Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Opening Day

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 13, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

As I sit at my computer to write this week's column, it is Opening Day for Major League Baseball. I don't follow baseball closely like I used to but Opening Day is exciting for baseball fans. I first became obsessed with baseball when I was in the fifth grade. I went to a small private school and fifth through eighth grades were in class together. The older boys loved baseball, and I wanted to be like them. I would beg my Mom to get to school early because there was always a pickup baseball game going on before school started.

The first team that I followed was the Boston Red Sox. My pastor at the time was a Red Sox fan and his enthusiasm for his team made an impression on me. It was 1967 and the Red Sox had a season that came to be known as the "impossible dream." They went from ninth place the year before to winning the American League pennant before losing the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. 

My favorite player was Yaz, Carl Yastrzemski. He was the Red Sox team captain and had the best season of his career. Yaz batted .326, hit 44 home runs, and drove in 121 RBIs, while leading the American League in all three of these stats, achieving the Triple Crown. I wanted to be Yaz. I played in the driveway of our house batting rocks with a broomstick imagining that I was playing in the Major Leagues. I wanted to play Little League baseball, but we lived out in the country, and there was no way that I could play.

As an adult, I made it to Little League. Some years ago my neighbor asked me to be a coach on a Little League baseball team. The kids on the team were 6 to 8 years old. Most of the kids were not great at hitting and catching. Some of them had the attention span of a butterfly, but I enjoyed working with the kids.

This age group of Little League had special rules to help tone down the competition and give everyone an equal chance. It was supposed to be about learning the game and having fun. Each inning every player was allowed to bat. We didn't keep score on the field, but everyone knew the score, especially the parents. But of course, no one was keeping score; well not officially.

That little league experience taught me how powerful comparison and competition can be. Even when I didn't want to compare and keep score I couldn't help it; and neither could anyone else. We all knew.

The real problem wasn't with our comparison; it was what we did with that information. We mentally ordered the kids from best to worst. Parents would feel better or worse about themselves based on what their kid did in the game.

Little League taught me that we have a very strong urge to compare. This tendency is unfortunate enough in Little League, but it is tragic when it comes to our spiritual life.

When we compare ourselves to others, we can never know the whole story. All we see is the outside. We can't see the heart. Often our conclusions about people are entirely wrong. 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT) tells us that, "People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

God doesn't want us to have pride in our hearts. It separates us from Him. Did you know that God says that he hates pride? Proverbs 6:16,17 (NKJV) tells us, "these six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look," ...  Leading off this list of things that God hates is a proud look; a feeling of arrogance when we see others. God hates it.

I've noticed that there is something interesting about this sin of pride that God hates. It is usually found among the people who think that they love God the most. Many Christians are proud of their accomplishments and look down on others. But God says that we are all sinners. "When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags." Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)

Spiritual pride is the ultimate blind spot. We never see the pride in ourselves. We never think that we are inappropriately looking down of others. We believe that we see things as they are. We can't help it if we are better Christians than others.

How do we keep from falling into the trap of spiritual pride? The first step is to realize that we have no reason to be proud because we have no good works of our own. Then we need to ask ourselves if there is any group of people whom we are responding to with disgust, disdain or aversion. If the answer is yes, it is a sign that we are falling into the trap of spiritual pride.

I don't know what tempts you to feel superior. I don't know what kind of people you are tempted to look down on, but most of us have a list. I don't think that we realize how dangerous that list is. Unless we can get rid of the list, it will leave us separated from God. It can put us at the top of God's "I hate it when you do that" list.

Gentle Reader, spiritual pride isn't a small insignificant sin. It is front and center in the battle for our heart. Let's pray today with David his words found in Psalms 51:10 (NLT), "create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me." It is the only way we can overcome our spiritual pride.

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