; Peter and the Judaizers).

While a few of the sports greats covered in this book gave God credit for their talents and performance (e.g., Nolan Ryan), the vast majority didn’t (e.g., Cal Ripken), though, of course, God was the ultimate source of all their accomplishments. In contrast, the heroes and heroines of the Bible were keenly aware of God’s provision and claim on their lives.  Facing the giant Goliath, David shouted,  “You come against me with a dagger, spear, and sword, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh of Hosts, the God of Israel’s armies”—and then predicted victory, because “the battle [was] the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

While we can celebrate the athletic achievements of sports heroes, whose accomplishments are far beyond our ability, we can study the lives of the saints in Scripture, confident that the same God who empowered them for the daunting tasks before them is our God as well. Of course, we can admire the “classic performances” of Athanasius at the Council of Nicaea and Luther at the church door in Wittenberg, and the “lifetime achievements” of William Wilberforce and Billy Graham. But we should also celebrate the Christian businessman who models integrity and shows genuine love for his employees, the doctor who leaves his comfortable practice to bring healing to a region rife with Ebola, and a high school senior who remains chaste and sober in the face of enormous peer pressure. These too are great feats, though the bulk of the applause may come from heaven.

When the Government Spoke of Pure, Sacred, and Noble Sexuality

As the lights dimmed in the local YMCA, a few last nervous giggles could be heard in the hall as a hush fell on the assembly of teenaged boys. The director switched on the projection “lantern” and the 50-slide show began. Though the program bore the title “Keeping Fit,” the boys had heard that it dealt with more than calisthenics and nutrition. It also spoke of sex.

Bride2It was the 1920s, and the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) was fighting the devastating spread of venereal disease, much of it traceable to American soldiers returning from war in Europe. Of course, the USPHS sought cures and wider distribution of the treatments already available, but the agency was convinced that the education of as yet uninfected adolescents was crucial. So the government published a series of pamphlets and booklets to discourage promiscuity.

Unlike most sex education today, the material was ethical and even religious. Though the USPHS addressed medical issues (and even flirted with eugenics, talking about the vitality of the “stock”), they were not at all embarrassed to mention God and chastity and honor. While contemporary sex educators are all too eager to trumpet the “virtues” of “safe sex,” these 1920s writers urged “no sex until marriage.”  It was a different time, but one well-worth admiring.

BrideBack to that slide show in the YMCA: The boys have seen slides on the importance of team sports and of labor at home (e.g., chopping wood and shoveling snow) and have read inspiring quotes from Robert E. Lee and Woodrow Wilson. But then the image of a bride appears, and they are asked whether they have the right to expect pre-marital celibacy from her when they are not themselves celibate.1 Though in the present era it seems quaint to speak this way, the government was not at all reluctant to talk of higher things when the topic was sex. Here are three themes common in the 1920s:

Bride31. Purity: Another slide insisted that a man show the same regard for a woman that he would wish a stranger show for his sister.2 Such was the standard that Keeping Fit presented the youth, a standard expressed in the words “purity” and “keeping clean.”

2. Sacredness: In those days, the government spoke freely of God, as in this “birds and bees” pamphlet for children. They had no problem with belief in “intelligent design”:

 [U]nless God had given all living things this power to reproduce, plants and animals and men would long ago have disappeared from the earth. That is why we say this story is not only beautiful and wonderful; it is sacred. . . . When a man and woman love one another very much, and each thinks the other the dearest and most wonderful being in the world, they get married and live together. Then, if they have followed God’s laws, they may some day make their home happy with loving children.3

3. Nobility: Literature teachers were encouraged to lift up examples of sexual nobility (e.g., the chivalrous example of Ivanhoe) and draw out the lessons of negative examples (e.g., Reverend Dimmesdale’s adultery and cowardice in The Scarlet Letter).4

This was not the confusion of Church and State but the appropriation of pertinent truth to fight a national scourge. In those days, the government was not yet required by the courts to wear absurd moral and religious blinders,5 so agencies could speak more sanely of pure, sacred, and noble sexuality. And in reviewing this record, nostalgia may well give way to indignation as Americans consider what they have lost.

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Endnotes:

1 U.S. Public Health Service, Keeping Fit: An Exhibit for Older Boys and Young Men (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1919), 10.

2 Ibid.

3 United States Public Health Service, The Wonderful Story of Life: A Parent’s Talks with Children Regarding Life and Its Reproduction (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1940), 2-3, 16.

4 United States Public Health Service, High Schools and Sex Education: A Manual of Suggestions on Education Related to Sex, ed. Benjamin C. Gruenberg (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1922), 72-79. The Project Gutenberg Website offers, for free, the complete texts of Ivanhoe (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/82) and The Scarlet Letter (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/33) (accessed March 20, 2008). Brief summaries are available, respectively, at Spark Notes Website (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ivanhoe/summary.html) and Cliffs Notes Website, (http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/The-Scarlet-Letter-About-the-Novel-A-Brief-Synopsis.id-167,pageNum-5.html) (accessed March 20, 2008).

5 Blinders are patches sewn onto horses’ halters preventing them from looking to the right or left, forcing to look straight ahead. This is a metaphor for artificial restrictions on understanding.

The Invention of Manners

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)

Sixties radical Abbie Hoffman played a major role in fomenting street turmoil during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. For his efforts, Hoffman, along with the other members of the Chicago Seven, were charged with conspiring to incite a riot and with contempt of court.1 Over a decade later, Hoffman was still urging his admirers to be rude in their dealings with authority: “Remember that manners were invented by kings to maintain power. The determination to interrupt business as usual is often misunderstood as ill-mannered. Don’t let the ‘king’ define your behavior.”2

He was right in suggesting that there is a time to “interrupt business as usual.” The biblical prophets showed this. But Hoffman was wrong about the invention of manners. God invented them, as His Word demonstrates.

mannersProverbs 15:1 instructs the reader in wise decorum, with both benefit and risk. If one’s speech is conciliatory and self-effacing, then the conversation will more likely continue to a fruitful conclusion. If, instead, one leads with insult or menace, communication will probably break down, and the backlash can be fierce. Of course, in handling proverbs such as this one, it is important to use words such as “likely” and “probably,” for this book offers rules of thumb rather than hard-and-fast predictions or promises. Occasionally, a soft answer will do nothing to cool the other’s temper, and caustic speech may simply demoralize the hearer. But, as a general rule, this proverb is true.

Proverbs 15:1 is not cast in the language of absolute morality. It does not say that tender speech is by definition godly or that hard words are an abomination to the Lord. If so, then the strident John the Baptist was reprobate, not deserving the high praise Jesus gave him in Matthew 11:11. But if one understands this proverb as a matter of prudence for those engaged in the workaday affairs of life, then it fits perfectly.3

Examples spring readily to mind – at the store, in the post office, at the driver’s license center, in a ticket queue, on a crowded walkway, in a parking lot, at a sporting event, or in the neighborhood. And the principle applies equally to all parties involved, whether clerk or customer, coach or player, bicyclist or pedestrian. And in each setting, Christians should take the lead in gracious speech, disarming conflict and advancing cooperation by precept and example.

Of course, one need not enter the marketplace to use this maxim. It serves quite well in the home and church, where a lot of senseless strife could be avoided with its employment. Again, this is not to say that all speech in these sectors must be quiet and even bland to please God. There are certainly occasions for sharp rebuke and stern pronouncements. But these cannot be the norm, for they would lose their effectiveness in a general atmosphere of bitterness. And if Christians are to be salt and light in the world, they must cultivate the ways of grace along with their zeal for truth.

 

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Endnotes

1 Some of the convictions and charges were later overruled on account of procedural irregularities in the original trial.

2 Abbie Hoffman, “How to Fight City Hall,” The Best of Abbie Hoffman (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1989), 373. This article was originally written for Parade magazine in 1984.

3 It is doubtful that Solomon, who wrote Proverbs, was the king Hoffman had in mind. But even if he was, Proverbs comes by the inspiration of God, not the imperious heart of an earthly monarch.



 

What Is ‘False Modesty’?

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:16-17 (ESV)

In 1941 C. S. Lewis penned The Screwtape Letters, in which a seasoned demon, Screwtape, counsels his young nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt a new believer. In one letter the diabolical uncle urges Wormwood to lure a Christian into a false humility: “Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be.”1 Screwtape knows the “Enemy” (God) will oppose such an attack: “Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy’s side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all.”2

No opinion of his own talents? Sort of. According to Lewis, the Christian should be able to build the best cathedral in the world, know it is the best cathedral in the world, and yet be just as happy to have the cathedral have been built by someone else. In other words, the Christian should be able to truly rejoice in his gifts as well as the gifts of his brother or sister in Christ. To dabble with false modesty, denying the goodness of one’s work (when Hypocrisyit is quite obvious the work is good), is to assume the appearance of a virtue one does not possess. This is hypocrisy, and it is deadly to the Christian soul.

James offers readers an explanation for why there is no room in the Christian life for this brand of hypocrisy: a perfect God is the source of every good and perfect gift. In the context of James chapter one, this is really a staggering claim since the subject matter of these opening verses has been tests, trials, and suffering. These are hardly the good gifts about which one is tempted to be falsely modest.

Nonetheless, the teaching of verse 17 is clear. God is the giver of “every” good and perfect gift. This includes the gift of regeneration (verse 18, God “brought us forth by the word of truth”), the gift of wisdom (verse 5, “[i]f any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God”), and every gift in between. King David credited God as the source of every material blessing, “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chron. 29:14). Jesus told the disciples that God is not only the source of physical goods, He gives righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). Likewise, James wanted his readers to keep their eyes on the sure, reliable, and generous God. Thus, that new car and the ability to work that earned the car come from Him; He is the source of both good gifts. This is the doctrine taught by James.

Screwtape explains to young Wormwood how God would try to keep the believer from false modesty, and it has everything to do with bringing to mind the doctrine found in James 1:16-17: “The Enemy will also try to render real in the patient’s mind a doctrine which they all profess but find it difficult to bring home to their feelings—the doctrine that they did not create themselves, that their talents were given them, and that they might as well be proud of the colour of their hair.”3

Thus, there is no room for false modesty. This kind of hypocrisy is simply precluded from the Christian life. The fact of the matter is the glorious God of the universe has chosen to bless His children with extraordinary gifts. Some of them have gifts of leadership, some gifts of teaching, some gifts of encouragement, some gifts of administration, and so on. Nonetheless, when a true achievement is pointed out, Christians too often reply, “No, no, it really was not that good!”—a response designed to elicit more praise. Indeed, false modesty—hypocrisy—deadens the Christian soul by subtly turning the attention to oneself and one’s talents and away from the giver of all good gifts.

 

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Endnotes:

1 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942; repr., San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 70.

2 Ibid., 72.

3 Ibid. Italics added.



 

What Does the Bible Say About Entertainment?

entertainmentYou might be surprised at the number of times the Bible touches on the subject of entertainment. On the positive side, Jesus went to parties and made time to get away from the grind of ministry with His disciples. Paul said that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), and he obviously knew something about poetry (Acts 17:28), sports (1 Corinthians 9:24-26), and the theater (1 Corinthians 4:9). What’s more, the end of history is pictured as a banquet for God’s people in Revelation. Negatively, King Herod’s attempt to entertain his guests led to John the Baptist’s execution (Matthew 14:6-12), and the Persian King Ahasuerus’ wild party ended with what amounted to a divorce (Esther 1:1-22). How do we sort through these biblical references? Here are several principles to help you determine Scripture’s teaching on entertainment and amusement.

1. Keep entertainment in perspective. The deepest, most abiding joy comes from fellowship with God, not a fleeting source of amusement. The psalmist longed for God’s presence and said to Him, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). The amount of entertainment available in the western world is overwhelming. Yet people still abuse substances, lead deeply troubled lives, and even commit suicide. This is evidence that no amount of entertainment can bring ultimate fulfillment. Such satisfaction can only be achieved by walking daily with Jesus as Lord and Savior.

2. Seek levity and amusement in the proper context. The fact that entertainment is not our ultimate source of satisfaction does not mean it’s evil. On the contrary, Scripture suggests that God’s people should pursue wholesome entertainment. For instance, Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” Ecclesiastes urges, “Eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).

3. Don’t use entertainment to escape from reality. The author of Ecclesiastes mentions work and feasting in the same verse: “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:13). The obvious suggestion is that God’s people must not pursue sources of amusement at the expense of tending to life’s responsibilities such as work and family. When King David sought relaxation at the expense of meeting his obligations, the results were catastrophic (2 Samuel 11:1-27). The Lord wants us to enjoy His gifts while we meet our obligations, not in lieu of meeting our obligations.

4. Satisfying sinful desires is not a valid source of entertainment. This ought to go without saying. Unfortunately it doesn’t, as many view excursions into drunkenness, sexual titillation, or crass humor as “harmless fun.” Along with Herod and Ahasuerus, Babylon’s King Belshazzar exemplifies the folly of entertaining oneself by satisfying sinful cravings. The very night that he indulged in drunken reveling, the Medes killed him and overthrew his kingdom (Daniel 5:31).

5. Allow interruptions to your entertainment. Though Jesus enjoyed a wedding (John 2:1-12), a banquet (Matthew 9:10), and a getaway to the lake (Matthew 14:13), He was often willing to be interrupted to meet people’s needs. It was a matter of priorities. In the same way, our entertainment is never so important that it cannot be stopped to help a friend in need or share the gospel with a person who needs Jesus.

The Bible’s advocacy of godly entertainment has played a role in the development of sports, literature, art, music and more among Judeo-Christian cultures. So the next time opportunity presents itself to enjoy a wholesome form of entertainment, think about this heritage and thank God for His good gifts.



 

What Is Meant by “The Glory of God”?

(Note:  The following video and article is presented within The Biblical Story Course under ERA 5: Israel, lesson 18, “Solomon’s Reign and Its Aftermath”.

Synopsis
The glory of God is His majesty and the honor due to His name. Israel of old and the Church today are called by God to bring glory to His name.

Statement of Doctrine
There are no rivals to God’s magnificence and righteousness. All should acknowledge His power and splendor – His glory – even as His creation proclaims it.

Biblical Support
Having been overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord at the moment of his calling as a prophet (Isaiah 6:1-7), Isaiah had much to say about it throughout his ministry (for instance, Isaiah 40:12-31). He declared that Yahweh was so great that He could hold all the waters of the earth in the palm of His hand and weigh the mountains on a scale. He alone created, without the help of anyone else. Moreover, God alone had all knowledge, needing no one to instruct Him in anything. Therefore, the Lord declared that He would not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).1

The Hebrew word for glory (kabod) connotes grandeur, substance, and might. It manifests itself in many ways. For instance, the glory of the Lord appeared like a consuming fire at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:17) and as a cloud filling Solomon’s newly built Temple. So overwhelming was the cloud that the priests could not even enter the building (2nd Chronicles 7:1-2).2 Then, in Ezekiel 10, the sad spectacle of God’s glory departing the Temple involves not only a bright cloud, but also the image of jewel-encrusted wheels.

There is also a strong moral component to God’s grandeur. When, on Sinai, Moses asked to see God’s glory, the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you . . .” (Deuteronomy 33:19).

Frequently in Scripture, the glory of God is presented as the aim of His action in the world. For instance, it says He created people for His own glory (Isaiah 43:7), and He restrained His anger and redeemed His people so that His name would be magnified (Isaiah 48:9-11; cf. Isaiah 43:25; Ezekiel 20:9). Accordingly, a central part of Israel’s worship was to give God the glory that was due to His name.3

Historical Interpretation
The Westminster Shorter Catechism of the seventeenth century begins with the question “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”4 In the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards developed this theme, saying, “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”5 Today, another pastor-theologian, John Piper, has drawn on Edwards to suggest a new answer to the Westminster question: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”6

BibleMesh
The Old Testament prophets spoke of a day when acknowledgement of God’s glory would extend beyond the nation of Israel. Then “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14; cf. Isaiah 11:9). The fulfillment of this prophecy began when Jesus Christ, who was the “radiance of the glory of God,” came to earth (Hebrews 1:3).

One day, this radiance will be so great that there will no longer be need for a sun or a moon, for God Himself will provide all the light needed (Revelation 22:5). The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb will join the heavenly multitude in crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory . . .” (Revelation 19:6).

For Further Study
John Piper, “What Is God’s Glory?” Desiring God Website, http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-gods-glory (accessed August 12, 2014); John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998); C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001); Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God (Nashville: B&H, 2004).

 

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Endnotes:

1Though God’s glory is utterly unique, He does confer significant dignity and splendor upon humanity, which is made in His image. As it says in Psalms 8:5 regarding “the son of man,” “you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”

2 This was a wonderful moment of recovery, for the Ark of the Covenant was once again in the Most Holy Place. When the ark, with its attendant glory, was captured by the Philistines (1st Samuel 4:1-22), Israel was stung by a sense of disgrace and weakness. Upon hearing the terrible news of this loss, the daughter-in-law of the priest Eli gave birth suddenly and named the child “Ichabod,” meaning “the glory has departed.”

3 See Psalms 29:1-2; Psalms 96:3, Psalms 96:7-8; Psalms 108:5; Psalms 115:1.

4 See “Westminster Shorter Catechism (1674),” Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website, http://www.ccel.org/creeds/westminster-shorter-cat.html (accessed September 9, 2009).

5 Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies, vol. 13 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Thomas Schafer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 495, Miscellany #448; see also #87, p. 251-252 and #332, p. 410. For an online discussion of the significance of this passage, see John Piper, “A God-Entranced Vision of All Things,” Desiring God Website, http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByDate/200…(accessed September 9, 2009).

John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 18.