Growing In Godliness Blog
Author: Matt Hennecke
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.
Leaders and Followers
By Matt Hennecke
Many of you are aware I spent most of my secular career engaged in leadership development efforts in a number of organizations. In my experience organizations are preoccupied with leadership. Countless classes and courses and degrees are offered to develop better leaders, but often little is said about what makes good followers. Here’s the thing: all of us play the role of follower more than we play the role of leader. True believers are first and foremost followers of Christ. Jesus said, in John 10:24, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Secondly, many of us follow shepherds in our congregation. We follow mayors, governors, and other office holders. Wives follow husbands. Children follow parents. So, while following dominates our lives it doesn’t dominate our thinking.
What Makes a Good Follower?
One cannot define a good follower without considering how they are led. Leadership is crucial to good followership. In a congregation under the oversight of elders (or even in a family household) different followers need to be led differently. Think for a moment of Christians in a local congregation: Some are new, perhaps recent converts to Christ. Others are seasoned Christians who know their Bibles well. Some are “on fire” – enthusiastic and motivated. Others are demotivated and unenthusiastic. Given these variables we can create the following Follower Grid with a follower’s knowledge on the vertical axis, and his zeal on the horizontal axis.
With the Grid before us we can begin to identify five different types of followers and how they need to be led.
1. THE NEW FOLLOWER (Needs an Instructing Style of Leadership)
Consider for a moment a new Christian. He is likely someone who hardly knows his Bible but has learned enough to realize his only hope is in Christ. In your experience, how would you assess the zeal of a new Christian? High, right? But how would you assess his knowledge of the Word? Very likely it is low. In such a case, the appropriate leadership style is one of “Instructing.” A new Christian needs someone – be it an elder, evangelist, or a more seasoned Christian – to mentor and coach him. He needs instruction to grow in the faith. Note the zeal of those baptized on the day of Pentecost but also the instruction they needed from the Apostles (Acts 2:42). Or consider what Paul said of the Jews who had a “zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Rom. 10:2).
2. THE GROWING FOLLOWER: (Needs an Involving Style of Leadership)
As the new Christian begins to grow and his knowledge increases, it’s important to begin involving him more in kingdom work. It might be premature to “turn him loose” to teach a class, but he might be ready to co-teach a class with a more seasoned brother. It is during this time when the follower with the help of a leader can discover his “gifts” for kingdom service. If we push him too fast or hold him back too long, we may demotivate him. Sometimes growing Christians are asked to carry too big a load resulting in failure, or sometimes they stagnate because they’re not given the opportunity to grow in the faith and assume greater responsibilities. The Hebrew writer warned of this when he wrote, “let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity….” (Heb. 6:1).
3. THE MATURE FOLLOWER: (Needs a Sharing Style of Leadership)
Leaders who have knowledgeable and zealous followers can have confidence in giving them more responsibilities. Such Christians volunteer to teach classes, evangelize effectively in the community, and become mentors to less mature Christians. Such Christians are typically self-starters who take on tasks without them being assigned. They look for and initiate opportunities to serve and do so with great enthusiasm. In many ways, these Christians share in the leadership of a congregation – albeit informally. The worst thing a leader can do is “over control” these people lest they demotivate them. Leaders who lead by edict and don’t involve these followers in decision making are likely to alienate and demotivate them. These are the best kinds of followers, though they may sometimes question and challenge the thinking of their leaders. They do so, not because they are trying to undermine them, but because they are enthusiastic, Bible students who are serious about serving the Lord as He has directed through the Word. By way of example, consider the apostles, already zealous for the Lord and His commission, awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and once filled with all knowledge became ambassadors of the Word – sharers in His work and glory (Acts 2; Rom.8:17).
4. THE DEMOTIVATED FOLLOWER: (Needs an Encouraging Style of Leadership)
Sadly, there are some followers who despite their deep Bible knowledge and understanding have lost their zeal. The leader’s role in such situations is to encourage and motivate the follower – to try to re-instill the zeal that has been lost. This can be accomplished positively by reminding them of their calling in Christ and all He has done for them. Or, it can be done negatively by warning them of the consequences of heartless service. God’s people in the Old Testament frequently fell into such heart-dead worship. Consider their attitude and the sacrifices they brought to God described in Malachi 1:13: “…my how tiresome it is….and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick….” They knew God demanded sacrifice, but their hearts weren’t in it. The same was the problem with Laodiceans who had grown lukewarm in their service (Rev. 3:14-22). Without attention, these followers will likely slip into the next category of follower.
5. THE LIFELESS FOLLOWER: (Needs a Telling Style of Leadership)
Worst of all are followers who have lost their zeal and are happy to remain ignorant of the Word of God – the very Message that has the power to motivate. Such followers’ hearts are hard, and they feel no need to study and learn from God’s Word. They may slip in and slip out of worship assemblies and are content to do no kingdom work. Such followers create a challenge for churches because their apathy can infect the rest of the flock. They need to be confronted with love and firmness. They need to be told repeatedly what Christ has done and the importance of growing in Christ. They need to be warned about the coming judgment. Their souls are in jeopardy and require special, persistent attention lest they be lost. Consider the warning given to the church in Sardis, “…you are dead. Wake up and strengthen the things that remain which are about to die….” (Rev. 3:1-2).
So, follower, how would you assess your zeal for God and your knowledge of His Word? Are your growing or stagnating? And leaders, what “style” do you use to lead? Do you find yourself telling more than involving or sharing leadership? For both followers and leaders, the perfect role model is Christ Jesus who was both follower (John 12:49-50) and leader (Colossians 1:18).
By Matt Hennecke
His name was Frederick Justus and his story is one of resistance and stubbornness. Over the years he refused to listen to the appeals of his own son and daughter-in-law as together they tried repeatedly to speak to him of Christ. Perhaps his heritage had something to do with it. He had come to America from Germany when just 18 years old. Germans, rightly or wrongly, have a reputation for being stubborn and unyielding. Perhaps he didn't think his own son could teach him anything. Perhaps it was unbelief. Whatever the reason, he was unyielding to the message of salvation.
And time marched on.....
Frederick Justus became a grandfather. First a granddaughter arrived in 1943, then a grandson in ‘50. Three years later another grandson and finally another granddaughter. Four in all. Despite Frederick’s gruff exterior, he loved his grandchildren. You could tell by the twinkle in his eyes. Whenever they came to visit they brought bedlam and left messes, but he didn't seem to mind too much. During those visits, the story of Jesus was mentioned, but still Frederick resisted.
And time marched on.....
With age comes maladies. Aches and pains at first, then more serious conditions. When Frederick Justus was 88 years old he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. More likely it was just old age. In the last few years he could hardly walk. His body was bent. He carried a cane. He sat more than he stood. Then, one day, he was hospitalized - Saint Joseph's Hospital in Chicago. His son and daughter-in-law visited, and despite the many times their message had fallen on deaf ears, they again spoke softly of the Son of God and of the hope of glory. This time something was different. This time Frederick listened. This time he heard. In barely a whisper, he at last said, "I want to be baptized into Christ."
The hospital was Catholic, so the son prepared for battle. Baptism as immersion doesn’t sit too well with Catholics. Additionally, the old man was very sick, but the son was adamant and stubborn. No surprise there, for he was German too. The son had as much stubbornness as his father - maybe more. Nothing was going to prevent the very thing he had prayed about for so many years. The doctor said “No,” so the son went to the charge nurse who thought the idea of a baptism wonderful. She said, “We don’t listen to doctors.” The nurse located a large metal bathtub with harness system that could be used to lower Frederick into the water.
On that day, the stubborn, self-willed, infirm Frederick Justus finally let go, and gave himself to Christ. He was baptized by his own son for the forgiveness of his sins, and the blood of Christ removed all infirmities of the spirit. He was born again into the kingdom of God.
A few days later, the hospital, unable to provide any further treatments for Frederick suggested he be admitted to a nursing home, but the son and his wife wouldn’t have it. An ambulance brought Frederick to his son's house. Three days after his arrival, at breakfast time, Frederick Justus coughed once and died. A Christian for a mere 3 days - a heavenly reward for eternity....
Frederick Justus Hennecke - my grandfather. I will see him again.
-Matthew Justus Hennecke
By Matt Hennecke
As was often the case, when I was a child, my Saturday plans conflicted with my father’s plans for me. I wanted to play all day and he wanted me and my brother to earn our keep by doing household chores before we went to play.
This Saturday was no different. It was the middle of summer and my Dad didn’t like the way the lawn looked. There were way too many dandelions, so he called my brother and me to his side and issued a command: “I want you to weed dandelions this morning. Each of you are to fill a shopping bag with 100 dandelions.” Then he added: “Work until you’re finished and then come and let me count your dandelions.”
Dandelion weeding was not an unfamiliar chore for me or my brother. We had seen both my Mom and my Dad weed dandelions before. On occasion we had even been pressed into limited, weeding service. Proper weeding involved a long metal skewer-like object which one would jab down into and under the roots of the dandelion and then a downward motion to eject the plant upward from the soil, roots and all. That was the theory, but dandelions are ornery critters and their roots run deep, so it took some work to effectively extricate an entire dandelion.
Now little boys who’d rather be playing than working often develop a certain, devious creativity. My little mind was spinning, and the thought occurred to me that by simply pulling off the heads of the dandelions I could quickly achieve my 100-dandelion goal. But the thought quickly faded because I knew what quality, dandelion-weeding looked like. I’d seen enough examples of what a well “weeded” dandelion looked like – it was the entire plant, roots, leaves, and flower. Anything less would be unacceptable, and Dad was going to pass judgment on my work. There seemed to be no wiggle room to speed up the process. Play-time seemed a long way off.
Seeing no easy way out I got quickly to the task. I worked steadily in the heat of the morning sun, counting as I went: 10, 17, 38, 52…. wipe the sweat from my brow, 68, 77…. the end in sight….84, 96, 100! Finished! The morning was largely spent, but the rest of the day lay before me.
I took my bag of dandelions to my Dad for inspection. He carefully examined my work and counted the dandelions. “Good job,” he finally said, and my heart leapt at the thought of bike riding and time with friends. As I carried my bag of dandelions to the garbage for disposal my brother made his appearance. “Hey,” he said, as he sidled over to my side, “why don’t we dump your dandelions into my bag?”
Now you might think I would have rejected his proposal outright. After all, I’d worked in the hot sun weeding 100 dandelions, but I must admit I was awe-struck by the brilliance of his plan. Little brothers are enthralled with big brothers. My father’s command had been that we each fill a bag with 100 dandelions. If I gave my brother my dandelions, he could fill his bag with my 100 dandelions and technically satisfy my Dad’s command. So, we did just that. My brother filled his bag with my dandelions and took them to my Dad where they easily passed inspection. My Dad never learned of our ploy.
What is interesting, is that though we were little boys and had no clue how to define hermeneutics, we knew in our little brains what it meant: Dad had issued a command, he had showed us numerous times what an example of good dandelion pulling looked like, and he had even inferred we each fill our own bag with dandelions from our own labor. Funny thing is, we knew it was a necessary inference as evidenced by our consciously not telling Dad just how we had accomplished the task. If we’d owned up to our little deceit, there is no doubt Dad would have shown us just how necessary the inference was – probably by adding another 100 dandelions to our project!
These days the method of determining how to study the Word so as to understand God’s will – what is called hermeneutics – is largely discounted, even ridiculed. Some see it as a conservative church concoction. It's not. Command, example, and inference are at the very heart of all communication. It’s how all dads and moms communicate their will. Even little boys get it.
So, whether picking dandelions to satisfy one’s dad, or living faithfully to satisfy one’s Father, we must study the Word to obey His commands, follow His approved examples, and acknowledge His inferences so one day we may go live in His dandelion-free House for eternity.
Journeying With Jesus
By Matt Hennecke
Have you ever noticed the number of journeys spoken of in Scripture? We have Abraham’s journey from Ur to Haran to Canaan and on to Egypt and back. We have the exodus story as Israel journeyed from Egypt to the promised land. We have the many evangelistic journeys of Paul. In fact, the more I think about it the more I see the entire Bible as a travelogue – a book of journeys. In some cases, the journeys are physical as people travel, sometimes as captives – as when God’s people went into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity – but, perhaps in more cases, they are journeys of discovery as people learn about their sinful selves and a loving God seeking their redemption. It’s not surprising, then, that God’s people are often referred to as wayfarers, weary travelers, or pilgrims inroute to a heavenly City.
Amidst all of the stories of journeys described in the Bible, there is one that surpasses them all. It is the longest, the most arduous, and difficult journey ever undertaken. It is a journey without maps or mileage that lasted for 33 years. Of what journey do I speak? It is Jesus’ journey of humility from heaven to earth and back again. It is a journey that reveals his heart of humility. The story of his journey is told in Philippians 2:3-11. There Paul writes. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped….” Then Paul tells us the stages of Jesus’s journey of humility when he says Jesus 1) emptied himself, 2) took the form of a servant, 3) humbled himself, and 4) then died on a cross.
Has there ever been a longer more challenging journey? Jesus was (and is) God, but he travelled to earth and went from the very highest place to a tomb. Thankfully his journey wasn’t over, for then “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Here's the thing. The journey Jesus took is similar to the journey faithful Christians should be taking. We are to empty ourselves, become servants, be humble, and die to sin so we might be servants of God and exalted by Him. How’s your journey going? When the path ahead seems unclear, be sure to consult the road-map frequently (your Bible) and always consider the Pathfinder (Jesus) who showed us how to find our way Home.