After many years as a Coach and Athletic Director, I have watched countless athletic practices and contests. I believe that you can pick out special athletes very quickly. When I say quickly, I mean almost as soon as you walk onto the field or into the gym. They just have that look. They move differently. There’s a reason that they have attracted attention and it sticks out immediately.
I can still remember my first high school at-bat. I had pitched several times already as a sophomore, but wouldn’t start every day as a position player until my junior year. We were playing on a Saturday morning at Lambuth University in a mid-season tournament and the guy that we started pitching wouldn’t make it out of the first inning. He gave up 6 runs, only getting one out. So, coach put me in. Since our pitcher was in the starting lineup and I was coming in for him, I was now hitting 7th for the day.
When my turn came around, I was going to come up second in the inning. So, I walked out on deck between innings and was looking down when I heard the sound. A sharp sizzling sound followed by a loud “pop.” I immediately looked up to see the catcher tossing the ball back to a tall, left-handed pitcher named Josh McNatt. He threw another one and my eyes could see up close what my ears had tried to process – I was going to be a little over my head in my first time in a high school batters’ box.
I’ll save you the drama and tell you that I walked on four pitches. Then, I walked on five pitches the next time up. He clearly could see that pitching around me was in his best interest (insert sarcasm font) before he would go on to be drafted out of high school and climb to Class AA in professional baseball before retiring.
The point of the story is this: I had heard about Josh before that day. I had seen him carve us up over the first six innings. But, if there were any doubt in my mind about whether or not the hype came with any substance, it disappeared the first time I heard that sound.
He was worthy of the attention.
There are high school and college athletes that have had successful careers. Won a lot of games. Set records. Even won championships. But, the difference in average and worthy of hype and attention like those that end up on the biggest stage is usually regardless of supporting numbers. It is evident in what they have been gifted with.
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is trying to make just such a distinction.
Apparently, not long after Jesus is no longer around physically, the believers in the first century church are clinging to what they can see. They are hanging on the words of Paul and Apollos and treating them as if they carry the same holiness as Christ Himself. Maybe it was because they were really good at delivering the message. Maybe they were physically appealing in that day and time or led really good worship music wearing skinny togas. All we know is that it got to be too much for Paul. So, he issued this reminder:
“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor waters is anything but only God gave the growth.” (1 Cor 3:5-7)
Listen, I feed my faith walk constantly with written and spoken words from many different people. My book and podcast list consist of gifted servants that God uses – Francis Chan, David Platt, J.D. Greear, Steven Furtick, Voddie Baucham, Ravi Zacharias, Tim Keller, and Mark Batterson – at least those that I’m using more often lately.
But, here’s the reminder – they are all human. And, just like me, they are sinful and fallible. I can use them as a resource to do just what Paul was urging the believers in Corinth to use he and Apollos for – to point to the Father. They can plant seeds or water fertile ground in my heart, but only time in the Word – the words (both encouragement and correction) of God Himself – can provide me with true sustenance.
Just today, a stark reminder of just this manifested itself in a news story about Christian entertainer John Crist. While I have never been a huge fan personally, there is no denying the influence that he has built over his career.
Social media is already filling with those that are condemning both he and the Church over terrible and inexcusable acts he is being accused of (some of which he has admitted to). Others are disappointed and questioning their own faith due to his public sin.
Here’s the thing. John Crist is a sinner and was before the news story came out today. Let me give you a quick list of some other sinners:
Martin Luther King, Jr.
John the Baptist
In a sermon I listened to this week, Pastor J.D. Greear gave an example to try to explain just how holy God is in compared to our filthy rags.
Imagine that someone brings you a tall, cool glass of sweet tea. (If you’re from the south like me, you know what I’m talking about. No explanation needed on just how refreshing this is, especially on a hot summer day.)
Right before you take a drink of it, the server tells you that this tea is 99% pure. Only 1% of this tea is human urine. Go ahead and enjoy.
Um, no. No thank you. I’ll just die of a dry, cracked esophagus.
I only want 100%.
I will continue to thank God for the gifted servants that provide valuable insights into God’s word for us. Writers, worship leaders, and speakers alike all continue to challenge my faith.
But, just like knowing that “special” athlete when I walk out on a field, I know that God is God and I am not. Neither is anyone that He uses for planting and watering.
So, while John Crist’s story is sad and embarrassing and tragic and will cause some damage to the faith and lots of other things, it’s also a human story about a human.
The Father is still holy. Still 100%. And still the only one worthy of my praise.
Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure His greatness. – Psalm 145:3 (NLT)