Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
- Acts 6:8-11
It seems there is a theme of “numbers” that has rubbed against a few of my posts lately. In this case, the Synagogue of the Freedmen started trouble against Stephen. It does not state clearly what their issue with Stephen was, but it probably stems from the fact that this charismatic speaker and healer was cutting into the numbers that attended the synagogue. I would come closer to believing that the issue was numbers rather than the Freedmen trying to stamp out “heresy.” Note that this group of Jews, that caused the trouble that eventually resulted in the stoning of Stephen, was a group of ethnically diverse people. Cilicia and Asia were provinces in what is now Turkey and Cyrene was in what is now Libya. So, these Jews were Jews that had scattered, possibly intermarried, and then returned. The issues with ethnic issues is not new, and only God’s love can cure it.
So, a group that was jealous of Stephen had him killed so that their numbers in the synagogue would not diminish, or so I am supposing. When we discussed this in Sunday school, my wife brought up a women’s meeting that she hosted. They had advertised and they got about 200 people to attend. The next gathering of women did not advertise, and the muttered anger was that they did not beat my wife’s crowd. I mentioned that if one person came to a saving knowledge of Jesus (which was not the intent of this next gathering, only social), it would be worth the effort, even if numbers were small. My wife’s point was that she did not think hosting a gathering was a competition.
But even in Sunday school, I am competing in a way with our dearly departed teacher. He had near 20 people who attended regularly. Since COVID restrictions started, there are about 6-8 of those regulars who do not attend anything, supposedly hunkering down at home and only leaving the house to see a doctor when needed. So, as the average attendance hovers around 10, I have to feel blessed. But if attendance went down, would I feel defeated? Sadly, I probably would.
In the world of sports, I wrote about a month ago that I was not going to fill out a bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, but I did one. I printed out a bracket and then rated all 67 games, including what many call “play in” games, as to whether I could “live” with the result. On the positive side, was there a reason to cheer for the team that won: an underdog, a talented player, the school, or the conference? On the negative side, was there a reason to NOT cheer for the team that lost: a rival school to one that I liked, pompous attitude or reputation of the school or conference? As a result, I had 51 victories and 16 defeats during the tournament. And I liked the Baylor Bear player interviews. The players were either genuine or well-coached. When the media praised the player, the player deflected the praise and praised God instead. Baylor is a Baptist university. Each time, I cheered for them all the more, but with all of Gonzaga’s success, they have never won the championship and I could have “lived” with that also. And I have lived in both states, Texas and Washington. It was so much more fun than watching the first few games, getting angry, and tearing up the busted bracket.
I suppose you could say that my bracket was the most non-competitive bracket that there was, but trust me!! I never had a busted bracket, not even into the championship game. And it was a lot better than losing money over a stupid game.
As for the Masters Golf Tournament, they have a rule that once you have won, you get to play the Masters for the rest of your life, if you are able. When we lived across the river from the course, Sam Sneed, Gene Sarazen, and Byron Nelson teed off first each year, some actually played a few holes. Until recently, it has been the late Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus. I love that tradition. So, I usually cheer for an American who has never won it, then anyone else who has never won it, and then a few favorites, like Jordan Spieth, because he is from Texas. That means that I had no problem with Hideki Matsuyama winning.
What I heard in the commentary was interesting. Matsuyama does not do well when there is a buzz of cameras going off and the crowd having to stay further away behind the ropes due to COVID helped him keep his focus on the game. Tiger Woods brought people to the course and brought people to their television sets, but the crowd was not the typical polite golfing crowd. They made noise while other players were trying to concentrate on their putt or drive. These fans were not interested in the other guy, and in a way, it gave Tiger a better advantage. I think I enjoyed this Masters more than in many years, because the crowd had less of an effect on the competition, but enough of an effect to cheer them on.
Then, Stewart Cink winning at Hilton Head the following week was wonderful. Cink was vilified for beating 59-year-old Tom Watson in the British Open in 2009 (The Open). It was his last victory until last fall in a small tournament after the big names rested over the winter months, and then at a tournament with a full slate of the best golfers, he won again at Hilton Head. Let’s hear it for the experienced guy. He’s not 50 quite yet, so no talk about the “old” guy.
Other than the beginning of the Australian Rules Football season and the end of the NHL hockey season, that is about it for sports for me, for a while.
But competition? I am getting fed up with competition. I write a blog and I am blessed to have a lot of friends out there that read my blog. It does not fuel any competitive drive within me to have the most followers or views or likes. It does not change my self-worth if my numbers increase or decrease.
My wife can be the hostess with the mostest, but if you have quality within your smaller crowd, why compare?
I think the worst kind of competition is when you have a battle with God. You choose your way versus God’s way and you wager that God will see the improvements you have made. This is a deadly mistake that will not end well, and when you lure others to follow that path, it is even worse. They are too competitive to ever imagine they are wrong.
Comparison seems to be at the center of competition. Comparison leads to the deadly sins, at least some of them: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Comparison, competition, they both feed pride, greed, wrath, envy, and maybe lust and gluttony. Sloth comes when you feel defeated, the aftermath of competition and you did not win.
Why do we have competition in this world? Everyone has an emptiness inside them that only God can fill. But many try to fill it with athletic success. It is the old saying that you must be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls. Whether football or tiddly winks, you feel a sense of accomplishment by besting your peers, but how do the peers feel?
I think that is why I loved golf. You played against the course and with friends. You found ways of cheering each other on, and when someone started making bets, I made a note to not play with that group again. Whoever said “Golf is a good walk spoiled” is correct if they start making wagers, but to be with friends for four hours, getting some exercise, getting some sun, having some laughs, and about halfway around the course, forgetting to even mark the scorecard… That is not a spoiled walk at all.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.